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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A real LA cop plays LA Noir

L.A. Noir

L.A. Noir

I am currently obsessed with the uber awesome game LA Noir. It really is as groundbreaking as all the reviews have said. I don’t normally write about games until I have finished playing them but I came across a video on twitter that has a real modern day LA cop playing the game and giving his opinion on it. I was worried that I might forget where the video was, so I might as well post about it now.

Detective Cole Phelps

You play Cole Phelps, a man who has just returned from the war and becomes a policeman in L.A. in 1947. Think L.A. confidential and you pretty much have the look and feel of the game. And that is no bad thing. In fact, the whole game feels like an interactive movie. This is enhanced by the new facial recognition system that really allows actors to act. For the first time, characters in a game don’t look odd. They really look and act like real people. You can actually recognize the actors playing the parts, so it really feels like an interactive detective show. Phelps is played by a guy from Mad Men and at one point you interview a the psychic guy from Heroes. In the clip below with the cop, you interview the secretary from Mad Men. And so on.

This realism makes it possible to interview suspects and from their expressions, you can try and work out if they are lying or not. I’m getting better at it but it’s harder than it sounds. Annoyingly, in the clip with the real LA cop, he gets all the questions right and generally reads the suspects a lot better. I’m either too trusting or too suspicious. I hate moderation!

At first the game feels a bit repetitive but then you start to get promoted, have some shoot outs and a few chases across roof tops and in cars and things just get better and better. It truly is a brilliant game. First up, here’s a trailer:
http://youtu.be/GRwnJ0EX9Ko

If you don’t think that looks pretty cool, you have a faulty brain. Next up, if you can spare 10 minutes, you can watch the LA cop play a case. He is better at investigating than I am, but his control of Phelps is a bit wonky. I guess he is busier than I am and hasn’t mastered his PS3 controller. Anyway. Enjoy.

Thanks to www.g4tv.com for the video

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The Wimbledon Weather effect

It’s the first day of summer and the longest day of the year today. Shame it’s so shite outside. As I look out the window of my flat at all the poor saps huddled against the wind and drizzle, it’s mildly depressing to think that it is usually a lot worse for the rest of the year. I blame Wimbledon. I read somewhere, (in a SCIENCE magazine so you can’t dispute it – or maybe it was on QI), that weather patterns are affected by the mass movements of people. Vast amounts of people commuting during the week somehow affects the weather with the result that there’s an increased chance of rain at the weekend.

Glorious WimbledonIgnoring the fact that it is a Tuesday and has just rained, this seems pretty convincing. Maybe Wimbledon causes a similar effect. For two weeks, slightly demented people descend on Wimbledon and act slightly zany in hats and face paint and so on. Or maybe the weather is influenced by all the hopes and dreams of Britain willing that this year a British player will win. (Ten years ago we were hoping an Englishman would win, but now it’s a Scot we are all British. Hurrah for Britain!) Our hopes get up due to initial success and this collective intake of breath sucks in cloud from the Atlantic. Then, when the British player is knocked out near the end the weather clears up allowing some Europeans to fight for the title. The same happens with the World Cup every year.

It’s a tradition that nearly always occurs. Champagne, strawberries, rain interruptions and disappointment. Enjoy.

 

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The Hangover 2

The Hangover 2

This film has had a lot of bad press. Mostly because the plot is almost exactly the same as the original. Which is true, but what the fuck were people expecting given the title? The point to be considered is whether it is funny or not. Which it is. If this had come out first then critics would be bitching about the Vegas one.

First off, the plot. As stated, think of the first one and put it in Thailand. Bangkok mostly. I lived in Bangkok for a few years and can confirm that it is an awesomely fun city where it is incredibly easy to get into a serious amount of shit. Which is exactly what happens.

This film is a lot darker from the first one. It is hard to say how without giving away a laugh or two but they get mixed up with the Bangkok underworld and get into some fairly extreme situations. People get shot, lose fingers, and the Chinese guy from the first film is naked again. It is possible that this darker tone might put people off a bit but keep in mind that this is an 18 rated comedy, so again, what the fuck did you expect?

