Meewella | Fragments

The Life of P

Month: December 2004

10 Things To Watch In 2005

With 2004 drawing to a close, here are my predictions on what’s going to hot up next year:

  1. Star Wars Episode III - Revenge of the SithStar Wars Episode III – The ultimate Space Opera is finally concluded, 28 years after the release of the orginal. And from the trailers so far, Revenge of the Sith looks as though it may return to saga to its former glory after the last few questionable films. And how can it go wrong when we get to see Anakin’s duel with Obi-Wan, the injury that puts him in the suit, the return of DARTH VADAR, Mace Windu’s death and the virtual extinction of the Jedi, the bad guys win, and the cruel torture and grisly public execution of Jar Jar Binks (okay, that last one is just a fervent prayer).
  2. The Console Wars: Xbox2 vs PS3 – Don’t make the mistake of thinking this is only relevant if you’re a videogamer. Far from it, the console wars are just hotting up again and this round may very well be the one that decides which company’s media centre box is sitting in your living room in a decade’s time. Both Microsoft and Sony are boasting impressive new processing power, with Sony using their new blu-ray disc technology in the PS3. Microsoft meanwhile are suggesting there may be multiple releases of “Xbox Next” (an early name we hope is changed) both with and without a harddisk (a big expense in the current console which they sell at a loss). The research and specs should be finalised in 2005, with units possibly being manufactured by the end of the year.
  3. Jessica AlbaJessica Alba – The stunningly gorgeous star of Dark Angel properly graduates from TV to the big screen this year, appearing in no less than 3 movies, comicbook adaptation Fantastic Four as Susan Storm/The Invisible Woman, Into the Blue about a group of divers who become tangled up with a drug lord, and Sin City which I’ve already been raving about here. She’s a prime example of the new wave of hybrid beauty with her Spanish/Mexican/French/Danish ethnicity.
  4. Longhorn – Production on Microsoft’s next generation operating system has slipped with resources being moved to this year’s Service Pack 2 for XP. However, having jumped that hurdle, 2005 will be a long run of consolidation and probably, dropping a few of the overly ambitious features for this release. I don’t expect to see a final version surface until well into the following year, however.
  5. Disc Wars: Blu-ray vs HDD – 2005 will mark gradual demise of the VCR, as it eventually disappears with whimper like audio cassettes (remember them?). At P-2004 we dumped VCRs this year, converting everything to DVD, and as DVD recorders become more popular next year, the trend will grow. Meanwhile the next generation of disc technology, post-DVD is being completed in earnest. Seeing two standards emerge is always a worrying sight for the consumer, and while P-2004 firmly promotes Sony’s higher quality blu-ray format, it’s still too early to tell which will pull ahead next year. With blu-ray featured in the PS3, expect these new discs to appear alongside DVDS in 2006.
  6. open sourceOpen Source: Mozilla & OOo – 2004 has been a fantastic year for open source software. The Mozilla Foundation released its high-profile internet browser Firefox with incredible success and over 13 million downloads thus far, with some sources claiming it accounts for up to 10% of internet usage, the biggest share taken from Microsoft’s Internet Explorer in a long time. With their mail client Thunderbird also graduating into a 1.0 release, expect a good year of consolidation and smaller updates next year. Meanwhile also watch the OpenOffice.org bunch who are incredibly managing to create a free product that is fast rivalling Microsoft’s own Office suite, based upon the code for Sun’s StarOffice. Since it is fully compatible with all MS Office office formats, next year’s expected step up to v2.0 of OpenOffice (currently v1.1.3) will be a big deal.
  7. Christian Bale – After a quiet couple of years, he returns in two films. Hopefully Batman Begins will be a return to form for the caped crusader after some appalling movies. More importantly, however, is The Machinist for which Bale dropped an unhealthy four and half stone. He actually wished to go further but was not allowed due to fears for his health. An incredibly dedicated performance, it is reminiscent of Charlize Theron’s drastic image change in Monster. I would predict similar recognition for Bale this year.
  8. Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell Chaos Theory – with the big guns of gaming gracing us with so much this year in the shape of Doom3, Half-Life2, World of Warcraft and Halo2, next year seems pretty quiet by comparison. No doubt there will be a few surprises, but the third installment of of the stealth-based Splinter Cell franchise should definitely be one to get excited about.
  9. Headless Mac – Apple have never catered to the cheapest end of the market which is what prevents many home users from switching. Now, while I’m no mac advocate, certain sources have revealed that a stripped down version has been in production for almost a year. Apparently encouraged by the phenomenal success of the iPod, this £400ish box is suspected to come without a screen, but will be perfect for those who want to trial how a Mac could work for them, keeping two machines running to begin with before deciding which is best suited to their needs. There’s still no official word, but expect to hear more next year.
  10. P-2005? – Nope, the name ain’t changing. We’re still P-2004 (we actually started in 2003, remember?) and hopefully the site will continue to grow and take shape as it has done over the last year. Major coding overhauls are complete, so now expect some changes to the structure of the Fire section which is rarely updated at the moment. Also look out for a flood of photography from last year that never surfaced and, of course, more film reviews soon.

