May 2006 Archives
...someone got off the train today carrying a copy of The Secret History by Donna Tartt and with a pre-recorded video in her bag. I thought that maybe I'd gone through some kind of time warp...
...I got in and turned on the radio to hear the Hungarian national anthem being roundly booed by the fans at Old Trafford. These fine specimens are the real fans that the FA is trying hard to get extra tickets in Germany for. The TV sound had a different feed and you couldn't hear the booing...
So, the question is, what's being broadcast in the Drama on 3 slot next weekend on Radio 3? After this week's play, the announcer trailed something that made me very happy indeed - an adaptation of Death and the Penguin by Andrey Kurkov. I'm a big Kurkov fan. But all the listings, including the BBC's site suggest it's actually Breakfast With Mugabe directed by Antony Sher.
I'm a big Kurkov fan, so I'm looking forward to Death and the Penguin, but Breakfast With Mugabe sounds like it could be really good too. Which is it to be?
I've just been watching The Guardian's webcast of Al Gore's speech at the Hay-on-Wye literary festival (he's got a book coming out later this year, so there is some reason for him to speak). He's quite a speaker isn't he? I think sometimes we forget that politicians, whatever we may think of them, have to be charismatic characters, Americans in particular since they've got to raise so much money. I've mentioned before a documentary called Journeys with George that followed George W Bush in the run-up to his first presidential election, and spoken of how much of a nice guy he came over as.
So it shouldn't be a surprise that Gore is such an excellent presenter. He has a presentation about global warming, that he has taken out on the road for the last year or two, and much of this speech no doubt comes from this. Indeed this presentation is forming the basis of a documentary feature film, An Inconvenient Truth, that screened in Cannes last week. There's no UK date for the film yet, but I look forward to it.
The speech was excellent, and Gore speaks without notes. I certainly believe that Gore truly has a great passion for his subject, and let's face it, it's something that any of us who care about the future should not only care about, but worry deeply about.
I hope, and suspect, that The Guardian will have a podcast of this speech available sometime soon. Technically it worked well enough, although the volume was low, and I had to max everything out and listen through headphones to hear it properly.
Tragically, on the day that John Simpson put up a sterling defence for journalists doing real work out in Iraq, and not just being holed up in the Green Zone in Bagdhad, two British journalists working for CBS television have been killed by a roadside bomb.
Simpson was responding to complaints from Rageh Omaar, quoted in The Independent. Sadly, the original article is now behind the Indie's paywall.
This being the end of May, it also marks the end of the so-called Everest season. It's that brief window when the weather allows climbers to attempt to ascend the world's highest mountain. But this year an awful lot of climbers have died on the mountain.
Every year, the number of parties attempting to summit seems to increase, and it's not surprising, since, for under $20,000 there are plenty of tour operators who will effectively drag you up the mountain to a lesser or greater extent.
OK, so climbing Everest isn't quite the achievement it once was, with Sherpas roping up just about the entire mountain in the early part of the season to ease the paying clients over the coming weeks. But you do hear stories that make the crowds on Everest in that brief opening weather window sound like the slopes of Snowdon or Ben Nevis on a sunny August day.
I'm not a climber - just an occassional walker - and I've certainly never been to the Himalayas or anywhere close to the "death zone" at 8,000m. I have read plenty about the issues, however, including books by Joe Simpson.
So it's really scary to hear some of the reports you still get from Everest where a different kind of morality seems to exist. Read this piece on the recent death of a British climber, David Sharp, for example. 40 climbers went past the man as he died. Now I don't suppose that there was a great deal that they could have done for him except perhaps trying to get him back down. But that would have jeapordised their own chances of summiting. (Another report of the story from the Telegraph).
What would I do if I was out for a nice walk in the hills without a mobile and found a man bleeding to death? I have no real first aid training, so I'd patch him up as best I could and then head back to civilisation as fast as possible to get help. Not really the same, although I probably hadn't spent $20,000 to get to the top of the hill I was walking on that day, so my giving up the trip wouldn't worry me.
Another story that has just come to light is about the man who was left for dead, but then found to be alive the next morning. A rescue mission was put in place and, at time of writing, a full recovery seems likely.
Over the last couple of years there have been a couple of expeditions to collect the belongings and indeed, the remains of George Mallory, the pioneering British moutaineer who died in 1924 attempting to scale Everest. The fact that they were able to find his body, still preserved on the mountain tells us something about another dirty secret of Everest. Many of those who die on the mountain are just left there, and will remain there year after year. They may, in time, be covered by rocks. But the snow melts and in any case, in some of the more extreme sections of the hill, it simply gets blown off. There are no vultures at those altitudes to give the body a Tibetan "sky funeral". You have to walk past the bodies of those who've gone before you.
All in all, I find it to be a very sorry indictment of our society that this behaviour can still take place. Indeed it's questionable morally that we should even be in the country "holidaying" while a civil war is essentially underway.
Now a general rule of thumb I'll always make when deciding if I'm going to read a book is this: if Davina McCall gives the book a ringing endorsement, then it's probably not for me. (As an aside, I learn with shock that some publishers are actually embossing the Richard & Judy Bookclub logo on their books rather than the more traditional, and eminently removable, sticker. To those unfortunate enough to have such a title in their possession, I can only recommend placing a "3 for 2" sticker over the top).
But I made an exception for Yes Man, because I'd quite liked Danny Wallace's previous book, Join Me. This time around Wallace decides to say Yes a bit more, with over the top consequences. We get a year in his life and there are some real ramifications of doing it. Obviously, we get the humourous take on things, and you're always slightly suspicious that as the costs are stacking up, they're going to mitigated somewhat by the book deal. I'm being unfair though. Of course you want him to travel around and do off the cuff things. I wasn't entirely convinced by some of the cod religious stuff (Did he really meet a reincarnation of Jesus on the back of a bus? Or was he actually just a teacher with a positive frame of mind).
However, I can happily recommend this book which has some laugh out loud moments that certainly made some of my fellow tube passengers think I was mad.
I went to see a recording for the new series of Genius this week. It was at the Cochrane Theatre and it was raining outside. Very soon, it was raining inside too. I'm reliably informed that producing such an effect on demand would have been very expensive. The Cochrane Theatre's roof made it very cheap doing it for real.
