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2009 In Review

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Yes, it's that time of year again! Well, actually I'm a couple of weeks late, but I've been ill and this is my blog, so ner!

Highlight of the year - Like last year, it's the birth of a child - my daughter to be precise! The birth itself was a lot quicker and easier than last time (for both my wife and myself!) and we were home by lunchtime the same day. Sleep has been more of a problem this time, though a lot of people have said that girls tend to be worse sleepers than boys - though this is anecdotal rather than proper data. My son's been learning his first words - proper words rather than random babbling. He seems to say "Oh dear" rather a lot though... As for next year, we're certainly not planning on having any more children so I'll have to think of something else for the 2010 review post.

Film of the year - Again, due to the responsibilities of parenthood, I haven't seen that many new films this year. Up is the best I have seen though, and also served as my first proper 3D film viewing, though that felt more like a gimmick than something I'd want to do all the time

Game of the year - Mass Effect. I'm probably cheating by including it here, but I did play the game in 2009 even though it was out the year before. This game has a ton of technical flaws, an irritating inventory system, awkward vehicle combat and other problems that would normally put me off, but the story, character and atmosphere just draw you in completely. I'm very much looking forward to the sequel that's out in a couple of weeks. Assassin's Creed was fun for a while, but ultimately annoyed me to the point where I didn't finish it. Trials HD was also fun, but required too much patience and skill for me.

TV of the year - This year I've really been getting into House, watching all five seasons on DVD, more or less back-to-back! I'm not normally a fan of medical dramas, but the quality of writing in House is exceptional, as is Hugh Laurie's performance. My favourite episodes are the stranger ones, usually the last couple in each season such as the bus crash at the end of season four (though the Amber clue was blatantly obvious to me) and where House becomes delusional at the end of season five, but we don't even know it until the last few minutes - one of the most powerful examples of TV for years.

As for other series', Lost is still really good and I can't wait for the final season. Dr Who/Torchwood took a different approach this year - rather than a full season of each, Torchwood did a rather good five part mini-series and Dr Who did four one-off episodes shown throughout the year - the first two of which were pretty rubbish I did think the return of the Timelords in the final two parter was a bit of an anticlimax, but the final poignant half hour was the best bit of writing Russell T Davies has ever done - shame it took him so long to get there. David Tennant's Doctor was often irritating (and utterly bipolar in character), but I'll miss him.

Book of the year - Ben Goldacre's Bad Science is a great eye opener - not just in terms of how science is misrepresented in the press, but in terms of the danger caused by pseudoscience and bad reporting of medical (or medicalised) stories. The chapter on AIDS denialism in South Africa is completely shocking. One of those books everyone should read.

Technology of the year - Android. I was so happy when I learned that Google were setting up against Apple's over-expensive, DRM ridden, walled in phone system with an open source, open to any application developers, open to any phone manufacturer, free (as in beer and freedom) operating system. My G1 phone is still going strong and whilst not quite up there with the latest models, having a Qwerty keyboard and an unlimited data plan has changed the way I use my phone forever.

Windows 7 is good contender, but doesn't win the award simply because it's what Vista should have been in the first place.

Conclusion - I was wondering whether to do a review of the noughties (or whatever people call em), but the mathematician inside me won't let me consider the decade over until 2011 - there was no year zero in our calendar. Also, I can't remember that far back.

Predictions for next year. Here I can say whatever I like and if it comes true I make lots of noise about it when it happens - if not, I pretend I never wrote it! I reckon Android will become more popular, certainly after the launch of the Nexus One phone, though the iPhone is so ubiquitous that I doubt it'll be buried for a long time (if ever).

I predict I'll still have two children at the end of the year. I have nothing but admiration for parents who have three or more children.

I also predict I'll like Mass Effect 2 a lot! There are a few interesting games that ought to come out in the next year - Alan Wake, Starcraft 2 (at least the first part of it) and Fable 3 of course (pre-order now!!!).

I want to try to lose weight (though being ill for the last couple of weeks has given me a nice headstart) and I also need to figure out an easy way to pay off the mortgage in one go...

