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Part of my day job involves making sure that the text displayed in our software is grammatically, professionally, and politically correct. For example, I spend a lot of time removing multiple instances of the word, “invalid”, since many developers seem oblivious to its dual meaning.

This morning I was personally offended by one application’s reaction to me when I tried to log in to a test deployment. It simply said, “The user is disabled”.

“I beg your pardon”, I wanted to say, even though I was pretty sure the machine wasn’t speaking to me. Or, maybe it was implying that I’m latitudinally challenged in the way that people who spend too much time in front of computers often are.

I soon realized that the machine was projecting its own issues on to me when it lost the plot completely by asking me to input “natural numbers only”. Natural? Surely, that depends on context. For example, in the following sentence:

Three strikes and you’re out.

Three is a natural number. In fact, I’m pretty sure that sentence was used in a film called “The Natural”. However, in the following sentence:

The user has three nipples.

Three is an unnatural number. In the event that the user also becomes disabled, please contact your System Administrator.

I’ve heard it said that “Clash of the Titans” has no plot. I think that the opposite is true – it tries to cram so much into 1:40 that it often feels like a decent looking, 3D version of Cliff Notes for Greek mythology. Even the opening montage of constellations comes with a prologue that basically wipes out the first generation of deities , the titans, and explains the complex relationship between their children, the gods Posieden, Hades and Zeus, in about 2 minutes flat. Which left me wondering about the movie’s title. Shouldn’t it be called “Clash of the Gods”, or “Olympic Smackdown” or something? I mean, the titans are already gone when the film starts.

The back story goes something like this: Zeus tricks his brother Hades into birthing the Kracken, so as to kill their parents. The plan works, but as a consequence Hades gets stuck with the underworld when the gods are dividing up the world.  Of course, Zeus comes out of it smelling like roses, and sibling rivalry is born. Much hilarity ensues. 

Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes add some weight to the proceedings as Zeus and Hades respectively, but you can’t help comparing these characters to previous roles they’ve played. In Fiennes’ case, Lord Voldermort is scarier and more menacing than the ruler of the underworld.  For a god, Zeus is nowhere near as arrogant as Qui-Gon Jin, although he seems to be  nearly as passive-aggressively tranquil and equally dim, letting Hades easily seduce him into a plot that could destroy him, playing on the emotional letdown he naturally feels since, long after creating man, man never calls anymore to offer his adoration.

But the gods are supporting players in what is really the story of Perseus, bastard son of Zeus, who is captured and imprisoned by Argos, and eventually (five minutes later) becomes the leader of a band of its soldiers against the Kracken, Hades and, by extension, that whole uppity Olympus crowd. Argos is desperate, being on a deadline (literally), but Perseus has his own revenge issues with Hades. 

Perseus is joined on his quest by about a dozen of Argos’ finest and hardest, two mercenaries for comic relief (I think), the token blue alien, and a woman named Io who must have something to do with tech support. Each character has exactly one minute fifteen seconds to make an impression or die. But alas, most of the characters have fewer dimensions than the film does.

Sorry to bring classical education into it, but you’ll enjoy this film more if you know something about Greek mythology before walking in the door. Once inside, you’ll get little background about any of the villains or heroes, and some characters barely get a name check. You may spend a lot of time asking, “Who is this? What was that ?“. And good luck trying to bond with any of the characters in the same way you might have with those from, say, Lord of the Rings. The film goes from scorpions to witches to Medusa to the Kracken with barely enough time in between for the characters to say, “We’re lucky to be alive. Here we go again.”

But The film does have its moments. The best ones come in the set pieces, such as the well-realized melee in Medusa’s temple. And there’s something about the scorpions that seems to wink in the direction of Ray Harryhausen, who is renown for the visual effects in the original version of this film from 1981, back when we were more easily impressed. The current version replaces stop-motion models with CGI to give us some spectacular images.

On the other hand, the 3D effect wavers between enhancing and hindering. I have to be honest – This is my first experience with a RealD 3D film, and I expected better. On the other hand, the trailer for Toy Story 3 looked pretty good, and the RealD promo with the dog that runs just before the film looks fantastic, so I’m willing to leave the jury sequestered until I see a few more features.