Dave Gorman notes the recording here.
After the performance some people went up to the bar to say hi to Dave and his guest Chris Addison. One girl had her photo taken with Dave and Chris. She then mentioned that these would be going straight to positions one and two in her photos league table. What? Who else did she have photos of? Well Sir Trevor ("Trev") had been bumped to number three. And Ant and Dec had been pushed down to four. She'd met them at some party she'd gatecrashed and they weren't too happy with having a photo taken. I was unable to establish if Ant and Dec had been standing the right way around.
The British Library has a new exhibition at the moment called The Front Page. It's a retrospective of around 100 front pages from British (well, I reckon English actually, since I didn't see any papers from outside of London, with the possible exception of the Manchester Guardian) newspapers from the last 100 years.
It's fascinating visit with all the outbreaks and endings of wars, deaths of famous people, major events and disasters that you'd expect.
Each is accompanied by a brief piece of explanatory text. It was marvellous to read about The Daily Sketch offering free Zeppelin insurance to readers in case they were bombed by one during WWI. The masthead proclaimed that they'd paid out 82 times so far. There were the moon landings and the sporting triumphs. It was good to see front pages that I remember being published and actually buying - Jonathan Aitkin and "He Lied and Lied and Lied" in The Guardian, or The Independent's cover explaining "How the Universe Began" amongst others.
The exhibition is very much one of front covers, although they do make an exception for a Cassandra column which was dressed up as a "Wanted" poster for Hitler. That was a page 10.
Actually, I'd loved to have learnt more about some of the history of these papers. Newspaper stunts are obviously nothing new with the Daily Mail in particular keen to get its reporters in places like the south pole, or be first sending transatlantic images. And I know that while today's DVD circulation battles seem crippling, they're nothing new... well obviously DVDs are, but you know what I mean. In the past insurance was a big promotional gimick, as were sets of encyclopedias. Perhaps I need to read the exhibition's accompanying book?
There are also a bank of Macs at the exhibition which put you in charge with making up a front page of your own. You're taken through a day in the life, and have to decide what story to lead on, and how your front page should be built. It's all done with the click of a mouse. Then, at the end, you get to go and get a printout of your very own front page.
I've played around quite a bit with VOIP but thus far, I've not really embraced it. A while back I mentioned that I'd seen Tesco selling cheapish phones accompanying their own VOIP service. Today I crossed over to the darkside and went into Tesco where I noticed a sign that suggested that the phones had been reduced to £14.97. Never one to turn down a bargain, I popped one in the basket (also managed to get a football shaped mug with some PG Tips and a "limited edition" World Cup Coke glass). But when the total was rung up, I noticed that it was priced up at £19.97. Once I'd paid, I had a close look at the receipt; Tesco, like other retailers has this annoying habit of announcing, with a fanfare, all the savings you've made at the end of your transaction, rather than as the items are scanned. So it was possible that the fiver would be at the bottom in terms of a "saving".
It wasn't, so I did that terribly un-British thing, and questioned it. Assistants went to check, since the display was in line of sight of the till. It seemed that the offer should have expired on May 14, but someone had neglected to remove the sticker. Fine, I'll get my fiver back.
Off to customer service, where the problem was explained. But instead of just crediting me with the fiver, they gave me all my cash back. Cool. Free VOIP phone then.
Of course, even with a fiver's worth of credit, I really wanted the phone for either Skype or GoogleTalk. James was able to point me in the direction of the drivers, and all seems to work fine. And I can feel somewhat better, safe in the knowledge that I've cost Tesco a few quid today instead of vice-versa.
Now I just need to try GTalk2VoIP.
The Last Stand (or X-Men 3 as it was known until pretty recently) is the latest, and possibly final entry in the X-Men film series. Although Bryan Singer was univerally praised for his first two, they always left me a little cold; perhaps because I was more a DC comics reader than Marvel. Singer, of course, has gone over to the DC universe and made Superman Returns, a trailer for which ran in front of this film. And was that John Williams's score I heard in it? So the mythology of X-Men was not as deep-seated with me as Batman or Superman. Indeed, even Spiderman was a bigger draw for me. In fact, I only got around to watching the second film on DVD a month or so ago.
Anyway, back to The Last Stand. There's lots of backstory revolving around the seemingly dead Jean Grey, and a businessman has developed a "cure" to mutantism.
The film has all the necessary bangs, explosions and over the top action sequences. I can't fault the CGI, but it just feels so-so. There's no real suspense, and I don't especially empathise with any of the characters. Hugh Jackman's Wolverine growls, Halle Berry's Storm does nothing very special at all, and the rest of the cast feel like they've stepped off the set of one of those teen soaps.
I didn't completely lose interest, but if it weren't for the fact that I really can't bring myself to see The Da Vinci Code, I mightn't have gone to this film at all. It's really just so-so.
It'll be curious to see if there's a malaise in big summer releases this year. Pirates of the Caribbean 2 could be interesting, but I won't hold my breath, and the Poseidon remake looks dreadful (and that's just from the trailer). Only Superman Returns really appeals.
Wandering aroud Ottaker's today I couldn't help noticing that someone's managed to publish Deal or No Deal, the book. So, I wondered, exactly how do you turn a guessing game into a 400 page book. A quick flick through it, revealed that it must have been "written" inside a week. As I say, Deal or No Deal is a guessing game, so this book just seems to be a guessing game based on how much the banker would offer in various situations. Page after page of printouts of the "board" of remaining values.
No doubt the board game, the video game and the mobile phone game are all just around the corner...
This is the book for which Indriðason won the CWA Gold Dagger award last year. I enjoyed the first book in the series, Tainted Blood (or previously, Jar City), and the return of police detective Erlendur is welcome. As before, he's struggling with his private life. He lives alone, but his dug-addicted daughter has miscarried and is in a coma.
In the meantime, some bones are uncovered on a hillside... Flashbacks to a time when Reykjavik is under Allied occupation during the Second World War, and a husband who beats his wife and taunts his children including a disabled daughter. It's pretty horrible what she's having to put up with.
The question, then, is how does this relate to the bones that have turned up in the present day?
