Saturday, 27 December 2008

Christmas Update

Family Guy - Santa I’ve been at the ‘in-laws’ for Christmas, so-called despite the fact I’m not married. On the whole, Christmas was fine with my girlfriend and I receiving many useful ‘household’ gifts, including a new TV with built-in Freeview. At the opposite end of the spectrum, though, and much to our chagrin, we were given a rather creepy pair of 80’s-style figure ornaments which seem to have been on display in the giftor’s house for a couple of decades. Suffice it to say, we didn’t bring the said ornaments back with us. Although we might seem very ungrateful, don’t judge us too harshly; the giftor is renowned for offloading a good number of her own ornaments onto others in preparation for her emigration. Call me a sceptic, but I think this gift was largely self-serving to that end.

Sadly, though, there seems to be a lot of illness going about at the moment and I awoke on Boxing Day feeling none too good. While I don’t seem to have contracted a full-on cold/flu/virus whatever the hell it is, I’m still far from being on top form. Still, my damn IT law paper won’t write itself so have set myself the rather vague target of making as much progress as possible with it in the next few days.

I realise the frequency of my posts have dropped off a little of late but I trust the blawgosphere had a tolerable-to-good Christmas and that none were rudely interrupted by Santa’s often untimely entrance on Christmas Eve!

Monday, 22 December 2008

Flirtatious and Frivolous Festive Frolics – All Courtesy of Nigella

NigellaChristmasKitchen I’ve been working a great deal in the last week or so – much more so than I’d planned in fact. Sadly, this hasn’t been without compromise and my previous target of having my IT law paper written by Christmas now appears laughably over-optimistic. Still, I’m glad of the overtime and thought I’d better take advantage of the extra hours while they’re available.

Rather guiltily, I’ve not felt like settling down to my paper on returning from work of an evening and with my girlfriend also making the most of overtime, I’ve been amusing myself with some light entertainment on iPlayer. As well as catching up with the excellent Oceans series – which quite possibly stands as the most-watchable oceanic documentary ever screened – I’ve found myself tuning into the undisputed Domestic Godess - Nigella Lawson.

While I’ve been known to turn my hand to a few off-piste adventures in the kitchen – all culinary I might add - I wouldn’t describe myself as a gourmet. Equally, I initially found Nigella’s almost absurdly over-indulgent ‘wallowing’, to use one of her own words, in Christmas and all associated traditions, food and paraphernalia somewhat grating at times. But that hasn’t stopped me from continuing to tune in.

Perhaps it’s her brazen embracing of the season or her informal, easy-going manner in the kitchen – I don’t know. Nevertheless, Nigella’s deliberate OTT-style just hits the (culinary) spot for me. While you might initially grimace at her unabashedly erotic sensualisation of anything and everything in her kitchen, this soon takes on an entertainment value of its own. Once the celebrated domestic goddess gets into her stride, there are enough laugh-out-loud moments for this to be viewed as a comedy as she methodically and shamelessly romanticises ingredients and actions in equal measure. Coupled with the show’s seductive close-up shots and her trademark flirtatious glances at camera, half an hour in Nigella’s kitchen is almost a helter-skelter trip into carefree fetishist fun.

If that were not entertainment enough, Nigella also stands as a credible candidate for the ‘Queen of Alliteration’ title and, unlike the another oft-mentioned candidate Arlene Philips from BBC 1’s Strictly Come Dancing, Nigella’s sentences actually make sense.

Some of my favourites:

“Nirvana for Noel’”

“Firm Freezer Favourites”.

“Seasonal spirit-lifting suppers”.

“Seasonal splurge”.

...”Gloopily and glossily”.

“Gluttonous gratifying glory.”

“Seasonal snipping with scissors”.

And some other corking phrases she’s come out with:

“This is no time for restraint”.

“It’s just sooooo gratifying and this gorgeous feeling is all too easy to achieve”.

“Super-juicy and gorgeously spiced”

And, perhaps most telling of all: “Viewers of a sensitive disposition”, she seductively giggled, “look away now”. The hussy.

After three episodes, I am left with a couple of questions though:

What was with Nigella’s leopard-skin marigolds which she used to manhandle the soaking turkey out of its tub?

And do any of the awkwardly staged ‘friends’ Nigella invites over to dinner, ever extend the courtesy and invite her back for dinner?

Friday, 12 December 2008

Blawging - The Burst Bubble?

I know that there are some ‘blawgers’ out there who object to the term ‘blawg’ for reasons which I still don’t fully understand. Never mind. If you are one of those people, particularly if you’re mentioned in this post, I apologise. I'll continue to use the term as it’s a useful and convenient means of distinguishing blogs per se on the one hand, and law-related blogs or general blogs written by someone with a connection – however tenuous – to the law, on the other.  Any blog I deem to fall into this latter category will hereafter be referred to as a ‘blawg’.

As I see it, there are 3 types of blawg and, though there are sub-categories within the big three, I’m not getting into that.

1. The blog per se. A blog which fails to transcend into the bona fide category of the blawg. It fails to be so classified despite being written by someone who has dabbled or is dabbling in the study or practice of law. Posts might touch upon legal topics, though not necessarily. These tend to fall by the wayside with the greatest frequency and have the shortest life-spans.
Example: Legal Seagull, Los Havros.

2. The typical blawg with a ‘small b’. This is the most common category and covers blawgs which deal with a plethora of topics. They don’t take themselves too seriously and are always worth visiting for interesting, insightful and sometimes unexpected content.

Examples: Android’s Reminiscences, Charon QC , Law Actually, Law Minx, Law Girl, Legal Lass, Lost London Law Student, ASP Bites, Ramblings of a Scottish Student, Bar Maid, A Girl Walks into a Bar and all the rest – I think you know who you are. Members are also known as the ‘UK’s inner sanctum of blawgers’. Just kidding.

3. The Blawg with a ‘big B’ – these handle hardcore legal issues exclusively and resist the temptation to wander between topics and veer off at tangents. They tend to have the longest life-span and are typically written by academics, legal publishers and even law firms. While useful and informative, you’ll rarely head on over to one of these for light-hearted entertaining reading during a spare 5 minutes.

Examples: Pangloss, Head of Legal, Binary Law.

Regardless of why and how it all started, why we all still respectively blawg, surveying the current blawging landscape in terms of this ‘blawg with a small b category’, it hardly fills the interested observer with a great deal of optimism. Could this species of blawg be on its way out, into eventual extinction?

No matter how you slice it, it seems the honeymoon period for blawging has long ended and the harsh realities have dawned, dark and brooding. Blogging of any description has become a bit ‘last year’ and some of us seem to have become a bit disillusioned with the concept of blawging. Others have become just plain bored. Some, even, have disappeared without trace and, apparently, without cause. What happened, for instance, to Accidental Law Student , Law Dent, and Diary of a Law Student? The on-again, off-again nature of Barrister2B remains an unfathomable mystery with his propensity for postings seemingly governed by a combination of personal circumstances and the phase of the moon. Some don’t even make it that far, though: the sadly abortive Legal Seagull and Wigging Out blawgs had a paltry 8 and 9 postings respectively before, inexplicably, a perpetual silence descended – a particular shame given the promise that those few posts showed. While Law Dent at least had the decency to officially wind-up his postings with a ‘This is the End’ entry, the others just seemed to disappear in mid-flow.

A Far Cry

During the latter part of 2007, it seemed as if a new blawg was springing up each day, each offering a unique take on the world and the topics it handled. What a difference a year makes.

Perhaps we’ve all gotten busier, more focussed or just more grown-up (just kidding). I don’t know. What I do know, however, is that there is a real dearth of new blawgs out there and some of the better established ones have withered and died.

One thing that’s long been apparent and was pointed out by the stalwart blawger Charon QC some time ago is that while many BVC student blawgs have sprung up, the same cannot be said for those students on the LPC.

For a while in the previous academic year there were 3 LPC student blogs in existence that were prolific in the UK sanctum of blawging: ASP Bites, Law Actually, Susie Law School (or is that Legally Blonde in London? – make your mind up, Susie....... oh forget it, you’ve disappeared anyway!) and..... well that’s about it. I mean, I suppose you could regard The Diaries of UK Law Students as one but no one counts that for anything, do they?

