Category Archives: Blog

My blog and occasional comment on current affairs.

Kindle review

I love books. I read about a book a week – that’s not a boast, it is a sad lament on how boring my job can be. They are marvelous things that make your house look cool and make you look smart. Even if they are just Clive Cussler or Dan Brown novels. (Well maybe, from a distance…)

This could be my flat in five years

Up until now, I have always loved the physical feeling of a book. Its weight, its smell, its hopefully exciting cover and blurb. The problem now is that I have hundreds and hundreds of the things. My parent’s attic has four huge boxes full of them (with more stashed elsewhere) and my mother-in-law’s spare room is similarly filled. My flat right now has piles of them everywhere, teetering in stacks. There was only one sensible solution: move to a huge house. Unfortunately I can’t afford that. Yet.

I love gadgets and recently downloaded the kindle app onto my iPad. It’s too big to fit in my pocket unfortunately, but I carry it nearly everywhere and hug it when I go to sleep. So I started reading books on it. Not as much as I would with actual books though. One reason for this is that like all computer screens it doesn’t like being outside.It’s a nerd at heart. I work weird hours and spend a lot of afternoons lazing around in parks, cafes and beer gardens and unfortunately that meant I couldn’t read on the iPad and had to carry a backup book. (I know, my life sucks.) Another problem with my weird hours is that I am often on trains late at night in London and while I am a tall, strapping and fearsome fellow, there is always the chance of attracting a mugger. I recently sat opposite four teenagers on the tube at midnight playing on my iPad and realised the attention I was getting was probably not due to awe of my magnificent hair.

I did realise  however that when I thought back to the book I had just finished (it was Sharpe’s Tiger and was awesome), I couldn’t really tell whether I had read it in book form or electronic form. Obviously I knew it was eBook form but the only difference was what I was holding when I actually read it. The experience wasn’t lessened in any way at all. It was a superb read.

The upshot of all this wittering, is that I bought a kindle and I bloody love it. I get just as lost in a good book as I ever did. It fits in my pocket and I can take it everywhere. I’m currently reading the second book of Game of Thrones and the paperback definitely won’t fit in my pocket. I guess an analogy would be someone who loves collecting vinyl but also has an iPod. The experience is different but a superb album is still a superb album and it’s damned handy to be able to carry a collection around with you. I will still occasionally lie on a beach or in the bath and read a paper book, but for my everyday life the kindle is just awesome.

The only downside is that it is so horrendously easy to buy books. What’s even worse is that they are now putting classic science fiction on kindle – stuff that was hard to find in book shops. I wrote about the new Sf Gateway site on Scifiward in this post. It’s costing me a fortune. I’m running out of cash. I’m now forced to stay in. Luckily I now have a lot to read. I also have a lovely new shiny gadget.

 

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Astronomers see furthest back in time ever

A really long time ago in a galaxy really far away

Astronomers seemingly have the coolest job ever. They get to gaze into the depths of space at stars and black holes and try to find life bearing planets and all other manner of inspiring stuff. It’s just a shame they are such an unimaginative bunch.

This picture is of a galaxy 13 billion light years away. Which also means that we are looking at the universe 13 billion years ago. Or to put it another way, the universe as it was when it was just 840 million years old (give or take a day). Which is pretty damned impressive. Astronomers have learnt all sorts of things like: back then stuff was really red. Also it was just hydrogen and then after a mere 200 million years it was, er, other elements too after a few suns had had a go at it. Or something. It’s all very fascinating and can be read about here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-15275545

Of course the reality of looking for this sort of thing requires a certain type mind. One that is happy to work up a mountain or in a desert for years and going through frame after frame of images looking at tiny dots. When George Lucas thought of ‘A long time a go in a galaxy far, far away…’ his mind filled with space battles, asthmatic bad guys, and princesses with weird hair and no breasts. When astronomers saw this image they studied it for years and then called it UDFy-38135539. (Which coincidentally also sounds like a George Lucas film.) They could have called the Hades zone or something more exciting. The big telescope they used was imaginatively named the VLT which, I kid you not, stands for the Very Large Telescope.

Still, I shouldn’t mock or generalise. I’m sure some of the astronomers are fascinating down the pub. Even if not, they inspire the rest of us with incredible images. The good news is that they will soon be able to look back even further as they are building an even bigger telescope than VLT. Hopefully it will be named the Space Megascope 3000 or something. 

Nope, just checked. It will be called the ELT – Extremely Large Telescope. Still, the rest of can dream.

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England set to freeze

An entire week ago, I wrote how warm and pleasant England was. It’s now back to its standard grey drizzle. Ahh, normality. In fact, two days after the warmest October day ever, it snowed in Scotland.  Again, normality.

London for the next six months...

Apparently, though, this winter is going to be one of the coldest winters ever. From November onwards, for months and months, brass monkey will shedding extremities with abandon. Which sucks. I’m taking solace in the fact that the same people predicted that the summer was going to be a ‘scorcher’, when it was in fact ‘shite’.

In fact, I read somewhere (probably on the infallible internet), that if you predict that the weather tomorrow will be pretty much like the weather today, you will be correct about 70% of the time. Professional weather people get it right about 80% of the time. Which isn’t that much of an improvement. If you are thinking of going into meteorology it’s something to keep in mind. If you’re looking for a cushy number, it seems a winner. Plus you might get to be on the TV. Just saying “Yeah, more of the same…” for loads of cash.

I’m partly writing this as a warning in case you are planning a holiday to this soon to be blighted isle – or are lucky enough to live here. But mostly because I’m British and we are curiously obsessed with the weather. If you are a meteorologist and have been offended then I apologise. Feel free to point out my hypocrisy – my last blog entry could easily have ended: next entry, “more of the same…”

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England in the grip of nice weather

Brighton on the 1st October

The weather here in London is currently sunny, warm and pleasant. That’s an unlikely thing to write at the best of times, but it’s even more mental in October. The last week has been in the high 20s Celsius with the last three days hitting 29C every day. It was 22C in Algeria for comparison and Algeria has a desert for fuck’s sake. If it carries on like this, it definitely heralds the apocalypse. 

