Friday, 29 February 2008

Old Thoughts

I found this old post of mine from 6th November 2006, which I don't think I ever actually posted anywhere. Since I don't have anything interesting written for today, I thought maybe I'd share it:

Yesterday Saddam Hussein was sentenced to death by hanging for crimes against humanity. For someone who opposes the death penalty, this was an interesting test of how that philosophy works in extreme cases. Saddam is probably the closest our society has to a living Hitler-figure. There are other dictators and leaders who have committed similar crimes, but in terms of public perception, the fall of Saddam Hussein could be seen as an analogue of the events that might have followed Hitler's capture at the end of WW2. I use the reference to Hitler as someone who people bring up in arguments about morality and ethics. If you could go back in time and kill Hitler, would you? The world has now been asked would you kill Saddam if you had the chance?

So should Saddam have been sentenced to death? I don't believe so. Quite apart from the moral issue is the fact that sentencing such a figure to die, rather than letting the media of the world watch him grow old and frail, brings up the serious possibility that he becomes a martyr, or at least provides a focus for his former followers. The sight of a former powerful figure of fear and tyranny as an old man, withering away into nothing could provide a far sterner test of his followers' faith in his ideals than the dangerous idea that he was brutally slain by the West.

However, even discounting this argument, I do not believe that a sentence of death should ever be given. Such a sentence is too final, too absolute, for a society that is not built on absolutes. Wherever a legal process takes place, however careful the rules of the court, however many chances to appeal there are, ultimately the desicion of guilt or not comes down to the judgement of a human being. One person can hold another's life in his hands. Such a decision is not something that should balance on whether the juror is feeling unwell and wants (however subconsciously) to get home for the day. It should not balance on a magistrate that, however objective they try to be, cannot possibly remove themselves from their upbringing. It should not rest on someone who cannot make an absolute decision. I would argue that no human can claim to do such a thing and so no human should be allowed to make such a judgement.

My argument is not against the system of justice that exists in many places in the world, far from it. Of course the arguments above still stand if the conviction is life in prison instead of death, but such a sentence is not an absolute. No one can be given back the years that are taken away by a wrongful conviction, but, if the verdict is quashed, they can be given their future. No one who is wrongly executed can ever be given anything again.

What is the intention of the death penalty? Is it a deterent? Studies have repeatedly shown that it does not act as one. Indeed, with a death sentence hanging over them, surely a criminal would be more willing to kill in order to escape capture. If they know that they are facing the ultimate sentence, where is the motivation for restraint? Is the death penalty a punishment? Society enacting vengence on those that have wronged it. If this is the case, then where is the consistency? Someone who kills out of revenge is punished by society by being killed? But who will punish society for this killing?

Surely the point of any kind of judicial system must be to keep members of a society as safe as possible by taking unstable elements out of it and either making them stable again or keeping them out. To execute someone is to say that there was no way that they would ever be able to add anything to society. That no matter how much they grow and learn and change, there was nothing that they would do at any point in their life that would be helpful to society. That they were so dangerous, that even to keep them alive was too much of a risk. That they should be removed permanently and absolutely before they could do any more damage. I would say that this is how someone a society has deemed worthy of death should be described, and yet I would argue that these terms are too strong for many of those facing execution around the world. For the majority of death row inmates, these words are not appropriate.

But we come back to the original point: surely, in extreme cases, there can be no argument against the appropriateness of the death penalty. There can be no serious doubt over Saddam's guilt, so surely there is no fear of a miscarriage of justice. He is not a small time criminal, he is a lifelong killer, so this is not an issue of rehabilitation. I would say that this is a matter of drawing lines. How sure do we have to be about someone's guilt to kill them? How many people in a state have to agree before the state is able to morally kill one of it's citizens? I would argue that there is no such number. If we say 99% then why not 98? If we say that Saddam killed 100,000 people, then what if he had only killed 90,000? A man in America can be sentenced to death for a murder that if committed the day before (when he was still 17) would not have resulted in his execution. What changed in that day? What changes when a person kills 2 people rather than 1 or 3 rather than 2? What is to stop a judge ruling that abortion is punishable by death, since it is murder? Euthanasia? Terrorists? Freedom Fighters? Rebels? Political Opponents?

However you define your terms for executing someone, you have to draw a line and say that the people on this side of the line deserve to die, while the people on this side do not. I do not believe that such a line exists outside of human conception. I do not believe that within human conception, any two people would draw the line in the same place. Ultimately, I do not believe that any society should give itself the right to deal out absolute punishment based on an arbitrary line in the sand.

Thursday, 28 February 2008

Review: Derren Brown - An Evening of Wonders

I've been fascinated by Derren Brown ever since I saw his first show on TV back in 2000. He is a showman who mixes traditional magic with psychological tricks and layers of misdirection to baffle and entertain. If anyone reading this has not seen his shows, I cannot recommend him highly enough, and you should definately get a hold of a DVD or download of his TV and stage shows to look at.

On Tuesday I finally went to see him live for the first time, having intended to for a couple of years (but having been unable to get tickets). It was the first show of his 2008 tour 'An Evening of Wonders' and it was genuinely worth every penny.

The first half of the show consisted of the more upbeat side of his act, with misdirection, card tricks, forcing numbers and cards on people, and winning multiple simultaneous games of '20 questions' in only a few questions. Seriously. The question 'Is it bigger than a piano?' was all he needed to guess that one audience member was thinking of a tomato. A lot of the tricks in this half were similar to those he has exhibited in his TV series, but it was a whole new experience to see them live. Whereas when watching 'documentary-style' television shows, there is always the idea in the back of your mind that there is the possibility of editing, if not to cheat the audience, then to help keep the tempo of the tricks up, and to make the whole business more exciting. Seeing him live, however, no such editing is needed - he's more than able to handle a crowd, and moves so quickly through the mind games and tricks that it is quite overwhelming at times.

There was also a nice mix of 'revealed' tricks, where the enjoyment comes from realising what has happened and appreciating how well he has pulled off a complex piece of misdirection or sleight of hand, and 'hidden' tricks, where the enjoyment comes from the overwhelming feeling of 'How the hell did he do that?'.

