I got a damn Steam Deck

(Or: I need to blog more)

Using the Steam Deck as an actual computer!

Today I got a Steam Deck. If you don’t know what that is, you can Google it. But in short, it’s a decent gaming PC in the form of the Nintendo Switch’s big brother. Made by Valve, the clever people behind the Half Life and Portal games, Steam gaming platform and an early example of employee-friendly working culture.

You can use it entirely as a very powerful handheld, or you can put it into Desktop Mode and use it as a computer. It’s Linux and nice. I’m writing this post on it, in fact. I’m reminded of the time I got a Nexus 7, nearly a decade ago, and decided that was the dawn of a new era of prolific writing. Ah, the folly of youth. Still, it’s nice to know I can do that.

But yeah, the main use is to log into the Steam games launcher/marketplace and play the games you bought there. If Valve created Steam back in the day to be the “iTunes of gaming”, then I suppose their iPod has finally arrived.

Another thing you can do, as you can see above, is use that PC functionality to log into non-Steam sites and use your games from those too. What a coincidence that the game pictured was released the same year as my Nexus blog post. I swear I have existed since 2013. You can also emulate old consoles, apparently, as long as you have legally backed up your own ROMs. But I obviously wouldn’t know anything about that.

As you would guess with any new toy, I have spent much more time mucking about with the functionality and gazing at its beauty than using it “properly”. But so far it seems pretty good. Valve have been testing Steam games and marking whether they are a-okay to use on Steam Deck, a bit iffy, or not tested/not working. While useful, it is not law, and I’ve used no-no games like Street Fighter V perfectly happily.

So yes, just thought I would mark this momentous occasion.

Fostering our first cat

La Pantera having a kip

A lot can happen in a week.

Last weekend, a friend of mine rang me, asking if I could look after a cat for two weeks until adopted. They would have done it, but their existing cat wouldn’t have got on with it. So we said yes, and spoke to the fostering company.

That cat ended up being taken, but we were called on Tuesday about taking in a different one. On Wednesday lunchtime, the cat was brought to us. (This was written on Friday evening, to give context to relative time descriptions.)

Like the Met Office does with storms, the fostering company wants its cats’ initials to follow the alphabet. So we were on P. Seeing the girl was quite dark coloured, and given my fondness for heavy metal, we were fostering Pantera.

We were told she was a bit of an old girl, but it was only after the vet gave her a once over that we learned she was at least 14 years old. She was also mega light when she came to us. The story was she was chipped but not registered (how?), was abandoned and spent an amount of time on the street. The lady who brought her had her in her garage for a couple of nights, unable to bring her into the house because of her mother’s allergies.

After the trip to the vet, we knew Pantera needed a tooth operation and might have hyperthyroidism. She was a little wobbly one, shuffling about unsteadily on her geriatric legs, but surprisingly for a street cat, loved being around humans and purred on contact. It was up to us to give her warmth (physical and emotional), a comfy house and good food.

Finding her bed very quickly

We gave her a “stick” as a treat, like a Pepperami but for cats. She held her prey down with one paw while she devoured it. She drank a lot of water.

Over the course of 48 hours, Pantera became more active: her gait had improved to an extent, she was nuzzling and keen to be stroked, she had even started cleaning herself – the sign of a cat with the luxury to take her time. This morning, she even leapt onto our bed for attention; we thought she would struggle just climbing the stairs. As I gently lifted her off the bed, I felt her little ribs with my fingers. She would never not be baggy at her age, but we could make her stronger, healthier and happier.

We gave her a stick today, and she turned her nose up at it. She drank a lot of water.

We got Pantera’s blood test results, and rather than hyperthyroidism, she had renal issues. No biggie, said the vet: take some antibiotics, some renal food and she’ll be ready for the tooth op. But today, I noticed she had an infected-looking paw, so rather than merely swing by and collect the meds and food, the vet told us to bring her in for a look.

We drove to the town the vet is based in, and I had Pantera in a “donut” bed on my lap, the whole time. I was stroking her smelly fur (we got some grooming mitts, but that process takes time), and keeping her relaxed for the hour-long car ride. She was purring and nuzzling, which reassured me. After a little wait outside the surgery in the car (COVID restrictions), we put Pantera in the carry case and Girlfriend took her in to get her paw looked at.


