The first reliable post-hurricane reports from my family in Louisiana have started to arrive. Those affected in the south of the state, although okay themselves, say the damage is pretty awful. Stephen only had time to send a few words since he’s helping at the Red Cross shelter. He did say that, “New Orleans, St. Bernard, Plaquemine, Gulfport, St. Tammany, Biloxi, and Pass Christian are destroyed or flooded”, although fortunately Baton Rouge escaped the worst of it. Jenna let me know that she’s okay and they still “have power, but the rest of the Traylor clan is without”. Jessie and Cassie have moved in with them for the moment, and schools and universities are shut for at least a week. She’s promised pictures later. Between this and the tsunami it would appear that the last year has been a particularly bad time to be related to me if one wishes to avoid natural disasters.
Predictably the communications infrastructure was knocked out with mobile phone cells reaching maximum capacity and generally worsened by the fact that power was knocked out in several areas (and remains so in some). However, amateur radio volunteers (HAM radio as it’s commonly known) have proved key in the recovery effort by transmitting signals around to alert emergency services about trapped survivors while the telephone services flounder either overloaded or offline.
A study written well before estimated that it may take up to nine weeks to pump the water out of the submerged New Orleans which lies below sea level. Whilst it’s no active volcano, perhaps these events will make us reconsider accepting the risks of choosing to live in such locations (don’t get me wrong, I think it would be horrible to see an incredible, uniquely vibrant city like New Orleans abandoned). I can only hope that the city I’ve often described as “the only part of The States with real culture” is protected by some voodoo charms that’ll keep the damage under control because some of those French Quarter buildings are truly irreplacable.
It has come to my attention that several of my acquaintances and, rumour has it, friends, have been to see The Island this summer. Allow me to offer my personal congratulations. Thanks to your gallant determination and willingness to throw money at yet more abominations like that, allowing the film to reach number two at the UK Box Office and gross almost £1.5 million in its opening weekend, we are virtually guaranteed yet another Michael Bay disastrous debacle of a summer blockbuster (the man seems to believe “summer blockbuster” is a legitimate genre of film). I hope you feel proud.
Of course, The Island does actually have several things going for it. At least it wasn’t The Dukes of Hazard, for starters. Scarlett Johansson’s presence almost convinced me that some of the plot’s intelligence may have survived the inevitable butchering, since she’s generally pretty discerning with her choice of scripts, but apparently in this instance my faith was misplaced (I would love to ask her what the hell she was thinking, since she must have known Michael Bay’s reputation amongst critics at the very least). More importantly, it’s the first of Bay’s films to be considered a flop at the box office compared to the studio’s expectations from their favourite summer cash-in boy. Here Burton’s magic has kept him at bay (so to speak) with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory while in the States he was upstaged by a bunch of penguins, for crying out loud!
Speaking of penguins, if you’re stuck for something to keep you occupied this summer, how about switching to Linux, the supervillain’s choice. I on the other hand am more than occupied with The Globalist. The dates given by our printers were changed pushing our schedule forward so that everything must now be finalised by the September 7th. Working on layout and typesetting I have to work as and when the articles actually arrive as well as sorting out photographs and associated copyright so it’s all getting rather hectic. That’s not to say it isn’t still fun, just fun in the same way as tourettes: liberating, but often rather inconvenient.
With Renzo off to New York I had the office to myself for the last three days. The work started to get a little more mundane, like photocopying, numbercrunching (sorting out the client bill where the partner in question was charging a cool four twenty an hour for his time) and a little light grunt work moving boxes of files. Still haven’t made any cups of tea though, partly because I don’t actually know where the machine is. One of the considerable perks is that when someone tells you to go and grab some sandwiches and crisps for everyone because a meeting will run over lunch, that means a quick trip to Pret courtesy of the firm.
Some papers needed to be hand delivered to a barrister so I agreed to walk them over, giving me a chance to wander through lawyer country (forget throwing bricks, you can’t even sneeze here without hitting a lawyer) looking very much the part and with a swanky umbrella I’d borrowed (which almost sold me on umbrellas since usually I can’t stand the irritating things). Delivered the files safely to 3 New Square which is next door to the lawyers at 4 New Square with whom I had drinks in the Howard Building during first term. This was in Lincoln’s Inn, whose garden party I attended in exam term. And then had lunch in the Middle Temple gardens, whose annual dinner at Clare I attended in second term (the one with properly decantered port).
