Nicolas Cage, Goodwill Ambassador →

This is just bizarre, Nicolas Cage has been appointed Goodwill Ambassador for the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. My favourite quote from the press release:

"Until today, justice has been a cause without a rebel. Now we have one," said [UNODC Executive Director] Mr. Costa.

Cage has said that he will "use the performing arts as an engine for global justice and victim support".

Now, let's take a look at a couple of Nicolas Cage's movies that are coming out in 2010.
Drive Angry - "A vengeful father chases after the men who killed his daughter".
The Hungry Rabbit Jumps - "After his wife is assaulted, a husband enlists the services of a vigilante group to help him settle the score"

This is Nicolas Cage's interpretation of "global justice"? What next? A right-wing homophobic actor with a history of drug use and sexual assault being elected governor of California?

Wait, what?

Nicolas Cage, Goodwill Ambassador →

This is just bizarre, Nicolas Cage has been appointed Goodwill Ambassador for the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. My favourite quote from the press release:

"Until today, justice has been a cause without a rebel. Now we have one," said [UNODC Executive Director] Mr. Costa.

Cage has said that he will "use the performing arts as an engine for global justice and victim support".

Now, let's take a look at a couple of Nicolas Cage's movies that are coming out in 2010. Drive Angry - "A vengeful father chases after the men who killed his daughter". The Hungry Rabbit Jumps - "After his wife is assaulted, a husband enlists the services of a vigilante group to help him settle the score"

This is Nicolas Cage's interpretation of "global justice"? What next? A right-wing homophobic actor with a history of drug use and sexual assault being elected governor of California?

Wait, what?

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2

When it comes to videogames, sequels tend to be less like the Godfather II and more like Jurassic Park II: The Lost World. Rather than making something that stands alone, that rips up the play-book and starts over from scratch and, as a result, creates something truly exceptional, you tend to just get more of the same, only slightly bigger and slightly sillier. So instead of "I know it was you Fredo. You broke my heart!", you get Jeff Goldblum's child lepping about on monkey-bars and drop-kicking a velociraptor out a window. (Not that I'm making a judgement-call here, both films have their times and places.)

It's kind of hard to tell where Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 falls. On the one hand, it completely obliterates the first game in terms of the scope of the action and the improvements to the multiplayer are just a shade short of revolutionary. It's probably the most beautifully rendered conflict I've seen in a videogame and every level manages to create its own unique sense of tension - from close, claustrophobic fighting through corridors and narrow streets, to giant open levels where you're being attacked on all sides.

On the other hand, it really is dumb as a bag of hammers.

The narrative is all over the place. With the first game. developers Infinity Ward lifted heavily from all the big modern war movies - Black Hawk Down, Jarhead etc. I guess they must have played their cards early. With this new one, we get a couple of bits taken from Generation Kill ("Put the camera down, Spielberg" "CNN's gonna pay loads for this footage!") before they seem to say "fuck it, there's nothing else we can steal" and go all Red Dawn - RED FUCKING DAWN - complete with Russians parachuting down into suburban America. I shit you not.

Now, I love Red Dawn as much as the next guy, but like I said, there's a time and a place for everything. And the time for Red Dawn was thirty years ago, because now it's just a dumb relic of a dumb time. Here's the thing though: the writers make it very clear that they're aware of how dumb this is. The level where you're battling the Russians through a middle American neighbourhood is called "Wolverines!" - you know, an explicit reference to Red Dawn. It's a knowing wink to the audience, like they're saying "hey, we know this is stupid and ridiculous and over-the-top, but it's all just a bit of fun, y'know?"

Which makes the now-infamous airport scene all the more curious.

(If you care about this game, don't know what happens in this scene and don't want to be 'spoiled', then stop reading now. The game came out almost a month ago, which is like ten years ago in internet-spoiler time, so don't complain if I ruin the impact of this scene for you.)