This is a short book, but a very good one. On the surface everything seems very simple, but digging into the past unearths complexities and complications. We learn some more of Erlendur's background, and begin to understand why he's had such a tumultuous personal life.
I am a bit of a long time Pet Shop Boys fan and this album really is the best since Behaviour with some great tunes and some serious politics. Integral, for example, closes the album and is all about a subject I hold closely - ID Cards:
If you've done nothing wrong you've got nothing to fear
If you've something to hide you shouldn't even be here
You've had your chance now we've got the mandate
If you've changed your mind I'm afraid it's too late
We're concerned you're a threat
You're not integral to the project.
Of course this album marks the return of Trevor Horn, who worked on Left To My Own Devices. I still remember putting my Introspective cassette, newly purchased from Our Price in Bath, into my cassette player, only to hear some kind of orchestration. I seriously considered that there might have been some kind of mix-up in the duplication factory. Left To My Own Devices remains one of my favourite ever PSB songs.
As a consequence, I'm really looking forward to hearing their recently recorded concert with the BBC Concert Orchestra this Saturday on Radio 2. This opens with a fully orchestrated, full length version of Left To My Own Devices. It also features Rufus Wainwright, Frances Barber and Robbie Williams. Should be quite a listen. Then there's Wednesday's C4 documentary, Saturday's appearance on The Culture Show, and today's interview with Simon Mayo.
Anyway, rush out and get hold of Fundamentalism!
Listeners to The Geoff Show may have heard ITV's Head of Entertainment recently fielding programme suggestions from listeners. He was very good, and a scarily high proportion of ideas had already either been pitched or even produced.
Anyway, Jackson is no Johnny come lately to the broadcasting game, and he's just presented the first pair of three shows on Radio 4 called LA Stories explaining how American TV works.
Here's a scary fact about how US TV schedules work. Pitching new shows happens between 4 July and the end of September, so get those scripts ready now! One of the execs on the first show said they collectively heard 350 drama pitches, of which they buy 60 scripts, from which 8 will get made as pilots, from which 3 will get made as a series. And only one of those three in an average year will get to stay on the air and reach the end of its first season or get renewed for a second.
Finally, welcome if you've just come to me from The Geoff Show. Hope you like what you see, and feel free to go through the rigmarole of getting a Typekey username so that you can comment below. Even then, I get to say yay or nay on comments, but unless you're really nasty, it'll be yay.
How long has Doonesbury been in the Independent on Sunday? It always seemed a little weird that The Observer didn't carry it - and now I know why. (Although I think it was probably more a case of nobody else taking it, and IoS deciding that they would).
A good piece on Mediaguardian about HD, with Sky's service launching today, and material already being available to some Telewest customers.
I tend to think that it won't take off quite as quickly as some would hope, since we've alredy got more definition with PAL, compared to the US NTSC format. We've also had widescreen for quite a while now. We're certainly all buying HD ready TVs, but that's really a by product of the cheaper and more readily available flat screen LCD and plasma TVs that are now on the market. They're HD ready by default.
Undoubtedly, some will be jumping to upgrade their Sky or Telewest systems, but for most it'll be a natural progression rather than a quick jump. Allied to the fact that we still don't know which format will win out in the Hi Def DVD market, complications over various DRM systems, and suddenly it's only the early adopters who'll be jumping in - at least until Sky end up giving away the boxes to all their customers.
HD won't move as fast in Britain as some expect. Certainly not as fast as it has in the States.
A report from the European Media Forum is reported to suggest that BBC Radios 1 and 2 should be sold off. They'd raise £500m and since this would "re-balance the radio market and level the competitive playing field between commercial broadcasters."
I beg to differ.
What'd actually happen is that vast parts of commercial radio would struggle as the newly independent Radios 1 and 2 sucked up the vast majority of advertising. In terms of audience share, commercial would suddenly be bigger - well that's not surprising, since only Radios 4 and Five Live have any size at all. But would it really help the radio industry?
Who'd be likely to come along and make a bid. Would it be GCap? They're expected to annouce severely reduced earnings in a couple of days. There'd be British bidders undoubtedly. But isn't it likelier that Clear Channel would come in and buy at least one, and immediately have a massive stake in the UK commercial radio market.
And would the ad market grow massively to support these services? Or would it simply unbalance the current one, and end up with everyone else losing significant revenues?
I've been meaning for ages to mention the Digilogic PVR that I got from Argos a while back - the FVRT95 (incidentally it's identical to the T90, but that's Argos code).
For under £100 you've got an 80 GB single-tuner PVR which'll record around 40 hours of television. As it came supplied it could timer record programmes via either manual timings, or, more likely, the 7 day guide. You could also pause live TV in a Sky+ like ability.
All very well, and I loved it. But there were a few issues. There were only 8 recording slots for you to program - somewhat less than you might want if you go away for a week or two. Deleting programmes sometimes left the machine in a crashed state, and it'd then take a while to identify all the true free space it had.
Well this weekend saw a significant firmware upgrade. Now the 8 slots have been replaced by 32 - even I'm unlikely to use that many (apart from anything else, I'll have filled the disk). Rewinding live TV's been introduced (something Sky+ has always had). What that means is that if you've been watching a programming, and suddenly want to double check what just happened, you can rewind, irrespective of whether you were recording the programme. This functionality also means that as long as you were watching from the start, you can decide you want to keep a recording of the programme you're watching. Finally, the much needed skip function is in place. By default it's 3 minutes. So you're watching a recorded programme from commercial TV. An ad break comes up, and you immediately skip forward 3 minutes and continue with your programmes. Advertisers love this sort of thing.
In truth, this doesn't have any functionality that Sky+ doesn't already have - indeed the series-link button is still missing (Record every episode of The Line of Beauty in one button push). Also Sky has recently started having green button prompts during trails to encourage you to set timers for those shows. It also needs a second tuner - there is a model available but it hasn't got the new firmware.
But this comes in the week that Freeview's announced the forthcoming Freeview Playback as a "brand" name for Freeview PVRs, which'll no doubt include some generic functionality that all devices must include.
