Doctor Who: Timewyrm: Apocalypse by Nigel Robinson

This is the third book in the Doctor Who New Adventures series as well as the third part of the Timewyrm story arc. Unfortunately, while I feel like things had been going quite well until this point, this installment felt a little bit like a misstep. The first one had been a solid start (even if a tad silly) the second one had been amazing, but this third one was just a bit boring.

The story goes that the Doctor and Ace arrive on the planet Kirith, which has an apparently utopian society. Naturally, something doesn’t quite seem right and so they investigate it to figure out what’s going on. It’s not a particularly exciting premise and it’s the kind of thing I can imagine as a filler episode in the main TV show.

The Doctor and Ace are both characterised very well and I feel like there is a significant moment in their relationship in this story. I can’t fault Nigel Robinson for that, because he gets them both just right and they were the main two things keeping me interested in the story. There were also a few flash backs to the Second Doctor, which I quite liked (in part, because he is my second favourite Doctor) and he was captured perfectly as well. The reason for his appearances, which I shan’t spoil, also add an interesting dimension to the story.

Having said that, I didn’t feel like any of the other characters (those who were specifically introduced for this story) were particularly interesting or memorable. They all just act like generic humanoid aliens from pulp sci-fi and have very little in the way of personality (according to my opinion, at very least.)

There were a few moments throughout, which were quite engaging. The ending was also pretty good, I guess. It’s just that, as a whole, I was never really drawn into this novel – and I’m saying that as a rabid Doctor Who fan. If you’ve only got a passing interest in the series, you’ll probably be even more bored than I was.

Nothing about it leapt out at me as terrible and nothing about it really annoyed me either. It just felt like a very average piece of science fiction, which just happened to feature the Doctor and Ace. If it weren’t part of the Timewyrm story arc (which is much better, on the whole) I’d say that it wasn’t worth reading.

Rating: 6/10

Buy it here.

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The Ideal Retirement

The way things are going, I don’t really know whether people of my age will ever really be able to properly retire in the future, but the subject of retirement is something that I’ve been thinking about recently. In part, because my current job has me talking to a lot of retired people.

One thing that I hear a lot is “I’m retired, so I never go out” which sounds quite sad to me. Was their job really the only thing that got them out of the house? I appreciate that illness and disability must make a lot of people housebound (which is also pretty sad) but I’d hope that, if I were in that situation and blessed with non-incapacitating health, I’d do things quite differently.

I think, once I’m old, it would be nice to travel around and have an extended visit with all of my old friends. By then, I imagine I’ll have friends scattered all over the world (and it’s a trend that’s already started) so it would be a good chance to see everybody again, catch up and bring life to a close with a nice bit of sentimental travel. Doing something new, while revisiting the past at the same time.

Of course, for all I know, money will be too tight and I’ll be stuck working a terrible job and never doing anything else. But the idea of getting to a point of life where I “never go out” is very depressing. Although, I suppose on the other hand, I’d always have my books… and my video games too! Things would never get too bad.

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Underwurlde

Sabreman is essentially the mascot of Ultimate Play the Game (a.k.a. early Rare Ltd.) and when I played his first game, Sabre Wulf I was very impressed. Sure it had noticeably aged, but it was really good for its time and it was still fun for me to play (from a modern perspective.) I was very excited to continue playing through the series and went into the sequel, Underwurlde, with very high hopes. But perhaps I set those hopes too high because, sadly, I was disappointed.

While the first game had a sort of top down view and allowed you to move in four different directions to explore the jungle, the sequel has a side-scrolling form of gameplay (except, loading new screens, instead of scrolling.) It’s a very primitive form of the “Metroidvania” game and, in it, Sabreman is trying to escape from the Underwurlde which, spoiler alert, he was teleported to at the end of the last game. In theory, it could have been just as good as its prequel.

The problem is that the physics are really weird. Sabreman can only do very limited jumps (hops of exact distances in certain directions) and he bounces all over the place if he hits anything. This includes walls, platforms and, most annoyingly, enemies. While enemies in most games will hurt or kill you, in Underwurlde they push you and so going anywhere becomes very annoying. You only die if you get pushed down large chasms and end up falling down a great distance.

