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.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Full steam ahead for the Google Navy

From Boat Owner 15/09/08:

Google, the Internet search engine company already renowned for radical ideas has really pushed the boat out this time.

According to a patent application seen by The Times newspaper, the multi-billion-dollar company may be embarking on a futuristic server farm aboard what has already been dubbed its 'computer navy'.
Huge banks of computers storing billions of web pages may soon be housed on barges moored offshore, which would use renewable wave energy as a power source.

The company also hopes to avoid paying property taxes on the huge installations it currently runs across the globe.

Electricity consumption by internet servers is predicted to skyrocket in the next 20 years, and as a result, companies such as Google, Microsoft and Sun Systems have been investigating ever more radical solutions to the problem of keeping the electronics cool.

I have to say I quite like the idea of the whole Google houseboat/navy thing, not that it truly matters where their servers are stored I suppose. However you look at this, though, it’s good to see the companies who stand as the world’s computing superpowers do a little forward planning for the problems of tomorrow. Granted, most if not all the reasons for their doing so are self-serving as they look to cut energy costs and achieve tax savings, but if it means they become a little greener, I’m sure that’ll appease the enviro-friendly crowd into the bargain. Plus, as the internet continues to grow in importance and ubiquity, perhaps its long term sustainability is dependent on such a green and plentiful power source.

Monday, 15 September 2008

Quantum of Solace - The Book to Film Preview

Quantum of Solace - Book to film Preview As I mentioned in my previous post, I actually wrote this thing back in late February but didn't publish it for whatever reason.  Anyway, here it is:

As I detailed in my monolithic review, I found the short story Quantum of Solace to be excellent. Equally, I thought Craig’s first Bond film, Casino Royale, was a much needed breath of fresh air to the Bond franchise and, possibly, stands as the best Bond film of all time. Naturally, therefore, I’m excited about the film currently in production, which is to take the name Quantum of Solace.

As source material for a plot is concerned, the short story from which the title originates has a narrow and limited scope. After all, it’s little more than a brief, albeit fascinating tale told to Bond from a retired and respected civil servant during a rather dull dinner party. The producers and script-writers, then, have had a big project on their hands, effectively tasked with creating the film’s plot from the ground up.

It was stated during the release of Casino Royale that the subsequent film would be very much the 'second part' to the story.  Indeed, as producer, Michael G Wilson, let slip last at the unveiling of the film’s name back in January, the plot will pick up from where Casino Royale left off – about half an hour later, to be exact.

Moreover, co-producer, Barbara Broccoli stated: "It's not a revenge movie. It's much more complicated than that. There's much more action and it also deals with the inner turmoil of Bond following Casino Royale.

And inner turmoil is exactly what QoS - the short story – deals with. Instead of being a mere tale about intense and bitter human emotions between a man and a woman where a relationship degenerates beyond repair, the plot in the film promises to be more complex.

At this stage, I’ve got mixed feelings about the prospect of the new Bond film. The fact this second part of the Casino story started as a blank canvas makes me nervous. Bond films which depart dramatically from the stories as Fleming crafted them, have generally been much less well-received than those which remain faithful.  Casino Royale merely called for some padding and fleshing-out added to the plot - very different and much less risky than what's called for this time around.  Equally, expectations are enormously high with this movie, such was the success of Casino Royale; QoS has a hard act to live up to.  Add to that the new director, Marc Forster, and I think there are enough changes from the previous film to make my nervousness and concerns justified.

On the other hand, though, there are two things very much in favour of this film.  For starters, the world seems ready for this new, back to basics Bond, Daniel Craig style.  He slotted in perfectly and was welcomed, by and large, with open arms.  The fact the film was such an international hit, bears this out. Secondly, the idea of making this the second instalment to the Casino Royale story, keeping the same values, bringing out and expanding on the new, grittier and more realistic Bond is a sound one. This allows the storyline and characters to take on a colder, rawer edge than was previously possible and to more closely mirror Fleming’s Bond as found in the novels. If there was one single key to Casino Royale’s success it was the re-establishing of the character as a human being, one who felt raw, embittered emotions rather than concerning himself with superficial Hollywood gunplay. The producers must ensure they don’t lose sight of this or we’ll have a Brosnan mark II on our hands.

