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’09 in Review

1 Jan

I usually do a very structured review of the year, with a best blog/film/record of the year etc. This year however I have decided against picking a categorised best of the year. I’m just going to vent and see what happens…

Cinema

Quite a few critics have lamented the movies of 2009. It’s true that there has been asome rubbish – Transformers: Revenge of The Fallen, being one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen. It’s an absolute travesty that Transformers 2 has made almost $900m, meaning that another life-draining sequel is inevitable. But there have also been a handful of decent pictures too.

Pixar followed up the seminal Wall-E with another good movie. While Up lost its way towards the end, it remains a moving and at times breathtakingly beautiful piece of work. Pixar, along with the Cohen brothers, are consistently leading from the front.

As raucous buddy-movies go, I really enjoyed The Hangover. It’s over-the-top, but it’s seriously funny in places. Nice to see The Hangover is also one of the highest grossing films of the year – pulling in almost 500m clams.

Harry Potter was fine. Watchmen was an epic letdown. Wolverine was rubbish but I enjoyed it. I haven’t seen Avatar, In The Loop or Zombieland yet. And 2012 can go F itself.

As for Sci-Fi, I thought both District 9 and Star Trek were great.

Music

I don’t really buy much music anymore. I love a few bands like The Killers, Radiohead, Muse and The Arctic Monkeys, but in the main I listen to audiobooks and podcasts.

Anyway mainstream music is now the preserve of one man: Simon Cowell, who seems to manipulate the nation like a huge braindead marionette. Now richer than Scrooge McDuck, Cowell – sporting his trademark Botox-swollen face and G.I. Joe haircut – seems to be behind everything. It’s only a matter of time before Cowell builds a fortress in the clouds and we’re all forced to crawl on all-fours like bugs dong his evil bidding.

At the centre of Cowell’s insidious empire are the twin-behemoths, X-Factor and Britain’s Got Talent. X-Factor, which allows bedroom-bound popstar wannabes to to ruin your Saturday night, provides a desperately bored nation with a never-ending production line of wet crooners – many of whom seem to have severe personality disorders.

Britain’s Got Talent, on the other hand, takes hideous curiosities and turns them into national treasures. More Britons would recognise the Hairy Angel, Susan Boyle, than they would The Angel of The North – one of the few genuine cultural highlights of recent times.

The recent Rage Against the Machines Christmas Number One was of course an impressive display of guerrilla grassroots marketing, but really the whole story just highlights the predictability of British Music.

The X-Factor track was absolute rubbish, but it still got the number two spot. What sort of bottom-feeders bought that shit? The mass lobotomising of the British people is the great unreported story of the last decade, and it’s time Simon Cowell was brought to justice.

Politics

Watching the slow and painful premiership of Gordon Brown is now unbearable. While the backend of 2009 has offered a flicker of hope for Labour ranks, it’s inevitable that Labour will get an almighty hosing at the general election.

The electoral map is heavily stacked against the Tories, but it hard to imagine that David Cameron will be denied victory – even it that means being the dominant faction in a coalition.

I don’t believe for a minute that a Conservative government will be much good. That’s why it’s hilarious reading the Tory blogs. They’re selling a great sack of fail. David Cameron is not nearly good enough to run a corner shop, never mind the nation. He’s going to become the next PM because Labour is such a crock.

If the Liberal Democrats had any ideas, gumption or class, they’d be crucifying the Tories. Instead they are, as always, paralysed by opportunity and terrified of success.

Of course the Lib Dems don’t actually want to win the election. Having to give up their sniffy-aloofness would be too high a price to pay. No, the Lib Dems are perfectly happy with the status quo, which allows them ample time to sit about telling each other how fragrant their farts are.

Videogames

After last-years stellar year for gaming, 2009 was always going to be a bit of a letdown. That said; there have been really good games released this year.

The year’s monster hit has been Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, which is brilliant. While none the individual levels quite match up to its predecessor’s highlights (the All Ghillied Up sniper level and the majestic opening few minutes of Charlie Don’t Surf), the overall campaign is better. My favourite part being the heart-pounding unarmed race across the Favella rooftops.

