Blogging with Extra Functionality

Playing around with some of Blogger’s posting features I recently stumbled across a means of publishing scheduled posts. Essentially you write your post as you normally would in the HTML or compose box and then adjust the date and time settings as needed. Set the post for some time in the future and Blogger will automatically publish the post to your blog when it is scheduled.

Had I known about this feature a year ago it would have made things a lot easier for me with the Platform Gaming blog this year. No more strained nights to get things published day of. No more Word documents waiting to be uploaded or left as drafts. Automatic publishing would mean I could prepare articles to go live days or weeks from the time of writing – I might have actually been able to stick to my planned schedule.

So, as you can image I was ecstatic to try out this new feature I’d discovered. WordPress, LiveJournal, Twitter – whatever the web service, they’re always adding and upgrading features for their users. I’m hardly an expert at HTML and the moment someone mentions the logistics behind web coding my eyes cross. I do however know what I like to see in good web design and the sort of functionality that makes users lives that much easier. After attempting to use the scheduled posts feature twice – with it failing on both attempts – I’ve found myself getting rather nonplussed.

That was until I found my way to the official Blogger in Draft blog that explained that ‘Scheduled Posts only work when you’ve logged in to’. However, that was back in February 2008 and I’m pretty sure the feature would have gone live by now. Blogger in Draft is more or less a beta version of Blogger that gives users the chance to use new features and give the admins feedback on them. If there is a problem with the system I’m going to try and figure out a solution so I can unlock a whole new level of publishing efficiency, but in the meantime, thought, I think checking out Blogger in Draft isn’t a bad idea.

Golden Age Corrupted

In early 2007, when was I but a confused A Level student studying at my high school Sixth Form, my English Language group had the great opportunity to meet an author, Kevin Brooks. Still an up-and-coming author then, he was on the road to promote his brand new book, Being, and had come to, of all places, my school to share some of his stories and possible put a few of us off ever wanting to be writers.

I can’t recall much of the discussion, or the Q&A that forwarded – although I did ask him a rather good question that earned a thought provoking answer from him plus a signed copy of his book, but I do remember one important thing that has stayed with me these many months. During his discussion he hinted at latest work, the book he was then still finishing, was about teenagers and their golden age. At the time he seemed slightly unsure whether the concept was something a lot of teenagers could relate too, but I remember me eyes widening and bobbing my head in agreement as he alluded to some of the reasons behind his ideas.

Sixth Form was hard graft from me – on a personal level and social level. My best friend and partner in crime, who I’d known since reception (kindergarten for my North American pals out there), had moved to Surrey which meant that I hardly ever saw him. With so many people leaving after high school social groups changed and people were a lot more accepting of each other in ‘Sixth Form’. However, I just don’t think I settled. There was my core group of friends – some of which left themselves after a year, the mutual friends I knew from lessons and about the school, and then there was the small group – of comparatively new friends – I found myself getting closer and closer to each day. Carefree times. Fun times. Good times. Back then it never felt like the good times would end…

I promised myself that the moment Kevin Brook’s novel on his self-styled teenage ‘golden age’ was released I would track down a copy to relieve myself of at least some of the uncertainty I felt back then. I don’t know. Past memories, old feelings, broken promises. Everything was horribly persistent then and things only seem to have gotten worst over the years. Change. The people I knew aren’t who they once were. I’m not sure if I ever really did know them? Well, pulling the book out from the bottom of the box it’s been in since February last year, I’ve manage to find some comfort in Black Rabbit Summer.

A seemingly unthreatening synopsis that doesn’t even begin to touch the base of this book’s astounding spirit can be read on its blurb. Quite honestly, this story of loss, love, reminisce and the dark side of teenage desire has rightly won my approval as the most relatable and unsettling book I’ve read this year thus far.

Pete Boland, the unknowing, self-doubting sixteen year old, is the story’s main protagonist, and, in what seems to be a trademark of Brook’s style, it is all in first-person. The author’s insistent and intentional focus on the confusion and misdirection of his characters is also something that came through in, Being, and is once again prominent here. It’s something that’s not particularly exciting to describe, sentence structure, repetition, alliteration and all that technical English jargon that I’ve now given me life over to, but you feel it nonetheless.

Of course, the story itself is the real meat here and it’s a tantalising mix of modern mystery, lies, conflicting emotions, drug abuse and tragedy. What starts out as a long, lonely, ‘mindless’ summer for Pete soon unravels at the seams as his best friend, Raymond, disappears at the local funfair. Meanwhile, Stella Ross, the talentless schoolgirl heart throb turned nasty celebrity glamour girl, goes missing from the funfair that same night. Worst still, the only reason Pete is there that night, uneasy, bemused and half-drunk, is because his boyhood love, Nicole, invited him to a reunion with the rest of the “old gang” at their bramble-enclosed den – only Pete’s friends aren’t who they us to be any more.

