I am writing this entry in Germany. If you don’t know what I’m doing here, I’ll get to that shortly. Last weekend was Toby’s birthday bash giving me a chance to finally meet his uni friends. This included his girlfriend Katie and Doug who, for the past two years since he first misheard my name, has been convinced I am Priam, King of Troy. I was unable to shake the title. Between his amusing drunken outbursts I also talked politics with Emma who fully intends to become an MP — and has the energy that might well make it a reality.
On Tuesday Kirsten and I headed out to Germany, home for her and for me the daunting task of meeting the parents — in a new country and in a language I don’t speak. It very nearly didn’t happen. Having taken my passport in the airport for safekeeping, Kirsten proceeded send them through an X-Ray scanner and shortly afterwards discovered they were missing. As she became increasingly panicked I dragged her back through each of the duty free shops we had been to, fortunately discovering she had left them behind in FCUK. With our requisite disaster occuring early on, we could then relax and enjoy the rest of the journey.
My German is still very limited although being here has sped up the learning process a little. My broken attempts allow to me to communicate a little with her sister Nele and her mother. Rounding off the household, her dad does speak a little English but prefers not to. They’ve all been extremely welcoming and language has not been the barrier I feared. It simply means that most humour tends to be derived from physical comedy rather than the verbal wit I usually depend upon.
Sausagewatch: Jeff in the States has requested that I sample a variety of different sausages while here and report back with my opinions and recommendations. Accordingly the Sausagewatch feature will provide just this, introducing a new type of German sausage with each edition. First up is Bockwurst [bok-vorst] which I tried in a petrol station shortly after the train journey to Neustrelitz. One of the favourite snacks in Germany it is traditionally made from ground veal and pork (with more veal, unlike its more famous cousin “Bratwurst”). At first glance it looks much like the stereotypical American gas station hotdog sausages but is less greasy and slightly firmer, flavoured with chives and parsley.
Microsoft’s Live Arcade system sounded odd to me. I could see how kids would love these brightly coloured, simple games, but why would grown up gamers part with real cash for these downloadable treats? After sampling several through free demos, it became apparent that much of their charm is actually because of their simplicity, not despite it. While returning to the world of Frogger holds no interest for me, there is something inherently funny about playing a 35 year old card game on £300 console with a 32″ TV (I’m talking about the unreasonably addictive UNO).
But there is more to it than mere quirkiness. The ability to dip into games for a short session has been lost in the mire of overly complex gameplay mechanics that require an investment of several hours at a time. When paired with the frenzied brilliance of, say, Geometry Wars, the winner is clear despite the simplicity of shooting at coloured shapes (though because of the consoles raw power it manages effortlessly to look gorgeous too). Bungie described their job in Halo as finding 30 seconds of perfect gameplay and then repeating it in varied way throughout a game. That 30 seconds may involve complex tactical choices or a finely tuned physics engine. But it doesn’t have to.
Xbox Live’s easy payment system for downloadable content has undoubtedly aided the success of Live Arcade, and although some “retro” games are really just forgettable rehashes (Pacman, Frogger, et al.) others are genuinely great games in their own right and perfect for the older gamer who needs to fit games around his work life and not the other way around. And if you have a 360, check out the Live Arcade within the next week and you can pick up the full version of Texas Hold ‘Em Poker absolutely free. Yes, Microsoft just gave something away.
Meanwhile my laptop has been suffering from hard drive issues. It appears corrupted beyond recovery (even by one of Rav’s signature wipe ‘n’ go routines). Although I wouldn’t expect it from a two year old machine, Dell have, unsurprisingly, taken the “that’s why we recommend customers keep their warranty up to date” line. In many ways I’m actually glad it’s out of warranty — it avoids the hassle of dealing with them, requiring them to confirm the fault and cause, and waiting around for them to ship out a replacement part. Since I know what I’m doing, strolling into a store and buying it myself is both more preferable and speedier. And fortunately I have recent backups thanks to trusty Syndrome so take this as a reminder to do yours too. Depending how long it takes to sort out, however, updates may be scarcer and I may not be able to take it to Germany. I am not unhappy with Dell’s performance in general, but since I intend on purchasing a high-end desktop next, I think this confirms I’ll probably be looking elsewhere.