Girlfriend came back to the car with an empty carry case and a tear in her eye. “They want to keep her in. They say she’s got arrhythmia and a gallop.”

We started the drive back, my lap still warm where Pantera had been resting on it, unbothered by the car journey. I wondered what she must have seen and been through in her 14+ years, to be so much more relaxed about the things that spook and disturb most cats. She was philosophical about it all, and had now given herself the luxury of cleaning her fur and having good, long, snore-filled snoozes at our place because she knew she was safe with us.

She missed the donut this time, but was comfy enough

The phone rang. The fostering people. They heard from the vet, and Pantera is in heart failure. What the fuck? We took her in for her paw. We wouldn’t have taken her in at all, if I’d not mentioned the paw. Heart failure.

We gave them the go-ahead to put her to sleep. They said that in her current state, she wouldn’t survive the anaesthetic for the tooth op. She’s dehydrated and her heart isn’t working. Girlfriend is the most caring person I’ve ever met. She lamented in the most heartbreaking way the fact that they’d just taken Pantera away without the chance to say goodbye. Lamented the fact that I didn’t know Pantera wouldn’t be coming back to the car. Wondered what Pantera thought, after a life of being taken from place to place, being dropped off by us at the vet. But she didn’t want her suffering any more.

If we hadn’t taken her to the vet, we would have most likely found her fluffy, lifeless little body in the donut. If we’d not taken her in, the woman would have found her dead in her garage. If not that, she’d have died slowly and painfully on the street.

I don’t know if I wish I could have been there to say goodbye. It would have been too painful. But she’d have known we were there at the end. As it was, we made her last days probably her best ones. She ate well, had energy, warmth, comfort and security. She learned to love, trust and relax again, and that’s priceless.

It’ll take a while, but we’ll foster again.

RIP Pantera, 2007-2022

Black Mirror: season 1

I should really write something about Inside Number 9, given that we recently hurtled through its six series at perhaps a greater pace than we did Line of Duty. But I’m not, I’m writing about Black Mirror because I may as well write about something reasonably soon after watching it.

What does Inside Number 9 have to do with Black Mirror? On the face of it, nothing. But drag the waters and you see that both are pretty exquisitely constructed anthology series (each episode is completely unrelated to what came before. Or comes after). Both were created by middle aged dudes who were cult icons in about 2000, before gradually becoming part of the furniture. And both seem pretty great. So what more do you need?

Nothing. Good. I’ll go into detail on the Inside Number 9 post about that one, but in a nutshell: it’s Steve Pemberton and Reese Shearsmith (from League of Gentlemen and Psychoville; and seemingly always named in that order) making it clear that they are embarrassingly talented, as they shape six standalone episodes of TV that could each be pilots or kernels of movies, every year. And none is bad. Some are amazing.

Black Mirror is Charlie Brooker (and friends), who at the time of League of Gentlemen had his satirical fake TV listings website TV Go Home, and was soon to pour scorn over everythig on a weekly basis for The Guardian. He’s now pretty damn well known. He also apparently has very good ideas and turns them into standalone episodes of excellence. Being on Netflix, I think Black Mirror is probably already more familiar to you lot than it is to me. Hey ho.

There are three episodes in series one, all kind of Twilight Zone/Outer Limits, but very plausible, which is where the real scariness comes in. I won’t describe the plots (watch them), but you’ve got a pilot episode about the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom being black mailed into doing something… awful. Then there is an episode about fitness fads, fame, reality shows and virtual selves (my favourite). And then one in which all of our experiences are recorded by an implant (COVID vaccine!!) that we can then replay and broadcast; the episode concerns itself with how that can magnify already obsessive personalities.

They are all great. What’s really shocking is how relevant and scary they are as a sense of “today taken to its logical conclusion” but they were made a damn decade ago. That’s really bloody impressive. It’s like they’ve predicted, if not the terminus, at least the trajectory of where we are going technologically and socio-culturally. All those years of shouting and swearing about culture has obviously given Brooker a keen eye. And you also get to see a pretty stellar cast (Daniel Kaluuya, Jessica Brown Findlay, Jodie Whittaker) often before they were mega famous.

So yes, that’s it for now. Just some thoughts on the first series before I get too far past it. Toodles!

