August 10, 2005

Moving Day

Writing about web page http://www.nickmb.co.uk

Well, since I no longer go to this delightful institution, and was too cheap to join the Graduates Association, it appears I will soon no longer be able to update this blog.

However, so much did I love it that I have actually altered my old personal homepage to the blog "style". I have a comment function and everything, and I hope people will join me there for more ramblings.

Word.


July 16, 2005

Harry Potter 6 – Over Analysed

Well, it actually won't be too badly overanalysed yet, as I'm attempting not to spoil any plot twists. I may come back and do a follow-up, complete with brutal spoiling, at a later date. I do, however, spoil the big death from the previous book, in case anyone's somehow remained unaware of it.

The fifth Harry Potter book did not quite work. On first reading, we thought "that was pretty good". After a little consideration, we admitted that it perhaps dragged a bit. Eventually, it came to our attention that large tracts of it were rather boring, in particular the first 200 or so pages loitering in the Black household, and that the death of Sirius was awful.

The sixth book, I'm thrilled to say, is a substantial improvement from that. Things actually happen, relevancy is obtained and much drama is wrought upon everyone. One thing that does remain from the fifth instalment is the inclusion of the pains of puberty, but it changes form from Harry's relentless capitalised tempter tantrums to the immortal question of "Who's going out with who?", which isn't quite as irritating, although it does go on a bit and some of the couplings are a bit bizarre.

Despite my annoyance with the sense in book five that nothing that significant actually happened, the "prophecy" revelation from that volume does play a substantial role here. It then pushes itself onwards to bigger and scarier things. It is hard not to be impressed how well all this fits together. A lot of things from earlier books are explained and drawn into the plot seamlessly, and whether it was planned all along or Rowling did make it up as she went, it works. Coming into this book, I was worried it would simply be "the set-up for the end", but it turns out that book five was the set-up volume and this one is just the first half of the headlong rush for the finish.

The downside of this, of course, is that a lot seems unresolved. There are many things that we will have to wait for book seven to see the anwers to. It's hardly a complaint, I know ("Author manages to make readers want to read sequel. That bitch."), and there are enough things that both start and finish in this book to make it satisfying, but the wait between books will seem even longer.

Negatives, you say? Well, luckily, I'm good at finding things to complain about. Apart from the wide-ranging and often quite random scattering of hormonal angst, I only have a few petty grievances. Like, there's an effort at the end to obtain a certain "It's all futile" effect, which skates dangerously close to "nothing which just happens matters". Actually, if I could change one thing, it might be the title. I think putting "the Half-Blood Prince" front and centre kinda skews the reader's approach to the sub-plot. I don't know what I'd replace it with, but still.

I may return in a few weeks to pick apart specific plot points, but for now I just wanted to give a solid recommendation. If you disliked book five and were reluctant to give book six a try, I think it might be worth it. Thank you.


July 02, 2005

Strung

Have here a newspaper article on string vests. Apparently a group of people were given them to wear, and most of them concluded that they were actually good at keeping the heat in, but still they would be reluctant to wear them casually.

The report concludes: "Seemingly, all vests were to be regarded with suspiscion".

And who could blame them?


July 01, 2005

Early

When I get up early enough, none of my 108 MSN contacts are online. I didn't realise that ever happened.

June 21, 2005

Culture Vulture

Okay, it's been a while since I blogged, and nothing makes me happier than ranting about pop culture. So, here's an entry to make me very happy.

  • First, after my heartless trashing of that godawful Cardiff episode a couple of weeks ago, I'm genuinely pleased to report that Dr Who did claw back a lot of good will with an excellent two part conclusion to the series. Even the Big Brother/Weakest Link satire stuff worked well, and I did expect that part to be utter piss.
  • I saw Batman Begins on Sunday, and it was also really good. That's how Batman should be done on screen, everyone else take notes. The crazy driven guy who luckily is on the good side. Whoever thought to cast the serial killer from American Psycho as Batman definitely deserves a medal. The use of shiny new obscure villains such as Ra's Al Ghul also gets points from my inner nerd, and Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman were awesome at the Bat-backup. Sequel please.
  • The Coldplay album is cool. As long as you ignore all that stuff they said about "reinventing their sound" or whatever and just go in expecting another well executed Coldplay album, you're unlikely to be disappointed. Admittedly, the Speed Of Sound single does sound too much like Clocks, but it's hardly a capital offence.
  • The Tears' album is better, mostly because it actually managed not to sound like Suede, due to a focus on ballads, or at least mellower songs, rather than shouting. It does niggle at me that they continue to select the few catchy louder songs as singles and let the good stuff fester, but I'll cope, at least I've heard it all. Even the five minute song is quite nice.
  • There's a new series of Scrubs on Channel 4, which makes me a very happy boy, as I'd forgotten how good this show is. Few things manage to mix comedy, drama and flat-out pathos so brilliantly, except of course my beloved West Wing. Miss it, miss out.

