Author Archives: Pete Davison

About Pete Davison

Former news editor for Gamer Network's USgamer.net, #oneaday blogger, Japanese games enthusiast and a founder member of the Squadron of Shame. I am also English, and feel a brotherly bond towards Miles Edgeworth.

1707: Speccy

I bought some new glasses recently, at great expense. (For those of you with 20/20 vision, be happy; glasses are expensive.) I picked them up this morning and I was actually quite excited about it — I’ve felt that my current pair haven’t been quite “right” for a little while, and a recent eye test confirmed that yes, my right eye in particular seems to have changed a bit, and a new pair of glasses probably wouldn’t be a terrible idea. (They probably weren’t a terrible idea anyway, since my current pair are now several years old and, having been attached to my face for the majority of that time, are now also covered in that unpleasant but reassuringly familiar clink that builds up around the nosepiece of glasses that are worn on a daily basis.)

Anyway, I put on the new glasses to try them and they immediately felt a little odd. I was assured that it was largely to do with the fact that my eyes were adjusting to the new lenses, though; after all, if my right eye had changed a bit, it had probably been overcompensating somewhat for the lenses in my current pair. I was then encouraged to keep them on for the whole day in order to try and adjust, and discouraged from returning to my old pair.

Well, I tried. I kept the new pair on for most of the day, but when I reached mid-afternoon and found myself sporting a headache that I can only describe as “excruciating” — it was near migraine-like in its intensity, nausea-inducing tendencies and quantity of colourful flashing lights it was attracting in front of my vision — I came to the conclusion that no amount of “adjustment” was going to fix this; the glasses were simply not quite right.

This is a bit of a bummer, since it means I have to make another appointment with the opticians to attempt to get this sorted. I imagine it will probably result in another eye test, too, which will be a pain to schedule around work, and then, of course, I’ll end up having to wait for some new lenses, assuming they do need replacing. This isn’t the end of the world, since my current glasses are still perfectly acceptable, but I was looking forward to enjoying the improved clarity and magic blue light-reducing lenses of the new ones.

Sadly it seems that is not to be for now; it would seem unwise to try and just cope with a pair of glasses that make me feel slightly cross-eyed at best and make me want to throw up and fall over at worst. With any luck, I’ll be able to get them sorted out this week.

These things happen, of course, but I can’t deny being a little disappointed by all this. I’ve not had a bad experience with opticians in the years since I started wearing glasses, so it’s a shame to run into this issue. Now comes the test of whether Boots’ customer service is up to snuff or not… I guess we’ll find out on Monday!

1706: Bug Me and I Leave You

Given the ubiquity of technology these days, there’s a lot more competition between apps and online services than there ever was in the past. This means that all of them have to stoop to increasingly low levels in order to get people to “engage” with them, leading to a situation we’ve simply not had prior to the last few years.

That situation comes in the form of apps and services begging you to use them. It’s obnoxious, obtrusive and, more to the point, makes me disinclined to make use of that app or service ever again. In fact, in most cases, if an app or service begs me to use it or come back, I will simply uninstall it or unsubscribe from their mailing list.

The most egregious example I can think of recently was an app called TuneIn Radio. I was recommended this as a good means of listening to both streaming Internet radio and podcasts, but was dismayed to discover after firing it up just once that it then insisted on reminding me of its own existence at least once a day via a push notification that was usually recommending something I had absolutely no interest in whatsoever. (“Listen to TalkSport!” Oh, how little you know me.) However good the app is, notifications bug me enough at the best of times, so in the bin it went.

I’m still getting email messages from services I had to sign up for when I was reviewing endless reams of shitty mobile-social apps for Inside Mobile Apps, too. Eventually I simply registered for these services with an email address I don’t use any more, and this mitigated the problem somewhat, but there are still times where there are services that I haven’t touched for a year or more feel the need to email me and remind me that they exist.