Lent 2009 - Facebook

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In the last few years I've given up a variety of things for Lent - chocolate, caffeine (which was really hard), and so on. I've been 100% successful in resisting temptation too, which is a small thing to be proud of. None of it has been for religious reasons, mostly just to see if I could last it out. This year I decided to try something different. I've lost a fair amount of weight in recent months, so giving up a food type wasn't really worth the bother, so I decided to go with a friend's suggestion of giving up facebook for forty days and forty nights.

Hopefully, it'll prove to be an interesting experiment. My current thinking is that in the end I'll have a few messages from people in the first few days, which will peter out as I won't be actively replying, posting or commenting on anything. I'll also get a few pokes from people I regularly swap pokes with (though I'm not expecting any new ones), and a few spam application and group invites spread throughout the period (which I almost universally block anyway). Hopefully I won't get any interesting event invites and miss out on a good party! I might possibly get one or two friend invites too. I guess I'll find out on 12th April. I'll post here with the results of the experiment.

Interestingly (to me), although I won't be logging into my account, I'll still have an influence on it. This blog post and any others I make in the fasting period will be imported into my profile, along with any Xbox Live achievements I gain in the meantime. It just goes to show how connected our online lives are these days.

2008 in Review

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Here we are again at the beginning of a new year, so it's time for me to post my subjective opinions on things that happened over the last twelve months.

Highlight of the Year - My son Isaac who continually amazes and delights me.  He hasn't cost us too many sleepless nights either, which is a bonus.  The holiday in Australia was another great moment - three weeks worth of great moments in fact (excluding the flights).  If I didn't have family and work commitments in the UK I'd seriously consider moving down under.

Film of the Year - Ironman.  For once, an exciting superhero origin film that's worth a repeat viewing, backed up by Robert Downey Jr being ace.  Cloverfield blew me away when I saw it at the cinema, but loses a lot on DVD so doesn't quite make the cut.  I perhaps may have picked The Dark Knight or another film if I had seen it, but I haven't set foot in a cinema since my son was born so my exposure to new films has been limited.

Game of the Year - Fallout 3.  I'm not usually a fan of RPG games, but this just drew me in completely.  A well written main story, a ton of cool stuff around the map which continually rewards you for exploring, and the VATS aiming system is a lot more useful than I first thought.  Slightly let down by technical issues (a few crashes here and there), but the ultra fast load times on the PC version make up for that.  Burnout Paradise and Fable 2 are also worthy contenders, but as I worked on them both it would hardly be fair for them to win would it?  Braid seemed to get a lot of positive press and its high quality is certainly very apparent, but I found it too fiddly and difficult to really get in to.  Perhaps I'm just rubbish at games these days.

TV of the year - Lost Season 4.  A shorter series that could have been ruined by the WGA writers strike, but it ended up stronger than ever.  The flash forwards were a neat twist on the formula.  I am really looking forward to season five now.  Charlie Brooker's Screenwipe is as excellent and well observed as always, but could do with being on earlier in the evening rather than buried at midnight on BBC 4.  Dr Who is just getting more and more silly this year - I can't wait for Russell T Smugface Davies to finally leave the series in the hands of some decent writers.

Book of the Year - The Time Traveler's Wife - Audrey Niffenegger. I expected this to be pure trashy chick fic beach reading, but I was utterly surprised to find an intelligent sci-fi (-ish) tale with great characters. The idea of time travel being a genetic defect that causes you to become unstuck in time when stressed, like a kind of chronological epilepsy is a great plot idea. It is expertly written, never getting confusing even though the time line jumps about all over the place. It wasn't published in 2008, so including it here is perhaps cheating a bit, but I read it this year and it's my blog! Apparently a film adaptation of the book is in production. Neal Stephenson's Anathem was also good, but suffered a fair bit from the new vocabulary it makes you learn.

Wooden Spoon Awards

Worst Tech - Windows Vista 64. I've said good things about Vista in the past, but it's little annoyances are building up for me. It randomly decided I didn't have a DVD drive connected a few months ago which resulted in me having to trawl the internet for a solution, then recently I've been forced to install hotfixes from the beta version of Service Pack 2 to stop blue screen crashes caused by using a quad core processor with over four gig of memory. Is this really the seamless experience we should be getting from a modern world class operating system?

