Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Hancock

As you can probably tell from previous posts I am a fan of superhero movies (although not all are created equal) and I also like Will Smith movies so Hancock had to be worth seeing.

This is a different take on the superhero genre and very much a movie of two halves. The first half is more of a comedy and the second drops the comedy for a darker feel. Each half works on its own, although the first is more successful in my opinion, but they sit slightly uneasily together.

Will Smith turns in a decent performance, the special effects are pretty good and there are some nice set pieces but overall the movie lacks that certain something that makes a real classic.

Friday, 26 December 2008

Lobster Johnson: The Iron Prometheus

I have been a fan of Hellboy for a while now and one of my favourite supporting characters has been Lobster Johnson. Now the Lobster has been given a whole storyline to himself and having been lucky enough to get it for Christmas I sat down to read it yesterday. The story is clearly set in the Hellboy universe and Mike Mignola's style is clear throughout but he manages to give the story it's own distinct pulp flavour.

As always with these graphic novels I struggle to pace myself and tend to race through them (which is always a good indication of engaging content) and I finished this one this morning. I thoroughly enjoyed it and it rates very highly for me within the Hellboy and BPRD graphic novels I have. Recommended.

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Merry Christmas!

A merry Christmas to one and all!

With an excited 7 year old I'm not expecting much of a lie in tomorrow but the look on her face when she opens her presents makes it all worth while!

By the way my avatar and the Hogswatch card on the left are from the hand of the brilliant Paul Kidby who has managed to realise almost exactly the pictures I had in my head from reading Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels. Paul's work is available from PJSM Prints.

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Bah Humbug from the Royal Mail

I popped down to the sorting office this morning to pick up a package that they had tried to deliver yesterday. I am reminded of the old Alas Smith & Jones sketch with them staking out the house until the owner pops out and then rushing over and popping the "While you were out" note through the letterbox - as we were only out for 30 minutes the whole day! I digress. Whilst they were searching for my package a lady came in to collect a Christmas card (an ordinary one, normal size and weight (as far as I could tell) in a nice red envelope) because she had to pay excess postage on it. It only had a first class stamp, which apparently isn't enough to send anything these days. It was only 6p light but there is a £1 handling charge these days. I could see another 5 boxes of Christmas cards alone from where I was standing (red envelopes again), presumably waiting for excess postage to be paid as they would all have fitted through any normal letterbox. Have the Royal Mail lost their minds? Is the Christmas spirit dead and buried there? I thought Christmas was not only one of their busiest times but also when most people get a warm feeling about the postal service. But now, with their absurdly complicated pricing system, almost everyone is confused about how much to pay and simply sticking a 1st class stamp on isn't enough. I can see quite a few people switching to e-cards next year. A bit like turkeys turning the oven on if you ask me...

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Movies for 2009

I managed to miss a couple of the movies I wanted to see this year at the cinema (although I'm hoping Santa might be kind and drop a couple of them on DVD under the tree!). But I hope to get a better hit rate in 2009. Here are some of the movies I'm interested in seeing:

Watchmen

When I originally heard about Alan Moore's Watchmen I really did wonder what people were going on about. Then I got a copy and read it - only then did I understand. It is a wonderful deconstruction of the super hero genre superbly told and nicely illustrated by Dave Gibbons.

I always have high expectations of comic book movies and was frequently disappointed but recently the movie people have really stepped up their game (of course there have been notable exceptions!). Hellboy, Sin City and 300 were all excellent with the latter two being an almost frame for frame conversion. So I have high hopes for this one!

Terminator: Salvation

The original Terminator movie made a real impact on me. I love SF and particularly time travel and both the story and imagery of that movie really hit the spot for me. The sequels haven't quite managed to recapture that initial impact but have been a decent extension of the concept and certainly better than some. I even have a soft spot for the TV show.

Christian Bale impressed me in Batman Begins (but less so in the Dark Knight which was really Heath Ledger's movie) so I'm wondering what his take on John Connor will be.

Star Trek

As a huge fan of the original series this movie could be very, very disappointing. I have some faith in J.J. Abrams through the Alias TV series which I very much enjoyed and the casting of Zachary Quinto as Spock seems pretty promising but have they really "got" Star Trek.

For me the key to Star Trek is the interplay between Kirk, Spock and McCoy combined with an interesting storyline. Spend too much time on the special effects and not enough on the characters and you get Star Trek the Motion Picture. Add too many characters and you get Next Generation (you also need to avoid having any characters that are too annoying!).

Will this one be a success? I'm hoping so but we'll have to wait and see.

Public Enemies

Johnny Depp as John Dilinger, Christian Bale as Melvin Purvis and Michael Mann at the helm - this promises to be an interesting movie.

Saturday, 20 December 2008

iPlayer for Mac

The BBC have, as promised some time ago, released an iPlayer for the Mac. The new application runs on the Adobe Air platform and so is also available for Linux. It allows downloads from the BBC site which overcomes some of the limitations of streaming.

It is currently in beta test and I haven't had a lot of time to play with it but it installed without a hitch, the downloads are pretty quick and the quality is at least as good as the higher quality streaming. There is a pretty limited selection of programmes available for download for this player as yet but I'm sure this will expand.

It has taken a little time but full marks to the Beeb for supporting a wider range of platforms.

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Iron Man

I suddenly realised when I was writing the entry for The Incredible Hulk that I hadn't actually mentioned seeing Iron Man on DVD.

I wasn't sure what to expect from Iron Man, I had been a fan of the comic book character (not because I didn't like it but simply because I hadn't read any!) and comic book adaptations can range widely.

I needn't have worried as Iron Man turned out to be a decent addition to the genre. Robert Downey Jr. gives a solid central performance as Tony Stark and makes the character sufficiently complex. The special effects are excellent and the story moves along at a decent pace. I thought that the film would have benefited from a few more action sequences and that the climactic conflict could have been handled differently; however, it was certainly a fun time and I will be watching it again.

The Incredible Hulk

Following on from the latest Mummy film we watched the most recent incarnation of The Incredible Hulk. In contrast to the Mummy I hadn't been overly impressed with the previous versions as, whilst the seventies TV series had made a decent fist of it, the technology hadn't been there and the 2003 Ang Lee film Hulk was just missing something. So my expectations weren't high.

I'm glad to say that this version was, in my view anyway, a real step up. There were some lovely nods to the TV series (assuming you pay attention!) and the now apparently mandatory Stan Lee cameo along with a decent central performance by Edward Norton. Tim Roth is, as I have come to expect, over the top as the main villain but this is a comic book adaptation! I also liked the various links with Iron Man.

OK so it's not the greatest film ever made but it is an entertaining watch if you like comic book heroes.

The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor

I thought the first of the Brendan Frazer Mummy films (1999) was a lot of fun to watch. It was obviously a B movie with a blockbuster budget but it didn't take itself too seriously and had some wonderfully memorable moments. It wasn't Indiana Jones but worth watching nonetheless.

The second outing, the Mummy Returns (2001), didn't quite manage to capture the feel of the first film. Possibly because it was really the same again but with a bigger budget.