Despite the fact they are on summer recess, relying on luck once again, I managed to sit in on a court hearing today followed by the rather surreal experience of working my way through a mostly deserted Royal Courts of Justice. It’s rather a lot bigger on the inside that it appears from the inside (and it looks pretty damn big from the outside!). Sure a patent application hearing doesn’t sound terribly exciting but after digesting all the background on the train home the previous night it was really quite interesting…or at least the second hour was!
The final day was slower, generally wrapping up the bits I had left over. A leisurely elongated lunch at a nearby restaurant with several of the younger lawyers was a nice end to a very productive week. A few of them urged me to apply for their vac schemes and even a training contract, so that’s another possibility to add to the list.
Friday’s birthday do went well. It was a decent medium-sized gathering despite the many people who were inconveniently away. TomTom (thanks for helping with so many lifts), Lyds and Annabel made it and even Rav braved the treacherous trip into terrorist-infested London. Sammy C came down from Birmingham too, where he’s now living, and Zaki brought his cousin all the way over from Ireland (okay, so he was here visiting anyway). And it was great to meet up with everyone else who I haven’t seen for far too long.
I’ve started work experience at Dechert, a City law firm, in a department that specialises in Intellectual Property, meaning that they deal with a lot of techie stuff. You know how much I love corrupting clichés and destroying expectations, so naturally other people made me cups of tea and I was briefing lawyers before a meeting instead of the other way round (they were trying to get an account with a company that deals in the world of MMOGs so I knew more about the industry than they and they asked me to make them a cribsheet to sound good – and yes, we got the job). Strangely I have not yet been asked to sign any NDA, but nevertheless I shall not be discussing cases in anything more than general terms. There was also some work to do with retrieving domain names, so the pains of the Downing Ball issues could be put to some use.
The next day mostly consisted of more mundane contract proofreading (but imagine the enjoyment you get from pointing out my errors, and then extrapolate for a fully qualified lawyer). It would appear that it’s just not a real contract until it hits 90 pages, although this matter has been ongoing for almost a year and is closing this Friday (in New York, but they declined to ask me along). Amongst the employees is a trainee who went to Lucy Cavendish at Cambridge, so we spent a while reminiscing about Virgo (she was at the infamous knicker-throwing lecture), the Hopkinses and Downing gravel.
By the way, Graham, I notice you still haven’t signed like we discussed…
To celebrate the fact that I finally got round to becoming a proper Slashdot member, I thought I’d share a few of the more universal (read: less geeky technophile) gems they’ve thrown up recently.
First off is How It Should Have Ended, a great little site that got slashdotted a few days ago but quickly recovered and was very appreciative for all the attention (and downloads – 43,000 in just one day!) it received. They produce amusing animated shorts that rewrite the endings to popular films that suffered from hideously flawed closings sequences. I was particularly impressed with the Star Wars and The Matrix Revolutions efforts, since they ran along similar lines to post-film discussions I’ve had with friends.
On the gadgety side is this awesome Optimus keyboard where each key dynamically changes to show exactly what it is controlling at any given time. Take a look because, although expensive to produce now, it’s undoubtedly the way of the future. And it just looks so cool!
Meanwhile, for anyone who thought that the modern videogames industry has sunk to an uninspired quagmire of violently unoriginal first-person shooters and online roleplaying, check out the bizarrely unique We Love Katamari from namco, sequel to their 2004 sleeper hit Katamari Damacy (okay, so it’s totally unique, it’s a sequel).
And when it comes to people taking things waaay too far, how about these guys who developed a system for a real life Tron. At least it keeps you fit, I suppose. Speaking of which Irina reminded me that I probably need to be doing a little more exercise if I plan on being able to lift Karleigh when I finally get to see her again. So fitness suggestions on a postcard to the usual address…
By now you’ve probably read about the Stockwell discrepancies regarding the Brazillian man shot by police several weeks ago. Leaked documents, reportedly part of an IPCC report, show the initial statements made by the police to be erroneous in some part and downright dishonest in others. Much of this information comes from CCTV cameras that followed the man’s progress through the underground station where he picked up a free copy of the Metro, walked calmly through the barries and eventually made a quick dash after spotting a train about to depart.
