Archive for May, 2008

Some disconnected thoughts

Sunday, May 25th, 2008

Today’s points of interest:

  • Congratulations to Spider-Cheryl (can she swing from a web? Yes she can, and she can preach), who survived her plummet from the roof of the Europa yesterday.
  • This week’s running song is Nutbush City Limits. It’s another song that was just the right speed for me to run to this afternoon, and it’s got a really crazy instrument in it. I secretly hope that it’s a theremin (because the sound slides up and down a lot), but I haven’t been able to find any evidence to support my pet theory. It might just be some kind of synthesizer.
  • And in other running news, assisted by the mighty Tina and the rest of my running playlist, I ran just over 3 miles this afternoon, in 30 minutes. I have a feeling that this might not be very impressive, but I’m quite pleased that I can now do that kind of run and still be able to go up and down stairs afterwards without making faces.
  • If anyone else read this excellent and timely warning from Wired magazine, I can set your concerns at ease by confirming that the photo of me in my hat on the introductions page predates the latest Indiana Jones movie.

Indiana Jones

Saturday, May 24th, 2008

I’m not long back from the cinema, from watching Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. I know, the second time back at the cinema in only three weeks, but I couldn’t resist. There’s a couple of spoilers below, so if you don’t want to see the results, you may want to look away now.

So, what’s it like? Well, to be honest, I found it a bit unsatisfying. It’s got most of the right ingredients, but it just didn’t really work for me. It’s got good action sequences, (although a little silly in places) it’s got some good humour (as usual). It’s good a good cast, (though perhaps quite a large one), and I think Cate Blanchett made a reasonable baddie. Despite some concerns about his age, Harrison Ford can still pull it off, and I have to admit that I quite liked Shia Lebeouf (who I also liked in Transformers) as the young sidekick.

So what was it that didn’t work? Well, as is often the problem with these things, it’s all about the script. It starts straight into the action, slightly jarringly, with no real introduction. But I can forgive it that. What really doesn’t work for me is the central plot device. As I have blogged before, I still have the image in my mind of the famous crystal skull from Arthur C. Clarkes Mysterious World, but this film isn’t about that real skull, or one like it. Instead it becomes fairly clear from an early stage that this is an alien skull. The Indiana Jones movies have always had a supernatural element to them, but somehow having an alien artefact at the heart of the film rather than a supernatural one seems to cheapen it to me. I’m not sure why that is. Maybe it’s because of Stargate, where the whole thesis of the show is that supernatural things have scientific explanations, and there are no gods. Or maybe it comes back to my christian rejection of the Erich Von Daniken thesis that all of our religions are just based on alien visitations. In any case, I found it to be slightly flat, and lacking in the sense of wonder that the previous movies gave me.

But on the bright side, it must have been better than the Eurovision Song Contest ūüėÄ


Religious Leaders

Thursday, May 22nd, 2008

I happened to catch an interview this morning on the Today programme on Radio 4 with the Dalai Lama (which may still be available here). What an interesting chap he is!

He was¬†asked¬†about¬†all¬†the¬†things you¬†might¬†expect¬†– Tibet, China, the Olympics, Buddhism. Pretty serious subjects – he wasn’t given a particularly easy ride. And yet throughout he remained positive, and you could hear the smile in his voice throughout. He said that his aim is for an autonomous Tibet within China, to benefit¬†both¬†sides¬†as¬†a¬†compromise solution, and continues to re-iterate that they must only use non-violent means.

What¬†a¬†guy!!¬†He¬†is¬†surely¬†the¬†Mohatma¬†Gandhi¬†of¬†our¬†generation, unhappy about¬†the¬†treatment¬†of¬†his¬†people, but absolutely refusing violence and negativity, and wanting to make progress through compromise and negotiation. And let’s face it, he has not been very successful thus far, but he is passionate that he will not support any¬†other way.

