I still don’t get it

“Now, I am an educated man Charlie, but when somebody tries to explain cricket to me, all I want to do is hit him in the head with a teapot.”

I feel the same way. I don’t get the game, I don’t like a game where you need a spreadsheet and complicated formulae to find out who wins.

But I do like it when underdogs beat established teams. Especially when said underdog is Ireland, and said established team is as established as England.

I won’t be watching any cricket this world cup, and I didn’t watch the highlights of this one. But I did enjoy hearing about it.

There goes the carefree lifestyle…

I’ve never had a pet. Growing up in a noisy bar with busy people in it, it probably wouldn’t have been fair to a dog to have one, and there’s been a traditional dislike of cats in our family so we wouldn’t have wanted one of them.

After leaving home, I’ve not really had the time or space for a pet either. Again, it wouldn’t be fair to bring one into a small terraced house with no garden or a flat high up a building.

But since myself and TLW got ourselves a nice house with a nice garden we’ve been thinking of getting something to share it with us. Cats weren’t considered, what with them being evil. But TLW had dogs as a child and I’ve always wanted one, so we decided we’d like to investigate the getting of one. I’ve always thought that it would be nicer to get a rescue dog than a pup from a breeder (partly because of fears of this sort of thing), so the pair of us went down to Battersea’s Brands Hatch centre a couple of months ago to see what we could see. And it was very disheartening; they had a couple of dozen dogs there but the staff were pretty insistent that our circumstances weren’t healthy for the vast majority of dogs and that they didn’t think they could help us.

This wasn’t what we expected to hear, if I’m honest. But we persisted, and have been contacting them fairly regularly to see if any changes we made to our situation and their current population would change the decision. It didn’t, so we decided to try contacting the main Battersea site. This was last Wednesday. On Thursday, they suggested one or two dogs that might possibly be perfect for our set-up. We went up at 10:45 on Saturday morning and arrived home with a lovely young thing by noon.

So say hello to Roxy:

Now, lets see how this works out…

Fun exciting weekend activities

Fun things about owning a house and sharing it with someone: sometimes, the original layout isn’t quite what you want and sometimes you need to change it. There may be things I don’t like, and there may be things the TLW doesn’t like, and we decide what we can live with and what we can’t.

SO there are things that have been done in the months since we moved in. I couldn’t live with the bathroom set up the way that it was, so I put in a new shower head. There weren’t enough shelves, so we put shelves in. We don’t like the ivy out the back, so it will be attacked. And the biggest job (thus far) is just beginning: there are built in wardrobes in the master bedroom that just look crap. I’m sure that they did the job for the previous owners, but for us I don’t think so. Poor TLW is particularly non-fannish – her favourite quote is “they offend me. On every level. They have to go.”

And go they shall. The tools necessary to take them apart are pretty much in place, but we needed somewhere to store the clothes in the meantime and to take the place of the thing when all the destruction was done. Last week, these replacement wardrobes arrived, and the bloody delivery drivers wouldn’t bother trying to get them up the stairs. Myself and TLW, faced with the possibility of leaving a pair of wardrobes in the living room for months did what anyone would do: we attacked the problem head on, and took the up the stairs ourselves.

This did not end well, and poor TLW has the strapped finger to prove it.

We then called in the in-laws to help out, and things went better.

For a given value of better, anyway. The wardrobes are upstairs, and clothes have started to be moved. Next thing to be done: the existing wardrobe is to be dismantled. Eight feet high, about fourteen feet long and two feet deep, and it all has to be unscrewed, crowbarred, battered and torn away from the wall. Considering that moving a glorified wooden box resulted in a (suspected) broken finger, what could possible go wrong this time?

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.
from http://www.copters.com/

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…

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.

Faithful to the original? Mostly.

I finally got round to seeing the A-Team movie t’other day. And I have to say that I found it to be most enjoyable, with considerable excellence all round.

As an avid fan of the original series (wasn’t every kid in the western world in the 80s a fan of the original series?) I had very mixed feelings. The film could do one of three things: it could stand on its own, it could compliment and enhance the original, or it could desecrate the original. If the latter, I suspect that a jihad of epic proportions would flow forth from the disillusioned children of the 1980s…

Luckily, I think that it falls straight into the first possibility: it’s more stand alone, with considerable homage paid to the original, but it’s also its own film.

The characters are all similar enough to the originals that they’re recognisable, but different enough that they’re not straight rip-offs. I like how Murdock had the insanity dialled up; I like how Mr T was less serious. I liked how they tried to fly a damn tank. Hell, for the first time ever, I liked Jessica Biel in a film.

