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19

Mar

2013

Self Publishing via Kickstarter

By ActionGeek. Posted in Books | No Comments »

Writing and publishing a book has been on my LIST for a long time, and now it’s time to tick that one off! Last year I entered, and won the inaugural World Pasty Championships, and this year I successfully defended my title. The amount of interest from the public and the media was massive so I figured there would be genuine interest in a book. I’ve written plenty of blog posts and articles over the years, on a wide range of topics from food to poker, game development to tarantulas and more, but I’ve actually written a book. Since I don’t have any contacts in the publishing industry I decided to go the self publishing route, and to try and part fund the publishing via a campaign on the crowd funding website Kickstarter.

The book is provisionally titled How To Make An Award Winning Cornish Pasty, and starts with a detailed history of the pasty before delving into ingredients and techniques, and of course sharing my award winning pasty recipes, and a collection of other pasty and pastry recipes. I’m seeking £1200 in funding, with pledges starting at just £1 and I have some great rewards for backers, ranging from digital and print copies of the book, T-shirts, advertising opportunities for businesses on www.ProperPasties.com and more

Please take a moment to view the Kickstarter Page and pledge your support – every single pledge really does count no matter how small.

Proper Pasties Kickstarter Campaign


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20

Jan

2013

Gamification FAIL (Zombies, Run!)

By ActionGeek. Posted in Action/Geek | No Comments »

OK let me first say that I love the concept, the interface is very nice, the way the app syncs to the website is smooth and effortless, there are loads of options and even the voice acting is pretty good… but unfortunately, for me at least, the app is broken due to a fundamental flaw. The problem is that the app is designed for “missions” of a very specific length – 30 minutes, or 1 hours. If your runs don’t fit with those 2 options then the app really doesn’t work as well as it should.

The first time I tried the app I stepped out the door and started running, and I was impressed. The “game” starts immediately and worked well. It didn’t work with my music, but turned out that I just needed to select a playlist so that was my fault (though they could have made that clearer) The problem though, was I did a quick loop and got home after 25 minutes with 5 minutes of “mission time” to spare. No problem, I figured that would just be added on to my next run.

So, next time I stepped out the door I clicked “continue” and it picked up from where it left off before – fantastic. This time I had set my music up, so in between game audio it played Green Day to me and I was a happy boy… until after 5 minutes of game time and 2 songs when it just stopped… no zombies, no music, just silence!

Got home, synced the app to the web site and turns out the app just plain quit after the first “mission” was ended. But there was no audio warning, no “would you like to start mission 2″, nothing.

That means the final 20 minutes of my second run were not tracked, no data at all. Now to me that’s just annoying. The game uses GPS so it knows when you get home, so why not just start mission 2, or at least keep tracking data (and playing music) until you get back to the start, or the user clicks a “end run” button?

So I’m afraid I won’t be using Zombies, Run again and I’ll be going back to Runtracker… I just hope that they either fix these annoying problems in a future update, or a sequel because like I say the idea is great, but the app is useless for someone like me who doesn’t run for exactly 30 or 60 minutes every time!


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3

Jan

2013

Beating arachnophoboa

By ActionGeek. Posted in Crazy/Weird, The List | No Comments »

Time to cross another item off my list, but this is a strange one… and while I’ve crossed it off, it’s technically still a work in progress and I suspect it will be for some time – beating my fear of spiders!

It’s something which has bugged me (pun intended) for a very long time. I’m not really afraid of anything else (nothing irrational anyway) and I know they are “just little spiders” and that (in general) they can’t hurt me – but I’be always had a profound and deep fear of them. The weird thing is, I’m still not 100% sure what it is about them that has always bothered me. They have lots of legs, but so do crabs and lobsters and I’m fine with them… they are small and fast, but so are crickets and I’m fine with them… they have big teeth, but do does my boa constrictor and my rottweiler!

Anyway, long story short I’ve been wanting to face and beat this fear for a long time, and last year I decided to make it happen – and bought a tarantula after lots of pleading from my wife (her argument was that if I was allowed snakes, she should be allowed a tarantula and I couldn’t really argue with that!)

