All entries for October 2008
October 10, 2008
Doors Open: Ian Rankin. Orion Books 2008
Cover of Doors Open
One thing about being poorly is that you get a chance to read a few novels. I haven't read any Ian Rankin crime thrillers before and I must admit haven't visited this genre for a while but I'm only in the mood to read intelligently written but not too intllectually challenging material. I hav to say this recently released novel by Rankin fitted my bill precisely. Only a few pages in I could immdiately understand why he has become a celebrated author in the crime fiction world having won numerous prizes in recent years.
Many of his novels centre around Rebus who is a core detective creation of Rankin's however this book is a standalone one and nothing to do with the Rebus books.
The novel centres upon a complex heist initially organised by a bored ex-director of a successful software company which made him rich, a banker for High Net Worth clients and an Art Professor. The heist involves accessing the Scottish National Galleries Art collection that is kept in storage and substituting some fakes - a crime which nobody else will ever know about. The novel itslf developed out a New York Times serialisation from 2007 (see link below).
However things soon get more complicated than that and in the compact if not incestuous world of Edinburgh more and more people become drawn into the scheme. Rankin's Edinburgh in both its geographical and social sense is convincingly related by Rankin in a thoroughly enjoyable way. The general cultural world is nicely mapped out with nice little in jokes about films such as Reservoir Dogs and Trainspotting. The girlfriend of one of the protagonists works in an Arts Cinema and somebody else works for an art auctioneer's.
Rankin has researched Scottish artists as well. Utterson has a confusing status for the Independent claims that the artists involved are both real and imagined:
The paintings that his trio aim to lift come from both real and imaginary Scottish artists. Among the latter is a certain "Utterson" – the name of the friend who, in the classic tale of Scottish dualism that lurks around foggy tenement corners in much of Rankin's work, discovers the identity of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. (Independent see link below)
There is an Utterson though with a work in the Scottish National Gallery! Read the book and check out some more of the refrerences! It is a good read, the characters are believable and well contextualised. The plot gets increasingly more tortuous and twisted building to a good climax. It all goes to show that the best laid plans..... Overall strongly recommended if you like this genre and if you were already a Rankin fan I think you will be pleased by this post Rebus effort. Certainly I will be checking out some more of Rankin's work.
October 07, 2008
A Most Wanted Man: John le Carré. Hodder & Stoughton RRP £18-99
John Le Carré
In general I like the works of John le Carré. Some of the post cold war ones that I've read have provided interesting insights into what is going on behind the scenes as countries and alliances have repositiond themselves in the new global order. Le Carré manages a global take with books such as The Constant Gardner and The Tailor of Panama dealing with Africa and South America respectively. He always comes up with quirky characters who are to some extent marginal to what would be considered as the mainstream of society and A Most Wanted Man is no different to this.
In the reviews referenced below I thought that the Financial Times one by Gilbert Adair was a little harsh. Adair who has written a book on style was applying his insights to A Most Wanted Man in ways which I thought were a little inappropriate. I don't buy Le Carré novels because I think they are great literature but because I think they are an intelligent and good read. For me they are a holiday read or if I'm feling ill. There are usually one or two good insights and occassionally there are some fine cutting comments. One character in a security conference in this latest offering sharply hits the US Post- 9/11 attitudes to human rights comparing the previous rights to proper legal representation and the post 9/11 situation where the accused is not even informed about what they are accused of. In this sense Le Carré is keeping himself and his readers up to date and he does take the trouble to research the background properly.
As usual characters are flawed, inconsistent, vulnerable, veer between noble aspirations and baser instincts in ways which might not be terribly logical but are human and it is these insights into human fraility where Le Carré is often at his best. The story itself gently builds towards a climax which quietly flagged yet is is still surprising and a little shocking for it places the participating countries in a clear hierarchy, and there are no guesses as to which one is in the driving seat.
The key characters revolve around Issa a half Chechen Russian illegal immigrant into Germany, Brue the owner of a small and quietly fading British private bank with its only branch in Hamburg and Annabel the idealistic lawyer who works for sanctuary an organisation which deals with problems for immigrants many of whom are of Muslim origin and who seek citizenship in Germany. The plot centres upon the claiming of the so-called Lipizzaner accounts which represent a dark past in the Bank's history. Lipizzaner refers to the famous Lipizzan horses of the Spanish Riding School which has always been based in Vienna. The horses are born dark and gradually turn grey although they look white. This is a clear reference to the secret accounts held by the bank:
Gray horses, including Lipizzans, are born dark—usually bay or black—and become lighter each year as the graying process takes place, with the process being complete at between 6 and 10 years of age. Contrary to popular belief, Lipizzans are not actually true horses.A white horse is born white, has pink skin and usually has blue eyes. (Wikipedia extract on the Lipizzan Breed)
It is not Le Carré's best book and, as Joan Smith points out in the Independent review, the character of Annabel could have been more developed but then so could Issey's. Certainly the novel acts as a strong critique of American blundering in its treatment of Islam and the Islamic world post 9/11 and is all the bettr for that. I don't think followers of Le Carré will be disappointed and the novel comes recommended with the proviso that it is not amongst his strongest, nevertheless I enjoyed it.
October 06, 2008
The Oxford Murders 2008. Dir: Álex de la Iglesia - One To Miss
This is a dreadful film out now on DVD. Despite some iffy reviews a friend and I took it out of Blockbusters for a Saturday night 'Whodunnit' lightweight evening as there wasn't much in. We knew it was pretty bad as in the first sex scene we started discussing the set! We thought it was our age at first but the View London review has given me a sense of relief their reviewer was equally scathing. This is a complete waste of two hours of your time steer well clear. There are plenty of good films to watch spend your time doing that. The acting and the scripting are both dreadful.
