All entries for September 2006

September 15, 2006

UK shafted by Nintendo, Sony

Not for the first time, UK gamers are going to be ripped off by the new third-generation consoles coming from Nintendo and Sony.

While the Nintendo Wii will cost under $250 in the United States, here in Blighty it’ll cost the equivalent of $336 (or £179).

Similarly, the Sony PS3 is expected to retail for over £400 (that’s $800) even though in the States you’ll be able to get one for $600.

Why are we getting so badly shafted? Is it because we’re not in the Euro? Well, yes it is partly, because the rest of Europe is getting a slightly better deal. But it’s also because while we get our VAT slapped onto the price, in the US it’s added afterwards (and starts at 8% in Texas).

So we are being ripped off – for no particularly good reason – but it’s not quite as bad as it looks on the surface. Still, it’s going to be worth buying games from the U.S. and having them shipped over.


If Tesco was a politician…

Michael HowardIf Tesco was a politician, who would it be? I think it’s Michael Howard. There’s something about their new commitment to locally-sourced food which reminds me of the Rory Bremner sketch that summed up Howard’s 2005 election campaign. “Don’t be afraid… I’m not going to hurt you!”

According to The Guardian Tesco is to open its regional buying offices to local producers and help them bring products to the market.

For many farmers and producers it’s a bit like sharing a bed with the Devil (or with a politician). Tesco has been the undoing of hundreds – if not thousands – of local butchers, bakers and greengrocers, such as in my home town of Tetbury where we’re left with one butcher, one baker and no greengrocer. Previously we had a total of six.

So should we be congratulating Tesco for its new ‘community’ initiative, or suspect that it’ll just be a niche initative which won’t undo the harm their supermarkets have done to locally owned retailers in the past decade?

From an environmental point of view, anything which reduces ‘food miles’ has to be a good thing. It makes no sense to drag carrots from Belgium when there’s perfectly good ones 500 yards from a Tesco supermarket. But Tesco’s plan is for “regional buying centres”. In theory, this means local produce made in Gloucestershire will have to be sent to Birmingham or Bristol, only to be sent straight back again. It’s not exactly progress. The way forward is for individual store managers to have local buying power, but that’s not the way supermarkets work.

Friends of the Earth have said they fear this may be just a ‘token gesture’, and I’m inclined to agree. While the environmental benefits may be welcome, this will do little to make our High Streets diverse and locally-owned. And it’s not exactly a great victory for David over Goliath.

As Michael would say: “Are you eating what we’re eating?”


Repetitive Strain Injury is cobblers

I’m not convinced about Repetitive Strain Injury. We’re told it’ll leave our wrists crippled. Newsround (yes I’m cool bored) had a scary piece on it yesterday which will probably put some kids off touching a computer keyboard. But I still can’t help thinking it’s a fuss about nothing.

You don’t hear kids being told to stop playing their music instrument in case they get RSI. You don’t hear about drummers getting RSI despite thrashing a drum kit for hours on end. So why is the computer keyboard (which requires far less movement) such a lethal device?!

I know some people do get Repetitive Strain Injury, and I’m not trying to say it doesn’t exist. But isn’t it possible that this is more to do with people having weak joints or muscles rather than some widespread problem that affects the whole population?

To add to the confusion, some data on RSI suggests that instances of RSI have fallen in recent years, with no obvious explanation for it.

Considering how long I spend slumped over a laptop keyboard, if RSI was a problem that affected people equally I’d have had it by now. As I haven’t I can only think that we should be treating it differently – advisory prevention rather than scaring kids into thinking their wrists are about to fall off when they clearly aren’t.

P.S. I find it hilarious that a search for repetitive strain injury brings up Injury Lawyers 4U as the first result… ha ha ha.


Alan Johnson's Big Dilemma

Alan Johnson faces a tough decision: run for the Labour leadership and probably lose to Gordon Brown, or run for the Deputy leadership and face a tough battle with big names like Jack Straw. But the real dilemma is: if not Johnson versus Brown, then who else?

According to The Guardian today, Alan Johnson is under pressure from Blairites in the Labour Party (those that remain!) to run for the leadership. But a ‘close friend’ says he’d rather be Deputy to someone else, like Gordon Brown.