In “Titans” the 3D effect sometimes works quite well, especially in some of the long shots. At other times the effect seems to consist of several layers of 2D images, like cardboard cut outs arranged in a room. The perspective can be skewered, and the effect can be a bit distracting. If 3D is going to be all pervasive, and that seems inevitable, then I hope someone resolves the issues in short order. Otherwise, I think we’re better off rationing 3D to big-budget animation and keeping the live action to a relatively more realistic two dimensions.

True Stories From The Big Smoke #1

Posted: February 16, 2010 in Humour
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On the Luas coming out of town one afternoon, as we approached the Blackhorse stop the driver made the following announcement: Ladies & Gents there are two plain clothes ticket inspectors getting on at this stop so could you please have your tickets at hand for convenience thank you.

When we pulled up to the stop two people got on and about 50 got off and stood on the platform, clearly waiting on the next train.

When we pulled away the driver got back on the intercom, laughing, and said: I was only joking, there’s no such thing as a plain clothes ticket inspector, I just wanted to see how many people got on without paying!!

Remember when “Lost” was a about a group of plane crash survivors trying to get off an island? How quaint. In it’s fifth season, a core group of characters came unstuck in time, travelling back and forth between decades, and finally settling in the 70s, which they attempted to wipe from history by detonating a hydrogen bomb over a pocket of electromagnetic energy. Or perhaps they were still just trying to get off the island.

Either way, reality was ripped in two, and season six started with most of the major characters living double lives, literally as well as unwittingly. After eight months of expectation and heated debate, the Cady household watched the season premier, and I noticed that the teenagers were quite bemused. I was soaking up the paradox and they were scratching their heads, ironic since their synapses are supposed to be firing a lot more quickly than mine are these days. Whatever they had imagined they would see, “Lost” seemed to be going in a completely different direction. How typical.

Maybe you noticed something similar in your house, or maybe you were the one who roared, “first time travel, and now this?!”, to no one in particular. If “Lost” seems even more confusing and disorienting than ever, then maybe a few familiar frames of reference will help get you back to your comfort zone.

If fictional time travel has taught us anything, it’s that you don’t muck around with the past. The ramifications of such an action were explained by Doc Brown in “Back to the future Part II”, in which old Biff, in 2015, steals a sports almanac from 1985, then travels back to 1955 and gives the almanac to young Biff who proceeds to make a killing in gambling on sporting events to which he already has the results. As Doc Brown explained to Marty, using nothing more elaborate than a chalk board, this creates a divergence in the time stream starting in 1955, resulting in time branching off into a separate, parallel reality, in which Biff kills Marty’s father, marries his (Marty’s) mother, and owns Hill Valley. Simple, right?

Another example of the ramifications of mucking around with the past was demonstrated by the well known explorer and philosopher Homer Simpson. Some of you may remember his pioneering work in time-travel technology when he repaired a toaster in such a way that it allowed him to travel back millions of years, at least until the toast popped up. You may also recall that the seemingly insignificant act of swatting a fly resulted in Christian fundamentalist Flanders becoming the supreme leader of the world, or at least of America, which equates to the same thing in the mind of many Americans.

So you see, while “Lost may have upped the ante, there’s nothing here that hasn’t been touched on in other serious works of speculative fiction. If you still need help finding a comfort zone from which you can relax and enjoy the E ticket ride, try repeating this mantra:

“Lost” is only a TV programme.

It’s a great one, but it is only a TV programme.

If you are considering purchasing an HD TV, don’t. Or do, but don’t expect it to be the last TV you buy this decade. It’s your wallet.

I bought a TV five or six years ago. A 32” inch Sony WEGA, one of the last of the cathode ray tube jobs. I was well aware that technology was changing, but I didn’t care. In fact, there are only two occasions when I regretted this purchase: once when I moved house, and once when I had to bring it to the shop. That’s because the TV weighs slightly more than a Mini Cooper, and is only slightly smaller. Moving it requires that doors be disconnected from their hinges, and that I run the risk of dislocating several discs in my spine.