And of the 3 who were LPC-ers and were actively blawging... well, we’ve all finished on that course and moved on to pastures new. While Susie has gone completely, and ASP and myself are carrying on blawging about our new adventures on a training contract and an LL.M respectively, there are no new blawgs out there which have stepped in to fill the void that we collectively left.

In the last year, that seems to have become a common theme: while many of the established blawgers out there still publish the odd post regardless of how pressing their schedules (tip of the hat to Law Girl et al), we aren’t really getting any fresh blood in the blawgosphere. Granted, there was a period early this year when we had an influx of new blawgs entering the fray such as Swiss Tony, A Girl Walks into a Bar, Bar Maid, and Bar Boy, but, that was about the extent of it. Sadly, I’m beginning to resign myself to the fact that this, perhaps, really is it. The hay-day of the blawg has been and gone. While we might always get the odd one pop up – Uni Looney being a case in point - I think that special era of blawging has ended. For a while it seems there was a little online fraternity of blawgers in existence and, while some might like to think it’s still in existence, I think the death knell will be imminently sounding, if only by virtue of the undeniable lack of postings on those constituent blawgs. Plus, as I mentioned before, even well established blawgs have either started disappearing, have disappeared, or have at least had a sizeable wobble; I know the blawgosphere is still reeling from the shock of Minxy’s thankfully short-lived hiatus from blawging, for instance. Sadly, her return ‘to the ether’ as she would no doubt dub it, has not been entirely convincing either. Inescapably, then, the fact remains: if Minxy could disappear from the blawgosphere, so could any of us!

Why?

I’m not even sure it’s because another technology has superseded blogging. I don’t think micro-blogging, for example, has taken away much if any of the incentive to blog in the conventional sense; if anything, you could argue, it merely incentivised posting. As Facebook and other social networking sites make up a quite distinct part of the web 2.0 paradigm so as to allow blawging to quite happily co-exist, I don’t think it’s that either. Maybe, though, I’m looking in the wrong place for an explanation; what if blogging is just seen as passé now?

Perhaps the true explanation, then, is that blawging, as a niche of the wider concept of blogging, was just ‘of its time’. Plus, now it’s no longer novel, there’s no incentive to start. I’ve also heard it said that blogging is frowned upon and a person can unleash no end of trouble on themselves - and particularly their reputation – by starting. Given the seriousness with which potential and existing lawyers (and others just working or looking to work in the legal sector for that matter) regard their professional reputations, maybe they’re discouraged from running the risk of being ‘found out’ and opt to concentrate their efforts on their studies or work. That makes sense, I suppose, in this age of an ever-increasing scarcity of training contracts, pupillages and well, just jobs generally to be honest.

Nevertheless, I don’t find that argument entirely convincing: virtually all of us keep our full names off of our blawgs and regard our anonymity as of prime importance. Equally, it does nothing to explain why the world seems happy to throw all kinds of embarrassing and compromising content on their social networking profiles with little regard for the consequences. That type of conduct is far more revealing, less anonymous and potentially more damaging than the content on a typical blawg.

The future?

I think the immediate future is fairly clear: the majority of the blawgs which have withstood the test of time (or at least a year or so) will remain active to their characteristically varying degrees. Inevitably, though, if the current dearth of new blawgs remains, this rich vein of ‘blawgs with a small b’ will begin to drop off the map as a change in circumstances forces a re-evaluation of the importance of blawging in the blawger’s life. Human nature being what it is, some of us might just get plain bored and give up, too.

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Facebook could scupper insurance claims

Facebook Insurance Fraud

Given that so much time passed from when I was at my Facebook-bashing best, I thought I might as well throw another Facebook related story up on Law Actually.  This time it's a snippet from Accidents Direct on 27.11.08:

[L]awyers have warned that insurers are now starting to monitor Facebook when investigating possible fraudulent claims. As before when many warned that potential employers will look at your Facebook page, insurance companies are now checking on what the claimants are up to, and if they judge from your pictures that you may be overstating your claim then it may be put in jeopardy.

It’s not only photos; it has also been warned that any light hearted comment written on your wall may be taken the wrong way by insurers and the courts. Not only is there the chance of your claim being thrown out of court, you can also leave yourself open to being prosecuted with making a fraudulent claim.

People throw all kinds of content up on their Facebook and other social networking pages with little or no regard to the real-world consequences that such action might have.  Some of the people who engage in this conduct are the type of people you would least expect it from.  The Facebook pages created by Metropolitan Police officers who had had so-called 'pol-colls' - collisions involving a police car they were driving - who used the social networking site as a means of boasting about and celebrating their carnage-causing antics are a case in point.  So too, is the situation in the U.S state of Georgia concerning a police officer who published content showing him 'playing' with a taser while off duty who actually 'tasered' his buddy at the latter's request. 

Given all this, it's hardly surprising, then, that people should contradict their insurance claims through content published online.  Illegalities aside, quite why you would even want to run the risk of being found out by putting something on your Facebook account showing your claim to be illegitimate is beyond me.  Perhaps Facebook speaks to a certain, deeply-rooted predilection for narcissism in some people and the opportunity to self-publicise your fraudulent antics is a opportunity too tantalising to pass up.  I don't know.

What I do believe, however, is that this is another case of the virtual veil in operation: the mysterious dichotomy that people make in their minds as to their online conduct and their offline, real-world behaviour.  By virtue of this fictitious veil, as I pointed out in a previous post, it is almost as though people view their ‘online persona’ as being so divorced from reality that any actions carried out online would not be attributed to their real ‘human’ person?  Slowly, over time, I think people will become increasingly aware of the fallacy that this concept represents and that, as far as the law is concerned, they are largely one and the same.  Perhaps that is happening already, though it does beg the question, why this 'virtual veil' arose in the first place?  While I leave you pondering over the answer to that, faithful reader, I promise to leave this 'virtual veil' stuff alone for a while.  Too much of a good thing, and all that!

Friday, 28 November 2008

A Second Virtual Veil

Virtual Love Affair In keeping with the concept of the ‘virtual veil’ which I propounded in my previous post, I thought this story was worthy of mentioning too, despite the fact it’s been doing the rounds for a while now and is probably best considered ‘old news’.

The virtual veil in question here is the one worn by a virtual bride who married the avatar of her newly married husband in a second wedding after their real-world one in St. Austell, Cornwall in 2005. Having first met in the online game Second Life, they eventually met up in person and subsequently married. However, the happy days weren’t to last:

Amy Pollard, 28, discovered her husband's character having sex with another female player online filed for divorce citing "unreasonable behaviour".

She claimed that David Pollard, 40, committed adultery with the animated woman and said that it is the second time she had caught his character cheating on her.

In February last year, she said that he was having sex with an online call girl character and she even hired an online private detective in the game to investigate his adultery.

Mrs Pollard said that she discovered her husband's most recent online infidelity in April after she had awoken from an afternoon nap and caught Mr Pollard in a compromising position on the game.

She said: "I caught him cuddling a woman on a sofa in the game. It looked really affectionate.

"I went mad - I was so hurt. I just couldn't believe what he'd done," she said. "I looked at the computer screen and could see his character having sex with a female character. It's cheating as far as I'm concerned.

When I first earmarked this story as ‘bloggable’ material over a week ago, I failed to notice that the couple had in fact met and married in St. Austell, an area of Cornwall not a million miles away from where I grew up. For what it’s worth, it’s also an area of Cornwall best avoided if your impression of the county is one of unspoilt scenic bliss. I consider myself lucky to have lived just sufficiently far away from the town so as not to be stifled by its oppressively depressing and ungainly nature. Seriously, it’s a dump.

My second reason for finding this story interesting is the fact that the regulation of virtual worlds is an area of law which I find fascinating and, I hope, remains a potential topic for my dissertation. It’s certainly an area which is wide open as to quite how the law should handle the regulation of virtual events and the inter-relationship between the actions of real-life humans and their online personas. Effectively being a parallel virtual-universe, virtual worlds are potentially plagued from nearly as many issues as are encountered in the real world, ranging from intellectual property infringement to crime.

The virtual veil concept I spoke of in my previous post is applicable here too. Some people, including Mr Pollard (given that he was caught with his virtual trousers down) would (probably subconsciously) argue that there IS a virtual veil in operation which clearly segregates his online persona from that of his real-world one. His wife, no doubt, takes the converse view: for these purposes, the personas are one and the same. By cheating online via his avatar, the husband is just as unfaithful and culpable as if he cheated in real life.

