Friday, 30 October 2009

Coming into the 21st Century

XBOX 360 + HD TV = OH MY GOD!!!

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Been a while

I haven't blogged recently and I admit that starting this new job has pretty much dominated my life for the last month with no room for anything else. Every day seems to throw up so many new challenges and situations. I am living in a constant state of wishing my comfort zone was at least in the same galaxy.

I'm doing "ok" but I don't think they've quite seem all of what I can offer. My major skills are in practical programming, but it seems a lot of my time is being spent on the areas of development I'm not as good at, or at least haven't had as much formal experience in, such as formal planning/time scales etc. I think with a lot of these things I'm just wary of their expectations of me. I'm not being asked to do anything I haven't done in my previous job…it's just that I still feel like an outsider, and that people are second-guessing everything I do. In my old job I had risen to the top naturally and I *felt* like top dog. Here I just feel like a cuckoo. Waiting to be found out.

Their systems are also much, much more complicated and bigger than what I've been doing in my old job which adds to my worry. I've been there a month and almost every day I'm asked to look into something big and new without quite getting to grips with what I was just looking at. And I'm being asked to come up with project ideas and solutions based on projects I still don't fully understand and that makes me nervous as I know I can easily make bad decisions as I don't know all the facts yet.

I know it sounds like I'm doubting myself but in a way the opposite is true. I know that given time I'll really settle in and hit top gear. I know this as I've worked in a big company before. I'm just worried that maybe I'm expected to get an understanding of things quicker than is reasonable to expect…though maybe that's partially down to my early performances, maybe they're expecting more from me as I've exceeded previous expectations?

I dunno. I just know that right here, right now I'm not in a particularly comfortable place, but hoping to grow into it. I know I will…I know my abilities, I'm just being impatient. I want it all and I want it now. I'd been invaluable to my last company after three years and I want to be invaluable now after just three weeks.

Monday, 19 October 2009

You win some, you lose some

I went to the new place I've been going to for the last month for my weekend breakfast, only this time they asked me if I wanted my "usual". It's a transition I go through at all places of business. Eventually they get used to me ordering the same thing all the time and after frequenting a particular business it always gets to the stage where I barely need to communicate at all…just "nod" at the "usual?"

So that was good news. I also got a hair cut as I haven't had one for a few months. I hate going to the barber in the warmer months as I react badly to the heat. I can feel ok once I get there, but any time I go inside a premises it takes me a while for my body to re-adjust to the temperate and this results in me sweating like a pig. Not nice when someone is trying to cut your hair. The summer months are fading fast, though, and the temperate is dropping so I am sweating less when I go inside.

Alas the barber shop has employed a new person and, lucky me, I got them. Now all the other barbers know I'm a "no conversation" customer but this new one didn't. Cue a very uncomfortable haircut while they fired question after question at me, all batted away with one-word answers until they realised that I'm not much of a conversationalist and gave up. Still…given time they'll get there in the end.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Karma realignment

I started this Saturday the same way I do every Saturday…buying a paper at the local shop to read when I'm having my breakfast. The paper was 60p and I gave the teller £1 and he gave me 60p change. I noticed the error before leaving the shop and went back to tell him he had given me 20p too much and he corrected the change. But then that's us I guess…moral to a fault.

Friday, 9 October 2009

First day of school

I started my new job yesterday and today (Friday) was the end of my first week…so to speak. The day before I started I was just pacing up and down the house, not knowing what to do with myself. How to kill the time.

So the job is going ok so far, but they're obviously not expecting me to be running the whole company for them yet, I'm just on light duties at the moment but that's par for the course in this industry. Helping resolve minor problems in existing systems is the best way of learning your way around how things work and how they're put together. I'm quite sure I've surprised them with how quickly I've picked things up…but I'm like that; I just look at code and I understand it, it's how my brain works. I've already played a good part of getting something finished on time which isn't bad going seeing as this is a massive computer application that I spent the morning of my first day looking at and was fixing issues with from lunch-time onward. I just hope I can rise to the real challenge which is when they start to expect more of a leadership role from me.

