Finales

May. 23rd, 2009 04:42 pm
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This week I've watched the series finales of two TV series I've been watching for the last 4 or 5 years - Battlestar Galactica and Regenesis (somewhat belatedly in both cases since their last episodes were broadcast quite a while ago - and it has been hard to avoid all the spoilers flying around for BSG).

Some spoilers:
BSG finale )
Unsurprisingly, I didn't have any problem avoiding spoilers for Regenesis, since not many people seem to watch it, which I think is unfortunate since IMO it's been one of the best TV shows of the past decade. The show is set in a Toronto biology lab of a fictitious organisation responsible for responding to biological threats in North America, everything from bioterrorism and virus outbreaks through to illegal attempts at genetic engineering. It's a Science Fiction show, but not in the all-too-common sense of having some dubious quality science to explain why the show has robots and spaceships, but it is actually a show about science where all the main characters are scientists. It is a rare example of a show that doesn't shy away from using lots of scientific terminology, and as far as I can tell most of it is based in real science - although admittedly, biology was the science I didn't do at school so I'm not best placed to judge, and some of the plots do go a bit beyond real science into genuine Science Fiction territory. It also does a good job of showing the scientific process and the limitations of it - see the multiple episodes where the characters exasperatedly try to explain to the media or politicians why just because a scientific study didn't find a drug was harmful, doesn't necessarily mean it was safe, or that just because they haven't yet explained a disease outbreak doesn't mean it was necessarily a terrorist attack. As refreshing as it is to have a show that is actually reasonably scientifically literate, that wouldn't have made it a great show on its own, but the quality of the writing, dialogue, characterisation and storytelling is very high, the show is fast-moving and frequently compelling both in its plots and the interactions of the characters. The production values, directing and acting are all very high quality as well - the lead actor, Peter Outerbridge, is particularly good in his portrayal of David Sandstrom, a memorable and entertaining character is simulataneously a scientific genius and also an irascible and deeply flawed alcoholic.

That said, after four seasons of frequently excellent storytelling, I found the final episode a huge disappointment and I'd say far inferior to the BSG finale, despite its weaknesses.
vague spoilers for Regenesis finale )
Regardless of which of the two possible interperations of the last episode you use, it's almost certainly the worst (by a considerable distance) of any of the 52 episodes of the show. Despite that, I'd still recommend the show, it was more episodic than, say, BSG, and therefore the quality of the earlier episodes is not negatively impacted by the poor ending in the way a more story-arc based show would be.
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I went to see Let The Right One In at the cinema today. I can confidently say it was the best Swedish-language vampire film I've ever seen... ;)

Actually, I think it is the first Swedish film I've seen.

I did think it was a very good film, there was some very good directing and acting in it and visually it was very striking (I would say it was beautiful at times, if it wasn't so bleak). The juxtaposition of the everyday brutality of the school bullies and the dullness of Oskar's with the sudden brutal violence that Eli is capable of were done very well. Without using many (obvious) special effects it manages to make the vampire seem much more otherworldy and supernatural than just about any effects-heavy Hollywood vampire film (the attack of the cats and the portrayal of what happens when a vampire isn't invited in were particularly memorable). We'll probably be able to judge the contrast between the two movie-making styles even more, since apparently the director of Cloverfield is intending a Hollywood remake which I can't see working at all, have there being any good Hollywood remakes of foreign horror films?

Films

May. 4th, 2009 12:11 am
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I went to see the new Wolverine film at the cinema today. It has had some pretty bad reviews so I wasn't expecting much, I wouldn't say it was necessarily as bad as some of the reviews are saying, but it still wasn't particularly good. Hugh Jackman and Liev Schriber are good in the two lead roles, but I thought some of the supporting acting was a little bit weak - in particular, the actor playing Stryker couldn't really live up to Brian Cox's portrayal of the character in X2. The plot was OK for a run-of-the-mill superhero story, but the whole thing did feel slightly pointless since it didn't add much to what we already knew about Wolverine's past, from X-Men 2 we already knew about Wolverine's powers, how he got the adamantium skeleton and Stryker's involvement so the only new thing we learn is why he had amnesia. Overall, not a bad film, but a mediocre one, which at least makes it significantly better than the awful mess that was X-Men 3.