It would be interesting to know whether Mr Pollard thought through the gravity of his actions and the potential consequences that might flow from them as seriously and thoroughly as if he went and embarked on an affair or paid a prostitute for sex, say.

The article points out both Mr and Mrs Pollard’s differing views:

"But he didn't see it [the online sex] as a problem, and couldn't see why I was so upset.

"He said I was just making a big fuss, and tried to make out it was my fault for not giving him enough attention.

Is it right to regard Mr Pollard morally culpable for his avatar’s antics when he, Pollard, didn’t physically do anything to constitute an act of infidelity? Is there any difference between conducting a virtual affair and simply having real-world thoughts of infidelity which are not acted upon? Was he not just victim to the virtual veil which clouded his judgement and left him blind as to the dividing line between reality and the virtual world? Did he not just naively mislead himself into believing, because of this mysterious virtual veil, that his online acts would have no real-world consequences? While I think I know where the consensus of opinion lies in response to these questions, it remains a contentious talking-point.

Sympathisers might, at a push, try and argue that Pollard merely became inescapably immersed in the virtual world and got ‘carried away’ in the (online) atmosphere of it all and he’ll wake up some day soon, suddenly realising it was all just a huge error of judgement on his part? Well, it seems there’s little chance of that:

"[L]ater [Mr Pollard] confessed he'd been talking to this woman player in America for one or two weeks, and said our marriage was over and he didn't love me any more, and we should never have got married." Amy [Pollard] said her estranged husband is now even engaged to the woman he had an 'affair' with on Second Life – even though they have never actually met in real life.

But it gets worse. While Mrs Pollard might have been successful in getting her divorce, it seems as though she hasn’t learnt all of the lessons from this experience that one might have hoped.

[Mrs Pollard has] also found a new partner, who she also met online, while playing the fantasy role-playing game World Of Warcraft.

Oh I give up.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Facebook, Jurors and the 'Virtual Veil'

Royalty-Free Stock Imagery by Rubberball From Guardian.co.uk: 18.11.08:

A female juror was dismissed from a trial after posting details of the case on Facebook and asking friends whether they thought the defendants were guilty.

The woman went against strict rules forbidding jurors from discussing cases with family and friends by posting details of the sexual assault and child abduction trial on the social networking site.

After her actions were discovered, she was removed from the case at Burnley crown court, in Lancashire, and the trial continued with a jury of 11 people.

A Courts Service spokesman said today: "A juror was dismissed from a case on November 18 for discussing a case outside the court."

It’s been quite a while since I’ve posted a Facebook related entry so this one seemed an obvious choice. For what it’s worth, I’ve largely given up with my Facebook-bashing, as I got sick with it falling so invariably on ‘deaf ears’. I get it: the world loves Facebook and only I don’t. Oh well.

The story does, though, highlight interesting behavioural patterns when people are online, particularly when engaged in social networking activities. I think it shows up a serious divide in many people’s brains over regulating their actions in the real world and the online one. Did the juror really think she’d get away with it? Did she think that her ‘online persona’ is so divorced from reality that any actions carried out online would not be attributed to her real ‘human’ person? It’s almost as though some people view their online conduct as being separated from reality by a ‘virtual veil’, which their real, human person can hide behind without fear of being troubled by disagreeable repercussions that flow from the actions of their ‘online person’. You know, something analogous to the 'corporate veil' which derives from the twin pillar characteristics that a company is blessed with: separate legal personality and limited liability. No?! Anyone?! No, my girlfriend wasn’t interested either.

Sidenote: I’ve become more than a little bored with studying the majestic intricacies surrounding the corporate veil and its lifting, piercing or otherwise penetrating for what seems like an eternity in my Company law module. It still amuses me that on the LPC in Business Law and Practice it was merely mentioned in passing with perhaps two sentences dedicated to the topic. On the LL.M, though, we’ve dissected it to absolute death and then some, more or less from the start of term. God, I love academia.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Carbolic Smoke Ball

date created: 2007:08:30 | date created: 2008:03:14 My girlfriend, being the organised and meticulous person that she is, broached the subject of Christmas cards with me this morning during a few hours that we actually managed to spend in each other's company.  With her working full time and yours truly trying to juggle an LL.M and a part time job, time spent together has become an ever-increasing rarity to us now.  In addition to her organised and meticulous nature, she's also somewhat on the thrifty side, and was really investigating whether we had enough left-over general cards from last year to send out or whether we needed to purchase more; that girl hates spending money, bless her!

But I digress.  I assume that many blawgers out there have stumbled across or are otherwise aware of the Carbolic Smoke Ball Company, a company which takes its name from that famous contract case we all hark back to so fondly.  Oh the joys of studying contract law as an undergrad, eh?!?  If you aren't aware of them - and really, shame on you if that's the case - CSB specialise in gifts and novelty items for lawyers (and now other professionals) with a selection ranging from Christmas cards to bookends and most things in between.  I first discovered CSB back in 2004 and have bought inter alia a couple of different sets of their Christmas cards since.  While they aren't exactly the cheapest cards you will ever send, there's no doubt they do stand out from the crowd and on the couple of occasions that I've used them at Christmas, they've always gone down a storm.  So as much as it pains my girlfriend that I'll probably be buying another bunch of the said cards this year - I'm thinking of the 'Mr Claus, Mrs Claus and all the little sub-Clauses' this time around - I think they're well worth the money.  For the record, I don't send them out to just anyone, instead choosing to reserve them for people that I deem a) worth it, and b) capable of appreciating them - heartless, I know. But seriously, if you haven't visited the site before, and are a budding, seasoned or aspiring lawyer - or know someone that is - I think you'll be pleasantly surprised by their selection.  Well worth a look.

For other great gift ideas visit Getagift.co.uk today.

Monday, 10 November 2008

Still About....Just

Man working in a very small office. Yes, despite the dearth of posts that this poor blog has seen in the last week or so, I am still about.  I have to admit, though, the workload for my LL.M and working part time to help stay afloat is taking its toll.  Last week was particularly bad as I had to attend the 3rd day of training on the Thursday which is usually my 'free' day and something I desperately needed to keep free to prepare for the 3 seminars I have every other Tuesday.  Yes, that's tomorrow.  Let's just say that my preparation for Corporate Governance has received rather scant attention so far and I'm not hopeful that that's going to change in time for tomorrow.

Anyway, despite this hectic schedule, I've found the time to go and see Quantum of Solace, a film which pretty much met most of my expectations.  Obviously, I'll be writing up my 'Quantum of Solace Review' at some point (at this rate it'll hopefully be before the end of 2009 ) so I'll save all comments in respect of the film until then.  What I will say, though, is that in one 'screen' in a certain branch of Vue, they've insisted on placing the front bank of seats ridiculously, bizarrely and migraine-inducingly close to the screen itself.  Seriously, I had never seen anything quite like this.  Granted, we were cutting it a bit fine for the viewing we'd planned for so only had ourselves to blame that we had to plumb for the said seats, but nobody seriously could have enjoyably watched a film from them.  So, our tenure in those seats was short-lived: we walked out 30 seconds later to request a re-scheduling.  As my girlfriend and I observed at the time: it was like watching a movie on a widescreen TV with your nose pressed against the glass.  Shame on you Vue.  Shame on you. As if selling crazily priced refreshments wasn't bad enough!!

Alas, all was well and having queued up a good 45 minutes before the next viewing was due to start, we were more or less on pole position for our choice of seats. 

Oh boy: what's that I hear, calling quietly in the background?  Of course, it's my competition law work reminding me that it won't do itself and that seminar (along with the others) is TOMORROW!

Friday, 31 October 2008

Trick or Treat, Smell My Feet

Halloween Goodies Safe Halloween

I overheard an undergrad talking earlier about what antics he intended getting up to tonight.  Eggs, flour and alcohol coupled with a vampire fancy dress outfit seemed to be the key ingredients he thought necessary for a good Halloween party.  I think him being scraped up off the pavement at some point by his buddies or the local constabulary was also very much on the cards.  Oh to be an undergrad again!  :-\

Following on from yesterday, I couldn't resist seeing what other goodies Devon and Cornwall police had made available for householders to download this Halloween.  I was particularly interested to read some of the tips they recommended to trick-or-treaters for a 'fun and safe' Halloween:

If you are wearing a mask, make sure that you can see where you are going and are aware of your surroundings.