This re-enforces my argument that most libertarians have the wrong idea. The crucial thing is not the Big Brother presence of scary cameras encroaching on free movement in our daily lives, it is access. We don’t want less CCTV cameras watching us, we want more. But let’s hook them up to the net and make their footage publically available. Currently, with a little Google hacking, you can pick up unprotected live feeds from random shopping malls and offices dotted all over the States. Due to privacy concerns it’s not a fact that’s publicised, but it’s well known in certain circles. But how unsafe is it really?
Consider the same events having occurred. Immediately dozens of morbidly curious people would rush to check out the nearest CCTV footage to watch the man being shot. Tasteless, yes (you’ll notice a distinct lack of images in this entry), but almost instantly we would know a great deal more about the events surrounding the tragic death. As soon as it was discovered a mistake had been made, thousands more would have flocked to see the footage and decide for themselves. It’s a situation where open access to such information would force the authorities’ hand and prevent a cover-up (anyone could have been watching or caching the live feed so tampering with the footage in the aftermath would be very risky). Instead with the current system we rely on brave people willing to risk leaking information like this before it ever even reaches the public domain.
First off, thanks to everyone who sent birthday messages of various descriptions, they were all much appreciated. That’s the end of my birthday entry; yes that’s it. Moving on.
I’m a big fan of the posibilities presented by alternate reality gaming and have previously raved about the I Love Bees campaign that preceeded the launch of Halo 2. ARGs intentionally blur the line between the in-game and out-of-game experience giving them the potential to become extremely immersive.
Well it seems that the BBC have decided to get in on the action with their own “online adventure“. They describe it as part game, part drama, part murder mystery. It’s about the tragic death of Jamie Kane. For those who don’t know, the singer released three albums, one with boyband Boy*d Upp (described by press as “the anti-Westlife”) and two after going solo. His untimely death at the age of 23 prevented the release of his latest single Torn from the Sliver of Light album. All of his songs can currently be streamed from his official site (see link further up), but I’m not sure for how long they’ll be available.
This really highlights the BBC’s commitment to embracing new technology in media entertainment and I’ve already been impressed by their willingness to accept downloadable programming (as opposed to broadcast) at the same time as most distributors are condemning software like filesharing software like bittorrent. Instead the BCC are allowing online users to download episodes of comedy series The Mighty Boosh before they are aired. Despite some limitations, the wikipedia furore and the fact it’s (strangely?) aimed primarily at a female teen audience, it features a reasonably detailed chatbot (provided you’re not actively trying to trick it) and smooth integration between different forms of communication and information, so do support their new endeavour and give it a whirl to see where they’re heading. Besides it’s summer, it’s not like you’ve got anything better to do…
“Everyone is someone else’s weirdo.” – Jamie Kane 2005
Since it’s been a while since I bought any film soundtracks, I decided to investigate some of the past year’s releases. Being a Danny Elfman fan, the new Charlie and the Chocolate Factory CD was my first port of call primarily for its deliciously zany Oompa Loompa songs (Violet Beauregarde’s being the standout for me) as well as a decent orchestrated theme. Collectively it’s very reminiscent of his Nightmare Before Christmas efforts and maintains a similar level in quality, variation and uncanny ability to hang together despite the apparent chaos.
2046 was Wong Kar Wei’s recent noir masterpiece, and it’s eerie use of insistent string sections coupled elsewhere with western jazz grabbed me immediately. The mood of its darkly stylish 1960s Hong Kong is most evident and the use of subtle variation on its main theme works well here in a film that is about recalling memories and the way they eventually bleed into one another. Apparently the 20-track disc I picked up at Beanos for a fiver is actually rather hard to get hold of, in favour of a mere 10-track standard version.
Since Rom was watching it a few days ago, next up was Klaus Badelt’s Pirates of the Caribbean offering. Despite overuse of it’s main refrain throughout the film, there are a number of decent tracks here. “The Medallion Calls” is a fantastic introduction to Jack Spa – sorry, Captain Jack Sparrow (a sequence which still remains my favourite character introduction on film) and “Barbossa is Hungry” is one of the longer tracks that skillfully uses tension-mounting strings before breaking out, while “He’s a Pirate” offers that familiar refrain instantly recognisable from the film.
