friday_012

F012

In my last, mid-week post I detailed a little bit about what my physical music collection looks like in the year MMXV. So, to flesh out the journey of how I got here a little bit, for my regular Friday blog I thought I’d explore a little of why music means so much to me.

I’d always been ‘into’ music, even as kid. Maybe I hadn’t quite figured out at that point which aspect of it was calling me most strongly, but I was always drawn to listening to – and playing – music. I’ve always been a sucker for a beat; something primitive like a rhythm overlaid with a melody. That was always there from birth and never really went away but, to properly engage with the wild, unexplored territories of rock, metal and punk (at least, unexplored by me), I needed some sort of sonic sherpa to pilot me ‘thru the wilderness.

That guide was Mary Anne Hobbs.

I recall, with enormous fondness, staying up every Tuesday night to listen to the BBC Radio 1 Rock Show which started at midnight; listening to it with my headphones until at least 0030, when my tape recorder would kick and record the final hour-and-a-half using a 90-minute cassette tape. Already, on the Wednesday morning at college, we’d discuss what new songs (or old songs) we’d heard on the show before we had to go to bed; before going home after school to immediately pop our recorded tapes into our Walkmans (Walkmen?) to catch up with what we’d missed. There was no iPlayer back in 2001, only whatever (now completely archaic) analogue technology you had to hand. And I fucking loved it.

I can pinpoint the exact moment that I fell in love with rock music: it was a Rock Show sometime in March 2001, and the show opened with Foo Fighters’ ‘This Is A Call’ followed immediately by Tony Iommi’s ‘Goodbye Lament’ (which features Dave Grohl on vocals). From that humble point on, I was a complete acolyte to the distorted guitar.

The Rock Show ushered in introductions to some of my very favourite bands – Amen, Funeral For A Friend, Rammstein, Deftones, The Mad Capsule Markets, Pitchshifter and Rival Schools. I remember first hearing Biffy Clyro’s ‘There’s No Such Thing as a Jaggy Snake’ and having my mind absolutely blown, and Cradle of Filth’s ‘Bitter Suites to Succubi’ alerted my ears to the wondrous delights of black metal. I recall those times being a killer time for UK post-hardcore: Hundred Reasons hooked me for life when I first heard ‘Remmus’, and it was a time when Lostprophets were still very much among the underground and letting loose the likes of ‘Shinobivs.dragonninja’ which still holds up today (even if the legend of Lostprophets has sort of taken a bit of a critical hit in recent years).

Not long afterward I became a discipline to the Church of the Rock Show, I became a Kerrang! devotee. I know that it’s cheesy to have nostalgia for things that used to “good” in the past but are “rubbish now”, but Kerrang! was totally one of those things: it was properly glorious in about 2001-2003; covering the full gamut of rock and metal and punk, and being (relatively) unaffected by the fads or the tastes of the mainstream. Naturally, I suspect that I’m looking through rose-tinted goggles at K!s ‘golden’ years, but I genuinely miss the days when – once every few months – the magazine would be adjoined by a free, mix CD containing new music. Again, before the widespread popularity of digital music and downloads (ha, you try downloading a full album on a 56.6k modem 😛 ), the free K! CDs were the fuel to my fire and ushered in discovery of many of my now-favourite bands.

For mega nostalgia, some awesome person (hint: not me) catalogued all of them over here: Discogs.com/Kerrang Magazine. Without them, I’d never have gotten into Weezer and Jimmy Eat World (‘Knock-Down Drag Out’ and ‘A Praise Chorus on Hot Stuff: The Noise of the Summer); The Distillers (‘Sing Sing Death House’ on The Devil’s Music: Vol. 4); Silverchair and Finch (‘The Greatest View’ and ‘New Beginnings’ on The Best of 2002); and Probot, Murderdolls & Turbonegro (‘Centuries of Sin’, ‘I Take Drugs’ and ‘Sell Your Body [to the Night]’ on Reload). Picking up a copy of Kerrang! nowadays may fill me with disappointment at both the dumbed-down journalism and the downgraded quality of the music being covered, but I still hold massively fond memories of my formative years with the K! brand that I still find it hard to hold a grudge against it. I never found the same sort of charm in other magazines like Metal Hammer or Rock Sound as I did with K! itself; and the walls of my room were sprawled for most of the tail-end of my teenagedom with tiny pictures (and strips of the Pandora comic) cut out of various issues.

But yes; while I may have made my peace with the demise (or deterioration) of my favourite music magazine, I still miss the Radio 1 Rock Show the most. Mary Anne left full-time duties of the show in 2003 or so, and despite both Mike Davies and then Daniel P. Carter being very competent hosts ‘right up ‘til the present day (or so I’m led to believe, when I’ve caught the odd show in the last few years), I was never quite as enthralled by the music as I was when Mary Anne was at the helm. I kind of drifted away from the show around the time that I moved away from home to start University and my time as a weekly Kerrang! subscriber kind of came to an end. If I’m being brutally, brutally honest, then my years of college – absorbed 100% by music and the joy that it brought me to passionately engage with it with my friends around me – are the ones from the past that I look upon with most fondness. Sure, it’s probably fairly common for thirtysomethings (or, in my case, almost thirtysomethings) to go a bit glazey-eyed about their time as a carefree 17/18-year old, but it’s with valid reason.

Of course, you can never go back. But if you could, then if I could be transplanted back into the sixteen year-old me once again then I would fucking love to go back and make of my mistakes again; at least, this time, I’d do it safe in the knowledge that they were some of the best times of my life, accompanied by some of the most life-changing noises that I’d ever hear.

Never forget, never surrender. Keep your heart open to music; always.

[Zinar7]

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My Life in Music: Datastacks 0.1

Datastacks1

You may not know it, but we’re currently living in exciting times.

The major news media may be ignoring all discussion of such world-changing events, but monumental waves of excitement are currently rippling away from my general area.

I’ve been re-organising my music collection. Oh yeah.

Datastacks-1

A few years ago, a catalogued all of my favourite albums from all of the years that I’ve been alive. You can find them here:

Part 1: From Out of Nowhere (1985-1991)
Part 2: Where Boys Fear to Tread (1992-1998)
Part 3: Dancing Through Sunday (1999-2005)
Part 4: Set Fire to the Hive (2006-2012)

But yes, while re-organising all of my various musics, I’ve taken the opportunity whilst doing so to properly catalogue everything I have and to generate some tedious statistics about all of it. For example: as of 19th March, I own 466 full albums and EPs (after having a bit of a prune of those records I’m not likely to listen to again). Furthermore, 4.07% of those albums/EPs are AFI albums or EPs. That’s quite interesting, right?

