Saturday, May 31, 2008

Retro Gaming Joy

Fate of Atlantis, originally uploaded by Mr Atrocity.

It's great big nerd time again. For those of a certain age the classic Lucas Arts games like Monkey Island, Sam and Max and of course the Indiana Jones games will always hold a special place in our hearts. It was the mixture of puzzles, beautiful design and attention to detail that sucked us in and kept us interested. The good news is that for those who still have their game disks you can relive the glory days again.

The Lucas Arts games were written in a development environment called SCUMM. Some kind souls have written a SCUMM virtual machine and another saint has ported that to the Nintendo DS. Using my lovely homebrew card I spent a little while last night getting it all up and running on my DS. Of course given my current state of new Indy fuelled excitement I had to choose Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis as the first game to get dusted off and played on its new tiny, portable home. It's as good as I remembered it and far from just being an exercise in nostalgia it's actually still an engaging game to play.

Today I am a happy nerd with many hours of reliving the glory days of Lucas Arts ahead of me. Altogether now, "Memorieeeees..."

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Friday, May 30, 2008

Pinky Drive

I've been having another "Oh my freaking Jeebus, I'm living in the future" day. My venerable old USB thumbdrive which, when I bought it 5 years ago packed an astounding 128mb of memory, has finally fallen apart. And so it was that I braved Tottenham Court Road this lunchtime to get something with which to replace it.

After my slack-jawed amazement when I got a micro-SD card for my Nintendo DS homebrew kit I thought I'd seen it all. But no. Sony have now made "Tiny Vault" USB drives that are about the size of half a stick of gums. It's absolutely tiny and yet it is mountable as a drive on a computer and somehow manages to fit 4Gb storage within its tiny frame. Initially I just stared at the packages on the shelves for a while trying to figure out the catch, trying to work out if it was actually a drive in its own right or whether it was like a camera flash drive and would need an adapter. No adapter is needed. I must have looked like the first person to be shown television staring at this glowing box and wondering how they managed to fit all those tiny people inside it. Having convinced myself that it was what I wanted I purchased the wee fellow and have just copied 2.6 Gb of data onto it. Essentially I now have a gizmo which is capable of storing the whole of the Encyclopaedia Britannica and yet is also easily swallowable. That's a scary thought. Now where the hell did I put it down?

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Monday, May 26, 2008

A Tale of Two Architects

So here I am at the end of my holiday, staring into the yawning abyss of the rest of the year working. It's been a good break, I've taken a little trip to the sea, I've designed my book which is now being printed, I've played a lot of guitar through my self-present - a 7 watt Cornell Plexi, I've organised my financial paperwork (yawn) and I've seen friends and relaxed a good deal (yay).

The week has finished in quite an architectural fashion. On Thursday I finally made it to the Sir John Soane Museum which is a five minute walk from Schossadlerflug but has erratic opening hours meaning that is has taken until now for me to be in the area with time to go and see it. The museum is in fact Sir John's house in which he stored his collection of architectural treasures. One of the pre-eminent neo-classical architects of his day, Sir John, having fallen out with his one surviving son, got an act of Parliament passed which legislated that upon his death the house and all its contents were to be left to the nation in perpetuity provided that the collection and the building were maintained exactly has he left them. In 1837 Sir John Soane died and the building has been free to visit ever since.

