Sunday, 20 June 2010

Father's day

Having the luxury of having a dad myself, it seems a little churlish to have a go at something like father's day, but really it's emotional blackmail. I call my dad once a week. We send each other texts and emails constantly taking the piss, and at the end of every text, visit and email I remind him I love him. You see, my dad's my hero. Sod off if that seems flowery, but a man who worked from the age of 20 to 50 to provide for his kids is a real man. Getting up day after day and week after week; doing it not because he wanted to, but because he had to. THAT is tenacity. It makes me ashamed that I lack the same brass and get away with the life I do. Compared to his life it's a fucking doss, and half the time I still can't be arsed with it. So when I wander into a card shop and look at a rack of people browsing the 3 quid bits of folded paper and picking the first one that catches their eye so they can pop it in the post to some guy they never see anymore, it makes me a little resentful. I don't want to send a card. People who don't care send cards. So to me, sending a card puts me on the same level as the people who can't be arsed - placating a complaining relative with a shitty, overpriced piece of card and a quick scribble on the way to the postbox. So I got him a mug instead.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

A personal reflection on wankers

The Grauniad leads on my Facebook newsfeed today with the news that the north is going to have to shoulder the burden of the recession. Which annoys me mostly because I remember the other side of the 80s. Most of you seem to live under the impression that the 80s was all new romantics and flash cars and mobile phones you could kill a child with. I remember it differently. I remember growing up around angry people struggling daily against a system which welcomed each grey morning with a new cut to services, factory closure or privatisation; all of which would end up spewing more angry people out onto the streets. I remember watching those people destroy themselves and each other in their anger with things like the Meadowell riots - I was at the college just round the corner at the time. And to rub it in, we were fed images of Thatcher and co living large down south. Life sucked. I was taught from books ten years past their sell-by date in a school full of teachers who weren't paid enough to care. Careers advice revolved around which shop or factory you wanted to work in, and entertainment revolved around where you could get drunk enough to forget yourself for the evening. Maybe I'm being unnecessarily negative but that's my memory of the 80s. And I watched it all get better in the 90s. I'm not saying that Labour were a godsend, but to be ruled by ANYONE other than the conservatives felt blissful, and it showed. Nationwide employment went down. Having a PM with a modicum of charisma meant that people worldwide started getting interested in this grey little island and threw money at our film and music industries. So how does it feel to have a government voted in who are privatising everything, screwing the north over, shedding ministers to sleaze and almost literally taking the piss? It feels like deja-fucking-vu, that's what it feels like. True, I live down south now, but my parents don't. People I grew up with don't. And neither do thousands of kids who are going to wade through the same shit I did just to get half the education a southerner does. And we're marching helplessly back towards it. Everyone I know is just shrugging their shoulders and not even having an opinion on the fact that half the fucking country is going to be miserable, likely for more than a decade. Have we really come to this? To the point where we can just shrug our shoulders and ignore half our own country?

