Thursday, 31 January 2008

Oh What a Circus

I always hated musicals as a kid. Apart from West Side Story, which I don't believe is possible not to like. They always seemed so unnatural, and even a bit creepy: why are these people singing, and why are passersby and incidental characters always being forced to join in these weird co-ordinated dance routines around the main cast, as if compelled by an external and invisible force stronger than their own will?

But I'm reconsidering my position after listening to the Cabaret and Evita soundtracks at Mamiko's mother's place over the past few days. They really are very good; psychologically interesting in a way I hadn't given musicals credit for in the past, and musically mature too - more adult than what I remember Oliver!, My Fair Lady, Oklahoma etc. being like.

From a British perspective, Evita is also historically interesting for two reasons: firstly because Argentina and Britain have such an odd relationship, being so antagonistic and yet so obviously similar in character. But secondly because the story of Evita is so similar to that of Lady Diana - the title song could in fact just as likely have been written about her death and funeral rather than Eva Peron's. The sarcastic line - But who is this Santa Evita? Why all this crying, hysterical sorrow? What kind of goddess has walked among us? How will we ever get by without her? - sounds like a pithy puncturing of all the ridiculous over-hyping of Diana's death, which back then I thought was absurd and which now, ten years later, most British people look back on as a national embarrassment, especially since, like the line in the song about Evita, Diana had actually done nothing for years. Other than, I suppose, look waif-like and vulnerable while throwing herself from rich boyfriend to rich boyfriend.

What is it about Argentina and Britain, two nations hitherto reknowned for an almost ridiculous consciousness of propriety and correctness, that made them go so loony over the deaths of these two women?

Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Going Through The Motions

I woke up this morning feeling a little crappy. Then I joined in sharing some kippers with my mum for breakfast, a tasty breakfast (I've never had them for breakfast before) which has been repeating on me ever since.

The day has been on a downward incline ever since.

It's not all bad news though; despite finding last night that my computer at home didn't have the necessary software to do my slides with (or the right unzipping software to allow me to install it), I am beginning to feel quite at peace with it. A conversation with my friend before has made me realise that as I am giving it, in a sense, because of my PhD I can justify it as "time well spent," so from tomorrow I'll work on it for half the day each day until it is done. If I can get the install done with no problems tonight then I can work on the text of my slides at home, and get my pictures on to the slides when I'm in uni (because I don't have the internet or a decent drawing program at home).

The news story that made me say "What?!" today exists on the borders of bizarre and mundane: an eleven year old boy who has been deaf in one ear for nine years finds the tip of a cotton wool bud in there... What can you say to that? You can just about believe that it was lodged deep enough so that his parents couldn't see it, but the fact that health professionals missed it for that long makes me extremely thankful that I'm in general good health.

Ah well, back to the slides... Wordless Wednesday tomorrow I think.

Monday, 28 January 2008

"Not Much" Monday

So what's going on? "Not much."

Of course, in the wider scheme of things that's not true. There's war and famine, plague and death, chaotic weather systems, even more chaotic relationships between humans, and a spoof on 300 is top of the box office in America...

I spent some time in the office over the weekend working on my slides for the talk that I have to give to a group of high school maths students next week. Part of me is looking forward to doing it, part of me is replaying every nightmare I've ever had about being ill-prepared for my part in a play or for a public speaking occasion on a nearly constant background brain chatter. It will be pretty good, and I'm sure that's what I'll think when it's over and done with - but for some reason I am more nervous about this than I was about the various talks I've given at a national or international level.

Steve Merchant, in one of the Ricky Gervais Show podcasts, once talked about going into a primary school to talk about being a writer. He described being nervous, and realised that he didn't know anything about children really, or what things they understood at a conceptual level (i.e., what it means to "get inside someone's head"). This is a different thing really, although there are still conceptual issues at stake.

My big worry is just how high/low I can pitch this talk. My friend John (who is a teacher at the school I am going to, and he was here doing his PhD up until about eighteen months ago) said that they're all fairly bright, but there's bright and then there's bright, you know?

I've met Masters level students who are "bright" but who are unable to think for themselves (desribes about half of last year's Masters students here). These high schoolers might be bright, but knot theory is something that most university students won't meet until they're nearly in grad school. That's not because the problems in knot theory are difficult to state; far from it, the basic problems (which in a sense are still open) can be explained to the layman in less than five minutes.

The difficulty comes in firstly explaining why these are difficult problems (which I think I can do) and secondly in describing how we might approach trying to solve them. The machinery for the latter is what I'm trying to decide how to explain, what I can expect them to understand or how I can explain things simply.

And then there is the real difficulty in trying to persuade them that knot theory is an area of maths worthy of study...

Still, it's not all bad. It was worth getting out of bed just to see these pictures from the Venice Carnival. I especially like the fourth picture in the sequence, there's kind of a grotesque beauty to it. I've never been to a proper masquerade, it's something I would like to do at some point.

What's going on? "Not much."

It's the answer that's easy, the answer that applies on perhaps a cosmic level, but right this second...
...I'm breathing in...
...I'm thinking...
...I'm remembering...
...I'm typing...
...I'm listening to Maroon 5...
...I'm waiting...
...I'm searching...
...I'm lacking...
...I'm becoming...
...and you and I are doing all these and so much more. OK, maybe you're not listening to Maroon 5, but you get the point. That's just this second, a split-second, an atom of time. That's without getting down to what's really going on with you, with your life and with the people in your orbit.

More soon.

