Christmas Letter 2008

Oh, I guess it’s that time of year again.

You probably think I mean Christmas, but in fact you are but half-correct, half I say! I am referring to the (As of this year) annual custom where I waste the time of my friends and family with a pointlessly and arguably too-long letter reflecting on the past year, which this year means we have a lot to cover, and with any luck we’ll get some hilarious snarky comments in along the way.

Huzzah!

Ah, but what is it about this year that is most memorable? After all, so much has hap…Yeah, alright, the economy went down the proverbial crapper, nay the literary crapper. And that’s kind of a bummer. Money’s, like, useful. It can be exchanged for goods and services. And I don’t know about you, but I for one like goods and services. They’re great! But you know…Whatever. There’s more than one way to have a party!

Ignoring the fact that I had no idea where I was going with that metaphor when I wrote it, I shall move onto some good news. Bush is gone in a month. Obama is in in a month. For us Brits, that means we can finally stop hating the country which gives us such wonderful gifts as The Simpsons, Heroes, The Killers and Katy Perry.

Oh hey, speaking of music, Axl Rose (We get it Axl, it’s an anagram of an impure act. It’s not funny any more dude, get a real name) finally got around to releasing his album “Chinese Democracy”, the most expensive and also inappropriately attributed album ever recorded. I mean, honestly, “Guns ‘n’ Roses”? There’s more members of Guns ‘n’ Roses in Velvet Revolver! Perhaps Mr. Rose has difficulty moving on. So while your enjoying your wonderful Christmas, shed a tear for a washed-up old rock star whose latest record is rubbish and who can’t seem to move on I mean seriously what the hell get over it.

Ahem. Got a bit carried away there. Anywho, in other entertainment news, The Dark Knight came out, meaning we have been given something unheard of since before Tim Burton got kicked off the project: A good Batman sequel. If you don’t know what I’m getting at, go watch Batman & Robin, a movie so bad its star will personally reimburse you the cost of admission on request.

So I guess, actually, don’t watch it.

Now then, let us not forget that we almost did not get to see this Christmas. It seems a group of friendly nutcases near Geneva decided to build and activate the first Halo ri…I mean, the Large Hadron Collider. A device with potentially catastrophic consequences. Yes, our friends in Switzerland chose to risk sucking us all into a Black Hole. But the risk of being condensed to a singularity isn’t even the worst bit. We’d have had to die in Switzerland…That’s so boring! They’re neutrals! It’s neither a hateable place or one you’d love! Never mind though, because we seem to have escaped the worst of it.

Huzzah!

In fact, some people are trying to save the world to make up for it! That and, you know, white liberal guilt. Yes, Bill Gates has decided to dedicate himself to philanthropy. Damn does that man want a Nobel or what? Well whatever, good luck to him. Lot these days makes you think the world’s headed downhill, good work should be applauded. So, uh, yeah. Woo for the world’s charity even in what’s tastefully not being called a Depression.

But it is.

But we don’t call it that.

Cos it seems less dramatic if we call it a “Crunch”.

Or a “downturn”.

It’s like how we don’t call it Global Warming or the Melting of the Polar Ice Caps, we call it “Climate Change”.

But I digress. Man has it been a fast year or what? I swear it was only a matter of weeks ago I was gearing up for GCSE exams, and yet it was many months ago. I’ve long since passed and joined the madhouse that is Sixth Form and yet, it still seems like no time has passed at all. Nevertheless, so much has happened it’s hard to remember most of it.

Hmm…Oh, I got a Mac. Which is nice…Let’s see…Important things we haven’t covered yet…Um…I hear Canadia has had its government shut down by their Prime Minister. Something about protecting his job and right-wing policies from the left-wing will of the people. So, uh, sucks to be them I s’pose…Oh, speaking of Governance, Mr. Brown saw fit to drop our VAT! Yes, I know it’s only till the end of 2009, still nice though. Bloody Tories inflated it so much. Honestly. Anywho, props to Mr. Brown for that. He is good godammit. Stop reading the Red Tops! These are the same journalists who tell you which public figure is involved in which sex scandal!

I mean, what the heck kind of political knowledge can they have if that is what became of their lives.