Worse, when you unsubscribe from these mailing lists you inevitably end up signed up to, you’re often questioned as to why you’d ever want to stop your inbox being cluttered up with this meaningless crap. I had one email the other day from a service called AppData, a ludicrously expensive analytics service that was attached to the Inside Social Games and Inside Mobile Apps sites I used to write for, which asked whether I had unsubscribed “by mistake”. Seriously. Look.

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The sheer arrogance of this is absolutely astonishing. “Oh, no, whoops, I unsubscribed from your marketing spam by mistake. I actually do want you to try and sell me things! Sign me back up, quick!” Or, indeed, “oh no, the pointless marketing spam I forwarded on to my friend [who does this?] annoyed them so much that they tried to unsubscribe themselves and instead unsubscribed me! Sign me back up, quick!”

I kind of understand why this happens. As I said at the beginning, the sheer amount of competition between mobile app and online service providers these days is ridiculous, so they have to resort to ever more drastic measures to retain their users, and hopefully convert them into paying customers — or at least people who will click on ads.

I can’t say I feel much sympathy, though. Surely having to resort to this is not a signal that you should market harder. Surely having to resort to this is, instead, a sign that there is far too much pointless, useless crap on the market, and maybe you should try a bit harder to come up with an idea that is actually innovative and helpful to people rather than a rehash of other things people already use? Harsh as it may sound, these days I find myself smiling a little with every email I receive that informs me a pointless, stupid mobile-social service that I reviewed a year or more ago is closing down. I’m glad; there’s too much noise in our lives anyway even with just the well-established services like Twitter and Facebook, so stop adding to it.

1705: Weekender

[Forgot to publish this last night. So here it is now for your delectation.]

It’s the end of another week, and as a newcomer to the traditional nine-to-five I’m already discovering the joys of Friday. I haven’t gone so far as to start saying “TGIF” and all that yet, but I can certainly see the appeal of kicking off the weekend.

Although thinking about it, Fridays always used to be “special” a certain degree. Not in the same way as like a birthday or a holiday, of course, but obviously… nice.

My fondest memories of Fridays were, I think, from when I was still at school. Back then, Friday was Good TV Night — this was the pre-digital era, so we only had four channels and consequently Good TV Night was a bigger deal. Also TV shows were better. But I digress.

Yes, Good TV Night started about 9pm with Friends — one of several shows that I insisted on videotaping every episode of — closely followed by a show at 9.30 that I usually didn’t care about, like Cybill, followed by Frasier. If we were lucky, Whose Line is it Anyway? would be on after that too.

Okay, Good TV Night was actually just two, possibly three, good shows, but it was a nice way to round off the week. It felt special and symbolic — after that, there would be two glorious days of not having to do all that much.

Friday now is somewhat less symbolic in the same way. The advent of video on demand has made Good TV Night a thing of the past — why be held to the behest of the schedulers when you can watch whatever you want when you want? — and this has left Friday itself feeling more like an opportunity to just zonk out and relax than anything else.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, of course. We all need time to relax and unwind after a week of, in most cases, being at least partially mature and responsible.

So that’s exactly what I’ve been doing. And that’s exactly what I intend to spend most of the next two days doing, too.

1704: The Improved Posting Experience

All right, WordPress, you win. After bugging me constantly with urges to try the “improved posting experience” while I was just trying to write my blog, let’s give this “improved posting experience” a go and see if it’s actually any better than the “posting experience” most WordPress users are accustomed to. Here we go, then.

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So first up, it’s pretty blue. This puts it in line with the main WordPress.com site, where those using WordPress.com to manage their blog and/or be part of the WordPress community of bloggers can tweak their blog settings, fiddle with multiple sites and subscribe to other people’s blogs. In that sense, it’s consistent; however, where it’s inconsistent is with the rest of the WordPress dashboard, which is still the black and grey it’s ever been.

Let’s take a look at functionality.