So yeah, because I’m a nerdy engineer and I like looking at pages and pages of data, I’ve made a spreadsheet listing every CD; the year it was released, the country that the band is from and what genre it inhabits. You may say that that’s a colossal waste of time, but I say “nyer” :P. Thus, on that immature little note, let’s probe into the stats and see what we can uncover.

MomL_1

Interestingly, my music collection seems to be predominantly ‘punk’. There’s a significant chunk of it already taking up my shelf-space it seems; especially when you add the ska-punk total to the mix as well. I was well aware that punk is one of my primary musical outlets, but I’m not sure I would’ve predicted that it occupy quite such a large proportion of it. [Of course, this fact is perhaps a little skewed by the fact that I’ve divided ‘metal’ up into more sub-genres than I have done for punk – the whole range of punk stuff from Green Day to Turbonegro to Amen to Sum 41 is all under one umbrella whilst I’ve split metal more into its established sub-genres]. Broadly, AFI would probably come under ‘punk’ as well if I didn’t separate them into their own genre, so there’s that to add up, too.

On that note, here’s a little chart of how many records I own from the top ten bands in my collection:

MomL_7

AFI obviously take up a significant proportion of my collection, and I own literally every LP and EP they’ve ever put out on compact disc (and, in most cases, own multiple copies of them to reflect different versions or covers or international editions); even the super-rare stuff like The Days of the Phoenix EP, which only ever had 500 copies. [For further AFI geekery, I own both a legit copy of it as well as a fake/bootleg version].

But yeah, it’s satisfying that my collection is (broadly) even across the many sub-genres of rock ‘n’ roll: to establish this, let’s have a look at the pie chart because PIE CHARTS.

MomL_5

For clarity, “Popular Rock” encompasses stuff like Foo Fighters, Queens of the Stone Age; pure pop (Ke$ha, Bowie, Prince) is lumped in with “Dance/Electronic”; all types of rap/metal crossovers and stuff like RHCP and RATM all slip into “Nu-Metal”; and heavy metal stuff like Iron Maiden, AC/DC and Black Sabbath were immersed in with “Thrash/etc.”.

I’m a little sad that my “Steampunk” section still rounds down to 0% of my collection. Granted, it currently consists of just The Men That Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing Cannot Be Killed by Conventional Weapons and Professor Elemental’s The Giddy Limit, but I’m working on it: hopefully I’ll import the whole Steam Powered Giraffe back catalogue sooner rather than later, and TMTWNBBFN will soon have album #3 under their belts. Boom.

Okay, so where are my albums from? Let’s have a look.

MomL_2

No big surprise; most of my music hails from across the pond. The US dominates so much of rock ‘n’ roll music that you can tell how much of an influence it wreaks upon my own listening. It’s still good to see that around a quarter of my music comes from our own shores; although mildly strange that nothing hails from the Republic of Ireland. Naturally, there’s a strong Scandinavian contingent given my predilection for power metal and Finnish folk-metal. Canada has a strong showing, but it’s worth noting that most of those are Rush albums (15 in total). Furthermore, all of my records from Italy are associated with Rhapsody or Rhapsody of Fire (or Luca Turilli’s Rhapsody). Aw yeah.

MomL_3

Proportionally, of course the US absorbs more than half of my shelf-space. Interestingly, though, the entirety of the rest of my collection comes either from Europe, Australia or Japan. Before the 2015 cull, I did at least have a few things from Brazil (mainly Sepultura), but it’s curious to know that there are vast swathes and surface areas of the globe (the whole of Africa!) that have never even come close to seeing a position on my CD shelf.

Another question that my CD re-shuffling was aiming to answer was: “When Was My Collection Released?”. Naturally, I expected that a sizable chunk of my collection would have come from around 2001-2005, where my main musical addictions were formed (and I’ll talk about these in a little more depth in my next blog). While this is certainly not untrue, I was a little surprised to find that the most prolific years were actually 2012 and 2013 (with 28 and 27 albums from them, respectably); probably arising because, at the time, I was deep in the wrangles of trying to finish my PhD and research stuff and hence likely to want to hear nice, new and noisy things in my ears to take away some of the pain.

MomL_4

I also anticipated that 1994 would be a bumper year, given that some of my very, very favourite albums were released in (or around) that year: [1993 // In Utero, Siamese Dream; 1994 // Punk in Drublic, Superunknown, Smash, Weezer (The Blue Album), Stranger than Fiction, Dookie, Welcome to Sky Valley, Burn My Eyes, The Downward Spiral; 1995 // Mellon Collie…, Foo Fighters, King for a Day/Fool for a Lifetime]. But yeah, whilst the hit rate of what albums were released in 1994ish and those which are cemented as some of my favourites is incredibly high, it turns out that I don’t own as much from that period as I thought I did. Huh.

I know I probably seem a little like a bit of a dinosaur for continuing to rely on (and thrive upon) little shiny, plastic discs containing lovely things destined for my ears. But yeah, I have 466 CDs in my collection. That’s pretty cool.

Please don’t burgle me.

[Zinar7]

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friday_011

F011

I’ve always said: celebrity deaths come in threes. Then again, so do the deaths of my treasured possessions, it seems.

The last week or two have mainly been spent trying to mend, or replace, pieces of electrical equipment that seem to have decided push up the daisies: first, my cellphone; then, bits of my car; and finally, my TV. I’m beginning to think that I have some sort of curse: a sort of Midas Touch that causes electrical equipment to expire by merely being in the same geographical location as me. Perhaps I’m made of magick.

[it’s worth pointing out at this juncture that my digital camera has also developed some sort of fault that I’ve not quite been able to get to the root of; which does mean that the ‘bad things come in threes’ rule has been shattered and that I may have actually broken the universe. If a gaping maw of inter-dimensional cataclysm has opened up near you, then I’m desperately sorry.]

