Tuesday, 15 December 2009

The Revival of The High Street: It's Not MY Fault....

I've just done all my Christmas shopping. And WHERE did I complete this gargantuan task? (and it is gargantuan). Bluewater? Oxford Street? No. Frankly I'd rather stick molten excrement in my eyes. Woolwich?

My silence speaks volumes.

No. For the first time ever, I have completed every, last, bit online. Some of it on the sofa, some of a train, some in a Starbucks, and some on a freezing cold bench on London Bridge station.

"Props" I hear you cry, assuming that the word "props" is in your vocabulary, rather than being some hideous vulgarism of the modern age.

Well, yes and no. Whilst I am delighted not to have had to smell (and I do mean smell) Woolwich "town" "centre", leave alone the dreaded West End bun-fight, I can't help but feel just a little bit responsible. You know that "if you're not part of the solution" thing? Well, yeah. S'me. I am that "not part".

As we traverse one of the longest recessions in years, I really feel like I ought to have supported our beligered retailers. After all, I was the first one to do the pouty-lip thing when Woolies and Zavvi closed their doors.

However, on the other hand, it's great that we can finally do away with the "socks and naff jumpers" image we have of Christmas presents. Between the Amazon Wish List (an ingenious take on the Nuptual Demands) and the wide range of online retailers who stock... everything... then I'm pretty confident of offering up a killer Christmas for my nearest and dearest this year. I either got them stuff I knew they wanted, or if that was too unimaginative, then I managed to find the weird and wonderful in a way that's only possible when a warehouse the size of umpteen football pitches is your shop floor.

A couple of retailers have dabbled in the "we'll have it for you next day" approach, but none successfully so far. After all - you still have to get off your hiney and pick the stuff up. So it looks like e-commerce is going to win every time. Unless we can find something other than cheap Chinese electronics and mobile phone shops to lure us back onto the High Street.

And of course, I got to speak to a lovely lady from Bolton, who sorted out a present that I'd scoured the internet to get. More props for Chris.

Monday, 14 December 2009

The World Is Outside My Window (s Mobile)

Haven't posted for a while. Sorry about that. One of the reasons is that I have been on the go a lot and as such, have been using my lovely Touch HD, rather than a computer. And this is where the problem lies. Because as far as I can tell, there is no "all in one" solution for Windows Mobile to aggregate all of your social networks.

It's a doddle on the desktop - there are thousands of apps to do the job. I should know. I help companies find them (www.socialclick.co.uk). However, on WinMo, it's a different story. There have been a lot that make promises, but so far, I'm yet to find one that does what I want. The nearest I have come so far is CellSpin - but that's bugger all use because it doesn't let you see what anyone else has put.

So I'm really hoping someone out there can enlighten me before I go crazy. And please don't suggest "Hello Twitface". It's supposed to be rubbish.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Just Shat My Levis...

If there was any doubt that the man was a god, then let it be put to rest, right now....

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Nurse! The Stomach Pump!

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Was this thing baked in a kiln? It was too wide to get through the front door. There's a cigarette lighter there for scale. 20 inches, since you ask. No anchovies. And no, we didn't it all in one sitting. And yes, the Orlistat had the last laugh.

Call The Met!


Dear oh dear. Someone really should have worded this more carefully. I guess they hadn't factored in the hand of Flange. I will never be able to view Matalan in the same way again.

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Tuesday, 3 November 2009

The Quagmire In The English Channels

After our horrific Virgin Media ordeal, today at dawn came a bright new Sky. Sorry. That's terrible. Pretend I didn't say it.

So, anyway, we had our shiny new HD box delivered today and have spent the day (inbetween working, doctors appointments and the odd visit to Rumpton (see below) surfing the 500 channels suddenly at our disposal.

Now for the vast majority of households, this isn't going to come as a revelation - but for us cable types, with our 165, it's all bit a bit of a shock.

That said, how many MORE channels will actually get watched round here? I mean, sure, it's quite interesting to see a Russian perspective on rolling news, and the arrival of NME TV in our lives is quite exciting. But... Nigerian Cinema? A channel devoted to Ocean Finance? And pages and pages of softist of the softcore porn (largely made up of one-brain-cell-short-of-a-coffee-table babes, wrything uncomfortably to the sound of library music, their chavvy babble only audible by premium rate callers sitting in dingy bedsits with a packet of Wotsits and a sock)?

