Meewella | Fragments

The Life of P

Month: July 2011

Tragic Divisions

Tragedies bring people together but they can also be divisive. While sad and absolutely a tragic waste of talent, Amy Winehouse’s untimely demise must have been one of the least unexpected young deaths. Those expressing deep shock display at best a severe lack of imagination. And for the media outlets who hounded her for years now disingenuously to oversell this loss is only as surprising as her death. However, others are more concerned, and in some cases angered, by the fact her death has garnered such a deluge of emotion on social networks when the horrific events in Oslo, the violent murder of nearly 100 people, did not. This, to me, seems entirely natural. There is no doubt that gunning down 80 youths on an island constitutes a larger and more serious event, one that has left a country in shock and mourning, but it is also largely impersonal. A sole figure, even one who has seemed broken for many years, but to whom people relate on a personal level, will always evoke greater sympathy. Perhaps Stalin’s wisest observation was, “One death is a tragedy; a million is a statistic.” A hundred may not be merely a statistic, even on Stalin’s terms, but humanity will always find one death more tragic.

In less serious news, the first trailers have emerged for next year’s Batman and Spider-Man films. The Dark Knight Rises is the third and final Nolan-helmed outing and after the last I think it’s fair to say everyone is already incredibly excited. It is disappointing then, to find a trailer almost solely rehashing old footage, which serves only to dampen that excitement. All we discover is that Nolan’s fascination with architecture, immediately evident in Inception, remains alive and well. Personally I wish they’d waited until they had something to show us.

Meanwhile The Amazing Spider-Man reboot brings the wonderful Andrew Garfield to the role, while thrusting Peter back into his school days origin. Marc Webb (yes, the Spider-Man reboot was given to a director named “Webb”) takes the franchise in a direction more grounded in the real-world. With limited dialogue I think the teaser hits the right notes and ends with an unusual first-person sequence exploring the city as Spider-Man sees it; the CGI impresses though arguably it feels a little too much like videogame footage. Two ideas emerged:

  1. Tom at Theater Hopper pointed out that a much cooler trailer might have been as the first-person sequence alone, leaving the viewer slightly confused as to what they were watching until that familiar reflection comes into view on the side of a skyscraper.
  2. How awesome would it be if someone gave the Mirror’s Edge devs the Spider-Man licence?

Tom and Lydia’s Wedding

I have been inexcusably slow in sorting out photos from Tom and Lydia’s wedding at the end of April, which meant, by extension, that I did not get round to mentioning it here. Seeing them both last weekend at Annabel‘s birthday dinner party (now firmly established as an annual event since several of her friends have now become strictly Once-a-Year Acquaintances of mine, following last year’s Wonderland-themed affair) motivated me to sort them out. As a result I am now pleased to present a gallery of wedding photos, including a range of square portraits of guests which is a new experiment.

Like Andy and Irina’s wedding last year, the ceremony itself was in the Downing College chapel. This was fitting not just because the pair met at Downing, but as choristers they both spent a significant amount of time rehearsing and singing together in that chapel. Sunlight filtered through beautifully throughout, while most of us struggled to decide on which side we ought to be seated. In the end James and I opted for Tom’s side largely on the basis Lydia appeared to have more family in tow. And it gave him a better view of Lucia who was looking rather stunning while performing her official duties (if more questionable when off-duty).

Following the ceremony we adjourned to Anstey Hall, a nearby location that is apparently a popular Cambridge wedding venue. The weather was glorious for the boldly early April date, and bright sunshine poured over the guests sipping champagne in the gardens. The wedding breakfast was served in a large marquee which was later cleared out into a large dancing area. While the bride and groom’s first dance was a traditional and well-executed ballroom number, this was followed by a céilidh in suitably Cantabrigian fashion (by Cambridge Ball standards, anyway). Traditionally something I would sit out, I was dragged up by a pleasantly inebriated Helen and enjoyed getting confused by organised dances more than I would readily admit. It was around this time that Dave, in a fit of missing us all too much, impulse-bought his plane tickets for the following weekend to attend Keggfest. Sadly, since I was not staying the night in Cambridge, I had to disappear before the festivities ended else my last train would have turned into a pumpkin.

All in all, a fantastic day and it was wonderful to see another pair of uni friends off on the road to marital bliss. As Matt D put it a few days ago, “a wedding is like a wake for two single people who cease to exist”. Only in a good way.

Social Circles: Google+

First, allow me briefly to gloat over the failure of News Corp’s BSkyB takeover, and highlight unsubtly exactly what they have lost (be sure to check the source code). For all my cynicism — and while I lent my support to the 38 Degrees campaign, I did not believe success was likely — clearly there are times when democracy works.

I’ve spent a couple of days exploring Google’s latest venture into the social networking space with Google+ and that’s enough to share some preliminary impressions. The universal first impression seems to be its stark cleanliness, coupled with a sense of emptiness because the invite-only system means the majority of your friends are yet to arrive. I described it as being like your first visit to Singapore; perhaps a better description, via Tom E from whom I obtained my invitation, was: “You know when you re-install windows and it’s all clean and fresh and empty? That’s what Google+ feels like.” It is easy to underplay the importance of a clean UI, but let us not forget that the fall of MySpace and the mass exodus to Facebook was in no small part due to the increasingly cluttered UI of the former in comparison to the latter’s (then) minimalism.

Google+ is a much more successful, and arguably more mature, implementation than their previous attempts with Wave and Buzz. Unlike these endeavours Google is neither trying to reinvent the wheel nor merely replicate a service found elsewhere. This is a direct, brazen even, competitor to Facebook but one that pares the social experience down to its essence of dialogue and sharing content, but also brings some new ideas to the social party. The clearest is the use of “circles” to organise your contacts. Rather than treating everyone equally, Google+ aims to replicate the way real world friendship groups operate by allowing you to create a range of different “circles” and every piece of content you share can be made available only to specific circles. That simple solution bridges the divide many keep between their “friends only” Facebook profile and “work only” LinkedIn account. It was a key issue I hoped Diaspora would address, and now with Google to compete with those kids have their work cut out.

Realtime communication is far superior, incorporating Gchat instant messaging, which has always been superior to Facebook chat, not least through its automatic creation of searchable chat logs. Videochat, however, has the potential to draw in a far larger audience. Choosing to “hang out” allows you to create a video chatroom with one or several friends. Straight from the browser (after installing a plugin) it is convenient but hardly earth-shattering. The inclusion of YouTube integration, however, is a major departure. Clicking the buttons launches a shared YouTube window which streams to all participants, muting their microphones in favour of a push-to-talk system to avoid unnecessary distraction. I can certainly see this becoming a feature I regularly use — something as seemingly inconsequential as watching a friend’s reaction while showing them a video remotely is not to be underestimated.

Cross-platform integration in general is Google’s strength, being able to share directly from its search engine or share pictures through the advanced Picasa service. Further integration is undoubtedly on the cards, such as Google’s calendar service since a robust event organising infrastructure is notably missing at present. I have yet to experience the Google Docs integration but one certainly suspects there are elements of the abandoned Google Wave code at work beneath the surface of Google+. One assumes notifications will eventually be available while in every Google service and crucially the drop down allows you to see a great deal of info, including viewing posts and leaving comments, without navigating away from the current page.

I am happy to provide Google+ invites to those who want them: simply provide me with an email address. For those already using it, IGN have some useful tips.

"Civilization now depends on self-deception. Perhaps it always has."

(CC) BY-NC 2004-2023 Priyan Meewella

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