Carry a torch and a fully charged mobile phone (if you have one). 

Oh the joys of being a modern trick-or-treater, eh?

Thursday, 30 October 2008

Halloween Time

iStock_000007390231Medium As we approach 31st October it seems that this year more than ever Halloween is going to pass me by completely. That said, I do anticipate a little more trouble in the way of trick-or-treaters than we suffered with last year.

As I posted 12 months ago, the police had questionably made a poster available which people could download, print out and display in their front windows in the hope of deterring trick-or-treaters from importuning them. My sentiments at the time were that such a course of action would only encourage trick-or-treaters to unleash their worst on your house and other property, simply making you a greater and more obvious target for attack. So, being the trooper that I am, I couldn’t help making a slight alteration to that poster, making it more reflective or people’s real feelings towards trick-or-treaters. Remember?

Being in a house this time instead of a first floor flat presents me with yet another difficulty, especially as there are quite a few families in the area: Do I answer the door to callers on the 31st and make the most of the opportunity to get rid of the bag of cola cubes that have been sitting in the kitchen cupboard since we moved in or hide shamefully in in the hope that the trick-or-treaters get bored and go away? But let's remember here: the days when kids gracefully accepted sweets when calling on Halloween are long gone.  Nowadays, the only treat they're interested in is the one they can spend in a nearby shop. Worse still, is that if your treat isn't considered up to scratch, they soon let you know about it, usually in a way which needs cleaning up and/or repairing for several hours the next day. My girlfriend is working tomorrow evening, too, so instead of going to see the premiere of Quantum of Solace as per our original plan, I’m going to have the guard the house alone and make these difficult judgement calls on my lonesome. Damn.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Quantum of Solace - The Final Preview

Quantum of Solace - The Final Preview The purpose of this preview is to examine exactly what’s in store for cinema-goers and devoted Bond fans alike in the imminent James Bond film, Quantum of Solace. While I do not examine the plot per se in this preview – that will be saved for my Quantum of Solace – The Review, obviously – I cannot claim there won’t be the odd spoiler. You have been warned. At times, I refer you, faithful reader, to previous articles I have written because I’ve dissected and explored certain content there that would make no sense to completely re-examine here. Hell, this preview has become a lengthy enough beast as it is.

Why is Quantum of Solace such a big deal?

Craig took the world by surprise in his superb debut as Bond in Casino Royale. With the Bond franchise reinvigorated after years, perhaps decades, in the doldrums, the game had suddenly changed. Bond wasn’t cheesy anymore. Gone were the days when 007 could be seen surfing a tsunami or walking on water and his invisible car, go figure, had thankfully permanently disappeared.

With such a sparkling performance last time out, expectations have been raised to a whole new dimension. And, with life being what it is, the following maxim holds invariably true: while rising to glory is tough, staying there is even tougher.

What the production team had, then, was a problem. Whatever form the follow-up film to Casino Royale would take, it had a very hard act to follow; for once, it seemed, the world’s reaction to a Bond film was almost invariably positive as praise for Casino Royale rained in from all quarters. Also, coupled with higher expectations and a new, suddenly alert and hungry audience, there were to be enough changes in respect of key aspects of production between QoS and Casino Royale to give rise to justified concern, a fact I made no bones of pointing out in my Quantum of Solace – Book to Film Preview.

Concerns

Chief among these, of course, were directorship of the movie and the quantity of original material available. Casino Royale was blessed with having seasoned Bond-director, Martin Campbell on board. Quantum of Solace, on the other hand, is directed by Marc Forster, a director with a slightly more chequered history. Additionally, it has to be said that some of his previous work has been of a rather esoteric nature - with Finding Neverland being a case in point – but that does not necessarily make him unsuited for the role. This new style, back-to-the-future Bond, with the focus on deep and reflective characterisation rather than straightforward gunplay and chase scenes perhaps calls for a new, esoteric approach to directorship.

As I stated in my comprehensive Quantum of Solace Book Review, the story to which the new film owes its name is essentially a short story which hardly involves Bond at all; the majority of the content takes the form a story told to Bond at a dinner party.

Nevertheless, I feel the name, if nothing else, is an inspired choice for the movie and perfect for the direction in which the production team want to take the plot. As I prophesised in my preview:

James Bond’s journey to hell and back hasn’t, of course, come without a cost; he’s left with insidious ill-effects and terrible emotional baggage.   As a character, he's a complex paradox: on the one hand he's a train-wreck of emotions, with his emotional circuitry largely burnt out.  On the other he's gained his first battle-scars and started down the invariably hazardous but often short life as a double 0.  Vesper's death was a crucial lesson in surviving life in his profession; it has tempered him, but the process is still incomplete. And like a piece of semi-hardened steel, he’s now surprisingly brittle and wont to snap. Having his capabilities for conventional and sensitive human emotions ground out of him like a cigarette-end on pavement is a painful yet crucial stage of his career.  Trust no one, believe nothing and fight for survival at all costs are his new maxims.  Now James Bond will take his first steps as a seasoned, well-honed killer.

For one, I'm eager to see that harder, crueller Bond emerge; the natural and logical progression from the one we saw in Casino Royale.  One who's more guarded, untrusting, and suspicious, who carries with him the baggage of a bitter and heartbroken man.

From the opinions I’ve read of those who have been lucky enough to get a sneak preview of the new film, QoS certainly seems to tick the boxes in this department; the emotional turmoil that Bond’s enduring is apparent throughout and explored in some depth. Or in the words of the Wired Blog: Quantum of Solace, is an aggressive, tight, grim and moody thriller that leads directly into the next film in the decades-old series. [Reviews from UK sources] praise the film and the performance of Daniel Craig as 007 for exploring the lead character's depth and motivation in a manner not seen in a previous Bond flick.

On the flip side – and as was largely expected – most reviewers seem to favour Casino Royale over the new film, albeit by a narrow margin. Perhaps that was always inevitable. Be that as it may, it doesn’t necessarily detract from the true quality of the new film or the worthiness of its place in the franchise. A bad Craig film would surely nonetheless go some way in repairing the damage the series suffered in previous years. And let us not forget, here, Casino Royale raised the bar, perhaps to unparalleled heights – a fact that must be continually borne in mind when trying to fairly examine QoS.

Other Mistakes

I’ve long questioned Judi Dench’s suitability for the role as M. What was perhaps a fresh and novel approach to the character back in the mid 1990s by casting her in the 4 Brosnon movies, now even the most die-hard Dench fans can’t deny that any such novelty has long worn off. Quite frankly, I feel her continuation in the role in the last film was a mistake and there seems to be no end to that mistake in sight. Any scene involving Dench really pains me as her fit to the role of M is not a natural one. Her performance feels too scripted, tight and inhuman; it just doesn’t gel somehow and the films have suffered for just that reason. Early reviews of Dench’s latest performance praise her for her ‘deadpan’ demeanour. M has always been the most phlegmatic of characters, allowing himself to show only the occasional fragment of human emotion to others. Earlier on-screen M’s have been equally indifferent and for Dench to be singled out in this regard is bizarrely misguided.

I did concede in an earlier preview, however, that Dench’s performance in Casino Royale was her least offensive outing. I also made mention of the fact that the plot of QoS was to accommodate a greater role for M, the sense of which I questioned:

When she last took on a significant role as the character - in Brosnan’s 3rd film, The World is Not Enough – it was a an unmitigated disaster. M should be sat in his office in London with the weight of the world on his shoulders playing a complex game of chess in which the pieces are his agents in the field. He (or she) should not, suffice to say, be gallivanting around the world playing at Cowboys and Indians.