You can defend yourself though! Now, as it’s Sabreman, you’d think that he’d have his trusty sabre, like he did in the previous game, but nope. This time, he fires projectiles – throwing knives, slinging rocks etc. But, for some reason, he just throws them erratically in the direction that he’s facing. There’s no aiming or anything like that, which means he’ll sometimes miss enemies who are right in front of him.

On the subject of those chasms that I mentioned earlier, getting up and down them is really annoying too. Sabreman fastens a rope to the ceiling of the cave and slowly lowers himself down, but the enemies keep coming and can knock him down (killing him) and sometimes giant stalactites will randomly fall on him too (also killing him.) And how do you climb back up these chasms? Why you wait for bubbles to come out of craters and then ride them up, of course! But look out for the hundreds of flying enemies which will try and push you off…

I feel like it could have been a good game. Exploring the Underwurlde to find and destroy three guardian monsters so that you can escape is a great concept for a game… It was just executed so poorly (in part, due to the limitations of the time.) After how much I liked the first game, this felt like a let down and I only recommend it to the most dedicated of Rare fans.

Rating: 5/10

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How to Make Call Centre Work More Exciting

Recently I’ve been doing some part time work in a call centre. It’s not very exciting. It’s just taking a call, speaking to a customer, then taking another call and repeating the process for several hours. On the one hand, it’s easy, stress-free work, but it can get boring. So, sometimes I try and think of ways that I could make the work more entertaining.

Now, just to be clear, I didn’t come up with anything that would actually make things interesting, but I did come up with something which, if it existed, would help. So, as the day goes by, a counter fills up and you see how many calls you have had. I had the idea: what if that counter was actually earning you points in a game? Then I thought, why not make them experience points or money in an RPG game? You could even have a button to press each time you deal with a particularly difficult customer, to get you a bigger reward.

This would all be connected to a big online game, where players can use their EXP to do different things, earn money and buy items. It need not be an overly complicated game, but I know it would certainly make call centre work much more exciting for me – especially if you are connected to the game, while playing. Plus, it would be a good way to get people to apply, even if they’d otherwise not have been interested.

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My Second NaNoWriMo Attempt

In 2010, I discovered NaNoWriMo, which is where writers try to write 50,000 words of creative fiction in a month. I took part in it and successfully completed a 52,000 word story. This year, 2017, I decided to do it again and, once again, I was successful. This time I wrote 50,000 words or so, but the story I was writing is still incomplete. I hope that I find the motivation to finish and edit that soon. Here are a few of my thoughts on my second attempt:

  • For me, the second try was an awful lot easier than the first try. I wonder if I’ve just become a faster writer?
  • I realise now that when you choose a specific project to be your main focus for NaNoWriMo, your other projects suffer a bit. In my case, it was this blog and my webcomic. Two things I didn’t have in 2010.
  • Every day felt very rewarding, because I felt like I’d done something worthwhile. This is a type of satisfaction that, for example, my job does not provide me with.
  • Recording the word counts each day is awfully addictive.
  • It’s a lot easier than you may think, to fit daily writing sessions around a job.
  • It’s possible to do this with essentially no planning. I got the idea the day before and didn’t write anything down.

In many ways, I feel like this second attempt was a more significant experience for me than my first attempt. The 2010 me was writing stories all the time, while the current me only writes them every now and then. To know that I was able to do this was very reassuring for me. I’m quite excited to do it a third time, at some point in the future… I’d recommend at least giving it a try, if you are a writer and remember: any amount of writing is a success, even if you don’t reach 50,000.

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DC Comics/Dark Horse Comics: Aliens

I’m quite a fan of the DC Universe (especially Batman) and I am also quite a fan of the Alien franchise. These are two things that are quite different and I enjoy them in different ways, so I was quite surprised (and excited) to discover that there were a selection of stories which mixed elements of the two together. The DC Comics/Dark Horse Comics: Aliens collection brings together several stories which have DC characters encountering Xenomorphs and it’s a collection I quite enjoyed. Here are mini reviews of each story in this collection.

