The Hunger Games

Posted: April 27, 2012 in Uncategorized

In the future state of Panamerica, an annual tournament is held where 24 tributes aged between 12 and 18 are chosen to fight to the death, the last survivor being crowned winner. This is known as the Hunger Games and is staged by the tyrannical Capitol to both subjugate and entertain the Districts under its rule. Katniss Everdeen participates when she volunteers to take the place of her younger sister: can avoid death and so triumph against the odds?

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We went to see this more as a result of a dearth of available titles than anything else, but I enjoyed it nevertheless. I have read the books and this film proved a very faithful translation of the events and plotlines of the first one; not surprising, since the author herself worked on the script. The lead character, played by Jennifer Lawrence, turned in an absorbing performance and the film was very well paced. Though the concept is brutal, the actual execution of the killings (is that too harsh a word?) was not treated indulgently and so the effect was muted, allowing you to concentrate a bit more on the emotions of the characters through it all. The final scenes of the games were a satisfying conclusion, just as in the book.

Though I know the concept is meant to be shocking, every time I found myself being sure that people would not stand for something like that I also couldn’t help thinking of the way our history as a race is littered with examples of atrocities not very far from the imagined Hunger Games. Maybe we’re not nearly as civilised as we like to think in our comfortable first world shells. At least, having read the trilogy and knowing its emphasis on the revolutionary overthrow of an opressive regime, I felt somewhat virtuous about having done something vaguely appropriate for Freedom Day.

A solid seven is how I’d score the film.

What if you already knew?

Posted: April 23, 2012 in Uncategorized

What would we do if we had certainty of events, their timing and their duration? If we knew beforehand when the good times would come and the bad times too, that one would follow the other and just how long each would last. Would we enjoy the good times more or would we live in dread of tough times?

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Thinking about this the other day, I had to conclude that there’s probably no single way that would dominate; how you answered that question would probably depend on how good your sense of perspective was now. Personally, I would probably relax and enjoy the good times more, which (when I think about it) is a bit of an indictment on my lack of ability to see the bigger picture when caught up in the moment. What would your reaction likely be?

The silly thing is that it’s our perception of thing that’d important here, because the above is already encapsulated in the “this too shall pass” maxim. If we could maybe take that to heart, we should already be able to react in a better way to every situation. Perhaps I should put that little saying on my lockscreen…

This is all in theory, of course: maybe the truth would be less attractive. I remember Morgan Freeman’s character in The Bucket List saying that he had thought it would be liberating, knowing when you would die, but that it was actually the opposite. Maybe that’s why we’re told not to divine the future; better, then, just to trust in the hands of the God who already knows it.

Who are the pessimistic ones?

Posted: January 28, 2012 in Uncategorized

All right, let’s stir the pot a bit… 🙂

Survey Finds Apple & Android Users Have Positive Outlook On Life – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – -Author: Serge Novikov (news@mobile-review.com) Source: Gazelle Translation by: Paul Smith (paul.smith@mobile-review.com) – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Mobile usage surverys are usually concerned with how customers are accessing data or how many minutes of call time they’re using and so on. However, Gazelle, a consumer electronics recycler and reseller, conducted a somewhat unorthodox survey at the recent CES event in the Nevada desert. The survey tries to establish a link between the mobile device of choice for a user and that user’s outlook on life in general. It’s certainly not a scientific survey, but even so let’s take a look at the results.

Of the iPhone and iPad users surveyed 52% and 58% respectively said they were always optimistic about the future. The same statement was supported by 28% of Android phone users and 36% of Android tablet users. 29% of iPhone users and 60% of iPad users expect the best in ‘uncertain times’ whilst 31% of Android phone users and 55% of Android tablet users agreed. 25% of iPhone users and 26% of iPad users weren’t easily upset and the same was true for 18% of Android phone users and 27% of Android tablet users.

Now if you are thinking that I’m setting this up to be an Apple vs Android thing you’re wrong. Those figures above show those users who were basically the happiest and most positive. Now we come to the pessimistic side of things … BlackBerry. 33% of BlackBerry users surveyed thought that if something could go wrong for them then it would. 16% of BlackBerry users actually said they rarely expected things to work out for them and 33% didn’t hold much hope for good things to happen to them personally. Perhaps most shocking of all though was the 0% of BlackBerry users who expected the best in a situation. So whilst Apple and Android users had relatively high scores for being positive and having a sunny outlook BlackBerry users appeared to believe that the world was set against them. Does this survey actually mean anything? Well as I said before it’s hardly adhering to a rigorous scientific approach, but even so the results are interesting, if for no other reason than to suggest that shit products attract a shitty disposition.

