The trainees’ weekend away was a roaring success, with all credit to Edwin for organising a fantastic break. A bus picked us up from the office, along with several bottles of champagne to ease the ride up to Norfolk. Diss, it turns out, really is in the middle of nowhere, and we were staying in a farm a few miles outside town. Long View consisted of a main building with a large living area and kitchen, with a second floor of bedrooms taken by the girls, and an attached cabin outside with more bedrooms for the guys. The first night was actually rather civilised, albeit suitably inebriated. Edwin had, it must be said, rather over-catered on the alcohol side (far better than under, of course!), so that to polish off the remainder on the second night each person would have needed to drink a bottle of white wine, two bottles of red and half a bottle of spirit. Perhaps fortunately, we failed.
Saturday was largely taken up by a walk through the crisp, grey Norfolk countryside (the cold air being a great cure for those inflicted by hangovers) to a cosy provincial pub replete with roaring fireplace and genial barmaid. Here we split, some choosing to stay put and while away the afternoon while others preferred a longer, meandering walk back. I fell into the latter group, and as the setting sun dipped below the cloudline, we were treated to a beautiful golden light that played across the fields and illuminated the trees. After a very grey day, it was a stunning sight.
In the evening was the weekend’s main event, a large catered dinner (prepared for us in the cottage) which had been themed with “oversized accessories”. After a quick discussion with Rom the previous week it transpired we had no oversized accessories whatsoever in the house (for my part I tend to go with “realistic” fancy dress) so I headed out to Angels to buy one. Given my Alice in Wonderland obsession it’s not hard to guess what I picked out. Let’s just say it was a hat of the crazy variety. Lev and Stu’s Dubious Accessories Committee fared well at first, imposing penalties on those who failed to dress appropriately, but ultimate broke down. At which point the night got rather messier as people just started pouring unseemly “shots” of vodka for each other. And since it has been agreed Tour Rules apply, that is where I shall stop. I will, however, point you towards the Trainee Weekend Away gallery for a series of pictures that, at the going rate, are worth approximately sixty thousand words.
Those of you who frequent the Critic section of the site may have noticed a new page appearing in the last few days. Quite why anyone would frequent that section leads to questions of sanity since it is not exactly kept what one might call up-to-date. Which is sort of the point of the new page, Ones To Watch. It is an entirely personal list of the films on my radar that I intend to see, along with the reasons that I am interested. Since it will look forward by around six months, the idea is that it should never end up totally out of date. There is no real guarantee of quality on the films listed, and my opinion may well change as further information emerges, but the descriptions should let you know if it’s likely to be up your street. There is also a higher probability that films in the list will get the full review treatment, but given my dismal performance last year I make no promises at all. The list is sparse right now, just to give you an idea, but should fill up over the next week or so.
Virtually all of the first year trainees are heading off to Diss in Norfolk this weekend for a potentially debaucherous weekend of fun in a large cottage. This is the result of some sterling work by Edwin in arranging the entire affair, including the provision of a worrying amount of alcohol. For the sake of everyone’s health I rather hope there is some left over. Expect a fuller report once recovered next week.
Several bits and pieces I’ve been meaning to mention:
Google Maps has added a transit layer for a host of major cities including London. Quite how useful you’ll find it in the long run is a good question, but my impression is it may be more helpful as a tourist in one of the other 58 cities added so far.
I’m definitely suffering inauguration fatigue from the excessive Obama coverage, but arguably one of the more interesting things to emerge from it is the best demonstration to date of Microsoft’s PhotoSynth technology in CNN’s “The Moment”.
Wired’s long article The Plot to Kill Google discusses the wrangling behind the search giant’s deal with Yahoo!, the potential criminal prosecution that resulted in Google pulling out, and from where the next threat may come.
Several people have asked me whether I plan to see Twilight. Because it “has vampires”. The truth is that Twilight is a vampire film in much the same way that Titanic was a sailing film. Its purpose lies elsewhere. In fact the inclusion of vampires in the Twilight story can be viewed in only two ways: incidental or else an exploitation of a profitable subgenre. I do not intend to indulge its creators, though I am fascinated by the success of its marketing. In the States the books are undeniably popular in a Potter-esque way (by which I mean Harry, not Beatrix), though at least the boy wizard’s adventures were reasonably well written. Here, to my knowledge, they never really took off in the same way. And yet somehow the film’s marketing has convinced the public at large that this film is an event, part of a hugely popular franchise. So successfully, in fact, that it could be self-fulfilling.
Interestingly there is a vampire film I am highly anticipating, and while it too features young protagonists, it could not really be more different. Let The Right One In seems at once chilling and warm, a Swedish film about a fragile, bullied 12-year-old boy named Oskar who meets a pale, peculiar girl named Eli. By the time he discovers she is a vampire, a subtle romance has already blossomed between the pair. The image of an adult trapped within the body of an eternal child has fascinated me ever since Interview with the Vampire’s Claudia, and here both the film’s brooding palette and young actors seem able to convey the disconnection beautifully.
