Monthly Archives: October 2012

My Beef With Today’s Earphones

There are several things I can’t live without on a daily basis. Music is one of them. It’s either iTunes, my PS3, or my iPod dock playing something folky/rocky/metal-y/classical-y in the background. Failing that, a set of earphones is never out of reach.

There are three reasons why I choose in-ear earphones over any other sort:

  • I look like an idiot with over-ear headphones
  • Wrap-around earphones are painful
  • In-ear earphones are subtle and easily portable

But this keeps befalling every set I’ve purchased in the last couple of years:

I don’t know what I’m doing wrong. Maybe I’ve just been making poor choices. When I saw these JVCs on Amazon, read the reviews (of which there are hundreds of 5-star rated), I was pretty much sold.

Contrary to all the hype, the JVC Extreme Explosives were disappointing from the off. Wearing them makes you look like you’re playing a joke with the breadsticks at a restaurant. Using them in bed? Don’t lie on your side if you want to keep them in place. Oh and don’t even think about turning your head to cross the road; one of them’s guaranteed to slip out.

But aside from all that, the fact the inner wires become exposed leading to the eventual death of one or both earbuds, it’s as irritating as it is consistent. Maybe it’s the way I wrap them around my iPod when I’m done listening. I plug them in and out of various ports, maybe that’s it. I might be pulling on that plasticy casing that holds the jack in place too hard. But these reasons should all have been accounted for in the R&D production process, for god’s sake.

It’s obviously too much for me to expect these things to last longer than twelve months. Clearly they’re not meant to, especially when a pair of £90 Bose and some £40 Sennheisers suffer the same fate as my latest JVCs,

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Say Hello To My Little Friend: Part II

I’ve written before about the start of a fantastical dagger collection that I’ve undertaken. Well that collection’s grown by one. Meet “Pitch Black”, the second of my swirly-shaped knives to form up rank on my windowsill (it’s the only feasible place to keep them, all right? That, and it wards off burglars because I face the street…).

As the name suggests, this dagger’s as black as night. I keep it well sharpened too, you know, just in case. But, besides its irresistible allure and obvious ability to slay any beast that stands in my way, the gosh-darned blighter’s about as comfortable to grip as a nail board for a skiing pole!

Unlike my other beloved dragon-forged slasher, Pitch Black definitely belongs on the mantlepiece. There’s no defined hilt and, god forbid, if it was your only available resource for disposing of an advancing foe, you’d do your stabby hand in quicker than you would the offender thanks to the clumsily-designed blade shaft. As menacing as this futuristic shank looks, it wouldn’t do you much use in a street fight, unless you were wearing chainmail gloves.

Pitch Black was also purchased from Barringtons Swords, but is recently out of stock.

10 Reasons I Want to Quit Reddit But Can’t

For the uninitiated, Reddit is a forum populated by a community of hundreds of thousands. Reddit is a place where people post stuff. Anything. Pictures, videos, questions, observations. For me and most, it’s a time-void. I can spend hours on Reddit, and do so regularly. It’s become an addiction just like Facebook did, but I managed to kick that habit months ago. Maybe it’s time to do the same with Reddit. Here’s why I can’t:

  1. The pleasure of seeing page after page of blue links: stuff you haven’t looked at yet displays a blue hyperlink. They’re purple if you’ve clicked them already.
  2. Discussions: okay so they’re not quite as prominent as they were back in the mid-00s when Reddit was relatively unheard of. But you can come across some pretty heated and entertaining thread arguments.
  3. Where Did The Soda Go
  4. This guy: something of a Reddit celebrity, Shitty Watercolour pops up in comment threads and produces a Quentin Blake-esque watercolour painting of the scenario in question. He once did a 12-hour watercolour painting marathon for charity.
  5. Talking points: I’ve a couple friends who’re also ‘Redditors’. Conversations pretty much revolve around Reddit content, and often start with, “So did you see that thing on-” “Yep!”
  6. I’ve actually learned a lot from Reddit thanks to subreddits like explainlikeimfive and TIL.
  7. You can become involved with popular internet trends.
  8. Someone might send you pizza.
  9. Whether they’re true or not, there are some pretty juicy stories out there.
  10. The karma (just kidding).