We all seem to be at a loss of what to do. Normally throughout the summer everyone skives of work and gets drunk in parks and beer gardens and are friendly and nice to each other. Right now is the time of year where we normally get mildly depressed by the prospect of approaching winter and the TV tries to distract us by pretending it’s almost Christmas. We stop all the happy friendliness of July and August and return to being aggressive and cold and starting fights in chip shops.

On my way to work last night I saw: a drunk couple arguing in the street, a guy shouting at a Starbucks employee for giving him an incorrect cake, some hoodies on a bench spitting, and a train carriage full of people desperately ignoring each other. This is all correct and as it should be for London at this time of year. Except: the drunk couple were arguing in front of a crowded beer garden full of wasted people already thinking up excuses for pulling a sickie, the Starbucks guy was in a vest and drinking a frappuccino, the hoodies looked hilariously hot, and the train still had attractive half clad women in it (they disappear for winter).

Thankfully by the end of this week, we will apparently skip Autumn and launch straight into Winter. Then we can return to normal. If there is one thing the British excel it, it’s bitching about the weather. Now it’s just confusing.

Just to end on a high note, here’s a random picture of Britishness taken from yesterday’s Metro newspaper. Enjoy. Next entry: Bloody Weather.

All British women look like this for two months a year.

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Stock Traders are Cowards

I know I have only been an adrenaline-fuelled, risk-it-all, balls-to-the-wall, living-on-the-edge stocktrader for about four months but I have decided to ostracize myself already by slagging of other traders. That’s just the way I roll. I take no prisoners these days. It gives me the edge. It’s where I have to be.

For some reason reason though, the whole trading lark makes me want to talk almost entirely in cliche.  It’s apparently part of the cut and thrust, the in it to win it mentality. I’ll stop now though as I’m pissing myself off.

So what have I learned with my vast new knowledge of the markets?

The first thing is don’t invest your tax money just before a global financial meltdown. It really blows when the taxman wants his bloodmoney and your investments have just tanked. Fortunately I work freelance, so was able to work myself into the ground and not have to sell my shares and still pay the goverment. It’s been awesome.

The second thing is that it isn’t quite as exciting as it is on the TV. Maybe it is if you’re a daytrader but they’re the ones who chuck themselves off skyscrapers when markets crash and I don’t want life to be that exciting. The first few weeks I was clued to little graphs and indices that flickered in exciting colours. Now I’m a bit more casual and just keep a vague eye on things throughout the day. That changed today though when my shares rocketed skyward, so maybe I’m talking shit and just can’t take bad news.

The main and most unexpected thing I have discovered is that independent investors like myself are the most optimistic people on Earth, while big movers-and-shakers trading types are jittery little girls. I once spent a sad hour reading the forums about a share that was worth 7p to start with, and then slid to 1p over a period of six months. It was sad to see the misplaced optimism the poor investing saps had in this share and they constantly bolstered each other’s confidence with ‘Company reports next week! Good news I hope! This share is about to skyrocket IMO’. Then the following week another drop. This unbridled optimism is almost touching.

On the flipside, this optimism combats the cowardly pussies that work for the big trading markets. These guys are like anxious meerkats on coke. For the first month I traded, I was caught off guard by the market’s temerity. One minute the news stated there were worries that Greece might default and suddenly the markets tumble. They are just worries that it might, you cowards. Any bit of news like this and all the major players suddenly shit themselves and cause a minor crash and then act all depressed.

‘There’s a rumour that the economy might not expand as much as previously estimated next year? Holy shit! Sell!’ Then the FTSE drops like a stone. The next day:

‘China’s economy is still strong though? Fuck! Buy any share!’

To be fair, whenever a guy who works for a big company does grow a pair, a bank seems to go down and they are led away in handcuffs.

I could be wrong in my colossal ignorance on practically everything that happens in the market but it feels like this is what’s going on. To be honest, a lot of it feels like barely informed guesswork.

So what have I learned? Not much, but from what I can tell, I’m not alone. It’s still fun though.

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Comedy Radio Plays

GO TO WORK!

Like many poor worker drones, I have to commute to work. Also like the aforementioned proletarians I plug into an MP3 player to drown out the excuses constantly being announced by London Underground as to why half the transport network is currently broken. Judging by the tinny, unnessarily loud sounds coming from their headphones, everyone seems to be listening to techno or R & B. Not me though. I’m the one who stands in the corner giggling quietly to himself. Usually with a slight gap around me for some reason.

This is because I listen to comedy radio plays when I am graft-bound. It’s a great way to get in a happy state of mind before the unbridled joy of toil. I heartily recommend it. They are usually from the BBC so as a licence payer who pays for these things to get made, I get them for free … Just kidding. I still have to pay for them for some reason. Anyway, here are some of my favourites if you fancy trying my jovial commute method. They are all available for money on the interweb.

Hitch Hikers Radio Play

The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy

Obviously. Hitchhikers started life as a radio play and it is superb. As good as the books and better than the TV show or film or game. It’s my favourite radio show of all time and if you haven’t heard it, you are missing out on life. The show originally comprised of two series, broadcast in 1978 and 1980. What you may not know is that in recent times they also adapted the final three books into three more series broadcast from 2004 onwards. They had the same cast and everything. They are also genius. What you may also not know is that the BBC made Radio shows out of Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency and The Long Dark Teatime of the Soul – Douglas Adams’s other two fiction novels set on Earth. My old hood of Islington, London, in fact. These lack the manic random genius of Hitchhikers but are damn fine humorous plays in their own right. They star Harry Enfield, who is perfect for the role and are well worth the money. The CDs are good too if you are old school:
Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
Dirk Gently: The Long Dark Teatime of the Soul (BBC Audio)
Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency (BBC Audio)

LISTEN TO ALL THESE!

