31 December 2009

The Avatar Effect

Crikey, two comments, on topic on one of my posts. It must have been my crack about having no readers!

So in answer to the comments. Yeah, it was very pretty. But I'm one of those people who says "mmmm, pretty, but what does it *do*?" Also, while we're on the topic most reviews that swiftly descend into pontification on nature vs. tech begin by drooling verbally all over the visuals. It's pretty, I get it. But it's like someone blew umpteen million dollars on a script written by a pissy, horny, morbid fifteen year old boy. I'm sorry but that just starts to look like a waste of time from where I'm sitting.

I'm having yet another Mugatu moment as people debate the politics of this movie as if the whole thing weren't utterly ridiculous. What really burns me is that people have the nerve to criticise the story. As many have pointed out the story is an old one. That means that it should work, I think Cameron probably chose to do a rendition of this "Dances With Wolves" type story for precisely that reason.

When you get down to it the execution of the story was so ham-fisted it reached George Lucas levels of error. At one point I was actually wanting to get hold of a copy of the DVD when it comes out just to do a commentary that goes toe to toe with all the ridiculous BS in the script. That way at least you could get an attractive slide show to accompany a deconstruction of why the film suckety suck sucked.

Aside: Went to see Holmes despite reservations both grave and deep (in the end it was RD Jnr's current renaissance that convinced me) and it was awesome. The action sequences were far less obtrusive than I'd feared, the script was actually very... er... Sherlock Holmes-y to such an extent that it's one of the few films for which genuine spoilers exist so I'll shut up now.

Back to Avatar. If truth be told I really enjoyed the movie up to the moment where Colonel McScarryHead approached Mr. Avatar to propose a little military style double dealing.

For a lover of the narrative arts many movies are like slowly expiring disappointments. If the film gets off to a good start it doesn't necessarily mean it's going to get all the way to the finish line without breaking its ankle in a plot-hole pothole.

For me, that was the moment. You see, to identify with the protagonist in a movie I tend to listen to what the characters around him are saying and wonder if I'd ever react the same way. I was down with the Avatar right up until McScarryHead made his pitch because nothing I'd seen so far backed up the main character's reaction to the offer. The Colonel had never acted like he might not be a looney, Mr. Avatar had shown a love for legs but had never been given a reason to trust that McScarryHead could, in good faith, arrange an incredibly expensive spinal operation to restore the use of Mr. Avatar's legs.

I mean sure it was possible but I didn't feel it was any more probable than any of the other characters being able to wangle him a new set of knees. If we're going on pure spending power the Acme Corporate Greaseball character seemed to be the best connected for such purposes.

From there onwards I lost sympathy and it became a firework display.

Anyhow. I've been blogging more regularly for a month now. I think I'm hitting my stride. I think two or three a week might be the happy medium I've been striving for. I think staying away from X Factor and committing to the geek-athon might also be appropriate as people are commenting on the latter but seem not to care about the former (even though I get quite geeky about X Factor).

This blog, like all blog's exists to be a dialogue. That's my aim for it in 2010. See you all next year!

29 December 2009

The Madness of Avatar

So yesterday myself and the Mrs bought ourselves the right to an opinion about James Cameron's eco-epic. We eschewed 3D gimmickry and went for a much more aesthetically pleasing panavision 2D viewing. Maybe this coloured our opinion of the work but honestly? I mean... honestly?

There has been much written about the contradictions inherent in the evil corporate entities that make up the movie business making this hippy dippy wonderland fairy tale but I don't really buy into the dialog about anti-military this and that or anti-corporate whatever when the actual storytelling is just so piss poor it kind of renders the discussion pointless.

In fact most commentary sub-consciously acknowledges this by saying Avatar in the first sentence and then moving on to a discussion of tech vs. nature which has little to do with the ramshackle set up of the movie world.

I'm boggled that people have the stomach for this argument when the characters, human and alien alike, in Avatar behave in incomprehensible ways that betray the set-up that we're being asked to buy into.

Not the least of the questions is why the humans have such a huge chip on their shoulder about the aboriginal aliens anyway. I kept waiting for an explanation that never came. The statuesque, beautiful aliens seem to have no guile and a pretty laissez faire attitude towards the humans as long as the humans don't muck around near their world tree.

These Navi are the most reactive creatures I think I could imagine. They show no curiosity about the midgety pink things that have brought all their metal to a nonsensical base camp on the surface of this moon, Pandora. They are happy to exist knowing nothing of these invaders and they only rise to warfare when the aliens turn up in a flying napalm factory and fell their world tree in painful flame and fire.

So these dumb, fairly placid, aloof creatures are somehow turned into a threat with no actual evidence even fabricated. In Starship Troopers the overt storyline is that the insect aliens for no reason bomb earth with meteorites and occasion a war against humanity. You can understand humanity's position even if the implied secondary storyline is that the humans wandered into insect central with guns, assuming the insects were giant but not sentient and then learned that the stupid alien opponents were not so stupid.

You can understand how the conflict arose intuitively, even if it does make humanity look like a bunch of callous, shallow, territorial meatheads. Those bugs were dangerous and the political spin of their actions make you understand why meatheads like Johnny Rico would sign up for a tour of duty intutively. Sure, humanity might be wrong but it feels right.

In Avatar, on the other hand, I never ever felt that I understood why the majority of the humans would just naturally want to shoot at these aliens who clearly are intelligent and have their own culture and language. This coupled with the fact that even after we've torched their habitat the best they can resist with seems to be bows, arrows and giant birds and most people have got to come out feeling that there has to be another way.

I learned a few bits and pieces of backstory from the surrounding commentary on the movie, like apparently the earth is dying and apparently this stuff the corporation are mining "unobtanium" will solve humanity's problems somehow. Not only did I not get that unobtanium was supposed to be a room temperature superconductor, or any sense of earth's dire plight, but I couldn't really see how having the superconductor would help out with this plight in any event (talk about a phantom menace!).

