Friday, 1 February 2013

6 months

Well, today marks the 6-month point since my deciding to stay on here.

And it also marks the point where I have decided to re-start my job search.

Unfortunately, yesterday I had a meeting that basically confirmed nothing has really changed.  Not fundamentally, and not where it really counts.  New month, same shit.

I also did some investigations about that whole thing I was going on about "cakes now and later" and it appears that I was somewhat mislead.  The basic issue is that it is essentially impossible for me to get as much as I was lead to believe.  What I could possibly get is basically limited by the system and is way, way below what I regard as being enough to justify my staying on.

I mean it's also been six months and nothing's happened about any sort of cake at all, so it's not like there's been any chance for the supposed growth to happen.  And on top of that, deep down I know that the same old shit over pay reviews will continue so whether that cake happens or not I'll continue to get screwed over in one form or another anyway.

I've also been looking on the job sites and it's not like my new salary is actually at a good level - it's bottom end of this type of job.

And as I say, nothing has really changed - promises have been broken, lunacy prevails over common sense, new procedures are ignored.  There's no strategy, and what they think is strategy actually just makes all the problems worse.  A crucial piece of software we were supposed to get 6 months ago hasn't happened and the problem they think it will really solve I know for a fact it won't (it can't - it doesn't work that way).  The 1 day of training on it they thought they'd bought actually turned out to be a day's development work and so we'll get no training on it anyway.  Heck, there doesn't even seem to be the competence to set up a direct debit for my pension.

I have even come to the conclusion that the one person in the office I thought was competent actually isn't.

No, that's not fair.  Competence isn't the only thing - they're also incredibly lazy as well.

I also haven't had my promising training.  Partly that is my fault, but also it's been put off several times by the boss.

Unfortunately, I'm in a bit of a situation this month where if I was to start taking random leave and/or sick days it would just screw me over, so instead I'm going to tweak my CV and then re-start the search in anger next month.

Thursday, 31 January 2013

red raw

This last weekend wasn't all about SimCity.

On Friday evening I had the odd experience of discovering what looked like a rash at the top of my leg, in my groin.  Now this was rather odd for a couple of reasons.

The first was that it looked a lot like a sweat rash, but the thing is with it having snowed last week I hadn't done very much walking at all, so I therefore hadn't done much sweating and so a sweat rash was a weird thing to have.

The second reason is that when I've had sweat rashes before they've been quite itchy, but this wasn't itchy at all.  In fact I only discovered it by seeing it reflected in a mirror completely by chance as I changed out of my work clothes.

My guess as to the cause is the extraordinary number of layers of clothes I have to wear at work in order to stay warm.  the heating at work has been pathetic this year and so I've ended up wearing loads of layers.  I'm thinking that either there was some rubbing or I was sweating in that sort of region without realising it.

Anyway, I was also a bit puzzled as to what I should do about it.  As I say there was no particular discomfort - with the warmer weather and the rain I went for a few long walks and I didn't have any discomfort then either.

I considered buying some sort of anti-septic cream or something along those lines - a moisturiser perhaps?  However, given my theory (which really revolves around the area not getting properly dry) I decided to take more showers (evening and morning) and then make sure I thoroughly dried the area.  I also decided to try to "air" it, which was a bit difficult to implement and meant curtains closed at odd periods of the day.

Anyway, this seemed to work - by Monday things were calmed down and you'd probably not know it had been there.  Also there's been some good news on the work heating front, which I'll talk about in another blog post, so hopefully it won't re-occur.

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

pirates of the caribbean - on stranger tides

I was a little perplexed by on stranger tides.

I suppose I should make a bit of a confession that I'm not quite a big a fan of the first film than seems to be the general consensus.  In particular Johnny Depp's performance as Jack Black doesn't really do that much for me - I found him quite difficult to understand, in particular.

I should also probably note that I hadn't appreciated this was a "reboot".

Weird - I've just had the strongest sense of deja vu.  I was suddenly convinced I'd already written and posted this review (it's a good while since I watched the rental as I'm a fair few weeks behind) but I've checked and I certainly haven't posted it on the blog.  If I've written it before then I've either deleted it or lost it.

