Books in July 2017

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July also included a considerable amount of time reading roleplaying games as part of preparation for the convention season as it creeps up on us.

The Complete Ballard of Halo Jones (Alan Moore and Ian Gibson)

A collection of the stories about Halo Jones that graced the pages of 2000AD alongside Judge Dredd and others. I enjoyed this, especially once I got my eye back into the 2000AD style. Halo Jones is growing up in a floating city off the coast of Manhattan, a place where the unemployed are deported to so that they can live on benefits outside normal society. Her story takes her off-world and eventually into the armed forces in a war between Earth and former colonies. Halo is a normal person, and her life can be pretty mundane; it’s only coincidence that puts her in significant places and in contact with significant people. The only thing that disappointed was that it felt a little rushed at the end. I realise it was a play for one of those great open endings with hooks for the future, but it was over all to quickly.

The Midnight Palace (Carlos Ruiz Zafón)

The second of the Neibla (shadow) sequence, this book is set in India in the heart of the Calcutta of the 1930s. A group of orphans come of age and are threatened with the darkness from the past of one of them. Part set in a burnt out railway station, part set in the streets of the city, the orphans must find out what happened and a way to escape. Again, this was well written and I enjoyed it a lot. I look forward to Marina, the next of the author’s books that I haven’t read.

The Pale House (Luke McCain)

Excellent second story about a German Military Police officer breaking corruption cases against the backdrop of a withdrawal from the Balkans. Set in 1945, the story has a streak of desperation, contrasted with acts of evil and bravery. Looking forward to the next book.

Valerian: The Complete Collection, Volume 1. (Christin, Mézières) 

This is a collection of the first few Valerian and Laureline stories, including the introductory story that has never been in a collection before. I read this partly because of the forthcoming Luc Breton film, and partly because of the recommendations of my friend John who has sworn by it for years. Valerian is a time agent, sent to deal with temporal anomalies, and along the way he picks up Laureline - from medieval France - who becomes his assistant and eventually the brains of the outfit. The stories are fun and although the style is of its time, it looks great too. The eldest lad (10) enjoyed this too. We have another two volumes to read this week to be read for the film’s release!

The Pigeon Tunnel: Stories from my Life (John le Carré)

This is an interesting collection of vignettes from the author’s life which may or may not be the whole truth. I enjoyed it for the insight it gives into one of the authors who I have enjoyed since I was a teenager when I discovered ‘A Small Town in Germany’ in the school library and ‘A Perfect Spy’ on the BBC.

Dare I Weep? Dare I Mourn? (John le Carré)

A very short story (15 pages or so) that I picked up because Amazon showed it to me as I marked The Pigeon Tunnel as finished on my Kindle’s Goodreads interface. I rated it as three stars, but it’s a great short story. A German Grocer in a small town in West Germany is notified that his father has died, and he has to go and collect the body to fulfil his last wish of being buried in Lübeck with his son’s family. It’s cleverly done, and I may well revise the rating upwards after some reflection.

Strange Dogs (James SA Corey)

A new Expanse novella (about three times the length of le Carré’s) which tells the tale of an alien encounter from the perspective of a young girl who has only really known the world through one of the gates that her parents have become reluctant colonists on after their research station has been coopted by the military after trouble back in the solar system. I’m curious if this is foreshadowing where the next Expanse novel will take us. Worth a read, and will stand up even if you haven’t read any of the other books.
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Books in April, May & June 2017

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The Enclave (Ann Charnock)

This was incredibly hard work to read for me. The story is well written, but the plot and the characters just didn't engage with me. Set in a future were refugees live in enclaves out side cities in Britain, the story focuses upon a young boy - Caleb - and his employer in alternating point of view chapters. He works in the rag trade, fed food and board for his work, and is promoted to become the supervisor in a world he doesn’t really understand.

Snowblind (Ragnar Jónasson)

Set in the north of Iceland in an isolated former fishing town, the story tells the tale of a just graduated police officer as he takes up his post four hundred miles away from his girlfriend back in Reykjavik. As the snows of winter close in, a woman is found bleeding and half naked in the snow, and an elderly famous writer falls to his death. I liked this - it was quite terse and claustrophobic in parts, but a good whodunnit.