So, whatever you’re up to this evening, have a fantastic New Year!!

The Shout

The Shout - A Day in the LifeYesterday evening I went with my mother and sister to a concert in the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London. It was probably the most enjoyable Christmas-themed musical event I can remember, featuring a wonderfully eccelectic 16-strong choir called The Shout. From an impossible mix of musical backgrounds and faiths, they are able to both do things normal choirs can’t, and push the boundaries of what a choir is. So goes the blurb, anyway. It remained to see how exactly such disparate singing styles would actually work together…

The labelless result was a very funky mix, predominantly a series of reworked carrolls and Christmassy songs, interwoven with a strangely dark and dismal set of short Christmas Day experiences (set in locations such as Alcatraz) that were ultimately positive and uplifting. The songs matched these stories with an ethereal quality, as well as a wry sense of humour such as the morosely bass tones wailing a slow, “‘Tis the season to be jolly, fah la la la lah la la la lah.”

In the second half the tales took on a much lighter tone, but the music lost none of its intensity. That is not to say it was without its missteps. A distinctly uninspired rendition of “A Very Good Year” was uncomfortable to sit through, and the a’cappella version of “Run, Run Rudolph” fell rather flat (the “electric guitar” line is there for a reason – you can’t just ignore it!). That said, even their blunders were well-intentioned and generally enthusiastically performed. And some of you will be interested to hear there was even a fully composed commercial “Twelve Days of Christmas” à la the Downing JCR forum.

Decidedly original and a pleasant diversion from the usual uninspired Christmas gaffes, The Shout are definitely worth a listen and, with their interesting staging and subtle performance art, a look too.

Sri Lanka

flooding near the capital ColomboFirst off, thank you to everyone who expressed concern about my family in Sri Lanka; it was much appreciated. I’m glad to say that, after much frantic calling yesterday due to phone lines being down, almost everyone appears to be okay. I had some close relatives from here who were visiting family in Sri Lanka at the time, but they were able to contact us early yesterday to let us know they were safe. They have apparently been living off the generosity of the locals since where they were staying there is no longer a hotel at all! It has been a national disaster and the projected casualty rate keeps climbing 1,000 to 2,000 to 5,000 and shows no sign of slowing. It is a terrible shame as the country’s tourism industry seemed to be on the rise, especially as the political situation became more stable. This will seriously set things back. While the country’s infrastructure was designed neither to withstand nor cope with the aftermath of such an event, we are fortunate in the aid that has been pouring in from India and other nearby countries. But the human tragedy on a personal level is, of course, horrific. The lady who cooked for us during our last visit there had her husband and children swept away, and is now staying with my grandmother. The repercussions for the countless people in such a position is unimaginable.

To all those who have lost family or friends in this disaster, you have our deepest sympathy.

Haloed

WARNING: the following entry may contain spoilers for those who have not yet completed Halo 2

Spartan 117, a.k.a. 'Master Chief'// 12:01am // Two Spartan-II warriors are spotted entering the outskirts of New Mombassa South African Protectorate. They skirmish with alien Covenant forces along the shoreline, moving towards the city.