Even given that I had received a full lesson in how humanity was suffering back on earth, pictures in 3D using the latest technological advances would have been nice, and how the use of room-temperature superconductors would solve this I still have a problem. If I'm a brain surgeon in need of a kidney transplant and the only acceptable donor is a high-school dropout with only one working kidney it is still not my right to commandeer that kidney to the dropout's detriment.

Even if some shenanigans had been arranged in the movie for the massacre of a few hundred blue aliens to be made somehow "legal" I think the resulting action would have had a polarising effect between those who believe humanity must be saved at any cost and those who believe some prices are just too high. Now that would have been an interesting movie.

As it is every stage of the story is telegraphed and all the characters even bemoan the fact that the endgame seemed inevitable. This is cold comfort when you know that depite apparently being opposed to the route taken every step of the way the characters all just did what they were told until the moment at which the plot told them to do the opposite. All sympathy lost. You can't understand why anyone's doing anything they're doing at any stage.

The movie also does an excellent job of kneecapping itself at some points. For example the time frame of the events in the movie are roughly three to four months. If the characters had been given more time, if the situation had dragged on, epically, for years then that would have just made the finer points of the storytelling a bit sloppy. As it was it just seemed utterly insane.

I could nitpick over the rights and wrongs of it for weeks but it comes down to this. I never understood why the "bad" guys were being so mean. I never understood why the "good" guys were being so passive. Therefore the whole thing just looked like pointlessly mean guys try to hand stupidly passive guys their ass and implausibly lose for reasons of plot.

I don't sympathise with anyone, I don't empathise with anyone, I find myself wondering about the wider implications of the plot and I start to realise my bottom hurts from sitting in the movie seat too long.

Suffice to say I won't be one of those who queues up to see this movie six or more times. I hope never to see it again. I don't understand how people can watch this and excuse it's glaring flaws and then say the Matrix Trilogy was overall irretrievably flawed and irredeemably terrible. I am of exactly the reverse opinion, Avatar is just dreck whereas the Matrix trilogy is hidelously flawed but has its heart in the right place. This is the right way to think about things and if you disagree with me you are wrong.

The luxury of having no readers.

25 December 2009

A Christmas Miracle

When our pretty but patently insane cat Otto first arrived in the lives of the Mrs and myself we were excited to rush out and buy her cat treats, catnip filled mice, a woolly boot and bell attached to a plastic rod with elastic and a scratching post. Some things were a big hit, the catnip mice and the plastic rod. Others were summarily ignored: the scratching post and the cat treats.

So imagine our surprise to open up a brand new scratching post on Christmas day. So, without too much hope we placed it on the floor only to watch Otto lark and frolic while attempting to savage the small rattling mouse attached to it with elastic. She continued in this for about the next ten minutes before returning to consider her Christmas bowl of cat milk. Maybe the walls in this house have just bought themselves some peace on earth and goodwill from Otto.

And isn't that the true meaning of Christmas?

Have a good one people!

24 December 2009

An Author's Fear

What if I write something so bad that that you could make a 70 minute documentary about how badly it was written and constructed.

23 December 2009

Why... won't... you... DIE!

The autopsy of the Rage vs. Robojoe incident continues with the entirely unsurprising conjecture that the whole thing was a viral scam. The glee with which the author of this piece by turns "exposes" the web of coincidence that panders to the most cynical view of the whole affair and then, knowing full well that the showboat piece has done its job, heartily retracts it is evident in every smug, calculated word.

I used to be of the opinion that a position of advocacy for the devil was a worthy cause indeed. However the devil's advocate game is not immune to being hijacked by banal thinkers who merely continue to operate within the rat runs of our everyday thought patterns. Dichotomous thinking has its place, if only people weren't so bad at it.

The central problem with Mr. Lyle's analysis is that it plays to some common presumptions in popular culture that don't help anything and force from others reactions that implicitly buy into these presumptions. As the task of Lyle's expose, as far as I can make out, is to promote his blog, and his way of thinking, it doesn't matter whether you buy in to the expose or wish to refute it the point is you've bought into the presumption that this information is in any meaningful sense relevant to anything.

Don't make the mistake that I'm trying to act above the whole gossipy nature of this entire story; if I were above that I wouldn't have been writing my X Factor pieces since I began my journal revivication programme. Gossip is good when applied to products, services and entertainment, I wholeheartedly endorse anyone's right to gossip about any aspect of the developing story. I, myself, had toyed with the idea that it was Sony BMG behind the whole incident and passed comments to that effect to co-workers and the Mrs.

The Mrs really is an excellent barometer of the likelihood, relevance and importance of such notions. She shrugged at my conjecture. This was my cue for how to treat my conspiracy theory. Essentially, even if all of Lyle's piece were true, so what? The facts are the facts, to quibble about how they came to be so is only important if it somehow forced a result that is a gross misrepresentation of reality as it stands.

When it comes to a pop music chart, a few pop music artists, a record label, a corporation and a million people participating in a retail battle orchestrated by both mass and social media reality in an essential sense is so thin on the ground as to be negligible. What smug commentary questioning the purity of the grassroots campaign fails to take into account is the question that if the whole thing was a set up who does that really make a difference to? The only people it really effects are the imagined ninja viral marketers who instigated the whole shebang at the grassroots level.

If the campaign was pure then the whole thing for two normal people who started a silly social networking scheme became a bit of a laugh and a lot of a headache (as the comments refuting Lyle's article indicate). If the campaign was a Sony masterminded viral advertising campaign then it remains a laugh for the ninjas but they also collect on a hefty pay day in exchange for a campaign well orchestrated.

The litmus test of the likelihood of the "RATMgate" conspiracy being an actual thing is to ask if the viral campaign would have been worth the money before the event. If I were speaking to a massive corporation from the position of egotism it would require to guarantee I could pull off this fake campaign coup I would want that corporation to reward me in proportion to my skills.