The second half was a little darker and more contemplative. Derren was still the consumate showman, but this time he was in the role of a nineteenth century 'Oracle', playing up the faux-spiritual side of his act, and talking more deeply about the psychology of belief. The first part of the second half was a demonstration of some of the spiritualists' tricks with a subject's subconscious, making pendulums swing and tables move. This was a much slower build up than the tricks of the first half, and was probably the low point of the show for me, as I don't think it went as well as he would have liked. The seance-type tricks of Ouija boards and moving furniture is perhaps better suited to close gatherings than large auditoriums. Nevertheless, the background provided by Derren, and the atmospheric lighting and sound made it intriguing, if not outright entertaining.

In the final part of the evening, the focus came back to the audience at large again. During the interval he had invited the audience to write questions on pieces of card, to put them in envelopes marked with initials and a row number and to leave them in a bowl on the stage. He proceeded to take these envelopes and pick out ones he felt he could 'read', apparently using the handwriting alone to determine the age, gender, profession of the person who wrote it, before asking for confirmation from the author, and moving on to guessing the question written within. Most of this portion of the show seemed to be done by cold reading, a subject I have read about in various places, including in Derren's book and in his previous TV shows. Perhaps he was using other techniques too, perhaps he is just astonishingly proficient at it, but the seeming accuracy of his readings and predictions combined with his natural showmanship was completely astounding.

He finished off the night with another incredible array of fast-reveal tricks, where the sheer overwhelming amazement of the constant revelations leaves you with no chance of analysing his methods.

I don't want to get into a discussion of Derren's magic style in general, since this is a show review, rather than a review of him, so I'll wrap it up now. I think the biggest compliment I can pay is that despite having seen every show, every download, every report I could on him and his tricks, the performance felt fresh and rewarding. There is a world of difference between seeing him on TV and seeing him live, and he manages to capture the feeling of wonder that must have greeted crowds watching 19th century mystics and mediums, while still keeping an air of control, of post-modern comment and of humour about the whole thing. His engagement with the audience is consistently excellent, and he seems totally at home with the interaction with shy or unsure audience members, turning any failures or embarassment onto himself.

If I had the opportunity to watch every show of his tour, I would leap at the opportunity. Not just for a second chance to see his tricks, not just to examine the similarities and the threads he follows during the second half of the show, not even to try and catch him out and pick up on his secrets, but because I have very rarely felt as entertained by a single person as I did on Tuesday night.

If you get the chance to see him, don't miss out.

STUPID STUPID STUPID PEOPLE!!!

errrr... title mostly relates to my feelings towards a variety of people, mostly the railway regulators.

this news item on the BBC website prompted this outburst, which even from the title I was thinking "hold on, public transport is bad enough without taking money away from it!"

I tend to get annoyed by delays to trains etc. and replacement bus services and the fact that when you need to be somewhere on time, which generally isn't an issue for me, it all goes to pot. However it's more of a quirk to our public transport system now, kinda like the quirk Salford has that you could get stabbed at any moment, you just don't know when or where (I jest, it's really not that bad).

So to hear about delays because work wasn't finished on time is hardly news, what is news it the notion of levying a fine on a company that is funded by tax payers and struggles as it is.

I generally like regulators, they tend to stop big corporations charging us stupid amounts for the equivalent of nothing and being anti competitive (ie. microsoft), but the idea of getting a company to pay a fine in order to give them the proverbial slap on the wrist doesn't always work in these situations. I'm sure Microsoft is writhing in mock pain after it's 1.4 BILLION fine, which is kinda like loosing a quid behind the sofa for them. I wonder who gets that money and what they do with it?

Network Rail does seem to have got the hint though and is trying to improve the ways it does things, but seeing that the major delays where attributed to "specialist workmen [who] failed to turn up for work!" shouldn't it be them who gets fined?

To me it seems that this could further help the decline of the public transport system in England as there will be less money to spend on improvements which will cause more delays and thus more people will use it so less revenue so less money to spend on improvements... etc. etc. ad nauseus.

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

F**KING SCARY!!!

OK screw scary manga and scary stories of skiers dying mysteriously, try sitting in your room at 1 in the morning after reading about skiers dying and having your whole room shaking!!!!

FLIPPING EARTH QUAKE IN FLIPPING SALFORD FOR FLIP SAKE, scared the utter shit out of me!

It's just plain weird, you can feel the whole house moving and hear an odd rumbling noise. It made my bum wobble in my seat almost independently. It's kinda scary, my thought went instantly to big monster shaking the house, I realise now that this is silly, but my generally language reflects a little on the freaked-outness (it's a word) of me!

To clarify it was hardly an earthquake, more likely a tremor, but still enough to shake the house (or more accurately the ground beneath the house), for about 5 seconds or so. This is also not the first tremor that's happened in the Manchester area in about 6 month, which may have attributed to the devastation to our house in August.

Argh, scary moving world!

I just read that there where other tremors reported in Manchester in 2002 so it's relatively common in a sense of the word!

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Full review to follow.

Oh. Hell. Yeah. was right. Worth every penny. If I could watch him live every day of his tour, I would.

Full review to follow.

Dotty

I'm physically going to stop this from being a lengthy post, firstly because I'm pretty tired and intend to head to bed soon, but also because if I write a really long entry on the topic I am about to address people will probably stop reading half-way through either through boredom or fear for my sanity.

Recently, one of the most overused but also (when used correctly) most effective punctuation marks in the English language has been bastardised in various places by various people who, in my opinion, should know better. I am talking about the ellipsis, also known colloquially as the "dot-dot-dot". This much maligned punctuation mark has become the easy way out in the age of SMS and email, in that many writers use it to save themselves from having to think about what punctuation mark they should actually use (e.g. "Hi... How's it going... It was great to see you last week... Would you like to meet up again soon..."). This, I generally have no real problem with. "Text speak" is fast becoming a variant of English, and the context in which language is used has always had an effect on how it changes and evolves. So the overuse of ellipses in this context, whilst invariably weakening its effectiveness as a punctuation mark, is not what I'm talking about.

Open a popular magazine or tabloid newspaper today and you are quite likely to see the ellipsis being reduced from what it should be. The poor thing can't argue for its correct formation itself - it is, after all, simply a punctuation mark. So I've decided to speak up for it, as I'm pretty sure if it could it would be shouting at everyone misrepresenting it today. Recently we have seen the rise of the two-dot ellipsis (e.g. "All of a sudden.." - it makes me feel nauseous to create it even in an example). There is no excuse for this. It is laziness plain and simple. A quick scout around the internet tells me that the only place a two-dot ellipsis means anything is in computer programming language. Now, I may be jumping to conclusions, but I'm pretty sure journalists are not confusing the programming version with the English version. They just can't be bothered. Why hit the "full stop" key three times when you could save precious nanoseconds by tapping it twice? Irreparable damage to punctuation is being done by these people, damage that will no doubt have to be undone by myself in my future teaching career in English.