Interesting, but I can’t agree with the concluding line. The reason they have such a terrible outlook is not as a result of being attracted to the products but because of using them. 😉

MI 4: Ghost Protocol

Posted: January 15, 2012 in Uncategorized
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We don’t get to the cinema that often – well, to see movies that aren’t aimed mostly at kids anyway – so generally go to watch films that seem like they will be a big screen extravaganza. The fourth series in the superspy series Mission Impossible certainly qualifies on that score!

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The plot this time centres on an evil genius hell bent on global destruction (aren’t they always?) and the first of his dastardly moves causes superspy Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his team to get the blame. The rest of the movie sees the team, now pariahs and acting without any official support, trying to prove their innocence and save the world at the same time (aren’t they always?).

If the plot seems awfully familiar, it’s because it is and, though the performances are good, you shouldn’t be going to movies like these expecting in-depth plots or complex character studies. No, we go to watch the MI series because we want to see high octane action, and lots of it! On this score, the film certainly delivers, with more breathtaking action scenes and daring stunts than I could count. Director Brad Bird (of Incredibles fame) keeps a pretty tight rein on proceedings and I never felt lost in a meandering mess of pointless explosions (Matrix Reloaded, I’m looking at you). I thoroughly enjoyed it and thought it was probably the best of the series so far.

As my wife and I left the cinema we toyed with an inevitable question: are there characters like this in real life? He’s essentially Superman, really, but what about a more “realistic” spy with access to all those cool gadgets? There might be superspies but I think most of the technological ideas are more fantasy than anything else, at least in the total accumulation that we see in this movie. Having met a few slightly disturbed characters from our defence forces myself, I think Matt Damon’s character in the Bourne Identity is closer to what one might actually find. Whatever the truth, though, I’m glad I just get to watch stories like this on the big screen rather than having to participate in any version of them.

Beam me up Scotty…I think

Posted: January 10, 2012 in Uncategorized

We did a serious road trip over Christmas this year. 1,350 odd kilometres in a couple of weeks, which equated to about 40 hours of travelling once all stops, delays and slow moving traffic was accounted for, and it felt like a lot of travelling too. I generally love driving, but this was a bit ambitious.

More than once on the trip I thought of the “Beam me up, Scotty” transport they used on Star Trek – you know, stand on the transporter platform and reappear elsewhere instantly – or the “apparating” that characters in the Harry Potter series do, which is similar but without the need for any equipment. A tempting thought, but what would things look like if we really had instant travel?

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It’s enormously and instantly appealing from a personal point of view. Just imagine the extra time you’d enjoy if you could cut out the daily hour to two hours of commuting! Far less stressful too, if you discount the possibility of leaving a limb or two behind each time. You’d also have incredible freedom when it came to work or play: you could choose a job anywhere in the world and never have to worry about leaving behind your support network or circle of friends when you finished at the end of the day. In your leisure time you could visit any destination you liked and never have to worry about being stuck for somewhere to stay at night – just think of the savings in accommodation costs.

Of course, not everyone might be happy with such a statement of affairs. The entire hotel industry would just about collapse, that’s for sure – why would you need them? The motor industry would probably go down the tubes as well, though you could make some snarky comments about that already. No doubt others would spring up in their wake and I wonder what those would be.

In the most immediate sense, the world would become dramatically smaller and we would become a truly global society. What would this mean for governments trying to control their citizens? Surely it would be incredibly difficult. What if a nation wanted to go to war – what would the appetite for that be if people were thoroughly mingled? For that matter, how would you wage war if our enemy could disappear at any moment? Maybe, just maybe, we might have a more peaceful society. Every nation and corporation would immediately have to become globally competitive because the consumer’s freedom of choice would be limitless.

There would be some fascinating social implications as well. If you never really had to move, you would never really leave your friends in the process of natural attrition that happens at the moment but you’d also end up potentially joining new circles all the time. I read once that we have a capacity for about 50 real relationships in our lives at any one point, and I’m not sure I could cope with the implications of so many more! Like Facebook, where you can always be hunted down by old acquaintances, but more complicated…

I can’t shake the feeling that there’s a good story somewhere in the notion of instant travel, but for now I’m just intrigued by the possibilities. What about you? What springs to mind when you think of them?

Do I or don’t I?

Posted: January 2, 2012 in Uncategorized
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*Creaks open the door on its rusty hinges and looks around the abandoned room. Dusts off a monitor and, remembering patchily the routines that are needed, taps hesitantly on the keys again*

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New year’s resolutions – the old conundrum every year. Do we make them or don’t we? If I’m perfectly honest, the only one I’ve been completely successful in keeping is the one that says I’m not going to make any resolutions for the new year, but that’s only proof that success in keeping a resolution doesn’t mean much if it isn’t a good one to start with. In the end, it only meant that I got to the end of the year without a sense of failure but also without much of a sense of accomplishment either. Not very satisfying, and it feels like a basic kind of life lesson as well: better to try and fail than never etc etc. Sometimes those hoary old chestnuts hang around because there’s a kernel of truth in them.

