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Thursday, 24 April 2014

Tales of the Unexpected

To start, a full disclaimer type note about this post. Firstly, it's something I've never spoken about to anyone (ominous opening huh??). Secondly, I've always had a very open mind towards things that can't be explained. I have members of my family who are absolutely convinced one way or the other when it comes to these matters, but I've always kind of sat on the fence. I've written this post more as an observation of what I believe I witnessed, rather than as a statement of fact. I don't expect to convince you, dear reader and follower of Monkey matters, I just wanted to share!

A little while ago I wrote a piece about the loss of a very, very close friend (here), and the aftermath of that event. What follows here is a recount of a couple of events that have happened since that I can't explain, but believe to be real. But first, a bit of background...

I've always been quite open minded about a lot of things. When younger I was fascinated by the writings of Nostradamus, and the predictions that he made. Undoubtedly there are a number of his works that are open to multiple interpretations, but for me there are also some that are so scarily accurate that you cannot simply dismiss them as some drug-induced ramblings that have been twisted to fit an event. UFOs are another area that I have read a lot about in the past, and that still hold a certain sense of intrigue for me as well. They are unidentified for a reason, and whilst the explanation may be very earthly (such as secret military projects and the like), there is still that sense that this is something I don't know about, and can't explain, and therefore I want to know more. It's just my nature!

Ghosts are another area where there is a lot of speculation, but not very much evidence to back up any theories. This is a topic which could have a post all of its own, and is a very polarising subject. If you state that you believe in ghosts, you can often be ridiculed by people who don't. If you state that you don't you can be accused by those that do of being very narrow minded. I've always tried to take an open approach to ghosts. As a child I remember being on a residential visit with school and being taken out on a ghost walk by the teachers. I wasn't massively convinced as we were heading out that this was anything more than an attempt to tire us all out. However, on the way back we all agreed that there was something there while we were looking, and I think that probably opened my mind a little more. I also very recently found out that my Dad believes in ghosts as well. For anyone that knows him, they will understand why this came as a shock! My Dad has now come out and said that he often catches glimpses of his Dad watching him, but his Dad has been dead for nearly 32 years now.

I'm also quite fascinated by the brain, and how we seemingly use so little of it. I do believe there are things that can be done subconsciously that we have no understanding of, or control over, and this can trigger other things. Deja vu is a classic example of this. That really odd feeling that you have experienced something before. What I find fascinating about deja vu is that it isn't a feeling of familiarity. It is an absolute belief that this exact situation has been experienced before. I believe this is normally explained away as the mind storing short-term memories in the long-term memory storage area, and therefore you feel like you experienced this a long time ago. Not sure I entirely buy into that as an explanation. There's also the feeling I get (although this may just be me) sometimes just before I receive a text message, I will have a random thought pop into my head about the person who is texting me. A very weird experience, and not something that happens all the time, but each time it does it freaks me out a little more!

There are many well documented cases of remote viewing that have proved successful. Tests were run in the late 80s and early 90s with people claiming to be remote viewers where they were given an area of a map, and given specific details about a particular area and asked to describe what was there. One was in a forest on the side of a loch in Scotland, and the remote viewer accurately described the wooden lodge that was there. Another was an abandoned military base in the former Soviet Union, and again the description was very accurate. Just another example of the brain at work in ways which we don't fully understand.

Whilst remote viewing is one area that seems to be limited to very few people, an area that we are all familiar with where the brain does it's own thing is when we are dreaming, and it is this one that brings me back to the start of the post. Dreams are something that people sometimes say, "it was so real it was like I was there", and this is the case with the a few dreams relating to my close friend who died nearly 2 years ago now, although 1 of these is dramatically different to the others. It was about 9 months after he had died. The day was quite normal, and I'd settled into bed as I normally do. I woke up about 2am (I'm quite a light sleeper and so it is quite usual for me to wake up in the night), rolled over and went back to sleep. What happened next can't be explained in any scientific way, and whilst I know I was asleep (that bit will become obvious in a second), the experience that I had was so incredibly vivid, and unlike any other dream that I have had, that it has made me question whether it was a dream at all or something else.

