Chatterbooks

In all the excitement about being another year older, I also had the inaugural session of the Chatterbooks group that we’ve set up in the Children’s Library in Sunbury. It went rather well.

Chatterbooks, for those who haven’t encountered it before, is a scheme set up by the Reading Agency in the UK to promote the love of books and reading in youngsters.  The Reading Agency is an independent charity whose most high profile patron is Jacqueline Wilson. They work mostly with schools, libraries and similar groups to set up reading and discussion groups with the aim of encouraging children’s confidence in reading and talking about what they’ve read with both adults and other children.

The particular group that I’ve set up is aimed for children between the ages of seven and ten – though that said I’ve allowed a couple of very bright six year olds in as a trial as well and won’t be kicking anyone out on their eleventh birthday. There had been a group previously at the library, so this hasn’t just sprung out of nowhere, but its been a year or two since it was active.

I have to say, I was nervous as anything in the days and hours leading up to it, but as usual once it started I was just on a roll. We had nine children rock up with their parents in tow, and by the time I’d got them reading the first pages of books and trying to work out what might happen next, and got them to match the pages to pictures of the books covers the time was just flying by.

So far, so good. We’re negotiating around school holiday times for when the next one will run, but the kids and parents were both very happy with it, and so was the boss – which was a nice bonus.

Thought I should document it somewhere…

Birthday

I’m supposed to be of an age where I’m either a curmudgeon about birthdays or I pretend they don’t happen.
Happily this is not the case, and I’m merrily resisting the urge to wax on about passing time, feeling old and the inevitable decline of my physical and mental resources.
Let’s face it I’ll have enough of that from other people today and if I listened to other peoples expectations I’d still be a right mess, rocking in a corner somewhere or quietly pushing up daisies.
Instead I’m happy, doing things I enjoy, and taking the time to look round for the next piece of chaos to take advantage of.
Sod being 40, that was so last year. I’m 41 now.

EVE: Something Nice

It’s often the little things in a game expansion that can tip the balance in how you perceive it. Was a favoured tactic ruled inadmissible? Was a favourite piece of equipment or a ship re-engineered or de-powered in the name of balance? Were there a few minor graphic tweaks that suddenly make the place look even more huge?

All Alone In The Night
Noctis ship in mid-warp

There – that last one – that’s what’s had me smiling quietly while playing the new release of EVE, which patched yesterday.

There’s been a change to the way that you plan your routes between stars, requiring less of an intrusive GUI that could and did sometimes get very confusing. One minor part of this is a little checkbox that is on by default to show the route lines while you are in space. So what? Well, up until now, all the little stars in the sky might as well have been just part of the glorious wallpaper. What the route map projection does is show that each one of those stars on display corresponds to a system like the one in which you are flying. As you jump to a new system along the route, the map across those skies gets shorter and shorter – and is entirely consistent every time you make that journey.

This alone would be quite nifty, but they did one more very subtle thing – they turned each jump gate to point at the next star in your route. So now, when you jump to a new system, the flare of light that bursts from the gate animation shoots towards your next target star. Its a subtle piece of theatre that I appreciate for both the eye candy elements, but also for somehow giving much more of a sense of scale that can sometimes be lost when piloting multi-kilometre long internet spaceships.

Nice one CCP

Fiction: The Traffic Lights

The demonic traffic lights of Old Sunbury Town lie in wait, thirsty for the blood of unwary pedestrians. They lust for the fluids that soak into their darkly luxurious stretch of tarmac.
Over the years, the lights have changed, evolving their appearance in line with the design of less malevolent street furniture. To the despair of police and local council alike however, the corner of Green Street and Nursery Road remains a festeringly treacherous accident black spot.
The warning lights for pedestrians angle away from easy view by users of the crossing. The statutory warning bleeps remain mysteriously silent while the rotating cylinder used by the blind and partially sighted repeatedly grows razor edged ridges that desperate workmen file back down with nervous grins on their faces. Most dangerously of all, the timings of the lights shift, flow and ebb with malicious intent to trap the unwary.
Quite how the lights became such a demonic fixture is open to debate by locals and scholars alike. Some point to the age of the area and its role as a crossroads from the river Thames towards the Troll colonies. Dark references in old Parish records hunt at summary justice enacted on that stretch of road. Moves against persistently untrustworthy families were not unknown where the safety of children was involved; and those same scholars now point to the confluence of local schools in the area, whose pupils assiduously avoid the lights by instinct.
Others claim that the area was blighted in the fae wars of the thirteenth century, but the lush foliage and otherwise relaxed tone of the area would seem to suggest otherwise. This is particularly marked when compared to the ongoing despair that hangs over nearby Hounslow and its blasted heath – so famous for its Highwaymen of old.
This author’s believe is somewhat more prosaic – that the traffic lights have simply evolved from the pain of the local locus geni. A bold and assertive spirit, it gained a taste for blood with the advent of the automobile and people’s impatience.
Little else will explain how the behaviour of the lights at that junction persists across changes of hardware and electronics; or how otherwise same and sober drivers find themselves creeping across traffic lane markers and anticipating the changes of the ever-erratic lights.
It’s certainly a nicer thought anyway than the alternative: that bad things happen for no reason, and that an erratic and downright dangerous traffic light setup is due to a slapdash or otherwise uncaring set of road traffic planners and engineers starved of adequate financial resources.
Equally unpleasant is the thought that the unequal and erratic responses to the lights by drivers and pedestrians alike comes from frustration and uncertainty over light timings.
Why is this unpleasant? Because it means we have to take ownership of the consequences of our own laziness and impatience. Let’s just blame it on demons instead.