I enjoyed this movie as much as the first one. More in fact as I miss Bangkok and Thailand generally, and can’t wait to live back there. They even visit two of my regular hangouts – the bar scene on Soi Cowboy and a really cool restaurant/bar on top of a building. I might also be biased as I hung out with the line producer, the producer, the special effects guy, and more of the crew when I was last in Bangkok. This was because my brother-in-law is an entertainment lawyer and lives in Bangkok. Which is pretty handy. As a result we went out a few times with these seriously loaded movie types and they like to have fun. Plus they bought me shitloads of beer.

So all that really needs to be said is: if you liked the first one, you will like this. I loved it.

http://youtu.be/P1eFEMNLtao

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The Millennium Trilogy by Steig Larsson

I have already written about the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and how exciting and page turning it is. I intended to write separate reviews for the Girl who Played with Fire and the Girl who Kicked the Hornets but decided not to. Instead I will review the second two books and assume you have read my previous review, and kind of wrap the whole thing up  as a review of the trilogy.

This is partly because I am a complex character who doesn’t play by the rules. Mostly though, it is because the second two books follow on from each other in one big exciting story, using characters you know and love from the first one, which stands slightly separate.

A bit like the original Star Wars Trilogy, in other words.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Reviewed here.

The Girl who Played with Fire

The Girl Who Played with Fire

The book starts with strangely-sexy-but-probably-not-someone-you’d-like-to-date Lisbeth Salander, who is on holiday. Following an incident on this holiday (which is utterly unrelated to anything else in the book and reads as a kind of ‘Adventures of Salander’ episode), she returns to Sweden. She is soon accused of multiple murder and goes on the run. Mikael Blomqvist (who shagged her for a bit in the first book), decides she is innocent and sets about saving her. Enter a mysterious man known as ‘Zalachenko’ and another mysterious man who is huge and a psycho and a bit like a Bond villain. Then enter excitement.

This book is superb. And I speak as someone who doesn’t read many thrillers. There are several superb scenes that have stuck with me until now and the book is annoyingly unputdownable. I looked forward to tube journeys so I could read, it was that exciting. It builds inexorably to a finale that’s brilliant and extreme. An ending that in my opinion is the best of the Millennium Trilogy, but I’m sure others might disagree.

The girl who kicked the hornets' nestThe Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest

Yup. The girl who kicked the metaphorical hornets’ nest is Lisbeth Salander. Actually, she kicked nest in the previous book and is now swiping at the hornets to stop being stung. But that probably didn’t sound as good to the publishers. In the third instalment of the Millennium Trilogy there is also a group of hornets who are secret hornets but are still connected to the original kicked nest. So to speak.

I will end the kicking hornets’ nests analogy now.

Basically, Salander is in a different kind of shit from the second book but things are still pretty hectic for her. Plus there are some new baddies.

This book carries on from the second one and has some similar awesomely thrilling moments. It’s hard to write about it too much without giving away story lines from book two. So I won’t.

Conclusion

As I mentioned before, I don’t read that many thrillers. I was thrilled by this and it may have ruined me for others. The story is genuinely gripping and you will find yourself spending hours reading and generally delaying your life until you have finished. The characters are superb, unique and memorable. The story is well plotted with about a million threads all tying up nicely.

I only have a few criticisms.

Characters – I’m sorry but there are too bloody many of them. If you don’t read all the books fairly soon after each other, it is possible you will get confused at parts. A few could easily have been cut out or consolidated.

There are also a few moments where situations feel a bit contrived or irrelevant. Some plot arcs have nothing to do with the main story at all and at other times there are a few chance sightings of people that happen a bit too frequently. It’s possible that this is common in thriller novels  or in Stockholm, so I’ll shut up.

These niggles aside, the Millennium Trilogy is superb. It’s such a loss that Steig Larsson died just after finishing them as I would love to have read more.

If you are unconvinced and doubtful because of my tiny gripes, don’t be. One reason that I didn’t review the second book after reading it was because the moment it ended, I started on the third. And read it in two days. So did my wife.