Irreconcilable Differences

It’s important not to forget that there’s an impossible balancing act going on with Bond. There are irreconcilable differences between what the cinema-going public have come to expect from Bond and what the character was actually like in the books. Casino Royale represented the first time that the two ‘Bonds’ truly converged. For true die-hard Bond fans, the gritty and evil nuances that came through so strongly in the books is what it’s all about. Others – and they’re in the majority - are more interested in light-hearted viewing from a character who plays Bond as a charming jet-setting superstar who can do no wrong and can shoot his way out of any situation, surviving a plethora or death-defying explosions en route. Put another way, that Bond is a mere superficial shell of the character that we’re treated to in the Fleming novels. Naturally, finding a way of bridging the two is no easy task. Casino Royale worked so well for many reasons, but I highlighted a few in my 2006 review:

[Craig] portrayed a Bond full of cold-hearted, ruthless substance, not cheesy, clichéd double-entendres. He delivered the couple of classic one-liners with rough charisma, not manufactured phony ‘charm’ that was Brosnan’s specialty. Gadgetry was kept to a minimum and classic Bond clichés were kicked firmly into touch.

Further, Bond had finally been scripted to be much more like the evil, cold-hearted bastard as found in the books. At long last, Bond was finally portrayed on screen as a real man - not a Hollywood fabrication.

My point, I suppose, is that in the face of such a challenge of irreconcilabilities, Casino Royale did a damn good job. One of the concerns I was left with having watched the official Quantum of Solace trailer, was that the film might resort to using the formula of its weaker predecessors. That formula, for the most part, depended heavily on incorporating a high level of cheesy, hi-tech gadgetry, superficial female characters and why-the-hell-not action sequences. Given that virtually the entire plot has been written specifically for the film and it has little or no basis on an actual Fleming storyline, my concerns over this issue were particularly profound. While I’m reserving judgement until the film premieres, I’ve long recognised that the best case scenario here is that Quantum of Solace mirrors the elements contained within Casino Royale, with the back-to-basics formula permeating throughout.

A break with convention – really, this time?

The general vibes coming from the production team over the last year in respect of what we can expect from the new Bond girl have been clear: she would be a breath of fresh air, having a character like no other we’ve seen before. I know what you’re thinking, though: the production team wheel out such sentiments for nearly every Bond movie and the end results are all invariably disappointing. Well, like you, I’m equally sceptical of their claims. This is hardly the first time that a Bond girl has been tipped as one who can hold her own. Perhaps, ironically, it was Vesper Lynd who has hitherto got the closest to laying claim to that feat. When you stop to examine some of the initially more obvious candidates here, you’ll see they all fall disappointingly flat. Halle Berry, who at the time was slated as being the closest match to Bond of all time, still needed Bond to come to the rescue in a completely conventional way on at least two occasions. And Berry ‘doing’ a poorly executed CGI backwards leap off a cliff does little to detract from that fact. That film was crushingly disappointing.

For what it’s worth, Vesper Lynd, ably played by the gorgeous Eva Green in Casino Royale was an inspired choice and one that worked perfectly. It’s performances like those that help to banish the painful memories of actresses – and I use that term loosely – like Denise Richards who more or less slaughtered the role. The character Green was playing, however, was a very specific one. She was a troubled and flawed character, the examination of which was a key part of both the book and the film (see my comparison). In short, the Bond girl affected Bond in ways we’ve never before seen in the screen incarnation of Bond.

So is this Bond girl going to be really different and are the production team’s claims justified? I hope so. My understanding of the new character, Camille, played by the sultry Olga Kurylenko, is that she is partially used as a proxy through whom some of Bond’s inner turmoil is examined. My take on her character is that she’ll prove a quirky Bond girl. She won’t be sombre and deeply troubled per se, although there might be minor elements of that in her character. Neither will she be light and dippy, akin to the more conventional Bond girl mould. What Camille will be, I believe, is exciting, slightly eccentric and dangerous. She will also be unpredictable, difficult to fathom and, in a classic role-reversal, will come to Bond’s aid in new, unusual ways. Done correctly, I believe, this new-style relationship with Bond will represent a refreshing change and should be welcomed by all.

This change of approach with Bond girls is a good thing for many reasons. Firstly, Bond girls in their traditional mould have been done every which way imaginable – for want of a better phrase. Even the most conservative Bond movie lover must be tired of the same old elements in a Bond girl's character and equally tired with the conventional film conclusions in which Bond almost invariably gets his girl and saves the world without fail. Casino Royale was one of those welcome breaks with convention; QoS should be another. Secondly, it is this aspect of the film that can remain true to the original source material. As I’ve mentioned before, it was essentially a tale told to Bond about the law of the quantum of solace that was the main point of the book. That law examined the interaction between human beings, love affairs, human cruelty, bitter emotions and revenge. Or, as I put it in my book review:

Quantum of Solace stands as a scrutiny of human behaviour, a tale that cuts right to the bone, examining inescapable truths through an uncomfortable aphorism. To some, it might present a grave, and uninviting tale. The Law of the Quantum of Solace is, after all, not concerned with the construction of something positive through love and marriage but rather the way a couple can tear apart each other through the same unity.

Thirdly, let’s remember, Bond is an emotional wreck. The tragedy of what happened to Vesper is weighing on him heavily and Bond desperately needs a means of understanding what has happened to help him come to terms with that tragedy. It is that, in part, which is driving him so tirelessly in his quest to find the truth in Quantum of Solace.

Two for the price of one

In keeping with many other Bond films, with Quantum of Solace you get two for the price of one in the Bond-girl-department, with Gemma Arterton taking an interesting albeit rather limited role as Agent Fields. I’ve no problem with having more than one Bond girl in a movie; in fact, it often proves a successful formula. What I do have more of a problem with is one rather specific element of the film involving Arterton. Fields meets her demise in a rather nostalgic way, in a tip-of-the-hat moment to the Goldfinger film. Just as Jill Masterston in Goldfinder was found dead covered in gold paint on Bond’s bed - having succumbed to the fictitious complaint of ‘skin asphyxiation’ - Fields is left in a similar manner having been drowned in crude oil. While I’m reserving final judgement until I see this scene in context, I’m nonetheless uncertain of this approach. Perhaps giving viewers that ‘a-ha’ moment as they recognise the nostalgic element deliberately woven in, will work; my first reaction, though, was that such a move would be seen as more of a clumsy cliché. While I’m sure many people would relish the opportunity of seeing Gemma Arterton naked and covered with oil, there is surely another equally alluring way for her to meet her maker on-screen without resorting to a cheesy ‘blast-from–the-past’ moment. We’re comfortably into new territory here, so there is surely no need to bring back elements from the past. But who knows? It might work. Maybe.

Music

There’s no doubt that the new Quantum of Solace title song is contentious. Musically, it’s a long way removed from the style previous Bond songs have adopted and naturally, Another Way to Die performed by Jack White and Alicia Keys will not be to everyone’s tastes.

My opinion has changed somewhat, from when I first heard it. On the first listening there is certainly a shock-factor and the scary feeling that we’ve passed into new, uncertain territory. Others, presumably even more aghast, strike back with the oft-mentioned phrase: it doesn’t sound like a Bond song. In short, it’s different from any Bond song you’ve heard before. But that is certainly no reason to criticise it, particularly as we’re well into this ‘new era Bond’ to which I keep referring.

Lyrically, it’s perhaps a touch on the weak side, although, compared against some of the howlers we’ve suffered with over the years, Another Way to Die is highly acceptable.

What’s clear from some very forthright views expressed by certain individuals on the net, some believe it is truly awful. Much of that, I feel, is a knee-jerk reaction. In response to that criticism, I would say it’s truly different and I maintain that that is no bad thing. Since I first heard it several weeks ago, the song has grown on me. But I would go a good way further than that: while some of the lyrics could have been stronger, I feel, the song shows streaks of brilliance and is a perfect fit with the film.

The song itself has a rather unpredictable rhythm, with a generally moody and heavy feeling throughout. There are also more frenzied parts to the song with undertones of desperation and a lack of control. So too is there a rather vengeful and rebellious feeling from some of the heavy, disjointed tones that mirrors perfectly much of what Bond is going through.

When trying to judge the song, it’s important to remember that the previous Bond song, Chris Cornell’s, You Know my Name, was, just like the movie, exceptionally well received and has proved a hard act to follow. Equally important to bear in mind is the fact this film is diverging into new territory for the on-screen incarnation. If the production team have had the guts and foresight to try something different in this new-era, Bond surely the song calls for a similar approach?

Many observers have made much of the fact that there is little natural harmony at times between White and Keys. I would argue that their perhaps unlikely alliance is intentional and that the discordant sounds somehow working is a metaphor for much of what is going on in the film. Not least, that metaphor represents much of what is going on with Bond and Camille, two characters with serious emotional baggage that have been thrown together and are somehow working well in a strange discordant harmony.

