Fridays

•October 14, 2011 • 1 Comment

I love Fridays. Everyone’s usually in a good mood. The two days you get off at the end of the week always hold the promise of having the time to do something awesome, even if invariably you spent last weekend so hungover the day was wasted you swore not to waste next weekend.

This weekend I hope to watch Wales beat France in the semi final of the rugby world cup, and then go to a fancy dress party with some friends, but not before I go to my special church as I do every Friday after work – the pub 🙂

Happy Friday!

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Tech Thursday

•October 13, 2011 • 2 Comments

So my cousin asked me for recommendations for a laptop in the region of £350-400. Considering I haven’t looked for laptops for a while, I though I might use this exercise to find out what you can actually get for your money. I’m currently writing this post on my 6 year old laptop (a Toshiba M50 Satellite Pro) and I have to say, even though it’s getting on a bit now, it has seen me through thick and thin (I’ve written two dissertations and most of my second and third year courseworks on it, CV’s, websites, you name it) and I would very happily get a Toshiba laptop again. Also I’d say that it’s the most stable installation of Windows I’ve ever used.

I’ve also had bad experiences in the past with Acer laptops – my sister had one which was an absolute nightmare, both because of the Vista operating system and the hardware failing. I know everyone has different experiences with different hardware, but it’s amazing how loyal you can become to a brand when you experience something good on them. Anyways, you can actually get quite a lot of hardware in laptop form for your money these days – this one in particular caught my eye: http://www.ebuyer.com/265880-toshiba-satellite-pro-c660-1v0-laptop-psc0me-02300sen

Whilst I’m on the subject of computer hardware, I want to bring to your attention this website: http://sophiegerrard.com/SophieStoriesEwaste1.html It discusses (well, it shows you rather than discusses) the illegal transport of computer and electrical hardware waste to India where it is “recycled”. The recycling happens on the minutest scale usually involving putting the various different parts into vats of acid in order to extract the more precious metals from the melted down substances. The conditions this recycling is performed in is not only bad for the environment, but it severely affects the poor people who work on it. The moral of this story is, buy your computer hardware to last, and if you can’t find someone to donate your older hardware (if you’re anything like me you will always have some family who would benefit from an extra stick of RAM, or a hard drive or something) then make sure you take it to your local amenity centre where it can be properly and safely disposed of.

iOS 5 was out yesterday to much fanfare, although apparently not if you’re me. I didn’t really enjoy the process of upgrading my iPad in the slightest and my faith in upgrading firmware has not been made any better by the ordeal. The first thing to go wrong was clicking “Update” when asked to update iTunes to the latest version and I received a Blue Screen Of Death. After restarting the computer, I managed to download the update pretty quickly, it extracted the files, and then as it put the iPad into recovery mode in order to install the new firmware, it decided the verification server couldn’t be reached. Now my iPad was no longer recognised by iTunes. After a few more attempts, it managed to verify it, but couldn’t no matter how many times it tried, restore my iPad. The screen was also just black and wouldn’t respond. Bricked it.

I left it until this morning and gave the iPad a bit of a charge, and luckily it actually calmed itself down a bit and restored beautifully. My first impressions of iOS 5 have been one of annoyance especially considering the apps haven’t been restored to the damn thing meaning I’ve had to go through the App Store and one by one reinstall them. This evening I tried updating my phone and with the exception of not putting my apps back in the right place, it worked seemlessly. I hate installing firmware, although thanks to the iCloud I will never ever ever have to use iTunes on Windows ever again (I hope).

Left 4 Dead 2 – A Second Look

•October 12, 2011 • Leave a Comment

A while ago I posted about why I was annoyed that Valve were releasing Left4Dead 2 only a year after the first game released. No matter how much you love a game, a sequel that doesn’t appear to be that much different doesn’t seem like a good idea to me – it didn’t when I wrote that post, and it still doesn’t now. However, the years have passed and now a brand new copy of Left4Dead 2 costs only a tenner. Bargain.