Friday, 4 June 2010

Mass Effect 2: Thoughts

I'm going to start off by saying that Mass Effect 2 is one of those games which is like looking at a trompe d'oeil painted on an extremely thin canvas. Also, it has a big fold down the middle and occasionally sets fire to the other paintings if you don't move on to the next picture quick enough. It's a lovely painting, don't get me wrong; it's just that all these issues make repeated viewings of it incredibly annoying. Still at least it's an improvement on the first one, which tried to show you the same five paintings for sixteen fucking hours. I should probably move on from the painting metaphor. The number one problem with this game is the amount of times that it inadvertently reminds you that it IS a game, when it would have been so much easier to have realised it as a film, or a book, or possibly even an engraving on a brick which you then sling through Drew Karpyshyn's big self-promoting window. I mean who puts copies of their books in one of their own works? I'm fairly sure that at no point in A Christmas Carol can Marley be seen kicking back and reading Oliver Twist, but there they are on sale in the citadel; two of Drew's spin-offs novels about the Mass Effect series. There are a lot of problems with ME2, but also a lot of good things. To talk you through some of them, let's look at an example side mission - Thane's loyalty quest, in which a member of your team tracks down his son. His son has started to go off the rails by becoming an assassin, which kind of makes bottles of white lightning in the park at 3am seem quite tame in comparison. But then again as Drew Karpyshyn keeps reminding us, this is THE FUTURE, so maybe he became an assassin after drinking too much LAZER cider. On the moon. Or something (See, this is why I don't write SciFi). Anyway, the police officer who helps you all the way through the quest seems to be bending a lot of rules in your favour, and one of the conversation options asks why he IS helping you out, and he answers "Do you think your friend is the only guy who messed up raising his son?" And then looks away sadly. Or would do, if the facial animation system looked anything less than terrifying, especially the smiles. People in ME2 grin like rapists invited to a sleepover, and I can only assume that in the future, botox is mandatory. Regardless, it was a nice surprise to see a background NPC acting like anything but the one-function sock-puppets ME1 was peopled with. Questioning motivations is a common theme in ME2, where the main character (Shephard) gets roped into doing things by dodgy people and then blithely accepts a tiny soundbite that essentially boils down to "Because I'm evil, but FUCK, look at THOSE guys." Which is all well and good, except for the fact that Shephard only seems to call people on it when it's convenient for the plotting. In fact you can pretty much tell a double-cross is coming by the fact that Shephard follows someone's orders WITHOUT questioning them beforehand. The other problem is that it really makes fuck all difference to the narrative. In the main quests Shepherd's reasons for working for Cerberus (the organisation that spent most of the side quests in ME1 trying to kill him) are rattled off without your consent in various cutscenes. Thankfully you can skip them with the X button, which - thanks to ME2 - might as well be renamed the clitoris for the amount of teenagers who'll be frustratedly bashing away at it. And the only time you can refuse to work for someone on moral grounds is during side quests, in which case you don't get to do that mission, you don't get the experience and you don't get the boxes of minerals lying around suspiciously. Oh Christ, the minerals. I'm sorry but this is yet another quality Bioware product ground right down by annoying grinding bollocks. I think I've worked it out. It's elves. It has to be. Bioware work incredibly hard during the day to craft an intuitive and natural interface and then seamlessly weave a narrative around it, going home at the end of the day proud of their good work. Then somewhere around midnight, a bunch of elves show up and decide to spot-weld an incredibly annoying upgrade system to it that revolves around scanning planets for minerals. I'm sorry, I know EVE online is very big at the moment but if I wanted to play manic miner I'd dig out my sodding spectrum. The thing is, you HAVE to use the scanner if you want to upgrade your character, otherwise you really start to suffer as the difficulty curve rises. But if you thought driving round a lazily generated fractal landscape was bad in ME1, just wait until you get to the end game and need to scrape through entire systems just to get enough minerals to survive the final encounter. Which is probably the biggest problem with ME2. I'm fairly sure that everyone playing it knows that halfway through the game you get sucked into a suicide mission to save the galaxy, and that pretty much anyone who isn't flagged as loyal by that point will die at the end. My first issue with this is that it crops up after a certain mission, so everyone knows right off the bat to avoid doing the IFF mission. Which is somewhat breaking the realism a little if you can bugger around in space for months mining and beating up pirates, and then all of a sudden you've got the space of about five minutes to stop the entire universe from ending. I kind of liked the way Oblivion did it, with more and more random demons popping up about the place until it gets annoying enough to sort out, but since in ME2 the enemies are all stuck behind one relay and pretty much stay behind it until you invade their space, it kind of makes me feel like I'm the one starting the war. Which again, leads us to an immersion-breaking background problem. Halfway through the game, two of my team decided to have a massive barney in front of me and put me on the spot, asking me which one of them was right. Now normally when I'm faced with this sort of question from a woman, I take the only logical option: set fire to myself and leap through the nearest window. However since this wasn't a speech option, I had to choose; and after several save / reload attempts, it became apparent that one of them will always become pissed off and disloyal to you. Which is fine in a normal game, but not in one that makes it clear in almost all of it's advertising that you have to get the ENTIRE party out alive, and disloyal party members are very likely to be killed unpleasantly. Fantastic. Even worse, the only way you can talk them round is by having a 100% good or evil score, which means that EVERY conversation after that point, you're not doing what you want. You can't disagree with the black and white morality system if you want everyone out alive, so you end up hunting through every dialogue trying to work out which speech options will give you +good or +bad points. And because of this, it highlights the weirdly skewed sense of morality the game has. Example: The Krogan are a race who are dying out because of a genetic plague that causes only 1/1000 to survive childbirth, but Shephard is evil if he keeps research on a cure because it was acquired using live testing. It hypes up the debate on killing being wrong in the name of testing on live subjects; yet it ignores the attatched debate on whether abortion is murder by simply not mentioning it, and assuming that stillbirth is OK. Even the Krogan don't seem terribly upset about it anymore. Now I want to state absolutely that i'm not condoning either viewpoint, but for fuck's sake, you don't package an issue like that in a five minute conversation that boils down to a yes / no answer that brands you as good or evil. One the one hand the game clearly WANTS to be morally complex, but on the other hand it just isn't thought through well enough to really pull it off. And there are other inconsistencies. Your pilot, Joker's legs are one - In the first game it was explained that the bones in his legs are basically hollow and he needs to walk with crutches. To start with, this makes the sequence where you're running through the ship as Joker all the more tense because you don't want the poor bastard to break like glass. Except he's able to limp along without crutches now. But I mean, in the first game they explained he was OK as long as he was caref- oh, he's crawling through ducts. Well, maybe his knees aren't brittle? Oh shit he fell over, Jeff, noo- wait, he's fine, what the crap? Now he's firing an assault rifle on full auto. Wait, I'M firing an assault rifle, when I haven't been carrying or able to fire one all game. It's just that it tries so hard to be an immersive world and narrative but it just keeps falling down because of technical issues that just bring you back to the fact that it's a game, so all your actions HAVE to be moral absolutes if you want to succeed. And you can't force people to make moral choices in a black or white axis, unless you work for Fox News. No seriously, I checked it out, they've got a patent and everything.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

