Author Archives: ward

Get back at internet scammers with Re:scam AI bot

One day we will have AIs roaming the internet and when they detect scammers writing one of their ludicrous messages about millions left in a bank, they will take a photo or note the IP address and send round a killbot. Until then, sadly, the only options we have when dealing with these massive pricks are to ignore them or have a lot of fun winding them up, pretending to be interested (see video at the bottom).

I read somewhere that scammers purposefully use bad spelling and grammar to weed out those who are more likely to immediately see through their bollocks. Apparently, gullible people just don’t pay much attention to what they read. Their other victims tend to be the less internet-savvy older generation. So in conclusion: they target the vulnerable, so it is fine to annoy or harass them as much as possible.

Replying to them is obviously time-consuming and tedious so the good news is that there is now an AI chatbox thing that will do that for you. The website and bot are called Re:scam and were created by Netsafe – you can check out the website here. If you can’t be bothered, all you actually need to do is to forward your spam/scam email to this address:

me@rescam.org

The AI bot will then keep the scammers busy and consequently give them less time to hassle others. Here is a brief video if you are still baffled:

Another option, of course, is to set up a fake email and bug the shit out of them. This is what James Veitch did and this is his hilarious TED Talk about it:

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Until Dawn review

I got Until Dawn on some sale or other and had been meaning to play it for ages. Then Skyrim VR came out and I thought I had better clear some room on my hard drive by finishing some games. 10 hours and several adrenaline-spiking scares later, and I was done. It was definitely worth it – Until Dawn is a superb game.

The game takes nearly every horror film cliche and turns it into a long movie. Actually, it is more like a ten-episode TV show, complete with ‘Previously on Until Dawn’ recaps.

The story begins with a load of horny, drunken teens in a remote ski lodge that can only be reached by a knackered cablecar, and they do this in winter, at night. There is a tragedy and horror, then it cuts to the actual proper story a year later and the game begins in earnest with the same teens turning up at the same place to do the same stuff. All in order to get over what had happened a year before. Which turns out to be a really bad idea. Cue psychopaths, strange beasties, serial killers, scary clowns, abandoned mental asylums, haunted mines and so on.

The teenagers behave the way they always do in horror films. At first, they go to even more remote spots to have sex, take baths in the dark with headphones in, play with Ouija boards and etcetera. Then, when it turns out there is a genuine threat, they insist on splitting up to explore scary as shit places.

Until Dawn’s story, although cliched, is actually pretty fun and varies depending on the choices you make thanks to the much mentioned ‘Butterfly Effect’. This is actually pretty cool and depending on how you play, you can save everyone, although this is hugely unlikely on your first go. I only had two deaths. Normally when you watch a horror film, you shout a lot at the screen and the stupid choices of the main characters. Well, now you can make those decisions for them and see how you fare. The vast majority of the time, if you have been paying attention, you can save a character just by making a logical choice based on in-game clues. Which is a nice touch.

It doesn’t make you any less jumpy, however.

What also helps is that Until Dawn is really well-made game.  It is moody and dark with a cold and menacing atmosphere. The characters are stereotypes but are well-acted stereotypes using professional actors and advanced motion capture. They are still in the ‘úncanny valley’ but only just and I was able to recognise several of them easily. There is the vaguely unsettling guy from Fargo, the hot blonde cheerleader from Heroes, Agent Ward from Marvel’s Agents of Shield, and the dude from Mr Robot. I don’t know why I can’t remember names but can still accurately quote alien dialect from Star Wars, but there you go. The acting really helps lift the game and adds to the whole cinematic feel.

I really enjoyed Until Dawn and thoroughly recommend it. It isn’t perfect – there can be annoying camera angles and cut scenes followed by a bit where you have to suddenly press a button or die – but on the whole, it is a superb game and a lot of fun. Recommended if you don’t have heart problems and posses a strong sphincter. Here is a trailer:

 

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Deadpool does Bob Ross teaser trailer

If you don’t know who Bob Ross is, then you clearly didn’t stay up late getting stoned while watching terrestrial ‘scheduled’ TV. (I er, saw him on youtube…) Watching Bob Ross was a strangely zen experience – his mad hair and soothing voice were as good as meditation. As an added bonus he also did some simple looking things with paint and brushes that somehow produced a masterpiece. It looked so easy. He was a soothing artistic genius.