While sorting out a new cellphone and repairs to Big Suze have been no great cause for festivity, this recent state of affairs has forced me to pick up a new TV to replace my old, enormous CRT monolith and finally join the world of High-Definition. I’m not usually one to crow about graphical fidelity or anything, but my, is it purdy. I’ve most recently been playing a lot of Need for Speed: Most Wanted (the PS3 one, although I still sort of maintain that the original one is better, if less pretty) and my goodness does it look good. Obviously, I’m a massive automotive nut and am “well into” motor racing and stuff so am already slightly aroused by the sight of attractive pieces of metal and carbon fibre moving at high speed, but NFS:MW it a delight to look at; with its lovely reflections and lens flare and sunset filtration and gorgeously cinematic, pre-race short films.

Oddly enough for an avid watcher of motor racing and things going fast and things, racing games have never, really, found a particularly special place in my heart: yet, I can’t really explain why. Somehow, the accurate racing simulations (Gran Turismo, Forza, Project Gotham Racing, etc.) have always felt too methodical and not enough like a game to me; requiring expenditure of countless hours in the digital garage, tweaking every last nut and bolt in order to shave hundredths-of-a-second off a lap time. Funnily enough, I adore stat-based /RPG elements in a story-based game with character development and adventurin’, but grow restlessly yawnsome when I’m forced to stare at too many stats and upgrades in other genres (strategy, simulation, etc.). My main motivation, when playing a video game, is still to have fun; whereas simulation games (be them racing, farming or goat simulators), for me, have always placed too many barriers in front of the important business of fun.

Need for Speed has always felt a little different, though; blending some aspects of the engine-tweaking upgradability with the sheer, foot-to-the-floor velocity of OutRun. The movement of Criterion Games developing many of the latter Need for Speeds (Hot Pursuit, Most Wanted and The Rivals) has meant that they’ve absorbed a lot of the features that Criterion previously introduced to Burnout; slow-mo, metal-bending crashes and friendship-ending revenge takedowns. Weirdly, then, NFS:MW feels like a public safety video highlighting the perils of street racing; with time slowing to render every smash, shunt and shimmer in a haunting ballet of wrangled metal. It’s been a genuine delight to take such a perverse amount of pleasure at watching digital cars crashing/breaking in high-definition, perhaps acting as some sort of poetic justice countering everything else that’s doing its best to self-destruct in my life.

In honesty, I’ve played a lot of Need for Speed: Most Wanted. I discovered some time ago that racing games were one of those rare instances where I can truly lose myself and forget, utterly about the outside world. Perhaps it’s something about focussing purely on whether the next apex is and how you can tread the very fine line between optimised speed and loss of control that stops the rest of my brain (the bit that constantly worries, questions and fears) from gaining any sort of traction [pun intended]. It’s not necessarily that I have any racing talent or skill (quite the opposite; I’m woefully – almost tediously – average when placed on a track), but more a mindset: I’m not the best at multi-tasking, so if I’m concentrating solely on getting ‘round the track in the most optimal time whilst attempting to keep pace with my competitors, then I can’t possibly be thinking about whether I’m wasting my life. [The delicious irony being that, if I’m spending my time playing video games, then I probably am wasting it to some extent.]

Still, with the long, cold Winter finally behind us and the Spring properly gaining traction, it’s relieving to know that that the motor racing season is once again underway and roaring through some of the world’s greatest arenas of asphalt and dirt. Formula One kicked off delightfully a couple of weekends ago and continues in Malaysia in the next few days; the World Touring Car Championship got started in Argentina a few weeks back, and the British Touring Car Championship kicks off at Brands Hatch next weekend. Formula One will always be my soulmate, but I’m aiming to do better at keeping up with both the WTCC and BTCC this year after losing track [pun sort of intended] of both at some point during the summer of last year. I’ll definitely be going to the BTCC at Thruxton for birthday-related shenanigans, and hopefully also the Formula E race that’ll be happening in London around Battersea Park. I’m still holding out a vague hope of being able to get to an F1 race abroad sometime during 2015, but it’s looking increasingly unlikely. Never say never, though.

But anyway, I’ve probably talked enough about shiny metallic things with wheels for the time being.

tl;dr: CARS.

[Zinar7]

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friday_010

F010

Of late, I’ve been worryingly addictive Britcom spiral. It’s probably Stewart Lee’s fault; it usually is.

As has been proved empirically, I could watch/listen to Stewart Lee doing stand-up comedy indefinitely until the end of time. Alarmingly, it’s gotten to the stage that just being in the same aura as Stew is enough to send me into the giggles – so in tune, am I, with the essence of the character of Stewart Lee and his many grumbles and gripes, that I can see his ‘take’ on the real world even when he’s not there. It’s observational comedy, but filtered through the kind of bitter, warped mind that engages with my own bitter, warped mind on a primordial level. For me, his material is progressive; it grows with age, like a Pink Floyd record that improves with every listen and reveals more facets of ‘funny’ in a way that – in Chris Morris’ own words in Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle series three – “knowingly operates the levers that make people laugh [by using any means possible apart from actually saying anything funny].”`

Such is his grip on the very essence of what tickles my brain’s funny nerve, I think of it as a Good Thing™ that even passing reference to Stew’s material helps to brighten everyday life immeasurably; breaking me into giggles and making me – at least temporarily – forget the darker clouds in the world. To be fair, this very fact is probably why I deploy comedy/movie reference with a machine-gun frequency, since it helps me to make light of the world’s troubles and to briefly shine some sunlight into the gloomier corners. Just thinking about crisps, or toilet books, or visible otters makes normal life minutely more enjoyable, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I’m incredibly excited about that fact that, in January 2016, I’ll be seeing Stew for the third time; at the South Bank Centre for a special gig where he’ll perform – back to back – all six episodes of the upcoming (or, will be) Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle series four. I still think that his Caffé Nero routine from If You Prefer a Milder Comedian, Please Ask for One is one of his best, helped by the genius audience engagement over the forged loyalty card.

Naturally, for every side of the coin there must be a counter-side; for every Stewart Lee, there must be a Richard Herring. For me, Richard Herring’s Leicester Square Theatre Podcast (or as all the cool kids are calling it, Ruh-Heh-Less-Tuh-Puh) has been a bit of a revelation; tapping into my utter comedy geekdom of hearing many of my Brit comedy heroes interviewed about whether they would prefer an armpit that dispensed suncream or a hand made of ham, and whether they’ve ever seen a bigfoot. Part of the attraction, for me, is hearing comedians just talking; not delivering material on purpose or trying too hard to be funny, just talking.