Most annoying company - A tie between Scan International and Emirates Airlines. Scan for taking nearly a month to send me a warranty replacement of my PC's dead motherboard. I sent back the board and they quickly confirmed it was dead and said a new one would be sent out within days. A week passes and I ask them for a progress report. They say they've had to send off to the manufacturer for a replacement but it's now in stock and will be with me in the next few days. A further week passes and I press the issue. This time they admit the board isn't available any more and offer me a similar one from a different manufacturer, which I accepted and it duly arrived. I asked them why they had lied to me about the original board being in stock and they simply ignored my email. Emirates also gets a wooden spoon for offering us frequent flier points when we complained about the provision for Isaac during the flights to Australia (what are we supposed to do with frequent flier points if we're not planning to fly long haul in the near future).

2007 in review

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About a year ago, I wrote this post stating a few of my opinions about things that happened in 2006 and what I intended to do for 2007.  This post is likewise for 2007/08. In last year's post, I resolved not to do any crunch (working silly long hours).  In that I've been successful, working less than a handful of isolated late nights and not a single weekend during the entire year.  What I hadn't predicted at all is that I'd end up leaving my job and spend nine months driving 23 miles to work every day in awful traffic.  Commuting has proven to be the most time wasting and soul destroying thing.  I recently went back to working within walking distance of home again.  Long may it continue. I also stated I was going to get married, which took place in lovely seaside Exmouth in August.  It was one of the best days of my life, indeed our lives.  Everything went without a hitch and it seemed to be over all too quickly.  A few weeks later I found out I'm going to be a father which is incredibly exciting and scary at the same time.  Far from slowing down, the pace of life would appear to be accelerating. Other new skills obtained during the year were wallpapering (though I'm still not great at it), plumbing (which saved us a lot of money) and doing the Times2 crossword. So, without further ado, lets get to the traditional best/worst of lists. Film The film I enjoyed the most on a visceral level was Transformers.  It's dumb, but it's a hell of a lot of fun and looks stunning.  Another great film for me was Atonement.  I went into the cinema (dragged by my wife!) expecting a chick flick costume drama, but was presented with a very intelligent and surprising film.  The Golden Compass was a dissapointment.  The film tried to cram in as much from the book as possible and in the process lost all the charm, wonder and lovely pacing.  Also, bizarrely enough, the whole ending of the book was chopped off (presumably to appear in the next film), leaving the conclusion of The Golden Compass very abrupt. TV Lost continued to grip me during season three.  I watched the episodes on DVD over a couple of weeks which seems to be the best way to absorb it without missing anything.  Doctor Who again entertained.  The episode with the angel statues was a thing of genius and John Simm made a great Master, but overall the series is getting more and more silly, especially the Christmas episode.  I may stop watching this year if Catherine Tate proves as irritating as I fear. Books My voracious toilet/pre bedtime reading continued throughout 2007.  I really enjoyed Terry Pratchett's Making Money, a direct sequel to Going Postal.  Moist von Lipwig continues to be an interesting and fun protagonist.  I'm also reading lots of books about pregnancy and bringing up children, on the basis that being a dad will be a skilled job that requires research and hard work to do properly. Games Best game of the year, without a shadow of a doubt, is Portal.  Great writing, great gameplay and it's really funny too.  I'm currently enjoying Crysis too, though I haven't finished it yet.  Another game I didn't finish was Bioshock.  It's really pretty, but it just doesn't play brilliantly to me and it feels like it'd take a lot to make me go back and complete it.  We've also spent rather a lot of time with More Brain Training on the DS.  It has quite a few annoying little problems, but is generally very well put together and varied enough to keep you playing.  I'm currently working my way through all the Sudokus on the loo when I'm not reading. ...and 2008? All going well, I'll become a dad this year.  Me, a dad before I'm 30.  It's mindboggling to think about. Also, three games I've worked on should be shipping (they're like buses in that regard), starting with Burnout Paradise in a few weeks.  I doubt I'll be in the credits, despite spending 2006 hard at work on it, but that's just the way things are in the games industry.  Anyway, I hope the game is great and sells well - the team are still good friends of mine and they deserve a big success. Other than that?  I'll continue travelling to work under my own steam (walking or cycling) and drive as little as possible.  I should hopefully lose the weight I put on during the months of driving to work.