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There’s drag and drop for images… sort of. You can drag an image file onto the post editor, but this doesn’t automatically insert it into the post at the point where you drop it, disappointingly; rather, it simply brings up the regular media browser (which now doesn’t match the new editor) and uploads the image, at which point you can insert it into the post where you left the cursor. (This didn’t work first time I tried; I had to close the media browser, reposition the cursor, then open it again and then insert.) It also inexplicably forgets the default setting for image size that you might have been using in the “classic mode” (ugh) “posting experience”.

As for other functionality, there’s the same toolbar as the regular WordPress “posting experience” (no, I’m not going to stop the sarcastic quotation marks around that phrase anytime soon) but, like the media browser, it forgets your default settings, in this case whether you have the “kitchen sink” second row of buttons (allowing access to styles, underline, justification, text colour, special characters, indents, undo and redo — all pretty useful stuff) open or not.

Over on the right of the editor, there’s a bunch of pop-open menus for the post’s status (draft, scheduled, published), tags and categories, a featured image, whether the post will be shared on social media (and whether there will be a custom message), an attached location, a front-page excerpt, and the mysterious “advanced settings”, which include… drum roll…

…a custom slug, the author of the post, the format of the post, its visibility, whether or not it’s a sticky, and whether it allows likes, shares, comments and pingbacks. Hmm. Not all that advanced, really.

I can’t really tell what’s better about this “improved posting experience” to be honest, and in a number of ways it’s actually inferior. It certainly looks quite nice — the pop-open menus on the right keep things very neat and clean, for example — but it has this improved look at the expense of ease of access to information and settings.

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The standard WordPress editor may be more cluttered and rather more clinical-looking than the soft blues of the “improved posting experience”, but it’s also considerably superior. Information and settings can be popped open and closed at will — it’s all open rather than closed by default — and the screen gives you much more information, most notably on the status bar at the bottom of the editor, where you have a word count and a “last edited” date — both of which are completely absent from the “improved posting experience”. There’s also easy access to all other aspects of your site via the left-hand side menu.

Also worthy of note: when I started writing this post, there was a button to switch back to “classic mode” which promptly disappeared when I saved a draft. Getting back to the standard editor required logging back into this site’s dashboard, going to the post list and then choosing to edit my draft. Somewhat cumbersome.

I can see the intent behind the “improved posting experience” — it’s to strip out all the stuff that might prove daunting to those less familiar with technology and software such as WordPress. It’s an attempt to make it into a simple and clean blog editor along the lines of Tumblr. Trouble is, that’s never what WordPress has been about; WordPress has always been the blog solution to go to when you want customisability and a lot of control over what you’re posting, when and how — and without having to mess around with HTML and CSS for styling.

Perhaps the “improved posting experience” will encourage more new users to give blogging a serious go. And that’s ultimately a good thing. For people like me, though, who have been using WordPress for years now, it’s very much a step backwards rather than forwards.

1703: Beans, Beans, Beans

I’ve never really felt like all those pieces of conventional wisdom regarding certain foods and drinks actually have the intended effect on me — at least not until the last few years or so. I’m not sure if they’re actually having more of an effect on me as I get older, or if I’m simply more conscious of the effect they’re having on me. Either way, I’m starting to notice that some of the things regarding food and drink I’ve long had a certain degree of doubt over are perhaps a little more true than I thought.

Take coffee, for example. Now, my past resilience to caffeine — I’ve long been able to drink a cup of joe in the evening and not have it affect my sleep patterns, though this is perhaps due to the fact that my sleep patterns are already somewhat questionable — can perhaps be attributed to the sheer amount of the stuff I’ve put into my body on a regular basis ever since I was quite young. Coffee is seen by some as a “grown-up drink” — perhaps because of its bitterness, and the fact that, without milk, it’s an acquired taste — but I’ve been drinking it in various forms for as long as I can remember. Okay, for the first few years of my life it was milky Nescafé, but as soon as the world discovered fancy, expensive coffees I was right there with everyone — though I must confess I don’t go as far as some people, largely because I have no idea what a “wet latte” is.

