Friday, 15 June 2012

double dip

I have Monday and Tuesday off next week, as I will be having a couple of job interviews.

I've already discussed the other interviews I've had.  The first went well, but me deciding that it was probably too similar to my current job and that I wanted to go in a different direction.  The second went okay - it was nothing special but also it didn't feel like an area I wanted to move into.

At the time of writing I have two interviews - one on each day.  I'd actually been hoping with all the interest people seem to have been expressing in me that I'd be able to arrange a couple of other interviews for the same days.  That's not quite worked out, unfortunately.

There seems to be a bit of an odd split in that some companies as soon as they've seen your CV and decided you'd be worth talking to they want you there within the week (stupidly impractical) and others the agent or whoever "chats you up" and then it's weeks before you here if they want to interview.

So I've been fielding all sorts of calls from agent's last couple of weeks asking me the same questions and they saying they'll put my CV in but unfortunately the company's seem to have mostly fallen into the latter camp.  By which I mean I've not heard anything.

Now obviously that could be because they're not interested and the agents haven't been bothered to tell me, but it does mean the two days I'd taken off are kinda a bit empty.

The Monday is particularly annoying.  The company is not that far away from me but they wanted the interview in the middle of the day.  And I really do mean the middle of the day - it's at what I would normally consider to be lunch.

But it does definitely mean I couldn't just take a half day but most of it I'm not really going to have anything to do.

Tuesday is more sensible, as the company is based in Cambridge, which is a good 2 to 3 hour drive away.  The interview is at 2PM so that gives me plenty of time to get up there and, assuming it lasts an hour or so, I shouldn't fair too badly traffic wise (famous last words).

Weirdly it's this Cambridge day that I may wangle another interview on for somewhere in Loughborough.  Loughborough is a fair distance from Cambridge so it may not work out with time slots they have, but it's a lot further from me that it is Cambridge, if you see what I mean.

Anyway, upshot is I won't be blogging until Wednesday but when I return I'll post about how the interviews went.

Thursday, 14 June 2012


There's a new simcity game in the works.

The website is

The last simcity game was simcity societies, which was a staggering 5 years ago (and will be more like 6 by the time this new game hits, which is due in February of next year).  It was also awful.  In fact I'm not sure it doesn't rank as one of the worst games I've ever played.

The problem with it was that they seemed to be trying to bend a game that's about simulating a city (i.e. a real thing) into some sort of weird levelling up thing.  So the big sell for it was that there were these particular factors that affected the look of your city, like happiness or industry and when they hit certain levels the look of your city changed to reflect these.

The problem was that none of the levels made much sense and, since this new levelling was what the game was about it basically encouraged you to slap down a load of random stuff that would boost the particular level you were going for.  And none of it really mattered - you didn't gain anything my taking the city in that direction.

In order to achieve this focus they had hacked out a lot of what simcity was supposed to be about.  So the more complex stuff where you had to balance all sorts of numbers and statistics to ensure a properly functioning city was basically chopped out and everything became simpler.

It's a bit like deciding to improve football by taking away that pesky round thing everyone kicks about and instead replacing it with a hair salon and now the point of the game is to get all of your players to have identical haircuts.

Anyway, the point is that this new simcity looks to be going back to what simcity is all about.  Looking at some of the preview stuff there does appear to be an element of what the societies had in that a greater focus on industry will affect certain things in the game, but I get the impression those aren't just confined to the graphics that are being used.

But certainly from what's there it looks much more like it's about simulating a city again.

Before societies the last simcity game was simcity 4 which was a staggering 10 years ago.  I have to confess I didn't really enjoy 4.  The simcity I loved was simcity 2000 on the PlayStation.

Now one issue I had with 4 was at the time I had a fairly basic PC and it was a monster hog for resources, so it never really worked very well even on small towns.  However, I seem to recall that my main issue with 4 was the degree of micromanagement that everything required.  Or, more specifically, that the micromanagement was tedious and boring.  I don't mind micromanagement, so long as it's fun (or at least simple or pretty) to do.  But in 4 I seem to recall loads of sliders and tweakers that affected tiny little things.

I'll use two specific examples.

So in 2000 I recall you had a single slider that allowed you to adjust the funding you gave to each police station and this affected the area where they could cover.  It had a nice simple display that showed the spheres of influence expanding and contracting.