Since their dates clashed with vac schemes I had already arranged, I was unable to accept an offer from Berwin Leighton Paisner. However, keen for me to still come, they instead offered three days of work experience with a training contract interview bundled in too. With their riverside offices easily accessible at London Bridge I was keen to accept. I spent the first two days in Competition, with an Australian supervisor who reminded me of Susan Kennedy from Neighbours. Unreasonably so, given that I haven’t watched more than thirty seconds of it at a time in the last three years. The final day was in Insurance/Reinsurance, very quiet with seemingly half the department off on holiday or otherwise absent. The interview itself was pretty intense, lasting around an hour, but I was pretty happy with how I was able to sell myself. Now I just sit tight until September when I’ll hear back (officially) from everyone and start making the tough decisions…
After receiving the email from British Expat as I wrote about last time, I checked out that photo over at morgueFile to discover it’s now by far the most popular of those I’ve submitted with around 1,500 views and nearly 400 downloads. Michelle contacted me to say she’s used it in digital artwork at her site (look in the “Art” section). I love seeing these photographs get around in uses that I’d never have imagined and it definitely makes the whole process infinitely more rewarding than for them to simply sit on my hard drive. Plus Romina seems rather taken with the idea of her face being a “Pic of the Week”.
Apologies for the lack of updates during the last week; I’ll try to deal with things in order. My birthday passed by quietly with a pleasant meal at The Royal Garden, a Chinese restaurant in a secluded wood. I may do something a little colourful back in Cambridge at the start of next term. For the most part presents were less about cool gifts and more about debt reduction, although a box of assorted transatlantic goodies from Jane contained Oreos and a pink XL Izzo’s t-shirt to go with my grey one. Maybe now I can get mine back from Kirsten…
Over the weekend we had friends of the family over on Saturday followed by family for a birthday celebration on Sunday. Saturday’s attendees included Uncle Kumar who is currently involved in organising a disabled trek across the Sahara in customised Land Rovers with hand controls (he has limited use of his legs). But then this is the man who, when asked about his Porche’s top speed of 155mph, replied, “though I’ve only managed 148mph on the Autobahn so far.” Meanwhile Sebastian can be seen fulfilling his ambitions as a rocket scientist. Or possibly a heavy ordnance engineer given his wild-eyed cries of “make it hit Daddy!” Kirsten was unimpressed when I tried to explain the physics of the air-propelled device to him, and then plain perplexed when he proceeded to describe it himself a few minutes later.
This morning I was contacted by the editors of the online magazine British Expat, who informed me they had come across my photographs at morgueFile and selected one as their Pic of the Week. The photograph is question is a close up of Romina, replete in her Bharatanatyam costume, make-up and jewellery. I was always pleased with its striking vibrance (due more to her than me!) and I am honoured to receive recognition from elsewhere. Their description includes a link to P-2006, so a warm welcome to all the Expats arriving from there. Feel free to check out the rest of our gallery. Speaking of photos, a selection of images from Paris are now available for your ocular enjoyment.
And finally I am now doing a three day stint at Berwin Leighton Paisner, my last law placement for the summer. Three days is hardly enough to get to know a firm properly, but it will give me an insight to a few new practice areas (Competition and Litigation).
I felt like I had earned the four day break in Paris after Kirsten’s slightly messy 20th birthday bash and helping to set up The Globalist Foundation’s coverage of the Middle East Crisis (two new chapters in Jerusalem and Beirut make us perfectly positioned to provide personal yet balanced accounts). We stayed in a fully furnished flat not far from the city centre which had the advantage of full internet access since I brought my laptop.