Now what I'd really like now is some kind of PC link-up with my device so that I can grab the raw mpeg2 recordings and burn them onto DVD. There are various people working on such things, but not with my particular firmware, and the machines require you to open them up and remove the hard-disk, before plugging it into another PC (or an external hard-disk case). I'd like the next generation of boxes to either have a USB connection or even a CAT-5 connector. That way I can quickly and efficiently burn DVDs from my recordings - perhaps editing them first.
In the meantime, if you've got a few quid in your pocket and are happy with Freeview, then I can think of very little reason not to jump at getting one of these.
I'm loving the Lithuania entry. Broadly speaking, the entire song's lyrics were:
"We are the winners... of Eurovision" and "Vote for the winners"
I think there were a few boos in the audience in Athens though. I guess that some people take the competition a bit more seriously than I do.
Oh look. The official site has their lyrics.
And this study on collusive voting is fascinating...
Now we just await the Finnish entry...
Wow. That was worth waiting for.
And I just wanted to check... was the UK entry a real one? I mean, isn't "Daz" some kind of Armando Iannucci or Paul Whitehouse creation that they just haven't let on about yet?
I found it strangely difficult to turn over during the Ukraine performance. Terry says that's it's going to go "big in the Baltic."
Anyway, I've just had a look and it's a choice of Ben Elton, a bunch of retards (and I use the word advisedly) locked up somewhere in Elstree, a film I have on DVD or CSI. And CSI is always on.
What's with these countries that have the temerity not to sing in English? Still put on Ceefax 888 to read the enlightening English translation of the Croatian lyrics. Sample:
Oy da da oy da oy da da da Oy da da oy da
But Terry's annoying me now by talking in the middle of the songs. Still Ceefax has just referred to Munster as Monster. And Ireland has entered a singer I've heard of. That's not what we do in these islands. Didn't RTE nearly go bust a few years back when they kept having to host the competition as repeat winners?
Sweden's got a ringer in Carola. And she's won before. And she's a favourite. And she's singing in English.
Turkey has too many tattoos. But I reckon I know the Turkish for "superstar" now. You probably do to.
Armenia finishes it off with something very targeted indeed.
Terry's excited about the use of the word "amazing". The best bit is happening now. It's the voting process. William Hill has Sweden as favourite. And they're running live voting.
I may turn over while Nana Mouskouri sings.
Hmm. ITV's basically running a telethon with Ben Elton presiding. I thought I caught a glimpse of a somewhat mystified Prince Charles.
The voting's changed this year, with more countries. They're only reading out the top 3 songs, so there's less opportunity for each country's host to mug for the camera.
Currently it's looking good for the Finns, but there are plenty of countries to go...
Finland are running away with this. And whenever Lithuania get points the Athens crowd continue to boo.
If the ad on the back page of today's Guardian is anything to go by, it looks like I'm going to be avoiding Channel 4 even more than usual for the next three months. Meanwhile on the other side, ITV are somehow stretching out a celebrity football match into a week long event. So I'll be giving that a miss. Then there's "Celebrity Love Island" which involves neither celebrities nor love.
I suggest doing one of the following instead:
- Watch the World Cup. And not just the England games. It'll be good!
- Read the Aventis Prize winner - Electric Universe
- Enjoy the sun - we're suffering a draught you know
- Go and see a decent film like United 93
- Watch a cult DVD boxset like Adam Adamant Lives! or the Andromeda Anthology
- Why don't you switch off your television set and go and do something less boring instead?
This version has been described as a re-imagining, but I'd say that it's more of a shot-for-shot remake, with David Seltzer being credited as the writer of both films. There are twenty-first sensibilities to this film, but this is some kind of post-ironic take on the original. The look, style and feel are very close to those of the earlier version. There are certainly scary sequences, but there isn't as much blood and gore as we tend to get nowadays. This isn't a Final Destination type of film.
It's been a while since I saw that version, but the famous sequences are still there intact with Liev Schreiber and Julia Styles taking the Greogory Peck and Lee Remmick roles of the American ambassador to Britain and his wife. Mia Farrow takes on the disturbing Mrs Baylock role - little Damian's nanny.
David Thewlis plays the reporter's role that David Warner had in the original, while Patrick Troughton's Fr Brennan in the original is now Pete Postlethwaite.
The two films do differ from each other, but not enough to be considered a long way apart. The pacing is very deliberate, and the performances are pretty good. This film's been remade with serious intent, and even some of the original Jerry Goldsmith score has found its way in.
The one thing I did find very noticeable was that the whole thing was made in the Czech Republic. The scenes in London were patently in no such place, with CGI London Eyes grafted into a couple of scenes. I don't proclaim to know every square foot of London, but the scene where Thorn meets Brennan under a bridge in the rain, was certainly not in the capital, and was quite possibly actually in a studio. But the real tell-tale signs were the police vehicles which simply weren't accurate, and most of all, the locale of the car chase that occurs towards the end of the film. You've got to be suspicious of any streets with tram-tracks, unless they're in Croydon or Manchester, and when a car headlight briefly lit up a Czech bank sign (complete with Czech signage), you know that the production was shot on a budget. Having said all that, it was equally the case that London wasn't London in last week's Dr Who.
A completely separate aside now. For years, I've always linked films to the IMDB, a database that I first remember compiling in UNIX from a newsgroup download back in 1989, before the advent of the web. But I've got to be honest - I really hate the pop-unders that it serves up all the time. Get rid of this nonsense now.
It was sad to hear about the death of Val Guest. He died last week, but no newspaper (perhaps with the exception of the subs only Variety) has yet run an obituary.
He had a fabulous career, working with Will Hay in his early days, through to directing the Hammer versions of the Quatermass films amongst others. He also co-directed Casino Royale, but I don't suppose that Confessions of a Window Cleaner or the Cannon and Ball vehicle, The Boys in Blue, were ever foremost on his CV.
In 2001, I was lucky enough to hear him speak at a screening of one of my favourite films which he directed, The Day The Earth Caught Fire. I also got a signed copy of his autobiography, So You Want To Be In Pictures. I'll be honest and admit that I've only ever dipped into this book, so I can't comment on the poor reviews it gets at Amazon.
One way or another, he had a significant impact on British films over the years and was an important figure, and he will be missed.
