Tuesday, January 29, 2008

My online life

My wife complained at me the other day that I spend too much time on the computer. I suppose I do, but then I thought about it. What are my hobbies?

Go back a decade or two and these were my hobbies:
  • Listening to music, making compilation tapes, etc.
  • Playing guitar
  • Photography
  • Playing with computers
  • Watching TV / movies
  • Canoeing
  • Reading news, etc.
Only one of those actually involved a computer. But what happened? Well, computers seem to have infiltrated most of my hobbies.
  • OK, so I don't use a computer to listen to music, I use an iPod. But I have to use the computer to get the music onto the iPod. I use the computer to buy the music. I use the computer to make compilation CDs or 'iMixes'.
  • Computers still aren't involved in playing guitar (except for the internet being a source of guitar TAB music), but I'm sure its only a matter of time.
  • All my photography these days is digital. So I use a computer to look at, play with and print out my photos.
  • Obviously, playing with computers still involves a computer.
  • I now rent DVDs via the internet and increasingly more TV programmes are available online, its only a matter of time before computers and TV become fused. Indeed, have a look at the newly upgraded Apple TV system - able to download 'rental' movies directly to your TV, this is the future, and its a computer (again).
  • You know, I can't think of any way a computer can become involved in canoeing...
  • And, of course, the greatest source of news is online.
  • Oh, and at work, I spend most of my time doing things on a computer. Even in the lab, everything is recorded and monitored using computers.
So there you have it, my life is increasingly online.

I wonder when we'll get to the stage that the computer is so ubiquitous that we won't actually use the word anymore?

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Friday, January 25, 2008

Torchwood: S2E2: Sleeper

Thankfully this episode was a lot more subtle than the last with no excessive bisexual snogging and no pointless macho fighting.

Actually, I liked this one a lot. Very human for the most part, but when the aliens acted upon their allegedly well thought-out plan of attack, I didn't quite see why two of these well informed aliens would simply become suicide bombers for no particular purpose. In both instances, surely they could have planted their bombs and then moved out of the way before the things exploded?

And we're still trying to give Ianto a character, I see. Good.

Oh, and I also watched the 7pm repeat of the first episode. In order to turn the '15 cert' 9pm version into a 'PG' 7pm show, all they did was slightly clean up some of the violence and remove a few lines of dialogue (including the 'murder rehab' line which was the only dialogue that bothered me in the original anyway), but all the snogging and innuendo was still intact. I guess kids these days are used to it...

There's only a few scenes of violence in episode 2 that they'll need to clean up. The violence will still happen, but some of it will simply happen offscreen on the 7pm version.

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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Light and Darkness

In November 1988 I experienced both ends of the musical spectrum on two consecutive nights. I saw acoustic guitar playing, Christian singer/songwriter Ian White in concert at 'the Gate' in Dundee on the Sunday night and followed it up with a trip down to Edinburgh the following day to see Iron Maiden in concert in the Edinburgh Playhouse. Heaven to hell in one simple step, or something like that.

I had a similar experience this weekend, although perhaps the contrast wasn't quite so extreme. On Friday night I went to see 'The Burnsong Song House' show which was part of Glasgow's Celtic Connections festival. On Saturday night I saw 'The Stone Gods', which is the new band featuring three out of the four former members of The Darkness - everyone except Justin Hawkins.

The Burnsong Song House was a bit of a hit and miss affair. The idea behind it is that a group of singer/songwriters from diverse musical backgrounds get together for a week and write songs together. They did this back in November last year and this was the second show where they got together to play the songs they wrote together. The primary reason we went was because my wife (and, indeed, her sister & brother-in-law, who we went with) is a big fan of Roddy Woomble (of Idlewild; pictured), who was one of the musicians taking part. Also In the house were Norman Blake (of Teenage Fanclub), Ziggy Campbell (of Found), Louise Quinn (of Quinn), Nuala Kennedy (trad Irish folkster), L-Marie (big woman with a big, soulful voice) and Jo Mango (folky type). And they were joined by Midge Ure for the songwriting, but sadly not for the gig.

