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Wednesday, April 4th, 2012
12:07 am - Adaptations
I watched the first episode of Game of Thrones season 2 this evening. I thought it was good, although it's possibly the least eventful episode of the show so far. I think the ever-expanding cast and number of plotlines may be a bit of a problem for the show's pacing (as it has been in the last couple of books), although maybe once they've got a lot of set-up out of the way the pacing will improve in later episodes. I have slightly mixed feelings about how accurately they should adapt the book, as a fan of the books I really like the way that they've been faithfully adapting most (although not quite all) of the plotlines so far, but at the same time I think there is a risk that fidelity to the source material could lead to them trying to squeeze too many plotlines into a limited amount of time.

I liked the introduction to Stannis and his court, the actor playing Stannis did a good job of capturing his dour nature and obsession with doing things the way he thinks his is right. The scene on the beach with the burning statues was quite striking visually, as well. Most of the other plotlines were done reasonably well, although I thought Littlefinger was a bit lacking in subtlety in his scene with Cersei. Dany's plotline could be a bit dull this season especially in the early episodes, and I think the last couple of Steven Erikson books may have left me with an irrational hatred of scenes where people spend a long time journeying through a barren desert.

Speaking of adaptations, I saw The Hunger Games at the cinema on Sunday. As adaptations go, it's another example of one that faithfully follows the book (although a couple of scenes felt a bit rushed), and I thought it did a pretty good job of turning an entertaining book into an entertaining movie. Adapting the next book in a similar way should also work fine, but I'm struggling to see Mockingjay working as a straight adaptation. It was a well-made film, it was mostly well directed apart from what might be the most excessively shaky camera work I've seen. The acting was pretty good, I thought Jennifer Lawrence was perfect as Katniss and the supporting cast did a fine job. If judged as an action movie it perhaps struggles to ever get into top gear and maybe only two or three action scenes really feel tense, but I guess action isn't really the main point of the story despite the superficially violent premise.

When judged against other "reality TV deathmatch" films, I'd say it was better than "Series 7 : The Contenders", but not quite as great as "Battle Royale" - the Hunger Games lacks Battle Royale's inventive violence, dark humour and Takeshi Kitano's scene stealing performance.

current mood: sleepy

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Sunday, May 8th, 2011
1:08 am
I've just been going through the photos I took on my recent trip up to Scotland (I got back on Tuesday, after three days back at work I'm wondering when the next holiday is). There were quite a few of them, partially because it was brilliant weather most of the time (by Scottish standards, anyway) and most Scottish scenery does look a lot better in the sun. It did rain the first weekend I was up, but other than that it was sunny just about the entire time (albeit with a cold wind occasionally, especially near the coast).

In my last post I mentioned visiting the Birks O' Aberfeldy waterfall, I liked this photograph of it from the bridge going over the waterfall, particularly the shadow of the bridge and photographer on the far side of the canyon:


Read more...Collapse )

current mood: tired

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Tuesday, April 26th, 2011
12:40 am - Scotland
I'm up in Scotland for a dozen days, thanks to Easter being immediately followed by public holidays for the Royal Wedding and May Day, I get to take 12 days off while only using 4 days vacation, which is nice. Yesterday my aunt and uncle, two cousins, cousin's husband and their 18-month old son came through to visit. 18-month old children can be quite exhausting, they seem to quickly learn how to make everyone around do their bidding, he quickly decided that my main role in life was to push toy cars towards him and was particularly amused if they ever crashed together. It was nice to see them all, one of the disadvantages in living in southern England when my entire family (save for one cousin in Amsterdam) live in Scotland is that I don't get to see them very often - I hadn't seen one of the cousins I saw yesterday in about 3 years.

