Monday, 31 December 2007

Goodbye 2007: Andy Edition

Alrigty here's my rendition of the farewelling to the year 2007, just in time too.

Best film I saw at the cinema in 2007:
The Science of Sleep

Best film I saw (for the first time) on DVD in 2007:
Haven't a clue (that's not a film, I just don't know), although the Bladerunner 5 disc box set is great

Best TV show that I saw for the first time in 2007:
Heroes

Best single of the year:
I don't do singles, chart music sucks

Most annoying song of the year:
Everything that has ever been in the charts, mildly unfair but I don't care

Best artist I started listening to this year:
Imogen Heap
(I think I started listening to her in 2007)
(runner up: My Brightest Diamond)

Best live show I saw this year:

Mighty Boosh
(the only live show I saw but it was on a DVD, but otherwise I wouldn't have an answer, although I think I got it for my birthday last year and watched it last year, so I don't think this counts, damn.)

Best game I played of 2007:
Assassins Creed
(runner up: Bioshock)

Most time wasted this year:
facebook
(wasted so much of my life)
(runner up:gamespot, Xbox 360 - although it's technically not wasted time)

Sunday, 30 December 2007

What the flick?

I've just read through Empire's list of their top 25 films of 2007 (chosen by their writing staff as opposed ot a public vote or something else). I just thought I'd make a few comments whilst the list is fresh in my mind...

I've only seen six out of the twenty-five, which I consider fairly pathetic. I've also never heard of several of them, which took me by surprise. I consider myself a film fan but this list from a mainstream film magazine has shown up my failings as a viewer. I intend in the year ahead to try and remedy this as much as possible. That said, lots of them did take my fancy just from the brief note on each film provided in the list, so hopefully this will give me lots of films to watch should I ever feel stuck for choice.

The list is by no means infallible however. Omissions which surprised me include American Gangster and 300, whilst films which I've seen such as Knocked Up (which was good but didn't strike me as outstanding), Superbad (which I didn't rate highly at all) and Ratatouille (which I seem to be in the minority in thinking is at best average compared to previous Disney/Pixar outings) have been included. There are films in there that I totally agree with however (Notes On A Scandal and Hot Fuzz are both superb). It just goes to show that even when looking at professional film reviewers' ratings, it all boils down ultimately to opinion. It may also signify that, although there have been smatterings of excellence, 2007 hasn't been a cinematically stellar year. Once again however, that pretty much comes down to opinion.

An interesting list to read (I won't reveal what's number one), if only to inspire reflection on your own opinions on films.

Goodbye 2007: BamBi Edition

As with Telf's original post, I'll probably edit and update this entry over the next few days and weeks as things come to mind.

Best film I saw at the cinema in 2007:

300

Best film I saw (for the first time) on DVD in 2007:
Pan's Labyrinth
(honourable mention: The Good Shepherd)

Best TV show that I saw for the first time in 2007:
Heroes
(honourable mention: Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip)

Best singles of the year:
Pendulum - Granite
Mark Ronson feat. Amy Winehouse - Valerie

Best albums of the year:
The Go! Team - Proof Of Youth
High Contrast - Tough Guys Don't Dance
Beastie Boys - The Mix-Up

Most annoying song of the year:
The Fratellis - Chelsea Dagger

Best artist I started listening to this year:
The B-52's

Best live show I saw this year:
Stephen Lynch
(honourable mention: Ricky Gervais)

Live show I wish I'd seen this year:
Bill Bailey

Most time wasted this year:
www.facebook.com
(honourable mention: www.stumbleupon.com)

Goodbye 2007

I want to do some kind of record of the stuff I've seen/done this year, but can't really think of a good way of doing it, so I'm just going to stick a load of things down as 'favourites' in various categories. Feel free to suggest other categories, or do your own, or whatever, either way, I reserve the right to add to/alter this over the next few days/weeks:

Best film I saw at the cinema in 2007:
Michael Clayton
(runners up: 300, The Bourne Ultimatum, This is England)

300 and the third Bourne film were both hugely entertaining films, exciting and adrenaline-fueled throughout, but I enjoyed the twisting storyline of Michael Clayton even more. George Clooney impresses me more and more with his willingness to produce and act in some really interesting and complex films.

Best film I saw (for the first time) on DVD in 2007:
Children of Men
(runners up: The Believer, Big Fish, Crash)

Can't believe I waited this long to see Crash and Big Fish, both of which are excellent. The Believer is much less well known (it seems) than it should be, but is brilliantly dark and has a fantastic performance from Ryan Gosling in the title role. Children of Men gets my vote, overall, though for providing an incredibly gritty view of future Britain, awesome cinematography, and an exciting, dark, story.

Best DVD extras I experienced in 2007:
Sin City (Recut and Extended).

Great mini-documentaries, two commentaries, all three stories in full, the original film without post-processing and the mandatory 10-minute cooking school. Plus a paper copy of The Hard Goodbye.

Best TV show that I saw for the first time in 2007:
The Wire (season 1)
(runners up: Robot Chicken (s1-3), Frisky Dingo (s1-2), Long way round (and Long Way Down))

Robot Chicken is the funniest programme, Frisky Dingo the most interesting programme and Long Way Round the best documentary I saw this year, but the Wire gets the overall choice. Despite its potentially fast-paced setting, it is willing to take its time and make you care about the characters on both sides of the case. The slow build up over several episodes makes it feel like a real police investigation, and it's not afraid to get its hands dirty in the darker side of the story too. Looking forward to seeing season 2.

