I ran the course: Bupa 10,000

I’ve literally just stepped in from running the Bupa 10,000, and can’t bear to hide the ecstatic mood I’m in. I probably shouldn’t be blogging with all this adrenaline pumping round my system, but I thought it best to capture the raw mood of it all.

It was absolutely fantastic, and I loved it, despite not training nearly as much as I should’ve, and getting a stitch at around 4K that stayed with me for the next few kilometres. It was a slog, to be honest, but it was so worth it. According to my calculations, I actually made it round the course faster than my previous 10K attempts, clocking in (this is an estimation, remember) at just under 50 minutes. I was given a timing chip, so my official time will be posted online tomorrow, so watch this space! Some might call that slow, but I’ve never referred to myself as anything else than a slow runner, so I’m very pleased!

I was surprised to be placed in the second wave from the front of the race. For the non-runners among us, they aggregate all runners into ‘waves’ based on speed, and release them at the start with a few minutes between each. This was kind of shocking, to say the least, as I’ve never thought of myself as anything other than an averagely paced runner, but it was a nice boost to my confidence nonetheless. I actually didn’t have that many people overtaking me, and actually overtook a lot of people as the race was drawing to a close, while doing my best to spur them on with shouts, cheers and hearty thumbs up. They might have thought I was slightly deranged, but the thought was definitely there.

It never ceases to amaze me that there is an unbelievable sense of camaraderie, and undeniable sense of unity amongst your fellow runners at these events. Usually, I’m one to believe that society is inherently broken, but I’m always gobsmacked that for one day, people forget about their egos, their reticence, and their apathy, and are just…well, normal people, and behave as normal people should do. I got talking at the starting line to three fellow runners around me. You can just approach someone and start up a conversation, without them thinking you’re a weirdo. It’s astonishing. The route-side supporters were amazing too, and I cannot thank them enough. Epilepsy Research UK sent me some iron-on letters with my running vest, so I could emblazon my name across the front of my vest. I can’t count the number of remarks I had from well-wishers. “Come on Aris”, “You can do this, Aris”, “You’re the man, Aris”. My most vivid memory is from just past the 8K mark, when a man, standing with a group of supporters, shouted, “COME ON, ARIS”, and I went a bit mental, shouting back, “YEAH, ROCK AND ROLL”, while skipping and pumping my fists in the air. They probably did think I was a bit of a weirdo, but it certainly gave me the drive to hold my pace, and in fact, speed up a little for the last two kilometres.

It’s moments like this that really restore my faith in society, and let me know that there are, in fact, some decent people out there. I suppose it’s given, seeing that the vast majority of runners are raising money for charity, all in different coloured running apparel, giving off the impression of a sea of colour, especially on the approach to hills. I, myself, raised over £200 for Epilepsy Research UK; a phenomenal amount. I’d like to thank all of my lovely sponsors, and also remind the rest of you that you can still donate at http://www.justgiving.com/aris, if you so wish.

I can’t think of how to round off this entry. I’m just filled with such happiness and love for the world right now. If anyone who completed the 10,000 happens to encounter this entry, then well done! You are a legend, whoever you are, and it’s people like you who make the world a better place.


An Acer Visit: Qualitative Marketing

One of the obligations of my illustrious field marketing job, is that I occasionally have to attend training days at various company offices. Today was one such day, where I visited Acer HQ in London to learn about one of their new laptop ranges that I’m meant to be demonstrating soon. There were presentations by Acer, Microsoft, and Intel. Without divulging too much information (I don’t want to break some sort of non-disclosure agreement I’m sure I’m bound by) there was a very interesting section of the Intel presentation that got my attention.

We were all talked through the various models of Intel processor (Atom, Celeron, Pentium, Centrino) and then a chart was brought up, which showed all of the different processor types. However, they were all grouped according to a newly devised ‘five star’ rating, to explain how powerful each processor was. The ‘five star’ category was deemed as “Best”, with the one star rating being referred to as “Good”. The floor was then opened, and we were asked what we thought of this new rating system, which I’m sure Intel are eager to promote.