This isn't a Western or a gangster flick, all of this would have to be mediated via contracts and statements of expectation. The contract would have to guarantee the viral ninja some recompense even in the advent of the scam being uncovered by heroic reporters such as Mr. Lyle, or in the advent of the entire thing being an enormous flop.

Here's the sticking point. I don't for one second believe that Sony would buy into any such contract. What people fail to take into account about businesses it is that they have neither a sense of fun nor a sense of humour. They may well have coffers deep enough to throw money at speculative viral marketers willy nilly but I could throw a snowball and hit a couple of people with "a really neat idea for a viral marketing stunt".

Sony are far more likely to sit back and ask potential viral marketers to prove themselves before they'll even enter talks. The problem for the viral ninjas being that the execution of a successful viral stunt kind of lets the genie out of the bottle. The science of the viral meme is more akin to alchemy than Newtonian Physics, flash viral successes are usually found to have originated from the pan.

So overall common sense and intuition tells us that the campaign was genuine. This does not present people from using the spectre of some imagined corruption stemming from the idea that the whole thing was engineered exploiting this fear to gain attention.

I just find the whole thing quite manipulative and unhelpful. What we know is that radicalism doesn't help, conformity doesn't help, bickering over authenticity doesn't help, fear doesn't help, mud slinging doesn't help. The only way to gain a sense of clarity, it would seem, is to put the whole thing in a perspective that makes a kind of pragmatic sense. The whole thing was a jolly good laugh, it's funny, that's all that really matters, who cares why it came to be. If Sony engineered it that means the company is way cooler than I'd thought it was, so they should be proud to have brought us Christmas care of Rage. If not, then still good, it remains funny.

The only people who might feel aggrieved about being duped by a multi-national corporate entity are those who resent the fact that they can't afford a new car or a bigger house while the people at the top of the corporation have both. If they duped you then that tells you, as the dupee, why they have all that money. If you genuinely handed your money to them while they didn't lift a finger it also drops you a clue. If you choose to look at it this way they duped you either by doing something or doing nothing. In that frame of mind they dupe us all a hundred times a day.

From another perspective, stuff happens. Systems exist. Learn to game them and you will succeed, fail to game them, or refuse to participate and you won't reap what the people who accept those systems consider to be the rewards of participation. Really you have to ask yourself, what's more important? Having a good laugh about a song with naughty words in it invading a cultural institution? Or worrying that you're laughing while others are accumulating vast wealth from your laughter? I picked my answer.

Ho. Ho. Ho.

P.S. This is officially my last post about the Rage debacle.

22 December 2009

Have yourself...

Hey all!

After mammoth post yesterday, full of curmudgeon.

Today. Just... have a good day. I've been rushed off my feet shopping for Christmas. Now I'm chugging some soup and anticipating the office do... I suggest you all do as much of the same as you can. Soup's good for you.

21 December 2009

Fate? Free Will? Facebook?

Before we begin let's just hold in our minds that in the metropolitan area of London there are approx 13 million residents. There are 61 million people in the United Kingdom.

This week 1 million of those people were involved in a tussle over the number one selling song in the United Kingdom this week, the winner would be declared the number one song in the UK on Christmas Day.

I am attempting to provoke a Naked Lunch moment for those of you embroiled in the current "RATM vs. RoboJoe" = "Revolutionary Anger vs. Cow-Like Capitalism" frame of mind. By which I do not mean I am trying to convince you that insect/typewriter hybrids are organising meet-ups with mugwumps. Rather I am, in the strictest sense, trying to get the cultural diner to really appreciate what's on the end of the pop music fork.

As to the actual autopsy of the event within the context which it's been presented I'll leave that to the ever incisive Charlton Brooker. But beyond all the people bickering over the result and the fact that everyone was swelling Sony's coffers are those who wish to urinate on everyone's parade by pointing out that doing what your told because of Facebook is no better than being told what to do by X Factor.

To those meta-meta whiners I would urge you to go into the kitchen, slap on the kettle, and prepare yourself a nice hot cup of shut the fuck up. If you wanted to be more self-serving and pathetic you couldn't possibly have chosen a more irritating, ignorant, deluded and intensely stupefying way of doing it.

I know, I know you wanted to slap those smug Facebook-worshipping goons in the face and point out to them that there's nothing big or clever about organising yourself via a combination of virtual Walls and Twitter tweeting. This only says you have a problem with Facebook and Twitter. So many do, yet they continue to exist, learn to live in harmony or shoot yourselves.

If you wanted some perspective on the whole thing then you might have to go on a journey zooming out from the pop culture phenomenon that sparked the whole incident in the first place. Let's look at X Factor, and if we're going to examine that let's look at the face of X Factor Simon Cowell.

Is Simon Cowell Satan's cousin? No. He's a rich bloke and he got to be a rich bloke by playing a game called: What will pop  music fans buy if I release it as a single? To those of you who think he is "ramming X Factor winners down our throat" because he loves pop for any aesthetic reason I refer you to his efforts to get pop music fans to listen to opera. In aesthetic terms Cowell would probably rather listen to La Traviata than either Killing In The Name or The Climb. He's a game player. Pop music is a game. Business is a game. Pandering to the market is a game with substantial cash rewards. People who moan about his vast wealth because it's aesthetically bankrupt are missing the point mostly because they're most dreadfully, awfully, evilly jealous of what he has managed to make out of what they consider to be mind-numbing anaesthetic for the idiotic masses.

I don't. The man's made money by winning a game. Not only that but pretending that his product sells to "the idiotic masses" leaves aside the fact that if you're using the words "masses" and "majority" as if they're equivalent are woefully misguided. The population of Britain set against the number of people buying the X Factor winner's single in any given year tells us that the majority of the people in Britain couldn't give a flying one. So the masses are not idiotic, or if they are it's not measurable by their music choice.

