All entries for March 2005

March 18, 2005

Have passport, can travel

The 4 month saga of my passport renewal has just come to a close, and I am here to breathe a sigh of relief and tell you about it, no doubt in great length.

It started way back in November, when the lovely Rachel and I decided, on a slightly insane whim, to take part in the Jailbreak challenge. Shortly after this I discovered that my passport (once it had been sent up from London) was due to expire a mere 4 days after the Jailbreak weekend. Panic ensued, as I ran to the Post Office to obtain a renewal form. After successfully negotiating the task of filling out the form, and having not-too-terrible photos taken, I went to find the only person on campus who could legally counter-sign it – my tutor. As he couldn't find a black biro anywhere, he filled in the form with a fountain pen. The ink leaked through the paper and the Post Office refused to accept the form. I was given another one, filled it in again, and took it for counter-signing, this time bringing my own pen with me. Everything seemed fine, until I took the new form back to the Post Office, only to be informed that, as part of my tutor's signature lay approximately 0.5mm outside the box, they would have to reject the form.

Dejected, I gave up. We opted for the 12 hour Jailbreak, on the assumption that anywhere we could get to in that time would be fine for me to enter on an almost-expired passport. As it turned out however, we never quite made it out of the country, and instead spent a rather stressful 6 hours running round airports in the naive hope that an airline would be feeling charitable. More fool us…but that is another story.

And so my passport expired. I wasn't going anywhere so I pushed it to the back of my mind. But then, 5 weeks ago, I suddenly realised that I had booked a holiday to France, without having a passport (or driving license) with which to identify myself. I got another form and headed, with great dread, to see my tutor once again. For the third time, he failed to write inside the boxes provided, and the Post Office rejected the form. This time however, I'd had enough. I decided to take my chances with the "incorrect" form via Royal Mail, saving me the £6 that the Post Office charge for checking the form and guaranteeing its correctness. The only problem now was the extra week the Passport Office claimed it would take if you didn't use the Checking Service – that and the possibility of rejection again.

Three weeks later, I received a phone call from my dad in London. He told me that he had just been given my returned documents – namely my old passport – by the people living at number 4 in our road. Our address is number 9, and while I'm pretty sure I filled in the form very clearly, the Passport Office people obviously couldn't tell the difference. The problem now was that this was the second piece of mail sent to number 4 addressed to me. The first – my new passport, had already been put back in the post by the people living there. It wasn't until the second letter that they became suspicious, opened it and discovered my old passport, with my correct address in it. My dad informed me that he had phoned the Passport Office, and they would be sending me a Lost in the Post form directly, to arrive the next day (this was last Saturday).

Unsurprisingly it didn't, and hadn't turned up by Monday either. Rather stressed, I phoned the office myself, and got them to fax me the form to fill out and fax back immediately, along with details of my travel arrangements for a week's time, to show them that they needed to HURRY THE HELL UP.

After a day of hearing nothing, I called again. I was told that, as they had not received my passport back, and if sent via Royal Mail it could take up to 4 weeks for them to do so. However they were confirming that they address they sent it to and the address I was telling them they sent it to were the same before they would issue me a new one.

The next morning (Wednesday) they woke me up with a 10am phone call, to tell me that they would be phoning me again later. Which really made my day, obviously.

When that later call came, it was to tell me that everything was fine, they would be printing me a passport and sending it by special delivery, to arrive at my London address before noon the next day. Of course, come noon yesterday, it still wasn't there. Another call home revealed that they had been "trying to contact me all day" (despite the fact that my phone had been on and I hadn't received or missed any calls) to tell me that there had been a problem with printing and it would now be arriving before noon today.

And it finally has. So now I can go to France on Monday to visit this bitch, and take some rather more impressive photos of my own.


March 16, 2005

Today is going to SUCK

So…got to sleep some time after 4am last night. Was woken up this morning by the cleaners at 9, yes, 9, during a holiday. Then again at 9:30, when they started hoovering. It's 9:30, it's the holiday, almost all of us are still here. Can't you find a better time? >.<

Then, to make matters worse, just as I'm sliding back into a doze, the Passport Office phones up to tell me that they will phone me again later. WHAT THE HELL IS THAT ABOUT?

Suffice to say I am tired, cranky and stressed already, with a day of vising ahead of me which certainly won't help matters. If you cross me today, expect painful retribution.


March 15, 2005

Don't Panic

Writing about web page http://www.apple.com/trailers/touchstone/hitchhikersguidetothegalaxy/trailer_3/hh_trailer_large.html

This is going to be excellent. I am convinced. The books, of course, are legendary, and the radio series that preceded them even better. It's a pity about the TV series, but I feel this film will put all that to right. Except Marvin, who looks waaay too cute.
The snippets of speach during the trailer are enough to convince me that I can get over the characters not sounding like they did on the radio, once again with the exception of Marvin. Sorry Alan Rickman, but you just aren't quite depressed enough. And no one can ever quite replace the marvelous voice of Peter Jones as The Book, but Stephen Fry, smug-sounding toff though he is, comes very close.

Incidentally, Simon Jones, the who played Arthur Dent in both the radio and TV series, makes a cameo appearance as a Magrathean Announcer. Thank you imdb for that little gem.
Long live The Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy, and role on April 29th!

At the completely opposite end of the spectrum we find the trailer for Star Wars Episode III: Unnecessary Subtitle. While it looks fantastic, so did the trailers for I and II, so it's blatantly going to suck. A couple of my more naive friends doubt this of course, to which I say this: If I am right, I am vindicated. If I am wrong, I am happy and entertained. Either way, I win.