The Memoirist (Neil Williamson)

Fourth of the NewCon Press Novella sequence, I approached this with trepidation after the difficulties that I had with The Enclave. Fortunately, this one engaged me very quickly. It’s set in the near future, in a world with near pervasive surveillance. It explores the idea of the Panopticon[1] through the impact of the complete loss of privacy by the lead character. I found it interesting and engaging.

Jesus Christ, Reanimator (Ken MacLeod)

A couple of short stories by Ken MacLeod, including speculation on what would happen if Christ returned in our modern world. A short read, but excellent as ever.

The Last Wish (Andrzej Sapkowski)

I’d been vaguely aware of the video game The Witcher, but didn’t realise that it was based upon a series of novels. Someone posted the cinematic trailers for the next instalment of the video game, and I was intrigued enough to follow it up on Wikipedia, which led me to the book. Set in a mid-late middle ages type world, Gerald is a Witcher, a hunter of Monsters. Taken as a child and genetically modified, he travels across the lands taking payment for ridding the countryside of evil through a combination of combat prowess, magic and wits. The author is Polish, so the feel of the book has that Mittel-European vibe that I associate with the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying game, and a distant flavour that is recognisable and different. The book is really a collection of short stories with a carefully constructed narrative link, and it manages to avoid repetition and predictability. I look forward to reading the other books.

The Man from Berlin (Luke McCain)

This was an impulse buy; I suspect Amazon showed it to me following the various ‘Station’ novels that I read last year. The novel is set during the Second World  War, and the protagonist is a German officer serving in the Balkans as an investigator. He is a former police officer, and is conflicted with the abuse of due process. He has also lost his wife, and most likely his sone. He’s assigned to investigate the murder of a Serbian fascist film star, partly as one of his unit was also a victim. The plot twists and turns with the tensions between the Germans and the local authorities and the ongoing in-fighting for position between the German forces. In the background, there are hints of the German resistance and a growing conflict with the partizans. I enjoyed this and will return to read the next of the sequence.

Troll Bridge (Neil Gaiman)

I can be a sucker for Neil Gaiman stories; this one looked intriguing, and nicely illustrated. A young boy meets a troll, who is going to eat him. Instead, he strikes a bargain that he has no intention of keeping.

The Travelling Bag: And Other Ghostly Stories (Susan Hill)

A collection of Susan Hill ghost stories; enjoyed this, but none of them have stuck in my mind as well as collection with the Woman in Black did. Would happily read it again though as they are well written and darkly evocative.

Forbidden Brides of the Faceless Slaves in the Secret House of the Night of Dread Desire (Neil Gaiman)

Amusing story about genre writing from Neil Gaiman. Very different illustrative style to the first book.

Veins of the Earth (Patrick Stuart & Scrap Princess)

This one is a gaming book; nominally for Lamentations of the Flame Princess, it is usable with pretty much any D&D clone. It’s all about underground adventures, fitting into the same niche as the old AD&D Dungeoneer’s Survival Guide but it’s so much more. It feels more like an art project the way that the writing and the illustrations come together. There are huge numbers of ideas here that could easily enrich a gaming campaign.

Prisoners of Geography (Tim Marshall)

I bought this on a whim from WH Smiths on the last train journey that I did before I left Unilever, and I’m glad that I did. The book takes and runs with the impact that geography has upon the growth of states and that there is a certain inevitability to how the various continents have developed. I found the European, North American and Asian parts the most interesting, probably as there is much more recorded history in Europe and Asia, while the North American entry documents the growth of the USA. Overall, there are parts where I think the author tries too hard to make the connection but it’s an interesting and coherent read that gives great hints into geopolitics.

Saga Vol 2 (Brian K Vaughan)

The second part of the future SF story of two soldiers from opposing sides falling in love. This one deals with a visit from the in-laws. This is clever and strangely enticing work.

The Coldest Winter (Antony Johnston)

Prequel to The Coldest City, which I read some years ago and has now been filmed as Atomic Blonde. An operation goes wrong in Cold War Berlin and SIS tries to resolve it. This is the backstory for one of the key characters in the later book. The book is illustrated in stark black and white style which is very  thematic. I enjoyed the story but I’m not certain that the graphic novel format adds a lot extra over text.