Best single of the year (even though I know nothing about music):
Grace Kelly - Mika
(runner up: About you now - Sugababes, Shine - Take That)

Yeah, I'm a sucker for catchy pop tunes. I've really liked pretty much everything Mika has come out with so far, though, which is unusual for me and any one artist.

Most annoying song of the year:
Beautiful girls - Sean Kingston

Two girls played it repeatedly at full volume on a mobile phone on the back seat of a bus for 45 minutes. Like, no break, no change in song, just that one over and over and over again...

Best artist I started listening to this year:
They Might Be Giants

Weird, catchy alt-rock, that defies categorisation thanks to its variety. Perfect music to have on while travelling, less good for working, because it's so distracting. 'Istanbul (not Constantinople)', 'Doctor Worm' and 'Birdhouse in your soul' are probably my faves atm.

Best live show I saw this year:
Stephen Lynch

Also the only live show I saw this year, but that shouldn't detract from it's clear dominance over this field. Was amazing to see him in such a small venue, and, though he didn't have a huge amount of new material, his old stuff got more than a good reception. Unnecessary surgery dude...

Best game I played this year:
Portal
(runner up: Half Life 2: Episode 2, TF2) (Technically the Orange Box was the only game I bought this year, so choices were restricted).

Incredibly funny for a game with such a simple concept to it. Worth it for the credits song alone. Yahtzee got it spot on here, so I don't need to say any more. The developer's commentary is brilliant as ever - Valve clearly think a huge amount about every step of the design process, and it shows.

Most time wasted this year:
www.kongregate.com
(runner up: facebook)

Best podcast I started listening to this year:
Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo's Film Reviews

Best blog I started reading this year:
Worse than Failure
(runner up: Awkward things I say to girls)

Special mention for best RSS feed that's not really a blog:
Zero Punctuation
(runner up: The Superest)

Friday, 28 December 2007

Superhero Circle 2 (Electric Boogaloo)

As a follow-up to the previous superest-style post a week or so ago, I present this week's special double-page edition (again, with translation):


The Sleeping Policeman: Letting crime come to him.

beaten by

The razor-wheeled cow of crime: "Moo-ve or get slashed".

beaten by

The Concrete Abbateur: Has a heart (and everything else) of stone.

beaten by

The Vegetarian Wrecking Ball: "You meat-eatin' bastards gonna pay!"

beaten by

The Rabboteur: "Eh, blown-up, doc".

beaten by

The ferocious, fiery, fear-frenzied, frumpy, fox-in-a-box

beaten by

Foxhunter Seuss: I will defeat you sam-I-am.

beaten by

Raging Rowling: Destroying children's literature of the past with tales of boyhood satanism.

beaten by

Warm-front Will: Bringing calm (and hugs).

beaten by

The secretly satanic huggy bear.

beaten by

Angelic Starsky and Hutch: Answering your prayers from the 70s.

beaten by

The Eighties Atheist: Cancelling out the values of the seventies through stocks and shares.

beaten by

Incorrect-racist-Robinson-Crusoe (with Black Wednesday).

beaten by

P.C Revisionist: Correcting those bits of literature that never really existed.

beaten by

Tippex Tex: Blottin' out whatever he feels like, Goldarnit!.

beaten by

Inca (Inker): Writes things in your entrails.

beaten by

Gutless Conquistador: Makes up what he lacks in courage with a hatred of indigenous peoples.

beaten by

Dutch Courage: Making even the most cowardly people as brave as Holland.

beaten by

Tea Totaller: -12e^(i*pi) steps to sobriety.

beaten by

Evil Stephen Hawking: No mathematical problem can defeat him, unless it's upstairs.

who, with beautiful symmetry, could be beaten by The Sleeping Policeman.

Thursday, 27 December 2007

Walking in a Winter(val) Wonderland

There was a story on the BBC website last week about the Christmas message from the Archbishop of Wales, Dr Barry Morgan (full transcript can be found here) in which he rails against 'atheistic fundamentalism'.

I think I would agree with him when he says that fundamentalism of any kind is dangerous, but I would certainly disagree on his point that atheistic fundamentalism is comparable to religious fundamentalism in either occurrence or danger.
He lists a number of perceived instances of atheistic fundamentalism, many of which are well known myths (addressed nicely by Oliver Burkeman here) or else simply smaller incidents blown out of proportion (such as the BA uniform controversy). In these smaller incidents, such as the BA situation and a couple of those mentioned in Burkeman's article, the decision or policy was reversed or amended in response to the situation, but this is rarely reported when the incident is brought up later by the media.

I mentioned in an earlier post about Mark Prichard's comments that I thought a lot of the instances of 'Christianophobia' that he mentioned were simply caused by changing social norms and increasing multiculturalism, and I think that the same point stands here. To take the BA example, as the company took on more and more Sikh and Muslim workers, there was bound to come a point when it would need to address its uniform policy on religious garments, and this is what happened. The problem is that the incident is not remembered as the point that BA was prompted to amend one of its employee clothing regulations, it is remembered as the point that a Christian employee was suspended from work for being a Christian.

Dr Morgan says: "
To have a coherent and rational debate about the tenets of the Christianity is perfectly natural. To have a virulent, almost irrational attack upon it claiming that what is being said is self evidently true is dangerous". I think I agree with this point, but I think also that it is a point that could be applied to any religious position. I don't believe that he has provided any examples in his address of anyone (particularly anyone expressly atheistic) exhibiting "virulent, almost irrational attack[s]" on Christianity (or, indeed, any religious position), while at the same time, anyone who has heard a sermon in Church has heard a religious leader "claiming that what is being said is self evidently true".