The release of the film adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s delightful children’s story Coraline, directed by stop-motion master Henry Sellick, is now imminent. So to celebrate you can read the entire book online for free. Neil is certainly one of the folk who understand that giving things away for free actually serves to make more money as well as generally making everyone happier, and I suppose Harper Collins make enough out of him that they’re willing to give it a go.
On a related note, the Open Rights Group have put together a short informative video on the suggested European copyright duration extension and exactly why this won’t help artists or consumers. It’s an issue worth considering, discussing, spreading and generally opposing. Particularly in that all the major independent IP bodies who have conducted studies oppose it, and yet the European Commission has mysteriously ignored them.
Wearing t-shirts emblazoned with logos are a fine way to voice your support for your favourite bands, films and, these days, videogames. However it can be a little too obvious. Enter Last Exit To Nowhere, a couple of guys who screen print high quality t-shirts for fictitious brands from classic films. Realising recently that, with my working life now filled with suits indefinitely, I actually need very little casualware, it became easier to justify buying more unique items like these which better reflect me. Hence I can now proudly advertise Lacuna Inc (Eternal Sunshine) and Genco Pura Olive Oil (The Godfather). Now that’s more like it!
Recent goings on I haven’t mentioned yet include a Christmas cake competition on Boxing Day, stemming from an earlier discussion of whose was best. I found myself on the judging panel largely on the basis of my guaranteed impartiality, since there was no chance of me liking any of them (Sri Lankan style Christmas cake traditionally includes both fruit and nuts, two ingredients I strongly contend have no place in any cake). Judging primarily on texture and taste I was thus singularly objective. That which I least disliked clearly deserved to win. The four contestants could not have been more competitive, and the tension only mounted over a great dinner cooked by Kirsty. Ultimately it was my mother who emerged the deserving victor. Moist and with well balanced flavour, I still think it tasted awful, but it was the best of the bunch.
Just prior to Christmas I caved and picked up the full band Guitar Hero: World Tour kit. With a slightly discount on account of Zavvi’s hardships, it remained expensive but had dropped into the realms of viability. With time off to spend with family it seemed like an obvious choice. For those wondering why I went with this rather than Rock Band, the answer is the quality of Red Octane’s hardware, both the sturdy drumkit with raised cymbals (it sounds like a small detail but makes a big difference) and the large guitar with a touchpad. Compatible with Rock Band 2 (at least on the 360) I fully intend to pick up the game for the additional songs and the wealth of DLC which the guys at Harmonix have a much better handle on. However it was not until the Hydes visited that we had a real band atmosphere going. Three instruments rocking out together gives the game a very different vibe, though sadly no one has been brave enough to add vocals to the mix. The mic is lonely so volunteers are very welcome.
For the gaming achievement whores lovers out there, flash game Achievement Unlocked is a must play. Ostensibly a basic platformer with an elephant and some spikes, the real goal is the meta game with 100 achievements to collect as quickly as possible. This commences instantly for the heady challenge of “finding the main menu”. There is also a hints page which gives details on how unlock all 100 and there is, of course, an achievement for using the hints page…
I saw in the new year with a few friends amid the crowds on the South Bank watching fireworks launched over the river. From below the colourfully lit London Eye it was a fairly spectacular experience, even for one spoiled by Cambridge fireworks displays. Sadly with virtually every bridge closed until 1am, getting food became a problematic endeavour, one which we ultimately abandoned. With my expectations for new year shindigs generally deflated by a few underwhelming experiences, this was a surprisingly fun night and great opportunity to catch up with some old friends.
2008 brought two major changes. One was the end of student life and the start of my working career. The other was the end of a three year relationship. Work could not be going better — both the firm and the IP department suit me incredibly well in both quality of work and especially the general atmosphere. It may be early to say, but I certainly hope to remain here as I cannot see another firm better suiting me. And I’m not the only one. The only slight hiccup was the departure of my supervisor, having taking a few months to build up a rapport, meaning I have now moved to a new office. It is not without advantage, giving me a new perspective on the department from a different floor and getting to know new people, as well as giving me access to different types of work (trade mark as opposed to the more “hardcore” patent litigation!). I will be sad to move on to my next seat in a few months.
It was during my trip to the States over summer that, given some distance, both Kirsten and I realised our relationship had run its course. We were fortunate in reaching this realisation at the same time, resulting in a perhaps eerily amicable break up, which sees us remain friends. As ever I will not air personal details here, nor will I discuss what she has been up to since. Suffice to say after three years together it is inevitable that there will be some residual emotional fallout but I can look back fondly on the time we spent together as positive and enhancing rather than wasted.
So the two big shifts of the last year were fundamentally positive leaving me with a stable but fairly empty slate upon which to carve out 2009. I am happy and I am free (in both the general sense and more specifically single, allowing me to take advantage of any opportunities that present themselves without first considering someone else), which are about as good a set of circumstances as a new year could possibly offer. Broadly at least, I can see the direction my life is taking and I like it. I am not generally one for mandated resolutions, but were I to have one it would probably be this: don’t start compromising now. I have not so far, and I see no reason to begin in 2009.