It is now the end of October and we have yet to start using the heating in the flat. It is newly built so half-decent insulation certainly has something to do with it, but the real reason lies in our living room, the warmest in the flat despite being the largest. Between a large TV, an Xbox 360 and a ceiling littered with halogen spotlights, these inefficient devices all produce a great deal of heat. Conventional wisdom now advises that one improve the efficiency of one’s abode by replacing all lighting with the energy efficient variety. This seems somewhat shortsighted.
It must be accepted at the outset that no device is entirely efficient. In the case of lightbulbs, most of the “wasted” energy is given off as heat, but this in turn reduces the heating required for the house, so cannot truly be considered wasted. If replaced with cooler bulbs the lighting would be more efficient but the heating requirements would increase and this process too is not 100% efficient, only in this case the wasted energy lacks any useful side effect. So counter-intuitively installing energy efficient lighting throughout a house would actually make the house less efficient. Of course this argument assumes it is the cooler part of the year when heating is required, but during the warmer seasons the increased daylight means less lighting is required anyway.
Discussing this with my dad, he mentioned another fallacy to the efficient bulbs everywhere approach. They are actually quite inefficient when switched on, and it is only once warmed up that they run efficiently. Thus they are only efficient when left on for a considerable period, and should not be used where they will be switched on and off repeatedly. So the use of one in our study makes sense, but it certainly would not to use one in the bathroom.
I am certainly not averse to environmental friendliness — I recycle as much as possible despite continuous complaints from my other half as the recyclables gather before I have a chance to dispose of them (amusingly since the Germans are known for being very pro-recycling to the point where, the story goes, they ended up pulping perfectly good new paper in order to meet the demand for recycled paper). However in some instances the bigger picture must be viewed as focusing too closely on individual elements can actually produce adverse results. Holistic friendliness is what we need.
I recently visited the first of the independent cinemas on my list, the Electric Cinema on Portobello Road. I had heard of its sink-right-in leather seats but this did not prepare me for the incredibly spacious venue and general comfort. This theatre conversion was clearly designed by a cinema lover rather than a moneymaker. Indeed its spacious interior is the very antithesis of the multiplex mentality that attempts to cram in as many seats as possible. Instead one finds individual seats with two arm rests to yourself, as well as a table between seats with drink holders. The bar (of alcoholic variety in the European fashion that is now sweeping arthouse cinemas) is actually situated inside the single screening room, so one could hypothetically have a cocktail mixed during the film without missing a moment. Another minor touch is that the film’s sound is played in the bathrooms so that if nature does call, one need not worry about missing some vital plot element. Of course the downside to a single screen is a limited range of films on offer, but their selection generally seems fresh and interesting.
And I haven’t even mentioned that half the seats also have leather footstools so that one can lazily recline. The ultimate indulgence is in the form of two double-seater sofas (again with footstools) at the rear of the room, perfect for couples. This is a relaxed cinema that may not boast the largest screen, but is able to combine the big screen experience with a level of comfort to rival the home theatre. And all this for a £7.50 matinée ticket, quite reasonable for a London cinema. Expect to pay around £12 for evening screenings, and a little extra for the sofas.
The film was Waitress, perhaps the perfect expression of pleasant cinema, and ideal for a lazy Sunday matinée. It has the most delicious opening credit sequence I have yet seen, in what can only be described as an ode to pie (a recurring theme, beautifully and mouth-wateringly shot). The film is set in small town USA following the life of an unhappily married waitress who starts an affair with her doctor after accidentally ending up pregant following a drunken night with her ill tempered and controlling husband. Despite which it manages to be sweet, humorous and generally charming. That Nathan Fillion (Firefly’s Captain Malcolm Reynolds) plays the doctor is an added bonus. In some ways its appearance is deceptive. Beneath the bright exterior the core is really a dark comedy but with predominantly entertaining and endearing characters. The film displays the good and bad qualities of the word “nice”, and undoubtedly gained additional attention due to the tragic murder of its director Adrienne Shelly, who takes a supporting role. That it will be the last film she directs imbues its awkward and quirky tone with a subtle wistfulness. And you will leave craving pie.