I managed to get to see the latest instalment, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, on DVD yesterday. It looked promising as they were moving away from Egypt to China and the addition of Jet Li and Michelle Yeoh was a good sign. Maybe my expectations were raised a little too high as the movie was a real disappointment. It's odd really as all the elements were there but they never seemed to come together convincingly. The special effects were good but there was nothing really new. The performances were even more wooden than normal (particularly the O'Connell's son Alex). The plot was a mess and the opportunities offered by having Li and Yeoh squandered.

A real shame.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Crash, bang, wallop!

With my usual commute one of my main worries is leave on the line (or whatever other excuse the train company is using for being late) but not this morning. This time it was leaves on the road which, unfortunately, I didn't spot until I was making my way (rather too swiftly for my liking) towards the tarmac! Fortunately I didn't damage either myself or the bike too badly and I still can't understand how I managed to scrape and cut myself without damaging my shirt or trousers but I'm not complaining.

Anyway, for those cyclists out there - take care it's not just the mad motorists you need to keep an eye out for! Mind you soon it'll be ice....

Monday, 1 December 2008

Rail Fares

I just stopped off at the station this evening to renew my annual season ticket - which has gone up again (no surprise there). I always get annoyed as the winter is when the service goes up the creek and I have to shell out a mountain of dosh for in estimable privilege of travelling on South Eastern Trains. Anyway, when I got home I thought I'd take a look at how the price has risen over the last couple of years:

2005 £2,800
2006 £2,884 up 3.0%
2007 £3,132 up 8.6%
2008 £3,460 up 10.5%

Can you see a pattern developing here? And, of course, the service has got so much better it entirely justifies the rises ... or at least I wish that was what I could say but, in fact, it hasn't. The service is actually that bad, at least compared to the appalling Connex service but it still isn't good and my journey has actually gotten longer over time rather than shorter. But since the alternatives aren't really feasible I don't actually have any real choice...

Sunday, 30 November 2008

Power Cut

Twenty first century eh? We came back to the house to find we'd had a power cut! What a pain - all the stuff which should be able to cope simply didn't (alarm clock etc.) but fortunately the surge suppressors caught any spikes when the power came back on and so the computer kits didn't go fizz.. But come on!

Friday, 7 November 2008

Quantum of Solace

So I managed to get a day off (which makes up for some of the rather ridiculous overtime I have been working) and took my better half to the cinema to see the latest Bond movie, Quantum of Solace.

Having really enjoyed Casino Royale, I had high expectations of this instalment. The film starts where Casino Royale left off and right in the action with a car chase. The film has its fair share of action sequences but some of them were rather spoiled for me as the editing made them a little frantic. I like the changes of point of view to keep the tension up but there were a couple during which I was rather losing track of what exactly was going on.

Daniel Craig turned in another solid performance as 007 and I continue to see him as the best Bond since Connery. I like my "heroes" to have a dark side. There is little in the way of humour but I happen to prefer that to the slightly camped up Moore incarnation.

As with all Bond films the story leads up to a climactic sequence and it manages to stay just this side of "over the top" which is good. Some elements work less well than others and a couple of the villains are pretty two dimensional but I suppose that's to be expected.

Olga Kurylenko turns in a nice performance as Camile, another of the more modern female roles. Gemma Arterton, as Agent Fields, is pretty much just eye candy though.

The film has a 12A certificate which is a rating I simply don't understand. Either a movie is suitable for 12 year olds and upwards or it isn't. The idea that something like this is OK for younger children if accompanied doesn't make sense to me. There are some pretty violent sequences in this film, albeit not gory, but certainly not suitable for smaller ones IMHO.

Obviously the film lacks the novelty of Casino Royale and focusses much more on action and chase sequences which give the characters less opportunity to develop. But overall it was an enjoyable 110 minutes. I do wonder whether it is an essential cinema watch or whether waiting for DVD would give an equally good viewing experience. There are a couple of larger scenes but nothing that wouldn't translate pretty well to a decent wide screen TV.

Monday, 27 October 2008

Control is an Illusion

I've worked in larger and larger organisations and one of the key things I have noticed is that the bigger they get the less actual control the people at the top actually have. Increasingly they have to rely on influencing rather than true control. It seems to me that the economy is just the same. The Government don't actually have any "control" over the economy and they can only influence. Of course, influence relies on respect and they have precious little of that.

The stock market is much of the same. The value of any stock is related more to perception and crystal ball gazing rather than the value or performance of the company. The housing market shows very similar tendencies. I know the "value" of any property is only what someone is actually prepared to pay for it but that is influenced by so many intangible factors as well as real world issues like the availability of mortgages.

So given that golden Gordon seems to have lost his touch will the Tories be any better? I doubt it. People have no respect for politicians, mainly because they don't take any responsibility for their actions. On top of that they mostly seem interested in what they can get from their position rather than thinking of what they can do for the electorate. Unfortunately people don't seem to think there is anything they can do about it. I suppose the main problem may well be that we don't really live in a proper democracy. We do get to vote but only infrequently, the people we vote for are totally out of touch with the voters and there isn't much to choose between any of the main parties. So what to do? After all no Government is going to change the system which got it into power - it would be like turkeys voting for Christmas. But after the performance of "President" Blair it does rather seem like the system is broken.

I think we need a root and branch reworking of our parliamentary system to make it more democratic; however, the starting point needs to be ensuring that anyone we vote for in the future takes responsibility for what they do and tells us honestly what they are doing with my tax money!

Thursday, 16 October 2008

MobileMe: Not for me...

I decided to take up the MobileMe free trial to see if it was something I'd be happy paying £70 per year for. Initially I was impressed with how it looked and how well it integrated with iLife and the Mac and iPod generally; however, after about six weeks I've decided not to take up the subscription after all.

The main things that made up my mind were:

(1) Mail - slow and unreliable. I just found that my other mail services had less downtime and were quicker to respond/update. I also had problems when it told me it couldn't send a message and to try later but actually had sent it - so I ended up sending it twice.

(2) Back to My Mac - won't work with my HomeHub. Ok the initial problem isn't MobileMe - it's the crappy uPnP implementation on the HomeHub; however, the Apple info to allow you to get BtmM working without uPnP isn't exactly easy to find. In the end, after much experimenting with manually opening ports etc., I just gave up.

(3) I can get it all elsewhere for free.

So whilst I liked the way it looked and it was well integrated MobileMe simply didn't perform well enough for me to justify the subscription. I can get other, in most cases as good (or better), equivalent web services for nothing. They may not be integrated but that's something I can live with.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Did I miss out on getting my super powers?

I sometimes wonder whether I missed the queue for superhuman powers that most people seem to think are now the norm.

Cycling to work today it was clear that a large number of people think that the orange flashing lights at the corners of their cars are only for special occasions now that everyone is equipped with telepathy or prescience.

Other cyclists seem secure in shedding their reflective and high visibility clothing and the lights from their bikes now that infra vision is available to most of the general populace.

On the train people seem annoyed that I don't have heightened perception of the fact someone needs to get past me when they don't say excuse me or the ability to simply levitate out of their way instantly.

Can someone let me know where the super power late comers queue is? Or maybe how to get people to look at things from someone else's perspective than their own?

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Asus Eee PC 901

After quite a bit of thought and a lot of reading on the net I decided that I "needed" a netbook. I did leave buying a little while to ensure it wasn't just an impulse buy and OK it's no really a necessity but I just kept noticing occasions when one would have been useful.

