Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Cartoon of the day

Monday, November 20, 2006

Torchwood: Episode 6 - 'Countrycide'

Oh dear. Torchwood has gone all X-files on us. I suppose the run of quality just couldn't last. Hey ho.

It wasn't a bad episode. I just felt I'd seen it somewhere before, set in America, with Mulder & Scully. I actually can't remember a specific X-files episode that this was like, but it wouldn't have felt out of place in that series.

To begin with the location, the creepiness, the unknown terror, etc. was all quite well done. The relationships between characters were developed. It was a good start. But...

Why was it that the 'unseen aliens' moved extremely rapidly and precisely early in the episode, but merely moved at the same speed as normal people when we could actually see them, later in the episode?

Why 'once every ten years'? This was never given any reasonable explanation.

And the 'Captain Jack saves the day' scene was just silly and (even in the context of a sci-fi show) unbelievable. I'd expect that sort of rescue in a Stallone or Arnie film, but not here. It felt as if the writers had written the plot into a corner they couldn't get out of and had to resort to cliche to get out.

So all in all: good start, interesting character development, poor plot resolution, too many unexplained gaps: 5/10


Actually, the more I reflect on it, the more problems I have with that episode.

Spoilers below! Don't read on if you haven't seen the episode...

Given what we know about the 'unseen aliens' by the end of the episode, the first couple of bodies that were discovered were totally out of character. The first body was stripped of skin and internal organs, but still had meat on it. The second body was partially disected, but looked much as if it had been eaten where it lay. But later on we discover that the people are being butchered for meat and stored in a fridge. Thus the first couple of bodies don't fit at all with what the 'baddies' were actually doing.

The episode started off quite well, but really went downhill. I might have to revise my score to only 4/10!

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Friday, November 17, 2006

Torchwood: Episode 5 - 'Small worlds'

Hmmm. The fairy episode. Or perhaps I should say 'faerie'?

In this episode we get a bit of back story about Captain Jack, but it provided more questions than answers. He clearly hadn't aged between 1909 and 'the war' (presumably WWII). And we know (from Doctor Who) that he was a kind of rogue time-agent during the war. But we need to know more!

Anyway, the plot was reasonably interesting although, having established early on that the faeries could control 'the elements' (i.e. earth, air, fire & water) and the first death was due to suffocation (control of air) and the second due to drowning (control of water), I was a bit disappointed that the death at the barbecue scene didn't involve control of fire in any way.

But there was a nice amount of moodiness here and they used the classic 'creepy kid' (and 'creepy kid' background music) to good effect. Its certainly handy (from a budget point of view) when your paranormal baddies are mostly invisible.

At the start of the episode I thought we were in 'X-Files' territory, but I'm not sure the X-files could have pulled this plot off.

So anyway, it was an interesting story with some nice moments, but possibly not as good as the previous two episodes - but then they were excellent.

I'd give it 6/10 - good, but not worth watching again.

And one thing struck me from the trailer for next week's episode. I'm getting a little fed up with Gwen asking Jack for explanations of every unusual occurrence. Its getting a bit like the stereotypical 'wots goin' on?' in Eastenders.

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Thursday, November 16, 2006

Return to Eden

Wow. Read this news story. Archaeologists are excavating the world's oldest temple - built in 10,000 BC! That's 8,000 years before Stonehenge and some four thousand years older than the entire world (if 'young earth creationists' are to be believed).

But the thing that really intrigues me is that the temple appears to tell the 'Garden of Eden' story in sculpture form - is the carving on the right really a representation of the 'serpent' before it was cursed and lost its limbs?

I know that some biblical scholars are pretty convinced that the Garden of Eden story (Genesis 2v8 - 3v24) is the oldest story in the bible (some say at least a thousand years older than the creation story in Genesis 1), but here we appear to have it about 6,000 years earlier than I thought it was supposed to be. Wow.

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Wednesday, November 15, 2006

'Unbelievable' (but sadly very believable) news story

Read this story about a man who tried to use the 'multicultural' room, set apart in his workplace for religious purposes, for non-Muslim purposes.

It should be unbelievable, but actually it is totally believable.

All religions are equal (in law), but it seems some are more equal than others.

And the picture of Odin on the right is relevant... honest.