Still reading? Good. If you don't know what happens in this scene, then I'll explain. You're playing an American agent who has infiltrated a Russian terrorist group. The level opens on a crowded airport full of civilians. Your group walks in and starts shooting indiscriminately into the crowd. How you take it from here, is entirely up to you. You can get through the level without killing anyone, or you can do what I did, walk through the level spraying bullets at everything that moved and tossing grenades in every direction. (I don't feel even slightly bad about this because I can tell the difference between real life and videogames). The level ends with the head of your group shooting you and leaving you to die, placing the blame on the Americans for the massacre.

Outside of the game, though, it's a little more confused. Why did the developers feel the need to include this level? Most other games would have been content to tell this part of the story through dialogue or a cut-scene. "ring ring Hey bro, you'll never believe it! The Russians killed a load of people and are blaming Americans and - wait, are those parachutes?" Instead, they actually had you walking through the scene with a gun in your hand. Even if Columbine and Virginia Tech had never happened, this would be an uncomfortable sell. As it happens, they're impossible to escape throughout this scene. And a lot of people are asking why Infinity Ward chose to include it, especially when you spend every other part of the game mowing down various nameless, hard-to-distinguish ethnicities.

Now, here's my take on the whole thing. I don't think that anyone telling a story is obliged to cover all bases. They tell the story that suits them best. Within the context of the game, the airport level makes perfect sense. The Call of Duty: Modern Warfare games take place in an alternate near-future where Russian ultra-nationalists are in power, and this is just the excuse they need to send the country to war. Placing you in the thick of the action, then, draws you in. Even if you go through the level without firing a single shot, you feel complicit and spend the rest of the game trying to 'fix' your mistake.One thing I found interesting though is that despite the fact you go through suburban and central Washington, there's not one American civilian to get caught in the crossfire. And in those levels where you're supposed to be saving hostages, if even one of them dies, it's game over and you have to try again

As to why the rest of the enemies in the game don't get the same level of attention to their back-story or motives, well that's just as simple. Why should it? From a narrative point of view, what purpose would it serve? Does the fact that your virtual enemy has a wife and child and perhaps dubious motivations change the fact that when he's shooting at you, you're going to pop his head like a melon? It's similar to the complaints labeled at Black Hawk Down, that it was about dehumanizing the enemy. The story was about American soldiers and their point of view in this fight. The film split its time between five or six main soldiers and the story was told almost from their first-person point of view (well, as first-person as you can get in a movie without it being a gimmicky pile of ass. Right, Doom?). If the Somalis had a back-story, the US soldiers didn't know it and so we, the audience, didn't know it. Isn't that why we invented the unreliable narrator?

Of course, this all changes in games like Modern Warfare 2 where you are the narrator, and you are narrating the story of the enemies. We will probably need a new paradigm for this kind of storytelling, but I'm not sure I'm going to figure it out in this (already long-winded) blog post. Don't get me wrong, Modern Warfare 2 is a great game, and the only thing that has helped me kick my Modern Warfare 1 addiction. I just wish there had been some consistency throughout it. The airport level was something completely new to videogames and extremely well done. They laid the groundwork for an amazing story, but the Loony Tunes cartoon violence bullshit they followed it up with just felt a little flat.

Never Too Old

When I turned 30, I spazzed right the fuck out. I felt really old. Actually, no - it was more than that. I didn't feel old as much as I suddenly became very aware of my own mortality. I realised there were lots of things I hadn't done, and probably would never get to do. Like a huge door had shut on a part of my life and I just had to adjust.

Now my wife is facing the same thing.

In the year's head-start I've got on her, I've come to terms with the big three-oh. I keep pointing out that 40 is the new 30 (13,260,000,000 google results can't be wrong). I also keep pointing out that, while she might feel like she'll never achieve her goals of being a famous hip-hop artist like Princess Superstar, it's never too late. Kelley Deal didn't even pick up a guitar until she was 31. In fact, she was supposed to be in the band when she was 29, but couldn't get time off work. Sound familiar?

But that's nothing. Check this video out. It really gets going at 1:30

Fred Astaire was FORTY SEVEN YEARS OLD when he pulled that shit off. I'm thirty and I got exhausted just watching it. But it's more than just impressive that he was able to pull it off - I'd say that if he'd recorded that exact same routine when he was a younger man, it probably wouldn't have been as good. Look at the aggression when he smacks that cane around - it takes a real curmudgeonly old fuck to swing a stick like that.