It was a mostly entertaining evening, but the word that most springs to mind while trying to describe it is ramshackle. There was little organisation in evidence and even less rehearsal. The majority of the performers were playing or reading lyrics from loads of bits of paper rather than knowing their stuff by heart. And they had never really worked out how many of the songs would end and so quite a lot of songs stopped abruptly.

I'm not so sure the mix of styles worked. The songs hadn't been written by the group as a whole, but rather the various musicians had paired off for each of the days and had written things together. Some of these combinations worked well - I liked most of the songs co-written by Roddy Woomble, Norman Blake and Jo Mango. Some of the ones by Loise Quinn were good too. And although completely not my thing, the two collaborations between L-Marie and Nuala Kennedy were good. Unfortunately Ziggy Campbell had a bad influence on many songs. He generally does weirdy electronica music, which doesn't gel well with traditional folk. Also, having been written in a week, many of the songs were kind of forced and not exactly inspired. One was actually a complete rip-off (I assume unintentionally) of 'Living in the Past' by Jethro Tull and they did admit that another song they had written, but not performed, was basically 'Purple Rain' by Prince. I doubt that many of the songs will ever make their way onto proper recordings. But the show was entertaining, or maybe I just don't get out much.

At the other end of the musical spectrum is heavy metal. The Darkness were always a 'rock' band in my opinion, not 'metal', but The Stone Gods have their sights set on metal, I'd say.

I was a quite big fan of The Darkness. Their first album Permission to Land is one of the albums of the decade in my opinion. Their second album was a much weaker affair with as many 'miss' songs on it as 'hits'. I think the things that made The Darkness great were:
  1. Classic rock guitars, well played, great solos.
  2. Good tunes.
  3. A good sense of humour.
  4. Justin Hawkins' completely OTT vocals.
The Stone Gods don't feature all of these factors. Obviously, they don't feature Justin Hawkins anymore and former bass player of the Darkness (second album only), Richie Edwards, who now does the vocals doesn't try to emulate him. The sense of humour also seems to be lacking. Guitarist Dan Hawkins has said in an interview that the tone of the Stone Gods is very different to that of the Darkness as he is in a very different place now. The tone is much darker, more angry, more serious. But the tunes were good and the classic rock guitars were still in evidence.

The set was only about an hour long and featured only new songs. Nothing by the Darkness, and no cover versions (at least, none that I recognised). The overall feel of the music was an amalgam of Bon Scott era AC/DC, early 90s Metallica and Status Quo.

On the basis of this, I will buy an album when it comes out, but I might not bother going to see them live on any future tours. You see, while the music was good, I found the sight of Richie Edwards tramping round the stage with a goofy grin on his face quite off putting. Unfortunately, Richie Edwards is only a wannabe rock star, not the real deal. He was trying far too hard, and failing. Oh, and the only adjective he seems to know begins with a 'f' - it gets a bit wearing after a while: "The f-ing third night of the f-ing tour and we're in f-ing Glasgow..." You get the idea.

Anyway, that's probably most of my quota for gigs gone for this year already. Except Fish at the Liquid Rooms in March... more on that in about 6 weeks.

And here's a clip of The Stone Gods playing the one acoustic track of the evening.

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Sunday, January 20, 2008

Dhabba: A highly disappointing Indian restaurant in Glasgow

We went out to Dhabba - an award winning 'Authentic North Indian' restaurant in Glasgow city centre - for my brother-in-law's 30th birthday on Saturday.

If that's the authentic thing, I'll take the Anglicised version any day of the week!

It was all style over content - a very nice looking place, well laid out, very classy. But with totally non-remarkable food and offensive waiters.
  • The food was over priced
  • There wasn't much choice
  • Only a few starters, all very similar
  • The staff were exceedingly reluctant to serve tap water (indeed, when asked for some later in the evening, one waiter brought only a single glass, thumped it down on the table and said 'tap water - its free!' in a very grumpy tone)
  • One waiter got very, very annoyed with us when 3 people (on a table of 13) changed seats between the starter and the main course
  • The same waiter also got very grumpy when we wanted to order our own starters, rather than having them bring a selection of starters to share
  • They clearly interpret the word 'tandoori' to mean 'burnt'
  • And the list went on...
The most notable thing was that at the end of the evening, not one of the people on the table commented on how nice the food was.