Over time I became more and more desensitised, and more and more interested in tarantulas and spiders in general. I started reading books, and researching online, and soon one tarantula became two, and then three, and then four…

In fact I’ve become really fascinated by them. I still have that niggling arachnophobia in the back of my mind, but it’s getting less and less every day and now firmly under control. I’ve actually written an article about how I beat arachnophobia over at tarantula-care.com so anyone interested in the subject can head over there to ready the whole story. For now though, that’s one more item ticked on the list ;)


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30

Dec

2012

Zombies, Run! (half price)

By ActionGeek. Posted in Action/Geek | No Comments »

I first read about this app a while ago over at Lifehacker.com and it sounded awesome, but at the time I was in the middle of a non-running workout schedule so decided to put off buying it.  Well this morning I discovered that the app was currently half price (from the normal $7.99) and I’ve just decided to start a new running schedule over the coming weeks so it seemed perfect.

The app’s downloading right now (it’s a few hundred meg) so I’ll post again once I’ve had a try, but from the reviews I’ve read in the past I’m sure I’m going to love it.  Basically it’s a fitness app along the lines of Runtracker but gamified around the premise that you’re trying to escape from zombies… There are a bunch of “missions” to choose from, and you choose one before each run.  Then you run with your phone in your pocket and your headphones in, and you hear a story as you’re running where you get prompts and feedback.

The game uses your phone’s GPS and accelerometers to track your run just like most other fitness style apps showing your route, speed, calories burned etc. but also gives you the game elements.  It really looks right up my street, and as it apparently integrates well with your playlist it means I can listen to my regular podcasts or music while I’m running/playing.  I can’t wait to give it a try, which has to be good since getting out the door in this weather sometimes needs a little encouragement!  I’ll post back with a review in a day or two…

The app is currently half price (not sure for how long) for iPhone and Android.

Zombies, Run! Website


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21

Dec

2012

A rant about Macs…

By ActionGeek. Posted in Geek | 2 Comments »

Why, oh why are Macs selling so well?  is there some sort of subliminal messaging in Apple’s advertising that is hypnotising people?

I went into the local Apple store recently to look for an iPhone case and was amazed at how many people were in there, and especially looking at the iMacs, seemingly entranced by them.

I’m about to upgrade my computer myself so I decided to take a look at the new  iMac 27″ model, hoping that would be a suitable replacement for my main desktop PC and my aging MacBook Pro since I rarely take a laptop with me these days, just replying on my phone and iPad when I’m not in the office.

The problem is though, when I started looking at the specs I was amazed at how much was MISSING! I’m primarily a PC user, so I’m used to buying (or more usually building) a fairly high spec machine at a reasonable price. The iMac costs quite a bit more than I would normally spend on a desktop computer so I was stunned at these omissions:

No mic input (what?) Seriously, you can’t just plug a headset in for Skype, you need to invest an extra £35 in an “iMic” interface, for a feature that’s included in every £299 PC laptop!

No optical drive!?!?! Despite the iTunes web page stating that you can “import your CDs…” they decided not to allow you to do that, or watch DVDs, or install non-downloaded software, or burn backups, or mac mix CDs for the car…

All USB ports at the back where you can’t reach them! Because obviously that will be fun, fishing around the back for your USB stick which you need to keep using because you can’t use a DVD!

No Firewire – want to hookup a video camera, or a prosumer audio device… not on an iMac, not unless you want to pay an extra (£35) for the add on interface!

No DVI ports – because obviously everyone with a Mac wants to spent £1000 on an Apple branded external monitor rather than plugging in a couple of their existing monitors… and of course it’s £25 (per port!!) for Thunderbolt to DVI adapters!

No height adjustment… that’s right, the nice shiny polished aluminium stand is a fixed height because obviously all Apple users are the same height (and from the look of it, Apple users are several inches shorter than me or all get chronic neck pain pretty quickly!)