Batman/Aliens by Ron Marz
On a “mission of mercy” Batman finds himself in a jungle on the Mexican-Guatemalan border. He soon encounters a group of military people who are also there on some kind of top secret work. You soon find that they’re there to investigate a crashed space craft which landed in that jungle – its crew made up of aliens, aliens who have been killed by Xenomorphs. Obviously, I don’t want to spoil anything, but I really quite liked this story. Nice art (by Bernie Wrightson), good atmosphere, Batman is well characterised, there are good side characters and I think the Xenomorphs are used in a good, creepy way. It’s probably the best story in the collection. Rating: 8.5/10

Batman/Aliens II by Ian Edington
Last time Batman faced Xenomorphs, it was in a jungle, far from his home. But this time the Xenomorphs have come to Gotham. As it turns out, an explorer had inadvertently brought them back to the city decades ago and then locked them in a vault to stop them from harming anyone. Naturally, they later get out and it’s up to Batman to sort things out. This story is a bit longer than the previous one, and I have to say I didn’t enjoy it quite as much. It read like more of a comic romp than the previous one, which managed to capture the horror element from the Alien films much better. Towards the end, it got downright weird too – in an entertaining way, but still quite weird nonetheless, which might put some people off. Rating: 8/10

Superman and Batman Vs. Aliens and Predator by Mark Schultz
Unlike the previous two stories, this one is more focused around Superman. Batman still plays an important role, but it definitely feels like Superman is the main character. I’m fine with this, since I quite like Superman and I feel like he comes off especially well in this one. The story goes that a group of researchers up in The Andes have been killed mysteriously. As it turns out, there’s a secret civilisation of Aliens and Predators living there. I was a bit disappointed, in that Superman and Batman both make reference to encounters with Predators which aren’t shown in this collection and Superman knows the Xenomorphs too, which also isn’t shown, so I felt like I was missing a part of the story. But overall, I really quite liked this one, particularly some of the moral dilemmas faced by Superman and Batman. The art by Ariel Olivetti is the best in the collection too. Rating: 8.3/10

WILDC.A.T.S/Aliens by Warren Ellis
I think, perhaps, that I didn’t have enough foreknowledge to enjoy this story. This was actually the very first WILDC.A.T.S story that I read. As it was, it felt like a very generic story featuring Xenomorphs. I didn’t really feel that it was particularly atmospheric, that it had much emotional depth or that it raised any interesting questions. Perhaps it feels much more significant if you know the histories of its characters (and there are a fair few references which seemed to allude to earlier stories) but without that understanding of the franchise, it reads like a story where undeveloped characters face off against poorly utilised Xenomorphs. Rating: 4.9/10

So, I felt like this collection was a little bit of a mixed bag, but overall, I was pretty happy with it. I think most fans of the DC Universe will like it (even with only a cursory understanding of the Alien films) and most fans of the Alien franchise will like it (even with only a cursory understanding of the DC Universe), but if you don’t know much about either, I would not recommend this.

Average rating: 7.4/10

Buy it here.

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Job Interview Questions and Answers

I quite like job interviews. I know some people find them stressful, but I see them as a nice chance to get out of the house and to visit an office where you get to talk about how good you are. I guess I just like interacting with people – especially when there’s the promise of a new job. The trouble is, that sometimes the questions are a bit tricky and it’s hard to know what to say. Here’s a few of my impromptu interview answers from over the years

What would you say are five of your best features?
Well, I suppose I’m creative, friendly, optimistic, fairly positive and very good at finding different ways to say the word “optimistic.”

What would your current manager say is your biggest flaw?
Well, she’d probably say time keeping, if she had to say anything. But let’s turn that around. What would your current receptionist say is the biggest downside of working here?

What is it that gets you up in the morning?
I don’t hate my life or anything, so I’ve never really struggled to get up in the morning.

What about you makes you a good choice for the role?
Communication. Well, communication skills. Verbal communication skills. Basically, I mean to say that I am good at verbally communicating with others in a clear and easy to understand way… Which is ironic, considering that I stumbled over almost every word there!