Deleting memories

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Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind was on Channel 4 last night. It's a great film, but I'm not going to review it. The film (rightly for the story it is telling) ignores a lot of practical issues in deleting the memory of a relationship, but it does leave me thinking... What would it take to actually delete a relationship from someone's memory and not have them figure it out afterwards? I'm going to assume for the point of this discussion that the technology exists to selectively delete memories, and no amount of hypnosis, surgery or other therapy could restore them. What else would need to happen to effectively delete the relationship? In the film, family and friends were given cards saying "Don't mention this relationship to the person", and a well meaning friend told Joel why Clementine couldn't remember him. With the best intentions, this method isn't likely to succeed (just as it didn't on film), so for the purposes of our thought experiment the memories of all your friends and family would also need to be modified, along with their friends and families to whom your relationship was mentioned. Then comes the practical stuff. What if the couple lived together and you found yourself either homeless or paying mortgage/rent you can't afford on your wage? Joint bank accounts would have to be deleted, along with anything else set up in joint names. Any writing or photographs showing you both would need to be destroyed, etc. I imagine junk mail in the name of your ex would be OK though as it would be simply ignored or returned to sender. The magnitude of changes that would need to be made just becomes greater and greater the longer the relationship had gone on. I imagine deleting a single one night stand wouldn't cause too many problems, but deleting a long term close relationship would be a lot harder. If you'd been married for years you could end up modifying the memory of thousands of people. This leads us to another thought. What state would you be in after the operation? Would your personality revert to it's state before you met your ex, or would you have all the psychological changes it would have caused (but without the concrete memories to back them up?). My instincts tell me this would lead to great depression. Human memory is fairly fuzzy, so how would your mind fill in the time gaps? I doubt many people can remember what they have had for dinner every day for a month, but there would be a lot of significant events you would have to cover for. Anyway, this has been a pretty rambling post, but it's an interesting thought. Incidentally, this is my 50th blog post!
That's right, it's my birthday tomorrow. Woo!

2006 in review

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I've only been writing this blog for just over three months, but I did indeed live throughout the entire of 2006. For me, it's been one of the busiest years of my life to date. In rough chronological order, the significant personal events for me were... Put an offer on a house, shipped Burnout Revenge 360, spent over a week in Rome with my girlfriend (my first ever trip abroad and my first ever flight!), bought a house (no more rent, yay!), went camping in Yorkshire, lost nearly a stone in weight, built a shed, spent two weeks in New Zealand, got engaged to Katherine, attended two lovely weddings (including one I helped a little to organise), started a blog, attended one stag weekend, put on nearly a stone in weight, did the full Woolton 13 and overall I worked too much overtime with more responsibility and pressure than ever. So, at this point in a review post, people would generally list their best and worst movies and music, so I shall stick with convention. Film I didn't see many films this year (half of those I did see were on a tiny LCD screen on the flights to and from NZ), but the film I enjoyed the most was Mission Impossible 3 as it was a really well executed action film, with Miami Vice coming a close second. The worst film by far was Ice Age 2, which was so dire I'm not sure even children would enjoy it. Cars was good, though (like The Incredibles) a bit of a let down by Pixar standards. Games For someone in the games industry, I played shockingly few games in 2006. The only game I've played from start to finish is the rather curiously named Half Life 2: Episode 1 which (as usual for a Valve production) was really good and still plays well on my aging PC (even with HDR rendering turned on). The new Sam & Max game is good so far, though a little easy. Other than that I've wasted too much time playing Minesweeper Flags on MSN. TV Again, I've not watched a huge amount of TV this year. Torchwood and Dr Who have been about the only things holding my attention of late. It's low budget sci-fi twaddle with unconvincing characters, poor stories and logical plot holes all over the place, but somehow remains remarkably entertaining. ...and 2007? So, what am I planning to do differently this year? First of all, I'm resolving to stop working twelve hours a day, six days a week ever again. How successful I'll be in that I'm not sure. Also, I'm planning on getting married - which means I really want to lose weight again. Other than that, I want to keep writing this blog and generally take time to relax more. I've barely spent any time watching movies, TV or playing games in 2006. I truly believe that this escapism is one of the main things that keeps us sane and centred in the modern world.

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