However, the hidden gem I discovered was Finding Neverland. Whilst I saw and really enjoyed the enchanting film, I hadn’t paid much attention to the soundtrack, implying that it was rather forgetable. So too, I’ve read, was the experience of several others until they sat down and listened to it later which is when you realise that it’s actually a testament to just how well it suits the film. And make sure you are sitting when you do because it’s breathtaking. I’ve never heard of Jan Kaczmarek but she weaves a phenomenal series of tracks that feel simple, light and nimble but with magestically soaring emotional swoops and dives so magical that if you have a heart you cannot help but smile. The opening “Where is Mr. Barrie?” shows off its style and range brilliantly from its pizzicato start through its choral midsection to its powerful string conclusion. “The Park”, “The Play and The Flight” and “Forgotten Overture” all amount to some of best music written for film for a long while, making this the best soundtrack of the last year by a fair margin. Listen now.
I’ve spent the last few days acquainting myself with Adobe PageMaker (frankly it’s a bit clunky, which is how I found their Acrobat Writer too, though I may give InDesign a go soon) and beginning to tweak the design templates I was sent by The Yale Globalist. The changes have been mostly minor so far, such as redesigning the footer. Not being entirely happy with their cover design I completely overhauled it to produce a sample that Steph loves (a lovely string of “wows”). Unfortunately, much as I’d love to slap a photo of Fearne Cotton on the cover of our first issue, I’m still chasing up the rights to that image. No promises but I’ll see what I can do…
ADeAdMan finally came out of hiding to sign the guestbook, apparently irked into action by my suggestions of ennui-induced deaths in Hull. He assures readers, “no-one has yet died from boredom in Hull. Quite the contrary. They all die from contact with the chav population, hatred of their city or prolonged exposure to rubbish. Or the high level of background radiation.” He’s not wrong about the chavs…
Lost started airing on Channel 4 tonight and is shaping up to be an interesting show, as well it ought after the ridiculous amount of advertising it’s been getting. Then again, I suppose it’s worked given that it’s the first programme to tempt me back to broadcast TV in some time (although Sammy C piqued my interest back when it aired Stateside). I have also been watching Ricky Gervais’ new comedy, Extras but mostly by downloading it the following day. So if you missed the Lost pilot I’m sure there’s a torrent floating around somewhere to help you join in the — err, am I allowed to call a plane crash fun? Fun in the way that Battlestar Galactica (my other downloadable fix) is fun, I suppose, given that it’s about the near-extinction of the human race. Cheers me up.
Now that all the shelfspace in my room has been converted to house DVDs (228 discs at the last count, with Big Fish arriving this morning) I’ve undertaken the mammoth task of transfering my CD collection on my laptop so that I can box the old ones away. I’ve made a fairly decent start so far, although there’s still a whole boxful to get through. Musicmatch Jukebox reliably informs me that I already have over 210 hours of music on here…
Most irritating at the moment are the several discs with copy protection that prevent me from ripping them to the computer. Instead I have to hunt those songs down on the P2P networks and download them from (probably illegal) sources. When the free illegal version of the product is better than the version I paid for as an honest customer, goodwill towards record companies vanishes very swiftly. Although I was well aware of it before, having suffered now I’ll certainly think twice before ever handing over cash for a product that’s crippled with copy protection or DRM.
Although when MP3 first emerged as a format people felt that 128bps was more than enough for decent sound quality, views have changed. As harddisk sizes increased, the need for such high compression alleviated slightly so that 192bps became the “decent sound quality” benchmark. When downloading files now though, I’ve found people ripping entire songs at 256bps or even 320bps which for a fixed rate file is ridiculous.
I now encode files in VBR, or Variable Bit Rate, and would urge everyone else to as well. Encoding an entire file at 320bps wastes vasts amounts of space because it samples silence just as highly as complex musical sections. VBR uses an intelligent algorithm to adjust the bitrate depending on the intricacy of the passage (for more info with pictures read JT & HZ’s article with its “Dear world, STOP being afraid to use VBR” message). Audiograbber with the LAME codec makes this easy and extremely fast. Just set the encoding type to VBR and set the sliding scale to “3” and you’ll come out with a great sounding file without the bloated size. Please, it makes it so much easier for me to download that way!