So maybe 50 is the new 20.

White Whine

My current computer is exponentially more powerful than the one I had when I started using Unix, but thanks to software bloat and feature-creep, it still seems to take roughly the same length of time to compile software.

(This comes after hours of trying to get Mactex to play nicely with latex2rtf because my college only accepts assignment submissions in Word format and I'll be fucked if I'm using that for long essays ever again.)

Normal programming will resume shortly.

In Defense of Hoarding

Over at Minimal Mac (a terrific site that everyone should read, even if you're not a Mac user), they recently pointed to a metafilter comment about the dangers of coveting possessions. The commenter suggests that the best way to beat any hoarding impulses we might have is to simply adjust the way we look at things.

All of the computers on Ebay are mine. In fact, everything on Ebay is already mine. All of those things are just in long term storage that I pay nothing for. Storage is free.
...
The world is my museum, displaying my collections on loan. The James Savages of the world are merely curators.

It's a lovely sentiment, and one I really wish I could get behind, except I've just got one little problem: Me. Or more specifically, people like me.

What do I mean by this?

I recently found a stash of old PlayStation games that I thought I'd lost. There are some real gems in there. PaRappa the Rapper, BeatMania, Final Fantasy VII. All great games. Will I ever play them again? Probably not. I'm having enough trouble keeping on top of new releases to ever really go back and play old games. So why don't I get rid of them?

There were a finite number of copies of PaRappa the Rapper published. Taking into account losses, breakage and the effects of time, this number is constantly decreasing. Now, if I was to send my games off into the æther, there's the strong possibility that they'd be picked up by someone like me: a pack-rat who can't bear to let anything go. So not only would I be losing my own copy of PaRappa, itwould also mean there is one less copy to "take out of storage". Eventually, there will be no copies of it left on eBay. Or at least, it would be so rare as to be only available at a completely unreasonable price.

The storage thing is a nice (if slightly smug and self-satisfied) analogy, but it just doesn't work in the real world, because it assumes an infinite supply chain. Besides, I'd always prefer to be the curator, actually caring for these things, rather than a cold, distant absentee owner.

(My wife will probably beat the shit out of me for this post.)

Brain Dump - October 23rd

Here's some stuff that's been clogging up my starred list in Google Reader for too long.

When it comes to bonkers films, Russia is the new Japan:

Hosting your Windows 7 Torrenting Party

"When you Marry" - they don't write 'em like that any more:

It is not uncommon for one or both parties to experience feelings of guilt or revulsion, to the mutual distress of both parties. For other couples who have anticipated great thrills in the first sex relations, there is sometimes disappointment - reality doesn't live up to expectations

Monkey Island 2, in 3D:

Photobombing could be my new favourite thing on the internet.

Technology got you down? Squarepixelz is hosting a bunch of old tech documentaries. I love watching these - everyone's so hopeful about the possibilities of technology.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine, in 30 seconds:

You know This American Life? "That show by those hipster know-it-alls who talk about how fascinating ordinary people are?" Well, here's every episode of the This American Life TV show: Season 1 Season 2.

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

Last night, through an amazing and unexpected string of good luck, I ended up at a special screening of Terry Gilliam's new film, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus presented by Gilliam himself.

I should probably point out that I'm a huge, huge fan of Gilliam. To the point that I've said that I want to be buried with my Criterion Collection edition of Brazil. So bear with me if I start to nerd out a bit.

I thought Imaginarium was terrific. After The Brothers Grimm and Tideland, which were both dark, heavy films, this is a return to the lightness of his earlier films. Don't pay attention and you'd be forgiven for thinking this was a sequel to Time Bandits. Or maybe The Fisher King. Or maybe even The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. And hell, while I'm at it, there are a few shots there that made me think Gilliam has already cast Christopher Plummer in the lead of his currently-in-preproduction The Man Who Killed Don Quixote. This film shines a spotlight on the leitmotif running through all of his previous work: the idea that imagination and invention can break the spell of monotony cast by the drudgery of ordinary life.