James Cameron has Successfully Melted my Higher Brain Functions.

Well, I had heard the metaphor in Avatar wasn't subtle, and I suppose having finally seen the finished product, neither is much else in there. This film pretty much sums up the ADHD generation: glittery, sparkly surface with absolutely no substance - or more importantly, story. Actually I take that back: it does have a story, albeit a limping mutant wanked together from the leftovers of the Matrix and Dances with Wolves. If you never thought you'd see a Kevin Costner / Keanu Reeves hybrid, there's a good reason for that; and if you can get past the HD porn the screen's peppered with, you'll see why. To coin a phrase from Charlie Brooker, the film "looks like a fireworks display being sick." For all it's showy, glittering magnificence, you can sum up the amount of things VITAL to the plot in one sentence: a man transfers his consciousness into the body of an alien and goes native just in time for his asshole boss to decide to blow everything up. All else is window dressing - window dressing of a standard as yet unseen in cinema, but window dressing nonetheless. Yes it's very colourful, but so was Timmy Mallet and I don't want him to mount a comeback after such a long break in his career either. I can only hope that Avatar basically marks the pinnacle of visuals-over-content film-crafting, and makes any further cgi one-upmanship so impossible that frustrated producers are forced to fall back on such forgotten tricks as cinematography, or strong writing, or not casting people who look eerily like Mark Wahlberg. From a writer's perspective it's abysmal. It falls prey to a weird ongoing meme Hollywood has of pretending that not only can someone master an ability it took everyone else years to learn, they can do it in three months and better than most of the people who've been doing it for the last twenty years. It even comes in the kind of montage sequence that makes it painfully clear that Cameron HASN'T been in films since the nineties, although it does lead to one of the film's best contrasts - Jake getting back to the real world after a particularly active session, only to sling his painfully atrophied legs over the edge of the pod. I can't help but feel however that the World of Warcraft addicts who would have benefitted most from the metaphor were too busy typing 'hot tail on tail action' into Google. Speaking of the amount of times Jake fucks things with his mullet, god help us once BangBros decides to make a porn parody of this. If the film is any indication, the amount of times people have to rape - sorry, forcibly 'see' - horses, dragons and trees, the end result is probably only going to be seen in Sweden and bittorrent (which amount to much the same thing). You've also got your cookie-cutter antagonist with no real motivation apart from the obvious 'greed' and 'getting raging hard-ons for explosions,' which means they should have just gotten James Cameron to play him. The entire cast are characters there to fulfil a function rather than having a rounded existence of their own - the marine with the right genetic code, the aloof scientist to hate and then bond with him and the asshole corporation guy, who's all corporationy, and he likes money and stuff. Also, I'm just going to say 'unobtanium' once and then move onto the next paragraph, because I'm sure I don't need to say any more than that. The point is, if you simplified any one of the CGI sequences you'd have absolutely nothing of interest or merit left in that part of the film. The sequence where Jake wanders off on his first time out and gets attacked by a hammerhead-rhino and then a panther-rhino and then a bunch of mini-rhinos would be far less interesting if you imagined it as just a man in Africa wandering away from the group, for two good reasons: (A) You'd think he was a dick for wandering off and (B) you'd think he was a dick for wandering off when his commanding officer (who survived several tours of the place that got Jake paralysed) turns around with a fucking great scar and points out how extremely deadly a planet it actually is. This motivates the entire plot, and for a plot starter, you have to admit it's pretty weak. He wanders off. If the inciting incident of a character's epic journey is that he's a little bit ADHD... actually no fuck it, that works; at least Cameron is relating to his audience. I'm not even going to bother going into the ludicrous Iraq metaphor - complete with randomly inserted moralising by side characters - because at some point halfway through the film, I gave up. James Cameron successfully destroyed my higher brain functions to the point that I am now left with a post-masturbation level of shame about having enjoyed myself. Seriously, that's all this film is, it's an eye-wank. It's the part of your brain that kidded itself it needed a 64" 1080p TV with surround sound giving itself a pat on the back because this film is probably the first ever to actually make use of it. It doesn't matter that the film is peopled by laughable stereotypes, because that's what a cheesy visual feast needs. It doesn't matter that the plot is CGI padding, because there is a lot of CGI to prop up, and very impressive it is as well. And it doesn't even matter that some important part of my brain is screaming at me to stop writing all these treacherous lies and I've got a university education for god's sake and I should be watching the copy of Citizen Kane that's glaring balefully at me. I don't care about any of those things when the explosions and pretty lights are shining. Cameron has managed to out-Michael-Bay Michael Bay, and that's an achievement in itself. All in all I give it two thumbs up - James Cameron's ass. Which he'd probably consider some form of bonding.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Britain's got Chlamidia