So when you think Bob Ross, it is a world away from the brash, loud humour of Deadpool. Well, the latest teaser for Deadpool 2 puts them together and predictably it is really fucking funny. If you were just offended by that swearword then I suggest you skip this clip. For anyone else who has a sense perspective, enjoy.

 

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Writing is fun. Here is how to write more…

I have been trying to shift my priorities of late. I write non-fiction for my day job – journalism, travel pieces and so on – but have always wanted to write fiction. This is Nanowrimo month after all. So far I have written some short stories but that has been all (look up and right and add to basket). I have recently been writing a lot more fiction and it has been a lot of fun. I highly recommend it, it is good for the brain. This website actually started as a kind of catharsis to unwind after writing about marketing trends and area guides and having to abide by ‘house style rules’.

A couple of things have really spurred me on of late. Maybe these will help someone struggling while trying to write their own magnum opus. This isn’t exactly a ‘writing tips’ kind of article, it is more of a blog entry from a personal point of view. I have noticed a couple of themes that appear in every writing tips article however and they are definitely true. If you are attempting Nanowrimo or want to try out writing a book, this might help a little.

Read a lot. I used to read at least a book a week. This was before Netflix and billions of channels. I then went down to a book or two a month. Recently, however, I have cut back on TV and social media and have set aside time to read. (Apologies for the irony if you linked to this through social media.) It has been superb. Inspiring even. The more I read, the more I want to write fiction. I cannot recommend reading a ridiculous amount even if it sounds a bit counter-intuitive timewise.

Write every day.  I do this anyway as I need to eat and buy beer. Even so, writing stuff for work is different from writing what you want. As I said earlier, I started my websites as a way to unwind. I also write a journal which is quite fun (I use the ‘Day One’ app if you fancy it) which limbers up my noggin and helps me get started in the morning. I have recently been writing 500 words of fiction a day and it has been a great target that seems easier to hit the longer I do it. I am thinking of upping it to 1000 a day. Stephen King does 2000 a day which is damned admirable but a while away yet.

Write purely for yourself. This advice really, really helped me. When I write normally, it is with immediate readership in mind, so when I tried fiction, I initially started to doubt if it was good enough. But both writers that I mention below point out that the first draft should be purely for you alone. Edits will follow, so just write for fun.

Read these two things on writing tips. Stephen King On Writing is a great book with a ton of great advice. If you have a short attention span (which doesn’t bode well for your career) or need some more succinct tips for short-term inspiration then Hugh Howey has a four-page guide. The first page can be found here and the rest are linked to from there.

I only thought about writing this post because I have a few friends and acquaintances who try the Nanowrimo thing every year and fail. It is possible that this is the same reason Hugh Howey’s article got in my news feed the other day. Frankly, the world always needs more books and if this helps even a minuscule amount, then I can feel good about myself.

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Easy way to learn Morse Code

You know how in movies and TV there are scenes where someone is stuck /trapped /imprisoned /has their consciousness downloaded to a computer but their humanity remains intact and they want to communicate in their digital hell? (I may have just made that last one up but it seems familiar.) In a lot of these scenarios, they happen to know Morse Code because of some handy backstory or other. Then, joy of joys, someone in another passing group /similarly trapped also happens to know Morse Code and they can communicate.

My dad and his contemporaries, who went to sea, would be handy in these situations as they know Morse Code. I and my friends and contemporaries, however, would be useless; although we would be better at composing an encouraging email with links, pictures and an amusing video clip. Different skill-sets. But it is not just cool Gen X types who are likely to do something clever with tech as opposed to tapping out a handy code. Most generations after the Boomers who didn’t enter the navy, or possibly the army, are likely to be equally useless.

I saw the list below on Pinterest and thought it was pretty damned fascinating and a handy way of presenting the info. I went quickly through it once and realised by the time I had hit the end that I could remember the Morse code for the first five letters of the alphabet. I already knew SOS, obviously, and remembered H and I from some film or other, so was already almost a third of my way to knowing the Morse Code. Like juggling, touch typing, being sincere and learning to read Thai, this is now on my list of things to master.

