Every now and then I come across a product so intriguing that I have to give in and impulse buy just to see if it actually works. The X-mini Max speakers are a perfect example. Portable speakers that fit in the palm of your hand that amplify to fill a room with sound. Crazy.
The interesting part is their ingenious design. The capsule shaped unit is first split in two, as the two separate speakers are held together by magnets (the original X-mini speaker was mono, even though several could be daisy-chained together: the Max is a big improvement with full stereo).
By twisting the top of each speaker, it expands upwards in an accordion fashion to reveal the resonator. This gives it a significantly larger volume of air inside which results in a deeper, richer sound. Unsurprisingly they still sound a little tinny, and they are never going to come close to my Shure earphones while travelling, but they certainly beat the hell out of any integrated speaker. 2-3 hours charging from a USB port is supposed to give about 7 hours of playback time, which I haven’t been able to test yet. The volume and reasonable quality from such a small unit really is surprising, and they’ll make another great addition on the US trip. You can pick up a set for about £25 via Amazon.
A few busy weeks led to almost a month without posts so here’s one I wrote around the middle of last week but didn’t get round to editing down. Things are a bit quieter now so normal service should follow:
Last week was pretty hectic workwise and I spent the weekend doing virtually nothing to recover. This meant I didn’t get around to discussing the previous weekend’s excursions to see Grindhouse and Funny Games. The latter was actually while killing time before going out on Friday evening, overcome suddenly by a desire for weird cinema. Funny Games is the first film I’ve seen for some time where I find myself apologetically defending it, a film which I almost invariably had to see alone as until I judged it myself I feared the premise may leave any friends accompanying me wondering just what manner of creature it was that invited them to such an experience.
The premise is simple: an all-American family’s holiday turns into a nightmare after two boys of about twenty years old take them hostage and start toying with, and eventually threatening to kill, them. More interesting however is it’s purpose. The film exists as a reaction to the recent glut of what can best be described as torture porn, an oeuvre encompassing Hostel, Captivity and the later Saw films.
European director Haneke is known for challenging cinema conventions, making a name for himself with Hidden. Rather than deriving enjoyment from the family’s torturous experience, the audience is made to feel intentionally uncomfortable right from the jarring death metal track that bursts through the soothing classical music of the opening credits. At one point as a member of the family breaks down and begs them to stop, one of the boys asks them, “do you think you’ve had enough?”. He pauses a beat before staring directly at camera and repeating the question, challenging the audience. And that is the point. So now in hindsight I feel it is safe to recommend, at least for those who can stomach it.
I nearly went alone to the Grindhouse showing which would have been a serious mistake. Fortunately Kirsten reminded me that Jehan was still around and he was keen. I had concerns about this project from the start since Rodriguez and Tarantino were intentionally creating a homage to the old low-budget exploitation films in their double-bill (a concept which is a throwback in itself). Their movies have always been influenced by their nostalgic love of these, and this is fine, but to actively recreate what are, essentially, bad films, can only at best result in another bad film.
My fears turned out to be half founded. Rodriguez’s instalment, Planet Terror, is simply hilarious and very very silly fun. The dialogue, action and everything else is cheesy, but all thrown together with such style that (at least with a friend) one cannot help but enjoy the carnage that ensues. The plot is essentially irrelevant and the main character development occurs in a “missing reel”, a jarring break which dumps the audience back in the middle of an action sequence with no idea what has transpired. This was followed by several fake trailers by a clutch of interested directors. The real treat was undoubtedly Rob Zombie’s Werewolf Women of the SS, which Jehan and I would both be happy to see made. Nicolas Cage’s cameo as a maniacally laughing Fu Manchu gives you some idea of the intended vibe…
By contrast Tarantino’s Death Proof is a disappointment. Fun at first it never quite gels. For a start it is filled with the usual sharp Tarantino dialogue yet this feels totally out of place, with long chatty scenes that might work in his other films but not here. He seems to be attempting to modernise the exploitation concept, but decidedly fails to do so. Jehan said he enjoyed the full (standalone) cut of Death Proof so I may reconsider after viewing that. The real irony to me is that Kill Bill was unceremoniously slice in two (to its detriment) for being too long for audiences to sit through at around four hours of film, which is exactly how long we spent in the cinema watching Grindhouse!