Ghost in the Shell Vol 1 (Masamune Shirow)

I stumbled on this at Destination Venus in Harrogate. It is a reissue of Shirow’s classic manga. Hardcover, with some extra colour, this one runs right-to-left back-to-front as it was originally published. Reading it made me realise just how unfair some of the criticism for the live action movie was.

Ghost in the Shell Vol 1.5 (Masamune Shirow)

This one wasn’t from Destination Venus as they didn’t have it. I bought it from Amazon, and enjoyed a selection of tales about Section 9 after the Major leaves.

Ghost in the Shell Vol 2 (Masamune Shirow)

The other book I picked up at Destination Venus; it has to be said that the gentleman selling the books to me was relieved i bought them as it kept him out of being in trouble with his wife. Enjoyable, but very mixed up, complex and at time nearly impenetrable.

The Coldest City (Antony Johnston)

The follow up to The Coldest Winter chronologically, but the first book published. A female British SIS agent is sent to recover a list with critical information that could be lost if the Soviets or East Germans obtain it, after the agent who had it was killed. Events ensue over a backdrop of late Cold War Berlin. Once again, it is beautifully illustrated.

Beacon 23: The Complete Novel (Hugh Howey)

I’ve had a soft spot for Hugh Howey since I read Wool but this one failed to hit the mark. An injured soldier who was part of a key battle against aliens retires to man a lighthouse, a remote station that generates gravity waves to warn off and manage shipping around dangerous locations in space. The story is interesting but it never really hit the mark for me and it felt like Howey was trying too hard to get a message across.

Lyonnesse: The Green Pearl (Jack Vance)

The second of the Lyonesse books. I can’t read these quickly due to the beautiful richness of the prose. These books are superb, and the style is still recognisably that of the author of the Dying Earth. I still can’t believe that I missed these when they came out. Anyway, I recommend this wholeheartedly.

The Watcher in the Shadows (Carlos Ruiz Záfon)

One of Záfon’s young adult stories, but none-the-worse for that. Some years before the Second World War, a family moves from Paris to the Atlantic Coast to so the mother can take up a role as a housekeeper after her husband passes away with debts. The family settle into the seaside village, and encounter the fascinating automata that Lazarus Jann, the mother’s employer, has created once he retired from toy manufacturing. But there is a darkness to this place that soon becomes apparent against the blossoming of new love. I really enjoyed this; it’s not quite at the same level as the three Barcelona books but it’s very good.

Elidor (Alan Garner)

As I’d just finished one young adult novel, I decided to try another that I originally read at school. I guess that the would be classified as ‘urban fantasy’ now, but at the time it really felt far more unique than that. Set in Manchester, a group of siblings stumble upon a fantastic world. Less overt than stories like CS Lewis’ Narnia books, the children fleetingly become involved in a conflict against evil, then return home and try to forget that Elidor ever existed until it forces itself back into their lives. I’ve read better, but the wistful, light and deft touch that Garner brings to his stories remains a favourite of mine.

[1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panopticon#Criticism_and_use_as_metaphor

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War, Inc - some thoughts

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Last night, I watched War, Inc, a film with John Cusack, Joan Cusack, Dan Ackroyd, Ben Kingsley and more. I was disappointed. I’d stumbled upon it following someone mentioning that it was 20 years since Gross Point Blank had come out and that this was the closest to a sequel.

I went into this deliberately suppressing my expectations. The story is a condemnation and extrapolation of American power politics. The set up is that Cusack is a hit man (shades of GPB, The Numbers Station and more) who is hired   to take a position in a country that has recently been overthrown by Tamerlane, a company that has had US military activity sub-contracted to it. Joan Cusack reprises to role of his assistant from GPB, and Dan Ackroyd plays the head of Tamerlane (and former US Vice-President).

He is nominally in charge of the Expo that is meant to show that the country is open for business, but he’s really there to kill businessman that is making things awkward for Tamerlane and the US. His work is complicated by the fact that there is an attractive and inquisitive reporter, and a central-asian pop-star (whose wedding is the final part of the Expo) who need to be managed. Add to that the fact that the country is not really pacified and resistance is active.