In last week's post about the cinema I was complaining about Let The Right One In not being on at any Cambridge cinema any more despite them still showing a trailer for it. It seems that it will be on for a single showing tomorrow at about 2, so I might go and see that, since it has had significantly better reviews than Wolverine.

I went to the cinema as a passenger in my friend's new Smart Car that he's just bought. It is quite an unusual experience at first compare to a normal car, you do seem to notice the quality of the road surface much more (particularly the number of potholes) and driving over speed-bumps at anything over about 15 mph in it can be a slightly alarming experience, which is annoying considering there are five of them just to get to the end of Chesterton High Street (the road I live next to).

Cinema

Apr. 26th, 2009 12:09 am
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I went to the cinema today to watch the remake of the British TV series "State of Play". I watched the TV series on DVD about a year ago and really liked it, so I was curious about the remake. It was a fairly good movie, but the biggest problem is that the TV series is superior (or equal) in almost every respect. The basic plot is pretty much identical (although they've added a minor new element in having a subplot about the rivalry between 'traditional' and online journalists), but since the TV series has more running time it does go into more depth on most plot points. The movie focuses more on journalist Cal McAffrey (John Simm/Russell Crowe) than on politician Stephen Collins (David Morrissey/Ben Affleck) with the result that Collins' plotline feels a bit underdone in place. Also comparatively rushed is the ending, there's not really anything wrong with the film ending but I think it works better in the TV series.

Ironically, for a movie with plenty of good acting and two Oscar-winners in leading roles in Crowe and Mirren the acting is another area where the TV series is superior. Crowe is good, but it's not really up there with his very best performances (The Insider or LA Confidential, say) and I think Simm is better in this role. It is probably Ben Affleck's best acting performance in a long time (he is well suited for the role) but I thought David Morrissey in the TV series was equally good. Helen Mirren is good as the newspaper editor, but Bill Nighy was superb in the same role, stealing every scene he was in. The series also wins on the supporting acting which is fine in the film but the likes of Marc Warren, Philip Glenister and James McAvoy were better in the TV series.

In summary, I'd say it was a good movie but a slightly pointless one since as a remake it doesn't really add anything to the story and despite being well-made it is definitely inferior to the series.

One slightly distracting thing in the film was that one character (a congressman's aide) was played by the same actor who plays the lead character in all those Orange Cinema adverts where his film funding board tries to insert inane mobile phone product placement into assorted celebrity's film pitches. After seeing him doing the spoof adverts before just about every film I've seen in the cinema for the last five years it is now difficult to see him in a serious role.

This weekend I was also planning to see Let The Right One In at some point, since it has been getting some great reviews. There was a trailer for it before State of Play which also made it look good, but I can't go to see it since despite them still showing the trailer for it, it isn't being shown at any Cambridge cinemas this week - it seems they only showed it for one week.

Time flies

Apr. 23rd, 2009 09:29 pm
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On Sunday I'll have been working and living in Cambridge for 5 years. Most of the time it doesn't seem that long since I left Edinburgh, it probably feels more like 3 or maybe 4 years at most.

I was reminded today that I have been here quite a long time, when one of my colleagues asked me a couple of question about the purpose of a code change I wrote back in September 2004 and I first I had absolutely no memory of making that change. Fortunately, he asked the question via e-mail (he said that he realised that if he'd just come and asked me in person I'd probably have had no idea what he was talking about) so I was able to do a bit of research before answering and after looking at the code for a bit and finding a 4-and-a-half year old weekly report in my sent e-mails folder that described a little bit of the change (although not why it was initially made) I think I was able to answer his questions reasonably well. I suppose it is one of the potential perils of working for the same company for 5 years that you can get asked questions about things you can barely even remember. At least this change seemed fairly reasonable, there have been occasions when I've looked at a bit of code I wrote a couple of years ago and wondered how I could have thought that was a good idea.

Streetview

Mar. 20th, 2009 12:04 am
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On the News today they were discussing Google having extended their Streetview service in Google Earth to cover some parts of the UK as well. I tried it out (incidentally, it didn't seem too intuitive how to turn on Streetview, I was expecting something in the menu bar near to the "Historical Imagery" button, but apparently it has to be turned on in the Layers menu, I had to look in Help to find that out), and it does seem to work well. The quality of the panoramic photographs is better than I was expecting and it does seem to have fairly comprehensive coverage in the areas it does cover - most streets in Cambridge seem to have imagery and although the new story made it sound like it was just cities being covered for now I was looking at my Granny's old house in Wellbank which is in the countryside a few miles outside of Dundee.