The massive set piece tricks are clearly lifted from the original, but with big budget explosions rather than network telly funded explosions. Which is always an improvement in my mind.

Of course, being a movie the body count is much much higher than the original, where one of the tenets was that they didn’t actually kill people very often. Which is a matter of taste, of course, but most of the deaths were done in comedy style so we’ll let them away…

All in, I liked it. And TLW giggled like a mad’un during most of it, which can only be a good thing.

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: BONUS Part 5

Continuing from Parts 1, 2, 3 & 4.

And so, our holiday was at an end. We got into a car and drove to KLIA for board our flight home.

Pictured: our plane home

This was to be our home for the next 13.5 hours. It was to be our last experience of Malaysian hospitality; and we intended to make the most of it. Many films were watched and a couple of books were to be read. And all was well until around 12.5 hours in and someone behind us asked why the screen now mentioned “Distance to Frankfurt”.

At this point people paid close attention to the map. It looked like we’d gotten as far as the English Channel and then pulled a u-turn. Which resulted in a longer flight (just over 14 hours) and a landing several countries over. All because of a little snow in the UK.

Upon arrival at Frankfurt, matters were confused to say the least. Lots of people had questions but none had answers. After a short delay, we were put on buses to Darmstadt1 for the night, with a plan to fly back the next day.

We did not fly back the next day. In fact, we did not fly back the following day either. We ended up taking off at around 1am on the third day following our landing.

It wasn’t all bad: the hotel we got for most of the time was pretty good, the feeding at the hotel was done well considering they had no notice of 400 folk arriving. Darmstadt at least had a small shop and a stall selling hats open on the Sunday so we could get some essentials. And of course, it being Germany meant some minor compensations: excellent beer being amongst them. Some of the people we met were Australians, and they were in the midst of their first experience both of snow, and of German beer. Lucky them on the first day, but the next morning they were suffering like I haven’t seen in a long time.

Our view from the hotel room

The less good things? Well, we were in sub zero weather in the clothes on our back, because nobody was going to give us our luggage. We were OK, since we’d planned ahead and knew that London wasn’t exactly warm. We just needed to get hats and gloves. But others weren’t as lucky; one poor guy in particular was wearing shorts, a light t-shirt and flip-flops. For three days. Also: washing your underwear in the hotel sink every day wasn’t the most pleasant thing to do. Nor was shaving with a cheap hotel supplied razor. We were in better conditions than many (for example, Hails) in that we didn’t have to sleep in the terminal and nobody mentioned riot police or red cross assistance, but still we’d rather have been at home by now.

But eventually, we got back on our transport, and got to wait some more.

Five hours we sat on the plane, while waiting for the various ATC people to let us go. Then we got offloaded again, and waited in the terminal for a couple more hours. Then back on the plane to wait some more, finally leaving at 1, landing in Heathrow at 2. Where we found no trains, no buses, and few taxis. And even fewer taxis willing to drive as far as our house at that time of night.

But we found one. And at last, some sixty hours after we were supposed to, we arrived home with our luggage, a lot of memories, and a need to sleep that had to be rectified immediately. The honeymoon was over.

Of course, that now means that we need to start planning another holiday…

1 – we’ve since been told that Darmstadt is a most lovely place. However, I disagree and will forever associate it with conference hotels and closed shops.

Big Honeymoon Post: Part 2

Continues, as the numbers suggest, from Part 1

Part 2: Langkawi

Wikipedia will tell you the following about this place:

Langkawi, a cluster of 99 islands separated from mainland Malaysia by the Straits of Malacca, is a district of the state of Kedah in Northern Malaysia and lies approximately 51 km west of Kedah. The total land mass of the islands is 47,848 hectares, while the main island of Langkawi itself has a total of 32,000 hectares. The main island spans about 25 km from north to south and slightly more for east and west. The coastal areas consist of flat, alluvial plains punctuated with limestone ridges. Two-thirds of the island is dominated by forest-covered mountains, hills and natural vegetation.

What that doesn’t mention is the sheer beauty of the place. From the window of the plane, we could see something of that, but after that the half hour drive to the resort we still weren’t half ready for the full experience.

The resort was a most excellent surprise; I’d expected a bit of luxury, but this was beyond it. The three or four restaurants took no time at all to figure out who we were, our favourite tipples (frozen banana daiquiris for the lady, whiskey sours for myself), when we would happen to be around and all that. A digest of the latest news from home was delivered with breakfast, in case we wanted it.

