June 29, 2007

New Day, Same S**t

Just when you thought it was safe to go into central London...

...someone decides to plant a bomb. Their cunning plan was ruined by their inability to drive the car in a straight line, it seems. Given where I live and the state of the drivers around there the police probably have around 30 000 suspects in or around the London area without even conducting an investigation.

The BBC (paraphrased) said it was significant because of the new Prime Minister and it coming up to the anniversary of the July 7th bombings. Not that they want to point the finger, you understand. They cannot say what everyone is thinking about who the most probable suspects are.

So I repeat the point I've made before. If it is the same people, then please just leave the country. Don't blow us up. You don't like it here then go. No one is forcing you to stay Or don't you want to go to another country where the standard of living is so low that you can't enjoy all the modern comforts you've gotten so used to? Or maybe you don't want to go to a country where, if you question the government or religion, bodily parts may be taken or you could enjoy an extended stay in detention without trial and regular human rights abuses? Perhaps it is that you enjoy living in a country that protects your right to work and express yourself, where you get to vote for a democratically elected government without fear of the opposition party lynching you?

We're a tolerant nation. We're a tolerant people. We don't hate anyone (except maybe the French, and even that has become more of a mild dislike), we're happy for you to live here in peace and integrate into our culture. If you feel this irrational, idiotic and above all selfish need to blow up people or places then go to one of these countries you feel so strangely drawn to and blow stuff up there.

Posted by AlexC at 10:47 AM | Comments (1048)

June 25, 2007

Why Pink Floyd Has A Special Place

When I was a teenager, growing up in a shitty suburb of the second largest city in England, we had few escapes. For some of my more talented friends it was art, a few it was creating programs, for the majority it was a descent into the mediocrity and torpidity that their immediate relatives had aimed for all of their lives. Or crime. Or drugs. For a select few it was extortion and a combination of the other two.

Music was a big escape for me. I was very lucky - a lot of my friends were older than me and certainly had eclectic taste in music, art, films. One friend in particular, a guy that I just lost touch with over the years sadly, loved his music. For a short while, when I was stressing my family out with one of my many disappearing acts, I stayed with him and took a trip through his record collection. Butthole Surfers, The Cult, Ministry, Led Zeppelin, Rush and Pink Floyd were all introduced to me amongst many others. Pink Floyd always held a special place in my heart though. The skill of the musicians and song writers that could evoke emotion on a previously unprecedented scale; how certain opening chords could make the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end (Echoes and Shine on you Crazy Diamond), how I could be lost in a moment where time stood still. At the time I was working freelance (I was 15 years old) and I did some of my best work then - work that 13 years later I was showing to people for interviews and it still made them go "Wow!" - work that came without concious thought and literally flowed from my fingers to the screen or page.

Even now, writing this, listening to Wish You Were Here the moment stands still, just for a brief time, where I can write without conscious thought. It's all tinged with a little sadness. People I know from that period are dead, some died when I was just into my 20's, some earlier than that. The music brings their memories into vivid focus; music that I enjoy also becomes painful to listen to, but the rewards for listening to it surely outweigh the punishments?

In the same way as Stevie Wonder made me want to play harmonica, Dave Gilmore made me want to play guitar.

Is there any artist or band that has that kind of place in your life?

Posted by AlexC at 10:14 PM | Comments (1782)

June 20, 2007

Why Tax Sucks

Today I was stuck behind one of the council lorries that seem to drive around endlessly achieving nothing tangable. I say this because the amount of litter, graffiti, vandalism and general state of disrepair of the roads is shocking to say the least. I seethed as this guy took up two lanes and refused to budge, not allowing me to get by.

From this came the idea of value for money, but more specifically the idea of paying for a service but being unhappy with the level of service you receive. Let me digress further: if you got a builder to come and do some work for you, and you were not happy with the work he carried out, you have the right in law to refuse to pay for that work until it is completed to a satisfactory level (over simplified for this article of course). So why when you pay your taxes to the local coucil (or equivelent) do we continue to pay for such shoddy and sporadic services? I know that in law we have to pay, but the trouble is that this system is open to unbelievable abuse. Namely that they know they are going to get your cash no matter what so why should the put the effort in?

And here the system fails us again because they don't put the effort in, and the people who are in charge are culpable in this failure of the system because they wouldn't want to lose their jobs, and so it goes on. There really is no accountability because although you might vote for a candidate who promises change, if the people who actually run the system were to make the change surely their jobs would be on the line due to the new system highlighting the failures of the hierarchy of the old one?