So, yes, new year’s resolutions are on the table again. They are daunting at this stage only because there are so many to choose from – obviously a lot of room for improvement in me! Hopefully I’ve learned enough to remember the basics of making them quantifiable, measurable and achievable; accountable would be a good principle as well but that’s more private so on that front I’ll just say one of the resolutions is to get this blog going regularly again. Keep reminding me…

What about you? Are you just too disillusioned with making resolutions every year to do it again or do you have some success stories to share that help lift us? Either way, what are you going to do this year?

Oh, please…

Posted: April 21, 2011 in Uncategorized

Here it is, then. Among her many faults, she confirms one as amongst her worst: she takes herself waaay to seriously:

Lady Gaga refuses Weird Al permission

Essentially, the link takes you to Weird Al Yankovic’s account of his being refused permission by Lady Gaga to do a parody of “Born this way” on his new album. As he points out, he’s actually pretty respectful of the artists he parodies and is a very well known, long standing satirist, so the vast majority have no problem granting him permission. Not so Lady Gaga, who didn’t even have the decency to give him reasons for her decision. This surely reeks of someone so completely enamoured with their own image that they can’t stand to have anyone laughing at them for any reason; bad enough at the best of times, but I see nothing in this artist’s reportoire, apart from an ability to read the public well, that would justify such an exalted opinion.

It’s a pet peeve of mine actually, people and companies that take their image so seriously. Whether it be Vodacom whining about Cell C’s adverts targeting their new campaign or SAB trying to crush Laugh It Off for satirical t-shirts, the demonstrated inability to laugh at one’s self shows something fundamentally amiss. Do you really think you’re supifyingly perfect and above the rest of us, or is there a secret fear that your image hides imperfections that will be fully brought to light by a little laughter? Really, having your sense of humour removed at birth is not a good thing…

UPDATE:

According to new reports, Lady Gaga has given permission: it was her myopic managers that refused it. So the artist is exonerated (though not from any other faults) and we chalk this one up to a failure on the part of the pencil pushers, not her. Wouldn’t like to be in that manager’s shoes right now!

Adventures in strange lands

Posted: April 10, 2011 in Uncategorized

Took a trip recently to East London. As with all my trips there to date, it left me with rather mixed feelings about the place – it seems to be doing it’s best not to present an overwhelmingly positive picture of itself and the place that we stayed at was consistent with that.


Even the initial signs weren’t good. The lodge was situated near a river bend and off the beaten track and the GPS actually had a hard time finding it – not locating it as a point of interest but actually getting there, losing it’s positioning and then directing us along a completely wrong road. I thought that the GPS was just playing up, but by then end of that evening I was wondering if it wasn’t just trying to be noble. “Oops, not that lodge – let me lead them away!”

When we finally arrived at the lodge, we were a little surprised that the owners tried to get us to pay for the second night immediately upon checking in for the first. “So many people book for two nights and then only stay for one,” they said. On reflection, this should have been more ominous than it seemed at the time. Perhaps there was a Reality Distortion Field in play. Not that I could easily have found somewhere else to stay, as there was just about zero cell reception and hence no Internet access there. Maybe I should have been looking for pitchers of Kool Aid at this point.

Getting to the unit itself was a bit more comforting, because it was spacious and clean. The weekend seemed more promising. Until, that is, we tried the shower. It was a gas water heater affair and I marveled at how quickly and efficiently it turned cold water into a boiling hot stream when we turned on the hot tap. And then we turned on the cold tap. Off went the water heater, immediately, and it became obvious that we could have either scaldingly hot water or very cold water, but not both at the same time. Practically, this meant a small window of 7-8 seconds at a time while the water changed temperature before becoming too uncomfortable to use. Showers were thus a mad mix of darting under the dribbling stream and then rushing out to turn taps on or off and then repeating the procedure. I can think of more pleasant experiences.

Eventually it was time for supper. We had asked about meals being prepared and what the charges were but were told that everything was a la carte and “very reasonable”. Again, in retrospect, the lack of transparency should have triggered more if an alarm than it did. Hmmm. Let’s just say we reduced our low expectations even further after that meal. I’d comment more but still am not sure what we actually ate…

Finally we settled down to watch one of the DVDs that were available for viewing from the reception, but the day’s adventures weren’t quite over. “Look, Mom,” my youngest said about 15 minutes into the movie, “a mouse”: tearing across the unit’s floor was the biggest rat I’ve ever seen. Seriously, it was the size of a small dog. Well, pandemonium ensued and the evening ended in massive excitement for my two sons as owners were summoned and a rat hunting/killing mission was successfully carried out. Exciting, perhaps, but not really the sort of wildlife you want floating about your room. Sleep thereafter was punctuated by regular visits from the youngest, who kept hearing “squeaks” in his room.