// 12:33am // The Spartans reach the bridge leading into the New Mombassa metropolis. Taking a Warthog jeep, they race across and once inside, aid human soldiers in recapturing the city. It is the Spartans who eventually board and destroy the large mechanical Scarab that has been keeping the humans pinned down. In a last-ditch attempt to escape, the Covenant make a slipspace jump but the Spartans, aboard a human vessel “In Amber Clad”, give chase, although the slipstream rupture destroys the city.

// 1:02am // Two Covenant elite Arbiters lead a squad sent on a mission to locate the leader of a heretic group who have hidden themselves in the ruins of installation 04, also known as “Halo”.

// 1:28am // Having located the heretic leader, they cut cables to send the station plunging into freefall, forcing him from his hiding place. A chase ensues on flying Banshees. The heretic leader is slain and a sentient mechanical “Oracle” referring to itself as “343 Guilty Spark” is captured.

covenant elites// 2:12am // “In Amber Clad” follows the Covenant to a second Halo. The Spartans drop to the surface with a squad of humans to enter the Covenant-controlled ruins and search out the Prophet of Regret who is hiding in one of the ancient towers. Traversing many submerged structures, they find and slay Regret, but unable to escape, they drown when the temple is destroyed.

// 3:09am // Meanwhile the elite Arbiters are searching for a sacred icon on this Delta Halo, in a structure controlled by floating machine Sentinals and infested by a parasitic lifeform known as The Flood. Pushing through the quarantine zone, they enter the library and race to acquire the icon before the humans. Although they succeed, they are betrayed by Covenant brutes and left plumetting to their deaths.

// 4:17am // A strange creature called Gravemind saves the Spartans and Arbiters, returning them to the surface with a specific tasks: to hunt down the Prophet of Truth and prevent him from using the icon to activate Halo, a dangerous weapon. The Spartans proceed to do so, while the Arbiters exact vengeance from the treacherous brutes.

// 5:10am // My cousin Jehan and I finally switch off the X-box and go to bed. There’s no lullaby quite like the sound of dual-wielded brute plasma rifles in surround sound…

Old Skool

After spending yesterday hanging out with Toby, last-minute Christmas shopping, a nostalgic lunch at Pret bringing back memories of the good old Vodafone days, and then back to his for PS2 and a film (finally got round to watching Eternal Sunshine!), I decided to write off another day of work today. Spent the afternoon in London with Jane who’s over from Louisiana for a couple of weeks to hang out here and check out some unis. We had coffee near Victoria station and then headed off to Camden. After lunch, shopping, and generally soaking up the atmosphere, she came back to Croydon with me to sample one of the (in)famous Curry Nights she had heard about. And she was in for a treat.

It was a proper old skool Curry Night with exactly the right number of people (including getting to see Andie after ages), all in exactly the right mood, so even Mr. JD Wetherspoon’s distinct lack of culinary diversity couldn’t dampen our spirits. We picked from the few curries they did have available and proceeded to exchange heated stories, swap seats intermittently, and generally chat to everyone we hadn’t seen for months. Or a week. Either way.

Poetic License (Revoked)

I am of the opinion that these days there are two types of writers: those who produce writing of incredible technical merit and those who, frankly, don’t. It’s pretty obvious which are worth reading, right? Well, not exactly…

His Perfect DrugMy writing usually occurs in the following way. Firstly there will be a thought or emotion that I suddenly have a desire to capture on paper. I allow the words to flow out of their own accord, not quite stream of consciousness since they are structured in my mind first. It’s a messy process. The result is a crude but pure form of emotion in words. The best results are usually achieved by returning to it in the next few days and refining it into something more skillfully crafted. But how much refining should actually occur? You see, the more polished the final product, the further one is from the very emotion being captured in the first place.