I’ve been genuinely charmed by the ongoing drama of the “who broke the cupboards in the Edinburgh Fringe 2002 flat?”; the story of how Stew once wanked off Richard with a 100-year old ventriloquist’s dummy; or Rich’s continuing descent into insanity through the medium of playing snooker against himself in his basement and recording it for the internet (Me1 vs. Me2 Snooker). Also, I PAID A POUND:

P1050328

Part of this Lee and Herring adventure was inspired by the discovery of magic of Fist of Fun; Rich and Stew’s first TV show from 1995. The characters of Richard Herring (“…and I am called Richard Herring”) and Stewart Lee (“No, not ‘ahh’ “) work so well, and so many more of my favourite Britcom heroes [Rebecca Front, Kevin Eldon, Al Murray, Peter Baynham, Alistair MacGowan] that it can hardly fail to impress. After having watched the entireity of Series One at a friends’ house over the course of a single evening, I found an almost mechanical response to order myself the box-set of both series before my brain had even registered that anything had happened. I’m yet to even plunder the delights of S2 given that I’ve been 100% absorbed in going back through S1, trying to catch all the background jokes and going through all of the “slow-mo” bits to harvest the comedy gold held within.

[ And while we’re on the topic of classic Britcom shows that I’m only just getting round to catching up with, I also watched recently – for the first time ever – Knowing Me, Knowing You with Alan Partridge. I’m not sure how I’ve really escaped watching it until now, given how much I’m in love with everything AGP has done since I’m Alan Partridge, but it’s reassuring to know that I’ve finally corrected this heinous error. ]

Thinking about it, despite my proclamation in the opening paragraph that everything is Stewart Lee’s fault, upon reflection I think that it’s probably Armando Iannucci that is to blame for most of my Britcom geekdom. With an absolutely flawless record, I adore everything that he’s worked on and everyone he’s worked with: Steve Coogan, Chris Morris, Lee & Herring, Jesse Armstrong, Graham Linehan; I’m Alan Partridge, The Thick of It, Time Trumpet, yada yada yada. He’s just an incredibly perceptive, switched-on satirist that seems to just be able to tap into pure comedy and write exceptionally funny situations and characters and surround himself with talented writers, actors and producers with a similar sense for funny. I’m still yet to catch up on his most recent project (Veep; weaving a The Thick of It-kind of comedy across the Atlantic into the Vice-President’s office of The White House), which extrapolates away from very British comedy and into the deep, dark wilds of the US, but I’m led to believe that it’s easily up to his dazzlingly high standards.

So yeah, you can blame Stewart Lee, Richard Herring and Armando Iannucci for my recent habit of breaking out into giggles at the slightest drop of a hat. But if comedy is an addiction, then you can keep your cold turkey; I’m sticking to the hard stuff.

[Zinar7]

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Boardcrafting +1

Boardcrafting

There’s going to be a bit of a change to the regular Friday Blog cycle, as I feel that I deserve a break from the routine; at least for a week. So, instead of a thousand or so words talking about something opinion-worthy, I’m going to catalogue one of my most recent creative endeavours – my homemade Munchkin Level Playing Field game board – and how one might make one, were one into creative print ‘n’ play board game projects or that sort of thing.

Munchkin has always sort of disturbed me because the essence of the game is to advance your procedurally-generated dungeon-raiding character from Level One to Level Ten (with the winner being the first player to reach Level 10 first), but no materials are supplied with the base game with which to count levels and players must instead use some random tokens, coins, or pen and paper to keep score. Steve Jackson Games does, however, manufacture playing boards and playing pieces that can be bought separately (or as a bundle in the ‘Munchkin Deluxe’ sets), but I thought that – instead of simply ordering them online – it’d be more fun to try and make my own. This post catalogues the process of trying to put them together.

So, what does this thing look like? Well, the finished article looks like this:

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To put it together, I started with a plain hardback (A5) notebook from PoundLand (The Theatre of Dreams™) , and removed the pages and the metal spine so that I had just the front and back covers; which I (temporarily) taped together with book-binding tape to hold it together. I then sketched out a series of boxes, one to ten, along which the playing pieces would move in order to track levels.

I took the idea of replicating the Munchkin Deluxe board because I liked the idea of the board representing the dungeon that the adventurers are questing through, observed as a top-down view of a winding castle, or something. This way, it’s easier to figure out who’s in the lead and hence whether you want to either hinder them or lend a hand in return for bonus loot.

The next process was to paint up the background areas (green for grass outside the keep), and grey for the castle’s rooms. I used acrylic paints and a regular brush, and I quite wanted it to look ‘rough’ and weathered somewhat so I used quite a lot of dry-brush techniques to “scrape” paint onto the board. When I was done, I outlined the walls with a black Sharpie and then a silver-finish Sharpie for the inner section of the walls.

Munchkin_8

I wanted to add some definition to the inner walls, so I added a stone brick pattern to the outside faces of the walls with a very fine marker, just for funsies. I painted up the starting box (1) and ending box (10) up in more bright colours to reflect “Victory”, and designated each room with the relevant level number.

Because I wanted the notebook to represent a fictional dungeon-quester’s notebook (perhaps akin to a character notebook from Dungeons and Dragons), I wanted to give it a fantasy/role-playing feel so I removed the book-binding tape and replaced it with old, worn yarn that I found in the shed. I cut lots of thin strips of it (about 10-15 cm in length) and then tied them in loops through the holes of the original notebook’s spine. As a final flourish, I decorated the front of the board with the words ‘Munchkin Adventurer’s Notebook’, comme ça:

 

Right, so that’s the board finished, but what do we use to count? Well, instead of buying a Bag O’ Munchkins, I turned instead to shrink plastic to make some ~7 cm pieces to insert into plastic stands to represent each player.

I scoured through a bunch of cards from the base Munchkin deck to find some interesting characters, scanned the cards in and blew them up before printing them to a scale that the character was around 12 cm in size. I used Shrinkies clear shrink plastic, traced the outline with a black Sharpie and then coloured in the relevant area with other Sharpie pens. I needed 6 (because Munchkin plays three to six players), so to be sure of not screwing up, I made nine pieces and cut them out; making sure not to leave too many ‘thin’ bits because I found that these tended to warp very badly when fired in the oven.