Pacing the story as much more of a tale of personal discovery, the reader follows Pete as he tries to find his friend and uncover the mystery of Stella’s disappearance. Along the way he has to deal with gruff policemen, concerned parents, brutish kids from the Greenway estate and their leader, Wes Campbell, the demented Pauly Gilpin, the sullen Eric Leigh, and slowly learns revelations about the past. The worst thing about it all is that some parts and characters seem frighteningly familiar to me.

You won’t find any secret agents jumping motorbikes over exploding oil tankers, or dry accounts of historical townships… but you will get a story that isn’t afraid to grab your arm and yank it somewhere painful. A story that challenges all those misgivings, regrets and wonders you’ve had if you’ve ever passed an old friend and wished thongs had turned out differently. A story with grimy, tough-to-love characters that delight you one moment, and then shock you the next. A story that pulls your own heart strings for recalls of places, old friends and past emotions. It’s not happy, it’s not pretty, at times it’s downright disturbing, but it’s a masterful representation of teenage life and troubled friendships.

Not the prefect read if you’re looking for a ‘summer of fun’, too sombre for that, but a rewarding departure for anyone looking to strength their emotional mettle with the dominion of personal memories.

Now that I’ve finished the tale, I wonder what Black Rabbit would have to say…

Earth sour-sweet, like the crimson moonlit sky tonight.

Crystal Cloud Summer

Evening, I hope you’re relaxing with a refreshing mug of tea, a cold glass of lemonade or perhaps just munching a sandwich, as you look out at the rays of sunlight stream through your window.

Today has been one of those days where you have plenty to keep you busy yet you only seem to manage one or two of the tasks you intended to accomplish. I watched a bit of E3 coverage, a music video or two, resurrected my digital camera with a new life-giving battery, and of course, endured the terrible news that broke in the early hours this morning (I will blog about this particular subject in a future post).

On a more upbeat note, I received Ghostbusters in all its hi-def glory today on Blu-ray Disc! And remarkably, at the time of posting, I still haven’t found time to sit down and watch it. Hmm… my brother has been playing a lot of inFamous lately – on the only Blu-ray player currently in my house, so that explains part of reason. Other than that I’ve been browsing the net and general doing anything other than using entertainment media. Hee Hee. I clearly need more hours to fit in all of the reading, listen, watching and playing I wish to do this summer.

Well, I’ll have much, much more for you very soon. My stock of video game comics are waiting patiently to be torn apart, then put back together again in barely-acceptable opinionated descriptions. My game collection has many titles, such as Okami, Fable II, Prince of Persia and Afrika, for me to explore. And there’s plenty more travels, wonders and thoughts I wish to explore with the help of JTTE this summer. I’m ready and I’m going to do my best to make it as entertaining as possible. Excelsior!

Comic Revival

I really shouldn’t be writing this right now… I should be finishing my packing as I’m leaving Notts in about eighteen hours. No matter. I’m sure I’ll get enough sleep and be back in London in no time.

Yes, today was my last day in Nottingham. I shan’t go into a huge longwinded account of it all, as much as I might like to. I strolled around town for a good couple of hours, met a friend for a final goodbye and then headed home. Oh, I also picked up the Black Eyed Peas’ new single ‘Boom Boom Pow’ on a strange impulse; wouldn’t buy the album though. Currently my first floor flat in student residence is cluttered with boxes and plastic bags fit to burst. The fridge is almost empty and I’m sick to death of having plain pasta and rice – no sauces in the larder. I can’t wait to get back home!

Actually, aside from wandering the many streets and alleyways, and gazing pensively at the SLR cameras behind the shop window, there was one more thing I did. I visited Page 45 for my final comic book fix of the uni year. Ever since the start of term, when I headed through the store’s innocent-looking doorway for a quick browse, I’ve been in there at least twice a month. Sometime just browsing, flicking through the odd comic or graphic novel and sometimes buying several comics fresh off the delivery truck.

With DC Comics subsidiary, WildStorm, announcing a spate of video game licensed comic book series last year, my interest in collecting comics has been rekindled. Serialised stories, spectacular covers and gripping narratives. It’s been thrilling to hunt down comics from
WildStorm, Marvel, Dynamite, Image, Dark Horse and Udon, in my self-assigned mandate to archive and review as many video game comic books as I can.