Any netbook is a combination of compromises. You simply can't have portability without sacrificing other elements like screen size, keyboard size, storage and the like. It's just a matter of deciding which elements are the most important to you. In my case it was portability and battery life which were top of the list. I decided that I could live with a small screen and small keyboard in order to get a machine I could actually use on my train home (with the tiny seat back table) and carry around the house. In the end I settled on the Asus Eee PC 901. Had I been a touch typist (I'm a reasonably fast "hunt and peck") I would probably have plumped for an Acer Aspire One or one of the 10 inch machines. The keyboard can't be too bad as I'm typing this post on it!

I thought the 7 inch machines would be very irritating having to scroll side to side on many web pages so the 9 inch seemed a better option. Whilst the 10 inch machine has a larger screen (obviously!) the resolution is apparently the same as the 9 inch.

My regular train journey is 1.5 hours in each direction and so I didn't want to have to charge the machine up between journeys as I'd have to carry the power brick with me (although the Eee PC brick is pretty small and light). Most of the contenders seemed to have pretty short battery life without resorting to optional larger batteries (it does defeat the otherwise attractive lower price of the Acer Aspire One for example) and the six cell battery coming with the 901 avoids this problem.

I decided I didn't need a Windows machine and the additional storage on the Linux model (20Gb) was attractive so that's the one I decided on.

It will take a little while for me to properly assess the machine but I've been pleasantly surprised so far with only a couple of small issues.

Monday, 22 September 2008

Logitech Quickcam Vision Pro

I've always been a bit frustrated that my cheap USB webcam I had for my PC doesn't work with the Mac and since Apple has stopped making the separate iSight cameras there wasn't much in the way of alternatives for us Mac Mini owners. That is to say alternatives that actually work with software like iChat, PhotoBooth etc. as there are a couple which do work with Skype.

Along come Logitech with the Quickcam Vision Pro. It's basically one of their PC models (the Quickcam Pro 9000?) but with a lot of the software driven features performed in the hardware (which does give you less to play with) but it does work. I picked one up from Play.com who had it at less than RRP but even so £60 is still a lot more than I paid for my old PC webcam; however, on the upside it does have a decent enough lens, autofocus (hardware driven), light adjustment (ditto) which works pretty well in lower light situations and a decent microphone.

It says it has a 2MP sensor but I'm not sure what software will actually use that as I think both Skype and iChat max out somewhat lower than that.

I've just tried it out with Skype and PhotoBooth and it worked well with both although it is exhibiting an occasional problem with the light sensor (the picture goes very dark), resetting it fixes it but obviously that's not ideal. Unfortunately Delicious Library doesn't seem to like it as a barcode scanner (it does provide a picture but won't focus on the barcode - I'm going to try that agin with better lighting conditions to see if that makes any difference).

I'll need to give it a bit more of a "road test" to see how it performs over time (as I'm still in the honeymoon period).

Sunday, 21 September 2008

Another Mac Convert

I spent yesterday helping my Mother-in-Law replace her aged PC with a brand spanking new iMac. We went down to the Apple store at Bluewater and the service was excellent. The new machine was, as expected, a doddle to set up and works flawlessly. Of course having played with it and see the display I now want one! At first I thought the limited number of USB ports (only 3 - which isn't much if you don't go for the wireless keyboard and mouse) and the stingy mouse cable were drawbacks but then I found the other two ports under the keyboard after they were pointed out to me (doh!).

Now if only I could get Back to My Mac working with my BT HomeHub so that I can support the machine remotely. Her BT Voyager router was no problem but I just can't get the Hub to play nicely at this end. Better go off and practice more Google Fu...

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Is it just me or is everything broken?

So it looks like the Post Office may have managed to lose a second parcel this month. Once upon a time you used to be able to rely on them to actually deliver stuff within a predictable period and not have to pay through the nose for the privilege!

We drove up to Toys-R-Us to take back some roller skates we bought my daughter for her birthday. Of course they just broke when she put them on (there's product quality for you). So off we go on a hour round trip (I'm trying not to think of the cost of the petrol or the carbon footprint) to swap them for some that might actually get used. Customer services started well, no fight to get them changed and the computer system said they had another 12 pairs in stock. Unfortunately, after 15 minutes of waiting they then told us that they didn't actually have any! But the computer said you had 12 pairs in stock we reminded the chap. Ah, well ... that includes stuff that's been shipped to us by head office but hasn't arrived yet. Sound like a pretty bizarre logistics system they've got but we had to settle for a refund. Of course they didn't have any skates in the right size for my daughter at all, so she ended up buying yet another soft toy (don't get me started on that subject - suffice to say that we shall shortly have to buy them their own house!). Then we get overcharged at the till and back to customer services...grrrr.

Is it just me or are we become more tolerant of shoddy manufacture, poor service and people who just have no basic pride in their work?

Fluid - Site Specific Browsers

I hadn't spotted this until it was a MacBreak Weekly pick from Don McAllister of ScreenCastsOnline. Fluid is an OS X application that allows you to create a site specific browser for any website and then treat it like it's a native OS X app.

I've only tried it for a couple of sites so far and, whilst the preferences sometimes need tweaking to get a site working correctly, it seems to pass the "Ronseal test". You can have it as a dock icon, desktop icon or in the menu bar and all seem to work fine.

I'm currently using it for MobileMe (I'm using my 60 day trial at the moment but more of that in another post) and it find it really useful. I don't often have sites crash Firefox but after the last update it has hung up on a couple of occasions.

With more and more stuff moving to the cloud I think Fluid will end up being very useful. Of course when Google make their new browser Chrome available for Mac I think it will be in for some competition though...

Saturday, 13 September 2008

Do I need a Netbook?

Why on earth to I follow tech podcasts? They only seem to put expensive ideas into my head! I just watched the latest series of reviews from ChannelFlip Tech on Netbooks and I can already see plenty of reasons for me to get one. But do I really need one?

I already have at least three devices I can surf the net on (my two Mac Minis and my iPod Touch) but each has it's own disadvantages. One of the Minis is attached to the main TV so that's out when it's in use. The other is in the study and, apparently, disappearing in there for hours on end is anti-social? The Touch is nice but whilst the on-screen keyboard is handy for short notes you really wouldn't want to write a long blog post on one. Then there's Skype, media streaming, mobile working ... the list goes on. But, given I don't want a 7 inch display (the 800 wide resolution isn't enough for a number of sites) and I would like a decent battery life or it'll be dead every time I pick it up, I'll need to spend a few quid.

Or is the real answer that I haven't had a shiny new gadget lately and I'm getting withdrawal?

Apple iPod Event

OK, so I didn't cross the pond for the event. Which, on reflection, was probably a good things since there wasn't anything announced that hadn't been leaked earlier. Is the iPod end of Apple becoming more sieve-like or what? Anyway, whilst there were some interesting products to think about for Christmas presents (i.e. the new Nano) and the iTunes 8 update has a rather useful new Genius feature there wasn't any one thing that really floated my boat.

