Tuesday, April 15, 2014

So that was a Monday....

It's the end of what was a cruel day in which I ultimately gave in to the world. A bad photo of myself is now out there, not that it matters to anybody but myself and I doubt if anybody would really understand how sad, frustrated and red-mist angry I've been today. But life is currently too difficult to make a fight of these things. Tomorrow I have to take my sister to the hospital. It makes my anger seem trivial. It's not right that doing a little work for people means that those people own you, image and all. Yet I'm in no position to make subtle points. Nobody listens. Nobody cares. I'm bad meat trying to compete in a global market where there's always some poor bastard on the far side of the globe who'll do the same work for half the wage and they won't be frown crazy truculent and idealistic. They won't be me. So I spent the day biting my lip until my teeth were sore. I've been working on another video for my employers but tonight I spent with Unity, which has become my second home. I'm adoring the Unity process, from the simplicity of creating GameObjects to the ease with which the whole process of game design becomes a fun iterative process in which I sit here and constantly think: wouldn't it be great if I could do x, y, and z. A couple of hours later, I've usually managed to get two of the three things working and when I finally hit my bed, my mind full of new ideas for the next time I get chance to program. I didn't set out intending to write a game (if I had done, I think I'd have had a more rounded concept). I began simply wanting to see if I could get something moving around on screen.  Then I thought I'd add a background based around tiles, which took a ridiculous amount of effort but now it's finally working pretty seamlessly. Soon, I found myself beginning to build the menus around the game and the more I write, the easier everything feels. Every day, I spend a couple of hours just drawing graphics to populate that background. They're the two parts of the process I enjoy and they blend seamlessly. The process is so simple. Want a bad guy doing bad guy things: you create what Unity calls a GameObject and you give him a name like 'bad guy'. Then you attach scripts which handle his behaviours, enable him to have rigid body physics so he can bounce off walls, or give him easy-to-check colliders so you know when you've hit him. Once he's created (dragging graphics from your graphics program of choice), you simply bring him into life in the code with a single line: GameObject badguy = (GameObject)Instantiate(Resources.Load("BadGuyModel")); It might look complicated but once you get into the syntax, it becomes second nature. Stick that line in a simple loop and run it ten times and you get ten bad guys who will begin to interact with each other. It makes a difficult job relatively easy. Part of me thinks I should stop what I'm doing because I've spent too long learning to do this stuff but I've been working on this little game for a few weeks. I actually want to finish something I'd be proud to show people. I still have so much to get finished and they're all little jobs like getting controls to disappear when menus appear, ensuring that messages display at the right points. I also need to think about music. I thought I might be able to find some looping software which might allow me to create something myself but my efforts have been woeful. I need to find either free music or forget about music. I'm leaning towards the latter. It won't matter until I get a sense of completing this. Perhaps I will. There's a chance I won't. All I know is that tonight, programming, I didn't feel the frustration that ruined my day.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Selfie

Terrible night's sleep. Couldn't rid myself of my self-loathing and sheer nervous worry about this job and their demand that I provide a photograph of myself. This morning, I'm utterly tired of being me, of having thoughts, ideas, feelings, and having strong opinions about the internet, privacy, and the right to your own identity. I woke early, cut the lawn in a desperate act of trying to put off the inevitable and then sat down and tried to take a 'selfie' and utterly hated the way I look. I hate my bottom lip and also my top lip for different reasons. I have a David Cameron mouth and I despise it. I despise the fact that I'm forced to look at it because somebody wants to add me to their organisational chart. I hate the fact that I'm considering giving in because the act of compromise is so much easier in the short term given that life is already difficult enough. This situation has happened before in my life but I've previously managed to avoid it but this is how small companies operate and the problem is always going to reoccur. Small businesses like to see the stretch of their dominion, counting heads as if to say they are this far on the road to total world domination. Every one of them think they're the next BP or Microsoft. Browse company websites and you'll eventually see a roster of people looking either comfortable or uncomfortable about having their photos taken. Nobody stands up and says no. Or at least nobody stands up and says no and stays in the job for very long. But why must I think like this? If it were mere self-loathing, I could perhaps accept my fate. Yet it's more than that. Taking a photograph of myself is existential and I hate French philosophy. I live in my mind and I how I think of 'me' is quite different to what the camera tells me. I'm not sure why I'm so utterly miserable about this situation. Why can't people just accept me for who I am rather than turning me into another version of their selves?