Now that’s pretty gripping.

 

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Apple worship

Bow before Apple!

I saw a cool documentary the other day, called ‘Secrets of the Superbrands’ on good old BBC. It was actually pretty interesting given that I generally don’t care about brand names. Perhaps it was because the journalist, the slightly goofy looking Alex Riley, doesn’t care about brands either. I watched it though, because this episode was about technology and I care deeply about lovely, lovely gadgets.

There was one segment on Apple that I genuinely found a bit scary. It was at the opening of one of their shops. This particular one was the store in Covent Garden. Now keep in mind that it is just a shop that sells Apple stuff. That’s all. Yet people had flown in from all over the world and queued up to 24 hours just to be at the opening. They didn’t get anything, they just wanted to be there. Then the staff start cheering and whooping and hi-5ing all over the place and everyone seems to get into a religious frenzy. It really is like a weird cult. One of the happy ones obviously, not a kill yourself and be rescued by aliens type cult. It was pretty weird and quite frankly, very un-British.

I should state at this point that I have nothing against Apple at all. I have both an iPhone and an iPad and love them dearly. If a better phone came along though, I would buy that. I bought the iPad because I wanted something that was light, could easily fit in my bag, had internet connectivity everywhere, and a battery life of 10 hours. If a better device came along, I would buy that instead. I hate netbooks though, they are hard to write on.

When this laptop (the one I’m on right now) dies, I will very probably buy an iBook.  The problem I have with the Apple brand is its fanboy base of smug Mac lovers. I am sure it is a better computer but there is no need to be that into it. I don’t mind people who like Macs because ‘they just work’ or ‘have always used them’ or need them because they are good for graphics or editing. I have heard they are a joy to write on too. What I don’t like are people who love all things Apple and look down on you with disgust or pity for having a PC. The reason I have always had windows-based PCs is because you get higher specs for the same money. More bang for your buck. I also used to play a lot of games and games on a Mac are shit. There are hardly any, presumably because Mac owners are doing such important things.

I always liked the Charlie Brooker analogy when he said that Macs were like the Imperial Destroyers in Star Wars whereas Windows PCs were like the Millenium Falcon. You can just add things and random bits to PCs and they sort of work if you bang them occasionally. Thing is I just want a laptop for writing or watching films or doing stuff on the internet. The days of opening up the system and adding new cards and memory are done. I guess I have joined the Empire. I just don’t want to be brainwashed by it.

Here is the first part of the documentary. Watch it all or skip to about 5:30. Watch it and be afraid.
http://youtu.be/h0dUuHo58UE

 

 

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Tricks of the Mind by Derren Brown

Derren Brown is as near to a Jedi as you can get. The mental attributes, not the physical ones. If he ever decides to become an Ultimate Fighter, he will be unstoppable. I’m sure he could just say, ‘Go to sleep’ and his opponent would collapse and he could then just put the boot in. So maybe training to fight is unnecessary.

Tricks of the Mind by Derren Brown teaches you, the Padawan, some awesome tricks. It also has quite a broad scope and touched on lots of things I am genuinely fascinated by. When it comes to mind powers I am now at least 10% more superior than most of you. It astounds me that I am still broke.

The book begins with how he got into magic and became a world re-nowned ‘mentalist’. Which is quite a cool job title in itself. He then goes on to teach you about the importance of perception and shows a couple of cool tricks.

In part three he talks about memory. Mr Brown is banned from casinos in Britain as he has the ability to count cards. Four decks of cards. Not just cards but pretty much anything. He states that apart from people with an eidetic memory, nearly all other memory gurus use a variety of systems. This includes himself. He then teaches you these systems and they really work. Some of the things you find yourself recalling are astounding. Especially as I had a misspent youth where I smoked weed and thought I had permanently damaged my short-term brain circuits.

He then talks about hypnosis and Neuro-linguistic programming and how to achieve personal gain in a non-hippy way.

The next section I need to read again. He teaches you how to read people and spot if they are lying. This will be very helpful in the upcoming L.A. Noir game (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, don’t worry, you are just massively out of touch).