I will cut this post here, otherwise I am likely to work myself into a spiteful and pedantic rant. But I leave you with this: any time you see one of these bastardised ellipses with its third dot missing, find someone to point it out to, and make sure they know how an ellipsis is meant to look. Laziness shall not prevail. I will fight to keep the ellipsis the way it was intended to be written, even if it is a fight I undertake on my own. However, I sincerely hope it is not...

Monday, 25 February 2008

Linkables 25/2/8

It's been a while since I last unloaded some links, so there's a fair few here:

Firstly an interesting, if not entirely scientific, look at what different European countries think of one another.

About a year ago I was addicted to Line Rider, a little flash game based on chaotic physics as you guide a sledger down a slope. Part of the fun was developing your own courses, but also watching and playing with other people's. I recently bumped into the natural evolution of this, Line Golfer, which has you knocking a ball around courses designed in the same way.

One of the things you look for in a blog is a sense of focus on one topic (something this blog spectacularly fails in), and next up is a great little blog covering a very narrow subject matter, strange maps. I'm not a particular fan of cartography, but the little analyses and comments that come alongside each map are both interesting and well written, and it's a great little infrequent generator of interesting content.

What if Google tried to follow the example set down by Microsoft's search dog?

Via Woot, 41 Hilarious Science Fair Experiments, and the truly creepy Mystery of Dyatlov Pass, which led me, by a roundabout way to the manga that scared me so badly over the weekend.

Totally incredible photos of the first couple of microseconds of an atomic explosion.

And finally, Garfield minus Garfield, a study in depression and a descent into madness.

Sunday, 24 February 2008

Oscar Predictions

I wish I had been able to see more of the Oscar nominees this year, and I did try to, but it just didn't work out. Despite that, here are my predictions:

Actor in a leading role: Daniel Day-Lewis
Too predicatable, maybe, but it'll be a minor miracle if he doesn't walk this one.

Actor in a supporting role: Casey Affleck
Though really it's a toss up between Affleck, Bardem and Wilkinson for me - I certainly couldn't pick out any of them as better than the others.

Actress in a leading role:
Embarrassingly, I haven't seen any of the films :s

Actress in a supporting role: Tilda Swinton
Biased by my dislike of child actors, perhaps, though I haven't seen Gone Baby Gone or I'm Not There.

Achievement in directing: No Country for Old Men

Best Picture: No Country for Old Men

I've only seen one of the films up for original screenplay, and haven't read the books from which the Adapted screenplay awards come, so can't really comment on those. And I know nothing about music, so can't really comment on the musical ones.

I can't really back up my 'director' and 'picture' predictions particularly, except to say that I think No Country was my favourite film of the year. I also really hope Michael Clayton wins something, since it was very close behind in my list, and I want George Clooney to keep making dark, complex, films.

In any case, I'll leave it there for now.


UPDATE: 4 out of 5 ain't too bad...

Saturday, 23 February 2008

Storage (or 'how to make Telf giggle excitedly and dance around like a schoolgirl in 20 easy steps')

I mentioned before about my problems with storage space, and this week I finally decided that I needed to sort out some kind of a solution, since I was having to uninstall games to make room for new downloads. Hence, vaguely in the style of Andy's 'step by step' posts, I present

How to make Telf giggle excitedly and dance around like a schoolgirl in 20 easy steps:

1: Buy new hard drive.

2: Buy fancy external enclosure for new hard drive (and it's future siblings):


3: Remove rubber bands from cabling inside enclosure and instantly regret it, as a million feet of unleashed cabling takes up all the space in the room:


4: Examine metallic 'wings' quizzically.

5: Search fruitlessly for instructions.

6: Carefully attach 'wings' to hard drive using screws provided and guesswork:


7: Remove wings and reattach them the right way round.

8: Attach hard drive inside enclosure using screws provided:


9: Realise that putting the hard drive at the top will mean attaching subsequent hard drives becomes much more difficult.

10: Unscrew hard drive and reattach at base of case:


11: Attach power and SATA data cables.

12: Buy cheap and nasty RAID controller card from Hong Kong:


13: Insert controller card and connect to enclosure with eSATA cable.

14: Power on enclosure and computer.

15: Install drivers.

16: Spend 6 hours trying to get Windows to recognise that the drive exists.

17: Throw cheap and nasty RAID controller card from Hong Kong in the bin:


18: Buy new RAID controller card for 5 times as much from company in UK.

19: Install new RAID controller card and connect eSATA cable.

20: Watch with delight as Windows beeps appreciatively and begins formatting process:


So, clearly not finished yet, but looking a lot more hopeful than it was a couple of days ago. I shall keep my fingers crossed. The enclosure from Starmount has five slots, so hopefully I'll be able to add up to 5TB, which should do me for the next year at least. Also I should mention Starmount's awesome delivery time. I ordered the enclosure and (second) controller card from them, separately, at lunchtimes at work, and in both cases, they arrived before 9am the next morning. So, top marks to them and Royal Mail for that.

Friday, 22 February 2008

This has made me too scared to sleep

Anyone who's talked to me about cinema knows I don't like horror. Well, my dislike extends to books as well. I remember reading 'The Oxford book of Scary Stories' (or some similar title), when I was younger, and being unable to sleep or speak or move for hours afterwards. Lying in bed, in the dark, absolutely paralysed with fear.

I'm kind of in that state now, again, having read this manga. I don't imagine it's all that scary by potential scary standards, but it's incredibly creepy, and my brain apparantly does not react well to that level of creepy. I've been sitting here at my computer for an hour now, unable to get up, turn around, move or speak, because I've somehow become convinced that there is something behind me, just out of my peripheral vision. It's not a rational fear, but it's so deeply ingrained in some part of my brain that I'm finding it almost impossible to overcome. Seriously. It's terrifying. Don't even talk to me about going to sleep tonight.

this made me snort with derisive laughter

I'm not posting any links or naming any names as that'd just be mean, however I clicked a link to a "web designers" page of a particularly pathetically designed page and was mildly shocked at how nice the design was compared to the previous site I was on. I then noticed that it said "Design by Arcsin" at the bottom, I clicked this link with mild con[fusion] (in joke for patrick there :D ) wondering why a web designer would have a site designed by someone else. The link led me to a css design template site with a variety of trendy designs to choose from. This made me snort (softly through my nose) with derisive laughter. This so called web designer has used a css template to make his own website, what is the world coming to?