So, if we take the next step out, Robojoe's win. As I hope I  have made clear I appreciate the game of the X Factor. Not every pop song it produces may be my cup of tea but I appreciate what it is and I think it's jolly good fun. However, even given the narrow margin by which he undersold RATM he undersold Alexandra by even more. All this does is prop up my earlier conclusion that a donkey won the X Factor this year. His appeal next to last year's strong winner is already waning. As a professional and hugely rich game player I believe Cowell knew Robojoe was going to be a One Hit Wonder the minute he won.

Robojoe's loss actually saves him from a worse fate. If he had won the rumours of chart-fixing would have been loud and unfounded. Unfounded or not he would be a pop artist trying his best to battle against a huge drift of ill-sentiment in the wider world. As it is he lost like he should have and the RATM contingent probably wish him no ill-will. Still doesn't mean his career's going to live any longer though.

Zooming out even further. So the two artists in this two horse race are signed to the same record label. The body of commentary upon this fact has grown too large already for me to add anything. So let's skip straight to the people who are doing the slow hand clap and berating the two halves of the "idiotic masses" for buying into the whole shebang.

All these people are saying, in an unpleasant pissy, moany, joy-annihilating fashion is that the whole "machine" by which these campaigns were mobilised are equally terrible, soulless and evil. So imagining that RATM are xenomorphs (AKA Aliens) and the X Factor are Ya'Qui (AKA Predators) who ever wins, we lose.

This presumes that our culture, the means by which we enjoy our culture and the aesthetic tastes of those who participate in that culture are rotten, decadent and necessarily a bad thing. It also, condescendingly, says that the one and only reason why people bought either song was because they were told to; the implication being that no one would listen to either song by choice.

To all thee the smacked-arse of face I congratulate you. You win at arguing on the internet and inherit all the bounty that goes with such a victory. You have successfully pointed out that there are 60 million people who didn't want to participate in this fight and the chances are the majority of them feel no love for the two songs involved. You and Simon Cowell can enjoy the opinion that both are a bit rubbish and not your choice of listening.

And finally, there's the rub. We live in a world where everyone with access to the internet has the means to understand certain things which go spectacularly not understood. Things like, in terms of the population of the UK one million isn't even a tenth. Things like, Simon Cowell is just a person, not evil and not stupid, capable of evil like the rest of us, but just a guy. Get over it. Not only that but he's undeniably clever enough to have more money than I'll probably ever see and if that's how we're living our lives then I guess I have to pay that the respect it's due.

On which final topic, if I am happy tonight, as I am, to go home on the bus, eat some Chicken Fajitas, watch a movie or two, go to  bed, get up tomorrow and do it all again - if I am even able to do that using the tools society has provided to help me live my life - then I implicitly accept that this is the way we are doing things for now.

But that doesn't mean that I am necessarily robbed of my own free will. Maybe I do these things because I have entertained the ideas of those calling for revolution and decided that they're not for me. I am broadly satisfied with much of the way things are done and if I am not I don't like the proposed alternatives any more and am not sufficiently outraged to suggest my own.

I chose not to get involved in the Rage vs. Robojoe fight because I saw worth in both sides and just wanted to know who would win. But I don't reject either Facebookers or X Factor fans because there's room for us all under the sun and all the miserable whiny curmudgeons who want to tell me I've been brainwashed can stick it up their tinfoil hat wearing arses.

18 December 2009

The Campbell Effect

It's going to be an old-fashioned story post today mostly inspired by news that Neill Blomkamp isn't the only filmmaker from a country not traditionally known for its film industry who can attract the Hollywood buck with a showreel. The BBC carries an item about a Uruguayan filmmaker, Fede Alvarez, who has been courted by Hollywood after posting his SF short Ataque de Pánico! (Panic Attack!) on YouTube.

What's got my story senses tingling is not so much the news that the internet is putting people in touch with one another in ways hitherto unimaginable; after all Blomkamp's story tells us that. What's baking my noodle today is the number of people who've been complaining about its lack of a story.

It would be easy to rant about how this is a filmmaker's technical reel, not a story-based submission and in fact many have on YouTube and also on snarker's paradise Slashdot. However such a swift rebuttal fails to account for one important thing. People are showing, in a mystic, hippie, "wisdom of crowds" kind of a way that they're becoming fed up to the back teeth with hollow spectacle or narrative pretensions. They want the two combined.

The basic reason the two often fail to go hand in hand is that the more money goes into making a film the less experimental the producers feel like being with the story. Also, it seems, if a director is tagged as an "effects" director then a decent enough story and/or dialogue is seen as a bonus rather than something to shoot for.

The holy trinity of narrative, dialogue and effects rarely come together to the extent that when they do, such as in feature films like the original Matrix, it changes the way people even view the art of cinema. The best reviewers routinely look at the three together. Even movies like Pulp Fiction change the landscape because what I've lazily classified as "effects" really adds up to "visual language" which may or may not require the addition of special effects.

The sad fact is that examples of movies like Pulp Fiction and The Matrix are too few and far between and even then they always leave something to be desired. Some people find Pulp Fiction's dialogue to be too mannered. Some people find The Matrix's dialogue too much like a sophomoric philosophy essay. One thing seems to be agreed upon: Narrative can survive a lack of visual language or top notch dialogue for many but without coherent and satisfying narrative the other two elements are left out in the cold.

The big problem here for Hollywood is something I'm going to dub the Campbell effect, which I only wish was a reference to Bruce Campbell. The Campbell effect refers to anthropologist Joseph Campbell's Monomyth, the basis for all movies since Star Wars changed the game in the 70s.

What defeated conventional wisdom then was that Star Wars came across to someone with an ear for dialogue like a generic firework display, yet it captured the imagination of a generation. Harrison Ford was not alone in feeling Lucas could write dialogue, but it might be best not to subsequently attempt to perform that dialogue as speech spoken by a coherent sentient being. The surprise success of Star Wars in spite of hideous dialogue made Alec Guiness bitter and has been a constant irritation to writers of natural language from that day until The Phantom Menace nose-dived in the popular imagination and labelled the Star Wars saga a disappointment that had once held much promise.