A Cranworth organised event on Friday featured a lecture from Lord Justice Laws entitled Tolerance and Intolerance generally discussing the approach to questions of freedom of speech regarding sensitive issues such as race, religion and sexuality. It is always pleasant to be reminded that at least the judicature tend to be reasonable and principled where the legislature of late seems to be — well, either careless or insane depending on how generous one feels at the time. For me it was not hugely though-provoking since I already agreed with much of what he said, but did provide some coherent arguments to defend the position. He had much to say on a public law basis which I won’t discuss in detail. Broadly, there are conflicting rights to freedom of speech and to protection, but there is no right not to be offended. The harm caused by speech should be prevented through application of other laws rather than a law restricting speech itself. The talk also took on a delightfully British tone as he explained that people now seem to regard good manners merely as icing upon the moral cake rather than part of the cake itself. How true, indeed.
Over the weekend I ended up fuelling my eBay habit once more, picking up a handful of new games in time for the holiday. They actually offer a nice overview of the console’s one year of existence, stretching back to the launch title Perfect Dark Zero. Although I was unimpressed by the demo, it has now dropped to a far more reasonable level where it might be considered a fun romp rather than the nuanced slice of entertainment perfection that its £40 price tag on release suggested. Rare did an admirable job in producing two release titles for the console (Kameo being the other, and I maintain that where PDZ was significantly overrated, Kameo was actually underrated) but it has taken a little while for it to hit its stride in games like Oblivion and GRAW. The funny thing is that this has resulted in games like Splinter Cell and Hitman receiving far lower scores than the launch crop despite being significantly better. It happens every time, of course, but you’d think we’d have learned to tone down our launch euphoria to reflect this by now…
The Dutch are now 5cm taller than the average European and thanks to EU standardisation will have to be destroyed.
– Sandy Toksvig
I have been toying with Google Reader for some time, but recently finding that I am checking far too many websites far too frequently, I decided to make better use of this powerful feed reader. It allows you to collate and browse the latest additions to any website which has an RSS feed (including this one). Aside from being accessible from any internet-connected machine, it also allows you to group multiple feeds into a single folder so that you can browse, say, all the latest technology news at once. If you do start using it, Lifehacker’s Getting Good with Google Reader is well worth a look, explaining some of its more powerful features.
I also found that with this wealth of information at my fingertips I don’t have enough time to mention everything that I’d like to here in detail. However Google Reader also allows you to share items so with a single click I can now let all of you see the most interesting news, technology and blog posts that I think were worth reading. You can take a look them in the appropriately titled Priyan’s Shared Items. It even has its own feed if after reading this post you are that way inclined. I will continue to discuss my favourite findings here, of course, but this way you can still see the ones that slip through the net. If you have comments about those items, just make them in the latest post here. In particular the one about the Airbus A320’s new in-flight entertainment system is a cool look at what I hope will eventually become the standard for air travel comfort.
The end result is that I hope this will give you a bit more to read while I’m slaving through the horrible amount of work that the second term as the 3rd year law student inevitably brings. A talk given by distinguished IP judge Robyn Jacob was a high point last week, if only that he covered most of the year’s syllabus in about an hour. I believe I may even have seen him in action before having sat in on part of the RIM v. Inpro dispute over the Blackberry. At least the judges seem like level headed human beings even if the patent owners decidedly do not.
I would like to extend a personal congratulation to Jamie and Andy, or the Defenders of the Free(ze) as I believe they should now be known, for winning their long-running battle against College regarding the use of mini-coolers. Downing have long banned students from keeping fridges in their rooms but the position on mini-coolers has been open to interpretation with a blind eye generally being turned. However my friends were informed that their brand new mini-cooler breached their rental agreement (allegedly, I assume, posing a serious fire risk) and would have to be removed. They staunchly refused, citing that it not being a fridge they were not breach and apparently went so far as to threaten the establishment of a student complaints commission. College eventually not only backed down but are proceeding officially to change the rules expressly allowing the use of mini-coolers from now on, although it may be required that students register the item from next year. Surviving battle with the domus bursar et al is impressive enough, but emerging victorious shows a grit and determination that would make a Spartan proud. Yes, they’re lawyers. What’s your point?
Everyone’s offers from Law Schools have started to trickle in and I have been offered places by both institutions to which I applied. Both in London I still have absolutely no idea how to distinguish properly between them and making the choice will be rather difficult. More of my intake at Bird & Bird are going to BPP but the people I know best will be at College of Law. The decision will likely involve a proper visit if I can spare the time away from Cambridge during the term.
I have mentioned the recent plight of Croydon’s Beanos, once one of the largest second hand record store in the world, several times before, but as work continues apace to establish its new amalgamation of music and market stalls the local press have also become interested and printed several positive articles. The Advertiser went one step further and put together a tribute/history/future/slideshow/audio thing called Music You Can Touch, narrated by managing director David Lashmar.