Of all this year’s major gaming releases, Valve’s Orange Box is the only one to come without some sort of super-special ultra-limited edition box set. Even the title is bizarrely unassuming given the incredible value of its contents. For the price of a standard game this collection features three new titles: Half-Life 2: Episode Two at the core, accompanied by Portal and Team Fortress 2. And as if that alone were somehow deficient, they’ve thrown in the original Half-Life 2 and Episode One for free.
Most reviewers have suggested the astounding originality and humour of Portal justifies the cost alone (just look at the videos if you have not seen them), while TF2 provides frenetic multiplayer (Half-Life 2’s only weak point) with a Pixar-esque sheen. I am not actually going to discuss the games at all since I’m writing this from the BPP library and haven’t even got as far as installing my copy yet. Instead let’s go back to the box.
It is one of the sparsest products I have ever encountered, from its cryptic title requiring you to know what it is before you buy to the interior with no book, a single page insert which lists the controls and a second disc (yes this spans two fulls DVDs) that comes in a paper sleeve. So for a game guaranteed to make money by the truckload, why? The reason is this: Valve don’t want you to buy it. Or at least not that way.
The developer has spent the last few years challenging the traditional publishing and distribution model with its Steam platform, which allows you to download games directly from their servers. This much criticised system had severe problems to begin with but now operates almost alarmingly smoothly. It undoubtedly means they receive a higher portion of the revenue, but — and it’s a big one — like many, I still like to have a physical product. It leaves me with no concerns about reinstalling or switching computers and also means I have something to trade in or sell later. With Steam and similar systems, that becomes impossible.
Of course many readers will remember that I was more than happy to download the recent episodic Sam & Max games. However Telltale understood their audience’s desires and on completion of the first “season”, offered a boxed disc for a nominal P&P cost, filled with extras like a series of animated clips to watch on any DVD player. It is a trend I hope they continue with the forthcoming second season. I understand what Valve are trying to do, and it’s probably the future, but the obvious luddite that I am, I just prefer this one the old-fashioned way.
Meanwhile my dad pointed out this alternative style of World Clock, with some particularly disturbing numbers. And here’s an amusing hypothetical look at what Google might look like if it had to be optimised for Google.
I was heartened this week by the defacement of a series of adverts in Holburn tube station. The ads in question depict Amy, before and after her breast enlargement. Unsurprisingly in the after shot not only has Amy undergone a mammary expansion, but she has also learned to smile and appears to have discovered photoshop. The ads now feature white stickers across the middle, emblazoned with slogans like, “You are normal. This is not.” There’s something distinctly warming about socially conscious vandalism.
Of course it can perhaps go too far. I am reminded an old English teacher of mine, Miss Opalinska, who once related a story about billboard graffiti she spotted near where she lived around the release of a certain controversial Prodigy album. Some individual had taken it upon themselves to remove the offending words so that the title simply read My Up.
Somewhere in the middle lies the reclusive Banksy whose artistic wit is such that his “vandalism” actually increases the value of the defaced property. He has a point, and does it with such flair, that one does not feel right in viewing him alongside the common miscreant leaving their tag like a bestial territorial marking. Instead he comments subversively on society forcing introspection upon the viewer, often without even realising. That his art speaks so loudly without a gallery — let alone a canvas or frame — sets it apart. Indeed it demonstrates the reason I feel that if art has value, it ought not to need to be placed within the framing device of a “modern art gallery” in order for its merit to become evident. So much so, in fact, that some people eventually found the need to frame it: either to auction or to publish. And so Banksy’s Wall and Piece has become my recent coffee table book in an effort to channel some of that subversive wit rather than the typical dull black and white photographic compilation.
I recently came across hikaru dorodango which sound like an extraordinarily cool thing to make. However I’m not entirely convinced that Kirsten would approve of my bringing quantities of mud into the flat, no matter how pretty it looks afterwards.
