Monthly Archives: March 2006

Tarantulas for sale!

Would you like to have a house full of furry T’s? Thinking that a tarantula would brighten up that corner of your minimalist living space you purchased wholesale from Ikea?

If anyone is interested in some Grammastola rosea slings then I have a vendor waiting to sell! Please get in touch dan[at]shady.org and I shall put you in touch with her!

Please do NOT click the link if you are remotely arachnophobic, you may never recover from the shock.

Graham Coxon

So I saw Graham Coxon last night at the Newcastle Uni SU with Phil and Jen.

I’ve not heard *any* of Coxon’s output since Blur parted (he is their former guitarist) and I’ve always held Blur, and especially Damon Albarn in particularly high regard (Gorillaz ‘Demon Days’ album was the best album of 2005 bar none). I always credited Blur’s sound to Albarn – certainly lyrically, and I assumed musically, but about 20 minutes into the Graham Coxon gig, I realised that he has an awful lot to do with it.

I know I like to put music into slots, but Coxon does have a really weird blend. Like many guitarists, you can tell he started with the blues, and can still play a mean blues guitar – but this is all mixed in with driving, poppy, upbeat sounding (but downbeat lyrics) which slides quite happily into the kind of punk that burned so brightly in the late 1970s. He’s not the most engaging person on stage, not a huge amount of interaction with the crowd, but has he grimaced and perspired through the 90+ minute set the music said it all. One of the best gig’s I’ve been to, and certainly the only one that I’ve ever seen bona fide crowd surfing going on (the kinds of gigs I normally go to are the ones with deep beats and people who are generally too away with the faries for that kind of coordination). A really pleasant mix of people from the kiddies right up to those clearly in their 50’s. I did start to feel a little on the upper limit of the age range, most people were at least 10 years younger than me! Whippersnappers. Probably have no bloody idea who Blur were anyway.

The crowd bounced happily around, Phil grooving like he’d been stung by a jellyfish and a cracking time was had by all. Didn’t drink too much, but by god I couldn’t get to sleep from the ringing in my ears..

Next gig.. THE SHINS! and boy I can’t wait for that…

Unforgiven

Hmm well I don’t normally go much on westerns, there are of course notable exceptions. Once Upon A Time In The West and A Fistful of Dollars springs to mind. Unforgiven is another. Directed by and starring Clint Eastwood, it was weird watching him and Morgan Freeman in this after watching them both in Million Dollar Baby. This is most definitely the better film. With moments of real tragedy, it reinforces the message that the consequences of violence are far reaching, and that violence is exacted with much more pain than in the cartoon forms we are presented with today. 2 shots will kill, there’s no pretension that a man can take a rifle shot to the gut and still stand up. After watching what humans can supposedly endure in Ichi the Killer earlier today.. it’s kind of nice to be brought back to earth. The film demonstrates how people may attempt to change, but the underlying nature of a man stays with him. This, along with the violence, makes the final act so much more dramatic.

It is also one of the most beautifully shot westerns. Actually shot in Calgary, it rather does make you wistufully think how nice it might be to sit on your porch in the plains, with a pipe and a tumbler of sippin’ whisky and watch that wonderful sunset every day..

10pm now though, and bedtime to face another week of work ahead..

Ichi the Killer

Hmm just watched Ichi the Killer, as I realised I don’t actually have Pi at all, its about 5 DVD’s down the rental list.

First of all do not under any circumstances attempt to watch this film whilst eating. It’s certainly one of the more.. visceral films I’ve seen. If you don’t mind watching 2 hours worth of quite over the top violence then you might enjoy it, I’m not sure I particularly did. Yes the characters are.. engaging, but the storyline is kind of weak – relying on hypnosis to get the main character to do something is always a bit iffy, and was used to much better effect in Oldboy anyway. The problem also lies with the violence – yes you expect some as it deals with the Yakuza, but because the characters are (all!) rather overly interested in their own sadistic or masochistic mores (which tend to co-incide to some extent throughout the film) the violence is gratuitous. Possibly this is because its all dealt with in knives, skewers and meathooks, and therefore isn’t the same as gratuitous violence dealt out with an Uzi, MP5 or Desert Eagle. I’m not going to go into the plot, as what there is is almost inconsequential to the main display, that of bodyparts flying. Maybe I’ve missed the point of this movie, you can decide for yourselves! It’s quite highly rated on IMDB. Maybe for me its because its adapted from the manga.. I’ve never been a fan of ‘comic book’ releases from Hollywood as they are almost always unequal to the job – this only strengthens that belief for me.

