So disappointing

I’ve tried watching 10 O’Clock Live over the past number of weeks. I’ve really tried. I thought that it would be an irreverent take on the news, with a slight bite to it.

I was wrong. It’s turned out to be a very reverent take on the Guardian, with a lot of bile in it.

The first week I watched it, I tried to see what I’d improve in it.

  • First off, I’d drop Lauren Laverne. Or at least have less of her in the show. She’s just not particularly suited to the style I’d like the show to have, and while the others have at least made me laugh once or twice I’ve not had more than a wry grin when Laverne is trying her hardest.
  • I’d change the timings considerably. More time for David Mitchell, for example, to do his interviews since that’s really the only time you’ll get a politician saying something they might not on other programmes. Less time for the round-table conference. Less time for Jimmy Carr to do anything other than his introductory stand up routine. One less of Charlie Brooker’s segments from the desk, because he’s clearly a bit of a broken record.
  • I’d try and make the audience listen to what some of the people on it are saying. A few weeks ago, for example, Mitchell was going on about how the deficit wasn’t that much of a problem, it being just like a mortgage and everyone had one of those and was OK. The politicio he was interviewing then explained that the debt was like a mortgage and, yes, having a debt is OK. But the deficit is how much we’re adding to the debt every year, and surely that shouldn’t be too massive for too long? Cue moments of revelation that were promptly forgotten when Mr Brooker did his next routine about how cuts are the worst thing ever…

As I say, I’ve tried. Five episodes I’ve sat through. But I think from here on I’ll give up and maybe just catch the Mitchell bits on YouTube after the fact. It’d be a simple way to get the funny hit without all the surrounding shit.

Long delayed film reviews

Finally got round to seeing The Social Network the other day. This is a film that has been troubling for me; as many might have figured out, I’m quite the fan of Mr Sorkin’s writing. I loved the West Wing, I loved Sports Night and I loved Studio 60. However, Sorkin the man vexes me slightly; he’s quite far up his own arse and he has a history of talking like a douche.

I think that’s why I’m troubled by the film: it’s largely about Mark Zuckerberg, a young man who is quite far up his own arse and has a history of talking like a douche. In short, I was worried that it might end up being a bit auto-biographical.

In the end, it wasn’t. It featured much of the excellent fast paced dialogue that we’d expect of Sorkin, it was finely acted, it made me want to punch Justin Timberlake with some form of stabbing implement. Downsides: the geek speak was somewhat nonsensical1, and Sorkin managed to fit his own perma-tanned leather features into a cameo. Stay behind the camera, dude…

All in, I think it was pretty good. Was it his best work? No. Not even close. Was it perfectly watchable and in the top five of Mr Sorkin’s? Yes. Still, do better next time. And stay away from geekery, it just hurts my poor brain when you get it wrong.

1 – Not necessarily this film’s fault. More likely caused by the way that hacking is not exciting as a visual exercise and therefore any film about hacking is handicapped from the start.

I would love to try it

When I was learning to fly a helicopter (a Robinson R22, in point of fact), there was a chart that the instructors showed me regularly, with strict instructions. This one, if you’re interested.

The shaded area along the left axis signifies that you’re going too slowly for your height; should an engine failure occur then you have little to no chance of auto-rotating to the ground. Along the right of the bottom axis there’s another shaded area, this time signifying that you’re going too fast for your low height; if anything goes wrong you’ll smash into the ground before you get much chance to react.

Those shaded areas are generally called, in the UK, the avoid curve. I.e., you do what it says in the manual – you avoid flying in that state. In the US and Australia, they often call it something different: dead man’s curve. For the simple reason that if you’re flying in that state, say 200ft at 30kts, and your engine goes BANG, you are dead. Or will be after 200ft of vertical travel.

The downside? Sometimes you need to fly in that curve. Ariel cranes, for example, spend most of their working time low and slow, and for that reason have multiple engines. But for some jobs a big, multi engined craft wouldn’t work or would be too expensive, and there’s where the risk comes in. Like cattle ranching.