It was adequate food, over priced, with bad service. Not just poor service, but bad service.

Rant over. Thank you for listening.

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Thursday, January 17, 2008

Torchwood: S2E1: Kiss, kiss, bang, bang

And so Torchwood returns with a bang. Two bangs and two kisses if the title is to be believed. Actually many more of both once you watch the episode...
But was it any good? Well, for the most part I enjoyed it. But once again it did contain (as Marcus put it last time around) "All that I dislike about Russell T writ large."

So, in the 21st century, it appears that all the cool people are sexually ambiguous and are quite prepared to swing either way when flirted with. Even Ianto. Sex and money are the only two reasons for doing anything. And life is cheap. I really disliked the throwaway comment about murder rehab - that tarnished the character of Captain Jack more than almost anything else, in my opinion.

So what's new? Well, it still looks like Angel - even more so now that it has James Masters in it as another 'Captain' - but with a BBC budget, so the car chase scenes looked really cheaply done. The script was written so that all the characters were reintroduced - several times, just in case you missed the first character summary. And everything was bold and in-yer-face. There was no room for subtlety here. But Ianto has a character now and Gwen has stepped out of her 'what's happening Jack?' insecure persona and into a much more confident and, hopefully, interesting character. Actually, the only thing that didn't ring true about Gwen was that she was still with Rhys. The others were much the same as before.

(At one point, when my wife asked something, I referred to Owen as 'the ugly one' as I have always thought he was particularly unattractive and am always surprised when he is given stories where he picks up women with ease. To my surprise, my wife said he was 'normal looking' and actually ranked him as better looking than 'cheekbones' Masters - who I know has a rather large female fanbase. Oh well, it just goes to demonstrate my opinion that men and women have very different ideas of what is attractive to the other sex.)

And so we come to Captain John. Not the most inspired character name they could have chosen, and when he appeared it seemed to me that the Adam Ant style white stripe across his nose was missing.

So he has a history with Captain Jack. They kiss, they fight, its all very macho. Clearly they have a lust/hate relationship and Jack doesn't trust him at all. And yet he does trust him and allows the team to walk straight into a trap because of this. But although he's clearly in some future episodes, I assume at least we've got all the Jack/John snogging over and done with.

Torchwood is back. Hopefully we'll get a wee bit more subtlety in future episodes and characters that aren't just caricatures. But I am interested to see what happens next and what happens when Martha turns up, so I'll be watching.

I'm also intrigued as to how they're going to make that episode child friendly enough for the 7pm showing for younger Doctor Who fans. I'd have thought they'd have to chop a full 10 minutes out of that one...

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Xobni outlook add-in for your inbox
Click on it. Please.

Xobni is an application that works with MS Outlook and makes it cooler. But in order to get the beta version demo, I need you, the reader of this blog, to click on that button and find out about it for yourself. Then you can get your own button and other people can click on that too... and so on.

Go on. Click.

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Friday, January 04, 2008

The Northern Lights / The Golden Compass

Last month I listened to the unabridged audio book of 'The Northern Lights' by Philip Pullman. Last night I went to the cinema and saw the movie 'The Golden Compass' based on that book. Here are my thoughts on both...

Much has already been said on the subject of the anti-religious message in the book(s) and how this has been played down (or dumbed down) for the film, but if you actually consider 'The Northern Lights' by itself, without reference to either of the books that follow, the message is not as clear or as anti-religious as some believe. Certainly, in the book, the Magisterium (i.e. the church) is portrayed as being a sinister, corrupt and possibly evil organisation. Similarly, in the film, the Magisterium are clearly made out to be the 'bad guys', although here the picture is painted in much broader brush strokes. But neither the book or the film goes as far as to suggest that there is any spiritual power behind the Magisterium, it could simply be an entirely man-made organisation. Of course, if you've read the other books, you'll know that 'The Authority' (i.e. God) is a character with a part to play, but that is not clear in the first book or film.