Monday, November 13, 2006

Not enough gadgets

I've run out of gadgets to want!

For as long as I can remember (well, at least as far back as 1982, when I wanted a ZX81) I have had a mental list of gadgets that I want. This generally gets more specific and realistic as Christmas approaches. But this year I have a problem. I have all the gadgets I want! In the past two years I have managed to get or be given all of the three gadgets I had previously been wanting. They're all fab, and they are:

1. The Bug - DAB digital radio with almost every feature a radio could ever need.
I dropped enough hints two years ago that I managed to get given this fantastic gadget for Christmas 2004. It has lived up to all my expectations. Indeed, it exceeed them as (due to a firmware upgrade) I can now search the Electronic Programme Guide (EPG) and use it to select programmes to record up to a week in advance. The combination of bug radio and an mp3 player that plays mp2 files means that it is easy to record lots of radio comedy (mostly Radio 4 and BBC7) and listen to it on the train on the way to work in the mornings. Fab. Worth every penny (that someone else paid for it!)

2. PVR with Freeview tuner
Christmas present to myself last year - got it for under a hundred quid in the January sales. Compared to current spec PVRs it is pretty poor, given that it only has a 40Gb hard disc and only one tuner but, given the amount of telly that I actually want to watch and get the opportunity to watch, it is all that I need. Only about twice a year am I faced with the dilemma of two programmes that I want to watch on simultaneously. And in that situation I either wait for the repeat on BBC3 (or whatever) or even use the age-old technology of a VCR!

My wife didn't 'get' why I wanted one of these. She didn't think it had any advantages over a VCR. That was 11 months ago. She now uses it more than me and loves the ability to pause live TV (especially if you can then fast forward through adverts later).

The criteria by which you can judge the utility of a gadget is this: if it dies, will you replace it? If our PVR were to die it would certainly be replaced. If the VCR were to die now I'm not sure we'd bother.

3. i-Mate JAMin - phone, PDA, mp3 player, etc., all in one.

This is (almost) the ultimate geek toy. Computers are great, you can do work on them, write e-mail, surf the web, listen to music, watch videos, etc., etc., but they're not very transportable are they? Even laptops require you to carry them about in a bag. What I want is a computer that can do all the above, but still fits in your pocket. Right, now why not add in a tri-band phone, a 2M pix camera, bluetooth and wi-fi as well for good measure? All this in a box that is basically the same height and depth as my old phone and only about 2cm wider. Brilliant.

My only issues with it are software related, and someone will solve them eventually. With hindsight, I probably should have gone for the K-JAM (with built in keyboard) rather than the slightly thinner but keyboardless JAMin. But it is fantastic. And the screen is not too small to watch anything on - I think its the same resolution and slightly larger than the screen on the video iPod, and plays a wider range of video formats. I watched a couple of episodes of a TV series on the train a couple of weeks ago. Made the journey seem shorter.

But what next for gadgets? I don't really need anything. I don't even want anything else - except incramental improvements to things I already have, and I'm in no hurry for them.

Where are all the cool new gadgets?

Tuesday, November 07, 2006


Three scientists of different disciplines encounter a perfectly normal situation. The first two say something appropriate to their respective fields. The third one says something entirely useless and unexpected for the situation yet humerous and bizarrely appropriate for his occupation.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Torchwood: Episode 4 - 'Cyberwoman'

I didn't think I was going to like this episode. I thought it was too 'Doctor Who' an episode to do this early on in the new series. And the Cybermen are such a classic Who baddie, I thought it might spoil things. I was wrong, it was great.

There was much more tension in this episode than the previous three, but it was mixed in with the emotional heart of the series which was still there. I know it was the classic sci-fi plot of 'unknown alien at large in the base' but there was enough novelty in there to keep the story fresh. The Cyberwoman was a good mix of human and Cyberman and they kept the uncertainty going right through the episode; how human is she?

This episode didn't feel like Angel at all. Perhaps Torchwood has managed to find its own feet at last. But it did feel a bit like Stargate SG1 at times - they do the 'alien on the base' storyline about once a series...

And thay have now padded out the supporting character of Ianto (good Welsh name that, pronounced 'Yan-toe') to three dimensional - although I can't help but feel he'll return to two dimensions again next week.