You know, I think that I’d really like to try it. For one day, and then say I’d done it and move on to a more sensible life…

Obvious ideas. Just very, very late.

Most of the phones I’ve had over the last decade have had an FM radio receiver in them. And I used to use the feature quite a lot, when out and about on a little walk. But I’ve always found FM to be a poor choice in a mobile, for two reasons:

  1. An AM receiver would allow me to listen to sport on 5live. Sport being much more time relevant than music.
  2. A DAB receiver would allow most of the FM channels (without the pirate interference that’s endemic in this part of London) and both 5live and 5live Sports Extra.

I can understand why FM was chosen over AM (the majority of stations are FM and there’s probably only room for 1 receiver), but I don’t understand why phones into which the manufacturer is piling more and more high technology (touchscreen, NFC, barcode readers, wi-fi) would choose FM over DAB, especially when DAB is being pushed so hard by governments.

So it’s good to see someone bringing out a DAB attachment for phones.

Every once in a while a device comes along that makes you wonder why it wasn’t available ages ago. For me, the Nokia Digital Radio Headset DAB falls into this category. It brings the wide, wide range of DAB radio stations to your Nokia mobile, cunningly disguised as a standard headset. Look a little closer however and there are a couple of clues as to its real purpose.

Now, it looks like a clunky solution and there is always the problem that it’s Nokia only1, and yes it costs a bit. But given that this is a first attempt, there should be other solutions coming along soon. And a similar setup shouldn’t take too long to come along. Especially to Android, since so many crackpots are making apps for it and all the manufacturers are all implementing standard chargers

1 – And this former Nokia fanboy is very much a former fanboy. Yes, six of my nine phones may have been Nokias but the last three have been (a) not Nokia and (b) better than Nokia.

I disagree

According to a small US study, people just don’t get the idea of video on demand.

Five Bostonian families had their access to broadcast video cut entirely over Christmas and replaced with the latest video-on-demand technology. Deciding what to demand proved more than most of them wanted – the act of flipping channels is too ingrained to disappear just because the technology makes it redundant.

“Constantly having to pick what to watch next was daunting not only because it interrupted the usual flow of TV-time activities in the house or required interacting with unfamiliar interfaces but also because of the cognitive load involved in considering all of the numerous content alternatives,” said the researchers.

Which I think is interesting; I know that I channel flip a bit, but almost everything I’m really looking forward to I record and then view later – it gets rid of all the commercials and it means that I can move about if I feel the need. In fact, last night was the first time in a long while that I made an effort and watched something as it was broadcast (because TLW had two programmes recording at the same time). And the show was Outcasts, the new sci-fi effort from Auntie Beeb.

It has promise, I’ll give it that. But it is also clearly going to annoy me considerably, just because of the initial behaviour of the characters. Weapons bans and secret spies in a town on a new and unknown planet? Who thought that was a good idea?

Still, I’ll try it for a few episodes. It could end up being less annoying than it initially appears.

What they said

It’s nice when someone else pries a thought from my head and puts it down in writing better that I ever could.

Worst of all is the combination of the two. The other night fans of another club, Bolton Wanderers, remembered their hero, Nat Lofthouse, the “Lion of Vienna”. He did, mercifully, get the silence he deserved. Done well – and this was – a minute’s silence can create real gravitas as a sudden, reflective stillness descends on thousands of people. But, confusingly, as the silence ended, it was announced that he would also get a minute’s applause, an act with no gravitas which only served to spoil the moment. It was as if the club felt it somehow had to dilute the one with the other. The result was tepid water.

The prescription, in my mind, is simple. Minute’s silences are for national disasters, royal deaths and the passing of bona fide sporting heroes (the latter just to be observed locally). Applause should be reserved for great jazz solos and sliding tackles only.