It's a remarkable space, partially because of the breadth of his collection but mostly to see a Regency house intact with all its correct detailing, paintwork and so on. In in a more normal museum the focus is just on the artifacts, in Sir John's house the building itself and the way he chose to display his collection are just as important as the pieces themselves. Amongst the delights are the picture room which contains many Hogarths, some displayed on large panels which hinge out from the wall because he had too many pictures to get them all on the walls at once. Downstairs there is the Monk's parlour, a secluded room with low light, black painted furniture including a table with a carved stone human skull in its centre. Returning to the ground floor there is the the Museum Corridor, a long room, two stories high, packed from floor to ceiling with casts of architectural details from antiquity along with the usual busts of Homer and the like which were so popular at the time. It is hard to describe the effect of being in a space like this. Although there are many buildings in London which pre-date the 1830s by hundreds of years there are very few that are preserved as the once were. It is the nature of London to take its existing structures and adapt them, modify and remodel them over the years until the steady accretion of detail turns them into something that would not be easily recognised by the original architect or occupant. Sir John Soane's museum allows the visitor, just briefly, to travel a little in time and offers us a glimpse into the life of a fascinating man, almost as if he were with us whilst we did it.

By contrast on Saturday I went to the Design Museum just beyond Tower Bridge. The reason for my visit was an exhibition of the work of Richard Rogers, the architect of the Lloyd's building in London and the Centre Pompidou in Paris most famously. Lord Rogers has long advocated more sensible city planning with a view to consuming fewer resources and making cities more self-sufficient in energy. The most interesting parts of the exhibition for me were the smaller projects of environmentally focused modular housing designs, some of which are now being constructed. The houses are made of pre-fabricated sections of sustainable materials and take only 24 hours to assemble into a functional house. The modularity of the design allows the house to be extended to contracted as the needs of the occupants change over time. It is efficient in its use of heating and water and has innovations such as larger, taller windows to allow more light in for longer periods of the day thus reducing the length of time that light bulbs are required. There were similarly inspired tower block designs for cities, one of which is about to built as part of the redevelopment of the Elephant and Castle are of South London, near where I used to live.

It was interesting to compare a leading light of regency architecture with a modern master of the form and to compare how differently they appear to see building, what concerns they had about their designs and what functions their buildings needed to serve. The only real point of similarity I could see was that they both produce buildings that, with hindsight, seem so utterly emblematic of the times of their construction - The Bank of England or Dulwich Picture Gallery seem so early nineteenth century with their monumental updating of classical themes whilst the Lloyd's Building is so evocative of the 1980s obsession with new technology, materials and display of power and wealth. A very interesting contrast.

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Saturday, May 24, 2008

Another Nintendo DS Sketch

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Friday, May 23, 2008

Speak My Brains

I've just been back into work, albeit briefly, to do an interview for the "making of" documentary that will be on the Hellboy 2 DVD. I've done interviews before, plenty in print and a couple for the radio but this is the first time I've done one on camera. I have absolutely no idea how I sounded or looked. I did notice that I picked the perfect day to have a big zit on my chin so you can look out for that come November. Perfect.

I'd carefully prepared a load of bullet points for topics I'd quite like to have discussed pertaining to the shots I did but the interviewer had his own set of questions so my notes went on the floor and I had to wing it. They attractively lit the wall behind me with a sea blue, no doubt to match my natural skin colouring though I was too busy trying to keep my head still so that they didn't get excessive flare off my glasses from the light they were blasting onto my face to really notice too much. I have, and I'm only writing this an hour after the fact, absolutely no idea what I said. I probably came across as a complete tosser but time will tell.

I find doing interviews for non specialist press difficult from a pitching stand-point. When I'm talking to journalists from computer graphics or film-making publications I know the sort of things they want to hear and I also have a level of expectation on what terms I can expect the audience to understand. It's the same thing with lecturing to students. I know I'll be able to say "diffuse shading", "ambient occlusion" and "displacement mapping" and not have to explain myself plus the people I'm talking to want to know how we did what we did so they can further their own knowledge. What does the viewer of a DVD feature want to know? Do they care how we did the work or do they just want to hear the amusing anecdote about how I spilled coffee all over the director? It's tough to know. Even if they do want to hear how it was done it's difficult to explain it without resorting to a lot of technical terminology. If you don't use jargon you end up saying, "well we shot it all in front of a green screen and then used computer graphics to add in the foreground". No shit? That's so non-specific as to be meaningless. Anyway all of this is really just me excusing myself for when I appear for 5 seconds on this documentary sounding like an ignorant ares-hole. Sorry in advance.