I downloaded the new 2.1 software for my (now first generation) iPod Touch and the iTunes 8 upgrade pretty much as soon as possible. You do have to look hard for some of the UI improvements (particularly on the Touch) but they're there. I'm not sure about the bug fixing for the Touch in this upgrade as recently mine has been pretty reliable. iTunes 8 has a new grid view for album art, which works well for podcasts as it shows you the number of episodes you haven't watched in a circle at the top left of each icon (like the mail notification on the Touch) and it also has Genius. It's this last feature in one guise which I will probably use most as I'm basically lazy and can't be bothered to make my own playlists, in its other guise (purchase recommendations) I can see it getting rather expensive so I may not pay much attention to that one. As to playlists (and this feature also exists in the Touch 2.1 software), Genius creates a new playlist from a specified track using other "connected" tracks from your existing library (or the sub-set on the Touch). I don't know how the algorithum works (and the iTunes implementation supposedly learns from data send up by each user) but it seems pretty decent to me. I've already started listening to stuff I'd forgotten I had.

All in all, not an earth shattering event but some nice polish to some already decent products.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Valentine's Resolve

Next on the book list was Valentine's Resolve by E.E. Knight. As with my previous read, this is another in a series, in this case the Vampire Earth novels.

Set in a distopian future where the "Earth is under new management", the book continues the tale of David Valentine, a resistance fighter who, after the previous novel, has rather lost touch with why he was fighting for the Cause.

As with Bernard Cornwell, E.E. Knight writes in a very accessible style and with a similar level of plot and character complexity. I found this instalment a little more predictable than some of the earlier books but it was a decent way to pass a few hours.

Sword Song

On my holiday I managed to get some quiet time to progress my growing reading pile. First on the agenda was Sword Song by Bernard Cornwell, the forth in his Saxon Stories series.

As with the previous books (The Last Kingdom, The Pale Horseman and The Lords of the North) this one also follows Uhtred, a Saxon warrior raised by the Vikings and a reluctant ally of Alfred the Great. Five years on from the previous novel, Uhtred is charged with evicting the Vikings from Lundene in order to secure southern Mercia for Alfred.

If you are expecting intricate plots or overly complex characters you will be disappointed. Sword Song is typical Cornwell with a straightforward story told in an easy to read style. But as with his other books it is very accessible with just enough description to allow you imagination free reign and enough depth to keep you reading. In some ways Cornwell's books do become a little predictable but with enough distance between them they still entertain.

Back from Holiday

The reason it has been quiet around here is that we've been away on our summer holidays! As we expected we've come back to some lovely weather but it does help reinforce what a good time we had even though it wasn't much further south (only Picardie).

I've just got to transfer the photos and video across to the mac and start sorting that out now.

It also seems we have another mac convert in the family as my mother-in-law seems to be keen to replace her PC with one. At least it will make supporting it easier!

Saturday, 16 August 2008

The God Delusion

Another of books from my birthday haul was The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins. I have just finished reading the book and, whilst it is written in a pretty provocative style and hence won't be to everyone's taste, it is certainly very thought provoking.

The book is pretty clearly signposted as having been written from a scientific perspective and Mr Dawkins makes no secret of his own atheism. The book seeks to outline why the existence of a supernatural creator is highly improbable. He certainly manages to highlight many unsavory aspects of the main religions both historically and currently; however, whilst the beliefs of the author and the book's tone may alienate some readers I found it very interesting and it certainly made me re-examine my own views and beliefs.

Some people will probably dismiss this book out of hand but I think that would be a missed opportunity. Whether you approach the book from a theistic, agnostic or atheistic perspective it provides a whole series of challenges which are worth reading for the thought process it provokes and it is written in a pretty accessible style.

I would certainly recommend this book.

Saturday, 9 August 2008

The Dark Knight

I managed to get out and catch a showing of The Dark Knight a few days ago. As a Batman fan and having really enjoyed Batman Begins, I had high expectations for this movie, tempered only by my reservations regarding sequels. So how did it measure up?

Well, Heath Ledger is as good as everyone says as the Joker, the scenes with him are certainly amongst the best in the movie. Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Gary Oldman are all good but rather under utilised, in my opinion. But Batman himself has become somewhat two dimensional in comparison with the first movie.

There are some excellent action sequences, some great lines and some lovely imagery but overall the movie feels too long and the story isn't either cohesive or coherent enough to carry the length. This isn't a bad movie by any means but it could have been so much better. I will add the DVD to my collection (but then as I already have the risible Batman and Robin movie that doesn't mean much) but I think it was a missed opportunity as with a few changes it could have been great.

Monday, 4 August 2008

Ones and 0s by Geoff Smith

Cali Lewis from Geekbrief showed this on Brief 401 and I liked it - thought you might too:



Ones and 0s by Geoff Smith from Cali Lewis on Vimeo.

Saturday, 2 August 2008

iTunes Pricing - What are they thinking?

Having just got another email tell me of more interesting TV shows now available on the UK iTunes store - I pulled it up to find more spectacular examples of crazy pricing. Why is it that they think I'm going to buy something for more than I can get it on DVD from Amazon? The iTunes content can only be played on my authorised devices - so I can't pop round to watch any of it on my friend's plasma TV for example and I don't get any of the DVD extras either (OK so some of them aren't very good but there are others which are really worth watching). In some cases the price for buying a whole TV series is the same as or only a few pence less than buying each episode individually.

Frankly these guys really don't get it! Price the stuff competitively and folks like me will buy it. I'm not even talking about deep discounting just keep it competitive with DVD and it would be attractive - until then don't expect me to be buying much...

Friday, 1 August 2008

Tipping Point

I've just finished reading The Tipping Point my Malcolm Gladwell. I've probably approached his books the opposite way round to most people having found Blink first.

The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference is another fascinating read. This time Malcolm Gladwell looks at the phenomenon of the social epidemic looking at such diverse examples as New York subway crime, Hush Puppies, Paul Revere and suicide in Micronesia. He attempts to construct explanations for the dramatic way in which such ideas, trends or behaviours seemingly reach a threshold and then spread like wildfire. Along the way he touches on some very interesting associated topics which go someway to explain phenomena I have experienced personally.

All in all a thought provoking read.

Monday, 14 July 2008

iPod Touch 2.0 Software

Not having the luxury of an iPhone (and unlikely to get one anytime soon) I decided to upgrade my iPod Touch to the latest version of software. I could make the usual gripes about Apple persecuting early adopters (you get the apps I bought in January for £10 free with this £6 upgrade) but it seems to be par for the course. Anyway, the download and upgrade went without a hitch but there wasn't a whole heck of a lot to see other than the App Store. So does the App Store make a difference? You'd better believe it! A quick look through the apps available begins to give you an insight into what the iPod Touch (and iPhone) could become. I downloaded a few free and paid apps to try things out. I haven't really been able to put any of these through their paces yet but I'll report back on what I find:

Advent (free) - The Collossal Cave text adventure (for those who remember it)
eReader (free) - an eBook reader linked to eReader.com
Evernote (free) - the iPod client for Evernote
OmniFocus (£11.99) - a GTD application
Remote (free) - a remote control for iTunes
Sketches (£3.49) - a drawing app
Super Monkey Ball (£5.99) - I had to get a game didn't I?
Talking French Phrasebook (free) - I'm going to France later in the year...