Oh, hang on though, speaking of sex scandals, Screws of the World totally got Max Mosley. Couldn’t have happened to a nicer bloke.

Hmm, I was just looking over the list of Christmas Number One contenders…I mean…Wow. It’s like actual musicians don’t even I want to beat X Factor phonies any more. Where are the proper Christmas-themed songs? I mean, there’s a few there, but they’re mostly covers and/or likely to be the same dreary pseudo-joyous “Christmas” junk we’ve had to make do with for nearly two decades now!

Someone release a new Merry Xmas Everybody, please! A proper, 21st Century Christmas rocker.

And while we’re at it, let’s get rid of the X Factor. The era of manufactured music must end! Open your ey…EARS people!

Erm, excuse me. Got a bit carried away there. So, what will the new year bring us? Well, if I knew that, I would be aiming to make a killing at the Bookies and on the Stock Market (They’re having their 35 Years-ly Blowout Sale by the way!). So since I have no idea, I can but guess…Let’s see…Predictions and aims for the new year…2009…Two Thousand and Nine…Hmmm…

Sky will stay blue; music will continue to dominate culture; the economy will finally begin to rebound; summer will be hot; spring will suck just as much as ever and someone, somewhere, will be inappropriately offended by something they know was not meant in that way – they will proceed to destroy someone’s career over it despite being aware they meant and caused no actual harm.

Yeah, I guess most of those are cop outs, the summer one’s just wishful thinking. Yes, you read that right. So then, aims…

Hmm…Seems like I should be more decisive and also stop, you know, thinking in text…I mean, it’s text. If I need to think of something why don’t I just stop writing until I have? I mean, the way I’m doing it’s just weird, right? Well, anyway, those and probably something about expressing love. That sort of thing always goes down well. So, yeah. Hmm, actually that reminds me of something…

Yes, I’ve checked. Mistletoe’s white things are, indeed, berries. Also it’s a poisonous parasite.

We humans chose some odd symbols for love.

Anyway, I’ve kept you long enough. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year everyone!

Yours,
Paul “Jensonb” Douglas

PS: I just noticed this letter’s almost twice as long as the first one.

PPS: I want to make it clear, that I think that is all the way awesome.

PPPS: So there.

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The Wheels Are Off

So as you probably guessed from my internet pseudonym and the prevalence of Formula One merchandise in my room, I am a massive Formula One fan and a Jenson Button supporter. I’m also not one to take people screwing with things I like lying down.

And now, Formula One is headed in a dark direction and I’m not sure if I can follow it. North America is out. France is out. United Kingdom is (All but) out – no way can they finish the new circuit in time, it’s a decoy. Bernie has lost it. Mad Max has gotten madder.

Bernie has decided that rather than a sensible solution to the devalued win (Such as replacing the 10,8,6,5,4,3,2,1 system with 12,8,6,5,4,3,2,1), he wants to replace the points system entirely. With medals. For the podium only. Whoever wins the most races is crowned campion. God help us.

Bernie has developed a “win is all” mentality. A lot of us in F1 like to see the lower down teams hitting the points once in a while. They have very little chance of earning a medal! It’s not all about who’s at the front, it’s about the whole field.

Mad Max, meanwhile, has decided A1GP is a better sport than F1 (In fact, it is a rubbish sport) and so is attempting to standardise engines, wings, anything he can think of. I think at some point he’ll try and standardise drivers. Standardised parts are not Formula One. They are the mark of a second-class Formula.

And yet, the sport marches on along this path. It’s not what the fans want. But the fans now seem irrelevant. I mean, look at the prices of tickets to see a race! They’re unbelievable, especially considering the terrible seats and poor views (Most seats can’t even see a screen to follow the races on).

And so as LG ink a global partner deal and BBC finally wrest the rights back from ITV, Formula One is on the precipice of doom. I don’t like where this is going. Not one bit. The manufacturers are already threatening to quit over the standard engines rule. Honda and Formula One’s bread and butter, Ferrari, are particularly opposed to the idea.

And who can blame them. The manufacturers are in it to show off their prowess as car makers. If they’re not making the cars, then what, exactly, is the point? Max and his lot have spent too long fretting about the fate of the independent teams. They are failing to see that their attempts to help those teams are hurting the majority of the teams, the manufacturers. And losing them wold be a far larger blow.