It's completely absurd that we are forced to pay for this substandard level of service and have no way of being able to effectively call for accountability. This is why the taxation system really sucks. You are paying for what is, on the most part, an intangible and flawed service.

Posted by AlexC at 02:04 PM | Comments (1944)

June 15, 2007

A Disection of Horror

Hi, I thought a nice cheerful post would be in order.

I was reading my book the other day (House of Leaves) and I know I've touched on this book before, but it got me thinking. I fancy myself as something of a crappy short story writer. I've discovered that I don't have the patience to write or concentrate on anything longer than that kind of thing, but that's my loss I figure. Anywho, I was reading this book and got to musing on the nature of horror in fiction. There is written horror and filmed horror, and then sub-genres within that, but the two that interest me are psychological horror and implied horror.

The Horror Within

Psychological horror, I feel, is the best of all. That it comes from within, that the horror may actually be self created is fascinating. Lovecraft had the horror you could see in the Mythos beings, but the real terror was not being able to comprehend it and so the madness that was bought about by this was infinitly more terrifying than anything really faced. The best Stephen King horror novels have dealt with this aspect in some form or another. Rather than the poutright terror of "the bogeyman" we have this thing that is horrifying because it is so personal.

The Unseen Horror

That scratching at the door, that tapping at the window, the creaking of a floorboard in an otherwise empty house. This can be used to great effect. It differs from psychological horror because you know something is there, but you can't see it. Yet.

Where this type of horror tends to let you down is when eventually you can see whatever it is. It invariably doesn't live up to your expectations. Serial killers in films like Se7en work well because the horror lies in the fact that it is such an ordinary man that commits such attrocities. The horror, when seen, is all the more devestating for being so ordinary.

Books vs Films

Is the horror contained within a book better than that captured on celluloid? In some cases yes. There are notable exceptions. The Shining is a far better film than book, but IMHO that is because Kubrick was an exceptional film maker and King is an above average writer. The sequences in The Shining carry an impact well beyond the end of the film - so much so that even now the thought of twins sends shivers down my spine. Where the film succeded over the book is in the execution of the key moments. It surplanted your imagination, making it impossible to imagine them in any other way because they were executed superbly.

Then there is where horror dilutes itself to the point of mediocrity in film. Teen slasher films, films like Hostel II and The Hills Have Eyes 2 just resort to either gross out tactics or clichéd "shocks" that are frankly boring. I appreciate they have an audience but it's just such a tired formula. These films now have to out do themselves in shlock that it becomes a test of endurance rather than viewing for fun. The first Nightmare on Elm Street was good because it was the first, and the same could be said about Friday the 13th and Halloween.

There are horror films such as Night of the Living Dead and Invasion of the Body Snatchers where they conceal a more subtle message, so you actually have two distinct forms of horror going on - the obvious one, and the implied horror (particularly Body Snatchers with it's quite risqué side-swipe at McCarthy and his witch hunts). It asks you the question of which horror is the more disturbing, but leaves you the viewer to make your mind up.

In books the horror is left to your imagination. In the book I am reading the protagonist gets consumed by the book and the slow decay of his mind, leaving him to doubt not only his own sanity but to question his life and re-examine all that he had built his foundation for reality on. There are some truly scary moments in this book; but not so much the implied horror of "The Monster" but as his reality begins to buckle and splinter the questions it raises in your own mind, and the lack of answers. I won't read this book in bed. The first time I read it one particular passage scared me to the point where, like the main character, I really didn't want to sleep or have the lights off. There really is nothing more powerful that your own imagination.

So, Which Book or Film?

So tell me, dear reader. Which book and/or film has scared you the most? What about it affected you? I've given you my two - House of Leaves and The Shining. So now tell me yours please.

Posted by AlexC at 09:00 PM | Comments (1415)

June 14, 2007

Music & Film Questions

These are a few questions that I thought I'd throw out there and see what you thought.

1. Best James Bond theme?

2. Best Tom Cruise film?

3. Best Martin Scorcese film?

4. Best Mafia related film?

5. Robert De Niro or Al Pacino?

6. Best current female lead actor?

7. Best current male lead actor?

8. Best superhero franchise film?

9. Worst film you ever saw?

10. Worst actor/actress you ever saw?

Posted by AlexC at 08:51 AM | Comments (2)

June 13, 2007

Baby Update

Jamie has been with us just over 3 weeks. It seems hard to believe as it has gone past so quickly. He's now going through one of the many growth spurts that kids do. The pace of development is frightening to say the least. Apart from already being able to hold his head up he's trying very hard to sit up and has started that "chatting" thing - where he is testing his vocal chords in a way that is not crying. It's a very cute thing.

