Wednesday, 30 July 2014

I'm on a boat!

So, one of the co-founders of the company that I work for decided to leave the company (presumably having made quite a lot since the company was sold to a Canadian company) and had a party to celebrate his going. I don't know him at all, having only recently started at the company, but I am never one to pass up a good party. Particularly one that is on an island.

The Thames flows through more than just London, and throughout it's course there are lots of little islands. some which are uninhabited, and some which have a building or two on them. Coming from the Midlands where my experiences with water were restricted to trips to the seaside and canal trips, I could not resist the opportunity to go somewhere on a boat. Even if it was a very short trip.

Not really knowing anyone, it was a bit of gamble getting there. I didn't know which bank of the river to go to, or who to look out for. However i spotted a slightly geeking looking chap standing in a boat chatting to some lads who i thought i vaguely recognised and went for it. BINGO! Here was my ride over to the island. The boat was a sort of wide flat bottomed affair and at first i attempted to stand up, but gave up and sat on the little seats on the side of the boat. It was a very short trip to the island, but first of all the boat went round to the other bank to pick up more people, and a bike! 

Look at the view from the boat! 

We landed on the island and after scrambling up i was immediately handed a glass of champagne, very civilised! I managed to find a couple of work colleagues that i knew and hung around with some that i knew only by sight.

Great t-shirt, right?

The food was delicious. This was a vegetarian lasagne, which the wait staff insisted I try. I am a fairly committed meat eater, but they weren't wrong in telling me that this was a tasty dish. They later came round with mini pastries. I would have taken a picture, but they were so covered in icing sugar, flaky pastry and chocolate that my fingers were too sticky to hold the camera. I dread to think how much this party must of cost the host. But then, i guess if you have the money why not spend it on a terrific party?

People enjoyed themselves sitting outside in the garden in the sun.

There was a live band, who started off playing chilled out, jazzy mellow vibes.

Which then progressed to a a second and third set consisting off party classics.

There was a free, and open bar. 

Also a lot of boats, i presume some belong to the owner of the house, but i think some guests may also have arrived by boat.

The view from the island 

Inside the house, i'm loving the pink effect.

It has really made me want to get a boat and sail up and down the Thames. Seeing as I am moving to Wokingham, which is not exactly far from the Thames, i think this is a dream which is achievable.

I left at around 10:30pm, since I had an hours drive back home. But i think the party went on into the wee hours, and probably involved some people getting into the hot tub that was next to the bar...

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Ingress - first few days

A friend of mine mentioned that he had started playing a game called Ingress. I had vaguely heard of it about a year ago, but back then I had an iPhone and the game was only available for android phones. I was intrigued at the time but didn't pay it much mind. Now roll forwards to 2014 and I remembered it when my friend mentioned it again.

I now have an android phone, but as these things go it had been rolled out to iPhones this month, so there is clearly a lot of promotion going on which is how my friend had heard of it.

What intrigued me was the augmented reality concept. If you read my previous post you'll know that I love web games that have a strong social side, and ones that encourage me to get out and about are even better! The Stone did that for me back in the 2000's, and still does to a minor extent. Could this be the game that takes me into the 2010's and beyond?

The idea is that there is some kind of Alien matter or presence callex XM (exotic matter) and there are two factions of people: the Enlightened who believe that this is for the benefit of mankind, and the Resistance who are against this Alien ingression. You pick a side and then control portals, link them up and create triangles which are known as control fields. Within these fields a faction "owns" the humans within it. 

There also appears to be some kind of ongoing storyline along with this, but since i've only been playing 6 days i haven't quite got my head around that yet!

But the first thing I noted as soon as i started going through the training exercises were local people saying hallo and offering to help. One chap lives a short walk from my house and we met up last Sunday and walked a couple of miles and played the game. The Friday before that  i went out by myself by my work office and ran got spotted by a couple of local players who gave me a lot of help and invited me onto specific google hangouts for the local area.

The players local to Wokingham were very welcoming, and when I eventually move there I hope to meet up with more on them. 
I can't help but think that this is a cunning way of google getting people to use google plus!

I am, of course, part of the Enlightened, and the friendliness has been so nice. I get quite lonely living down south away from my friends and family, so it's good to have something i can jump into and meet people.