Writing succinctly and to the point is a while away, however, but I will now shut up. Here you go and who knows – one day you and I could be in a third world prison tapping away on a rusty pipe to each other; or perhaps signalling with torches across a post-apocalyptic, zombie-strewn landscape. How we will laugh when we find out where we learned this handy skill! Good times ahead. Enjoy.

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IPad Pro 2 years on – mostly getting better

I spend a lot of time thinking, reading and writing about gadgets. And quite rightly so, gadgets are awesome. About 5 years ago, when I first bought a Mac Air, I remember saying to a slightly bored friend of mine that the perfect device would be a Mac Air that could separate into a tablet. Then along came the iPad Pro which is almost, nearly, kinda that.

I say almost because it can do about 95% of everything I need. I use a laptop for writing and browsing the internet. Or watching Netflix if cooking / washing up / brushing my teeth / shaving / going to the toilet, etc. I can do all that on the iPad. And while it is getting better, there are some minor annoyances and a couple of things that are slightly worse. If you are still reading by this point – this may interest or even be helpful to you. (No promises.)

The better:

More apps are available and they are increasingly designed to work well on a tablet. This has bugger all to do with anything done by Apple (or they would be more expensive) but more about apps like Dropbox, Evernote, Word and so on releasing better products that are good on a tablet. A combination of improved interfaces and my getting used to doing things in a different way, have meant that I do more on the iPad now than when I first got it.

iOS11 – This was a superb update. As you can see from the picture, the iPad is looking more like the laptop version than ever. It is now a lot easier to switch between apps and with access to files, I can write and edit documents directly in the cloud (mostly Dropbox, Google docs and Word). It is pretty damn cool and it just requires a slight adjustment to how you work.

The worse:

I am currently writing on the official iPad cover keyboard wotsit. It is actually pretty nice when you get used to it. I also have a Logitech keyboard which is even nicer but quite bulky. However both are increasingly having problems connecting to the iPad. Looking at forums, I am not alone. I have to keep disconnecting and connecting until it reluctantly lets me type. It is particularly galling when trying to connect the official apple cover and it tells me that the device is ‘not supported’. Apple is supposed to be overpriced but well designed so it infuriating when you buy two things from the shop and they don’t seem to like playing together any more. If anything, the Logitech is slightly better.

iOS11. While it has made using the iPad a lot better and more like the laptop replacement it aspires to be, it has noticeably caused battery drain. I could write and read for hours before and it would only lose a few percent. I don’t want to get too technical here but it is bollocks. When I hoped for a more laptop-like experience, I didn’t meant to include the battery life. I haven’t tested it but I think it will still outlast most laptops but only just. I am quite a heavy user, so there will be battery degradation but again, the forums are full of people complaining.

Conclusion

I promised two years ago to review the iPad and so there you go. 95% of my writing is done in apps. The 5% that will means I will still, daily, have to buy a new laptop is down to:

– No mouse. Let us use a sodding mouse. Highlighting words on an iPad screen is still a ball-ache and will always be. I can use the pen to click on stuff but a mouse is better, especially when editing.

– I like saving stuff to folders on the desktop. While I can now write and edit stuff in the cloud, it is still annoying and fiddly. If I need to read a variety of sources while writing I generally revert to my laptop. The ‘files’ update is a good step as I can at least group different documents in the same project together.

– I edit a lot of stuff for a lot of clients – advertising, copywriting, doctoral theses and so on. This can similarly be a bit annoying when I need a few windows open.

Otherwise it is great. I still fucking love my iPad and use it daily. However, I do sometimes look at friends with a Microsoft Surface and envy them with their ability to do everything on it. Until you ask them about it and hear a whole different set of issues. Come on technology – get it together. As always – feel free to send me free technology to try out. You know the address.

 

 

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The perfect gadget combination

I am coming to the sad realisation that my laptop is dying. It’s a MacBook Air from mid-2012 and when I bought it, like so many laptops before, I knew it was the best thing on the market for what I needed at the time. The battery has now totally died and the poor thing is just slow and tired and needs to rest.