I have been trying to think of something I don't like to slot in here, just because there seems to be far too much positivity contained in this entry. I haven't yet seen the second episode of House, although I do have it taped, so I can't report yet on how that developed from a very promising start.

Oh, and just to fit in with everyone else, yes, results are tomorrow and I am very scared.


June 10, 2005

House

House is a new US TV medical show import which they're now showing on a Thursday night on Channel Five. This alone would not get me to tune in, since ER is more than enough blood and death for me, and "Channel Five" is never a good sign. Also, new TV shows, no matter how good they are, do not seem to be lasting long in the states these days. A show called Dead Like Me, which some of you may be aware of, was axed after two series for very little conceivable reasons. It was the highest rated show on its channel.

So I'm just going to try not to get attached in the future. Having said all this, House promised me firstly the cynical genius archetype, which I'm a huge fan of, and Hugh Laurie playing the role whilst pretending to be American. (Since an alarmingly number of people who I've mentioned this to don't seem to know who Laurie is, he was the stupid Prince in Blackadder III and the stupid Lieutenant in IV.) So, with all this in mind I tuned in. (Well, actually I taped it and watched it the next day, but that didn't have anywhere near as much punch.)

That was actually pretty good. Hugh Laurie does bitter, twisted and people-hating much better than you'd expect him to, and the American accent is not half bad. I doubt the Americans even realise he actually sounds like a British public school boy. He gets all the good lines, of course, and permanently gets to look good at the other characters' expense. It actually reminds me of one of the greatest characters in recent BBC drama, Anton Meyer from Holby City. He used to single-handedly make that show worth watching, simply because he maintained the God-like air of caring but brutal detachment while everyone else got the traditional BBC soap opera knife-twisting.

Admittedly, although it wasn't a problem in the first episode, the rest of the characters are going to need to show some spine in future episodes, otherwise it will quite easily break down into formula. Impossible case turns up, rest of hospital baffled, House solves it. The end. Whole audience switches off.

But you know I liked something when I have to start fishing this badly to find things to whine about. For now, this was a damn good first episode. Strongly recommended. I'll be trying to find a way to watch next week, after my housemate Kirsty has stolen the damn TV.


June 06, 2005

Am I Satan?

Okay, I keep mentioning this to people and no-one seems to know what I'm on about, but I'm fairly sure Nicholas and/or Nick is a name occasionally credited to the big evil guy himself. Am I right?

I bring this up, as I was on the NME site reading a review of the new White Stripes album, Get Behind Me Satan, which I probably won't buy despite them naming it after me, and this came up again, just when I'd managed to convince myself that I was imagining it.


June 05, 2005

Last night's Doctor Who…

… was a steaming pile of crap. For those reading this in the future who can't automatically equate a date with its Who episode, this is the one where an alien from earlier in the series reappears and tries to blow up Cardiff. For people who care about such things and haven't seen it yet, I will be spoiling the hell out of the episode with reckless abandon.

I could just spend the week ranting at my friends about this, but I thought I'd try and get it all out in one burst. It is niggling at me, especially after last week's episode which I really enjoyed, to see that this one had practically no redeeming features. Here is the list:

  • Nothing happened. Well, some stuff did, but nowhere near enough to justify forty five minutes of television. It appears they had an episode to fill and a post-it note with a couple of vague ideas on it and just cracked the script out in ten minutes. There was a fifteen or twenty minute stretch in the middle which I could have slept through and missed nothing.
  • How many times must we have the villains point out the Doctor's character flaws? Yes, the first time it was nice, but by now I'm bored. I really really have trouble feeling the Doctor's pain when he's getting lectured on ethics by a sodding dalek.
  • In a related point, we've been told in these little rambles that the Doctor is "dangerous" and "cowardly" and whatever, and yet on screen he's mostly pretty inoffensive, with the possible exception of the time he tried to kill the dalek. Important TV law, kids: Show, don't tell.
  • The "poor little alien" thing. The dalek episode was enough, I don't need to see an enormous creature made of snot crying in a toilet cubicle because it misses its mummy.
  • If Mickey is never on screen again, I will be ecstatically happy. I quite liked the resolution to his bit, where he saved the world from the Slitheen and turned down the Doctor's offer of sidekick-hood, but here he was just taking up space. His time is up.
  • Whoever was responsible for the incidental music in this episode should be thrown out of a window. The blaring notes to signpost for stupid people that THIS IS AN EMOTIONAL SCENE were absolutely farcical.
  • This point was actually made by one of my housemates, and I don't agree with it, but when criticising at this length, it seems wasteful to leave it out: The explanation for the Slitheen's survival after getting hit by a missile was pretty thin. I personally do firmly believe that spending ten minutes explaining such a thing would have been utterly futile and its best to just get it out of the way and move on, but at least it would have been another thing the episode actually does, I suppose.
  • The technobabble at the end. After suffering for 40 minutes, the resolution to the story is… bollocks. The villain's speech explaining her evil plan in particular, which appeared to require that I change my degree to Advanced Lengthy Science Fiction Words just to understand it. Crucial TV lesson #2: You should not have to decipher lengthy tracts of gibberish to understand major plot points. On the rare occasions that the West Wing fails, it does so because it lets the story be driven by in-depth political waffling.
  • Also, from what little I could understand (and no, I will not watch it again to further my understanding), she had a plan entirely reliant on the Doctor picking up a particular piece of machinery? What?
  • The whole "I've changed, I'm not evil anymore" spiel. Obviously, it was a lie, which may explain the glaring contradiction in claiming this after you've been caught murdering dozens of people and attempting to blow up Cardiff, but twist endings do not justify boring middles, and it was a crap twist anyway. Speaking of twist endings, is it me or did the trailer for next week's instalment seem to give the game away rather?
  • There is a valid argument to be made that this series isn't aimed at me, it's aimed at ten year olds, and subjecting it to vicious writing critique is ludicrous. But I find it hard to believe that ten year olds wouldn't have got bored and switched off during the torturous fifteen minute whine about the rights and wrongs of the death penalty, interspersed with the soap opera bleatings of Rose and Mickey.

Well, nothing else is occuring to me. In a vague attempt to have this entry contain some positivity, Christopher Eccleston was good as ever and gave it all he had despite the script. Billie Piper also acted well, and I even liked the new sidekick, Captain Jack, although I'm not completely certain whether I liked him in this particular episode or he just reminded me of the earlier, better ones he debuted in. I like the idea of pairing up the Doctor, who's a slightly unconventional awkward hero who likes to sit down and chat to the alien if possible, with a square-jawed Buzz Lightyear type who likes to find the biggest laser gun he can and blast the alien into flesh-chunks. I have no idea if they'll actually take this angle with Jack, but you never know. For now, they seem far more interested in playing up his comedy bisexuality.

Okay, I'm gonna go and practise being a positive happy person now. I realise this post cements my place in the nerd hall of fame, but like I say, I hope this will now stop me repeating this all week in conversation.


June 01, 2005

Columbia football team – The Drugs Actually Don't Work

Was watching Our Boys beat Columbia 3–2 earlier this evening, and literally just after I recounted it (incorrectly), the commentator told the story of a Columbia player who scored an own goal in a crucial game, and was murdered shortly after.

So, this got me to wondering, who do you think they should assassinate over this result? Michael Owen for scoring a hat-trick or the entire Columbian defence for letting him?


May 30, 2005

The Male Code: Wind In Toilets

I have now accepted that there are certain rules of public decency that have to be adhered to. I try to power through as many of them as possible, on the grounds that they're stupid, but among the lucky ones that I do try to adopt, I have included the caveat that apparently I should not be breaking wind in public. (From either end, before anyone asks.)

However, I was in a male toilet recently, and I did dare to openly expel gas with very little effort to cover it up, and was rewarded with a frosty stare from a fellow urinal user. If I can't break wind in a men's toilet, whilst actively urinating, where exactly can I do it? I ask you.

(This has been another tasteful and highbrow instalment.)


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