So what's the issue? I don't know if I'm qualified to answer that question. Only two or three people on the planet have ever experienced my best narrative work to date and it isn't even finished yet. I think it's really good, not in an egotistical way, I'm surprised I wrote such a great narrative myself. I don't know that it's great, though. The writing needs more work and then, once finished I need people to read it and love it in order to know that I've hit the nail on the head.

So my opinion remains that of a consumer rather than a producer of content, and it is simply this: I think that in order to write an effective narrative you need more than a basic understanding of some 12 step plan for making "every great story ever written". What you need  is an emotional depth enough to recognise what it is that qualifies as a sympathetic fulfilment of each of those steps in turn.

It's not enough to produce the convincing facade of a battle with the guardian of the threshhold between the known and the unknown. You need to understand the emotional landscape of your protagonist enough to tease out the true antagonist who stands at the threshhold of their internal landscape. You need to make the encounter happen in terms pregnant with meaning for that character. You need to make all parts of the story parts of the story's protagonist on an essential level.

That's not an easy job. It's the product of years of writing practice and not stylistic practice at that, it's a discipline of structural practice that is often suggested but rarely attempted. It also requires that the teacher of such practices has the emotional depth to recognise when a writer has missed that most vital of points. A reader can be such a teacher, I am proud enough to believe that the Mrs is actually such a reader, such an analyst of story that she can home in on emotional dithering and falsity and hold it to account. She would never claim to be a writer but she is the nemesis of the lazy storyteller.

That's why, to be truthful, I am so proud of Starfall. It's because she loves it so and she loves very few narratives to that degree. Her analysis always has the ring of truth and yet, after the fact, always seems so obvious.

In other news Rage are losing ground to Robojoe in such an elegantly narrated fashion that it shows up the publicity stunt that this whole staged "battle" really has been.

Until Monday make mine a robot destroying Uruguay whilst consuming a delicious Sunday roast with all the trimmings, all, of course, smothered in delicious chocolate.

P.S. Tweeter  ElPared says Avatar "was like a koala crapped a rainbow in my brain!!!" best commentary evar!

17 December 2009

Goths, Rage and Iron Man all With Chocolate

Off to see Marilyn Manson at the Trent FM arena tonight. First time I've ever been to anything that could be described as a "stadium" gig. I'm expecting a show, Mrs is really looking forward to it as she's never seen Mazza in the emaciated goth flesh. We're going to see Lady Gaga at the arena next March and I'm unsure which will be the most bizarre experience.

Although people's enthusiasm for the RATM against X Factor battle seems to have waned somewhat I was buoyed up by the news that RATM got their performance on 5Live pulled midway when they went into full on sweary mode. It's good to encounter some insurgent and iconoclastic rock'n'roll shenanigans in a world where emotionally incontinent and utterly ridiculous rock'n'roll shananigans are the more common type.

The trailer for Iron Man 2 has spread like a Marvel-lous plague across the movie windows of the Intarweb. I have so far loved everything that I have seen from the shiny new Marvel Studios, although as that stands at Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk I suppose that's not really a big statement to make. Seeing as no one was very keen on allowing me to see Ray Stevenson dig in as The Punisher in Punisher: War Zone I might hate that. But I liked the Tom Jane one everyone else hated so what do I know?

Robert Downey Jr. put in an appearance on Graham Norton earlier in the week and he acquitted himself so admirably that it almost made me want to see the Guy Ritchie Sherlock Holmes...

I think I am getting the idea of Twitter, I think. I guess the fact that I'm not sure indicates that I have some way to go yet. I have initiated my very own topic #withchocolate which came about through the usual "you had to be there" set of circumstances. Once I've been putting various topical things #withchocolate for a few days I'm sure anyone interested will get the idea.

If it ever becomes one of their "trending topics" then remember you saw it here first!


On which final topic it seems that Nottingham is currently all atwitter about the earlier snow flurries, in addition to the whole Iron Man, Rage twitterstorm. Although it has to be said that Trendsmap's geolocation algorithms seem to be a little out when tuned for the UK. I'm actually a little surprised there isn't more Twitter about Nottingham being allowed to represent the UK in a World Cup bid over Derby and Leicester... surprised, but not unhappy.

Until tomorrow mine's a snow-topped robot goth with chocolate!

16 December 2009

Rage Still Trumping Robojoe

So the plot thickens in the RATM vs. Robojoe Christmas Number One Face off. It seems the Machine won't just roll over and Robojoe is having to do some work to land the number one spot. At which point I ask... who cares?

As the feature article points out, Christmas number one has a history of being dull or being duffers. Bob the Builder was a yuletide chart topper, as was Mr. Blobby. This whole RATM vs. Robojoe thing has been about X Factor dominating the christmas charts. Why not? It's not like RATM will be number one for New Year, it's not like Marilyn Manson, or Metallica, or Airbourne are probably even going to see the singles charts next year.

I've decided to stay out of the whole thing. I don't mind X Factor, I think it can be fun. On the other hand I think giving a million pounds of record deal to Robojoe is a monumental waste of money. So meh. Not only that but when you look at the number of download sales you need to get to land a number one it starts to put things in a whole new perspective.

As does Trendsmap one of these composite applications (I refuse to say mash up about anything that doesn't layer pop and rock tracks together to form new tracks) that are apparently all the rage. It basically ties tweets to places. Nottingham is talking about cowell, glee, bits and rage. I quite like it but it does tell me that I'm possibly not the right audience for Twitter. There's barely anyone in Notts tweeting, so the network has failed to capture the imagination.

Maybe I should just admit defeat and get a f*c*b**k but I have a strong resistance to the idea for a variety of reasons.

Anyway. The wiki beckons. Until tomorrow then enjoy the snow where it's doing so...

15 December 2009

Robojoe In Trouble

I don't think anyone expected the Facebook renegades' wishes to actually resolve to anything. Now it's on the BBC as a top story. Of course Robojoe's version of "The Climb" gets released on CD tomorrow so things will probably even out then. But maybe...