The point came up that customers always want to buy what’s best on the market, even if it exceeds their needs. This is very true. I don’t like this five star rating system, and completely discourage Intel from using it. Firstly, I don’t like the way they rank processors against one another. Sure, some processors are more powerful than others, but you can’t really compare an Atom, which is made for netbooks, with a Core 2 Quad, and I think it’d detract from sales (not to mention being bad for their Atom line which was ‘one starred’) to compare processors in such a quantitative way. People talk, and think in words, not numbers. By telling them that a processor is only one out of five stars, you’re clearly going to put anyone off from buying it. Indeed, I can see that Intel tried to get around this by labelling their one star selection as ‘Good’ and not ‘Basic’, but I think words like this need to be avoided in marketing at all costs. In these hard times, you can’t afford to alienate your customers who are searching for a bargain by telling them that your entry level products aren’t great. Certainly, I’m sure they are great, they’re just built for different things. Instead of this method of ranking, why don’t we draw on human nature and label our products qualitatively instead. That is, to label them with words, instead of numbers. Intel, instead of presenting a chart with horizontal bars, representing their different ranks of processor, should instead turn that into a chart which presents the different processor types in vertical groups, to quell all notions of any superiority between processors (unless, of course, you’re looking at it from a consumer psychology angle, in which case either the left or right will have precedence, depending on what country you’re in). Instead of the rather garish and offputting five-star rating, why not simply label, say, an Atom processor as ‘Efficient’ or for ‘On the move’, and a Core 2 Quad as a ‘Performance’ processor? It makes a lot more sense, I think. People think words, so why not present things to them in a format they can easily understand?

Just something to think about.

I started this at 4:25 AM

I’m sure we’ve all experienced those nights where you go out, to a club, and no matter how much you drink, you don’t get drunk. Last night was one of those nights for me.

Clubs are funny things. They’re places where it’s given that you’ll get drunk to a silly degree, and dance like a loon. Indeed, it’s considered as abnormal if you don’t. I handed in my final essays for my degree course yesterday. I’m lucky enough not to have exams either, so this is it for me, really. My degree is effectively over. We had a send-off from one of our rather legendary lecturers, in the afternoon, and then a ‘drinks and nibbles’ session with a whole host of lecturers. The wine flowed, free of charge, and I drank and ate what little vegan food was on offer, and was generally in a merry way. I was also very flattered, as the rather legendary lecturer I have mentioned wore my hat for a bit, did a dance, and then signed it. I’m certainly never washing that hat again. Not that you can or should wash baseball caps. I couldn’t help but supress a profound feeling of elation, when I was sitting in the lecture theatre, listening to the send-off speeches. I have had an absolutely amazing three years, that I wouldn’t change for the world. I’ve changed so much as a person, and I’ve met many wonderful people, who I’m sure will become life-long friends. During those speeches, it was revealed that we’d each written around 64,000 words for our degrees, in total. That’s almost a PhD thesis, and made me feel, more than anything, that I had achieved something monumental.

Afterwards, we’d all previously decided to go out to a club to celebrate, which we did. I journeyed home, by way of the pub, made myself look a tiny bit more presentable and then headed out. I had been a little wobbly prior to the club, but the walk there sobered me up. I remained that way for the rest of the night. When I met up with my friends, and we finally got inside the club, so began the inevitable, alcohol-fuelled regression into mindless head bopping, body-popping and headbanging. That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy any of those things. On the contrary, I love it. I’ve had my share of experiences with ‘the bottle’ since coming to university, and it seemed that last night would have been a great opportunity to capitalise on my freedom and let my hair down. My hair was certainly let down, but alas, whatever I drank, I did not get drunk.

This might have been something to do with the two punches I received to my left eye. The first one was merely an accident; a misplaced elbow from a tall friend, but I think the second was malicious, while I was headbanging to Killing in the Name, an inevitable yet somewhat sad thing, on any night out. Because of my long hair (I have long hair. For those of you who didn’t know already: surprise!) the expectation is for me generally to headbang when any rock song comes on. Stereotypes are dangerous and awful things. I actually love headbanging, I just don’t like the fact that I’m stereotyped as a headbanging kind of guy. I’d like for there to be the option for me not to headbang, is all I’m saying.