For me, the film was clumsy; it wasn’t clear if it was satire or farce and the plot became incredibly messy which meant that it didn’t deliver its message. It misfires all the way through. There are some really clever elements, but overall it feels like the script didn’t have a focus. It’s more like an unfocussed scream of anger about US policy, but the lack of focus means it doesn’t land well. Disappointing.

14 April 2017
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Furnace 2016 (Furnace XI) - The Great Plague

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Once again, the seasons turned and Furnace was upon us again. Of course, as the junior committee member, my main concerns were making sure that the badges were printed and the raffle tickets ready to use. There was a moment of panic with this when someone observed that the Facebook post that I had shared with the badges in had people who weren’t going to be there. Fortunately that turned out to be a simple failure to clear a few cells in Excel, so I didn’t have to spend a second evening preparing the badges again.

I’d taken the easy route this year for GMing, opting to run two games that I had rolled out earlier in the year at TravCon.

Day 0
I arrived at the Garrison around nine thirty in the evening to discover a murder mystery evening going on. At least, that’s what the signs said, as some of the costumes wouldn’t have been out of place in Kubrick’s “Eyes Wide Shut”. A quick pint at the bar, and some chat about Marillion, gaming and more. I managed to dodge the Brexit moans, but it was great to catch up face-to-face with people I usually play with on Google Hangouts. Shout out to the One Ring gamers, and the Esoterrorists!

Day 1
Graham, Elaine and I met when the breakfast opened, and were quickly back into the routines that we had in place. Graham and I got the rooms ready, while Elaine made sure that the Games sign up and signage was all in place. Main issue this year was in the Armoury, which was lacking in both chairs and light. Fortunately, this was quickly solved. We activated the reserve GM for Slot #1 as we knew that a few GMs were missing. Unfortunately this backfired a little, but we quickly adjusted.

Graham did the kick off speech (see the Facebook page for this if you want to), and we were off. The backfire was that the reserve GM pulling out of the game he was in led to that game not going ahead due to lack of players. It was at that point that we realised that - as well as a GM shortage due to the large - we also had a number of players missing. Main change was that we reduced the call up of reserve GMs after Slot 1 to make sure that we had filled games. We also deliberately didn’t get the ‘big bag o’games’ out of the car, as we felt it may discourage people joining in some of the games.

I don’t usually play in Slot 1, so I’m on hand for stragglers and/or issues. There weren’t any as such so I headed to Morrisons in the company of John O and Newt, and we caught up as we bought lunch and supplies.

Slot 2 came around soon enough, and I was running. This was Traveller, and I had been tempted by the new shiny of the second edition by Mongoose, so I quickly opted to use the bane/boon dice, which worked well. The new book is well laid out and easy to reference, and I used it throughout[1]. The scenario was set on a border world outside the Imperium, in the Vargr extents, and the characters were the two grandparents, and four kids (15, 13 3/4, 10, 10). A carnival run by Vargr came to town and event ensued. As of that game, Goober is now “Princess” in my mind, as that’s what Max (playing “Gramps”) called his 15 year old cheerleader throughout the game. I think everyone enjoyed themselves. It ended with a suitable set of explosions.

Slot 3 had me in my pre-sign of Matt N’s Delta Green. I was curious about which rules; turned out to be the 7th edition which flowed very smoothly. We played British PISCES agents, and the game had mild PVP and some nasty elements. I enjoyed this a lot. We ended up playing late, being urged out of the upper room by the Garrison’s supervisor. I had a quick chat in the bar, but went to bed soon after.

Day 3
Early breakfast again, and a bit of amusement; we went to book the Garrison for Furnace XII next year, and found it had already been booked and someone had put a room reservation in place. Now, Graham swears he hadn’t booked it, and we had gone down with three potential dates. By late afternoon the hotel was pretty much booked out!

Slot 4 saw me in Andy S's fun OpenQuest based “Guardians of Gloriana”. I was just getting into this when I got a call from home from Jill, my better half. She’d been called into work on an emergency, so I had to go home to look after the kids. I was gutted, but needs must. Handed over the raffle, apologised to my pre-booked players for Slot 5 and to Elaine and said my goodbyes. Furnace was over all too quickly for me.

Swag: Traveller Core Rules (Mongoose 2nd edition), Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu and The Cursed Chateau (LotFP).