I Think Therefore I'm Not...

At some point in the past decade introversion was criminalised. Being what was called 'an introvert' somehow became synonymous with old hackneyed phrases much loved by the media such as 'loner' and 'misfit'. 'Oh, he liked to keep himself to himself' has taken on an ominous meaning implying dark habits in dingy rooms involving shaved cats and rubber spatulas. It doesn't mean what I know it to mean, which is writing, reading books, or drawing the odd (hopefully) funny cartoon, which is how I've been 'keeping to myself' these past few weeks. Tom Wait's odd song, 'What's He Building In There?', wouldn't have any exciting answers if applied to my life. That answer would be:  a silly little Android game which will never earn me a fortune but has taught me how to write games for mobile devices. Of course, being an introvert doesn't mean that I'm completely without human contact. I like being with those close to me and I like having friends but I'm totally indifferent to leading a social life out there [points vaguely towards the window]. Watching a Youtube video last night, I heard some guy describing how he couldn't practise his hobby (the topic of the video) because somebody had rang him to say that he and his wife had been invited to dinner. That sounds like a definition of 'living hell', when small talk over a dinner table keeps you from doing what you actually want to be doing. Parties, drinking, pubs, clubs, and all that's associated with that has never interested me and what little I've experienced of it makes me even more confident in my choices. I'm an introvert and I've always been quite happy about that. Yet tonight I feel like I've been caught paddling a shaved cat. I'm still being harassed for my photograph since it seems inconceivable to some people that a person might not actually want his mugshot on the internet for no other reason that he simply doesn't want his photo on the internet. I suppose there might have been a time when I might have submitted to this petty request without much protest. Yet the more I'm pressed to do something that I instinctively don't wish to do, the more trenchant my refusals become. It has now become a small point of principal to me. Yet I'm not entirely sure what that principal is. Or, at least, I think I know but it probably sounds shallow. The reason, I suppose, is because I refuse to crust myself in the self-generated effluent of the 'me' generation to whom style means everything over substance. I don't think putting my photo on some corporate website is robbing me of my soul but I also think that it is. I don't mind giving time over to people to do their work but using me to advertise their company is to rob me of something more precious than a few hours. It's to take away my individuality and to turn me into another bean-counter in the sham kingdom that would have us all identical and servile to the people in marketing. I don't want to be another gormless victim of a selfie, gazing dead-eyed into a camera that can never record anything truly meaningful about me. I don't wish to be judged by my eyes, my nose, my double chin, or my thinning crown. None of that actually means anything beyond what was written into my DNA by the great cosmic finger. I suppose that's why I've blogged for so many years but always used something else to stand as proxy for me. I grew up watching TV and admiring people who seems enormously gifted in the things they did but were also humble by their achievements. My earliest comedy hero was Spike Milligan, though I was a few generations too young to have heard The Goon Show. Milligan never seemed overtly bothered by his appearance and that never mattered to me. Nobody seemed that bothered by their appearance. Oliver Reed (who it's so easy to forget was really talented actor) would appear drunk on TV and the great Barry Humphries would occasionally adopt the personal of Les Patterson and push the boundaries of unpleasantness. Peter Cook smoked and was cruel on mainstream TV and there were truly abrasive stars on film and television that were somehow more human because they were abrasive. Yet at some point, a change started to happen. Beautiful people started take over TV and shows lost their rough but life-affirming edge. TV forgot that we get most pleasure from moments of accident and unpolished spontaneity and replaced it with a professionalism that remains obvious to this day. We entered into the Vernon Kaye years when men could be famous for simply being famous. When Vernon Kaye could be famous for being Vernon Kaye, whatever the hell that actually means. Sky News has gone from a young upstart that broken the rules by broking news, often via hastily set up cameras, to a channel that seems to exist to review the day's papers in the company of two polished London types, one usually a professional woman with big hair and who self-importantly describes herself as 'writer and broadcaster' and some bequiffed shirt-open-to-his-navel Henry who trots out the usual slightly right of centre guff. It's why I detest polish in TV and why I'm drawn to enjoy comedy that isn't hugely professional. It's why, for example, I rate Stewart Lee so highly. I know that some of what he does isn't funny but I'm pretty sure he knows that too and that's why it's hilarious. It's not because he couldn't do what other comedians do and do with perfection. It's because he doesn't want to do what they do and that's what I always seek out. There is more to life than perfection. There is more to life than vanity and appearance. So I don't do Facebook and I've written everything I've ever written under other names and I've never once published anything to the internet as the real me. Yet thinking about this over the course of the past few days, I find myself wondering if there can be any form of success these days without a preceding image. Those people we celebrate the most are often accused of being 'all image'. They are the celebrities who have no real or discernable talent other than the talent of being themselves in loud and obvious ways. Perhaps that's part of the 'postmodern' condition that we all supposedly share where it's impossible to separate the artist and his work. I don't know. There are exceptions. Robert Crumb is front and centre in most of the things he draws but he does so in a way that's unruly and unkempt and perhaps that's why I'm a fan. We are all part of the Gonzo generation in which the news can never be reported objectively. It sometimes feels like we don't exist unless we have our faces in an avatar. I don't have my face on the internet. In a sense, I don't exist. The extroverts have won.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