I guess also there's a point there that reboots seem to be "the thing" at the moment.  Well, that and pointless 3D.  I guess rebooting something is really just the modern phrase as they've been remaking films in Hollywood for ages.  The distinction they're trying to make is that you reboot a franchise, with the aim that you will then make further sequels for your reboot.  In a normal remake you're just making the same thing over.

Of course some reboots are also remakes - the recent spider man film is, I understand, basically a remake wearing a reboot jacket.

Anyway, the point is that on stranger tides is essentially a reboot.  Well, that's what it says on the sites I looked at anyway - what I actually experienced was a similar sense of confusion I did for resident evil damnation, which I watched shortly before this film.  By that I mean that I felt confused as to whether this was meant to be a proper sequel (the story was unconnected, but several of the characters from the previous films are in this one, but, adding to my confusion, some of them are somewhat different and some of the actors re-appear, but playing different roles) or if it was a separate adventure, just using the same characters.

Discovering it was a reboot didn't really help, as in that case they seem to have picked a few bits out of the previous films and carried them forward, but then felt free to dump other things.  What they've picked also seems fairly random, rather than sort of being the best bits.  Perhaps they relate back to the original Disney ride the best?

Anyway, the real point here is that I felt rather disorientated by the film story and character-wise, but then to make things worse the film itself was very loud and brash and bombastic and unfortunately the plot was a little bit confused too.

It was also very long - another victim of this trend of making what should be fun action films be two hour long and doing so by sticking in and extending pointless action sequences.

I think, overall, you can tell I wasn't hugely enamoured.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

more beta

In terms of gameplay it worked okay.  Thing were pretty much there from previous incarnations, although there seemed to be less need for micro management, and what micromanagement you had to do was made a lot easier by the data layers, which were generally clear and obvious what they were trying to show you.

I did have some frustrations with the controls, though.

In particular, they seem to have flipped the standard movement controls backwards.  So when you want to scroll up the screen you hold the button and drag your mouse down.  You can also do edge scrolling, but it's horribly slow.

Also, the bulldozer only allows you to destroy individual buildings.  You can destroy roads in sections, but even here it tries too hard to be interpretive and will suddenly flip around to destroy an entire section of road were you just wanted to destroy a bit.  And I couldn't work out how to cancel the destruction - once you start you have to at least destroy the bit you've started on: clicking the right mouse button doesn't "cancel" it, which was annoying; particularly since it can then behave a bit weirdly when you try to fill in that bit of road.

With the roads they've introduced several ways for you to lay them down and, in particular, tried to let you do curved roads, which is something people always complained about before.  I didn't find this to be particularly good - you sort of drag the road around and it goes where it wants to go, rather than where you've directed it.  Imagine painting with a paintbrush in MS paint and the line goes all over the place, only vaguely following your pointer.  I'm sure this is so it maintains sensible crossing junctions and follows the height contour, but it was quite frustrating to actually use.

It also seemed to produce parcels of land than then weren't settled after being zoned.  I don't know if this was because they were too small or because there wasn't demand for the housing.

There was also some weirdness with it letting you place roads - oftentimes it would complain about a junction you were trying to create being "too close to another junction" but you were actually trying to make a cross-roads out of a T-junction, if you see what I mean.  This was particularly odd because if you then tried to create the same road from a different direction it would work fine.

And of course the mechanics that allow you to do curvy roads also do away with the rigid grid structure.  This is okay, but it also makes it difficult to know how things work in terms of sizes of buildings.  I kept seeing bits when I was applying zoning where it wasn't going quite up to a junction, but I had no idea if they actual buildings would compensate for this or if I should try to move the road.  Also I didn't have any feel for how big I should create each parcel of land.  It had what looked like guidelines for a grid, but these seemed somewhat flexible.

The impression I got was that you had to be quite clear where you wanted roads and zones to be.  Now, it's not like you are fixed once you've placed something - you can destroy and rebuild, obviously - but some of the municipal building in particular are very expensive, so if you have to demolish them then it could easily cost you a fortune.