The biggest thing I felt that I was being let down on was the amount of original content – and for the most part I was right, the first game did only offer 4 hours of original content, with the rest being replay value. Valve released a new fifth campaign that was free and added another hour on top of the 4. Thanks for the free content Valve, but where’s the rest of the game, I thought. Left4Dead 2 is so much of an improvement on the first it almost makes me wonder why they even thought to release it as a full game, and not as a beta so they could improve the product to the standard of Left4Dead 2 – it was probably the money.

Not only does the original game come with 5 campaigns off the bat, but there have been another two DLC campaigns up for download that are entirely new, and also help tell the story between the original campaign levels and the new ones in the sequel. Additionally, Valve have released the No Mercy campaign from the first game, playable in the second with the other levels from the original game on their way. That’s a bit more like it – or at least what I was expecting from the first game.

Also speaking of original content, the new additions to the gameplay add just enough mutations to make the game even more unpredictable. The frying pan noise of the new melee weapons makes the most satisfying sound effect and is probably just as much fun as a chainsaw. The new special infected (spitter, jockey and charger) are also well designed and fun. I haven’t completed all of the campaigns yet, but already this is such a good game, and for as little price as it is, you can’t really ignore it.

Cinema 2: The Return of the Ranting Blog Post

•October 11, 2011 • 1 Comment

So yesterday I talked about how Orange Wednesdays have ruined cinemas on a Wednesday, but at least they concentrate the people who don’t care about the cinema to a day that I can avoid them. I want to talk about another reason cinemas are so expensive, mainly taken from this article (yes it’s quite old now – it wasn’t when I first read it! – but it still makes a good few points).

The article basically says that there are several ways that movie company executives are trying to make money by a) meta-money: as much money as they can by re-releasing DVDs several times with new features and b) extorting the cinema chains by taking a very large percentage of the cut of the profit on opening weekend, then gradually decreasing the percentage week by week. Whether this is true or not is probably apparent from the reaction of the cinema chains to put up the prices of the other things they can sell – food and drinks. While this makes business sense for the movie company executives, it makes it harder for cinema chains to actually make any money off of the films that they are trying to show, and that then makes it more expensive for us, the punters actually go and see the films, and it probably goes some way to explaining why we don’t see many independant cinemas any more – there is just no way they are financially viable.

I used to be of the opinion that you shouldn’t read too many reviews of films before you actually go to see it because sometimes you find some of your favourite films haven’t been rated very highly by the critics (one of my all time favourite movies is Short Circuit, and that current has a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 55%). However, with the cinemas costing so much for admission, I would think against that mentality, and actually seek out critics of films that you like – and that’s an important point. If you find a critic that enjoys the same movies you do, or at least one that has a competent opinion about films that you share, then you’re more than likely going to be inspired or enthused to go and see the films that they like – and you’ll end up getting more value for money out it.

However, this brings me on to my next gripe about cinemas, and specifically cinemas in Swansea. Recently I’ve heard good things about a film starring Keifer Sutherland and Kirsten Dunst called Melancholia. It’s synopsis is “Two sisters find their already strained relationship challenged as a mysterious new planet threatens to collide into the Earth.” and some of clips I’ve heard from it off of podcasts have made it sound pretty cool. Kirsten Dunst also apparently won an award for her performance at the Cannes Film Festival. Not particularly small time unheard-of actors, yet the closest to Swansea the movie is showing is Cardiff (surprise surprise, in Cineworld). That means I will have to travel for 2 hours (there and back) spending the best part of £10 on travel as well as the cost of the admittance before I can even see this film in the cinema. There are 20+ cinema screens in Swansea and not one of them is showing this movie, ever. There is absolutely no reason for it either – the biggest two movies of the year (Harry Potter, Inbetweeners) have pretty much died off, there is nothing similar out at the moment so it has no competition, I just don’t understand it, and this is not the only time this has happened – this is a very regular occurrence. Another recent film was The Guard with Brendon Gleeson and Don Cheedle – absolutely fantastic film (I aquired it by other means…) – the closest place it was showing was Bristol.