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

First iTunes Movie Rental

So now that we poor (in the sense of timing and selection but not pricing!) relations in the UK have iTunes movie rentals I thought I should try it out. The selection isn't all that extensive as yet (and a number of movies I would have loved to rent are only available to buy) but I did managed to find one that we wanted to watch.

I downloaded the movie entirely before we started watching, as we had timeos , I can't comment on the select and start straight away approach. The film played flawlessly. The picture quality was fine on our 32 inch LCD and probably equivalent to standard DVD levels. I am disappointed that HD movies are only available on the AppleTV (which hacks off those of us with Mac Mini media centres!) but since our TV is only 720p it's not a huge issue.

I can't say that I thought the 24 hour limitation applied in the States would have been an issue for me (though friends with very small children have said quite the opposite) it was nice to see that we have 48 hours in which to finish watching the film.

So overall the experience was pretty good. It's convenient and it works (no taking back scratched DVDs!); however, the pricing could have been better thought out. As I've mentioned before we have been getting increasingly poor digital reception so are in the market to watch more rented movies. If only the movies were cheaper we would probably be chewing through the available selection at a rate of knots. But with the pricing equivalent to DVD rentals (and without any access to special features etc.) there is a psychological barrier there - it just seems too expensive. If it was 99p for back catalogue films (of which they have plenty - which are showing for free on broadcast TV) I'd probably not worry about paying in order to get the convenience but at £2.49 I can't justify it.

Anyway, overall a good experience but the selection needs massive improvement, the pricing could be better and when are we going to be able to rent TV shows?

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

PicLens - 3D Image Viewer

I spotted PicLens earlier today. It's a Firefox plug-in which allows you to browse images on appropriately enabled sites. The 3D wall of images is brilliant and has to be seen to get the effect. Currently only a few sites are enabled but they include some of the main ones you'd probably use it on anyway - flickr, picasa, youtube, google and yahoo image searches along with the major social networks. It's a great way to browse image and video sites on the web!

There are versions for IE and Safari too.

Monday, 16 June 2008

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

It was with a little trepidation that I took my better half along to see the latest instalment of of the Indy franchise, the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. I had really enjoyed the first three movies and was concerned that the fourth would be disappointing. I needn't have worried as, whilst it's not the best of the movies, it makes a good showing.

It's been set some time after the others, which fits nicely with Harrison Ford's age, but it does mean that the Nazi's have gone and it's the Reds that are the opposition. Cate Blanchett is a little disappointing as the main baddie but the others make a good fist of it and, whilst a couple of the set pieces are pushing things (even for pulp), the overall effect is very entertaining.

If you set your expectations at an appropriate level it's a fun way to pass a couple of hours.

Saturday, 31 May 2008

Skitch

I've been trying out a useful little app called Skitch. Essentially it's a screen capture tool combined with a light drawing package backed up by a web based sharing service.

It's very easy to use and I've found it coming in handy more and more as capturing elements of the screen is simplicity itself and you can easily annotate them and simply drag them off to the desktop to use elsewhere or post them to the web and send people the link.

It's currently in beta but I haven't had any stability problems with it so I'd suggest giving it a try.

Friday, 30 May 2008

Delicious Library

I spotted this app when I was trawling the usual Mac news sites (TUAW, MacWorld etc.) and thought it looked interesting. So I downloaded the trial version to check it out.

The app allows you to catalogue your movies, books, gadgets and the like which plays right to my latent OCD tendencies. It has a built in barcode scanner which can use your iSight camera (not for me though as I have a Mac Mini - Apple when are you going to bring the standalone iSight back?) but also allows text entry etc. and then searches Amazon to bring up loads of information regarding the item. The interface is the usual iTunesy type but with a representation of a bookshelf with the items on it (there are some nice graphical touches with how it drops in the cover art when you add an item and it "burns" it when you delete one). It can also read the title back to you when you add items.

All in all it does what I was trying to sort out on a database but in a much better, easier and quicker way and when I've finished I'll not only have a searchable catalogue of my stuff but also be able to track it when I lend it out and make backups for insurance purposes. Excellent.

Sunday, 18 May 2008

Can we wait until 2012?

No I'm not referring to the Olympics but rather the digital switch-over here in the South East. Currently our digital reception is often appalling and I'm not convinced anything will be done about it until the switch-over - of course they might still not do anything then either! At least with an analogue signal the program may be grainy or snowy but you can still watch it. WIth digital it gets to a certain point and you simply have to give up or go mad. It's been happening pretty often lately something to do with good weather I suspect - of course it isn't great in a lot of weather conditions!

I'm starting to think quite carefully about FreeSat but, of course, that would mean trying to find a way of getting recordings onto the media centre - which is often a problem from satellite - may be FreeSat will be better? I'm not holding my breath.

Saturday, 10 May 2008

iPlayer and HomeHub Issue

Until the Beeb release a downloadable iPlayer for Mac (if that ever happens) I'm stuck with using the streaming version. Whilst it works fine sometimes we often find it manages to crash the BT HomeHub. I have no idea why and can't always replicate the problem. What a pain...

Friday, 9 May 2008

eyeTV - The Return!

Elgato sent me a replacement eyeTV Hybrid which is working fine - woohoo! As it's a new pack it also seems to include a disk with the new eyeTV 3 software on it - so I may try installing that over the weekend to try it out.

Obviously having the device fail and the time without it whilst Elgato tested it was a real pain - but credit to Elgato for replacing it.

Monday, 5 May 2008

Summer Movies for Me

I'm not usually a big fan of summer blockbuster movies and they are sequels too, which usually isn't a good sign; however, the trailers look interesting.

I was worried that the fourth instalment of Indiana Jones would be a problem given that time has moved on and Harrison Ford isn't as young as he was (are any of us?) but the trailer for the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull looks pretty good.

Next on the list is Hellboy II - the Golden Army. I thought Guillermo del Toro and Ron Perlman made a pretty good job of the first movie so I have high hopes.

Yet another sequel is The Dark Knight. The follow up to Batman Begins and the first Batman movie without "Batman" in the title. Whilst not everyone liked Christian Bale's performance in the previous movie, I enjoyed it and it was held together with an excellent supporting cast. I thought the approach in that film was nicely dark (my preferred approach to Batman) and I hope this one continues that trend.

Thursday, 1 May 2008

RCD Saves the Day!

All our sockets tripped out yesterday - which was a little unnerving. I checked the circuit breakers and the RCD had tripped. I reset it and it tripped again. I went round and checked all the appliances that were on and noticed that the switch for the dishwasher was unusually hot. A quick inspection revealed that it was shorting out. A quick trip to B&Q today got us a new switch, I stripped back the insulation as the short had burned it, fitted the new switch and all's back to normal.

It's a good thing the RCD tripped as we often run the dishwasher overnight and who knows what could have happened. It just goes to show how lucky we can be...

Monday, 28 April 2008

eyeTV Phone Home

I finally got a response to my support request from Elgato. The eyeTV is off home to Germany. All they have committed to is to test it and I'm not clear what will happen if they can't replicate the problem - or whether I will get a replacement and my postage etc. if they can. They haven't given me any idea how long it might take either which, when they took a week to get back on my initial request (with which I'd obviously given them details of all the stuff that they might have asked me to do since they didn't ask me to try anything) is a bit of a worry.