Now there is too much choice. It is not just about laptops anymore, there are multiple devices. What to get? It seems like we are in a tech transitional time right now. Tablet or laptop or hybrid or 2 in 1 (not sure if the last two are different). Or I can go old school and build a gaming computer and just not worry about it. I now do most of my writing on my iPad Pro but it just becomes too fiddly when I have to switch between multiple sources. I had to write a speech for a CEO last week – which is weird as I am a journalist but will do anything for cash – and needed to reference multiple sources. This is a pain in the arse on a tablet. I ended up having to copy and paste a lot of different material onto a single word document and then go split-screen. Thankfully I rarely have to write speeches because this was annoying and also I am not that good at them.

I read a lot and magazines and comics are better on a tablet. I live in Asia, so buying niche scifi magazines and comics is not always possible and reading 2000AD on an iPad Pro is fucking awesome. When it comes to books, I prefer my Kindle or an actual book. I love my phone but more as a messaging and music device as I hate talking on the phone.

So ideally I would have a watch through which I could make calls, and a foldable device that can be book size for books, large tablet size for magazines and comics and finally, can also be turned on its side and used with a keyboard and mouse and is a proper OS, not a mobile one. If possible it should have a dedicated graphics card and superb battery life.

I know that is a big ask but it seems like we are almost there. Watches can make phone calls, tablets have desktop OS, gaming is getting easier with more efficient chips, and foldable screens have been patented.

It is just that I need all this now. So here is the point of all this self-obsessed rambling: If any tech developers have created a device they need testing – please get in touch. Thanks.

 

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30 Days Time Lapse at Sea

You wouldn’t have thought a time lapse of a cargo ship sailing halfway around the world would be so relaxing and pleasant to watch. Especially 10 minutes of it. It really is though. Someone called Jeff.HK posted this on youtube and I meant to watch a little bit of it and get on with my life. Then I zoned out and watched it all. This is the combination of 80,000 high res photos – 1500GB of files.

The route was:

Red Sea — Gulf of Aden — Indian Ocean — Colombo — Malacca Strait — Singapore — South East China Sea — Hong Kong

Camera used: D750, Rokinon 12mm f/2.8

Highlights are:

0:32 Milky Way

1:17 Approaching the Port of Colombo

1:45 Cargo Operation

2:08 Departure Colombo with Rainstorm

3:13 Lightning Storm in Malacca Strait and Singapore Strait

3:29 Clear night sky Milky Way with lightning storm

5:09 Arrival Singapore

5:56 Departure Singapore

8:36 Squid Boats

9:15vArrival Hong Kong

Music:

Stellardrone – Billions And Billions

Philip G Anderson – Winter

For pictures from the time lapse fellow’s Instagram look here: http://instagram.com/Jeffrey.hk

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The great AI race is now on

The other day I got Bixby – Samsung’s virtual assistant – on my phone. My phone also has Google assistant while my laptop and tablet have Siri. I am surrounded by virtual assistants, possibly the precursors to AI (Artificial Intelligence if you have just arrived in civilisation). I’ll be honest, I keep forgetting to use them.

These days the news is full of stories about the rise of AI. Well, Trump, North Korea, Brexit and AIs. Everything is basically alarming and it is hard to know what to be most shit scared about next. Recently an AI beat the world’s best GO player, Microsoft made a chatbot that became racist frighteningly quickly and China made several chatbots that started to praise America and were shut down. So good and bad.

The other day Vladimir Putin gave a speech where he said that whichever nation leads in AI will be the ‘Ruler of the World’. This then prompted Elon Musk to tweet:

“China, Russia, soon all countries w strong computer science. Competition for AI superiority at national level most likely cause of WW3 imo.”

So pretty scary all round. Being a massive optimist, I don’t think it will necessarily be all doom. People often think Skynet from Terminator or the Cylons. I agree with Mr Musk that killer robots for the army are probably a massively stupid idea. We need to tread carefully and when I look at the people currently in charge, I can certainly see urge for panic. But with calmer more intelligent minds helping out maybe it will all be ok. If you look at the history of nearly everything – some things are great and some are shite, yet still, we humans persist.