What makes you think you can do this job?
Well, at the risk of sounding enormously arrogant, it seems incredibly easy. I’m sure pretty much anybody could do it, really.

Where’s your accent from?
Funnily enough, I don’t think I’ve ever had an interview where I wasn’t asked that.

Can I get you a glass of water?
No, thank you. I always have my own supply here in this Trusty Water Bottle.

I can’t really tell if I’m good at interviews or bad at them. I’ve had quite a lot of jobs over the years, and some of the questions and answers above were taken from interviews where I was successful. In reality, I think you probably need a different approach for every different job. It’s true that there are certain hoops you’re always going to need to jump through to get jobs, but at the same time, “employers” are not one big, connected group – what may come across as good to one, may be unimpressive to another. There’s not ‘a’ way to do well in interviews, there are lots of different ways to approach them and no matter what you do, there might always be a more suitable candidate than you. There will always be a strong element of luck. Don’t let yourself be disheartened by an unsuccessful interview.

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Mistaken for an Authority

I like to wear a blazer most of the time. I find them very comfortable, they have conveniently positioned pockets, they’re appropriate for most social contexts and I think I look good in them. I’ve got a small collection of them, which I mostly just pick up in charity shops for under £10 when I can find them.

Wearing them so often, I’ve noticed a strange power that they seem to have: making people think that you have some level of authority. Which is quite amusing. Let me give you some examples:

  • When I was in the third year of university, a first year student mistook me for a lecturer.
  • When I went to an ice skating rink, a couple of peopled asked me for the rules about skating, assuming I worked there.
  • When I accompanied a friend of mine as they went to a doctor’s appointment, they mistook us for inspectors (we were both wearing blazers.)
  • Once when a friend of mine and I wanted to explore the private parts of a fancy building we were in, we just went there and got away with it by acting like we belonged there (again, I was with another blazer wearer.)

I suppose, to be fair, I am being a bit presumptuous. It could be a string of coincidences and, in each of those instances, a person wearing different clothes would have been mistaken in much the same way, but it seems unlikely. It’s the sort of thing that happens fairly regularly. It’s also worth considering that being a white male with a “well spoken” voice may also be contributing factors. Which would be unfortunate.

It makes me think, it must be quite easy to be a con artist. If a certain type of jacket instills in people some level of trust without you having to do anything, it must be really easy to take advantage of that by consciously playing up the notion that you are a trustworthy authority. Someone once told me that it’s just as easy to do with a hi-vis jacket too. It’s interesting, and disappointing, to think about how much importance people place on these surface level things.

(Don’t miss today’s Finger Puppet Show!)

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Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer

Designing homes has always been a big part of the Animal Crossing series. You catch bugs and fish, sell fruit, do chores for people and all to make some money to expand the size of your house and to get new pieces of furniture. With Happy Home Designer, they decided to make designing homes the central theme of the game, making it very different to previous titles.

At the start of the game, your villager gets a new job working for Nook’s Homes, a home design business run by Tom Nook. What’s quite nice this time, is that you are put in complete control of what your  character looks like right from the start: you can choose skin colour, hair colour, hair style, the shape of their face and what their eyes look like. It’s a nice feature which I am surprised wasn’t implemented earlier, so the game gets off to a good start.

You get shown around the Nook’s Homes office and are introduced to your colleagues. You work alongside Lottie (an otter, related to Lyle from previous games), Lyle (who’s slowly become a lot more legit as the series has gone on, which I like), Digby (Isabelle’s brother) and Tom Nook himself. All the characters can be spoken to in order to answer questions and tell you what to do.

Once that’s all done, you move onto the main body of the game: building homes for people. You go out onto the street and you speak to passing villagers who will tell you what they’re looking for in a home. They usually will give you some sort of instructions (but not always) and then you’re just given free reign to make the home as you please. You choose the best sort of location for the house (for example, in the woods, near the beach etc.) and then design the outside of the house and the garden, then you start placing furniture and designing the inside.

