Tuesday, February 26, 2008


Sorry, frustrating week.

Today's fun comes in the form of problems with my Sky service. It's been a while since I've had those to deal with.

Anyway, on Sunday I noted that one of the two recordings I had set to run wasn't working. And, in fact, the only channel I could receive was the one that was recording.

Naturally, this suggested to me that I should check the two inputs from the satellite dish. After all, the box was clearly working, but one of the two clearly wasn't, causing the system to use the other exclusively. Isn't it amazing, being able to work things out?

So, I took a look, and found little pools of warm water directly below the two connections. Not a good sign, since electricity and water don't mix. So, I switched the whole thing off, disconnected the cables, and dried the whole thing off. And it seemed to work.

Yesterday, though, I found that the same problem was back, and the pools of water were also back. This time, when I took it to bits, I noted that one of the two cables had corroded through, and was no longer making a good connection. This clearly explained the problem, and just as clearly marked it as not being something I could deal with on my own.

So, today I phoned technical support, with the goal of booking an engineer visit to re-cut the damaged cable so it makes a good connection again, and to investigate just how water is getting into the system (and perhaps replacing both the cables to prevent this from happening in the future). That was clearly what was required, and so should be easy done, no?


Having finally navigated the nine circles of call centre hell, I finally got to speak to an assistant, and explained the problem. Whereupon, he insisted on following his script, which called for a number of "troubleshooting steps" to try to diagnose the problem. Never mind that I had already done that - they can't send out an engineer without following the script. And, of course, being at work, I'm not in a position to follow the steps at the present time.

Fortunately, it's a 24-hour line, so I will be able to enjoy the fun of sorting all this out tonight. Yippee!

Monday, February 18, 2008

More bad movie reviews

Continuing my public service of watching bad films so you don't have to, today I bring you reviews of two of the worst films I have ever watched all the way through, and a film so scary it has persuaded me never to set foot in any building with more than one room, and never to go outdoors, either.

The Marine: Somehow, The Rock has gone from being a wrestler to being a movie star. True, he's not the greatest actor, but he's managed to be in some good roles in some good films, and actually managed to be the best thing about "Be Cool". So, it stands to reason that other wrestlers could do the same, right? And so, we get Kane appearing in "See No Evil", Stone Cold Steve Austin in "The Condemned", and me realising I know far too much about wrestling, or movies, or both.

We also get John Cena starring in The Marine, quite possibly the worst action film of all time. Robert "Terminator 2" Patrick is the villain. The plot is quite simple: the bad guys steal some diamonds and go on the run, along the way they take the hero's wife hostage, and the hero goes on a rampage getting her back. We've seen it a hundred times before, which is the major problem of the film.

The secondary problem is that the lead actor just can't, which means they've had to reduce his dialogue to about 20 lines, and replace it with big explosions. This works for Michael Bay, but no-one else has the name recognition to pull it off. It creates the problem that our hero is basically just a slab of meat, and not particularly likeable. Think Dolph Lundgren in "Masters of the Universe", but without the career-defining performance.

Then there's the villain, who is the most idiotic cliche possible. Hmm, two of my minions are bickering. One of them is loyal and reliable, the other is entirely responsible for the mess we're currently in. Which one should I kill? Hmm, we're being chased by an absurdly superhuman marine, who only wants to get his wife back. Shall we release her, and get this guy off our backs, or shall we continue to waste time and effort keeping her with us?

Oh, and a note to the film-makers: the reason the first Die Hard works is that John McClaine isn't a superhuman killing machine. He's an ordinary guy in a messed up situation. He only becomes superhuman in the sequels, where the audience is willing to accept this nonsense because the first one laid the groundwork. So, if you're not doing a Die Hard sequel, your hero is probably best served not being superhuman. Unless he's a superhero, of course.

And don't let your lead actor rap over the closing credits, unless he's Eminem or the like. That's just adding insult to injury.

Smoking Aces: When I saw the adverts for this, before it hit the cinema, I thought "that looks quite good." How wrong I was.

This film revolves around a Las Vegas entertainer nicknamed Aces, and a big bounty on his head. Consequently, we have huge numbers of hired killers running around trying to kill him. Unfortunately, the film-makers forgot to introduce most of them as characters, and managed to have the rest of them act in totally inconsistent manners by the end of the film.

The plot of the film is also packed with double- and triple-crosses, all laid out because that's what the film-makers felt they needed, rather than because they made sense. The inevitable final double-cross then neatly undoes the whole point of the rest of the film, and is founded on a twist that was obvious almost from the beginning.

Still, at least there weren't any wrestlers in this one.

Them: This film was inspired by a true story, which makes it all the more worrying. It's a French film set in Bucharest, following the experiences of one Clementine, a French teacher living in Romania. Mostly, though, it's a film about an improbably-hot woman in tight jeans being menaced by hoodies (proving that this story could never happen in the UK - the government would just give the kids ASBOs, and that would be the end of that, I'm sure). There's also a boyfriend, but he's rather irrelevant to proceedings.

What made this film so scary, though, was that the killers in question weren't superhuman. At various times, the heroine wounded or even killed them. Additionally, the film makers did an excellent job of building scenes, and the tension flowed from that. Well, that, and the fact that the killers weren't motivated by revenge, or lust, or some childhood trauma, or any of the normal Hollywood cop-outs. Oh, no. They were terrorising the teacher because they were bored, and wanted something to do of a Saturday night.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

All caught up. Now what?

Since Christmas, my brothers and I have been playing through Neverwinter Nights 2. This has proven to be a less-than-satisfactory experience, largely due to the really stupid controls for the camera angle that the game has implemented (in common with most recent video games - but that's another rant), partly to do with the problems caused by internet lag, and partly due to the scheduling issues of getting the four of us together.