And then there's the HD content. Suddenly leaping from 6 HD streams to nearly 20 (we don't have the movie channels. we haven't seen Slumdog Millionaire yet) is a boost. Except that... there's aaaaabsolutely nothing on. Proper nothing. Well, not this week, anyway. Roll on Dexter season, I say.

I went to program the Sky+ and 90% of what I found to watch was The Simpsons. And much as I love the little yelleh' tykes, that's pretty sad.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Danger: Animal Crossing

As I wiped the last vestages of sleep from my eyes this morning, my first thought was of a little town I know. The locals are charming, the weather is usually fantastic, and all there is to do is catch bugs and fish all day.

I have a little house there, a pretty much guaranteed income, and there's always something going on. There's a beach, fantastic coffee, and the city is a short bus ride away. I've seriously considered moving there full time.

There's only one problem. It doesn't really exist. The town is called "Rumpton" (a private joke between me and the missus) and is the location (for me at least) of one of the most addictive games available today.

"Animal Crossing: Let's Go To The City" (aka "Animal Crossing: City Folk" in the States) is the latest in a series of "Second Life" titles for the Nintendo range. Playing the part of a small boy or girl moving away from home for the first time, all your decisions change the actual make-up of the town, until it becomes an almost irresistable shangri-la.

Whether it's catching the travelling (dog) musician on a Saturday night, the bi-weekly Flea Market, or running errands for the local residents (all animals as well, taken from a huge catalogue at the start of the game) in return for trinkets and baubles to improve your house, there's rarely a dull moment. And that's what makes it so dangerous.

Hour upon hour can slip by without achieving anything useful in the real world, and yet your ideal on the screen gets closer and closer. Because there's no particular overall point to the game, save to keep going, there's no "natural break" in the action, there's no reminder that it might be time to put the washing on, clean the house, or, heaven forbid, do some work.

Plus everything is so twee and charming, but specifically engineered for continuity. If you want to plant turnips, you HAVE to play on Sunday morning. If you want more music for your stereo, you HAVE to play on Saturday night. If you don't play for a fortnight, you get "bed head" and have to pay to have your hair redone. If you don't water your plants, they die. If you don't keep appointments you've made with the other animals, they get cross. If you don't drink coffee from Brewster every day for a fortnight, he won't store Gyroids for you (don't ask). It's all designed to keep you playing.

And it works. All too often, my partner and I have spent a Sunday passing the Wii remote back and forth to take our turns, check our mail (usually some inconsequential drivel from the stock letters in the program's memory) or catch an illusive fish that's only available between 4pm and 9pm but is essential to catch because otherwise.... erm.... well.... you might start to think, I guess.

There's the emotional engagement too. We start to love the characters. When Avery the Eagle, one of Rumpton's original residents decided to leave, we begged him to stay, but he wouldn't and when I finally left us, with a "Dear John" note, we were actually genuinely upset.

And this is what worries me a little about the way things are going. The game is designed to be continued. And continued. And continued. You're committing to the raccoons and camels and kangaroos like a tamagochi - they need their virtual egos and wants catered for, almost round the clock, and little touches like the "please come back and play anytime" when you finally sign off give little triggers of guilt.

There's even special items that are only available on Christmas Day. Remember - this is a one player game - and yet, you're expected to toddle off (or let the rest of the family endulge you) whilst you get your exclusive "Santa Wardrobe" or such.

Everything about this game, as much as I love it, and I do, is designed to make it a more appealing reality than reality. For someone with no life whatsoever, it will give them an unrealistic alternative to getting out into the real world and getting one. For those of us with a life (and I put myself squarely in the second category) it's addictive qualities make it a viable alternative to enhancing and maintaining that life, and can lead to missing things in the real world, in order to keep a date with K.K. Slider at the Roost.

In the "Red Dwarf" paperback called, appropriately enough "Better Than Life", Grant & Naylor depict a "total immersion video game" so addictive, that it becomes addictive to the point that player's real bodies start to wither and decay. They would rather live in the game till they die, than deal with their problems in reality.

The world of Animal Crossing is so charming, and so attractive, that one can draw parallels. Not me - you, know, I do a bit of Animal Crossing, but I can handle it. But for, say a manic depressive, their ideal world can be so vivid on the screen, they could actually end up pining for a place they can never truly live.

And so to all, I say, enjoy it, love it. But treat it with respect. It's a form of drug - and one that we may see more and more of as technology takes over our lives. This is a tiny little part of The Matrix in our living rooms.

And with that, I'm off to see if I can bang rocks with a spade and make money come out.