The people I work with are nice, quite agreeable and easy to get along with. They're quite juvenile but that's fine with me as I'm hardly Mr Mature myself so I quite like the low level of the banter and humour in the office. I far prefer it to people who are more serious and grown-up.

Alas they're also really, really social. It's a big company and the whole company seems social but our little group in our little office are very social among each other too. Naturally they expect me to just slip into this fast-lane of uber mixing but it's all too soon for me. It's too soon with these people I've just met, and socialising the way they want to in noisy clubs is just too much for me period. But what can you do? You can go along and hope to cope, or politely decline and look like the office outsider. I liked going out with my old workmates but I had time to get to know them all. With my new colleagues it's like I've been pushed into a busy road.

As well as the weekend activities I have avoided, there is an unofficial "networking" event happening at a local pub next Wednesday that apparently lots of local companies in our industry go to. They were telling me about it with glee at lunch, how great it is and what a laugh it is…drinking and meeting lots of new people. Great for you maybe…hell for me. Again I can either not go and have it look like I'm not a team-player, not fitting in, not mixing, not caring about my career…or I can go and look like a deer caught in headlights and be all awkward and drop the ball whenever someone tries to talk to me. I mean…I can't "network", and I don't want to either. There is also the risk I'll want to stick with my own colleagues and end up looking like a lost puppy following them around. On top of all of that Wednesday is a gym night. I'll either have to just get out of it, or go but say I can't stay long.

Being suddenly dropped in this world of hyper-sociality has made me feel quite disorientated and inadequate. It reminds me how different everyone else is, how much social interaction really drives their whole lives. How much joy interacting with people brings them.

Normally with smaller firms this stuff isn't an issue, but with these big firms how you "fit in" is a big thing for them, as important as your actual work. This is where them knowing I have Asperger's Syndrome would probably help as it might give me some leeway and let them know I can't help drowning in their lifestyle. I mean I know I get better given time…I just need that time to slowly adjust and integrate, and to get to know people. I can't just instantly morph into a social animal.

Which leads me onto the next thing. My line manager's wife is a teacher at an autistic school. Great. When he brought it up someone in the office said that the kids would be great to take to a casino (in reference to "Rain Man") and he corrected them on the difference between autism and being a savant. So he obviously knows a little about it all and there may be trouble ahead there. Though on the other side, if it comes down to it and my lack of "fitting in" is causing me problems I guess I'll have an ally there if I do decide to tell them. Though I can't see it getting that far. I've long suspected through my whole career that my technical abilities have helped negate the downsides of my personality and helped carry me when normally I'd have been dropped.

Interesting times ahead so batten down the hatches.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

I kissed a girl and I liked it

There has been a status quo in the media for quite some time where women are grouped into a neat little stereotype; they like fashion, make-up, shoes, gossip and twee career and relationship advice. So the "woman's magazine" was born. The limited interests of every woman were crammed into a single magazine for them to digest. The idea that massive groups of people can be pigeon-holed is quite crass and patronising. Usually the media loves nothing more than to tell women they should be fighting for this and fighting for that…but they're quite quiet when it comes to the fact that women are being simplified and dumbed down. I wonder why….of yes, because the media are making money from this by the women buying the magazines they sell so they won't bite the hand that feeds them. On a similar note pick up your average women's magazine and count how many articles and editorials urge women to be themselves and love themselves for who they are. Now go to the back and count the adverts for cosmetic surgery clinics. If the media was really as passionate about educating women to love themselves as they appear to be, they'd put their money where their mouth is and refuse to accept advertising revenue from people saying how you're not a proper woman without a boob job.

I was always somewhat proud that there was no equivalent for the male population. I saw it as proof that males were more diverse and had a range of interests too broad to be contained in a single "man's magazine" (well, one that can be placed lower than the top shelf anyway). Maybe one day I'll learn to stop underestimating the media and their desire to make money. In the last few years it seems that men are also being pigeon-holed in their interests and reduced to a lowest common denominator and given a whole range of "men's magazines".

Obviously I don't buy these magazines as I'm not your average male, however knowing that I'd be spending a lot of time hanging around in hotel rooms I bought some of these "lad's mags" (as they've been coined) as a solution to boredom that was "better than nothing".

