A lesson in how not to react to criticism, courtesy of Alain de Botton.
Last week in the New York Times, Caleb Crain gave Alain de Botton's new book a not particularly favourable review, in which he accuses de Botton of self-indulgence and snobbery. De Botton promptly heads off to Cain's personal blog, Steamboats Are Ruining Everything (incidentally, one of the greatest blog titles I've ever seen) to vent and unleashed a tidal wave of invectives including the incredible lines "I will hate you till the day I die and wish you nothing but ill will in every career move you make. I will be watching with interest and schadenfreude."
Let me just say this: wow.
I know this sounds ridiculous and cliched, but I was a huge fan of Alain de Botton's early books. Essays in Love is an amazing piece of work, showing remarkable insight into the natural cycle of (failed) romantic relationships. How Proust Can Change Your Life was also stunning, and made me look at Proust in a whole different way. After that, though, came The Consolations of Philosophy, and the beginning of his decline. Since then, I feel his books have settled into a predictable, comfortable rhythm, usually because they are written merely as companions to increasingly generic, increasingly audience-friendly TV show. I don't think I've actually finished any of his books since The Art of Travel.
Ignoring the specifics of Crain's complaints, I feel like they could as easily be applied to any of de Botton's recent books. There is a certain amount of snobbery. They frequently do veer off-topic in favour of (slightly smug) "amusing" asides. So I'm surprised that de Botton is finding Crain's review so shocking.
Even more surprising, though, is de Botton's reaction to his reaction. He points out, rightly, that what he was trying to do is to give authors a right to reply to critics, but worryingly seems to think that the only problem here is that he wrote his comments in a public forum, thinking it had been private (although the three previous comments didn't tip him off?) In other words, he's saying that, yes, he acted like an impetulant child, but the only thing he's sorry about is that he got caught.
As some of you probably know, there's quite a bit of controversy surrounding Pope Pius XII, the Pope who reigned during World War II. While many catholics, including Pope Benedict XVI, wish to make him a saint, critics accuse Pius of not doing enough to help the Jews during the holocaust.
Today, the head of the Vatican Archives, Monsignor Sergio Pagano, has said that there are things in the archive that will completely vindicate Pius, and show that he did a lot to help the Jews. But he can't go into specifics.
"There will be some nice surprises, even as far as the Jews are concerned ... Pope Pius took great risks, even very great personal risks, to save Jews. I can't say more now but whoever wants to open their eyes in five or six years will be able to open them."
On the one hand, this is understandable. There are currently 20 Vatican archivists working full-time on examining millions of pages of documents regarding Pius's papacy, and it would be disrespectful, if not completely reckless, to start announcing details prematurely.
That said, the long finger only goes so far with minor issues and, regardless of what the media from other countries believe, Berlusconi's affairs are relatively minor issues within Italy. When we're talking about the deaths of 6 million people? I doubt it.
For the past couple of weeks, I've been working on trying to get myself into shape. Or rather, some shape that wasn't just 'round'. Cutting out chocolate (except when thoughtless fucks come over to stay and bring us presents of giant bars of Dairy Milk). Cutting out fizzy drinks (except when we throw a party and the thoughtless fucks don't drink the mixers). And generally just watching what I eat. And, as a bit of an experiment, I've been trying out EA Sports Active.
I've tried Wii Fit and found it to be a total misnomer. Wii Balance might have been a better name, since that seems to be all it's concerned with. I still use it for its daily "Body Tests", which measure your weight and BMI (and also still finds a way to work "balance" into the equation), but apart from that, _Wii Fit _was a non-starter in my house.
EA Sports Active, on the other hand, has been a huge hit. It actually gets your heart pumping and I'm loving the way it feels like a genuine training session. Or at least, like a more intense training DVD. I'm halfway through my first "30 Day Challenge", and there hasn't been one time where I've thought "I can't be bothered with this", so it can definitely be called a success.
That's not to say it's perfect.
Enough with the fucking lunges
Christ on a bike. Every session has a minimum of three or four batches of lunges. Even last night, where the trainer says "Today we're going to focus on your upper body!" had five sets of lunges. I'm sure they're great for my fitness, but let's mix it up a bit, please.
Why can't it weigh me?
I've got a Balance Board. It knows I have a Balance Board. Why the hell can't it weigh me using the Balance Board? Right now, I do my body test using Wii Fit, get my weight from that and manually input it into EA Sports Active. This strikes me as just a silly oversight. Although it also seems like none of the Wii fitness games offer this, apart from Wii Fit. Maybe this is a Nintendo-mandated omission?
No abdominal exercises
Weirdly for something that presents itself as a rounded fitness program, the game doesn't even try to give any abdominal exercises. Apparently, these will be coming later in an add-on pack.