For the rest of the night, I danced quite like a loon, and helped a couple of my friends, some lovely ladies on the lacrosse team, avoid the spurious advances of the more lecherous males present at the club. Most of it came down to the girls being either too shy, or too nice, to tell any lecherous males to simply go away, when they would approach them from behind, latch on to the hips of these girls, and begin gyrating. I think it’s horrible that some feel they can just be that domineering over a random woman, or indeed a random person, regardless of gender. I approached one of these lecherous males, who, off his face, insisted on picking up a poor girl who clearly didn’t want to be picked up by a doddering, drunken man. This man then fell over backwards, taking the lady he was carrying to the ground with him. He got up and tried to repeat this poorly thought out process. When I pulled the woman away, and told him that carrying anyone in his state was not a good idea, he said to me, “Mate, I’m going to fucking kill you,” to which I replied, “Mate, you can’t even see me.” I know he probably didn’t intend to be that aggressive, or rude to me, but it goes to show the male ego at full swing.

Anyhow, back to these lacrosse ladies. We went on to the dance floor, and they began to dance with each other. A group of men approached, and began attempting to dance with them, which resulted in some erksome dance routines from myself, to get them to the other side of the room. This continued for a while, until at least one of them decided she’d be quite happy ‘hooking up’ with one of the gentlemen who was pursuing her. With my job done, I exited to the beer garden, and had many amusing chats with my ‘wobbly’ friends.

As the night was drawing to a close, I began talking to a friend of mine off my course, whose housemate was in a very bad way. We were ushered outside, when the above incident took place, where I was threatened with death. As one of these ladies was in an extremely bad way, I decided to walk them home, pushing the housemate out of the way of traffic lights and bins all the way. We reached their house, and the housemate went inside to go to sleep. I sat outside, on the wall, with my friend, and we had an extremely long chat about all sorts of things, including the nature of life, whether or not there is a fate that governs us, future careers and so on. It was nice. We even encountered an extremely drunken fellow who passed us, asked us for directions, and sat down on the wall next to us. He was hilarious.

Eventually, the sky began turning a dark purple, and the time came to walk home. I’m not sure why, but for the rest of the morning, I felt very, very alone. I began thinking the way I usually do when I get drunk. I’m usually a quite outgoing, happy and optimistic person, but I fully admit to being a very boring drunk. The journey is very merry, but the destination is quite dire. When I’m drunk, I begin thinking about the world and all of its deficiencies and its shortcomings. For some reason, I can only think of all of the pain and hurt in the world, which makes me very sad indeed. Most drinkers will agree that when drinking, one reaches a certain point in their journey where they experience a moment of clarity. Maybe what I am describing is my moment of clarity. The only thing strange is that I believe I see the world more clearly then, than I could ever do when I’m sober. I think the only difference is that when I’m sober, I possess the drive to put on a happy face, and to try and make the world a genuinely better place.

Maybe it’s a good thing I didn’t get drunk, then.

Life, generally.

I’m now 21, and I’m just as clueless as to where my life is going. I have ideas of things I want to do, but not really any idea of how I’m going to get there, or what choices to make, or anything of the sort. My life is confusing.

As I’ve mentioned previously, I’m at a crossroads in my life. I’m on the verge of graduating from university with a BA in English. The world is literally my oyster, but I’m not at all ready to live in the real world. I’m only starting to really discover my strengths, and what makes me unique as a person.

I have worked, for the past couple of years, for various marketing agencies, in field marketing. That’s a rather posh way of saying I usually have to stand in stores and demonstrate various things to various people. Most of my work has something to do with the technology sector, so I spend my time explaining how mobile broadbrand works, showcasing and encouraging people to buy a certain kind of laptop, or demonstrating how a certain camera works, and what sets it apart from the competition. I enjoy the challenge. As I’ve also said previously, I love talking to people and communicating generally. I also enjoy learning about different technologies, and I love the new challenges that each campaign brings. It’s not glamorous, or, let’s be honest, hard, but I enjoy it. Very early on in my marketing career, I started wondering about the logic behind marketing. Last summer, I worked a job involving direct sales of a certain credit card. It wasn’t pretty, but I was quite good at it, I think, because I noticed quite early on that everyone thinks in a different way. This might sound stupidly obvious, but there’s a definite art to it. I had to approach each encounter differently. For instance, a man with business on his mind wants to hear about the APR of the card, the monetary benefits, the numbers. As I was selling the card in a supermarket, there were also quite a lot of mothers, who don’t really want to hear any figures, and prefer hearing how the card can help them with their shopping, by providing them with better value which can turn into an occasional free shop. I don’t need to say any more than this. It’s common sense. Some might call it ‘cold reading’. I did, for a while, but there’s definitely an art to it.