Today we went through to Aberfeldy, the nearest town to the one where I grew up and where I went to school for the last couple of years of secondary school. My old school has been completely demolished and replaced with a new one that opened last year, so I wandered around the outside of it out of curiosity. It does certainly look a lot more modern than the rather tired-looking 1960s-era building I attended (with part of the school in a building that could well have been 50 years older than that). It does look quite an impressive building, although I'm a bit puzzled that it seems to be about twice the size of the old school, given that they presumably have about the same number of pupils I'm not sure what they're using all that space for. After that we wandered around the Birks of Aberfeldy, a gorge with a reasonably impressive waterfall in it. I haven't been round that for about a dozen years, I don't remember there being quite as many steps on the way round it, but it was a nice walk and great weather for it as well.

current mood: tired

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Tuesday, April 19th, 2011
12:19 am - GoT
I finished watching the first episode of the Game of Thrones TV series a couple of hours ago. Despite all the advance footage and trailers looking very promising, I was still a bit nervous before watching it, wondering if they'd do the book justice. There's always a bit of nervousness about adaptations of books I really like, and this is particularly the case when it's an adaptation of my favourite series of books and one I've been reading for longer than I really want to think about (I'm not entirely sure exactly when I started reading it, but I remember it was on the "New Releases" pile in Waterstones in Perth when I picked it up so it would sometime around 1996/7).

Based on the first episode I'd say they did a great job of adapting it, it's not perfect and some things aren't entirely how I envisioned them, but so far I don't really have any serious complaints about the show. I think it must rank as one of the most faithful adaptations I've seen, admittedly a couple of bits of characterisation are done a bit differently, but I've never really agreed with the school of thought that an adaptation has to keep everything the same so I think the changes are acceptable. The strangest thing is the intro which felt more Steampunk than Epic Fantasy, despite that I thought it was a wonderful and distinctive intro sequence but it does feel slightly anachronistic.

Of course, all the accuracy in the world wouldn't help much if I didn't enjoy watching it as well, but I did find the show enjoyable and compelling even though I knew exactly what was going to happen (one disadvantage of a faithful adaptation is that there isn't much suspense). I mostly managed to avoid over-analysing, I remember mentally comparing the film of Fellowship of the Ring to the book too much when I first saw it too much at the cinema and in that case I did enjoy it more the second time I saw it, when I could just enjoy it. The pacing of the episode was good, it managed to deliver a lot of scene-setting without it dragging too much (although I'd be curious how well someone who hasn't read the books would understand the plot). Visually it look good, and I thought the acting was mostly excellent although there were a couple of bits of clunky dialogue here and there.

Due to not being allowed to put up a satellite dish here, I had to watch the streaming version on Sky's website instead. I was a bit worried by the "This program is not available online" message I got when I tried to watch the preview program immediately before it, but fortunately that went away by the time the show itself actually started. The streaming video worked fairly well after that, although the picture quality was some way short of what it could be - I'd tried watching The Pacific on Saturday and found that selecting the high-quality setting produced too many pauses for rebuffering so selected medium quality instead. I guess I'll have to wait for the DVD release to see it at its best.

In summary, I'd probably give it about 9/10 and I'm now eagerly awaiting the next episode and trying not to spend too much time analysing Internet rumours to see how likely it is to get picked up for season 2.

current mood: impressed

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Friday, December 3rd, 2010
11:13 pm - Technical problems... resolved
After spending most of yesterday evening try to fix it, my computer is now back in a state where it actually boots up without immediately restarting, which is nice. The key clue to what was wrong with it came when brucec helpfully asked in a comment to my previous post if I used AVG, which I do. A bit of Googling revealed that AVG's forums were filled with angry posts from the last couple of days from people complaining that their computer wouldn't boot up after the latest AVG update. As one person pointed out, the anti-virus software was actually more damaging than a virus.

They did also offer a solution where deleting a couple of AVG's files on the hard disk would allow Windows to start up again. This was easier said than done when the computer wouldn't start up, but I managed to do it eventually and Windows now seems to be working fine as well.

Other than the computer issues, things are fine at the moment. I would complain about how cold it is outside, but it sounds like Cambridge is actually one of the warmest (least-cold might be a better way of putting it) places in the country at the moment and we only have a minuscule amount of snow, so I suppose I'm probably quite lucky in comparison to a lot of people just now.


current mood: accomplished

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Thursday, December 2nd, 2010
8:46 pm - Technical problems
My computer seems to have decided that it won't start up Windows at all, which is worrying.

Equally worrying, when I try to do System Restore which was my first idea for fixing it it claims there aren't any stored recovery points to restore to.

Next thing to try is to restore to factory settings which will hopefully fix it. First off, I decided to use the backup tool to back everything up to my external hard drive so I probably won't be able to try the restore for a few hours.

