Starting from Scratch

It's been a while since I've used my blog. It's a bit of a problem. I keep meaning to post but then I think I have nothing interesting to say. But the only way I can find something to say is to start writing. So...

Allow myself to introduce ... myself. I'm Alan. I'm in my late 20's and I almost had a degree in Computer Applications.

I read. Compulsively. Everything.

I try to watch movies but often surprise people with the movies I've missed out on.

I've been a member of Macra na Feirme for about 7 years. It's probably done more to make me who I am today than anything else.

I'm going to use this blog. I should do it anyway. I'm paying for the hosting.

Scouting For Al - Computer Skills

I was in the scouts as a kid, mainly as a cub scout from ages 7 - 12 and in the proper Scouts for about six months. And while I was in the scouts I got a total of 1 badge. This one:
Leap, Dolphin! Leap!

I can't remember what it's for but I think Ciarán said his dad designed it. So that's nice.

Looking back on that I see a missed opportunity, and something to do with my free time. So I'm going to try and meet the criteria for every SAI merit badge. Leafing through the badgebook there's a lot of variety. I have no idea how I'm going to find a plane, for example, or who'd let a twelve year old fly one. Luckily there's one section I can do right now, computer skills. Talk about falling in my wheel-house.

The Tasks:
Task 1: Identify the different parts of a personal computer and show how they interact.
This is a little bit tricky. Looking round the house we have: 6 laptops in various states of repair, 3 consoles and a few mp3 players. No desktops though so I'll have to resort to stealing an image from the internet.
Bless you Wikipedia.
You're probably familiar with a computer, unless this is being read to you or you get your internet in newspaper form, but I'll explain it for you anyway.
So you've got the monitor, the telly looking thing. That shows you what the computer is thinking. In this case it is thinking about an orange gradient.
The keyboard is the large rectangle in the front. Usually it has a lot of buttons, or keys, which have all the letters of the alphabet mixed up in a funny way and the numbers from 1 to 0. This one doesn't have any buttons so I assume you place your hand on it and the computer reads your mind.
The small round thing on the left is the mouse. You use the mouse to boss the computer around because like elephants the computer fears mice. Or maybe it moves a cursor round the screen. I get those two confused sometimes.
Finally there's the tower. This is like a block of flats where the CPU lives with its friends hard-drive and DVD drive and its noisy neighbour cooling fan. All the other things are connected to it because CPU is a control freak.

Task 2: Describe two different types of data storage and outline their advantages and disadvantages.
These tasks were written in the time of floppy disks and CDs so I hope the fact that I live in a technical age of wonders won't disqualify me from the badge that I'm too old to actually get.

Task 3: Explain to your examiner the uses of two of the following:
a) Compact Disc Read Only Memory
A CD-ROM is a format that's not used much any more because no-one makes programs smaller than the 700MB a CD can hold. If it's read only you're stuck with the stuff on the disc because your puny disk-drive's laser isn't powerful enough to write onto the disc.

b) Operating System
An operating system is the negotiator that gets all that circuitry to get you onto the internet to look at the LOLcats and whatnot. There are a few different ones, Windows, Mac OSX and Linux are the main ones. Every one of them sucks.

c) Text Editor
It edits text.You type it in, it's there on the screen. You can fancify it if you like. Many will have a  spell-check to tell you that fancify isn't a word. And then you can print your text.

d) Anti-Virus Software
 Scans every pore of your computer for nasty programs out to steal your credit card information or just wreck your stuff. I personally prefer Avast because it's free. Also, yay pirates!

Task 4: Using a Word Processor or a Desktop Publishing package prepare a log of one of your recent Scouting activities.
You're reading it right now. Recursive.

