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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly . . .

Well that's it.
2009 has come and (almost) gone, and I for one will be glad to see the back of it, as it was easily the worst year of my life, but we'll get to that in a second.

The Good
It wasn't all tears, pain and anguish in 2009, there were some good times to be had as well.
I had, without a doubt, the best holiday I've ever been on when I took my mountain bike and my best friends off to Morzine in the French Alps in the middle of the summer. It was just perfect, and we're already booked up for a repeat adventure in 2010. Bring it on.
On the music front, Biffy Clyro stopped being 'that hairy band from Kilmarnock' and became 'that awesome band from Kilmarnock' and their album 'Only Revolutions' was the stand out of the year for me. It makes me want to grow a beard, 'Mon the Biff!
At the cinema, JJ Abrams 'Star Trek' made phasers cool again, but it was Neill Blomkamp's 'District 9' that floated my sci-fi boat. So good it almost could have been made specifically for me, yet so different to anything else out there.

The Bad
The death of a parent tends to put a bit of a downer on things. Losing my father to his long running cancer at the beginning of the year was a maelstrom of emotions, some of which still whirl around the inside of my head. We were never best friends, we didn't have that sort of relationship. We were just father and son, but he was still My Dad and I miss him.
Having to have my dog put down this year was just so hard. You always tell yourself that it was the humane thing to do, but it still feels like you just committed murder
They say "it comes in threes", but after being in the recruitment process for a job as a police constable for over a year, after passing everything that was thrown at me from long division and ratios to public speaking and a timed 2 mile run, to then be told on the night before I was due to pick up my uniform that I was being rejected because my hearing is a tad too low, was one kick in the bollocks I really could have done without.

The Ugly
My mate, Brian.
He's minging.

Suffice to say that I'm hoping that 2010 is a vast improvement on its predecessor, it certainly wouldn't be difficult, and besides, Arthur C Clarke is never wrong!
So if you've stumbled into my little corner of cyberspace whilst looking for a Wookie, or whether you're one of the small band of (misguided) regular visitors, may I take this opportunity to wish you a very happy New Year.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

My Precioussss

Once every 18 months or so, a gadget nerd early adopter like me spends hours and hours trawling the tinternet looking for the latest and greatest mobile phone deal.
My requirements were:
Unlimited text messaging,
Unlimited mobile internet use,
Some free anytime/any network minutes,
and an uberhandset.

Thanks to a rare and sensible recommendation from Mr Jaggy, I'm now a week into ownership of my shiny new Motorola Milestone laptop-shrank-to-the-size-of-a-phone phone, and it has already become the most precious thing in my life, including my girlfriend.
It's just so . . . tactile. I find it extremely difficult to be parted from it and all its little downloadable 'Android' applications. It handles text and emails with aplomb, it has a browser as good as a laptop, it plays music like an iPod, comes with an 8GB memory card and, apparently, you can even phone someone on it!
I have to admit that the battery life is 'compromised', but for something that is more laptop than phone, it's acceptable.

Androids are taking over the world, and I for one am totally fine with that.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Jim's Magnificent Octopus

$237, 000, 000.
$237 million dollars.
Two hundred and thirty seven million dollars.
It doesn't matter how you say it, it's an awful lot of money to make a movie.
James Cameron's magnum opus, Avatar, is the current uber movie doing the rounds this Christmas, and, if Mr C himself is to be believed, it will change movie making for ever.
So . . . what's it like?

Well, what I can tell you is that this weekend I've also watched Sam Rockwell in Moon, and I probably enjoyed that as much as Avatar, and it only cost $5 million to make.
Don't get me wrong, Avatar isn't a bad movie. Far from it, it's an excellent movie. The problem for me is that James Cameron claims that he wrote the story for the film after waking one morning from a dream, a dream that quite clearly featured Kevin Costner from Dances With Wolves or Christian Slater from Fern Gully, as the plots of those two movies is broadly identical to that of Avatar.

The film itself is only 40% live action, the other 60% being CGI and it's here that all that cash has been spent. The CGI portions of this movie are utterly convincing, especially planet Pandora's flora and fauna. In fact I think the only way that the plants, creatures and landscape of this planet could have been any more believable is if there had been a running commentary by Sir David Attenborough. It's that good.