Friday, 25 January 2008

Dreaming Big

Just a short post: is it a realistic goal for my 101 Things In 1001 Days to aim to have won an Oscar in that time? I never really thought about it, but then I saw this photo story about how they are made and I quite want one now...

Any more suggestions for realistic goals?

EDIT: thanks to noisms for observing that I had mis-spelled "realistic" - the Academy takes a dim view of such things...

Starting Up a Business, and The Meaning of Meaning

I'm thinking about making a go of this freelance translation malarkey. No overheads except rent and what it costs to keep my laptop running round the clock (and dictionary batteries), no boss, no overtime except what I schedule, lunch breaks when I want...this is the life. I remember watching an episode of The Apprentice once, when Sir Alan Sugar was reminiscing about his life (he's one of those self-made billionaire types from a background of absolute penury); one thing he said with surprising (to me, at the time) vehemence was that once he'd started his own business "wild horses couldn't have dragged [him] back to working for somebody else."

Now I see what he means.

What I don't like about translation is that if you don't have absolute faith in your knowledge of the source language, you can mess everything up. This is especially likely in Japanese, which tends to create neologisms which can convey meaning very efficiently but which aren't actually 'words'. It does this because of its writing system, which can communicate visual meaning outside of how it sounds. For example, I'm currently trying to translate the word dousatokusei, which isn't a real dictionary word but which you often find in technical documents. Dousa comes from the kanji for movement and making, and tokusei from those for special and having the property of [something]. The English phrases that I can think of that come closest would be Dynamic Characteristics or Motion Properties or some such, but I don't think those phrases really exist in the English language and have no faith that English-speaking readers would really understand what they even mean.

But then, thinking about these things is all part of the fun. One of the most enjoyable things about learning a new language - especially a non-Indo-European one if you're an English speaker - is the different perspective it gives you on not just the world, but what fundamental concepts like communication, meaning, and thought, even are. I recommend it.

A (Thurs)day in the life

4am: Wake up. Check the time. Wonder what I was dreaming about...? Zombies? No... But there was something. It escapes me.
6am: Wake up again thanks to alarm. Stretch a couple of times and finally get up after about twenty minutes of procrastination and bleary thoughts.
6:20am: The shower's still out of use (there's a leak somewhere that means water is getting through to the floorboards, and hence the ceiling of the ground floor) and is likely to be for weeks to come.
7:45am: After breakfast, getting dressed, making some lunch and catching the breakfast news I leave the house for the local train station (less than two minutes away, but I had to run). On the train I think about the day ahead and read some more "Tales Of The Dying Earth" for a bit.
8:35am: Arrive at uni after walk from Lime Street station. The rain only started as I crossed the edge of the campus, so I don't get too wet. First order of business on entering the office is to login and perform my daily ritual of checking email, reading blogs (quite a few these days) and completing the daily puzzle.
9:10am: Start work before I can procrastinate any further. Only have a little more work to do and then will have two chapters to hand to my supervisor for comments. Want to get the work done before teabreak (at 11), so all I have to do then is write a covering paper with some points that I think need addressing and any questions I have.
10:30am: Going well, almost done, and then my officemate arrives and I turn my back on the computer to have a chat.
11am: Oh look at that! Time for a break! Over tea and plain chocolate digestives we talk gossip, intrigue, moan about university red tape and admin and then finally concede that we should get back to work.
11:30am: Takes only a little while to finish the changes to the chapter, and then about a half hour to write the letter for my supervisor. The rest of the hour and a quarter before I hand it in to him is taken up with more small talk, sharing of news stories, some more departmental gossip and discussion of specs for laptops.
12:45pm: Print off work and hand in to supervisor; eat the tuna and spinach wraps I made for lunch and check the 17 webcomics that I have bookmarked (praise be for Firefox's "open all in tabs" button!).
1:15pm: Go to café with officemate for caramel shortcake and to talk some more about stuff. Then back to the office where I start my next chapter. It's an extension of the one I just finished, so it should come fairly easily. Aiming to have a draft complete by next Friday.
3:30pm: Have managed to get quite a bit done, but then my attention starts to wander. I check to see if some blogs have been updated through the day. I dash off a couple of emails, and start to think about what I might blog about.
4:30pm: Remember that my mum wanted me to pick up something from the art shop, and that I also have things I want to pick up (OK, comics). Leave early.
4:33pm: On the way to the art shop remember that I forgot to blog, forgot some emails I had to write and still didn't get to writing down the definitions for another chapter that I had intended to do last week. Sigh.
5:20pm: After picking up Chinese style stamps from the art shop, and comics from Worlds Apart, read comics on the train home.
5:45pm: Home. Finish reading week's comics and wonder how come the new run of the Ultimates can have turned into a fan-fictionish parody despite having one of the best writer's in comics and jaw-dropping artwork.
7pm: Dinner. Keep out of family disputes whilst enjoying salmon steaks and wholegrain rice, then wash dishes. Family go out to Tesco for something or other; in their absence I make a CD of music for a friend on my computer and sing along loudly to Tom Jones.
8pm: Watch a couple of episodes of Buffy whilst thinking about what I did during the day (and, a little guiltily, what I didn't do). Friend texts me a couple of times and I reply; remember that I am meeting them for lunch and smile.
10pm: Turn off TV, see what family are up to now and decide to call it a night.
10:17pm: What will I dream of tonight?

More soon.