A while back, I purchased the rather excellent Why We By by Paco Underhill, who’s pretty much the founder of what is called ‘consumer psychology’, a certain kind of environmental psychology that considers the behaviour of shoppers. Some call it ‘the science of shopping’. Unfortunately, I haven’t made my way through the whole book yet, but what I have read is really quite excellent. It spoke to me, and validated my musings. I don’t really know what makes this certain facet of psychology appeal to me so much, but I just love it.  Mr Underhill is CEO and founder of Envirosell, probably one of the only marketing firms in the world who use consumer psychology to help their clients, but definitely the best. It’s quite a new area of marketing. I’d imagine that some people are quite adverse towards it, shrugging it off as rubbish, but it actually works. The numbers are there.

With this in mind, I decided to completely go against my English background and consider enrolling for an MSc in Marketing Management at my university. I went along to an open day a while back, and spoke to one of the lecturers, expressing my interest in consumer psychology. The lecturer said he thought it was great that I had some actual idea of what I wanted to learn about marketing, and recommended even applying for PhD funding. For me, this is kind of a dream come true. Because of my English undergraduate degree, I found very quickly that finding marketing, or any consumer/environmental psychology course that would take me on a bit hard. What’s more, I couldn’t jump straight into researching consumer psychology in either an academic or occupational way, because I need some sort of grounding in marketing first.  But, if I do get my PhD, I’ll get to become a consumer psychologist, and do what all consumer psychologists do, and watch thousands upon thousands of hours of store video tapes, looking at shopper habits. I’m also very interested in the differences between US and UK advertising. Advertising in the UK is just so creative, probably because of the great many restrictions we have, but it’s a diverse, wonderful industry. In America, things are very different, with advertising being very bland and to-the-point. I’d actually love to go to New York for a year, visit Environsell, and see how they do things over there. From speaking to the lecturer I mentioned previously, I don’t think I’m going to have any trouble getting on the MSc course because of my enthusiasm for the subject. Getting PhD funding might be harder, but as I’ve said previously, it would really be a dream come true.

That’s one option. On the other hand, and completely different from marketing, is exploring a career in writing. I am a writer, of sorts. I’ve dabbled in poetry in the past, by which I mean I’ve written a lot of angsty teenage stuff. I’ve also recently discovered that I have some talent in writing funny fiction. It’s something I’ve always had, but I’ve only just discovered that it could be considered a talent, as opposed to something that’s a waste of time. Case in point. I am taking a class at university called ‘Writing the Novel’, which is about writing novels. Duh. My seminar tutor is a really cool guy. Actually, he’s the one who encouraged me to start this blog. He’s also the one who encouraged me, today, to use my blog as a place to collect and collate my thoughts, so that’s exactly what I’m doing. For my past two assignments, I’ve written a novel opening about a monkey. This monkey also has rabies. This isn’t a joke, but it is pretty funny. The whole novel is a social critique, of sorts, and is narrated through the monkey’s observations. The other assignment is a short piece about two LARPers who go to B&Q one day to buy a picnic bench, and end up being taken down on charges of terrorism. I know now that I definitely want to turn the monkey story into a novel. The thing that really gets me, is the fact that I’ve discovered that my writing is…well, good, only now. In my younger days, I was always the ‘weird’ one at school. Even back then, I loved writing stories about generally ‘weird’ things, including a superhero alien called Captain Weirdo. I was always criticised for it, though. One of my strongest memories of this involves my Year 6 teacher, Miss Pirie. Whenever Miss Pirie would set us a creative writing assignment, I would always want to write about aliens. I loved aliens, for some reason, and I loved Captain Weirdo. I told all my friends about him, and we would all draw pictures of him and his Space Blobs on the planet Zog. I’ve still got them lying around somewhere, and should probably dig them up as source material for a possible children’s book. Miss Pirie didn’t like aliens, or Captain Weirdo, though. She always chided me for writing about him. Why was I writing about silly, fictional aliens? Things actually got to the point where she banned me from writing about aliens. I remember, for our final Year 6 creative writing assignment, I ripped off the story from Mission Impossible completely. She picked up on it, of course, and criticised me for it, but it would have been no different than if I had written about aliens. Thanks, Miss Pirie. So I suppressed my wacky side for a great while, until now. This creative writing class has given me the confidence to start writing again, and has made me realise that my ideas aren’t a load of bullshit. To cut this short, I plan on writing a lot more of my own writing from now on. As I mentioned to my friend, earlier, it’s like I’ve been harbouring this great gift all my life, but have always shunned it. I realise now that I can write about all these things. Sure, not everyone is going to like it, but some people do appreciate it. I showed my assignment to a friend of mine after I picked it up. I pretended to read something else, but was secretly watching his face the whole time he was reading. The smiles I saw made me very happy indeed. They made me so happy. I’ve always said I’ve wanted a career which involved making people happy, but that’s a long story for another day. This works. This really works, and I think I’m going to carry on with it. I just can’t thank my seminar tutor enough.

