Archive for September, 2003

Nokia: Mental

Thursday, September 25th, 2003

Someone’s obviously been feeding the designers over at Nokia a higher class of hallucinogen over the last few weeks.

Witness the spangly new 7600 imaging phone. It’s like they thought the 3650 wasn’t unusable enough, and decided to make it even worse. Sure, it looks quite nice, in a sort of self-conciously sci-fi sort of way, and it’s certainly got some jolly spangly features, but it’s certain to be a usability nightmare from hell. Plus, unless you look like a model from The Face or iD or something, you will look like a complete twunt whilst using it.

And if you thought that was bad, how about this. No-one in the world is going to buy one of these, let alone actually wear one. To say it would make you look stupid is somewhat akin to saying that Alpha Centauri isn’t a convenient place for a weekend break. They called it the Medallion, for goodness sake. Did they do any market research on that one? Mention the name, and people will instantly think of chest wigs, the 80s and all the horrors that entails. What conceivable useful purpose can this thing serve? Absolutely none. Zilch. Zip. Unless, that is, you want to look like a reject from a low-budget sci-fi series.

That said, I do think these Image Frames are quite a nice idea; I’ve got a few photos around my desk and it’d be nice to be able to change them at the touch of a button rather than faffing around which a picture frame.

The Great British Public

Wednesday, September 24th, 2003

I was watching Gone in 60 seconds on ITV1 just now. I’m sorry, but sometimes I just want to watch a bad film.

Anyway, as is the way with films these days, it was interrupted by the news. I’ve not watched the ITV news for a long time, and I was reminded of why tonight. During the section on GM food (which in itself is a topic which tends to cause me to rant about the Great British Public’s astonishing ignorance of all things scientific), they canvassed opinions from people in some supermarket or other. One of the people interviewed opined that:

    “the way I see it, we’ve only got two options – we either grow food naturally, or we grow food organically”

Look, if you very clearly know nothing about a particular subject, then keep your mouth shut. Please. You’ll only make yourself look foolish otherwise.

Bits and pieces

Wednesday, September 24th, 2003

I’ve just come across Sniff Petrol. It’s kind of like what Autocar would be like if it was written by the guys from El Reg, and is very, very funny indeed.

Ananova isn’t the best news site in the world, but it does have the quirkies section. Today’s highlight is from the Australian Department of Medical Care for the Unutterably Stupid – Don’t stick ice cubes up your arse.

Some hero has written a multiplayer patch for GTA: Vice City. I’ve been putting off buying this game for a while, but this now provides the necessary impetus for me to do so. It’s still a bit wonky in places, and could do with a touch more balancing, but I imagine on online game with the map full of people it could well be a whole stack of sick, violent, depraved fun.

My girlfriend is really not going to like that last sentence.

In a move which has surprised precisely zero people the entire world over, Valve have announced that Half Life 2 has slipped. Well, no shit, guys.

Todays albums that you really should own:

(that last one in there because I was perusing jane‘s wishlist and noticed it was in there, which reminded me what a great album it is, and how few people have ever heard of them)

VeriSign have announced that they’re not going to u-turn on whole wildcarded .net and .com SiteFinder thing because millions of people use it every day. I don’t even know where to begin. Which reminds me, I should probably patch BIND later on.

The impending collapse of society

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2003

The Sun’s gone all Oniony on us. According to this astonishing expose, Charles “Red” Kennedy is a “loony leftie” who “would SELL Britain out to Brussels, DESTROY the fabric of society and WRECK industry.”

Well, any party that can annoy the Sun that much gets my vote, anyway.

No Smoking

Saturday, September 20th, 2003

What is it with people who think No Smoking signs are only suggestions, that can be ignored under exceptional circumstances, like when you’ve gone a whole hour without a fag and you’re really, really gasping for one?

I’m writing this on a rail replacement bus service between Nottingham and Manchester, and there’s one such person on the bus with me. We just pulled into Sheffield station, and she decided that an hour without nicotine was just too much for her body to withstand, and asked if anyone minded if she lit up. I said that yes, I did, seeing as this was a non-smoking bus, and there was a perfectly servicable outside she could go and smoke in without making the bus smell like an ashtray.

Well, that was a mistake. Apparently, requesting that someone not smoke in a non-smoking environment is a really, really selfish thing to do, especially when it means the smoker has to walk a whole five metres outside to go and light up. She opined that perhaps she should have just lit up anyway, to which I suggested that I’d have probably pointed out that it was a no smoking bus and asked her to go outside. This made me the most selfish man in the world, it seems, because such were the debilitating effects of her nicotine addiction that after simply one hour without a cigarette, she was actually unable to summon sufficient motive power to leave her seat and get off the bus for 5 minutes.

I’m pissed off now.

Yarr

Friday, September 19th, 2003

It be Talk Like A Pirate Day. Yarr, and all that.