I suspect that there are people out there who fit Dr. Morgan's criteria for a 'fundamentalist atheist', I just don't believe that there exist any in a position of power or influence comparable to those positions held by fundamentalists from other religious views.

The rest of his address does not seem to really touch on atheistic fundamentalism again, since he begins to talk about "the language of expulsion and exclusivity, of extremism and polarisation, and the claim that because God is on our side, He is not on yours". This clearly doesn't make sense with regards to atheistic fundamentalism, and neither does his use of the story of the reaction to Jesus at the beginning of his public ministry: "The God they want is a far more tribal figure, a God made in their own image, a God whom they can control and manipulate and manage", since the atheistic fundamentalist would have no desires at all about the attributes of something non-existent.

Monday, 24 December 2007

Mistletoe and Wine...

... are two things that will once again have zero involvement in my Christmas celebrations.

Between Christmas and New Year I might try to do some 'best of 2007' type posts, or some kind of 'looking forward to 2008' type posts, but in case I don't, I thought I'd say something now.

Thanks to everyone who has posted on and everyone who has read this blog over the five months or so that it has been running. Hopefully we will continue to have varied and exciting content being produced into next year, along with an ever increasing number of contributors.

I've started tracking some data about people accessing the site, so hopefully after a few months I'll be able to come up with some trends and averages and whatnot. I can safely say that the vast majority of the traffic to the site comes from the UK (and probably from people who are actually posting stuff too), but there have been visitors from North America and mainland Europe too. So hopefully we will see more external (ie. not authors) and more international visitors too.

In either case, Merry Christmas to all, and I hope everyone enjoys some aspect of the holiday season.

:P

Friday, 21 December 2007

Superhero circle.

Ok, last post for today, I promise.

Over the last couple of weeks, we've been playing a 'The Superest' style game after the quiz, and I felt that the (vaguely Christmas themed...) one we came up with last night was good enough to exhibit on here. So...


You should be able to zoom in on those to read them, but (for completeness, and because of our slightly dodgy handwriting...):

Santa "The Pimp" Claus: Ruling the world with his army of ho ho ho's

beaten by

The Christmas Crabs: Taking the safe out of unsafe-sex.

beaten by

The Festive Falcon: (image of dropping the crab on a rock).

beaten by

Old "Poacher" Scrooge: Wings it with his Lee-Enfield, then drains all its Christmas spirit

beaten by

The Ghosts of Gun-Victims Past: Bringing down the NRA one high-school massacre at a time.

beaten by

The Holy Hitman: Striking the dead back to whence they came.

beaten by

The "Altar Boy" Angler: No priest can resist the deep-sea innocence it promises.

beaten by

The Therapist: Always dredging up things from the deep.

beaten by

The Psycho Whore: She's insane, but she's also cheap.

which, with beautiful symmetry, could be beaten by Pimp Santa.

...now Lorraine has gone...

Just a couple of links:

Nick Clegg answers 'no' to 'do you believe in God?'. - I would have said this might have dealt his chances of becoming Prime Minister a blow, if he hadn't already ruined them by being leader of the Lib Dems. Glad to see a non-religious party leader, though - possibly the first one this country has had (can anyone confirm or deny that?). In any case, there was no indication whether his religious views would have any effect on his policies, and in reality it's just good to see that outright belief is not required to achieve (potential, if not likely) political power.

Anyone else find the overuse of quotation marks on the BBC website annoying? In the title of that article, 'does not believe in God' is in quotes for, as far as I can see, no good reason. It is not a direct quote, so why has the BBC decided to highlight it like this?

Radio 1 backs down over Pogues censorship - Reminded me of Bambi's post from earlier this month. My general anti-censorship attitude makes me glad of the eventual outcome, although I was confused by the quote from Andy Parfitt: "In the context of this song, I do not feel that there is any negative intent behind the use of the words". This seems odd, because, as far as I can tell, the words are absolutely being used with negative intent within the context of the song. I certainly can't imaging that Kirsty MacColl's character is referring to Shane MacGowan as a bundle of sticks when she calls him a 'faggot'. She is using an insulting and negative term, and the real question is whether people listening to the song are able to distinguish between terms used in a song-based argument by fictional alcoholics and words that are reasonable to use in a public context. I would like to think that this is the case, but who knows.

Lastly, I have finally got around to getting some glasses (technically a Christmas present from my parents), so my driving and cinema-watching experiences should hopefully now improve markedly, although I am hugely self-conscious about wearing them. :s

Minor Surgery...

...of a different kind. See my blog for details about this marvellous occurrence.

I thought I'd post it in my blog, then link to it from here, instead of wasting space on this blog. (why isn't blog in the Firefox dictionary? or Firefox for that matter).

I realise that you can't see that both blog and firefox are underlined with red to show that they're not properly spelt / not a real word.

Hello

Telf said I should say hello, so hi y'all

I'm James, more commonly known as Jimmeh

(did anyone else think that sounded a bit like "Life of Brian" - "Brian that is called Brian"?)

40bn

So it looks like Putin's worth 40bn (seen in this morning's guardian). Not bad for government work, as they say.