And¬†what¬†a¬†great¬†spokesperson¬†for¬†a¬†religion, and for a country. As¬†I¬†said,¬†you¬†can¬†hear¬†him smile when he speaks. Even when he is talking about things that are very serious and important to him, he comes back to that gentle, smiling tone. He is very human, and a real contrast to the other religious leaders of his stature (who I guess are the archbishop of Canterbury, and the pope). When you hear them speaking, it is in sermons and press releases – formal, complex communications. When the Dalai Lama speaks, he¬†is not looking thoughtful and serious – he wants to connect with people on¬†a¬†human¬†level. I’ve even been told that he’s been known to sneak sweets to people when he shakes hands. Can you see the Archbishop of Canterbury doing that?

I¬†have¬†no¬†intention¬†of¬†becoming¬†a¬†Buddhist,¬†but¬†I¬†can’t¬†help¬†feeling¬†that¬†if we all were a little more like him the world would be a better place. And that goes double for politicians, church leaders, and managers!

PS. But now that I think about it, there is one other church leader who exudes that feeling of inner peace and joy, despite coming through difficult times – Desmond Tutu, another man who I have the most profound respect for. Now I definitely won’t have to become a buddhist. Only be a bit less white…

Doctor Who News

Tuesday, May 20th, 2008

Well, according to the news (Radio 4, as well as the BBC News web site), the time has finally come, and Russell T Davies is hanging up his sonic screwdriver and leaving Doctor Who.

Doctor Who News

This was always inevitable for someone who has such a high profile television career (for example listed here), who is bound to have turned down a lot of other jobs over the past 5 years.

So lets have a ponder about his contribution:

  • Let’s face it, he got Doctor Who back onto television when it had been basically written off after the failed revival of 1996. And not only did he get it back on tv, but he made it successful. That’s a phenomenal achievement for something which had some fairly low expectations. The fact that he was a respected figure in the tv industry meant that the BBC trusted him with a decent slide of cash to make the first series. And the fact that he loved with the show with the passion of a fan meant that he was really excited about, and wanted it to succeed not for the good of his career, but because he just loved it. For that I’d buy him a drink any day.
  • But I have to be honest,¬†I¬†don’t¬†think¬†that¬†the¬†episodes¬†that he himself has written have been the best. I get the feeling that he works best as a creative visionary, but that other people are better at the actual nuts and bolts of writing stories. If you have an honest look at an episode list (such as this one),¬†I¬†think¬†the¬†best¬†episodes¬†in each season were those written¬†by¬†other people. And he has written some of the worst ones (notably Love and Monsters in series two).
  • I¬†think¬†we¬†can¬†admit¬†that¬†he¬†is¬†a¬†bit¬†obsessed with sex. This has obviously come out (pun intended) more fully in Torchwood, but it has also become a feature of Doctore Who during his reign. To be honest, I can live without that.
  • He¬†has¬†tended¬†to¬†ground¬†Doctor¬†Who¬†much¬†more¬†than¬†in¬†the¬†past,¬†in both ways. There have been more earth-based episodes then before, which is aimed at making it a bit more accessible, and real for people. I can understand that. But he also created characters with much more baggage than usual, with families to worry about and come back to. That’s probably a bit more realistic, but at times there was a danger of drifting out of sci fi into soap.

He’ll be a hard act to follow, having produced some great Saturday evening television,¬†and¬†having¬†set¬†high¬†expectations¬†for¬†the¬†series¬†going¬†forward.

But the¬†good¬†news¬†is¬†that¬†Stephen¬†Moffat¬†has¬†written¬†some¬†of the best episodes of the new series, and he has been a fan since childhood as well, so I guess he’s as safe a pair of hands as we good hope for.

Calling all Conspiracy Theorists

Sunday, May 18th, 2008

I went out on my bike today to unravel one of the great mysteries of the M1 motorway. Near the Lurgan exit, somewhere in the distance, an odd golf-ball-like construction can sometimes be seen. Today I sought it out, And this is what I found, a mere 3/4 of a mile from the M1.