Meanwhile news recently broke that Al Gore et al have picked up the Nobel Peace Prize. Good on him — a prouder position than President these days, I imagine. On the other hand I find it curious that climate change is now considered “peace”. Are we at war with the planet, or perhaps merely the oil companies? While I would not detract from the awareness he may have increased, moreso in the States than here, take a look at the list he has joined. All those in recent memory gained recognition for championing democracy and human rights, finding peaceful solutions to long-standing conflicts, or reducing the use of military weapons. Do we now truly view preventing climate change as on the same scale? I am sure many do, but I remain unconvinced that the benefits of spreading such awareness can truly be compared to the sheer human impact resulting from the sterling achievements of the previous Peace Prize luminaries.
Moving to London leaves one somewhat overwhelmed by the sheer variety of food and entertainment available so it requires some forward planning to make best use of the available facilities. To aid in preparation I picked up a copy of new Time Out Eating & Drinking guide, and will mention the various new venues I discover as a result. In terms of entertainment, I am in dire need of a decent cinema, having grown rather too attached to having the Arts Picturehouse in Cambridge just two minutes from my room. Anything off the central line seems fair game, so the likely candidates are The Electric and The Gate.
Recommendations of a culinary or cinematic nature are, of course, always welcome.
I spent last weekend up in Cambridge, taking a look at the fourth years’ new houses and generally catching up with everyone. It was my first trip back to Cambridge since I graduated, but this visit was really more about the people than the university or the town. Indeed the location was completely unfamiliar with their houses being far off north of the town proper, once it becomes residential and real people start to exist. Fortunately the Citi7 bus travels all the way from the station to such uncharted reasons so it wasn’t too difficult to navigate.
The housewarming was in a house predominantly inhabited by the ex-K lot from last year, most of whom had also been down for my birthday in August. The house was pretty packed with Angie keeping food flowing, Rav and Sparkie rewiring the house, and Adam (whose not-very-surprised birthday party was also being celebrated) showing off his Guitar Heroics while laughing maniacally at everyone else’s attempts. Everything as normal, really.
The following morning I was up early, gorging myself on a breakfast of bacon sandwiches following by a lunch of freshly cooked mini-doughnuts — with such hospitality I’ll certainly be back soon! After helping with a little tidying I headed over the medics’ fancy new abode. TomTom and I charged through several levels of Halo 3 (getting dirty looks from Cat) before being more sociable on the arrival of Lyds’ guests. I headed home in the early evening which was fortunate given the inevitable rail works. I would have liked to spend longer, but I’m sure there will be plenty more trips to come. I also expect everyone down in London to see the flat before long, though possibly not at the same time what with it not being a house. As for the photos, larger versions may appear here soon but I’m still getting used to the 400D and its ridiculous ISO settings (up to 1600 which is great for low light blog photos but obviously very grainy at full size).
I have also received a some of Philips’ great new amBX gaming gear (apparently worth just over £200) which conceptually is a fantastic extension of the ambilight which first featured in their TVs. I would absolutely love to write you a review except that there are no 64-bit Vista-compatible drivers yet. This is disappointing given that supposed cutting edge technology like this is most likely to be adopted by people running the latest OS. They promise new drivers are on the way, so stay tuned…
For some time now Neil Gaiman has been my favourite (living) writer. With this in mind it came as quite a shock to discover a few days ago that he was doing an interview/reading as part of a Stardust promotional tour, and then to discover that I now live in London so could actually go along to attend. Since Jane has just returned from the States and is as much of a fan as I (to the point that she has actually defaced her body with Sandman-themed ink), we headed along together yesterday evening to the Criterion Theatre, a much more comfortable venue than the usual in-store reading.
Neil is as remarkably friendly and convivial as he seems in all the interviews I have previously stumbled upon. His casual demeanour makes for a wonderful evening where you feel as if he is chatting directly with you, and not the whole avid audience of a darkened theatre. He read from the Stardust novel (though sadly not from his forthcoming The Graveyard Book) and discussed all manner of things from his writing roots to how our lives seem to be scripted by multiple authors from one moment to the next. I recently heard an anecdote attributed to him which, unprompted, he confirmed: Neil was chatting to a publisher who became very awkward upon discovering he wrote comics. When he realised who Neil actually was he relaxed saying, “Ah, but you don’t write comics. You write graphic novels.” And Neil suddenly felt like a prostitute who had just been referred to a “lady of the night”.