Britain's got history. Britain's got an inescapable charm that makes tourists gloss over the chavs, late trains and cost of everything. And according to the Health Protection Agency, nearly 10% of Britain's got Chlamydia. But judging by the recurring nightmare of weekend TV, one thing I would be reluctant to say Britain has got, is talent. At this point I'd love to run through a list of the opening acts from last weekend; highlighting which ones shone, which ones burned the skin from my eardrums and which ones had suspiciously tear-jerking backstories. But the problem is, I just don't want to. I've seen enough Big Brothers, X-Factors and Fame Academies to realise that sitting down to watch another one would be like tracking down a previous mugger and offering him a hammer. And then telling him he's got gay shoes. All these shows do is highlight the reason we have celebrities, actors and rockstars instead of listening to the guy down the street with the guitar - your average, common or garden citizen is boring as shit. Actually I take that back - judging by a few episodes of CSI and Bones in which lumps of shit were used to extract vital forensic clues, shit is at least interesting enough to write an episode centering around it. Whereas judging by the steady stream of nonentities pouring out of reality TV these days, average people are the precise demographic the production companies fail to attract. After all, I often find myself sitting in a pub surrounded by tables full of normal people, and while I don't want to go over and engage them in idle chit chat, I don't want to punch them in the face until one of us starts bleeding either. Unless of course, they're one of those people. The ones who are either talking loudly about nothing or "amusing" their "friends" with their "wacky antics." In other words, your average reality TV participant. Admittedly, there's something voyeuristically satisfying about locking them all in together somewhere and watching them annoy each other instead of us, but without dropping weapons and exacerbating grafitti into the arena (as I dream of someday being able to call it), I just don't see the point. Anyway, you'll have to excuse me for now. There's a man with a hammer at my door again, nodding suggestively at the bloodstained meat-tenderiser in his fist.