Bleak Expectations

Bleak Expectations

Bleak Expectations is also pretty mad, and very funny. The first series is a spoof on a couple of Dickens’ novels. It follows the adventures of an orphan called Pip Bin. He is sent to a harsh boarding school called St Bastards where he has an hilariously bad time. He soon escapes though and has a series of adventures battling his protagonist Mr Benevolent, who is ironically evil (played by Anthony Head from Buffy). At various points he gets trapped in a camembert mine in France, or an island of dinosaurs, or a space ship, or lots of other ludicrous scenarios. He eventually marries a lady called Ripely Fecund but bad things keep happening like her dying (he saves her though), or his best friend turning into a Mr Hyde type madman. Mr Benelovent keeps trying dastardly schemes like raising the dead, or helping Martains invade, or stealing London to sell it to the French. So it’s a bit crazy. But very, very funny.
Bleak Expectations: The Complete Series (BBC Audio)

Old Harry's Game

Old Harry’s Game

This is written by and starring Andy Hamilton, who plays Satan. Not quite as ‘out there’ as the plays mentioned above, but like them, it is bloody hilarious. It is basically a sitcom about the Devil and his demons trying to do their job. Which is to ensure everyone has a really shit time in Hell. It’s very witty and occasionally topical. For example, in a recent series there are two new arrivals who don’t seem that scared. Satan remarks on this to a side-kick and states that normally by this point new arrivals are usually standing in a puddle – “apart from Mother Teresa, who just looked gob-smacked”. It turns out the newbies were bankers who refuse to believe there will be consequences to their actions. There are lots of jokes like this. Lots. And they are all good.
Old Harry’s Game: v.1 (BBC Radio Collection)

Cabin Pressure

Cabin Pressure

I recently stumbled across this series. It is more of a standard sit-com compared to the others. But it’s a superbly funny sit-com. It follows the trials and tribulations of an airline that consists of one charter plane. The main cast is the two pilots, the lady owner, and her stupid son who is a steward. The thing that makes this work is that it is superbly written and perfectly cast. The writer wrote stuff for Peep Show, Mitchell and Webb, Dead Ringers, 10 o’clock live and more. There isn’t much I can explain as to why you should listen to this, I just really think you should. It’s brilliant and has caused me to snigger almost constantly for my 24 minute train trip to work.

I could mention lots more like Hancock’s Half Hour or Mr Bean – the radio show (just kidding), but then I would go on forever.

So there you go. Instead of just trying to block your miserable commute out, try and enjoy it. There is the added bonus that if you laugh to yourself, you will find your fellow commuters anxiously giving you more room. Either that or you smell.

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BBC Proms in the Park

Proms in the Park

Yesterday, Mrs Wordofward and myself were all cultural and went to the BBC Proms in the Park. It’s the world’s largest classical music festival and is now in its 117th year (although I’m pretty certain it wasn’t called ‘BBC’ proms a century ago). To my shame I had missd the previous 116 Proms so it was time to rectify the situation.

The idea is to basically have a mass picnic while listening to live classical music. The whole shebang is hosted by Ken Bruce and Terry Wogan and is broadcast live on BBC2. As you may have guessed the crowd was older than at most festivals – the average age was about 40. It’s the first festival I have ever been to where medical emergency crews outnumbered security. 

We arrived just before 6pm in time to catch Deacon Blue sing. Which was a surprise as I had assumed they had all died years ago. We wandered around and eventually found a gap and spread our blanket. We then unpacked our picnic which consisted of a half eaten crepe, some Haribo sweets and lots of cans of beer. Damn we’re classy. Deacon Blue had finished by this point and we lay back on the grass to enjoy the Overtones (an acapella band), followed by the cast of Rock of Ages doing some classic 80s rock tunes. Which was actually pretty fun although I still don’t want to see the play.

These acts were just warm ups while everyone got settled and inebriated. Then an orchestra belted out the theme tune to Indiana Jones. I’m not too highbrow or ashamed to admit that John Williams is one of my favourite composers. The legendary Sir Terry Wogan then arrived on stage to compere the evening and generally take the piss out of everyone. The highlights were many and I surprised myself by how much I enjoyed everything. Lang Lang was awesome and tinkled the ivories with gusto. Katherine Jenkins was superb and smokingly hot. Rolf Harris was fun and legendary and had a wobble-board. Some fellow I had never heard of called Russell Watson sung some opera tunes and was incredible. (Now there are some words I never thought I would write as I don’t really like opera.)

In short the whole eveing was a massive drunken delight in a park. I wasn’t so keen on the next bits though. As a finale, Westlife played. I’m sorry but I don’t like Westlife. I would have preferred Deacon Blue to come back for Christ’s sake. There then followed a live link up to other proms in Scotland and Northern Ireland, as well as the Royal Albert Hall. Suddenly the evening turned into Nationalist Karaoke Night. Everyone was waving Union Jacks and sang ‘Jerusalem’, ‘Rule Britannia’ and ‘God save the Queen’. This is all very well, everyone was wasted and loved it, but it just struck me as odd. Maybe it was because most people were older and they expect that kind of thing but I just didn’t get the link between BBC/classical and a Britain-is-awesome love-in.

Don’t let this final bit put you off if you are thinking of going though. Lying on a blanket in Hyde Park listening to classical music while drinking Pimm’s, beer, and wine is a magical way to spend an evening. There were even fireworks at the end. You can’t dislike anything that ends with fireworks. Give it a go.

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Too much TV causes Death!

I read an alarming article the other day. According to a recent study by the University of Queensland, every hour spent watching TV reduces a viewer’s life expectancy by 22 minutes. I then read another comment in the paper that 6 hours of TV a day massively reduces lifespan. It’s possible that the latter read the former…

My desk

When I’m not living in Asia working as a brilliant yet shallow journalist, I am in London working in the incredibly shallow TV industry. What’s worse, is that my job consists of being the final person to check the TV channels before they are beamed to your lovely houses. I literally watch TV for a living. I describe it here: My Futuristic Job.