The final section is all about Anti-science, Pseudo-science, and Bad thinking. Derren worries about how science is under attack from dickheads, and why people believe in ghosts. There is an examination of things like Alternative medicine and mediums and psychics. Essentially they are all shite, but he explains why. It’s like a million rants I have already had on this site.

For example, if there is an alternative medicine that seems to work, scientists will look at it and test it. They will then conduct a load of experiments on huge groups of people to see if it works. Years ago lots of people used to suck on willow bark and spiraea to help with pain. Scientists then tested this and found that it did help with pain and found the active ingredients. They called it aspirin. When these tests don’t work, they end up in Health Food shops at a ridiculous price. Here’s a joke that doesn’t come from the book, but from a magazine I read. ‘What do you call an alternative medicine that works? Answer: Medicine.’

Ok. Not very funny, but the bit before was fairly interesting.

Other cool bits include how cold reading is done, how superstitions arise, and how placebos work.

I loved Tricks of the Mind. It is humorously written and covers a lot of fascinating ground. There is also a bibliography at the back in case a particular subject interests you. A lot interested me.

I would highly recommend Derren Brown’s book if you are interested in how the mind works and topics that surround it. I can now remember my PIN code and everything. Just try and resist the Dark Side, even if they do get cooler lightsabers.

 

 

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Science Fiction Website

I just found the most incredible new site! It boldly goes where only several hundred other websites have dared to go. Except it is slightly bolder. Actually it was written by me and I love everything I do, so I may be very slightly biased. Still, if you are reading this, you may find something of interest.

At present it does have a few articles that may seem a little familiar to some of the Scifi related articles on this site. This is purely coincidental and due to the infinite number of monkeys I occasionally use to write things for me when I’m busy. In a few weeks it may even appear that every Science Fiction article on the site has been recreated there. I assure you, that this is probably due to your approaching bout of insanity. Nothing to do with me. You should get that looked at.

I am also adding unique non-infinite-monkey-you’re-going-insane material as I go along and this will gradually increase until it is all unique to that site. It will be superb even if you aren’t into Scifi as I will be discussing all manner of fascinating things like space travel and time travel and philosophy and how I based my life on Han Solo and so on. It will be deep man!

So read it. Here is the address:

www.scifiward.com

Enjoy Scifiward

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Aliens please abduct me!

This website now gets over 100,000 hits a month. (I know! Why? I just talk shit.) That still makes me a speck on the arse of the interweb, but it’s a start. If aliens are monitoring our planet, it is just possible that some low level alien civil servant might just read this. If you are reading this Zarg, I henceforth volunteer to be taken aboard your spaceship as an ambassador for my planet. It is an ancient Earth tradition that you get to go first if you ask first. Please respect this and forward it on to your Emperor or Galactic equivalent.

I firmly believe aliens are out there. The Universe is massive and there are a quintogigllion stars and even more planets. Surely only Creationists and medieval Catholics can manage to be blinkered enough to think there is just us. That God created all those stars and galaxies just a bit of scenery to make night-time more fun and provide work for astrologers. Conversely though, I don’t believe in UFOs. Or at least the ones that yokels glimpse or that crash near American experimental airforce bases.

Why do I, allegedly one of the greaters thinkers of the 21st century (self alleged, granted), think this?

UFO crashes

The number of planes in the air, right now, is erm a lot. Famously, they are one of the safest means of travel. They get safer each day. It would be logical to assume aliens are even more advanced than us. So if you just work out the percentages and assume that aliens have crashed into the planet, even if just once a decade, there must be billions of the bastards up there. (Sorry Zarg.) It just isn’t likely.

Crop circles, cow slicing, UFOs generally.

Crop Circle Proof

Just because something can’t be explained, doesn’t mean we should make something up and present it as fact. Unless you are an idiot. In which case go ahead and I will snigger at you in a really patronizing way. People have recreated crop circles, the cow thing can be explained, and UFOs are explained 99% of the time. The final 1% isn’t proof of anything. It could just as easily be a flock of ghosts or some flying glow-yetis or a round God in a magic chair. If a UFO wants to be seen, I’m sure they’d just appear. If they want to be hidden, they could (even we have that technology).