The floor was opened up for questions and without missing a beat a girl stood up and asked, “would you think it forward of me to kiss you?”, quoting directly from the Stardust passage he had just read, and leaving slightly shocked Neil unusually lost for words for a few moments. Another question revealed, after feeling stung by their adaptation of Neverwhere, Neil is now quite keen on working with the BBC again. Possibly, he suggested, on Anansi Boys (a very succinct 1-hour radio play has just been recorded for BBC World Service). He also discussed what actually happened when he and Jonathan Ross finally met Steve Ditko, the reclusive co-creator of some of Marvel’s big names like Spider-man. He had been involved with Ross’ documentary In Search of Steve Ditko but after tracking down and meeting the man alone, the pair refused to tell the cameras what actually transpired, feeling it was somehow better that way. Finally when asked who would play him in a film of his life, Neil answered unequivocally that it would have to be Dylan Moran or at least someone with his hair.
The event was far too short, followed by a signing queue that was far too long, but it was well worth the wait to get my hardback copies of Anansi Boys and and Endless Nights signed. Unfortunately towards the end of the queue they had to speed people along, so we didn’t really get to speak to Neil much at all (though Jane did partially undress to show off her tattoo, admittedly at his request and only to see her shoulder). Nevertheless it was a magical evening and one that I hope to repeat soon. After all, he’ll have to promote Beowulf before long…
I am aware that, when I posted a link to the Philips Aurea mini-site before, it was down for maintenance. It’s now up again so you can all bask in its truly beautiful glow. Only unveiled recently, I had chance to see one in person at John Lewis recently and it really is stunning. When it’s on, at least. Unfortunately for the light effects to filter through the front of the panel (rather than side/rear projection with their earlier Ambilight screens) it has to be white. So when it’s switched off you have a gigantic glossy white monstrosity sat in your living room. If your life is Apple-styled then it’s probably not an issue, but if you have taste then it may be difficult to fit comfortably into your living room.
Such foibles aside (why would you leave such a gorgeous device off after all?) the link is worth checking out just to see There Is Only One Sun, the stunning film directed by Wong Kar Wei as a demonstration. Make sure to click the link for the entire film (around eight minutes) rather than the shorter version. Part film, part study in light and colour, it’s easily as good as any of the recent Bravia ads minus the gimmick. It’s light on content, of course, but oh so pretty. Apparently these days TV ads for TVs are where it’s at.
The first day of a new month seemed like an appropriate time for a return to active duty. The flat is now really taking shape with just a few major additions left — the rest will be purely cosmetic. The living room is everything I had hoped with the Sony Bravia KDL-40W2000 taking centre stage. I have been stalking that screen from a distance for over a year, and it was with no small sense of accomplishment that I finally switched it on. The delivery man enviously described these screens as looking “like water” and he’s not wrong. This level of stunning television construction is approaching an affordable price at last (although the truly extravagant can still easily drop three grand on the new Philips Aurea — you know a launch is special when it requires Wong Kar Wei direct a short film). The only downside is that while the Xbox plays divinely and upscales DVDs with aplomb, it has proved stubbornly unwilling to communicate with wirelessly connected PC. Trailing a dozen metres of ethernet cabling between rooms is not really a solution so this needs to be investigated further.
You have probably gathered that we now have internet access from the flat, which also makes work decidedly easier since BPP conveniently make most of their resources available externally. Thus I can continue to keep unsociable student hours rather than restricting my work to the hours that librarians keep (the hours they are paid to keep at any rate). It’s no secret that I am a technophile but, while I wouldn’t characterise myself as dependant, I admit I was surprised by just how comfortable I instantly felt once the dual combination or the internet and TV were sorted out. In honesty I barely watched broadcast TV in the past few years, but I still needed my DVD and Xbox fix, particularly with the release of Halo 3. Yes, I have been playing it avidly, but I feel it probably deserves its own post shortly.
Given my absence there are obviously all manner of things I could ramble on about at length but I’d like to keep posts a bit more focused in order to ensure you retain a steady stream rather than the occasional deluge. Rest assured that regular service has now been resumed.