In the meantime, I've blown the dust off my 6-year old previous computer and am currently using that. It's a bit slow, but at least it works. Oddly, when I went to Livejournal it seemed to decide to display my friends page from April 2009 which was a bit disconcerting, at first the difference wasn't too obvious, but I quickly noticed a post from Mo's old account which hasn't been used for ages. I guess April 2009 might have been the last time I came here on this computer, but I don't know why I had to force it to reload.

Update : having just had an error message when I tried to post this, I think the old friends page weirdness is probably because the time and date weren't set correctly on this machine (it thought it was January 1st 2001).

current mood: irritated

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Monday, August 9th, 2010
12:38 am - New purchases
I think I said a few weeks ago that I was looking to buy a new TV. After some delays waiting for the one I wanted to come back into stock, I had it delivered yesterday. It's a 32" Toshiba HD LCD, which is significantly larger than the 24" Sanyo CRT TV I'd been using for the last 10 years. The increase in size is very noticeable, oddly it seems more noticeable in a way when it is switched off, since there's now a large black rectangle dominating the corner of the room, exacerbated by the TV frame also being the same shade of black. The picture quality of the new TV seems good - although I can't say how well is displays High Definition pictures, since I don't have anything capable of supplying HD pictures since I'm not able to get either cable or satellite TV. Sometime next year I think they're meant to start broadcasting on Freeview in HD, but until then the only way I'd be able to watch anything in HD is to buy a Blu-Ray player, which I might do sometime but don't have any immediate intention to start shopping for one. The non-high definition can still look pretty good, I watched last year's Star Trek film on DVD last evening and the special effects were displayed very well. It's the first time I've seen the film since I saw it at the cinema, and I was reminded how silly much of the plot is and there is a bit of possibly unintentionally amusing dialogue, but it is still a very entertaining film.

Since I was going to have to wait in for a delivery, I ordered a new printer the same day. It has some useful features compare to my previous printer, in particular if you try printing out black text then it will actually print something out whereas the old printer had started to just produce blank pages if asked to print in black. I must have installed about a dozen printers over the years on various computers, and they never seem to install smoothly. This one was no different, after about 20 minutes of it claiming to be "installing software" and making no apparent progress I got a bit suspicious. Eventually, I discovered there was a dialog box explaining that Flash had failed to install properly, which was helpfully being displayed behind the "installing software" window so that it was completely invisible until I tried alt-tabbing through all the open windows. Once I'd clicked 'OK' on that notification everything else did install successfully and it all seemed to work fine despite the report Flash installation problem.

Went to see "The A-Team" at the cinema today. I really enjoyed the show as a child (although I suspect it wouldn't hold up very well to rewatching) and I thought the film did do a surprisingly good job of capturing the same spirit of slightly ludicrous fun. It was extremely silly at times, particularly the "I think they're trying to fly the tank" scene, but also very entertaining. I thought the post-End Credits cameos by Dirk Benedict and Dwight Schultz was also a nice touch.

current mood: tired

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Tuesday, July 20th, 2010
12:27 am - Inception
Went to see Inception yesterday at the cinema, first time I've been for a few weeks due to the poor selection of films being released recently. I've really liked Christopher Nolan's so far (well, Insomnia was only OK, but the rest were great) so I was looking forward to it. I wouldn't say it is the best of Nolan's films, but it is a good film, and definitely several steps above most Hollywood blockbusters. There were a lot of things to like in the film, it had an intelligent and reasonably compelling plot, it is refreshing to see a blockbuster that is actually an original work rather than an adaptation/sequel/remake, the acting was good throughout and the designs of some of the dreamworlds were very inventive. I thought the pacing was particularly good, the pacing is fairly relentless in the second half of the movie and it manages to keep up that pace while making the plot increasingly more complicated. The special effects and action scenes were also good, and seem to have benefited by being mostly relatively low on CGI. I'm not entirely sure how I feel about the ending of the film, but I think it was quite an appropriate ending and worked better than a lot of the alternatives would have.

So, it was a good film, I'm not quite sure whether I would describe it as a great film. Although the acting was good and the characterisation was OK I can't say I really cared all that much about most of the characters or the success/failure of their mission and I didn't feel as involved in the plot as I have for some of Nolan's previous films - I think I cared more about Guy Pearce's quest in Memento, for example. Characterisation is generally one of the most important things for me when watching a film, so the fact that the characterisation was merely adequate does detract from the film slightly. There wasn't a huge amount of really memorable dialogue either. Another concern is that although it may be original by the standards of Hollywood blockbusters, there is a lack of genuinely original ideas here and much of it has been done before. Also, for a film about dreams it does have some oddly coherent dreams that don't really feel very dreamlike, I think this might be a good idea from a film-making perspective as it makes the plotting easier and it would be difficult to do genuine-seeming dreams well, but it does mean the film feels a bit less imaginative than something like eXistenZ (which I know is about virtual reality rather than dreams but had a fair number of similarities).

