Weeknote? Week 37

Alright, let’s try and have a whip round:

Work was pleasant last week, although somewhat chaotic: we were running job interviews, we had a staff day out, and we rescued a feral kitten from the garden. It was not a little amusing for us to be literally herding a cat for the last hour of a week that I think kept us all on our toes.

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Not this cat.

The staff training day was a tour of Strawberry Hill House, the history and recent restoration of which would take many times the half day we had to understand it. Beyond that, the other highlight was that it was being set up for use as a location in a major new film called Come Away, with distinctive parts of the building being used to great effect in what promises to be an epic Disney fantasy. (The premise – I shit thee not – is that Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan are brother and sister.)

At home, I recovered my desktop computer from yet another SSD-related crash. This error throws itself up every now and again, and recovering from it is always tedious. Fortunately I run daily full backups of the whole SSD, but in lieu of finding out the root cause of the drive failure, I have had to stop using the SSD. It’s quite old now, and has served well in two different machines, so maybe it’s time I replaced it. They’re rather cheap now.

This hard drive juggling led to me replacing a 120GB SSD with a quite snappy 640GB laptop drive (what a strange size), and that is working well enough for now. I’ve been spoiled by having my boot drive on an SSD for so long, though.

It also led to me rationalising some of my hoarded hard drives. I managed to squeeze off a bunch of Humax Freesat recordings that lived on a 1TB USB3 drive and put them on an old 320GB drive and caddy, meaning I can use the very-capable 1TB drive for more useful things.

I find this sort of activity extremely comforting. When it goes well.

Speaking of… I also played a bunch more Firewatch this week. Not loads, actually – I still don’t know how long (or short) the game is. But it continues to hold me completely fascinated and I don’t want it to end. And yet I can’t shake the feeling that it is just about to.

Still, I bide my time taking tens of screenshots per session – of the scenery and of the copious amounts of in-game ephemera like letters, typewritten diary entries and other printed materials. The attention to detail on some of them is exquisite. I love that game so much.

Worth noting here, too, that I have gotten back into playing Animal Crossing lately, probably because it is such a seasonal game. I’m glad I’ve found a few new things to do because I mainly stopped out of a lack of such novelties.

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This weekend M and I went to Milton Keynes with our bicycles. We had a great time (well, I certainly did) buzzing around a variety of country lanes, the car-free ‘redway’ cycle routes that criss-cross the city, and streets I still remember pretty clearly. It was particularly pleasant to do most of my old 20km circular ride that occupied so many long sunny evenings and bright, crisp mornings in spring and summer 2014.

We also watched two quite different films – The Death of Stalin and The Bling Ring – and both held our interest and made us chuckle and comment. I’ve no idea if either of them were good, but we enjoyed them. I will say that we particularly enjoyed the dialogue of and comedy timing of the former and the bombastic soundtrack and self-assuredness of the latter.

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And finally, much like the protagonist in Animal Crossing, I caught (and then released) a moth, before spending some time trying to identify as what I believe to be a Box tree moth, which the Internet tells me I should report to the Royal Horticultural Society, so I duly did. It might be that they care more about the caterpillar than the moth, but data is data. Or are.

How to enjoy a Bank Holiday weekend

There are many ways to enjoy a nice three-day weekend, but here is just one set of ideas that worked for me this weekend just gone.

A little dash of videogames, including Banished, Anno 1404 and Firewatch

Banished, I fear, I have gone off a little on account of it offering little to no guidance on how you are doing, or how to do better.

I’ve quite enjoyed the long, slow grind to achieve equilibrium in terms of getting your growing population to continue growing while ensuring there is enough food and fuel. But beyond that, the game kind of stagnates. It deliberately has no ‘story’ – the game is itself an education in the basic need to just grind away in order to survive – but there don’t seem to be any opportunities to upgrade or progress or ‘win’.

