Where have I been?

I’ve been spending a lot less time in front of the computer at home over the last few months.  That means almost no time in Lord of the Rings Online and not much blogging going on (among other things).  The reasons are many and varied.  Using the PS3 and XBox360 a lot more (Dragon Age on the PS3, Mass Effect 2 on the XBox360, among other things).  Dragon Age especially is a huge time sink.  Partly it’s because I finally got sick of sitting at the PC all day at work – and then doing the same when I got home.  That’s probably because what I was doing on the PC at home wasn’t really engaging my brain enough though to keep me occupied.

I’m probably the luckiest guy alive, I have very few responsibilities that cause me any grief, I have an amazing wife who’s just as much a gamer as I am (computers, roleplaying, larp, board games), and so while many people settle down to an evening of TV, we often settle down to an evening of games of various kinds.  It’s just that at the moment, those games are not in front of the computer.  I’m also trying to get back into (again) painting miniatures, keeping a dedicated space in the house set aside for it so I can paint when the whim takes me rather than having to dig stuff out.  We’ll see how that works out.

The net result is that I’m not sitting in front of a browser all the time and so when I think up the random crap I used to blog about I either tweet a 140 character approximation of it, or I just chuckle evilly to myself and then shoot some more bad guys.  I’m pretty sure everything will go full circle, and when the next batch of new content for LotRO is released I’ll be back in game and at the PC.

Windows Live Writer?

I tried playing with Windows Live Writer last year, but the download stalled and never fully installed, and I never got around to re-trying it later.  I don’t really have any issue writing blog posts directly into WordPress, the GUI is pretty nice, but there are times when I want to write something complicated or long, make a lot of edits, bring in text from elsewhere etc. and it’s easier to do that outside the browser I find.

So this isn’t a very constructive post, just me playing with the tool.  I’m am interested in the auto-linking feature, which hopefully has turned the first link in this post into a link to somewhere on the Microsoft site.  That seems like a neat thing, and if I was blogging a bunch of related posts that might prove useful.

So far, I’m quite liking the simple interface – when Microsoft gets applications right, they can be quite good (is that a tautology?)

Why I like Autumn?

Off the cuff response I made on Facebook, just thought I’d blog it, as-is.

Bright mornings, with a soft mist covering the ground and the water on the canal. Watching the ducks float with ethereal grace across the water, pushing a veil of mystical white smoke ahead of them. That golden light that you only get early in the morning in Autumn, when the world is silent, poised, waiting for something significant to happen. Almost like the world is holding it’s breath, knowing that just around the corner is the bitter cold of winter.

In a final defiant act, the trees turn red and gold, bringing heat and warmth to the landscape.

The first moment in the year when you can sit in front of the fire, fighting back the chill and sharing a quiet moment reflecting on another summer gone.

Snuggling under the duvet at night, no risk of being too warm, but toasty and comforting.

A slow gentle rain, not the hard unforgiving rain of Winter, or the constant wet of Spring, but a refreshing, otherworldly curtain of rain which cleans away the sluggish feeling of Summer and ushers in the new urgency of Autumn.

So many things about Autumn I love.

XBox360 Games

Got three games free with the XBox (Gears of War 2, Mass Effect 2 and Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands).  Half the reason in my head for wanting an XBox was to play Left4Dead (and Left4Dead 2).  I could have gotten them for the PC, but playing games like that on the PC seems like the wrong thing to do – especially when I spent all day using the PC at work.

I picked up L4D 1/2 second hand.  However, as it turns out, Left4Dead (1/2) aren’t as good as I had hoped – not because they’re not good, they are, but they’re not what I was expecting (my bad).  I was looking for a campaign like the Resident Evil series, and although there’s a single player campaign in Left4Dead, it’s really more of a set of cinematic sequences with shooting in them.

But it’s not all bad!  Gears of War 2 was short but enjoyable (although the main character has less charisma than a brick), it’s technically competent.  Mass Effect 2 is excellent, and well worth playing on the XBox.  The roleplaying element is not as sophisticated as Dragon Age, but the rest of the game is really polished and the campaign is nice and long.  It had some flaws (you can back yourself into a corner in a conversation where the only outcome is that you end up starting a mission before you’re ready) but it’s still very enjoyable.

I’ve not tried Prince of Persia yet (not normally my kind of game, but I’ll give it a go).  I have played a load of demos and some stuff from the XBox Live Arcade though and overall I’m very pleased with the XBox.

So, I bought an XBox 360

I had considered an XBox 360 a few times, but I was leery of the terrible failure rate and the fact that wireless connectivity added another ~£40 to the price, so when Microsoft announced the last hardware upgrade (built in wireless) and when I heard there were improvements to the heat management which hopefully reduce the failure rate, I was really tempted.

