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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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Me and my phone

29 Jun

I’ve been tagged by the geekalicious Political Penguin to write about my cell in exactly 139-words.

So here goes…

Yeah, I use a BlackBerry.

blackberry-curve-8900.jpg

I’m one of those people.

It’s only my second BlackBerry, I had the 8800, but my new Curve is much better.
No it’s not 3G, and that’s an issue on the move — but it does have a full keyboard, WiFi, video, 3.2MPxl camera, and launches and runs apps quickly.

Obviously a BlackBerry’s USP is its handling of email. This is truly peerless. And as I was using my Nokia N95’s 3G connection mainly for email, I don’t really miss the faster net access.

The thing that has impressed me most is the apps. The ÜberTwitter and facebook apps are awesome, and fully integrate with the BlackBerry’s brilliant OS. If Vodafone had the iPhone, I’d probably have that, but as a second choice, the 8900 has proven to be capable, well-designed, and powerful.

There. Pithy? I think so. I’ve utterly sold the phone short — but 139-words are the rules.

More me…

6 May

…over at my geek blog, askin’ for some Windows love.

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).

NO NO NO!

2 Nov

Whatever is left of the government’s reputation for protecting data took another hit today as news broke that a memory stick, containing the usernames and passwords for a key government IT system, has been found in a pub carpark.

From The Guardian ::

The Mail on Sunday said ministers had ordered the emergency shutdown of the Gateway website – which covers anything from tax returns to parking tickets – while experts checked to ensure people’s private details were not compromised.

The loss of the memory stick is another embarrassment for the government in a long series of data mishandling incidents which began with the loss of the entire child benefit database.

Members of the public can register on Gateway to access hundreds of government services including self-assessment tax returns, pension entitlements and child benefits.

The key reason the government proposed the National ID Card scheme in 2005, was to unify the major IT systems (forget counter-terrorism, that’s a red-herring and the cards would do little or nothing to help agents track suspected terrorists). This would mean that if a civil servant were to lose his/her logins, or – heavens forbid – goes rogue, all your data could be harvested.

NO2ID - Stop ID cards and the database state

Powell 4 Obama?

19 Oct

Chris Cillizza explains on WashPo’s The Fix blog, how Colin Powell’s endorsement of his opponent may be the final nail in John McCain’s presidential hopes.

It is widely rumoured that the retired General will offer his backing to Senator Obama on NBC talk show Meet The Press today. Cillizza points out that Powell’s support will shore up Obama’s foreign policy credentials – the one area where McCain still gets traction.

UPDATE ::

The Beltway rumour mill was right, Colin Powell today announced his endorsement of the Democrat presidential nominee Barack Obama.

As a former Army General and Secretary of State in the Bush administration, Powell’s support will be seen as important in bolstering Obama’s foreign policy proposals, which include a “phased withdrawal” from Iraq.

Powell used the endorsement, made on NBC’s Meet the Press, to stress his long friendship with Obama’s rival, John McCain, but added that his vice-presidential hopeful Sarah Palin, isn’t ready to be President of the United States.

UPDATE 2 ::

I’ve just listened to the audio from the Meet the Press interview, and Powell stressed the GOP’s lurch to the right as an important factor in his decision. Powell’s ‘defection’ may prove to be decisive in cementing the support of centre-right Republicans – the much-discussed ‘Obamacans’ – who feel alienated by the appointment of Palin and McCain’s reliance on divisive political tactics.

Powell rejected the culture-war that McCain has embraced.

Commentators also mentioned the importance of Powell as a retired veteran, with regard to the ageing populations of Florida. Many former members of the military live in the crucial state of Florida and would be considered natural McCain voters.

ID Cards arrive by the back door

25 Sep

The government is pushing ahead with its highly controversial ID card scheme, under the pretence that it would help the State “prevent those here illegally from benefiting from the privileges of Britain”.

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith claims that “human trafficking, organised immigration crime, illegal working and benefit fraud” will be tackled by the cards.

Who could possibly argue with that?

Well me, for starters. Can someone point out to me an expensive and large-scale IT-based project that this government has actually carried out successfully? New Labour seems obsessed with proving that governments are incapable of rolling out such schemes. Even the ones they trumpet early on, such as Tax Credits, turn out to be a colossal mess in reality. They’re simply incompetent when it comes to organising large IT projects. And don’t even get me started on their commitment to data security. Jeeesh.

Now don’t get me wrong, Labour has many well-intentioned and smart people. They even have people who are relatively tech-savvy – Tom Watson for one. But the organisational and managerial skill required to deliver on these sorts of projects is non-existent. They bring in an army of costly consultants when one decent project manager would do. Nothing like this ever goes to plan unless it’s directed by someone with a clear idea of what they’re doing.

Then there’s the cost – which we know, regardless of countless promises to the contrary, will spiral and spiral out of control. Again, the consultants get involved and contractors, who won the job promising the world, start asking for more cash. Budgets, we’ve learned from bitter experience, are meaningless in large-scale IT projects.

Last, but certainly not least, we have this government’s proclivity to lean on our civil liberties. An ID Card scheme will increase the ability of the government to control us. And as we saw with the terrorism laws, the authorities have a track in abusing new powers.

Of course Labour, being the conniving ratbags they are, have said that the cards will be rolled out to non-EU students and people with marriage visas, but this just a way to shore up the support of the authoritarian right. ID Cards, in reality, will do little to address the problems the Home Secretary outlines, as I explained in November ’06 ::

The argument for ID cards is however, almost utterly without substance. Our already porous boarders would not be plugged by documentation. Only manpower can do that.

I know the EU is probably leaning on Number 10 to push ahead with cards (ID Cards have been commonplace in Europe for years – but then so have communists), but the whole thing is destined to be yet another embarrassing debacle for this government.

Why can’t they see it?