If you’re a fan of Japanese cinema, you’re probably going to watch it anyway, but for me this one didn’t live up to the hype. It does however have some of the best special effects I’ve seen in a film in terms of people looking like they’re being sliced and diced…

Social Saturday

In an unprecedented fit of socialising I invited Phil over for a food/dvd/beer session last night. I have been exceptionally lucky to score a Proxima X350 DLP projector on loan from Ewan Hunter, who ran a course at the University for our Unit last week. The device used to cost about £2,500 but is now out of production, but its a slim little thing, quiet and projects quite happily on my living room walls. So the laptop came home too and I now have a little home cinema with the laptop providing sound via my stereo!

Anyway Phil came around, laden with DVD’s and we revelled in childhood nostalgia with a DVD of everyones 80’s childhood favourite Dungeons and Dragons! As I bemoaned the lack of any real connection with the ethos of a D&D game (hey I’m a nerd, I’m not ashamed to say I used to play) Phil pointed out that the series co-producer is actually Gary Gygax formerly of TSR. Which kind of surprised me and I’d like to know how he managed to let the production team stray so far from the original D&D concept! I will look into this at some point to satisfy my inner geek.

We also saw some Brass Eye and Frasier episodes, 2 of the finest comedies ever created.

The main even though was Serenity. Joss Whedons ‘Firefly film’.
I should have raved about Firefly at the time – it’s still for my money possibly the finest sci-fi series of all time, and its cancellation means more to me now having actually seen the series. I’m glad I saw the series before Serenity – there’s no actual need to (and Phil will vouch for this) as there is a fair bit of exposition of the plot in the film. What I don’t think Phil got from the film though is a sense of how well we know the characters already. We already know what behaviour is in and out of context for them, and when they start to suffer – we feel their pain. So I don’t think you’re going to get the same emotional engagement with the film unless you’ve seen the series first. The movie is great through, and mainly because it doesn’t deviate from the canon of the series – it’s like watching a 2 hour episode – and has the feel of a made for TV movie with a big budget, but that is absolultely *not* a criticism, that’s exactly what I wanted from the film. The CGI in places is, quite obviously CGI, but it’s never rammed down your throat, and when the big ‘battle in space’ scene finally materialises, it is mercifully brief – the carnage is hinted at rather than shown, and you are taken through the human side of the story rather than the battle. George Lucas would have done well to pay attention to Firefly and Serenity, as these were everything that Star Wars Ep 1, 2 & 3 were not. It’s also quite wonderful to watch Summer Glau pulling out the martial arts moves as we see River Tam transit from basket case to fully fledged killing machine during the film. Now if only we’d had more of that during Firefly…

Right I’m off to watch Pi now, maybe Ichi the Killer too today. I also have Gosford Park and Unforgiven lined up for this week – going to make the most of the projector whilst I can!

Flight Into Mariner Valley

I have to say I’ve loved playing with Google Mars. There’s something wonferful about being able to access this data thats cost countless millions of dollars to produce.

However of more interest is the group behind Google Mars who work at Arizona State University. Their website is rather excellent and engaging (you can even download the software they use, but i particularly like this fly-through of Mariner Valley on Mars. There are higher resolution versions on their site, but here’s a link to the Google Video version..

http://video.google.com/googleplayer.swf?videoUrl=http%3A%2F%2Fvp.video.google.com%2Fvideodownload%3Fversion%3D0%26secureurl%3DpQAAAKyPkgc4BS31NqTamGfDVQILnVBPS9-2SySOel1_S2CRJ9h42ayFCAC3dxH07C-8hzcC9S_87UdewmQ9Skvhn1yWBH2yx7TFaLTdHuqKhDEAyjRVzFNKRPA3mOQ4iVCHcKdoQ0WvnQPk97cVRP45HxwrFC6bmqKGU2IHKFjWVf3Vq1k8VrxRmsnMGuYavoeSTQImx7UOwxg4QwoGuaq7hXBvufU7VYbklJ6y4g9s538P%26sigh%3DV9RUagKaEdNurFQ8dnBsvbjUqxE%26begin%3D0%26len%3D230699%26docid%3D-1622667251598627943&thumbnailUrl=http%3A%2F%2Fvideo.google.com%2FThumbnailServer%3Fcontentid%3D7420fed3c042d0d3%26second%3D5%26itag%3Dw320%26urlcreated%3D1142329355%26sigh%3DrTEQ25P337vdYL3HaTrAbMjc9X8&playerId=-1622667251598627943

On the joys of whisky

Of course the joy of whisky is often tempered by the head the next day, especially at the rate I was tasting them last night. Neil cooked an excellent veggie curry spread for Jen, Phil, Matt and myself and we enjoyed some rather tasty red’s: Lindemans Bin 45 Cab Sav, Wolf Blass President Shiraz and an Ancien Comte Fitou that I can remember (!) but I resolutely stayed off the topic of whisky, as it was after all – a schoolnight.