Wednesday, 23 January 2008


I've been measuring progress on my thesis this week (and quite a few times in the past) based on the number of pages I do in a day. This may or may not be a good thing, as often as it comes to tidying things up and making small corrections the increase is quite small. Still, I've added about two pages to the thesis today, and made some alterations to some tables of results which needed doing, and while I feel pretty tired now I also feel pretty happy with what I've done today.

I lost six squash games in a row yesterday (the first three were enough to lose the match and keep me on sixteenth place in the ladder; the second three were just for practice), and then played football. Five-a-side felt great, just awesome to be playing again. I was really, really stiff by the end of yesterday evening, but felt quite good this morning. It's 4:30 in the afternoon now, and I'm starting to flag a bit...

I've just seen this news story and I'm amazed: the sheer pedantry, box-ticking, political-correctness-gone-mad-ness of it just blows me away.

So this evening I'm going to relax, kick back and play some Darwinia, which my officemates got me for my birthday. I'm hoping to read a couple of chapters of "Tales of the Dying Earth" (which I postponed reading before Christmas) too, and then tomorrow I have to finish this chapter I'm working on (was hoping to do it today but my mental energy is just gone) and then start another one. Woohoo!

Oh, and on my way home I am booking tickets to go and see this!

And in closing, because I was going to just do a Wordless Wednesday but didn't see this picture of Iron Man until I went and looked back on Empire; Iron Man is in the running for this year's second best superhero film.

Tuesday, 22 January 2008


I am sick to death of teaser trailers. I remember when trailers actually showed you something of the film, gave you some hint of plot or visuals to make you go "Ooooooh!" Sure, there are still trailers out there (and some of them are very good), but just lately I have come to hate teaser trailers, because at most they have one little thing which makes you go "Ooooooh!" and the rest of it is just a waste of time.

The teaser trailer for the new Star Trek film is my argument exactly (spoilers for the trailer, but not the film, ahead).

It's just... Well... Boring. Some shots of some guys working on the hull of the Enterprise. Well. Whoop-de-do. Nearly a minute of guys welding. Bear in mind, this is supposed to raise excitement levels in anticipation of the film.

The two good things about the teaser trailer are in the audio as well: Leonard Nimoy's incomparable voice giving those timeless words, "Space... The final frontier..." (which sends shivers down my spine just typing it; Nimoy's voiceover at the end of Wrath Of Khan is ten times better than either of William Shatner or Patrick Stewart's efforts); the sound of the original series transporters as the old Starfleet logo appears.

Empire's blog recently had a post about how there was no opening voiceover or narration to beat the one which accompanied Star Trek, and I'd pretty much have to go along with that (although the various different opening monologues which have accompanied the first season of Heroes have been pretty good on the whole).

Work has been going well over the last two days; finished the first draft of my chapter of background material yesterday, and did a solid three pages for another chapter today (which I'm hoping I will finish tomorrow) as well as tidy up the formatting on some tables of results for one of my appendices. Through it all today I have been listening to Daft Punk and The Benjamin Gate (as well as the soundtrack to the musical episode of Buffy). I find that listening to music which is generally faster in beat has an effect on how fast I type and keep concentration.

Got to go now; playing squash in fifteen minutes, immediately followed by five-a-side. More soon.

Monday, 21 January 2008


So we're back in Japan. Nothing has changed; not that I really expected it to. We went to a ramen shop today and ate massive punch-bowls full of the stuff while drinking barley tea and listening to jazz music. (Two of the little-remarked upon features of Tokyo ramen shops are that they always give you as much barley tea as you can drink and always have jazz playing in the background. I have no idea why this is, but the three things - ramen, jazz, barley tea - seem to go together very well.)

Anyway, there was an interesting article in the paper about Masi Oka, the actor who stars in the TV show Heroes as a Japanese geek-cum-superhero type guy. (Why do superheroes always have geeky alter-egos, by the way? Peter Parker, Clark Kent...they're never normal, sensible people, are they?) The writer, a Japanese guy, was complaining about the stereotyping of East Asian men in American cinema and TV; Hiro Nakamura (the character Oka plays in Heroes - yes, he really is called Hiro...oh my aching sides), he says, is just the latest in a long line of geeky, inadequate, submissive, meek and generally naff East Asian men in American cinema, and that's all they're ever portrayed as.

This is partly true, and something I've noticed too, but there are of course other East Asian men in Hollywood. There is the dirty old man, who has an unhealthy interest in junior-high school girls' panties and smokes too much. There is the yakuza-punk-chimpira type, who is surly and menacing and does a lot of monosyllabic grunting. And there is the mystical ninja/samurai/judo master type, who is serene and wise and can also beat people up quicker than you can say 'Mr. Miyagi.'

In fact none of these types have much bearing in reality - and nor indeed do the East Asian female stereotypes we often see on the big or little screen: the dragoness ninja queen, beautiful but deadly; the demure, seductive sex-kitten; the ageing prostitute. What interests me about these stereotypes is actually how sexualised they are - we either seem to see East Asian people as perverted in some way (the submissive weakling man, the filthy old sleaze), or else as hyper-erotic (the cute young temptress; the sword-wielding scampily clad assassin). It's odd, and it reminds me of similar stereotyping of black people in Western movies and literature, whereby black men are always seen as sexually dangerous and black women are sexually promiscuous.

It's funny how you notice these things only when you've stepped away from Western culture and come back. I remember watching Lost in Translation after having spent a year in Japan and being shocked at how absurd and unsympathetic it was in its portrayal of the Japanese. But by all accounts, people in Europe and the US lapped it up, and probably never even noticed how racist it was.

