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Sunday, 31 July 2016

Power Up!

Yesterday I took a trip down to the Science Museum in South Kensington for a long awaited poke around the Power Up! exhibition.  Its a celebration of gaming and game culture through the last 40 years or so of gaming.  Imagine if you will, a bank of old consoles and computers hooked up to televisions, showing off some of their best games and all ready to be played.  This is power up.

Its a brief exhibition for the summer holidays only on for two whole weeks and occurring in 90 minute blocks.  So if you come early, be prepared to kill some time looking around the museum at some of the exhibits, my tip make your way through rocketry to the Imax bit at the back and then upstairs into the memory and humanities bit. There's a tonne of interactive stuff there and some genuinely interesting stuff on the state of who you are, failing that big fuck off rockets.

The Black Arrow the only rocket we built
So what can I see?

As everything is playable, you can make your way down to the back area where all the retro stuff is you'll notice that the first half is mostly themed around genres.  There is a timeline of sorts for Mario, Sonic, Batman and Streetfighter series although in Sonic's case that is mostly a nose dive to mediocracy.  You can relieve being at Boots the Chemist in the early 1990's with a limited play on the original Megadrive Sonic. You can hear grown kids marvelling at how shit the original FIFA was and play the updated versions too.

Me, I got a few retro kicks with some obscure stuff and relieve an old memory of my first ever encounter with Mario in the Index bit of Littlewoods Department store.  Or rather Luigi, as that's what it was (and what I thought it was called) this was the arcade version though with the extra lives dummied out and a re arranged layout pretty sure there's a romhack of this.  Edit yup.

The MAME cabs where the most interesting, with an obscure line up of platformers and puzzlers including Choko from Mitchell Corp, a Shanghai clone against the clock where you have to match pairs before the sides close in and Saboten Bombers a single screen action game like Tumble pop in which you have to clear the screen of enemies without being killed.  Oh and its the only game I know with both cactus as a hero and Huernia flowers as an enemy among other stuff.

The back area was pretty nice, they a load of old consoles with a few playable games in each cases, the Amiga contingent was brought up by James Pond on an Amiga 600, speccy fans were treated to Bombjack form Tekhan and C64 fans could play Toki running from cart.  Amstrad fans had a non playable version of Cybernoid for the 464 which was a shame but still better than the BBC which had basic up and running inviting kids to "code" something.  Atarians of course had a playable ST and the Jaguar with Jeff Minter's Tempest 2000 running (and yes the pad was still a nightmare to play with) in fact it reminds me a lot  of what TXK would become 2 decades later.

Played a load of Super Star Soldier for the PC engine before moving on to what I'd missed on the other side.  Didn't get a go on Taiko no Tatsujin or the rhythm action games sections and passed over the big lan party bits for Bomberman, Worms and Minecraft.  Did have a poke at Mickey Mouse for Master System and a ropey Batman game for PS2.  But spent the remainder playing Mario games for the Wii and Wii U.  Still not convinced the world needed motion controls or a big fuck off tablet to play either on or off screen but am convinced that Yoshi's Woolly World is a thing of loveliness.

Look everything is made of wool, you can collect yarn and unpick the landscape and push things around, its excellent and feels just like a Yoshi game should.  There is no 3DS version sadly but it what there is looks and plays ace so there.

Poking around Mario Galaxy with my first grab at the Wii motion controls, I suspect you'll get used to them  but it didn't grab me like Woolly world did.  We also played New SMB Wii which is more like the DS Mario games, they had (cliche alert) a slippy slidey ice world with a Hammer bro lobbing snowballs and various icicles to dodge.  Did briefly get a penguin suit but then it was time up and had to leave.
Let the games begin.

Final thoughts is this, if there are a family and one or more of you are a gamer you can show your youngsters what you were playing then and how stuff has changed.  Also give them a go on a few old consoles to see how far we have come even play multiplayer I see Mario Kart and Bomberman for some old school fun.

Power up 22nd July - 7th August. £8 to get in Adult and Child tickets available on line and on the door from here.