You can see why when you examine the figures from the Electoral Reform Society, which puts John McDonnell ahead of Brown and Johnson in the minds of over 200 trade unionists at the TUC Conference. Johnson has a mountain to climb with the unions, a group both key to the election of the next leader – and deputy – but also wary of Johnson who in many ways should be a natural ally.

With Jack Straw expected to declare his intention to run for the Deputy Leadership at the weekend, Alan Johnson’s position is precarious. He would be in real danger of losing both elections (like Margaret Beckett) and facing a disappointing future career in the Cabinet (or even outside).

But the real question for Alan Johnson is: if he isn’t the quasi-Blairite to run for the leadership, who will be? Perhaps Charles Clarke. Maybe John Reid. But his head is probably telling him that neither would stand much of a chance against Brown.

With the pace of the leadership election quickening by the day (I’d be surprised if someone doesn’t declare something at the weekend), Johnson is going to have to make decisions quickly or he’ll be left behind with too much ground to make up.


September 14, 2006

Clare Short: Martyr or Traitor?

Clare Short, the former Secretary for International Development and controversial Labour backbench MP, has announced she’s to stand down at the next General Election. But comments made to the Independent newspaper have got her into hot water, with the possibility that she could have the Labour whip withdrawn in Parliament.

In a newspaper article this morning, Short said that she wanted to campaign for a hung parliament, which in essence means that she wants Labour MPs to lose their seats. Always an iconoclastic figure, Short’s declaration will split the party. Some will privately congratulate her for taking a stand, but the majority will probably find her a traitor.

Saying that she had “reached a stage where I am profoundly ashamed of the government”, Short blames the electoral system for the lack of policy debate in the Labour party, and Parliament generally. She hopes that a hung parliament will bring about Proportional Representation, which isn’t exactly a guaranteed piece of logic.

Does she have a point?
In many respects, yes. Policy within the Labour Party is decided inside Number 10, and as she notes, decisions like Trident are made within a sentence that a speech Gordon Brown gives to businessmen. The definition of democracy needs to be reset to its default, rather than the sham we have at the moment. Individuals need to be re-engaged in politics, and Westminster needs to be more open.

But to follow Clare Short’s logic to its natural conclusion, her proposal of a PR-based electoral system would not increase policy discussions within the Labour Party, but would simply force the Leader of the party to discuss policy with leaders of other parties, in order to form a consensus.

Essentially, Clare Short’s wishes look set to bring about policy-making by a slightly wider clique than at present. Secret meetings between Gordon Brown and David Cameron would take Britain to war, decide policy and set the budget. It would result in ineffective governments where mandates would mean very little and the permanent state of governance would be one of compromise.

So while she has a point about the failures of New Labour, her hopes for the future are dangerously misguided and will simply recreate the current faux-democracy under a different guise.

Traitor or Martyr?
Now Short has admitted that she would like to see a hung parliament (where no one party holds a majority) she could easily find the Labour whip withdrawn. This would effectively banish her from the Parliamentary Labour Party. But more damaging is the potential for her to be banished from the Party as an ordinary member, leaving her as an independent.

Given Short’s career trajectory, I wouldn’t be surprised if she wanted to be an independent. But she won’t want to make that decision on her own: she will want to go as a martyr, slain by Blair and Brown, and subsequently given sympathy by those on the Left of the Labour Party who’ve gritted their teeth through 12 years of New Labour.

The real danger for her is that members of the Labour Party could be less fickle than she imagines. It’s more than possible that they will consider a traitor, no longer welcome in the Party. This is not what she will want, but given her unpredictable behaviour and tendency to go against the grain, may be what happens.


September 13, 2006

One for Private Eye?

Just heard on Radio 5Live:

Mark Lawrenson: According to our friends from Scotland, there’s no way Celtic can win tonight…
Alan Green: Oh…Oh…OH!!! HE’S PUT IT PAST VAN DER SAR!!!

Factoids:
  1. Van Der Sar is the Man United goalie.
  2. Lawrenson needs to find some more reliable friends.

Ho ho ho – brillant!!!

Eddie Izzard is to play a villain in the new series of 24.

That is all.

EDIT: Sorry, that’s not all. Apparently the 400th episode of The Simpsons will be a 24 special, featuring Jack and Chloe’s voices and a real-time plot.