In respect of the meaning of the title, Another Way to Die, there are quite obviously intended connotations of the inner turmoil and torment Bond is facing after the death of Vesper. Dodging bullets may be in his job description but he perhaps closed his eyes to the danger of being emotionally killed by getting too close to someone. Perhaps he needed to have much of his emotional circuitry burnt out just to do be able to do his job and that fate had sealed the importance Vesper would play in his life at birth. Another way to die, indeed.

There is another slant on this, too. Having earned his double-o status at the beginning of the previous movie, Bond has transcended into the realms of a seasoned killer by this stage in his career. To do that job and live with the consequences, he must adopt an increasing indifference to killing. Assassinations simply merge into one another and the value of human life drops below any significance in his mind. On top of Vesper’s recent death, Bond must know there will be significant blood spilt as he sets out on his quest for revenge. As the process which Bond has been through has dehumanised the act of killing, the song’s title plays on the idea of that repetition and meaninglessness: another kill for him is just ‘another way to die’ for his enemies.

To the doubters out there, I’d say that the song definitely grows on you, however much you might hate it first time out. While it’s well outside of the normal Bond song territory, I’d argue that it’s a perfect fit for this one. Another point is that we’ve yet to hear it in the context of the opening credits sequence so final judgement should surely be reserved until then. My advice is simple: just give it a chance. Perhaps, contrary to your initial feelings, you’ll find it works... strangely well.

Finishing up

On balance, I truly believe we’re in for a cracking new Bond film. Even if it doesn’t surpass the much revered Casino Royale, that’s no reason to slate the film or consider it a failure. The most important thing for me is that the series doesn’t slip back into its old ways and that it remains faithful the new-style, back-to-basics approach which remains the overwhelming reason why Casino Royale was such an unqualified success. Conversely, going back to a pre-Craig style movie would result simply in the world sadly realising that Casino Royale was a one-hit-wonder and that it’s all downhill again from here.

So while the film represents another break with tradition, I hope that theme is followed through from beginning to end with a refreshing conclusion that doesn’t involve Bond getting his girl and saving the day, for them only to wonder off into the proverbial sunset hand-in-hand. Also, action scenes just like gadgets should be relevant, thoughtfully used and be fairly few in number. This is the new Bond, remember: less is more.

Finally, considering just how well entrenched many of the Bond norms were, the production team should be praised for going out on a limb with the direction the new movie has taken. Exactly quite how well it works remains to be seen. I, like you, cannot wait to find out.

Monday, 27 October 2008

Another Way to Die

 

It can hardly be described as a secret any longer, nor has it been for some time, actually. In fact, the chances are you’ve already heard the song that will be used to accompany the opening credits in the new Bond film, Quantum of Solace, elsewhere on the web. Nevertheless, for the sake of completeness in my coverage of the new Bond film, it was only right that I post a video of the new song, Another Way to Die, performed by Jack White and Alicia Keys.

I’ve got some fairly deep rooted opinions regarding this new Bond song which I’ll reveal in my imminent ‘Quantum of Solace – The Final Preview’ article that’ll be released in the next couple of days. In the meantime, enjoy.

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Quantum of Solace - It's Nearly Here

The tension is palpable, the feeling of expectation is neck-breakingly high and I’m already beginning to break out in cold sweats of excitement just thinking about it. Yes, it can only mean one thing:

The new Bond film has (virtually) arrived.

Premiering next Friday on Halloween – go figure – the 22nd official Bond film, Quantum of Solace, is set to pick up exactly where the story in Casino Royale stopped.

Later this week, I’ll be releasing my final ‘preview’ of the new film before my comprehensive ‘Quantum of Solace – The Michael’s Review’ sometime next weekend.

I know what you’re thinking, readers: I spoil you so.

Saturday, 25 October 2008

ill but not forgotten

Man Flu I've been struggling along with a bad cold this week, my first in over a year.  Hardly a statistic to boast about, I suppose, as before the winter of 2006, I'd gone 3 years without contracting one.  Oh well.

Suffice to say, I've been moping about, spluttering and sneezing and generally feeling very sorry for myself. As proof of the severity of my illness - seriously, despite what you're thinking, it's more than man-flu - I've only made it in for two lectures this week!  Luckily, this was one of my scheduled 'quiet' weeks at uni. 

Sod's law being what it is, I was scheduled for an interview on Wednesday when I was more or less at my roughest.  Given that the odds of my passing the lurgy on to my interviewer were pretty high, coupled with the fact that by the time I'd got there, I was reduced to a snivelling shell of a person, I didn't rate my chances too highly.  Nevertheless, they offered me the job.  I had actually already landed a job which I started last weekend but found it not to my liking. 

Who said that beggars can't be choosers?

Friday, 24 October 2008

When you know Google is getting too powerful!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is it just me, or does 'Kevin' look just like the BMW Sauber driver Nick Heidfeld, just with tats?!?

And if I were Kevin, I wouldn't worry about 'Jen'.  His current date is much more preferable!!

Anyhow, it's good stuff!

Friday, 17 October 2008

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Windows 7 is.... Windows 7

Windows 7How's this for a double whammy?!  It's been a long time since I've posted twice in one day.  Wow... sometimes I even surprise myself!

From WinInfo Daily News 14/10/08:

It's official: Microsoft's next Windows version, currently being developed under the codename Windows 7, will use that moniker as its official final name when it hits the market in early 2010. The news, delivered as is so often the case these days via a blog, was widely anticipated.


"Since we began development of the next version of the Windows client operating system we have been referring to it by a codename, 'Windows 7,'" Microsoft Corporate Vice President Mike Nash said. "But now is a good time to announce that we've decided to officially call the next version of Windows, 'Windows 7.'"


As Nash notes in the post, Microsoft has used a variety of naming conventions for its Windows products over the years, including years (Windows 95, 98), version numbers (Windows 3.1), and so-called "aspirational" monikers like Windows XP and Vista. With Windows 7, however, the company felt that the Windows 7 name was simple and appropriate, since this will be the seventh major version of the OS.

Good. Sometimes, I sigh a huge relief when a bit of prudence, sense and sound judgement comes out of Redmond - and, quite frankly, that's not very often.  I was always highly skeptical of the name Windows Vista, though much of that could have been to do with the fact that I'd known that version of the OS as its codename 'Longhorn' for several years before the final name was revealed.  Okay, I get the fact it was meant to be an 'aspirational' name but really, 'Vista' just didn't cut it with me.

Windows 7, of course, started life as the codename 'Blackcomb' and was referred to in passing even before XP has shipped back in 2001.  Internally, it was later referred to as Vienna and Seven.  Whistler, for the record, was the codename for XP with Longhorn and Blackcomb being two other mountains in British Columbia which formed the basis for Microsoft's OS nomenclature. The relative small size of the mountain Longhorn compared to Whistler and Blackcomb was supposed to represent the current thinking of scale when the projects were named: XP and Windows 7 as we now know them were meant to be the big, kitchen sink releases; Vista was originally envisioned as being an interim release between the two.

Quite whether there is reason to get excited about Windows 7 is another matter all together.  The current feeling seems to be that it's going to be very much a 'Vista Second Edition' rather than another radical departure.  Oh well... I'm still itching to get my hands on an early build!  Anyone?!?

Girls Aloud Fantasist Faces the Chop

Darryn Walker - Girls AloudFrom Outlaw.com 03/10/08:

A man has been arrested and charged over a blog post detailing the imaginary kidnap, torture and murder of the members of Girls Aloud. He has been charged with the publishing of an obscene article, police said.

Darryn Walker, 35 and of Mowbray Road in South Shields, is accused of writing the web-published fantasy about the members of the pop group. He was arrested in February after reports by the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), a body which reports potentially obscene material on the internet.

Walker was charged at South Tyneside Magistrates' Court in late July with publishing an obscene article, according to a spokeswoman for London's Metropolitan Police, where the Obscene Publications Unit is based.

The Obscene Publications Act is more usually used to prosecute individuals over images rather than words. It makes it an offence to publish material which might deprave or corrupt those seeing it.

The IWF said that it had passed details to police after being told of the site. Though it was not hosted in the UK, said a spokeswoman, the site did have UK links on it so a report was passed to police.