Say Hello To My Little Friend: Part I

Until last year I’d never owned a weapon before. Okay, my brother’s air rifle sits in a cupboard gathering dust, complete with a few hundred pellets and stacks of paper targets. But – alas – it was never mine.

This changed the day a man knocked at the door and handed me a long, heavily wrapped parcel about the size of a two-by-four. What now takes pride and place on my windowsill was my first of two fantasy daggers. Think of me what you will, but it’s beautiful; sleek curves, sharp edges, the dragon’s head handle design, a six inch stainless steel blade. Holding it feels like restoring part of my arm back to normal.

“But that’s a dangerous weapon”, my dad incredulously exclaimed when he first saw it. I like to think of it more of an ornamental work of art; the start of a collection to satisfy my fascination. One day I’d like to have an armoury behind a hidden door in the wall of my basement.

In case you’re wondering, I purchased this product from Barringtons Swords.

Biking in Wales

I did a lot of things for the first time on this trip: I took my bike somewhere other than the bike shop in the car. I visited another country without any parental – or other authoritative figure – supervision. I shaved my head completely bald. I went back to Wales for the first time after leaving university over two years ago.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy myself. How could I not have? A long weekend spent with five of your mates, lots of beer, lots of food – which consisted mainly of crisps, nuts, biscuits, cakes, and energy bars – and some of the best scenery and mountain bike trails we could find.

The trails themselves ranged from easy (blue), intermediate (red), and difficult (black). The land owners advised us against the black run because of the recent motocross event which churned the trail beyond recognition. Naturally, his warning only got us all the more excited and the next day we were on it like riot police to innocent bystanders. Dismounts were made, punctures were repaired, our bikes and bodies were pushed to the limits but we managed it no sweat (metaphorically speaking).

The blue run became something of a warm-up before setting off for the day. “Just goin’ up to do the blue run, guys” someone would call out in the cottage, as if they were popping down the shops for some milk. It was a great trail, though; the initial ascent was short and easy and, from the top, you round a hairpin, bomb the following straight, meander your way through small pines, splash through a trickling stream, round another bend, up a ridge, and down a hill for a semi-circular skid stop. It probably took us a minute and a half. Bit like a rollercoaster.

Our cottage was perfect as well. There was a real fire, beam-striped ceilings, creaky stairs, wonky floors. We played drinking games every night, farted, burped, found out how to play free games of pool (which I’m not willing to divulge). It was a proper lads getaway. And, when we got so muddy you couldn’t tell where the ground stopped and our feet began, it was a trip to the river. Simply ride through it for instant results. And it didn’t matter if you fell in; you were probably in need of a bath at that point anyway.

Happy Birthday Battlefield 3: My BF3 Moment

I can confirm that the, uh, sighting of an enemy cake is true…

Really, it’s only been a year since I first slipped BF3 into my PS3 game slot, sat back with a very real sense of dread at how awful I’d be, and become thoroughly engrossed in the eternal battle between the Russian Army and the Marines? Doesn’t seem five minutes.

Probably because I’ve hardly stopped playing the damn thing. I’ve dropped over 500 hours on it. It’s the best £40ish I’ve ever spent. Ever. I’ve worn less comfortable trousers than the feeling of sniping a guy on a rooftop from 100m and paid more for the displeasure. Seriously, BF3 – think of it and its community what you will – is an endless supply of entertainment. For me anyway.

Each match is different thanks to the sheer volume of players. You will encounter similar scenarios like the incessantly fun prospect of tank-hunting, or slitting the throats of two unsuspecting long-scopers lying prone on the fringes of Kharg Island. But, (depending on your determination) you’ll achieve what people have dubbed “BF3 moments”. These are those rare times where the law of physics (as far as you can measure it in a computer game) is broken, an extremely well-timed bullet is shot, or you just happen to be in the right place at the right time to pull off something incredible.

This happened to me a few months ago. Kharg Island, sniper class (something I hardly ever employ), hiding out (not camping, there’s a difference) in one of the buildings by the first Russian conquest point. A car-full of Americans comes careering around the corner heading straight for me – they must’ve seen my scope winking in the OTT sun glare..