An AI might be like in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – handy but mostly a bit annoying. Or like in Star Wars, where they can do robot stuff but are essentially like people (although in Star Wars, they are basically slaves which is bad). On a more positive spin, the AIs in Iain M Banks Culture novels are bloody great. In ‘The Day the Earth Stood Still’ robots and AIs are actually in charge and the aliens’ culture is massively better off. So who knows? It is going to happen and if you look at Trump, North Korea and Brexit, maybe we should welcome the robot overlords.

Maybe they have taken over already and we are all living in the Matrix. As long as I can drink beer, eat steak, travel a lot and play games, I am happy. All hail the robot overlords!

 

 

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VR Apollo 11 experience PS4

I downloaded this a few weeks back and finally gave it a go. If you are a regular reader then you are probably aware that this sort of thing is very much my cup of tea – I love space exploration, astronomy and VR. So I am happy to report that I loved the VR Apollo 11 experience.

There are some interactive elements – such as docking (fairly easy) and landing (fairly impossible) – but this is essentially a documentary experience. The makers went to a lot of effort to make the experience as accurate as possible and they did a superb job. For example, the landscape you see during the landing sequence is the real photo mosaic NASA created and used to train the astronauts. Obviously, you don’t experience things like the G-force of take-off (get someone to sit on you), or the terror, but when you leave the atmosphere and can look out of the window at Earth, it is pretty amazing. I also learned some things I didn’t know about how the Apollo modules worked which was pretty cool.

The company that made this experience is called Immersive VR Education and if you click on the link you can see a lot more information. I did the VR Apollo 11 Experience on a PS4 but it is also on Oculus and Vive and so on. If you are interested in space and VR I highly recommend it. Here is a trailer which will give you a vague idea – just without the VR.

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Short, fun travel tales!

BookcovertraveltalesI haven’t done this for ages, so it seems the perfect time to publicise my short collection of lighthearted travel tales. “Australia, Morocco, and Thailand. Three True Travel Stories“. Instead of the usual blurb, which you can read on Amazon, I thought it would be good to copy in a couple of reviews from the US website. I promise I don’t know them. They are ‘Top 1000 Reviewers’ and I should be so lucky to know such important people.

“Some young folks hit the backpacker trail to gain self-enlightenment and seek spiritual awareness and save the world. With admirable honesty, the author admits that (at twenty-one) he was looking for fun, with the emphasis on avoiding boredom, staying drunk, and getting laid. Not surprisingly, he had more luck in the first two areas than in the third.

Don’t make the mistake of dismissing this as a stoned-and-stupid Spring Break saga. This man is a professional writer and a damned good one, and he knows how to tell a story. He also has a keen eye for the absurd, even when he’s looking in the mirror. The first (and longest) section recounts an adventure in Australia when he and three friends try to earn traveling money picking pears. Unfortunately, the beautiful farm of his imagination (think A TRIP TO BOUNTIFUL) turns out to be an “outback gulag” and the friendly, generous rural inhabitants consist of a hostile, dishonest farm owner and a pair of hard-working (and hard-drinking) Albanians.

The second story involves getting stranded in the Atlas Mountains during rainy season and taking a hair-raising ride back to civilization (or closer, anyway) in a van packed with Berber tribesmen. Why are the windows covered? “Il est preferable de ne pas regarder.” (It’s better not to look.) The third finds our hero living in Bangkok with his American-educated Thai fiancee Nim where he experiences a strange (typically Thai) overthrow of the government. The Prime Minister is unpopular, so the military steps in, sends the police home, the King okays the deal, and Happy Hour goes on. (That was in 2006.)

My only complaint about the book is that it is far too short and I wasn’t ready for it to end.”

And another:

“‘Ladyboys from the Mambo cabaret strode confidently down the cracked pavement on ridiculously high heels. Further down the road, another elephant mingled with the traffic. “Everything looks pretty damn normal,” Chris said.’ Funny stuff from 3 “paid holidays” focusing on the highlights (or lowlights depending on one’s perspective) of the author’s encounter with a giant Australian spider covering his chest nipple to nipple, riding along with a vanload of Moroccans as it teeters on the edge of a waterlogged roadway, or surviving what is (hopefully) a bloodless coup in Thailand while being serenaded at a downtown bar. So, all I have to say is what three destinations are we headed off to next? Very entertaining book!”