When i read things like this about people I always wonder, why don't you just retire. Surely there's some figure where you think 'that's probably enough for me'. If I had 40bn, I'd be off on my island with large comfy home cinema and spend my days cruising around, playing games and watching films.

But i guess the fact I would do this is probably why I'll never make 40bn, and the fact Putin will keep busy till he dies is the reason he is.

Thursday, 20 December 2007

BiTE 20% out of station food.

I'm not suggesting you go around biting 20% out of the food in stations, more that by signing up for a Bite card you can get 20% off at a good number of the food outlets in stations across England and the card itself costs nothing (probably because it literally is a bit of card).

The BiTE card is useful if you spend a good amount of time travelling on trains and hate that you are forced to pay high prices for the food as you're stuck in the station waiting for your next train and neglected to bring a packed breakfast/lunch/dinner. 20% is almost enough to make the prices seem more respectable so no more feeling too hard done to when trying to satiate your hunger on a journey.

I haven't used mine that often (in fact, possibly never, but I did lend it to a friend once) but then I haven't been able to afford to travel anywhere recently.

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Filmography

As promised this morning, these are the films I saw at the cinema in 2007 in approximately the order I saw them. I used this list to construct them, and the final set seems strangely small, so it's possible I have missed some out. Let me know if you spot any and I'll add them in.

The films are all listed as having had their UK cinema release in 2007, but two of them I technically saw on DVD. I tried to keep the comment under 25 words for each one, and think I pulled it off pretty well:

Rocky Balboa
I probably missed something through not having seen the other films, but this never felt exciting or interesting. 4/10

Blood Diamond
Leo is great and apart from a couple of silly action scenes, the whole thing hangs together well. 9/10

Hot Fuzz
Good but not great. Some funny moments, but loses something by having an accomplished protagonist. 6/10

The Illusionist
Entertaining story: more down-to-earth than the Prestige, but without the darkness of that film. 7/10

300
Brilliant comic-book epic. Allow yourself along for the ride and it's exhilarating stuff. 9/10

Blades Of Glory
Sub-par Ferrell vehicle. Some good jokes, but I just didn't care about any of the characters. 4/10

Shooter
Wahlberg is great, and the first hour is slick and exciting. Then Danny Glover comes along. 3/10

This Is England
Dark and gritty - Stephen Graham is brilliant and its an interesting take on the issues involved. 8/10

Spider-Man 3
Disappointingly unfocused. Doesn't know whether it's trying to be slapstick or dark.
4/10

Transformers
Great visuals, but I just don't care about wise-cracking robots falling over. 4/10

Conversations With Other Women
Funny and touching. Very original presentation pulled off well. A nice package that doesn't stretch itself. 8/10

Magicians
Distressingly unfunny. They can do so much better and it hurts to see them fail. 3/10

Zodiac
Great moody and oppressive thriller. Lags towards the end, but just about keeps us interested. 8/10

Pirates Of The Caribbean 3: At World's End
Depp is great. Most of the rest is forgettable. Too much random mythology pulled out of nowhere. 5/10

Shrek The Third
Terrible in comparison to its forebears. Has some funny moments, but no focus. 4/10

Die Hard 4.0
Enjoyable in a brain-switched-off kind of way. Less about the personalities and more about the effects, which is a pity. 5/10

Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix
Meh. 5/10

The Simpsons Movie
Very funny. Expansive storyline and the return of Hank Scorpio (in all but name). 8/10

The Bourne Ultimatum
Fantastically taut thriller. Great set-pieces and manages to stay the right side of believeable. Just. 9/10

Knocked Up
Funny, and at least tries to do more than just feed the audience one liners. 7/10

Atonement
Great acting and a very moving story thoroughly well told. 9/10

Run, Fat Boy, Run
Sappy and stupid. Has one funny scene, and spends the rest of the time firmly on the rom-com-rails. 3/10

Michael Clayton
Great thriller. George Clooney and Tom Wilkinson are excellent and the script manages to guide us easily through a complex story. 9/10

Day Watch (Dnevnoi Dozor)
Exciting and strange. Made me want to read the books. 7/10

The Counterfeiters
Slow, but with a great script. Makes you question whether you could do the right thing. 8/10

Rendition
Dark story with twists that come together really well. Makes you question whether you could do the right thing. 8/10

Lions For Lambs
Slow moving but rewarding. Glossy rather than passionate. Makes you question whether there even is a right thing to do. 8/10

American Gangster
Interesting biopic with great action scenes. Ending feels rushed, but lead performances are great. 8/10

Rescue Dawn
Let down by poor special effects and cringeworthy ending, but the whole middle section is brilliantly done. 7/10

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Very slow, but builds tension brilliantly. Affleck almost outshines Pitt, and the attention to detail sells it. 9/10

We Own The Night
Good in patches, but loses its way. There's a dark, interesting film there somewhere, but it's not on the screen. 6/10

I am Legend
Not an awful premise, but neither psychological nor horrifying, and hence not really interesting or exciting. 6/10

And, for completeness, the ones I wanted to see but never got around to:
Apocalypto, The Last King Of Scotland, The Pursuit of Happyness, Smokin' Aces, Babel, The Good Shepherd, Letters From Iwo Jima, The Number 23, Amazing Grace, Sunshine, Alpha Dog,
Fracture, Fast Food Nation, 28 Weeks Later, Ocean's Thirteen, Seraphim Falls, Breach, 3:10 To Yuma, Shoot 'Em Up, The Brave One, Control, The Kingdom, Stardust, Eastern Promises, Sicko, The Lookout, Bug, Into The Wild, The Darjeeling Limited, Sleuth, The Golden Compass, The Killing of John Lennon, Youth Without Youth.

