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Thank you Grannie

I'm not used to writing about myself, I never have been, even back when LiveJournal was popular I never posted that often, I mostly commented on other people's journals than ever post myself. In a way, this post is still about someone else but also about me too. And while I might these days live on Twitter, this is something that needs more space and I don't have anywhere else to write it.

Despite wondering many times over the last few years what I would.. will.. am doing right now, its still a struggle to even type these words out.

My last remaining grandparent, my grandmother, Elizabeth Shaw, died last night.

She had been suffering for a long time with dementia and had last year finally been moved out in to a care home to make her more comfortable. Apparently in just the last few days after going off her food did she finally pass after a very long battle.
I can't thank my brother, sister-in-law and father enough for helping to look after her prior to that. Though physically distant and thus unable to, I don't think I would have been able to cope even if I had been more local.

Dementia really is an awful thing, back when I was visiting them all more often during my university years, we had started to see it take hold. Forgetting and repeating conversations, miss-identifying those of us in the house, making dangerous mistakes like trying to put an electrical kettle on the gas hob. Its so both frustrating, disheartening and so saddening that there's nothing that can be done to stop it.

You end up wanting to distance yourself, just so you don't overwrite in your mind the image of the person as you remember them with what they are then. And that distancing probably only makes it worse for them, but its an unavoidable feeling that I think is part of being human and clinging to those cherished memories in the hope it can stave off reality. Foolish that might be but its the sentimental foolishness and I can't ever blame anyone else for that and so I guess I shouldn't be too hard on myself either.

And the memories of her are very fond. Growing up she was very close to both myself and my brother. Living in the same house (with a soft partition of the ground floor and basement being her's and the rest of us on the first and second floor), meant she was always close by to help look after us if our parents were busy. And even after my parents separated she continued to be there for us both on the holidays when we visited our dad. She was a strong pillar of support during the early years of getting used to my mum's new relationship with our step-father.

Having risen by father mostly by herself after her only husband, my grandfather, died following an illness, and having worked to run the family house as a seaside guest house to pay off the mortgage, she was an amazingly kind hearted and hard working women.
She cared deeply for myself and my brother and while a keen influence on us both being relatively well behaved and polite, was never stuffy or too strict with us. Just persistent until we'd learned.

It's from her that I've gained everything from a love of fish and chips for a Saturday sit down lunch time, to tea from an early age. The number of memories of her taking us to the parks and the beach are too many to count. The amount she did for us were a debt too huge to ever be repaid.

It's these thoughts I've tried to keep with me as her illness took hold over these last few years and its those I'll hold on to now myself as I prepare myself to say good bye to her. And while that is a few days away, for now at least, I can thank her.

Thank you Grannie, I'll miss you.

Elizabeth Shaw
1925 - 2015

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7 Things

A post by me? It must be about my new job right?! Nope, LJ meme. Much more fun.

Comment to this post, and I will list seven things I want you to talk about. They might make sense or they might be totally random. Then post that list, with your commentary, to your journal. Other people can get lists from you, and the meme merrily perpetuates itself.

This selection from washu_chan_uk

ConFuzzled
As far as I know, I might still currently be the only staff member on the team to of never actually attended any other conventions ever, be they RBW, EF, AC, FC or any others. I wonder thus if when I do eventually attend another con, I may end up in a situation of not actually being able to enjoy them quite so much, given I'd want to go around fixing stuff and passing critique. Though I suppose I won't know until I eventually get to one.
As for CFz, it remains presently my deepest passion. The joy of putting all this hardwork in to something and having so many people derive pleasure from the collective efforts of the team remains a thrill that always leaves me giddy for days after.

Puppetry
I've never enjoyed performing, in the obviously theatrical sense. The idea of so many people watching me and just blanking off all those faces and focusing on the script, the actions and what have you is really hard. Even just doing the voice work for the various pre-recorded parts of the Pawpet show and only Fairlight watching causes me a fair bit of anxiety. Thus I do joke that the best stage for me is one with an opaque wall between me and the audience and in Pawpets, I actually have that.
It also still amazes me that something that I write causes several other people to put hours of work in to preparing whatever it is and then more amazingly, causes several hundred people, most of whom I don't know, to laugh. There is definitely some strange form of mind control at work here, and I want to learn how to hone it!