You can buy this here: Australia, Morocco, and Thailand. Three True Travel Stories. I’d be ever so grateful:

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International Space Station on Google Street View

Until I visit the International Space Station for real (please invite me), this will have to do. Google Street View is pretty amazing and helps you visit cool places like Angkor Wat, the Great Barrier reef, the Colosseum in Rome, Times Square, the Palace of Versaille, Stonehenge and more. Having been to all those places (yes, I mentioned them just to gloat), I can confirm it isn’t quite as good as the real thing but it is still pretty amazing. Especially if you have VR and imagination.

Well, now you can visit the International Space Station in Google Street View thanks to science and technology and some amazing people. (Click the link.) These 360 shots were made with a DSLR and a lot of patience. The results are pretty amazing and kudos to all involved. In case you have time and want to know more about how this was all done, there is a handy and interesting video:

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65,000 people sing Bohemian Rhapsody before Green Day gig

This has been around for a week or so but thought I would share as it makes me smile and if I want to see it again, I can just come here. With all the shite going on in the world this is just uplifting.

This was in Hyde Park in a city I have spent half my life in – London. A city that knows how to have fun. The clip was filmed as the crowd waited to see Green Day at a sell out gig of 65,000+. Mrs Word of Ward and I would have been there if we had been in London and in previous summers have seen the Rolling Stones, Black Sabbath and so on. The vibe is superb as you can probably tell in the clip.

In this case the drummer’s camera was on and the speakers played Bohemian Rhapsody. Londoners love a sing a long and everyone loves Queen. It’s not often you hear 65,000 people sing. Enjoy:

Far Cry Primal Review

Far Cry Primal is a lot like Far Cry 3 and 4 except it is set 12,000 years ago so instead of a ludicrous amount of guns and grenades, you have spears, arrows and clubs. And sabretooth tigers. What I mean is that the overall structure is similar in that you explore, forage, kill the wildlife and take over bases and territory while undergoing a variety of missions in a very loose narrative. If you have played previous Far Cry games, you will already know what you are doing.

Udam like to eat people

What sets Far Cry Primal apart though, is the setting. Which is superb. You play Takkar, a member of the Wenja tribe. At the beginning of the game you stumble upon the Oros Valley which is a huge and wild place consisting of mountains, forests, grasslands, swamps and lots of hungry animals. The valley is dominated by two particularly nasty tribes -the Udam and the Izila. The Udam are big and tough and eat people, while the Izila are painted blue and like to set people on fire. So you and your scattered tribe are definitely the good guys.

As is the norm with Far Cry (and most games), you start off weak and fairly useless and gradually work your way up to becoming a one man killing machine. In Far Cry Primal you aren’t just out in nature with a gun and are occasionally attacked by a random animal, you are part of the food chain and very much at risk. The survival aspect works really well in Primal and you can find yourself wandering along happily collecting wood and flowers when you are suddenly attacked by a pack of dogs. You may then flee and jump in a lake only to be eaten by a crocodile. The landscape and valley of Oros is alive and gorgeous. Mammoths and sabre tooth tigers remind you where and when you are while you marvel at a beautiful lake and the grazing woolly rhinos nearby. At night, the animals get particularly vicious and at first the sun setting sends you fleeing for a reassuring campfire.

My sabretooth pal Mr Toothington

One thing that really makes Far Cry Primal different however, is that you gradually build your tribe with members of the Wenja you find wandering about. These include specialists that give you special skills. One such skill is the ability to control animals and this brings a whole new element to the game and how you play. You can scout out an enemy camp with your owl, which can also drop angry bees and a bomb that makes the enemy go nuts and attack each other. If you have a leopard you can get it to sneak attack lone baddies or you can use your bear or sabretooth tiger to attack one group while you charge in from a different direction. You can also ride some of the creatures, which is pretty handy given the size of the world you are in. Once I had the hardest and most scarred sabretooth in the valley I just stuck with it. That was just my preference though, as I had grown attached to the fluffy fella.

The enemy are all pretty mean and the AI is generally pretty good. The weapons at your disposal are fun and satisfying to use. The world and characters are brilliantly animated. There is no denying that Far Cry Primal is a superbly made and incredibly fun game to play.

They’re not endangered yet!