My criticisms of MW2 are that the multiplayer maps don’t offer the same varied experience of the first Modern Warfare game. Nothing quite betters the thrill of dominating on Ambush or Backlot. I like the Favella level and Invasion, but I’d love to be able to get a COD4 map-pack and bring my old favourites over to the new game.

The third MW2 game-type, Special-Ops, is really good and offers loads of re-play value. All together an outstanding, if not faultless, game.

One of my most played games of the year is the brilliant Xbox Arcade offering Trials HD, which is a beautifully realised game with a nod to the open-source motorbike classic Moto-X. You only control the trial-bike’s gas and the rider’s weight, but the experience is thrilling, addictive and taxing. My brother-in-law is completely besotted by the game.

I felt a bit let down by Halo ODST. Yeah it was moody and atmospheric, but it was also incredibly boring in places and the Halo 3 engine is incredibly dated now. Good to have all the multiplayer maps on one disk though.

Not being a PS3 owner I haven’t played Uncharted 2, but it’s the one game on the platform I’m desperate to play.

I’ve only played a bit of Left 4 Dead 2, which looks like more of the same – which is no bad thing! I hope to rattle through it over the next few days. I also got last year’s Fallout 3: Game of the Year edition for Christmas, so that’ll keep my busy.

Tech

Technology wise it’s been the year of the netbook. I love my Samsung NC10 (running Jolicloud OS) and often use it around the house instead of my MacBook Pro. I’m looking forward to the Chrome OS too.

I’ve become very attached to my new iPod Shuffle, which is used far more than my Touch. I just wish I could control the order my podcasts are played like I could on the old 2nd Gen Shuffle – maybe I just don’t know how to do it. They always play alphabetically.

Browser wise, Chrome has become my browser of choice on all my machines except the Macs. I need the Xmarks extension to sync bookmarks across my computers. On the Mac I use WebKit, but if the Chromium dev-build of Chrome was more robust, WebKit’s use would dwindle.

Phone-wise I’m still a BlackBerry man, that’s will change this year. Now the iPhone can gone multi-network expect sales to go crazy. I’m unsu
re between an Android phone and the iPhone, but I will get a touch-screen phone with a good browser.

TV

I don’t watch much TV, but the recent series of The Thick of It, and MadMen have both blown me away. I still like the I.T. Crowd and Peep Show is another favourite. Other than those two… Meh.

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Gamey times

26 Mar

Edge reports that US video game hawkers, GameStop, have increased sales despite our current economic clusterfuck. A surprise? Well, not really.

GameStop — an American gaming chain — has proven with $8.8bn sales, and a 24% year-on-year increase in business, that when times are tough, we have a habit of turning to smoting Zombies .

Now if you’re an appalling gaming whore like me, it’s arguably always Halo-time. But you have to admit, while difficult times usually, in my experience at least, put people off spending, stress and economic uncertainty tends to make people slaughter each other online all the more.

Hell, if we can’t afford that trip to Agent Provocateur or a weekly night out at a fancy restaurant, the least we can expect is a session with the Master Chief, a pastrami-sandwich, and frag-fest of the highest order .

I mean, that’s cheap (well, sort of).

Best of 2008

16 Dec

Lists, lists, lists. Everyone doing ’em, so why not me? The 2007 list is here.

Best Record
Kings of Leon – Only by the Night
Well I can’t say I’ve been blown away by any one record this year, but Kings of Leon are making very good music. I actually think – shock, horror! – that there are some good pop records in the charts at the moment, too.

Best Film
The Dark Knight
Well it was the year of the comic book movie. We had Iron Man, Hulk, Hell Boy II and Wanted (and those are just the ones off the top of my head). I’d say that Dark Knight wins out with Iron Man a close second. I also enjoyed Burn After Reading.

Best TV Show
The Wire – Series 5
The Wire is simply the best television programme ever made. Period.

Best Book
N/A
I’ve read no new fiction this year. I spent most of my time reading old John le Carré books and Graham Greene. I’ll have to remedy this in ’09.

Best Podcast
This American Life
This is probably the choice that has caused me to ponder most, as I listen to oodles of podcasts. But This American Life has provided the most memorable and beautiful moments. Subscribe, if you haven’t already. Worthy mentions to The Collings and Herrin Podcast [sic], Sarcastic Gamer and Football Weekly.