Task 5: Describe how one of the following programmes could be used in Scouting:
a) Computer Aided Design software 
You could design a layout for the camp for the next time the troop goes camping. Location of the food tent, camp-fire, sniper tower to fend off wolves, those kind of things.

b) Spreadsheet
Spreadsheets are normally used to keep track of figures, like say the number of wolf attacks over the past year. You can compare this to the figures from other years to see if the snipers are performing well.

c) Database
Databases can record more than a spreadsheet so I'd use it to keep track of information on the troop members like their date of birth, contact information and if they're allergic to anything. Like wolf maulings.

Task 6: Give your examiner details of a computer package that you have used recently (consoles are acceptable).
I very recently used Blogger to create a blog post about my intention to get every SAI scout badge. I uploaded images and formatted text and created hyperlinks. I then posted that blog to the internet.

Based on successful completion of these tasks and under absolutely no authority but my own I award myself the Computer Skills badge.

Next time: Ropes!

Comics again

I've actually come up with a few plans for the blog. They'll start over the next few weeks. But first, let's talk about this week's comics.

Atomic Robo (Free Comic Book Day 2012):
This has to be the most fun you can have for free. Comic-wise anyway. Atomic Robo is a robot built by Nicola Tesla in the twenties. He's fought Nazis, Lovecraftian horrors and ghosts, met Carl Sagan and somehow pissed off Stephen Hawking. And in this special he teams up with his arch nemesis, a hyper-intelligent velociraptor who claims to be a time traveler, to save the Large Hadron Collider. It is fantastic and free. Read this book.

Batman #9:
For the last eight issues Batman has been facing off against a new threat to Gotham, the Court of Owls. They're a secret society who've been controlling the city for centuries. And now they've sent their assassins, the Talons, to kill influential members of Gotham's society. So it's mostly a fight issue.
There's also a backup strip that seems to be tying in Thomas and Martha Wayne's deaths to the Court of Owls. I'm not too sure about this, adding surprising revelations to an established character's past can come across as just trying to make your threat bigger for the sake of it, but I suppose that's why DC rebooted their universe to shake things up. I'll see how it plays out.

Invincible #91:
God. How do I summarise what's been going on in Invincible. I don't know if I can. Invincible's very continuity heavy. And I don't want to spoil it for any friends of mine reading this. Suffice it to say it's a great book (How many ways can I say this before I give up?), well written and gorgeous art. Umm... yay?

Morning Glories #18:
Another story heavy book, luckily there's only been eighteen issues of it so far. Take six teenagers, put them in an evil boarding school and add a ton of overarching mystery about everything. I'm a big fan of stories with a myth arc like Lost or Fringe. Or Stargate Universe. There can be problems with maintaining the pace of the story and doling out the answers. Give too much information and it feels unbelievable, give too little and readers get frustrated and give up on the book completely. Fortunately writer Nick Spencer has kept the balance right so far, for me at least.

Uncanny X-Force #25:
It's a big anniversary issue, although it feels like business as usual. Usually comics spend multiples of twenty five with a climax to a big story or launching a bold new direction for the book. Not here though. The team is kinda fractured after recent events and there's a lot of character focus on Psylocke and Fantomex in particular with both of them leaving the team, for now at least. But you have to have action so that falls to Deadpool infiltrating a company that make bespoke clone assassins (that's assassins who are clones, not assassins designed to kill clones). The clones are motivated to kill by having memories that their target killed a loved one. That sucks for what's left off X-Force because three clones of Omega Red are out to get them.
The issue also reprints two of Rick Remender's past works. First, a Wolverine story about Wolverine trying to reconcile his noble-warrior side with the berserker side, usual fill-in issue stuff. The second is plain weird. It's a Deadpool story where he's hired to rescue a man who was sent to a fat camp and never returned. Deadpool gets captured and is force fed food for four months until he resembles Homer Simpson when he was clinically obese. It's insane.