So I was at a party. Not a particularly boisterous party, more like a get together of friends. Whilst I remember not actually looking at anyone else, I remember there being a feeling of familiarity towards the other people that were there. I was moving between 2 groups of people who were stood talking, when a door opened and in walked my friend, ushered by 2 other people. This immediately felt wrong. I was under no dream-like illusion that he was still alive, in fact my first words to him were "I didn't expect to see you here". When he was alive, a line like that in this situation would have brought a smile or a laugh, but on this occasion he was very sombre and serious. We didn't talk for long, but the thing that struck me was just how serious and saddened he was, something that was not the way he had been through life. Suddenly he said to me, "I'm sorry, but I've got to go". The people with him were ushering him back through the door. I said to him, "We all miss you more than you will ever know," and his response will stay with me forever. He looked me right in the eyes and said, "I know". The door closed and he was gone.

I woke up immediately after this, but feeling very calm, and absolutely convinced that this wasn't just a normal dream. It felt just like I'd actually been talking to him. His whole demeanour and mood were so out of character that this wasn't my brain trying to relive an event of the past. This wasn't how he ever behaved, and it wasn't in his nature to be so serious and sombre. It's a memory that will stay with me until my dying day, and his last words in that conversation will haunt me forever.

So I know there will be 2 schools of thought on this post. There will be the doubters who say, "Your mind was trying to bring him back to you so that you remember. It was just a dream. Get a grip". The believers will say, "Of course this could have been you talking to him. Why not?". Me? I think I err more towards the latter. There are so many unexplained things around us, why not this? Like I said at the start, I'm not here to change other people's opinions, and for me this was an extra chance to say goodbye to a friend that is still very, very deeply missed...

Friday, 7 March 2014

Truly Next-Gen Gaming?

Ok so before I start, and for full disclosure, I'm an XBox One owner in this generation. Last generation I bought (and still own) a 360, a PS3 and a Wii, so I'm in no way a fanboy to any of the consoles. Although no doubt I'll still get called one as I own an XBox One! I've owned the XB1 for almost 2 months now and wanted to share my thoughts on what I feel makes the difference between the current generation and the last generation. Obviously my slant is going to be Microsoft heavy as this is what I own, and I don't feel that it's fair to talk about Sony when I don't own a PS4, although some of the points here do apply to both manufacturers.

The obvious biggest battle is once again between Sony and Microsoft. And as things stand at the moment, Sony seem to have the headstart in terms of console sales. Sales rates on both systems are continuing to surpass the last generation with healthy sales on both consoles and games. There are obvious differences in price here, but then there are obvious differences in what comes in the box. 

I wasn't a big fan when Microsoft announced that they were bundling Kinect, and the obvious price impact that this would have on their console. Looking at it now, would I miss the Kinect if it wasn't there? No, not at all. However it kind of makes sense. It gives all developers a level playing field in terms of what they are developing for. In the last generation, it became a frustration that some games required Kinect, and I didn't own one (as I didn't have the space in my gaming room to make Kinect a sensible option). Microsoft have learnt from these frustrations (and presumably more frustration was voiced by the developers and publishers) and has decided to push these out with every console from the get-go. This means that as a set of hardware, all developers know what they are dealing with, and can integrate as far as they want to. This is the same with SamrtGlass, with developers able to pick and choose what they push out to SmartGlass devices.

In terms of the big players in the console war, it's very obvious from the technical specifications that the PS4 has more power under the hood that the XB1. Of course it is all about what you do with the power rather than the raw power itself, and that comes down to development tools. But in terms of the outputs, yes PS4 has a bit of a head start here, and so the old argument around outputting at 1080p always comes to the fore. A friend of mine is in a senior development position at a very major development house, and his take is quite simple. Microsoft have the ability to patch in 1080p upscaling to their hardware, so why take the extra effort now to code at 1080p when Microsoft will effectively save them time with the tools and let the software cope with it later? An interesting point, and rumours are now surfacing that, with the patch that is coming prior to the Titanfall release, that Microsoft will have this patch in place on March 11th, ready to have Titanfall running at 1080p. If this is true then suddenly things become a little more equal. PS4 will still have the power under the hood, but it won't be quite as obvious to the end user.