I set the oven to “grill” (PUNS.) and lined a baking tray with tin foil. Then, one by one, placed each sheet into the oven for a few minutes (until it goes all curly, shrinks down and flattens out again) before removing it and immediately pressing it under a heavy book in order to flatten out the piece. After touching them up a little bit with the markers where the ink slightly melted and smudged, they were placed in their plastic stands. Because one or two went badly wrong in the oven, and a couple ended up noticeably out of scale with the other playing pieces, I was left with six complete pieces: two male, two female and two monster-ish; which I put in stands, ready to play with 🙂

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I’m pretty pleased! I think they look rad, even if no-one else agrees with me. Plus, everything still fits in my base Munchkin box, et voila:

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So yeah, GO GO GADGET CREATIVITY.

[Zinar7]

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friday_009

F009

In my entry from last Friday, I qualified my thoughts on video games and gaming by explaining that I find the process of play to be fascinating.

It’s true, I do find the act of playing to be something that’s always an interesting process – partly due to some of the more obvious excursions that play allows (role-playing as some far-flung hero; making decisions or play-acting in a way that doesn’t affect anything meaningful in real life; etc.), but also because I really enjoy engaging with other people in a ‘play’ scenario. That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy socialising with people in a normal setting or just offhand – I mean that I find it very interesting to see what other people do when they’re engaged in something that doesn’t have proper consequences in real life; to see what choices they make and what strategies they employ in winning the game or tackling the problem at hand.

For me, his fascination has, most prominently, been propagated through my expanding passion for board- and tabletop gaming; the social aspect of which still properly brings me a whole fuckton of joy. I miss the good times of the PlayStation/PS2 and Nintendo 64/GameCube console generation(s) where, routinely, four people would come together to hammer out a few rounds of GoldenEye 007, Micro Machines V3 or Mario Kart: Double Dash!!. There are, of course, exceptions to the rule but multiplayer video games now overwhelmingly force players to be separated by a connection barrier rather than just a simply sharing a multitap and a beanbag in front of the TV. Part of this feeling is borne of nostalgia, but it’s mainly a frustration at how good things used to be and how the community of gaming friends crouched around a tiny CRT monitor looking at a tinier quadrant of screen felt far more connected and social than the gargantuan, exhaustive ‘community’ that online play now elevates.

Part of the reason that I’ve grown so attached to tabletop gaming, I think, is that it helps propagate a worthwhile social aspect of play that has (rather disappointingly) all but vanished from digital gaming. Sure, text and voice chat still exists in PC and console gaming and it’s easy to arrange your friends to be connected to you in a virtual space, but it’s not the same as being able to gloat theatrically and extensively in the face of a friend – sitting right next to you – who’s just been blown up by a Blue Shell right before they cross the finish line and pipping them to the post.

In short: Sharing the same, physical, social space with a bunch of close friends while engaging in the process of play is infinitely more entertaining than getting 360noscoped and being called a homosexual by a fourteen year-old you’ve never met on the other side of the world.

The rise of German-style “designer” board games can, partly, be interpreted as a reaction to the ebbing sense of ‘social’ play in modern video games. As consoles have gained online capabilities in the last 10/12 years, (online) gaming has transitioned video gaming away from the “family” environment (with a small group of people in your own living room) to engaging with vast servers of unknown, random nodes across a gargantuan network. While board games have always been a popular activity – before and after the invention of video games –  I have definitely noticed a trend in how designer board games have swelled in number over the last six or seven years and even begun to infiltrate shelf-space in more mainstream shops (i.e. those that aren’t specialist gaming stores) on the High Street. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that these trends tally up quite so well.

Naturally, there are likely a whole lot of other reasons why these trends exist and it’s unlikely to be so simple a correlation that one can say, without question, that the shift towards online multiplayer video gaming has stoked the fires of Euro-style board gaming. But I think that there’s definitely a pattern involved, and perhaps it’s one that’s associated with gamers becoming a little disillusioned with the state of modern, AAA video games and aching to rediscover a sense of community play that seems to be growing more absent with each console generation.

In parallel, I’ve noticed a growth in the establishment of more, local tabletop gaming groups, and the population of existing ones swelling in number as more people discover the hobby. From personal experience, the genetic make-up of most of these groups tends to be formed, predominantly, of blokes in their thirties and onwards; at least, among those that aren’t based at, or very near, University campuses and the like. I might be painting with some fairly broad brush-strokes here, but I often feel like quite a proportion serious board game hobbyists are, perhaps, the kind of people that used to play video games but, perhaps, have fallen out of favour with them in the last few years; turning to tabletop gaming as more of an alternative. Of course, I haven’t canvassed the opinions of many of the board gaming community as to whether this is a 100% accurate deduction, but I’d be willing to place some stake behind being at least partially on the money.

The fact of the matter is, I still get a major kick out of engaging with people while we’re playing together; be it in digital world, or in a physical space. That passion is something that is hard-wired into me; like breathing and walking. But, the biggest buzz still comes when I collect together people into the same geographic location to play, and any method of making that happen anywhere and everywhere  is all good in my book.

[Zinar7]

 

If you’re into board gaming and attractive ladies – or, more specifically, attractive ladies playing board games and writing about them in an amusing and intelligent way – then you should check out The Misery Farm: How to Win Games and Alienate Meeple [themiseryfarm.com] because it has all of that and more, and blogs about board game-type stuff way better than I ever could.

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friday_008

F008

This week’s Friday blog (and, likely, next week’s too) is going to be focussed a little bit on games of various sorts, because I find the whole subject of play to be totally fascinating.

It recently dawned on me that, as I approach my 30th birthday, very soon I will be taking my passion for playing video and computer games into my fourth decade on Planet Earth. Age-wise, I’m at the tail-end of the first proper generation of children that had video games as a major Thing in their lives, and I’ve been playing computer games as a serious hobby (and without any breaks) for 23-odd years now. Video games have been a constant presence in my life for as long as I can remember, and I’ve always fanned the flames of that passion by throwing myself into gaming at every possible opportunity and with every major console generation at, and since, the 16-bit era.

It’s only now, though, that I’ve sensed that I’m not really in touch with gaming anymore. I’m at a point, now, where I feel no great urge to make the leap into the current console generation of PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Wii U; nothing that draws me in to new hardware, nor encourages me to invest in the short-sighted output of AAA-studios and cash-hungry publishers. At least for the time being, I’m perfectly happy with my PS3 and my PC (and my Wii, my PS2, my GameCube, my DS, yada yada) and don’t feel like a few more pixels or some extra ultraFLOPs of processing power are going to lead to me having any more fun than the fun that I currently have with the machinery I already own, or owned in the past.