One of the people interviewed on the News was objecting that it didn't really have much practical use, and to some extent that is true, but I still found it quite interesting to go look round places I haven't been for many years and see how they had changed. Other than nosiness, I can think of other potential uses for it, it would have been very useful when I first moved to Cambridge and was trying to find a flat, since it would have allowed me to look at the neighbourhoods of the various flats to get some idea of what they were like without having to walk over half of Cambridge, and it would also allow potential renters/buyers to get a different photograph of the property than the one provided by the estate agents which might help cut down on the number of properties I would have tried to see round in person.

Google's privacy measures were also much discussed on the News, and I don't think either their face blurring (which seems to work OK most of the time but is often confused by people turning their head round) or their number plate blurring (which blurs most plates, as well as other random signs, but completely misses some for no readily apparent reason) work perfectly. I also managed to find someone I knew on it, even if I couldn't see his face (a hairdresser just next to my office whose shop has a large window and you can clearly see him through it on one Streetview photograph). That said, I think it's unlikely it would cause mant genuine privacy problems but it's not impossible there might be some.
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I went to see Watchmen at the cinema today, having previously finished reading the graphic novel last weekend. I'd actually bought the graphic novel from Amazon about sixth months ago after commenting on [livejournal.com profile] catrionamacnair 's livejournal that it sounded interesting and I might consider reading it before the film came out and being told I had to buy and read it immediately it was so good. I did buy it shortly after, but then took quite a while before actually getting around to reading it although the imminent release of the film finally made me pick it up (I also had to wait a bit for it to dry out, since Amazon helpfully left the package outside my door all day on a day when we had a torrential thunderstorm).

Some spoilers )

Films

Jan. 24th, 2009 08:33 pm
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I went to see "Slumdog Millionaire" today at the cinema. It has been hyped up a lot recently, but I thought it mostly lived up to the hype, it was a very good film. I did think the flashbacks and the interrogation were better than the Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? bit of the film, where Jamal's behaviour doesn't seem entirely consistent (I realise that winning the money isn't his main motivation in being there, but I think it is implausible that he is quite so cavalier about the possibility of losing everything), but despite the title the Millionaire bit of the film isn't really the main part of the story. Other than that I thought the rest of the film worked well, there was some great acting particularly by the child actors and I thought the soundtrack was excellent as well.

I think I would be a fairly deserving Oscar winner if it does win, although I think there is still plenty of potential for one of the other nominated films to be better than it - it's the first of the Oscar nominees that I've seen. I'm not sure I'm really that interested in seeing most of the other nominees - the trailers for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button just look dull and I have no interest in seeing The Reader either. I might consider seeing Frost/Nixon since the trailer does look reasonably good, and I haven't really seen any trailers for Milk, the final nominee so I've no idea what that might be like.
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Merry Christmas, everyone :)

Hope you all have a good day.
williamjm: (Default)
I'm back in my old home town in Scotland for Christmas and New Year. I came up on the train today, fortunately unlike the marathon 10-hour delayed journey I had to endure last time I visited this time the train ran on time so it was only 7 hours long (which is still quite a long journey but just about bearable). The only alarming bit of the journey was when the poorly-constructed pile of suitcases in the end bit of the train toppled over midway through the journey, coming fairly close to falling on the person in the first seat in the carriage (me). I think in future I may try to avoid sitting in seat number one, just in case this happens again. Of course, it wouldn't be such a problem if the train companies actually provided trains with sufficient luggage space for more than about 25% of the train's passengers to put their luggage away properly.

I've had a cold the past few days so I wasn't looking forward to the journey very much, but fortunately the cold isn't quite as bad today as it was the last couple of days. Hopefully the cold is getting better and will have mostly cleared up by Christmas.