Independents can be bought by Multi-Nationals like Red Bull looking for an advertising vehicle (No pun intended) with global appeal. Manufacturers pulling out en-masse would leave far too many teams looking for buyers. Ferrari wouldn’t even sell their team, so even if all others found a buyer, the grid would be piddling.

And not all the teams would get bought. There aren’t 5 multinationals looking to do a Red Bull. 2, maybe. Honda and the Mercedes-owned part of McLaren would be the hardest to offload.

And it looks like Honda, mindful of this, might be getting out first, leaving the other 4 manufacturers to trip over each other in a desperate bid to find buyers. But there are no guarantees. The teams may simply fold, or else become tiny independents.

Formula One is being destroyed by out of touch old businessmen and lawyers with no interest in sport. They are making changes without giving even a thought to the consequences and the sport is only going to suffer for it.

Samsung NC10 Review

Well, I finally received my Samsung NC10 last Thursday. Unfortunately, I was also in the middle of being mad sick so it was hard to enjoy it to the full. But I got better and I’ve been playing around with it for over a week now, so it’s time to do the review.

First up, I’ll do this in-depth text review. Later, I’ll be doing a video review for your viewing pleasure. Possibly Sunday. I dunno, I might be busy. Whatever, it’s not important. Onto the review. The NC10 is a 10.2” Intel Atom-based Netbook. Specs-wise, it’s pretty typical of the class. 1.6GHz Atom, 1GB of RAM and all the usual ports.

Unusual is the hard drive. A spacious 160GB model gives me lots of room for games, a definite plus. The battery is a nice big 6-cell unit and either by witchcraft or fine engineering, it runs longer than other netbooks sporting same capacity batteries in my experience – such as the Eee PC 1000 (Which has flash storage incidentally).

The keyboard is the next standout feature. It’s been described as the best netbook keyboard ever and I’m inclined to agree. Typing on the Samsung is bliss, the keys are a nice size and the feel of them – both the texture and the action – is fantastic.

The touchpad is nothing to get excited about. It’s functional and it sports multi-touch gestures like pinch to zoom but I disabled the scroll regions – I just find it makes the touchpad too small, especially since I’m the kind of guy who likes to sue the whole are for my mousing around.

The boot time is perfectly adequate. I think it takes a little longer than my old Eee, but not long enough that it bothers me. It’s still a might fast boot, and that’s Windows XP we’re talking about! Fast booting XP used to be crazy talk!

Stylistically, the Samsung’s a clear winner. It just has an undeniable sleekness and the nifty glowing Power button on the side at the hinge is awesome. I also like the SD card slot’s blocker – a nice touch.

The system runs at a nice temperature, never too hot to sit on your lap comfortably. Air is blown out the left, but despite this and the presence of a hard drive, I’m pretty sure that the Samsung is never as loud as the Eee PC 701 was (When the latter had its fan running). That’s odd, but also awesome.

All in all, I love the new system. With it’s larger screen the internet now displays perfectly. The Windows operating system has allowed me to get back into (Admittedly) classic PC gaming and the weight remains sufficiently low that I can carry it in one hand by a corner.

The Samsung NC10 is the pinnacle of netbooks and, at £299.99 delivered, it’s value is incredible. I can honestly say I recommend this model to anyone considering a netbook purchase and it’s easily going to tide me over until I buy my MacBook Pro in late 2010.

Out Of Many, One

On November the 4th, the United States of America will be electing a new President. They will be deciding who controls the House of Representatives and who controls the Senate. All of these are important decisions, but the former is even more important as it is not just important for the American people, but for the world.

For 8 years, America has been ruled by George W. Bush. And for 8 years, the world has grown steadily more out of love with the USA. From the heady days of Clinton, still the most popular President amongst non-Americans, to the single least popular President (At home or abroad) in history, it’s quite a come down.

Non-Americans never liked Bush. Europeans dislike him because he’s too right wing for instance. The man didn’t even win the election fair and square, it’s very likely Al Gore (Who was certainly the more qualified candidate) had enough votes to win. But life’s not simple, so he went home a loser (Before bouncing back as an environmental icon unlike any other in history).