Great piece from Sunday's New York Times Magazine by Kevin Kelly on the state of play in scanning books (via just about everywhere)
No doubt this'll show up in the future on one of those Chris Tarrant shows, but I was amazed when I saw this advert on Italian TV at the weekend.
Did someone, somewhere, think maybe, just maybe, that this ad is, well, racist?
Someone's put it on Google Video, so here it is:
This book comes garlanded with awards - it's the FT business book of the year, and the author's won many a Pulitzer prize. In short it's a book about globalisation, although that's far too simplistic a word to truly explain what Friedman's getting at.
The "Flatness" of the world that he's talking about is the way that we can now outsource so many different services to far-flung parts of the world. For some time now, manufacture has happened everywhere, but now we can have people in India or China do many of the jobs we hadn't previously thought of sending abroad. More and more work is shifting there. So what does this mean for the societies we live in (particularly America) and our futures? What are the good and bad things that are likely to happen as a consequence?
This book has been substantially rewritten between its hardback and paperback editions - rightly so, since the world's moving pretty fast. And while you may have known many of the things that Friedman talks about, he crystalizes them well. At times you almost feel that you're being brow-beaten into understanding a point as the same subject is returned to over and over, but it's all very readable.
I suppose the biggest criticism I have is that at times the book is written from a too-American point of view. But Friedman is not afraid to confront some very uncomfortable subjects, and it's to be hoped that the mass appeal of this book will lead a few more Americans to sit up and take notice. When you read about how many additional new cars are hitting the streets of Beijing every month, it's not so difficult to understand why the price of oil is only ever going to get higher and higher.
Incendiary had the misfortune, last year, to be published in hardback on July 8. I must admit that I thought that it was a run of the mill thriller. Well I couldn't have been more wrong. Obviously the cover isn't really right, and the book is about 200 pages shorter than the average thriller.
The reason I got this mistaken idea is that the book effectively opens with a bomb going off at Arsenal's new stadium while they're playing Chelsea.
The book is told from the first person point of view of a woman who has just lost her husband and her son, while she was making love with another man. And then it goes on to deal with the aftermath of the terrorist atrocity as we see how she deals with the trauma.
I'm not sure how much I believed in the characters, although they are interesting. There's a certain feeling of pastiche about them - as though they're supposed to be stereotypes. I could believe their actions, but not necessarily their behaviours or words, if that's not a contradiction.
A worthwhile read that's not going to detain you too long, but it could probably have been better.
I'm not going to comment on the winners and losers, although I don't have any real problems, aside from noting that the fact that ITV had just one winner all evening is a very sad idictment of the current state of the channel's programming. But perhaps someone can explain why ITV felt the need to delay coverage of the ceremony by 24 hours? Surely the single reason for watching an awards ceremony is to learn who has won what awards? Yet by the time Monday evening came around, anyone who cared, already knew all the results.
I don't agree with it, but it's just about defensible that ITV delay The Brits because of the dangerous behaviour of the stars, but surely telly stars are a little more demure. Having said that, I didn't think that it was a smart idea to have people sitting at tables since by the later awards, there was an audibly raucous number of people who talked their way through some quite serious awards (eg News coverage of July 7).
The ratings of the ITV broadcast last night seemed to reflect this disinterest with twice as many people watching a cop show on BBC1.
Yes, there's an element of danger when a show goes out live (or, at least, delayed by an hour or two), but that's what the audience wants and expects).
A little while ago, I noted that Waterstone's current online offereing essentially ceded the game to Amazon and that they could do something a little cleverer if they tried. Today comes an announcement that from this autumn, the Amazon deal is ending, and Waterstone's is going it alone.
There are lots of big things planned: "unmatched exclusive content for customers such as streaming of book signing events, author insights, ‘try before you buy’ and personal shopping for gifts serviced by knowledgeable booksellers."
Waterstone also acknowledge that they are "in a unique position to offer our customers a national high street presence and an integrated online offer from a brand that they know and trust."
What they don't explain, is how they're going to reconcile their high street and online offerings and make them work together. Parent group HMV already has a similar situation with its music brand, and thus-far, there's been no symbiosis. It's not going to be an easy nut to crack, and there's going to need to be significant investment in IT, but it can be done, and can give Waterstone's a unique position in the market.
(Incidentally, I'd not mentioned it here yet, but it seems that Tim Waterstone's latest offer for his old brand has fallen apart. Shame.)
Just like playground crazes of yesterday and favourite toys that nobody can get hold of at Christmas, we are now forever likely to be stuck with knowing about the latest flavour-of-the-month social website.
No, I hadn't heard of it either. But then it's, you know, for kids.
Without going to the bother of signing up, I had a bit of a look around. What immediately strikes you is the sheer inappropriateness of many of the ads:
Free Texas Hold'em, Poker Room Rakeback, Debt Consolidation, Hepatitis C, Massage Training, Montreal Bachelor Party, Live Phone Psychics.
These ads seem to be served by such companies as Overture and Google, and maybe they're using some cookies that are already sitting on my machine. But then again, a child may be logging onto the site in the home. Do these ad companies not have rules about serving appropriate copy? I wasn't in the cottages part of the site. I was strictly within the schools part.
I don't want to sit here contributing to scare stories about kids using the internet, but I do think that sites that are aimed at children should take some responsibility to accurately target their advertising and reject inappropriate content.
With a great fanfare (of sorts), the Monday Lottery launches today, proclaiming itself to be "the charities lottery." And there was me, cynically thinking that it was just a commercial operation run by Chariot UK plc...
But let's have a look at that charities connection shall we? Well their website lists 70 charities who, I assume, are all benefitting to one extent or another. And the proud boast is that "30p from every ticket bought goes directly to charity - five times more than on the National Lottery."
Very impressive. Except that if you go to the National Lottery Good Causes website it says that "for every £1 spent on a National Lottery ticket, 28p goes to good causes."
2p less than the Monday Lottery is offering, certainly, but not one fifth the amount. I suspect that the Monday Lottery makes that boast because when some of your National Lottery cash replaces the roof of your local youth club, that's not actual charity work. Similarly, when various promising Olympians are offered lottery cash to continue training in their sports, it can't be argued as being charity work. But the fact is that nearly as much cash is going to good causes as in this new lottery.