The IWF spokeswoman said that it reported any material that it came across that fell under the Obscene Publications Act.

According to the Act it is an offence to publish something likely to "deprave and corrupt persons who are likely, having regard to all relevant circumstances, to read, see or hear the matter contained or embodied in" the article.

If for no other reason, this story is interesting simply because it’s the first time since 1991 that the Obscene Publications Act has been used to prosecute someone in respect of written content. Regarding the wider issues at play here, John Ozimek over at The Register makes an interesting observation:

Reading between the lines, this feels like a very tentative “toe in the water” on the part of the Met. After investigating the material in question, they clearly believe that this may at last be enough for a successful prosecution - they put the file before the Crown Prosecution Service, who appear to agree.

And, Ozimek points out, should the case result in a guilty verdict, the impact it has on web content could be considerable. The law relating to the regulation of the internet is going through a seminal phase at the moment with rumblings of discontent coming up from all angles. Still, I think it’s fair to say that some of these issues relating to the internet regulation are being taking more seriously – as evidenced by the Government’s decision to finally back a Police Central E-crime Unit due to become operational in Spring next year, for instance.

While I didn't have the opportunity to read the material in question that Darryn Walker published, the sketchy details that do exist on the story make me think that the IWF and the Metropolitan police are keen to make an example of him. Web liberalists, of course, are crying out that this is a step towards wider web censorship. Be that as it may, I think the consensus of opinion out there is that the net does need policing – at least to some extent. Perhaps Walker’s frenzied ramblings about the kidnap and murder of Girls Aloud was a step too far outside of the accepted comfort zones and that having such content out there is truly dangerous.  Quite honestly, I think there is a lot of material available out there that should be considered much more dangerous and more likely to deprave and corrupt than this.  And, if this type of content is truly egregious enough to warrant legal intervention, is a piece of legislation that was drafted decades before the internet was even in existence the right tool for the job?  I don't know.  What I do suspect, however, that should a guilty verdict be returned, it will likely make us all think a little harder before publishing content on the web.

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Sarah Palin 'hacker' is Indicted

Sarah Palin Yahoo Mail From vnunet.com 09/10/08:

The 20 year-old son of Democratic state legislator Mike Kernell has been indicted for hacking into the email account of Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin.

David Kernell was arrested after an FBI investigation into the incident in which the password of Palin's Yahoo account was changed and details of her emails posted online by an individual known as 'rubico'.

If found guilty, Kernell could face five years in prison and a fine of $250,000 (£145,000).

"Cyber-crime is the FBI's top criminal investigative priority," said Richard Lambert, special agent in charge, FBI Knoxville Field Division.

Kernell was released from court without bail but is banned from owning a computer and can only use the internet to check email and complete his class work.

This story has been well documented all over the net in the last few weeks and triggered a lot of debate about certain issues. First and foremost, of course, is the quite why someone like Sarah Palin was using Yahoo Mail in the first place, particularly for work purposes. Poor Sarah has taken a lot of flack recently and I guess the whole troopergate saga has left her with more pressing worries right now. 

On last week’s edition of the TWiT podcast, the security measures that Yahoo Mail have in place for forgotten password retrieval were debated with the consensus of opinion being that the current system was sorely inadequate. I couldn't agree more.  The method used by many other webmail providers requires, inter alia, a secondary email address to be registered when creating the account, allowing a forgotten password to be sent there. Yahoo use a different system whereby to reset the password, the 'user' needs to correctly answer 3 questions, the 'secret' answers to which were originally provided when creating the account. And the not-so-secret questions were: the account holder's Date of Birth, Zip Code and, a touch more tricky, ‘Where did you meet your spouse?’

That fact of the matter is that most high school kids with an ounce of intelligence and an internet connection could have done this; the email address was well known, as were the answers to the security questions to reset Palin’s password. Well, it took Kernell under an hour to gather all of the information from Wikipedia, Google and the US postal service website. In fact, it’s perhaps surprising why it wasn’t ‘hacked’ before.

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Enough of the 'Hooey'

Cloud Computing You know those moments you have when you hear someone say something that’s so ignorant, wrong and just plain stupid, you want to take them to one side and systematically explain to them everything that’s wrong with their statement? Come on, I know it isn’t just me who has these experiences! For one, I know that Lois in Family Guy has such a moment with her husband, Peter.

Well, I found an article that produced just this effect on me a couple of days ago. Cue John Naughton’s blurb published on the Guardian’s website:

[T]his hooey was conscientiously relayed by Cellan-Jones, who was too polite to ask why, if Vista is such a success, Ballmer is to unveil its successor, Windows 7, to the Microsoft developers' conference at the end of this month.

Oh John, just go back to sleep.

As if that wasn’t enough, he spurns out another corker trying to explain exactly what ‘cloud computing’ is:

The company's response to cloud computing - the provision of email, word-processing, spreadsheets and presentation software via the browser - is especially interesting.

Oh come on, John. Now you’re just being silly!

Monday, 6 October 2008

Banking Law is Dead

IT Law - it must be love Week one of the academic calendar dawned full of hope and optimism. Not only did the public transport I depend on live up to its promise of a ‘regular and punctual service’ – for both legs of the journey - but the Competition Law lecture was a belter and my module change was approved – for IT law. Yes, faithful blogwatchers: you know this is the stuff which really gets me going in the morning. Well, so to speak.

If you were wondering why this module wasn’t already on my ‘to study’ list, well, it was. Back in April, though, I was advised that I couldn’t take it because I had taken a similar module as an undergraduate and so had to revise my choice. Rather than concerning myself with finger-pointing, I’m just relieved I can take the module after all. So anyway, the long and the short of it is that Banking Law is dead.... long live IT Law!

On the downside, though, it does mean I’m in tomorrow morning and have an incredibly early start the day after. Still, I mustn’t grumble; I only have myself to blame.

Now that I’m settling into my new course, I’ll probably wind up these ‘progress report’ style posts and just give the occasional round-up on how things are going. As my schedule gets busier and my posts grow fewer, I don’t want the content of the posts I do get time to put out to degenerate into some kind of web diary. This is Law Actually after all – not ‘Susie Law School’.

Just kidding Susie... we loved you really.

 

BTW: I hope you all enjoyed my loved-up graphic!

Sunday, 5 October 2008

End of Week 0

Late Bus Luckily my first week of the LLM – the so-called week zero (go figure) - passed without major incident. I had another very close call with the bus timing on Friday, however, and literally had to run the whole way up to the law school to have my first meeting with my personal tutor. The interview itself was fine and dandy although I could have done without the stress of having to set a new lap record to get there in time. And to those people I bowled over on the street sprinting up there, I apologise.

Luckily my personal tutor seemed a laid back enough guy to not let my 2 minutes of lateness prejudice his opinion of his new pupil. Well, not too much, let’s hope.

Anyway, I need to head in early tomorrow morning for my first lecture on Competition Law which should be a blast. One thing I’ve definitely noticed from the timetabling fiascos which are still plaguing me is just how little class contact there is on LLM courses. That suits me just fine, however, as have never needed to be guided through by the nose as an undergrad.

I still don’t have a definitive answer over my module change yet which has now been compounded by a ‘protocol issue’ and the timetabling foul-up. I’m hoping that’s going to be resolved in the next day or so.

And finally, I have an interview this week for a temporary job running up to Christmas which I’m hoping will help grease the wheels a little during this LLM-year. Fingers crossed for Wednesday, then!!

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Timetable Madness

Timetable Great though my new university might be, they clearly aren't above the odd timetable screw-up.  Equally, great as I am I'm not yet up to being in two different places at once!  But I'm working on it!

In fairness to them, some of it might be my fault: I have chopped and changed a little bit in the months leading up to the start of term as far as my unit choices are concerned.  That said, on some documents they've given out to me this week, my module choices were listed correctly.  So as I see it, they've no excuse!

Perhaps I shouldn't grumble - I've had worse, I suppose.  Still, it's yet another headache I need to contend with at the moment. Other headaches include job hunting to help fund this LLM which all of a sudden isn't looking quite as attractive as it did late last year. 

If you're getting a little sick of my sudden bout of frequent postings, fear not: I don't expect it to last.  Once lectures start at the beginning of next week, I've every confidence that Law Actually will fall by the wayside again.