Anyway, maybe one day there'll be an East Asian leading man in a Hollywood film. Denzel Washington and Will Smith have broken that particular barrier for black people; I'm hoping Ken Watanabe will be the first East Asian to win an Oscar for Best Actor - and ideally not as a samurai or army officer or other typical 'Japanese' role. Just as a normal person. That would be refreshing.

Friday, 18 January 2008


It's my birthday (my 27th). It suddenly dawns on me that I'm not exactly young any more - OK, I'm not old by any stretch but my youth is more or less tapped out. Maybe I can stretch it for another year, but that's it.

It doesn't bother me. Indeed, why should it? A couple of people made little comments today about age (and it didn't help that I left my lunch at home, leading to many remarks about failing mental faculties and so on), but, well, I have my health, I have family and friends, I don't really want for anything (anything that matters; I'm still looking for a laptop and thinking my life will be more complete with a Wii in it). Life at 27 is good so far.

Going to the cinema (I Am Legend) and then for dinner (Korean restaurant possibly) with a friend in quarter of an hour.

The list for 101 Things In 1001 Days keeps growing, but not fast enough... Any suggestions? And also one of things that I want to do is read a list of 101 books in those 1001 days (fair dos, I'll probably read more than that number) but I don't want them to just be books I've read before. Some (like The Hobbit, or the Night's Dawn trilogy, or the novels of William Gibson), sure, but not all of them, not even the majority. Of course, I can't write a list for you of all of the books I have read, but do you have any suggestions for books which are "classics" which you think are good?

Finally, I'm very excited that Empire gave Cloverfield a five star review (I didn't read it, just looked at the soundbite review and star rating) and am anxiously awaiting two weeks from today when it goes on release in the UK.

Oh, and Star Trek!!!

More soon, have fun.

(and noisms, what are you up to? You don't write, where's the love?)

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

All Change

The blog might be in a bit of a flux for a week or so, partly because of work on my side of things (trying to complete three chapters by the end of the month) and the fact that noisms is going back to Japan. In fact he's probably flying somewhere over Europe or Asia as I write this.

noisms will be over there "until further notice," as it were. Like me, I suspect that he has lots of ideas for the future but no specific plans. More power to him, if he's worried about what he might be doing a year from now he doesn't show it; if I think about it too much I feel as if it all might fall on me and squash me flat.

Anyway, the blog might be slowly updated over the coming fortnight, but it will continue.

Friday evening was the opening celebration of Liverpool 08, as Liverpool is the European Capital of Culture for 2008. This is a good thing for the city, a long overdue recognition of the fact that Liverpool is more than The Beatles and stupid criminal stereotypes. With over £100 million being invested in showing off the amazing cultural things that the city has to offer (as well as bringing in various performers, attractions and exhibitions from outside the region) it looks as if the next twelve months are going to be very interesting (there are about half a dozen things that I plan to see at just two theatres in the next three months alone).

Considering that this is the Capital of Culture year, it's surprising just how much of the development and re-development of Liverpool is focused on it having a "culture of capital" to borrow from a petition and protest from a few years ago. By far the biggest new feature of the city's skyline are a series of cranes working on the Paradise Project, a massive construction effort building a huge area of retail and leisure units (and some "housing" - though whether these are exclusive apartments or affordable homes remains to be seen) which has cost upwards of £920 million.

This project has meant the demolition of not just buildings but areas of the city, the removal of a park and, despite lengthy protests and a petition with over 150,000 signatures , the compulsory purchase and demolition of an "alternative shopping centre," Quiggins. Quiggins was part of Liverpool's culture, a place where people of all ages would visit. It still feels now as if we are being told that the Paradise Project is our culture, and that that is more important than the piece of our culture that we loved wasn't worthwhile enough.

Attitudes have shifted a little in the city, and now that the actual cultural programme for Liverpool 08 has been announced and set in motion people have begun to separate the construction work from the culture. Re-development brings with it investment, jobs and hopefully renewed interest in the city and tourism - I remain hopeful that Liverpool hasn't thrown the baby out with the bathwater.

Everything changes... More soon.

Friday, 11 January 2008

End of the Week

It looks like it will be a fairly busy weekend, which probably won't feel that weird since it has been a fairly week. Hit a bit of a low patch yesterday; I think that I've been kidding myself in the past by how hard I had been working on my thesis when it's come to writing it up. This week has been something of a baptism of fire when it comes to meeting the targets that I have set myself in order to submit by the end of March.

(it should be noted that there is nothing inherently wrong with me submitting after the 31st of March, this is just the date that I have picked and am aiming for)

So I have an A4 sheet with my targets and so on in front of me, next to a Tim Sale postcard from Heroes (Tim Sale was the comics artist who did the artworks for the character Isaac), of Peter Petrelli jumping off the top of a building and flying. Both motivate me, though, it has to be said, from the opposite ends of the motivational spectrum.

Tomorrow I'm getting a haircut, and while my hair isn't usually especially long I think I am going to get it cut pretty short. Does the phrase "a four down to a two" mean anything to you? It has something to do with lengths, and I've had it before. It's short, but you can't see my skull.