Programming
I now not only enjoy this, but also get paid for doing it. I'm rather pleased with that fact. Even after just a week at this job, I think I'm going to have more days I enjoy it than those I don't. I've already had a few fist-pumping moments where I got some early prototype work operational and clean. Its a terribly good drug those little anticipated shots of success at figuring out these self-building puzzles.

Goals in Life
Up until recently, this sort of question always puzzled me. How do people decide these things? Does one really find something and then shoot for the moon? I've most of my life only thought in terms of a few days ahead in what I want. Anything beyond that is a future that will surprise me.
With 2012 already being a big year of changes for me, I suppose I can at least say my near term but not instant goals are to become completely independent and financially stable, not to mention buy a few nice treats for myself that were previous denied. But beyond that, the only other thing I can think of is knowing I want to make a dent in the universe. I know I've already achieved that somewhat in a few ways, but I'm no where near finished. :)

Pokémorphs
The Pokémorph MUSH remains for me a one safe place online I can always return to. Regardless of insanity elsewhere in the world, the players there and my friends with its own collection of injokes, lingo and community is something very dear to me and of recent, not something maybe I myself have been putting enough back in to. This is something I oddly feel I will be able to do more now that I have a job, after all, if one's personal time is precious, places like that where one can relax, slump down with a laptop and pretend you are an anthropomorphic armoured purple poisonous rabbit-dinosaur freedom fighter are suddenly all the more appealing in the evenings when they are no-longer the every-day thing.

Food
Odd this topic as I don't really have much to say other than the fact I like it. I've realised I've got a passion for strong flavours in food, if maybe not 'strange' things. If that makes me uncultured or a wimp, so be it. At some point soon I suppose I'll need to actually eat more healthily, I think for now I still have some grace period before that happens. n.n;

Gaming
This topic actually is one that has sometimes in fact caused me a bit of depression. To the tune that I've been bought games by parents which I have never actually gone on to finish or in a few cases, even play because other activities took their stead. As a result, despite considering myself a 'gamer', I also even suffer from the 'uncultured' problem here, given that (ignoring a NES we owned in the mid-90's with just a couple of Mario games) our first real console was a N64. So the whole 16-bit era many of my generation wax on about is one I never experienced. Likewise I never have had ownership over any Playstation console, my play on those games being borrowed time on other's devices.
Finally after all this today, my main focus in games is limited to a very tiny core of only two sorts. Action fun franchises I already love, such as Mario. And games where I can allow myself to be swallowed by the universe until it becomes part of my existence. The two most notable of these of course being both Pokémon and Halo. And the reasons I love these so much are well, maybe too broad for this topic.
In summary on this one then, I sometimes feel down for having -not- played some games, but those I do, take in to my heart.
What follows is a post I placed on the Windows Developer Preview Forum.