English students and the roaming internet poetry nazis rarely like my poetry. That’s because for all its emotional dexterity, it generally lacks the technical impressiveness which they view as paramount. It’s a reasonable criticism, they do lack that technicality and my work is unlikely to ever get published and won’t reach the masses. But mine does reach indivuals. I worry that people are forgetting the whole point of poetry as they become more and more wrapped up in the technical elements. If you squeeze out the emotion, the cold remainder, while perhaps a work of some beauty in itself, cannot possibly speak to people. But that unrefined piece of raw emotion, that will speak to someone who is experiencing the same thing. I won’t win awards for my work (well that’s not entirely true since The Crypt did win some internet awards due its poetry), but I do get emails from people who have been helped by something I wrote, perhaps supported just by knowing that somewhere, someone else felt the same way they do. And that makes the pain a little easier.

One of my favourite pieces of feedback was by a guy who explained he suddenly realised how he was treating his girlfriend after reading an old poem of mine, His Perfect Drug. That poem, for all its simplicity and lack of technical merit, is an open and honest piece of writing. And so it managed to reach someone, and change – maybe even save – two people’s relationship. So to all those literature nazis out there, scoffing at and deriding those pieces of angsty teenage trash, please answer this question: if you can reach just one person with something you’ve written, isn’t that what makes it all worthwhile?

“The King Has Returned”

The Return of the King extended DVDAs an old baboon friend of mine said, although he was talking about a lion and I’m talking about an event for which I have been waiting two and a half years. Yes, I am finally holding in my hands the 12-disc extended DVD trilogy box set of Peter Jackson’s epic Lord of the Rings masterpiece.

So, worth the wait? Well, having been delayed from its intended November release, we are treated to 48 minutes of new and extended scenes bringing the feature running time to about 4 hours, with the total extended trilogy now clocking in at 654 minutes, nearly eleven hours in Middle Earth. Although there is more new footage here than in either of the previous films, it alters the dynamic far less. In the first two movies, large chunks of character development had been cut from the theatrical release to ensure it flowed smoothly. By the third film, the character arcs are pretty much complete, with exception of Frodo and Gollum. As a result, most welcome are the new scenes in Mordor, the interior of which we barely glimpsed in the theatrical cut.

The majority of the totally new additions are merely the inclusion of key scenes that Tolkien fans have been waiting to see, such as Saruman’s final words with Gandalf and grizzly end, the confrontation between Gandalf and the Witch King, and the Mouth of Sauron. We also learn a great deal more about Faramir and Denethor, who becomes a much more engaging character as a result, and their relationship. Eowyn and Merry are granted more screentime which deepens their roles too. You will likely be disappointed to hear that the ending remains unaltered, and there is no Scourging of the Shire addition for which many fans had hoped. One interesting alteration is that after the Paths of the Dead sequence, extended with creepy Indiana Jones style traps, we see Aragorn and co. take on the mercenary ships (including a Peter Jackson cameo that was cut from the theatrical version) since the director assumes their later “surprise” entry to the battle has already been witnessed by the viewer.

This is without doubt the most impressive DVD box set I have seen yet, in both content (with its incredibly comprehensive behind the scenes footage and stills running across 6 additional discs) and presentation (each film’s box is beautifully presented with original artwork and design sketches). An absolute must have for anyone who does not yet own the extended versions of this, the ultimate in epic fantasy.

The Ambilight of the World

The Philips 32PF9986, or 'Ultraglow' as I like to call itWell, the swanky new Philips 32″ flatpanel TV arrived on Saturday, and after a few days of intensive “testing”, I’m ready with my verdict: O.M.G., this is so cool!

Okay, well firstly I should point at that for some reason this isn’t the usual sort of purchase my family would make, and is in fact an early Christmas gift to my mother from Philips. But either way, it’s sitting in my living room and it’s mine. Well, hers. So what’s so special about the 32PF9986, which definitely deserves a cooler nickname? In fact, I think I’m going to refer to it as the Philips Ultraglow for the remainder of this review. So, the Ultraglow has the standard range of features one would expect from a high-end flatpanel, but aside from its startlingly crisp visual display, also comes packed with a few special ones too.

