Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Linkables 29/7/9

Somewhat similar to Bambi's post a while back (which I can't find) about telling stories in just six words, but this time it's genre-specific microfiction within the confines of a twitter message.

Dave Gorman on the horrors of being a celebrity in a super-connected age.

Genuinely freaky video apparently showing a dog living without a body- I can't find anything obvious claiming it to be fake, either.

Just never give your laptop to anyone, ok? But you can stick your hand in liquid nitrogen as much as you like.

Two flash games: A simple but addictive space-based mining/combat/tower-defence thing, and an equally addictive (and frustrating) roll-the-dice-and-make-patterns game.

Cool webcomic-in-the-form-of-a-photo type thing. With good astronomical advice.

And, of course, the ever-enticing Babes of the BNP.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Deeper Underground

For those of you who find it difficult to get your head around Shakespearean characters, but easy to navigate the London Underground system, this map from the Royal Shakespeare Company may be of help:

Reminiscent of The Great Bear by Simon Patterson, another inspired (and indeed educational in a pop culture and stuff-it's-good-to-know sort of way) take on the iconic Tube mape.

(Not a brilliant quality image, so if anyone manages to find a better one online please inform me of it).

Patterson's idea sparked off many imitators, especially on the 'net, although most of the ones I've seen so far haven't been too inspired. One of the few exceptions is arguably The Guardian's map of musicians and musical genres (the accompanying article upon which can be found here). Largely though, they don't succeed to the same degree as Patterson's version. I'd be interested to see any other versions of the Tube map people know of, though.

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Awareness Test

I was first shown this during a professional development course. I think it's fantastic. Just watch.

Friday, 24 July 2009


A few days ago was pi-approximation day, and so, in its honour, I present a little script which can be used to calculate the best pi-approximations using not just the day and the month, but also the year...


P.S. I'm sure it'll be very easy to break, since I knocked it up in a couple of lunchtimes, so please be nice...

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Harry Potter and the Halfway Point

I've just seen Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince I worked a 12-hour day at work yesterday and am knackered so I shall review it thusly:

• Jim Broadbent was brilliant. Wonderfully captured Professor Slughorn. Shines out in an excellent cameo as Kenneth Branagh did in the Chamber of Secrets.
• Alan Rickman was very good, but at times Snape still remains a bit too opaque for the audience to connect with what, if anything, he might be thinking. At least he doesn't mince so much anymore. In the first film, I kept expecting him to break into song. He was too camp for words.
• Daniel Radcliffe was a lot better in this film and he has great comic timing, but he still can't pull off the heavy stuff. Tom Felton as Draco Malfoy acted him off the screen in ever scene they had together and held his own a lot more comfortably with Michael Gambon et al at crucial points. You genuinely felt Draco's pain and confusion, though you never really, truly, felt Harry's.
• Maggie Smith, good but just seems like she's going through the motions.
• Helena Bonham Carter, beautifully demented, shame she's not in it more.
• Evanna Lynch, effortlessly weird, sadly underused.
• Rupert Grint, the best of the main three, but it's a shame he's not given more to do besides comic relief.
• Emma Watson, not nearly so annoying and over done as in previous films, though her friendship with Radcliffe's Harry feels like a more convincing one than her supposed romantic entanglement with Ron.
• Bonnie Wright can actually act now. Surprising.
• Voldemort aged six/eight. Not very scary. Doesn't act interested enough in being a wizard. Sounds like a wannabe cockney rude boy. Voldemort aged 16ish, has metamorphosed into someone who sounds like he came from Eton. Charming and intimidating.
• The annoying thing were Fred and George talk in unison the whole time is back. Shudder.

• They go to school. Teenagers do that teenage thing. Large parts of the book missing. Not much takes a long time to happen. Suddenly, Dumbledore discovers a possible Horcrux. They go to look for it. They come back. Bad things happen. The end.
• Random additions such as an attack on the Burrow do nothing to move the film forward. Cutting the final battle at the end makes Draco's flight seem too easy and the film just sort of tails off. It was shame not to include Dumbledore's funeral but it was pretty long as it is.
• The dialogue was at times incredibly well done but at others also incredibly clunky just to fit as much exposition in as possible. There have to be better ways.