In 4 you had a slider for each station which you could adjust tiny amounts to affect the coverage (I have a vague feeling there was actually more to it than that as well) and I think you had an overall slider as well, so it was much more complicated, but not in a fun way because you could only adjust the individual slider at the individual station.

The other example is to do with water pumps.  In 2000 you put down a water pump and that was basically it - it cost you an amount of money to run, but once it was there that was basically it.  In 4 the pumps (I've a feeling they had water towers instead, but same difference) had a lifetime, so after that period they would basically blow up or stop, so you had to replace them.

Now imagine you went on a water pump building spree one year.  In x year's time you're going to have to replace all of those pumps.  Except it's not that simple because the pump's lifetime is affected by its level of usage, so pumps that are used heavily blow up quicker, so now you've got pumps randomly blowing up and needing replacing across several years.  And you could only find that out by keeping an eye on every pump or waiting until there's a big area of your map with no water and that's therefore going desolate and hunting for the one pump that's stopped working.

It was all way too tedious.

My hope is that they manage to get the balance right or at the least make the micromanagement a lot easier and more fun.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012


Oh, and my back hurts as well and has done for the last week - that was another reason for my bad mood.

This is avatar the James Cameron film, rather than the air bender one.

It was also in regular old 2D.  I still haven't seen any of these new wave of 3D films that was kicked off by avatar.  I can't honestly say I really fancy them, but also I don't really go to the cinema very often and getting 3D at home seems both expensive and like a massive faff.

Anyway, the USP (unique selling point dont'cha know) for avatar was therefore not available to me so I could only judge it on the effects and story, etc, though I did watch it on Blu-Ray.

I actually enjoyed it more than I thought I would.  I'd heard how it was basically Pocahontas in space, but I've never seen Pocahontas.  One thing I would say is the plot did seem relatively predictable, but even with that it's actually really well executed and throws in some nice little bits that keep you interested in what's going on.

The effects are, quite frankly, amazing.

The choice to do aliens was a very appropriate one as one of the difficulties with previous CGI movies is that the human characters have felt slightly creepy.  By using humanoid aliens it allows you to suspend disbelief and they don't feel creepy because they're different.  Of course I'm sure there will have been plenty of CGI humans in there too, but when you're being presented with aliens I think your brain is less able to notice them.  Plus things have come a long way.

It's also quite clear Cameron and the whole design time has had a blast with designing their own world.  It's quite a testament that it feels really believable on the whole - you don't feel like they've just stuck things in for ease but they've really tried to think about what an alien ecosystem might look like.

It wasn't all tea and cake, though as there were a few things that didn't quite work for me.

Firstly it was very long.  I'd say it just about stayed inside an envelope of acceptability, especially given the visual spectacle, but it was rather on the cusp of acceptability.

Another thing was the half-alien (where the avatar part comes from) Sigourney Weaver looked weird.  The problem was that she has such a distinctive look that it was the wrong side of looking like her such that it felt like they'd taken a photo of her, stretched it and dyed it blue.  The other characters weren't so bad, since the original actors either weren't hugely distinctive or the half-aliens looked more like caricatures.

But my biggest bug-bare was the use of "unobtanium" for the McGuffin - the thing that drives the plot but that actually doesn't really matter.  The problem was every time someone said it I felt jarred out of the narrative in that it was like a big spike to the brain going "clearly it's made this up but we're trying to be a little post-modern about it".

It's like a while back I put something into a story where there was a plane giving their code number reference name to the air traffic controller and I thought it would be a sort of a clever not to use "Whisky-Tango-Foxtrot" - so "WTF" in other words.  The problem was that as soon as I'd done that it had the effect of totally undermining the whole thing.  It was like I'd burst the balloon of the story's reality and it had just become a mess of self-aware nods and winks.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

bad mood

I've been a seriously bad mood just recently.

Yesterday and today it's been particularly bad, for some reason.  The real problem is I'm not entirely sure why I'm in a bad mood.

I think a big part of it may be difficulty with sleeping.

My difficulty sleeping is mainly a reflection of the time of year.  You wouldn't really know it from what's been happening with the weather, but it's very close to the summer solstice, which is the longest day of the year.