It's going in the post tomorrow - I'll keep you appraised.

Saturday, 26 April 2008

eyeTV R.I.P.?

Last weekend my eyeTV Hybrid started playing up following a reboot. It started by telling me that it wouldn't work if attached to a USB1.1 port (which I don't have) and finally gave up the ghost and stopped recognising that the device was there at all.

I tried everything I could think of, switching ports, leads, direct connection, via a powered hub etc. all to no effect. The problem is certainly not the USB ports as my T.264 and external USB hard drive are both functioning perfectly and were quite happy when swapped to the port the eyeTV was on.

I lodged a support ticket with Elgato but have yet to hear back. Needless to say I'm not a happy bunny!

Saturday, 12 April 2008

A message from Apple?

If I was a PC user I might take offence at this...



This is a sign we saw several times at a zoo we visited yesterday. Obviously they've either got a Mac user with a sense of humour or have no idea where the logo was sourced from!

Thursday, 10 April 2008

Lego Star Wars

With my daughter making scarily rapid progress on Super Mario Galaxy I decided we might need another game in our arsenal. I wasn't entirely sure about the mix of Lego and Star Wars but a quick look at the trailers etc. gave me a little chuckle so I decided to take the plunge. It's a fun game and the cut scenes are nicely amusing, I'm not entirely sold on the idea of the Jedi destroying everything to make progress (and chasing around after the little tokens can be a bit of a pain) but overall it's pretty fun.

Saturday, 29 March 2008

The Wii's Have It

So I took the plunge and bought a Nintendo Wii and based on the positive reaction from both my wife (not a computer gamer) and my six year old daughter it seems to have been the right choice.

Wii Sports is great fun, though if you're as totally out of shape as I am beware those seldom used muscles! I had Wii shoulder for a little while after playing baseball. And who says that you don't use more energy with the Wii than other consoles? Whoever they are they haven't tried Wii boxing - which for a couch potato like me was pretty exhausting!

Having played Sports for a little while my daughter was keen to get some other games. My wife picked up a copy of Carnival: Funfair Games on spec. Both she and my daughter like it but I can't say that I've been impressed. It is a collection of 25 funfair games which seem to feature all the limited interest and frustration of real funfair games for me! It doesn't have Mii support and the character creation tools supplied are extremely limited. Whilst it is a cheaper option than some of the more mainstream games I wouldn't recommend it.

With this experience of spec purchases (never a good idea in my book) I took it upon myself to do a little research. I spotted a number of games which got consistently high ratings from the review sites but I was keen to get one which was another family orientated game (even with the Parental Controls I'm not sure I'd want a copy of Resident Evil 4 around yet!) and settled on Super Mario Galaxy.

Super Mario Galaxy is an excellent 3D platform style game in the Wii style. This time Mario gets to run around some pretty strange "worlds" populated by all sorts of weird and wonderful creatures. The levels build difficulty steadily and the controls are easily enough mastered for my daughter to pick them up very quickly. Obviously we've only got a little way through it so far but on the basis of what I've seen so far this one is recommended!

Saturday, 15 March 2008

To Wii or not to Wii...

...that is the question! As I think I mentioned in an earlier post my Windows PC isn't well and I think it's likely to pop its clogs pretty soon. Since I've now got the second Mac Mini for my desktop work and have transferred my media etc. across to it, the PC has been relegated to a platform for my daughter to play a couple of cheap games we got for her (I almost never have time for the only game I've got - Medieval Total War). So if the PC goes South the big loser will be my daughter. Since the Mini isn't really a games machine I thought it might be worth "investing" in a console.

Now I know that both the PS3 and XBox 360 have more processing power and in the case of the X-Box more games but I'm looking at this from a cost per use perspective. I think the PS3 graphics are impressive but the game selection isn't up to much as yet (certainly not for family or kids games) and whilst the XBox also has some pretty impressive titles I think the Wii is simply likely to get more use. It would be very nice to actually use one of the HDMI ports on my telly (the Mini media centre uses the DVI input) but I wouldn't get to play any non-child friendly games until after the little one goes to bed and then I'll be competing with my wife's fix of video vallium (The Street and 'enders) - so the chances of actually getting any real gaming time in is pretty slim.

So ... the play's the thing!

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Bento - Databases Made Easy!

I downloaded the trial version of Bento, the database for OS X Leopard, a couple of weeks ago to see if it was going to be a useful addition to the iWork suite.

I can report back that it's one of the friendliest database tools I have used. It may not have the features of its big brother Filemaker or other Pro tools but for everyday use it's so easy! The user interface is very Mac and integrates nicely with Leopard. It provides themes and templates but creating your own structure is just child's play.

I liked it so much I went off and bought the license key before the 30 day trial was up. If you've got Leopard I'd recommend you give it a look.

Saturday, 8 March 2008

iPod and iPlayer

The Beeb has been, perhaps not surprisingly, a little Windows focussed with their iPlayer (their method of allowing you to watch some of the previous week's output via the web) but not only is it now capable of streaming over the web (downloads only being for Windows at the moment) but they've now launched an interface for the iPod Touch and iPhone with the programmes transcoded for Quicktime. It's only in Beta and many of the programmes aren't yet available but it's a great start and more power to them!

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Kudos to Freecom

You may recall from a previous post that my Freecom 400GB drive decided it was USB1.1 rather than USB2.0 - so it was returned to Freecom. Today I received a replacement brand new drive and, not only that, it is 500GB. All credit to Freecom!

Thursday, 28 February 2008

Turbo.264 Update

I've been using the Turbo.264 quite a bit and whilst the experience has been mostly good I have been having some problems. Certain movies and TV shows will simply not convert direct from eyeTV but some will in the direct drag and drop mode with the Turbo.264 software application; however, some won't. I've no idea why it doesn't like some shows as there seems to be no rhyme or reason to it. I shall keep on trying though as other than these little teething problems the overall experience has been pretty good. It is a shame as eyeTV itself has been no problem at all since I started using it.

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Drobo is here!

As you will have read in an earlier post one, I have been having problems with one of my Freecom hard drives (which is has been returned for a warranty replacement - I'll report back on this when I see it again!) and this brought into sharp focus my complete absence of any storage strategy.

Having decided to get a second Mac, it was obvious that I would need more external storage and so I decided to get sensible and go for something that would give me a bit of security. After much deliberation (which included extensive consideration of the Netgear ReadyNAS NV+) I eventually plumped for Drobo. I won't bore you with a run down as virtually every podcast and blog has done that to death.

It arrived, earlier than expected, yesterday along with two 500GB drives and I set it up. I've now transferred the first batch of content over to it and everything seems to be working well. The next thing will be to try out streaming from the Drobo to the Media Centre Mac downstairs to see how that works...

Sunday, 24 February 2008

Elgato Turbo.264

As part of my new set up I picked up an Elgato Turbo.264. It is a USB video encoder designed to convert video into H.264 format effectively as a co-processor.

