Meewella | Fragments

The Life of P

Month: June 2006 (page 1 of 2)

The Chinese Development

It was a sad sight to see Croydon’s bastion of cheap and cheerful Chinese cuisine, the oriental equivalent of a greasy fast food restaurant (which, in our youthful exuberance, we considered to be a good thing), Noodle Time is no more. In its stead they are constructing what appears to be an identical establishment of dyslexic literary pretentions, the “Oriental Xpress”. In its defence, at least its colour scheme exhibits something resembling taste.

With such things weighing heavily upon my mind, it is perhaps excusable that I did not notice Haseeb & Co. who bumped into me (literally) on the way home. Their extended shopping trip had led them out of the confines of Cambridge to Oxford Street, and from there to Croydon via Streatham. They appeared to find this bizarre arc as perplexing as did I.

Yesterday was the Bird & Bird Summer Party which, due to the chance timing of our placement, we were invited to attend. It definitely confirmed our impression that this is a firm that knows how to have fun. As well as mingling with trainees, it also gave me the chance to chat more freely with members of my department whom I did not usually see. Despite the freely flowing champagne and the liberally stocked open bar, the vac scheme students all remained with the realm of respectableness. The same cannot be said of one future trainee who, rumour has it, may have jeopardised his contract. Arguably the riverside view of the Westminster Boating Base was not quite as pretty as last year’s Kensington Roof Gardens venue, and the indoor steel band idea was somewhat poorly conceived, resulting in a packed balcony outside. But despite these few quibbles, it was a great event that left us all thoroughly merry and thoroughly impressed.

Shopgirl

Thursday night a few of the trainees held a Pool tournament which, technically I won. I’m happy to let Rob take a deserved moral victory however as a) it was a technicality, he fouled on potting the black; and b) my second game was absolutely shocking. I had forgotten the degree to which my pool playing reflects that of my opponent. It is bizarre to see how when playing someone with a modicum of talent I can pull off some pretty impressive shots, while when playing someone lacking any ability whatsoever, perhaps because my heart is not really in the game, I can barely shoot straight.

The weekend was quieter so I finally had a chance to start unpacking everything which, clothes aside, has remained in boxes all week. Kirsten coming over to spend Friday and Sunday nights with us. On our third attempt we finally managed to finish watching Shopgirl. Based on a novella (a wonderfully indefinite term for something longer than a short story but briefer than a novel, generally accepted as around 20,000-40,000 words) by Steve Martin, it chronicles the relationships between the titular shopgirl, Clare Danes, and the two men with whom she becomes romantically attached. Many will find its slow pacing off-putting, though it is pensive and beautifully shot, with a similarly bittersweet vibe to that of Lost in Translation.

However it suffers from a thoroughly unnecessary voice-over that adds nothing to the proceedings at all. Modern film students scoff at the rudimentary voice-over as being indicative of poor screenwriting. Despite their pretentions, they are largely right, for the audience should be able to infer these thoughts and feelings from the visual cues and dialogue. Thus it now only achieves a purpose where it does something new, being quirky or at least inventive, as in The Opposite of Sex or Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Here it was simply a distracting filler, compensating for the fact that modern audiences detest silences. They seem to find it incredibly uncomfortable which is, at the very least, sad, considering it was one of the aforementioned Lost in Translation’s real strengths.

Registered Land

Of all the four Pubescent Morphollactic Ninjitsu Chelonions, or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as they prefer to style themselves, Leonardo is quite my favourite.

-Stephen Fry, My Leonardo

My travelling companion on the commute to and from work has been Stephen Fry’s Paperweight. A collection of his early journalistic writings, reviewings and columnings (if it isn’t a word, it ought to be — the style of a column being so different to that of any other writing), it makes for perfect train reading as each entry is only a few pages long so that one may dip in and out at leisure. I actually purchased it several years ago but only read about half.

Yesterday what my supervisor Chris described as an “initiative test” involved heading over to the central Land Registry office to acquire some title information and plans. It was a nice stroll across Chancery Lane and through Lincoln’s Inn, reminding how pleasant this part of London can be. The building itself looked new but in keeping with its older surroundings. Having spent the better part of a year studying its inner workings, it was strange to finally find myself inside the central hub of this vast nexus of information. This is relative, of course, its true centre probably being a computer residing in a shed somewhere in the north of Shropshire, the precise location of which is tattooed on the inner thigh of the Chief Land Registrar himself so that upon his death it might be discovered by his successor.