However such intentions never last for long, and Neil took us on a whirlwind whisky tour. I certainly remember a Glenmorangie, Caol Isla, Bowmore (port casking), the ever favourite Ardberg amongst others. However the outstanding find of the night is the cask strength Bowmore 1984. Only 2208 bottles made, and I believe, sherry casked – this has to be one of the nicest whiskies it has ever been my pleasure to sample. I’ve not managed to find it for less than about £120 online so far however! Non-chill filtered and bottled as a 16 year old this just dripped in sweet, sherried, honey flavours, with an amazing propensity to cling to the tumblers, almost syrupy in texture. With an amazingly long finish and enough peat to compete with the other whiskies we tasted during the evening, my tastebuds were treated to something really sublime. A perfect post-prandial whisky, I now have to look for a suitable occasion to snap up a bottle for myself whilst they’re still around. Even thinking about it just sets me off daydreaming…

One of those whiskies that means I’ll never look at them in quite the same way again…

Captain Zep – Space Detective

Does anyone else remember this? I was just (ahem) reading Slashot and it was someones userid – and it stirred a deeply implanted memory in me.

A quick Googling reveals:

http://www.hotkey.net.au/~nval/scifi/captainz.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Captain_Zep_-_Space_Detective

I seem to remember that it was unmitigated rubbish, but also remember being hopelessly addicted to it along with my sister..

Anyone else?

Update: Helen (sister in question) claims not to remember anything about this, but rightly pointed out that if you wrote to the show you would receive a sticker if you got their question right (or something) which I’m pretty sure was a minor observational detail that would occur sometime during the show.

BOSE®: QuietComfort® 2 Acoustic Noise Cancelling® headphones

mmm well not often I get to play with a set of headphones that cost £275 (RRP), but Jamie very kindly loaned me a set of BOSE®: QuietComfort® 2 Acoustic Noise Cancelling® headphones for the day.

I’ve never had the chance to use noise cancelling ‘phones before, I have a set of closed cup Sennheiser HD 212 Pros, which are quite frankly a bargain for £30. The advantages of the closed cup design is that it does cut down on extraneous noise, and the HD212 is bassy, punchy and LOUD, they’re really studio/DJ phones, and I know friends of mine use them for that purpose. They also garner great reviews – just look around.

Putting on the Bose QC-2’s though was a bit of a revalation. Firstly they’re much prettier than my Sennheiser, and although I doubt they are any lighter are amazingly comfortable to wear (one of the great things about the HD212’s is I can wear them for 4 hours before I start to get uncomfortable). There’s no pass-through, so you can’t have them on with the noise-cancelling off, but when you put them on, the noise cancelling is obvious even in quiet environments. They don’t drive as hard as my HD212’s but they just don’t need to. Coming in this morning I noticed a few things, and once you get used to the slight disorientation of having part of your sensory spectrum removed you can really marvel at them.

What really gets cancelled out? Traffic noise was markedly reduced, to the point where I didn’t hear car engines, but heard the tyres on the wet road instead. Larger vehicle engine noises (much lower) were not damped as efficiently, but once on the bus I felt the bus, rather than heard it. They’re not as effective as cutting out the strong Geordie accents though as the HD212’s and my iPod on full! The metro journey was great though, I’ve never travelled to work in such quiet comfort, and once off the metro – I could hardly hear a single footstep as I walked to work. You do have to be careful crossing roads though – the normal hints about traffic do not apply when you just can’t hear it!

The sound reproduction is amazing, I went through some Ellen Allien, Akufen, K-Os and The Shins on the way to work – Akufen sounded like I’d never heard them before, and it makes me realise a) how bass heavy my HD212’s are and b) how muddy they actually sound when placed against something nearly 10x their price. I guess you pays your money etc.. The QC-2’s have amazing defintion across the range, although I do miss the volume and bass of the HD212’s, I guess that after a year of listening to them I’m rather fond of them.

What surprised me is how much difference they make in a quiet environment where you wouldn’t have thought there was much to damp out, but sitting here in my ‘quiet’ office, as soon as I put them on the voices outside the door disappear, the fan hum from the 2 PC’s is gone and the vacuum cleaner next door is silenced – this is true even at very low volumes. Even the clack of my fingers as I type this is significantly deadened – only the higher end frequencies leeching through.

Now if only I could afford a pair for myself!