I'm sure i'll be writing more about people I meet through this! For me the internet has never been about staying in my room, it's always been about the social side of things.


Friday, 25 July 2014

The Stone

Way back when in 1999 in ,i believe, .net magazine (is that still going?) there was a review for an online game called The Stone. You had to buy a pyramid-shaped box (i'm unclear where i actually purchased mine, i'm pretty certain i didn't buy it online though) which contained a little, and mysterious, booklet and a pendant with strange symbols on it. According to the booklet the symbols were unique to this and one other stone. That person was your Other. I never found my Other, and i don't think it really mattered, but i think it was a good way to get people communicating with other players from the offset.

The site was a game, a competition, although at the beginning it wasn't clear what you were heading towards. To progress you had to answer puzzles. Now some were very easy (i think my record is about 5 minutes for getting the correct answer) and some were extremely difficult. You had to solve certain puzzles before new ones would become available, and there were often long waits whilst new puzzles were designed.

In fact some puzzles were so difficult that 14 or 15 years on, I have still not solved them all! I have folders with A4 sheets of paper with my research into most of the puzzles I have solved so far, along with all my incorrect guesses for the ones that I haven't.

The game had forums and a little community of smart, inquisitive and funny people came together. Part of the game involved finding parts of a stone tablet that had been buried in various countries around the world, so people came together to find them, and Stoners (as we sort of called ourselves) also met up just for fun. These were called Gatherings and quite often puzzley fun formed a part of them. 

There was even a documentary about the game, called Stoners, which won a small award. It's amazing to me that 15 years on I am still in touch with a few of the people i met through this game. Some of the people that I regularly contacted in game have nothing to do with it anymore, and some keep the game alive.

The original site is long gone, but dedicated gamers got the code from the developer (in fact, dedicated gamers ended up helping the developer come up with puzzles on the original game) and it lives on and a whole new game with simillar puzzles has sprung up too.

The game had it's own vocabulary: Gatherings, SKs, Nudges, Closes, Clevers, Squirrels (not to be confused with dgeek squirrels).

I never did manage to finish the game, I'm still working my way through it, even though it has been "won". The urgency to solve the puzzles has diminished over time. Or maybe it's partly to do with my reasons for playing. It gave me intellectual stimulation and friends to chat to during a period where i was struggling to come to terms with the death of my father. The people there had no knowledge of him, or my situation, and it gave me space to do something that didn't have anything to do with solicitors, or wills, or grief.

It also gave me people who thrived on intellectual curiosity, and were encouraging as well as competitive. I think I stopped playing regularly when i started my second degree, i guess I just didn't have time or the need for the extra mental challenges anymore. These days I find myself missing some of the people, I wonder what happened to them and what they are doing now. If you knew me when i played The Stone (my username was Smallkat). Those I am still in touch with still keep up the tradition of Gatherings, and i'm going to one this September. I'm really looking forward to it, as I haven't seen some of the people in about ten years! 

Maybe it'll spur me on to solve more puzzles, maybe one day i'll even finish the game!

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Dice Collection

When I game, I go to a friend's place. They've been gaming a long time and have just about everything you need to play games, including a massive box of dice. But there is nothing like having your own set when role playing or gaming. After all, someone else's dice aren't going to be lucky for you, right?

Chessex are a well known company who make and sell dice and gaming accessories and so far all my dice have come from them via one source or another.My first dice set was the aquerple borealis set.

 Very pretty, although the black numbers on the light background turned out to be surprising difficult to read when rolled on a white surface. The other annoying part was that they developed very tiny chips. This meant that not only were they no longer balanced, but the chips also seemed to let air into the dice and they beaome cloudy. A real shame. I've kept them though, as not every one in the set got chipped and they are still very pretty to look at.

To replace the original borealis set i bought this lovely sky blue with white lettering borealis set.

The numbers really stand out very clearly and the blue is that gorgeous summer sky blue with a flecks of green and yellow borealis. I got this at the uk games expo, and it was a toss up between this and getting another set of aquerples, but the clarity of the numbers really swung it for me. I only hope that this set doesn't chip!

The last one is a really lovely d6 in red and blue with a union flag on it. I bought it at the uk games expo from the Chessex stand. I actually bought it to give away to someone who is getting into AD&D.