At this point, I should probably try to summarise the plot. Isn't that how these things work? But in Gilliam films, this is easier said than done. And to be honest, I think this is the kind of film that works best when you come into it blind, rather than with a bunch of preconceptions about what the story might be. Or don't. Read everything you can, if you like. Just go and see it. But before you do, just let me say that Tom Waits is incredible as the Devil ((Although I think this is slightly lazy, obvious casting, considering what a great job he did as Kneller in Wristcutters: A Love Story)), and Lily Cole is a surprisingly good actress. And the rewrites following the death of Heath Ledger work so well I'd bet that in 30 years, people will barely know they weren't intentional. Like the malfunctioning shark in Jaws, sometime restrictions bring out the best in us.

There's another aspect of Imaginarium that highlights this too: the special effects. Before CGI effects really took off, Gilliam was forced to limit himself using physical effects, which had a tremendous... well... physicality to them. Unbridled, his fantastical CGI dreamworlds look amazing and expansive, but they feel paper-thin. When people first enter the Imaginarium, they start in a pantomime forest, with cardboard trees which may have looked cheap and ridiculous, but they at least felt real and believable. As they moved further into the Imaginarium and hit the CGI-heavy landscapes, it made me wonder whether Gilliam made the right choice in prioritising epic verisimilitude over whimsy. Especially considering the film's message of liberation through imagination.

One thing I should probably point out, which no-one has mentioned so far, is the similarity between this film and Angela Carter's novel, The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman. Both are about unbridled imagination (and the potential perils thereof), but also, and perhaps more crucially, both are about identity and choice. I dunno, maybe I'm completely off-base with this one, but I could have sworn that one of the gravestones in Imaginarium had the name "Dr Hoffman" on it. Or maybe my eyes were just playing tricks on me.

(Update: Over on imaginariumofdrparnassus.com, Dave Warren, the film's art director wrote in (in response to a link to this review - whoa) to say that the actual name on the tombstone was "Bob Hollow". That solves that, then.)

The film opens theatrically at the end of the month and I'll be keeping my eyes open during this scene when I go back to see it again. For me, every one of Gilliam's films improve on repeat viewings. Gilliam told Mark Kermode that his preferred tagline for Tideland was "Tideland - It's a different experience the second time!" I'd bet a tenner the same thing is true for The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.

Nanowrimo

We're over halfway through October. You know what that means: it's time for my annual resolution to actually participate in this year's National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)! I mean, it's not like I don't have enough on my plate, what with college, radio work, design work, Italian lessons and my most thankless of jobs as house-husband. Why not try and write a novel too?

Part of what used to squash my plans in previous years is the fact that I had nothing else to do. And this is dangerous. There's that old saying about "ask a busy man a favour." The theory being that once you get the ball rolling, getting things done just becomes second nature. If you'd asked me to do you a favour before, I would have said "sure, no problem", gone back to playing Xbox, and given you a half-hearted apology two months later when you ask me why I didn't do what I said I would. I say "half-hearted" because, inside, I'd be thinking it was partly your own fault for asking me to do something in the first place.

Not this year.

The other thing that used to always catch me out was the lack of an initial idea. As romantic as it might be to go into this thing completely blind, just putting fingers to keyboard and seeing what happens across 50,000 words - automatic writing on a massive scale - I just don't think this is the way I work best.

Again, not this year.

This year, I know exactly what story I want to tell. I've got an idea that I think I can stretch across an entire novel. It's just a matter of getting it out. Quickly.

The only thing standing in my way (apart from college, radio work, design work, Italian lessons and my duties as house-husband) is Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, which comes out right in the middle of November. I've written before about how addicted I am to the first one (250+ hours) and I'm genuinely quite scared at what might happen when this new one comes out. Would Whitney Houston be appearing on X-Factor now if she knew that crack PLUS was going to be released in a few days? Hell no. She'd be off getting ready for her year-long crack vacation.