I have often thought about what I would do if I won the lottery, (won enough of it I mean!) and it most certainly would mean me owning my own cinema. This is probably better off in a list:

  • To address the issue I mentioned above, I would strive to show every movie that wants release in the UK. Obviously supporting a smaller, independent cinema, I imagine a deal could be brokered where the cinema wouldn’t have to pay so much to show the film there. If it did, then it would have to either be delayed until after the nationwide release so as to recoup a larger percentage of the takings, or not shown at all.
  • I would offer alternative food and drink to the customers that may not cost as much as the cinemas. One food that has been mentioned before on podcasts that isn’t noisy is potato wedges. Also serve tea and coffee, and definintely not £1 for a bottle of water. To be honest, this would be the least of my worries to begin with – I don’t buy food at the cinema generally, so this can be figured out later
  • I would employ staff who really want to work in a cinema. It’s annoying when you go to Vue, and sometimes the film is out of focus, or the sound is off, or there are signs up saying that they can’t control the temperatures of the auditoriums. What? Why not? That’s just not good enough. If you’re running a cinema, you need to hire a competent projectionist – someone who has the attention to detail required to do the job. I’d also make sure the staff were excited about the films that were showing by letting them see whatever they want and encourage conversation with the customers.
  • I’d have a bar/lounge area where people could chat and talk before and after the movie – because let’s face it there’s always something you want to say and talk about after you’ve been to see an awesome or crap film.
  • I’d also have a poll (online/in the cinema/whatever) of different old films to show, maybe once or twice a week. Most months seemingly have their own “holiday” so why not show four classics (one a week) that fit that particular genre, like rom coms in February, Horror in October, Christmas in December.

There have got to be a load more money making ideas to running a decent cinema, or at least better than what I have seen in Swansea cinemas. I reckon I’d be good at it anyway.

Links: FilmDates.co.uk, FindAnyFilm

Cinemas

•October 10, 2011 • 1 Comment

I blame Orange Wednesdays.

Okay, I’m going to take a step back for a minute from that statement to explain how I’ve arrived at it. I love the cinema. I love movies and films, and that’s probably the reason I love the cinema. For me going to the cinema is that extra special something that’s added on to a film that you don’t get from watching a film in your armchair at home on the TV, but it’s hard to put a finger on it. I mean, I don’t usually buy sweets or popcorn when I go to see a film at the cinema, I just love being there – the atmosphere is very comforting, and inviting – you know that the majority of the people there haven’t seen the film you’re about to watch and they’ve paid money, just like you have, to go and see that film. They share that want to be entertained, to be awestruck and most of all to have an emotion provoked in them.

When I first started University (and don’t quote me on these prices, they’re just what I can remember) I could go and see a film for about £3. Before University, during sixth form, I used to go to the cinema with a few mates for an afternoon and see a few films back to back, and we weren’t alone – there were quite a few other people that seemed to be doing the same. We did it because it was a very rewardable way to spend the measly wages I earned on my McDonald’s salary, and it was accessible to all of my friends – I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like going to the cinema.

Steadily, since I started University (in 2004) the prices of going to see a film, have increased incredibly fast – at my local Vue cinema, you’re looking at paying £7.50 to see a film. I think this price increase is absolutely disgusting, because it’s turning what was an affordable and thoroughly enjoyable pastime into something you now have to budget for. I remember seeing a spokesperson from Vue Cinemas talking to the stock exchange programme on BBC Breakfast one morning this year, and he actually had the guts to compare the cost of a family ticket to the cost for the family to go to an amusement park – this is wrong on so many levels, but mostly because this is how the people who are running the cinemas actually think about the consumer!* To put it into a context you might not have thought about – DVD’s have been dropping in price since their inception, and a lot of DVD’s RRP is not much more than £10, and give it a few months, and I bet you that DVD will be less than a tenner. The fact that, if you can, just ignore the film and it’s over hype while it’s in the cinema, and rent/buy it for cheaper 6 months down the line when it’s released on DVD, amazes me how a cinema could keep on going. And indeed, this is true – I bet you can’t name one cinema that regards itself as independent any more; you only know of a chain of cinemas – or at least this is the case in South Wales. Taliesin Arts Centre in the University is independent but it shows a select number of films 6 months after their nationwide release on one showing only, so I don’t really count that.