No VESA mounts… again obviously, because they wouldn’t want you getting around the lack of height adjustment by mounting it like you can with any budget monitor (unless you buy the £35 mount adapter kit, and even then that only works on the 27″ model – they don’t do one for the 21″ model!)

No numeric keypad… the default keyboard is one of those teeny, tiny ones with no tactical feedback (I guess Apple users don’t touch type?) and no numeric keypad (so I guess they don’t use 3D software, or do much maths either!)

And for the privilege of buying a computer with all these wonderful benefits/omissions… they only charge 3 times the price of an equivalent PC!

Seriously Apple, I’d like to be able to order a new iMac but there’s just no way I can justify it, time to build another PC I guess!


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28

May

2012

Walking on Fire

By ActionGeek. Posted in Action, Crazy/Weird | No Comments »

There’s something about fire… it doesn’t matter if it’s a wood burner in a cosy living room, a small campfire by a river, or a huge raging bonfire on 5th November, people are drawn to it like moths to a lamp. I spent much of my childhood living in an old farmhouse which was always being renovated and extended, and we often had bonfires in the back garden to dispose of tree cuttings or wooden waste from the building works. I’d always be excited, helping my father to build a pile of wood, sometimes splashing on a little parafin to get things going if the cuttings were still wet, and then I’d carefully tend the fire as it roared away. One particular afternoon I was using an old piece of steel rebar as a “poker” and found it was fun to leave one end right inside the hot embers until it was glowing red, then carefully pull the bar out and marvel at how this solid rod of cold hard steel had been transformed into an orange glow with the power to throw off huge amounts of steam if it was dipped into the nearby duck pond!

I don’t recall whether my little sister had been “helping” with the fire from when it was lit, but I do know she was joining in with my duckpond dipping though being a couple of years younger than me (I guess I was about 8 or 9 at the time) maybe didnt quite grasp the danger of a red hot steel bar. At one point while holding the bar (safely from the cool end) she turned around towards me and the other, red hot, end came hurtling towards me. Instinctively I put my hands up to block it, and instantly let out a scream as it touched the palm of my right hand. It was probably the sound of my scream which made her drop the bar, which luckily had only touched me skin for a brief moment, but it was long enough to cause a huge amount of pain and sear a stripe of skin right across the palm and on the inside the fingers.

It’s strange what the brain remembers. More than 30 years on from that day, the thing I remember most vividly was not getting burned, but being at a friend’s birthday party that evening and sitting in the corner with a bandaged hand while the other children were dancing around the living room while terrible 80s party music blasted out and 4 coloured “disco lights” flashed along to the beat. I remember feeling very sorry for myself not being able to join in the fun, and resentful of my sister for causing it, though it clearly wasn’t her fault, and luckily the burn was actually pretty minor and didn’t do any lasting damage.

That day definitely gave me a renewed respect for fire though, and when I first saw someone WALKING ON FIRE (I’m pretty sure it was on an episode of Record Breakers but it was a long time ago so I could easily be misremembering that) I was stunned. I mean, if touching a red hit bar for a fraction of a second could cause so much pain (and missing a party!) then how could anyone possibly endure walking barefoot over red hot coals!

The event was being organised by a local charity, The Merlin Center, to raise funds for their Multiple Sclerosis therapy center. I paid my fee, and collected a couple of hundred quid in sponsorship from friends and family, and waited eagerly for the day to arrive. The event was being held at a local rugby club, and when I arrive the organisers were already laying out logs and safety fences on the turn alongside the pitch. Those of us who would be taking part in the walk were ushered into a room in the club house for a safety briefing.