I am very much in agreement. I’ve never liked the minute’s applause; to my mind it’s an easy out. We are social animals, and we don’t much like proper silence, it makes us uncomfortable. So observing a full minute’s silence is something that requires an effort because inherently we don’t like it. Clapping as a herd is what we’re good at, and therefore isn’t any sacrifice at all.

Also: grief inflation is getting out of hand. As the correspondent says, keep national acts of remembrance for national events; keep local ones for local events; and keep private ones to yourselves. It’s the only way to stay sane.

Missing the point of stealth, perhaps?

When the US was developing stealth technology, they hid it as well as they could. The F-117 was fully operational in 1983 but the world was only told about it five years later; in those five years who knows what damage could have been done by a fleet of ‘invisible’ bombers?

Now China may have a basic stealth plane, but they’ve announced it publicly at the prototype stage. And they’ve let people see how the control surfaces and everything work, which means that any major power (read: the US) will be able to model it and find out just how invisible it is. Looking at the size and movement of the tail fins, I can’t imagine that it’ll be much of a competitor for the F-117, let alone the F-22.

There’s obviously a place in international relations for letting others know that you have an amazing, invisible attack option; hence the B2 being one of the most recognisable aircraft out there. But nobody really knew what the details of the B2 looked like until well after it was operational. Letting people know that you have a bare-bones low observability plane, and showing them close ups of what the major parts look like, seems to neutralise any real threat it might pose.

Unless it’s just an ego project, and the Chinese just want to be able to say “we have a stealth plane”, rather than be able to do anything with it. Which is entirely possible, I suppose.

Brilliant because of what it is…

…not because of what it does.

That would be my summing up of Tron: Legacy.

The original Tron obviously came out before I was particularly interested in movies, but I saw it in the 80s and I’ve seen it since. To the eyes of a viewer today it is crude and nasty looking, but to the eyes of a geeky young fella it was awesome. The mix of live action and (for the time) complex computer graphics ticked many boxes on the entertainment front.

So a sequel excited me greatly. Enough so that I convinced TLW to accompany me to see it; an action for which I may have to pay penance in future…

So off we went to see it, and as I’d expect, TLW hated all but two aspects: Michael Sheen’s performance and the soundtrack. Whereas I loved it.

Partly because of the soundtrack – Daft Punk being one of the more original and interesting groups going electronic dance. Partly because of Sheen’s work – the man is a genius to watch. Partly because of the return of Jeff Bridges to playing the Dude. But mostly because of the stunning scenery and the overall air of homage to the original.

There are many references: the trains, the light cycles, the guard vessels within the Grid, the suits, the Clu version of the large MCP ship. And all of them are better than in the original, but clearly based upon them. And by the nature of the reference made to them, they almost improve the memory of the original: it took me to look on t’internet for a picture of the original costumes to remember how bad they were because

So that’s probably why I enjoyed it most: unlike most sequels made thirty years after the original, it didn’t diminish the original but enhanced it. Plus it looked amazing

Big Honeymoon Post: Part 4

Continuing from Parts 1, 2 & 3.

Upon arrival at Penang airport, we went through a most excellent set of security queues: think old style, where you can keep water and nobody gets intimately acquainted with your private parts, yet it’s still as secure as here. That pleased me. Then, onto another Malaysian 737 to make the short flight to Kuala Lumpur.

Our home in KL was to be the Mandarin Oriental, parked right next to the Petronas Towers. So right in the heart of the new centre of the city. Around us we had dozens of skyscrapers, a very nice little park, plenty of shopping malls and more than a few bars and restaurants. So we did what any sensible people would do: checked in and crashed out for an hour or two.

Then: exploring.