I wouldn't say those complaints are really serious problems from the movie, I still really enjoyed the movie and I think I'll watch it again when it is out on DVD.

PS - the music being listened to, really is the mp3 Winamp decided to randomly select out of 8000-odd mp3s while I was writing. Based on the title and the subject of the post I'm starting to worry that my computer may be trying to tell me something...

current mood: tired

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Sunday, July 11th, 2010
1:56 am - So that's what the world's meant to look like...
A few days ago I went to the opticians to get my eyes tested for the first time in 6 years. As I thought, my eyesight has only changed a little bit in the intervening period so there was only a fairly small change in the prescription. I picked up the new glasses today, distant things now do seem slightly sharper than before, which is nice. As usual, it felt a bit disconcerting walking about with the new glasses at first, since the ground somehow didn't seem to be in exactly the same place as before, and the whole view of the world felt subtly different to the way it looked with my old glasses (I guess maybe I was used to unconsciously compensating for the previous glasses not being perfect after 6 years and had to learn that that compensation wasn't necessary any more). I think my brain has mostly adjusted to the new glasses now, the only difference I really notice now is that because the frames are a slightly different shape (a bit narrower vertically), I can see the frames in a slightly different location to before, so whereas I had got used to ignoring them, I haven't quite got used to the new position enough to entirely ignore them.

It's currently 28 degrees in here, at 2am in the morning. This really isn't ideal, fortunately the forecast is suggesting it will cool down a bit over the next few days which will be a relief.

current mood: hot

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Thursday, June 3rd, 2010
1:00 am - Ashes to Ashes
I watched the series finale of Ashes To Ashes tonight. I'd been busy for a few Fridays in a row so had the last 5 episodes recorded which I watched over the last week. A few days ago I was discussing how few shows seem to end on an entirely satisfying note, regardless of whether they are cancelled (Flash Forward, to take another example from this week) or come to a supposedly planned conclusion (see Battlestar Galactica), so I'm quite happy that it has such a good ending. I am really quite impressed with the ending, it makes sense not just of the final season's story arc but the whole 5 years of Life On Mars/Ashes To Ashes and has plenty of connections even back to the first season of Life on Mars. Of course, it doesn't explain everything but I think there is sufficient explanation of the basic premise and there are some things (like what happens to most of the characters after the end of the episode) that shouldn't be explained and there is a limit to how much you can explain a show with such a fantastical premise. It might leave a couple of plot holes here and there but nothing too major.

I like it more than the series finale of Life On Mars which wasn't a bad ending, but I didn't find that the LoM ending either really explained anything (it took the sequel series to really clarify what happened) or was satisfying in terms of theme or storylines (I don't think the last episode really did enough to justify why Sam did what he did), although at least it sounds better than the ending of the US remake of Life on Mars which does sound comically bad. By contrast, I thought that AtA's ending was a satisfying end to the story arcs of all five main characters, I heard someone describe the ending as being "sad but strangely beautiful" and I think that's quite an apt description.

Overall I thought the third season of AtA was perhaps the strongest. I wasn't too keen on the first season of AtA, whilst I had really liked Life On Mars (I'd say it was one of my favourite shows of the last decade), I didn't feel the scriptwriters really wrote the main character correctly in the first season of AtA. With such a superficially absurd premise there is a very difficult balancing act between acknowledging how fantastical the premise is and not taking it seriously enough to make the story interesting. I think the first season suffered from Alex's character not taking the world seriously (she even remarks on this in the penultimate episode of the show) which hurts the show because the police-case-of-the-week has to be approached with at least a certain amount of seriousness or it is difficult to care about that part of the show. I thought the second season was better written and the third similarly good. Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes did have some of the most memorable characters of recent TV series (helped by some great acting, particularly from Phil Glenister), many entertaining plotlines and a great soundtrack. Hopefully there will be another series as good coming along sometime, although there might be a bit of a wait.

current mood: impressed

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Sunday, May 30th, 2010
11:42 pm - Iron Man 2
I went to see Iron Man 2 today at the cinema. I know this is a few weeks after most people that have seen it, although I was quite keen to see it having enjoyed the first film a lot and thinking the trailers looked good, a combination of going to Chester, going up to Scotland for a week and the friend I was going to see it with having to cancel meant I didn't really get a chance until now.