First up was "Nuts" which I guess is your "downmarket" entry to the genre. What The Sun is to The Times. In broad strokes this magazine seems to be a re-balanced version of Playboy where the girls are dressed in nothing but articles. Only with Nuts the girls show less meat and the articles contain more meat. While Playboy works as men like naked women, Nuts just doesn't. The girls fall too short of pornography to be of any real interest, and the articles are the shallowest form of awful journalism.

For the articles we have a feature on cars which is just page after page of pictures of expensive cars taken at the same car show with a little box saying what size the engine is, how fast it is and the cost. Wow. Fascinating…but you know us men, we just love cars! There is a feature on a video game that, again, is mostly pictures with very little text that really tells you nothing about the game. Following the trend we have a section on gadgets that contains too little information about any of the featured gadgets to help you decide if you want to buy them. There is a load of stuff about football I didn't read. There was something about footballer's cars that I didn't read. Mopping up the remains were some vaguely interesting interviews with "people on TV" and pages where people send in pictures of themselves standing next to suggestive town name signs - nothing you haven't seen a lot better of on the internet. For free.

In terms of what Nuts offers for titillation there is a comparison of three girl's calendars. You know those calendars you see on the wall when taking your car in for its MOT, or in the bedrooms of 12 year old boys. The article is again mainly pictures with a breakdown of how many of the calendar's months pages are nude or semi nude. Seriously, it was just pathetic. Most of Nuts seemed to focus on "real girls" and I'm sure the intention is to make the reader think they could actually meet girls like this on a night out. They are supplying some kind of vicarious rendezvous. In this vein we had pictures of one such "real girl" stripping to her underwear and in the accompanying interview she gave saucy sound-bites that suggested she was fun and vivacious but short of being a slut. The interview answers were so well sculpted to the target audience I find it hard to believe the words were really hers. They probably said "we'll fill in the interview back at the office, but don't worry, you won't come across like a slut. Now take your clothes off…." Her interview talked of her flashing her boobs and liking women's bodies but nothing worse than that.

One of the main features was about a girl called Vikki Blows. I've done some subsequent research and can't actually find out anything about why she is of interest. I think taking her clothes off in "lad's mags" is what she does. The accompanying interview follows the usual trend of making her seem accessible, down to earth, one of the guys, but not a slut. She also reveals that she has flashed her boobs. The other main feature is on Gemma Atkinson (she used to be on a soap opera called Hollyoaks) who is a favourite in these magazines, though doesn't do any topless shots so it's a testament to her that she still has these magazines interested in her. Not having anything interesting to say the accompanying interview is quite a bit duller than the others and as her trademark is her not doing anything rude they fail to ask any questions that could have "I flashed my boobs" as the answer, though she does have to mention that she finds women attractive.

Returning to the watered-down porn roots there is a "Reader's Wives" section (only renamed "Bedroom Babes" but let's call a spade a spade). Girls send in their pictures and the winner gets to have a proper photo-shoot. Again it is "girl next door" types and the winner tells us all that she loves the pub and curry, and finds women sexy. The entrants for next edition's winner are probably one of the more depressing aspects of the magazine. Plain girls with awful make-up, awful dyed hair, awful fake tans who spent the 30 seconds they had between sticking their fingers down their throats to pose for a skanky picture. Yuk. The sound-bites that accompany the pictures are all of a stock nature revealing them to be accessible girls who just like the pub and a good time.

The next "real girl" who has a whole feature is also "fun loving", loves her boobs, loves bouncing and has a dancing pole in her bedroom. God when does this end?

Getting up to full-speed watered-down porn the next section is where girls write in with their "sexy stories" about when the builder came around. Being watered-down porn it lacks any of the explicit nature that you'd see in a "proper" porn mag, but the rough idea is there. It's brief though as we're back to Reader's Wives and the final girl finds women attractive (no, really?) and the song that best describes her is "I kissed a girl" by Katy Perry. She even names the fore-mentioned Vikki Blows as someone she would like to meet. I'm sure Ghandi is second on her list.