Wolverine and the X-Men #10:
This might be my favourite book at the moment. I've been a fan of the X-Men since the cartoon back in the nineties but in recent years the stories had seemed kind of directionless, but I heard about the relaunch a while back read the first issue of this book and jumped right back aboard. I can't stress enough how much I like fun comics and when you've got a schools whose grounds are alive and is infested with tiny Nightcrawlers from another dimension you're on to a winner.
In this issue Cyclops and his X-Men show up after leaving Utopia in last week's Avengers vs. X-Men asking for sanctuary and for Wolverine to join him against the Avengers. Wolverine doesn't go for it but some of his teachers and pupils head off with Scott. There's also a sub-plot with the new mind-wiped Angel realising he's not actually part of the Heavenly Host and Evan (or Genesis), the young clone of Apocalypse looking up this person everyone says he looks like. So it's basically filling in some side details for the big crossover and advancing its own plot. Good stuff.

Some sort of Assemble pun

So today I watched a movie. Over here it's called Avengers Assemble so we don't confuse it with Steed and Mrs Peel (like my mum and granny did, in two separate conversations). I've been waiting for this movie for a while. What did I think?


It's great. Joss Whedon can direct movies like the proverbial boss and hopefully this gives him some much needed Hollywood clout. Each member of the team gets a moment to shine and they act like a team, eventually. This is a Marvel movie after all. Stan Lee is in there, as usual. The New York public act like they always do in Marvel comics. Loki is incredibly manipulative. There are some tears and a great teaser for the inevitable followup.

I saw it with Sarah, Eoin, Aoife, Owen and Jenny. I don't know about the rest of them but for me, it was pure unadulterated joy. Go see this movie.

What to talk about? Oooh! Comics.

I've spent the last hour watching TED talks and playing Solitaire on my iPod rather than write anything. That's a bad habit. I will break it.

Yesterday was Wednesday so let's talk about comics.

Thanks to Comixology I can buy all the comics I want and not fill any space in my room (Very dangerous). Here's what I bought:

Action Comics #9:
Grant Morrison wrote a story about the Superman of Earth 23, who's black and the president of the US but not Obama. It's an idea he's had before that's he's now expanding on. At first I wasn't sure why he was focusing on another Superman in the middle of his brand new origin but I figure he's saying something about the universality of the Superman idea no matter the context. But hey, smarter people have tried to figure out Grant Morrison. I just like the stories he tells. (That sounds reductive. Maybe I'll think harder next time.)

Avengers vs X-Men #3:
This is a pretty good book considering it's a Marvel summer event and written by committee. The character motivations make sense. I'm enjoying where it's going. Yay!

Defenders #6:
This is Matt Fraction writing Iron Fist. I love Matt Fraction writing Iron Fist, especially as it delves into the history of the last Iron Fist, Orson Randall. Fraction's going for big things here with the concordance engines and those little meta-text subtitles at the bottom of the pages (the ones that aren't ads). Again I want to see where this goes.

Uncanny X-Force #lots:
The last thing here is Rick Remender's Uncanny X-Force. I haven't caught up on this yet but it's now all up on Comixology and I'm making my way through it. Looks good so far.

Hmmm. Not a lot of negativity there, but then again I don't read or watch many things I don't like. I'm just weird like that.

Oh yeah. This thing.

So then. Today is the first of May. And not just that.

It also happens to have been the last day of my exams (I've been doing a course in Computer Maintenance) so I have a bit of free time. And I figure what better way to spend my new-found extra hours than to revive the blog, or at least attempt to resuscitate it.

So over the next few weeks I'll try to blog more regularly. I've a few ideas for posts but nothings coming to me today (might have something to do with those four celebratory pints of Miller I had after the last exam).

I'll work something out for tomorrow.

Harry Potter and the Thing that Sounds like Azkaban

It's a blizzard, 'Arry
This is my favourite one so far.

Prisoner of Azkaban is directed by Alfonso Cuarón and I have loved every film of his I've seen. This is the man who directed Children of Men and Y tu mamá también. Everything about the wizarding world is more magical and otherworldly. There are classes that are in the film just to show what Hogwarts classes are like (and to build up the threat of Harry being stalked by Comissioner Gordon Sirius) rather than teaching Chekhov's spells (which I suppose technically comes under the category of Chekhov's Lecture). The Knight Bus sequence alone was stranger than anything in the previous two movies in which, I'll remind you, Harry fought a giant snake! The quidditch matches look more real as opposed to having bendy dolls on brooms (although that could just be down to CG advances).