Pictured: A man deciding what to explore

Most of the exploring was done where we could find air-conditioning or early in the day. The shops (of course) were visited during the height of the day for reasons of aircon. There were lots of shops, may of them very high-end. So high-end, in fact, that many of the fancier watch shops and designed labels had men at the front door with actual shotguns. We didn’t go into many of those shops…

Other things we did:

  • Visited the next tallest building in KL to look down on the rest of the city. Walking up the hill to the Tower nearly killed us…

    TLW looking down on the Petronas Towers

  • Visited a butterfly farm that also had lots of turtles and ancillary insects. Pretty interesting, actually.
  • Visited a massive bird park, wherein there were lots of flamingos, peacocks, random falcons and hundreds of other things. Some of which we were encouraged to feed:
  • Had actual fish eat our actual feet.

    And people pay to have this done. I know we did. Twice. It was weird, but after a few minutes felt pretty good.

  • Visited the Aquaria KLCC, which was again pretty excellent. Lots of videos of sharks and the like. But more importantly, we found Nemo.
  • Died of heat.

All in, a very busy end to the holiday. And on the last day, we went to sleep knowing that it was an early start to get to the airport and then home…

A brief pause…

You (both of you) may have expected today to consist of part 3 of the great honeymoon diary. But that’s not happening today; maybe next week.

Today, I’m going to do a very brief run-down of this past year.

Looking back on the year, there were lots of things that could have made it bloody awful. But in fact I think that when I look back on it, 2010 will have been one of the best years of my life.

On the bloody awful front: the year started with death. One of my great uncles died; I was quite close to him and it was a stressful time, made all the more so by the fact that much of the mourning was done in the public eye. I’d seen him on the day he was admitted to hospital, and then had gone back to London; New Years was spent hoping that he’d live long enough for me to get home to be there, but that wasn’t to be.

Not hugely long after that, a great aunt died; we’d known her well as she’d spent about a month of every year in our house. Another funeral, but this time we could mourn privately.

Soon after that, my grandmother died. Again, I’d made arrangements to try and get there in time but it wasn’t to be. I only made it back for the funeral. This marked my first cremation, but in some ways it was a happy time – she was no longer suffering.

At other times there were bad moments with people; there was anger at the world and there was frustration at a lot of things.

But despite that, the following happened: I had superb holidays, I was astounded but the warmth of feeling on the occasions of the three deaths above, I had good times with friends and with family.

And above all: I gained a wife, a wonderful partner in all things to come. She and I have bought ourselves a house and are making it a home. And the awesomeness of that makes everything else much better.

Thanks, beautiful, for a most excellent year. Let’s see how we improve on it in 2011…

Go figure…

One thing from the BBC webshite that has been interesting me over the last months has been the Go Figure column, wherein a Beeb journalist throws statistics around and shows the reality behind them.

The latest column touches on something that interests me: how the news spends so much time talking about things that are pretty much statistically never going to happen again and ignores things that happen everyday.

I’ve named the phenomenon after the BBC’s Roger Harrabin, who puts it like this: “When considering societal problems over the long term, news-worthiness is often in inverse proportion to frequency. If problems become commonplace, they are not new – so do not qualify as ‘news’. This means the media often guides politicians to focus on less serious acute problems at the expense of more serious systemic problems.”

So we hear lots and lots about strikes and protests at the moment because there are so few of them; we don’t hear about the people saying “well, we have to get on with it because the last government spent our money like drunken sailors” precisely because so many people are saying that.

We hear about accidents in aviation and on the trains because they don’t happen every day, but car crashes do so they’re not newsworthy.

Personally, I think that the news you have to dig for is the interesting stuff: the things that aren’t considered newsworthy because they happen so often. The stuff that’s thrown on every front page is pretty boring after a day.

The fly in the ointment is celebrity and reality TV coverage, which apparently counts as major news despite proving that talentless oiks haven’t changed. I don’t know how we’ve arrived at a place where that is considered proper news on a daily basis.

Out of the mouths of babes

There is a marked difference between living in a house with blokes and living with your wife. Obvious benefits aside, there are some new additions to life that are confusing.