NHS closures will 'improve care'

Today’s Guardian reports that the NHS is planning to “reconfigure” a number of health services in the UK in order to make further cost savings. A&E Departments and Maternity wards are likely to be worst hit.

David Nicholson, the man leading the reforms told the newspaper:

[changes] will be aimed at redesigning the NHS to improve care by concentrating key services in fewer hospitals

When will the NHS realise that in many cases, fewer hospitals means anything but “improved care”? In rural hospitals, many find that treatment is simply unavailable because they cannot travel to the ‘nearest’ hospital department, which thanks to these kind of NHS reforms will be further away than ever before.

Fewer departments might mean ‘cheaper’ care, but I have no idea how it will be ‘improved’ care.


About bleeding time

It’s more than a little bit late, but Lord Falconer is due to call Guantanamo Bay ‘a shocking affront to the principles of democracy’ in a speech tomorrow.

Perhaps it’s important to note the speech is being made in Sydney – well away from pesky British journalists – and comes at a time when the U.S. is starting to give a little ground on the detention of suspected terrorists.

But it’s a sad indictment of New Labour that it’s taken four years for someone in the British cabinet to express their disgust for Guantanamo so openly. Previously the Attorney General has called the site “unacceptable” while Tony Blair has only called it “an anomaly” – which is perhaps the greatest indication that he may be a poodle to Bush.


September 12, 2006

Met Police setting a bad example?

While the Metropolitan Police had tried to slip the news out quietly (leaving it until after the newspaper journalists had gone home this evening), it seems the promotion of Commander Cressida Dick to Assistant Commissioner has still caused a considerable stir.

Commander Dick was the officer in charge of the ‘shoot-to-kill’ policy adopted after the July 7th bombings, which resulted in the death of Jean Charles de Menezes, who officers assumed was a suicide bomber. His family have apparently – through a spokesperson – expressed their disgust at the news.

On the Metropolitan Police Authority’s website – where the news was announced – the following paragraph was included into a press release, indicating that the Authority knew the promotion would be controversial:

Clearly there are some sensitive and unprecedented circumstances involved. Candidates were chosen on the basis of their application and ability. The MPA would not prejudice an officer’s fair promotion prospects by making assumptions about future disciplinary action. Officers will not be posted into new posts until outstanding issues are resolved.

Jean Charles de MenezesBBC News Online already has the story as their second headline – Menezes Police Officer Promoted – suggesting that news organisations who decide to take a more explicit line on the issue will have plenty of material to work with.

There’s little that newspapers like more than slagging off the police, and I’m sure many papers will put the boot in tomorrow at what could be seen as a serious misjudgement. The Daily Mail inparticular has never forgiven the Met for letting off the killers of Stephen Lawrence, and has taken on the crusade of bringing about justice all on its own.

Personally I don’t think that giving an order of ‘shoot-to-kill’ – which subsequently resulted in an accidental death – is enough reason to end a police officer’s career, and it certainly isn’t the job of the press to judge whether she is guilty or not. It’s entirely possible that Commander Dick has unrivalled leadership skills – don’t expect the newspapers to mention her specialist training in hostage negotiation, for instance – that make her an asset to the Met.

Sadly much of the media will probably overlook her good qualities and use her as a scapegoat as part of the fractious relationship they have with the police. While the de Menezes family has a right to be angry and ask questions of the police’s actions, there’s a danger that they will throw the blame at everyone, and none of it will stick.


iCrisis?

At the weekend, The Observer wrote that the iPod was losing its cool, saying the device was “too common to be cutting edge”.

Well Steve Jobs has hit back in the only way that Apple can: lots of new iPods. And I mean lots.

iPod ShuffleFirst up is the new iPod Shuffle, with 1Gb of memory. It’s that little grey square on the right. Yeah, it’s a lot smaller.

The iPod Nano comes in various new flavours (and up to 8Gb) while the main iPod is 60% brighter and comes as a 30Gb or 80Gb beast.

The prices have all come down as well, which made me think they were making room for a super iPod with full widescreen at around £300-400. But it appears they’re not ready for that yet (although it’s rumoured to be in development).