I've been using the Windows Developer Preview intensively while pondering and planning possible applications I might want to make for it. Trying out both the new apps and my old favourites and seeing how they fair on the system.
Once you spend a day or two with the system, you can start to deduce why those who aren't dev's have downloaded it and found it frustrating. It is clearly a work in progress and some bugs are obvious, but the work put in to the engineering of it, the performance, the graphics, the underlying stuff. Users can feel all that and so they want to enjoy the system, only to be stopped when the unfinished or completely missing features block them, and it's terribly frustrating.
The thing that troubles me, is that I could see what Metro could be, and Microsoft is so close. It reminds me much of how Vista promised the world but it took 7 to actually deliver it.
Here are a few things I personally think are missing, the additions of which might already be in progress at MS, but if they are not, I hope someone is listening:
1. The illusion of control
There's been a fair bit of back and forth on the fact that Metro apps don't close. The counter argument being that they don't need to! They just suspend and all that stuff. This is of course, a silly argument as both sides are right, its all about perception.
User's like to feel in control, and having a big GO AWAY button is a great feature of that. There is a great sense of satisfaction that comes from finishing some work and hitting Close on existing Windows applications, likewise there is a certain feeling of relief if a bad program misbehaves and the X button becomes a club that feels good to thwack at the application's frozen window.
At the same time, there are obvious benefits from a phone style freeze-dried application model, in a sense, it is just an extension of the SuperFetch tech in Windows 7, its about the computer being smarter than the user at knowing when to close and when to just set aside. After all, some apps like say, current versions of Firefox, would benefit a lot if they were able to stay resident for a while even once all their windows were closed.
What is needed is a compromise. A close button should exist, most likely on the settings panel (which needs a better name before it becomes 'The Junk Draw') or the charms list. Doing this suspends the app, removes it from the task lists in everywhere but the Task Manager and also mutes it (some sample games forget to pause their audio when they are flipped, only music applications should be allowed to break this rule and they should also shut up when 'closed' like this). If a user reopens it, its again, like it never closed. If they don't, it can fade away as expected. Bonus feature: Right-clicking close shows a 'force close' option which is the same as End Task in task manager.
2. Desktop Confused
There's a lot of people wanting to flee back to the older Windows desktop, and really, the fact it still exists will be a problem unless the desktop is properly defined as to its purpose in the new version of Windows.
Of course, it will have its role for a while in running legacy applications, but what about after that? I don't think there are plans to move the deep system reconfiguration tools to Metro. Visual Studio. Office. The new ribbon based explorer. In their own presentation, Photoshop was held up as an example of an app that really is better served staying in the desktop.
The desktop needs to be re-defined as a place to go to 'Work'. A creative space, things can be arranged more haphazardly, but deep complex tasks can be done. Metro needs to assist in this, providing a smart way of launching say, a set of desktop apps together and then getting out of the way.
Maybe even providing a smarter start experience when you're on the desktop, the start screen only takes the left side pane much like a snapped app so you can check a tile or open something you've forgotten and then get back to work. There would of course be a simple way to return to the full screen state when work is done.
3. The forgotten app class
Some apps are content focused: browsers, games, news readers, lots of content, few functions, these make great Metro apps. Then there are the creation and management apps: Word processors, art tools, developer tools, file managers, administrator tools, these make great desktop apps.
But there is a third class of app, the utility app. Calculator, notepad, instant messengers, backup tools, the command prompt, heck, the run command window. All of these fit in to neither of the above camps very well. Do you really want a full screen calculator? Do you want to have to switch between full screen apps to monitor your instant messages?
There needs to be a third way for apps to work, similar maybe to the docked thin pane mode Metro apps can go in to but that is their only existence. They would work well as assistants to working with larger desktop apps as well as Metro apps. Having a cool Metro command line side by side with Visual Studio would be quite awesome. Likewise using IM via a thin WP7 like Pivot control would be a good UI for holding IM conversations in. (Though having Metro stuff only able to snap to one monitor at a time is silly, fix that!)
4. At a glance information
One major thing that was great about Windows 7 was its new taskbar. The fact that you could see progress of operations, see what apps were running and which weren't, see app status through overlay icons. While Metro does provide status through the use of tiles. It fails to even show that when it comes to providing this information when you aren't on the Start screen.
I can understand the good thing that is full screen apps, but sometimes being able to glance away and check something else is a good thing. Right now for example I can see I have 8 legacy desktop apps running, in those I have several Internet tabs and two text-based games open, there are no new Tweets directed toward me waiting and I am not going to be bothered as I'm set Away on Messenger. I can do all this just by looking at something, having to press Start will never match this convenience.
Though likewise, I have no idea what my Metro apps are doing, I don't know if there is a new item in the feed reader or (if I had the sample app MS demoed) if I had any mail in that mail client. I'm aware some of this functionality will be placed in to Glyphs that can be placed in to the clock that appears when you point at Start or Lock the screen. But those don't show up on the desktop and still require interaction to be seen.
Users need to a way to say 'yes, I want to sacrifice some workspace so I can keep an eye on something in the background'. Its the way we work in the real world and users should be able to do the same with their computers too. Keep me informed is just an important mode as Do Not Disturb.
5. Touch first doesn't mean keyboard/mouse second
Much of this is possibly down to incomplete buggy code, but in the Developer Preview, there is a lot of stuff where being touch-less sucks. And given a benefit of Windows 8 will be that it runs on everything Windows 7 will, the keyboard and mouse interaction must be given the respect it deserves.
For Metro, this means shortcut keys in applications that could be hinted at using tool-tips or in help. It means making sure selecting/cut/copy/paste don't screw up in IE and it means making sure all scrollable lists respond to the scroll-wheel! In Windows, its always been the case everything can be done from the mouse and the keyboard. Touch much join these first two, not supersede them.
The Start Screen too should allow better use of the space for desktop users who can use smaller fonts and can display more information. For listing older legacy desktop apps, this is especially important as even the smaller square tiles waste a lot of space and could remain touchable at half the size.
6. Complete the Experience
Finally, and for me this is really important. There are far too many things that at the moment can only be done using the desktop UI.
Starting with the Control Panel, there should be almost no reason at all to interact with the old Control Panel UI. Screen savers, glass settings, mouse settings, keyboard settings, Microsoft Update, Legacy Program Uninstall, network management. That all needs to be folded in to one single metro control panel. Users shouldn't have to leave Metro to change a slightly more esoteric feature. Accessories also need to be converted to 'type 3' metro apps detailed above.