It used to be different, though: I remember the days of playing blocky, LucasArts point ‘n’ click adventure games where it was 100% about story and gameplay and not a jot about photorealistic textures, and hashy polygon-based stunt racing games where the absence of car physics and multi-reflective surfaces were no hindrance to the process of having a blast. I funnelled umpteen hours into Lemmings, The Simpsons: Bart Simpson vs. the Space Mutants, Sleepwalker, Soccer Kid and Lotus Turbo Challenge II, even though they looked like crap, didn’t necessarily play that well, and routinely broke or glitched out because of bugs or because the floppy disk was knackered. That was my era of gaming; one where I recall – with a misty-eyed expression – the simultaneous joy and frustration at having to constantly insert and eject Money Island 2’s ELEVEN floppy disks in order to load new scenes or dialogue to the game. Of course, while Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge has lost none of its charm and brilliance in the intervening fourteen years, the likes of Race Drivin’ on the Amiga 500+ have long since been eclipsed by genuine progress in design and mechanics, and all but forgotten except by Nostalgia-nerds like me.

Looking at the broad spectrum, games are better now than they were when I first engaged with the hobby: they’re more shiny, better written, work better and are far, far more accepted by the mainstream than I ever dreamt that they would be. The leaps that were made throughout the 32/64-bit era (PlayStation and Nintendo 64) and then onto the 128-bit one (PlayStation 2, GameCube, Dreamcast and Xbox) were genuinely mind-blowing; where the improvement in graphical fidelity was also joined by progress in game engines (and hence gameplay), along with improved cinematic awareness and well-written dialogue and storylines. There’s a reason why many of the most highly-regarded video games (Final Fantasy VII, Super Mario 64, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Half-Life) came from those eras: it felt like mainstream/’AAA’-games were just improving in every way; but never at the expense of fun, and never forgetting that they were there for play.

In the last four-five years, though, I’ve sort of felt like I’m not the target of mainstream games anymore – The need for even better graphics (beyond what we have now; which I could call ‘perfectly adequate’ for representing an immersive virtual world) doesn’t really grab me, and the prevalence for newly-released games to have Day One bug patches or pay-unlockable DLC sort of makes me be a little sick in my mouth. Furthermore, I’m not into sports games like Fee-Fuh; nor ones where fourteen year-olds go around shooting each other with realistic military equipment whilst calling every other player a homosexual. The term “Gamer”, these days, conjures up visions of spotty teenagers playing FIFA 15, Call of Duty and Candy Crush Saga. I’m a person that plays games, but I’m not a gamer.

I’m also not loads into disrespecting women or doxxing anyone that doesn’t 100% believe in the same views as me, which seems to be a big part of calling yourself a “gamer” these days.

Nothing about the PlayStation 4/Xbox One output from their first 18 months or so has shown me that we’re any closer to the asymptote of Gaming Perfection than we were, say, eight to ten years ago, and there’s no sinew in me that feels the urge to make the leap to the next gen. I’m not here saying that “old games were better” or anything like that; my gaming collection still spans over 25 years’ worth of digital fun, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. All I am saying is that – Oculus Rift and VR aside – I don’t truthfully foresee anything truly revolutionary happening to my gaming palate as I turn the clock over from twenties to thirties. It’s been a long time since a new AAA video game truly took my breath away (BioShock Infinite was probably the last one that did that), so it seems like – for now –  it’s still up to the indie gaming scene and my existing collection to continue to produce the most interesting and relevant contributions to my gaming buffet.

So yeah, excuse me while I crack on with some Borderlands, Chrono Trigger and Citizens of Earth. Boom.

[Zinar7]

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friday_007

F007

So, this week…has definitely been a week. It’s most definitely been seven full rotations of the Earth around its spin axis, and definitely been approximately 1.92% of the Earth’s transit around one orbit of the Sun. No-one could possibly argue otherwise unless, by some happy chance, the Universe is sucked into a time vortex that takes the whole of Humanity back seven days before anyone gets to read this. We can only hope.

As weeks go, though, it’s been a bit of a funny one: not one of the easiest to get through, but one that had to happen. I sort of came to terms with some things that I’ve probably needed to come to terms with for a long while. I’m not sure I’ve completely made my peace with them yet, but I guess the key thing is that my head is now attempting to look forward at what’s to come, rather than pointing at the floor and trying to wish that everything would just work out. Sometimes, in order to see the bright and the beautiful, you have to wade through the murky and the miserable.

Naturally, when you feel like misfortune is clogging up every channel of positivity and nothing seems to work out, you start to question the concept of ‘luck’: despite all my best efforts, I don’t feel particularly graced with good fortune at the moment. I mean, of course, I’m a semi-affluent, white male in the developed world that doesn’t need to forage for food or shelter or safety from life-threatening danger each day, so obviously I’ve been graced with a certain, sizable amount of ‘luck’ in my life already. But removing the long-term vision and focussing just on the short-term, things haven’t really been going my way in terms of major life progress: I’m still in between jobs; I’m single, not exactly in Olympic-level fitness and hardly swimming in money a la Scrooge McDuck. It’s not like I’m expecting to win the lottery or anything, but it’s amazing how effective a moderate stream of minor successes and compliments/congratulations can be; and how confidence-eroding it can be when there’s an absence of a breadcrumb trail of good news trickling into your daily life.

But could I have changed any of this? Am I responsible for my own good ‘luck’?

A lot of people put a lot of stock in the power of positive thinking, and how it seems to attract good things towards your face with frequency and velocity. I appreciate that, sometimes, I’m not the world’s most positive person – I realise that I get bogged down by my own flaws and faults, and stuck worrying about how I’m not any of the people I look up to – but I work hard to try to make things and write things and design things as a way of constantly improving something. In that respect, I take great stock in making small, daily improvements to things; analogous to minor stat upgrades in a Role-Playing Game where you’re ever edging your character closer and closer to the required level at which to take on the big boss. Much of the frustration I feel at the moment is that _because_ I’m in between jobs and relationships and whatever else, it’s hard to feel like you’re making such incremental progress to your own operating system (Simon 3.0) because you (arguably) don’t know what you’re working towards.

