May 2006 Archives

Snakes. On a plane.

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I remember my first exposure to Snakes On A Plane. It was a series of small, grainy captioned images on the web somewhere. I don't recall the exact content, but it came across as a mildly amusing parody of disaster films put together by someone with too much time on their hands. The thrust of the plot involves the loosing of large numbers of venomous lizards on a airline jet in the most stark raving bonkers attempt to assassinate a passenger outside of a Roger Moore Bond film and only Samuel L. mother ****ing snakes on a mother ****ing plane Jackson can save the day. All gloriously stupid.

Except it turned out to be real. Snakes On A Plane is a real film, like some internet parody write large. I can't decide whether it's madness, genius, an unusual spark of self-awareness from the Hollywood marketing machine or the first sign of the impending apocalypse. Possibly all of the above.

The funny part of this is that Snakes On A Plane seems likely to turn out to be a very bad film saved by the title. A more serious name would simply doom the film. Terror On Flight 49? Meh. That way lies obscurity. Snakes On A Plane, though? Hell yeah! Sign me up! Certainly the internet seems to have taken the film to heart on the strength of the title alone, although the presence of Samuel L. Jackson undoubtedly helps (rumours persist that a recent round of additional shooting was to allow Jackson to film a scene to include the parodied "mother ****ing snakes on a mother ****ing plane" dialogue).

Probably the worst thing thing that could happen to Snakes On A Plane (I'm tempted it abbreviate the title having typed it so often, but it's kind of fun. Try it and see kids) it that it turns out to be merely ordinary. Mediocrity will ensure that it's quickly forgotten, whereas if it's a genuinely awful enough to live up to that title, well, Showgirls style immortality beckons.

I've heard it said about Hollywood that nobody ever sets out to make a bad film. With the impending release of Snakes On A Plane, I'm no longer sure that's entirely true...

Taking pride of place amongst the pile of books I saved when I moved back to Edinburgh is a complete collection of Calvin and Hobbes strips (one of those rare and precious gifts which far exceeded anything I would ever have thought to ask for). Calvin and Hobbes, that marvellous hymn to everything wonderful about childhood that should be remembered by grown-ups and not-so-grown-ups everywhere (and which I suspect is too frequently forgotten).

I recall feeling immensely sad when the series stopped (in my mind it didn't end, it stopped. Even if we no longer hear about it, somewhere out there Calvin is still spending endless hazy autumn days causing mischief with Hobbes in faithful tow). What I'd forgotten was just how long ago it stopped. December 31st 1995 saw Calvin and Hobbes take their last bow from newspapers around the word as they disappeared on their sledge through a snow covered landscape.

Afterwards it all went... quiet. In a world which seems largely oblivious to the laws of diminishing returns which should have put Garfield to sleep more than a decade ago, it didn't have to be that way. Had Bill Watterson decided otherwise, the visage of Calvin and Hobbes could have lived on through an endless array of merchandise tie-ins, saturday morning cartoons and movie versions. Thankfully integrity won out over commercial considerations (and how often do we hear about that happening these days?) and Calvin and Hobbes have been allowed to remain unsullied in our memories.

But of Bill Watterson himself? Even when re-reading my Calvin and Hobbes collection I'll confess that I gave little thought to the man himself. Mostly that's just my way - with a few notable exceptions I tend to find an author's output more interesting than the author themself. Still, I came across an article in which a journalist attempts to track Mr Watterson down and it captured my attention for a few minutes.

Thanks for the memories Mr Watterson, wherever you are.

I'd forgotten just what it was like to break in a fresh installation of Windows. I'm the sort who'll relentlessly tweak and configure a system until it feels right to me, which means that raw install of Windows seems strange and alien as though I'm using somebody else's computer (which technically I am, although that's neither here nor there).

Still enough of that. Here's a quick question for you: What have you been reading lately? It's not that I'm short of reading materials, indeed I seem to have developed the habit of buying books and then keeping them stacked around unread until the mood suits me which means I have a fair few to choose from. It's just that I'm hankering for something different. All the books I have are all books I'd choose to read, you see, and given that I'm not in the mood to read any of them (yet, that is - that mood will strike me eventually), it logically follows that I must be in the mood for something I wouldn't normally read. Oh, I could turn to Amazon I know, and also I have a book of books to read for just these occasions) but it's all a little too mechanical and impersonal. Besides, I'm nosey - I'm genuinely curious to know what you've been reading. I'll tell you mine if you tell me yours.