Alien abduction

Lots of cultures throughout history have myths of being held down and probed. Some might like the idea but most didn’t. It olden days in Europe (the period of Yore), people reported waking up, being unable to move and witnessed demons sitting on their chests and doing unpleasant things to them. After that, it was common for people to be held in place by witches’ magic while the witches likewise probed and fiddled. From the 1950s onward, it has been aliens. Specifically the ‘Greys’, who were coincidentally a popular alien design in Scifi movies created by people who just made shit up. The bulbous head and big eyes can actually be traced back to people like H.G. Wells and several Astounding Tales stories. None of the writers claimed to have been abducted.

The vast majority of abductions happen at night and there is ridiculous amounts of evidence pointing to sleep paralysis. Sorry but there you go. As for people ‘losing time’ but later remembering stuff… Really? Aliens abduct someone but can’t quite blank memories. Then they just do it again and again? Just how much can you learn from ‘probing’ anyway? 50 years they’ve been doing this. The only logical explanation is that it is either sleep paralysis or aliens have a weird sense of fun.

Please Zarg!

So that is why I don’t think aliens have interacted with us. I am convinced of my own logic but then I am very self obsessed and sure of myself. If you disagree based on solid evidence then fair play to you. I’m sure you have valid, well researched reasons from a variety of sources on both sides in order to reach your conclusion. If you also believe there is a conspiracy about the moon landings, JFK and 9/11 then you have my pity. You actually believe in Conspiracy Theories rather than a particular topic and are probably single or feel like you have lost control of your life a little bit. (It’s a psychological thing apparently.)

It is possible that they are monitoring us. It is what we would do in reverse. Our own satellites can watch us already, I’m sure aliens could do the same. If so, feel free to drop me a line.

Anyway, feel free to complain. With a bit of luck, my wife and I will be on a Galactic tour and will get back to you shortly.

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Death Race


I had been meaning to watch this for ages. I remember watching the original, set in the far off year of 2000. A more violent age when everyone wore spandex. Sadly the spandex wasn’t true although you do see a lot of lycra around.
So you can imagine my excitement when I arrived for work at the Syfy channel and saw that we were playing it that evening on the Syfy France feed.
Unfortunately, as it was on the French channel all the opening explanation was in French. My French is a bit rusty and the writing went by quite quickly but here is what I managed to translate in my sluggish brain. In the future crime levels increase. Corporations take over the running of prisons and in order to pay for it, they stage Death Races over the web. People pay a subscription to watch criminals race it out in Mad Max style cars that are armed with cool things like machine guns and napalm. They are the new gladiators.
Fortunately I could patch through the English audio tracks so didn’t have to think anymore.
Enter Jason Statham. He is framed for the murder of his wife and sent to the nick. It turns out he was a superb driver and it starts to look like maybe he was framed just to get him in the race. An evil prison governess informs him that there used to be a driver who had won four races and if he had won his fifth he would have been granted his freedom. Unfortunately he died in his fourth race. Luckily, he had been in so many accidents he always wore a mask and no one knew who he was. What he wore in prison before he had his first crash is never really explained, but hey, fuck it, who cares. Statham agrees to pretend to be the guy in the mask, a fellow nicknamed Frankenstein, in order to win his freedom and help boost the ratings of the Death Race. Apparently ratings were dropping off when Frankenstein wasn’t around. Which is odd as people watch Nascar and Formula 1 even though fuck all of interest happens and they aren’t even armed. Not even a pistol.
So Statham enters the race against nine other prisoners and there are lots of cool explosions and prison fights and general violence.
Everything a red blooded male could want really except for a few hot women. Brilliantly, this too has been considered. For each race, the driver gets a navigator who is a smoking hot lady from a nearby woman’s prison. Genius. It actually makes sense in the film’s premise too as it would make the races more popular. So it isn’t just gratuitous eye candy ok? It is like sexy pit-girls in Formula 1 who serve no purpose except being sexy pit-girls.
There are a few other little plot things going on but who cares?
Verdict:
This is a cheesy action flick with fairly stereotyped characters – an evil Russian, a tattoed Latino psychopath, a chinese Triad dude with a degree from MIT, and so forth. The plot is also fairly predictable but actually not too bad for the genre.
It is satisfyingly well acted for a violent action movie and the direction is great (if slightly confusing during some action scenes).
Did I like it?
Fuck yeah! There are a lot of shite action films out there that just leave me cold. Especially once I had passed the age of 16. (Before that, any explosion was cool and Arnie and Sylvester were Gods.) The thing is, it is all tremendous fun and highly enjoyable. Satisfyingly violent with some very cool deaths, the whole thing just works well for what it is. It does what it says on the blood stained, heavily weaponed tin. Enjoy.