It is alarming when I consider that I am, for example, doing a 60 hour week right now. That means 22 hours less life just this week. The only time at work when I’m not staring at a screen is when I’m having a cigarette break which cuts off  even more lifetime. I’m fucking doomed! I’ve worked in TV for over 20 years. If you then factor in my time-off spent watching TV or playing games or staring at a computer monitor and you can only come to the conclusion that I’m remarkable for still being able to walk around.

Another few hours and this is me.

Fortunately this is more to do with the associated slobby lifestyle rather than the number of screens you watch or the actual number of hours spent watching them. If you eat a salad and have the occasional walk, you’ll be fine. I’m sure you are aware of that or you wouldn’t have read this far on your lifesucking monitor and would have run screaming for the park. Presumably the people who did the study were aware of that too as they sat hunched over laptop screens staring at pointless data and coming to nonsensical conclusions.

So what’s my point? My point here is that these sorts of studies are pointless. Saying that the sort of person who watches TV is likely to eat more shite and excercise less and is therefore likely to die younger is stupid. Sure some people will barely move for days and live off butter but their life expectancy does not equate to all TV viewers. If some people get drunk, go home and beat up their partners, you shouldn’t conclude that based on statistics, drinking alcohol leads to a 10% increased chance you will hit your wife. Some people are just wife-beating dicks who can’t hold their liquor.

I don’t know why reading this study pissed me off so much. It could be the panic it caused me when I read the headline while at work watching TV. As it happens, I do think people watch too much TV but the main damage done is to their spelling and literacy. (In case you read my site regularly, there is a difference between a typo and an inability to tell the difference between your and you’re, so get off my case). Balance your entertainment. This is purely about being sedentary and having a bad diet. Lazy arsed researchers have just gone for an easy target – TV. Their conclusions could just as easily be that reading a book for an hour takes 22 minutes off your life. Or every hour working in an office or writing life altering philosophy. Or even researching stuff.  

So feel free to watch TV. Just eat a carrot for every hour that goes by. Read books and go for a walk. Perhaps to the pub for a lovely iron-rich Guinness. Just ignore time wasting studies that foresee your death. Certainly don’t read these studies while eating pies on your couch or you’re going to die really soon.

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Fascinating statistics

I have been doing an absolute ton of work recently, which utterly blows. I’m a freelancer who is paid by the hour, so I shouldn’t really grumble about 70 hour weeks, but fuck it, I am. Yah boo sucks to toil. Take that ‘sense of purpose’. It could be worse I suppose. I could be broke and forced to loot for a living. Or even worse, become an accountant or work 9 to 5.

Anyway. Because of all this grind, I haven’t had much chance to write. I have had a lot of time to read though, as I sit with all the other drones commuting across London. So here are some interesting statistics I read in Wired. I think they are cool. If you subscribe to this blog and are reading it on your kindle while commuting, I feel your pain. Hope you find these interesting.

Printer ink is a rip off that doesn’t even taste nice:
£0.13 – Price per millimetre of a bottle of Dom Perignon Vintage 2002 Champagne.
£1.63 – Price per millimetre of ink for an HP black inkjet cartridge.

Take this luddites and get with the times:
2.6 – Number of jobs created by the internet, for every job lost because of it.

Why am I going to publish an ebook?
105 – Number of ebooks sold by Amazon for every 100 physical books.

To be fair, this statistic probably holds true for all of us:
20,000 – Number of malicious emails targeting the UK government networks each month.

This figure could also read how much more likely a Mac user is a Guardian reader than a PC user:
80% – How much more likely a Mac user is to be a vegetarian than a PC user.

Here are some others:
‘The average woman spends 136 days dressing up, applying make-up, plucking and showering.’ (Daily Mail) I’m assuming this is over a lifetime and not per year.

Again, according to the Mail, we spend 27 days waiting for trains. I assume this is an average. The average Japanese person probably spends 27 minutes over their lifetime while the average Brit spends 27 days a year. At least.

I could go on, but I feel like this entry is a bit of a cop out. Anyone could copy facts from other sites and magazines. That’s why 92% of other websites are 28% worse than this one. Plus 78% of statistics are just made up.

Still, if you found reading this 0.01% more interesting than what you might have done in the last 5 minutes, it was all worth it.

Chain gangs in Britain

Awesome outfits

Apparently there is going to be a scheme where people convicted of certain crimes, say looting or graffiti, are forced to work five days a week if they are unemployed. It will consist of four days of community service, cleaning stuff for example, and one day looking for work. I assume this means chain gangs of hoodies being forced to scrub walls down, hopefully in humiliating outfits. No one seems quite sure yet how this will work as it will have to be enforced somehow. I get the impression that the government wants to pander to people demanding that criminals pay back something to their communities – but without it actually costing anything.

I have to admit I am all for this. Like most people, I find myself getting more right wing as I get older. I think it is due to the fact that when you are young you want to go to illegal raves, take drugs, get drunk in parks, and generally embrace things you might think are cool. Like graffiti or skateboarding or just general loafing about pissing of the police and authority. When you are younger there seem to be more people telling you what to do all the time and you naturally want to rebel. As you get older to tend to have your own property, you possess more nice things, you want your neighborhood to be safer and look nicer.

When you are younger you might think that people living on the edge of the law are cool and sticking it to the system and exposing the flaws of our decadent consumer society that embraces greed and possessions. When you get older, you just want the prick who stole your phone to be beaten with sticks. I remember when I was 25 and worked my ass off to save up for a playstation. Then some wanker broke into my bedsit and stole it. I would still like his feet broken.

People sometimes bleat on that education is the key. Even given the fact that you can lead an illiterate twat to a desk but can’t make him learn, the education aspect doesn’t seem to be working. A level results have been improving every year for 29 years implying that we are ever more a nation of geniuses. Or that the exams are getting easier. Either way people seem to be learning things.