Who knows, maybe it'll work and I'll be able to pull it all off. I'll just have to prioritise, hard. Ask a busy man a favour? Sure, right after I finish this game.

Berlusconi Fights Back

I really don't want this news story to go unnoticed, because it is amazing.

ROME, Oct 17 (Reuters) - Italian magistrates and the opposition are up in arms after a television channel owned by Silvio Berlusconi shadowed and secretly filmed a judge who ruled against the prime minister in a bribery case.

Days after Judge Raimondo Mesiano ordered Berlusconi's holding company to pay 750 million euros in damages to a rival, the media mogul's Canale 5 channel aired a video of the judge taking a walk, smoking and getting a shave at the barber.

Dubbing the judge's behaviour "eccentric", a narrator points to him smoking the "umpteenth" cigarette, calls his turquoise socks "strange" and says: "He's impatient ... he can only relax at the barber's".
...
Some magistrates are debating a "turquoise socks" protest, while others have been collecting signatures for a letter of support for their colleague, Italian media reported.

(Via Reuters)

Wow.

I have absolutely no idea how this whole Berlusconi thing is going to play out. Will he be forced from office? Will it all be forgotten about? Fuck knows. I do know that when both sides are as completely batshit insane as this (turquoise socks protest!), the next few months are going to be very, very entertaining.

Well, for those of us who have the safety net of this not being our permanent home, at least.

Yeah, no

As you'd expect, being a stranger in a strange land, I often find myself talking to people who aren't native english speakers. I've learned that there's a definite knack to having a conversation that crosses a few language barriers. Talk slowly, taking a lot of care to en-un-ci-ate ev-er-y syl-lab-le. And throw in a lot of hand gestures, too. They always help.

What doesn't help is when you've got a verbal tic that must be incredibly confusing for the person listening to you. In my case, I have an awful habit of starting sentences with "Yeah... no." My wife pointed this out to me a little while ago and now I can't help but notice that I do it all the fucking time.

In my mind, though, it makes perfect sense. What I'm actually saying is "Yes, I hear, understand and appreciate what you are saying but no, this is not the case." And it gives me extra time to think of a proper response. But to an Italian person listening to me, I probably sound like a babbling lunatic who is deliberately going out of his way to confuse them. English is confusing enough without me throwing a spanner in the works. For example, did you know there are roughly seven different ways to pronounce "ough" in the English language?

Although I've been getting less bummed out by my tic since I started noticing how many other people have it too. You've no idea how happy I was when I heard Joe Cornish say it on the Adam and Joe podcast. Famous people do it too!

Still, it doesn't help me with my own problem. Maybe I should just start speaking Italian to Italian people.

Glee →

What does it say about me that an hipster indie film like Away We Go -- a film which seemed to be tailor-made for people like me -- completely failed to move me, despite the fact it was violently tugging at my heartstrings for the better part of two hours, whereas populist, cliched fluff like Glee had me bawling in 42 minutes?

It ends with a slow clap, for fuck's sake. I am completely powerless against the slow clap.

Eden Lake

Director: James Watkins, 2008, 91' IMDB Keywords: Lake, Young Couple, Lost In Woods, Bleeding To Death, Bicycle

Sometimes it feels like my life is just a series of stupid decisions, strung together with crippling anxiety. For example, there's the time we went camping in Tuscany. It was probably my favourite camping holiday yet - we pitched our tent on the beach. Not 'beside' the beach or 'near' the beach. We were on the beach. The waves were breaking not ten metres from our tent. It was stunning. Beautiful in almost every way. Except I couldn't get to sleep. I was a bit restless and thought that watching one of the movies on my iPod Touch would help lull me to sleep. And so, instead of watching something like The Jerk or Anvil, I decided it would be a great idea to watch Eden Lake, a horror film about a couple who go camping on a beach and get brutally terrorized by a bunch of ASBO kids.

See? Stupid decision. I didn't get any sleep that night.

It's not like it's a flawless movie. Even horror movies have a breaking point when it comes to coincidences - the screaming victim just happens to run into a cave which just happens to be the home of the big scary monster. Eden Lake gleefully ignores this breaking point and keeps layering coincidence on top of coincidence. Towards the end, Eden Lake actually felt as if it was taking the piss. Either the filmmakers didn't get the memo regarding the suspension of disbelief, or they're implying that this couple are the two unluckiest people in the world.