Best Radio Show
Adam & Joe
Funny and creative. Brilliant, basically.

Best Video Game
Gears of War 2
It’s been another cracking year for gaming. GTA4 was outstanding, Far Cry 2 was a surprisingly deep game, and Left 4 Dead (which I get for XMAS) looks great. Nothing quite topped GOW2 though. It’s awesome. The art style is incredible. The level design spectacular. And the weapons rock. Epic.

Best Gadget
iPhone
I haven’t got one. I can’t quite give up my BlackBerry (or switch to O2). However the app-store has made the iPhone a serious proposition. The utility of the device – theoretical and realised – is astonishing. I will get one, eventually.

Best App
Fluid
I have adored this app all year. I have run GMail and Google Reader constantly using Fluid and it has made life much easier. I’ve also been mega-impressed with Skitch.

Best Political Blog
Chicken Yoghurt
Justin has simply rocked this year. One of the best writers in the medium. Sadie’s Tavern would be a worthy mention too.

Best Non-political Blog
Limmy
This blog has made me – figuratively – piss myself all year.

Best Politician
Barack Obama
Obviously.

Best Newspaper
The Guardian
It better watch its back. The Guardian has lost its way a little this year. It’s still the best paper, though.

Best sportsperson
MS Dhoni
Finally, someone’s made a team out of the Indians. They’ve always had the talent (although the current team is pretty darn hot).

jack thompson. what a dick

15 Mar

On Valentines Day, again, a US university was rocked when one of its own students entered a lecture theatre and shot at classmates with a shotgun.

Five students were killed, and sixteen wounded before the gunman turned his weapon on himself. As usual the 24hr rolling news channels descended on the university campus and the salivating media circus had begun. Thrashing around for hard facts, and finding little, the networks – desperate to hold onto viewers – resorted to type: calling on their army of commentators and “experts” to offer opinions and suspicions based on… well fuck all really.

Of all the vultures who profit from this sort of tragedy, the most infamous is one Jack Thompson: a Fox News talking head, who happens to be an attorney (who isn’t?) specialising in jumped-up cases based on his own fucked-up Christian Conservative moral compass.

According to Wikipedia, Mr. Thompson has wasted a variety of people’s time, chasing targets such as rappers, shock-jocks, and more recently video-game companies. And it’s this latter obsession that led to Thompson’s smug face appearing on Fox News last month. Within hours of the killings, and even before the police had released any information, we find Thompson breaking his neck to blame video games. It’s really quite phenomenal: the speed at which he twists events to justify his agenda.

After an initial intro from the Fox presenter, Thompson begins with: “yeah, I wish I weren’t here”.

Yeah whatever. From someone who’s made a name for himself profiting from such tragedies, this sounds somewhat hollow. He’s a Fox News ‘Go-To-Guy’, after all. Some kid goes postal on campus, shooting up his classmates, and the right-wing news agencies know the man to call: Jack “it’s the video games” Thompson. Indeed, in his next breath Thompson squares the blame directly at video-games, even though, at that point, we have no-idea whether the 27-year old perpetrator was a gamer or not. Back to Jack: –

“Well we find from brain scans studies out of Harvard, that if you get started playing, for example violent video games, you can, errrr, are more likely to copycat the behaviours in the games and the disturbing thing, that keeps popping up in many of these, as in Virginia Tech, Columbine, Paducah where I represented the six parents of the three girls shot and killed is that you can rehearse these type of massacres on simulators, which are called video-games, and you can, errrr, are therefore make more proficient in doing this….”

Now, for a minute, if we could excuse the junior-school level grammar on show, let’s have a look at some of the accusations Thompson aims at video games.

First: video-games are killing simulators. Well, I guess, in a way they are. But having a joypad in your hands is a world away from holding a shotgun for real. If all you’ve done is play Call of Duty, I doubt you’d know where to start firing a shotgun. If sitting on your arse playing Halo can can prepare you for a life of killing, why doesn’t my pissy attempts at Wii Golf improve my handicap out on the course?