It currently seems a bit confused what we will be doing on Christmas Day. The last few years we've gone to my brother's in Perth for the Christmas meal but this year he originally said he wouldn't be preparing anything since he has to work that day and he suggested that we see him on Boxing day instead and we could go out to a restaurant with both my brothers and the four nephews and nieces. However, since that he was wandering around Tesco and saw a bit of turkey for sale and has now decided that he will be doing a Christmas meal of sorts (probably a bit simpler than the traditional meal) but he's not quite sure when since he doesn't know when the hospital will let him go home from work.

Tick-Tock

Sep. 20th, 2008 11:18 pm
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What would you do with £1 Million? If you're Inventor John Taylor then you spend the money on building a giant mechanical clock made of gold with no numbers on it which tells the time (but only every 5 minutes) using some blue lights and a giant mechanical grasshopper and you put it on a Cambridge street corner where it will spend the rest of time baffling passers-by and disrupting traffic as crowds gather in the middle of the street to stare at the clock.

I read the story about its unveiling on BBC news yesterday (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/7625815.stm) and I was planning to go into town anyway today so I thought I may as well wander past it and have a look. It is an insane-looking thing and almost completely useless as a clock but strangely fascinating nonetheless.

Photos )
I watched the first episode of Merlin today. I guess it's better than Robin Hood and it's watchable and Eve Myles' witch was quite good (although rather reminiscent of Stardust, which is unfortunate as it mainly reminded me how much Stardust was), that's probably about all the good points I can think of. The storytelling is wearily predictable and didn't really make much sense - the plot relies on Merlin being such an idiot (using magic continually when it is banned, fighting with Arthur not once but twice when both could lead to him being executed) that it's implausible he's survived as long as he had, also it would have made more sense for the witch to try to do something before her son was executed rather than starting to try to do something just after he had his head chopped off. I'll probably still watch more of it, hopefully it will improve.
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After the delays of the journey up to Scotland last weekend I'm quite glad that today's return journey back to Cambridge was actually on time all the way - which means it only took 7 and a half hours. Back to work tomorrow and most of the next three days is going to be constant meetings/presentations so I'm expecting to be desperately wanting to be back on holiday again by about 9:15 tomorrow morning.

Yesterday I spent the day in Edinburgh. I met up with Alex and Dan (two friends from University). We went to the cinema and saw Pineapple Express (there wasn't a huge amount of choice), it was reasonably amusing although it's one of those films I'll probably have completely forgotten about a few days after I saw it. Missed most of the trailers, but did see a trailer for Death Race and I feel I have to point out that judging from the trailer they've completely failed to remake Death Race 2000 and have instead remade The Running Man with added cars.

I found out Dan has an impressive part-time job. There are a few companies in Edinburgh who run Ghost Tours around the Old Town in Edinburgh, the tours finishing with a visit to an underground street abandoned a couple of centuries ago where the tour guide will tell various cheesy ghost stories and then switch off their torch, whereupon someone will jump out of the darkness and yell at the tour party. Dan's job is to be the jumper at the end of the tours. Basically his job consists of sitting around reading books in the tour company office most of the time and every hour so jumping out and screaming at a group of tourists and for that he gets paid £6 per jump. It probably really stands out on a CV, although unfortunately he reports that the career prospects in the jumping-out-at-people industry are limited.
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On Friday I took the train up from Cambridge to Scotland. The journey went fairly smoothly at first but unfortunately the train up from Peterborough to Edinburgh was delayed by 16 minutes, which under normal circumstances wouldn't be too unreasonable a delay for a 300 mile journey but when the gap between my predicted arrival at Edinburgh and when I should have caught the train up to here was also precisely 16 minutes. To taunt me even more the train schedulers had decided to put the train I should have caught on the opposite side of the platform to the one the train I arrived on so that I could easily have got over to the other side of the platform and even touched the train but could not have got on it because the doors being locked on the other train seemed to be precisely timed to coincide with the doors unlocking on my train. On its own this would not have been that bad, and I looked at the timetable and thought I'd probably just get on the 16:33 train instead (this was about half past three). Unfortunately about 20 minutes before it was scheduled to depart the departure change was suddenly changed to 18:16, naturally there was no explanation at first although eventually it was explained that they had to put a new engine in the train which is probably quite a good reason for a delay. I attempted to get on the 17:40 train which stopped at the same stations but was informed that because this was a Scotrail service rather than a National Express service my ticket was not valid. For a while they were going to put us on a bus instead, but then decided that taking into account the time it would take the bus to get out of Edinburgh during Friday rush hour it would be faster to wait for the train to be fixed. Therefore I spent quite a bit of time wandering round Waverley station, if it hadn't been raining heavily outside I might have been able to wander round Edinburgh a bit but I stayed mostly inside although I did also go round the neighbouring Princes Mall and discovered that since I lived in Edinburgh it has changed from a shopping centre with a large selection of rubbish shops into a shopping centre with a small selection of rubbish shops and a lot of empty stores. Eventually at 18:20 the train finally left and I got here about half past 8 only 11 hours after I originally left my flat in Cambridge. I know a three-hour delay is fairly minor in the scale of transportation problems but it was particularly galling since it could all have been avoided if the first train had just got into Waverley a minute earlier.