Crappy resistance band
The resistance band they supply with the game is not only light as to be almost completely ineffectual, it also is made of a crappy material that will snap if you look at it wrong. My advice would be to buy yourself your own resistance band and use that instead.
Apart from these fairly minor complaints, I'm really happy with EA Sports Active. It's not a complete workout package, but it's not really meant to be. It's intended to gently ease people into regular exercise and to compliment a broader, more comprehensive weight-loss and exercise regime.
Now I just need to stop people bringing me chocolate and I'll be laughing.
Measuring up the prose of energy drinks against daily life will lead to all sorts of absurdities:
“Julia, can I get you a coffee?”
“No, I have a ton of editing to do, I need the venom of a Death Adder which has the power to strike back.”
“How about an espresso then?”
“I will bite you in your neck if you do not leave me immediately to the challenges of my intense life.”
“Look, we all have a lot of work to do.”
“You may have a lot of work to do. I have a lot of work to penetrate with my face, inject with poison, and kill.”
“Is that your heart visibly beating through your sternum?”
“Yes, it is. Jealous?”
Now that high end "Smart Phones" are being released with all sorts of built-in doo-dads, like a camera, GPS unit and compass, it means that phones know exactly where they are and what you're pointing them at. Which leads to some interesting applications:
It works as follows: Starting up the Layar application automatically activates the camera. The embedded GPS automatically knows the location of the phone and the compass determines in which direction the phone is facing. Each [commercial] partner provides a set of location coordinates with relevant information which forms a digital layer. By tapping the side of the screen the user easily switches between layers.
This is all kind of difficult to explain in words - check out the video of Wikitude in action to see what is going on...
In other words, your phone gives you a Terminator-style real-time Heads Up Display for whatever you're looking at. Imagine the possibilities - cross it with Wikipedia/Wikitravel to give you the most amazing guide book ever. Cross it with an application that "calls" your phone and you've got the most immersive Alternate Reality Game ever. Heck, if it knows your demographic, then you've got some Minority Report-style personalized ads beamed directly from what you're looking at. Which might sound annoying and intrustive, but when it's this futuristic, who cares?
My blog was drowning under almost five years of cruft and unfocused babbling, so I've decided to do an old etch-a-sketch revamp. Shake it up, start again. This time, less bullshit, I promise. I want to use this blog for writing. Not as a link-dump, or a Youtube proxy (although I'm sure there will be the occasional link and youtube video). Those things will be on my twitter. The old version of the site is still available, but really, where's the fun in that? We can't keep looking back. Got to move forward. Onward and upward.
Edge Magazine (still the best videogame magazine out there) recently published its top 100 videogames of all time. It's pretty interesting reading and, being Edge, there are a few questionable decisions. But this is what I love about Edge - they occasionally do some wild stuff, but always back it up with good, solid explanations.
I don't think anyone actually understands how psyched I am for the release of the new Indiana Jones film next year. When I was younger and my age was still in single digits, I used to wake up extra early so I could go downstairs and watch all of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom before school. Every day. For about a year. And if I had my copy here with me now, I'd probably be watching it now.
I came across a film called "Secret of the Incas", a low-budget adventure movie from 1954 starring Charlton Heston which seems to be Indiana Jones' most obvious inspiration. Heston plays Harry Steele (fucking awesome name), a square-jawed treasure-hunter who is determined to find the treasure of Machu Picchu in Peru. Like Indiana Jones, Steele walks around in a big brown fedora and leather jacket.
The similarities aren't accidental either. Rumour has it that before production of Raiders of the Lost Ark, Senor Spielbergo and George Lucas screened this movie (along with China, starring Alan Ladd) for the cast and crew, to give them an idea of the kind of movie they were trying to create.
These clips from Secret of the Incas should give you a good idea of how well Spielberg & co. managed to recreate the tone of the earlier movie. In fact, you could go further and point out specific sequences in Raiders that were influenced even by these three clips.
I'd love to see this movie completely, but it's impossible to buy Secret of the Incas. Nothing on Amazon, nothing on eBay. Even nothing on Bittorrent. Some conspiracy theorists reckon the movie is being 'suppressed' by Paramount because of the similarities to Indiana Jones, reckoning that people would be up in arms if they could see how much this film influenced Raiders of the Lost Ark (although I personally think this is ridiculous: if people can't that the Indiana Jones movies are nothing but a distillation of classic action movie staples, then these people should be banished to the wilderness immediately).
Whatever the reason, I can't get a hold of it on the internet. Anyone got a copy of this lying around? I'd be willing to pay good (read: not ridiculous) money for it.