Forehead tattoos

Nope, call me a fascist but I think amusing punishment is the key for low level criminals. Not prison where the more violent actually have a better time than the less violent, but more unusual and funny punishments. I think embarrassing chain gangs would be a good start. Make them dress up like morons while they do it. If a criminal smashes a window, make them wash the neighborhood’s shop windows. While dressed as a ballerina. If they are caught doing graffiti get one of those temporary tattoos that last a month and write ‘Twat’ or ‘Loser’ on their forehead. If someone loots JD Sports (one of the hardest hit by the rioters), make them do sport – 8 hours of hopscotch or something.

 

I do worry that my increasing hatred of crime and scummery will lead me to inevitably read the Daily Mail but thankfully I am all for immigrants or anyone that contributes to society. My wife is an immigrant for a start and she’s out working a 12 hour shift while I write this on the couch.

If you are a liberal type who thinks that Britain can be fixed with counselling and hugs then fine. You are probably a nicer person than me generally. Kudos to you. You’re going to hate it when I’m in charge though.

 

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Now available on Kindle

Exciting news! Or just news. It depends on the sort of thing that excites you. I’m positively gripped. The Word of Ward and www.scifiward.com are now available on Amazon Kindle and it costs less than a pound (or a dollar) a month. Which is a pittance. This means that every time I make a new post it is delivered automatically to your Kindle and you can read it on the tube or plane. It’s genius.

So without further ado here are the links.

If you are in the UK:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Word-of-Ward/dp/B005GOOE6G/ref=sr_1_10?ie=UTF8&qid=1313596460&sr=8-10

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Scifiward/dp/B005GOUGPO/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1313596626&sr=8-1

If you are in America:

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B005GOOE6G

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B005GOUGPO

So go on. Support the arts! Or at least help support a poor, starving blogger.

 

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Koreans supermarket shop with their phones on train platform

South Koreans are busy people but happen to be blessed by advanced technology. I say ‘blessed’, they just work hard at innovation and have created an infrastructure that encourages new technological development, but blessed is easier. Also, to be fair, the virtual supermarket in the video below could be done in Britain. Or anywhere that had reliable broadband, smartphones, and a reasonable 3G network.

Basically, Tescos has stuck up a virtual representation of supermarket shelves on a train platform and added QR tags (like a square barcode)  so people can scan items with their phones. The items go into a virtual shopping basket online and the food is then delivered to their house. Genius. This would appeal to those who need to see all the products available on display and don’t like the way you shop online. Or people who just think it is cool and would buy stuff purely because you can.

I said that this would work in Britain but it obviously wouldn’t as people would mess about with the pictures and the QR codes. Draw willies on chickens and put people off or muck about with the codes. I was wondering if it would be possible to sabotage this even more. If the person is buying a lot of items they may not be paying much attention to what they are adding to their basket. If, say, I had a book on sale in the virtual shop (lots of supermarkets sell books and magazines these days), couldn’t I get a copy of the QR code, make sure it is the right size and stick it over the top of one of the other product’s QR tags? That way they will inadvertently buy a copy of my book and when they got their shopping assume it was a mistake. Even if they flagged it up with the supermarket it would be assumed to be a glitch in the matrix.

If you’ve ever shopped online you will be familiar with getting things you didn’t order. I once ordered two packs of 8 rashes of bacon. I received 16 packs of bacon instead. I was constantly giving bacon to friends in pubs like a carnivorous Milky Bar kid, I was very popular. Anyway, maybe this virtual idea would work if it was only behind a cover or in a country where people aren’t quite so criminally minded and dishonest like myself.

Here is the clip:

http://youtu.be/nJVoYsBym88

Thanks for letting me know about this clip Martin, I think it’s cool.

England – it’s a riot!

A load of twats in hats tried to burn London down. And because London leads the way, there were then riots all over England. It was like the film Rise of the Planet of the Apes out there – except that the apes in the movie are literate and you can understand their motives and empathize.

It seems to have calmed down now and people are analysing the aftermath. Londoners are a fairly resilient group and it’s business as normal.

I’m a bit annoyed with all this rioting shenanigans. They trashed a sushi place and a Dominos about 10 minutes from my flat. Some are saying that it is because they are poor and feeling frustrated and boo and hoo. In case you haven’t been to England, please don’t think that our poor are all under 25 and in hoods. Our poor actually come from all walks of life. Some are even old and quite a few are now homeless as their houses have been burnt down. The poor desperado looters are apparently angry at a consumer society where others get things that they don’t. Curiously though, these tracksuit wearing thugs used mobile phones to organise this attack which has largely specialised in looting sports clothing shops and mobile phone stores. Some even arrived in cars to maximise their looting efficiency and correct this imbalance.

Kids in tracksuits stealing tracksuits in protest against not being able to have as many tracksuits as others

This is just opportunism and fun for an underclass in society that doesn’t have much future, knows there will be no real comeback, and doesn’t really care about others. The people I feel sorry for most are those who are equally broke but have just lost their shops and homes. Because the looters don’t travel. They just trash their own underprivileged neighborhoods. It could be argued that the looters are so distanced from society and a sense of belonging that they no longer care. The fact that a lot of the crime was caused by local gangs somewhat negates that separation from their neighborhoods.

There have also been some tragic deaths because of this. A guy called Richard Bowes from Ealing died last night after he remonstrated with looters near his house on Monday. He was beaten so badly that it killed him. Also, in Birmingham three guys were protecting their business when a group of the poor disaffected types, who had a car, drove into them and killed them. Quite frankly, I’m surprised there wasn’t more loss of life but these tales are tragic enough.

Someone sent me a link to a Telegraph article which pointed out that this lack of ethics and morality are prevalent on high and well as down low. MPs are lamenting the poor morals of the young and broke and some are getting positively indignant about the lowlifes. Their hypocrisy is pointed out as several of these MPs were found guilty of claiming thousands in expenses. This is ethically on par if you are just talking about theft and barefaced greed. The difference is that after the expenses scandal, a lot of MPs paid the money back. An even bigger difference is that genuinely poor working people didn’t have their houses burnt down or were killed because of the greed.