I wonder if you can guess who it was for?

Monday, 14 July 2014

London Film and Comic Con 2014

I don't really deal terribly well with crowds, but after going to the UK Games Expo earlier this year, I decided to be brave and got a Saturday ticket for LFCC. I went for an Early Bird ticket to try and get in before the really big crowds and keep myself calm and enjoy it.

Well, I have never experienced anything like it. I got to Earls Court tube around 8:30, and the queue (well one of them) was already past the front of EC1 (the hall directly in front of you when you get out at the tube station). There were a couple of EC staff, and they directed ticket holders to keep going round the side of the building towards EC2.

I trotted slowly round, past the entrance to Brompton Hall and managed to find the queue for ticket holders. It wasn't really very clear where the queue for standard ticket holders was and the one for early birds. I never did see it. The queue i was in, which was for Early Birds as it turned out, went round three sides of EC2, double-backed on itself on all three sides, out back to Brompton hall, double backed on itself again and then went back towards brompton hall again.

It was 10am before I made it into the Hall. There was so much queue jumping, it was unreal. People literally walking from one part of the queue to another where it was double-backing onto itself. There were few members of EC staff or volunteers and no signage. I saw one sign which was on the side of EC2, but not in any position where you could see it, unless you were  near the front of the queue about 10 meters from the doors.

When i got through, the took my ticket. No lanyard  or wristbands were issued, or the ticket kept (although i did see some people had their tickets on them in the hall, which suggests that different volunteers were doing different things), but instead i got a red triangle stamped on my hand. I would have liked to have kept my ticket, i'm not sure why you couldn't, considering there were perforations to pull of and leave a stub for the door staff.

Given how hot it was inside EC2, which was very, it's no surprise that i sweated off the red triangle pretty quickly. This did worry me a little, but as they were using a totally different handstamp for pass outs, i'm really not sure what the point of the red triangle was.

Anyway, as soon as you were through the entrance doors you were met with some sort of skull thing (i think from Game of Thrones, i don't watch it so i'm not sure) which really crowded and meant that there was a big scrum which you had to fight your way through right at the beginning. I knew I had about 25 minutes before my one and only photo op, so decided to try and find a friend of mine who works on Subversive Comics. The rows of stalls were heaving with people and even though it was so early I felt really quite overwhelmed. 

I gave up trying to find my friend, and headed back to the photo area. I grabbed a virtual ticket for an autograph and got a decent enough number, considering it was 10:30am.

Then it was on to the photo shoot. 

I then joined the queue for the photo. It was managed very well, and went down quickly and was pretty stress free. The photo came out well!

I feel obliged to point out that David Hewlett doesn't have a strange hunch, he's actually sort of crouched over as I am very short. Next time, i'm bringing a box!

 I then went back and braved the crowds to find my friend. I found him and got persuaded to buy a novel with graphics on his recommendation, and got it signed. And a sticker! By this time the ticket holders for standard entry were now being left in. It was chaos. The queues for buying photo ops and talks on the day was huge and trying to fight your way through the crowds was awful. I did however find a stall that had a copy of Saga vol 1, and i eagerly bought that. At around 11:40 I decided to sit down being the Sherlock display and have an early lunch.

I kept going back and checking the virtual queue number, but my ticket hadn't come up yet, so i decided to go outside and get some much needed fresh air. I had to battle to get my hand stamped and out, as the entrance hall once again proved to be a real bottleneck, but when i did I was amazed at the number of people still waiting in line to get in. I finished my lunch in the sunshine and tried to get back in.

No dice. Even people who had already gained entry weren't being readmitted. The people behind me started pushing and shoving, many getting angry because they had photo shoots and talks that they had paid for and now couldn't get back in. The door staff didn't seem to know what to do.

I managed to get back in, thanks to my ninja skills, but really i kind of wished i hadn't. A quick check of the virtual queue and my number hadn't been called yet, so i went back to my spot by the Sherlock exhibit and sat down again. It was about 1pm at this point. I used the free wifi at Earls Court to update facebook and check a few emails. 