The Best Mouse I Ever Owned

deadmouse My beloved laser mouse has died. It was a ten year old Logitech RAG97 and simply the best mouse I've ever owned. I've just checked the websites and £50+ for the latest model is just too much, especially since I can never see myself wanting to use a mouse on glass, which seems to be the proudest boast of the current model. Instead, I've settled on a cheap but actually rebadged Anker mouse which promises to be suitably heavy, big enough for my big hands, and comes with a long six foot cord so it might take me a little time getting use to old-fashioned mousing. I hope it arrives by tomorrow. Doing everything by keyboard and stylus is driving me nuts. Around 2am this morning, desperation had forced me to dismantle my Logitech following a Youtube lesson in how to fix broken mouse buttons. The fix worked for a little while and then stopped again and I was soon dragging the entire contents of hard drives into Photoshop when the button stuck. It means I'm now stuck waiting for the new mouse to arrive and with time to write instead of code, which is what I've been doing for weeks now. Speaking of code: the game is going quite well. I'm utterly addicted to Unity which makes 2D game coding so easy. My game won't be anything special but seeing the video of Murasaki Baby running on the PS Vita and also written in Unity, inspires me to throw everything into my work. The day before yesterday I added a free look function which allows players to scroll around the world and yesterday I took the big step of changing the gameplay mechanic so it dealt with screen gestures rather than the buttons I'd previously been using. I also took an even bigger step of completely changing the game logic, distributing it around the individual game objects instead of putting everything in the single object simply because I didn't quite understand the beauty of the Unity model. The more I work on the game, the more I realise how much work still needs to be done in even the simple things like getting a score looking good on the screen. I also have to design enough playable levels to make it challenging and worth downloading. Today I intended to fine tune the physics of the game, to make it less realistic and a little more fun to play. And that has become my mantra. I don't care about rough edges and even the logic of the world I'm creating. I just want it to be funny and fun to play. It's a lofty goal and one I'll undoubtedly miss but I want my aspirations pointing in the right direction. Speaking, tangentially, of the wrong direction: on the freelance front, I'm currently being pestered for a photograph. The people I work for want to update their website with an organisational chart of their employees. I think I'm the only person holding out on providing a picture and I'm sorely tempted to provide a photo of Robert Redford circa '3 Days of the Condor'. The simple fact is that I don't have my photograph anywhere on the web and I hold that as a point of principal. I detest Facebook, Google+ and Twitter which would have us believe that the entire world is made up of extroverts with great body image and sense of self. The last thing I want is to be doing is looking at pictures of myself but should I ever to decide to start posting photographs of myself, it would be to this blog and not to some completely fake organisational chart. Some days I wish I could just give in to the whole ugly business of being a team player and just going with the crowd. But I guess the world is run by extroverts and there's no place in it for an introvert who value his individuality. I always seem to be swimming against the tide. Every day I wake to find new motivational emails from the other members of 'the team' and one on Saturday actually made we wince. It was a supposedly poignant series of observations about life which included the thought that 'I'm glad to have washing up to do because it means I'm not going hungry'. That's not so bad but another was 'I'm glad to pay my taxes because it means I have a job'. There were others and it made me reflect on the relative luxury afforded to even the poorest of us living in Western Europe with a relatively prosperous economy. My sympathies have increasingly swung, in recent years, towards the plight of the worker. I see it around me where people are exploited by a system that has found ways to ignore rules about employment rights. For example, I quite like the concept of getting Amazon deliveries on a Sunday but I also know that this luxury will eventually come (if it's not done so already) at the expense of our right to have at least one day's holiday a week. I know of a teacher who teaches at a school where staff voluntarily go in on a Saturday to teach extra lessons. This teacher refuses to do so as it's not in his contract but feels increasingly pressurised to sacrifice his weekend. Of course, it will never be grounds for dismissal but he knows that there will come a time when his refusal will be noted by those in management and ways will be found to make him move on. Yet, perhaps that's the way of the world. Perhaps individuality is a decadent luxury. My problem is that I can never sacrifice the things I want to do – write, cartoon, or, currently, making a very silly computer game – simply for money that might make the hours left to me after work a little less miserable. My time is more precious to me and it's deeply painful giving up time to serve other people's ambitions. It perhaps explains why I have so much trouble communicating with my employers who aren't in this country or even this continent and constantly feed me propaganda that denies the individual in favour of the team. I've never been a team player. I'm an individual. An individual with a dead mouse and very little hope.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Unity