If I think about it a little too much it actually angers me that there are people out there touting themselves as web designers with a trendy website of their own which they didn't even design, meaning that people will think, "ooh this is nice, wonder if they'll do one for us?". It seems the css template stealing doesn't extend to the other website's he's "designed" (all two of them, that are active), which I guess is a good thing.

Anyway I shall halt my bashing here as it makes me somewhat uncomfortable.

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Ecouter et répéter

I was going to write an entry at length about why I am fully in favour of the removal of GCSE MFL oral exams, which has been in the news recently; thankfully, this article from The Telegraph pretty much says everything I was going to argue, so if you want to know why I am fully in favour of the change to oral assessment (or indeed are interested as to the theory behind the change) then I urge you to read that.

I will say this though: we had a day on my PGCE course a couple of weeks ago where we worked with the Chief Examiner of English for the AQA exam board, John Nield. Basically he had a wealth of experience behind him, talked an inordinately large amount of sense, and gave me a little more faith in the people who set the exams that at times seem to govern everything a teacher does. His emphasis was very much on teaching skills, rather than "teaching to the exam", which was comforting to hear. One thing that he suggested, which I immediately thought of when reading about the change to MFL orals, was to not assess the 'Speaking & Listening' part of the English National Curriculum through a predetermined and artificial presentation or some other activity involving talk. He emphasised how these situations rarely benefit the pupils, which I was inclined to agree with. He suggested instead that, should a pupil perform well during one lesson in a speaking and listening context, assess them for that through that lesson. Even if you see them speaking and listening outside of a class, you can still use that to assess their speaking and listening skills. It was one of the most sensible suggestions I've heard on the course so far.

On an almost completely unrelated note - it does involve language, although the profane variety specifically - George brought this story about vulgarities included on a restaurant bill to my attention and it made me chuckle. At least according to the bill they weren't charged for the insult.

Monday, 18 February 2008

Review: Sweeney Todd

I’m not a connoisseur of musicals (indeed a not even a fan of musicals), and only rarely see them, either on stage or screen, so seeing Sweeney Todd was an interesting experience for me. I already knew the basic story (I must have picked it up by osmosis, I guess, since I have never actually read or seen any version of it), but it was interesting to see the plot details that I hadn’t picked up from wherever I heard it.

The design and cinematography were very stylish, but aside from the hair and make up (and to an extent the costumes), they seemed actually very restrained for Tim Burton. The settings were pretty authentic (with a hint of stage-scenery about them), and the whole thing felt much closer to a period piece than the nightmarish caricature of London that I half expected. I’m not sure if this was a good or bad thing – it made the whole thing play a little safer, since a really overblown backdrop could have been hugely distracting, but at the same time the stylised characters occasionally felt a little out of place in the setting.

My only worry leaving the cinema was the Benjamin Barker character. I liked Johnny Depp in the role, and I thought that he did brilliantly in the more intense scenes, particularly towards the end, but I was having nagging doubts throughout about some of his scenes. It may be my misinterpretation of the story, or a lack of knowledge of the adaptation, but a lot of the time Barker seemed to be bored or daydreaming rather than brooding and plotting revenge. I accept that it’s a subtle difference, but one which I really didn’t feel was made. He didn’t seem particularly unhinged, and the emotionless style of the killing throughout meant that he seemed much less like a human reacting to an extraordinary situation and more like a puppet playing out a role without particular motivation. There’s a lot of slashing of throats without a real change in Barker’s character, and while this may be intended, it made it a bit unsatisfying from a dramatic standpoint.

Part of what contributed to this, was the slightly cartoonish way that the story was presented – characters were more caricatured than deeply laid out, and the whole thing felt slightly glossed over. Again, this isn’t really a major criticism, since I enjoyed the film as a whole, but I felt that maybe I would have been more gripped by something that looked a little bit more deeply at the depth of the characters involved, rather than just playing out the plot superficially. There were a lot of characters that were only lightly touched on, and even the main ones felt too one-dimensional at times.

I’ve concentrated on the few niggling issues I had here, and, as I say, in general I was very happy with the film. The darkness was well managed all the way through, and the climax was both exciting and horrifying. The singing only seemed out of place occasionally, and added an interesting aspect to a lot of the scenes. Rickman and Bonham-Carter were great, and aside from the points above, Depp did well with a difficult role.

Verdict: As long as you don’t expect too much depth and character, there’s a dark, entertaining story to be had here. 7/10.

Saturday, 16 February 2008

quick link

link

a nicely stylised flash game which seems like it has many hours of fun in it, I haven't played on it much as the need to eat was greater than the need to play games.

Friday, 15 February 2008

Superhero Circle 4

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

The Valentines Vampire: Steals your heart, then sucks it dry.

beaten by

Pierre, the amorous garlic salesman: Lures you in with love and vampiric-protection promises.

beaten by

Dave Buzzkill: Romance wilts and dies in his presence.

beaten by

The Spring Breaker: Parties hard and takes all in his way with him.

beaten by

The Examinatrix: "Fuck you, students".

beaten by

The Cheat-ah: Gives out the answers; too quick for the invigilator to catch.

beaten by

The Tell-Tale Poacher: Takes you down from 1000 yards, and then tells teacher on you.

beaten by

Bullet-proof Monkey: Your protective primate.

beaten by

Pharmaceutical Phil: They stopped him testing on humans, but no one said anything about monkeys.

beaten by

The I.R.S.P.C.A: Irish Republican's Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals

beaten by

Orangeman: Fiercely independent against the incursions of apples, bananas and Catholics.

beaten by

Orange-AIDS: Need I say more?.

which, I guess could possibly beat the Valentine's Vampire. Doesn't really work, but there's some good stuff in the middle there, so we'll let this one slide.

Thursday, 14 February 2008

VD

Happy Valentines Day, everyone. I hope you all sent and received many gifts and enjoyed the feelings of LoveTM (sponsored by Hallmark) in the air. Seriously, I have no major problem with Valentine's as a day, and I've felt under far less pressure from the media to have a successful love life, so I guess that's a step in the right direction. I hope everyone got to celebrate it (or not) as they wished - personally I'll do so by noting down a few (vaguely love-themed) links:

A post excellently describing my current romantic situation, with some good discussion going on in the comments thread.

Where to find the singles in America.

Really interesting article about men's place in society.

The different reactions of men and women to video games.