So what have you got? What's out there? What would you recommend? What did you like? What did you loath?

Let's hear it.

Fun and games

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In case you're wondering where I've been, the last few days were marked by a trip down to London for work, followed by a rather irritating hard drive failure upon my return.

It was quite a spectacular bit of bad timing that. Of course, I'm not sure there's ever really a great time for a hard drive failure, but this one happened to co-incide with the launch of the second phase of my latest project which went pear shaped shortly before the drive keeled over leaving me unable to fix it. Bother.

The nice courier from Dell dropped off a new drive for me this morning and I spent a goodly portion of the rest of the day re-installing software and trying to coax Windows to behave itself. It's still not quite there yet, but it's getting closer. At some point I'm going to have to try and take some sort of inventory to work out just what I've lost. Suffice it to say that my approach to back-ups has been less than rigorous. Work stuff is fine, but a lot of personal stuff has vanished in puff of broken bits and bytes. Ironically I was looking at external drives recently as insurance against precisely this sort of incident. Alas, I hesitated and my data was lost.

Still no point moping about it. What's gone is gone, and at least I can take steps to avoid being hit quite so hard should something like this happen again in the future. It's a blessing of sorts I suppose, albeit of a bitter flavour...

The Fordham Spire

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A beautiful skyscaper planned to complete construction in Chicago circa 2010.


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The network engineer responsible for maintaining the firewalls at work moved onto pastures new a month or two ago (or was moved on to pastures new - I don't think he was an entirely willing participant in the process). I can't say I was terribly sorry to see him go, since he struggled to help me with my numerous connection problems and even after a year a half-hearted compromise was the best we'd been able to come up with. Although it mostly worked, the biggest nuisance was that my vpn connection to the server at work didn't work over a wireless connection. It would only connect if I was bound to my carefully configured ethernet router via a cable. Yes, yes, I know, I know. It was a stupid state of affairs, and despite my best efforts, there was little I could do about it. My dreams of idling away afternoons in coffee shops and elsewheres quickly faded.

But as I said, that particular network engineer is no longer with us, and his replacement (admittedly with the addition of a couple of new state of the art firewalls) has solved the remaining problems. I'm now officially unbound, unchained, unshackled. Free! I'm free, free to work wheresoever I want. Now, if I can get work to agree that I can work whensoever I want, the possibilities (coupled with the 4 weeks of holiday time I still have outstanding) become genuinely interesting.

If anyone fancies having a houseguest for an extended period of time do let me know...

I'm not sure which are larger - the hair styles or the shoulder pads. It's what I get for flipping randomly through tv channels instead of trying to do something constructive. I stumbled upon one of the sub-mtv music channels that lurk about in the nether-regions of the freeview schedule and discovered a program listing the top 50 songs of the 80's (as chosen by... well, nobody you really care about to be honest). It's down to number 17 Rick Astley's Never gonna give you up.

I'm sure I ought to be embarrassed by this trawl though the musical heritage of my youth, but I'm rather enjoying it (16. Madonna, Like a prayer). It's strange, when I was young I remember looking back at the style and culture of the 60's and thinking it horribly dated (and often just horrible), and I'm sure that many kids these days look back at the eighties (and likely the nineties as well) and experience a similar reaction. Nowadays the 80's appear equally dated to me, but I can't help but view them a strong sense of affection. (15. Pet Shop Boys, West End Girls. 14. Culture Club, Karma Chameleon. The camp is overpowering!).

Well that's the rest of my evening set. I'm going to wallow in 80's nostalgia and attempt a few more of the Times' fiendish level sudokus. It makes a welcome distraction from my family at least. Families. Sigh. Remind me why we have them again?

...and shoots it. Sigh.

The local supermarket that I've been whining about over the last few weeks is in it's final death throes. It's stocks have been allowed to dwindle prior to the closing of the doors for the final time on Saturday. The result is a sad sight to behold. Without stock on the shelves and with many of the fixtures removed the place feels cavernously empty. It reminded me of a ghost town as portrayed in an old western. Had a tumbleweed skittered across the floor it wouldn't have seemed out of place.

I've never had much in the way of positive feelings towards this particular emporium, but I can't help but feel sorry for it now. Rather than going out in a blaze of glory, it's been forced to slowly wither and fade. It's a poor sort of fate.