And one that failed to come out altogether:
Grindhouse
(But that's a rant for another day...)

Next year's big thing(s)

Just a quick post to link to this awesome list of upcoming films. I'd heard of most of the major releases, but a large number of the ones I hadn't heard of sound very exciting. At some point I want to try and do a round up of quick one-line reviews of 2007 films, assuming I can remember a large enough list of the ones I've seen to make it worthwhile. Anyway, enjoy the link.

Monday, 17 December 2007

Traditionally festive

There's a lot of stuff about traditions that annoys me. Not in a huge, stressed-out, ranty way, but just in a way that needles me occasionally, and this time of year has a lot of traditions wrapped around it.

A colleague of mine at work told me last year that him and his wife don't give each other Christmas presents or birthday presents, and even asked people not to give them wedding presents when they got married. Instead, they try to give each other surprise presents throughout the year. There is no pressure to try and think of something for someone else as a particular date approaches, but when that perfect idea comes along, there's no need to store it away for months and hope that it's still relevant later in the year.

Clearly this kind of approach would be difficult to integrate into society (I'm not sure it would work as an explanation as to why you failed to bring a present to a friend's wedding), but as a guiding principle, it seems to me to be much more practical and interesting than the current social norm. In general, I don't mind the whole present-giving side of Christmas (and, indeed, birthdays), since the next best thing to people giving each other presents spontaneously (you know, out of kindness) is to force them to do it through social blackmail. However, I do find the whole process of wrapping and presenting gifts to be thoroughly annoying.

For children, I can accept, it probably increases the excitement on the day to have a huge pile of mysteries to sift through, each with a cryptic label on to be deciphered, but in other situations, as we grow older, I find the whole business to be bizarre and annoying. I see no reason why it helps anyone for me to spend time and money wrapping up presents five minutes before they're going to be opened. If it is the desire to keep the item a mystery, then I'm quite happy to hide it beforehand, and do a little introduction for it, or present it in a bag or pretty much anything that doesn't cause me to spend ever increasing amounts on gaudy paper that will be torn up and never be used again. If it comes down to building excitement about a present, though I feel like that's the wrong way to go with the whole thing. If the present is a good one, something the person will appreciate and cherish, then no decorative packaging is needed, and if it is not something the person particularly wants, then hiding it away in a promising looking package is just a recipe for disappointment. Ultimately, I would much rather a friend quietly gave me something that they had spotted and thought I would appreciate than sit in a circle with any number of distant family members, unwrapping socks and library books and whatever DVD was being particularly well marketed at the time.

Cards get me in a similar way - I have nothing against them in principal, as long as the person sending them has thought about what they are doing and why they are doing it. Nothing seems more bizarre to me than a huge number of people sending identical cards to everyone in their phone book with their names at the bottom and the recipient's at the top. Maybe there will be a variation in the picture or the pre-printed message inside, but there's no real thought or care put into it. If you really do want to communicate with someone, then send them a letter or call them and arrange to meet up, and if you don't really want to communicate with them, then don't send anything. It seems as though Christmas card lists are like the social networking 'friends lists' of the pre-internet age. It doesn't matter that you haven't spoken to these people for 7 years and that you never have any contact with them other than through the annual charity-shop card; they need to be on your list and you on theirs, almost as a surreptitious ego-boosting exercise, as though your presence on people's card lists is required evidence that you are not an outcast.

I think most of the above translates pretty well on to birthday cards too - I see no real point in giving someone a birthday card unless you have something interesting to say in it. I have received (and given) a large number of cards over the years that have simply been the recipient's name, my name and a short generic greeting. Looking back on them, I don't begrudge the people who gave me these cards, and I don't regret giving out my own, but ultimately, it is as though those cards hadn't been given. I don't remember them (except in a general sense) and I haven't kept them, so there really is nothing to say that they ever existed. What I do have is a (by no means exhaustive) collection of letters and cards that I kept because I felt that real effort had been put into them, and I would look back on them in the future as something valuable. And in general, this has been the case. I wish I had kept more, but the ones that I have kept have given me a lot of happiness when I re-read them.

I feel I should clarify a little bit - I don't think that people are idiots for sending cards out, and I know people feel pride and happiness when they see a wall full of cards wishing them a happy birthday or Christmas. But I am suggesting that I think there are more meaningful things you can send to people you care about, and that perhaps you shouldn't be sending cards to people you don't care about. Not because they don't deserve that happiness, but because in reality, your card is at best a momentary distraction and at worst a dishonest message.

I compared Christmas card lists to social networking friend lists above, and in some ways there are parallels with birthday cards. If someone I know on facebook has a birthday, I feel odd just posting 'Happy Birthday' on their wall. If it is someone I count as a friend, then that feels too little, and I'll try and post something longer, or write them a message or give them a text or a ring and try and start a conversation. If I don't really know them that well (an old friend from school, or a mutual acquaintance) then I will tend not to send anything. Not because I don't hope they have a happy birthday (that, presumably, should be a given), but because I don't have anything more interesting to say, and it feels weird to simply present this public appearance of a closeness that is clearly not there.

Facebook communication (and social network communication in general) is a whole other post for a whole other time, however, so I think I'll leave it there, as I've rambled on for far too long already. There are other tradition-type things that annoy me, though, so tune in next week to hear me complain about decorations, Christmas dinner and Jesus.

