How to Lose Friends & Alienate People

October 31, 2008

You want to know how? Make a film like this. Simon Pegg has, to date, done a brilliant job of pleasing fans with his fresh and entertaining ‘Britcoms’ (of these, Shaun of the Dead remains the best). He could have blown a lot of the fan goodwill he’s built on this movie.

The film is pretty much ‘Run Fatboy Run’ all over again. Very ‘British’ and slovenly Pegg takes on toothy-grinned, super-groomed, super successful American homme for the affections of a woman and keeps losing but wins anyway. Sorry for the spoiler. The difference is its set in the world of glossy showbiz magazines.

Cringe humour is the staple ingredient (Pegg turning up for work in a rude T-shirt, accidentally spitting half-chewed food on the executives and so on). There’s nothing that hasn’t been seen before and it leaves the movie predictable, dull and lifeless. The only saving grace is Megan Fox – and that’s only in a ‘Loaded’ kind of way.

Maybe it would have worked better on the small screen.


Digital device

October 22, 2008

It’s the end of a long day. I’m ready to run for the train. As my computer shuts down, I gather up the discarded paper from my desk and carry it to the secure confidential waste paper and thin card bin along the corridor.

The SCWPATC bin has a locked lid with a thin slit for depositing papers. I put my papers in the slot. They do not disappear, due to an excess of confidential waste paper and possibly thin cards piled up beneath.

I do not want to leave my confidential waste paper poking out at the mercy of data desperados bent on document theft. So I prod the papers firmly through the slot with my shortish, but not stubby, middle finger.

My finger gets stuck in the slot. Quite painfully, behind the second joint. I pull it up. It does not slip free. I glance at my watch. Nat. Ex. trains wait for no man (only wildfowl). I need to hurry.

I pull harder, bravely ignoring the pain. The locked lid lifts lazily off the bin, exposing an Aladdin’s cave of confidential waste paper.

I am free. I just have a large curved plastic lid encasing my hand. I look like a Pelota player. I do a quick risk assessment. The lid on my hand is inconvenient, but not life threatening. It will not change my life, although I will have to get some larger ski gloves. Typing will be difficult. I could run for the train.

With a sigh I hold the lid down firmly with my other hand and yank my trapped finger out of the slit. The lid slots back into position, re-securing the waste assets. Somewhere in the distance a train whistle blows.

Economic Indications

September 10, 2008

The George Street Burger King has closed. This is the strongest indicator of imminent global recession that I have seen so far.

It will be good for my waistline. Now I will have to walk further to another Burger King for my dinner.

I knew that markets were tough. I spent couple of hours today in going through the various business forecast reports and my yet-to-be-paid credit card bills. Fortunately my employer is better placed than a City fast food outlet. We are unlikely to be turning customers away.

I wonder if any economists would be interested in my Burger Unit Number (BUN) Index (patent pending) for modelling purposes?


August 19, 2008

“What is the point,” I wondered as I walked to Burger King for my dinner, “of mounted police in the City of London?”

As I queued for my Whoppa I mused that surely a horse was an obsolete technology for the front line in the war against crime and terror in the 21st century.

I mean, what are horses good for? Is it sensible for an expensively trained, well-equipped police officer to be seated on top of half a ton of sentient and volatile semi-domesticated herbivore inches away from speeding traffic and any number of sudden distractions?

In a crowd a motor vehicle becomes an obstacle and a liability. In a crowd an officer on foot is barely visible and can only influence a handful of people. In a crowd a horse is a vantage point, a form of transport, a signalling platform and an icebreaker….A horse can run faster than a man. A horse can wade through deeper water than any motor vehicle. A horse emits less carbon than an internal combustion engine per hour (depending on diet, I suppose). A horse can be reassuring, but assertive and it appreciates small treats and gentle patting.

There are some old technologies that still have their place.

I reminded myself to look carefully at legacy systems and not to shoot the police horses when we change things….What do they do with police horses once they get too old?

My burger was rather tough.

There Will Be Blood

August 11, 2008

This was certainly an intelligent and intriguing piece of filmmaking – unnerving and dark in with skilful moods contrasts. However, the media hype comparing the film to Citizen Kane or The Godfather fall a little flat, it’s just not as densely complex and occasionally falters. That being said, Daniel Day-Lewis’s performance is immensely enjoyable and very good. The imagery and symbolism is powerful but the message required much further development to place it in the list of truly “great” films.