My university offer an MA in Creative Writing. That’s another option for me. I’ve enjoyed this year’s creative writing class a lot more than the one I took last year, as I still felt restricted last year in what I could write. I’d say the course has helped me a lot in giving me the confidence to start writing. I’m sure the MA would help me along the way even more. The only thing it wouldn’t help me with is finding a job later on. Think of the marketing as hedging my bets. It’s a tough life out there in the creative industries. I’ve got confidence in my abilities, but that doesn’t mean I’ll make it. It’s also something I’m passionate about, but in a very different way. One thing that my seminar tutor said today really struck me. He said that writing like mine needs to happen, as it’s the life-blood that will keep the industry alive. I’m not sure this is just about me. Maybe I have to write for the sake of literature. That sounds very conceited of me, but I can kind of see his point. We don’t want literature to become saturated with Dan Brown and Jack Higgins novels (those were two writers I could think of – I don’t read a great deal, ironically). That’s not to say I’m better than either of them, I just have a story to tell. A story about a monkey. That has rabies.

Well, I guess that’s what I have to say on that subject. I’ve considered many, many careers, and have many other aspirations, such as getting into the media, but the things I’ve considered in these blogs are my two main passions, so to speak. I’ve still got no idea what I’m doing, or where I’m going with my life. But, if you’ve got this far, thank you for reading.

Sega Mega Drive: Ultimate Collection (X360) – First Impressions (Including a rant about Sonic games)

Today, I turned 21, and this morning, I heard a parcel come through the letter box. It landed on the floor with a thud, and this is what woke me up. Of course, after hearing this, I went back to sleep. When I finally got up, and after taking care of the necessary preparations for the day, such as breakfasting and shaving (a necessary thing today, as I’m actually involved in a question-and-answer activity with second year English students at the university, in a little while) I went and picked up this package, tore it open, and an enormous grin spread across my face, which is still with me now. In the package, was the Sega Mega Drive: Ultimate Collection, which I’d ordered last week. Kind of like a birthday present to myself, which was actually enjoyable. (I have various gripes with Afro Ninja which I might blog about in the future. Suffice to say, we are not good friends.)