So tempted in fact, that I’ve gone and bought one.  In my defense, if I need one, I present the fact that as an entertainment device the PS3 has been superb and easily more than value for money.  A policy of buying games cheaply, playing them all the way through and not buying loads means that the £’s / hour we get from the PS3 easily outweigh buying DVD’s, or going to the cinema.

So essentially the PS3 has paid for itself, and I expect the XBox will do the same over time.

So, how do they compare now that I own them both (and have at one time owned a Wii).  Basically, there’s nothing in it between the XBox and the PS3.  They’re both excellent, the graphics are both excellent, the controllers are both okay.  The PS3 has rechargeable controllers by default, which is a win over the XBox battery powered ones that come with the console (although we bought a second one and it’s rechargeable).  Also, the PS3 online gaming stuff is free for everyone rather than a paid service as it is with the XBox, but they’re minor points.  The games are comparable.  I’m sure more hard core gamers will point out tearing or refresh rates or polygon counts, but to an average gamer who just likes the games, I couldn’t tell you if either one looked better, they both look great.

The XBox gets pretty hot, but it’s much smaller than my old ‘fat’ PS3.  If you play from the disc, the XBox is noiser, but once you install the game on the 250GB disk it’s pretty quiet.

Overall, very pleased.  The only difference between the consoles really, are the exclusive games and exclusive content that Sony or Microsoft manage to buy, and you have to wonder how much that costs them to maintain.  So, I’ll be able to play Left 4 Dead (1 and 2) on a console now.

(XBL Gamertag is EightBitTony if you know me, let me know who you are if you send a friend request)

Money is the root of all stress

In May 2006 I wrote about how I’d paid off a significant personal loan that I’d had for quite a while (Loan Shmoan).  We got that loan because of a broad range of circumstances, and it really kept us afloat at the time, but paying it off was a pretty good feeling.

Three months later in August 2006, I wrote a post about how our credit card bill was still not going down quickly enough and that I was thinking of taking out another loan to get rid of it (Loan Moan).  We didn’t take out a loan at that time, we just tried hard to keep the credit card balance under control, and mostly we did.

It just stayed static (mostly), and it remained that way until the early part of this year.  Every now and then I would check and see how much interest we were paying on the balance and what the minimum payments were, and think about a loan, but it seemed like accepting defeat.  We weren’t buying anything big on the card, but a few small things here and there (literally £10 and £20 stuff) that wouldn’t get paid off and would mount up.  In the early part of this year we finally started making some progress on the balance and it was less each month, which is the first time that had happened for ages.

And then, in the middle part of this year we had a run of bad timing.  Car troubles, road tax, various other bits and pieces, and suddenly before you know it the balance is higher than it’s been for a long time.

I could pay it off over time, I could stop using the card, set up a direct debit covering the minimum payment + whatever I feel I can afford and the balance would eventually go away.  But the interest rate on the CC balance is significant (it’s not terrible, it’s a reasonable card, but it’s clearly higher than you can get with a personal loan).

So defeat or not, it finally made sense to take out another loan, clear the card down to a zero balance and start fresh.  Once the cash arrives I’ll set up a ‘pay off the full balance of this card’ standing order with the bank ((I know I should have done this last time, but I still have this weird concern that I need to micro-manage everything in my bank account, but it’s clear I’m not strong enough to actually do that)).  The payment on the loan is only 50% higher than the minimum payment was on the CC balance, and the loan repayment is four years.  So every month I know I’m better off than I was the month before and there’ll be no sudden increases.

I arranged the loan over the phone with my bank,  and despite the fact that I knew they’d give me the money, the conversation still made me feel nervous like I was being grilled and that I could somehow fail to meet their expectations.

So anyway, here we are again, September 2010, with a personal loan.  Hopefully, some time in 2014 I’ll be back blogging about how it’s paid off and how happy I am about it.

The key will be whether I’m back again three months after that saying the CC balance is out of control – let’s hope not.

The Guild – Confession

So, I posted episodes 6 & 7 and claimed that something was missing.  I’ll come right out and admit that I’d only watched episodes 1-6 at the time.  Once I posted the links I then watched #7 and #7 is good 🙂

It’s exactly what was missing from the previous episodes.  I’m not sure what that is, or why, but it’s in #7.

Indesit Logistics get it right

I hope I’m thanking the right bunch of people here.  I ordered a new Hotpoint fridge freezer at the start of this week.  I got a phone call on Tuesday telling me it would be here on Thursday.  I got a text on Wednesday telling me which 3 hour slot it would arrive in on Thursday.  I got a text 1 hour before it arrived.  The two guys who delivered it were polite, efficient and quick.

I haven’t actually switched it on yet, but it looks in good condition.

I just rang the telephone number I had (when they texted me the first delivery info) and told them how happy I was with their service, and I know I moan a lot in this blog (who doesn’t), so I just wanted to write something positive for a change.

The whole end-to-end process was slick, quick and the communication was fantastic.

Thank you Indesit Logistics.