After that have to visit my nan at the residential home, then on to shopping for birthday presents (three in the next week, including my sister's on Sunday) and in the evening I am going to see Verdi's Macbeth. It's the latest opera in the Met in High Definition series, where the Metropolitan Opera in New York broadcasts a performance to theatres and cinemas all around the world. I saw Romeo et Juliette before Christmas, which was really good - but the Scottish Play is just amazing (my favourite work of Shakespeare's is The Tempest, more on that another time I hope) and I'm really excited to be going to see it as an opera.

But right now I have to sign off as I am going to meet some friends for dinner, and then possibly go on to see the opening celebrations to Liverpool's European Capital of Culture Year. I'm already knackered though, so I'll just have to see how I feel after going for some Indian food.

Be good!

Thursday, 10 January 2008

Downward Spiral

1). Exam invigilation season
2). My self-imposed thesis deadline (12 weeks away) which seems like enough time but is already starting to make me feel stressed
3). Multiple papercuts
4). Shower out of order at home
5). Increasing tiredness
6). Empty wallet
7). Remembering three days ago that I agreed to give a talk to a high school Maths Club in February
8). Lack of superpowers
9). Daily wondering about life post-PhD
10). The heat death of the universe

On the sunny side of the street: one can listen to Kevin Max's new album online for free (The Blood, click here); Dinosaur Comics has been updated daily and has been consistently funny since the new year; I have nearly twenty things for my list of 101 things; and that's all I can think of right now.

(the heat death of the universe is not a contributing factor to my downward spiral at the moment, it just popped into my head because of Annie Hall and also the short story "Galactic North" by Alastair Reynolds)

A brighter disposition soon!

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

Friday, 4 January 2008

Music of 2007

So the promised post about music. I should say first of all that I don't really listen to new music. Nowadays I absolutely understand where my dad is coming from when he says, "It all sounds the same," or "I've heard it all before." I used to hate it when he said that. Now I know exactly what he means. There are some bands around who I like. The rest of it is swill.

By coincidence, though, I was watching a 'Best 100 Tracks of 2007' show on TMF this morning, so I now consider myself down with what the kids are into these days. The answer: nothing much to write home about, although I do kinda like this bloke called Mika even if I think he'd annoy the hell out of me if I ever met him. I sometimes worry about these pop music videos though; another part of my life where I'm starting to resemble my father. I'm talking here about the 'sexy' videos made by singers like Beyonce, Shakira, Pussycat Dolls, Christina Aguilera (sp?); the gyrate-your-hips-and-dance-like-a-stripper school of music, in other words. Some people worry that it all has a negative influence in introducing kids to overtly sexual imagery at too young and easily influenced an age. I actually worry the opposite; all that gazing with smouldering eyes, crawling around on all fours like a cat, sticking out your arse and jiggling it around that these women do is just about the most mechanical, banal and unerotic thing that they could do, and it worries me that adolescent boys and girls will watch that and think it's what sex is all about.

It's the lack of humour that gets me. It's all so serious, so full of attitude, when what these people are doing is fundamentally so silly. A bit of self-deprecation would make the whole thing much sexier, in my opinion. And less androgyny too; I like my women to be real women, not the sleek and slightly muscular amazons of MTV r'n'b staple - their equipment might be female, but their biceps and pectorals and calf muscles aren't, and that just doesn't do it for me, I'm afraid. (That goes for women like Angelina Jolie too, by the way. Give me Natalie Portman or Anna Paquin any day of the week, but keep me away from the big-lipped weirdo valkyrie woman.)

Anyway, I digress. Top 5 Albums I've been listening to this year:

1. Hard Candy by Counting Crows. When I was about 18 I loved Counting Crows, but kind of stopped listening to them when I grew out of being emo. Then by pure accident I ran across this, and it's a beauty. Adam Duritz's voice has mellowed and ripened with age, his lyrics are better than ever and the music is at once more and less produced than on the last record, so that it sounds polished but also live, like the band are in the room with you. And each track works; there isn't a single dud or anything remotely like it. The highlight is undoubtedly Goodnight LA: Duritz has that kind of voice where he can sing lyrics like what brings me down love...because I can never get enough and you really think you know what he means, even though you really don't - his voice is just so expressive.

2. Enjoy Every Sandwich by Various Artists. A tribute to Warren Zevon, made up of some of his best tracks sung by various of his friends. Don Henley, Bruce Springsteen and Pete Yorn do the best, but his son Jordan Zevon is also surprisingly good.

3. The Very Best of Sly and the Family Stone. It pains me to include a best-of album in the list, but hey, I've listened to it a lot this year. I've always been meaning to get into this group, but somehow never did. Now I know what I was missing all those years.

4. The Drift by Scott Walker. Just about the scariest and most nightmarish music that I think has ever been committed to tape; really has to be heard to be believed. Lyrics about subjects like the torture and death of Mussolini, Elvis' stillborn twin, and the life of Josef Stalin, interspersed with snippets of braying donkeys, pieces of meat being hit with baseball bats, you name it...with a full orchestra eerily playing in the background behind Scott Walker's frail and haunting baritone. Not for the faint-hearted - more like a vision of a man's private insanity than actual music, but somehow it works, sort of as the audio equivalent of a horror film.

5. High by The Blue Nile. Morose, but in a good way, like all their records. Just put this on at night and look out over the city and relax. It's worth taking an evening to do that sometimes.

None of those records were made this year, but they're what have 'got me'. Mostly while I was writing my thesis, sitting at my kitchen table and trying to finagle my eight-year-old laptop into letting me actually do some work, those albums were what I was listening to.

Films in 2007

Because I am obsessive, and put things in my diary, this is an ordered list of the films that I saw at the cinema in 2007, along with a few words on each.