Creativity Paralysis

Recently, to a greater or lesser degree, I've found doing anything hard. Even writing this post is hard, thinking what I want to say and getting it in to words and actually posting it. Not because of any physical problem or anything like that, but just a fundamental state of being unable to capture the right mood and the right feelings at the right time when its appropriate, not to mention the ideas.

It annoys me as I see my friends' and others' creative endeavours all the time. Art, writing, jokes, software, music, videos, physical constructions or endeavours, anything that requires an original thought and the skill to execute on it. I know none of it is effortless, the people who create all the time and do so seemingly without effort is because of practice. I know in my own skill area how once where I used to struggle with how a program might function, these days I can see something and work out its possible data-structures and processes quite quickly. But the fact that they are able to even make starts in these things is frustrating.

I suppose it could be down partly at least, to the fact that what I do is not very well, easy to show off. A project like the system I'm working on now will be months of work and could well not be seen by anyone outside of a small circle till autumn of next year. Before that, the only people who would be able to appreciate it anyway would be other programmers, and sadly most of those I try to talk to are either too busy with their own work (no fault to them), or rude and inconsiderate, believing my work to be without any merit because of some choice I've made in the tools I am using to build it or because I am still learning as I go. And there is no way of course to prove any such disheartening arguments wrong, after all, the program is incomplete and cannot be tested to prove either point.

Ranting aside, I want to be able to make more artistic things. Of course, I also do the Pawpet stuff at ConFuzzled, but I mean Small things. Things that can be created, shown, appreciated, critiqued and then I move on to something else in a very short timespan. However, whenever I consider trying to do one of these things, write, draw, et; the creative paralysis hits. Much resolves around my computer as in, if I'm at it, everything is a distraction. The web, the MUSH, IM, IRC, heck, isn't it about time I changed my desktop wallpaper? All of these sap at my focus until nothing is started. Conversely, when I try to move away from it, I feel that disconnection and even sudden lack of ability. I can't write fast or well on paper (and if its something worth saving, I'd have to transcribe to share it!), I can't draw without looking at lots of reference pictures, I can't think without the right musical cue...

There's such a thing as Artist's Block, but I feel now as though this has been going on years. I remember when I was growing up and crazy madcap stories would flow in my imagination games with friends, weird strange, wonderful stuff. Now the only times those seem to come is when I'm asleep and dreaming. I couldn't ever draw much in the way of people or characters really unless it was a carbon copy trace, but I used to play-pretend spaceships and such with my brother and thus draw control panels and interfaces for those. Heh, precursor to my love and UI and UX I guess.

I really REALLY, need to get out of this. Its kept me awake along enough tonight to be writing this at almost four in the morning when I'm supposed to be getting an early night. If you do anything creative, and you all do. Regardless of what it is, how do you defeat your moods like these? What do you do to stop it coming back? And how do you deal with getting the willpower to focus while in an environment that is less than calm and free of interruption?

Small or huge replies dearly welcome. And as an experiment, cross posted to LiveJournal and Google+.