Once again, I have no idea what is going on in the teaser for next week's episode. But, given the quality of the series so far, I'll certainly watch again.

My episode ratings so far:
Episode 1: 7/10 (maybe more)
Episode 2: 7/10
Episode 3: 9/10
Episode 4: 8/10

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Sunday, November 05, 2006

The Nuno Bettencourt Discography - Part 1 - Extreme

A couple of posts ago I said I was going to tell you all about Nuno's career, so here goes.

Before he went on to bigger and better things, this is where Nuno started. How awful do they look? But it was the mid 80s, so I guess we can forgive them. no official album releases but they seem to have a few tracks on myspace for your listening pleasure.

The album cover of the first Extreme album is almost as bad as the promo shot of 'Sinful' but there are some quality moments on this album. Here they saved the best for last. The thumping sound that accompanies the instrumental parts of the closing song on the album, "Play with me", is the sound of thousands of jaws dropping. The faint scratching noise that follows is the sound of a thousand guitarists wondering 'how the [various expletives] can he do that?' If you've never heard it, track it down and listen in wonder to the birth of a master guitarist.

Extreme II: Pronograffiti
This is where Extreme hit the big time. 'More than words' was a huge hit everywhere, but most of the really good guitar work is in the songs that weren't released as singles. While this album is pretty much 'of its time' (its time being just pre-grunge, when real rock music was dying) it does stand up pretty well today. There's a lot of emotion packed into it and you're carried along on a rollercoaster ride from anger, through lust (in fact, most of the major 'deadly sins' are represented here) to a more satisfying conclusion of love. Did you ever notice that 'More than words' isn't a love song? Its a song about a teenage bloke trying to persuade his girlfriend to, erm, do it. But when we've trawled through all the baser parts of the story (and this is definitely a whole album story) we end up with 'Song for love' and 'Hole hearted' which speak of the need for love rather than just gratification. See? There's more to this album than you thought there was... Actually, I think I like this album better now than I did in the early 90s. And after this masterpiece, Extreme went on to produce another:

Extreme: III sides to every story
I loved the review in 'Q' magazine for this album. The opening line was along the lines of 'This is Extreme's first album since they became the new Queen...' - a follow up to Brian May's comment at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert, where he introduced Extreme saying that 'more than anyone else, these guys know what Queen have been about for all these years' (or words to that effect). And there is something of the spirit of A night at the opera in here in terms of the sheer scope and scale of the album. From heavy rock to acoustic pop to all-out prog-rock epicness, this album has it all. In buckets.

This album has stood the test of time. It wasn't really 'of its time' at all and so hasn't aged as much as most of the rest of the Nirvana-inspired rock that was around at the same time. As with most of Extreme's catalogue, there is a lot of searching for love, meaning and direction in the world - some big themes are touched upon in songs like 'God isn't dead?' and 'Rise and shine' quotes heavily from Ecclesiastes and the words of Jesus from the bible. This album is great on a musical level, an emotional level and a philosophical level (although it only asks big questions and doesn't attempt to answer them), and I still really like it.

Extreme: Waiting for the punchline
This is where, in my opinion, it all went wrong for Extreme. They tried too hard to be different from the previous album. Lots of folk (like me) liked 'III sides' but Extreme lost part of their former fanbase with it as it wasn't as raw and rocking as their first two albums. So they tried to return to 'raw' for Punchline. In some ways the last album was Queen-inspired, whereas this one was far more Zeppelin in its influences - Its darker, less polished and a bit dirtier. It has a few good tracks, but much of it is filler material - especially when compared to the quality of the two previous albums. I bought this when it first came out, but it soon ended up in the bottom of a cupboard, not to be listened to for the best part of a decade.

When I recently rediscovered it (while adding most of my CD collection to iTunes on my computer) I was stunned by the instrumental 'Midnight Express' which is track 6. It is, quite possibly, the finest guitar instrumental in rock. Few guitar solos can hold my attention beyond the first minute, but this is four minutes of outstanding acoustic playing. Perhaps it is most memorable because, although it features no lyrics, it still seems to fit to the verse / chorus / bridge pattern that we are used to in conventional songs. I defy anyone not to be impressed by it!