:P

Sunday, 16 December 2007

What's green and ethical?

This site

You just don't get jokes of that calibre these days (thank goodness).

I made a rather long post on my blog a while ago covering issues which I feel are important, such as being ethically minded and more ecologically friendly, here's a link, and this site links to that nicely.

I've only recently discovered this site, through TV.com which is a marginally strange place to find stuff like that, but smartplanet seems like a good way to find out about ways of being more green and ethical, I personally have it as an RSS feed of Firefox, which I've come love as it means you don't have to go to a specific site to see if any new stuff has appeared (especially useful with blogs).

Thursday, 13 December 2007

Linky update

I've been kinda busy for a couple of days, so haven't posted anything. Which is not to say I haven't wanted to - leaving the new boy out on his own like we have is kinda cruel, but he's doing a fine job so far.

I thought, in lieu of a longer, more rambling, more interesting, post, I'd briefly put down the highlights of the last week or so of my del.icio.us links:

This is funny, and nicely context-free.

This is very sad news, though taken very well by him.

This is pretty interesting, and should probably be taken with a pinch of salt.

This is some awesome-stylish art.

This is a great web-security article. Pretty long, though.

I want to do an article about user generated content at some point, and start doing some movie reviews. But not now. For now, I must go to the quiz. Wish me luck.

Simple yet effective

I've been looking for a way to move the target for the My Document folders (ie. my Pictures etc.) for years, I don't know why but I just don't like using them, actually I do know why, they where stuck on your C drive and when you only have 2GBs to use (the case when I first built my computer) you tend not to want to stick all your documents on it, but now it's more because I have most of my files separate from my C drive so XP has a whole HDD to play with.

Anyway due to my keyboard being lame and not wanting to link to other folders when I press the "My Pictures" button on it I decided to have another look for the solution to this problem so I could just have the My Pictures folder open when I press it (don't know why it didn't like normal shorcuts), and here's what I found on asktheadmin.com

Annoyingly simple really, but it does mean that all the My Whatever folders now link onto my M or D drives (Max (Maxtor drive) and Dog (big 180GB HDD (well big when I got it) also geeky reference to Half-Life 2), I give names to all my HDDs, the C drive is called Sea (it's a Seagate HDD))instead of the C, hurrah. (well that was a bit confusing, too many brackets).

I thought this was a reasonably sensible and useful thing to post here, I may have been wrong, but who can tell.

Oh and by the way my computer's called Mermal, don't ask me why, but it is important to know these things.

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Mostly Pointless

I feel like I have been given the keys to my parents car and I'm a little scared to get in and start the engine in case I do anything stupid like crash it and ruin their trust in me, but I'll try and get over that and just get on with it (although I can't actually drive so doing so could be classed as marginally stupid).

That strange metaphor (or is it simile) was to do with being given the privilege of posting on this collaborative blog(which I can probably class as research for my dissertation, which is on web 2.0, so I don't feel to guilty about not doing some real work). Hopefully I'll not make Patrick regret giving me access.

I thought I'd post a quick intro about me for anyone wondering who on earth I am and why you should read what I have to say (which, to be honest, it's probably better if you don't) and also so that my addition to this blog isn't a complete waste of time. So here it is:

Hi I'm Andy, I'm a Christian and a third year student at Salford University studying Professional Sound & Video Technology. I know Patrick through Joe Davison (who I've known since high school) so I used that connection to procure a spot here venting some of my less obscure notions (The more obscure ones going on my own blog).

Well that's about it for the moment, the next few days will be pretty hectic for me as I've got to create 9 pages worth of info about what I've done in my dissertation so far (which isn't a great deal) and then present it on Friday, so I'll probably not have much time to do or find anything that I think other people may be interested in.

Saturday, 8 December 2007

Miscellaneous Bloggery

Just a quick note about a couple of blog-related changes. Firstly, over on the right hand side there, I've added some new links to my 'blogroll'. I've also gone through and tagged all my posts so far, so let me know if you reckon I've missed or mis-applied any tags. If nothing else it's useful for me to keep track of what I have and haven't written stuff about recently. And right at the bottom there's an RSS feed of my del.icio.us links, so the number of plain 'links' posts I make should decrease, and they'll appear there instead.

Lastly, but not leastly, I'm going to start asking more people to join the blog as writers. Since adding two new people a month or so ago resulted in zero more posts, I figure a more drastic increase in writing staff is needed. There is the slight worry that since there is no theme to the blog, people will be confused and reticent about what to write, but I'm hopeful that people will feel free to just post whatever comes to mind.

So I'll probably be asking a few more people over the next couple of weeks, and if you aren't able to post yet, let me know and I'll consider adding you. I think my only restriction is going to be that I know you, other than that, I'm pretty happy for anyone to start writing stuffs.

And if you're a writer on this blog and haven't written anything, get off your arse and write something.

Friday, 7 December 2007

Expletive deleted

In response to Bambi's post (a phrase I feared I would not be writing again), I have a couple of points to add. First, I would like to thank him for introducing me to the word tmesis, which I feel would be an excellent addition to anyone's vocabulary despite the fact that I have no idea how to pronounce it and no clue as to how I would ever use it.