But then there's cash to be saved elsewhere. No retailer costs. No equipment costs. No complicated IT infrastructure linking all those machines in a secure fashion back to base. No duty payable. Internet only play keeps the costbase low. The minimum spend level is higher at £5 - you don't have to play it all at once, but they've got your money, and are earning interest.
I think these two charts explain it pretty well:
Source: Lottery Good Causes website.
Source: Guardian/Press Association
That 15p is for the "development of new products and operational costs." Profits are also from that 15p.
Monday Lottery does claim to offer better odds at 501,000:1 to win the jackpot which might be either £100,000 or £200,000. However, I'll leave others to calculate the full "expected win" odds of this game.
Incidentally, can it be a good thing that the Monday Lottery's server is falling over all the time today? A broken website means you can't play the game.
And so to Highbury for the very last time. Today's fixture against Wigan was the last of the season. There was also the small matter of the fact that we needed to beat Wigan while hoping that West Ham could hold Spurs to a draw or better. That way, we'd finish fourth and get a guaranteed Champions' League place. As it stood, we needed to win against Barcelona next week to ensure that Ashburton Grove saw Champions' League football.
Although we'd been wearing redcurrent all season, today every seat had either a red or a white t-shirt on it. Highbury was turned red and white as a consequence.
As is the way with these things, it was a tense afternoon. We took a 1-0 lead very quickly while West Ham took the lead against Spurs. Then both games equalised and Wigan took the lead through a sloppy free kick. Spurs saved a West Ham penalty from Teddy Sheringham no less, and we equalised.
Into the second half and my radio was at full volume following events at Upton Park. Henry scored another and then another - getting his hat-trick in the process. Bergkamp came on, and at the same time, West Ham went 2-1 up. Now, with around ten minutes left, we were 4-2 up and coasting, while Spurs needed two goals.
Everyone around me wanted to know what was happening, as false information sweeps around all the time - for some reason in the first half, large numbers of the crowd thought that West Ham had gone 2-0 up.
The scores ended the same, and a day of drama ended wonderfully.
The celebrations went on for quite some time, including players from yesteryear parading around the ground, a performance (of sorts) from Roger Daltrey and assorted presentations. They ended with fireworks of a kind, although since it was still light they were the smokey kind.
A great day out. We head to Paris in 10 days to face the spectacle of the European Cup against Barcelona. The perfect send-off.
To the Red Rose Comedy Club to see Alex Horne perfom When In Rome, an attempt to get more of us speaking Latin. Of course, I passed my O Level in Latin many moons ago (Grade C), so this wasn't strictly necessary for me, but I went along.
We got there early to get some food and sat right at the front. This was obviously going to be a slideshow/Powerpoint led piece so there'd be no danger sitting right up front would there? OK, OK. If you sit in the front row at a comedy show, you've got a good idea of what's coming.
The show's in two halves with the first being largely straightforward stand-up. There's very little Latin. And, yes, we got picked on (for having popped out for some ice-cream from the corner shop across the way for dessert). During the interval, Alex's personal assistant, Tim, handed out Latin exams for us to complete. If I'm not mistaken, these were hot off a hidden laser printer and incorporated the name of a fellow front-row sittee. But mainly these were to gather names to incorporate into the second half of the show. Considering that this was to be Powerpoint based, there was no real reason for them to need to spend most of the interval tinkering with the "presentation".
Actually, I've got to say that I was very impressed with what they did with it. The show was constructed along the lines of a Fighting Fantasy Book. At each point you could make a choice - the audience had been divided into boys and girls (or puella and puellae). Xavier got chosen and boys' team captain, and was given a headband to wear.
The finale involved a Latin tug of war. I helped the boys win with a late "Quod Erat Demonstratum" and "Et tu Brute" (really!). I can't give away the ending.
Very good fun. And worth catching at the Soho Theatre in a week or so's time, as the tour concludes.
Into town to see The Sultan's Elephant. Only the French could put something on like this. Over four days, a story based on something that Jules Verne wrote, was played out across London. Enacted by Royal de Luxe, the highlight was the aforementioned elephant that stands 40 feet high and is a wonder of mechanisation.
I got a copy of The Elephant Echo to try to understand a little more what was exactly going on, and fortunately, that contains the full story. I haven't read it yet.
An awful lot of effort has been gone to putting this thing on. We wandered down Pall Mall looking for the elephant and found the above "smashed" cars. They're French and the rope (or thread) runs through them very cleverly, right into and out of the road's asphalt.
Having watched the elephant turn up into Haymarket, after performing a three-point turn, we retired to a pub, before finding the elephant in The Mall.
The crowd got regularly doused in water. I did too.
By the end, we'd reached Horse Guard's Parade where there was a rocket ship. The tale would be concluded on Sunday, but I had other things planned.
A great day out - that really is a spectacular elephant. Only the weather let it down.
As an aside, I couldn't help notice that The Guardian's been very supportive with a large picture in the paper, another report piece and a five-star review. I'm not saying that it didn't deserve its five stars, but surely there's a teeny-weeny conflict of interest if the writer of the review has also written the front page puff-piece for the Elephant Echo?
More photos at my Flickr stream.
I love reading, watching and listening to film reviews. But today's review of MI3 in The Guardian is staggering for just how bad it is. I don't really like Peter Bradshaw but then I don't dislike him either. Overall he's got reasonable taste in taste in films, but his review today is so far off-beam that I've got to comment on it.
He gives the film one star and spends a large part of the review slagging off Tom Cruise. I don't exactly hold a torch for him, since Scientology, in my book, is exactly what you would come up with if you were a hack SF writer looking to start a religion (that episode of South Park was excellent, and if you haven't already, the Rolling Stone Scientology article, reprinted in The Observer, of a couple of months ago is well worth your time).
However, the film really isn't that bad. I wouldn't give it five stars - but as blockbusters go, it's ahead of most. Over in The Independent, Robert Hanks gave the film four stars and offers what I consider is a very fair review.
I think the problem is that Peter Bradshaw is slowly becoming a carcicature of himself. Recent letter writers have questioned whether Bradshaw actually likes watching films. That's a fair question...