The oddness was exacerbated by the fact inside everything looked clean and airy, everyone was very polite if a little bland, and everything seemed remarkably secure and efficient. In other words, nothing like a government department at all.

Yuppie Mephistopheles

The closest pub to the office, The Melton Mowbray (endearing itself to me with the name alone), proudly declares itself a “World Cup Free Zone”. At opposite extremes this may mean they merely do not show the world cup on plasma screens of varying sizes themselves or that one can be beaten to death with a bar stool for merely mentioning it. I would suggest the happy middle ground would be ejection upon enunciating “England” with more than the prescribed two syllables that our proud country’s title demands.

The summer students, being a young and internationally varied bunch, take a somewhat different stance. So it was in yesterday’s game that Niki found herself supporting the wrong side. The fact she is Swedish may go some way to excusing her unfortunate misalignment, and in light of the draw it would be somewhat unfair to treat her dissidence as treason.

A workshop to prepare us for a group presentation we give to several partners at the end of the three weeks proved remarkably useful. I find few experiences quite so hellish as being video recorded and then forced to sit and watch it being replayed to me. Nevertheless Diane who led the seminar was able to provide some useful advice which will definitely improve my performance. She also asked whether I have had elocution lessons. It amused me, anyway.

In the early evening Kirsten and I saw Thank You For Smoking. A full review will hopefully arrive shortly, but for now suffice to say it’s the funniest satire of the year so far, if somewhat vacuous when considered as a whole, aside from its general message about freedom of choice. As a lawyer, I thoroughly enjoyed its stance on the art of argument, “That’s the beauty of argument, if you argue correctly, you’re never wrong.”

I hope those of you who went to Christ’s May Ball last night enjoyed themselves, as do those heading off to Peterhouse tonight. It was disappointing to relinquish my cheap ticket through having worked on the Downing Ball, but at least I suppose it shows that I took on the role solely for the satisfaction of a job well done. Yes, that must be it.

Two Birds

Having moved back to Croydon on Sunday, I started at Bird & Bird today. I had met most of the other summer students last week at Thursday’s training session, though I finally got to meet Niki. Although my interest in the firm stems largely from its IT/technology aspect, I am working in the Real Estate (that’s property) department. As it will be commandeering my life for the coming three weeks, that is largely what will be charted here during that time, though I will break away to discuss other issues from time to time. A confidentiality agreement naturally prevents me from revealing much juicy gossip regarding our clients, but you’ll still hear about my experience with the firm as a whole.

Kirsten also started at Merrill Lynch this morning, so I dropped her off (after a slight panic trying to find the office) and then headed on a single stop down the Central line to Chancery Lane. As a medium sized law firm, Bird & Bird’s Fetter Lane offices are decent but largely unremarkable. Despite their size they are a major global player due to the fact they only open new offices where there is a large market for their services, particularly in all the key European regions. Nevertheless, its London office remains by far the largest.

Introductory talks consisted of several presentations that were largely dull but necessary. The firm’s structure is a little different that most in that as well as being split up into several legal practice areas, it is also split into service sectors that cater towards the specific sort of clients that it aims to attract. Working primarily with people in fields like IT and media means that they can provide a full range of services that are tailored to these sorts of clients. They claim not to try to be everything to everyone. It seems to me that they instead try to be everything to certain people, an intelligent approach that appears to be serving them well.

I don’t feel that I’ve had quite long enough to unwind post-exams before diving back into work again, but others are arriving directly after completing the GDL too, so I can hardly complain. Still, I rather envy most of you who are, no doubt, lounging around, basking in the warm glow of a Pimms-and-champagne-fuelled May Week. Your uppance, I am assured, will come.

