Category Archives: Blogs

To Stream or not to Stream?

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I have always been a fan of quality.

Now, that’s something which is in the eye of the proverbial beholder – what’s perfectly fine to me might be intolerable to you and the reverse is true, too.   When it comes to things like entertainment, I have always been a fan of the best reproduction that I can get my hands on, even if that means inconveniencing myself slightly – carrying a CD Walkman when many of my peers had moved on to smaller, lighter MP3 players, hankering after a Laserdisc player when everyone I knew was more than happy with VHS.  You get the picture, I suspect.

In recent years, I’ve begun to see the advantage of relaxing my self-imposed high standards just a tad.  I now carry a Sansa Clip Zip Mp3 player armed with a capricious flash card filled with songs and podcasts and I get on fine with it (albeit with my music ripped in Flac format and a funky little FiiO headphone amp to boost the output a little) and I’ve begun to play about with the streaming services available via my Xbox 360, thanks to a slight contretemps with my local branch of Blockbuster Video (I don’t want to verify personal data in a queue every time that I rent films, their bizarre corporate policy apparently insists on it.  Enjoy your soon-come obsolescence, boys).

My findings were mixed.  LoveFilm, arguably the market leader in the UK thanks to the muscle offered by corporate parent Amazon, had a limited selection not assisted by smudgy video quality and frequent buffering issues which rendered films unwatchable (this is on a 60 mb connection, mind you).  Netflix UK was similarly hit-and-miss with video quality and I really can’t get on with the recommendation engine, which works about as well (i.e., not at all) as most recommendation engines seem to do for me.  They’re fine if you’ve somehow only just found out about the existence of films and the cinema, but not really a serious consideration for anybody else.

Microsoft’s own films on demand service is apparently aimed at Russian oligarchs, so is really not for me as I don’t want to pay the cost of a new DVD movie to rent a streamed version.  So, it was to evil corporate overlords Sky that I went for a free trial of their ‘Sky Now’ service – an offer boosted somewhat in my estimation by a tagged-on 800 Microsoft Space Bucks if you watch at least 90 mins of the service in a month.

Do not spill this lady's Chablis.  Seriously.

Do not spill this lady’s Chablis. Seriously.

Having viewed the 2012 McG spy-fi action comedy, “This Means War“, and Steven Soderbergh‘s “Haywire” on the service, I’m now able to suggest that it’s actually…okay?   Not a match for a decent sd DVD transfer, as the sound is resolutely stereo-based, but perfectly watchable quality which should allow you to check out a movie and then double-down on the Blu-Ray, say, if you really like a film.  No buffering whatsover to report, either, which is a nice change – many of the streaming services that I’ve tried have offered image and playback quality so prone to glitches, drop-outs and other annoyances that they become less the experience of watching a film and more akin to glancing at still photographs and listening to a CD skipping in the background.

I don’t know that I would continue to subscribe to the service – the selection is pretty limited, which seems to be true of every such offering available to UK consumers – but it’s certainly worth looking at if you can take up this current Xbox offer in the UK.

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Season’s Greetings

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I hope that you’re enjoying your holiday season – whichever form it may take.

Our own not-Christmas celebration has been slightly postponed to the happy arrival of a new niece (it’s a long story which I won’t bother you with), so the traditional December 25th meal is probably going to happen for us nearer to the New Year than normal.

Enjoy your holiday – and the company of those you love. Even if they are grumpy cats.

 

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Hypocrisy? What hypocrisy?

We’ve barely had time to try and process Friday’s tragic events in Newtown, Connecticut and UK tabloids are up to their usual tricks.

Oh look - one of those hyper-detailed murder simulators that the kids all love...

Oh look – one of those hyper-detailed murder simulators that the kids all love…

Rupert Murdoch’s wholly above reproach UK tabloid newspaper The Sun today has a headline story skirting around the idea that Adam Lanza’s rampage is somehow connected to his ‘obsession’ with Activision’sCall of DutyFPS franchise.

You know the kind of thing before you read it – no real evidence to speak of, a few splashy pull-quotes and amateur psychology aplenty conspire to deliver the kind of schlock, predictable, cynically hand-wringing story we usually see after a tragedy like Newtown, all the while trying to inspire an emotional, “Won’t Somebody Think About The Children?” type reaction in the kinds of parents who are (whisper it quietly) probably buying “Black Ops 2” as  a Christmas present for their kids (if they’re not already playing it themselves).

Did Lanza play “Call of Duty”?  Who knows – who cares?  He was a young American adult.  The bigger story would be that he didn’t play “CoD“, “Battlefield” or “Medal of Honor”.

If he did play video games, why does it automatically follow that he was being somehow desensitized or made more susceptible to violent power fantasies?  I’ve played “Call of Duty” instalments in the past and all that I can point to is an increasing lack of desire to engage with that franchise.  Am I somehow miraculously unaffected by the otherwise corrupting, pernicious influence of these games?  Is it down to my living in a different country without easy access to guns?  Am I too old and set in my ways to buy into such shock and awe pyrotechnics?

Just as a matter of curiosity – is the “Call of Duty” game series being raked over the coals by The Sun today any relation to the “Call of Duty” game lauded in breathless prose in a story tied to the launch of “Black Ops 2”?  Or in this feature about how ‘SAS hero (TM)’ Andy McNab believes that the game teaches morality to kids?  Or is that a different series of blockbuster action FPS titles from Activision, Infinity Ward and Treyarch?