I can fondly recall going to a cinema to see re-runs of films on the big screen. For example, my first experience of Pulp Fiction was on the big screen, and the cinema was packed with Tarantino fans who were there for an even stronger version of the reason I gave above; because they were passionate about films. It’s the only occurrence of being in a cinema when an applause at the end of it did not seem cheesy or tacky, and gave me a warm fuzzy feeling inside. The meeting in the bar area of the cinema afterwards was also pleasant, where movie lovers alike could sit and chat about their hobby, felt relaxed and welcoming; after all it’s the cinema’s business to support interest in films, which I am sad to say doesn’t seem to exist in today’s cinemas – especially not the Vue and the Odeon in Swansea – they just want to shovel as many people through as quickly (at least as slowly as the 2 staff members care to get you served) as possible.

Out of the major cinema chains, I would lie most allegiance with Cineworld cinemas (I used to frequent both the Newport and the Cardiff multiplexes – sadly there isn’t one in Swansea) because they held re-runs, have the best sound quality in general and have much better offers for the consumer. As far as I know, the cinema I used to visit in Newport has HD screens in every screen, and you get the feeling unlike Vue and Odeon that they do care (at least a little bit) about cinema and the technology that supports the industry. Cineworld also offer their purchasable unlimited card which costs £15 a month (well, £180 a year) for access to as many films as you can possibly see – something that Vue and Odeon do not offer of a similar value. Having said this, in all fairness to Vue I know they offer special screenings of popular televised events, such as the Red Bull X-Fighters, and coverage of the six nations rugby games, which is a decent way to use the screens – but is that much different to going to see it on a big screen at a rugby club or a Walkabout club? Seems like a way to make more money if you cut away the customer experience.

If you could have said 10 years ago that one company will be able to change the way the mainstream audience experiences the cinema, you would probably be told you were nuts. But now, Wednesdays have been ruined as a cinema-going experience – not that I mind a busy cinema, in fact I rather enjoy seeing so many people wanting to join in with the same hobby as me. Orange’s 2-for-1 offer on a Wednesday has created a way to let people visit the cinema for what they think is cheap and therefore not share the same respect for the experience as other cinema goers. (If you want to know why I’m being such a snob, it’s because I agree to Wittertainment’s Code of Conduct). It doesn’t help that the local Vue doesn’t account for the increased audience numbers and doesn’t hire the right amount of staff, adding to the already irritating experience. Not only do you have to get there in more time to account for the queues, but you also more likely to have a crap seat. I just no longer see the attraction in going on a Wednesday.

To be continued…

*I tried so hard to find evidence of the guy talking about this, but I couldn’t. If only there were a way to look for things on the Internet…

Bulletstorm

•October 9, 2011 • 1 Comment

Whilst the disk drive motor in my 360 is cooling down, I can’t help but look back along the entire campaign with a massive smile on my face. In a saturated first person shooter market, a new way to try and innovate seemingly is to make something that should have been made in the last generation of consoles, when FPSs were still trying to find their feet (on consoles).

Bulletstorm is moronic in the best way possible. At points when you think the story is actually trying to explain something to you, don’t bother getting too involved with it, because the lead characters don’t care – they spin anything off with one liners that will make you literally laugh out loud. In fact I’d go so far as to say this is one of the funniest games I’ve played, ever.

Some of my favourite quotes from the game:

“Trishka: Yeah? Go fuck yourself! You shit piles give chase, I will kill your dicks!
Gray: What? What does thet even mean? Your gonna kill my dick? I’ll kill your dick! How bout that, huh?”

“I named him Waggleton P. Tallylicker, but I never got the chance to tell him. He will be remembered.”

“He’s my favorite robot pal! Ishi was okay but he wasn’t fifty feet tall! It’s a pretty cool party, come and see! You can get a robot and come killin’ with me.”