Quotes from someone's boyfriend. Occasionally hit and miss, but for the most part he seems like a funny guy.

And, with a little less of a 'love' theme:

Awesome little flash game, via JayIsGames (which I forgot to include in my list of feeds you should be watching, but which should definately be on there as a great source of casual flash games).

Black People Love Us, which I may have linked before, but can't remember, and it's mirror image, Stuff White People Like (Especially this one. I think it's the picture. It's too bizarre for words.).

That's all for now, enjoy your evenings.

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

the little things...

As you may have worked out from some of my previous posts I'm a bit of an eco-warrior at times (or maybe you haven't, if that's the case, I am), and today is no exception.

Sainsbury's has been doing some good stuff in the area of being enviro-friendly mental (a phrase that I've concocted), such as providing good sized fabric bags (in the great colours of orange and maroon, both of which I strangely like) that can be used again and again etc. and don't get destroyed anywhere near as easily as the plastic "bag's for life" (lies I tell you!). They brought out a range of degradable bin bags, freezer bags and other suck things, so you don't fill landfills up with plastic bags and also a range of 100% recycles paper things (ie. toilet paper and paper towels, not sure what to call that as a collective). They've also recently started providing little bag of bags which is a silly but great name, which encourages you to reuse your old carrier bags, however I tend to recycle them. Finally (that I know of and want to ramble about) I noticed recently that my till recent was pretty short and appeared to have writing on both sides, "That'd be cool if they did it double sided" I thought, but doubting it, thinking it was some illusion with Mobius in mind, but then found, when I finally received it that it was actually double sided. This may seem like a bit of a non-issue, but it's actually really cool, obviously it has to wait for all the items to be scanned before it can print it but you always faff about at the end so it's not an issue, and it only saves a bit of paper, but when you think about the millions of receipts they must print every day, then think of the wasted space on the back of most receipts, sometimes filled with adverts (BOOO!) it's a really clever idea. I'd assume they had to change their printers, but that's the sacrifice they went for to save paper. I shall do a quick demonstration for you:

Sainsbury's 34 items 22.7cm of receipt (15 items 18cm) (double sided)

Sports World 1 item 22.2cm (completely white back)

Instore 1 item 28.9cm (completely white back)

Jessops 1 item 43.2cm (two receipts - mix of advert and return policy - i'll let them off a little for the return policy info)

Gamestation 23 items 49.3cm (with repeated advert on back - bad gamestation) (I was buying some items and returning a load hence 23 items in a game shop, I'm not crazy)

considering the average receipt is about 8cm wide the gamestation receipt is the equivalent to using one side of A5 paper and not the other, and that's just for one receipt, they have to serve hundreds of people a day wasting so much paper. This unfortunately happens a lot in the world and no-one really thinks about it, only printing on one side of the paper and then not using the other. I always print my assignments double sided, one because my printers cool and can duplex, but also to save paper. It does however need to translate to recycling too, double sided printing then chucking it in a bin is not good either, recycling's cool (Jack Johnson says so! please ignore the fact he says re-doo-se, he's an American after all)

They also relatively recently made all their bananas fair trade (or maybe just stuck stickers on their unfair trade bananas, but I don't think so), but that's something different, but still cool. They're doing other stuff with fairtrade and equitrade too, which is cool.

I also read somewhere that co-op shops where adding a device to their tills and chip and pin machines that shuts them off at night and restarts them in the morning, saving energy overnight where most shops just leave them on standby.

Anyway my basic point is that I like innovative ways of saving resources etc. and I appear to like telling people about it, in an attempt to get people to think about it too, hope it works :D

Random link but I found this whilst having a look at ECOutlet and thought that it was a great way to get your dog high, however hemp is a part of the cannabis plant that is not a narcotic so this wouldn't actually happen, but it was a fun thought. I have a hemp bag and got asked a few times in high school by "people" (idiots is a more apt term) if they could smoke it, I told them no because a) I wouldn't have a bag and b) it wouldn't do very much.

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

Them blogs them blogs them...

Over the weekend I didn't have much time to catch up on my blog-reading, so since Friday I've had about 60 posts in my RSS monitor. I've tried to whittle them down (as though, you might note, it were some sort of heinous task, rather than an enjoyable activity), but as fast as I read them, new posts are arriving. Eventually, I'll be at a stage where even if I was constantly reading new posts, the list of unread ones would continue to grow. And at that point, my friends, I will have lost.

So, in a tenuously connected manner, I've added a few entries to my blogroll over there on the right. It's almost getting long enough to start being categorized, but I've left it as one list for the moment. Of the new ones that I've only recently noticed:

PostSecret I mentioned yesterday, and you should start reading it right now, because of its continuously disappearing content...

Passive Aggressive Notes is a catalogue of those little notes that hide the inner turmoil of the writer. Will strike a chord with anyone living or working in a communal space.

How Not To Get Laid reads like a wiki version of ATISTG, without the latter's excellent writing style, but also without its infuriating lack of updates. It's essentially a list of user-contributed stories about the sexual experiences that never quite got off the ground. Entertaining and instructive. (Also constantly seeking new content, so if you've got a story, send it in)

Finally, Overheard in the Office is a record of random quotations from offices around the world. They're not all classics, but they're quick, amusing, and there're a metric fuckton of them to enjoy.

Anyway, I hope that I've got at least one of those onto your list of feeds (and if you don't have a list of feeds, what century are you living in?).

Monday, 11 February 2008

Secrets

Via Bête de Jour, here's PostSecret, a really interesting 'art project'.

Essentially, people send in 'postcards' (or, really anything about that size) usually reasonably artistic, and containing a personal secret of theirs. These postcards are then displayed anonymously online for a week (and, as it turns out, in several subsequently released books). Clearly, there's no way of validating the 'truth' of the secrets, and some may even be total fabrications, but they are a really interesting insight into the human condition.

The fact that the posts are only up for a week is frustrating, as having read the (valentine's-themed) ones up there this week, I really want to see other examples, and, indeed, read the entire back catalogue. Though this is not possible, there is a substantial archive here, which, though there are some repeats, and some that are unreadable, provides an excellent insight into the kind of messages you'll see on the site. There's also a couple of 'feedback' type stories about people's experiences with the site.