ConFuzzled 2011 – Report – Part 1

The last time I wrote a full proper convention report was way way back in 2008 for the very first ConFuzzled. Since then, for various reasons, I didn’t write one for 2009 or 2010 and money hasn’t allowed for me to visit another event beyond this one for which I am staff. So apologies if I’m a bit rusty at this sort of thing.

Likewise, while others have been tweeting up a storm and recording tons of photographs and video footage to post, the lack of a smart or even a feature phone currently means I’ll have to make do with words.

Pre-Con

The build up for 2011 had been huge. For me especially given my work started around mid-summer last year as I began building the new Registration System which we used this year. Weeks of PHP coding that didn’t finally finish till the day we closed Resident registration followed.

That on top of my other duties as head of Inventory meant I had a good idea as to what to expect this year in terms of our scope given everything that everyone was working on generally required buying something via me. I knew this year was going to be huge.

Getting everything ready the weekend before had been a slog too, the new badge printer failing with four days left on the clock and Tungro, Fairlight and Bear stripping it down to its circuit boards to get it going again. Meanwhile I had to go through and produce a complete accessible inventory for everything that would be packed in the big green equipment Pods. Lots of work but time well spent as I would find out later.

Thursday

Having finally gotten home on Tuesday, I had barely a day to prepare myself before the first day of convention for me began. An early start and a walk up a cold hill to vote was quiet effective at waking me back up after only two or three hours sleep. Democracy stated, myself and Nanaki caught ourselves a taxi down to the station where a shiny pre-booked set of tickets were waiting for collection.

By chance then, we arrived on our platform and ran in to Furble, who along with Blue, was also taking this train to Manchester. In the latter’s case for the con but in Furble’s case, work. Chat and cups of tea were had but as the train pulled up it was clearly too small and standing room only so we parted ways after Blue passed to me the awesome badge he’d done for me this year and made use of our booked seats. Annoyingly, one women we kicked out was trying to claim that seat bookings were cancelled on this train. Yeah, right. Even so, I felt bad for making the others move, but I guess I shouldn’t begrudge getting to be the kicker-outer rather than the kickie for once.

Arriving at Manchester Airport train station, we were picked up by the ever-so-kind Wolfie Fox who eventually found us, despite attempts by his GPS to claim one of the roundabouts was the station.

Arriving at the venue, we could already see the signs of furry as we pulled in to the car park and spotted plushies in the parcel-shelves of the other cars. A final drag of bags to a temporary drop in the soon to be Operations and a brief J2O was all I could afford before the Stage van arrived which I helped unload. Eventually rooms were ready enough that we could check in and unpack which I this time bothered to do. Something far nicer about taking clean things from a cabinet and wardrobe rather than living out of a bag for the long weekend.

What happened in the remaining hours I can’t honestly say I remember but evening time came and one of many CF traditions came around again. This one being the staff meal for which my first of three costume moments of the weekend occurred as I slipped in some rather nice fancy pin-striped trousers and waistcoat that matched well with black tie, braces and red hankie. Sadly what I didn’t match was my shoes which had been the one thing omitted from my packing list so as long as you didn’t look at my trainers, I looked pretty good! :D Sadly, everyone took it upon themselves to point out the trainers. :|

Either way, many of us looked dapper, doubly so given the Italian restaurant we were revisiting for a second year; Nall in particular looking wonderfully insane with his top-top complete with ferret ears and at the same time, being the guy with the company card. Tasty wine flowed, awesome lasagne followed, and friendly service by the waitress kept us laughing right up to the pudding which was to die for vanilla ice cream with both a small cup of espresso and shot of hazelnut liqueur to pour over as we wished. All mixed together, it was a heavenly thing to finish on.

After a brief speech by Matt Lion of both thanks for work done and encouragement for work to follow, we returned back to the hotel to what by this point I wanted to be an early night until I was dragged off to Nall, Ferret and Rab’s room for further chittering which continued until I noticed suddenly it was 2am and that definitely had been a strong espresso.

To be continued

Given that I am just passing 900 words right now, it seems I will need to break this one up! Shall continue tomorrow with Friday and the start of con proper.

Crossposted to Nidonocu.com. Comment there or here.

A poll!

Don't you be expecting any content today! (though apparently do expect something that sounds like pirate speak)

Should I create C# videos?