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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Week two, the story so far...

The Three Stooges at Lord's

It's been quite a relaxed second week of my holiday though I've been out and about a fair bit.

On Sunday I went to Lord's for my first cricket of the summer there. Two chums and I had tickets for the fourth day of the England vs New Zealand test match. There'd been a lot of rain interruptions on the first three days but though it remained bitterly cold when th sun went behind cloud it did at least not rain meaning we got a full day's play. The highlight for me was seeing the England captain, Michael Vaughan, score a very impressive century. He's always been one of my favourite batsmen, very elegant and stylish.

On Monday I did a little shopping and in the evening Tinseltroos joined me to have dinner with our chum Janusz. The Tall American had introduced me to a brilliant little retaurant in Jerusalem Passage called, somewhat unimaginitively, the "Passage Café". The food and cider is French, the staff I think are Belgian and the whole ensemble is cheapish and awesome. I bouillabaise to start and melt in the mouth tender duck for my main course. Being Belgian they do a mean line in waffles, crêpes and so on for pudding. All in all a very good night.

Yesterday my pal Baickin had leaving drinks as he's heading home to New Zealand for quote, "a while". I suspect he will return, he has every previous time he's gone home, but I think he needs a bit of time off and living is cheaper in Wellington than London. I shall miss him but as I say, he'll be back.

Today I've run an errand for Tinseltroos, read guitar magazines, played my guitar and generally taken it easy. I'm going to start cooking a veggie chilli for TInseltroos when she gets back from work and then I might begin the final stages of putting my book of photos together. I think I've narrowed the selection down to 38 that sit well together for me. There are pictures of which I am very fond that I've had to omit because they just didn't seem to sit right within the book as a whole, perhaps they can be made to work in some future selection. You can see a slide show of the current book here.

Tomorrow I will try to actually design the book. I'm expecting that to take longer and be more fraught than it should be, but perhaps that's just my natural cynicism coming to the fore. Maybe that's called "experience"?

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Saturday, May 17, 2008

Cornwall in Glorious Technicolor

A few more photos. This'll be the last one of just pictures, I'll try and get my arse in gear and actually do some writing for the next one.

Having a Think

Dusk Toward Carbis Bay

Delicious Pint of Tinner's

The Beach as the Tide Comes In

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Friday, May 16, 2008

Happy Holiday

My timing was nigh on perfect. I arrived in St. Ives on Monday afternoon in beautiful, warm sunshine. The 6 hour journey on the train from London was hassle free and my hotel was two minutes walk from the station. It was a small but modern looking hotel and my room, though without a view of the sea, was comfortable and I could hear the waves smacking into the beach just over the road from the hotel. After settling into my room and ordering a cream tea I went for a little wander around the town, just to the far side of the harbour and back. I found a new restaurant that I don't think was there when last I visited and had a lovely dinner.

Tuesday was not too hot but still sunny and was the perfect weather for my major walk. I walked along the coastal path from St. Ives around to Zennor. It took about three hours and a few sections stretched the term "path" to extremes. There were a couple of places were the path consisted of a few dynamited boulders right on the cliff edge which was a little hairy. I survived and made it to the tiny village of Zennor. There I listened to the song Zennor Hill by a folk duo called Mouse who used to go and see until they broke up. By this point I was ready for my first beer. Many people had recommended The Tinner's Arms as a great pub and it did not disappoint. A large ham sandwich and two pints of fantastic beer and I was ready for home. I took the bus back to St. Ives, a less beautiful but much faster inland route than the one I took.

On Thursday I pottered about St. Ives itself, reading my book, having fish pie and more beer at The Sloop Inn, visiting the insanely cluttered St. Ives Museum and eating another cream tea. Another tasty dinner and I was done.