 

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Amazon can see into my brain

This morning I logged into Amazon and checked out my recommendations. At first I was a bit shocked at what kind of twisted artistic deviant they must think I am. Then I realized they had actually got it pretty right. I don’t know what kind of cunning algorithms they have there but it was like looking at a snapshot of my colossal brain. The sort of things that make my mighty brain tick. Here are the top 4:

Seraphine

Seraphine

First up, is an arty French film with a classic arthouse tale. A French chick a hundred years ago has a really shitty life. All she likes to do is make art whenever she has a spare moment. Just to make things shitter, the First World War then breaks out. Eventually an art dealer discovers her and everything comes up trumps. This recommendation is obviously because Amazon recognises a sensitive artistic soul.

Big Tits Zombie 3DBig Tits Zombie

Yup. This was number two. Obviously this should be near the top of any red-blooded male zombie fan’s list. Big breasted Oriental chicks with chainsaws in 3D! How could that be bad? Well obviously it could be a pretty crap but with zombies, breasts, and chainsaws, it can’t be awful.

The Fields of DeathThe Fields of Death by Simon Scarrow

This recommendation was easier to work out as I had read the three books that lead up to this and I love historical fiction. An awesome, epic tale that recounts the lives of Napoleon and Wellington until they finally meet at Waterloo. It’s cool because it is a real story and one of those historical tales that would be a bit far fetched if it was fiction. Huge bloody battles galore!

Mass Effect 2

Mass Effect 2

This was a superb recommendation as it is actually a game I have already played on PC. Epic, brilliant space adventure at it’s best. I fucking love this game so much. The sequel is coming out soon and I will be getting that. This was a recommendation as I clearly enjoy brilliance.

So there you go. If you are a psychic and were lucky enough to meet me and probed my mind, this is pretty much what’s in there. A dash of moving and miserable art, a dollop of chainsaw wielding Asian porn horror, a splodge of historical swashbuckling and violence, and a healthy splattering of space blasters and epic galactic adventure.

It’s just bit scary that Amazon knows this. Get out of my mind!

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30 Rock

30 Rock

Apologies for not having written for so long but I worked like a demon for a week, then it was my wife’s birthday and the accompanying hangover. In addition to this, I have become mildly obsessed with 30 Rock.

The series is written by and starring Tina Fey and is based on her behind-the-scenes experiences of when she worked as head writer for Saturday Night Live on NBC. Fey plays Liz Lemon, the head writer for a live comedy sketch show on NBC. So it’s probably based on a lot of truth and is very, very funny.

I was going to say that where it truly shines is in the characters and the dialogue, but then that pretty much goes for every sitcom. I was trying to think of my favourite character. They are all fairly stereotypical but therein lies the fun. The writers are all geeky and make lots of SciFi references and Star Wars jokes (which actually makes them cool), the main actress is appearance obsessed, the main star is mental and on medication, and the big boss is a Republican who thinks of nothing but money and power.

The big boss is played by Alec Baldwin and is just superb. His character also has some of the best lines. Liz Lemon (played by Tina Fey) is the main anchor of the show and is awesome. She is neurotic but intelligent, funny and likeable. There are a lot of other memorable characters such as the religious but keen page, ex-boyfriends, and so on.