To be honest, I'm not surprised, and the author probably has no real grounds to complain. These video services are treading a very fine line, and frankly are lawsuits waiting to happen if they're not very very careful. I'm not surprised, and don't have an awful lot of sympathy with the writer. I'd love to upload all my videos, but they tend to be full of copyrighted music. I'd prefer not to have record companies come after me.
The other day I mentioned that if I'd made a TV ad that I thought was very funny, I should immediately upload it to YouTube (see, for example, the Carlbserg Pub Team ad). But one of the problems I overlooked was that performers and music rights have to be paid for each time the ad's played. Suddenly this cost becomes an unknown. That Carlsberg ad has not been placed by their agency, but by a viewer of Soccer AM on Sky where the ad was captured from. That's not to say that rights issues can't be sorted out - film companies seem to manage with their trailers. But it's yet another rights nightmare.
Instead of eight parts, it's now a "pacy, high concept six-part drama akin to 24 and Spooks." Christopher (Dr Who) Ecclestone is said to be "tipped" to star.
"If Doctor Who set the standard, The Prisoner raises the bar," said Sky's new director of programmes, Richard Woolfe.
It'll all just have to remain to be seen. We obviously have seen some superb updatings of programmes including Dr Who and the new Battlestar Galactica (incidentally, wouldn't it be worth Sky selling that on to a terrestrial broadcaster a couple of years down the line?). Sky has evidently been heavily influenced by the success of Lost, although as I said previously, it'll be interesting to see if this is simply a one-off six parter, or whether it's going to return annually.
I was talking to by brother about Lost the other day, and because he didn't know too well how the US TV industry worked, he was immediately disappointed when I explained that, yes, there would be a third series and quite likely a fourth and fifth. Indeed they were unlikely to stop making it until the audience dried up. That's not the best course of action to take with a story that has need of an ending.
The Prisoner has, or at least "had", a definitive ending. Call me old-fashioned, but like a good novel, I like to get proper endings to series. And that doesn't mean an alternative ten minute sequence shot, so that should the series not get renewed, everything quickly gets wrapped up.
But one interesting piece of research to be shared at the event comes from a specially commissioned survey from Globescan. The key finding of the survey was that more people trust the media that their governments. However, this wasn't the case in Western countries, with the US, UK and Germany all showing more trust in their governments than their media. (Do 67% of Americans really have "a lot" or "some trust" in their government at a time when Bush's approval ratings are so low?)
Another question asked about the most trusted media brands. In the UK, the results were, perhaps, not that surprising, with 32% naming the BBC first, followed by 8% naming ITV and 7% Sky. But very scarily, in the US, 11% named Fox News as their most trusted brand (this was the top first mention), followed by 11% for CNN (yes, I know that should be 1st equal, but I'm just reporting it the way the press release did). Third placed was ABC with just 4%. Quite who everyone else trusts is not reported, but let's just go through that again. The most trusted media brand in the US is Fox News.
I note that Footballers' Wives has been axed. Good. But there's a great bit of doublespeak in what's obviously a re-worked press release:
Eileen Gallagher, the managing director of Shed Productions, which makes Footballers' Wives, said the decision to ditch the show had been taken jointly with the ITV director of drama, Nick Elliott.
Jointly hey? Yup, I'm sure Shed were sitting there thinking "this show has run its course, and if ITV were to ask us for another series, we couldn't deliver creatively and would just say no." Methinks that it works slightly differently to that.
In other news, Commander in Chief has been pulled. Read more about it here. I would, however, disagree with Broadcastnow's description of the show as "controversial". No it wasn't - I think a black president on 24 was probably more "contraversial" than Geena Davis' portrayal. And neither is an accurate description.
Do you like the TV series Alias? You know, the series from JJ Abrams, it's just finishing its run in the US now after five series. In Britain, the series floated around various stations. I think Bravo show it now.
Anyway, if you, you're going to love M:I 3, because it's essentially a big screen version of that. That's not surprising since Abrams is the director of this film. And he's done a pretty good job. After the dire simplicity and pointlessness of the second in the franchise, Abrams has pushed everything up a notch. In many ways Abrams is completely the right choice for this film. Alias was effectively a modern day version of the old Mission: Impossible TV series, and he doesn't put too many feet wrong.
The big "thing" about this edition in the franchise is that Cruise's Ethan Hunt is involved on a personal level. The opening scene in the film shows him having a wife or girlfriend threatened until he gives up some information. It's quite a scary scene in what's a 12A film. I probably could have done without that plot point to hang the film on, but the film series has very little relation to the TV series. Gone are the days when the team would carefully mock-up the interior of a submarine in a warehouse somewhere in order to persuade the bad-guys that they were in the middle of the Atlantic or something. The film series is all about international locations and gadgets. But the life-like masks are still retained.
Abrams seems to have spent quite a lot of time watching The Bourne Supremacy to study the Paul Greengrass style of action film. The cutting is fast and the camerawork not always clear. It all adds to the verisimilitude of the piece. Abrams has brought his TV composer with him, Michael Giacchino, and he does a great job of giving us a traditional M:I score. The action is pumped up and full-on with the very able-bodied Vic Armstrong doing a sterling job.
I won't go into the actual plot of the film too much, except to say that the Rabbit's Foot is possibly the ultimate cinema McGuffin. And I did like the sequence where Cruise goes through an ornate process to break into building to collect something. But once he's "on" the building, we're left in the dark as he's inside, and instead stay with the supporting cast in the cars outside.
The only downside in this Alias love-in is that, aside from the lack of Jennifer Garner, there is one of those typical at-home-with-easy-listening-music scenes near the start that were always my least popular bits of Alias.
The cast is relatively star-studded, with Ving Rhames as the only carry-over that I noticed from previous films. Philip Seymour Hoffman turns in a believably nasty villain. Jonathan Reys Meyers in pretty anonymous, and Maggie Q doesn't have to do much to look good. Simon Pegg completely steals his scenes playing a cross between Q from the Bond films and Marshall from Alias - more of the latter really.
Overall, it's back on form for this series then. Very enjoyable, good special effects, well-equipped bad guys, great locations (NB. If I was in charge of organising social events at The Vatican, I expect I'd be a little more careful about who I invited), and outrageous stunts. A good start to the summer season then.
