The no-longer tolling bell

Whenever they’s a fight so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there. Whenever they’s a cop beatin’ up a guy, I’ll be there… I’ll be in the way guys yell when they’re mad an’ I’ll be in the way kids laugh when they’re hungry an’ they know supper’s ready. An’ when our folks eat the stuff they raise an’ live in the houses they build why, I’ll be there.

John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath (Chapter 28)

Ma Joad and Tom Joad discuss Tom's future.
Ma Joad and Tom Joad discuss Tom’s future. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The latest British Social Attitudes survey suggests the UK is becoming less charitable; looks like compassionate conservatism is here to stay.

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My superhero name is Señor Moment

Herpderp
Herpderp (Photo credit: bryan thayer)

I’ve passed a milestone: two senior moments in the one week.

While starting a meeting on Monday I made a point of loudly and clearly asking the person to my right if our product manager was in since it’d be useful to have him go over some things.

“Hi” said the person to my right doing a little wave.

Yep, I couldn’t see him even though I was looking straight at him.

Once isn’t so bad, right?  It’s a Friday, I’m tired, it’s hot, and all want to do is get out in the sun.

The next day Ang heads into town without me; for some reason, having to look after a slightly agoraphobic, misanthropic, yipping gerbil in a busy shopping district doesn’t appeal (no accounting for taste…) so I made plans to meet up with her  in a new crepery once she’d finished her chores unencumbered.  I get there, late as usual, and get a table outside before sending a text to say where I was and to express my irritation at being made to wait for 30 whole seconds. Shortly after the ‘message sent’ alert fades from my screen I hear a slightly confused voice  saying  “Uhm…Damo?”.  Oh, here it comes, the stroke’s finally happening. I’m being called to eternal rest. I’m coming grandma!

No.  Ang was sitting at the table opposite me and had been for five minutes before I’d turned up. Cue much merriment (and, more than likely some sympathy directed at Ang) from the waitresses.

I think it’s time for a holiday, but before you judge me, watch the following video:

See, it could happen to a bishop.

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Feeling the Olympic Spirit

English: Congestion on the London Underground
English: Congestion on the London Underground (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s arrived. That doom-laden, apocalyptic, end-of-days event has hit London together with a million extra tourists, spectators, athletes, and entourages. We feared the Olympic lanes, we were told to consider staying at home for two weeks, maybe go on a holiday, take up walking or just plain get over it. But it’s great for the London and of course will be a moment to tell your grand-kids about when they take you out to dinner (as long as you don’t ask for chips).

Well the trains didn’t break down, the traffic kept moving, and the city looks more like the start of 28 Days Later than Soylent Green, so I’m glad to have shared my train with the one commuter in the whole of the south-east who wasn’t feeling a part of Team GB.

On a fairly empty Victoria Line train I managed to get a seat, while this paragon of British stoicism stood in the middle of the carriage. I usually get up before the train hits Oxford Circus to give me time to pull myself together because no-one needs to see me waddle around like the bastard offspring of Winnie the Pooh and Carroll’s White Rabbit, so I did, and it was slow, and there was room.  Cue a full-on charge from our Olympic champion, culminating in a body-check on this bear of very little brain.

“Carefull!” I tutted, wondering why what can only be a plain-clothes courier carrying a heart and lungs ready for transplant, judging by his desperate speed, is travelling by Tube.

“We all have to get off the train mate and you stood up too slowly.”

“That’s not a pushing offense last time I checked.”

“Well…” [and this sums up everything] “… you had a great old time sitting down, so shut up.”

“…”

What else could I do?  I avoided his vacant vacant gaze until the doors opened and when my new best friend thought it’d be fun to stand in my way, I barged and hit him with a bag that held an 800 page psychology text.

I hope the irony wasn’t lost on him.

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Why does the sun go on shining?

The Earth seen from Apollo 17.
The Earth seen from Apollo 17. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve just been to see a movie about the extinction of all life on this fragile ball of rock and it was the most uplifting two hours I’ve spent in a cinema this year. Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, begins with the announcement that a seventy mile wide asteroid (with the sinister name of Matilda) is going to collide with the Earth in three weeks and follows Steve Carell and Keira Knightley’s road trip as they try to get back to their respective long-lost love and family.