LiveJournal bonus!
If yes, what application should I try making as an example app?

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Game Nostalgia

Wet-Dry World Star 6 - Race through downtownRecently, I’ve been working on the ConFuzzled Registration System. I’ve been wanting to have a go at developing a replacement for the existing system (which we borrowed off Eurofurence’s) since last year and only once I really got in to the project did I really see how much work was involved in making a full web application of that size with such mission critical demands.

It has however been rather good in that its made me look again at PHP, CSS, HTML and JavaScript and coding on something other than Windows and the .Net framework certainly allows me to appreciate it a little more.

Its also helped me value the act of taking a breaks, both mentally to clear my head when I get frustrated and physically to help prevent my hands locking up with RSI. The latter I’ve tackled by using a nice little program called WorkRave that tells be both how long I’ve been using the system and prompts me to take short and longer breaks throughout that day (or night).

The former I’ve dealt with by getting a copy of Project64 and an old copy of a Super Mario 64 ROM I found from the files I recovered from my old P: drive. Getting hold of a cheap Xbox 360 Wireless Controller Receiver for Windows from eBay meant I had proper analogue control too.

Press Start to Play!

For me, Mario 64 is a special game for me as it was the first current generation home console game I ever owned and played. Before that I had a Game Boy Pocket, but unlike most of my peers I never grew up playing on the NES, SNES, Master System or Mega Drive*. A few years prior we had been given a NES, but it had only Mario 2 and that was well in to the time when the SNES was in its final years.

The level of exploration and wonder I got every time we (myself and my brother) entered a new level or unlocked a new part of the castle was something that is very hard to replicate. I remember that when we first defeated Bowser, it came as a complete shock to us that we hadn’t just beaten the game and that was only the first quarter.

Every new adventure or story based game I play offers a little taste of that feeling again but very few offer the same amazement level that came with the first full 3D Mario title and its something I’ve been hunting for ever since. Even Super Mario Galaxy 2, a worth successor in terms of game play to Mario 64, is good because of the fluidity and refinement of the controls, not its exploration and the hunting of secrets.

Revisiting Mario 64 now, where every level layout is known and every Star a quick look up on GameFAQs if its being a little difficult, is more like a visit to place you grew up in and slipping in to a comfy old pair of shoes. Controlling Mario, like riding a bike, isn’t something you forget and the little moments like catching the bunny in the basement or riding a secret slide still make me smile.

The vastness of unexplored virtual worlds is what brings me back to titles more than anything else and I think once the Registration System is done, I’ll need to go plant a flag and see what exactly is at the end of Galaxy 2.

Crossposted to Nidonocu.com. Comment there or here.

New icon!

Just a quick post to say Happy Christmas to everyone and show off my new winter icon by gab!

Thanks so much Gab! ^^

NaNoWriMo is well underway!

NaNo Progress Pie

Just a quick post to show off my progress after two days! 4714 words!

Many thanks to Christian (aka Boots) for providing me with competition to help get me this far this quickly!

Also, following the swapping of a few of these with friends, I’m curious to hear other people’s first lines so post them if you’re taking part to comments or your own LJ’s / blogs and link ‘em!

‘Humans are strange creatures,’ wrote Ledmark, his hands padding at the rubber coated sprung keys of his console. ‘its so hard to work out sometimes what they’re thinking or feeling.’

Crossposted to Nidonocu.com. Comment there or here.

Returning with a colourful visual refresh this year is my much loved NaNoWriMo tracking spreadsheet!

Its features include:

  • Automatic calculation of your word count for the day, words per minute and total remaining word count.
  • Automatic formatting indicates your progress towards the daily 1667 words target. (And bonus colours if you reach 5000!)
  • Smart charts showing your word counts, typing speed and overall progress.
  • Sheets are protected to prevent accidental changes to automatic cells, but can be unlocked to customise the sheet and targets.

Spreadsheet View

Progress PieWord Count Typing Speed

I recommend that you download the version for Microsoft Office Excel 2007:Download Office Open XML Excel Workbook

If you have an older version of Office (XP or 2003) and can not open this file, please use this version instead:

Download legacy Excel Workbook

Crossposted to Nidonocu.com. Comment there or here.

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