The site itself provides, I guess, two functions: by providing people with an anonymous and untraceable outlet for secrets that they may be struggling with, it gives the contributors some kind of cathartic relief, and maybe preventing them from saying something that they will regret. For the voyeur, it provides a thoroughly interesting read - each postcard is a tightly structured tale, compressed into a couple of sentences and some art, and leaving so much unsaid that it reminded me of Bambi's six word stories. There is no real background to any of the revelations, just the bare bones of the matter, laid out for all to see, and in this, the reader also finds comfort, by identifying with the shared human emotions and experiences, and connecting with the feelings of these total strangers they will never meet.

Most of the messages deal with relationships or personal anxieties, some with spirituality, some with a past misdeed or event for which the writer feels guilty. There's definately enough variety to keep each card interesting in and of itself. Some of the revelations are mundane and almost funny in their triviality, others are shocking in both their frankness and their content, while others are deeply moving, with more than one bringing tears to my eyes. A small number are even uplifting and optimistic. In a few days I might post links to some of my 'favourites', if you can call them that, though I haven't decided whether picking out specific ones is some sort of a violation of the art. Certainly I want to share the ones that gave me the strongest emotional reaction, but I also want anyone who is interested to have the chance to glance through them without my direction. I looked at the whole archive in an afternoon at work, so it really doesn't take that long to flick through them.

The whole experience left me feeling more emotionally exposed than I have for a long time, with more than one card describing thoughts or feelings I have had incredibly closely. It also made me feel glad, both that there were people out there going through the same troubles as me (and far, far, worse ones), and that there were people willing to share this information with total strangers for the benefit of both parties.

It also left me wondering what I would write. I've got a couple of designs doodled, and now safely stored on my computer. I doubt if I'd send them, but it's nice to have the option.

Sunday, 10 February 2008

What are you trying to tell me?

On the tube today, 50% of the adverts in my carriage were either for dating agencies or contained references to Valentine's day:


Saturday, 9 February 2008

Superhero circle 3

We did a couple of these since the last one I posted, but they weren't particularly good. This one isn't brilliant, but there are a couple of nice touches in there:

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

The Waffler: Bores you to death with his sweet, sweet tongue.

beaten by

Seditious Sauce: Smothers you in chocolatey sauce.

beaten by

Greedy Girl: Eats you.

beaten by

Ano-Rex-ia: Inside every fat girl is a thin dinosaur trying to get out.

beaten by

Bulimia Bill: The fastest vomiter in the west.

beaten by

Sandals of self-esteem: Defeat all anxiety.

beaten by

Crocs of Criticism: Cheaper than regular sandals and with biting criticism.

beaten by

Bigfoot: Legendary shoe-crusher.

beaten by

The Book of Fact: A crushing tome of reality.

beaten by

Chris Tian: Never lets the facts get in the way of a good story.

beaten by

Muse-lim: Apocalypse Please.

beaten by

Allah-Kazam: A magician more powerful than David Copperfield, and God.

beaten by

Cosmic Cleaner: Irons out paradoxes and sews up tears in the continuum.

beaten by

St. Ardust: Dirtying the heavens by cleansing the soul.

beaten by

The Canon of silent content.

which, with more than a little stretch, could conceivably beat The Waffler.

Friday, 8 February 2008

The Beautiful Game.

Yeah, this is going to be a football-oriented post, so look away now if that's of no interest to you.

The Premier League is considering a change in the league timetable to introduce one extra match per team per season (taking the total to 39 per team) to be played abroad in one of five designated 'host' nations, with the result counting towards the points total for the season. The move is designed to allow the League to 'showcase its product' in foreign markets, since the market in England has become saturated.

What staggers me most about this suggestion is the sheer bare-faced cheek of the Premier League in opting to change the structure of the competition simply in order to make more money. There is no argument for the improving effect this change will have on the English game, on the League as a competition, on the quality of football played, or on the enjoyment for local fans. Indeed, the BBC Sports editor is quoted as saying: '
Some fans may feel aggrieved, but their concerns will be outweighed in the eyes of the clubs by the financial advantages'. The only reason this change is being contemplated is that the League has realised that it could be making even more money than it currently is by auctioning off the right to host two Premier League games to the highest bidder.

The example that keeps being given in the media is that of the recent playing of an NFL match at Wembley, but I don't really feel that this is a particularly good comparison. Firstly, London as a city did not have to 'bid' for the right to host the game, competing against other cities in terms of facilities and price. Secondly, the game itself was part of the normal running of the NFL season - there was no change to the way the tournament worked in order to accommodate a game played abroad, they just did it.

And this point is the one that I think is the sore point among English fans opposing the changes. Being relegated is an awful fate, and one which teams fight tooth and nail to avoid during the close season. It is hard enough to look back over the season as a fan and think about all the points dropped, but it would make it much harder if part of that retrospective included the fact that you had to fly to Australia to play Manchester United in the middle of a season, while your bottom-of-the-table rivals nipped over to France to play some fellow strugglers.

Sport can never be fair, there are always injuries, disallowed goals, dubious offsides etc., but these are unavoidable parts of any competitive sport. Much worse in my mind is the idea that the points (or even the goal difference) separating teams at the end of the season might have come down to balls being drawn out of a hat. That a deliberate decision is being made by the League to make surviving the competition slightly less down to good footballing ability and slightly more down to luck. Is there any other sporting competition in the world that violates a round-robin system with additional deliberate unbalancing?

It would be less of a problem if it were a rule like "all teams must play one 'home' game and one 'away' game abroad", with the fixtures decided at the start of the season. This would not remove the cheek of the money-grubbing desire behind the scheme, and there would still be issues with choosing the games involved - no one wants to play a six-pointer after a 12 hour flight - but the sanctity of the competition itself would be intact. The balance of the fixture list would be maintained, and relegation would be, if no less painful, at least marginally easier to swallow.

Better yet, how about we play exhibition matches and inter-league tournaments in other countries during the summer, how about we enter the teams into international club competitions and screen matches so liberally around the globe that it would sometimes be easier to see a Newcastle game on television if living in Holland than living in the UK.

Oh, wait, we're already doing all of those things. I guess we're just not getting the 'brand identity' out there enough, though. Ugh.

3rd hand link

My dad tends to send me various silly links every now and then that he's been send by a work colleage, thus my posting here makes it a 3rd hand link, as the subject suggests, which I thought was mildly fun, anyway here's the link

crazy contraption

apologies for the crappy video player, I also don't think this was overly well filmed, but with their limited space it's still great.

Thursday, 7 February 2008

Do you bite your thumb at me, sir?