People are worried that this sort of thing might affect the Olympics. It won’t. There are shopping malls in that part of town and these ‘disaffected’ dicks aren’t protesting or making a statement in order to get heard. They only attack shops.

What has been touching about all this are people getting together to clean things up. Groups formed on twitter which led to armies of people armed with brooms sweeping up all the smashed glass and discarded playstation boxes. That Malaysian student who got mugged by hoodies pretending to help has had a mini charity set up so that his parents can fly over from Malaysia to visit him in hospital. My local Budgens has pledged to feed the 100 or so people from Tottenham who were made homeless. These acts of kindness show that the English aren’t all bad, no matter what the rest of the world may be thinking given the images they have been receiving.

It’s all pretty ugly and unpleasant no matter what you think of the motives behind it. Are they mindless, looting, murdering pricks or has society let these morally void cherubs down? At least the press and bloggers and news sites can slag them off. The chances of anyone involved sitting down and reading anything are nil. I saw a funny tweet from Sky News welcoming all their ‘new viewers in Tottenham watching themselves loot on their new Hi-def TVs’.

Looting is pretty unpleasant anywhere as it tends to punish local communities of equally poor people who are just trying to get ahead in life. The only people who have benefited from this are the looters who got away with it and those involved in the phone hacking scandal and are no longer in the media’s spotlight. A sad consequence of this switch of focus is that other news is being pushed back a few pages. Syria is getting increasingly violent and in Somalia a human tragedy on a colossal scale continues to unfold. Kind of puts things in perspective a bit.

 

 

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New iPhone case with fake hand

How weird is this? Very.

I’m sure you first read the title of this post and thought, ‘Huh?’ Then you looked at the photo and went, ‘Oh I see’. This was probably rapidly followed by something like, ‘Well that’s just a bit weird’.

Either that, or your brain works differently from mine and you thought it was quite cool. In which case I’m afraid, you are weird. And not in a cool kooky way either.

I just came across a link to this picture on twitter and thought I would share. Apparently you can get versions with a woman’s hand or a small child’s hand. Just in case you weren’t weirded out enough.

The only way this would be cool is if it were a demon hand. Or a wookie hand. Or a cylon hand. Or a skeleton’s hand. Or…

You get my point.

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Our Kind of Traitor by John Le Carre

When Perry Makepiece and Gail Perkins go on a tennis holiday to Antigua, they meet a Russian gangster type called Dima and his family. Dima wants to make a deal with the British Government and to do that he needs the holidaymakers to get in touch with the “right people”. Or spies to you and me. Soon Perry and Gail find themselves in basements in London, assignations in Paris, and safe houses in Switzerland.

It sounds pretty cool. I was expecting ‘The Man Who knew Too Much’ but more modern and with spies and a John le Carre twist. Except the book isn’t like that.

Many have hailed this as a ‘return to form’ and I guess it is in that le Carre has returned to spies and all the backhanded dealings that go on. He is clearly pissed off with bankers and corporate money screwing up the world but at its heart this is still a classic piece of spy thriller action. It is highly readable and entertaining.

There are a few things I didn’t like though. The first were the main characters. They are likeable enough but for some reason le Carre wanted them to be more working class as opposed to his usual public schoolboy types. This is fine except that he seems to have trouble writing characters that apparently come from the working classes. Peregrine Makepiece is an Oxford Don who loves to ski and play tennis and cricket. Gail Perkins is a lawyer who inherited a flat in the very posh Primrose Hill. They go on a tennis holiday in Antigua for Christ’s sake. It just didn’t gel in my head. What made it more confusing was that their background didn’t really matter for the story being told. They might as well have been middle class, they could keep the same personalities.

I also wasn’t all that keen on the pacing. The first third of the book is told in flashback as Perry and Gail are debriefed in London. The story’s plot just felt a bit jumpy.

Having said all that, this is a good book. If you like le Carre’s work you will likely enjoy this. I may have been a bit tinted by the fact that the last book I read of his was The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. Which is awesome and a lot better. So an entertaining and well written ‘return to form’ indeed. Just not one of his very best.

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It’s Almost Christmas!

Apparently we are already in the run up to Christmas. At least we are according to Harrods and Selfridges, who started selling Christmas tat on July 28th this year. I know the weather has been pretty crap, but this is taking it a bit far.

As a general rule of thumb, I don’t think you should be able to buy Christmas things in England while wearing shorts. Unless you are an American tourist – they seem to wear shorts all year round. In fact the reasoning behind this early start is to cater for these Americans. According to Geraldine James, who is in charge of buying at the Christmas department at Selfridges: “[M]ost of our customers are international visitors, from China, the Middle East, America – the Americans love Christmas – and the Christmas shop attracts tourists.”

I’ve been to China and America and I distinctly remember seeing shops there that sold Christmas items. It just doesn’t make sense. Maybe it’s because Selfridges has an actual Christmas department. They must have just gotten bored and needed to justify their existence. I’m sure the Easter department are pretty excited by all this. They’re next. There will be an Easter egg department in Harrods by Boxing day.

I always find it a bit sad when you see people in documentaries who start to celebrate Christmas months before December and get all excited for months. They are usually a bit lonely. I think I am a bit sad that Harrods and Selfridges are doing this in July because it just shows how desperate and out of ideas they are in the recession. You can imagine the meeting:

“People aren’t buying enough things. What can we do?”

“Everyone loves Christmas! Why don’t we just start selling baubles and plastic holly and things?”

“But it’s July! People won’t… we should sell… yeah, sod it, go on then. Americans like Christmas don’t they?Yeah!  Woohoo Christmas!”

These people make lots more money than most of us.

Just a wee Christmas drinkee...