Dear Blog, I know I've not written in quite a long time but there haven't been enough hours in the day to do everything I've wanted to do. I think things went crazy when I discovered Unity. Unity, if you don't know (and why should you, my dear blog, when you're just sitting on a server in a cupboard somewhere)… Unity is a Game Engine which makes game programming 'easy'. And that's what I've been doing. I've been creating a game and it's making me very happy. It was difficult at first. My previous App (oh, how simple it now looked), was written in Java whereas I'm writing my Unity scripts in C#  (pronounced C sharp) which is very similar to Java but not quite the same. I thought at first I might make a little app to display 3D models on the screen, just to see if I could, but I quickly fell in love with the 2D side of the Unity engine. My game is in 2D and I was delighted last night to finally get my background scrolling with as many levels of parallax as I care to create and the hardware can handle. The hard task going forward will be to create all the other graphics that I know I'll need for the finished game. It means I've been ignoring you, my dear blog, in favour of these newer pleasures. But I've not forgotten you entirely. There's still so much work to do on the game that I know I'll be distracted for weeks to come but I intend to write more updates. Like all things, I'm hesitant to talk about it until it's done but I'll try.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

A Drawing About Hammers

Chubbysm

Another Guardian Comment Bites The Dust

I left a comment over at The Guardian which has now been censored like so many others when a nobody dares question a celebrity. However, I don't see why my carefully chosen words can't find a home here and it gives me a chance to edit them a little to clarify my point. The comment was in response to this piece by Lily Cole.
I have more interesting things to do than hold any grudge against Lily Cole. Before I saw her Guardian article this afternoon, I was only dimly aware that she is a successful model with features that are possibly more striking than they are attractive. However, as a journalist, she can't really claim an equal degree of success. Would a real journalist offer such a gnarly piece of phrasing as 'arriving to New York' or misuse an apostrophe in 'it's' instead of 'its'? Yet, at the same time, what right do I have to complain? In a room containing only myself and Lily Cole, only 50% of us would be published journalists and it wouldn't be the side of the room with the whiskers and perpetual frown. Like many freelance writers, I have sent articles into The Guardian via 'Comment is Free' and I heard nothing every time until I eventually stopped trying. Rejections might have kept me going but silence eventually gnaws through the sinews connecting your brain with your soul and that frustrates me because I'm not, by nature, a quitter. I am, however, a realist and I see no reason to continue to flog a horse when it's lying bloating beside the road. Not when there are other ways of navigating what Hunter S Thompson might well have been describing when he talked of 'the proud highway'. Yet I'm not exactly a beginner when it comes to writing. I think I know how to phrase things quite well. I've had books published and even if I haven't had any commercial success, I'm not a complete stranger to the occasional good review. Even The Guardian itself has published reviews of my work and suggested that I'm not without wit. Yet try to turn that praise into income and I fail every time. I hear nothing even when I submit articles which others have said are good, thought provoking and sometimes pretty bloody funny. I know this comment will ultimately go to the place where comments go when they don't follow guidelines. The Guardian doesn't like anybody questioning their editorial choices or the abilities of their writers and I can hardly blame them. It's actually commendable that they have started to defend their writers from undeserved criticism given the levels of abuse that are sometimes tolerated 'below the line'. And I certainly don't take any pleasure in constantly criticising The Guardian yet publishing shambolic articles written by celebrities devalues the work of real journalists and freelance writers. The Guardian remains one of the last and best places where we could practice our art yet they prefer to give jobs to famous amateurs and dilettantes. I expected better.