Until I’ve settled down and digested a couple of them properly I’m afraid I don’t wish to spoil them just yet. There are no secrets here, but I feel my comic posts will be more exciting for me and you, dear reader, if just post raw thoughts, revised analyses and opinions on complete series. I’ve been very fortunate to have acquired a good number of video game comics this year – having started only last autumn. Some series and individual comics have been notoriously difficult to find, but it been well worth it.

Here, amongst my sellotape-sealed containers and bags, it’s gratifying to have such creative treats safely packed away in my rucksack. I can’t wait to lie back in my own bed and indulge in the visual splendour of their pages.

Ooze, Shampoo and Power Rangers

Ah, the 90s, how I love them so. You know, it’s incredible to me that almost ten years has passed since the days of the VHS golden age, CD swapping, quality kids’ TV, game show obsessions with gunge, Pogs and cheesy pre-teen movies. Actually nothing has changed with respect to this last one, judging from all from all the Hannah Montana and High School Musical flicks out there.

In the 90s kids TV shows didn’t come with more campiness, low budget SFXs and pre-teen appeal than Power Rangers. It was the show that everybody watched, yet most never admitted to – since the cool kids and your best mate’s older cousin said it was for babies, but I bet they watched it too. I mean, sparks flew off of their spandex suits whenever the Rangers were hit, they had zords and fought evil humanoid bug things. OK, so it seems a little dated now, ridiculous even, but back then it was one of the entertainment highlights of the weekday. Straight in from school, plonk yourself on the settee and, bang, watch Power Rangers.

And, of course, when you’re a major kids TV series the next vital step to take is to turn your series into a multimillion dollar movie franchises. Mighty Morphing Power Rangers: The Movie wasn’t going to win any Academy Awards by any stretch, but I remember when I finally got the chance to see it, after month of schoolyard-hype, I was ecstatic. I’m not here to review it. Maybe I’ll pick it up later to have a bit of a laugh at my own rose-tinted childhood memories.

If you are the faint of heart I suggest you stop reading this instant. I wish, instead, to subject you to a slice of 90s movie promotion at its best, or rather, at its worse. Shampoo, the teen-bop-bubblegum-girls of Britain, damaged all our minds irreparably once their #11 song, ‘Trouble’, was picked as the signature track for the Power Rangers movie. The lyrics make no attempt to address the audience with colossal metaphors but are simply catchy enough to get under your skin, Kaleidoscope backgrounds, fixed camera positions, cheap CG effects and zero outfit changes for the featured artists. It’s ssssooooo nineties. Uh oh, we’re in trouble…

UNI – Season One – Terminated

Rest. That is something I’ve not had in a long while now. Ten months, nine essays, eleven student magazine issues and some 5000 litres of water later and I’ve finished my first year of university. Technically, I’ve been finished since late May, when I did my final exam, but I still had loads of additional tasks to complete then. With the exception of my personal goals, I’m now completely free to do whatever I wish. Party, explore, lazy about my half-empty student residence, play games all night, sleep in till the afternoon, read books, comics and magazines all day, spend two hours in the shower – all of these ideas and many more are possible now that the shackles of work deadlines have come off.

I remember staying up late to frantically pack as I’d left it too late, the day before I was suppose to leave for Nottingham in earlier October last year. Thinking about all that I’ve experienced and accomplished in this short space of time really is astonishing to me. Attending all three days of GameCity 3, interviewing the likes of Media Molecule, Harmonix, Capcom and the creators behind GoldenEye 007, becoming Platform’s second Gaming Editor, setting the schedule for print and online content and working to frequent deadlines, finding a team of competent and talented contributors, writing news articles, features and reviews, emailing PRs, publishers and the odd developer, waking up in the twilight hours for game launch events, exploring Nottingham’s streets, cultures and history, being honoured at the Student Union awards and partying with co-workers and friends. And all this whilst struggling (and I most certainly did at times) to complete a Media & Journalism degree, cook food and make sure I had clean clothes.

Quite honestly, I think it’s a miracle I even managed to survive the first term. I’ve only just wrapped this year but already I’ve got big plans for next year. Yesterday, Platform’s Editor-in-Chief for 2009-2010, gave me the pleasant news, and news that I’m sure will haunt me during next year’s frightful essay-blitz, that I have retained my position as Gaming Editor, but will also be taking up an additional role next year as Online Editor. Trent Media has been a huge part of my first uni year – I’d even go so far as to say it’s been the best part – and next year I’m hoping to take things even further. I’ve spoken to a number of the Union’s committees and I’m hoping to get involved in other areas of the Union, particularly with the student radio station, Fly FM, where I hope to produce a one-week gaming event.

