Monday, May 06, 2013

Birthday Weekend

Another year older, another year wider. Actually, that's not true - a few minutes in the pool at the gym every morning are improving my health and keeping that middle-aged spread under control.

Saturday we went to Rockers Steak House, on Mill Road in Cambridge. We noticed it at about the time it opened, wandering along at the Mill Road Winter Fair, and had a meal there earlier this year. That was pretty good, so we went back for more. And the food and service were again excellent - we had the sharing platter, the sirloin and rib-eye, and I broke with my normal tradition by having the chocolate brownie. There are a number of new steak restaurants in Cambridge; Rockers gets my vote.

It's a long bank holiday weekend. We went out Norwich way and stayed Sunday night at Dunston Hall. We keep getting these offers mailed to us by Secret Escapes, and this was about the first time we could use one. The weather was fine, we just wanted to relax and chill. In the afternoon we simply had a drink on the terrace, and I had a basic cream tea - one of the best scones I've had in years. The only real criticism there was they seemed very short on staff, so it took a while to get served. In the evening we skipped the main restaurant for the bar - I went for a different arrangement and had the cheese board (in the dessert section) followed by a lemon tart, both were excellent. And the included breakfast in the morning was pretty good too - sausage, egg, and bacon were just right which makes a change for a hotel - although again they seemed a little short and were struggling to keep everything stocked. But overall, a relaxing and enjoyable day away.

We had a couple of sessions in the pool, which is a decent size. Once we had found it - the hotel is a bit of a rabbit warren.

We asked about spa treatments as well, but they were full. So we went to Imagine at Blofield Heath, just down the road. We had the Luxury half-day for two, which basically means chilling out in their facilities for half a day and having an hour's worth of treatments. We both went for massages - speaking for myself I'm not overly fussed about skin texture, but anything to soothe tired and aching muscles is good. This time, I had the hot stone massage, which was a new one - and worked really well with the heat working on those tense muscles. I found the little stone between the toes a litle odd at first. As well as the usual spa facilities, there's a relaxation room, and a couple of pods in the garden for chilling out in as well, which are really nice. To finish, we had afternoon tea in the garden, sitting by the ponds with a family of newly hatched ducklings for company.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Trying to do too much

We're looking around for a new TV. The old one is a bit long in the tooth, although it's actually a staggeringly good TV - but it's a CRT and not HD (although it is a high-resolution TV that does upscaling), so eventually it'll become obsolete, we'll lose compatibility with everything providing inputs, and it does take up rather a lot of space in the lounge.

One rather strange trend I notice is that almost every electronic device attempts to include everything but the kitchen sink. All the Smart TV stuff is, frankly, gunk.

And it's broken at so many levels. Let's cover a couple.

So, in a decent home cinema system, you connect all the inputs to an A/V receiver or some other master device. So why on earth would the TV have a gazillion inputs on the back as well?

Any decent TV seems to come with a million ancillary functions - all this Smart stuff. As do many Blu-Ray players. As do games consoles. As does your phone, computer, and tablet. There's massive duplication going on here. And why on earth, given that you are likely to have all these other devices already offering this functionality, would you want to cripple all your other devices with substandard clones of the same functionality.

I want my TV to display the best possible picture, and to concentrate purely on doing that. I want my Blu-Ray player to play disks, and to concentrate purely on doing that. I want my games console (if I could ever find any decent games, that is) just to be really good at gaming. Adding the extra functionality adds cost, leads to compromises in core function, and will soon become obsolete. Not only that, but the TV offers a much poorer interface that a dedicated device.

The crazy thing is that, in a fully connected home, integrating this level of functionality into every device is unnecessary. Want to browse the web on the big screen? Simply use AirPlay or the like to teleport the display from your laptop or tablet.

I guess my Unix background shows through here, but I want each device to do one thing and do it well, and then I can join them together to provide a complete solution.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Where have all the good games gone?

Years ago, we bought a Sega Mega Drive. It cost us what seemed like a small fortune at the time, and games were pretty expensive. We played maybe a small handful of games extensively - Sonic and variations, and Desert Strike was fantastic. Yes, we still have it, although it doesn't come out all that often.

My brother had a SNES. We borrowed it for a while, just to play one game - Zelda. This was in a completely different league. Not too long ago, I actually went out and bought myself a Game Boy with the rereleased Zelda, and considered it money well spent.

The next console was a PSone. This has been heavily used, but largely for one particular game. Spyro: Year of the Dragon is just superb. You just can't get better. The predecessors were OK, too, but Year of the Dragon was clearly the pinnacle.

We have a PS2 as well. Looking around, there's not much available. The Spyro game for it is dreadful, and there's little else. The kids liked the Eye Toy games, but they've outgrown it and it hasn't been turned on for ages.

The Wii was - and still is - tremendous fun. But largely for Wii Fit and the odd sports game, where the board and the controller work really well. I haven't seen a more conventional game that's generated even a flicker of interest.

To be honest, I don't see myself buying a new console. I simply haven't seen one game that I can see myself enjoying, so what's the point?

I've also dropped out completely from PC games. Years ago, there were wonderful games available - I found Pod addictive, lost too many evenings to Caesar III, Age of Empires 2, Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri, Rise of Nations, and Zoo Tycoon. Some of the updated versions were pretty dismal - Age of Empires III and Zoo Tycoon 2 were shockingly inferior to their predecessors, and there's a whole genre of games that's largely disappeared. Not only that, getting them to work on a current system is at best frustrating, if possible at all.

(And that's without Flight Simulator, a franchise that has largely vanished without trace - it once had a vibrant community and lots of community add-ons, I even built some scenery myself.)

The console and PC games industry has largely got itself to blame; potential customers with considerable disposable income won't bother getting their wallets out for any of the current garbage that's on offer.

Nowadays, I tend to play lightweight games on my iPad. In many ways, the game ecosystem provided by small mobile devices and tablets brings you back to the earlier games - simple, addictive, and fun. (One thing I didn't mention above is that we've collected a fair number of original Game Boy games, some have aged extremely well.)

One of my favourites right now is Harbour Master HD. It's a very simple premise, as with all good games - send the boats into harbour and out again, without any crashes. Addictive as anything.

There are a lot of games on the iPad and mobile devices that are ideal for killing short amounts of time. Puzzles, various logo games, pattern matching, brain training, and the like. The ones that work well are ideally suited to the platform, and fit around a busy lifestyle.

Maybe I am looked at the past through rose tinted spectacles, but I still want to know where all the good games have gone.