Next Con: Dragonmeet.
Next Garrison Con: Revelation.

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[1]: Although it was only starship combat and the tables that I really needed.

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Boardgame Bonanza

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This weekend we caught up with some old friends from our Wirral days; Richard, Alli and their daughter Caitlin. We first met when I joined the Chester RPG club, and have stayed in contact ever since, even when we moved over the Pennines to Wetherby. Saturday was mainly spent catching up and chilling, but – while Jill was out stewarding at Church – we broke out the boardgames.

Colt Express
First up was Colt Express, a game of "schemin' and shootin'" set in the Wild West. It has gorgeous 3D cardboard models of a train that you and your fellow bandits are planning to rob. Your meeples can run across the roof or through the carriages, shooting, punching, looting whilst trying to dodge the Marshal and the other players at the same time. We played a five player game.

The first phase of the game involves planning your moves; you each place a card into the combined deck. In the most, the other players see your cards (unless they're played face down because you're in a tunnel), and can react to them if they anticipate what you want to do. This means that your best laid plans can degenerate to chaos as your schemin' comes into contact with the other players. The hand you build is made up from six cards you deal from your deck. Now, if you get shot, you have bullet cards added to the deck, and they're bad because you cannot do anything. If you have a four card turn, and you draw three bullet cards in your hand then you're going to potentially miss a move and be very limited!

The second phase is executing the moves, which is where the chaos happens! It's great fun; in the end, you win by having the most cash at the end of the game. This comes from four sources; gems and bags of cash you loot, the strong-box the Marshall is guarding, and being the best gunslinger (by firing off all your bullets). Nathan enjoyed the game, although it was a bit much for Aidan at the age of 4. We will be playing this again.


Lords of Waterdeep
I'd picked up Lords of Waterdeep during the Amazon Black Friday event last year on the advice of one of my colleagues at work who is also a gamer, but hadn't had a chance to play it. I had been contemplating selling it as part of the clear-out I have been doing to make space and get rid of games that are just gathering dust. Alli and Richard said that I had to play it, so the counters were popped, the board set up, and we set out to play.

Lords of Waterdeep is a worker placement game, where you each take to role of one of the shadowy leaders of the city. You gain victory points by completing quests, and a hidden bonus that is only revealed at the end by completing quests that are aligned to your Lord's agenda. In my case, I had to complete Arcana (magic) and Commerce quests; I was pretty open about this as it was my first game, but I can see how the hidden element could really add to the fun.

You complete quests by recruiting adventurers - represented by different coloured cubes - and then spending them (sometimes with gold) to gain victory points and - in the case of a plot quest - further advantages going forward. You recruit adventurers by placing your agents on certain buildings (and you can build more buildings) and also by playing intrigue cards (which can also screw other players up). You get an initial hand of quests, and can draw more by placing your agents in the appropriate building. First player is also decided through the game by who acquires a certain building.

In the end, I scored 171 points, just one point ahead of Alli and about 40 behind Richard. I really enjoyed myself and will definitely play this again!

Machi Koro, Take 4
Later in the afternoon, Nathan was pestering us to play Machi Koro repeatedly. So we did.

The game is very simple. You are mayor of a town and part of your manifesto commitment is to build four landmarks. These are a Radio Tower, a Shopping Mall, an Amusement Park and a Train Station. You build these by spending gold, and as you acquire them they give you bonuses.

You get gold through the property you own. You start with a wheatfield and a bakery. Property cards are split into four different colours; blue cards get you gold from the bank whenever anyone roles that number on the die/dice; green cards get you gold from the bank on your roll only; red cards get you money from the player who rolled they dice; and purple cards get you money off other players when they roll. Each card is marked with a number from 1 to 12 which corresponds to the dice roll needed for it to score.

You win the game by picking a tactic and building an engine to deliver. Once you have bought one of the landmarks (the train station), you can roll two dice rather than the single die you start with. This unlocks other cards (such as the furniture factory, which scores based on the number of forests and mines that you own).