I'll tell you what though, they're definitely two of the smuggest, most self-satisfied cunts in the world. And this is where the film plays a blinder.

They're so overwhelmingly unbearable that I actually started to wish them bodily harm. It's a horror film, so you know they're going to suffer and so I was kind of look forward to that bit of the movie. When all the bad shit starts happening, I felt better. It's catharsis. Establish the heel, make them suffer, and everyone goes home feeling as if everything is right with the world. Did anyone go to see House of Wax to see Paris Hilton escape unhurt? No. They paid good money to see Paris Hilton get a pole thrown through her head. It's catharsis, and everyone (including Paris Hilton, I bet) knows it. But Eden Lake isn't quite like that, because it doesn't stop there. It just keeps pushing through into a new level of discomfort that few films have taken me to. The brutality is so unrelenting that it's hard not to feel bad for hating these people. I mean, I just wanted to see them get a few cuts and scrapes. Nothing that would leave any kind of permanent scar. And the film goes so much further. It was kind of like when everyone was all "Saddam Hussein was an evil dictator who should rot in hell" and then they saw the video of his hanging and then they were all "Oh." Eden Lake is like that. Only with less genocide.

And I don't think that I can finish up without mentioning Jack O'Connell, who plays the leader of the ASBOs. He really is the star of the show, completely believable and terrifying. He basically plays a more sociopathic version of the character he played in Skins, which makes me think that he's either a great actor who is in danger of being typecast as a grotty teen, or someone the police should genuinely keep an eye on.

The Lisbon Treaty

It's time for everyone's favourite hot-button topic: the Lisbon treaty. Fun times ahead!

My cousin, who occasionally reads this blog (hello!), was telling me about the reason he voted 'no' during the last referendum. Or rather, the reason he would have voted 'no' if he had actually been registered to vote.

"I'd have voted no because the government wanted me to vote yes."

It's an interesting reason, but not that unusual. Lots of people voted/are voting 'no' simply because they want to "stick it" to a government that they are increasingly mistrustful and resentful of. The Irish people feel like their government isn't actually on their side. For example, many people argue that NAMA is designed to bail out the bankers at the expense of the taxpayer. Photos from the recent Dail debate don't really help us to feel like there's any reason to doubt that. And when you get overblown, selfish and mercenary fucksocks like Ryanair's Michael O'Leary (pictured here with a personal message for you) coming out in support of the "yes" campaign, well, that just confirms people's suspicions. We've all seen his vision for the airline of the future, why should we presume that he would want anything less for the people of his country? Professor of comparative political behavior at Trinity College, Michael Marsh, points out "for some people, the intervention of big business confirms that this is not good for workers."

So why would my cousin vote 'no' a second time (again, if he was on the register)?

"I'd vote no because I really hate that thing of 'You got a referendum and you MADE THE WRONG CHOICE. Now try again.'"

It's true that the referendum is basically the same as it was the last time. What's changed is the fact that Ireland has secured a number of legal guarantees regarding a number of the core issues that caused people to vote 'no' last time. It means that the Lisbon treaty does not and cannot affect Ireland's constitution on the subjects of security, defense and right to life. Ignore these militant (read: demented nutball) anti-Lisbon groups who say that, no, this is not the case and that these "guarantees" are "as useful as a politician’s promise, and just as easily broken." Coir still insist that Lisbon would introduce abortion laws. On the other hand, the Irish Bishops say that this is not the case, and Irish people can vote either way in good conscience. Now, which group would you turn to for your moral guidance?

A 'no' result would fuck us. And we're talking the terrifying hard pounding of a prison rape, not the gentle, tender feathery stroking we've experienced in the last year. But as well as the effect it would have on Ireland and its economy, imagine what it would do to Europe. Everyone's favourite little megalomaniacal midget, Berlusconi, has been once again throwing around the idea of creating a 'two tier' Europe, where some animals are more equal than others. This from a man who threatened to block all EU business unless Commission spokespeople STFU about Italy's immigration policies. Can you imagine what happens if there's a 'no' result and Ireland takes his place as the red-headed stepchild of Europe? Ouch.