I thought it was a very enjoyable film, Robert Downey Jr is excellent again in the main role and the rest of the cast is good as well. The action scenes are good and the pacing is good enough that the film never really seems to lose much momentum. I think it could possibly be slightly better than the original due to having a better villain (even if Mickey Rourke is a bit underused) and a better final action sequence than the slightly anti-climatic one in the first film. Like the original it is entertaining and no more than that, I think it is sufficient for a superhero film to just be entertaining and not have any depth but I'd still rate it behind the likes of X-Men 2 or the two Batman films because they do have more compelling plots - it may still be obvious in them that in the end the Good Guys will triumph there is at least some potential for there to be some negative consequences to some of the characters whereas in Iron Man I didn't really feel any of the characters were ever in any jeopardy. If it didn't have such a charismatic performance in the lead role then the script might make it quite a weak film, but fortunately it turns out to be very entertaining.

When I bought the ticket for the film, I noticed that they asked if I wanted a normal seat or a 'premium' seat (which was a couple of pounds more expensive). This must be a thing at all Vue cinemas now, since they did the same thing when I went to see Robin Hood when I was up in Edinburgh. I'm sure I don't want to pay more for a premium seat since even a normal cinema ticket is expensive enough nowadays (I fondly remember the days when I was at University and could get £2.50 student tickets at the local Odeon) but I'm a bit puzzled where the premium seats are since they don't assign a seat number and all of the seats in the cinema look identical without anything to say "don't sit here unless you have a premium seat".

Incidentally, has anyone seen "The Losers"? I thought the trailer looked like it could be entertaining, but I haven't seen any reviews or reactions to it so far. I do wonder just how many "band of assorted soldiers/mercenaries/whatever get betrayed and have people try to kill them" films we need at the moment, what with this, The A-Team, The Expendables and Predators all coming out fairly soon.

current mood: good

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Friday, May 7th, 2010
11:29 pm
I'm up in Scotland at the moment. In retrospect, I'm not quite sure why I decided to schedule visiting Scotland a few days after the trip to Chester, since I'm now quite tired of travelling after going from Cambridge to Chester to Cambridge and then four days later from Cambridge to Pitlochry (7 hour train journey which went very smoothly, but I would have appreciated more leg room). The travelling isn't quite over yet, since tomorrow my Mum's decided that we're going up to visit my cousin in Archiestown (I had no idea where this was either, apparently it's somewhere in Speyside, although I'm not sure how many of you will find that description useful) which is another 100 miles further North. On Sunday I think I'll definitely try to stay in one place, although staying here probably does mean I'll spend half the day sorting out problems on my Mum's computer.

At least the weather seems good up here, although it is quite cold when out of the sun - but any weather where it isn't raining counts as good weather in Scotland.

current mood: tired

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Monday, January 18th, 2010
11:01 pm - Avatar
Somewhat belatedly I went to see Avatar at the cinema yesterday. I'd been meaning to see it for a while, since many people had said they were at least partially impressed by it, but various things (mostly weather-related) meant I hadn't been able to go see it until yesterday. There was an extra unanticipated delay as the tickets for the 5 o'clock showing were sold out (a bit unusual for a film that's been out for 5 weeks, which may be an indication of how popular it is) so we bought tickets for the 7:30 showing and went back to the cinema then.

I thought the film was visually stunning, whilst the CGI bits weren't perfect all the time at their best they were excellent with some spectacular alien scenery. James Cameron obviously hasn't forgotten how to direct a good action scene, there aren't exactly a shortage of CGI-heavy action scenes in recent films but the best scenes in Avatar put most other recent efforts to shame. The 3D effects were impressive as well (although having to wear the polarised glasses over my own glasses was a little bit uncomfortable as it kept feeling as if they were about to fall off), I hadn't seen a film in 3D before but I was impressed with it, although I'm not sure if the format will be quite so beneficial for films without quite as much eye candy as Avatar (and no matter how many dimensions they used the trailer they showed for Piranha 3D would still look abominable). I thought it was good that the 3D wasn't really used in a gimmicky way, there wasn't much in the way of stuff really coming out of the screen, there was nothing like the pre-film chocolate advert with the giant wooden head that zoomed out into (apparently) the middle of the cinema.

