Tuesday, 31 October 2006

Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death

The Grauniad works itself up into a righteous snit over a handful of goods that have no real reason to exist in a recent article entitled Small crimes against the planet. Unexpectedly it's quite funny:
Fairtrade one cup coffee filters
The coffee may "guarantee farmers in developing countries fair terms", but the design means that you throw away a plastic filter for every single cup you make, plus two lids per box. If you don't have a more efficient way to make coffee than this, get one.

Monday, 30 October 2006

Reasons I Don't Understand America Part 9

Via Lawyers, Guns & Money (yes I read a site that's named for a Zevon song, odd, huh?), comes yet another article on Battlestar Galactica. Wait! Come back. It also looks at how right-wingers have managed to completely misinterpret Star Trek, too:
Last year, a Star Trek rerun inspired Minnesota Star-Tribune columnist and warblogger James Lileks to concoct a plan that would eliminate any liberals who opposed abusing prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. "It’s time to institute Disintegration Chambers in our major American cities," wrote Lileks, referring to a Star Trek episode that featured two tribes who preferred to fight wars by disintegrating their own people rather than sending them into live combat. Even though the episode was actually an allegory about the perverse methods governments use to shield their people from the brutal costs of war, Lileks took quite a fancy to the idea of forced disintegration, especially for his ideological foes.

Anyway, back to BSG:
"The more I watch the new Battlestar Galactica series, the more the Cylons seem like Muslims," wrote "Michael," the author of the Battlestar Galactica Blog, back in March. "They believe they are killing humans for their god. This is very much like the Muslim concept of jihad, which instructs Muslims to spread their religion through war."

So, a technologically more advanced society overwhelms another with a pre-emptive airstrike in order to spread the word of one god, right, and the overwhelmed guys are the Americans. I'm not sure that that works.

Nice Work If You Can Get It

Jim Crace and, in the comments, Charlie Stross both have books on Amazon with that they have no knowledge of writing. Jim's, and you can search for it on Amazon, is called Useless America, which is a pretty decent title, he should write it immediately before someone steals it. Still, Jim seems to be selling a couple of copies every day without having done anything (Charlie's a little more coy with his numbers).

Monday, 23 October 2006


House of Mirth is a great film. It's 2 hours of almost unrelenting meanness where you are somewhat relieved when the heroine finally kills herself. It's a film where glances and silences say more than the dialogue which is often used to obscure the truth. It's the film Age of Innocence hopes it will be when it grows up.

Its director, Terence Davies — who also made the critically acclaimed (meaning I haven't seen it though I've heard it is very good) Distant Voices, Still Lives —, can't find work for love nor money. As he tells the Guardian in a long, sad, bitter interview:
"There's a man there called Robert Jones [former head of the Film Council's Premiere Fund] who made us jump through all sorts of hoops, and we actually did everything he wanted, and he turned round after four months and said, 'It won't travel'." He pauses for effect. "And that was somebody who had just put money into Sex Lives of the Potato Men! The way in which we were treated was absolutely shocking. If I can misquote Shaw, 'Those who can, do, and those who can't become Robert Jones.' " His voice is deep, theatrical, camp, hints of Liverpudlian with a touch of Noël Coward.
"You're up against people who know nothing, who have done a media degree or, worst of all, have done the Robert McKee lectures."

Why is that worst of all? "Because they've done a great deal of damage. Who can turn round and say it's good to have a climax on page six? Who said so? Robert McKee, and his theories are based on Casablanca, which was being written as it was being shot. So you're up against that level of philistinism. It beggars belief."
Actually, he says, there is one sure way to get a film made in Britain today. "Now you'll get money to make a film if you're a television comedian because people think lots of people will go. A Cock and Bull Story, a postmodernist comedy! What's that when it's at home? Is it funny or is it not? When I've seen Steve Coogan on television he's about as funny as tertiary syphilis." Davies is enjoying the rant, getting carried away with his flow. "I think, why are people putting money into him? But unfortunately we are awash with people who are third-rate - Ricky Gervais, Peter Kay, not a scrap of talent between them. None of them."

He Just Smiled And Gave Me A Vegemite Sandwich

I find Marmite to be the superior product in most ways and simply becuase it's not so sweet, but this news gives me little pleasure:

US bans Vegemite
THE United States has slapped a ban on Vegemite, outraging Australian expatriates there.

The bizarre crackdown was prompted because Vegemite contains folate, which in the US can be added only to breads and cereals.
Expatriates say that enforcement of the ban has been stepped up recently and is ruining lifelong traditions of having Vegemite on toast for breakfast.

Via Boing Boing.