• This film looks brilliant and the whole thing is leached of colour which gives a sombre and foreboding feel to it. It's not quite black and white but it's getting there. A lot of people wear a lot of black.
• Scenes are nicely linked together, with characters, usually Draco Malfoy, appearing in interesting bits of the screen framed in an usual way, propelling us into the next bit of the film.
• The visual effects are all very smoothly done, though the Inferi in the cave scene are not very convincing and the fire seems a little overdone.

• Could have done with a bit less teenage romance. It's funny and well-acted, but the film could have been shorter without it. I've been reading the book again and have come to the conclusion that it's just there to hide the fact that not much happens in this book. Harry does his sixth year at Hogwarts. The end. The book is filler and while this film tries hard not to be, there's not that much it can do to avoid it.
• It can't have escaped the film makers' notice that the particular angle at which they shoot Ron and Cormac McClaggen astride their broomsticks with handles protruding from between their legs is indecently phallic. Seriously, it's not just me.

I have never been able to understand why anyone would go to see these films if they hadn't read the books. You only know that things are significant because they're so obviously signposted the whole way through and without the background knowledge some of the films big reveals, like the identity of the half-blood prince, make no sense. The plot of the films is strangely paper thin yet also trying to cram in an enormous amount of information, but it's not always the right information. The strange thin and thickness of the plot may be because the pacing is very choppy between ACTION and exposition. I enjoyed it very much and liked the ending and can't wait for the next two. But I know I only like them because I fill in all the details of the books myself. I know I only put up with the methadone of the films because the supply of heroin of new Harry Potter books has long been exhausted.

Thursday, 16 July 2009


Advertising in its various forms can be inspired. At the moment, on TV at least, it certainly isn't. A selection of the worst TV ads on at the moment: - I think my main bone of contention with these is that actually want you to believe that people record themselves on YouTube talking about car insurance comparison websites. Add to that the fact that the people on the ads are at best not very believeable as genuine members of the public, and at worst are annoying enough to make me want to stick a fork through their skull. Especially the guy who gives "hilarious" examples of questions that "other price comparison sites" ask you. Except that they aren't hilarious, just annoying. Fits in with the rest of the advert then.

Envirofone - In a similar vein to, except that it has even worse production values (which considering has made theirs look like YouTube is pretty impressive by Envirofone). The backgrounds look like the makers of the advert have simply picked some generic neon tie dye backgrounds found in a five second Google image search. The people chosen are again painfully unconvincing as average people, and the fact that they've been chosen to appear diverse (the first three being: Asian man, Welsh woman, punk with over-the-top spiked mohican) makes that even more apparent. The worst has to be the bloke who shouts "WONGA!" into the camera in a feeble attempt at a cockney accent, so feeble it doesn't even deserve to be called mockney. Whenever Mr. WONGA! comes on screen I want to dispatch him and every other loser on the advert as quickly and violently as possible. Other reasons for annoyance include the sheer lack of information on the advert, almost to the point of false advertising (so, I'll get £50 for my old Nokia 321o that I used about ten years ago, will I? I highly doubt it), and the fact that the man I assume is meant to be a biker (although I only assume this from his beard, seeing as his accent sounds more like a cross between Seann William Scott and Alan Carr) is wearing a shirt that I own. Bollocks.

John Frieda: Sheer Blonde - The only version I could find on YouTube has a German (?) voiceover in the middle, but it doesn't take away from my point. The whole premise behind this advert is just shockingly bad. Woman with blonde hair interrogated by second-rate good-cop-bad-cop team. The advert has a mainly American feel, and yet the accents and the newspaper clearly point to England as the setting. London, to be precise. The whole thing just feels, well, shit.

Savlon Advanced Healing Gel - I can just imagine the advertising ideas guys at Savlon Towers sitting in the board room agonising over the idea for the new Savlon advert. Then, after hours, maybe days of crap idea after crap idea, they finally had to settle on this as the best of a bad bunch. "Well, some kids might buy fake wounds to pretend they've got injured... I mean, I know my kid wouldn't, but maybe yours... No? Fuck it, let's go with it anyway". It's just rubbish any way you look at it. Not funny. Doesn't make me want Savlon. Twatty little kid in my face on the telly. Interestingly, looking this one up on the 'net led me to find out that it had received ten complaints. Eight of these ten apparently thought the advert "glamorised wounds" - okay, I can stretch to that - "and could be seen to condone knife crime amongst the young". Wait, what? If you haven't done so yet, watch the ad. Spot any knives, among the young or otherwise? Maybe the ad at a stretch encourages bad bike riding, but we don't even see the bike crash, just hear it after watching Twatty ride past and make the leap ourselves. At the end, a bunch of eight-year-olds look at Twatty's obviously fake cuts and grazes in a park. Yep, obviously off to stab someone for their iPod Touch once the sun sets.