They’re also got something called iTV (working title, which is useful or they might have some Brits heading for the lawyers), which is going to be a box linking your PC/Mac to your TV. It’s a nice idea, but is hardly cool. If it included a hard drive and worked as a PVR as well, that’d be more like it.

I’m not an iPod fan for the reasons that the Observer mentioned – they’re just too ubiquitous, too simple (no FM radio) and evil when it comes to Digital Rights Management and moving your MP3s from one player to another and back again. There’s a sense that iPods are just a loss-leader, there only to make you spend more money on iTunes, rather than giving you some stuff that you’ll never have to pay for later (like the radio). I went for a Creative Zen Micro instead, and am quite happy with the choice.

But are Apple really in trouble as the Observer says? I don’t think so. Sure, they’re finding it harder to innovate nowadays, and the only changes they’re really making to the hardware has been the size of the hard drive inside it. Sure, you can download movies with iTunes (but only if you’re in America), but that’s software, and software isn’t cool.

iPod NanosThe reason people get so weak at the knees about a possible iPhone or a widescreen iPod is that they’re just such cool products that it’s amazing Apple hasn’t made them already. But I don’t think teasing us for a few more months – or years – is going to hit Apple’s bottom line too much.

Apple’s marketing budget is truly enormous, and Creative have proven – for me at least – that you can have a superior product at a better price, and still not be able to flog it.

But, there’s a development around the corner which might just put the cat among the pigeons, and not surprisingly, it comes from the ‘other’ Silicon Valley mogul. Microsoft’s Zune is out soon, and is expected to do everything an iPod can (and perhaps more, such as serious gaming). With Bill Gates’ billions behind it – and considering the recent success of the Xbox 360 – there’s no knowing how much damage it might do to iPod’s fortunes.


September 11, 2006

I lied… More Casino Royale Spoilers

Sorry. I said I wasn’t going to talk about Casino Royale again, but I lied, because after watching the trailer for the erm… 10th time (I’ve downloaded the High-Def version now :p) I’ve worked out why Bond’s Aston Martin crashes at the end of the trailer:

James Bond flips his Aston Martin

There’s no-one in it!!!

Also – gotta love the freeze frame – I may have found the film’s first continuity error. Just before he rolls the Aston, his Bond girl is lying on the left-side of the road, causing him to crash. But skip a couple of frames and she’s clearly on the right-hand side of the road!

A continuity error in Casino Royale

Yes, I’m sad.


More Casino Royale [Spoilers]

According to someone who went to a test screening, this is one of the lines in the new film that lets you know it’s gonna be different to the Pierce Brosnan era:

(Bond’s just lost a load of money at the casino)

Bartender: Shaken or stirred, Sir?
Bond: Do I look like I care?

Still can’t wait.

OK, no more Casino Royale posts for a while. Promise.


September 09, 2006

Reaction to the Casino Royale trailer

Bond fans were slightly alarmed when Daniel Craig was given the role of 007. They now seem to be eating their words. Here’s the fans’ reaction to the trailer for Casino Royale:

Daniel Craig has easily shown more acting skills then Pier…uh…. Price…...That other guy in that movie Gold….Golden…..?

Actually, I’m even forcing myself to say “Sean Who?”

How are they going to top this movie if it is even half of what the trailer promises?

I was having a rather bad day until now. There truely is a God in heaven.

Craig looks and sounds fantastic. This is Bond - not naff, pretty boy, swagger and smirk Bond, this looks like the real deal.

The script is FANTASTIC. I am so excited!

This is the greatest trailer I have ever seen.

Pierce Brosnan is going to cry himself to sleep.

From: http://www.mi6forums.com


September 08, 2006

Casino Royale: WOW

Writing about web page http://movies.aol.com

The full trailer to Casino Royale – the first James Bond film in four years – is out now. And there’s only one thing to say…

WOW

Some purists might complain that it doesn’t seem like the Daniel Craig era will have much of the cheeky James Bond humour, but I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. The new film seems to have turned the impact factor up to 11, and some of the set-pieces look simply fantastic. That said, so do the bits in-between.

True, it’s hard to tell whether a film’s going to be good from a 2min trailer. But seriously, Die Another Day (a travesty) has nothing on this.

We’re not going to miss Pierce Brosnan.


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