Tuesday, 17 October 2006

Great Lost Moments In Advertising

The Observer got together Nick Cave, Jarvis Cocker, Beth Orton, Paul Morley, Anthony Genn and Antony Hegarty and asked them questions about the relevance of music, creativity and advertising. By far the best bit comes early on when Nick Cave is asked if he ever gets offered money to use his songs for selling stuff:
Often. There's a song called 'Red Right Hand', and a sanitary napkin company back in New Zealand wanted to use it, which was tempting ... but that was the closest I've ever come.

PS: Expecting blogging to be very light again this week. I've still got loads to do.

Bonus: Another pic from my gig:

Wednesday, 11 October 2006

Go There. Now!

Ten-Bob Dylan's latest band Little Baby Cheeses has a Myspace thing goin' on with all manner of downloady goodness. Check it out!

Tuesday, 10 October 2006

All TV All The Time

So, there's a trailer for the Doctor Who spin-off Torchwood on YouTube. And the BBC has a mysterious site up (password "221006" apparently, not sure if that's the only one). It's all looking good.

Is it just me, though, or is the logo for Torchwood a giant cock?

Thursday, 5 October 2006

They Were Only Satellites

Billy Bragg has a new book out, The Progressive Patriot. It seems to be about how an old lefty can still love his country without getting all misty eyed about cricket and warm beer.

The Observer interviewed him about this — and, yes, it's taken me until now to notice — making the odd ploy of sending an Irish man to ask an Englishman about his Englishness:
I tell him that his efforts to reclaim the flag of St George didn't quite win me over, given that it has different connotations for those of us raised in Northern Ireland. 'That's why it's important we reclaim it,' he replies, 'which I think we have. When the St George flag is waved in Trafalgar Square when we win the Ashes, it means one thing: this is who we are. This is our team and this is what they look like. One is a Sikh, one is a Muslim. It's interesting that Peter Hitchens hates the idea that the 11 young men in the football team represent England, but could you ever come up with 11 young men who look more like us?'

The book looks interesting while the interview seems bland except for the inteviewers slight peevishness:
There is less autobiography than I expected, too; no mention, for instance, of his stint in the army as a young man, an experience that must surely have afforded him an insight into an extreme version of British patriotism. 'It didn't really seem relevant that I was in the army for a bit,' he says, unconvincingly, when I mention this. 'The autobiographical things I put in there were selected purely to serve the book's argument.'

Tuesday, 3 October 2006

Grumpy Gamers

I recently stumbled across a couple of articles Keep Playing, It Might Get Better (via Tea Leaves) and The Mythical 40-Hour Gamer (via mumblemumble) which seem to be saying pretty much the same thing: Games these days are too long, and the stories are rubbish. Actually this sounds like the joke where the punchline is "the food here is terrible" "yes and such small portions", though there slightly more to it.

Andrew Smale doesn't seem to believe any of it is worthwhile:
Role playing games inherently have more hours of gameplay embedded within them - by the time a roleplayer has finished his latest adventure the FPS gamer has perhaps finished two. As a result player involvement goes much deeper - so deep that the resentment towards its lack of quality is enough to keep trudging through its poorly constructed game world or slipshod storytelling.

Clive Thompson seems to be operating under the assumption that however much gameplay a game might have he should finish it before the next must-have game comes out, though it seems to me that 40 hours is perfectly doable depending on how you spread out those hours. If you give up and then go on the the next distracting shiny thing, then, it seems to me, that this isn't a problem with the game.

Some games do seem to make progress unreasonably difficult though. This weekend I went back to playing Mercenaries to see if could get past the second boss level to get to the second half of the game. After a fairly frustrating hour or so I manged to sneak past everybody and rain down destruction on all the right things (and one wrong thing, but the bonus for not killing the boss wasn't balanced by the need to just move on). The game is now fun again as it has returned to its more sandbox styled central gameplay.

Also, there are plenty of great 10 hour games. Prince of Persia, Beyond Good and Evil and Psychonauts are three games with great story-telling, wonderfully realised worlds and fun characters. They all took around 8-12 hours to polish off and, while they all had their moments of frustration, I generally felt satisfied at the end of them. The myth of the 40 hour gamer is surely that a game must be 40 hours long.

One recent game that had an interesting compromise on this was The Godfather. The main story missions could be done within a few hours (more if you padded them out by taking down one family and doing all the hits) and then you could extend this by collecting everything and taking over the whole of New York. So you have a 10 hour core with an extra 30 hours gameplay for those who feel the need to accomplish everything. I find it fun, too, for short bursts of random violence. It's not a perfect game and it can feel repetitive in the long run, so as an experiment in appealing to two types of gamer it does fall somewhat short of truly satisfying either, especially with the problem that the story missions never become particularly testing.

In the end it may be we just have to accept there are some games we will never finish.