I had heard good things about 30 Rock and am glad I finally got round to watching it. It just pisses me off that Tina Fey is the same age as me and actually pulled her finger out and wrote some brilliant stuff as opposed to get drunk, going travelling and meaning to write.

I feel a sitcom penned by me coming on. 10 Camden, or something. The story of a struggling writer with an annoyingly successful career in TV that takes up all his time. It will be brilliant.

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Killzone 3 review

I finished the single player section of this just over a week ago and have been glued to the multiplayer ever since. In case you have a short attention span and just want to know if you should buy this, then yes. Buy it. There, review done.

Alright not everyone is so impulsive, so I will continue.

Killzone 3 single player

Like all first person shooters these days, the single player takes about 6 hours. After shooting the main guy, Visari, at the end of Killzone 2, you’d be forgiven for thinking that things should be looking up for the ISA forces.

Killzone 3 baddies backstabbing each other.

Unfortunately he is now some kind of martyr, and the Helghast are more powerful than ever. A bit like if Hitler had been killed and the Nazis had had a less mental leader. In fact, the Helghast are very clearly modeled on the Nazis, what with being evil and mental but having cool uniforms.

While the forces are now huge there is a lot of infighting among the various Helghast factions which leads to fun scenes of backstabbing and murder.

Meanwhile the plucky ISA forces have been left on the planet in a fight for survival. Fortunately most of them are hard as fuck.

So there’s the story. It is pretty satisfactory and allows for lots of killing and shooting people in the face with cool futuristic guns. There are even some new gadgets like jetpacks with built in machine guns (although these just make you jump further as opposed to flying) and machine gun buggys.

Jetpacks baby!

There are some very cool sequences in the game that also serve as training in how to use certain devices and machines for multiplayer.

The first person section, if you care, is uber fun. I played the entire thing through in one sitting. Even though I’m clearly a busy man.

Killzone 3 multi-player

Ahh the multi-player. The maker or breaker of the 1st person genre. I have spent more time on Killzone 3’s multi-player than any other game. I would find it hard to believe that anyone can’t enjoy this. The only people who may disagree are those who love Modern Warfare 2. If you are one of those who thinks MW2 is better then I will be willing to bet you are a general’s rank and play it fairly obsessively. Put that many hours into a game and I understand your loyalty.

Unlike MW2 (which I like a lot and have spent hours on), you can actually do pretty well in Killzone 3’s multi-player from early on. You don’t just act as cannon fodder for hours and hours until you get really good kit and then in turn shoot newbs. The maps are great – some big and some small, and nearly all are multi-leveled. Sometimes three or four stories high which means you have to look everywhere.

There are also gun turrets and huge machines (like those at the end of Avatar) that you can enter and fire missiles from and generally cause chaos. Like all these games there are quite a few things that get unlocked to help make you more of a killing machine as you gain experience. Nowhere near the amount you get in MW2 but I think this is a bonus as you still feel like it is down to your skill as opposed to the fact that you just called in a load of missiles or have a massively superior gun.

There are numerous modes – the standard team deathmatch, and a couple of more objective based modes. One sees you defending or attacking places and you get impressive cut-scenes featuring the best players. The other is one of the greatest things in multi-player – multiple modes and objectives. Basically there are numerous tasks to do and the game alters while you are still in the match. One minute you are capturing something, the next you are assassinating someone, the next you have to blow something up. And so on. It’s bloody awesome fun.

Conclusion

I love this game. I have a few others to play but can’t seem to tear myself away. Killzone 3 is probably one of the prettiest games to look at on the PS3 apart from Uncharted. Except when people speak, which can look a bit odd. The gameplay is varied enough to always be exciting even though the story feels a bit perfunctory.

There are moments that are so spectacular I nudged my wife so she could see the incredible scenes that were unfolding on the screen. Huge wow factor moments. She seemed curiously busy though, which was a shame because some parts of this game are astounding and should be experienced with someone. I cannot recommend Killzone 3 highly enough. It is great fun and hugely varied. Firing a gun at some hapless bastard has rarely been this satisfying. Plus it’s Sci Fi, which is cool.