March 14, 2005

Darwinia – Review

Back in the day, computer games were simple. They generally involved pressing a maximum of 6 buttons, and maybe moving the mouse a bit. They were innovative, and more importantly they were fun. I remember with great fondness the classics of Worms and Lemmings – the opposite poles of wanton destruction and benevolent rescue – where enjoyment (only occasionally mixed with frustrated screams of "Dig you little blue and green bastard!") was the only aim. The graphics are terrible, the sound comically bad, and yet the entertainment they provide keeps you coming back, even all these years later.

However, things have changed since those early times. Games became much more popular, and suddenly greater substance was required – storylines and audiovisual advancement started to take priority. This was perfectly fine until the point when designers seemed to have forgotten why it was that they made games in the first place. Since that day we have seen a mind-numbing sequence of sci-fi first person shooters, demon-summoning RGPs, and baby-oil coated racing games, with very little in the way of interesting originality.

It is into this arena of generic saturation that Darwinia finds itself thrust, to be joyfully embraced by anyone looking for a different gaming experience which harks back to those simpler times. Darwinia is nostalgia at its best – from the techno played during the intro (last heard in Lotus Turbo Challenge 3, if I remember correctly) to the graphics, mixing old and blocky creatures with much newer-looking landscapes to create a wonderfully stylised world, to challenges and satisfaction of the gameplay itself.

Notice I didn’t mention anything about a story – there is one, but it is peripheral to the game’s enjoyment. A virus has taken control of an online theme-park, populated by AI creatures known as Darwinia. You, with the help of the theme-park’s designer, must take control of a number of programs – engineers, squads (soldiers) and so on, and progress through the various areas on the park, completing tasks to bring it back online and destroying the virus in the process. It doesn’t sound particularly amazing but, as already stated, this game is much more about enjoyment than plot development. Squads are controlled by mouse clicks – left to move, right to fire, and both at once to use their heavy weapon, rather like in Cannon Fodder. The Darwinia themselves are rather harder to control, as they are individuals programmed to ignore outside interference. They can, however, be converted into Officers, who then shepherd the other Darwinia to locations of your choosing. Indeed, shepherd is a good description, as the Darwinia have a tendency to wander off or get stuck, due to the game’s only noticeable flaw – the total lack of pathfinding. However, this doesn’t matter all that much, as almost everything in the game is expendable – programs can be destroyed and recreated (by simple mouse gestures) and more Darwinia can be born through a process of killing a virus entity, then getting an Engineer to collect its “soul”, and bring it back to an incubator for conversion. None of which makes much sense, but then it doesn’t need to – all such details are superficial and the actual enjoyment comes from studying each level, deciding your tactics, and successfully implementing them.

While there are only ten levels, Darwinia is challenging enough not to seem short, and as you progress the problems presented change repeatedly, insuring that you won’t get bored. Starting with a simple squad versus virus mission, Darwinia cranks up the difficulty, confronting you with tougher viruses (in the form of caterpillars and spiders), the extermination of an ant colony – particularly difficult as the ants collect “souls”, allowing them to respawn – and an army of evil Darwinia, corrupted by the virus. Along the way there are also research programmes to collect and upgrade, increasing the number of units in your squads, the range of their weapons, and so on, so you should always be able to overcome these challenges, given a sufficient amount of tactical creative thinking.

Darwinia is a game written by gamers for gamers. It is not perfect – it crashed a number of times, losing some progress as it did so, but it is easy to get into, enjoyable to play, and much easier to experience than to describe. Which is exactly what I suggest you do.

9/10


Thought for the day

The word "revise" is a misnomer. It implies that I've already learned the subject, and what I am doing is merely reminding myself of it. This is not true, so what I am actually doing should be called "vising".

Also, the more work I do, the more I blog, as a way of taking a break. Expect multiple posts per day from now until June :-S


And so it begins…


March 13, 2005

What I will be doing next Monday

Tube
12:30 at Woodford
12:52 at Liverpool Street
13:00 at Farringdon
Price: £3.80

Thameslink
13:14 at Farringdon
13:55 at Gatwick
Price: £6.60

Easyjet
15:40 at Gatwick
18:15 at Geneva
Price: £95.98 (return)

Bus
18:42 at Geneva airport
19:15 at Dorcière Place Bus Station
20:40 at Annecy
Price: CHF16.20

Stressing yourself silly in order to get some skiing
Priceless

(Slightly worried about getting out of the airport and to the bus station in time for that bus (the last of the day), but what's the point in travelling if it doesn't cause you endless amounts of stress?)


Crisis

Help me! I'm so bored I'm considering starting revision as a means of passing the time.
8 days till skiing. If the sodding passport office finally send my passport to the correct address.

March 09, 2005

End of term blues

I've been saying goodbye to people these last two days, and while I'll see them again after Easter, it makes me sad. The reason for this is that it forces me to look ahead to this time next term, when I will be saying goodbye for a much longer time, if not for good.

Is it possible to maintain close friendships over distance, without seeing people on a regular basis? I hope more than anything that this is achievable, and fear the loss of the good friends I've made these last three years. I wouldn't be who I am today without them.

Thank you for putting up with me, and let's make sure that "goodbye" is never really meant.


March 05, 2005

Mangling the English Language

anthemesque
adj.

  1. Like an anthem.
  2. An uplifting piece of popular/rock music, eg. Paradise City by Guns N' Roses, Don't Look Back In Anger by Oasis, or anything from the latest Idlewild album: Warnings/Promises.

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