Now, when it was first announced, this seemed like a really good idea. Pirates of the Carribean was out, and the whole b3ta board was full of people saying “yarr!” a whole lot, and it produced a few funny photoshops of kittens and such in pirates hats. Pirates were cool – well, we knew this anyway, but now we had Johnny Depp on our side, and we had polar bears with eyepatches, too. That was all well and good.

However, as with all initially-amusing-but-quickly-tired memes, world+dog soon found out, and so, like that bloody joke about dyslexic dwarves, before long every single person on the planet had heard about it from at least 8 indepenent sources. And then it hit the blogs, and now every bastard freaking blog in the entire world is written entirely in piratespeak, and it’s really quite annoying now, thank you very much. I think the original intention was for people to speak like a pirate, anyway, not write like one.

I think I’m going to propose a new law. We’ll call it “Parm’s First Law of Meme Propogation”. It goes:

    Once a meme is reported in the mainstream media, it may be assumed that:

    1. Everyone in the world has seen it already, and

    2. Everyone in the world is sick of it already.

There’s a couple of corollaries, too:

  • The same conclusions may be drawn if your parents forward you the meme.

  • The same conclusions may be drawn if someone outside of the community in which the meme originated writes about it in their blog.

Anyway, this isn’t a blog, as you well know, so I’m exempt from the second corollary. Yarr, me hearties.

What am I listening to?

Thursday, September 18th, 2003

See that up there on the right? Underneath the logo? That’s what I’m listening to right now. Or at least, whatever WinAmp was last playing, at any rate.

I’ve added that entirely because Jez put one on his blog and I’m jealous like that. However, I bet that when he did his, he didn’t spend an afternoon writing his own custom WinAmp plugin and backend scripts to do it. So a big fat nerrrr to him.

On the subject of WinAmp plugins, someone could really do with writing documentation for the Wasabi SDK sometime soon. Taking other plugins apart to find out how they work is not how I like to get the documentation for my SDKs.

Any comments on my musical taste will be roundly ignored, unless they’re nice comments.

Windsurfing

Wednesday, September 17th, 2003

I just went windsurfing in my lunch hour. This place is about 20 minutes drive from my office, so I figured I could get there, sail for an hour and get back inside of the two hours that normally constitutes our lunch ‘hour’ here. I normally go to Trafford Watersports Centre in Sale, but they have crappy boards, not many sails and unpredictable wind there, and it’s always chock full of scallies tipping each other in the lake out of canoes.

Sail Sports, on the other hand, have a much better selection of boards (including the rather nice Hifly Matrix I was just on), some nice big sails, no scallies, more predictable wind (by virtue of being in the middle of open countryside, rather than next to a bloody great motorway), and some quite cute members of staff. The wind wasn’t exactly blowing its nads off or anything, but it was enough warrant a harness and I got planing once or twice with just a 6.0m sail. Apparently it might be a bit more blowy tomorrow…

Of course, the upshot of all this is that I’m going to be spending all afternoon looking for board/rig prices on the internet now, and wondering whether to put that graduate loan the bank keep offering me to some use :) Anyone know anybody selling a second hand Bic Techno or Starboard Carve 131?

Scrmable

Wednesday, September 17th, 2003

This has been doing the rounds:


    “it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny
    iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit
    pclae. The rset can be a total mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit
    a porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter
    by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.”

jwz wrote a perl script to produce text like the above. It’s here, and I thought it was probably a bit long. So I did a shorter one:

perl -ne 's@\b(\w)(\w+)(\w)\b@"$1".(join"",sort{(rand)<=>0.7}split//,$2).$3@gex&&print;'

Much better. (free punctuation to anyone who can decipher the logic :)

Film reviews

Tuesday, September 16th, 2003

I wrote the following reviews for the Lipstick Girls, but I’ll post them here too, anyway; it’s the two films I’ve already mentioned this week, but explored in somewhat more detail. Anyway, enjoy :)


This week I’ve been to see not one, but two excellent animated films, neither of which originated in the UK or US.

First up, Belleville Rendezvous. This is a highly stylised French/Belgian/Canadian animation; it centres on the adventures of a little old French lady as she relentlessly persues her son’s kidnappers. Along the way, she runs across Les Triplettes de Bellevue – an aging modern jazz showtunes triplet, who help Granny on her quest.

This is an incredible piece of work. The whole film has a look somewhat similar to that of a French newspaper cartoon, and is presented from a deliberately distorted, elongated perspective, to enhance the idea that we’re viewing the world from Granny’s viewpoint.

The quality of the animation is also second to none – there is virtually no dialogue in the entire film (a deliberate trick to enhance the impression of determination that Granny exudes throughout the entire film). As a result, all development of character and personality has to communicated by their behaviour, rather than their speech, and in this the animators have done an incredible job. Even though the characters never speak, we are never for one moment unsure of what they are thinking or what is driving them in a particular direction. The animation work on Granny’s pet dog alone is worthy of an Oscar nomination.