Some reviewers - Pookie UK, for example - have said that the game is limited and a bit repetitive until you get the Harbor expansion. I think that this is probably true, but we haven't hit enough games to make that show yet just using the base game. I do own the expansion, and I guess that it will come out once we feel the need. Machi Koro remains a firm favourite with Nathan (8) despite his spectacular strategic plan disaster in this game, and it's in the pile of games to go on holiday.


16 August 2015


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On the passing of David Bowie

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It may be heresy, but David Bowie never figured greatly in my musical journey through my teenage years and beyond [1]. Sure, I recognised that he had written many songs that were a backdrop to my life - Space Oddity, Life on Mars, Ashes to Ashes, Let's Dance to name a few - but something never clicked. Perhaps it was the fact that pop and rock weren't really a strong part of my growing up (my father preferred classical music and my mother was more into Andy Williams, the Carpenters and so on), or perhaps it was part of the revulsion that I held for the 1970s.

I went through a New Romantic phase (Ultravox), then a rock phase (U2, Queen and Simple Minds) with an eclectic side mix (Lloyd Cole, The Cure) before settling into prog rock with Marillion and later Pink Floyd Metal, Goth and Industrial happened in University, later moving into Trance. But somehow, no Bowie. I'm not sure why. Somehow I even missed the fact that groups like Simple Minds had a Bowie influence (their name) and others that I liked often covered him at concerts or on cover's albums (Fish, Mr h). Makes me feel slightly daft.

My biggest memory of discussing him came from an English lesson at secondary school when one of my class-mates - Louise Dixon - gave a five minute talk on 'David Jones', which gave me a background on him I never had. I think I dismissed him as a 70s star in my mind.

Having caught a lot of the media retrospectives over the last week I bought a few of his earlier albums. And, wow, I'm impressed. I think I missed something by just listening to the greatest hits. I think the continuity of style and approach in the albums has hooked me, whereas the collection jumps around in style too much. So now I need to explore his catalogue further. I think it'll be exciting.

26 Jan 2016

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[1]: A few years back, I realised that I was missing out here, so bought the greatest hits album, and was amazed how much good stuff was there. It wasn't an album that I listened to a lot, but I liked it.

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Extortion, pure and simple

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Once upon a time, I started to get interested in graphics and design to support work that I was doing to produce material for the Traveller RPG. I started on the slippery slope with a scanner and a copy of Adobe Photoshop. I’ve a feeling it was version 4 or some-such. I also picked up Adobe Illustrator, which was used very heavily in producing graphics for the starship designs in the BITS book Power Projection. Over the years, I upgraded these, and I added a full copy of Adobe Acrobat to support PDF preparation, and for a while used Adobe Go-Live for web design (until it was killed off).

Adobe used to have a reasonably open upgrade policy; so long as you were within three versions or so of the current software release, you qualified for the upgrade price. As I was a more occasional user, I tended to upgrade every 3 years or so, which used to cost ~£400-£600 depending on what I updated and how long it had been since the last upgrade which tended to influence Adobe’s costs.

Eventually, I jumped to the Creative Studio to get access to Adobe InDesign as well, diving in at CS2. I played around with dropping Photoshop for first of all Acorn (really nice and I do use it) and then Pixelmator (never really had the time to play with this), but stuck with it - especially after I got some great actions for building planets. I could never find a replacement for Illustrator that I liked, and had ended up with CS because neither Swift Publisher or iCalamus had been robust enough for layout.

Jumped to CS4 because changes to OS X needed it, and then found myself upgrading  within eighteen months to CS5.5 because Adobe said that when CS6 was released CS4 would not be eligible to upgrade. A month after I did, they reversed the decision, and also added an option to buy CS5.5 and get CS6 in a few months time. Frankly, I was not impressed and felt that I’d been played as a fool.

Adobe then moved to the subscription system with Creative Cloud but I’ve never jumped. A single application costs £17 per month (so £200 per year) and the full  CC package costs around £500 per year. As a comparator, the entire Microsoft Office Suite (which I use a lot more - and I guess has a lot more users) is around £70 for the year. I can’t justify these costs, not for casual use. I’m not a business.

When OS X 10.11 El Capitan came out, parts of Illustrator broke (the eye-dropper tool produces regular crashes) with CS5.5. Now, I could upgrade to CS6 (but that’ll be somewhere in the £300-£500 range (based on previous checks) but there’s no guarantee that it will survive the next OS X update.