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Day 3: The Google Car

The Google Car As promised, faithful readers, I've bounced back on day 3 of the LLM adventure, shrugging off the problems of yesterday.  Luckily I've suffered no transport dramas or weather issues and my programme for today was as painless as it was well-structured.  I particularly liked the fact we were allowed to slink off this afternoon as and when we so wished.  I certainly wasn't going to sit there through all 3 or so hours of info on every LLM module the university offers. 

It's been smooth sailing from the first lap to the last today: even before setting off, I noted with pleasure that my shoes had dried out more or less completely from the soaking they received in the city yesterday!  Still, this kind of luck can't last.  As the back cover of John McCain's book 'Hard Call' alludes to: good luck can be notoriously unreliable.  Fear not, faithful reader - I don't own this title.  I was simply killing time in Waterstones earlier. 

On a less positive note, I've now discovered that I need to head in on Friday after all, albeit briefly.  While it's not a major inconvenience, it's completely blown the prospect of my long weekend out of the water.  Damn!

And finally, on the trip back home I spied 'the' [infamous and elusive] Google [maps] car out and about, turning out of a residential area.  I was somewhat satisfied to see that even the great and majestic Google aren't above getting stuck in traffic!  Anyway, for fear of his cameras being left rolling when negotiating junctions, I refrained from making any obscene gestures out of the window.  Probably a wise decision.

Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Introductory blah blah, late buses and bad weather

Motion blur image of wet business man with briefcase and umbrella walking to work through the London rain Yeah, I have had it all thrown at me today.  After a pretty painless first day, fate conspired against me on day two and I'm hoping to bounce back tomorrow.  After arriving late due to the bus taking a ridiculously long time wending its way through rush-hour traffic - how the hell did I miscalculate that? - I then got a thorough soaking when the heavens opened, only to be then bored by 90 minutes of introductory information delivered via a 'lecture'.  What really rankles, though, is the fact that all of this information is available in the induction materials without the need for it to be verbally regurgitated by law school personnel who should certainly have something better to do; I know the students did.

Anyway, as I said, hopefully I can get back on track for day three and shrug-off the problems of today.  BTW: I'm already planning a module change - more on that later in the week.

Monday, 29 September 2008

It's Official: I'm LLM-ing

LLM Lecture Yes, after a long summer of waiting, the dreaded LLM started today.  Actually it turned out to be a bit of an anticlimax as these things are wont to do but at least I can finally say that I'm an LLM student.

I am very impressed with the efficiency of 'my' new university, so far at least; the registration process passed more quickly and smoothly than I've ever experienced before.  I was slightly frustrated that there is a 'programme' for us new LLM students this week consisting of the usual baloney of sleep-inducing introductory speeches, library tours and, somewhat bizarrely, I'm required to go all the way into the city later this week just to pick up my 'personalised' timetable.  You what?!?

Still, on the plus side, the student diaries are the plushest I've ever seen and at least they aren't killing us with lectures on the first day - something I'm still struggling to come to terms with from the LPC.  I've a feeling that course is going to haunt me for a good few years yet.

As the week progresses, I'll endeavour to log my escapades on Law Actually.  After all, I know you're all itching to see how I'm getting on, hanging on my every word.  Or something like that!

And yes, if you're wondering faithful readers, I did order a new iPod after the tragic drowning of my previous nano.  Thus far I'm very impressed with it; it's considerably lighter than the 3rd generation nano though I'm not particularly enamoured with the rather gimmicky shake-to-shuffle feature.  I did try it the other day and it looked like I was having a seizure.  That's going to go down a storm on public transport, eh?

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

iPods and Washing Machines Don't Mix

This one doesn't need much explanation and I'm still pretty heartbroken about it.  Seeing as it was a birthday present that I've only had since June makes it worse also.  My poor nano took a real hammering in the washer - I'd kept it in immaculate condition but as it had slammed into the drum countless times, the edges of it are looking a little rough now to say the least.  And yes, if you're wondering, it was pronounced dead at the scene.

Suffice to say, Amazon are going to be selling another iPod nano shortly.

P.S. That white gunk on the screen is actually behind the cover - we think it's washing powder!

Saturday, 20 September 2008

Law Stuff

Law Stuff September seems be slipping by with frightening speed and, as we approach the latter stages of the month, it can only mean one thing: it’s LLM time.

Yes, faithful blog-watchers, the Michael will soon be back doing some ‘law stuff’ after a varied and at times, strained summer. I think I’ve divulged on Law Actually before that my LLM is based on commercial content, God help me. No, seriously: I know what I’m doing. Some of my modules are perhaps a touch questionable, though: banking law? Seriously? Anyone? I’m hoping that one isn’t going to come back to bite me.

For the most part I’m excited at the prospect of the LLM - much more so than I was this time last year about the LPC. For the next week, I’m going to be enjoying a little down-time before things start in earnest. Coupled with the course, I’m hoping to work a little part time as well, just to help grease the wheels from the financial standpoint. And believe me; those wheels could use some greasin’.

I’ve also not forgotten about my 'open-source law student' experiment which I mentioned earlier in the summer. I’ve done a few more preliminary tests with Ubuntu (Hardy Heron) but noted with excitement that Intrepid Ibex is already at the Alpha 4 milestone, with the final version planned for release at the end of October. Yeah, you’re right: I really should get out more!

Anyway, I think I’ve learnt enough from my summer experiments with Ubuntu that I’m going to find the transition a struggle – at least the way I’m going to be doing it. For the record, Ubuntu is very user-friendly, powerful and full-featured. But using simply open source or free alternatives from commercial vendors is going to be tough, particularly as I’m used to relying heavily of the best-of-breed commercial heavyweight solutions. Oh well – it’ll be interesting if nothing else.

Friday, 19 September 2008

I'm a PC

An awful lot has been written about the Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Gates ads which have aired the US of late. And seeing as they’ve been analysed almost out of existence, I don’t feel the need to engage in further analysis of them myself. Well, not too much.

If you’ve no idea what I’m talking about – if you don’t immediately recognise what the word ‘Conquistador’ refers to in the context of this conversation – you can check out the previous two ads here and here. Then again, if you’ve already lost me, this probably isn’t your bag anyway.

Anyway, for what it’s worth, I like the approach Microsoft and their PR agency, Crispin Porter & Bogusky, have taken here. It’s clever, measured and, as time passes, I think will prove much more effective than hard-sell techniques. But I will say this: by airing these ads Microsoft have at long last responded the barrage of (often blatantly unfounded) insults directed at them via the Apple switcher ads. And that was the biggest miss Microsoft have made in the promotion of Vista – by letting the torrent of largely unjustified negative press get so far out of hand.

The ads, of course, are just the opening shots in a much longer campaign pitched at ‘personalising’ Microsoft, ‘humanising’ Windows and dispelling some of the FUD relating to Vista. And make no mistake, Microsoft are taking this seriously, throwing some $300 million behind the project which started with the equally contentious Mojave experiment early in the summer.

What’s clear, then, is that this is a big, multi-faceted project and that Microsoft isn’t trying to directly hard-sell anything via these ads. Instead, their message is much more subtle – so subtle, in fact, that the oft-heard response to the first two ads has been: “what’s that all about?” Nevertheless, such an approach is perfect for planting seeds in the minds of the purchasing public about the quality and versatility of Microsoft products - something that will remain there for a long time to come.

And that’s another point. Simply because the approaches adopted by Microsoft in this campaign are so contentious – that they have provoked such a fury of debate and opinion – is proof that the tactic has worked. It’s got people talking, and thinking at long last about Microsoft products and to steal a phrase from the Guardian, “it’s reignited consumer excitement about the broader value of Windows”.

And with this 3rd ad, Microsoft are responding – brilliantly in my opinion – to the questionable “I’m a Mac, I’m a PC” ads that have been so successfully aired by Apple at Microsoft’s expense. Instead of the petulant sniping nature of Apple’s approach, whose insecurity prompts them to disparage their competition, Microsoft merely showcases just how rich and varied the existing Windows user-base is. It points to the Windows ecosystem that’s thriving out there in the real world comprising of over 1 billion people doing anything and everything from every walk of life.

With this approach, Microsoft are hitting back at their critics without needing to lower themselves in the gutter like Apple have done. As I said, brilliant.