On the issue of using the word 'gay', my feeling has always been that, as with anything I could say, it should be the intention and the context that define someone's reaction, not just the words involved. I agree with Bambi that the meaning of the word 'gay' has changed pretty much within our lifetime, since I can certainly remember it being used as a sexual insult in primary school, and I think it is interesting that it has come to mean something undesirable.

It is as though successive years of children kept using it as an insult (having picked it up from older generations) while the society around them moved to somewhere where simply calling someone a homosexual was no longer actually insulting. Hence the word used as a negative term almost seems to mean 'I feel about this the same way as people once felt about homosexuality'. Or, given modern styles of communication, 'I'm pretending to feel about this the same way as people once felt about homosexuality in order to be funny'. I am neither an etymologist nor an expert on gay issues, so take the above analysis with all the necessary pinches of salt.

On the more general topic of offensive words, I don't like the fact that certain words are seen as unusable, since I think it gives them a power that they should not have. I make a point of trying not to restrict what I say with people, because I think that talking freely is a good sign of trust, and that a society that accepts words as simply words and looks to make judgements on context and meaning is a more open and a better society.

Having said that, I clearly obey a large number of social norms. For example I might feel uncomfortable using the word 'damn' in front of a friend's parents, but not my own. I try and avoid using the word 'shit' in front of my parents, but not my workmates. I tend to avoid the word 'fuck' with workmates, but not with friends I meet socially, and I save the word 'cunt' for friends I feel I know well or very well. I don't believe I have ever used the word 'nigger' out loud.

Make of that what you will.

This post is gay

This post may be a little rambling, as I have no idea where I'm going to go with it seeing as it's fairly English geeky in nature, concerning my fascination with words and what they do. And it starts with Facebook. Stay with me.

I started a group a while ago called "I Still Use Slang From The 1990s". As part of this group I've built up a list of '90s slang terms and their meanings, adding many that are suggested by the members of the group. However, I found myself faultering when one member suggested the word "gaylord" as a '90s insult. I was torn. On the one hand, "gaylord" comes from a blatant homophobic etymology. On the other, I knew the person suggesting it almost certainly had absolutely no sexual meaning in the word. I logically also considered the inclusion of "gay" as a slang term, but with much the same problem. So I did what I almost always do when I want to find out more about something: I looked on Wikipedia.

And here's what Wikipedia had to say. This I found incredibly intriguing, as not only does it give what I think of as the "playground" usage of the word a technical name ("pejorative non-sexualised"), but it cites a fairly recent example from the media of where the use of "gay" in this sense was called into question and the usage was defended. Not defended by any old fly-by-night organisation either - defended by the BBC no less.

I was gripped at this point. I felt like I was witnessing etymology as it happened. Very few words in my lifetime have undergone such a radical addition to their accepted meanings (and, as The Times article states at the end, a meaning almost the opposite to that which the word had originally). However, with Wikipedia being a less-than-credible source for information, and one news article seeming fairly flimsy, I turned to the big kahuna: the Oxford English Dictionary. And here's what I found:

"gay, adj., adv., and n. * slang (chiefly U.S.). Foolish, stupid, socially inappropriate or disapproved of; ‘lame’."

It's in the OED. A draft addition admittedly, but one with several examples and that is actually being considered, which taking into account how many words are rejected from the OED is a fairly substantial backing for the pejorative non-sexual meaning.

So, how do I feel about all this. Moving past my English graduate geekiness about watching words transform, I don't really have a huge problem with this becoming an accepted meaning of "gay". I try to refrain from using it as I think there are better words to use, but then I do that with a large amount of words. Also, there are people who, when talking to them, I would avoid using the word "gay" like that as I know they wouldn't like it being used. Again, there is a large collection of other words that I do that with too.

But in terms of the actual meaning, I have no problem at all. For a start, it's a slang term that is clearly in common use, and that's how meanings and words are created and always have been - by being used. In terms of looking at it with historical examples, there's an obvious candidate word: "fuck".

Again, good old Wikipedia gives a decent grounding on this word's background. And, like "gay", it's in the OED. "Fuck" is a very old word, most likely coming from Anglo-Saxon, and has a fascinating history that would take hours to do justice to. But like many words now considered offensive, "fuck" began as merely a word to describe something - in this case, the act of having sex. Over the centuries it was regarded as more offensive, until receiving taboo status that was lifted only relatively recently. But "fuck" began with only one meaning as a verb. It's now arguably one of the most versatile slang words in English. It can be a verb and a noun, an adjective and an adverb - it can even be used in tmesis to add emphasis to a polysyllabic word ("abso-fucking-lutely"). "Fuck" is a word that originally did not offend, gained offensive meaning, and has developed in its various meanings.

So why should "gay" be any different? Yes, I'm sure it will offend some people, but there are a great many of those words around already. Who are we to state that "gay" can't join them? If we stopped everything that offended someone, the world would be incredibly bland. I'd like to know how "gay" is used in a hundred years, or even less. Its transformation is something I find extremely interesting.

And if you're wondering, "gaylord" and "gay" both made it into the Facebook group word list, albeit with disclaimers.

Christmas Xmas is coming.

The BBC had an article on Tuesday about MP Mark Pritchard calling for a parliamentary debate on the subject of 'Christianophobia'. The transcript of the debate can be found here, for anyone who enjoys an evening spent reading Hansard. Andy also produced a post on the dilution of Christmas. When I see two articles talking about similar things, I do like to connect them on here, so thought I should at least comment.