I was worried there might be a lot of hippy mumbo jumbo in the talk, telling us about the “power of the mind” and that we had to focus our chi energy at our feet to avoid getting burned or something like that. I needn’t have worried though, the chap giving the talk was actually very down to earth. He explained the reason why it was possible to walk barefoot on red hot coals without burning (while the embers are red hot, the coals from dry wood are pretty poor conductors of heat, so if you keep moving at a constant pace and keep your feet fairly flat so no part “digs in” the foot should have lifted off each step before it has a chance to burn) and explained what to do if am ember gets “stuck” to your foot (basically you wipe your feet in the grass when you step off the end). I saw a few nervous and concerned faces as I looked around the room, but he did a great job of putting people’s minds at rest. I did laugh at the end when he was answering questions and somebody asked what happens if you trip and fall over on the fire. His response, along with a big grin, was simply “Well, you’ll get up again really f***ing quickly!”

Finally it was time to step outside. A large crowd of spectators, most of them with a beer in hand and clearly hoping to see someone’s feet get burned, had gathered to watch. Those of us participating lined up alongside the fire land as the organisers spent a few minutes introducing themselves to the crowd, and raking the coals (dies the flames down and evens the size of the embers to make the bed flat to walk on). I could feel the heat coming off the fire on my face as I stood nearby, and when invited to we each bent down and put our hand above the fire to test the heat – I reached down a few inches above the embers, and I could only keep it there for a couple of seconds – it was red hot! That was when the nerves kicked in. I knew intellectually that this was very safe, I knew the science of why it was possible, but that primitive instinctual part of my brain screamed at me FIRE, RUN AWAY!

Fire walking

It's a shame it wasn't half an hour later as the light had faded, it's hard to tell from the pic but those coals really were glowing red!

The organiser took his shoes off and walked across first as a demonstration to cheers from the crowd, and then one by one the rest of us followed, each person’s facing transforming from nervous, to unsure, to grinning as they walked the few meters over the coals and realised that they weren’t getting burned. We all had 2 – 3 goes, before being given a certificate, posing for a group photo for the local paper, and then cleaning the soot off our feet with wet wipes! I didn’t even get a blister, and while I suspect the adrenaline caused by the slight nervousness and the cheering crowd has something to do it it, I really didn’t even feel that much heat. 20 minutes after the event, beer from the club house in hand, I went back outside and once again bent down over the dying embers. Yes, they really were still red hot even now, there’s no way I could put my hand anywhere near them.

Another one crossed off the list! I saw Derren Brown on stage a couple of years ago walking over broken glass, perhaps that’s one to try next…


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10

Jul

2011

Space Shuttle (end of an era)

By ActionGeek. Posted in Geek | No Comments »

If you’re anything like me you’ve been glued to Ustream this week watching the final shuttle mission before NASA retires the oribter for good. Born in the late ’70s I grew up seeing the shuttle as the pinnacle of human endevour, and it’s rather sad to see it being retired without a replacement ready to launch.

I for one feel that MUCH more should be invested in space exploration. NASA’s entirely yearly budget is currently equal to what the US military spend in 23 days! Surely some of that money should be diverted to a cause slightly more positive than fighting over oil?

At least NASA do appear to be spending their meagre budget wisely though, and diverting a lot of the savings from ending the shuttle program into building a deep space probe. But in the meantime, maybe it falls on DIYers like the crazy geniuses at Copenhagen Suborbitals to push the envelope and further our reach to the stars!

Anyway, in the meantime I came across this great infographic on the shuttle and thought I’d share it… Let’s hope the orbiter’s eventual replacement is just as iconic!


A graphical representative of NASA’s space shuttle.

Source Space.com: All about our solar system, outer space and exploration


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17

Jun

2011

Long time, no update

By ActionGeek. Posted in Action/Geek | No Comments »

Yeah I know, it’s been a looong time since I posted here but I guess sometimes life just gets in the way!

There are a number of reasons for my absence but most of them relate to being too damn busy…

First off I’ve been extremely busy with my business, especially with Flash games development where I’ve been working on a number of projects for some big clients (inclduing Hasbro and Lucasarts!) but I can’t complain about that – I’ve rather be busy working on cool games than struggling to get work.

Secondly, I’ve made the decision to train as a yoga teacher.  I’ve been practicing yoga for around 8 years now, and for the past 6 months have been doing a British Wheel of Yoga foundation course.  I’m now registered for a 3 year yoga teacher training diploma with the BWY which is due to start at the end of the year.  Although it’s a three year course, it’s very much hands on and I’m expecting to start teaching classes next spring.