Just a quick link to something that also came up on my PGCE course a few months ago when we were looking at approaches to teaching Shakespeare. This list helps you to create your own Shakespearean insults only using words from The Bard's canon. Good fun, and something I'd like to try out at some point in the classroom, or possibly the drama studio.

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

Links & Fitness (vaguely)

Firstly another link for software for PDA style phones running windows mobile (which I think is everything other than the iPhone).

PointUI Home is a replacement GUI (Graphic User Interface) for Windows Mobile, found through Coolsmartphone.com. It doesn't overwrite Windows Mobile but runs on top of it, essentially, and does all the functions of the Windows GUI but geared towards not using a stylus, which I'm on the verge of loosing as the bit that holds the stylus in place has worn so much that it falls out relatively easily (and they say phone's aren't made to last a year... not sure who they are).
It works quite well, however I've only had it a few days and it's crashed a couple of times, which isn't a glowing review really is it. It doesn't do anything much other than give you a slightly different method of interfacing with your phone and simply uses the existing programs etc. with a more trendy looking facade, although it does have a new weather report feature, which does require an internet connection, but you can use WIFI or your computer's connection if you connect your phone.

Right, now to fitness. I've been trying to get back into a more regular routine of fitness, which so far is going alright but then it is the first week really. Anyway this is mostly in the form of Parkour but also in body weight exercises (ie. push-ups, sit-ups, chin-ups, etc. not just pushing weights around in a gym), I've been trying to get into regular jogging, but haven't quite got into that yet, I usually jog back from the train station after Parkour (which I do 2 or 3 times a week) but that's not too far. However there is also a more obscure method of exercise that I do every couple of weeks, go to Sainsbury's. That probably makes little sense, however it's about 30mins walk away and I walk both directions. Obviously the walk to Sainsbury's is just a brisk walk and then I get to roam around Sainsbury's, however the walk back tends to be a bit more strenuous. Today I walked back with £60 worth of shopping, filling my backpack and 2 of the big re-usable carrier bags, involving nice heavy stuff. Now that I'm home, my shoulders are aching and I feel like a proper man (well kind of). The technique, for those wanting to join in on the craze of shopping exercise (shopercise as it could be called) is to ensure that you're not letting the weight pull on your muscles, instead ensure your elbows are bent slightly so the weight is taken by the muscles not the joints and lift your shoulders up so that the shoulder muscles take some of the weight too.

Hopefully it'll be in the Olympics in 2012.

Monday, 4 February 2008

Review: No Country For Old Men

No Country For Old Men is quite simply a great film. At its base, it’s a crime thriller, but it has elements of horror, dark comedy and, given the setting, the feel of an old Western. These elements are combined expertly by the Coen brothers to produce a film that refuses to be pigeonholed and revels in its eccentricities.

The story follows Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin), Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) and Ed Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) as they chase across the country after two million dollars from a drug deal gone bad. Brolin and Jones do excellently as a hunter and an aging sheriff respectively, but Bardem absolutely steals the show as a sociopathic assassin. He manages to be terrifying without ever raising his voice or seeming to lose his cool, and the questions surrounding him go mostly unanswered, as he appears and disappears throughout the film, following the money trail and sticking to his twisted moral code.

The film is implicitly violent, and the violence is part of the story, but manages to avoid being gruesome or gratuitous. There are some hugely violent moments, but they are over almost before you realise it, and the majority of the tension in the film comes from the chase and anticipated violence, rather than that explicitly on screen. And the tension itself is excellently controlled – there were lulls, certainly, and a winding down towards the end, but there is always a feeling of threat, and when they want to, the Coens can get your pulse racing like the best of them.

The cinematography is excellent, as the film takes us from the open desert to small towns, to suburbia, and feels authentic and realistic throughout, with some amazing desert vistas on show, particularly towards the beginning of the movie.

I always find it refreshing when I get to the end of a film and find myself not only wanting to see it again because it was enjoyable, but also because I know that I missed a huge amount of information. I’m quite willing to say that on a first viewing, I didn’t get Tommy Lee Jones’ character at all, but by the end it was clear that his was, if not the most important character, then certainly of equal importance with any other. I know that there were conversations and monologues that I missed (partly because I was watching rather than listening, partly because I made the mistake of thinking that what was being said was window-dressing), and I know that on a second viewing I will pay more attention to everything. Because there are multiple stories being told here, and I know that I could only appreciate the most simplistic, the most graphic and the most visual of them at a first attempt.

Don’t expect, then, a simple thriller. There is one present, but it is one strand of a winding story that is told in such a careful and clever way that you barely notice it. Indeed, I was so unused to watching films of this subtlety, that certainly I missed more than I should have. The ending made me grin wider than I have grinned at almost any other film ending with the thought that not only had I enjoyed myself with the most superficial viewing of the film, but that there was a huge amount more to get out of it on subsequent viewings.

Giving a film full marks should not be taken as implying that it is the perfect film, whatever that means. Instead, it means what I have been trying to say here; that this is a brilliantly conceived, adapted, constructed and executed story, with excellent acting, pacing and direction. It is a hugely enjoyable film to watch once, and immediately suggests itself for multiple viewings. Ultimately, what more can you ask for?

Verdict: A magnificent, deep, thoroughly enjoyable thriller, with more to it than might meet the eye initially. Excels in every aspect. 10/10

Couple of links

Firstly is this wonderfully weird site from the British Heart Foundation, it's mostly aimed at kids but there's probably enough stuff to do to waste some time if you need to. Clink (that's click link abbreviated).

Then there's a mild response to the Bollocks to Valentines link, a sentiment I share for the moment, no doubt it'll change when I stop being single but who knows. Bollocks to Poverty, in my opinion a better sentiment.

I've realised that both of these links are for charities in some way, which is fun, a new trend of posting causes I think are decent may ensue.

I deem both of the above decent as BHF deals with heart conditions and my Dad received a pacemaker a few years ago (which makes it sounds like a really lame Christmas present or something, I say really lame, it's keeping him alive so it's probably the best Christmas present ever, just not given at Christmas).

BTP is also good as they deal with poverty in a mildly rude way :D

enjoy

Sunday, 3 February 2008

Film Review: A Prairie Home Companion (DVD)

A Prairie Home Companion is a film I decided to see on the strength of its inclusion in Empire magazine's Top 25 Films Of 2007, a list I've mentioned in the past, and its impressive cast list. A film featuring Woody Harrelson, John C. Reilly, Kevin Kline, Meryl Streep, Lily Tomlin and Tommy Lee Jones (oh, and Lindsay Lohan) has to be worth seeing.