Is the title right and apt for the new film? Yes, in a word. I’m still amused, though, by the frankly ridiculous argument that it would prove a disaster to put music to in a title sequence song. I’ve also heard the whinging question ‘what does it mean?’ muttered more times than I care to remember and, best of all, “it doesn’t sound like a Bond title”. Firstly, who ever said that the title sequence has to include film’s name – there are plenty of Bonds that don’t. Secondly, if the titles ‘The World is Not Enough’ and ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’ can be worked into music, I don’t see what problem Quantum of Solace would present. And finally, the day that a title – particularly a Fleming original – is dismissed because of concerns over song-writing, is the day the Bond film franchise should be put to bed for good, quite honestly.

Of the film’s name, co-producer, Michael G Wilson said: "We thought it was an intriguing title that references what's happening to Bond and what's happening to him in this film."

I couldn’t agree more. After Vesper Lynd's death at the close of Casino Royale, James Bond reached a crucial crossroads in his career and life. Given the anguish and sheer hell into which he descended towards the latter end of his assignment, Vesper's death could easily have been the final straw and resulted in him winding up a broken, mutilated,  shell of a man.

But he doesn’t.  The character who emerges finds a new, rich vein of energy, fuelled by the need to disentangle the truth from a complex web of lies and deceit. Uncovering the facts behind who or what was the driving force behind Le Chiffre is priority number one; avenging his dead lover, Vesper, is saved for later. At the end of Casino Royale, where Craig famously ‘becomes Bond’ he makes his first breakthrough when he catches up with Mr White. We can expect QoS to pick the story virtually straight up from there. 

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.

This, I hope, is what we'll get with Bond in QoS.  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.

I truly hope the new-found richness of the Bond character - that more closely resembled the Bond as Fleming wrote him is not lost in the new film. The producers must avoid at all costs the temptation to sex-up the film with conventional action sequences, inane gadgetry and fake, vacuous, Bond girls if they come at the expense of exploring this grittier and deeper Bond character.

I’m particularly concerned about the prospect of a greater role for Judi Dench as M. I’ve never been a fan of her in the role and thankfully, her last performance in Casino Royale was by far her least offensive. 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. Giving M a greater role is just stupid. And let's remember: it’s not as though the writers are short of characters.

Don’t get me wrong, however. I am cautiously optimistic for the film as a whole. Quantum of Solace could turn out to be another winner, providing the production team keep in mind the reasons why Casino Royale was such a hit and the lessons learned from the past. Most of all, though, I’m hoping this isn’t where the dream ends and reality sets in - that Casino Royale was the jewel in the Bond-film crown and it’s all downhill from here. I await the new film in earnest.

Friday, 12 September 2008

Quantum of Solace Trailer


















Over the past few months, I've been keeping a weather eye on the latest news snippets leaking through to the web about the new Bond film, Quantum of Solace; plus, it seems like I've viewed virtually every unofficial trailer out there.

So as we edge ever nearer the release of the new film on 31st October - go figure - my excitement is building steadily.  Just as with Casino Royale, I've got a lot to say on the new film including my thoughts on how well this follow-up film will be received, what kind of job the producers will do in creating a decent enough storyline worthy of the title and, sadly, the reasons why I'm slightly scared it might prove to be the start of a downward spiral from Casino Royale.

But enough of that.  I wrote a post way back in February which I realised the other day that I somehow didn't get around to publishing so will throw that up in the next day or so which covers all that and more.  For the time being, the trailer should give Bond lovers out there reasonable cause for optimism and, Judy Dench aside, why this could be another cracking Bond film.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Back from Cornwall

451218734_eb6bceda36 It took a little longer than perhaps expected but I finally made it out of Cornwall alive and well. It turned into a busy 5 weeks and I will remain forever indebted to my boss of several years for finding me work, particularly at such short notice. The fact I’ve been kept so busy during the height of the summer this year is perhaps no bad thing; I certainly didn’t miss out on much beach weather after all and I’ve earned myself a chunk of money which is going to come in very useful in the coming months.

I’ve about 2 and a half weeks left before I start my LLM – and unsurprisingly I’ve still got a lot of stuff still to sort out. Most pressing on that list is quite how the hell I’m going to make it into the city each day – and on the budget I’ve set myself.  Hmmm.... should be interesting.

In the meantime, I’m tinkering about with a new web design project, sorting out the backlog of admin related stuff that has built up in my absence and, of course, waiting for a suitably dry spell of weather so I can get out and finally mow the front lawn.