Castor Bay

This place claims to be the Castor Bay Waste Water Treatment Works, but clearly that’s just a front. Let’s take a look at this construction on the roof. What does it remind you of? Well, clearly it’s a shield generator from an Imperial Star Destroyer. Take a look!!

Imperiasl Star Destroyer

So why do we find an artifact of alien technology from a galaxy far, far away on the roof of a building on the shore of Lough Neagh? What are they really up to?? I have no idea. But I would imagine there’s a good conspiracy story in it.

On music

Friday, May 16th, 2008

I’ve had some thoughts on music over the last few weeks.

  • I was at the cinema early for Iron Man, and they had left a teenager in charge of the music before the trailers started. Bad move. Dance music is not my thing, but I think my friend said it best when he (loudly) commented
    “If you were listening to this music, how the f*** would you know if your CD player was broken”.
    It was a fair comment. We concluded that what we were listening to was unworthy of the label “music”, and decided that it needed a different description. I humbly present for your consideration the term “structured noise”. Try it out a few times, and see how it works for you. Especially if you find yourself listening to Radio 1.
  • At the other end of the scale, I spent part of a Sunday afternoon listening to the most elite Salvation Army band in the UK, at a bandstand in the village of Scarva, on a really nice sunny afternoon. There was a massive crowd, and I enjoyed the band. I know I’m old fashioned, but I think there’s something special about music that comes from people breathing, or banging, or whatever, without all the technology and amplification.
  • My good headphones are banjaxed. Major trauma! I spent most of my time in the gym tonight either caressing or tickling the headphone cable to get it back into the precise spot where I could get sound in both ears. It was of course a complete waste of time, since the whole point of going to the gym is to move around, so the sound cut out again constantly.
  • This was just typical. I somehow never get to fully immerse myself in Pink Floyd’s Us And Them as much as it deserves. It’s a truly great song, with a wonderful haunting tune, fabulous saxophone, and words that are pretty powerful, especially for someone like myself, who grew up in a very “them and us” culture in Northern Ireland. But it’s a very long song, so it nearly always get interrupted in some way. Frustration!!

Iron Man

Saturday, May 3rd, 2008

Went to the cinema last night to see Iron Man. I haven’t been to the movies for ages, as nothing much has interested me. But I really enjoyed this one – it’s a really good action movie. It also raises some fairly interesting points. The whole set-up in Afghanistan is interesting; it’s a country that has been fought over for millennia, from Alexander the Great, through the Romans, Ottomans, Mongols, Russians, and now the Americans. I thought the Afghan villain’s main speech was pretty well-written, and seemed plausible, as they are a people who are very aware of their warrior history.

The fact that the plot centered around weapons manufacture was also interesting, as that’s a very current subject. Only a week or two ago a shipment of arms for Zimbabwe got sent back to China, as dock workers refused to unload it. I thought that was a great act of humanity, and those guys will be unsung heroes, whatever happens in Zimbabwe. Likewise in the UK we still haven’t got to the bottom of the story of the Saudi arms deal which wasn’t quite investigated. The film makes interesting arguments on the morality of making weapons from both sides.

With these movies, the effects are always good, but more unusually I thought that it also told a good story, and that Robert Downey Jr. did a great job in the lead role.

So a good night out, and something like 7 or 8 out of 10.

Run, Forrest, Run!

Saturday, May 3rd, 2008

Went out for another run today, determined not to overdo it this time. Ran just over 3 miles, to the office and back. After 5 minutes, discovered that my legs still aren’t quite right from last week, as my calves got sore.

But this week’s lessons are:

  • My old headphones stay in my ears better. Even more so if I put the cable under my T-shirt to stop it flapping about.
  • The second best song was Walls come tumbling down by the Style Council. Yes, I know it’s all a bit eighties, and yes I know that the line about “dangling jobs like a donkey’s carrot” works rally badly, but the song was just the right speed for running, and has a nice positive message about people power.
  • I managed to run just over 3 miles in just over 30 minutes (though I did have a break when I called in at a friend’s house), which is just kind of speed I was hoping for.

So it remains to be seen how sore my legs are tomorrow.