[In more simple terms: there are no current users of Simon 3.0, so how do I know what features I should be upgrading?]

Of course, the answer to that question is that it should be the other way around – you don’t try to tailor your own operating system to any users (or potential users), you design your OS to work correct for you and it’s up to the users to discover its smooth features and approachable interface. There are a lot of other operating systems out there in the world, but there’s only one you; and if users choose not to subscribe to your network, or applications decide not to port to your system, then the fault lies not with the OS, but with the external device.

Kris Roe of The Ataris possibly summed up this sentiment most succinctly in ‘The Hero Dies in This One’:

“The hardest part isn’t finding what we need to be; it’s being content with who we are. STAY WHO YOU ARE.”

(Kris Roe, 2003)

For too much of the early part of this week, I was stuck in a digital wasteland; shooting imaginary bandits in the head with an array of powerful semi-automatic weapons (that is to say, I was playing Borderlands) rather than facing the world and embracing the wonderful selection of friends that I have around me. Even if I’m in-between pretty much everything at the moment and feeling like I’m not moving forward at all, I’m determined to pick up the courage to let myself wander out in the wild world again. Wandering out into the real, social wasteland may have the potential for actual bad things and bandits, but it’s the only way to truly improve yourself; and it’s better to throw yourself out to the lions than to say that you’ve never been on a safari.

It sounds silly, but the key to not being invisible is to be visible. Throw yourself into endeavours, show the world your face, rather than hiding it. Sitting alone, weeping, in a corner is not the way that I’m going to make my mark on the world or anyone in it; Simon 3.0 has got so much love to give, and it’s resilient as hell. Let’s go on fucking safari.

[Zinar7]

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friday_006

F006

I watched a film this week. In this film, a Nazi spider-robot from the future anally raped an American soldier who had been sent back in time to 50,000 BC to kill a dinosaur-lion thing and investigate an alien flying saucer that had crash-landed there.

Yeah, my brain hurts, too.

This piece of sheer majestic greatness was The 25th Reich; an Australian comedy(?), sci-fi, action, horror…thing from deepest, darkest 2012. I’d discovered this film by accident, having been pounding the streets of Southampton looking for new contenders for my semi-regular B-movie horror gatherings. Yet lo and behold! What should shine out from amongst the standard Hollywood schlock and grime but a sparkling DVD case proclaiming the words: “5 men, 25 dimensions, 1 reality”; adorned with a picture of some US soldiers stood in front of some Nazi spaceships and a sticker saying “£0.75”. Before my brain could even compute what was happening, I found myself at the cashier’s register with the movie in my hand and my wallet 75 pence lighter than it was; suddenly questioning whether what I had just done was a good idea.

Well, what I had just done was cheaper than a cup of coffee and would only eat up 81 minutes of my precious life, so what was the worst that could happen? [Oh yeah, a Nazi spider-robot from the future anally raping an American solider, yada yada yada].

Alas, I’m not going to tell you. Y’see, such is the sheer, intense rage and amusement that The 25th Reich managed to instil in me, I’m going to take some time to really delve into the film; dissect it, poke fun at it and, if absolutely necessary, watch the bloody thing again. I tried my best to formulate my thoughts on it with enough turnaround as to post it here in time for today, but I can only deal with so much madness in one go; so, instead, I’ll post it in a fully-formed, uh, form hopefully sometime soon. I think it’d actually be rather interesting to go through the process for other, similarly-terrible B-movies as well; perhaps as a sort of series, I don’t know. Either way, I’m sure it’ll be fun to revisit the madness again one more time. Maybe.

Okay then, so what good things have I watched recently?

Well, I’ve recently tried to semi-resurrect my commitment to #Project500, my personal goal to try and watch all the of the 500 films ranked as ‘The Greatest Movies of All-Time’ as part of a poll in Empire magazine in 2008. As of today, I’ve managed to check off about 370 of them (to be fair, when I started, I had already seen almost half of the list); in the process, discovering a number of films that would now rank as some of my favourites. The last couple of years have seen a bit of a drop in the tick-off rate, so with the passing of the New Year I decided to sharpen my film-slaying sword and head off back into the #Project500 battle:

From Here to Eternity was a fairly pleasant, romantic drama focussing on a company in the US army stationed at Pearl Harbour just before the infamous attack; The Bird with the Crystal Plumage was a tedious horror/psycho-thriller from Dario Argento that, despite the original film being in English, I somehow managed to watch dubbed into Italian with English subtitles; Seven Brides for Seven Brothers was monotonous drudge with some appalling plotlines, rueful acting and some terrible songs; Topsy-Turvy was an entertaining, light-hearted biopic of Gilbert & Sullivan’s struggles to put on The Mikado; and A Man Escaped was a sort of slow-but-tense, black-and-white film by Robert Bresson, cataloguing one man’s efforts to escape prison after being arrested by the Nazis for being a part of the French Resistance. So yeah, films.

In between the #Project500 adventuring, I’ve also returned to my journey through The X-Files: after a bit of a break, I’ve recommenced at the beginning of season two, where the noticeable step up in quality (of both writing and visual effects) is already apparent. I love that the series perfectly combines my three, separate passions for paranormal conspiracy theories, B-movie special effects and detective drama. Also, if I was gay, I would totally try to it on David Duchovny. I’m not, but it’s good to have a Plan B just in case the whole ‘heterosexual’ thing doesn’t work out.

I’m not a person that really goes in for long-running TV series, and I totally shy away from the modern obsession with ‘box set’ TV unless it’s Game of Thrones. It’s like a constantly-repeating mantra that I feel like I have to repeat to everyone: no, I haven’t watched Breaking Bad. I don’t care how ‘good’ people might say it is; I’m just yet to be convinced by the ‘format’ of long-running drama series – I prefer “cinema” as a concept, where drama and storytelling are communicated concisely and character development is progressed more in a way that I enjoy. I’d rather spend 2-3 hours with a brilliantly concise, well-shot piece of celluloid drama than feel like I have to persevere with a bulldozer of a box set in order to eventually receive the payoff about a hundred hours later. In short: Breaking Bad may well be brilliant for its hundred-odd hours, but 2001: A Space Odyssey manages the catalogue the whole of human existence (from prehistory to a science-fiction future) in just two hours.