I could probably spend about an hour writing a vituperative piece on all the inequalities of the Worlld Cup's ticket distribution system. The Observer's been waging a campaign against the current scheme that sees just 8% of tickets going to the fans from each country in any given match. Sponsors, meanwhile, share 16% of the tickets, with a further 11% going to hospitality seats.
As usual, the same old canards are coming out about how this time will be different and you'll have names and so on printed on the ticket preventing resale. As if that's going to stop anything. We all know that come fifteen minutes before the start of a fixture with twenty thousand fans still to get in, no turnstile is going to be checking anything apart from whether you have a genuine ticket in your hand.
But that's not what I really wanted to write about here. The various sponsors like to point out that many of their tickets actually do find their way into the hands of fans through competitions. My own employer is running a series of such competitions (there are cars to be won too!).
Budweiser's been running a promotion for a while that involves you sending in photos of yourself showing how much you love football. And Coke has just started a campaign that, er, involves you sending in photos of yourself showing how much you love football.
But I was amazed to see the new McDonalds (warning, annoying sound kicks in at this site) competition. Throughout every hour of May, they're giving away a pair of tickets to various, unspecified matches. Great. But right up front is the fact that the tickets do not include accommodation or travel! Now I've no doubt organising hundreds of trips in this way would be a logistical nightmare as well as very costly. But giving someone a pair of tickets to a game in Munich and telling them at this late stage that they've got to make their own way, and sort out their own accommodation is actually pretty poor.
Make no mistake, if someone were to offer me a pair of tickets, I'd work something out. But one thing I do know is that direct flights in and out of Germany around any especially attractive fixture are likely to be really hard to get at anything approaching a reasonable price.
Wouldn't it be better if McDonalds offered fewer tickets but put packages together for their contestants. The surplus tickets could be passed on to host nations to up their percentages and offer real fans more opportunities to go.
Oh, who am I kidding? You've got to be incredibly wealthy to support any premiership football team these days. And to support England you have to have money coming out of your ears. All those away games in far flung ports come at substantial cost.
One of the benefits of supping with the devil and buying The Daily Mail for the past week or so, aside from building a nice cheap Ealing Comedy DVD collection, has been to read the extracts of the new Andrew Jennings book.
As sure as night turns to day, a new international tournament - in this instance the "Fifa World Cup" - brings a new Andrew Jennings book. And long may he continue.
This time around, it's "Foul!: How Soccer's Leaders Ruined the Game". Fifa is, needless to say, irritated by this book.
As the book contains a number of false and libellous claims, FIFA applied for an injunction on the publication and distribution of the book as a precaution several months ago. The Zurich cantonal high court complied with this request by passing a provisional ruling on 26 April 2006.
Huh? How can you claim an injunction on the publication and distribution of book before it's been published "several months ago"?
Incidentally, I'm sure it's just an oversight, but I don't seem to be able to find this book listed anywhere on Amazon. Normally, even if you couldn't find it listed as in stock on the main Amazon site, one of the Marketplace dealers would have had it listed pretty pronto, and it'd show up when searching. Very strange. It's published by Harper Collins so there's no excuse about a small publisher not getting their act together (actually, any small publisher is very likely to make absolutely sure that Amazon lists their title, but that's another discussion).
This is a book being serialised in one of the largest national daily papers at the moment, and yet I can't see it on Amazon. Hmm.
I've just been trying ABC's new streaming service. It requires Flash 8, and the video quality is pretty good - significantly better than Youtube or Google Video, but then it's being encoded at a much better rate.
Currently there are just a handful of major ABC shows available including Lost, Desperate Housewives, and Commander in Chief. I watched part of an episode of Alias which was sponsored by Zyrtec "with limited commercial interruption". What that meant is that it ran with, barely any commercials. Indeed a scrollbar at the bottom of the screen indicated when each commercial break was going to come. It also indicated that while I couldn't fully fast-forward or rewind per se, I could jump to a different segment, or jump around any of the content I'd already seen. So if I'd missed the last half of Alias, I could jump, broadly speaking, straight to that section. I could also pause at any point.
Strangely, one of the ads that I saw, for the aforementioned hayfever remedy, was in much lower quality than the overall show - not in widescreen and scratchy sound. There was a nice countdown until when the show was going to resume, although for some reason, the user has to click on a button to launch it. The second ad was a Flash affair, similar to those you see to get a daypass on Salon.
Obviously, I shouldn't really have been able to watch this, since ABC have gone to some lengths to ensure that only US IP addresses work. Obviously there are things you can do with proxies to get around this, and the one I used worked perfectly well, although I turned it off when I was done. Well, there's all that BBC fare that's limited to the UK isn't there?
One other thing worth mentioning is the fact that this only seems to be a pilot system. The site is only live from today until the end of June. Not that there's a great deal of new programming on US television over the summer - particularly on the major networks. But is this just a test, or something that's going to be around come the autumn and the new seasons?
So overall, it's pretty painless, with the exception of forcing me to upgrade to Flash 8. How long until a British company manages to do something like this? Channel 4's Lost scheme is up and running, but it still costs 99p an episode. And it seems that when I mentioned the other day that Five should put The Gadget Show up for available download, little did I realise that they were already charging 50p to watch some of their guides! I certainly won't be bothering with those.
I'll freely admit that I'm not exactly up on my Russian fiction, so I came to Dead Souls quite fresh. Narrated by Michael Palin, who "appears" in the story, he accompanies Chichikov as he goes about his way trying to buy dead peasants. Chichikov, played expertly by Mark (Spaced, Green Wing) Heap, has a scheme that involves accumulating wealth by owning these peasants - since they're taxable even if they're dead, between censuses. He can then borrow against them to gain vast wealth. When he defaults on the repayment, his debtors will take ownership of this property - the dead souls.
It's quite a playful version of the story that's been adapted in a very modern manner - there's even a joke about Kishishev (of Charlton Athletic) - but unlike the recent Jeeves and Wooster, the up-to-dateness of the production doesn't get in the way of the story.
Thoroughly recommended. If you're reading this before the evening of Saturday May 6 2006, you can listen again to both episodes.