Otherwise I am quite happy with the TV. I bought it at a time when LED and plasma TVs had just come on to the market. They were the high-profile, big budget items. At the time, however, the picture quality was not up to a standard that warranted a three or four thousand euro asking price. Instead, I walked into Power City one Saturday and gazed across the football pitch at the back wall that was lined with televisions. I found the one with the clearest, sharpest picture and bought that for less than half the price of a flat screen. I took it home and plugged it into my Sky box. One of the Star Wars Movies was on, “Attack of the Clones”. The picture resolution was such that I immediately became airsick and had to sit on the couch before I fell over. Later we watched “Pulp Fiction”. At one point I was convinced that John Travolta was actually inside my television, and that someone had removed the glass. That’s how impressed I was by the picture quality compared to what I had been watching.

A few years have gone by. HD TV is here, to a certain extent. All the flat screen bugs have been worked out, and the HD bugs are being resolved. The term “Home Cinema” is actually coming to represent something of quality that the average person can afford. And when necessary, the box can be lifted easily and brought to the repair shop, provided you have a hatch back that can take a 50” screen. After years of waiting to be impressed, I’m finally starting to get there.

But am I impressed enough to trade in the Sony WEGA? That, my friends, is the wrong question. Here’s why. I was just thumbing through a newspaper in which I saw an article about how Sky Sports ran a test of 3D television yesterday. A pub in Drumcondra was one of the venues chosen for the test. All the patrons, including former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern (it’s his local), were wearing 3D glasses and enjoying the NEXT BIG THING that is “the next best thing to being there”.

Can mass production be far behind? In a year or two, just in time for Christmas, there will be first generation sets that some people will absolutely need to own. Then there will be better-quality, second and third generation sets that are worth buying. Then Sky will actually start broadcasting selected channels in 3D and HD.

I realize it will take at least five or six years to sort out the logistics and work out the bugs. Then I expect to be impressed enough to retire my old, 2D TV and cough up the bucks for a fourth generation of the new technology, which will have come down by at least 400% from the first-generation price. In the meantime, I reckon I’ve got at least ten good years left in the Sony WEGA. I can wait. I’m a patient man, and I don’t plan on moving house anytime soon.

I Didn’t Even Know I Was Sick

Posted: January 27, 2010 in Humour
Tags: , ,

I arrived early to church for a funeral service yesterday. I thought I might walk to the funeral home before the procession started, but I didn’t know quite where that was.  So I asked a woman passing by for directions.

“Well, there is a funeral home at the top of the hill, then around the corner to the right. There’s a procession starting from there now, but I don’t know if it’s you’re funeral. “

I thanked her and she walked away, but I was a bit bemused, thinking, “My funeral? I certainly hope it’s not. Do I look that bad?

Today in Sleaze

Posted: January 25, 2010 in Humour
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Seen on the streaming banner on TV3’s Morning Ireland – In Entertainment: Tiger Woods is in rehab being treated for sex addiction in a bid to save his marriage to his wife Elin. What I want to know is: When did Tiger Woods fall out of the sports category? I don’t need an answer to that. I know this isn’t sports, but how is this entertainment? I guess I know the answer to that as well, as does anyone who ever glances at the front page of a tabloid. But I do think Entertainment is too broad a category for this type of story.

I propose a new category with which to tag “news” items of this type. I considered Sex, but that’s too broad. I mean, really, anything related to money, power and politics could fall into that category. Besides, Sex sounds too clinical. Titillation or Sensationalism could be appropriate, but I’m looking for something short and punchy.  So, I propose that we call this new category Sleaze.

Here are some examples of how I think this category can be used in mainstream news:

  • In Sleaze: New Brittany Spears release hits shops today.
  • In Sleaze: Berlusconi overconfident with female voters.
  • In Sleaze: Woods on top form after 18 holes.

You get the picture. And notice how it applies neatly to Entertainment, Politics, Sports, and no doubt other categories. It can probably be applied to weather depending on what channel you’re watching.