Instead, I picked up Serif’s Affinity Designer, a newly built from the ground drawing and design program which is seriously aiming to be an ‘Illustrator-killer’. It’s faster and more stable, and probably has 90% or more of the functions I could ever want. It’s also £40 with free updates through the Mac App Store. They’ve also released Affinity Photo, which is a Photoshop replacement. Both will read PS and AI files, and output PSD, EPS, PDF and all the rest. They also use the same file format. The price? £40.

What I’m most excited about is Affinity Publisher, as Serif have a good reputation for their DTP package. This is due next year. They’ve said the first release won’t generate Creative Studio compatible files, but it is on the route map. The price is also planned as £40.

I think that slowly, Adobe are going to lose me as a customer. It was only £500 every 2-3 years, but it’ll be zero, because they decided to price people like me out from their software. As it stands, I only need InDesign and Acrobat (and I can replace the latter easily).

18 November 2015

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The Robocop Reboot

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While I was preparing the badges for Furnace X  tonight, I watched the reboot of Robocop. I enjoyed it, but I think that it lost itself somewhere between trying to be a serious story about the use of robot weaponry, a story of relationship changes forced by Alex Murphy having a near full-body prosthetic fitted, and a crime action thriller. It was really disappointing that the female characters were reduced to ciphers; more could have been made of them. The technology, look and feel was excellent though. Recommended, somewhat reluctantly.

15 October 2015 
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Initial Thoughts on iOS 9

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I don’t do the public betas of iOS or OS X, as I prefer the guarantee of a better level of stability (although, it has to be said that Photos and iTunes under Yosemite are really good at causing a kernel panic through the NVIDIA graphics chip and taking my iMac out). As a result, I’ve been watching news and comments articles on iOS 9 with interest.

I finally got to try it today, as – surprisingly – I was able to download the installers on all on our iOS devices from about 90 minutes after the update went live. This is fantastic compared to previous launches when the servers have been so busy that it has taken me the best part of 24 hours to get the download.

Installation was smooth on our iPad 2, iPad mini, iPhone 5s and iPhone 6. The old iPad 1 is long past updates but fine for movies and some internet.

First impressions - the new system font, San Francisco, feels more rounded than Helvetica Nueue, but I like the style. In honesty, three hours in it feels the norm. The introduction of a ‘Back to App’ option when you drop to another app is great. The introduction of Ad Blockers seems great, but unfortunately can’t be used on the iPads as they aren’t 64 bit CPUs which the architecture is built around. The backlight adjustments for ambient light seem more aggressive. I’m not certain in the new app switcher screen, but I’m glad it lost the contacts material. It feels quicker, but this could be psychological.

Be interesting to see how this develops.

16 September 2015
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Interstellar (potential spoilers)

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I watched Christopher Nolan’s epic hard science fiction movie Interstellar over the weekend while Jill was ill and I wasn’t. Visually, it was awesome, but the story left me feeling underwhelmed.

Now, I’m not sure if I’m the right kind of person to be judging this as I probably understand more about the scientific jargon that they use in the film than Joe Average, but it was nothing about the science that was an issue. I think that it fell into the 2001 A Space Odyssey trap of loving itself just a little too much. Some of the key events seemed very semaphored and obvious, especially who was signalling to humanity, and the revelations of Dr. Mann’s world. Some of the backstory elements; for example, the chasing of the drone and the weird compass effects on the combine harvesters weren’t that well developed and seemed to be bolted onto the plot for exposition. I’m also not convinced about the entry into the black hole, but I’ll take John O’s recommendation and read Kip Thorne’s tie-in science book first before I have a final judgement on that.

One element I did like was the way that it used an analogy with the issues seen in the present-day USA with creationists rewriting text books to remove evolution, to a plot thread with the US government officially having the Apollo programme officially a successful propaganda exercise and that the moon landings never happened. The smugness of the young teacher spouting this off made me want to shout at the screen. I think you could make a really interesting film using this as a concept. The ideal vehicle for it would be the novel by Niven, Pournelle  & Flynn: Fallen Angels.

I enjoyed the film, and will happily watch it again, but I think it reached high, and fell short of the stars.

9 April 2015
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