There are only two negatives for me. One was that I got a bit bored exploring caves. These can be deep and complex and while some are fun, others are just confusing and have one specific route. This is really minor and not even an essential part of the experience. The other was that the baddies are ok as are you. Which sounds like an odd complaint but I recently played Far Cry 4 and the main enemy, Pagan Min was a superb psychotic and there was a reason why the main character (you) played the role he did. In Primal, you don’t really have much personality, you are just a good warrior and the baddies are fairly average with fairly average boss fights.

These are minor quibbles though. Far Cry Primal is a great game and a lot of fun. I highly recommend it if you want an FPS with a unique slant. I am already missing my cave and sabretooth buddy. Here is a trailer:

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Documenta 14 in Kassel, Germany, 2017

Documenta is a huge art festival that takes place in Kassel, Germany, every 5 years. This one, the 14th, is also simultaneously taking place in Athens. We went to Kassel a couple of weeks ago, so thought I might as well post a load of pictures. I am sure the one in Athens was just as nice.

If you want more information on the festival you can check out the official site https://www.documenta.de/en/ 

As stated in the link: “Over 160 international artists present works conceived for Documenta 14 at more than thirty different sites, public institutions, squares, cinemas, and university locations.” That is a lot of material.

We didn’t see all the artists because we are mere mortals but over the course of two days and 50,000 steps (according to my pedometer), we saw a hell of a lot. If you fancy going, the official site gives tips on how to get there. We ignored the advice as we also went to the Sculpture Project in Muenster. Because art.

I won’t go into too much detail as Documenta should be experienced and I can’t write pretentiously / lexically dense / cleverly enough to match a lot of ‘art writing’. The pretty photos should help a bit. I do have a few personal highlights and a very vague itinerary if that helps those deciding to go.

The main section and hub of Documenta is in the centre of town where there is an Acropolis made of books. It was a work in progress when we went but it was pretty amazing. There is a lot of stuff around this area with all the principal sites about 10 minutes walk from each other. You can also buy tickets, get maps, press passes and so on.

We did all the central stuff in one mad burst and the plan was then to have a beer and food and take it easy, finishing up the next day. However, after a large German ale and currywurst, we were sufficiently revived to see more. So we then took in two more sites that were amazing and completely different. One was in an abandoned subway station and the other in an old post office. Both are highly recommended.

Without further ado, here are the aforementioned loads of photos. (If you click on them, they get bigger.) They don’t really do credit to Documenta as that would take hundreds of pictures and a better photographer than myself. The festival runs until 17th September. Enjoy.

 

 

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I’m back in Bangkok

Dear everyone,

I’m back from holiday and settling into the calm serenity that is my home in Bangkok. It was a superb but exhausting trip to the UK and two arts festivals in Germany – Documenta in Kassel and a sculpture project in Muenster. I am pleased to announce that travelling with just my Samsung S8+ and iPad Pro were more than up to fulfilling all my needs for work. Which was actually quite a welcome surprise and bodes well for the future.

I will be writing up the trips and will be back to posting my usual drivel at the usual rate from now on. Thanks for bearing with me during this superb time.

Missed you lots, etc,

The Word of Ward.

Travelling with just an iPad Pro and phone as a writer

When I was younger I used to travel with a pen, a writing pad and a small pile of books for both entertainment and work. Now I need a phone, a tablet/book (for entertainment) and a laptop because as a writer these days, everything has to be done right bloody now. I remember when I was 18, way back in 1990, one of my first jobs was covering a yacht launch. I just had a notebook and the magazine I was writing for hired a photographer. I wrote the text the following morning in the office and the rest of stuff was done by others. Simple times, let down a bit by the fact that I was 18, there was free booze, and I got drunk and lost my notebook. It is probably a good thing that I didn’t have an iPad Pro or smartphone back then.

These days you need to turn things around a bit more speedily but happily, laptops and phones now weigh nearly bugger all. Another great step is the rise of the hybrid laptop/tablet, which weighs slightly less. I am about to leave the hot and rainy Bangkok and go to the apparently warm and not too rainy UK. After that will be a trip to Germany and the towns of Kassel and Muenster for Documenta and a ton of art. I am a bit worried as I have made the momentous decision to travel with just my iPad Pro (for writing and entertainment) and a Samsung 8+ (for photos and the internet) and no laptop. I haven’t travelled without a laptop for over a decade and I will need to be writing things on a daily basis. There will be a lot of walking involved this trip and weight will be a key factor.