In fairness, the trip improved quite a lot after that first day. We reduced our expectations and spent time out at the impressive Hemingways where we ate our main meal and I used readily available Internet to get things done. Back at the lodge, the owners were incredibly sweet to the boys and they enjoyed using the jacuzzi, pool table and table tennis table that were there for guests. We enjoyed watching some of the movies they had available and spent some fun time together as a family; the breakfasts were good and they sweetly brought the toasted sandwiches we had for supper right to our room – feeling a bit bad about the rat incident, I’m sure.

As I said, I left EL with mixed feelings again – hopefully I’ll have a trip one day that’s nothing but successful, but I have a feeling it will have to be after staying at a different establishment.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

“Spud” got it wrong

Posted: March 27, 2011 in Uncategorized
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In the third book of the “Spud” series [SPOILER ALERT], John van der Ruit’s popular chronicles of a young boy at a private school in Kwazulu-Natal, the protagonist depicts one of the characters sitting in forlorn despair after the prefects for the next year have been chosen. He had desperately wanted to become one but was not chosen. This, Spud concludes, was because he had fallen foul of the universal Law of Desire: the more you really, really want something, the less likely you are to obtain it. Spud himself, on the other hand, feigned indifference and was chosen as a prefect.

Funny thing is, when I reflect on my own life I can’t say that it’s really been true. Generally, what I have desired I have pursued and what I have pursued I have obtained. Rather, my issue has been this: that I have, in so many cases, been left wondering whether I actually wanted it at all.

Why is this so? Is it a case of not really knowing myself? Am I allowing what I want to be determined by the agendas of others, so that I pursue what I think I should want rather than what I actually do? Perhaps it’s a combination of these things. It’s a long thing, this journey of self discovery.

Both my experience and my belief teach me that you can obtain the things that you want most. But now it’s what one wants in the first place and not whether or not one can obtain it that I’m thinking about the most.

Anyway, if I write these posts properly, they should make you think about yourself and not me. What’s your experience of Spud’s thoughts about the universal law of desire? Do you find that it’s the things that you want the most that slip through your fingers the most easily? Or do you get them and then wonder if you wanted them at all? Or are you just perfect, always getting what you want and wanting it always? If so, pass on the advice, we could all use the help! 🙂

 

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Five months now since I unexpectedly ended up going the iPhone route (on price, of all things) and I thought I’d set out some thoughts in what using it has been like. Not a review – there are far too many of those around for me to have to do one – but just some points on my actual experience.

What I expected

Hey, Apple, please admit that your notifications are way behind the competition. I have seen Windows Mobile, Android, Blackberry and even Bada implement systems that don’t make grind everything to a halt and then disappear completely if I choose not to address them immediately. And, while you’re about it, can I see something a little more useful than a pretty picture with the time in my lockscreen? Jailbroken iPhones can do it, why can’t you?

Here’s an example of how defunct the notifications are. In Windows Mobile and Symbian S60, if I wanted to have email notifications automatically switched off at night, I just had to go into the available setting and set the hours when mail should not be fetched. On iOS, I have to download a separate app (Boxcar), set the inbuilt mail app to fetch only manually, go back to the app and set the notification hours there. It works as well, but it’s tedious to set up.

Not having universal access to the file system is also an irritant, but I’ll admit not everyone wants to use their device as a mini PC like I do, so this probably isn’t a common bugbear.

I do like the fact that stuff on the phone generally just works. I’ve always said that Apple took the iPhone and aimed to do what 90% of people wan to do 90% of the time, 100% well and they’ve lived up to this. Almost all the things I want to do with phone calls, emails, messages, photos and music is easy, effective and reliable and I appreciate not having to tinker with the device to get things right.

What has surprised me

The hardware. Really, Apple has done a good thing here, with the vaunted Retina Display being the centerpiece for me. I would really struggle to go back to a lower resolution. The look and feel of the device is great and the my shallow materialism is appeased every time I pick it up. Oh, and the much talked about “death grip”, causing the phone to drop signal when held in a certain way, has in practice been a complete and utter non-issue.

The apps. I knew these would be good, but the depth and the breadth of their increase over the last two years is really impressive. You can literally find one to do anything and many are really well thought out and easy to use. This is a real advantage for Apple at the moment and is going to be a mighty weapon in retaining customers as they become more and more invested in the ecosystem. And…

The power of the ecosystem itself. People are easily impressed by the phone and, as one person gets it, so their friends and family want one too. It’s easy to all be using one system that interacts so well with itself and already I’m seeing four or five of my family getting iPhones. What have I done? What have I done??

So using the iPhone has been something I’ve enjoyed more than I thought I would, which is great. Whether or not I’ll bored enough to change in 18 months’ time depends on where the competition is and what sort of OS upgrades Apple has implemented.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

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