Thank You For Smoking theatrical release

Thank You For Smoking theatrical release
UK general release
dir: Jason Reitman
starring: Aaron Eckhart, Maria Bello, Cameron Bright, Sam Elliott, Katie Holmes

My Third Eye (Tool Live)

ToolOn the tube I chatted with an amiable chap named Mike from somewhere around Stoke (it was suitably northern, anyway) who remained cheerfully buoyed by the gig despite the fact he had to spend the night on a station platform until catching a train the following morning. We had both been worried that the audience looked rather young, as though they may all have just discovered Tool with the new album. Fortunately our fears were unjustified as they sang along with virtually everything, albeit seeming not to recognise Sober. It’s now very difficult to deduce who will have heard of the band and who will not. Four years ago it was easy, no one had unless you knew they listened to them. Now the band are rapidly reaching a more mainstream status, at least within alternative music circles.

The setlist had been greatly altered from the previous night which I think is a good thing. Opening with Rosetta Stoned (indeed playing it at all, one might argue) was an odd choice, and I think our Stinkfist start worked better. The Pot was a welcome addition, aside from a brief screw-up at the beginning, and a nice surprise as I had not been expecting it live. Of the new material what really impressed me was Jambi, which live is filled with a charged energy that is truly electric. Right In Two was an etherial experience that highlights just how exceptional Tool’s live show can be. The visuals, the lighting and the music combined to form something truly otherworldly, particularly with the enchanting rhythm of Danny’s drumming — if you take one thing away from seeing them it’s that he is a monster of a man with arms as muscular as most people’s legs! Maynard, meanwhile, sported shades and a new spiked Mohawk, sometimes crushing it with a cowboy hat that, sadly, was not thrown out to the crowd.

Maynard suggested the band would be returning to our shores as early as November, adding credence to the idea this was still something of a warm-up tour. I would love to hear Wings live, but to arrange that 18 minute epic into something that works (how exactly does one appropriately sing about their own mother’s death?) is a serious task and I wonder if perhaps that is what they are working on. The end result could genuinely rival their Salival live version of Pushit.

Returning home it seemed as though a quarter of the people travelling that evening had attended the Tool gig. Not only near venue but later while waiting 40 minutes for a train to Cambridge I ended up chatting to a few fans and later still when being transferred to a coach due to a diversion I bumped into another couple who were heading back from the gig. Bear in mind we were in Stevenage by this time. Fortunately one coach went directly to Cambridge so I was able to avoid the bus from hell, stopping at every little village between Stevenage and Cambridge. It all would have been okay if I did not have to be up before 7am to get back into London again for a training day with Bird & Bird…

Copernic Desktop Search 2 beta

I have discussed Copernic’s desktop search utility before, with the highest praise for both the application itself and the personalised service that accompanies what one must remember is a free product. For those unfamiliar with the idea, several companies now produce tools that index the files on your hard drive (content as well as names) providing you with virtually instantaneous results when you search. Essentially it brings the power and speed of an internet search engine to your desktop. Copernic’s has always stood out as the leader of the pack, despite the big names of competitors like Google. I have been trying out a beta for the next milestone release, very stable as it’s still broadly based on the last official release. When I came across an issue with non-standard Thunderbird email folders (the workaround being if you change Thunderbird’s profiles.ini to point to the new profile location Copernic should pick up the new location and index them as before) not only did they email me with a personalised response, they also included a new build to fix the issue. I continue to be incredibly impressed.

Exams have finally finished. I don’t wish to dwell on them too much as there is no way to really tell how they’ve gone. In most exams I felt that I produced two very good answers followed by two decidedly unsteady ones. Immediate post-exam celebrations included picnicing on the Newnham lawns with many of the Globalist bunch and then punting with Fran and some of her linguist friends (it was also my first time, but don’t tell anyone!). It seemed a little early to be considering already subjects for next year, but our group meeting with Mr. V went swiftly. Several people expressed discontent that this year I was not rebelliously clad in my now infamous dressing gown, but I was just too hyped for the Tool concert this evening. You will be hearing more about that soon…

Alice in Kubuntu Land

Speak English! I don’t know the meaning of half those long words, and I don’t believe you do either!

-Eaglet, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

I had been gradually cleaning out my hard drive with the intention of installing the Windows Vista beta (now on general release for “technology enthusiasts”). Progress was slowed because, with my CD collection boxed up, I have over 20gigs of music around which I had to work. Having eventually freed up the requisite space, I realised that its distribution across the hard drive meant I could not actually partition that amount without reinstalling XP too, at which point I realised this wasn’t really worth the hassle as Vista was unlikely to be stable enough to replace XP as my primary OS. It seemed a shame for that newly created space to go to waste. And then I remembered Linux.