Am I one of these angry people who rails against the X Factor ruining the music industry? No. Of course not. If Olly had won I'd be on Olly's side. Now I think this is the nicest way of telling Robojoe that winning the X Factor shouldn't go to his head. I stand by my opinion that I don't think he's a viable pop artist for this time. He's not a great performer so it doesn't matter how great his voice is.

Not that I even agree with that, necessarily. I think if I had to listen to a Robojoe album I'd be fit for slitting my wrists by track four or five.

I'm sorry but IMO pop should be fun. Moaning on in a ballady way is fine for a little pathos and all that but mostly I want to be exhilirated by musicians not depressed by them.

To a greater extent I only like the whole X Factor pop thing because I like its pop culture impact and all of this hoopla with people getting upset over nonsense and what-have-you. I also like to see if I can pick a winner, not a short term winner, but an act with real appeal that will last.

I don't think Robojoe's got the chops, to be frank.

Anyhoo, I'm off to work on the No Dice wiki until tomorrow mine's a basket of chocolate covered meerkats!

14 December 2009


So RoboJoe stole the show... *sigh* worst X Factor winner Evar! (relatively speaking, Leon Jackson was a massive anti-climax but he wasn't up against talent like Olly, Danyl and Stacey, he also wasn't following talent like Alexandra and JLS).

I've been creating a wiki for No Dice. This will replace the soon to be extinct No Dice Forums. Have a look around. There's already a bunch of stuff in System Hacks.

Also Random Encounters is out! The ideal Chrimbo gift! Buy one now! ;)

Have a good Monday!

11 December 2009

Tweeting The Second Time Around

I have to ask myself the question: Am I just not getting it or is Twitter, in fact, rubbish?

The first time round I didn't give the world of Tweeting a chance; so I'm back on with a Twitter feed that is on the public timeline and trying to get my head round all this "Trending Topics" nonsense. I even looked on here for a widget to put in the sidebar which would allow people to see my Tweets but there doesn't appear to be an "official" one so that quest came to a hasty end, in the first instance.

Still, I am determined not to be one of these people who showers scorn on something just because he doesn't really get it. I want to get it before I shower scorn on it because for the life of me I don't know why all these celebrities and whatnot think it's so amazing. I had a quick look at Charlie Brooker's feed and the massively tiled background photo, preponderance of profanity and surreal disconnection of an unnetworked feed sent me away underwhelemed.

Perhaps I will warm to it...

I think I'm "searchable" so why not look for me. After all that's the idea of this stuff, surely.

In other news: they're making a film adaptation of Pride & Prejudice & Zombies cue mind-boggling at the intertextuality.

An underwhelming set of duets is planned for the X Factor Final. In the office the prevailing attitude is that nobody should win because they're all rubbish. As long as Robojoe fails to win I really don't mind. I think it may well be Olly, if it's not Robojoe. If it is Robojoe I predict a christmas number one and then almost certain obscurity as people fail to care. An unfortunate wastage of the X Factor prize fund. Who knows if he wins I may try to push "Killing In The Name Of" to number one for Christmas as the Facebook group wishes.

The only thing that's news-y about the revelation that most people won't pay extra for TV in HD is that the BBC thinks this is news. I remember watching  the clarity and beauty of the clear digital image slack jawed when DVD was released. But HD only improves on DVD a tiny little bit, and is monstrously more pricey. Whoever thought people would pay premium for that is stupid and greedy. Like I said, big news, not.

It appears that now people can see how whichever government is in power at the time is apparently squandering taxpayer money at Where Does My Money Go dot org. 53bn on General Public Services, eh? That'll buy a lot of second homes and duck houses... Pardon my cynicism. How long before someone registers wheredoesmymoneyreallygo.org? I can picture a wonderful parody with coloured circles representing "Down the back of the sofa", "Government 'Sharp Exit In Case Of Coup' Fund" and so on and so forth. It's all very well being able to see how the government our wasting the sweat of our collective brows but if we don't like the size or number of coloured circles in a particular category what, exactly, are we supposed to do? Ask for a refund?

Meanwhile, the taxman is complaining that his old computers are stopping him pwning us for all the money we might possibly owe. So let's get this straight, shall we? The government wants to plunge us back into misery and gloom in 2010 by charging us more tax for everything and the taxman is moaning because he can't screw us for an even greater amount... It seems as if we never needed a website to answer the question about where our money went. The answer is quite obvious.

Well, as always it's up to the personal world to rescue me from such gloomy thoughts. There's bacon, sausage, Dreamtime Stories and a generally sociable weekend in my immediate future. It seems all my money goes on buying cuts of dead pig... yum.

10 December 2009

Quiet Day Posting

Not much to say today except I've been following with some amusement the fracas surrounding social networking behemoth facebook's updated privacy policy.

I find the best way not to accidentally share personal information you don't want to be seen by the world is not to publish it in a thinly veiled marketing database that spans the entire Western World. Today's top tip...

9 December 2009

Who's Dreamland

Just a quick one today... well, it'll be quick to read but might take up almost an hour of your time. Apparently the BBC have been hiding episodes of Doctor Who away on CBBC and BBC Two.

This probably comes as no surprise to many particularly if you're a huge Who fan or young enough to keep up with these things but to my mind an episode of Doctor Who is an episode of Doctor Who whether live action or animated. This episode is a computer animated adventure in which the Doctor gets into trouble in 1950s America.

I've only watched part one so far but intend to whack on the omnibus when I get home. British viewers can catch up with it here.

8 December 2009

Of Monsters And Magnets

Quick one today. I'm going to reclaim my lunch hour to get some Dreamtime Stories stuff done for this weekend's session. After all the harping on about how difficult magic is in RP this magic system seems to have sprung, unbidden, from my mind and is looking like making pretty cool RP.

The only thing I have a slight issue with is that each type of magic needs an associated circular geometric design. That's a lot of geometry.