Speaking of time-consuming television, I’m once again romping through the whole of The Thick of It with gay abandon and unstoppable laughter. TToI is one of the (albeit, very few) television programmes that I could watch over and over and over again, and I’m once again revelling in the monolithic brilliance that is Malcom F. Tucker. [the other programmes that I could watch endlessly being Peep Show, Green Wing, Blackadder, I’m Alan Partridge, Black Books, Father Ted and The IT Crowd]. There’s just something endlessly cathartic about Tucker’s constant swearing and way with words; as if his expletive-filled rants somehow have a emotional connection to the soul and directly expel everything ‘bad’ from the world. He’s possibly the greatest comedy character ever created, and one which I will never tire of listening to.

Three words: Tim. In. Ruislip.

[Zinar7]

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friday_005

F005

I’ve struggled a bit, recently, with identity.

This has always been a bit of a weakness for me, partly because I’ve never really felt like I’ve fit in anywhere, and because I’ve sometimes felt like I never will. But given my seven-month break from full-time employment and recent changes to my relationship status, I’ve relaxed into a pattern of feeling merely ordinary.

I know that we can’t all be special gothic snowflakes and, as humans, we have no right to feel ‘special’ through every second of every minute of every day but lately, I’ve felt merely like one of the crowd; yet, a crowd in which I don’t truly ‘fit in’ with. Yes, I am aware of the glaring oxymoron: how can you feel just part of a crowd if you feel like you stand out as ‘different’ within it? I don’t know; maybe I feel camouflaged by the other, regular, shambling humans of the world and obscured by the lights that burn brighter in society. I’m not saying that I deserve to stand out or be praised for my achievements/’me’-ness, I just mean that I’m too keenly aware of my role as merely a bipedal mammal in a overpopulated society of bipedal mammals and so have become disillusioned as to how I can make a meaningful impact on the bipedal mammals in my close proximity or the bipedal mammal population as a whole.

Maybe if I believed in religion – or a higher purpose for each and every one of us – then I could have the faith to recognise that we’re all part of highly connected and social society, and that the network of friendships and familyships (and the love that is transmitted along the conduits between them) is what arguably leads to social (and individual) progress. It’s my background as a scientist and engineer, though, that makes me see human society as simply one of thousands of other species; and that the individual populants have no God- or chance-given right to feel anything but part of the hive. I’m not trying to put an outright downer on anything; I’m just expressing my grounded view that – as humans – we’re nothing special. At least, not in the context of the Universe as a whole.

But: you know what? Even in that functional view of the world, we all still have our place and our unique roles. We’re all cogs in the machine; cogs of all different shapes and sizes and functions. I am different. At the very least, I am unique from all the other bipedal mammals in the world, and I have my own – unique – thoughts, talents and abilities that cause me to mean something to the bipedal mammals around me and, who knows, maybe one day mean something special to someone.

So, in the spirit of self-improvement and recognising all of the elements that make up ‘me’ and ‘me’ alone, I thought I’d set myself some homework: use the alphabet (A-Z) to list all of the things I enjoy and that work together to construct the unique bipedal mammal that is ‘me’; what you’d find if you cut me open and performed some mass spectrometry on my chemical formula (FYI: I’d rather you didn’t cut me open, but it’s really up to you).

[A] AFI, Assassin’s Creed

[B] Board Games, B-Movies

[C] Clerks, Chiptune

[D] Daft Punk, Dieselpunk

[E] Earl Grey, Edgeworth (Miles)

[F] Final Fantasy, Formula One

[G] Game of Thrones, Gory Horror Films

[H] Half-Life, Houmous

[I] Inception, In-Line Skating

[J] Japanese Cinema/Animation, Jam on Toast

[K] Kickstarter, Ke$ha

[L] Less Than Jake, Lovecraft (H. P.)

[M] Monkey Island (the Secret of), Monty Python

[N] Nine Inch Nails, Night-Time City Lights

[O] Okami, Orbital Mechanics

[P] Point-and-Click Adventure Games, Peep Show

[Q] Quizzes, QI

[R] Rush [the band], Rez

[S] Star Wars, Scott Pilgrim

[T] Turisas, Terry Pratchett

[U] Ümlaüts, Unending Sarcasm

[V] Velociraptors, Victorian London

[W] Wes Anderson, WASD + mouse

[X] Xenoblade Chronicles, X-Files (the)

[Y] YouTube Parties, Your Mum

[Z] Zelda (The Legend of), Zombie Nazis

 

Furthermore to this activity, I also recently started a self-imposed task to enrich my life with more positive, affirming music that encourages me feel good and awesome and other positive words. I called this task #Rule32, from Zombieland’s wise words to “Enjoy the little things”. So, I now have a Spotify playlist with which, each day, or at least every day I remember to, I add a new song that makes me feel like an awesome person. You can find it here:

Today’s song (013 // Foo Fighters – Something from Nothing) has particular meaning for me on this journey, so I’m going to write a few words about it: Foo Fighters were the first band that I properly got into on my journey to rock/metal addiction, around the time of There is Nothing Left to Lose. All of Dave Grohl’s work has properly captivated me (from Nirvana to Probot to Them Crooked Vultures to his drumming with QOTSA, Ghost, Tenacious D, yada yada yada), but Foo Fighters have always hit me direct in the heart.

‘Something from Nothing’ hits doubly hard, because it rings true with me: in truth, I’ve made something from nothing; I’ve made a something of myself, all on my own. Everything I’ve done and achieved in my life, I’ve done on my own. I’ve had very little in the way of leg-ups in life, and I’ve worked fucking hard to make everything I’ve made for myself. I’ve been lucky as well, but everything that I’ve gathered around me and left in my wake is the result of an incredible amount of perspiration, dedication and persistence.

I came from a tiny, rural town in the middle of nowhere, escaped the trappings of being overweight, lonely, picked-on, confused, afraid and whatever-the-hell-else to push myself hard enough to get through ten+ years of hard work to become a Master of Aerospace Engineering (with Astronautics) and, latterly, a full-on Doctor of Philosophy in space-y type stuff. I’m soon going to be starting a new job that continues this career path, and pushes me even higher and harder. Even if my brain sometimes try to convince me otherwise, I’ve achieved an incredible amount and have turned into a person that I’m proud to be.

I am something from nothing. I, more than anyone, need to remember that.

[Zinar7]

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