This could've been MADE for Halo 2 The standout feature that pushes this way ahead of the game, however, is Ambilight. It has to be experienced to be properly appreciated but here’s the basic principle. When watching a normal TV in a dark room, the intense bright light being fired towards your eyes, coupled with the flickering glow from your peripheral vision strains your eye as it tries to focus on the artificial image, moreso with extended use which can eventually lead to headache. Ambilight counteracts this beautifully by emitting light from the back of the TV. This backlight which gives a soft glow to the room (the TV must be position against a wall for this to function correctly) gradually varies in colour and intensity based upon the current image on the screen. So as your visual image changes, so does the light level in the room. Ergo no eye strain. Pixel Plus 2 is the next level of Philips’ video processing technology, enhancing image quality even further than its predecessor. Most important is its sharpness and resolution enhancement by scaling any incoming signal to the maximum resolution of 2,560,000 pixels, then altering each pixel to match the surrounding pixels. It also includes digital noise reduction to remove smearing, dynamic contrast that darkens areas proportionally, and digital natural motion that compensates for motion blurring.

This is a gamer’s delight, and could have been made for Halo 2. Co-operative play looks fantastic on this much larger screen, and while ambilight can sometimes struggle to keep up with its swift pace, it capably reflects your changing surroundings. And all 32″ of it should allow for some serious 4-way multiplayer action too!

For those attepting to run Halo 2 on a widescreen, I would recommend leaving your Xbox output setting as 4:3 rather than widescreen and allowing the TV to resize it, else you will find the console will split the screen vertically rather than horizontally in co-operative play.

RSS Compliant

This is an unabashedly techie post. Don’t bother telling me. I know.

One of the reasons for the major coding changes was to make the site look better in alternative browsers like Firefox and Mozilla (I believe it was already running fine in Maxthon and other IE-based browsers). But the changes aren’t purely cosmetic, and there are some new features to take advantage of too.

First up is P-2004’s brand new RSS feed. Anyone using an RSS-enabled browser can take advantage of this, especially those intelligent people using Firefox (v1.0PR or later) who can now put its sophisticated RSS live bookmark feature to good use. In Firefox you should notice that there’s a new icon in the bottom right corner of this window, which is visible when you are on the entry page or any of the main pages in each of the four element sections. If you click on that icon, you will be given the option to, “Subscribe to ‘rss’…”. Select that option and you will be able to add a bookmark in the usual way. However this is no ordinary bookmark! While it appears with the rest of your bookmarks, when you move your mouse over it, you will be shown another list that contains all the latest additions to the site, allowing you to quickly see whether site has been updated without having to visit. Better still, if you click on any item in that list, you’ll be taken directly to that article. The end result is much faster access to the latest changes at P-2004.

P-2004 RSS feed

For anyone using an RSS aggregator, or wishing to add this RSS feed to another browser, the address is:
http://phoenix.beigetower.org/feed.xml

The Missing Months

RaviWell it’s been quiet here since I started uni but now P-2004 is recharged and raring to go. An almost invisible face-lift has occurred which will allow for some new features to be implemented, but more on that another time. For now, you deserve a highly condensed recap of the last two months. The strange thing about being a student at Cambridge is that you literally split your life in two. Half your time is spent in that crazily intense atmosphere, with terms of just eight weeks, and the other half is spent at home, mostly just recovering to go back at it again! Although no matter how hard you might try, you can never keep the two entirely separate. Even weirder is to realise that I’m already one ninth of my way through a law degree. Where on earth did that time just go!?

Clare & ChrisMy room is great, not the biggest in college, but certainly comfortable by student standards with a decent ensuite to boot. Most important, however, is the fantastic view (the shots of Downing below are all taken from my window). It’s amusing how many people here picked Downing for its looks first, and then discovered it was great for their subject. I settled in faster than most, living on one of the most sociable corridors in the college. The first floor of K staircase is so friendly, in fact, that our kitchen usually plays host to a number of people from elsewhere. So there’s Rav, a physnatsci (Physics Natural Scientist, keep up!) who I’d spoken to on the forums before arriving here, Catherine, a medic who was actually the first fresher I spoke to after arriving, Irish Chris, a lawyer conveniently stationed just next door, Angela, a sweet Irish-Singaporean physnatsci lass on the other side of my room who evaded my camera all term (do I get points for not mentioning your height?…dammit, I just did!), Matt a bionatsci boatie (c’mon, you can work out what that means, surely), Tom a medic boatie who I got to know better later on (largely through a shared love of Halo 2 and Half-Life 2 which the others failed to fully appreciate), Pushpaj, a brilliant young medic who arrived with a fridge ful of longlife milk so that he barely needed to leave his room, and finally Phantom Third Year whom we rarely see at all.