He's got a new string to his bow now, so to speak. We have photographed him a lot, but now we have a webcam so we can get his aunts and grandparents to see him without a 3 hour drive. How he will react to it I don't know, but here's hoping that he is a good a film star as he is photographic model!

Posted by AlexC at 12:35 PM | Comments (1228)

June 12, 2007

The Perceived Arrogance

In the past I have lambasted the BBC for being an outmoded institution, a bastion of middle class values that doesn't reflect the true state of the UK and the world at large. I laud it for its impartial stand on world events, and as a program making body there are some things that wouldn't ever get made if it wasn't for them (there is an excellent series running at the moment called Seven Ages of Rock - visit this site if you have even the slightest interest in music).

Occasionally the BBC snapshots other sites and blogs. In their technology section, every now and then, they showcase a blog from someone who is writing about the games industry. Bloggers, for the most part, tend to be opinionated to say the least about things, and those that tend to quote opinion as fact often have a nice flame war going on in their comments section. I have to sit on my hands. I noticed, with no surprise whatsoever, that my former colleagues in the industry steadfastly refuse to get drawn into these debates. I know for a fact that they are a bunch of narcissistic people - they love reading about themselves - but, reading these articles it is easy to see why they don't get involved. It helps to perpetuate the myth that the games industry is like Hollywood and gives these people a sense of mystique.

So perhaps in reading these blogs about something that I have had first hand experience of it has bought home to me the reality of blogging - that opinion and truth are two very separate entities, and that where there is a lot of debate about the subject matter the truth lies somewhere between the extremes of opinion.

Posted by AlexC at 08:37 AM | Comments (1223)

June 08, 2007

God save me, for I am a Geek

Hey look! A non-baby related post! Wow!

Right now I am blogging away on my trusty but ailing Samsung x60 laptop. Just coming to a year old and the poor thing is suffering from having been the mainstay of my working life, replacing a somewhat poor and underpowered Sony Vaio that was the bane of my life. Sadly the CD portion of the combi drive on this machine has died, the (rather splendid) ATi Graphics card overheats a lot, the CPU gets very hot and it has a nasty tendency to shut down in the middle of doing something.

So, thanks to my astute purchase coming with a free 3 year warranty, it's off to be cleaned and given a new lease of life. I've had to get another laptop to transfer my work too and I looked around for a long time before settling on one of these new Santa Rosa Intel ones.

It's got a webcam. Ugh. Or maybe not? I spoke to Sally about this and there is now the chance for my family to be able to see Jamie without having to come down. Great! Then there is the downside - it has Vista on it. I cried. I hate Vista. I like all my games and applications to work. I like the fact that the only thing crippling my memory on the machine is Photoshop and not the operating system. I admit Vista is a good looking OS but is it all that functional?

So Sally will inherit this thing, the downstairs machine will be gracefully retired, a lot of wires will vanish from the front room, but more importantly a large aspect of our lives will be baby proofed at the drop of a hat. It's easier to put a laptop out of reach of a baby than hide a desktop. I am sad in a way though. I will miss that desktop. For a long time it served me well, it has served Sally well, Star learned how to play her first games on it and perfected her mouse and keyboard skills on it. The first incarnation of that machine introduced me to Sally, and so something so fundamental to our current life together is going to go away because it has become obsolete. I won't missing the ridiculous whirring noise it made because it had to have a huge fan to cool the CPU but it has been reliable and easy to repair when it went wrong. I know the laptops will never have that convenience.

A study showed that the desktop era is nearing the end. The power they consume, the "footprint" for workspace, the fact that people are becoming more used to being able to work anywhere, the fact the laptops have not only caught up but surpassed most desktops and that prices are constantly falling means that we may also see and end to the PC builder as a hobbyist.

So if you had a choice to use one or the other what would you decide, or do you feel the decision is partially being made for you by economic or other factors?

Posted by AlexC at 10:43 AM | Comments (1123)

June 06, 2007

HOW heavy is that child?

Something chubby is in our house.

As I mentioned in a previous entry Jamie's birth weight was 6lb 11oz and typically babies are expected to lose up to 10% of their birth weight in the first week or two. Well he had managed to put most of his birth weight on by day 4 and 14 days later he weighs a healthy 7lbs 10oz and is now becoming slightly more active.