Today’s Christmas lunch with future (and current) trainees from Bird & Bird was not terribly festive but highly enjoyable (which is what counts), and it was nice to put faces to the list of names that has been circulating for a while. Rachel, Matt and I had a slight advantage having been on the same vac scheme, making the room full of new people less daunting. I was also finally able to meet Tessa in person, having discovered a few months ago that she knew an old friend of mine and we would be working together. Despite the last minute venue change Row, Laura and Lynne did a great job, providing (and circulating) more than enough food and drink as we mingled. The conversations reinforced just how varied people’s backgrounds are in arriving at a career in law — the North, South, Scotland and Wales were all represented while many of those starting with me in 2008 are currently doing the GDL having read a variety of subjects at university. It was also great to catch up with some of the trainees we met over the summer and hear what they’ve been up to since, which often, it seemed, involved swanning off abroad for several months (to work, they claim). They’re already planning another gathering in the near future and I’m certainly looking forward to it. But I would say that since Laura is probably reading this!
Mel Gibson’s Apocalyptico is a film I had been largely ignoring based on a rather plotless trailer that appeared to be nothing more than yet another attempt at the (apparently) hallowed title of “epic”. However critics suggest it is actually rather good, pointing to its intense closing third which is essentially a 45-minute jungle chase sequence. Gibson has, however, found himself in trouble with Guatemalan activists who claim he is racistly portraying the Mayan people as violent savages. Aside from the bizarre notion of playing the race card regarding a film about a long-dead civilisation, in all fairness the Mayans were generally known for brutal human sacrifices upon stone altars long before Mel made his little film. It’s sort of like the Italians claiming that they’re being misrepresented by Sparticus and that the Romans were actually quite nice people once you got beyond the feeding of Christians to lions which really just shows their cuddly animal friendly side because the lions were ever so hungry.
And finally, you may know that Dyson waddled along to see Happy Feet with a few friends fully decked out in Penguin costumes (the animal, not the deformed Batman villain as I suggested). Feeling that was not enough, they proceeded to enter a short dancing clip in a competition to win a trip to Australia. Aside from being slightly disturbed by the fact such things are actually made in adult sizes the amusing clip is worth 30 seconds of your time. They are very… cute. Apparently they rose to #1 briefly before suddenly dropping which one presumes may be due to foul play by their competitors voting negatively. They are clearly the best of the bunch so please take a look and help them out!
Do you want the attorney who dresses nicely and belongs to your church? Or do you want the attorney who can rip out your opponent’s heart and put it on the hibachi before he dies? Maybe it’s just me, but I want an attorney who is part demon.
After a minor hiccup my law school application has been submitted. This is really the last step, soulwise. I have applied to both BPP and the College of Law in London. I always knew I wanted to be in London despite the expense as I will still be a student, maintenance grant notwithstanding, but still have trouble differentiating between the educational establishments. Kirsten and I also have the joys of flat hunting ahead, which I approach with not inconsiderable trepidation.
I must state total agreement with Tycho over PopCap’s Bookworm Adventures, which he describes as a “Scrabble RPG“. Playing as a worm named Lex, you battle adversaries by spelling words from a pool of random letters. More magniloquent players will find themselves causing more damage and swiftly levelling up to receive new items. Opening up a word like “paginated” on your opponent is a surprisingly visceral sensation. Okay, maybe circumlocutory vocabulary endeavours are not for everyone, but if you happen to be that way inclined be sure to check out the one hour demo.
I shall be bidding Cambridge adieu for Christmas in around 36 hours (lunchtime on Sunday) so I hope to see people before I disappear but feel free to pop round before then.
The annual Law Ball is infamous for its City-subsidised extravagant excess and, having been every year at Cambridge, last night’s may be the last I get to attend. The event has been held at the same location for years so attendees were curious about the decision to move it, and scepticism increased proportionally with the ticket price. The new venue was the Newmarket Race Course and people’s concerns were instantly quashed. The spacious interiors and balconies alone were worth the expense as one could now properly wander between areas rather than feeling somewhat stifled by the sheer number of people that the event inevitably attracts. The added advantage was that it allowed for multiple varieties of music at once.
The first floor featured primarily jazz with Fitz Swing kicking off the reception as the champagne flowed liberally. The second floor only opened up after dinner, featuring another dance room with a dedicated DJ and bar. Corporate sponsorship was more obvious than normal, but it was easily forgiveable given the style and range of offerings. The chocolate fountain, casino and vodka luge formed the unremarkable staples of any Ball. However the bar carved out of ice and the casino’s Martini waiter service were very slick touches, although the drinks themselves were questionable. Carlo had promised that alcohol would last the entire evening and though we scoffed at the time, the several bars had a huge tab in place with drinks available throughout the night.