As part of the package1, we got a random massage for the two of us. Now, TLW is used to such things, but I’ve never had a professional massage in my life. Let alone one in an open ‘chalet’ by the side of a stream in an actual tropical rainforest, with kingfishers and other wildlife wandering by. But I enjoyed it, and it set the tone for the rest of this stage of the trip: six days of not moving out of the resort, but being probably the most relaxed I’ve ever been.

What we did in our time there:

  • Ate like kings. Not cheap food, no, but reasonable for UK prices. But excellent by any standard.

    One of the fancy restaurants

  • Lazed about. Lots.
  • Walked about a bit, especially along the private beach with excellent views of Thailand.

    That there is Thailand. Behind the pale fellow.

  • Swam a bit. In a most excellent pool.
  • Dodged the feckin’ Prime Minister when he came calling one day. Very odd.
  • Drank a bit in the lobby bar, which had a very large pond in it. Containing a few of these lovely chaps:

    Our friend at the bar

  • Occasionally had to chase the above lovely chaps out of the lobby area toilets before use, because someone thought that the thing that a lobby bar needed was an actual frog pond. How very odd.
  • Dodged lizards while walking about.
  • Did a couple of nature walks with the people from here, wherein we saw tarantulas, flying squirrels flying, lots of birds, random narcotic-y plants and that sort of thing.
  • And most of all, watched monkeys. Because, as everyone knows, monkeys are very, very cool.

    Evil monkeys that try to break into rooms to steal from your minibar. True story.

    Less evil monkeys

    More 'less evil' monkeys; this time a mother and strangely ginger child

After six days of that, we were perfectly fed, totally relaxed and pretty happy about everything. So we upped sticks, got back in a car and headed to the ferry port to grab a boat to the next stop: Penang.

1 – a hint for such places: say you’re going on your honeymoon, and people throw in random things. And never actually check if you are a newly-wed or not…

Big Honeymoon Post: Part 1

Where we live is a big old trek from Heathrow: you basically have to either go through central London, do the entirety of the south circular or do 45% of the M25 to get to there from here. Or use public transport, which is what we hoped to do. However you choose to go about it, it’s best to knock out two hours minimum to get there.

Which is unfortunate if you’re due to leave at 10am and have a three hour check in limit. 10 – 3 – 2 = 5am being the latest we could leave the house. So we did what any sane person would do: we tried looking for alternatives that would let us wake up closer to Heathrow so that we could wake up at a more sensible hour. Alternatives were: a) sleep on the terminal floor, b) find a hotel very close to the terminal or c) find a cheaper hotel slightly further from the terminal that would result in half an hour travelling or so.

We chose a combination of parts a) b) and c). A cheaper hotel, close enough to the terminal that it is pretty much on the terminal floor. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the Yotel!:

It’s a very small capsule type hotel buried deep in Heathrow terminal 4. Approximately 90 seconds travel time from the check-in desk and about 20% of the price of a Hilton room nearby. For that you get a double bed with ensuite, free wifi and a telly. Bargain.

So we did the decent thing: got over there fairly early the night before, checked in, had a meal, got slightly tipsy and went to bed knowing that we didn’t have to get up until 6:30. Brilliant.

From then, we checked in and did the obligatory shopping, before finding our gate and our chariot for the trip:

Our home for the next twelve or thirteen hours: a Malaysian Air Service 747. Which was nice, even in economy we had personal video players with enough to keep us entertained (TLW managed five films during the outbound leg). And the flight attendant dude had to be told to stop refilling my glass after the third or fourth can, which was a pleasant change from most airlines I’ve flown where getting more than a single small glass of beer can be problematic.

From thence, we flew to Kuala Lumpur for a brief transfer on to an older 737 and a flight to Langkawi (one of those little tropical islands closer to Thailand than Malaysia) which was to be our first port of call. On this flight, we bumped straight into a bit of a cultural difference: our seats were slightly played with because it would have apparently been a very bad thing for me to sit next to a random woman in a burka; clearly I would have been a bad influence so my wife had to separate us. What fun.

Then: Langkawi. Where we were met by a driver from the hotel (the Datai, one of this chain) who took our bags, gave us a cold towel to get the worst of the sweat off our faces, and took us to one of the most beautiful and relaxing places I’ve ever been. We checked in sitting in a bar overlooking the rain forest, sipping a little drink and trying to keep our eyes open.