This is the story of a wilful man fuelled by anger and hatred of his fellow man with a fierce competitive edge that moves him to stop at nothing to achieve total dominance. There was a very meticulous revelation of Lewis’s character, Daniel Plainview: to begin with he seemed to be a normal, good man, but events underline how seriously disturbed he actually was. Daniel Plainview was a perfect part for Lewis: his thin, rickety posture reflects his brittle heart and nature.

The story was good, the acting, especially Lewis, mainly very good and it was perfectly scored but the dialogue and the directing were lagging at times.

Many of the characters feel too awkward and while there were areas of engaging dialogue there were too few. In parts it’s strange and baffling, but at times brilliant, captivating, raw and realistic. A sinister score enhances the dark horror that this film brings to the oil industry of that time, at times I felt quite mad myself.

The pace of the film was stunted, and overlong dialogue took over just as you expected some action or drama. There are few actors today that can do what Lewis can, though, he transforms into the character and takes you along with him. Astounding when you consider he’s spent the past few years making furniture at his home.

In the end you almost feel sorry for Plainview, the very character strengths that allowed him to accumulate great wealth, were the very same ones that led to his downfall (spoiler – sorry). A twisted tale of madness and corruption, an experience of the depths of human desire, emotion and greed. This was reasonably engaging but not up to scratch so if I had 10 thumbs – which would be odd – I’d stick six of them up for this film.


July 21, 2008

It was a heartstopping moment…

I opened my bag on the train to get my laptop, and it wasn’t there.

Instantly I knew that it had been stolen. By an invisible thief who had walked alongside me to the station and had unzipped the bag as I walked, then unzipped the laptop case and sneakily extracted the computer without me noticing a thing.

Mentally I retraced my steps. From putting the bag between my feet as I sat on the train, walking back along the carriage, off the train, through the ticket barrier, back up the steps, along the street, into the office building, past the security guard, up in the lift, back through the department to my desk, where I had been rushing to hand some papers to my boss, zipping up my bag and NOT PICKING UP MY LAPTOP FROM THE DESK!

Aarrggh. I had forgotten my laptop.

My whole weekend plan was in shreds. I would not be able to review the emails from today, I would not be able to look at the presentations, I would not be able to finish a report. I would not be able to do any work for the whole weekend..

Hang on.

Er…That’s not so bad.

By the time I got to Perth I had a spring in my step. It was a beautiful summer evening. The sun was low in the sky. There were many strikingly pierced punks cheerfully wandering down the hill. The pigeons were cooing. It didn’t even look as if it was going to rain…

which was lucky really, because I left my umbrella in Stirling yesterday.

ID as in idiot

July 14, 2008

The opposite of Identity Theft is perhaps Identity Neglect. This occurs when people ignorantly or deliberately leave parts of their identity lying around for other people to find and use.

The most public example of Identity Neglect in the UK recently was a celebrated journalist who was trying to show that personal data loss was not a big problem. He published his name and bank details in a newspaper, to prove that there was nothing to worry about because financial institutions had robust security measures in place… Within 48 hours someone had anonymously set up a bank payment from his account to a major charity (and that was just the part of the story he chose to tell us about).

But small examples of Identity Neglect happen all the time. People still throw away credit card statements, household bills and bank statements unshredded in their household rubbish. People still give out their credit card details, name and address over the phone in public places…

On Friday I was coming home on the train, sitting near a woman with a mobile phone. She was in the process of selling or letting her flat in Glasgow. Her estate agent had left her a message to ask if he/she could bring round some prospective clients to view the flat on Monday (today).

Somewhere between Dunblane and Stiring, she rang the agent back and in a very LOUD VOICE clearly stated her name, the address of her flat and then went on to explain that she was going away for the weekend and would then be away for the next 10 days, so the flat would be empty. She was at pains to emphasise her concern that the clients viewing the flat should be accompanied (from which I surmised that she had items of value in the flat).

At this point she lost the signal on her phone. So she had to ring back.