Saturday, 3 April 2010

A Brave New World

"The telephone is a fantastically rude invention - it's like someone bursting into your office, banging on your desk and yelling 'Speak to me! Speak to me!" Stephen Fry said that, and he knows stuff about things. Me, I have an abusive relationship with phones. A while back, I was sitting watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer (yes I know) with a friend ten years younger than me (yes, I know), and one of the characters had failed to meet the other at a cafe at a prearranged time. She asked why she didn't call the missing person's mobile, and I explained that it was filmed in the late nineties, not everyone had a mobile then. I didn't get my first mobile 'til about 99, and it was a brick. But the point is, she sat for a second, processed this information, and then asked possibly one of the worst things you can say to someone ten years older than you: "What was life like before mobile phones?" Well for one thing, we were fucking organised. It seems impossible to impress on anyone younger than 25 the baffling notion that I don't want to be available to them 24 hours a day, and that this is in no way a slight on them. For years I've apologised, made excuses and avoided talking on phones and come away feeling like I'm the antisocial one, as if by not immediately answering people's calls and texts I'm personally slighting everyone I know. But sod you all. I was just drifting off for an afternoon nap when my phone clattered onto vibrate beside me and woke me up. What was it's message? An urgent request for kidney donors of my registered blood type? Something's on fire? Zooey Deschanel is wandering through town and she's totally getting them out for anyone who asks? No, it was a stupid sodding chain text, the same one I've recieved three times so far today. I've had enough. Don't get me wrong, I love my mobile as a compressed piece of technology. The fact that it's a decent digital camera (well, mine is), an mp3 player, web browser and java platform all packed into a pocket sized shell is great. It's handy. It's the nearest I'll ever get to owning a sonic screwdriver in this lifetime. But every time the damn thing fulfils it's primary function by ringing, I feel that moment of irritation, of interruption. I know it's going to ring, and if I cut it off the caller's going to try again in a few seconds assuming a network fault. If I leave it to ring, it'll only go off with a voicemail in a bit, and then there's the inevitable 'tried to call you' text that follows, and the texts that follow THAT if you don't answer. You can't win, and it's not even your fault - you HAVE to deal with a ringing phone, even if it's just to throw it in a ravine. It's not just mobiles though. Xbox Live - now that I've accidentally paid for Gold again - is starting to get the same. I go online to play something single player, and if I've accidentally left the network cable plugged in, I get bombarded with requests to play multiplayer. At least I used to have the excuse of being a silver subscriber, but now people know I'm gold, they won't leave me be when all I want to do is load up Dead Rising quickly and smash zombies with hammers. We have so many exciting new avenues open to us now to irritate the shit out of each other, and it's done something fundamentally terrible to our society. It's the bloody invasiveness of it all that gets me. Peripheral hangers-on in a group at the pub could be ignored or avoided, or fobbed off with promises that you'll get back to them later. But now they're on your Facebook - they have to be, or you'd get a successive stream of whiny messages and requests until you add them. And then they can see and involve themselves in everything you do, which just makes their presence even more invasive. MSN, Facebook chat, mobiles, email... It's like we've armed all the bastards with sharp sticks and then wonder why everyone keeps getting poked all day long. And I realise: It's not a brave new world at all. It's a sodding annoying one.