Possibly the greatest achievement of the book is the concept of 'deamons', the animal-like personifications of the souls - and constant companions - of every human in Lyra's world. At the start of the book the concept is completely alien to the reader (or, in my case, listener) but Pullman conveys the concept so well that by the middle of the book the reader is truly shocked by the idea of separating the human from their deamon, so the experiments at Bolvangar seem really horrific. In the film the deamon concept is also handled well and must have been a nightmare for the animators. Perhaps the film should have emphasised the idea that humans and their deamons can't be separated by more than a few metres and that there is physical pain if this is extended. Also, the horror of the chamber in Bolvangar is lost in the film because no real explanation is given, there is no warning of what might happen, and it all happens so quickly that the importance of the scene is lost. Indeed, that scene is probably the film's greatest failing.

Dust. The book and the film are all about dust. In the book, dust is something mysterious that Lyra is keen to find out about. In the film there isn't half the mystery about it and it is more just taken as being part of the world, but isn't really very interesting. One of the key things about dust in the book is omitted from the film (though may be at the start of the next one, I suppose) when Lyra and Pan discuss dust and decide that if the Magisterium and Mrs Coulter, etc. think that dust is bad, maybe it's actually good... But what dust actually is is not revealed in either the book or the film - its one of the mysteries that we hope will be revealed in future bits of the story.

One of my favourite things about The Northern Lights was the concept of 'ambaric' power. This is mentioned several times but never explained in the book. Although (slight spoiler here) I was really disappointed by the discovery in the third book that ambaric and electric power were just the same thing, it would have been cool if they had turned out to have been different somehow. In the film, however, although it is never named, various things (airships, carriages, etc.) are apparently powered by cool, blue, gyroscopic machines, which I assume to be an imagining of ambaric power. Nice touch.

One of the oddest decisions in the film was to change the sequence of events from that in the book. I was surprised that the re-ordered sequence of events worked quite well. Thus the big fight at Bolvangar was moved to the end of the film, rather than the end of the middle section of the book, and the bear fight was moved earlier in the film rather than being towards the end of the book. The only thing contrived about the change in order was the explanation (or lack thereof) of why the raiders should have taken Lyra to the bear king as a gift. In the book it makes sense that they take her to Bolvangar, but taking her to the bears makes no sense.

In summary, the book is a great read full of action and big concepts which are thought provoking and interesting. The film dispenses with much of the subtlety in the book and makes everyone clearly good or bad (except Lord Asriel, who remains ambiguous), but is a surprisingly faithful adaptation (faithful to the spirit of the book, if not the chronology), which is gloriously realised and reasonably gripping. I'd recommend both.

However, in my opinion, the second book is not as good as the first and the third is disappointing, so we'll see what happens with the next two films...

By the way, I think the book(s) would have been better adapted into a TV series or mini-series, as the books are quite episodic in nature, but I guess that hasn't happened. Also, I really do recommend the audiobook versions of the books. They're read by the author himself, but all the dialogue is performed by actors, so it feels more like a radio play than a talking book. Very nice.

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Wednesday, January 02, 2008

What's the difference?

Can anyone tell me the difference between this:

Each tablet contains 200 mg of the active ingredient ibuprofen (as ibuprofen lysine).

Also contains: Povidone, sodium starch glycollate, magnesium stearate, hypromellose, talc, Opaspray White M-1-7111 B (contains hypromellose and titanium dioxide) and Opacode Black S-1-8152HV (contains iron oxide, shellac, soya lecithin and antifoam DC1510).

and this:

Each tablet contains 200 mg of the active ingredient ibuprofen (as ibuprofen lysine).

Also contains: Povidone, sodium starch glycollate, magnesium stearate, hypromellose, talc, Opaspray White M-1-7111 B (contains hypromellose and titanium dioxide) and Opacode Black S-1-8152HV (contains iron oxide, shellac, soya lecithin and antifoam DC 1510).
Any ideas?

Funny thing is, these retail for different amounts in Boots the chemists... The migraine ones are about 20p more expensive. Why?

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Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Doctor Who: Voyage of the Damned

Hmmm. This one looked good but was lacking in substance. Just a load of disaster movie and sci-fi cliche's rolled into one, together with some special effects. Kylie was under-used and her story arc was ultimately disappointing.

And why, oh why does every giant spaceship have a huge chasm down the middle of it that our heroes have to cross at some point? We've seen that far too many times before!

But, I am looking forward to Torchwood and the new series of Doctor Who - the teasers looked interesting enough.

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