For me the big differentiator between the systems is still the services that sit behind the console. Microsoft have made an obvious move towards being an entertainment centre, whilst Sony are very happily pushing out their message that their console is games-centric. For me, I buy the console that I buy to play games, and it's the services behind the gaming side that have really driven me to my console of choice for this generation. I don't think I'm being too controversial here by saying that XBox Live is far and away the better service when compared to Playstation network. The multiplayer feels more natural and runs better, cross-game party chat is the norm (seriously Sony, this is not a next-gen feature - it's been there for years on your biggest rivals platform), and the promise of what the Microsoft Cloud is already doing, and what it will do in the future, is enough to convince me that I'm on the right platform for gaming. At the end of the day, it's not all about graphics, it's about the experience behind the polish of the game, and the services play a massive part in that.

So where does this leave us? Healthy sales in both camps can only be good for gaming as a whole. Yes Sony have the headstart at the moment, but both consoles are selling well and healthy competition is what the industry needs. For me, I'm happy I've made the right choice with where I spent my money. The next 12 months are going to be interesting in terms of how the platforms sell as various exclusives come along (I expect Titanfall to start shifting consoles and closing the gap). For now lets just put all the fanboyism to one side, pick up our controllers, and revel in what is truly a golden age for gaming...

Monday, 25 November 2013

Carpe Diem Part 2

A long time ago, I wrote a post entitled Carpe Diem. It was written not long after a very good friend of mine, and the man who had introduced me and taught me to drumming, had lost his ongoing battle with cancer. It talked about the way that, following on from his death, I had regretted not making the effort to go back to where I grew up and go and see him, and the band that I used to be a part of, a regret that I still have today. The title became obvious to me as I wrote the post, and now I find myself writing another piece for which this title is, sadly, incredibly apt.

It's taken me almost 18 months to get to the point where I feel I can do this post justice. I'm not going to name names in this, in fact I'm intentionally changing them as the things I'm about to write about are incredibly personal, and the wounds still raw. My motivation for writing this post? I can't honestly answer that, as I don't really know. I guess it allows me to show that, from the dark days that clouded summer 2012, there can be an escape, and that time truly does heal.

Monday, 18 November 2013

Writing the Unwritten Rules of Online Gaming

This is a repost of an article I first wrote around 4 years ago, and appeared on the original, before my Wordpress woes. I've taken a look over it, but a lot of it is as applicable then as it is now!

We've all been there. You're enjoying yourself with some online play, be it on the PC or over XBox Live, and all of a sudden something happens that ruins it all. It can be anything, but invariably it's the actions of another player rather than the action of the game itself.

Friday, 7 December 2012

TomTom full postcodes not working?

So before I moved over to here, by far the most popular post on my blog was the one detailing how to fix your TomTom device when it would only accept the first half of a UK postcode (so "AA1", rather than "AA1 1AA"). I've managed to retrieve at least part of that post and here it is as I notice a lot of you are still finding your way to me looking for this!

Sunday, 11 November 2012

It's a new dawn...

It's a new day...

So as you'll see, I've moved. A number of run-ins with malware and people generally messing around with my old Wordpress blog have caused me to have a rethink. And this new looking blog (minimalist is how I like to think of it) is the result. I'm now relying on the likes of Blogger to keep me safe, rather than having to maintain my own MySql database as was the case previously. I'm sad to move away from A Small Orange, who have been by far the best commercial hosts I've ever used (thanks guys) but I just don't have the time anymore to deal with the ins and outs of maintaining my own blogging software, and as you the reader will have seen, my time for writing over the past couple of years has pretty much disappeared.