The other reason lots of people voted 'no' in the first referendum was because they said that it was too complicated. In a way, this is a fair point, I've always believed in the idea of not signing my name to a contract I don't fully understand. But it's been a year since people first became aware of the Lisbon treaty and this isn't a viable excuse any more. If you don't understand the contract, you owe it to yourself and the person whose contract it is to go off and figure it out. As Owen Corrigan put it in his article in the Tribune, this made last year's 'no' result "less a triumph of democracy for the voters of a ruggedly independent state, and more a triumph of ignorance in the face of reason, rationality and responsibility." (Seriously, if you read nothing else in this whole campaign, I urge you to read this article.)

In the end though, I guess a lot of people will vote based less on the issues and more on ridiculous external factors, like who is encouraging you to vote what way. Sure, Michael O'Leary wants you to vote 'yes,' but David Icke, the 'I am the son of God and the world is ruled by giant lizards' guy wants you to 'no.' Think about that.

You Say Toe-May-Toe...

I just watched the Toby Young/Michelle Bernstein spat on this week's Top Chef regarding the pronunciation of "paella" and - weird as it is to say this - I totally agree with Toby Young. Unless you're actually Spanish or in Spain, you should be pronouncing it with hard Ls. Pie-el-la.

But this argument made me realise that after watching four seasons of Top Chef, it's time something was said:

IT'S PRONOUNCED RIZ-OT-TOE*. NOT RIZ-OH-TOE.

I mean, you're chefs, for fuck's sake. This should be sorted out by now. Every week, someone does a risotto. Every week, my wife and I facepalm at the apparent inability to pronounce this word. I think at this stage we're actually dealing with willful ignorance instead.

This week, one dickbag chef decided to go one step further, pronouncing saltimbocca as 'salt-im-boe-ka.' PRO TIP: you're wrong.

Update: Likewise, when I'm back home in Ireland, I'd be more likely to be understood if I asked for a "broo-shet-ah", versus what I'd say in Italy, which is "Broo-sket-tah".

  • Like the 'paella' thing, this is the standard 'international' pronunciation. If you're Italian or in Italy, it's more like "ree-sot-toe".

Happy Birthday Elite!

Screen shot 2009-09-23 at 09.04.26

Hard to believe, but Elite came out 25 years ago this month. Twenty-five years!

This makes me feel very, very old. Still, Elite has held up really well over the years. That must mean I have too, right? Er...

The first time I played Elite was on my cousin's Commodore 64. I was barely out of nappies and for the life of me, I couldn't wrap my head around the whole space-trading thing. Having to keep track any number of variables is kind of difficult when you've got the attention span of a sparrow. I had no idea what was going on and understood maybe every second word in a sentence. "What is 'narcotics'?" "Drugs." "What is 'drugs'?" But I loved the game's 3D engine and the feeling that you could go anywhere, do anything. All this in a game that took up less than 22K of memory - that's less than an average email. And I still count my first successful docking with a space station as one of my videogaming high points.

If you fancy playing a bit of Elite right now, grab a copy of Oolite, which runs on almost anything.

Crank 2 DVD Commentary

Remember when DVDs first arrived on the scene and everyone was gushing about how great it was that they could record their own commentaries for their favourite movies? How did that work out?

Not so good, huh?

Know why? Because most people are boring as shit. When you get them talking about movies they love, they're even worse. I'm not saying I'm above this. Put a microphone in front of me when I'm watching Kickboxer you'll just get me either rattling off the entire screenplay or not saying a word because I fucking love that film so much.

Over on the AV Club, frequent commenter and the world's biggest fan of ownage, Zodiac Motherfucker, has recorded his own commentary for his film of 2009, Crank 2: High Voltage. This is decidedly not boring. Imagine the forgotten love-child of Andrew W.K. and Kanye West screaming at the TV, swearing like a docker and whooping for blood, and that's his commentary. Stupid and puerile? Sure, but so are the Crank movies, and that doesn't stop them being some of the most entertaining movies of the last few years.