He swept through the 2004 election on a Magic Carpet of American prejudice (Colourfully called “values”) and War on Terror-themed propaganda, shamelessly attacking his (Admittedly) weak opponent John Kerry. Kerry may have been a weak Democrat, but he would have been twice the President Bush has been and the cheek a draft-dodger like Bush has questioning Mr. Kerry’s political record is simply indescribable.

2 years ago, the Democrats got back in the game. They swept to power in the House and the Senate on a tidal wave of anti-Bush backlash. And who can blame the Americans for regretting their choice of leader? Bush has spent 4 years killing the economy, eroding civil liberties and ignoring national crises. He’s embarrassed the entire country, reducing what should be the greatest democracy in the world to an international punch-line.

Well, on November 4th, the American people have a final decision to make. They have a choice between two things. One the one hand, they can finish what they started 2 years ago, fix their problems at home and restore their standing on the world stage. On the other hand, they can finish President Bush’s hack-job.

The first choice, the only choice, is Barack Obama. Mr. Obama represents all that America pertains to stand for. He is inclusionary, smart & likable, he lived the “American Dream”. His popularity on the world stage rivals Clinton, rivals Kennedy. He gets it. Mr. Obama has shown he knows what’s ailing the US at home, and he’s shown he knows what must be done to restore America’s popularity in the world.

The bottom of the Democratic ticket too is a strong, good choice. Joe Biden is truly in tune with the “working man” of America. He’s a nice guy and he knows his stuff. More importantly, he is fit to lead should the unthinkable happen. Joe Biden is one of the smartest VP picks in a long time.

The second choice? Not a choice at all. A dangerous and damaging option, is Republican ticket McCain/Palin. John McCain has betrayed everything he has ever stood for. He used to be a passably acceptable moderate Republican, but has sold his soul to become…Another Bush.

The Republican party may wish to continue on the dark path set up by Reagan all those years ago, but Reagan was of his time. Things have changed, and we do not need another Bush. McCain has demonstrated he will continue the failed social and economic policies of George Bush. he has demonstrated he will use the same foreign policy as George W. Bush. he has pent 2 years distancing himself from George W. Bush. But throughout that time, he has shown he is now a veritable Bush clone.

And the kicker? He agreed with Bush more than 90% of the time, including on all the issues that really matter.

Perhaps worse, is Sarah Palin. Palin is a fool. She is, in fact, worse than that. She has every capacity to be incredibly intelligent. She simply chooses not to be. She represents Bushism at its worst. She is a divisive, arrogant liar and unfit to lead a dance recital.

Why is a Governor of Alaska who has supported the treasonous secessionism rampant in that state being allowed to run for Vice President of the United States? The RNC has decided their slogans are “Country First” and “The Change you deserve”.

Palin is married to a former member of the Alaskan Secessionist Party. Palin warmly welcomed that party to their conference this year. Their slogan is “Alaska First, Alaska Always”. Which is it Sarah? America or Alaska? VP or Secessionist?

Palin and McCain are Bush and Cheney warmed over. Apparently the RNC thinks it’s funny. “The Change America Deserves” is, apparently, no change at all. Once again, the Republicans have anointed themselves America’s only valid opinion and decided to try and convince everyone else it’s their opinion too.

Well I sense the Change we Need. Hope.

Barack Obama represents and embodies the ideals and aspirations of so many people like nobody has in a long time.

E pluribus unum. Out of Many, One.

I love America. I love what it stands for and I love much of what it produces. I love the way its government is structured, even the way its road signs look. It’s not that I dislike the UK, and more that the US represents so many of my beliefs. Like in true freedom. The American Dream. And so much more.

It’s been painful to watch what became of the country under Bush. And I confess, he had me fooled too. At first. But as I watched, the more I realised he was wrong. His is not an America I can get behind.

And then, from nowhere, Blessing. Barack. Obama represents the kind of aspirational leader I feared I would never live to see. He appeals to me in the same way Kennedy does. And his policies, his attitude, his ideals…He represents all that I love about America.

And so whilst it may seem to you like I have no stake in this election, you’re wrong. And in case you hadn’t guessed…

No way. No how. No McCain.
I support Barack Obama for President.