It is the cast which proves by far the strongest point in this film, being as it is incredibly strong, with many excellent performances which can't really be faulted. Everyone you'd expect to be brilliant is, and Lindsay Lohan puts in a commendably strong performance too. Meryl Streep deserves a special mention as the aging singer, formerly part of a singing family troop, now left verging on senility with just her sister (Tomlin) and her daughter (Lohan), who for the most part shows contempt for her. Kevin Kline is also particularly notable as private-eye-cum-security-guard Guy Noir, putting in a fantastic comedy turn and providing some of the best moments in the film. Tommy Lee Jones as "The Axeman" is also excellent and needed a lot more time in the film, as his appearance is disappointingly limited.

The film itself is a fairly mixed affair, with some excellent parts and some average ones too. There is not a lot of plot, with the film largely progressing as a variety show being recorded with the different acts coming and going. What plot there is feels somewhat unfocused, and left me unsure at times of what I needed to be concentrating on. On reflection, I feel that I might have got a bit more out of the film if I was familiar with the real radio show which the film is based around. Some of the material performed in the show in the film is marvellous (the Bad Jokes song by Woody Harrelson and John C. Reilly's singing cowboys is just excellent, and a highlight of the film), but at times I wasn't totally sure of the significance of some of the acts I was being shown.

The woman in the white trenchcoat, later revealed to be called Asphodel and played by Virginia Madsen, is an intriguing element of the film. Her presence during the first half of the film adds intrigue and gives the plot some focus. However, as her significance becomes clearer (or less clear as the case may be) this changes. By the end of the film, I wasn't entirely convinced of what she added to the film or why she had been included. Without giving too much away, what she represents is a good idea that is generally well executed, but when viewed within the context of the film as a whole there are many things about Asphodel that don't sit right overall.

Verdict: A Prairie Home Companion is a film that feels as though its makers have relied too heavily on a strong cast to carry it. Whilst it generally holds together well and has some excellent memorable moments, other parts feel too confused or underdeveloped. The entire film is lacking somewhat in both focus and pace. Maybe if I was familiar with the actual radio show (something that I didn't know existed until after seeing the film) that might strengthen some of the weaknesses. Worth seeing for the brilliant cast who collectively don't put a foot wrong, but mostly feels like it could have been a bit better than it is. 7/10

Friday, 1 February 2008

File storage.

I've been somewhat lax with my attempts to post regularly on here, and still have a number of posts to do at some point, but I've been tired and busy and am now going to be away all of this weekend, so if my silence was a bother, it will continue to be, and if it was a relief, enjoy it while it lasts.

For now, I thought I'd put up an interesting and irritating problem I've run into with my computer. I've reached the point where the amount of downloaded TV I have can no longer fit on a single 500GB hard drive. This is, naturally, a bit annoying, as I'm going to have to move stuff around and find somewhere else to start storing it. The more interesting problem is that I want to keep the downloads in a form in which I can find a specific episode of a specific program. At the moment, this means I've got them in folders according to program and subfolders according to series, so Lost > Season 1 > Episode 3.

The easiest way I can think to try and maintain this when starting to move some of the videos to a new hard drive is to move the first half of the folders (alphabetically) onto the new drive, and continue to add files to the appropriate drive, depending on the name of the series. There is no problem with this, apart from that it's not a permanent solution, and as I download more, I will end up having to constantly shift round files from disk to disk.

The alternative is to find some sort of indexing program that would act in the way that iTunes does with ripped/downloaded music and add another layer of abstraction to the file system. This would allow me to dump the files wherever I liked without having to worry about keeping them in a human-readable order, since I could always access them through the indexing layer.

The second option appeals to me in a logical way, since it seems like the most efficient way to allow my collection to grow, but it bugs me that if I do for whatever reason need to find a file (if my indexing program/system breaks or crashes) it'll be far more difficult than it should.

So, I'd be interested to hear anyone's thoughts on this - which system should I go with, and, if the second one, can you recommend an indexing program?

Film Review: In The Valley Of Elah (cinema)

Having thoroughly enjoyed Paul Haggis' 2005 film Crash, I was keen to see In The Valley Of Elah from the same director having heard good things about it. I was definitely not disappointed.

The film doesn't really fall down in any significant way at any point. It takes a short while to gather momentum (although this feeling could have been because the sound wasn't working in the cinema I was in for the first two minutes of the film; until I see the film again - which I intend to do - I won't be able to judge), but once it gets there the film is just excellent for the next two hours. Haggis brings many techniques to the table that we saw in Crash, something that pays dividends for him once again in this film. The skilled cinematography coupled with a fine script give Haggis' film a gritty yet polished realism. The plot for me, whilst being based around the ideas and events of the Iraq war, never became too patriotic or partisan in its messages. Whilst there are patriots and closed-minded characters within the film, I felt it very easy to distunguish what was meant to be the opinion of these characters and the film as a whole. That message to me was the sheer insanity that war can create in a variety of different ways. To portray insanity in such a controlled and believable way shows the extreme skill Haggis most certainly possesses.

Turning to the cast, again very few faults can be noted. Susan Sarandon is marvellous in her supporting role as the mother of missing, later dead, soldier Mike Deerfield (Jonathan Tucker). The scene where she learns of her son's death from her husband Hank (Tommy Lee Jones) is one of the most powerful in a film full of highly impressive scenes. Charlize Theron also puts in an excellent performance as Detective Emily Sanders. Although many of the challenges her character comes across (such as sexism from male co-workers) have been tackled many times before, she brings to her role a freshness and authenticity that means her character never becomes a cliche.

It is Tommy Lee Jones, however, who deserves the highest praise for his powerhouse performance as Hank Deerfield. His balance of playing a cantankerous aging know-it-all who is also a seriously distraught grieving father looking for answers is perfect. You're with him all the way through, feeling his frustrations and sadness, his anger and despair, and believe in his character every second of the film. Jones proves to the world that he truly is a heavyweight veteran actor, one of the very best in the business right now, and far above playing slapstick comedy roles in films such as Men In Black. Not that I don't like Men In Black. But I'm sure you'll feel the same way as I do once you see Jones in In The Valley Of Elah: if he can make films this fantastic, why did he even consider Men In Black?

Verdict:After a slightly slow start which is quickly forgiven, In The Valley Of Elah reaches the heights of Crash, signifying another cinematic triumph for Paul Haggis. But if you only see it for one reason, that reason has to be Tommy Lee Jones. Superb. 9/10