So, a couple of weeks ago I started the game again, running in solo mode, with an entirely different character. This had the curious effect of being an entirely different experience. My solo character is a human barbarian instead of a dwarf cleric (as I'm using in the internet game), which means that instead of being slow moving, he's very fast moving, which on the whole is a much more satisfying state of affairs. Secondly, he didn't have to share all the loot, which means he's actually got some decent gear, and isn't stuck with the club that no-one else wanted (that said, I now know where a weaponsmith is to be found - dwarven waraxe, here I come!). And thirdly, he doesn't have any spells to worry about.

Last night, I caught up. I reached the point in the solo game that we have reached in the internet game. It should be noted that I have just reached 6th level, instead of the 4th I've just reached in the other game, largely due to not missing out half of the side-quests.

But the question is: do I wait here until we advance further in the internet game? Or do I press on, on the grounds that we're probably going to have to go back and fill in the gaps? It's certainly a toughie.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Movies I have watched

One of the dubious joys of having Sky Plus is that I have recorded a whole bunch of films that aren't quite good enough to bother seeing at the cinema, or buying on DVD, but just good enough to watch when I've got nothing better to do. However, the hard disk in my Sky box is now 50% full, so I'm feeling the need to get and watch a few of these things, despite being quite busy.

Anyway, I shall now review the films I watched this weekend, so you don't need to bother seeing them.

Cloverfield: Okay, this wasn't on Sky. However, I did go to see it at the cinema at the weekend, and so shall review it anyway. It's basically "Godzilla Attacks New York", filmed entirely in the 'cam' style of "Blair Witch Project". So, not only is it a bad film, but it also set off my motion sickness something fierce. Before they even got to the birthday party scene (about 10 minutes into the film), I was already doubting my ability to make it through. However, I did find that it was much easier viewing if I closed my eyes.

Anyway, yeah, it's a bad film. Mercifully, it is only 74 minutes, from the start to the "Directed by" credit coming up. But, as with so many recent films, it runs afoul of my "abbreviated storytelling" rant: it was 22 minutes before the first evidence of the monster is heard. Apparently, it's important to have lots of character-building for random people who are never in the film again.

But where the whole experience was really taking the piss is that there were 33 minutes of adverts and trailers before the film even began. So, less than half of my cinema ticket was the fun monster-packed thrill-ride I expected.

And it gave me the boak. Avoid.

Flushed Away: It's about a pampered pet mouse who gets flushed down the toilet, and finds himself in the mousy underbelly of London. He tries to get back home. And there are French ninja frogs after him.

I liked this film a great deal.

However, I must say that it did stretch my suspension of disbelief just a tad that the crux of the film revolved around a World Cup final between England and Germany. Like that's likely. Still, they did redeem it rather with the end result, which was so utterly right as to forgive everything.

Let's Go To Prison: An ex-con plots revenge on the judge who ruined his life, only to find he died three days previously. So, he instead frames the judge's son and arranges to share a cell with him.

Does that sound funny? Well, let me just point out that it's a whole lot funnier than anything else in this supposed 'comedy'.

A Scanner Darkly: Another animation, this one aimed at adults, this is an adaptation of the Philip K. Dick story, and is about drugs, paranoia and madness. It's really quite freaky, not least because of the particular animation style, which sees Keanu Reeves' character looking recognisably like Keanu, and the same being true for the other characters and their respective voice talents.

Anyway, it was a very uncomfortable viewing experience, but a very good film for all of that.

Idiocracy: A guy who has been carefully selected as being entirely average is cryogenically frozen for 500 years, and wakes to find himself the smartest man on Earth, in this very disturbing documentary by the makers of Beavis and Butthead.

I'm just not sure quite how they managed to film things that haven't happened yet...

Seriously, though, this is a comedy about the premise given above, and makes a disturbingly plausible case that that might well be the state of affairs (except that I suspect if things were to go in that direction, we'd somehow manage to wipe ourselves out first, so that's something to look forward to). Unfortunately, while the premise was disturbing, the comedy itself ran out of steam very quickly. After the line about the movie "Ass" (which was exactly what it said on the tin) winning eight Oscars, including Best Screenplay, there really wasn't much left to laugh about.

And so... out of the five movies I watched, I can only really recommend two. "Idiocracy" is okay, if you're in the mood for some cheap laughs at stupid people, but "Let's Go To Prison" and "Cloverfield" are to be avoided. "Flushed Away" and "A Scanner Darkly" are good, though.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Holey socks, Batman!

It goes without saying that when a pair of socks develops a hole, they should be thrown away. However, there remains a question that must be answered: just when should this be done?

In most cases, the hole in the socks will be noticed when putting them on in the morning. At which point, time is something of a factor. Moreover, there is the fair point that, if shoes are to be worn all day then there is no prospect of those holes being noticed.

So, the temptation is to wear them anyway, and throw them away later.

But then, there is the fact that one wouldn't want to throw away a pair of dirty and smelly socks. It just wouldn't be right. Which means, of course, that they must be washed.

But then, once you've gone to all the trouble of washing them, surely you wouldn't want to throw them away? And the cycle begins again.

Honestly, things were much easier when I was under the sway of The Sock Conspiracy.

(And another thing: why is it that my fun Simpsons and South Park socks develop holes in very short order, but my exciting Millennium socks just keep on going and going? They're like the Energiser Bunny of the sock domain.)

A tick in the box

Well, that's one of the awkward conversations done. Actually, it turned out not to be the conversation I expected to have, but it was no less awkward for all that. Anyway, done.

I have decided that the other awkward conversation relates to a chapter of my life that is now closed, and that I'm not going to re-open it. So, unless someone else elects to raise the subject, I'm dropping it.

I consider this a triumph.