A Memory of Gaming

Nostalgia is a strange thing. The same part of my brain that stared back at me in bafflement this morning as I tried to remember where I'd put the key for the back door is the same part that effortlessly flew through the first chapter of Doom this morning as though it had been five minutes since I last played it, and not more like 15 years. Memory, it seems is a fickle bitch on the scale of Catherine the Great. >I do find myself worrying about how much I forget nowadays. Even worse is when I misremember something. I don't mean forgetting something; that's a simple absence of knowledge. No, misremembering is when you've gotten two things mixed up or been creatively filling in the blanks, and have a clear, defined mental image of something that never fucking happened. When you let thoughts like this enter your head, it's like a virus. Because if all your knowledge and assumptions are based on the thoughts that lead up to them, then having a misremembered fact or conclusion in there is like sticking a plasticine girder at the bottom of a skyscraper. Actually more like a beehive (I can switch metaphors if I want). Either way the foundations are rotten and all the conclusions that lead off it are unsound. I went through most of my teenage years - right up to university in fact - believing that birds were a separate classification to animals (an idea that can be blamed on a primary school teacher with horrific pronunciation issues). I mention this only in case I've misremembered two important facts that make me angry at the government's recent howling ravine of twattery, the Digital Economy Bill (I say recent; it being from a British government, it's moving at the pace of an entirely spavid horserace). The stupidity in question?
"Improving digital security and safety, by putting in place a classification system for boxed video games that meets the needs of parents and children... protecting children by making age ratings compulsory for all boxed games designed for those aged 12 or above."
Excuse me if my brain is farting out soup again, But don't we already have two different systems of ratings? Isn't the BBFC system, at least, already enforced by statute? I am so pissing sick of hearing about how the gaming industry needs regulation and we're selling violent games to children. I remember (but again, this is just my flawed, personal recollection) working at a branch of Game and being told by the manager that the flaming mount of shit the store would be in if we sold games to underage kids would see us out of a job the second we were found out. Parents who will stand there and bleat about their right to make decisions for themselves, and how dare some shop monkey tell them what they can and can't buy for their family; when all the frustrated minimum-wager is doing (between grinding their teeth into a fine powder) is explaining that they're not even supposed to sell the game to someone if they suspect it's being bought on behalf of a minor. It's fairly obvious you're not buying Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II for yourself when your son is standing beside you making sure you buy the right one, you asked for the Sony Wiibox 360 thing and he's telling you how he can't wait to play it when he gets home. Imagine doing this with alcohol or cigarettes and then tell me it's not retarded. There clearly are some games that are completely unsuitable for children. That's because they are designed, marketed and statuted to be sold to adults. And some fucking retards can't get their weird, smug, punchable heads round the idea. Lazy parents and Daily Mail readers want acts like these so they can sit their kid in front of the idiot box and never have to deal with the actual meat and two veg of parenting: guiding your child through life experiences by talking to and spending time with them, instead of wrapping them in cotton wool and trying to keep the wolves from the door. Preparing them for the adult world, instead of trying to destroy the adult world for your child's 'safety.' It's also going to stifle the slowly growing sector of mature, well scripted games that make full use of a storytelling pallette. I'm not talking about things like Manhunt or Mad World, the modern equivalent of 80s video nasties; I'm talking about games like Borderlands where the adult content is so subtly woven into the audio logs and enemy responses, removing it would completely strip the realism from the lawless borderworld setting. Or the Modern Warfare series' single player campaigns, which (in bizarre contrast to the multiplayer content) try to show the full gravity of war and death by facing incredibly dark themes in an incredibly dark way. More importantly, these games have the freedom to do so under current statute, and saying there is no protection for children is a bare-faced lie. But if we let the Alan Titchmarshes and Claire Rayners of the world hop onto a new censorship bill, will companies be willing to let designers make games like these in an ever more 'financially aware' climate (by which I mean publishers and producers shitting themselves over every minor factor that could contribute to a project's failure)? The issue isn't stores selling unsuitable games to kids, it's the stores selling them to protesting parents who have no idea what the hell they're passing on to their kids. But unfortunately, the one thing the government won't try and regulate is stupid and negligent parents.

Friday, 2 April 2010

It's a Good Start

Since I despise blogs that start with "This is my first blog; I'm an idiot and I have nothing to say" with all the piss and vinegar of an impotent dictator, I'm going to start with a story. It's not a good story - for a start it doesn't have a dragon, there's nary a whiff of damsel in distress and it has about as much regard for the three-act-structure as a toddler does for A Brief History of Time. Stick with it though, there's a good bit near the end. Having not slept since arriving back from an uncharacteristically hedonistic evening involving jagerbombs, breasts and my first visit to a city centre pub at night in around two years, I wandered downstairs at six in the morning (making a mental note that there is a six o'clock in the morning as well) to make myself a cheese toastie. My sandwich maker had, as usual, been packed neatly onto the top of the fridge at some point, and - being unwilling to wake my housemates getting it down - took some bread out of the freezer and put it in the toaster to defrost. After stepping aside briefly to allow one of our ant kitchen guests to pass, I buttered the toast, grated the cheese onto it and popped it back into the toaster. Outside the window morning was, if not breaking, cracking slightly around the edges and looking worryingly fragile. The kettle boiled. I watched the aforementioned ant report back to the two guards stationed beside the takeaway container, wondering to myself that the only thing standing between them and agonising oblivion was my laziness in not being arsed to get the spray from the cupboard. At some point during the planning stages of the oncoming Formicidae holocaust, the toast popped, I popped it on a plate and opened the fridge to put the butter back. It was then that I noticed the jar of sandwich pickle. And now I have a perfectly serviceable toasted cheese sandwich which will remain marred forever by the thought that it could have been so much more. I'm hoping that somewhere in that last post you got something of an idea of who I am, and what sort of blog this is going to be.