But not perfect.
One or two scenes still look a bit comic book-ish, and the 3D is mercifully subtle and restrained, but overall Avatar is a really good movie, not a great one. A great film needs a great story.

So has it changed movies forever?
The answer for me is no, unless you happen to be a film director with $300 million dollars of someone else's cash in your back pocket.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Scent Of A Woman

Sometimes, just sometimes, the level of disregard that some people show towards others simply beggars belief. Today, for example, I found myself stuck in my daily commuter rut home from work alongside a silver BMW X5 filled with Mum and the two kids, one looked around 5-6 ish and I could see the arms of a toddler waving from a kiddy seat in the back.
Nothing unusual in that of course, there are millions of mums doing exactly the same thing at exactly the same time, day in day out, but three things drew my attention to this car in particular:

1. Mommy was clearly babbling away in the middle of a phone call as I could see the blue LED of her Bluetooth headset twinkling at her ear.

2. First-born was un-belted in the rear of the car and doing that 'wave at cars following behind' thing that we all did as kids whenever we were on the back seat of a bus.

3. All the windows in the "car" were up and Mommy was happily puffing away on a fag.

I know that it's #2 that should be angering me the most, but #3 made me want give School-Run Mom some of my horn and the finger, and I don't mean that in a fun, stag-night sort of way.
Now I know that she was technically breaking the law twice, first by allowing her elder son to become an unguided missile waiting to be launched and second by smoking in what would be considered a public place, what with the kids there and all, but by her actions she just graphically displayed to me how little regard she holds her kids in.

Manky cow.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Placebo Effect

Placebo don't really fit the mould of what you might call 'a conventional rock band'.
An androgynous bisexual lead singer, born in Belgium to a Scottish mother and an American father, growing up in Dundee before moving on to further education in Luxembourg and London, and a gay guitar hero who looks kinda like a skinny 7 foot tall version of that bloke Phil from 'Location, Location, Location'.

...but rock they most certainly do!

I've been a fan from 1996's 'Nancy Boy' [Jaggy: insert homophobic joke here] and have seen them live twice before, so when I saw that they were playing Glasgow's SECC on December 14th, I was more than happy* to blow £63.50 for two tickets.

It was an excellent gig. Placebo are a band clearly happy in their own music, and this came across in the show. Big Gay Stefan strode around the stage, and off it, like a tin-foil suit wearing colossus, trying to fornicate with his guitar at every opportunity, while Brian Molko sang his pretty little heart out, screaming and strumming in equal measure. They played a great mix of new material and old favourites, but it was the belting rock tracks like 'Song To Say Goodbye' and 'Every You Every Me' that really got the crowd baying for more.

One of the best live bands you'll ever see. Full stop.

*When I say "I was happy to pay £63.50 for two tickets", what I actually meant to say was that I was "fucking incandescent with rage" at having to pay £13.50 to fucking Ticketmaster over and above the £50 price for two tickets to cover the 'booking fee and delivery'.
I noted down my anger and queried the price in the "Please place any comments here" section of the booking page but as of yet I have received no reply.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Santa, if you're listening . . .

The winter nights are here, the weather is depressing and you probably had to scrape ice off of your car windscreen this morning. All in all, Christmas notwithstanding, December is a pretty miserable month.

But think how much better it would be if you had a brand new car made from stainless steel!

Yes, the DeLorean is back!
Like a phoenix from the flames, the DeLorean Motor Company has arisen, Lazarus like, from its own ashes and it's business as usual, only this time it's in Texas and not Dunmurray in Northern Ireland.

The DeLorean DMC-12 has to be one of the most iconic cars ever made, right up there with the VW Beetle and the original Mini. I've stumbled upon most supercars, Bugatti Veyron and McLaren F1 included, but I've never seen an original DMC-12 in the stainless steel flesh.
It's also one of the WORST cars ever made. It was heavy, it had no power steering and very little brakes, and it only had 137 horsepower from its Renault engine, so it was about as fast as a diesel Mondeo.

But who cares?!
It doesn't need to do 200mph, it only needs to do 88!

You can configure your brand new DMC-12 on the DeLorean website and mine worked out at $67,775.35, which is around £42K.
Considering that no other car will draw attention like a DeLorean, you'd have to say that's a bargain.

Time for a letter to Santa . . .