The Future MedicsThing started off with the usual myriad of drunken freshers festivities, including the obligatory pub crawl, pub quiz (where my knowledge of films and old kids TV helped net us a delicious fudge first prize!), and fancy dress parties (calling for creative use of dishtowels and sticky name-labels). Having got to know the lawyers fairly well through meetings with tutors, and early lectures, I then fell in with a crowd of medics after they invited me to crash the medics’ freshers do in the VIP room at Cindy’s, one of the local clubs. Having blagged my way in, I proceeded to talk my way through the evenin as a medic (good courtroom practice, right?). I ended up hanging out with that crowd on a regular basis after that, with Irish Dave and Lydia spending a lot of time over at K. In fact many people who actually live in K assumed Dave did as well based on how often they saw him. Five weeks later he discovered a room with a bath that no one else had noticed, and so it was donated to him if he ever wished to spent the night!

LawPerhaps worried that I’d forgotten why I was there, work suddenly kicked back with a vengeance. They didn’t exactly break us in gently, but then I’ve always loved a challenge. Fortunately my room, definitely designed for a lawyer, came with a lot of bookshelfspace (some of which I’d carefully converted into the more crucial DVDshelfspace). I certainly did enough reading to get by, but did not laboriously produce the vast reams of notes that some of my colleagues did. But frankly I’m not sure how useful that would have been anyway. “Christmas consolidation” quickly became the watchword of the…err, lazy. I managed to garner a slightly unfair reputation amongst my neighbours of never doing any work since, to be fair, they rarely saw me doing any. The truth is, of course, being a nocturnal creature, I probably did far more while they were asleep than awake. Nevertheless, the reputation stuck.

A rare touch of K klassThe positive side of doing law is being flirted with. And not (just) by individuals. No, by entire firms. First Herbert Smith bought everyone folders with pencils from Freshfields and Norton Rose and a funky mobile phone holder. Then Clifford Chance paid for a cocktail party at the upmarket River Bar, that’s £40 of cocktails per person, open to every first year member of the Law Society. I didn’t even end up speaking to any of the firm’s representatives there, I think they were letting the money speak for itself! Amidst a series of small presentations with wine and nibbles scattered around Cambridge, most of the Downing lawyers opted out because we felt walking beyond the walls was a bit much if we had to sit through a presentation too! So barristers from 3/4 South Square came to Downing (despite the fact it was a university-wide drinks presentation). CMS Cameron McKenna did a great job subsidising the impressive Law Society Ball (already £50 a head, but I later heard their alcohol budget alone catered for a bottle of champagne and four bottles of wine per person!). And finally, the masterstroke was by Slaughter & May who specifically took out the Downing lawyers for wine and a fully paid three course meal at a nearby hotel while we chatted. Oh, and free Parker pens as we left too. Now, I remember why I’m doing law…

Catherine steals a quick pre-Ball HariboMy room was actually the focal point for many late night gatherings, collecting up a fair alcohol stash and carefully selected Thornton’s delicacies. Later dubbed The K Bar (with its own theme song, “I wanna take you to The K Bar…”, to the tune of Electric Six’s “Gay Bar”), the DVD collection meant it catered for the non-alcoholics too, and it conveniently stayed open well after the other bars and pubs had closed their doors. K Kitchen was the other central meeting point, especially once we began various communal cooking projects such as the pancake champagne breakfasts and regular Sunday brunches, as well as some distinctly odd fusion attempts (and they were odd, I don’t care what you say!). In fact large portions of the pantomime scene I penned with Rav and Irish Dave were born in that kitchen.

And so having properly settled in, it was inevitably time to head straight back to Croydon…

downing in the sun/downing at dusk/downing by night

"You shouldn't trust the storyteller; only trust the story."

(CC) BY-NC 2005-2017 Priyan Meewella

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