Then on to more shopping. Another stall had Sandman Vol 1, which i really wanted as i lent my original copy out many years ago and never got it back and Sex Criminals. The guy serving me commented that Sex Criminals was really good (which i knew from reading issue 1) and suggested I get Rat Queens. He described it as SITC meets D&D (i'm assuming the SITC means it's about a group of female friends, rather than being about shopping and fucking) which intrigued me, and i'm never one to pass up a suggestion.

In fact, it was at this point that I was struck by how many girls and women there were there, and how friendly (despite the crush and the heat) people were. I didn't feel like there were any gatekeepers at all. However, I really cannot overstate how busy it was.It felt like a scrum at some points, and was very unpleasant. There were clearly far too many people in the hall for the type of layout that was used. Maybe some sort of one way system would have been better?

Moseying around again, i found a stand for a comic called The Pride. I was drawn in as issue 2 had a rainbow on it, so I assumed it must have some LGBT themes or characters, the stand was seeling that and a zombie one called Stiffs for ?3.50. SOLD. I had a lovely chat with one of the writers and the booth "babe", actually a fella, before heading off.

I then went to get my photo signed. This ran very smoothly for me, although i have heard of craziness at the lines of the more obviously popular guests. David was really polite and friendly, and i started off his dice collection. I mean, if he's going to play AD&D a dice collection is absolutely necessary! 

I then decided i wanted to try and get into some of the free talks and displays. I then realised that if i wanted to see the cosplay masquerade, i would have to go to the other hall. So i ventured out of EC2. 

i#m not sure what time it was by then, maybe 2:40, and the queue to get into EC2 was still just as long. It was really unclear how to get into Brompton Hall, it was only because I saw some people going in through one door, which was behind a queue of people to get into EC2 that i realised I could have easily got into there on my first venture outside.

There was a lot of more space and air in here, and it was here where the video games and cartoonists were. I wished i had come a lot sooner. I found the super stage and settled into to watch the cosplay. It was a lot of fun, and I was impressed at the quality of some of the costumes. We even got an on stage proposal, which was very sweet. Of course she said yes to her boyfriend!

I then had a good wander around the cartoonist stalls, and got "Flimsy's guide to modern living" (i'm a sucker for a cat) by Rachael Smith, who did a beautiful little sketch inside it. 

By this time it was around 4pm and I had had enough. I had been walking virtually the entire day, i was really sweaty and gross from EC2 (honestly the Slave Girl Leia cosplayers had the right idea!) and wanted to go home. Getting out of Brompton Hall i was shocked. The queue to get into EC2 was still going! It stretched to about 100m from the entrance to EC1. I mnean seriously, those people were never going to get in, but I had to admire their belief and faith.

I was glad i bought an early bird ticket, and next time I would think about going Gold Pass, just because the queues were bad. I would also try and get to some of the the talks as i really did want to go to The Walking Dead and BSG ones, but was just too overwhelmed to even think about it. I was prepared and bought lunch, drink and a snack. I wished I had brought more water, purely because i was so hot I was losing a lot of water through sweat. Although this had the upside that I didn't actually need to use the loo. But i really felt for those people in the queue for tickets, i think on-the-day tickets need to be a thing of the past. Also air con was completely needed, and access to the toilets really needed to be better. I would go again, and i wished i had spent more time in Brompton Hall. Over all, a rather mixed experience. 

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Another Friday night of gaming

Another Friday night and another games night. This time it was 4th edition Talisman. It's generally my groups go-to game as we all know how to play it, and don't need to spend time reading through the rules.This time though we decided to play it with all the expansions!

House rules are that you have to collect a token from each of the expansions, forcing you to go through them all, and that Talismans (Talismen?) are trinkets.

I got the Elementalist, which was a new character for me. Coupled with the War horse it proved to be an affective fighter at low levels, allowing me to increase my craft by adding my strength to it. Unfortunately one monster encounter resulted in me losing the war horse and then i was at a significant disadvantage.

I think the elementalist would be even more enjoyable to play if they started off with a spell. It was pretty late in the game when i actually got to make use of having increased craft to get and use spells.

I was working my way around the expansions and had got to the Highlands, and died very quickly! It was ok, as one of friends was playing as the alchemist and through some crafty spell usage he killed off my other friend. So with both of us dead, that left him as the victor!
Normally we would both have rolled up new characters and carried on, but it was getting close to last trains, so we called it a day. or technically a night. 