My timing continued right up to the moment I left. The storm clouds were gathering as I took a final stroll around the quay and the first heavy spots of rain fell as I boarded the little shuttle train from St. Ives to St. Erth.

Another six hours of traveling yesterday saw me return to London. A lovely break but I was ready to come home. I missed Tinseltroos a huge amount and I felt the city calling again too.

Here are a few black and white photos I took. I might post some of the colour ones tomorrow:

Dusk Over the Cliffs

Running Play

Tin Mine on the Horizon

The Tinner's Arms, Zennor

Dramatic Clouds Over the Sea

Ahab Sits and Waits

Storm Clouds Gathering over the Harbour

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Sunday, May 11, 2008

Back Soon

Back Soon, originally uploaded by redcrayon.

I'm off to Cornwall in the morning. I shall be sans lapdogtop until Thursday evening so there will be no posting until then.

I've bought another memory card for my camera so hopefully I will have plenty of pictures to post upon my return. Take care y'all.


Friday, May 09, 2008

Work is the curse of the drinking classes

Wow. I am on holiday. I suddenly find myself with two weeks of time off on my hands. My contribution to Hellboy 2 is complete and my next project can wait a couple of weeks before I have to commit serious hours to it. And so here I am, at home, on a Friday afternoon. I did a half day today, finishing at one o'clock. I had a delicious al fresco lunch with a couple of friends at a little Soho brasserie where we shared a couple of bottles of wine and some good food before going our separate ways. I went and got a haircut, a back massage and a comic book (Batman for me, Buffy for Tinseltroos) and I'm now at home with my feet up.

Tomorrow is T and my anniversary which will be celebrated with dinner at our favourite restaurant possibly preceded by a cocktail somewhere local and on Sunday I am due to entertain a friend who's visiting from San Francisco. Her plan of being entertained seems to be asking to sit in a proper pub and drinking "a pint or four" over an afternoon. This, I think, I can assist with. Following this I shall clamber aboard a train on Monday morning and head South to Cornwall for a few days. I plan on walking a bit, sitting a bit, reading a bit and eating and drinking quite a lot. I'll be back in London on Thursday afternoon and then I can decide what to do with the rest of my holiday.

Life is good.


Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Essex vs New Zealand

On Monday, as it was a bank holiday and the first sunny public holiday in an age, my Kiwi buddy B and I took the train out from London to Chelmsford to see the last day of the Kiwi's warm up match against Essex. I've never been to Chelmsford before, it isn't a particularly lovely town but the cricket ground is very pleasant in the classic county cricket manner, i.e. slightly dilapidated and resolutely unchanging in the face of modern innovations like video score boards and so on. I took a few photos of the ground during the lunch interval - I think they give quite a good flavour of the place:

Lunch Interval

Kiwi Supporters Came Prepared

Deserted Bar 2

The Essence of County Cricket

I think it's this last one which is my favourite. It completely sums what I love about county cricket, which is more of a lifestyle than a sport if we're honest. Here we have an elderly chap in his sun-hat in the middle of an empty stand (the turnout for county matches is seldom high), sat on a cheap plastic seat in the shade ignoring the beautiful sun which you can see peeking into the top left of the frame. That's it in a nutshell I think.

Finally here's one of B looking pleased with himself as the Kiwis finished off Essex to win the match just before tea:

The Jubilant Kiwi

After this we completely failed to find a nice pub to have a quiet pint in so we got the train back to the big smoke very contented with our day.

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Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Five Guitar Heroes

Five Guitar Heroes, originally uploaded by Mr Atrocity.

Tinseltroos and I both managed to have a whole weekend off work which is, I think, the first time that has happened since August last year. We knew that we had guests coming over to Schossadlerflug on Sunday night so we spent Saturday getting provisions, mostly cocktail making boozes of many flavours and colours and tidying the flat to the point where it ceased to look like a demilitarised zone. This achieved we lounged back in our newly clean and tidy little abode.