The integration of the Turbo.264 into the eyeTV software was seamless (I have eyeTV 2 rather than the latest version 3). EyeTV simply carries on as normal but when you request an H.264 based conversion, as with iPod and AppleTV, it simply uses the Turbo.264 automatically. The way you know that eyeTV is using the Turbo.264 is that the encoding bar switches to red and a set of pulsing circles appears below it. The Turbo.264 also comes with it's own software application which allows drag and drop conversions - although I have yet to test this.

In general the Turbo.264 performed well with eyeTV, allowing me to continue using other applications on the Mac Mini without the dreaded beachball turning up; however, it subbornly refused to correctly convert some eyeTV recordings. Two in particular it simply wouldn't convert more than the first couple of minutes, in one case it dropped out giving a rather unhelpful error message and in the other it just posted a file into iTunes that was only 5 1/2 minutes long. I've no idea why this is occurring on only these two files as the other 6 I have tried (of various lengths) have converted correctly. I plan to reset the whole machine and see if this behaviour continues.

Thursday, 21 February 2008

New Mac!

My PC is getting a little long in the tooth and I'm getting a few video problems with it - so I decided I needed to replace it with a younger model. After much consideration I decided that I'd like another Apple but I wanted to minimise the outlay so I went for another Mac Mini. This allows me to use the old PC monitor (which has plenty of life left in it) and also run the two machines in parallel until the PC finally dies (the monitor has both VGA and DVI inputs - so 1 for each).

The new machine arrived yesterday and I've got it set up now. So expect a few posts on my experiences with Leopard and the like!

Sunday, 17 February 2008

Hard Drive Slow Down

I've been noticing some major performance drop off with my older Freecom HDD (the 400GB one). When I checked all the bases I found that it was being mounted as a USB1.1 device rather than USB2.0 (i.e. 12Mbps instead of 480Mbps max transfer speed!). No idea why unfortunately. No amount of dis-mounting, re-mounting, switching ports, cables and like seems to have any effect.

So I've dropped a line to Freecom's support people and await their input with interest.

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

iPod Touch New Apps - Worth it?

I had a sudden attack of fanboy last week and shelled out the £12.99 for the iPod Touch January Software Upgrade which adds five new applications to the Touch and some additional functionality. The big question, of course, is whether it's worth the cash. Here's a run down of my thoughts on the new apps:

The new Mail application allows you to set up a number of email accounts via the settings icon. Yahoo, Google .Mac and AOL are all given automatic setup buttons but there is an "Other" selection which allows you to configure it for other services. It supports IMAP, POP and Exchange services. Once set up your accounts are accessed via the Mail icon which also shows the number of unread emails when there are some. You can set it to check for email and download it periodically or only when you go into the mail app and, obviously, you need to have access to WiFi for all communications with your mail service but all the other email management can be done offline. The layout is typical iPod Touch / iPhone (which is pretty nice IMHO) but doesn't support landscape mode as far as I can see which, whilst you do lose some screen real estate for the keyboard, would make typing easier. The application supports all the standard folders and user created ones on your service but only downloads a configurable number of emails at a time. It also supposedly allows you to view MS Word and Adobe PDF email attachments but I've had problems getting these to download so far. Emails display fine with the .html ones rending nicely too. Now, of course, if your mail service has a web interface you can do all this stuff via Safari for nothing but I've found trying to operate mine that way has been pretty painful and that the Mail app is a huge improvement over that approach. So accepting the limitations of the WiFi baseline I have been pretty pleased with Mail and found it very useful and certainly worth paying for.

The Maps application is a specific implementation of Google Maps for the iPod and iPhone. It allows you to view maps, "satellite" and hybrid images as with the normal online application along with getting directions between locations. Obviously the iPod implementation doesn't have the same flexibility as the iPhone one as it is dependent on WiFi only - so, for example, it couldn't identify my location at home. However, it can get directions and store both the directions and relevant maps for use when you are out of WiFi range. Of course if you deviate from your preplanned route it can't adapt but given the limitations it is still useful. It is also nicely linked with the contacts application, although some of the Google address information is inaccurate which will result in some locations not being found. I think it's a little more limited that Mail but still a useful app.

Notes is a simple note taking application. I would have preferred a full to-do list implementation but the note taker does what it says and is a useful way of capturing information on the Touch.

I do use it but not as much as either Mail or Maps but unlike those it doesn't lose much in the way of functionality when out of WiFi range (not least 'cos there isn't a lot). Having said all that I do like it but on its own it wouldn't have justified the asking price.

Weather is a pretty simple widget which allows you to see a brief 5 day forecast for specified locations. It is very similar to the weather widget available on OS X but strangely didn't support my home location even though the OS X one does.

The biggest drawback of this app is that it is totally WiFi dependent. It doesn't seem to keep any of the data and so if you launch it out of WiFi range it doesn't give you much.

Not a complete waste of time but pretty limited I'm afraid.

Stocks is another widget like Weather. It allows you to select a number of stocks, monitor the changes in price and graph it over a specified period.

Unfortunately, as with Weather it is pretty WiFi dependent. It will retain the stock prices and movements along with the date of the last update but it won't manage any graphs.

Since I don't have much of a stock portfolio it's not something that interested me much anyway - so it wasn't much of a disappointment!

The main additional extra is the ability to customise your home screen by moving icons around and adding web clip icons. Obviously the latter are only available via Safari but it's a quicker way of selecting your favourites without having to enter Safari and select a bookmark. When you have WiFi it makes most web apps feel a little more native but just remember they won't be there when you're on the move. I like the ability to customise the home screen as I can now put my most used icons where I want. It's nice but not essential though.

Overall I think the package of apps is worth the amount Apple are charging. Just don't ask me why they're charging for them as the Sarbanes Oxley argument just doesn't work for me. As to whether they'll be worth it for you - well that'll depend on which ones you might actually use.

Saturday, 2 February 2008

Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer

Following straight after Spiderman 3 we went on to watch Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer. This series has a lot in common with Spiderman from my perspective; the heroes are just aren't dark enough for me. There's no doubting that the special effects are well done and the humour is certainly there but ultimately I like my spuerheroes to have a bit more edge.

Again there is enough here to keep you watching and Jessica Alba is always easy on the eye but Victor Von Doom is (as with the original) a desperately insipid villain. I liked the conflicted nature of the Surfer and some of the character interaction works pretty well but overall I'd say this was only a slight improvement on the original and doesn't make it to great status.

Spiderman 3

I finally got to see Spiderman 3 last night when a friend brought the DVD over. I've got to admit that I liked Spiderman when I was a kid and watched the cartoons on the TV but as I've got older I like my superheroes to have a bit more edge. Given that I only thought the original Spiderman movie was OK I approached this one with a little trepidation.

Overall it is an entertaining movie with some typical blockbuster special effects and new villains; however, I found it difficult to be interested in Peter Parker and MJ's personal life. When Peter's not Spiderman he's just too wet. The portrayal of his "darker" (quite literally in this case) alter ego was more interesting but still a little too light for my preference.

The villains were and major special effects were strangely unsatisfying and in some cases just too unreal.

So whilst Spiderman 3 keeps you nicely occupied for the whole film it drags a bit if you aren't interested in Peter, it has some nice special effects for the Sandman but overall it only falls into the OK category.