Disney are dumping their billion dollar happy meal deal with McDonalds, rumoured to be at the urging of Steve Jobs. Scarily enough I was working for Disney when this deal was originally made and I recall it quite well. Dreamworks have picked up the contract instead.

I can't do it. I just can bring myself to do it. I've been asked to conform in the silliest and most trivial of ways at work some part of me refuses to accept it. I've since tried every conceivable way to squirm out of it that I can think of.

Work has recently undergone a re-branding exercise, which normally I'd object to on the grounds that it's a complete waste of everyone's time and effort, but in this case I don't mind since our previous corporate branding was so laughably amateurish anything new could only be an improvement. However, as a consequence of this exercise all employees have been asked to attach a standard corporate signature at the end of all emails bearing the new brand, the company details and our names, job titles and contact details. I'm sure it is all terribly professional but the strength my reaction against it caught even me by surprise.

I've tried to make it more acceptable. I recoded the html in signature so that it's now xhtml compliant, removed extraneous tables and replaced them with css, and reduced the size of the code by 30%. Unfortunately it still looks the same and within the parameters I have to work with there's little I can do about that. So far the best I've been able to come up with in order to differentiate my signature has been to lower case my initials. Hah, take that you corporate overlords!

Sigh. I've never been particularly bothered with conforming to society's norms, but I don't think I've paid enough attention to lengths I'll go to deviate from them.

I think tomorrow I'll start changing the colour scheme of the logo by one rgb value each time I send an email and see how long it takes for someone to notice...

Light cone rss feed - track the stars that light from your birth may have reached.

Pack rot

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On a misty afternoon I made one of my regular sojourns to Somerfield, the supermarket I recently mentioned recently which exudes an air of hopelessness and depression. The dank weather fitted the occasion rather well.

I bought 12 pints of milk, a newspaper, and carton of grapes. The cashier rang my items though his till, then packed all 12 pints of milk in one carrier bag and placed the newspaper and the grapes in another. The 12 pints of milk weight 7.2 kilos and bitter past experience informs me that this is considerably beyond the tolerances of a lone carrier bag. The grapes and the newspaper weight less than a single kilo.

I repacked the both bags into a more symmetrical arrangement in front of the cashier, utterly bemused by his lack of common sense as I did so. Just before I walked away, I released he was giving me the evil eye, as though offended that I should consider his packing adequate.

Waitrose cannot open soon enough...

Taking sides

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I have a side.

I discovered a couple of days ago that there's a slight indentation in my mattress, though only on one side of the bed. After moving into my flat, I revelled in the fact that I had a double bed all to myself. I remember well the novelty of being able to choose to sleep on one side of it or the other, or sideways or diagonalways across it if I so felt, free to act on whatever whims took my fancy.

On discovering the dent I realised that that novelty must have faded at some point, as novelties are want to do, though I failed to notice it at the time, and I eventually chose a side of the bed to settle upon. Having consciously acknowledged this, I tried to sleep on the other side of the bed last night, and found it felt decidedly strange over there. After tossing and turning even more than usual (I'm a terrible fidget at the best of times) I eventually gave up and crawled back over to my side of the bed and quickly drifted off to sleep once more.

I know that in the grand scheme of things this is a discovery of significance to precisely no one save myself, but I get it now! All those numerous comedies over the years in which various thinly sketched characters complain about not being able to sleep on their side of the bed. It was a recurring joke that I never connected with until now.

I have a side. And for some reason it makes me happy.

Who is number 6

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Well break out the penny farthings and start planning that trip to Portmerion. It seems that the gods of television are about to bless us with a remake of that most cultish of cult tv series' The Prisoner. Although the casting remains unconfirmed for the moment, the BBC are reporting that Christopher Eccleston may be up for the role of #6. It's the first I've heard of all this, but I'm definitely curious. Rumours of a new version of the Prisoner have waxed and waned with clockwork precision for a good many years now and I long ago stopped believing that anything would ever come if it. I became a huge fan of The Prisoner when it was repeated on tv in the early nineties, and it's certainly a premise that's ripe for reinvention. Fingers crossed that it'll be able to duplicate the quality of other recent resurrections like Battlestar Galactica and Doctor Who. Ecclestone as #6 (if true) would be a good start.

Be seeing you.