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Disaster Report.

Thanks to some stuff and nonsense in the week I lost my PC to a massive crash the kind where you have to unplug because ctrl alt del doesn't work.  Thanks to that, it corrupted my hard drive so the only thing I could do was boot up in linux and see what could be salvaged.  Thanks to a partial back up, I didn't lose much just videos, documents and a music folder I haven't added to in ages, most  will be on back ups on removable drives from when I did it a few months ago.

The upshot is that I now have a new PC, a nice I7 laptop from Asus (incidentally does anyone else pronounce it ace us instead of ah Zeus) and a nice Numark Recording turntable from Maplin.
(you can skip the next two paragraphs if you want to know how to set that up my impressions).

PC is a laptop (which is new for me) and currently has a few custom additions by myself namely an external keyboard and mouse because a touch pad is an awful fucking contraption, leaving you cramped up like a zombie hunched over the screen.  Also added a external USB hub so it doesn't clog up what USB ports I have left and of course banished most of Windows 10 with Classic Shell and unpinned Cortana from the start bar.  The only thing left to do is to comb through the back shell bits and turn off all the ads and tracking bollocks though if you use free software you'll be used to that in some degree or other.

Relegated the old rig upstairs and put Linux Mint Sarah on it which was easy enough (ironically my cousin was called Sarah and yeah she was easy enough too ;). It looks fucking lush and sort of apes win 10 in its interface, finally added a network adaptor to the USB hub upstairs and added the address of my new VM  super hub. Result all devices are playing ball, which is a novelty for me as it was an absolute bastard to add the old PC to.

The Numark is the Numark TT USB turntable (on offer for £100) a lightweight plastic deck with a few pro parts and pieces.  It came with a link for EZ tape and vinyl recovery software for Vista and XP, but I've snubbed this for my legit Goldwave and Audacity combo that has stood the test of time for me.

Watch out when unboxing as there are several parts hidden in the polystyrene that are easy to over look, such as the stylus head and counterweight.  These are easily added and once the stylus cover is removed and weight calibrated you are all set up to go.  This is currently running from the separate system through the RCA ports at the back and the switch to line in. So far I cannot vouch for the USB connectivity but I'm happy with everything else.

Like Depeche Mode says, its important to "get the balance" right.  You must screw the counterweight in until you get it to balance perfectly and when its set right you're all set to go.
So far I've tried it out with UB40 in dub and its been good (though a brand new stylus helps) just need a few other things to add and I'll be set.

Pro's are: easy to set up and quite lightweight.  +/-8 slider for true DJ speed control.

Minuses: Plastic finish makes it look quite ugly.  Can be fiddly for those not used to a pro set up.
Easily over looked parts in packaging (seriously we found the counterweight when throwing away the polystyrene).

Sunday, 17 July 2016

The Crossley Cruiser

I'm currently without a record player, I don't know how you feel about this but I'm kinda lost without something to play records with.  My old deck is part of a really old Sharp separate system that comprises of a base receiver and radio, a tape deck and a record player.  We picked it up at a bootsale for the princely sum of £5 a good ten years back and everything still works (except the record deck).
Most of what you see here has gone to the great graveyard in the sky, including Man Ginger.
So its with a heavy heart that I'm looking around for a replacement deck that fits in with what I have via the AUX port and isn't some cheapo Crossley derivative in a suitcase.

The thing is, records mean a lot to me, I grew up with the first wave of dance music where nothing came on CD and you either bought records or a compilation on tape for the car or walkman, latter stuff would come on CD and over the years I've come to enjoy the mix CD (now supplanted by Soundcloud) and Pirate radio which is more legit now thanks to streaming digital stations.  I am not one of those people who are amazed that "Vinyl exists" and re buy all their Beatles albums on 180gram vinyl, I am an techno head and its either records or go without (or option B Youtube).

