My mother called this morning to tell me I needed to retake a set of passport photos because apparently the passport office had rejected the ones I previously sent. Allegedly those shots were simply too beautiful. I didn’t even know that was possible, but apparently there were concerns they could distract security staff or customs personnel dealing with the passport, thereby constituting a security risk. So I had to head into town and get a new set. That’s not exactly what I had hoped to be doing 3 days before my first exam but at least it was relatively painless. I’ve never been a fan of photobooths but for once was quite pleased with the results which came out in a fairly flattering soft focus. I still have faith that as always they will manage to make it look hideous by the time it’s on the passport, of course. As we all know the defining characteristic of any acceptable form of ID is that it bears only the vaguest possible resemblance to the holder…
The official Stardust website is now up and running, looking extremely pretty with the expected plethora of interactive gubbins but also a host of useful background for those not familiar with the Neil Gaiman story. Currently only the “Village of Wall” is accessible, and it looks as though two more sections will open up in due course. With this year’s blockbuster sequels proving underwhelming, Stardust is not only a breath of fresh air but could gain mainstream attention. Unfortunately in the UK we still have to wait until October for it arrive.
The fad of Firefox Top Ten Tips lists has grown rather weary and repetitive but I did recently discover one that pointed out an incredibly time-saving feature contained within the basic browser. Smart keywords allow you to run searches for specific sites directly from the address bar which can prove much faster than the search box since you don’t need to switch between different search engines. If you are a Firefox user I guarantee this feature is worth checking out.
<![Trinity]Matt> get out in the sunshine people <![tithall]grape> oh yeah what a great idea hang on what’s this blocking the door oh yes it’s seven hundred years of culture
This exchange on the Cambridge hub pretty much encapsulates life here now that the weather has actually improved but the welcoming lawns lie empty. Except for yesterday evening, that is, when College was filled with the sound of celebration, commemorating the bicentenary of the laying of the foundation stone. By “sound” I mean an explosive firework display and by celebration I mean that the scholars were all invited to a dinner of drunken revelry (presumably in an attempt to extricate them from the library).
By this time E3 would normally have gamers buzzing with excitement about the industry’s big releases over the coming year. However, as announced last year, the annual event has been massively downscaled to avoid the incredibly expensive one-up-manship that invariably occurred between rival developers and publishers. It looks as though the Leipzig Games Convention may reap with biggest benefits with a projected expansion of 40% this year.
Yet despite the lack of a single focal event, there has been a flood of video footage released in the past several days, particularly from Ubisoft’s “Ubidays” event. The best of the bunch, for your delectation:
Splinter Cell: Conviction shows a fugitive Sam Fisher hiding in plain sight in crowded environments and a new approach to stealth action that feels more like Jason Bourne.
Starcraft II is the belated return of Blizzard’s classic sci-fi RTS.
Team Fortress 2 oddly mirrors the G-Man video prior to Half-Life 2, showing off detailed facial animation and emotion despite the characters being cell-shaded.
Assassin’s Creed demonstrates a little more swordplay, climbing and free running.
Haze suggests more quasi-political private military musings behind its futuristic FPS veneer.
For all its many faults there is no denying that iTunes currently has the downloadable music market stitched up. However if there’s one company that might be in a position to challenge the status quo it’s the go-to online retailer Amazon. Rumours have been circulating for some time that they have been eyeing up the digital music landscape and now they have officially announced exactly what people have been hoping for: high bitrate (256kbps) MP3 free of DRM (or whatever euphemism the industry currently wish to use). Naturally this means the majority of the music will be coming from EMI, the only one of the big labels to release their iron grip on DRM’d music, but Amazon will also be providing music from hordes of independent labels too. Launch could be as little as a month away, so all that remains is for the price point to be announced. This will be the clincher, of course. If they can release this music at the same price as iTunes then it’s easily a superior service — if they can undercut Apple then they’re on to a winner that could drive down prices for consumers. And yes, if it’s offering DRM free mp3 albums at a similar price I’ll be forced to honour my promise and download an album myself when the store launches.
Loathe as I am to promote something so clearly viral marketing, the new Symbian Boo-Hoo For You! campaign is so creatively bizarre as to be worth watching. The psychedelic video features a duo of Japanese-style characters showing off the benefits of Symbian phones in Japan that we Europeans just can’t have. Boo-hoo for us. Somewhat lacking in accuracy one assumes it is intended more for its oriental insanity than to be informative. In that it succeeds.