The film is a sort of 'heritageploitation' film which seeks to build on the Inspector Morse factor by trying to lend an intellectual air to the content by bringing in references to Chaos Theory and Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle. What you can be certain of here that this is a smokescren to attract more middle class audiences on both sides of the Atlantic. Pretty shots of Oxford do not compensate for dreadful acting and script. The film is one of those which has worked out its target audience beforehand and tried to apply a formula. A couple of young American actors are dragged in to try and get distribution in the US along with the Oxford scenario in a slightly historical mode to attract the same audience.
What possssed the producers to come up with such a dog's dinner is incomprehensible. The film dosen't deserve serious analysis. Just take this as a warning: caveat emptor. Don't say you weren't warned!!! Get some Morse or Jane Austen instead. A one out of ten is generous for those who like star ratings.
'View London' review of The Oxford Murders
October 01, 2008
Mac Beating PC
I can't seem to get away from people drivelling on about how wonderful Macs are except of course when you come to people who work in the IT departments who hate Macs and refuse to have anything to do with them. This is a ridiculous polar binary of the "creatives" who simply MUST have Macs just to look cool and the ultra-utilitarians who seem to hate the fact that Macs have great industrial design and look far better than most PCs. Perhaps Sony Vaios are the exception but the trouble with Sony is they like to be quirky as well by having their own memory sticks instead of just using SD cards for example.
Last year I had my arm twisted from enthusiastic photographers to put in for a pile of Macs over PCs largely for Video Editing purposes using Final Cut Pro which is apparently currently the best value editing suite and seems to be the favourite of the moment in lots of schools and colleges. Problem is that it would have meant getting other software to run on Macs which would have been extra cost. The other little problem was that it would have cost significantly more than providing a pile of Dells which is of course what happened.
What to get at home?
The seemingly excessive cost of a Mac which is fast enough to run powerful software is definitely a big put off but then so is the ugliness of the average PC. We needed a much better computer than a Core-duo Toshiba lap-top to run Photoshop and 3D Graphics programmes effectively.The poor Toshiba has been well out of its depth when it came to running complex modelling. It frequently ground to a halt. It probably didn't help that its pretty small hard drive was jammed packed as well, mainly with programmes. Should we go for a Mac? Tempting! However before signing up on the the credit line it was important to do a little investigation. It's one thing to spend a few hundred on a bottom of the line Hewlett Packard which is fine for most needs and quite another to be looking at over £2k including a monitor. As individuals can't write this stuff off against tax regular replacement of equipment is a costly business.
The key issue was what is the industry standard software in the chosen area in this case Architecture. Apparently Microstation from Bentley is the standard in the UK. Microstation dosn't have a Mac Option. If you want a Mac you will ned to use Vectorworks.
As usual this stuff was getting complicated. It must be possible to get an adequate PC made up which can outperform a Mac at a significantly cheaper price but looked good enough to have in the home. Having established the of the parameters of our holy grail there was one left for responsible computer buyers. I wanted the machine to be as green as is possible and easily upgradeable. If you had seen the massive pile of computers down at our local waste collection you would realise just how polluting all this stuff is. We are often guilty of throwing out computers which have plenty of parts still working or not needing replacement such as cases and power supplies for example.
An initial look at the cases in the computer shop around the corner was not encouraging. The cases were ridiculous mock-gothic monstrosities for the dedicated games geek. Presumably used as identifers at gaming conventions. Eventually I took to the net to see if anybody actually made a PC case which was smart and functional.
I came up with several options in the end non of which was cheap. The Coolermaster Cosmos 1000 impressed me as the best option for our purposes. It looks pretty good (not like a Dell), it has enormous space for hard drive expansion so one can have a drive for programmes, one for work and one for back-up without having a rat's nest of cables and boxes all around the place. It is designed to promote passive cooling and also to be quiet. The incessant drone of computer fans can be quite wearing.
Click on the image for an early review of the case. Apparently the case is very well designed inside. you don't cut yourself on sharp bits of casing for example. Extra hard drives are easy to slot in. The case itself is quit soundproofed.
Keeping the CPU cool using passive means as far as possible was the next target. Initially I was going for a Coolermaster Gemini II but the shop has recommended a more expensive one with 8 rather than 6 heatpipes so I'm going for that one.
As far as the hard drives are concerned I have gone for Western Digital Green drives. Clearly using a little less electricity they will run slightly cooler and hopefully the whole case temperature will be reduced. I haven't ordered a particularly exotic Graphics card although it apparently will run 2 screens. For this computer's purposes it is the number crunching of the chip which is important so I have gone foe a reasonably affordable Intel Quad Core for around £230. There is a huge price hike to the next level the Extreme range which didn't seem to be cost-effective. I have also gone for Microsoft XP Professional as the operating systm which is 64 bit and can use a lot more Ram. I'm having 4Gb to start with which can be increased to 8 on the current motherboard.
Excluding screen the whole thing will weigh in at around £1,200 which is hardly cheap by today's standards but it is a lot cheaper than an equivalent Mac and should look good and be easily upgradeable for years to come.
The screen of course is another thing. Ideally Eizo, La Cie or NEC in the more upmarket range would be ideal, however that will have to wait.
I picked the machine up over the weekend and the technician at my local shop was very impressed with the Coolermaster set up. When a colleague had asked him whther he could tell whether the machine was on or off he guessed off which was incorrect! The case was bought with the intention of being as quiet as possible and obviously achieves this end. If you want a quiet elegant looking which has low energy requirements machine then this is probably the case and combination of parts to beat to beat. You can access current prices for these in the sidebar by looking at the relevant Amazon adverts.