A scattering of quite prosaic achievements are available, but they seem like box-ticking. I suspect my future enjoyment of Banished will come through trying new strategies, imposing my own artificial restrictions, and investigating the modding community.

With Banished growing stale, I turned to Anno 1404, which I’ve been enjoying. It’s very much a game of its genre, but it’s done with some style and panache. It has quite a hand-holdy tutorial, but it’s done through the medium of a story and several small individual tasks which must be completed for a cast of characters. But games of this complexity do require some hand-holding; it’s not possible to set oneself up for ‘the long game’ if one overlooks a crucial part of the game’s system.

I think I will return to Age of Empires II shortly – the HD remake, naturally – but that is a game I know quite well, so it’s been nice to give Anno 1404 a fair shake.

I’ve also enjoyed little stints in Firewatch, which continues to enchant me. The opening prologue was an unexpected punch in the guts, and I’m a little concerned that the story will give me the sads later on. But the story-driven gameplay – it’s sometimes little more than ‘go here, do this, now go here’ – works nicely, and it’s an enjoyable blend of a game in an artificially vast environment that’s actually really rather on-rails.

The above have all given me plenty of opportunity to get the Steam Link figured out. (It’s a small streaming box which allows you to play your PC games on your TV in another room.) Mostly I’ve learned that there is inevitably a little bit of latency inherent in a powerline adapter I know to be slightly flakey. For some games, like Firewatch, the lag isn’t too noticeable. For Anno 1404 I’ve had to reduce some graphical settings to find a compromise between responsiveness and playing comfortably on the 40-inch screen in the lounge. It plays beautifully on my computer monitor, but it’s nice to play games in the living room.

An overnight microadventure by bicycle to Buckinghamshire

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A few years ago, I went on a few microadventures which usually consisted of bugging out on my bike after work with little more than a tent and some snacks.

Since moving to London, I’ve not had such easy access to do this, but the opportunity came up this weekend for Megan and I to hop on the Tube to Chesham, cycle to a tiny village near Wendover, and pitch camp for one night in a cute, remote farmer’s field.

Our rewards included: peace, space, woodland walks at dusk, the sounds (and, occasionally, glowing eyes in torchlight) of various animals, a lovely pub meal, the rare novelty of seeing one’s own shadow cast by the light of an almost-full-moon, and a simple but delicious breakfast cooked over a Primus stove.

We also popped in to visit my mother on our way home, which was lovely. And a good opportunity to dry off, as we were caught in a torrential downpour on the ride home.

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One nice thing about a single night’s camping is that it often feels as though you’ve been away for several days, and this was just such an occasion.

And a trip or two to the cinema

We went to see Mission: Impossible – Fallout recently, which was far funnier and more enjoyable than I had expected it to be. As much as the film takes itself seriously, and the films increasingly feel like the Tom Cruise vanity hour, this one is just a stunning summer blockbuster, and just what the doctor ordered. The set-piece stunts are bonkers; there is enough humour scattered throughout – Simon Pegg is a fantastic addition to the franchise; and the whole thing rollicked along, and I loved every minute.

Oddly enough, I had decided to go and see M:I-F to scratch an itch I’ve had recently of having not seen a balls-to-the-wall blockbuster on a balls-to-the-wall GIGANTIC screen with a balls-to-t– LOUD sound system.

So you can imagine my joy, just days after seeing this film, when I learned that the BFI IMAX were showing a 10-year anniversary run of The Dark Knight on 70MM film. So that’s what we did on Monday, and I had a blast. I think Megan enjoyed it too.

The film itself holds up pretty well ten years on, and I couldn’t contain my happiness seeing the IMAX sequences on the biggest screen in the UK, and hearing the deafening explosions and stirring soundtrack using what sounds like all 11,600 watts at their disposal. Just fabulous.

Of course, it’s now about a thousand years until the next proper bank holiday weekend, and it definitely feels like Autumn is almost upon us. But that brings its own charms, and I am almost ready to embrace it.