When it’s going to sell copies or connect The Sun in a positive way with a blockbuster, generation-defining pop culture entertainment brand loved by their demographic, the paper will happily get into bed with Activision in a mutually beneficial relationship.  When there’s a sliver-thin line of particularly smelly, easy answer bullshit to peddle, that partnership gets swiftly forgotten about in the rush to sell papers or get page impressions.

Hypocrisy?  Surely not.  Not on Rupert’s watch.

No violence here, eh, Rupes?

No violence here, eh, Rupes?

It’s a good job that Twentieth Century Fox doesn’t make violent, gun-heavy entertainment isn’t it?

 

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Metallic Faith Malarkey

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When I’m not learning how to write my name in Elvish, I’m being utterly perplexed by my fellow citizens.

In data extrapolated from the 2011 UK census results, it would appear that 6,242 of Britons declared  Heavy Metal as their religion (for the record, that’s more respondents than self-identified as a Scientologist, Druid or Shaman).

To which one can only remark “Huh?”

I love a bit of Maiden as much as the next middle-aged, dog-walking vegetarian but can’t quite get behind the notion of aligning my musical genre of choice with organised faith – the goals of one seem quite at odds with the professed beliefs of the other, surely?

Obviously this result should probably be taken in the spirit of the kind of lightly subversive, nose-thumbing surrealism that I suspect it to be (note the high ranking of ‘Jedi Knight‘ as a faith of choice in the UK census, even after the quality of the “Star Wars” prequels should have killed aligning oneself to Uncle George’s franchise outright).

So, if I’m reading all of this correctly, the proper conclusion to draw from this census is that agencies of social control (which we normally oppose with all-consuming fervour) are a very bad idea until they provide you with the opportunity to make a snarky response to a survey.

Swell.

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An Unexpected Journey through “Hobbit” art

I’m a big fan of Tor Books‘ blog – there’s always something interesting to read there, be it from their own publishing list or from the wider world of speculative fiction and nerd culture.  Their annual “Steampunk Week” being a particular favourite, which will come as no surprise to anybody who knows me.

As we count down to our eagerly awaited return to Middle Earth, Tor Books’ Irene Gallo examines the work of various artists inspired by Tolkien‘s work over the years…

 

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The Mysterious Case of the Sickly Laptop

Well, sort of.

Posts have been slow (well, non-existent) on this blog since Thursday because our lovely laptop was not happy.  A rather unpleasant, grinding sound had begun to emit from my dependable internet conduit on Wednesday of this week, rendering extended usage an unpleasant prospect.

Starting up the machine was a trial, downloading my regular tranche of podcasts was an exercise in ignoring constant background noise and on top of that, my wife now works from home, so a dead or dying laptop was a total non-starter.  Action had to be taken, dag-blast-it!

Dusty, dying computer fan - Flickr image via user R. Berteig.

Dusty, dying computer fan – Flickr image via user R. Berteig.

My first fear was, perhaps naturally, that the hard drive was on the way out and that I was due for a serious wallet-depleting repair session with the attendant data recovery costs which that would imply.  Duly prepared for bad news, we packed up our laptop and took it with us to our nearest PC repair joint and steeled ourselves for bad news.

Bad news, believe it or not, which didn’t actually come.

Our problem was connected to the picture above – the laptop’s fan had died on us.  And why had it died?

You adorable, kooky, computer-killing goof, you!

You adorable, kooky, computer-killing goof, you!

Yep, the computer’s best friend, animal fur.  Our tame computer repair chap rang us before proceeding with the fixes to show us the state of our laptop and it was like a scene from grooming day at a dog styling salon – it really doesn’t help our favourite digital devices to live around two very furry dogs and to have to cope with the shedding and general doggy detritus which accompanies life with a fluffy pal.

Thank the Happy Computer Sentinels for their overwatch duties on our laptop, who’ll soon be back home with us.  This post, in fact, is being written on an old XP based desktop machine which has more than proved its mettle during this weekend and been a real help in a jam – a machine that, ironically, I cracked open to look at in the last year and did some remedial work on.  #

Including cleaning and sorting out its dusty old fan…

 

 

 

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New “Hobbit” video blog online – post-production…and beyond!

The world premiere of Peter Jackson‘s “The Hobbit” is in New Zealand on Wednesday and you’ll be delighted to know that the film is almost finished.

“Trust me – I know what I’m doing.”

Which is…nice?

Judging by the latest (#9) production blog uploaded by His Awesomeness, it’s a relief that the movie is this far along – these are phenomenally complex enterprises, undertaken by a brilliant collective of artisans, technicians and inspiringly creative individuals all united by delivering Jackson’s singular vision.  Just from watching the production blog, the thought is impossible to escape that just one person has to ultimately bring together multiple departments, disciplines and skill sets in a cohesive whole to  deliver three films.  I just don’t know if I could keep on top of that level of mind-smushing difficulty for as long as Jackson will have to.

There’s the usual jocular, collegiate, ‘man, this stuff is fun!’ tone running throughout the blog, but I’d hate to have to be the guy steering the ship.  But, at the same time, I love that he’s devoted himself to taking regular movie goers, genre nerds and devoted Tolkien fans alike back to Middle Earth for another couple of slices of prime fantasy fun.

Glowing blue swords? Nerdery? Does want!

There’s another blog due after the premiere this week – and those all-important first reviews to boot…

 

 

 

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