Apocalypto (an interesting diversion, and well worth seeing)
Smokin' Aces (enjoyable and off-beat crime film)
The Last King Of Scotland (you can see everything that's coming from a mile off, but the performances of the two leads are so great as to push aside the script's shortcomings)
Babel (a difficult film in some ways, and it could have done with one of the plots being pruned, but worth seeing, especially for the strand set in Japan)
Hot Fuzz (brilliantly funny, sublime performances and a clever script)
The Science Of Sleep (heartbreaking, funny, whimsical, visually lovely... really recommended)
300 (possibly the most masculine film ever made; good fun but didn't completely deliver on the promise of the trailers)
Sunshine (an extremely well made and acted film, whose script feels )
Spider-Man 3 (the year's biggest letdown)
28 Weeks Later (not a by-the-numbers sequel, but the film never really lives up to its exceptional opening ten minutes)
Transformers (more enjoyable than it has any right to be)
Goldfinger (a one off showing of the best Bond film - how could I not go and see it on the big screen?)
Paris Je T'aime (a delightful collection of short films that dazzles and amazes with its diverse subjects, and paints a beautiful love letter to the city of love...)
Waitress (mildly disappointing deadpan comedy - I was expecting a lot more based on reviews I had seen)
The Bourne Ultimatum (film of the summer for me - a flawless lesson in intelligent action cinema)
Knocked Up (provides more proof, after The 40 Year Old Virgin, that you can make a crude comedy with genuine heart as well; really recommended)
Year Of The Dog (an interesting, but ultimately underwhelming, drama/comedy)
Eagle Vs Shark (quirky Kiwi comedy with lots of laughs)
Superbad (another crude comedy with a lot of heart that makes stars of its young leads)
Shoot 'Em Up (insanely OTT with a plot that makes not a lick of sense, and all the better for it)
Death Proof (Tarantino delivers a brilliant homage to exploitation era cinema)
Daywatch (a great sequel to Night Watch, but unwatchable if you haven't seen the first film)
Stardust (excellent adaptation of Neil Gaiman's graphic novel/book, fun for all the family)
Eastern Promises (a gritty crime movie that delivers a hardhitting message too)
30 Days Of Night (a scary horror movie with a neat concept, but a little predictable)

My top five films of 2007 (in a very sketchy order) are:

1. The Bourne Ultimatum
2. Knocked Up
3. The Science Of Sleep
4. Paris Je T'aime
5. Death Proof

Of course, it almost goes without saying that the film that I am most looking forward to this year is The Dark Knight...

I don't know if there are any more lists or things that I want to say about 2007. It was an alright year, as years go. It was the year that I started eating salads and tinned fish, the year that I went to various festivals in Edinburgh, the year that it really hit me: there is more to life than this nine to five stuff.

Now then, what about 2008?

Books 2007 (II)

Well, zero_zero_one did it, so I suppose I'll follow suit. I'm nothing like as organised (read: anal retentive) as him, though, so I never kept a list. This is based on memory. So:

My Top 5 Books of 2007

1. Gonzo, edited by Jann Wenner; a biography of the journalist/writer/alchoholic drug-addled visionary Hunter S. Thompson, made up of small segments of memory written by those who knew him best. An extraodinary portrait of an extraordinary man, the most interesting thing about it being its very stark portrayal of the line between genius and insanity. Thompson spent his life crossing from one side of the line to the other, it seems, and comes out of the book as something of a psychopath or extreme narcissist, actually - with the charm and charisma of somebody who doesn't care what other people think, but also the plain meanness and nastiness of somebody who just doesn't care that much about other people generally.

2. The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell. Unselfconsciously pulpy historical novel about a Saxon boy in early 9th-century England who is raised by Vikings and ends up fighting against them. What the term 'rip-roaring yarn' was made for, basically, and I've always loved that kind of book. But Cornwell also has a kind of genius for making history come alive; he's no Proust, but the atmosphere is absolutely what you suspect 9th-century Britain to have been like.

3. The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson. An autobiography of sorts, which deals with the writer's early life in Des Moines, Iowa during the 1950s. Hilarious, like all his books are (I've read all of them, even the slightly boring ones about language). Literally laugh-out-loud-and-embarrass-yourself-on-the-bus-funny.

4. The Wizard Knight by Gene Wolfe. Real fantasy, for people who've sucked up all the fantasy canon and are now onto the harder stuff (we're like hopeless drunkards, we hard-core fantasy fans; we've gone from the beer of Tolkien and Weis & Hickman, to the whiskey of Leiber and Moorcock, and now all that can satisfy is the pure ethanol of guys like Wolfe and M. John Harrison, which we consume as if it is squeezed out of rags soaked in methalated spirits, myth and orc-blood). Anyone who's ever criticised fantasy for being childish, escapist and pulpy should read this and eat their words. About as close to 'great literature' as fantasy writing gets, basically.

5. Rivers of Gold by Hugh Thomas. An account of the first decades of the Spanish exploration and conquest in the Americas; notable for the way it refuses to patronise the reader and assumes they at least know the backdrop to what's happening, which elevates it above most 'popular history' fare. (I'm snobbish about popular history; what can I say, I'm a history graduate.) I also find that period impossibly romantic - it was the first and last time in history that the entire world became 'one'.

And, just for, fun, two Turkeys:

1. The Bear and the Dragon by Tom Clancy. I've never read much Clancy and now I know why. Awful, boring, silly nonsense, that only comes alive when explaining about various types of guns and instruments of war (those bits were quite good, actually).