Either way, there's no-one better to watch Crank 2 with than Zodiac Motherfucker.

Are Apple Products Badly Engineered?

There's a lot of brouhaha about the failure rate of Xbox 360s. In the same week, I saw three different news stories citing three different failure rates for the 360 (54.2%, 23.7% and 27.3%, if you're interested). And everyone gives them shit because they're, y'know, Microsoft.

Having spent the morning fixing a dying Macbook, I started thinking about what my failure rate with Apple hardware has been. And to be perfectly honest, it's been pretty shit. In the past five years, I've owned (or co-owned) an iBook, two Macbooks, an iMac, a 60GB iPod, two iPod nanos and an iPod touch. Let's see what's happened with these.

  • Wife's iBook ate its own display cable
    Putting a teeny-tiny display cable into a hinge that gets used all the time? Great idea.

  • Macbook case cracking
    This happened on both my own Macbook and my wife's. If you see how the Macbook is assembled, it's easy to see why this happens - you have to bend the entire keyboard plate slightly to get it to connect. Bending it weakens the decorative plastic 'lip'.

  • Macbook case discoloration
    I got this on my white Macbook. Got the keyboard plate replaced, started happening again before I got rid of the Macbook

  • iMac logic board meltdown
    Brand-new iMac died within 8 hours of getting it because the logic board wasn't connected properly, half the fans didn't work and melted the graphics card

  • Dead headphone adaptor on 60GB iPod
    This was probably my own fault. I like to use headphones with strong cables and very little 'give', forcing the headphone jack to bend slightly. Still, this wasn't exactly 'heavy' use. Managed to replace this via parts on eBay

  • Random lines on 60GB iPod
    No idea where this came from, but it's like my iPod had a stroke or something. Turned it on one day and there was a strong black band going across the LCD screen. They've slowly started fading away now, going back to normal.

  • Dodgy connector on one iPod nano
    This both comes from and affects the Nike+. I plug in the Nike+ adaptor and it doesn't detect a receiver. Works fine on the other iPod nano. Doesn't affect normal connection to the computer.

  • Dodgy Nike+ on iPod touch
    My iPod touch will only randomly choose to see the Nike+ adaptor in my shoe. Usually after I do a complete reformat and restore, and even then, it only lasts for about a week.

  • Broken DVD drive in Macbook
    About a year after my wife got her Macbook, the DVD drive stopped working. It was hardly ever moved and rarely used. Still, it means that OS upgrades are a pain in the dick and I can't run the hardware test utility any more.

  • Broken LCD backlight on Macbook
    This is what I've been dealing with today. After a random crash, the backlight no longer works. I can see the display on the LCD, but there's just no backlight. I don't even know where to begin with this

  • Update: Fraying on Macbook power chord
    Joanne's comment reminded me about this. About a year ago, power on the Macbook was a bit flaky. We turned over the power chord and noticed that near the connector, the cable had burned almost completely through. We were lucky that we were in the house when it happened, this could have been a lot nastier than the €80 it cost to replace the chord.

So, of all the Apple hardware I've used in the last five years, the only thing that hasn't given me an issue is one iPod nano (I've also got an Apple IIe from 1986 at home that still works fine). Which leads me to wonder if Apple products are badly engineered, or am I just extremely unlucky?

Lady Gaga is My New Hero →

I've always had a lot of respect for Lady Gaga. She's completely batshit insane, but unlike most of those self-consciously 'quirky' artists out there, she's actually has the talent to back that up. You have to admire her courage. Or, at the very least, her ability to keep a straight face.

But her appearance at the MTV VMAs was so amazing that she's now become my personal hero. She was, by far, the most entertaining person on there. I mean, who else could sit behind Beyonce and completely steal the spotlight? That takes some balls (no pun intended).

2lt4hao

Flavorwire have a great article deconstructing Lady Gaga's VMA ensembles. My favourite is the Carrie/Burger King one.