As we seem to be receiving such a wealth of toss from the people in TV ad land, maybe I'll make a follow up to this entry. I'm also going to unearth some of my favourite adverts from years gone by and put them up here soon. Feel free to let me know of any other truly bad, or indeed truly great, ads that you see.

Overheard II

On a bus coming into Wimbledon on a Thursday morning. A group of teenage girls discussing where to get cheap designer clothes*:

Girl 1: "Yah, you should go to Ashford."
Girl 2: "I went down Portsmouth. Was well cheap."
Girl 3: "Is Sweden a country?"
Girl 2: "um..."
Girl 1: "Yes, Sweden's a country"
Girl 3: "Then I went Swindon"
Girl 1: "Yeah, Swindon's the town, Sweden's the country"

Girl 2: "I thought Swindon was the country"

* I think this is what they were talking about. I'm not an expert on fashion, clothes or teenage girls, so, really, it could have been anything.

Friday, 10 July 2009

Linkables 10/7/9

First dance? Now that's a first dance...

And you thought you knew how to peel a banana...

Cool visual illusion.

The slightly bizarre new Tango adverts don't get a great reaction everywhere, but personally I really like them. Although the initials of the phrase on the can is either a massive oversight, or some very ballsy advertising.

Possibly not for the faint-hearted: Wikipedia's list of unusual deaths.

Interesting metafilter thread asking for cross-cultural strangeness.

Harry Potter: Not just Christians are against it...

Have a fun weekend now :)

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Hell is Virgin Media

So, I finally have home broadband in my new house after several weeks of trying to get it transferred from my old address. I could provide an incredibly detailed account of exactly what happened with lots of description and emotional reflection, but I just can't bring myself to do that. I started writing out a simple blow-by-blow account of my dealings with Virgin Media including dates, but I just couldn't bring myself to finish that either. So here's what you need to know: Virgin Media are the worst company I have ever had to deal with (and believe me, Hayley and I have had trouble with quite a few companies recently). Here's a selection of reasons as to why that statement is true.

  • They have given me three activation dates over the past five weeks. On the first two, my account was not activated. The third I didn't want, but they put it in anyway without asking me.
  • Told me various things that weren't true about problems with my order, and assured me they were true.
  • Cancelled my account at my request. Except that they didn't cancel it properly. So when I tried to get a new account set up with O2 Broadband, O2 were unable to proceed as the line was occupied by my "cancelled" Virgin account.
  • Told me (quite rudely) that my account definitely was cancelled even after I told them the technical details O2 had given me. After I refused to accept this, I was put on hold, and then told (rather sheepishly) that the account had now been removed from the line and would take a further 48 hours to clear.
  • Sent me two bills detailing connection fees of over £80 each. Told me not to worry, as I would not be charged any connection fees. One then came out of my account anyway, meaning I had to contact Virgin again to request a refund, which was sent by cheque.
  • Assured me I would be contacted by phone on several occasions, and never got back to me, meaning I then had to call them. Again. And again. And again.
If Hell exists, for me it will be perpetually trying to sort out broadband for my burning, sulphurous corner of Satan's neck of the woods with Virgin Media. I will never-endingly sit on "hold" listening to their eclectic mix of "hold" music (jumpstyle drum and bass one minute, classical string quartet the next - "Oh, look at us, we can mindlessly juxtapose genres, aren't we cool and down with absolutely everyone!"... No, you fucking aren't). And I will sporadically be put through to a customer service advisor who gives me another date in an endless string of activation dates for all eternity.

If I never have anything to do with them ever again it will be too soon. My advice at the moment is to go with O2 Broadband. Aside from when they could do nothing as Virgin was still ruining my life, they've so far done everything in a straightforward and pleasing manner. That said, after all the trouble I've had, my feeling towards home broadband is currently akin to the feeling one has towards food after having a particularly painful and violent case of food poisoning. If we're still connected in a fortnight with no problems, maybe I'll be back to my former gorging self.