2. The Catastrophist by Somebody Or Other (I can't find it, and have forgotten the name of the writer). A good reminder of why I shouldn't bother reading 'contemporary literature' with lines from reviews by The Guardian on the back. Irish writer goes to Zaire in the mid-60s to hook up with his exotic French/Italian lover who has become involved in the decolonisation process. Cue pages of florid description of Africa, weirdly po-faced and unrealistic sex-scenes, completely uninteresting 'action' sequences and lots of emoting and angst. I gave up half way through.

That's that. Music tomorrow maybe.

Thursday, 3 January 2008

Books in 2007

So this is the list of books that I read in 2007; I was keeping this on my university webpage, I decided to just do it for no particular reason other than I wanted to. I started off writing quite short one line reviews, but every now and then I'd just say a little more. I'm planning to do the same thing this year, and as part of 101 Things in 1001 Days I think I'm going to write longer reviews for every book I read in that time (something to get me writing).

Here it is then (note: I decided to do this in May, and so January to April is, I think, I a complete list but probably not in chronological order).

Early 2007

Inversions by Iain M. Banks (strange and mysterious, a Culture novel disguised!)
Martian Time-Slip by Philip K. Dick (not his best, but definitely worth a read)
The Algrebraist by Iain M. Banks (interesting, takes a long time to get where it is going)
The Prestige by Christopher Priest (a great book that is the basis for an even better film)
Air by Geoff Ryman (an odd tale, well told)
Look To Windward by Iain M. Banks (another thoughtful and moving Culture book)
The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling (strange... Enjoyable, but at the same time difficult)
Neuromancer by William Gibson (re-read for the fourth time I think; a vision of the future that still seems possible)
The Mike Hammer Omnibus Volume 1 by Mickey Spillane (pretty much the birth of a genre, and very, very good)
The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night Time by Mark Haddon (an exceptional story)
Cell by Stephen King (I was left quite bemused... Read it in a few hours, and felt like I'd wasted my time)
Already Dead by Charlie Huston (a solid urban horror noir, 21st century vampire Mike Hammer)
Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen (I was inspired to read this because I love the film so much! I wasn't disappointed)
Pushing Ice by Alastair Reynolds (grim and gritty near future sci-fi... Or is it?! Fantastic story)
The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz by L. Frank Baum (better and worse than the classic film)
I Am Legend by Richard Matheson (my favourite book ever, re-read for the tenth time at least; the last man on earth, when everyone else is a vampire...)
Little, Big by John Crowley (I'd heard a lot about this book, and it was voted many years ago as the greatest fantasy novel ever written by a magazine I read. While it was interesting I have to say that I didn't think it was all that good)
Mad Night by Richard Sala (an interesting graphic novel, with murder, pirates, puppets and a quest for eternal youth)
Blankets by Craig Thompson (heartbreakingly wonderful graphic novel about first love and faith)
Lint by Steve Aylett (surreal tale about the greatest and worst pulp writer that never was)
Complete Prose by Woody Allen (a superb collection of funny stories and essays)
Coraline by Neil Gaiman (a children's book that I find very scary... Everything you could possibly want in a bedtime story for children, and a fantastic read for adults too)

May 2007

Glasshouse by Charles Stross (juggling mindblowing concept after mindblowing concept, and seemingly with ease... Deflates a bit towards the end, but the sheer number and intensity of his ideas will keep you reading on)
Casino Royale by Ian Fleming (the story where Bond began; an interesting read, but I wonder how Bond became so popular based on a story like this...)
And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie (I read the book in one sitting, I was completely gripped by the mystery. A must read!)
Black Swan Green by David Mitchell (utterly brilliant, funny and heartwarming tale about a thirteen year old stammerer's experience of 1982)
Emma by Jane Austen (a bit slow in places, but full of wonderfully drawn characters and a charming conclusion)
Scar Night by Alan Campbell (an interesting debut novel, a city suspended above a great abyss, angels, immortality and the end of the world... Looking forward to the next volume)
Less Than Heroes by David Yurkovitch (absurdist superhero graphic novel, funny, intelligent and thought-provoking)
The Emperor's New Mind by Roger Penrose (all in all quite an interesting read about physics and consciousness, although some chapters were much more difficult to get through than others)

June 2007

Feersum Endjinn by Iain M. Banks (great far future story with some interesting concepts)
The Heavenly Man by Brother Yun and Paul Hattaway (harrowing and uplifting true story about the persecution of a Chinese Church leader)
The State of the Art by Iain M. Banks (diverse mix of short stories that are well worth a look)
The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction edited by George Mann (fantastic collection of short stories overflowing with brilliant ideas)
Against A Dark Background by Iain M. Banks (his best non-Culture novel by far, a complex and awesome space opera)
Lord of the Flies by William Golding (how did I get to the age of 26 without reading this work of utter brilliance?)
JPod by Douglas Coupland (one funny, funny novel about geeks in the early 21st century. I was sorry that it was only 550 or so pages long, it seemed far too short)
A Spot of Bother by Mark Haddon (a brilliantly observed family drama, and a terrific black comedy as well)
Humble Pie by Gordon Ramsay (quite enjoyable and very interesting to see how Gordon Ramsay got to where he is today)
The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (I'm glad that I've read it, but probably wouldn't say that I overly enjoyed it; it has its moments)