On the other hand I am tempted to think fuck it. In London, for the entire month of December, people are drunk pretty much all the time. You’re allowed to drink from lunchtime onward and everyone just thinks you are a fun Christmas-loving kind of guy. Why am I complaining like some kind of Scrooge that Christmas cheer starts earlier every year? Maybe the shops aren’t desperate to cash in on the one proven thing that nets them lots of money, maybe they just love Santa!

So happy Christmas everyone! Mine’s a Guinness!

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The Last Space Shuttle and the Future

The last ever Space Shuttle, the Atlantis, touched down yesterday marking the end of the 30 year old NASA project. My initial thought was, ‘Well, that’s another giant leap backward for Mankind’ and felt vaguely depressed by direction humanity has decided to return to – inward looking, money-obsessed, war-mongering, looking after our own, seeing only the short term, small minded, barely evolved primates that we are. We suck. Or so I thought.

Never again. Good work people.

There have been those who have criticized the program claiming that it didn’t really achieve all that much and cost too much money. I disagree. The program pretty much built the International Space Station for a start. This has allowed for the study of various things, including the biological feasability of long-term space travel. Essential if we want to go to Mars. It has also launched the Hubble Telescope which has led to countless breakthroughs and discoveries. Plus some awesomely beautiful pictures.

If the human race wants to survive, we need to get off this planet. There are too many of us and there is no way to stop the increase. If you disagree, you’re bascically condemning future billions to horrible deaths from rising sea levels or famine or an eventual killer virus or asteroid or triffid attack. Nice thinking.

How can you not feel awed by this kind of achievement?

So did the Space Shuttle program end this inevitable threat of impending overpopulation? No. But it has helped pave the way by taking a few small practical steps in the right direction.

Most importantly though, it allowed mankind to dream. Man walking on the moon has always topped any poll of Mankind’s Greatest Moments. It is the quest to explore boundaries and achievements of projects like the Space Shuttle that lift humans above the animals and News of the World investigators (sorry – cheap shot). It inspires us to look to the stars. To think on a bigger scale. To look forward beyond a generation or two for a change.

Otherwise what has been the point? Eventually a huge meteor will hit and our civilisation will end. If you cynically think that perhaps that is a good thing as humanity not a nice beast, then you can piss off as it is unlikely that you will be the one suffering or dying – it will be your great grandkids. Along with us will go all our art, literature, movies, the lot. There will be literally no point in our having struggled against the odds to get to where we are if we just turn inwards and obsess over credit crunches and who has the most natural resources. We need to escape this petty ape-like tribal mentality.

Luckily it isn’t all going to end. Even though tons of NASA staff have been fired, things go on. India, China, Europe and Russia for example are still plugging away. Trips to the Space Station are still leaving from Russia. China hopes to be on the moon by 2022, and Japan and India plan on a moon base by 2030. (With the latter three countries there will at least be some decent food up there.)

Also, excitingly, individual companies are entering the fray. Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic are offering flights into space for £200,000, which is very cool. The futuristic-sounding ‘SpaceX’ seems to be taking over where NASA has left off. SpaceX was founded by a Paypal co-founder with the awesome name Elon Musk who paid $100million of his own money. Funnily enough, he states that it was the bureaucracy of space agencies that made it so expensive and the end of the Shuttle will make space travel cheaper and quicker. I love the idea of billionaires with passion getting us in space.

So while it is sad to see the Shuttle program end, the quest for space seems to be gathering momentum. Ironically, it is being driven by the same urges I complained about at the start. There are a lot of resources out there and there are a lot of millionaires who will pay to be in space down here. It can all be very lucrative. Whoever colonizes the moon first will have a strong position to exploit this situation. It is likely there will be similar disputes over moon ownership as there currently is over who is allowed on Antarctic. But at least the tribal humans will be squabbling on another planetary body. It’s a start.

No matter what the motives though, I don’t really care. As long as we are boldy going somewhere, I will be happy.

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Stock Market Trading and Me.

Sell!!!!!!!!

Buy! Sell! Adrenaline! Men in ties stressing out! Brokers swilling champagne or chucking themselves out of skyscrapers! Yup, that’s my new life. Apart from pretty much everything I just mentioned. I have started trading – something I never thought I would do or even say.

Why have I never traded before?

I was always a little jealous of stockbroker types because they are absolutely fucking loaded. That was the only source of envy though. There are a few negatives that just don’t appeal. I would never work anywhere I had to wear a suit and tie. I would never want to work Monday to Friday, 9 to 5, it’s just too soul destroying. Also, if a lot of young trader types you see in the city are anything to go by, then I wouldn’t want to have to hang around with so many arrogant, hair-gelled, self important pricks. Maybe I’m being unfair but fuck it, it’s fun to generalize. There has always been an even bigger stumbling block however.

I find anything to do with finance or the economy really, really dull. I was reading a paper once and wasn’t paying any attention to the headings and as I read a fresh page I suddenly realised that I had gone from interested to bored. I then discovered that I had stumbled into the business section.

So why am I trading now?

Why the sudden change of heart? Several reasons really. The interweb makes trading an absolute piece of piss. Plus there are cool graphs and flashing indicators and flickering pages full of data. That means I can work from a coffee shop or in a park or even a beer garden. Any work that can be done in a beer garden is good work. If only alcoholism itself would pay. Maybe that’s why I have always enjoyed working as a writer and get pissed off working in a windowless room in the TV industry. Also, the ridiculous money is quite appealing. More so as I approach 40 and inexplicably find myself not being a millionaire.

But what about the main stumbling block? The horrible dullness of finance?