Today was a more relaxing day. My uncle and aunt came up to visit, as he always does my uncle insisted on us going for a walk - fortunately there was no repeat of the time he took us out for a supposedly short walk and we ended up climbing a reasonably large and steep hill on a very hot day without having anything to drink (this happened about 15 years ago but apparently none of us have forgotten). Despite the forecast of 'heavy rain' and the rest of Britain apparently having turned into New Atlantis it was actually sunny and dry all day here.
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I went to see Hellboy 2 : The Golden Army at the cinema yesterday. I did enjoy it a lot, but I did feel it could probably have been a bit better. It did look stunning at times, with some excellent special effects and very inventive creature design and the action scenes were pretty good as well. The characters were likeable and interesting, there were some very amusing scenes and the background mythology was interesting. So, it did a lot a things very well but at the end of it I still felt it could have been better than it was, I think the biggest problem is that while the plot is reasonably entertaining it isn't really particularly compelling, there's little dramatic tension or suspense, it is quite predictable and the character development is fairly minimal. It's still superior to 95% of the other superhero or action movies out there, but it's a bit frustrating because I think it had the potential to be a great movie rather than just a good one. Perhaps Guillermo Del Toro's previous film is partly to blame for some of the disappointment, Hellboy 2 may match the visual inventiveness of Pan's Labyrinth but in terms of how compelling the story is, there's not really any comparison.

I think the above paragraph probably sounds a bit more negative than I really feel, I did like the film a lot and I'd still recommend it.

Scotland

Aug. 29th, 2008 10:10 pm
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From the last post I think the current tally is that 9 people thought I had an obviously Scottish accent, two didn't think I sounded Scottish and two couldn't really remember what my accent sounded like.

Speaking of Scotland I'll be up there from next Friday for a week or so (from the 5th to the 15th September). I'm deliberately not planning to do much because so far this year I haven't really had a long break where I've just had a rest for a few days and I'm starting to feel like not doing anything for a few days might be a nice change. Particularly since on my return from holiday I've probably got about three days of near-constant meetings as we try to plan the next year of work, so I think I'll need to be well-rested before that or I'll probably just fall asleep in them.

Of course, I'm probably not going to spend the entire holiday doing nothing so if anyone can think of anything interesting going on in Scotland that week then I'm happy to listen to suggestions.

Accent

Aug. 28th, 2008 11:25 pm
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A couple of days ago I was talking with one of my colleagues, who started working here at the beginning of the month. I made some comment about going up to Scotland for a week next month and he looked slightly surprised and said 'Oh, you're Scottish are you?'. I was slightly surprised he hadn't noticed this before since I've talked to him quite a few times and I had thought that although I don't have the strongest Scottish accent it should have been reasonably noticeable. Admittedly, my new colleague is originally from India and therefore may not be an expert on identifying British accents but before starting work here he was in Glasgow for 5 years so should have heard a few Scottish accents before - although he did comment that I didn't sound much like a Glaswegian which I think is probably fairly accurate. I mentioned this to my Mum and she said she didn't think I had much of an accent, on the other hand there have been quite a few occasions when people who didn't know me had identified me as Scottish just from my accent, for example I remember [profile] peadarog telling me 'you must be one of the Scottish contingent' when I first met him. I find it difficult to really assess my own accent, I know how I hear myself won't be the same as other people will hear me and I've never been very good at identifying accents anyway.