Second: Video gamers are more likely to copycat behaviours in the game. Well, doh. It would be hard to copycat something if you’ve never played it. But, lets not be pedantic, we know what Thompson is getting at. He’s suggesting that video gamers are more likely to kill, and so, logically: video games cause massacres. Ahhh. And this is the rub: Thompson has tried several times to sue video game producers, hardware manufacturers, and retailers for hundreds of millions of dollars. As the sayings goes: follow the money.

It should come as no surprise, when millions of kids are playing video games, that if a morbid fascination with guns and murder is your bag, you’re more likely to be attracted to games where the plot centres on guns and murder. Much like, if grooming horses is you thing, you may find yourself playing a Nintendo DS game where you… wait for it… groom horses with a plastic stylus. That kids with violent tendencies are inclined to play such games such as Grand Theft Auto, is a no-brainer.

I play games such as Halo, Call of Duty, Counter-Strike, and Half-Life. Online and in single-player mode. Yet, funnily enough, I’ve never once taken it on myself to right a few wrongs armed with a high-powered rifle. It’s just not in my make-up, but competing against players across the world – just to prove how awesome I am, is absolutely my motivation. Video games don’t create psychos – society, chemicals, and fucked-up genes create psychos. Video games merely provide people with a cathartic escape, often one in which reflects reality – be it street crime or senseless wars in the Middle East.

I wonder, wouldn’t Mr. Thompson be better employed crusading against the proliferation of firearms in America? After all, isn’t the easy access to rifles, hand guns, and shotguns, far more important to a prospective high-school shooter than any sofa-based practice with a plastic controller? I wonder why America’s gun laws haven’t been the target of Jack’s vitriol?

Now I’m not going to argue for greater gun control. But then, neither am I going to use the law to coerce others to live by my moral agenda in any other field either.

Blaming video games for high-school violence is a great way to mitigate an incident’s impact on America’s gun laws. So is it any wonder that conservatives rally behind a pompous wanker happy to blame all societies ills on something other than freely available weaponry. You see, it’s got little to do with video games, and everything to do with that most hallowed of conservative institutions: the National Rifle Association. Oh, and in Jack Thompson’s case: money and ego, too.

It turns out that last week’s shooter did indeed occasionally play Counter-Strike: a popular multi-player online video-game. His friends said that this was ordinary – most of them played it. You see, this is what people do… they play video games. But it also transpires that he was a clinical depressive and had recently stopped taking his proscribed medication. His mother had recently died and his father was in a home. The guy was, as they say, pretty fucked up.

But Jack “it’s the video games” Thompson isn’t going to let a man’s dire situation, and ultimate breakdown, stop him from blaming video games. Indeed Thompson has attempted to use the law after several other shootings, to ascertain whether or not the perpetrator was a gamer. The courts have usually refused, citing that the evidence is crucial to an ongoing investigation. Thompson has claimed that “In every school shooting, we find that kids who pull the trigger are video gamers.” Right, so it’s got nothing to do with personal circumstance or free access to guns? Give me a break.

Let’s get one thing straight. Video games should have age restrictions enforced by law – a la DVDs and alcohol. But they shouldn’t be used as a tool to mitigate the greater problems facing a society where kids are taking firearms into class and killing and maiming their fellow students. It doesn’t wash, it’s manipulative, and it’s weak.

Self-interested charlatans such as Jack Thompson have no place passing comment on serious incidents, and the media, however desperate, should start acting with some semblance of responsibility.

quicky

29 Feb

Been busy. Decorating. Setting up the BigPC in the spare room (or office, as it pretty much is). Had to re-route an ethernet cable from the router to the XBOX downstairs (via exterior of house). Can someone tell me why the XBOX doesn’t have built-in Wi-Fi? FFS it’s £70 for the Wi-Fi adapter. Rip-off bastards. Teach me to buy anything Microsoft, eh?

interlude

28 Feb

Geeks everywhere rejoice. The genius that is Jonathan Coulton.

video games cause high-school massacres, apparently

22 Feb

Christian conservatives. Gotta love’em.

(p.s. this video accompanies my *first* podcast… to go live sometime over the weekend, once I get everything sorted. Worked very hard today getting the first one ready. Am good. Deserve a present. 😀 )

UPDATE: Actually it may be Monday before the podcast goes live. It’s my first attempt and I’m not quite sure how it’ll all come together. I have recorded the first “draft”, but I want to do a few and get comfortable. Thanks.