Monday, August 23, 2004

Pesky Deficient Files

Monday, August 23, 2004 0

...is what Adobe would name their proprietary PDF format if they were honest. The Portable Document Format is designed to provide the means to consistently display images and text in a frozen state. It's essentially a presentation format which doesn't lend itself well to tampering by anyone other than the original author. This makes it a strange choice for the online distribution of application forms because in order to fill them in, you first have to print them out and post them to your prospective employer, the inland revenue or wherever. PDF files aren't even convenient for this purpose since you are required to install a cumbersome document reader before being able to view them. What's so wrong with using a word processor to create interactive documents?

Shareware and freeware repositories are home to a modest range of so-called PDF 'editing' and 'conversion' tools. Quite frankly describing them as such is a blatant violation of the Trades Description Act as they are woefully inept at editing or converting PDF documents. I've witnessed them all mutilate the simplest of monochrome graphics and randomly scatter the most straightforward blocks of text.

In my experience the only reliable way to edit a PDF file without mangling the contents is to first open it in Adobe Photoshop and save it as a more accessible graphics format like .gif or .jpg. Adding text is then simply a matter of using the text tool (the icon with a capital A on it) to drag a frame around the area in which you wish to insert text and typing into it (or pasting from another document). After filling the box with text you then have the option to move it around the screen or resize it using your cursor. If you only intend to add basic text to a document you might like to switch to a more nimble, light weight graphics tool like MS Paint; using Photoshop for this purpose would be like driving a Ferrari in first gear. This is far from a perfect solution for more complex PDF documents, but does allow you to add text to simple forms so that they can be submitted as email attachments.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Since upgrading to broadband I've become really disillusioned with gaming. Why isn't gaming as good as it used to be?

Tuesday, August 17, 2004 0

So you've had your cake, eaten it and now you're sick of the sight of it. Well that's the price of over indulgence whether we're talking about food, alcohol, drugs, gaming or whatever. One of the fundamental problems with today's society is that we want what we can't have, and once we have it, we no longer want it because it isn't what we expected it to be. We're never satisfied; unfortunately that's human nature.

The overwhelming majority of people distort reality and somehow manage to convince themselves that they'd be happy if they lived in a utopian world where they are simply given everything their heart desires without having to lift a finger to get it, but this is a fallacy. You'd be forgiven for thinking that for a gaming fan utopia is owning all the latest games, several months before they hit the shops and all for free of course. This may be what gaming fans think they want, yet it isn't what they need. When everything is handed to us on a plate we become disillusioned, and what we assumed would make us happy becomes worthless.

The perfect example of this is lottery winners. When you pick your numbers with the glimmer of hope that the golden finger might one day point in your direction, you kid yourself into thinking your life would change for the better if you won, but look what happens to the chosen ones. Many of them fall apart once the need to work for a living is taken away from them, and without the structure which this imposes they become lost in a world of superficialities and unfulfilling consumerism.

For those people who assume that life is all about the accumulation of material goods, driving fast cars and owning a big house, when money is plentiful and they have everything they could ever wish for, well at least in terms of physical objects, what are they left with? Absolutely nothing, that's what. With prospects like these it's no wonder so many of these people turn to suicide. I know I'm wandering off the beaten track a bit here, but what the hell, I don't care, I'd much rather walk in the grass anyway! I think this problem extends far beyond the confines of gaming so that's exactly where I've gone with this one (well you did ask!).

On first being introduced to the world wide web most people believe they've hit the jackpot. It's like being let loose in PC World with a bottomless shopping trolley. No piece of software is beyond your price range because the nice chaps in the red t-shirts have declared that today is an 'everything is free' day... as it is every day for ever and ever amen. Soon enough, although you never would have believed it, you discover that you really can have too much of a good thing.

When something is freely available it acquires a throw away quality, whereas when you save your money and pay for a piece of software you purposefully seek out attitude congruent evidence to support your decision to make that purchase in order to justify the expense and keep cognitive dissonance to a minimum. Even if you've bought a real lemon, you keep on searching until you find such evidence through the means of selective exposure to counter-attitudinal and attitude congruent viewpoints, or failing that you eventually aim to rationalise your bad decision.

This isn't necessary when you've freely acquired a piece of software. If it isn't as good as you expected it to be you simply banish it to the recycle bin and move on to the 'next big thing'. When there is so much choice people very rarely play games long enough to see all they have to offer, their attention span wanes and they simply move on without giving it a second thought.

To put this in perspective think back to when you bought your first computer. If your experiences are anything like mine it probably didn't come with very many games. Mine came loaded with nothing more than Wolfenstein 3D, and because this is all I had, I played the thing to death until I'd completed it... and then went back for more! The point is, when you have relatively little you appreciate what you've got and make the most of it, whereas gluttony merely leads to dissatisfaction.

But on a more down to earth note, it could be that the reason games aren't what they used to be is that you've been playing them all your life and they have nothing new to offer. There haven't been any drastic changes, games haven't suddenly got worse, you've just been there, done that and got the t-shirt. Over the years your expectations have continued to escalate, but the games haven't been able to keep up and ultimately everything appears to be a variation on an old theme.

While in the bygone days of your gaming youth you were perfectly content with this arrangement, gaming now seems stale and unappealing. Nevertheless, when you don your rose tinted glasses and take a retrospective look back at the games of yesteryear you convince yourself that things were so much better back then, the grass was greener, the music was better, the games were worth playing and so on and so forth. What has changed is your outlook, not the games themselves.

So what's the answer? Perhaps you should become more selective when deciding which games to download. Only download games that you know you will definitely get round to playing; don't just grab everything in sight because it will look impressive in your CD rack! The time you would have spent trawling the net for new games to download could instead be put to better use revealing the hidden depths of the games you already own, but have taken for granted. Imagine you have paid the retail price for each game you download and play it to its limits to ensure you get your 'money's worth'.

If you're an all or nothing sort of a person you might want to try going cold turkey for a while instead. Switch off your beloved computer, see if you can survive for a few months without your gaming fix and find something entirely new to occupy your time. It could be that the break will allow you to take a step back and see gaming in a new light. When you eventually return to it, you may do so with a renewed passion, allowing you to appreciate the privileges you had all along.

 
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