I jammed it in my Xbox 360, right away, and my face continued to beam. Me and the Mega Drive go back a long way. When growing up, I was always a Mega Drive kid. None of this Super Nintendo nonsense for me. I LOVED my Mega Drive. In fact, I own two of them; one PAL and one modded and region-free, which my dad bought from a man in a pub when I couldn’t have been older than ten, along with with JAP copies of the original Golden Axe and Bonanza Bros. I whiled away my younger years on a healthy diet of Sonic games, Zombies! (…Ate My Neighbours! in other territories) ToeJam and Earl, and any other Sega goodness I could get my hands on. So, I was generally pleased to see a healthy collection of titles here, including all Sonic, Streets of Rage, Phantasy Star, Ecco the Dolphin and Golden Axe titles, thrown in with gems such as Bonanza Bros., Ristar, Comix Zone and The Story of Thor, which I have fond memories of renting numerous times while growing up. Blockbusters really loved me. In fact, the only thing that would make this package sweeter would be the inclusion of Flashback, which I wasn’t expecting, seeing as it’s one of the only licensed games I’ve played which have lived up to its on-screen counterpart. All in all, there are about 40 games included in the package, which also includes a host of extras, such as developer interviews and unlockable arcade games (SPACE HARRIER!!!) The games also can be indexed by a snazzy five star rating system, to make it easier to find your way around the kaboodle. The disk also includes the option of viewing games in a 16:9 aspect ratio, which understandably distorts (not that it bothers some, but it bothers me) and a ‘sharpening filter’ which I thought was a bit obsolete. Also, and most importantly, the game allows you three save slots for each game, which was something that always bugged me with my original Mega Drive (until they figured that out circa Sonic 3), and was probably why I never finished most of my Mega Drive games, minus a select few. The achievements in this game also stike me as well-thought-out, instead of a rushed afterthought, like you see in some games. I spent the majority of the morning playing the first Sonic the Hedgehog title, and got an achievement for collecting a chaos emerald in a bonus stage, which also unlocked a developer interview. Genius! I then had a quick flick through the achievements page, and they all seem pretty great, mostly linked to high-scores and things that would actually challenge you. Top marks.

While I was flying through Green Hill Zone, I started pondering on what has happened to Sonic games as of late. I was having masses of fun, and yet, the game dynamics are so simple. You are a blue hedgehog. You can run really fast. You run through levels, jumping on enemies (with ATTITUDE!) until you get to the end of the level. Sonic games have REALLY taken a decline in recent years. Admittedly, I did enjoy the Sonic Adventure games, which certainly retained the sense of speed that was achieved in the Mega Drive golden years. However, they mostly just involved holding forward and jumping occasionally. At this time, last year, my good buddy Kyle bought me (with good intentions, I might add) the absolutely abysmal Sonic the Hedgehog (X360). Do not get me started on that game. I might actually review it, at some point, if I’m feeling particularly angry. I still remember Kyle giving it to me, and him saying, “You can’t go wrong with Sonic.” That’s the thing. You can. You really, really can, and Sonic the Hedgehog (X360) is a prime example of this. I think there defininitely needs to be a return to grass-roots Sonic games. Sega have just complicated them so much, with the introduction of numerous hedgehogs, which have abjected Sonic from his origins, thus making the games wholly unenjoyable. Admittedly, Sonic the Hedgehog (X360) did suffer from absolutely atrocious production values, but even Sega’s attempts to redeem themselves with Sonic Unleashed have gone awry. Its attempts to return to the original Sonic formula, such as the side-on camera, was a good decision on Sega’s part. Sega’s insistence on complicating things once again, with the werewolf dynamic, were the game’s downfall. Sega just don’t seem to understand that we want the simple Sonic, of (console) generations past. Heck, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Now, I’m off to play some more Sonic, and enjoy the rest of my birthday. Adieu, dear reader. Until next time.

Running, Reintroduced

Yesterday, I went running, for the first time in a (very) long time. I was scared, to say the least, especially considering that I’m running the Bupa 10,000 in London on 25th May for Epilepsy Research UK. I’m no newbie to the 10K scene, but I thought I was cutting it a little fine, having not trained in a good few months.

As soon as I got running, it was quite different to how I expected it to be. It didn’t feel like a second baptism or anything. On the contrary, I just felt very tired, very quickly. Most runners should know that running is all about mental perseverance, and with this in mind I plodded along on my three minute ‘warm-up’ run, before stretching. What hit me most hard was how very out of breath I was. I am out of shape, dear reader. I guess there’s no easy, comical or jovial way to say that. I was planning on rendezvousing with some friends across town, and I’d had the bright idea of running to the meeting spot. So, with the clock ticking, I dashed off to meet them.