That lead me on to another project which has been keeping me busy – Yogaly.  With all the research I’ve been doing I found that there is a real lack of solid online yoga resources.  I found several large yoga teacher directories online but they were almost all out of date and full of dead links, or else so badly designed as to be virtually unusable.  So, I’ve been compiling what I expect to be the largest and best human edited yoga teacher directory online.  As you can imagine it’s taken up a huge amount of my time, but the data is now all finally compiled and I’m slowly adding the listings to the site day by day.

The full directory won’t be online until mid-summer (there are over 5000 entries to list and I’m manually checking each one!) but there is useful content on the site already and I expect it to grow pretty fast.

So, that’s what the Action Geek has been up to (well, a little bit of it anyway) for the past few months, but you can expect more regular updates from now on.


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24

Sep

2010

Big Ride, Old Men

By ActionGeek. Posted in Action | No Comments »

If you’re a regular reader you may know from an earlier post that my father in law has been riding from John O’Groats to Land’s End for charity.  Since he is blind, he’s riding a tandem with his brother in law riding up front.  Well, after 11 days of rather bad British weather they finally completed the 930 mile trip and crossed the finish line at Land’s End.

For those readers not in the UK, John O’Groats is the very North-East tip of Britain, right up past the Scottish Highlands, while Land’s End is the very South-West tip down here in Cornwall, making it the longest route you can take across the country.  I did the trip solo myself back in 2003, and Steve and Pete took a fairly similar route to me and did it in just about the same time (11 days) despite having 2 “engines” on their tandem – but hey, they are a little older than me ;)

Pete’s son, Paul, joined them in Exeter for the last couple of days, and I joined them yesterday as they passed, to cycle the last 36 miles with them to Land’s End.  All my training recently has been running, swimming, weights and yoga and so I’m definitely not bike-fit at the moment.  Add to that the fact that I was on a mountain bike, trying to keep up with a tandem and Paul on his racer, and it turned out to be quite a challenge to try and keep up!

Luckily for me the route is pretty hilly, and while I couldn’t keep up on the flats or downhills, I was able to make up time and pass the tandem on the climbs!  The weather stayed bright, if rather windy, which made for a very pleasant ride (and made up for quite a bit of rain they had earlier on the trip!)

They have raised around £2000 so far for ABLe and Bowel Cancer UK, and that number should increase a fair bit over the next week or two as the final donations come in.  If you want to read up more about the trip, the charities, or to make a small donation head over to Big Ride Old Men.

The old men at the finish line in Land's End, with Pete's son Paul (left) and myself (right)


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I just found out that one of my favorite books of all time, Between a Rock and a Hard Place, has been make into a movie by Danny Boyle, one of my favorite directors!

Between a Rock and a Hard Place is an autobiographical account the life of Aaron Ralston leading up to an accident where he became trapped in a canyon in the Utah Desert.  He was canyoning alone when a boulder dislodged and trapped his lower right arm.  After five days and exhausting all possible ways of freeing himself, and knowing he would otherwise die of dehydration, he amputated his own arm with a multi-tool.  The book alternates between chapters telling the story of his ordeal, with stories of mountaineering adventures in Colorado.  It’s an amazing book, and a very inspirational story.

Well apparently the film has already been made, and is due for release in a couple of months.  The trailer looks pretty good, and at first glance looks like the movie could be just as powerful as the book.  But that is hardly surprising with Danny Boyle, director of films such as Train Spotting, Sunshine and 28 Days Later, at the helm.  Apparently, during the screenings at the Telluride Film Festival, two people required medical attention – one who felt faint and was carried out of the screening, and a second who suffered a panic attack, so I’m guessing it must be quite hard hitting.

Anyway, here’s the trailer, and if you’re at all interested in adventure, mountaineering, or just people overcoming any obstacle no matter what this is definitely worth checking out!


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