So, if you've met me what is your opinion? Do I have an obvious Scottish accent or not?
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Digital Cameras are a fantastic invention, but they do have certain drawbacks. I've only just finished sorting through all the photographs I took while on my trip to the Scottish islands the middle of last month and uploading the better ones to Flickr. Despite only being away for three days I took about 350 photographs, it's a good thing I don't tend to go on long holidays or I'd have just amount of photographs to sort through. The tedious bit this time was cropping quite a lot of the photographs because the disadvantage of taking boat trips is that while the scenery may be impressive there will inevitably be the heads of the other people in the boat (and sometimes bits of the boat itself) getting in the way. The biggest density of photographs was from Staffa, despite the fact that I was only there for about an hour and a half I seem to have managed to take about 120 photographs. I blame the fact it was implausibly scenic:

Photos )

I've also been trying to decide what I'm going to do with my remaining holidays for this year. After discounting all the days which I've got some sort of plan for I've got about a week left to take sometime before Christmas. Currently I'm thinking I'll probably go up to visit my family in Scotland, since I haven't really been 'home' much this year and it would be nice just to have a relatively relaxing time rather than going away anywhere - it also might allow me time to meet up with some of my friends from my university days in Edinburgh that I haven't seen for quite a while. Currently I'm thinking of probably either early September or mid-October (because most of the rest of the time I have various things planned already) - anyone know of anything interesting happening in Scotland about those dates that would suggest one time was better than the other?
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On Saturday I went down to London. In the afternoon I met up with [profile] dsky and [personal profile] kalorlo and we went to see [i]The Dark Knight[/i] at the cinema. It was a very good film, I'm considering saying it's the best superhero film yet. I thought Ledger's Joker was one of the more memorable screen villains I've seen (I'm currently trying to decide whether he's the best so far this year, possibly Anton Chigruh is more effective because he seems so unstoppable) and a very impressive piece of acting (I don't think I would have realised who the actor was if I hadn't already known it was so different to his past roles). It did feel like a very long film, the pace is fairly relentless from the start, but I don't think it was too long, there weren't really any unnecessary scenes that I can think of. I particularly liked the tense scenes with the two ferries especially the "I'm going to do what you should have done ten minutes ago" bit. The [i]Heat[/i]-like opening bank heist was very good as well. I could make some small criticisms, some of the supporting characters weren't given much airtime, it was sometimes a bit predictable (especially bits of Two-Face's story arc) and although it was an intelligent film I'm not sure it really said anything that wasn't fairly obvious. That said, I don't think there were any serious flaws in the film and I think I'll probably go see it again at the cinema sometime. I'm also curious to see what they'll do for the next film, it's difficult to see where the franchise will go next.

The film finished about 5:30 which coincidentally was about the right time to wander down to the Leicester Square area and meet up with [profile] isis_newton, [personal profile] podrick, [profile] slickmongoose, [profile] tom_foster, Conor, Eloisa, Eloisa's boyfriend[1], Snowleo and Snowleo's boyfriend. It was good fun, although the pub was maybe a bit too hot and stuffy to be entirely comfortable - when the person visiting from Utah is complaining about the heat you can tell it's a bit warm (although their complaint was more about the humidity).

Today was also too hot, at least in my flat. Due to the lack of any wind opening the windows didn't really cool it down much and allowed lots of insects to fly in and congregate around any lights that were on, although fortunately they seem to have mostly flown out again. Naturally, despite it being hot and sunny most of the day when I did go outside briefly there was a sudden thunderstorm complete with moderately heavy rain. I suspect my work colleagues who were doing a London-to-Cambridge charity bike rider did not particularly appreciate today's weather.