Lorene Scafaria’s second movie feels like the pretty sister to von Trier’s Melancholia, with the end of the world acting as a backdrop to what really matters, Carell, Knightley and a mutt called Sorry‘s search for what they need to get through the rest of their – foreshortened – lives.

SaFftEotW is a much more heartfelt and touching piece of work than Scarfaria’s previous movie, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, mainly because Steve Carell can bring a sense of pathos and charm to any role; I suspect he could reprise the role of Hitler in a remake of the now infamous Downfall and we’ll all lie down like Sorry and have our tummies scratched.

On top of that, a great collection of the funniest women (Oh, Connie Britton you’ll always be my Mrs. Coach) and men in Hollywood turn up to add colour to a perfectly realised end of days, not least of which is President Bartlett himself, who in less than ten minutes screen time almost manages to steel the entire film. I think Ang is starting to worry that my admiration for Martin Sheen (and Carell) is turning into something about which we need to have a conversation.

Go see Seeking a Friend for the End of the World.  You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll question your sexuality, but you won’t be bored.

Excuse me while I call my Mam.

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The Geek shall Inherit

In the UK only one of the six-hundred and fifty Members of Parliament has a scientific background. Homeopathy and chiropractic are available on the NHS, while effective and proven medicines are shunned. Our newspapers and television constantly report non-effective and dangerous practices as if they were fact. Even when they report on scientific work, scientists are misrepresented and used to score political points which leaves the public believing that there is no use in funding research any more. The UK is turning from a centre of excellence, a candle in the darkness, to a Thunderdome where ever-decreasing funds are fought for by our scientific community.

Enough, says Mark Henderson – the head of communications at the Wellcome Trust, and sets forward a manifesto to reclaim our culture of scientific inquiry and build a government where decisions are made based on evidence rather than fear, uncertainty and doubt.

In order to try to force our MPs to listen, Dave Watts pledged to send a copy of The Geek Manifesto to all MPs if enough volunteers stepped up to share the load and, oh boy, did they?  Not only that, Transworld Publishers donated 150 copies to make sure the pledge could be met.

My own copy is now on its way to Julian Huppert (MP for Cambridge), who certainly doesn’t need it but our own MP, Andrew Lansley, was the first to be snapped up. No surprise there. Let’s hope they read and act on it so the country doesn’t fall back into the dark ages.

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God does not build in straight lines

In 1974, Dan O’Bannon produced a science fiction comedy about a transport ship which ran into trouble with a sentient bomb. Dark Star was a critical and financial flop so O’Bannon’s revenge was to invade the nightmares of a generation with the Ridley Scott helmed Alien. Thirty-three years, five movies, four forests worth of comic books, umpteen video games and toys later and Scott has returned to play in the Alien universe once again.

Owing more to Nigel Kneale and Erich Von Däniken than Agatha Christie, Prometheus is as sprawling and ambitious as Alien was claustrophobic and intimate, and feels like those old 1950’s hard scifi epics of yesteryear. Unfortunately, while it’s entertaining and visually stunning, the increased sense of scale belies a lack of depth in the story.

There are several plotlines, each of which could be a movie in its own right: the Dänikenesque Engineers, the search for God and subsequent meditations on the nature of faith, the political machinations of a multi-planetary corporation, the creepy alien that just wants to be a real boy. But because we only get to play in the universe for just over two hours nothing can be followed up in a truly satisfying manner.  Just like The Chronicles of Riddick – opening up a universe does not always mean the stories can justify it.

And while the performances were perfect (especially Fassbender’s David), the sets beautiful, the sense of creeping terror in keeping with the tone of the original Alien, Prometheus still feels like a synthesis of old ideas none of which really gel.

Unlike the movie’s namesake, Scott has failed to steal fire from the Gods, ultimately giving us a very stylish adventure which lacks substance.

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Trouble Down t’Mill

Updates to Readmill for iPad

 

 

I just did a guest post for ReadMill on how all the choice we’re given around ebooks boils down to no choice at all.

 

If you haven’t heard of ReadMill, their software tries to turn ebook reading into a kind of virtual reading group with shared highlighting, commenting, and conversations centred around your reading.  Although the reader is only available for iPad, there are ways to use the site with Android and iPhone applications and your Kindle highlights.

I’ve found it invaluable for cataloguing noted during my psychology MSc and it’s fun to see what other people highlight as important. At the very least, it’ll estimate for how many hours you’ll have to endure that statistics textbook.

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