Some random points:
  • Dumbledore is doing well after his facelift. (Actually I should mention how brilliant Michael Gambon is. There's no Richard Harris impersonation here. Where Harris was quiet Gambon is far more brash and comedic. And I love it)
  • Ron is still the Butt Monkey but Draco and Harry give him a run for his money this time.
  • Drinking game ideas: When it's hinted that (Spoiler Warning) Lupin is a werewolf or hinted that Hermione has been (Another Spoiler Warning [although everyone who cares knows it now]) time travelling.
  • As if Hogwarts wasn't dangerous enough before now there are ghouls who eat your soul running around outside the grounds. Good thing all the parents signed the waiver.
Have I mentioned that Alan Rickman is fantastic. I should say it again. He is fantastic. Not only when Snape is finally teaching Defence Against the Dark Arts (and practically daring the students to uncover Lupin's secret) but in his confrontation with Mooney, Wormtail and Doctor Smith Padfoot at the end. I can't stress this enough, Alan Rickman is fascinating in every scene he's in.

Harry Potter and the Snake in the Drains

We watched Chamber of Secrets. Yay!

Here are some random thoughts based on us watching that selfsame movie.
  • Harry Potter is not able to lie. At all.
  • Ron lost his cockney accent, possibly in a game of wizard chess.
  • Apparently Dumbledore watches Harry while he sleeps.
  • Dobby says Hogwarts is more dangerous than usual. That can't be good. Dumbledore heard of health & safety but thought it was one of those indie bands.
  • Drinking game idea: Every time someone says Harry Potter. Also any time Harry is compared to his father or is told he has his mother's eyes. Warning: This may lead to alcohol poisoning.
  • Dumbledore sure does have a lot of contingency plans. I swear he's read the books.
  • Ron is the movie's official butt monkey, with Malfoy coming a close second.
  • Not as much Snape action this time but Alan Rickman is still fantastic. Especially when talking to Lockheart.

Well at least I didn't use a spoon.

Penknives and Potter

Yesterday was a day for consumption of media. Also shopping. But that's not much fun to blog about. Well not when you're as tired as I was. All this is beside the point.

Ciaran recently bought a MacGyver box-set. The complete series. One hundred and thirty nine episodes and two made-for-TV movies. And it's fantastic.
We watched the first disc, which, incidentally, has a picture of duct tape on it, and it's amazing. MacGyver defuses a bomb in the first five minutes of the pilot, with a paper-clip. He rescued a horse from it's captors via a helicopter with a sky hook. He makes tear gas out of alcohol and ashes. He has 101 uses for a map. And he took part in a chase that had no resemblance at all to The Italian Job.

It was the best thing I watched all day and don't forget that yesterday Rupert Murdoch got hit in the face with a pie.

And then later we watched Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. We in this case was Ciaran, Aoife, Eoin, Rog and myself. Seen as the last movie is out we decided to watch them all in order before seeing number seven part 2. Among the things we observed were:
  • Everyone is so young. Look at those tiny kids!
    Harry Potter and the Eventual Hormones
  • Drinking game idea: Every time Hagrid says "I shouldn't have told you that."
  • Damn that movie is long. Two hours and twenty seven minutes.
  • The CG people on broomsticks are more bendy than Stretch Armstrong.
  • Malfoy has every right to be pissed off at the end of the movie. Dumbledore just pulls points out of nowhere at the last banquet. Joe Dunn sums that up here.
  • Aoife thinks Hogwart's is so dangerous because it's a method of wizard population control.
Alan Rickman enjoys every scene he's in. Every scene.Alas, your Mr. Takagi did not see it that way... so he won't be joining us for the rest of his life.
Look at that grin. Pure Joy.

Next time: The Chamber of Secrets