Anyhow. It occurs to me that yesterday I said nothing about the Monster Magnet gig that I went to on Saturday. Quite by chance RP Matt got in touch and asked if anything was happening and news of a Monster Magnet gig piqued his interest. Sue graciously handed her +1 status over to Matt so Matt and I got in on the guest list.

The opening act was an instrumental metal group. They weren't bad but they weren't sufficiently beyond riffing to make their prog metal designs work. Monster Magnet were chuffing excellent. All you could imagine a psychedleic metal band confident in their abilities to be.

Mrs has an issue with the fact that they're mostly old enough to be her dad but hey, what I say is if you can raise hell then whyever not?

Just a mini-blast today because the allure of the dreamtime is calling. Enjoy Tuesday!

7 December 2009

Travesties and Turnips

Well, of course, the travesty came to pass and Danyl (sorry about the previous misspelling) was booted in favour of RoboJoe (I decided it was too confusing to call RoboJoe Oliver because of there being a talented Olly in the competition). The Mrs engaged in much hand wringing during the X Factor semi because of RoboJoe's technically impressive, though bland, performance. I pointed out that if technical perfection in the face of blandness was all we had to go on then Lucie Jones would never have left the competition.

I can't, on the other hand, fault the performance skills of any of the others. Penguin Girl - the nickname in this case is affectionate - Stacey is as game as anyone stepping on chairs in high heels in a display of unnecessary theatrics. If RoboJoe appeared in high heels it might make him less bland, he wouldn't even have to work everywhere.

Like Mugatu I feel a bit like I'm taking crazy pills with regards to RoboJoe. Can I be the only one who's noticed that his comments on every one of his performances is that he's taking on board the judge's comments and he will strive to be better on his next performance? He may as well have a string with a ring attached dangling from his back.

The reason the show is called The X Factor is because it is supposed to find personalities who have talent and are interesting. In an unusual, though not unexpected, move Louis Walsh has staked his claim for Jedward and if that doesn't show that personality means more than actual talent in some cases I don't know what does. Looking for my own favourites, just on the grounds of fresh originality and an edgier sound, Miss Frank on Google makes it look like the nascent girl band just about died when they lost to Danyl in week three of the X Factor. It was the first and last time I ever voted for an act the week they went out. From then on I've been helping out my favourite acts by staying out of it entirely.

The fact that they went out to someone who later turned out to be a semi-finalist counts for nothing. Personally I think the X Factor should be more like the Eurovision Song Contest with G. Public voting for the top three. People would, no doubt, argue that such a system would be "too complicated" for the chimps those in the know believe the X Factor audience to be but the current system doesn't seem to be too effective at wheat from chaff separation.

If you were to go on subsequent success and generation of "buzz" you'd believe JLS beat Alexandra last year. Weirdly the samples of Alexandra's album sound more like what I'd expect JLS's album would sound like whereas JLS's sound is far poppier than I thought it should from what I've heard. I will reserve judgement for a little sit down with spotify before I say for certain.

This week's Danyl disaster just goes to show that the first past the post system is too blunt a tool because flavour of the month one-hit wonders make it at the expense of class acts with a prospect of longetivity. Not all the time but often this is the case. Who, for example, gives two hoots about Leon Jackson at this stage? Or Shayne Ward? Despite enormous popularity Leona Lewis gives every indication that her pop career is a chore.

Anyway, turns out that Danyl is planning to gig in Reading. I lived in Reading for many years and I can't imagine that they have a venue large enough to hold the legions of fans who are likely to turn up should this event take place. I think everyone is making the mistake of underestimating this year's X Factor has-beens including the entrants themselves. It's gone unsaid that the field was unusually rich with talent and potential this year; most of the acts, given a fair wind and a different year, may even have won in previous years. Even in the final auditions some incredibly talented people were sent home without ceremony. All of this with the sole exception of Jedward who seem to have been overrated beyond all belief.


The only other thing of interest to catch my eye this grimy Monday is The Turnip Prize; this seems like a worthwhile award in the world of modern art definitely deserving of more coverage, maybe even televising.

4 December 2009

Relentlessly Upbeat Friday Post

As promised today I will be relentlessly upbeat, despite the fact that there's really not all that much to be relentlessly upbeat about in the outside world at large. I think that's the way of the world. Everything in the wider world looks grim but personally people might be having quite a nice time.

For example, tonight I have pizza for tea and a small Montecristo cigarello to enjoy. Tomorrow is Monster Magnet at Rock City. Christmas is three weeks today.

Not everybody likes Christmas, the Mrs claims to hate it for example, but I always find it to be a pleasing punctuation mark on the year. Maybe I won't be so delighted by the festive season this year as I've decided to forego the usual extra long holiday from Christmas Eve through to the dawn of the New Year but as someone who likes the quiet I think it'll all be okay...

Maybe I'm just a hopeless optimist.

Of course one of the small pleasures of the weekend is The X Factor, which I refuse to term a guilty pleasure. It just is what it is. Also it's nice that of the final four there are no donkeys.

If I was going to be having a punt at who thegeneralpublic will be voting out this week I'd have to say I reckon it'll be Mr. Murs, or possibly, if travesty after travesty continues to occur on the weirdest X Factor I've ever seen then it might be Daniel.

Suffice to say I think that Stacey (Penguin Girl) and Oliver (That chap from South Shields who's so boring I can't even remember his name) are safe this week but if there was any justice in the world we would be saying goodbye to Oliver, he's the most tedious entrant this year by far. What makes the whole thing extra sad is that he seems not to have been to stage school but you wouldn't know it from the way he mugs through every song like he's about to hit the jazz hands with a side of spirit fingers for all it's worth.

Well, time, and Sunday evening shall tell.

Have a good weekend all!