The Lighthouse

Robert Eggers (2019)

This has been on my to-watch list since it was first released. It did not disappoint. Eggers’ second film after The Witch (which I loved, but neglected to write about), the Lighthouse started off as an adaptation of an unfinished Poe story by Eggers’ brother, Max, before Robert helped him out with a bit of the old “hey, I can actually get this made”. This led to it becoming rather less of an adaptation than merely a similarly-named piece of work.

I don’t know the Poe story. I do know a lot of Edgar Allan Poe, after studying him in sixth form (The Gothic Tradition, for which module I got 100%. Suck it), but I don’t know this one. Maybe, being unfinished, the tale didn’t make it into whichever anthology I was using.

Anyway, this is about two blokes who arrive on a “God-forsaken” island, to tend to a lighthouse for four weeks. The blurb on the case said something about them trying to maintain their sanity, which I wouldn’t quite call a spoiler, as you would imagine something had to happen. And it’s just about the two blokes! So it’s cosy, bordering on the claustrophobic, as they get to know each other and their foibles.

I won’t go through the plot: you’ve got Wikipedia for that. Besides, you should just watch the damn film. So I’ll talk about other things, like character, atmosphere and things wot it reminds me of.

I’ve seen a few David Lynch comparisons, and I guess I see that. But not to a great extent. The 4:3 (technically 1.19:1) aspect ratio, monochrome presentation, small cast and recurrent induatrial noise do put me in mind of Eraserhead (that was 4:3, right? I can’t remember. And I last watched it on a 4:3 telly anyway). But it’s not like it’s bloody Mulholland Dr. or anything.

I got way more of an Antichrist vibe from this, though. I mentioned that thought to a pal, and she said she felt the same thing, but decided that may only have been because it was in black and white, and starred Willem Dafoe. I had to then go back and check, as I didn’t remember Antichrist being in black and white. (It’s not.)

No, I think the comparisons go a little deeper than that. As well as being Dafoe tours-de-force, they are both (pretty much) two handers, featuring a pair of characters who are willingly away from the rest of society, together in an alien/alienating setting in which their emotions and psychological health are stretched to the limit. And both include hallucinations and stark, sometimes grim, imagery with a level of anthropomorphism thrown in. You’ve got the “chaos reigns!” fox of Antichrist replaced by the malicious gulls of the Lighthouse. I may be ham-fisted, but I’m not sufficiently on the nose to compare it to Hitchcock, don’t worry.

Despite the comparisons to Lynch and Von Trier, though, this is very much an Eggers film. As valid as I think the above parallels are, you can also look at a number of themes this film has in common with Eggers’ debut, the Witch. Again, you’ve got the relatively small cast, set aside from the rest of society, albeit with different degrees of willingness. Both films have a heavy, foreboding atnosphere, drenched in a sense of dread. You’ve got the fittingly non-time period of both films, though it is clear that both are set in an oldendaze America. And this commonality of setting allows the films to be so cut off, so bleak and also nurture superstition in the characters: whether we are thinking about people being witches, gulls carrying the souls of departed sailors or otherwise being hexed, superstiton and the unarticulated fear that accompanies it pervade both films.

So we get that Eggers has really delivered on setting here. But the characterisation is also excellent. Initially, Thomas Wake (Dafoe) is the dominant character in the pair, using his veteran status and tricks like making notes in his book to get the psychological upper hand over novice Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson). As time passes, circumstances conspire against our plucky duo and sanity frays, it’s Winslow’s physical strength that makes the difference in the relationship. But there is a cameraderie, even (especially) in the madness, as the two oscillate between extreme distrust and drunkenly singing, dancing and telling tales.

As with Pulp Fiction and any number of other films, there is a mysterious object of obsession for the characters. Throughout, Winslow sees Wake staring into the titular light; even apparently worshipping it. Is salvation to be found in that artificial sun, or oblivion?

I loved this one. Girlfriend less so.* So I can see myself watching this again. Partly so I can try to understand it a bit better (as you would expect from the director and the company this film keeps, unrealiable protagonists, delusion and illusion are the order of the day), but partly because the monochrome gloom makes for a film as stylish as it is substantial. Feeling almost like his equivalent of a Valhalla Rising or Pi, Eggers’ next one is going to be big, I imagine…

* Girlfriend said the review should just read: “weird, weird, weird”.