The film has had quite a bit of criticism for the cliched and predictable plotting, I certainly wouldn't argue that it wasn't cliched, but I mostly expect that from special effects-heavy Hollywood blockbusters so I didn't really mind that aspect of it. What I did think was a bit disappointing was the execution of some of the plot, just because something is cliched and familiar doesn't mean it can't be done well, for most of the film I thought the script was fairly reasonable but towards the end some of the non-exploding bits of the film seemed a bit rushed as what should have been big dramatic moments in the main character's story arc were dealt with very quickly. The bit where all the Na'vi start dancing to pray to Enya Eywa was extremely cheesy as well.

Overall, it was far from being a perfect film but certainly a very enjoyable one.

On a vaguely related note, I saw a trailer for Clash of the Titans which left me wondering a couple of things, whether Sam Worthington now has to be in every single blockbuster (probably an improvement on the situation a few years ago of Orlando Bloom being in every blockbuster) and whether the scene at the end of the trailer with Liam Neeson as a Greek God roaring "Unleash the Kraken" followed by the appearance of an absolutely massive CGI kraken is possibly even more over-the-top than the end of the recent A-Team trailer with the tank emerging from a blown-up cargo plane and trying to shoot down jetplanes while falling through the air on parachutes?

current mood: impressed

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Tuesday, January 5th, 2010
9:54 pm - Confused...
Given that:

1 - I had a 500-ish mile three-train journey to take today to get back to Cambridge
2 - The train for the first couple of hours of the journey was replaced by a bus due to all trains on that line being cancelled due to a freight train derailing in the snow last evening
3 - Both the first two trains were running about half an hour late due to the weather
4 - The entire country (I think I've seen most of it today) seems to be covered in snow (except for Cambridge which doesn't have a single snowflake) with an hour or so of near-blizzard conditions on the journey.

How is it possible that I arrived home exactly on time? It doesn't make sense. Not that I'm complaining, of course :)

When I got here the flat was a bit cold (can't think why) so I went around switching on all the radiators/heaters I have. Doing this I skilfully managed to detach the cord that switches the bathroom heater on and off and can't see any way to reattach it, which meant that it was stuck on with no apparent way of switching it off apart from disconnecting it (which I eventually resorted to). Fortunately, I don't think I've actually used in the previous year at all, so it doesn't matter too much if it is broken.

current mood: tired

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Thursday, December 24th, 2009
1:34 am - Since everyone else seems to be posting photographs of the snow...


I got up here on the train on Saturday evening, fortunately the 500-mile journey went smoothly despite most of the country being covered in snow on the way (which did make it very scenic). When I got up here it had only been snowing a couple of hours apparently so there wasn't much but it snowed pretty steadily for the next day with some additional snow showers over the next few days. I reckon there's probably about 8-10 inches here. Although this is in the Scottish Highlands which you might expect to get a lot of snow, we tend not to get that much here due to being in a fairly sheltered valley and it's been a few years since I remember that much snow here. It is also very cold, was -11 yesterday afternoon and is -9.5 at the moment so I've mostly been staying indoors, again this is unusually cold for here - it was saying on the news that this was the worst winter weather in Scotland for about 20 years, I'm not sure if that might be a slight exaggeration but it doesn't seem too far wrong.

I'm glad I got up here before the worst of the weather and therefore avoided the travel chaos, but I'm now reluctant to go out anywhere in this weather so it is slightly dull, I guess I'll get a lot of reading done this holiday...

Say one thing for the snow, it does look very pretty, I particularly like the effect at night with everything coloured by the glow of the streetlights:



current mood: tired

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Tuesday, November 10th, 2009
8:14 pm - 2009 continues to be a cruel year.
A few days ago, xraytheenforcer made a post on the subject of how terrible a year 2009 has been for lots of people. I commented then that although 2009 has been OK to me personally, it has been an awful year for a lot of people I know, and unfortunately that trend seems to be continuing.