What’s quite nice about designing the homes, is that it gives you the opportunity to be quite creative. In past instalments, it was hard to make a really special home, because you needed to have a lot of money, but this time money doesn’t factor in at all. You have a large selection of furniture to select and each time you take on a new client, you unlock more pieces of furniture to unlock. It must have more furniture options than any previous game in the series.

As well as designing homes, Isabelle will occasionally come in and ask you to help with public buildings. For example, she might ask you to design a restaurant, a school, an office or a shopping centre. These tasks always took longer than designing homes, but I always enjoyed doing them more. After doing them, you can also see animals using them as they were supposed to be used, which I always quite liked and found quite satisfying.

To help make the designer aspect more user-friendly, furniture can now easily be placed using the touch screen. It makes moving and rearranging furniture so much easier and I hope that this is a feature we’ll see back in future games. You’re also given more freedom in regards to where furniture is placed. In the past, it used a kind of grid system, where furniture took up certain squares, but you can now place things, for example, so that they’re half in one square and half in another, if that makes sense.

But, speaking of easiness, the game is definitely too easy. The villagers may give you a rough outline of what sort of home they want, but if you can fail to satisfy them, it never happened to me.  At times, it started to feel a bit monotonous and I just started to think “What’s the point?” so I definitely recommend playing this in small doses. This applies more to the home designs, rather than Isabelle’s tasks. It’s sad that, for example, you can’t even build friendships with the villagers like you do in previous games. Or that you can’t save money to do things.

I guess I do quite like being able to design things, I just wish that more purpose was given to your creations. You can share them online, but that was never all that appealing to me. But if you don’t think that will bother you, the game has a lot of content: all of the hundreds of Animal Crossing Amiibo cards can be scanned and they’ll all bring in new villagers with new tasks and furniture. It’s just a shame that the Amiibo cards were distributed randomly in packets – I wasn’t actually able to find the cards of a lot of my favourite animals, such as Julian the unicorn.

Overall, I wouldn’t want to say that this was a bad game… It’s just very basic. It’s nice to dip into it every now and then when you’re bored, but it never really captivated me. I can imagine that there are some people who would get really, really into it and get hundreds of hours of fun out of it… but I don’t think that that will be the case for most people. The game is very similar to Animal Crossing: New Leaf in terms of interface, graphics and soundtrack and I couldn’t help but think that it should have just been DLC for that game, rather than an individual release.

Rating: 7.2/10

Buy it here.

(Don’t miss today’s Finger Puppet Show!)

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Censorship

Censorship is a subject which concerns me quite a lot and a subject which is in the media at the moment, for various reasons. However, my concerns about censorship tend to be quite different to those of the majority (or, at least, what appears to be the majority from my perspective.)

A lot of people get upset when people with racially controversial opinions have their platforms taken away or their books cancelled. People feel similarly about the critics of the transgender community who are not given the chance to say what they want to say. People claim that some of those with left wing ideologies have gone so far as to be threatening people’s freedom of speech.

I do agree that this is an issue – to an extent. On the one hand, there are people who are keen to be offended on behalf of a minority and so then call something offensive and harmful, even though it might actually be quite positive. A good example of this would be the recent censorship of To Kill a Mockingbird (one of my favourite books.) And examples like these need to be stopped. On the other hand, refusing to give a platform to speakers who directly attack individuals in the audience (on personal grounds) seems quite fair. Then there are complicated middle grounds, such as what to do with statues of famous figures of US history who were slave owners. Removing them would be to forget and deny the tragedies of the past, whereas keeping them in place would be to honour negative figures who may not deserve to be honoured.

But, while these are all issues which need to be thought about and discussed, I think the biggest censorship threats are actually much larger. In America, for example, there’s the risk to net neutrality and, the rumblings of government censorship in the UK which have been on and off for a few years.  Without net neutrality, what is seen on the internet will be decided by those with the most money (which is very alarming) and the idea of the UK government enforcing internet censorship seems like a slippery slope towards the kinds of things they have in certain parts of Asia. People need to be able to share their ideas and it worries me that the voices of the rich and powerful could one day drown out all other perspectives entirely. I hope it will never happen.

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