This is where I had the biggest surprise. I can explain this by using an analogy. Have you ever been to one of those pubs in the afternoon that is full of old men smoking roll ups, drinking real ale and watching horse racing? It is a pretty dull and soulless experience. On the other hand, have you ever been to the horses or even in a pub and had a flutter? Horse racing is suddenly the most exciting thing ever. Maybe it’s just because I like gambling but once I bought my first load of shares I have loved the world of finance. It can be really exciting. I bought some shares in a small mining explorer and they suddenly found a load of iron in West Africa. All my little indicators and graphs went mental and I made £140 in two days. I was leaping around in excitement. Then there were some troubles with the government in Cameroon and the shares started to drop. I panicked and suddenly hated dealing as my profits dropped to £100. I sold them and was happy to see the prices drop still further. Finally they bottomed out and the problems were solved. I bought back in and am currently watching them climb again. I’m like Gordon Gecko!

Except I can do it on my couch. Unlike the horses though, you tend to only lose a little as you can set up automatic sells if the price drops too much.

I have made a few mistakes and lost as well as gained. I still have no real idea what I’m doing but it has been an exciting learning curve. I’ve only invested £2000 so it will probably be a few months before my first million. While I’m an optimist, I’m also a realist. Now leave me to daydream in peace.

Just a few more months....

 

 

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Game of Death and myself

I grew up in Hong Kong in the 1970s. It was a glorious time and place for a young lad. Skyscrapers, jungles, beaches, and all the latest gadgets. Also, as you can tell from Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan movies (the old ones), everyone was Kung Fu fighting all the time and had brilliant haircuts. In fact, when I was sent to Britain in the 80s I managed to convince my fellow classmates that in Hong Kong we learnt Kung Fu instead of gym or PE. I was believed for a few months until I got into a fight with an older kid and got my ass kicked. Happy days…

Battle of the Planets

Battle of the Planets

Up until 1978, I thought all Western TV shows and movies were pretty lame. Star Wars changed that a lot, then soon after there was Battlestar Galactica on TV. Until these came along though I was obsessed with cool Oriental fighting stuff. One of these was Battle of the Planets (G Force) – a cartoon set in the future where some orphan kids in weird outfits fought huge metal creatures and armies controlled by what seems to be an evil hermaphrodite. Awesome! My favorite show though was Kamen Rider V3. (It had to be the V3 one.) A guy dressed as a sort of bug man who kicked the crap out of various odd rubbery monsters. It was really gory at times. Here’s the trailer:
http://youtu.be/YuABHZqSYJQ

Pretty cool huh? ‘But why this utterly self centred post about what you watched as a kid?’ I hear you ask. Obviously it will be fascinating for future historians to get a glimpse of the formation of one of the greatest minds of the 21st century, but there is another reason. I have to warn you it is still self obsessed though.

I’m basically establishing character. I was a kid who loved kung fu, gadgets, motorbikes and weird outfits. One of my earliest memories, when I was a mere 7 year old bowl-cutted nipper, was being at the Star Ferry in Hong Kong just after school. A man in a yellow jumpsuit suddenly pulled up on a cool motorbike. He looked like an action hero. I remember being shouted at by a film crew but I wouldn’t go away and they were only able to get a couple of takes as there was a lot of traffic. I never knew what film it was and went on my happy way with my eager young brain filled with action stories and yellow jumpsuits.

I had forgotten about this until a few nights ago when I watchedBruce Lee’s ‘Game of Death’. Imagine my surprise when I saw his character pull up to the Star Ferry in a yellow jumpsuit on the back of a motorbike. Imagine my further surprise when an annoying 7 year old Western kid with a 70s bowl cut wanders up to the bike. The memories flooded back and I felt nostalgic. Hence this post. I apologise but when all is said and done, it’s my website.

I should also point out that most of the movie was filmed after Brucie had died. That’s why there are so many long shots like this one. This scene was filmed in 1978, five years after his death. So the guy in the suit was either zombie Bruce or a double (he had a few for scenes after he died). Obviously a zombie would be ridiculous as they can’t ride motorbikes.

Here is the clip. Skip to about 4:53 and maximize. What a cute kid!
http://youtu.be/CZH6YTnM4AA

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Ghost Stories review

Ghost Stories at the Duke of York

We decided to see this the other day as we had an evening free and happened to walk past the Duke of York theatre where it was playing. If you are a Londoner this can be a recommended way of going to see a play as you can get massive discounts at the box office a few hours before the play starts. We got premium seats and instead of of paying £70, we both got in for £45. Bargain. I just mention this to gloat and be helpful.

Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman

So, the play. ‘Ghost Stories’ was written by Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson. Nyman is best known as Derren Brown’s co-conspirator and he helps write a lot of his tricks and stage acts. He was also superb as a sweary TV producer in Charlie Brooker’s genius zombie series Dead Set. Dyson is best known for writing The League of Gentlemen, a genuinely creepy and darkly funny show. So both are good writers and no strangers to a decent foreboding atmosphere.

The tension starts the moment you walk into the theatre. The walls are covered with cobwebs, police tape, and ominous chalk numbers. The whole place, inside and out, is lit by flickering lightbulbs. Even the voice telling you to make sure your mobile is off is pretty damn creepy.

The play begins with the superb Andy Nyman giving us the audience a lecture on Parapsychology. Specifically ghosts. He then introduces us to three chilling ghost tales – ones that he thinks deserve further investigation. He links these stories as part of his lecture. I can’t say much more without giving things away.

I have to say, I loved this. It was great fun and once you have seen the whole thing and think about it, you appreciate how brilliantly crafted the experience is. Everything is linked and builds to the ‘shock’ ending. I watch a lot of horror films, often on my own at 3am to maximize the scare factor, and am pretty immune to genuine fear induced by entertainment. God bless desensitisation! I do feel tension, suspense, shock and enjoyment, however, and these are present in abundance.

If you are easily scared, and want to be again, go and see it. If you are a hardened horror fanatic and enjoy the genre, go and see it. It’s damn good fun.

Below is the trailer and you can see audience reaction. I can guarantee that these aren’t faked reactions. There are some real jump out of your seat moments and they could get footage like this any night. I almost spilled my gin and tonic at one point.

http://youtu.be/ZQ0Yhq_v4b0

 

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