You may be hearing confusing things about Google’s new Universal Search which aims to integrate specialist search results into the general search interface. Fortunately I don’t have to try to explain it because Search Engine Land have put together a comprehensive article on what this actually entails.
And finally it’s the time of year once more when I link to 3D Pong in order to distract and frustrate you in equal measures.
One of the HBO high ups has a novel approach for removing Digital Rights Management from media. Which is to say renaming it He hopes that the alternative “Digital Consumer Enablement” moniker might banish those nasty negative connotations. I’m with UserFriendly on this one — no longer shall we use the negative label of piracy but rather the more convivial “Consumer Choice Enhancement”. The only difference is that our new name is actually true, so maybe we’re missing the point. Perhaps Wish Granting Pony would be more in line with their novel nomenclature.
CNET’s Crave has an insightful article on how Apple’s Mac and PC ads have gradually become derailed from their original amusing roots. I know I’ve been talking about this forever but the latest ads really are getting worse as they now make the ridiculous claim that PC’s are dull and suitable only for work, while Macs are great all-rounders. The truth is, of course, that PC’s have always been the all-rounders while Macs were focused on designers. The fact that of the two the PC is the only legitimate gaming platform isn’t even worth mentioning. These adverts have gone from astute satire to smug lies. Apple are doing well, so why do Mac users still crave approval and justification for their purchase?
I took this to be a covenant that if I survive this term, never again will God destroy my spirit with a flood of Tripos questions.
Exactly 28 days remain until my final exam. I mention it because number may hold more significance later in this entry. Exams notwithstanding, life goes on. Unless you are a journalist, that is, in which the case the only thing happening the world seems to be the disappearance of Madeleine McCann. I hesitate to label it missing white woman syndrome but the coverage does seem somewhat disproportionate, with celebrities getting in on the action by waving around rewards. The sheer level of parental idiocy required to leave a three-year-old alone in a foreign country seems to have been entirely overlooked. Meanwhile our dear PM has finally announced his actual retirement date (rather than the date of the announcement of his future speech about when he’s considering thinking about discussing retirement, perhaps taking a leaf out of Bungie’s book). The strangest thing is seeing a cheerful Gordon Brown on TV and in the press. It suddenly dawned on me that in the past 9 years I don’t think I’ve ever seen him smile…
I finally got round to another incremental update to the site in the form of the menu bar of this section (it will shortly spread to the others). Aside from the minor aesthetic change to its appearance and rollovers, it has also been recoded to use a single image file which ought to remove the lag that some were experiencing with slower connections.
I was unable to join the group who headed out to see 28 Weeks Later, the follow up to the acclaimed British zombie flick 28 Days Later. The film has certainly polarised audiences, an unsurprising occurrence that tends to accompany sequels that have been handed over to a new cast and crew. Although director Fresnadillo has little experience, his short list does include the superb Spanish film Intacto, about gambling with people’s luck and fortune. Yet the main criticisms do seem to be directorial, specifically regarding the action sequences that are allegedly akin to swinging a camera around on a rope as fast as possible and then editing the sequence so that no shot lasts more than a second. Motion sickness is a genuine concern, and actually following the action is laughable to the point where more than one person did not realise a character had been killed until afterwards when they realised the person was no longer present. However the sheer destructive force unleashed upon London may be worth seeing in itself. I share this now only because there is a good chance I won’t be able to see the film before it disappears from the big screen. If you have seen it, please do offer your thoughts in the comments. Now if the franchise follows the Batman/Superman model, I’d recommend skipping the next two films but 28 Decades Later ought to be a belter!
EDIT: Sparkie has offered four important rules if you plan on watching the film yourself. Ignore them at your peril.
Spring cleaning in the Critic section I realised that although the Film Reviews archive was supposed to stretch back to 2003, it was missing several reviews that I had written that year. They require a little reformatting from the old site, so I have transferred a few over and you can expect the last few to appear in the next few days. Meanwhile I also hope to beef up last year’s short list as I rewatch several films that I didn’t write about at the time. This being exam term, however, you probably shouldn’t hold your breath.
I have also updated the DVD bargains with an exam term flavour, resulting in it being filled primarily with TV shows that can be watched over lunch without the excessive guilt that comes from watching an entire film.