My particular concern was that if I create a big square and fell it with industry am I then wasting space?  Or are there different varieties and types of building that would suit the space available?  In previous SimCity's with a grid it was clear (and, indeed, part of the rules) that if a zone was more than, say, 5 squares from a road then it wouldn't get filled.  Here you didn't assign any depth to the zone, you just applied it to the edge, and it wasn't clear to me how it worked.

And I was a bit puzzled over the mechanics of civic buildings here too.  In previous games something like the police would have a zone of effect, but here the police seem to cover the whole region and instead you "build up" the police building, adding more slots for cars and things like that.  However, that obviously means you need to leave room around them, or you're going to be bulldozing and rezone all the time.

The other thing I think they've gotten wrong is upgrading the roads.  I've no issue with that as a fundamental idea, it's just that you only seemed to be able to upgrade small strips of road at a time, so if you want to do a whole long road, you've got to do each little bit of it.  It would have been better if you could just "draw over the top" with the new road.  That would also allow you more flexibility in that you could upgrade , say, half of a long stretch of unused road (e.g. one going out to your rubbish plant) so you can add zoning just to that half.

I'm coming across as quite negative, I know.  I did enjoy the three goes I had, and felt that each time I learned something new about the mechanics and how to set up cities to achieve particular effects.  However, I was struck that each time I was effectively restarting I was kinda happy to have another go and not make the same mistakes.  Afterwards I found that a little worrying as it implied you either need to come up with quite a clear plan when you start or you're going to be doing all sorts of restructuring that may make you want to start all over again.

Monday, 28 January 2013

simcity beta

So this weekend I played quite a few games on the simcity open beta.

Well, they called it a beta - I think actually it was a bit of a half-way house between a beta and a demo.  I've no idea if all those who applied got to have a go - you had to register and they sent you a code so you could get the demo.  I guess if everyone who registered got a code, it was more like a demo, but I got one so I don't really care either way.

I'd actually wondered if I would - I've been tracking the simcity site, reading the news and blogs and stuff, and registered for the beta ages ago.  However, when they made an announcement as to when the beta would happen, it gave the impression that only those who registered after that would get to play, and I missed that window.  But it seems I still got "on the list".

Anyway, the point of a beta is to bug fix and so much of the game was disabled you were really only testing out the basics - basic roads and zoning and a few amenities, that sort of thing.

However, worrying the game did crash twice.  the first was right at the beginning, after I'd installed original and tried to launch the beta.  That was the most worrying crash as I was worried it meant the game just wasn't going to work, but I immediately fired it up again and it loaded/installed fine.

The game requires an always on connection.  They've said this is because your game actually runs on their servers and effectively you're controlling it remotely.  I've no real idea if this is true.  I'm sure the whole "defeating piracy" thing is a part of it too.  I have to say my experiences with always on games hasn't been great - Anno 1404 had an always on side to it and it was horribly frustrating to find their server was down so I couldn't continue my game.  and recently they somehow managed to delete my online account so I had to create a new one.

Anyway - simcity.  The "update" took ages - well, it took ages to download what it called "updates" but I've no idea if these updates were actually the content proper.  Certainly the other installation seemed remarkably short.

The second crash was during the tutorial.  Basically once you had the game running you played a little tutorial that showed you how to do stuff and then you got to play in a small (well, it seemed small - I understand this new simcity is somewhat scaled down compared to previous iterations, so it may actually have been medium or large for all I know) town.  The tutorial crashed right after a bit where I had to buy water from a neighbouring city and it dropped me right out of the game, rather than back to the menu or something.

However, I fired it up again and played right through the tutorial and had three goes at the city without it crashing again.  There was some graphical weirdness, though.  The most distracting of these was around the edge of the city, where the graphics flickered.  I've had a similar annoying affect in a couple of games and suspect it is some feature of how my graphics card works.

The other graphical weirdness's mainly revolved around the roads - you would lay down a road and it would appear broken, even though cars were travelling along it just fine.  Or, in particular, some of the bolt-on bits you added to building seem to interact weirdly with the roads.  It was like they were meant to cast a light and instead it just caused the road to look broken.

I'll continue tomorrow with some thoughts about the game.