This causes me problems because I've always found it difficult to get to sleep when there are bright sources of light shining on me.  This isn't helped by the fact that bright light in the morning is a well-known cue to wake up and of course at this time of year it doesn't get late until very light and then it's bright early in the morning.

As such I've been struggling to get enough sleep recently and this is something I know makes me cranky.

The other thing is I've been really frustrated at work.

I've obviously discussed how I'm searching for a new job and this last few weeks have really underlined some of the problems with where I currently work.  A lot of the systems and processes we use are either massively inefficient or, to be frank, non-existent.

What makes this worse is that I know if I tried to change them then I'd hit the barriers I always do.  It makes things very frustrating.  It's particularly annoying at the moment because of all the activity there is at the moment and the lack of control I have.

I'm also a little frustrated with the job hunting.  I mean, it's going okay but I get a bit annoyed with the agents and sometimes with the companies and what they expect you to be able to do.  It's blatantly obvious that I have a job currently and I'm quite key to it, but they keep phoning me up at stupid times when I clearly can't talk.

And in particular, why not just send me an e-mail?  Almost none of the conversations I've had on the phone couldn't simply have been quickly dealt with via e-mail.

I also find it frustrating that they don't get back to you.  I mean, they must look at all the CVs for the jobs - a quick "thanks but no thanks" only takes a few seconds.  And it is their basic point after all.

But more frustrating is when the agents do get back to you and ask you all these questions and then weeks go by with nothing but silence.  If the company aren't interested then tell me.  If it was always going to take weeks because of their timetable then set that expectation up front.

It's also annoying that many companies engage multiple agents, but because the agents don't then reveal who their client is in their adverts you have to work out that it's the same job or you end up submitting yourself multiple times, which is just a gigantic waste of everybody's time and effort.

It's also annoying that they clearly just chance their arms a lot of the time.  I've had a few contact me with opportunities that actually I've already seen and rejected because they don't match (usually because they're looking for someone a bit more senior) and then of course the company reject me because I'm not a match - wow, what a surprise.  Which goes back to one of the problems of using the agents - they don't really understand what the job is most of the time, they're just regurgitating a spec that they've been given.

My bad mood is pretty obvious isn't it?

Monday, 11 June 2012

canadian grand prix

No post on Friday as it was absolutely bonkers at work.

To be honest it's totally bonkers at work today as well.  Today's bonkers-ness has been caused by two people going on holiday at the same time and two more going to a conference.  When you're a tiny company that sort of thing is a nightmare and shouldn't have happened, to be frank.

Canadian Grand Prix this last week and Lewis finally got his first win of the season.  It was a cracking race, which Canada almost invariably is.

This shines another highlight on some of the bizarre selections for races that the BBC shows in full and those they only show highlights for.  They showed the last race, Monaco, in full and while that can be good, usually it's boring (as a race) and that was the case this year.

And they're going to show the next race, Valencia, in full and, to paraphrase Mark Webber, it's about as thrilling as watching people negotiate a Tesco's Car Park.

What makes this last weekend particularly galling is that, despite the clear promise made by the BBC that 5live would continue to air full coverage of the F1 races throughout the year, they didn't.

Now they were scheduled to - it clearly showed coverage for the race itself on 5Live Extra on my PVR, but in the event they aired coverage of the Test Match instead on 5Live Extra and the 5Live had some "build up" programme for the shitball-excuse-me-football.  In order to listen to the race I had to go online (onto the BBC F1 pages, rather than 5Live web pages as the announcer said).

They also didn't air coverage of the qualifying properly - it was bits and piece during another programme and only aired 1 of the practice sessions.

However, what all this perhaps did highlight was one of the reasons the BBC weren't entirely bothered about renewing the full F1 package - the summer there's an embarrassment of riches for sport that the BBC can air without having to pay fees, etc.

In particular there's the Euro 2012 competition and the Olympics which will each saturate the airwaves for a good couple of weeks.  And these generally coincide with F1 race weekends at some point.

I guess from my point of view one of the advantages of all this sport I don't give a toss about is that I will gain lots of free time in the summer.  Especially since the sport I do like is going to get short shrift while these other things are going on.

I have to say that if my job search results in a significant uplift in pay I'm beginning to be very tempted to get Sky.  They fact you get it free with the HD package, which I'd want anyway and so you don't need to get the full sports package is beginning to look like an attractive (expense aside) option.