My Spider-man 3 review has attracted a lot of interest and some criticism so I thought I’d clear a few things up. The text of the review may appear overly harsh, particularly given the overall rating 2/4, but I feel that if one is to spend such an inconceivably large sum of money on a film then they really do need to be able to justify it. To produce a film with the same actors and crew that is inferior to its significantly cheaper predecessor is just unforgivable. Now I was worried that I might be unfairly rose-tinting my memory of Spider-man 2 with hindsight, so I went back and rewatched it. I was not. It is an exceptionally well crafted superhero film, both in visuals and content. Spider-man 3 is, to put it mildly, not. On the other hand the reason it’s rating falls dead in the centre of the scale is that when the film was over I did not feel an irrational hatred towards the filmmakers or even a desire to have my money back (like, say, The Matrix Revolutions). All I felt was a strong desire not ever to see the film again — but I was still content to have seen it once. Unseeing it was not at issue while I had strongly desired such an improbable temporal anomaly following Freddy Got Fingered. And to put it into perspective, at least it’s no worse than the game.
Cat’s birthday yesterday meant an excuse to sample the new Wagamama, recently opened on Regent Street. Although I generally enjoy their food, I realised it is a prime example of a restricted menu that cannot really serve to please everyone, certainly not on a repeated basis unless one is to stick to a certain dish. For a similar experience I think the modern Japanese styling of the Miso is probably better, resulting in a similar vibe and price but catering for a wider range of tastes. Perhaps they could move one of the two in Croydon, given that one can walk between them in under five minutes…
Yesterday was Rav’s birthday which we celebrated first by gorging ourselves on takeaway Nando’s (the new ability to take sauces away in small plastic tubs is great) and then heading to an opening night showing of Spider-Man 3 at the Picturehouse. Not even my favourite screen in Cambridge could improve the disappointing mess of the final instalment of Raimi’s trilogy. I shall not dwell on it here since I have already written a full review, but suffice to say one of the more positive reviews I have read described it as “a smartly subversive drag show”. At least I think it was supposed to be positive. When even the mainstream press are panning a blockbuster movie, one has to wonder about the motivations of those reviewers who continue obstinately to praise it — are they nobly defending their opinion or just protecting their future free preview tickets?
Afterwards we returned to K to celebrate with an unfathomably unhealthy triumvirate of chocolate cakes. It was as if dark powers* had aligned in this confluence of cocoa that seemed to suck the light out of its surroundings. A warning notice was required. As I was involved in springing the surprise cake attack I was unable to take photos, though Rav certainly sounded pleased. Outdoing even the DeathCake™ was the gift of a projector, contributed to by most of the people in the room. He immediately set about clearing an entire wall to screen several episodes of Scrubs as a test. Based on his grin it definitely passed.
* Apprentices Dave and Angie under the tutelage of the dreaded Sith Lord Jamie Oliver.
The photos I do have are in a gastronomic vein, taken during the preparation of the DeathCake™.
What is that strange Lost-ian sequence? Does it hold a secret to the destruction of all we know? Do I have the same combination on my luggage? If you ask the MPAA, apparently yes (to the destruction, not the luggage). It is fairly common knowledge that several months ago people cracked one of the HD-DVD processing keys, used to decrypt films distributed on them. It seems the MPAA have launched a massive effort to censor this information as it crops up all over the internet. This may seem ironic to some people since they are in essence trying to censor a number (albeit a hexadecimal one). It began with Digg removing several posts referencing the number which has resulted in open war. Incidentally, t-shirts are now available (not by me).
Meeting Kirsten after her first exam, we ended up chatting over tea with fellow Management student Becky and her boyfriend. He raised the topic of carbon footprints and the irritating glut of information. I would certainly like to control my effect on the environment but referencing it constantly is going result in carbon fatigue whereby I hear about it so much that I don’t want to think about it any more and stop looking at my effect at all. I don’t think I’m alone. Channel 4’s Human Footprint is an interesting idea showing the average person’s lifetime consumption of all sorts of natural and consumer goods. Their impressive Trafalgar Square tea installation garnered particular attention. However showing me a shopping trolley overflowing with a lifetime of carrots is all well and good, but I’m not going to grow those myself, the message some people seem to think we should take away from this. In fact that isn’t even a reason for me to. Society has intentionally divided up tasks and distributed them so that we don’t have to worry about where every individual item comes from. I could calculate the average number of hours of legal services the average person “consumes”, but it certainly doesn’t mean they ought to undergo years of legal training in order to do it themselves. After all, then I wouldn’t have a job or food.