On Sunday we cooked. Tinseltroos cooked an amazing vegetable korma with home-made naan bread and I did a tarte tatin again as it seemed popular last time and I thought it would cut through the creaminess of the curry. Our chums duly arrived and were fed cocktails, mostly Dark and Stormys, Manhattans and gin Martinis (Martinis are never made with vodka if I have a say in the matter). After a suitable convivial atmosphere had been established and enough food eaten we broke out Guitar Hero and spent the evening shredding with mixed degrees of success. As usual Tinsetroos won and I lost. For those without a Guitar Hero guitar we were able to use real non-plugged-in guitars so that the feeling of inclusive rock and roll could be maintained. I don't think even The Eagles had five guitarists.

Late, and with everyone pleasantly toasty, we said our goodbyes and T and took ourselves off to bed feeling very happy and contented, which wasn't only due to the drink.

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Sunday, May 04, 2008

Scaling the Highest Heights

On the 26th November 1983 I went, as a guest of a friend, to the Victoria Ground to see Stoke City play Nottingham Forrest in the First Division of English football. It was the first football match I attended. In those days the First Division was the top flight of English football featuring all the sides that people worldwide have heard of, Manchester United, Liverpool and so on. Little did the 8 year old Mr Atrocity realise it but within a couple of years Stoke would be relegated to the second tier of football. And there they have remained. In the intervening years I have lost interest in Star Wars figures, discovered girls, finished school and a degree and been at work for nearly a decade. Though I live in London and don't get to see the side play I have kept tabs on their progress through the years - I listen to their games on the radio when I can and on the odd occasion when one of their F.A. Cup games gets televised I make sure I watch.

Why am I telling you all this? Well the happy reason is that today Stoke City secured promotion to the Premiership, the new fancy name for the top flight these days. Next year I will be able see Stoke get humiliated by the likes of Man U, Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal and probably most of the other sides currently in the Premiership. I do not hold out huge hopes of them not getting immediately relegated back whence they came but for now it's a very special feeling to think that my side will be playing in the highest league in the land next year.

Incidentally, If you watch the protracted helicopter shot revealing the Greek armada in Troy you might just be able to spot a ship with a Stoke City strip for a sail: my little devotional offering. My love for them goes that far. Go on you Potters!

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Friday, May 02, 2008

The Long Walk

I've been feeling sluggish recently. Partly this down to the completely knackered condition I find myself in following the ongoing slog that getting this current film done has turned out to be. There's more to it though and I think I have finally pinpointed the other aspect. When I used to live in Camberwell I had an hour and ten minute walk into work, which I did daily. Since moving to the centre of town my walk has diminished to ten minutes, not enough to qualify as exercise and certainly not enough to have a think and stretch my back.

This week, even though it has rained torrentially on two mornings, I have been taking a circuitous, if pretty, route to work. From Schossadlerflug I walk to the Bank of England and from there over London Bridge. I then wander along the south bank of The Thames to Waterloo Bridge where I cross back onto the north bank. From there I wander up though Covent Garden and into Soho. There's plenty to see as I trundle along. When there's a morning without rain I'll take a camera and upload a few snaps from the route.

There's also a certain perverse delight in being fairly sure that you're the only person listening to The New York Dolls as you pass all the pin-striped suits jostling to get into their offices around the Bank of England.

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Thursday, May 01, 2008

...Robot Update...Robot Update...Robot Update...

This morning we left Murphy to clean up the hall as we went out to vote and then work. When we returned home we found a couple of scattered beer bottles and Murph' had passed out having climbed half way up one of my guitar stands. He was completely unconscious, resting on one wheel. I think he must going through a period of teenage rebellion, experimenting with drink and today he got caught out.

As gingerly as I could I carried him back to his bed to have a charge and sleep off the worst of whatever he's imbibed. Tomorrow we shall have a frank conversation about the dangers of drinking too much, especially on a school night.

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