I've been making more of an effort to recall my dreams recently, so last night I laid out a note pad and pen next to my bed, the theory being that I'd be able to write down as much as I could recollect upon waking, when my dreams were fresh in my mind.

And I was glad I did so, because last night I had a particularly interesting dream, and I was thrilled that I had the chance to write it all down before I could forget it.

Of course, a little while later, I was lying in bed thinking about what I'd written and remembered that I'd used a pen with red ink. When the pen I left beside the bed was blue. Yes, it turned out that in a display of circular irony I'd only dreamt about writing out my dream and naturally I now only remember the dream about writing, not the dream I wanted to write about to begin with. I'm really rather annoyed by that, because I'm convinced it was great dream...

On the plus side, it marks the first time I've ever woken out of one dream into another. At least I think it was the first time...

It's almost time for E3, perhaps the biggest event of the year on the gaming calendar. Everything officially kicks off again next week, but as you might expect the event has been preceded by a flurry of announcements and leaks.

Slightly surprisingly the announcement to have drawn the greatest amount of attention arrived from Nintendo. That Nintendo are still capable of holding the notice of the industry isn't the surprise. Of late Nintendo have taken to shrouding their products in levels of secrecy of which Apple would be proud, so anything to spill from their lips generally causes the industry to sit and pay close heed. No, the surprise was in the content of the announcement - Nintendo have officially unveiled the name of their latest console, previously codenamed "Revolution". It's called "Wii". I'll say that again: "Wii". Pronounced "we", not "why" as I initially thought (or Why-aye for those of you in Newcastle).

To say this caused something of a stir amongst the gaming community is akin to describing the eruption of Krakatoa as a hiccup. It's still cropping up amongst the top headlines of most of big gaming sites almost a week later. Most reactions so far have been characterised by disbelief, skepticism, outrage and, eventually, resigned bemusement. I think I can safely say that the name is controversial.

My initial thought is that it's a name only a marketing department could love. During my past dealings with marketing departments I've generally found them to be staffed by some of the most peculiar people I've ever encountered. And believe me when I say I've encountered some pretty peculiar sorts.

Interestingly, Nintendo themselves appear to be fully aware of the controversy Wii would cause. Various interviews with Nintendo executives have shown them ready and willing to tow the company line and explain exactly why the name the name works. Even Nintendo's website, after a brief but cute flash animation, elaborates on the reasoning for the choice of name:

Introducing ... Wii.
As in "we."
While the code-name "Revolution" express our direction, Wii represents the answer.
Wii will break down the wall that separates video game players from everybody else.
Wii will put people more in touch with their games ... and each other. But you're probably asking: What does the name mean?
Wii sounds like "we," which emphasizes this console is for everyone.
Wii can easily be remembered by people around the world, no matter what language they speak. No confusion. No need to abbreviate. Just Wii.
Wii has a distinctive "ii" spelling that symbolizes both the unique controllers and the image of people gathering to play.
And Wii, as a name and a console, brings something revolutionary to the world of video games that sets it apart from the crowd.
So that's Wii. But now Nintendo needs you.
Because, it's really not about you or me.
It's about Wii.
And together, Wii will change everything.

Erm. Quite.

The fact that the name was released in advance of E3 seems designed to ensure that the name won't overshadow the more substantial announcements to come at E3 itself (Nintendo have promised that Revolution/Wii contains one last unrevealed secret). Some factions around the net have interpreted this as a conspiracy on Nintendo's part, to generate even more attention when the real name of the console is announced next week, but the general consensus is they're barking.

Now, I'm no marketing expert, but surely there must be an inverse correlation between the effectiveness of a brand and the amount of explanation it requires? By that standard Wii falls at the first hurdle. Despite that, I'll dial down my cynicism a notch or two and confess it's not a bad explanation. In general I think Nintendo have the right approach - they're trying to attract an entirely new audience, so there's something to be said for choosing a name that doesn't immediately pigeon hole it as a game console.

And one thing is undeniable. The name has garnered an absurd amount of attention and there's no doubt that it's short and memorable. It even looks good on paper. From that standpoint, it might well be a shrewd move on Nintendo's part. After all, they're clearly trying to build a brand here (you'll note that it's "Wii", not "Nintendo Wii"), and encroaching on Sony's Playstation mindshare isn't going to be easy.

There, I made all it all the way to the end without making any urine jokes. I bet you thought I couldn't resist taking the pii. Tii-hii