Today I got into work and found we had an unscheduled meeting where we were told that one of my colleagues died in his sleep last weekend. This was a big shock, particularly since he only graduated university last year and was just 24 years old. Cause of death is unknown, but apparently he'd been diagnosed with diabetes earlier this year and his health had been poor for a while (I hadn't known that before, he always looked healthy and usually cheerful when I saw him). I didn't really know him that well, but I liked him, he was always friendly and helpful when I needed to ask him any questions.

R.I.P. James.





current mood: sad

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Saturday, October 3rd, 2009
9:18 pm - Anniversaries
I looked at my LJ profile earlier this week and noticed that today would be the 5th anniversary of me setting up this Livejournal. Looking back at my first post I said in it that I wasn't sure how much I would really use it. Looking back after 5 years, I can't say I've posted very prolifically on my own journal (only 97 posts in that time) but I've tended to be more active on other people's journals (according to my profile "366 comments received, 1,446 comments posted"). Overall, it's been a pretty good way of keeping in contact with people so I'm glad I did join here. Thanks to kalorlo who originally suggested that I should journal Livejournal.

Coincidentally, going back five more years I think tomorrow is the 10th anniversary of the start of  Freshers Week in my first year of University. It does feel like quite a while ago, but doesn't really feel quite as long as 10 years. I was thinking about it recently because a couple of weeks ago I read an article on the BBC News website about a lot of new students being very nervous about Freshers Week and feeling under a lot of pressure to make new friends immediately. From what I remember I was quite nervous 10 years ago since my friends from school had disperesed to various other Scottish universities so I was quite anxious to make new friends. There were some quotes in the article I read that were dubious about the prospects of making lasting friendships in Freshers Week, from my own experience I'd say it is definitely possible. Looking at my current Facebook friends list I met 8 of them originally in Freshers Week and although I haven't seem some of them in person for a few years I did see 3 of them as recently as a month ago when I was up in Edinburgh. There's also 2 people on my current LJ friends list, snowking who I first met at a Freshers Week quiz and brucec who I seem to remember wandering around the Kings Building campus with trying to find the Student Union and getting a bit lost (at one point ending up at the end of a path which went into a small garden and then stopped). Of couse, there were also quite a few people I met in Freshers Week that I haven't seen for the best part of 10 years (and some I never saw again after the week), and I suspect I'd probably have met all the people I stayed in contact with at some point during First Year even if I'd missed Freshers Week completely, so its importance can be exaggerated.

Back in the present day, I went to the cinema today and saw the film "Surrogates". It had a reasonably interesting SF premise and overall was moderately entertaining but its exploration of the central premise felt a bit simplistic and unconvincing in places and the ending is marred by a huge and obvious plot hole. I did find the sight of Bruce Willis wearing a wig when playing his character's 'surrogate' strangely amusing.


current mood: thoughtful

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Wednesday, September 30th, 2009
11:24 pm - Why are setup menus always so badly designed?
I've just finished retuning my Freeview (for non-Brits, that's the digital terrestrial TV service) box to restore half the channels that disappeared today. This wasn't a surprise since they've been showing warning messages that it would happen for a few days (apparently they're moving some of the channel frequencies around to be able to fit HD channels in), but I think doing the retuning was much less straightforward than it should have been. I initially tried just going through the setup menus to try to find a way to do it, in my opinion any relatively simple piece of consumer electronics should be possible to set up most of the time just from the on-screen menu, but despite selecting the update channels button it didn't decide to do anything useful. I then consulted the Freeview website where they've helpfully put up instructions for lots of different makes of Freeview box but, inevitably, not the model I have and although there were other Philips models their instructions referred to menu options I didn't have. The instructions for the other Philips models did suggest resetting the channel list completely, so I found my copy of the instruction manual and looked up how to do that. The steps were so intuitive I'm not sure how I didn't figure it out myself, apparently I had to switch off the power to the box then turn it back on while pressing the + key on the box, waiting until a red light appeared then releasing the + key, then press the + key again, wait until a second red light appears and then type 9900 on the remote control then wait for a minute and a screen will come up offering to scan for channels. This did work, and I now have all the channels again (and the quality of the reception seems to be improved a bit for some of them), but I do think the steps I had to go through were a bit ridiculous. Given that they thought resetting the channel list was a common enough thing to do that they devoted an entire page of the manual to it, surely they could have added it to the setup menu instead of forcing the user to type in obscure codes.