I could sum this magazine up in a single word…pointless. The articles carry no journalistic merit at all; if you want to know about cars get a car mag, for games get a games mag. As for the girls, if you want to see naked girls buy a porn mag. The consistent way that the girls are presented leads me to believe it can't possibly be pure coincidence. All of the girls had a similar look, similar "I just like the pub and a movie" attitude, similar "I think girls bodies are sexy" titillation and similar "I once flashed my boobs…he he…" levels of promiscuity. The magazine is going out of its way to portray these women as being sexy but still obtainable, they are selling you this vicarious chatting-up experience. Maybe the most worrying thing is that women are still being shown with "I'd shag them but I wouldn't want to go out with them" misogyny.

Next up was "Loaded" which is one of the broadsheets of the "lad's mags". I won't go into this in any detail, but it's a lot thicker than Nuts and there are more articles and some of them were genuinely interesting and carried a bit of depth. When they reviewed video games again they at least tried to transmit something about the game, but I fear I could never take their advice seriously. A game they raved about ("Wet") has had a mediocre reception in proper games mags, but could their rave reviews be because the game has a busty female lead and not because it's a good game?

As for the girls, well Loaded had…Gemma Atkinson (again) and Gemma Atkinson's calendar. They didn't stop there, though, they also had the Hollyoaks calendar and small interviews with each Hollyoaks girl. The interviews followed the standard, mundane formula that amounted to nothing more than text on a page where you learned nothing from someone with nothing to say. One question many were asked was "Katy Perry once sang that she kissed a girl and liked it. Have you ever kissed a girl?"

They shied away from Reader's Wives but did spot-interview girls on the street about their "Sex CV" (they were allowed to keep their clothes on for the photograph) and again were asked if they had ever "had girl-on-girl action".

One of the articles/titillation pieces was about a book that is just pictures of girl's kissing. The title of the article was, unashamedly, "She Kissed a Girl and She Liked It".

So to sum up Loaded it was a bit more "grown up" than Nuts and had better articles, but it still had the same consistent fascination with girls liking other girls however Loaded's constant use of the "I kissed a girl and I liked it" motif was almost absurd in its excess. Do these magazines not have editors that read the mag and think they've maybe over-used the phrase?

Both magazines were similar in a lot of ways; mainly around how they manipulated women to match the perception they have manipulated their readership into desiring. I certainly won't patronise either magazine and I think that only a very shallow man too afraid to buy proper pornography would find these magazines of any interest. I also hope that any man that does read these magazines appreciates the manipulation that is going on and doesn't buy into it. I won't hold my breath though. Now pass me that "MAD Magazine"…

Sunday, 4 October 2009


Driving down my street, parking in my drive and going inside my flat all seemed quite surreal. I could hardly believe it was all happening. I took my bags in, hooked up my laptop then went for a walk around town. Bought some DVDs, had some of my favourite take-away, went to my music club. Wrapped myself up in as much familiarity as possible.

So what have I learned? Well I know that I hate holidays, I hate the break in routine but I knew that anyway. I learned that just because I push myself far outside of my comfort zone doesn't mean that I wont end up enjoying myself. I learned some other, non-AS related things, but I'm keeping those private :)

Most of all, I'm just glad to be back home.

Friday, 2 October 2009

Just a soldier on a road to nowhere

It's the final day of my "holiday" and I spent some time visiting my home town. I hated it though. It's just a ghost town to me. I recognise the streets but it's full of old ghosts and bad memories. I don't think I'll ever go back to that town as long as I live. I only spent about an hour driving around and then I came back to the hotel.

It's 3pm so I have a lot of time to kill until I leave for home tomorrow. Hotel check out is 11 am and I'll probably be at my next hotel around 4pm maybe. Kill some time until the next day when I finally drive back home. I wish I hadn't arranged this day though. I wish I was driving home right now. I hate holidays, I hate the change, I hate the constant sense of anxiety. I need my usual things around me, my usual places. I can't wait to get back, to sit in my house, on my sofa, watching my TV. Then I'll get a paper from my local shop, I'll go to my local for a drink then my café for my breakfast. I miss my gym, my xbox, my dvd player. I hate this loneliness. I miss my loneliness.