A Patchy Weekend

I’m normally pretty prompt about installing software patches so it was a bit of a surprise to find myself having a patching spree this morning. First came an HP driver patch; then a Windows update that demanded a reboot; closely followed by a Steam client update, an Adobe Flash patch and then a long delayed update of the Last.FM scrobbler client. I’d only opened my laptop this morning to email my brothers about a family get-together in a couple of months time.

Then I remembered that I’d seen an email recently about an update for Scrivener – the software I compose most of my writing on. Cue another deep sigh and more key tapping to sort that out. I must confess the curmudgeonly sigh on this point is purely for effect. The upgrade went without a hitch. Its nice when that happens without needing to reboot, set restore points or cross your fingers against the possibility of losing all your data.

Other than that it has been a good weekend so far. T’other half came home on Thursday with the good news that she’s passed the probation period at her new job, so we decided to head to a local pub for a Friday night out.

A quiet pint and a crossword
A quiet pint and a crossword

This is the first pub night we’ve had in a good three or four years. As a result I may be raving about this far more than I normally would. With finances having been so shaky the last few years, due to all the personal and working changes that we’ve both had to contend with, we’ve had to adopt a generally hermit-like existence.

This news therefore, confirming regular wages for the forseeable future, has meant that we’ve been able to consider living in a somewhat less hand to mouth manner – which includes not feeling guilty about going out every now and then. Hence the excitement about getting out of the house and having a Friday night down the pub.

We’d scouted out The Magpie the previous weekend while out for a walk, so we knew it was a good twenty minute walk there – just right to unwind after a days’ work. Plenty of soft chairs, good service in the restaurant section and very reasonable prices all made for a nicely relaxed evening that I hope to share with friends at some point. We even stayed until last orders – how odd to be celebrating this as something fresh and remarkable?

Other than the software patches this morning, we’ve been very boring today – mostly ironing shirts, hoovering carpets and toddling along in our own little worlds, enjoying some mundanity in a sensation of safety. Again, all very unusual – and we’re not used to this at all.

Tomorrow – well who knows. We’re thinking of heading out to see some art – Tate Britain perhaps, or the National Portrait Gallery. Maybe we’ll go the British Library – though there is a part of me that thinks that may be a bit of a busman’s holiday…

One Bullet, Bitten

Most of what I write at the moment is articles and blog entries, ghost written for other people. That said, I have The Novel still gestating and getting written in fits and starts, and of late I’ve also been writing short stories. All well and good, but there comes a moment when you have to then do something with those short stories.

So this afternoon I’ve bitten the bullet and submitted the first of those short stories to a magazine. I made sure to read the submission guidelines, look at what else they publish and most importantly to look at what publishing rights they are asking for so that I don’t lose my carefully crafted tale and characters into a deep dark hole.

We’ll see if anything happens, but I’m forcing myself to assume that it will be rejected and that I won’t even hear about it for between two and four months (the average time the publisher’s site says it takes to respond). The advantage of course is that this now forces me to write some more stories, as I can’t submit the story to anyone else while its under consideration – so that’s good for keeping the pace up as far as I’m concerned.

Right, back to the regular paying gigs before I let myself get wound up about it 😉

Valentine’s Day

There’s a strange air that’s crept over Valentine’s Day, and I’m wondering if it’s just me that is bemused by it. Certainly when I was younger, the concept of Valentine’s Day seemed more enshrined in being a festival for lovers and would-be lovers. There was a certain degree of commercialism to it even going back thirty or so years ago, but it didn’t seem to have the footprint that it does today.

Now I see people wishing general “Happy St Valentine’s Day” to all and sundry on Facebook or in general media, which seems to give the event something more of the commercialised general feel of Christmas. I have to admit I have mixed feelings about this.

On the one hand, there’s something nice about a festival that celebrates the concept of romantic love – after all in South Korea, I’m told, the fourteenth of every month is themed around a different aspect of love. On the other hand though there’s something slightly impersonal about adopting the wider greeting that I find jarring.

The societal norm that I grew up with is one where if you say “Happy Valentine’s Day”, you actually mean it. I know I’m not alone in this. Over the years I’ve ventured the occasional greeting to people as an experiment and had a range of reactions from the “slightly dismissive” to the “prickly backing away” to choose from. As a result I now don’t make the more general “season’s greetings” type of greeting at all, even though I know others who do.

That said, wherever you are and whatever you’re doing, I hope this year’s Valentine’s Day is a pleasant one for you and that you are able to be with whoever you love, however you love them.

Remembering Trigonometry

I’ve been so busy blogging on behalf of someone else as a paying gig that I’ve been somewhat neglecting this blog. This is not entirely helpful, I’ll agree.

This evening I’m round visiting my daughter, and she’s doing her maths homework. Like me, she’s finding her trigonometry a bit of a strain, so I’ve set up on the opposite side of the table to use my Google-fu and rusty brain cells to re-teach myself enough to be of use.

We must be doing something right, because I’m hearing a whole series of lightbulb moments as problems that have been tormenting her all evening suddenly resolve. Small bursts of muttering can be heard, punctuated by such phrases as: “Ah! That’s an isosceles triangle!”, “Oh why am I doing this the long way round?”, and “All the school computers are down so that’ll make ICT interesting in the morning.”

That last bit may not have been related to her Maths homework.