Example: cushions. My main interaction with cushions is to throw them off the sofa. The sofa is expressly designed to be comfortable, and thus it is so. Adding a pile of fluff from Homebase does not improve the comfyness of the sofa, it merely creates an obstacle to said comfyness. However, TLW disagrees, and thus we have cushions.

The next big difference is ‘art’. Now, in my old house, I had some pictures on the wall. Some were nice, some were not. Some were expensive, some were very not. But they served their purpose, which was mainly to sit there and break up the blank walls a bit. However, since moving over here, ‘art’ has found its way onto the wall. Pictures of things unidentifiable all over the show. But TLW has identified a picture that she’d want on the wall, one that is recognisable. It’s all swirly, yes, and a bit odd looking, but she would like the Big Bang somewhere on a wall.

“Because it’s one of the most amazing things ever, the birth of everything?” says I, hopefully.

“No. Because it’s preeeeetty.”

I despair…

Sleep doesn’t always come easily

For some reason, TLW & I sat up for quite a bit last evening watching the operations in Chile with interest.

It’s one of those things – there’s actually only about 5 minutes worth watching in every hour of coverage, and the poor BBC bod was repeating everything he could on an eight minute cycle, but it was very difficult to stop watching. So we dozed on and off, checking how things were progressing and then napping for a bit longer. Someone on Facebook then gave us the perfect analogy for things: Sky News’ counter (0 out of 33 saved) was in fact identical to the counter of Lemmings. And by the time the first guy emerged we were almost casting round the screen for the >> button…

Not as much as the poor miners and their families would have been. obviously. But still.

What we did on our holidays

As I mentioned, last weekend we went somewhere that involved a flight. In fact, we went to Jersey with a few folk, to repeat previous expeditions.

Unfortunately, this time there was no playing with hand-cannon; nor was there any lounging about on private yachts. Instead, there was eating, drinking, talking, spoiling of pets, more eating, and some random sillyness. For example, I discovered that I’m too heavy to play on the trampolines you find in most activity centres (by about 19 grammes, but still), and that I’m considerably better at laser clay pigeon shooting than actual pistol shooting.

And also that Segways, while not being much in the way of use, are bloody fun.

Also: dogs. I like them. But I don’t know what kind of dog we could get that would be happy in a city, with only a small to mid-size garden, and that would be content to be left to its own devices for the working day. Any suggestions?

Overly controlling the message

I am, as regular readers may have noticed, a bit of a fan of the West Wing. The dialogue, the characters and a lot of the plot lines make for most excellent televisual viewing.

However, that doesn’t mean that I agree with the depiction of the White House. I’m sure that it wasn’t a million miles away from the real life workings of the actual West Wing, but that doesn’t mean that it’s right.

Looking at it, the two big issues I have are:

  • Over centralisation – every little message is coordinated from the centre, with every department of government being micromanaged and their PR being dealt with entirely by spin.
  • Lack of any real idea of the limitation of power, or the separation of powers. The White House bullies pretty much everyone, trying with Congress, the Courts, the States and even individual counties within those States.

It would appear that, in some ways at least, the Obama White House has some of the same flaws as the Bush one and the Clinton one had before.

Well, there’s a hopeful change, isn’t it…

Sheer genius

Way back in 2007, just as I started reading it, XKCD did a map of t’internet, showing how big each major part of it was relative to other parts.

And now, they’ve updated it.

click to embiggen ©

It really is essential that you click to embiggen – some of the detail is amazing. First big difference: look at the relative sizes of Facebook and MySpace in 2007 and 2010. And then look just a little west-south-west of centre on the 2010 map: around the Snob sound…

Also, as I was writing this TLW walked in and said the following: “You know, whenever I walk in and you’re looking at something spectacularly geeky, you act just like I’d caught you looking at porn…”


Random pleasures

Walking in central London, at night, in the rain, is one of the most interesting experiences that you can have for little or no money. Discuss.