3 December 2009

2009: The Year Of Impotent Rage

Not my impotent rage, if anything I have been less rage-filled in 2009 than any year since approximately 2002. So that's good. But just as "9" is just and upside down "6" so 2009 reverses the fortune of the 60s in a very weak attempt to make something out of the fact that two numbers look like each other upside down.

For "we" are no longer sticking it to "the man" and "the man" has responded by shafting us like good 'uns. From throwing a hissy fit about not scamming a bunch of undeserved dosh off the working stiff to proving that administrative incompetence was ongoing in sensitive situations to the trivial but still ridiculous nickel and diming to death in online games. Right across the spectrum of government and commerce wherever there could be said to be "the man" (not to be confused with Nicolas Cage who was the man for very different reasons on Tuesday) he was sticking it to "us" unashamedly and without consequence.

However the BBC might want to put a positive spin on it the infosphere continues to belt us in the face with a tirade of liberties taken by those in power and it turns out our response is "meh".

Of course Harold MacMillan could continue to tell us that "we've never had it so good" to this day. We might all be poor but in the last recession we the general kind of poverty didn't come with games consoles, the internet and TV on demand. We might have been robbed blind, offended by government incompetence and forced to pay for virtual grenades but there are still plenty more ways to remain distracted and anaesthetised.

Hmmm, starting to sound a bit ranty? Yes, probably.

I'm not ranting, because ranting implies angry and I'm just as apathetic as the rest of you. I know the government are corrupt incompetents and businessmen are greedy sociopaths and that there aint no such thing as a free MMO but I don't care to do anything about it.

Media provides us with any number of enterprising journos from the Mark Thomas school of publicised activism who will stage revealing prank after revealing prank but the media will also tell us, nothing gets done as a result. If people with the public ear, viewing figures in the millions and, in some cases, their own fan clubs can do nothing then why should we?


I could point out what I think Electronic Arts should have done to milk money out of punters in a clever and non-irritating way. I could make any number of suggestions about what needs to change in banking. I could harp on and on about how I would restructure the House of Commons. In the end so could you, everyone reading this has access to browsers, Google and Blogger.

But what we've learned is that a simple plea for Friends, Romans and Countrymen to lend their ears is drowned out in a sea of attention grabbers. Gil Scott-Heron was right, the revolution will not be televised but only because we'll be too busy playing Wii Sports to fit one in.

I was going to pontificate about whether to theme the blog for a bit nominating a "Star" of the week or some such inconsequential nonsense but I've already dripped on for long enough.

Don't be thoroughly depressed, it's nearly the weekend... I shall be relentlessly upbeat tomorrow, I promise.

2 December 2009

How You Can Tell When Nothing Is Happening...

The front page of the BBC website reserves significant space for Lily Allen's announcement that she's going to stop recording pop singles for a bit.

Is it just me or is she a prime example of unremarkable mediocrity? Not saying that I'm not but really, I don't expect people to care what I'm doing next with my career. I suppose if people didn't think she was, in some way, remarkable the BBC wouldn't put her onto the front page but I can't see it personally.

So I guess I'm asking if I'm missing something. She just seems like some upper middle class bint of no particular note to me. And let's get this straight I'm not asking if everybody else likes her, I don't care about that. I just can't understand why she's famous except that her dad is.

1 December 2009

Nicolas Cage Is The Man

I couldn't quite believe the news when I heard that none other than Nicolas Cage was set to switch on the Christmas lights in Bath a few weeks back. I mean... it wasn't anywhere near December, what were they doing switching on Christmas lights?

Seriously, though as this feature on the BBC website testifies Cage rolled up to plunge the plunger spurred on by no more than a handwritten note and a general love of Bath. Ian used to live in Bath and I can tell you it's a jolly nice place, pricey but then that's probably not high on Mr. Cage's list of concerns.

He probably appreciated the peace and quiet he enjoyed while popping out to the shops there as, even in a named appearance, only 8000 people turned out to see his appearance. If 8000 people turned up anywhere to see me I'd think it was quite a lot but if you're Nicolas Cage that must seem like a modest and reasonable amount.

I've long been of the opinion that Mr. Cage, while quite clearly mental, is a marvellous actor. He seems to enjoy that peculiar talent shared by few actors to always pick interesting roles even when they're not that well written. He also manages to emerge from the worst of these movies without the tarnish sticking to him. I hated the remake of Bangkok Dangerous, couldn't stomach Knowing and fell asleep during Windtalkers but still I count Cage's name as a bonus in a film. I am also unashamedly a fan of things other people hated him in like Ghost Rider, Next and National Treasure (both of them).

The fact that he would also turn up to switch on a quiet English city's Christmas lights just cements for me his status as 1) mad as a box of frogs and 2) quite definitely the man. I like to think that Mr. Cage would have pressed ahead with his illuminating engagement even if he had known that Brum nearly fell into a giant chasm in 2012-esque scenes of apocalyptic upheaval after JLS proved more popular than the council had imagined them to be. Sure these are just four UK lads with a couple of cheeky chart successes at the dawn of their career and Nicolas Cage is, well, Nicolas Cage but I would hope that his affection for Bath would have overridden his common sense even in that circumstance.

All we got here in Notts was that boxer chappie, whose name I can't even remember. The fact that Nicolas Cage did the honours in Bath lends me hope that one day we might even aspire to someone good, like Stephen Fry or... no... I can't think of anyone better to switch on my christmas lights than Stephen Fry. In fact, I can think of few people who would be top of my list to be a paragon of excellence in most social situations than Stephen Fry so I shall give up trying.

The only other thing to happen in the last 24 hours of note comes my way again via the BBC website and is a pretty sweet story about a steampunk art exhibit there are moving pictures and image galleries back there so well worth a look.

Personally I am mulling over radio play projects and getting my teeth well and truly stuck into Levercastle proper. So I shall ask, no doubt in vain, who you would like to switch on your Christmas lights... if anyone answers I shall write to Stephen Fry and ask him to come and do ours. As Mrs wants to buy a 99p pre-decorated fake tree it shouldn't take him too long if he's free.