It took two attempts for her to get back through to the right person, during which she repeated her name and address twice more….Just in case there was a burglar in the carriage who had been a bit slow in noting down the precise details. She ended the call by reminding the agent how long she would be away leaving the flat empty.

I hope she is not insured with us.

Import ants

May 22, 2008

Did you see the news about the invasion of tiny ants in Texas which eat electronic equipment?

No, seriously. Apparently these little beasties have appeared from nowhere (perhaps imported on a boat from the Caribbean) and feast on all sorts of electronic goods. From sewage plant pumps to i-pods. Nothing is safe.

I wish I’d thought of it. What a great screenplay!

Endearingly they also eat fire ants, which are rather unpleasant and can give humans a nasty bite.

I’m planning to head to Texas shortly to start selling gadgets for laminating household devices in foul tasting plastic. Meanwhile I wonder what the insurance position is. Would a normal household contents policy cover the loss of a flat screen TV due to being partially eaten by insects? Perhaps one of our well-informed readers could leave a commant?


May 2, 2008

On a continuing international theme I am grateful to blog readers Mr.T and Miss.L for emailing me with an explanation of Icelandic “bun day”. I would like to think that they are both experts in Icelandic traditions and culture, but I sensed a quick trip to Wikipedia was a more likely basis for their apparent erudition.

Mr.T explained “bun day” as follows: “Iceland celebrates two holidays in February that seem to revolve simply around the consumption of delicious foods with guiltless abandon. Two days before Lent is known as Bolludagur or “Buns Day.” Homes, restaurants and particular bakeries, overflow with delicately made cream puffs or “buns.” These “buns” come in all different shapes and sizes, filled with cream, jam, and sometimes drizzled in chocolate. Children especially love Bun Day because they get to wake up early and try to catch their parents still in bed. If they do, they “beat” them out of bed with their individually made Bolluvondur or “Bun Wands,” which are colourfully decorated with strips of paper and gleaming ribbon. The parents are then obliged to give their children one cream puff for every “blow” received.”

I struggle to imagine me getting up early to catch my parents in bed… But I’m a glutton for buns so I’ll pencil in a trip to Iceland in the February gloom for one day when I have more time.( just kidding…)

I thought that Miss.L’s email summed it up more enticingly: “it seems to revolve around being paid (in buns) for spanking other people with a stick before they get out of bed!”… Which has got to beat working, any day.

Of course, in my quest for global diversity, I’m now wondering whether any other countries have a traditional festival which involves spanking…


April 21, 2008

Yes…I admit.It is not my territory. But With time to go out on Sunday I bought myself a Teach Yourself Polish course. It promises “all round confidence”, a bit like a personal hygeine product. I’m quite excited.

A quick scan of the chapters gives me a taste of what to expect on my next trip to Poland, if I master the pronunciation…

It starts well: unit 2 “Pleased to meet you” and unit 5 “We buy some food”. But things take a bizarre turn in unit 6 “I prefer to swim”. By unit 9 “We make a date” things are looking better, but it gets more serious in unit 12 “Have you been to the doctor’s?” – probably due to swimming just after eating. Things are looking ominous by unit 16 “I’ve got a problem”, with no sign of a solution in unit 18 “How did it happen?”. Things turn out OK in the end, unit 20 “Did you like it in Poland?”

I like the narrative flow. It will spur me on to complete the course.

When I got home I compared the contents list with my Colloquial Icelandic course, in which I never got past the first couple of chapters “Welcome to Iceland!” and “Where are you from?” In fact I noticed that my book mark was still halfway through chapter 3 “Where are we going?”

Perhaps in keeping with the national character, the Icelandic course is a lot more down to earth than Polish. The chapters have pithy titles like “Clothing”, “The Family”, “Appointments” and “Accommodation”. But it loosens up towards the end with “Story, history and people” which flows unsteadily into chapter 15 “Heads, shoulders, knees and toes”, which I thought might be a Viking drinking song, but contains the unmissable section “Body parts: how to use them in Icelandic”.

Just as I put the book away one useful item of vocabulary caught my eye: “rjómabolla – a bun filled with whipped cream traditionally eaten on ‘bun day'”… In Iceland they have a ‘bun day’! I wonder if that is weekly, monthly or annually.