Anyway. The fact is, I’ve always drunk a lot of coffee — and buying a nice coffee machine a while back certainly didn’t help me cut back, not that I particularly wanted to. As such, my body has apparently grown somewhat accustomed to caffeine, and thus a simple coffee never felt like it had a huge amount of effect on me. Sure, if I drank too many coffees and Red Bulls in a day, I’d get the shakes and feel a bit sick — as bad a feeling as any hangover, that, let me tell you — but for the most part, I never felt like caffeine made me any more “alert” or gave me a buzz as legend had it that it was supposed to.

Recently, however, I’ve cut back on coffee somewhat, largely due to the fact that it costs money to go and get a decent coffee at work (I could take instant, but, frankly, I’m a snob about coffee now and find that most instant — with the possible exception of Nescafé Azera, which is actually pretty good — tastes like crap) and thus I drink far less on any given day. And, as a result, I feel like caffeine is having more of an effect on me. I know a morning coffee certainly feels like it helps — and if I need to pep up a bit in the afternoon, another cup feels like it helps too. It’s possibly psychosomatic, of course — which is what I’ve long suspected when it comes to caffeine — but, well, it’s working for me.

An area where I have less doubt is in the matter of baked beans. Now, those of you with fond memories of the schoolyard will doubtless remember the short piece of juvenile poetry that taught everyone that while beans were indeed good for one’s heart, they had a habit of also afflicting one with a certain degree of flatulence.

I’ve never really actually considered this to be true, despite the popular perception of eating beans being akin to allowing a Northern mining town free rein to hold brass band rehearsals somewhere within the cavernous expanse of your rectum. However, once again, just recently I have discovered that there may, in fact, be a degree more truth in this piece of popular wisdom than I had initially anticipated.

I had a jacket potato for lunch the other day, you see. My workplace canteen boasts some of the largest baked potatoes I’ve ever seen, and they’re cooked nicely so that there’s a bit of crispiness to the skin while they remain fluffy and not dried out within. There are few fillings available for said baked potatoes, but one of them is the old staple baked beans, optionally with the addition of cheese. I indulged in this classic combination, then went back to work in the afternoon. Upon reaching the end of the day, I found myself feeling a little bloated, but thought little of it and walked the 15-minute walk back to my car.

Upon reaching my car and sitting down inside, it happened: an attack of flatulence that bore an uncanny resemblance to distant — but rapidly approaching — rolling thunder. Starting subtly but quickly building in a crescendo of gaseous overtones, the entire affair lasted a good ten seconds or so, after which the feeling of being somewhat bloated had magically passed. It took another ten minutes for me to stop laughing enough to be able to drive off safely.

Naturally, upon discovering that the canteen’s particular brand of baked beans had such a dramatic impact on me, I had to try again. And so it was that today I indulged in another gigantic jacket potato with beans and cheese — and a jelly for afters, because who can resist a jelly? — and so it was that once again, upon returning to my vehicle after a long day staring at my computer screen, I erupted in a cacophony of full-bodied guffs that I can hardly deny were extremely satisfying to release. I was even a bit sorry that no-one was around to hear them.

So yeah. Beans, beans, good for your heart; beans, beans really do… you know.

1702: Scoundrels

Gave my copy of Lords of Waterdeep and its expansion Scoundrels of Skullport another outing tonight, and it was pleasingly different from the first time we played. Less pleasing in that I lost by a considerable margin — I struggled to get a good means of income going at any point throughout the game, and the board as a whole ended up pretty “dry” — but interesting to see quite how much a difference there can be between two different playthroughs.

We’ve been playing the game in its most advanced form — that is, incorporating the two “modules” that form the complete Scoundrels of Skullport expansion. One of these, centring around iconic Dungeons & Dragons locale Undermountain, focuses on high-value quests — the most valuable quests in the base game were 25 points, while the Undermountain module beefs this up to an impressive 40 — while the other, centring around Skullport, allows you to perform numerous powerful actions in exchange for “corruption”, a resource that is worth a variable amount of negative points at the end of the game according to how much is in play at any given time.