Here’s the gameplay. I mean, just look at it, it defies superlative.

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The Human Centipede

WARNING! DO NOT READ THIS. THIS IS DISTURBING! IF YOU READ THIS HAVING JUST IGNORED THAT WARNING AND THEN WANT TO COMPLAIN YOU CAN’T, BECAUSE YOU ARE A MORON WHO WAS WARNED.

Until I make my millions, I am forced to work in the TV industry. It was an awesome job at first but now it is growing increasingly tedious. A lot of the trials and stresses come from the material we are forced to watch. I work for the BBC, the Syfy channel, Disney, Discovery, music channels and more. With such a broad scope, the 12 hours of TV I have to watch can be a bit hit and miss.

Mega Shark versus Giant Octopus. Who wouldn't want to see this?

Sometimes it can be a daft but strangely fun film like ‘Mega Shark versus Giant Octopus’, sometimes it can be an awesome documentary about space or war, sometimes it can be Micky Mouse. At one place I am supposed to watch three channels of cartoons and three channels of soft porn. Which slowly but surely breaks your brain.

An example of the trials I stoically endure occurred the other night when I was working at the Syfy Channel. I got in and did all my checks and work and then settled down to watch the movies. The first was ‘Evil Dead’. The legendary Sam Raimi directing the always awesome Bruce Campbell in a low budget horror. With chainsaws and zombies. Absolutely brilliant. Gory, cheesy, B-movie fun.Evil Dead. Sheer genius!

The next film was different. It was called ‘The Human Centipede’. Quite frankly, it was awful and disturbing. I think the most disturbing things are: someone thought it up, then wrote it, then directed it, found actors to be in it, somehow got people to pay for it, and finally managed to get it on the Syfy channel where I had to watch it. The horror.

Here’s the premise. Two young, attractive, fairly stupid American girls are on their way to a club in Germany. Their car breaks down on a remote road. They wisely decide to leave the car and wander aimlessly through the woods at night. They see a house and head toward it. The door is opened by one of the scariest looking Germans you have ever seen. They ask if the insane looking man can phone up a car rescue service and if they can come in. The obvious psychopath asks, ‘Are you alone?’ They wisely inform the nutter that they are alone and lost and tourists and then follow him in.

They then get drugged and wake up in the basement. There’s already a guy there strapped to a bed but the Mengele wannabe decides the guy isn’t right and takes him out and kills him. He then pops out and comes back with a drugged and bound Japanese guy. Which is apparently pretty easy in remote Germany. It is once he has returned that one of the girls tries to escape. In fact, she decides to make a run for it while he is in the room, as opposed to all the opportunities she had before. Brilliantly she manages to get out but then returns to try and get her friend. I tell you this not to ruin the film, which is impossible, but to warn you of the sort of intelligence displayed in the film.

The German mad doctor fellow turns out to be an expert in separating Siamese twins. Unfortunately he is also insane and secretly wants to join people together. By the ass to mouth method. Apparently the film is 100% medically accurate. What they mean is that it is possible to stitch someone’s mouth to someone’s arsehole and make them eat their crap. Which is probably possible. After about an hour of this tedium, the three get turned into – THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE!

The 'science' behind the premise

The 'science' behind the film

If you have read this far, then you have pretty much experienced all the film has to offer. This film is awful. The script is dire but it often is in films like this. It isn’t particularly scary or gory. It isn’t clever or interesting. It really doesn’t seem to have anything going for it apart from the main grossout idea. The ‘Evil Dead’ is gorier and cheesier but it has a certain amount of charm and is well directed and has Bruce Campbell with a chainsaw and an evil hand. Compared to a shock film like the first ‘Saw’ movie ‘The Human Centipede’ just comes across as stupid and pointless. The original ‘Saw’ was a horrible idea, but it was clever and watchable. This just isn’t. I love horror films and thought this was pointless.

If this hasn’t been enough to put you off, here is the trailer. It is probably better than the film and you will get nothing more from the film in the way of shocks or entertainment. I just don’t want you, dear reader, to waste your life watching this. I, at least, get paid.

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