This film won’t be to everyone’s tastes – a virtually dialogue free French animation set to a modern jazz/showtunes soundtrack with a bizarre story told through highly stylised animation is not exactly a recipe for a summer blockbuster, and if your entire experience of animation consists of the output of Messrs Disney, Warner and Hannah-Barbera, you will almost certainly be in completely foreign territory here. But if you’re willing to expand your horizons, and take a bit of a risk, there’s a real gem of a film here waiting to be uncovered.

Secondly, we have Spirited Away. This has received somewhat more publicity than our first film, mainly through the involvement of a studio more famous for a certain animated mouse. Make no mistake, though – this is emphatically not a Disney film – they simply helped to fund the project to completion in exchange for western distribution rights. Director Hayao Miyazaki’s last feature, Princess Mononoke, was highly praised in the west as well as in his native Japan, and attracted many ‘name’ voice talents for the English dub, including Gillian Anderson and Claire Danes. There were naturally fears, then, that he may have sold out to the mouse in an effort to produce a more west-friendly film, and lost some of his characteristic fairytale, folkloreish style as a result.

Well, we needn’t have worried. Whilst the film opens innocently enough – with the main character, a ten year old girl called Chihiro, and her parents in a car driving to their new house – we are soon catapulted into a rich, magical world thick with imagery and characters from medieval Japanese folklore. Chihiro and her parents mistakenly stumble across a hidden tunnel which leads to the ‘spirit world’ – and there they find what seems to be a traditional Japanese bath-house – but one which turns out to have a somewhat unusual clientele. The story focuses on Chihiro’s attempts to escape from this world, and to save her parents, who have been turned into pigs by the witch who runs the bath-house. Along the way, she meets and is helped by a boy called Haku – who, we discover, is also not all he seems.

As is the way with much Japanese storytelling, there is no clear distinction between good and evil here – whilst certain characters fulfil the western roles of “good guy” and “bad guy” to some extent, everyone (and everything) is painted in shades of grey. Chihiro is not the portait of goodness, light and innocence we would expect from a western film – when we first meet her, she is petulant and moody; her parents are turned into pigs as a result of their greed. Likewise, the many workers in the bath house – the servants of the witch – are neither overtly evil, nor resentful of their role; they simply get on with their allotted task.

A number of themes are explored in the film, the principal one being that of identity – Chihiro escapes from the world because she remembers who she is. The theme repeats through the film – the witch is able to control other people as she steals their names, and freedom comes through remembering who you really are and taking control of your own destiny. Other lesser themes of love and greed are explored and weave in and out of the main storyline as we follow Chihiro on her adventure.

The style of the film is pure anime – no real surprises or departures here, although this time almost the entire film was created using CG – whilst scenes were hand-drawn initially, the colouring and animation was done almost entirely digitally. Thankfully, though, the computer here was used only as a tool to aid the artist, not as a substitute for pure artistic talent – use of computers has not led to artistic compromise, thankfully. The general quality of the animation and artwork is of the usual outstanding level we have come to expect from Miyazaki-san’s earlier works – the amount of detail and imagination imbued into every single scene is breathtaking, and every single one of the countless weird and wonderful creatures, spirits, landscapes, buildings and backdrops is beautifully conceived and rendered.

Soundtrack-wise, we are treated to a gorgeous orchestral score courtesy of the Japan Concert Orchestra, which blends traditional Japanese style modes and percussion with more Western influences, such as the sweeping strings and melodic piano parts. It provides a perfect accompaniment to the gorgeous visuals, never intruding and always complementing.

Spirited Away (or Sen to Chihiro no kamikakushi, to give its original title) has been marketed to the UK as something of a children’s film – indeed, the showing I went to was preceded by a multitude of trailers for the coming season of braindead Hollywood kiddy-fodder, despite the total lack of anyone under 18 in the audience. Whilst Miyazaki-san has said in interviews that he wanted to create a film for 10-year old girls, what he has actually succeeded in creating is far, far more than that. Whilst children can explore the rich, imaginative world he has created, adult audiences can equally well enjoy the film on a number of other levels. Naturally, with its extensive use of imagery from Japanese folklore and fairytales, this will not be as immediately accessible to western audiences as the latest Disney work; but equally, a detailed knowledge of ancient Japanese history is not necessary to enjoy this magical and enthralling piece of film-making.

I can’t recommend Spirited Away highly enough. Expectations from the west have never been higher for a Japanese film, and Miyazaki-san has delivered in spectacular style. Wonderful.

The only problem we have now is, with these two outstanding films released in the same fortnight, we’ve been spoiled – we’ve got Finding Nemo to look forward to later in the year, which we can rely on being up to Pixar’s usual high (if now slightly derivative) standards, but other than that, we’re back to the usual dearth of quality, imaginative animation that pervades the English-speaking cinema world. Maybe, if these two become a big enough success, we can persuade the big studio execs that we’re not just happy with the latest moralistic Disney fairytale adaptation every couple of years; and maybe then they’ll comission something with a little more imagination and style. I can only live in hope.