I had been meaning to try it out for a while, and had even selected a flavour with the help of the Linux Distribution Chooser test. Basically the underlying architecture of the Linux kernal is fixed, but various groups produced their own distributions (or “distros”) which have a unique visual appearance and different bundled software. While many are free, there’s big money in marketing enterprise distros to businesses.

KubuntuKubuntu was recommended to me: it’s the Ubuntu distribution with the KDE look and several tweaks. The “Live CD” system allows you to try it out by running to directly off the CD. I am not exaggerating when I say it took me less than two minutes to make up my mind. Installation was scarily easy. In total it took about a quarter of the time to which I am used for a Windows format and installation. It even took care of the partitioning and dual booting without affecting XP at all. It even came with a full complement of generic drivers for all this laptop’s hardware. This was not the geek-orientated deathtrap I had come to expect.

Inside I swiftly discovered a sleek environment with a simplicity and stability that is very conducive to working in. I have heard similar things about OSX. With OpenOffice already included, I could dive straight in too, aside from swiftly installing Firefox to check out its internet capabilities. Accessing all my old files was a snap, once I mounted a directory that pointed to the XP partition. Although the latest Linux builds can write to NTFS (the XP file system) it is still experimental and not recommended. As such it was necessary to create a third partition using FAT32 to store files that I wanted both operating systems to be able to edit and save.

The end result is a second operating system that I now supports most of my non-gaming needs. In fact this very post was produced in Linux. Up to here it has all be eerily simple, devoid of the tech vocabulary and unintelligable gibberish we have been taught to fear. Over the next few days I shall continue to discuss some of my experiences as I venture further down this rabbit hole.

Leaning Backwards

V For VendettaIf a review doesn’t get written within a certain number of days of a film’s release (in the UK) then I tend to shelve it, on the basis that people will probably already have seen it if they had any inclination. With a busy schedule at the start of this year, it resulted in most reviews I had planned to write being canned for one reason or another. However, with DVD releases being almost as important as their theatrical counterparts, I intend to catch up on many films that I previously missed either seeing or reviewing. The first of these is V For Vendetta which is a bold and thoroughly enjoyable film, marred by the declining quality of the Wachowski brothers’ recent scripts. I know not everyone will agree with me. Like Lucas I think they are wonderfully imaginative storytellers, but the taut, intelligent dialogue that marked their early writing has been replaced by brash and overblown concepts that aren’t quite as clever as the material itself. I definitely recommend seeing it, but I can’t quite justify buying it on its release at the end of June.

Look out for a bunch of backwards compatible reviews for films from earlier in the year, ideally around the time of their smallscreen release. I was spurned on by a kind word regarding the quality of the site’s reviews from someone over at the Toolshed forum. Continuing with the “vendetta” theme, Lady Vengeance may be next. I’ll be focusing primarily on the better films which I can actually recommend, since for the most part (due to slighlty limited cinema time) I’ve avoided the average dross like The Pink Panther and Ultraviolet. Now that P-2004 is no longer accessible at all (the Beigetower servers seem to have shut down for good) for completeness I shall also pull over a few of the older reviews that never surfaced here, and maybe even some of the remaining site entries for those who like ancient history (well, 2003 anyway).

On a similar note, some people have wondered why I don’t write full music and games reviews too. The reasons are different for each. I tried my hand at “proper” music reviews a while back and was never terribly happy with the result. I have a wide and ecclectic taste, it is true, but I don’t keep abreast with the latest happenings in all of these genres. I also only buy albums that I already have a good idea I’ll enjoy, so it would be unusual to ever see anything below 3 stars. With videogames it seems unfair to slap on a score until playing the whole way through and, although I remain up-to-date with the latest news, I don’t really have time to devote to playing in that fashion — it typically gets stretched out over several weeks or more. As such I prefer to use this part of the site to recommend and discuss such items where noteworthy, but they are unlikely to appear in the Critic section any time soon.

With the end in sight, I just need to keep my head down and try to nail Family Law on Monday. It gets increasingly difficult, of course, as more and more people finish exams in the run-up to the weekend. I’ll probably stay holed up in my room, listening to the pop of champagne corks and the smell of fruit-laden Pimms drifting through the window…

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

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