Bracing for the joy-riding Marines to storm my hide-out, I aimed down my sights and fired randomly in the direction of the speeding vehicle, hoping to all that’s holy that I’d make contact. I didn’t, not even after several shots.

I did, however, hit the jackpot when my misguided bullet struck an AT mine which triggered the surrounding trio of mines to explode in unison, just as the enemy vehicle was on top of them.

It’s been done before, I know. You can see an example here where the guy pulls it off intently. But the fact I didn’t know the mines were there, compounded with the +3 enemy kill, one vehicle disable and destroy, and 4 exploded mines totalling to hundreds of points at the expense of just one bullet made me stop, put down my controller, and physically celebrate like I’d just scored a 30-yarder.

I briefly re-evaluated my life, re-spawned and carried on.

Happy birthday to the most fun I’ve ever had for the price of a weekly shop.

Bored-erlands

Strip the flesh! Salt the wound!

During the second year of my undergrad degree, a lot of my time was dominated by one particular game: Borderlands. I was drawn to its unique artistic aesthetics, the plethora of weaponry (I’ve an unhealthy obsession with knives and guns), and the game’s overall “screw you” attitude.

A few months ago it came to my attention that Borderlands’ bigger brother was on his way. He sounded like more of a badass with more intelligent weapons, a host of characters who gave a lot less of a damn than the first lot, and an antagonist who no-one would get tired of shooting at.

I was excited. So excited, in fact, that I bought a new television.

When BL2 plopped through my letterbox I dashed downstairs, ripped the paper and cellophane off, stuffed the disc into my PS3 and collapsed onto my beanbag with giddy anticipation.

I sunk hours and hours into this beautiful, darkly-humoured powerhouse of a game. I traversed lush, craggy, mountainous landscapes, fought slag-infested purple lizards that vanish mid-battle, head-shotted hundreds of nomads, psychos, marauders, and oh-god-not-you-again varkids, drove around like a maniac in suped-up jeeps, explosive barrels mounted to the back, decimating all in my path. My armoury grew to rival the size of the entire US army, air-force and navy put together. I was a walking god of destruction, as is the custom when you play Borderlands. It’s just what happens.

And then, one day, I thought: “Can I be bothered to continue?” I’m about level 35 out of 50 (Gearbox will probably increase the maximum cap with some DLC), and I’ve reached a saturation point.

The appeal had, dare I even dream it, worn off. Sure, the game will always be a visual feast for the eyes. But the gameplay, like Skyrim, got repetitive: go there, kill that, come back. Kill the previous target’s harder brother, come back. Go back and kill the harder-than-the-first-target’s even more badass grandfather, come back, and be rewarded with something that, frankly, 99% of the time I’d sell quicker than I’d put to use.

Maybe it’s not the game’s fault. Maybe it’s me. Maybe my attention-span or expectations were out of whack. I think Gearbox built up the finale way too much. I’ve no real intention to finish off Handsome Jack, even if I did dispose of BNK3R, dodge all his mortars, and waste half his army of robotic maniacs and engineers, snipers, and the god-awfully-irritating constructors.

Essentially, nothing new happens quick enough, especially towards the end. Returning to areas you’ve recently cleared means you have to deal with the same string of enemies again or run’n’jump your way past them. Neither method is fun unless you’re looking to loot for ammo.

Three things I loved about BL2: 

  • Games are works of art in themselves, yes. But BL2 exceeds that. It strives to be an outlandish, loud, in-your-face poster-paint painting and succeeds. My eyes scoured every pixel of environment and loved them all.
  • The dialogue and character personalities are hilarious. They’re so over-the-top but so uniquely Borderlands that they’re acceptable and a pleasure to listen to.
  • The weaponry and random loot system kept me surprised and forced me to choose whether to keep a gun I loved using, or sell it on to make room. It’s something you never normally consider, but BL2 makes you.

Three things that put me off (eventually):

  • The repetitiveness. I know, I know, it’s bound to happen in an RPG. It was more subtle in Skyrim, but it still occurred.
  • Game progression got too slow and then predictable.
  • Constant running and gunning killed being able to keep up with the story. I’d find myself in a fire-fight and need to re-read my objective after each one. Sort of a “now, where were we before we got so rudely interrupted?” scenario.