I was early. That was one thing that surprised me. It couldn’t have been more than a couple of kilometres to where we were meeting, but with the shape I was in, I thought I’d be late, for sure. In all honesty, I only really started running last January. I felt a need for change, and running provided a suitable outlet. Having said that, before I stopped running, at the end of last year, I could have run a half-marathon, if I pushed myself. Comfortably, I could achieve 9/10 miles with no problems. I had been motivating myself, before then, with a series of charity races. I think that not gaining entry into the London Marathon was what killed my enthusiasm for it. Understandably, it was only my first year applying for the ballot, and I shouldn’t have expected to be so lucky as to get a place. As I’ve already said, I’m going for a charity spot this year, which will hopefully also raise a lot more money than I usually would expect to. An unexpected result of my running has been finding out actually how much I enjoy fundraising. I love it, and am so looking forward to raising money (fingers crossed) for my marathon run next year.

Anyhow, back to my story. I reached the meeting spot, and was met by one of my friends who had arrived earlier than I had. She’s running the Race for Life in a short while, a 5K race for Cancer Research. She’s only been running for a matter of weeks, however, so I talked her through some basic stretches, and we went for a warm-up run. As we were returning from this, we encountered my other two friends who were to be joining us, who aren’t really into running as a regular thing, so we continued on our warm-up run for a bit, and then stretched together, before setting off. All in all, I was very surprised. All of them performed very well, beyond my expectations, certainly. I tried to motivate them along our route, which did work, to my surprise! After it was over, we stopped at a pub for a toilet break and a well deserved pint of water.

My friends said they enjoyed my instruction, and even said I’m make a really good PE teacher, which was very flattering. PE really wasn’t among my favourite subjects at school, so I think I might have to pass. That is unless I fail as a young man graduating into the current economic climate, and can find no other job whatsoever. Oh dear. I hope I’m not tempting fate, here…

All in all, it was a great day, and a great run. I thought I performed better than I had expected. While I might be physically out of shape, my running mindset is still very much in place, as is my stamina, and I think that’s just great. Helping out my friends was also a great help to myself. As I ran through the basics of running with them (warm-ups and warm-downs, nutrition, running techniques, etc.) it kind of also worked in reminding myself of everything I should be doing. At the end of the session, we agreed to make it a weekly thing. I look forward to running again with them, and running again generally.

I should also probably mention that I do have a sponsorship page up for my run for Epilepsy Research UK. I’m sure you all know what the deal with epilepsy is, but just to summarise, it affects 1 in 200 people, it’s linked to memory-loss and depression, and it really, really, really sucks. I’ve known people with epilepsy, and it’s absolutely horrible. Epilepsy Research UK are doing some great work towards stopping epilepsy, through things such as  finding and neutralising what causes epileptic fits. They’re a great charity, and lovely people, and could really use your money, being the only UK charity dedicated to funding epilepsy research. Donations are a little dry at the moment, but I’d greatly appreciate it if you could take a couple more minutes out of your day, and donate whatever at all you can spare at the moment. UK taxpayers, PLEASE GiftAid.

Thanks for listening, dear reader. Until next time, consider that you can milk a cow the wrong way once, and still be a farmer, but vote the wrong way on a water tower and you can be in trouble. (J.F.K.)

Afro Samurai: First Impressions

In an attempt at writing something awesome, (I’d hate to bore you, dear reader), I’ve figured that I should probably fill my blog with things that are of interest to other people. As such, I’ve decided to write not a review, but a little bit about my first impressions of Afro Samurai (X360), which I picked up for a  bargain at Tesco a few days ago, as a little post-dissertation treat. That’s right. I’m proper smart, me. On a side-note, Tesco is a pretty great place to buy games, as they seem to be cheaper than most other stores, in some cases, both on and offline. You also get Clubcard points, which I’m sure we all know are great. In case you didn’t know, they’re pretty great. Every little helps!