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Generation X

Things have improved a lot since the 70's.

I can't imagine living in a world without the Internet, without instantaneous worldwide communication, without cars that don't break down, without smoke-free pubs, without (much as it pains me to admit it) mobile phones with web access. Yes, Planet Earth: Version 2009 is vastly improved over Version 1970, albeit still riddled with bugs however.

One thing that doesn't appear to have got better is the quality of "entertainment" we are subjected to on the myriad tv channels that now govern our lives. This is most apparent (to me at least) on Saturday evenings.
If you're around the 40 mark like myself, then I'd imagine your Saturdays were spent in a similar fashion to my own. You'd have dinner somewhere around 6 o'clock, and then the whole family would sit down to watch that evening's shows.
For me, and indeed everyone in my house from what I remember, this culminated in what I consider to be one of the funniest and most entertaining tv shows ever made 'It's A Knockout'.

It was a perfect storm tv moment. Britain was ready for town vs town comedic rivalry and Stuart Hall had the most infectious laugh known to mankind. It ran from 1966 to 1982, an offshoot of the show 'Jeux Sans Frontières' which brought the nations of Europe together in friendly combat in 1965.
We never missed either show in my household when I was a kid, and even my father, Mr Bah Humbug himself, used to cackle with laughter at it. Genius.

It would never work nowadays however, which is a real shame. We're now too fixated on identi-kit "popstars" and Z list celebrities dancing or eating Rhino beetles to enjoy friendly competition for its own sake rather than for a reward.

More's the pity.

Monday, December 07, 2009

I feel the need . . . for speed

I'd like to ask a question:

Have you, or anyone you know, ever had a speeding fine from an Average Speed Camera?

I only ask because my 40 mile commute to work has a stretch of some 14 miles of the buggers and they're going to be there until September 2011!
It's sending my stress levels through the roof, sitting at a constant 40mph, eyes focused on the speedo, occasionally glancing at the road ahead, pulling out to overtake a car moving a 1/2mph slower than you, when the thought struck me:

I know no one who has ever had a ticket from these cameras, myself included.
The day they "went live" I hadn't heard the announcement on the radio and careered into the 40mph zone with my usual mix of 70mph+ abandon. This was now some weeks ago and, touch wood, no speeding ticket.

If it turns out that there is no one manning the cameras, or indeed no cameras in the boxes at all, then I'd actually have some respect for the authorities in charge of said cameras. Having said that, the temptation to take the numberplate off of my motorbike and scream through the 40 zone at 150+ is becoming harder to resist!

(For any members of the law enforcement community, this is clearly meant in jest . . . honest.)

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Sonic Boom Boy

I don't know whether to call Wing Commander Andy Green a hero or a fool.

He's either one or the other, or perhaps both.
He's already the fastest man on earth at an official 763.035 mph (or Mach 1.016 which sounds much cooler), a speed he set in Thrust SSC back in 1997. He also holds the world Diesel speed record at 350.092mph, set in the JCB DieselMax in 2006. You'd think this would be enough for any Boy's Own hero . . .

. . . but you'd be wrong.

In three years time, Andy Green hopes to be the first man to drive a car at over 1000mph in his spiky new car, Bloodhound SSC.

Like any red bloodied young man, I was fascinated by the world land speed record from an early age, mostly thanks to Top Trumps it must be said. I remember, as a geeky 13yr old, Britain's Richard Noble in his car Thrust2 bringing the record home "for Britain and for the hell of it!" with a speed of 650mph. I remember being glued to the tv, my father snoring in the background, my dinner uneaten on the table, as John Craven showed Thrust2 screaming across Black Rock Desert in the USA, a huge plume of dust billowing behind it.

Fast forward to 1997, and I sat glued to a computer monitor at the Motorola factory where I worked at the time, surfing this new 'interweb' thing, desperate for any info on the rumoured sonic boom from Thrust SSC.

It's no surprise therefore, that I'm now completely hooked on the new challenge that awaits Wing Commander Green, so much so that I've paid my £10 to have my name on the side of the car when it makes its attempt in a few years time. Oh yes, got my certificate and everything!

Andy Green, the hopes and prayers of geeks, nerds and engineering students the world over, rest on your shoulders. Godspeed, my friend.

PS - Just in case you forgot what he gets up to in his spare time . . .