Extreme changed drummers for this album but, rather oddly, kept their old drummer as manager. I'm sure this must have introduced some tensions into the band which ultimately lead to them splitting a few months later. Disappointing sales fo the album probably didn't help either. Extreme had had their time.

Next up was a solo career for Nuno (to be in a future post) while Gary Cherone went on to a decade of not being quite sure what to do with himself. His only album release since Extreme is 2002's "Exit Elvis" by 'Tribe of Judah' which maintains some of the spiritual overtones from Extreme but not much of the musical quality, sadly. Last year he released an EP of songs of reasonable quality, but with no musical direction. It seems he needs Nuno far more than Nuno needs him! In between all this he has played both Jesus and Judas in versions of Jesus Christ Superstar in the states.

I suspect an Extreme reunion will happen eventually.


Saturday, November 04, 2006


I finally watched 'Serenity' tonight. I had high expectations. SFX magazine rated it as the best film of 2005. Empire magazine scored it very highly. As did Total Film. And it was good, possibly very good. But not that good.

I have seen a couple of episodes of 'Firefly' - the short-lived TV series that this movie was the follow-up to. The film seemed kind of like a big episode rather than a proper movie. Sure, the FX were bigger and better than on TV and it clearly had a much bigger budget, but on the whole I felt it was just a big episode of the TV series. Much like 'Star Trek: Insurrection' in some ways - Generations and First Contact were definitely proper movies but Insurrection was just a big episode.

And, given that the movie was written and directed by Joss Whedon - someone known for his well rounded characters, several of the regular cast members were fairly two-dimensional. Kaylee for example - she has a personality in the TV series but seemed just here to make up the numbers.

So, all in all, I'd give it 7/10 - I'll probably watch it again someday, but its not worth buying the DVD for...

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Friday, November 03, 2006

My (current) favourite guitarist

For the last 25 years, give or take a few, if you had asked me who my favourite guitarist was, I would (without hesitation) have replied "Brian May". As mentioned in a previous post, Queen have always been my favourite band. And Brian May's guitar playing and expertly constructed riffs, solos and fills are the main reasons why I like Queen so much. (Oh, and they had a great lead singer too...)

Occasionally, however, I go through phases of listening to other fantastic guitarists, and sometimes these others rise up to be my favourite, if only for a brief moment. From '87 to '89, for example, Nancy Wilson from Heart took the top spot. (But then again, if you're a teenage boy who would you rather have lots of pictures of on your wall, Brian or Nancy?) But Brian re-claimed the title when 'The Miracle' was released in 1989. Nuno Bettencourt from Extreme took the top slot in 1992 when Extreme's masterwork 'III sides to every story' was released only to be knocked from the top slot again when I saw Brian May in concert (Edinburgh Playhouse) the following year. OK, he has silly hair, wears clogs and has questionable fashion sense, but he plays the guitar like a master.

Anyway, I have recently got up to date with the post-Extreme career of Nuno Bettencourt and I have to say he has reclaimed the top spot from the curly haired one. Of course, it'll never last, but for now I'd just like to rave about how good Nuno is as a guitarist and take you all through an album-by-album tour of his back catalogue (to be posted soon).

One thought strikes me about my favourite guitarists. With the exception of Brian himself, most of my favourite guitarists are acoustic-rock guitarists. Both Nuno Bettencourt and Nancy Wilson, despite being fantastic on the electric guitar, seem most at home on the acoustic. The best track on Nuno's latest album ('Broken' on 'Love' by DramaGods) is based around an acoustic riff and the best track on Heart's latest album ('Make me' on 'Jupiter's Darling') features Nancy's acoustic picking quite heavily.

Can anyone out there recommend any other acoustic guitarists who rock? I may want to listen to them...



For anyone who remembers the quality comedy sketch show that was Absolutely, click the picture above for a trip down memory lane. Including many video clips.

And the video clip of one of my favourite sketches is there... Calum Gilhooley trying to buy plane tickets to New York. Inspired genius! "G for gnome, I as in me, L for look at that Honda...". Shame they don't have the entire Restaurant sketch ("The baby veal in the tank", "Do you have any of those big round flat fish covered in different toppings... the pizza fish?", "Your tip's getting jolly small, laddy"... ahhh that was real comedy).

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