July 2007

Altered Carbon by Richard Morgan (future noir, a 26th century mystery that reels you in and leaves you wanting more)
Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince by JK Rowling (I had to re-read it in anticipation of the last book! Oh, and it's good!)
Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows by JK Rowling (not the book that I thought it would be, but a good end to the series nonetheless)
Stravaganza: City of Stars by Mary Hoffman (a young adults book, but a good one. An interesting story set in the present day and a parallel 16th century Italy)
Amazing Spider-Man Omnibus Volume 1 by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko (words can't do it justice, some of the most groundbreaking comics ever written. 45 years later these comics still resonate with the reader and inspire and effect comic book creators)
No Dominion by Charlie Huston (more vampire noir; a great mystery which gives the reader a great feeling of 'being there')

August 2007

The Devil In Amber by Mark Gatiss (the second Lucifer Box novel: James Bond if James Bond were a middle-aged, upper class, bisexual assassin/spy. A cracking read)
Un Lun Dun by China Miéville (a brilliant and wonderfully inventive novel: a skewed and fantastic city, incredible characters and a great, fast-paced story)
The Dreaming Void by Peter F. Hamilton (the first part in another galaxy-spanning epic trilogy, with extra added fantasy to make it even better)
Looking For Jake (and other stories) by China Miéville (interesting collection of short fiction; in some ways better than most of his longer works)
The Mike Hammer Omnibus Volume 2 by Mickey Spillane (utterly riveting thrillers, fast-paced hard-boiled fiction that is still brilliant fifty years on)

September 2007

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (an absolute joy to read; a beautiful and well-written classic - why had I never read this before?)
A Pretty Face by Rafael Reig (an interesting mystery story set in a parallel Madrid, and told in an unusual way; not as good as the author's first novel though...)
Year's Best SF 11 edited by David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer (a good short story anthology, with many good stories)
Pulp Idol 2007 by various (a small collection of short stories written by the readers of SFX magazine)
Market Forces by Richard Morgan (excellent sci-fi thriller with a message)

October 2007

Broken Angels by Richard Morgan (discards the future noir of Altered Carbon, but serves a great far future story in the same universe)
Woken Furies by Richard Morgan (hard sci-fi, revolution, future noir - an irresistible blend and an excellent novel)
To Say Nothing Of The Dog by Connie Willis (a time travelling comedy of errors and manners; very, very funny and a cracking read)
The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett (classic 30s detective novel; pretty good, but I didn't enjoy it as much as the Mike Hammer novels I've read this year)

November 2007

NOTHING! I was writing my second novel during National Novel Writing Month.

December 2007

JPod by Douglas Coupland (a re-read; a great, funny and thought-provoking novel)
Sidetracked by Henning Mankel (great crime novel by a master of suspense, building to an electrifying conclusion; he really gets you under the skin of the various characters)
The Stone Canal by Ken Macleod (an interesting alternate history - and alternate future history - from an author I will probably read more of)
I Am Legend by Richard Matheson (re-read for the second time this year... Stunning, humourous, an examination of loneliness and more besides - a book that quite simply everyone should read)
A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson (an absolutely fascinating book... Gave me a lot of food for thought)
Darwinia by Robert Charles Wilson (interesting alternative history - with some added extreme science fiction)
The Little Endless Storybook by Jill Thompson (beautifully illustrated short story of The Endless)
Wanted by Mark Millar and J. G. Jones (utterly brilliant graphic novel, Fight Club meets Watchmen)
Ghost World by Daniel Clowes (a graphic novel that I had wanted to read for a long time, and for reasons I can't explain was mildly disappointed by)

My favourite book of the year (which I've read for the first time)... Probably a three way tie between Already Dead, Jane Eyre and Market Forces.

Health Update: The amoxycillin seems to be working; my throat isn't sore at all now, and although I'm still coughing my ears aren't sore at all, and the muted hearing of my left ear seems to be going away. Slept right through last night and woke up feeling alright.

Oh, and my first book of 2008? Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth by Chris Ware, which took me a while to get in to, but which is an absolutely beautiful and heartbreaking story. The titular character is heartbreaking in his awkwardness and inability to express himself. Go here to see more about it, and a list of the mainstream awards that it picked up when it was published.

Right, I should really do some work. Tomorrow: films of 2007.

Wednesday, 2 January 2008

A New Year

Happy New Year! So, 2008... Back in the office.

Christmas at home with my family was actually really nice. I thought that I'd be climbing the walls by the 23rd, but we just had a really nice time. Which was good, because I've been sick since the evening of Christmas Day: I've had a procession of sore throats and earaches - I finally went to the doctor on New Year's Eve, who told me that he thought it was viral but gave me a prescription for amoxycillin to fill today in case I was feeling no better (and it was some kind of mysterious infection). Went and got them this morning and am hoping that they will do some good soon.

Too busy over the next three months to be sick.

Today is all about looking through things, replying to any emails that came in while I was away from the computer and starting to think about exactly what I need to do and when I need to do it by; I think that things are going to come easier if I plot something out, a timetable of targets. Came in late today, leaving early, and tomorrow is the first proper day of work.

I think the next two days are going to be little media reviews of 2007; on my university website I kept a record of the books I read with one line reviews, so I'm going to crosspost that completed list to here tomorrow. On Friday I'll do the same for films (that I saw at the cinema), though I've only got a list for that and so will have to come up with little reviews for them.

And then next week... Who knows...

(postscript: I wish I hadn't just read about the side effects of amoxycillin)