Which brings me to the split between the two extremes the Crossley Cruiser in a suitcase and the £1000 audiophile set up.  My dad has the former of the two, and offered for me to borrow it to try it out.  I took it up and instantly regretted it, the play back was tinny and cheap and the MP3's I did get from it weren't very good.  Worse is that everywhere I look in shops (HMV and "Chas" Ohlson especially) have these modern spam tin atrocities.  I am actually considering looking in Crash Converters for discontinued Stantons or Technics that's how bad it is.

The other end is Hi-Fi magazines which blind you with science and favour the grossly overpriced "audiophile" decks that are available nowhere and cost upwards of a grand.  I know you get what you pay for but something around the £200 mark should be the limit and get you something decent. I know there are good decks out there, that will fit my set up, but its finding them and the confidence to buy them, something I lack and that.

Sunday, 10 July 2016

TCC Watch.

Finally have a few new bits and pieces on The Children's Channel.  This time its a shot from the Stories Without Words segment that I've mentioned before.  The cliff notes explanation is that it was a programme that showed Eastern European cartoons, but without giving any credit of what they were called originally. 

Its an excuse to show stuff like Hungary's Bunny With the Chequered Ears, Polish fare such as Teddy Drop Ear and the Magic Pencil and German bits like the Plastinots (here called the Plonsters, told you we never had proper names).  As well as having stuff like Hennapippa (cartoon chicken chroma keyed onto a live screen background) that is an enduring myth to me unto this very day.

Top down, English, Finnish, Swedish, Danish, Dutch.
This is from the opening titles to the show, the words would scroll about the screen pulling off all sorts of tricks while a classical theme played.  I can't quite place who its by and where its from although it is reprised in all places, in Little Kings Story for Wii and PS Vita.  I can play it on keyboard but I tend to go into the theme tune to Brum which sounds similar. 

The hardest thing is writing why I remember this obscure stuff from way back when.  I lost my nan on my mums side around that time I think I was about 8 or so and can remember just thinking it was all my fault and that.  We had cable due to poor quality TV reception so I was home for two weeks so I could get over it.  As kids programming was in its infancy I watched a lot of TV and feeling like hell.  As BBC used to go to teletext in the afternoon,  so I'd turn to cable, this would be stuff like Voltron or Rambo on Superchannel, and The Children's Channel which had Toybox with Carol Chell and the stories without words in the morning.

I can remember asking my uncle who spoke German what the bottom bit meant as I tried to memorise it, but he couldn't help (not surprising as its Dutch).  So scrolling around the Internet I found that someone had a few screen shots of the opening titles on a forum thread and hit save and here they are I wonder if it would be worth typing in the words on the list + TCC to see if they give you any hits (Tried it with the Danish and no joy).

Sunday, 3 July 2016

Holiday 16: Fiesta de Santa Tecla and Mulassa

You'll be pleased to know that this is the end of my holiday round up, but I have left the best till last. This last trip is probably better explained by someone into mystery beasts like the excellent Karl Shuker, but on one of our trips to Tarragona we found round by the Cathedral steps, were people setting up for some sort of parade.

There were two giants (Gegantes Catalan or Gigantes in Spanish) a man and a woman in medieval dress.
Los Gigantes
Also a mule known in the Catalan bestiary as Mulassa (bottom Photo).
Donkey one.
Mulassa with band.

The strangely priapic Castell.
Mulassa sort of operates like a panto horse with a person in the front as the head end and another person at the back providing the back legs so to speak.  I have seen Youtube clips of it dancing around in a circle to music but when we saw it, it had to move out the way of a truck so it could pass which was quite funny in itself.   The main obstacle to what was going on is that there is precious little in a language I can understand, its Catalan folklore and as they seem to be fiercely protective of  their language and customs, nothing is bilingual not even in regular Spanish, which I can at least have a fighting chance at.  Its maybe part of the Santa Tecla Festival (St Thecla?), or it may not, I would welcome some comments as to what its all about. What I do know is that this was on behalf of a sick kid in hospital and they sold shirts for 5 Euro.  They had an inflatable human tower and a band playing music which was quite nice.  We sat for a good half hour watching them set up and play a few songs and stuff before moving on.  It was an unexpected find on a good day out.