Mark Pritchard cites a number of examples of Christianophobia in modern society: the difficulty in finding religious cards and advent calenders and the creeping disappearance of Nativity plays from schools. He wonders why these things are disappearing from our society when he has "never met a single Muslim, Jew, Sikh or Buddhist, or person of any other faith, who has told me that they object to Christians celebrating Christmas". He then describes the idea that anyone might be offended by "Christians celebrating Christmas" as a "false, secular-driven proposition".

I think that I would put the change more down to the changing make up of our society. As we become a more multicultural nation, as more and more people grow up as non-Christian citizens of this country, the socially anchored Christian traditions begin to look more and more out of place. Should a school get children to take part in a Nativity play because it reflects the traditions of the country, or should they be free to do something that the children will be able to relate to more easily. Should greeting cards companies and manufacturers of other seasonal cardboard merchandise be condemned for selling cards that appeal to the widest range of potential consumers? Religious Christmas cards are still available, but, as with many other specialist goods, you may have to go to a more specialist supplier. Luckily, with the internet, such a search can take less than a second.

The point is that it is not a secular plot to stop Christians from celebrating Christmas, it is the reaction of the market (in the case of cards and calendars) and society (in the case of nativity plays) to the changes brought about by multiculturalism.

Mark Pritchard is also concerned about the disparate levels of government funding and attention given to minority religious festivals. He says "The Department for Transport has admitted sending staff to minority religious events, but did not “officially” participate in Christmas celebrations. At the Foreign Office [...] Muslim and Chinese religious events are marked with VIP receptions. I have no objection to that, or to the Home Office celebrating Muslim and Hindu festivals, but why is Easter completely ignored?". I fear that any government involvement in Christmas or Easter would be lost in the huge tidal wave of commercial attention both holidays get from the private sector. Ultimately, the government is giving a boost to minority festivals on the understanding that Christmas and Easter don't need extra funding or support to get their message out. If you are the biggest kid in the class, it's only natural for people to assume that you can stand up for yourself.

He goes on to say: "Today, many people from the Christian tradition feel that any religious allegiance is permissible as long as it is not the Christian tradition, and that everything is tolerated except a Christian world view". This seems like a pretty bizarre claim. In a country where the monarchy, the prime minister, most of the cabinet and 70% of the population ostensibly hold your world view, it is a little rich to come out and claim that your beliefs are not being tolerated.

He ties all of his points together by appealing to the government not to let the Christian heritage that has built and shaped this country be lost, and I would agree that we should not lose sight of where this country has come from. However, it is also vital that we do not try and stifle the changes that are happening in society because they conflict with tradition. We have a strong Christian tradition that has done much good for this country, and that continues to do so. What we should not do is allow the rose-tinted view of that heritage to prevent us from doing the best thing for the future of our nation and our society.

So, how do I feel about Christmas? I have no problem using the word to describe the day, the time of year or the holiday. I have no problem with other people wishing me a happy Christmas and I have no problem with all of the religious overtones of a lot of what goes on. I participate in the religious side of the holiday for as much as I need to in order to see my friends and family, in order to enjoy the time of year with the people I love, and in order to best fill the time I have off from work.

Ultimately, my participation in Christmas and Easter is driven almost entirely by social tradition. We have four public holidays split across the two events, and so I base my seasonal time-off around them, as everyone did when we were at school. If the religious aspect of the celebration was moved to a different date, I wouldn't change when I celebrated or what I did, but if the bank holidays changed, I may alter the way I spent this time of year.

I am happy for people to celebrate Jesus' birth as long as they are happy for me to celebrate being allowed a lie in for a couple of weeks.

This actually took me ages to write, which was surprising as it's the kind of thing I find usually comes pretty easily. I'm not entirely happy with the way I structured it and don't think I included everything I wanted to, but I think I've exhausted my creativity for today, so I'll have to leave it there.

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

Could do better.

When I get too cocky about actually being able to design web pages, I like to look at lists like this, which remind me just how awful I am at the actual design side of it.

Monday, 3 December 2007

PowerPointless

This is a multi-purpose post. Firstly, it's to get me back into posting here. Secondly, it's to make amends with Telf for not posting here for a while (apologies once again dude). Thirdly, it's so I can share something that made me laugh a lot.

I've already shown this to quite a few people, but I wanted to put it up here too. It struck a chord with me when I first saw it as a significant proportion of PowerPoint-based lectures I've had during my PGCE so far have been reminiscent of this style. I just think that if you're actually saying things like "I realise the text is far too small for people to read" about your slides, you need to rethink how you're putting together your lectures. Anyway, here we go.



I do have a couple of "real" posts I've been meaning to make for a little while now, but it's far too late to do either of them now, so hopefully this entry will get the ball rolling again for me and I'll post a bit more frequently.

I think I'm alone now...

It's frustrating that the point of this blog is being so ironically compromised. When I was writing a blog on my own, it was difficult to motivate myself to post on a semi-regular basis, and I was glad that I felt more motivated about posting here when there was more than just my own content going up. However, no one other than me has posted since the end of October, and despite forcing myself to write some fairly extended pieces (and pieces that I'm on the whole pretty happy with), I can feel myself slipping back into my old habits and looking at the 'create post' page as a duty rather than a creative outlet.

I understand that people are busy, and this is not a rant against my fellow posters here (yet), just an update on how I feel things are going.

On a more flash-based, and less angsty note, many many addictive games (with leaderboards and secrets and awards and all that other jazz that is much more fun than actual work).

Saturday, 1 December 2007