After checking in and looking around the room, we had a quick half mile walk down to the private beach:

Then back to the room and to sleep…

Almost cultured

This past weekend, it was the something-somethingth birthday of me mammy. So to celebrate my siblings, my wife and I took her along to a nice meal and a nice play.

The meal was very nice, although my enjoyment was tempered by the fact that it was in the same establishment as was my stag do meal, and I was a little worried that they might recognise me and ask me to leave. But they didn’t, so that was OK.

The play was very good indeed. “Yes, Prime Minister,” updated to reflect the more modern nature of things. Blackberries, spin doctors, paedophilia, coalition agreements and Irish bailouts all got a quick mention. If you happen to be in London before the run ends (in January, I believe), I heartedly recommend it.

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?

Good good

Last evening found TLW and I in Hammersmith, watching Dara O’Briain. Already being an almost-fan of his (he’s always been funny on the likes of QI and HIGNFY, and Mock the Week is excellent), I think that the thing that tipped us over the edge to go an see him was his book.

The word from others who had previously seen him was that the live show was very like his DVDs, but with a) more swearing and b) more interaction. And lo, that’s exactly what we got. Tales of Thor, the lifesaving Welsh child, and the publican that wasn’t entertained for the first half, followed by the most realistic impersonation of Solid Snake ever and a fairly solid debunking of natural birthing theory.

It was all very good. I suspect that we’ll be seeing him again. And maybe buying the DVD, just to see how different Saturday’s show ends up being.

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…

Temptation in motion

A simple thing popped up on my facebook feed last evening:

TLW has decided she wants a kindle…

Now, those who know me would not be surprised to find out that I have tech-lust for the Kindle. It fills a little gap in my geek wardrobe – I’ve yet to find an easy way to carry enough books to keep me properly happy on a long flight. So that’s what I need.

So a fairly reasonable number of hours were spent, idly browsing Amazon and finding out that I could quite easily have spent several hundred pounds: his’n’hers Kindles, matching accessories and a number of books were sitting happily in my Amazon basket before I got a grip and realised that perhaps hundreds of pounds on geekware wouldn’t be sensible 13 days after a wedding…

So, I shall be without a Kindle. For now.

But only for now…

I expect another spectacular end

Many moons ago, when the identity of Black Stig came out (in a book, fittingly enough), said Stig was ejected from Top Gear in a sensible and fitting fashion.

They said that he drove off the front of HMS Invincible, and the last we saw of him was his glove floating on the top of the ocean.

Black Stig had been there for two seasons, and they borrowed the flagship of the Royal Navy to get rid of him. White Stig has been in place for 13 seasons – what will they have to do to get rid of him when his identity comes out?

I can’t wait to find out…

Most excellent

It has been an occasional happening that TLW and I have gone to the cinema to see something that I had some hopes for but then was massively disappointed by, as the film turns out to be much more a TLW film than one I’d like. Twilight being the worst example.

More rarely, the opposite happens: we go to see a film and TLW is surprised by how much of a me film we’ve seen. Especially when it was expected that we’d be seeing a completely random indie film instead.

Such was the case this weekend, when Scott Pilgrim was the entertainment. I’ll confess, I had an inkling that I’d like it more that I let on, what with it being Edgar Wright being involved, and based upon comic books with computer game references.

TLW was, perhaps, expecting more traditional Michael Cera fare; more of the indie movies that he’s gained fame for. And there was certainly some of that, but more of the Wright influence was apparent – excellent attention to detail and geeky references to things I quite like.

So I ended up enjoying the movie from beginning to end, whereas TLW was perhaps more confused by some of it and entertained by the rest. I suspect, though, that during the many, many viewing of the movie that will happen in the marital home in the years to come, that she will learn to love it as much as I did.

In short: excellent geeky movie. Two thumbs up with a multiplayer bonus.

On a school night? Oops.

It must be said, Greenwich is really quite a nice place to have a pint in. Yes, Blackheath has some very nice little bars, but Greenwich has The Union (which is scandalously close to my workplace, but I’ve managed to avoid lunchtime shenanigans thus far) and the new place from the same people – The Old Brewery.

Which is why last evening started off with me working in SE London, then heading into the centre of London for the purposes of meeting up with people for a beverage, then heading down the river on a boat1, then continuing the drinking in the new Old Brewery.

Very civilised. And only lightly flavoured by tales of drunken misbehaviour. Fantastico!

1 – Which would be my commuting method of choice, were I in the position of having to travel into London regularly. Much more civilised than the trains, and with extra added serving of beer on board.