Getting the channels back probably isn't hugely important to be honest, given the dearth of decent programs on the additional Freeview channels, the biggest loss would have been Channel 5 and I rarely watch that (although given that I started watching the reasonably promising-looking Flash Forward on Monday on 5, it would have been a bit annoying to lose that now.

current mood: irritated

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Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009
9:24 pm - Assorted comments not worth a post each...
  • While in the queue to buy lunch today, I was trying to get the correct change out ready to pay when I noticed one of the pound coins looked a bit... odd. On closer inspection it turned out not be a UK pound coin at all but from the "Bailwick of Guernsey". I'm guessing it isn't legal tender (well, except in Guernsey). 
  • I was just looking at my Livejournal profile page. I noticed that you can set it so that it e-mails you when someone adds you as a friend, have I just been really unobservant not noticing that? I remember complaining in the past that it seemed a bit silly it didn't do that, but maybe it did and I just didn't notice (either that or they have added the ability at some point). It still seems like it would sensible to have it turned on by default.
  • On the subject of being unobservant, while looking at the profile page I noticed that catrionamacnair has now deleted her journal and moved to using ciantoanleigh instead. I do remember her saying a few weeks back that she was experimenting with creating the new journal (and I added it at the time) but I must have missed any announcement about changing over completely. Livejournal apparently only notifies you of people dropping of your flist if you have a paid account, I don't really understand why that is a pay service and notification for people adding you isn't.
  • A few days ago there was some discussion about creating new words (peadarog 's campaign to get 'disjoy' recognised as a word, for example). I think we need a word for the feeling you get when you look at the weather forecast and realise that it is forecast to be hot and sunny for the entire week when you are at work stuck in the office most of the day, but will be raining at the weekend when you would have an opportunity to enjoy the weather. I realise there are plenty of words you could use to convey the disjoyment this causes, but it seems such a common occurence it almost deserves its own word.
  • I've been watching through the Lord of the Rings trilogy on DVD. I recently realised that it has been almost five years since I last saw them (at the entire-trilogy video marathon snowking hosted) so I was curious to see whether I still liked them as much as I did before. So far, I've watched the first two and I'm impressed again with how good most of it is. I think I might like The Two Towers more this time than before, although I still think the movie is poorly paced in the latter stages (although given how many plotlines they have to juggle I'm not sure how it could be done any better). I'll be curious to see how I feel about Return of the King, since it does feature some of the scenes I disliked most on the original viewing (the army of indestructible green CGI ghosts, for example).


current mood: contemplative

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Sunday, June 14th, 2009
9:11 pm
I went to see Red Cliff at the cinema. Overall, I thought it was an entertaining film despite a few odd moments. The film is almost all in Chinese with English subtitles, which made it a bit disconcerting that the opening narration and another narration slightly later in the film were done in English by an American who sounded very much like the stereotypical American trailer narrator, which is a bit out-of-place in a film about 3rd Century AD Chinese history. Despite that unpromising start, the film was pretty good once it got going, I was half-expecting it to be quite like previous Chinese historical epics like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon or Hero but it didn't have much of the jumping-around-everywhere wire-work in the battle scenes, instead it felt a bit more like a Chinese version of Braveheart. There were some very impressive battle scenes and the directing and cinematography were both very good. It's directed by John Woo and the chose a possibly slightly unfortunate poster quote "The best John Woo film in years", which sounds like very faint praise, I'd say it was a better film than any of his American films. It did lack his trademark 'man jumping through air while firing two guns' shot, although he does still seem to obsessed with doves. The acting was also good, although one of the lead actors looked oddly like a Chinese Orlando Bloom which I found a bit distracting. Overall, the plot is fairly good, although it could have had a bit more time spent on character development and it did have a few odd moments - such as the bit where the main villain decides that instead of attacking straight away with his numerically vastly superior army, he is going to set up camp on the opposite side of the river from the Red Cliff fortress and hold a football tournament.

Some of the plot weaknesses might be explained by something I found out from IMDB afterwards - apparently the original Asian release is two 2-hour films, but the American/European release is single 2-and-a-half hour film allegedly because 'American audiences might be confused by four hours of Chinese names'. That 1.5 hours of the film have been removed might explain the low ratio of character development to action. I hope they release the full version for the DVD release, I'm curious to see what is missing.

current mood: cheerful

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