During the day we were out of course, visiting first Notre Dame and the Louvre, then Disneyland Paris and finally the Arc de Triomphe. Notre Dame is an extremely impressive sight from the outside, and although the inside is perhaps more stunning with its high vaulting ceilings and use of light, there is something saddening about the fact it is so tourist-orientated that the intensely powerful religious presence it might otherwise exhibit is lost beneath the (arguably necessary) merchandising and camera flashes. The very idea that someone might use it as a Church seems almost odd.
The Louvre was as one might expect — a proper art gallery sans modern trash. Of its flagship displays general consensus was that the Mona Lisa was “smaller than expected” while the Venus de Milo was more inspiring if leaving less to interpretation. I was particularly interested by the large collection of well-preserved Egyptian items which I had not expected to see in a French gallery.
America’s influence upon one of the most classically European cities in the Continent cannot be denied. In a country famed for its fine cuisine, we ate at KFC on no less than two occasions (though I hasten to add we breakfasted traditionally and ate several good French steaks). And then there is Disneyland. A fun day out, I find much of its glossy veneer has cracked away in both the literal and metaphorical sense. Although the atmosphere remains the same, only the newer rides are as clean and fresh as they look through the eyes of an overexcited child; the others are fading fast. It was a fun day out but I fear the Disney thing may now have worn thin until I have children of my own to revitalise it all once more.
Little need be said of the Arc de Triomphe other than it offers a fine view of the city, arguably more so than the Eiffel Tower itself. It is perhaps ironic that such a proud structure be erected to the glory of the French military, now known better for its defeats than victory. To its credit, the structure is impressive enough that one easily forgets the irony.
Although I am not particularly enamoured of France as a country, I have always enjoyed Paris. Language remains a barrier not so much in the necessities, where my residual GCSE vocabulary will generally suffice, but more in terms of entertainment. Seeing films in France is not really practical and is something I am loathe to give up. The people are undoubtedly friendlier than in London (provided one makes some attempt at the language rather than assuming they will speak English) and yet for all its ingrained romanticism it never feels so vibrant, so alive, as my favourite city. Still, a ludicrously cheap crate of Leffe and two crested glasses is enough to endear anyone…
As a PC gamer the choice was always simple: PC Gamer or PC Zone; the question was usually a matter of price. Having moved back to consoles again (I owned a SNES but then switched solely to PC gaming until the release of the Xbox tempted me back) the water is rather muddier. The problem is that the specialist console-specific magazines have a vested in interest in promoting the platform positively in order to ensure there is a market for their own magazine. It is hardly a concern in the PC arena since their is little worry about computer gaming going anywhere!
The “official” console magazines often sound like little more than PR devices filled with more marketing rhetoric than the publishers’ own press releases. It is, one fears, hardly an impartial basis from which to receive news and reviews. The unofficial magazines may gain a little credibility by their distance, yet still share the same vested interest in buoying the numbers of their target demographic. Their flaw is that, due to the proprietary nature of the console media formats, they are unable to bundle demo or content discs, but simply provide video-filled DVDs.
Things are now changing for several reasons. Xbox Live renders the demo problem redundant as they are all readily available via the Marketplace. With the prevalence of broadband connection speeds “exclusive” videos are hardly deserving of the moniker now that most are readily available through sites across the internet within a week. So the very concept of the bundled disc, once so important in the selection process, is now largely redundant. This leaves the reader free to judge magazines based on content alone.
Browsing the rack a few days ago, the only magazine that stood out was Edge. Selling itself as about videogame culture, everything about it is clean and refined from the notable absence of an extraneous disc to its round price of exactly £4. Covering every gaming platform guarantees some articles will be irrelevant, but the broad outlook and the focus on the development process as a whole results in a far more grounded view. Gone is the feverish need to promote everything, replaced by the desire to talk only about what they love — good games.