This may be of interest to very few people except other writers. I think my websites will be fine, it is everything else I worry about. In addition to writing articles, press releases, brochures, websites, a novel and so on, I also edit random things like doctoral theses and promotional posters. Will this combo be enough for everything? I have a huge power-bank that can fully recharge the iPad and phone, so battery power or lack of outlets won’t be a problem anymore. I save everything to the cloud, so if things get complicated I can go to an internet cafe. We shall see. If this is all possible, then my spine and editors will be happy. I look forward to a future with no wires needed and a single, unfoldable device that does everything. Hurry up technology.

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Batman Arkham VR review

I’m a big fan of Batman, VR and reasonably priced games, so Batman Arkham VR was a perfect proposition for me.

It was one of the first games I downloaded and tried when I got my PSVR and it truly didn’t disappoint. It isn’t perfect but it is great. It is essentially an interactive 90-minute story featuring you, the Batman, being the world’s greatest detective. Sadly you are also not also the world’s greatest ass-kicker because most of the scenes are static and the action takes place off stage. You move from point to point and then look around. This may sound dull and negative but this is actually a superb game and one I highly recommend. If you have played any of Rocksteady’s other Batman games, you will be aware that they are pretty damn good at this.

I can’t talk much about the story without giving it away. And this is mostly a story. Happily, it is a really good one.

What makes this game so worth it is the experience of being Batman, the detective work, and the high-quality VR. You also get cool gadgets – a scanner, a grappling hook, and unlimited batamarangs. I was still new to the whole VR thing when I played this, so it was a pleasant surprise to see just how damned immersive it can be when you use move controllers and the headset tracking. At one point, I was on a fire escape and found that I could lean forward and peer into someone’s apartment. Later I was in a morgue and used the controllers to pick up charts and interact with a variety of objects, all of which I could peer under and around. Finally, of course, there is a moment where you look at yourself in a mirror and you are Batman. Then you make Batman dance like an idiot. (I hope I wasn’t the only one.) As a relative VR noob, it was well worth it.

I thoroughly enjoyed Batman Arkham VR and hope they make it a full game. Ideally, a game where you also get to punch someone, although this may result in a load of hilarious real-life injuries. If you have just bought a PSVR and are looking for a fun experience for about £15, then give this a go. Also, try Rush of Blood.

In case you are still uncertain, here is a trailer:

 

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Incredible thumb magic

How the hell does he do this? Ok, I guess everyone knows how this guy does the old ‘disappearing thumb’ trick, it is as old as – probably the thumb. Babies and early hominids are wowed by this trick, but no one else. Until now! Ok, I am building the whole thing up a bit but it is pretty cool and probably the finest display of thumb magic I have seen. And I have travelled extensively. If you have 20 seconds, check this out:

Neil deGrasse Tyson on Science in America

This is a great video featuring the always watchable Neil deGrasse Tyson about what science is and why it is important. It is also slightly depressing. Essentially, if you are against science, you probably don’t understand what science is. From a purely personal point of view, I would also like to add that you are an idiot who needs to assess the way you get information. Science is simply a way to find out information. To test stuff. To learn.

I remember a friend of mine whose mother sold crystals that allegedly helped plants grow. I was young enough to think this was amazing but old enough to be slightly sceptical. I assumed that this had been tested and that was why people spent so much cash on them. But I then discovered that they hadn’t been tested and everyone bought into it on belief alone. Even then, (I was around 10,) I was baffled about this. I wanted to get some identical plants and put crystals in half and see what happens. Sadly I didn’t have enough cash to try this myself and I soon found out that my questioning was actively discouraged. People, especially the people who sold or bought the crystals, didn’t want it tested. It was a valuable lesson.

If you are against science, you are against the kind of progress that allows you to read this on a computer anywhere in the world. I guess it just annoys me that so many are wilfully choosing ignorance and opinion over facts. Actually, I am getting pissed off just writing about it so I will hand over to someone more eloquent – Neil deGrasse Tyson.

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