Dinner itself is often something of an anticlimax after the lavishly decorated reception and I expected little of the “Supreme of Chicken and Tagliatelle”. I could not have been more wrong — the tender breast of chicken was divine, while the pasta proved a delightful aside. Desert, conversely, never fails to impress and tonight’s Belgian white chocolate ice cream proved no exception, served in a tuile basket with chocolate fondant pudding.
It was a fantastic night, arriving back in Downing at 3:30am and struggling for about 10 minutes to wake up Martin the porter since Kirsten had stolen my keys. Congratulations to everyone involved, you truly outdid yourselves. And if anyone wishes to invite me back next year, I should be more than happy to oblige.
Kirsten introduced me to Ciao! a few days ago, as she has been using the German variant for a while. It has proved highly addictive in a productive sort of way. The community site focuses on reviewing products of all descriptions — films, books, games, electronics, make-up, food, the works! — but uniquely it actually pays members for the reviews they submit, based on ratings by others. These don’t have to be journalistic masterpieces, but merely useful opinions on products that will help others make decisions. Since I already have several fully fleshed out film reviews right here, I figured it was worth a go. I soon found myself pumping out product reviews of the other things sitting on my desk too! The site brandishes the slogan “make your opinions pay” and although it’s not much, it’s still worthwhile, particularly to a student! It’s an interesting diversions and, for those like Andy W and Luke, a forum with a captive audience for the occasional rant. A slightly higher level of revenue can also be earned by filling in targeted surveys based on your interests, but this is strictly on an opt-in basis. Sign up and give it go!
The weekend was not particularly noteworthy aside from fixing Charlotte’s abomination of a computer. Luke swears the test machines he leaves unprotected intentionally to become corrupted by malware aren’t quite as hideously mangled as hers. With the installation discs mailed by her dad we resorted to wiping it and starting afresh although it graphics card is, in technical jargon, teh screwzorz. Still, I learned a fair bit more about locking down a machine to protect the user from both outsiders and, more importantly, themselves. The more security minded may be interested in the free Microsoft Baseline Security Analyzer utility.
Globalist-wise a new Annual edition has just been released featuring contributions from six chapters (Yale, Cambridge, Peking, Jerusalem, Sydney and Toronto). Perhaps most interesting is actually the layout which serves the need for three different languages to cover all these regions. It is quite a feat and has been deftly handled. Meanwhile the name change is now official with the Global21 banner now appearing on the foundation website. Unfortunately this busy period has prevented the latest Cambridge issue from going online yet. I do know, however, that there will be special coverage on the UN handover shortly as I have just produced the banner for it…
I now find myself staring at a not-very-modern article plucked from the Modern Law Review. It leads me to wonder whether it is time to turn my hand to starting up another new publication. The Postmodern Law Review would feature articles in a style that — well, no one really knows what postmodernism actually is which makes it editorially complicated at best. Jean-Francois Lyotard suggested, “Postmodernism is incredulity towards metanarratives.” I rather preferred the astute description, “Weird for the sake of [being] weird.” from Moe Szyslak of The Simpsons (speaking of which, full trailer now available). Strangely it does actually have a legal context in the form of the theory of Judicial shamanism. Perhaps this publication is best left alone after all…
When Slaughters invited all the Downing lawyers for dinner (as is traditional every 2 years) many of the third years were faced with a moral choice that unsettled us in extreme cases for as long as four seconds. Those with training contracts in place or focused solely on the bar would not, of course, be applying to Slaughter and May. But a free three course meal at the Crowne Plaza Hotel is — well — delicious. I was sat next to Andy W who claims this was purely by luck as he had not seen the seating plan in advance. It provided a good opportunity to get to know several of the first years, as well as hearing more about law school from trainees and established lawyers. It was still somewhat strange to feel that Beccy, a geographer, had more right to be there than I did.
As a new feature in the Critic section we will be highlighting some of the best DVD bargains we find. Only highly recommended films will appear, and only if the prices are truly competitive. It’s designed to highlight the best deals at the time so if you have a little cash burning a hole in your wallet and you want a recommendation or just need an extra item to get free postage from Amazon it’s well worth a look. You’ll find no mark-up on the prices — you’ll be buying direct from Amazon at their list price. Each item is accompanied by a short description of why it’s there. If it’s on the list, chances are I actually bought it myself too.
By far the most intriguing project to emerge from Microsoft Live Labs has been Photosynth, which attempts to create a three dimensional representation of collections of photographs. The results they showed in videos were intriguing but many were sceptical about how it would work in practice. A new technology preview now allows you to experience it for yourself (IE only, I’m afraid). The technology is still early in development and undoubtedly needs some work but the premise is definitely attractive and is already workable to an extent.