Normally, walking said streets around twelve on a Saturday night would be tedious. Full of drunks, or large groups of people just getting in your way, or people pissing in the corner while their mate shouts obscenities at the police. It’s not much fun, really.

But if it’s raining heavily, the scene changes. Less people go out, for a start. Many people spend their time sprinting from one dry sanctuary to the next, trying to minimise their exposure. Others make new temporary friends by trying to fit twenty seven people under a three foot wide umbrella.

And others try that for a little while, and then get past it and just walk normally. Once you’ve gotten soaked, what more can the rain do? Yes, clothes may stick to you and your feet may squelch with every step. Yes, it might have taken some creativity to get all electrical gadgets to the single pocket that has remained dry. Yes, you may well whiff a bit as you dry out on the train home. But for the time that you’re just walking along not bothering about the weather, and just observing the world going past, it’s pretty cool.

Obviously, it helps of TLW is there with you.

There is one thing that’s very different when it’s pouring down in the centre of town – I actually feel some sympathy for the poor souls driving those silly pedal rickshaws. And I never thought I would.

This counts as an UBER WANT

Here are a few things that appear on the list of things I really quite like:

  • Gadgets
  • Flying
  • Flying gadgets

Obviously, there are a great many more things that I like, but for the purposes of this article those are the important ones. Whyso? Because yesterday I learned of a most awesome gadget that’s in development that may tick all those boxes.

Yes, it’s a flying car. But one that, if it works, would be actually practical – vertical take off and landing, on road/off road ability, and a four man payload. I don’t know it the large weapons in the door would come as standard or not but it’s gotta be worth asking…

So – ME WANTS. Now please.

Sums, a la BBC

What with the Age of Austerity that’s upon us, the BBC has its wonderful way of dealing with numbers out in force.

My personal favourite is the do it yourself cul-ulator. Which lets you choose what to cut in percentage terms and then tells you what your cut means. I doubt some of its honesty though, for one or two reasons.

Reason 1: Defence

According to the BBC, if you cut defence by 30%, you’d be getting rid of 261,690 service personnel. Which is interesting, because apparently there are only 175,690 service personnel in the armed forces. To me, that arithmetic sounds weird: cutting 30% of funding shouldn’t really cut 150% of the armed forces, should it?

Reason 2: Public Order & Safety

Again, the 30% cut has a massive effect on manpower: in this instance, you would have 235,650 fewer police officers. Out of a total of 165,876. So taking away 30% of the money takes away 142% of the police. Which seems somewhat unlikely.

Reason 3: Welfare

Apparently taking 30% from the welfare budget would save £58.8 billion, which would be roughly £30 per week off the pension. But do the maths: 58,800,000,000 / (30 * 52) = a very unlikely 37.7 million pensioners. Which would put us right at the top of the ageing population chart, don’t you think.

Those are the three that immediately stuck out at me. Does anybody want to have a crack at seeing if the other categories add up any better? Because I’d guess they don’t. And I’d also guess that the BBC don’t care, as long as they show that any and all cuts are bad and will cause untold damage etc etc etc.

Random things to do

As part of Operation Big Day, several of my family schlepped all the way from Norn Iron to London in vehicles of their own. Which meant that I had an opportunity to politely encourage them to bring stuff over for me. In this instance, my own PC.

Yes, instead of using TLW‘s laptop, I now type this on my own desktop. Which is vastly preferable; big screens, sensible fan noise, and a properly sized keyboard that makes reassuring clicking noises with every key-press. Put simply, I am not really a fan of laptops and much prefer a decent desktop.

It also means that a properly usable archive of old emails and photos has arrived, resulting in a strange hour last evening when TLW and I sat going through a selection of emails that had gone between us over the majority of the last decade.

The upshot of this is that we’ve realised that a) we’re both incredibly dumb and b) we’re both rather blind. The flirting that went on in the middle of the naughties was clear for all to see, yet it took us several more years to catch on.

And now, I shall password protect all archives. Who knows what embarrassments might be dredged up…