While I’m still dreading the thought of having to balance all my activities with my education and day-to-day tasks next year, I’m still greatly excited about the possibilities and prospects open to me at university. Before I get too ahead of myself though I’d like to have a well-earned rest and enjoy a long, long, LONG and overly leisurely holiday. Yes, please. No more deadlines, no more tired nights spent writing, no more unruly students giving me unnecessary stress. I’m going to take it easy.

Tonight I’m off to the final end of term party at the SU building. Music, dancing, photos, glowsticks and candyfloss – it should be tons of fun. It’s been tough year, but at last I can get some rest. Peace.

Alton Towers or bust

Last week I visited Alton Towers amusement park for the first time and let me tell you it was quite a fun-filled day. Several people from NTSU organisations, including Initi8, RAG, WelCam and Platform joined together for this one-day venture. By car and minibus we made our way through the quiet, bendy lanes of Staffordshire to find the theme park hidden amid a deep forest.

Built on the grounds of a 17th century estate, my strange love of frightful themes has always left me fascinated by Alton Towers. The 90s adverts for the park, particularly the one for Nemesis which debuted when was about four, pretty much set the tone for how I envisioned Alton Towers. Edvard Grieg’s orchestral piece ‘In the Hall of the Mountain King’ is almost synonymous with the park’s promotional campaigns, and for me it certainly maintained the illusion of the place being ‘magical’. I’ve been to many theme parks over the years – Thorpe Park, Chessington, Legoland, Disneyland Paris and more – but, short of a couple American resorts, Alton Towers is by far the one I’ve wanted to experience the most.

I was chuffed to finally get the chance to visit it with friends. The large group we arrived as broke into three smaller groups to give everybody more freedom and for groups to head to different rides at their leisure. The group I was with had been there before, so they knew their way around the huge maze of rollercoasters, funfair stalls, shops and restaurants. Our early arrival also meant that we were quick to experience some of our top ride choices first.

Air, the ‘flying’ rollercoaster that straps you in by your ankles and torso before lifting you up onto the main carriage horizontally, was the first ride we flocked to. As always you wait forty-five minutes or more for these ‘thrill rides’ and they’re over before you can say “Whoo”. Somehow I managed to break my laces in the queue for Air as I attempted to fasten them extra tightly. Oops. I ended up riding it with one trainer on and my other foot bare – never mind the G-forces, my foot was freezing!

In the six-hour run around that followed we hit Nemesis, The Blade, RipSaw, Congo River Rapids, Runaway Mine Train, Duel, Rita, Submission and Spinball Whizzer. The big rides were certain thrilling in the strictest sense of the word, however, I would have liked them to have lasted longer. Rita, a rollercoaster that goes from 0-100 kmh in approximately 2.2 seconds, was OK, but I prefer Thorpe Park’s Stealth – 0-130 kmh in 1.8 seconds and it propels you round a giant upturned U.

My favourite ride of the day was without doubt, Oblivion. A long, tense climb to the apex of the track, which was made all the more nerve-racking by the noisy ride mechanics might I add, before being released straight down into a 180 ft drop. Were it any deeper I swear people would start to suffocate before emerging from the tunnel.

There’s always more to see and do than one trip ever allows at theme parks, but I’m pleased we still managed to hit eight big rides and other attractions too. I had a wonderful day and one fitting of the image I’d conjured up in my mind all these years. A few Union tales here and there tided us over in between the queue waits and one member of our party even managed to get us all discount food at lunchtime. And the gothic estate and surrounding gardens were a sight to behold. Alton Towers gets a full five skulls for it amusement excellence.

Futurama returns in 2010

“Good news everyone…”

Futurama, the animated series created by Matt Groening and David X. Cohen, set a thousand years in the future, is returning to our TV screens at long last.

The series was cancelled by Fox after just four seasons. In 2007, Fox announced a deal with Comedy Central to air reruns of the original series as well as sixteen new re-cut episodes of the recently completed Futurama DVD movies. Despite fan demand for new episodes and positive DVD sales there was still much uncertainty as to whether the show would be given the go-ahead and finally be resurrected from the dreaded pit of TV hiatus.

After years of watching, waiting and re-watching it seems the improbable has happened. Futurama returns next summer on Comedy Central with a massive twenty-six episode run planned! There’s more to the announcement, but right now I couldn’t be happier. Futurama is one of my favourite animated series and I’m sure I’ll have plenty more to discuss as we get closer to the show’s long awaited return. Be sure to check back for more “tales of interest”.