Aside from the new mechanics — all of which blend beautifully into Lords of Waterdeep’s base game without forcing players to learn hundreds of new rules — Scoundrels of Skullport also incorporates numerous new quest and intrigue cards (the latter of which are used to either give yourself an advantage or mess with other players) as well as a substantial selection of new buildings (which can be purchased to add to the number of possible actions players can take on each turn, with the building’s “owner” receiving a benefit every time another player uses it). And the fact that there are so many of each of these components — far more than you need for a single game — means that, judging by our recent playthroughs, there’s a significant amount of variety and replayability going on. Some games will be very heavy on the monetary income; others will be strong on the corruption; others still will see players playing a lot more intrigue cards than usual.

It’s good to see a game have such flexibility and variety while still maintaining relatively simple base mechanics. All you essentially do in Lords of Waterdeep is collect various coloured cubes and tokens, then use them to complete quests and score points. At the end of the game, you score bonus points according to the conditions on your secret “Lord” card, which usually reward you for each quest of a specific type you successfully complete. That’s essentially all there is to the game, but the variety of different possible actions offered by the action spaces and cards — particularly once you start throwing in the press-your-luck aspect of the corruption tokens — means that one game has the potential to play out very differently from another. And it doesn’t feel like you’re relying on luck; rather, it’s a type of randomness that keeps things fresh and interesting without putting certain players at an arbitrary disadvantage.

We’ve still only played it a few times to date, but Lords of Waterdeep remains one of my favourite titles in my collection. I’m sure it’ll be hitting the table fairly frequently.

1701: The Lunchbox

I don’t miss many things about going to school, either as a pupil or as a teacher, but one thing I do sort of miss about the former aspect is having a packed lunch.

There was always an air of mystery about a packed lunch that someone else had prepared, particularly in primary school, where it tended to be safely stored in a vibrant, colourful plastic lunchbox well away from one’s desk, with its contents not to be revealed until, well, lunchtime. And then it was always a tense moment as sandwiches were unwrapped and fillings surveyed. Would it be cheese and brown sauce? (My “compromise cheese and pickle”; I don’t like Branston Pickle) Would it be ham? Would it be Bovril? Or would it be something surprising and exotic like… err, egg and salad cream?

Then there was the remaining content to go through. What would accompany the sandwich? Would it be a packet of crisps that I liked, or something “boring” like ready salted? (I remember vividly getting into a rage and crushing a packet of ready salted crisps when I was about 8 years old; I was quite an angry child, for reasons that were at least semi-justifiable — though the crisps didn’t really deserve to receive the brunt of my ire.) Would there be a chocolate biscuit like a Penguin, or something else? Would there be some form of fruit? What would the drink be? (I doubt many of the lunchboxes of my youth would have passed the stringent inspections that some schools apparently now insist upon, incidentally.)

It was all oddly exciting in the most boring way possible, and I’ve been gratified to rediscover this dubious joy now that I’m going out to work every day — although sadly without a gaudy plastic lunchbox containing a Thermos full of squash. On days where I remember to pack a lunch, obviously I know what I’ve put in there, but there’s still that joy of being able to finally devour the things that have been waiting in your drawer all morning; on days where Andie is good enough to prepare a lunch for me (and herself as well, I might add) there’s that element of mystery back again… what might be in the sandwiches today? Which one of the biscuit bars is in there? What kind of drink might be waiting for me?

You have to take pleasure in the small things in life because the big, exciting things don’t come around that often. (At least, I don’t think they do.) And a fine way to start appreciating those small things is with something as simple as a lunchbox. If you’re the sort of person who habitually wanders out to Tesco of a lunchtime to purchase a cardboardy prepacked sandwich, make yourself a packed lunch one day, and you, too, can discover this dubious joy which I’ve been rediscovering recently.

Or perhaps I’m just a weirdo. That, let’s face it, is a very distinct possibility.