I’m not really a big animé fan, excluding a brief fascination with Dragonball Z and Gundam Wing which I garnered as a young teenager, courtesy of Cartoon Network’s Toonami, so I’m not really sure what attracted me to Afro Samurai. Probably the fact that it had £20 slashed off the RRP, which is more often than not a bad thing when you’re talking about a fairly recently released game. I think I was mostly attracted to the big RZA badge emblazoned on the front of the box. I’m a great fan of the RZA and Wu Tang Clan, particularly his soundtrack work on movies such as Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai.  However, as I walked out of Tesco, I noticed that the badge smugly proclaimed, in small-print, that the RZA only ‘supervised’ the music in the game. I almost cried. I’ve been foiled again by bureaucracy. Even so, it still stands that I’m completely fascinated by Samurai lore (let’s face it, ninjas suck, in comparison, unless we’re talking about Batman, of course) which makes this one heck of an appealing package. Oh, and Sam Jackson also has probably the biggest vocal role in the game, voicing Ninja Ninja, Afro’s light-hearted sidekick. Think Flavor Flav from Public Enemy (minus the clock) and you’ll get a pretty good idea of the role he’s playing. I’m about three levels in at the moment, and sadly, Mace Windu hasn’t made an appearance (yet), but I have faith. Watch this space.

The actual game itself is a sordid hack-and-slash affair, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I wouldn’t have expected anything else from a game which asks you to play the role of a samurai with a huge chip on his shoulder, matched only by his immense afro. It’s a pretty awesome concept, no? The story is your standard revenge-like, ‘you killed my father’ offering, and tasks you with tracking down the fabled warrior who wears the much coveted #1 headband, who of course, murdered the father of Afro. Nothing stupendous, but I it carries the ‘story’ along as you’d expect in a heavily-discounted hack-and-slash title.

Now, I must stress, that the game looks lovely. I’ve only been playing it on my CRT TV (my lovely 1080p LG flat-panel is at university, I’m afraid) so I still need to see how the game scales up to HD, but from what I can see, it looks really, really nice. Afro and Ninja Ninja are modelled particularly well, and the cell-shading works a treat, giving off a ‘cartooney’ feel, while retaining some level of maturity, given the inevitable masses of blood that you’ll encounter during the game. Combat is a treat, with attacks (of hard, light, and ‘kick’ varieties) stringing together fluidly, and making you look like a total samurai legend. There is also a ‘focus’ mode, which requires focus points, that you get by stringing together combos, which slows down time and allows you to utilise various powered-up forms of your regular attacks. Focus mode also grants you the precision to decapitate your enemies just as you choose. Think a certain enemy has an ugly mug? No problem! Slice it off! Does said enemy have gorilla-like, disproportionate arms? No worries! Do you want to cripple your enemy’s chances of ever being a professional footballer? Feel free! (I hear football was pretty big in feudal Japan) The decapitations are gory and satisfying. Not that I’m into any of that, or anything. It’s just a heck of a lot of fun to do. I particularly like splitting enemies right down the middle. It nets you bonus focus points too, as if you needed an excuse to try it out! Win! The voice acting is also pretty top-notch. Not just Sam Jackson, mind, but the whole cast seems pretty solid, making you feel like you’re in any old samurai epic involving a samurai with a humongous afro. All jokes aside, the voice acting gets the thumbs up from me. The game also ‘feels’ pretty animé-esque, or what I feel is animé-esque, seeing as I haven’t actually seen the Afro Samurai animé.

The game does have its drawbacks, though. It is painfully linear. I got bored of the repetitive routine of button bashing while making my way from checkpoint to checkpoint, in a matter of levels. I have no idea how the game can sustain an audience throughout its entirety, but I’d like it if I was pleasantly surprised. But, yes, it’s very linear, not only in its narrative, but in its level design too. The levels I played did have platforming sections, which were essentially scripted sequences, just requiring you to push a certain number of buttons, while pushing forward, to navigate them. Think QTE with a tiny bit more common sense, or possibly even some parts of Sonic Adventure. Add into the mix a dodgy camera, and rather lazy AI, which allows you to essentially button-bash your way through levels, minus boss-fights, which force you to utilise the game’s creaky block-and-parry mechanic, and you’re left with something that I can see getting quite tedious.

That’s not to say it’s a bad game. It’s a very stylish game, with the dialogue being exactly the right mix of ‘bad-ass’ and ‘kick-ass’. The graphics remain authentic to the animé roots of the title, and the music, which despite only being ‘supervised’ by the RZA, much to my ire, proves to be both quite hip and hop. If you’ve got time to waste, or are just eager for some hack-and-slash action, I’d give it a look. I’m still banking on an unlockable Mace Windu costume, too. I’ll let you know.