Thursday, 24 January 2008

The Shadow: Crime, Insured and The Golden Vulture

Nostalgia Ventures have been reprinting various pulp novels recently and I was lucky enough to get a couple of Christmas. My first was The Shadow volume 1 including Crime, Insured and The Golden Vulture. These are paperback reprints of the original novels with some original artwork and a couple of small new accounts regarding the authors and tales included.

As these are reprints of original 1930's works the style may not be to everyone's taste but to me it is so evocative of a period I am very interested in (and also inspiration for my main hobby - see The Wargame Shed) that I found the two tales enthralling. Of course neither story bears too close inspection in a number of areas as there are some clear credibility issues but then The Shadow is entirely larger than life and in the context of the genre any such issues are to be ignored - just immerse yourself in the language and the two-fisted action!

The range also includes reprints of Doc Savage stories too. I'm off to carry on reading volume 2 of The Shadow: The Chinese Disks and Malmordo...

Sunday, 20 January 2008

I Am Legend (Movie)

We managed to catch I Am Legend with Will Smith last night. Inspired by the 1954 book of the same name by Richard Matheson, the film recounts the tale of Robert Neville who is apparently the sole survivor of a pandemic. The film moves the location from LA to New York, has Neville as an Army doctor who may have contributed to the pandemic and, disappointingly revises the ending to a more Hollywood one.

The scenes of Neville traveling around a deserted New York are very effective and the interspersing of flashbacks to explain the situation helps break the potential repetitiveness of the "last man alive" story. Will Smith is good as Neville, slowly breaking down as he fails to find anyone else alive or a cure for the victims of the pandemic who didn't die.
The film certainly succeeds in providing some tense moments but fails to provide the depth of the book's story (often a problem with book/film conversions). My wife enjoyed it but hasn't yet read the original story (something I am recommending she does).
Obviously comparisons are bound to be made with The Omega Man starring Charleton Heston which is also inspired by the same book. Both films have their merits but clearly the advantages of modern CGI do help with the creation of the atmosphere in the later movie.
I Am Legend was entertaining and, whilst I understand why they may not have wanted to film the book ending, it did affect my overall opinion of the movie. Worth a watch.

Thursday, 17 January 2008

Macworld Keynote: Disappointed?

Having switched to Mac I was eagerly anticipating the Macworld Keynote to see what Steve was going to announce. I had put my purchases on hold in case he announced something new and I wanted to avoid having to kick myself for buying too early. Whilst previous keynotes have had me pretty excited I was slightly underwhelmed by this year's.

First off, there weren't any surprises, pretty much everything had been pegged by various rumour sites and pundits - even if the mock up shots of the ultra portable machine had been way off.

Secondly, and probably most significantly, there wasn't too much that really floated my boat. Of course the new MacBook Air is cool (who am I to dispute that?) but it's not a device that would do anything for me.

Of course the iPod Touch software was of interest but having to pay for it? Accounting issues apparently - who are they trying to kid?

Movie rentals is a great idea but who knows when us poor relations in the UK will see it - after all we still only have a pretty paltry collection of TV Shows to buy and no movies at all! And we don't seem to have benefited from the AppleTV price drop (given the lack of content for it here I would have thought that might have been worth doing?)

Time capsule might have been interesting if I had Leopard (sorry still on Tiger) and my Mac Mini had 802.11n. (That reminds me is Apple being a little inconsistent with their line up? The Mac Mini has no 802.11n but does have gigabit ethernet and the AppleTV has 802.11n but no gigabit ethernet - you explain it!)

At least I know that I can go off any buy the next stages of my media infrastructure in the safe knowledge that there's nothing new coming out for at least another couple of months (or until 5 minutes after I've bought something!)

Saturday, 12 January 2008

Blink

I've just finished Blink by Malcolm Gladwell sub-titled The Power of Thinking without Thinking. It's a fascinating exploration of thin slicing, first impressions and snap judgements and really got me thinking. Using a series of real examples the author looks at the power of the subconscious mind to reach a conclusion in a fraction of the time the conscious mind would take. He also examines what external factors can influence those conclusions.

Not only does it make you think about the pure power of the human mind to process data but it also gives you pause when you consider the various ways in which that process can be manipulated.

It's a fascinating read.

iPod Content

Having had a chance to play with the iPod for a couple of weeks now I'm still really impressed. Of course it would be nice if it had a To Do list function and obviously web apps are limited to WiFi hot spots but in terms of the core functionality it works very well. So what have I been doing for content?

Obviously the interface between iTune and the iPod is the main reason most people (me included) plump for an iPod over over portable media players. I've got the iPod syncing with my Mac Mini media centre which has our music library on it. I'm also a big fan of various podcasts (you can see some of them in the links section on the right of the blog) and I have those syncing too. The podcasts I follow are both audio and video and the latter work really well on the Touch's display (although I've had to swap from the highest quality version of GeekBrief as it wouldn't sync). I can heartily recommend all the shows from Channel Flip which has a nice balance of three shows all with excellent presenters and interesting content.

I've already mentioned streaming shows from eyeTV to the iPod over WiFi; however, whilst great in the house it is somewhat limited when I'm out and about. Fortunately eyeTV allows you to automatically export recordings to iPod format and imports them into iTunes after the recording finishes. It's great to come down in the morning, sync the iPod and get the recorded shows from the previous night to watch on the train. The picture quality is very good too.

For other audio sources I was wondering about audio books but hesitated to take the plunge and buy some until I'd worked out whether it was something I'd be keen on. Fortunately I found Podiobooks.com which offers free audiobooks and audio dramas for download including via an iTunes subscription. They have a pretty broad selection of material too.

Friday, 11 January 2008

The Red Star

I managed to pick up a copy of the collected edition of The Red Star from eBay last week. A friend of mine introduced me to the series and was kind enough to point out the item when it was listed.

If you haven't come across The Red Star it's a comic book series set in an alternate reality with parallels to our own. The story clearly draws from history and folklore. It presents a United Republics of the Red Star which is clearly based on Russia/Soviet Union but adds alternative technology and magic to the mix creating a mythic feel.

The main story follows the war between the URRS and Al'istaan which is told in retrospective by a Warkaster (sorceress) whose husband is killed. The story clearly draws on the Soviet conflict in Afghanistan for it's initial inspiration but moves beyond the mundane with some truly inspired imagery of mile long skyfurnaces (flying warships), militarised magic, technology and mythical entities.

The visuals are fantastic and the story involving. If you get a chance I'd recommend checking it out.

Tuesday, 8 January 2008

XtremeMac Verona Flip iPod Case

I wasn't entirely happy with the pdo TopSkin case for my iPod Touch so I looked around for something a little more robust. I hit upon the Verona Flip case from XtremeMac. It's much sturdier than the TopSkin but considerably bulkier; however, it does provide more protection for the device and it can be set up to act as a stand for watching video (something that is a real boon on my commute). Obviously it's more expensive than the TopSkin and the leather section around the face can interfere with easy typing but overall it fits my needs best of all the ones I looked at.

Tuesday, 1 January 2008

Happy New Year!

So it's the first day of 2008 (how scary is that?) and it's a chance to start over. I know New Year resolutions are usually a bit of a joke but this year I intend to make a few changes. For starters, I intend to de-clutter and get a bit more organised (BTW if you're interested check out 43folders.com for a few tips).

So let me wish you a happy and prosperous 2008!