Sunday, 6 July 2014


some days I seem to spend my time looking backwards. In part it's looking at wasted years and wishing for what might have been, and in another it's looking at the days before then when there were good times and happiness. It's time to stop and only look forwards and create a future that I want.

The first part of that is a home down south.

Now, i'm a very proud Midlander. I may not have a Brummie accent, despite living there from the ages of about 2 to 18, but home will always be Sutton Coldfield and the thrill i get when i see this sign

just can't be beaten. I can't help but think that my little corner of N Warks/ S Staffs is the most beautiful part of the British isles. Yes, massively biased but I like how I can live on a former council estate, but in under 10 minutes I can be stood in a churchyard where a church has been stood for the best part of 7 or 8 hundred years and look out on gently undulating fields

or be walking in a park that was given to the people of Sutton Coldfield by Henry VIII and where you are just as likely to come across a herd of wild ponies as a mountain biker.

That said, i'm now living and working down south. It's not ideal for me, as most of my friends and all my family are back in the midlands. But like i said, it's time to look forward and not back. To that end i'm buying a house down south. It's still in the paperwork stages, mortgage has been approved for me, but not yet for the house. The initial survey identified a few issues, and a structural engineer had to go and take a look. The structural engineer wrote a really detailed report and this has been sent off to the mortgage company.

The whole thing is taking so long, which is annoying because it's a private sale (i know the owner), but has to do with me already owning a home in the midlands. I've come across several new things in this house purchase. The main one is chancel tax. My first home, in the midlands, was on an estate which used to be a WWII aircraft factory site. I rather like the fact that where house and flats now are, spitfires and hurricanes were built. But it was also quite a poor area, no stamp duty to pay and certainly no chancel tax.

In fact i'd never even heard of chancel tax. but it turns out that this is where a church can get local homeowners to cough up the cash for church repairs. for some people this has meant that they've had to pay hundreds of thousands to a church they don't attend. Now, whilst i am a Christian and should support churches, this seems really wrong to me. To prevent yourself from being landed with a massive bill you can take out insurance. The insurance is very cheap, £15 for the homeowner or something like £30 to cover the property in perpetuity. Think i'll be going with the latter, as it makes sense if I want to sell house at some point to have a sweetener for the vendor.

It'll be nice to have a base down here that is permanent. At present with renting there is always the worry that the landlord will terminate the contract and i'll then have to quickly find somewhere suitable for myself and a couple of cats. The house needs a little bit of work on the bathroom, but i'm hoping to document the process of making it the perfect geeky home.
I also hope I can grow to love the area as much as I love my part of the midlanders. I hope I won't always be a midlander in exile.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Dice Bag

Now if there is one thing that i like, it's when a couple of my interests collide. In this case, it's crochet and gaming. If you are anything like me, you'll probably have a collection of dice. I've got multiple sets of really pretty Chessex dice, as well as various odd ones i've picked up along the way.

I don't tend to game at my place, but go along to a friend's flat which means that I need to take my dice with me. Well, I suppose I don't really as they have a whole box full of dice, but it's nice to have your own set. So, to combine two of my loves I wanted to crochet a dice bag.

A quick google turned up this tutorial. something that's pretty simple to follow, and works up quickly.

I made a few of these for my gaming buddies in different colours, and here is mine.

The instructions are written for A North American audience, so i changed the worsted for DK cotton, which seemed to work pretty well.I'm not over keen on the colour, but I made this with some left over yarn as an example before I made ones for my friends in their chosen colours. 

As you can see I used thin cord to tie it, but for my friends i used a thicker ribbon.

I'm thinking about making another for myself, in a colour that I actually like, and also adding on more rows to make the bag taller. I've picked up more dice since making my original bag, and also a magnifying glass. It sounds odd, but in many games cards and boards often have small writing on them. I simply can't read them, and it become frustrating. So i bought a magnifying glass!

I also wanted it to be a little bigger so that i can fit a pencil in it comfortably, and maybe even an eraser. I know that you can buy dice bags from places like Dice Bag Lady, and believe me it's very tempting! The hand embroided images on the front are beyond my current skill level, but i'm happy enough with my own attempt!

What do you carry your dice and gaming accessories in?