Son of Rambugh

So we went to the cinema earlier on a Media Studies Trip. British Cinema was the name of the day (Indeed, that was the theme of the festival they were running…I think anyway, it wasn’t exactly heavily publicised).

The movie? Son of Rambow. Wow. I would never have imagined a film with such an off the wall, bonkers plot could be so hopelessly formulaic. Writer-Director Garth Jennings seemed to have a passable idea, but he singularly failed to deliver on it, never mind turn it into something worthwhile.

Great directors can take a serviceable plot and make a classic (Examples might include Jaws for Spielberg, Star Wars for Lucas and Sleepy Hollow for Burton). Okay directors can take serviceable ideas and make acceptable movies (The Superman Series springs to mind). Awful directors do this.

So apart from being formulaic what’s wrong with Rambow? Well, the whole exercise is simplistic. Jennings seems content to point his camera with all the eye for framing and excitement of his characters – in whose defense, are children. Jennings takes no risks and makes liberal use of filming cliches. It’s pretty bleak.

It doesn’t help that the whole thing seems kind of pointless. It feels like Mr. Jennings is trying to make a touchy-feely piece. But when almost all his characters are male and most of the few whoa re not are either contemptible or asexual, the whole thing comes across as rather odd. Not even gay, which would be somewhat interesting. It’s a movie about friendship…But none of the friendships make much sense.

Why’s that? Leaps of logic. Alfonso Cuaron’s Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban suffered similar problems, but was at least well made to make up for it. Here, the way the lead is rather blindly lead by his eventual friend makes little sense.

Less sensical is the fact that he befriends the guy in the first place. The two are utterly incompatible. Well, actually, they only start that way. Lee, who starts out as a jerk and a bully, suddenly becomes a victim and a sympathetic figure.

It’s a device used throughout the film – even paradoxically. For example we learn that Lee’s brother is nasty to him. But then we learn that Lee’s mother causes him no end of problems. So that’s two instances of passing the blame.

Jennings manages to paint about 7 characters as villains. Of them, 3 are redeemed with deus ex machina (This is particularly true of the out-of-place French boy Didier – and if you want to know why he’s out of place, it’s not cos he’s French, it’s because he’s a product of the modern era, not the film’s setting). Another 2 villains are minor characters with maybe 4 speaking parts between them.

Ultimately, by the end of the movie, you’ve seen everything coming from the first few moments of exposure to the various characters. It’s a snooze-fest and it doesn’t help that few of the characters are endearing. You like them well enough in some ways, but you won’t come out caring what happens to them after the film.

Nor will you care much about anything the film says or does. Notably, some of the messages the film tries to send are debunkings of old-fashioned ideals which seem ridiculous even by being mentioned, which makes the whole movie seem a trifle pointless.

Son of Rambow has some pretty good jokes in it, but ultimately it falls flat.

Anthem To My Era

So, normally, I don’t pre-order things that much. I usually just pre-order the things I want the most. Well there’s a lot of stuff I’m wanting a lot lately cos I have 3 pending pre-orders and I suspect I might have to make another one soon.

You probably guessed from that image (And know if you follow me on Twitter) that one of those things is a White DSi. I went for a GAME bundle with a 1GB SD Card for £159.99 – one of the reasons I want it is DSiWare, so I might as well make sure I have some storage for it from the word go, right?

Some people have been asking why I want one so much, so to answer I point out I have a DS Phat. Plus, I’m a sucker for swiss army knives. I also happen to think it’s hot, but that’s neither here nor there.

The other big recent pre-order? 21st Century Breakdown. The new Green Day album is coming at last! I’ve been waiting for years, but finally my favourite band is following up the epic American Idiot. From what I’ve heard, it’s worth the wait – 21st Century Breakdown sounds like it’s about all the same things playing on my mind lately.

And the title track is an anthem to our era – something I didn’t realise I was looking for until I found out there was one. It’s gonna be awesome!

Green Day also announced a World Tour to go along with the album. Having narrowly missed out on the last one by virtue of becoming a fan about a month too late for tickets (Irony) I’m hoping to head to a gig in this one.

As for the third pre-order? That’s Killzone 2. I’ve said enough on that to fill a book (Well, not, you know, really). Looks awesome, I’ll leave it at that.

Anyway, this is shaping up to be a better year than I thought!

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