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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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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