The activity thing worried us a little until we realised a few things. Star is one of those children who sitting still and being quiet are totally alien concepts. She even chats to herself when she is on the toilet. Jamie is the antithesis of this. Nothing phases him. You could set a bomb off next to him and he would just shift slightly in his sleep. But then a new babies energies are going to be directed towards one thing and one thing only - growing. When is most of the growing done? When they are asleep. Therefore sleeping baby = growing baby. So now I'm happy.

The sleeping pattern disruption continues unabated. Sally is typically getting around about 2 hours sleep between feeds. Anything that doesn't involve feeding him I'm adequate at dealing with so it gives her a chance to nap and get some energy back. As the only time he protests are due to either feeding or nappy issues I have a 50% chance of being able to deal with it. However much sleep you get, if it is interrupted sleep it makes it difficult to actually recharge. You're sleeping to fulfil a requirement but your not actually resting during this sleep. You don't get a chance to go into the REM phase and purge your mind. Bad stuff.

I thought I would also explore here the other aspect of Jamie's arrival; namely the impact it has had on Star and on us as a family unit.

Now we're a pretty self reliant bunch. We tend to get on with things, we're on an even financial keel but the impact that he has had has been at an emotional level. At various times throughout the pregnancy we have discussed the potential impact on Star's place in family and how she might cope with it, how we might cope with him and her, if she became jealous, what we could do to minimize that, etc. The arrival has bought us all closer together, we're all pulling together and in the same direction, we're trying to resist the evil influences of Sally's parents and their half breed relatives efforts to introduce discord.

You're probably thinking "They wouldn't deliberately do that kind of thing would they? They wouldn't deliberately try to disrupt things?"

Take this as an example.

Last week was my birthday. I got the usual cards and a few presents so I did the ringing people up to thank them and for these feckless individuals to congratulate me on Jamie's birth (because coming round the house is too much trouble for these f**kers - no, Sally has to go round there with him despite only getting out of the house about 4 days earlier and not one of them offering to come to ours. This is a control thing on their behalf ). So I ring up Sally's aunt (malingering useless waste of carbon her and her husband are) and thank them for the book token they got me and we get to talking about Jamie and Star. I mentioned how brilliant she has been with helping, holding him, how much attention she gives him and (I kid you not) the aunt says "Oh, she is coping so well despite being jealous of him." What? I ask, since when did she say this or show signs of this? "She must be. I would be. I am sure she must be too." No, I say, she's great and sees him as we see him - as her brother and a welcome addition to the family. She has a very caring side, I say, and is very mature with him for a nearly 7 year old child. "She is definently jealous of him. It is very disrupting to her to have him there. She feels all pushed out."

I was nearly apoplectic with rage. Sally came and calmed me down because I would surely, certainly committed murder. How dare this woman, who does nothing all day but sit in her house pretending to be ill, who over indulges Star so badly on the rare occasions we let her go there now to the point where it takes us 2 or 3 days to repair the behaviour damage they have done, who leaches money out of the tax system for her carers and her car (a car! she NEVER uses it! Her husband never uses it unless he absolutely has too! They get Sally's parents to do all their running around.) and then spends all day stuck inside the house smoking, who basically is a patronising whining leach, how dare she tell me based on the 30 minutes she has seen Star what she is feeling and thinking?

Now as you can see this really really annoys me. Which is why I have nothing to do with them. The contrast between them and my family couldn't be further apart. They are eager to help, delighted we have added to the family, delighted that we are a unit, make every attempt to ensure that Star is included in the equation by asking her opinion on things, making sure they have photographs of them all together, listening to her (but not to the exclusion of another conversation that is going on) gently chastising her when she gets too much or interrupts.

It wouldn't pain me if Jamie never knew relatives like that aunt, and it makes me realise how much Sally's mother tries to interfere and control. "You must take the baby round to your Aunts; you must let me hold him; why hasn't he got a hat, socks and mittens on in this 30 degree Celsius heat?" All this from a woman who is implicit in ruining our nephew by over indulging and over protecting him or constantly making excuses as to why he is a violent little thug (that's easy - it's because his mom is a violent overweight bully).

However now I find myself in a quandary. By dint of their behaviour Sally no longer feels she can go to her parents. Due to the fact that Jabba the sister in law Hutt spends all day around there (and I mean all day) and lets Asbo-boy be handled entirely by his grandparents (let's give a big cheer for abdicating of parental responsibility folks!) she feels slightly trapped. I wish to god she had learned to drive because at least it gives her that relative freedom. The people who offer to come round are the people we would least like to have round.

At least the baby keeps her occupied, and she revels in the marvel he is becoming.

Posted by AlexC at 02:21 PM | Comments (2660)