Before a version of this comment was deleted, it received some good (and a few lame) replies. Some accused me (rather predictably) of 'sour grapes' but others were better than that and I penned this reply which I didn't have chance to publish. The debate had ended less than fifteen minutes after it had begun.
I'm smiling because some of the replies were just too damn reasonable to my bad tempered comment. I accept your points (and that made by R042). Perhaps it is just a case of 'sour grapes' but I was simply trying to voice a concern that everybody should have about the way that modern celebrity intrudes into areas which were once home to professionals. MancunianPsycho suggests I should 'write something more interesting' but that's just a stock reply voiced when anybody dare question the style or substance of an article. I do write many things and I submit many but never with any success. I accept that I'm probably just not interesting enough but there must surely be plenty of others that are. Hell, I know others that are a damn site more interesting and could provide websites details and email addresses. "I thought of the TV show, and indeed it's movies that inspired her" I accept that it could be read as 'it is movies that inspired her' but I maintain that it's also damn clunky. Again, I don't have a problem with Lily Cole. Actually, I can see some value in the article, though perhaps not enough to justify its publication. I'm really just saddened by the way that our culture seems vaguely at odds with the interests of the common man and woman. It really does appear that we have to have a 'celebrity name' before our views become important. There was an excellent piece in The Guardian just yesterday in which Joan Smith noted how the tabloid response to the sad death of L'Wren Scott almost ignored the deceased in their clamour to publish photos of Mick Jagger. Yet that was just a symptom of the very same problem evident in many of the broadsheets. We live in an age that is utterly at the mercy of the marketing people, in which you must have that hook or moment of fame on which to hang your opinions, otherwise you might as well not exist. The rest of us must content ourselves by expressing ourselves through cat memes or hoping for a celebrity retweet on Twitter.  


Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Stop the world etc.

First of all, just to keep up with the moronic zeitgeist, I thought I better post this video. It might well be the most nauseating thing I've seen this year. And when you consider some of the nauseating things I've seen this year, that's a real tribute to how truly horrendous it is. And I don't give a crap about postmodern irony or being in on the joke. My gag reflex doesn't recognise postmodern. I've said it before but that doesn't stop me wanting to say it again: I guess I'm just not one of life's 'nice' people. That's why The Guardian's current fixation on Jack Monroe (and porn and privacy and Russell Brand and internet memes) is wearing me down like The Times' obsession with Caitlin Moran wore me down to the point where I stopped reading that paper. I'm still looking for something better to read than The Guardian but it keeps returning to my good books by publishing something immensely good alongside the drivel that passes for 'Comment is Free' most days. I guess I'm getting resigned to the fact that the world out there just doesn't really reflect the interests in here (points to forehead). Apropos of nothing: I wish Google would hurry up and send me the magic piece of paper which authorises my Google account so I can access AdWords and then the Play store. My app is so finished that I've even gone to the trouble of adding 'skinning' options which are alternative sets of graphics to change the look of the entire thing. More apropos: I've developed a severe addiction to 'Fish 'n' chips', the classic nibble from Burton's biscuits. They call it a taste of childhood but I say it's the perfect treat when I'm sitting rewatching the first series of 'Prison Break'. Speaking of which, I keep a shortlist of actors who I think should really have made it big by now and Robert Knepper is still top of that list. Wish somebody would cast him in something truly heavyweight and let him truly flex his acting muscle. He should try lip syncing to Disney. Perhaps that's the only guaranteed way to success these days...