“Dicktits.”

Bulletstorm give you some of the coolest weapons – one of my favourites that I played the last part of the game with was the flailgun. This shoots two active grenades attached to each other with a chain. Just think about that for a second – not only can you blow up your enemies, but if you shoot it at close enough enemies you can slice them in two. Another absolutely awesome tool given to you is the leash – a left handed augmentation to your arm (and LB on the controller) gives you the chance to “leash” an enemy and launch them towards you in slow motion. That is, just the enemy is in slow motion, leaving you to do what you will with their bodies. Usually this might involve simply shooting them in the face, but it could also mean you kick them into a man-eating plant earning the “Feeder” skill shot.

You could then kick a hot-dog stand into a bunch of enemies, blow it up and earn the “Sausage Fest” skill shot. Skill shots are everything that defines Bulletstorms’ gameplay – every kill and every action you can perform is worth points which can be traded in for more ammo or extra augmentations to your weapons, and you get rewarded for exploring different ways to see off your enemies. It’s a beautiful mix of hiding the skill shot names and giving you completely new environments and items for you to experiment with – on successfully ending an enemy’s life, the skill shot you earned will be displayed gloriously on your screen. Most of the time they’re funny enough to make you laugh.

Bulletstorm is full on from beginning to end. The first level has you basically trying to get away from a giagantic wheel that is rolling behind you down the valley. That’s right – a GIANT WHEEL. It doesn’t make much sense in the storyline, and it really doesn’t make sense in general, but who the hell cares when the set pieces rival even Gears of War 3 in their scope and graphics. There is one particular boss about half way though that is quite simply stunning.

The one place I think I have been let down by the game though is the use of loading screens (haven’t seen one of those in a few years) at the beginning of every level – and then again when you die. It’s only a small gripe, but if you do happen to get stuck in a particular spot it can be a little irritating. For a game that tries not to take itself seriously, the size of the ammo clips seems a little inadequate. Finding ammo pods seems like a waste of time. I’d also say that I was let down by the demo – it was a crap introduction to all the different things in the game, whereas the intro to the actual game was done incredibly well.

What Bulletstorm has done is made a tiring genre pure and simply fun again. It is probably the strongest reason not to buy another Call of Duty or Battlefield, because let’s be honest, it’s just another £40 for the same game.

Inglourious Basterds

•October 8, 2011 • 2 Comments

Note the correct spelling of the name of the film!

Tarantino is a master of dialogue. This is proven by the opening chapter of Inglourious Basterds. There are really only two people in it and even though there are props to give a few visual gags, the scene’s massive presence is all due to the fantastically written dialogue and the two actors who are delivering it. It proves even further my point that the use of different languages and accents helps to enforce the drama. Of course it’s not just this first scene that makes the film great, almost every other scene in the film carries with it some drama, but especially for me, this first chapter stands out as the best thing Tarantino has written.

Somehow Tarantino also created a, if you like, lovable Nazi, perfectly portrayed by Christopher Waltz. A master of all languages, able to hide his sinister malace behind a silky smooth voice. With that in mind it’s sometimes hard to known whether Tarantino had a soft spot for the Nazis, or whether he was just making a satirical, probably stereotypical point with all the flamboyant decoration and leather uniforms. Either way it’s brilliant. You’d be right in thinking that a WWII setting is the perfect place for all out violence and that’s exactly what you get, but like with all his other films, the suspence is often the best part. Okay, maybe the violence is pretty good too.

There are some bits of the plot that irked me though, like the giving away of the number of glasses he wants by gesturing on his hand wasn’t the “German three” (although having known some Germans this isn’t entirely out of the realms of possibility – it just doesn’t sit right) and the fact that the four biggest leaders of the Nazi party would actually be in the same room at once would never ever have happened.

Still, the plight of the basterds never lets up, and you can’t help but feel sympathetic to their vengence.

It’s once again nice to see a strong female character in a Tarantino film. Very rarely do you see it in general, and very rarely does it feel so natural.

“ARRIVA-DERCHE”