[1] Eloisa's boyfriend (whose name I've now forgotten) may be about the geekiest person I've met (which I'm sure he would take as a compliment), given the competition I think this is quite an impressive achievement. In an odd coincidence, we found out that he had just started a new job which happened to be the same job in a game store next the British Museum that [profile] werthead turned down earlier this month - it's a small world.
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I've been on the west coast of Scotland for the past few days. We spent three nights in Oban, a frankly fairly unattractive town in a very scenic setting. We took two day-trips over to the Isle of Mull and surrounding islands. The first involved setting off from Oban on the ferry at 9:30 in the morning (from a ferry terminal that appears to have been designed to feel as much like an airport terminal as possible, although quite why anyone would want anything to feel like an airport terminal is beyond me). At this point the weather was extremely overcast, probably about 15 degrees centigrade with a strong and bitingly cold wind (my hands were actually starting to feel a bit numb after standing on deck taking photographs for a while) - in the Scottish islands this is what's usually referred to as a good summer day. We then took a bus over to Fionnphort on the west of the island passing some fairly impressive-looking mountains (including the pyramid-topped Ben More). We then got on a smaller boat to go to the island of Staffa. Staffa is a very interesting place to visit, the columns of rock rising a couple of hundred feet straight out of the Atlantic Ocean are impressive to look at and the famed Fingal's Cave was particularly impressive to walk into. On top of the island it is surprisingly green with some very spectacular views of the surrounding islands and it's actually quite pleasant if you can ignore the continual wind (the sun had come out by this point which helped a lot). The only disappointment is that the captain of the boat had promised puffins on the island but I didn't see any of them :( After that we headed over to the isle of Iona, taking a detour along the way so we could be touristy and take photographs of a large marine animal identified by most people at the time as a basking shark, although my marine biology knowledge (mostly obtained from looking at the posters in the ferry terminal) suggests it may actually have been a minke whale, it was quite an impressive animal whatever it was. I liked Iona, it was a very tranquil picturesque island although the famed abbey is perhaps not terribly interesting for those of us with little interest in religion. After that another ferry back to Fionnphort, back on the bus and the ferry to Oban. At some point during the day I seemed to manage to get sunburned, which given that the day started off so overcast, the forecast was for heavy rain and Mull not being noted as one of the sunnier parts of the country I was a bit surprised that it was that sunny.
The next day we went back to Mull and wandered round Duart and Torosay Castles, both of which are reasonably interesting to visit although if I was writing a list of ten most interesting castles in Scotland I wouldn't consider either of them. This also involved a trip on Mull railway back to the ferry pier, which is a railway so small that to turn the train round at the end of the line the drivers gets out, pushes the engine to a turntable and turns it around by hand.

Other things of interest visited were McCaig's Folly, a large round arched thing overlooking Oban up a very steep hill (from being in Cambridge so long I appear to have let the muscles necessary to climb slopes fall out of use) which was apparently meant to be inspired by the Colosseum in Rome, although I can only assume McCaig had never actually seen the Colosseum but merely heard it described in a pub once. It is a good viewpoint, though. Also saw Castle Stalker a few miles up the coast, more familiar to some of you as the fearsome Castle Aaaaaargh at the end of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Sadly, it isn't open to the public (unlike the fascinating Doune Castle used for most of the rest of the castles in the film which I went round a few years ago).

Tomorrow I'll be visiting family in St Andrews, then I'll be going down to Cambridge on the train on Monday. After that it'll be back to work although I feel like I've been busy enough that I need another holiday to recover from the holiday.
williamjm: (Default)
My former flatmate from unversity, Alex, came down from Glasgow to visit at the weekend. I therefore spent most of Saturday showing him round Cambridge which went quite well although I did get a bit caught out by the weather - it was cloudy when we left the flat but the sun came out shortly afterwards and I seem to have got a bit sunburned. I was unprepared for sunny weather in England when such traditionally rain-attracting events such as Wimbledon and Glastonbury are both going on.

Watched a few DVDs over the weekend, Dog Soldiers (been a few years since I've seen it and it's still a great movie with the notable exception of the dire "there is no Spoon" line), The I.T. Crowd (which is quite an amusing sitcom although not up to the standards of the writer's previous work on Father Ted or Black Books and also despite the premise a bit short on actual computer-related jokes - although on reflection perhaps the second bit might be a good thing) and Day Watch. Day Watch was quite entertaining but is probably one of the more confusing films I've seen recently. It might have helped if we'd rewatched Night Watch before that since the last time we saw that was when it originally came out at the cinema three years ago so my memory of it is a bit vague. With some effort I think I have managed to follow the basic plotline but I'm still a bit confused about some of the supporting characters (the DVD blurb writers also seem confused by it, since they seem to think Anton is a member of Day Watch which just isn't right). I'm also a bit unconvinced by the overly convenient Chalk of Fate plot device, and not just because it's a super-powerful magical object which has a fairly rubbish name, and I'm not sure how the third film in the trilogy is going to be able to follow on from the ending of this one. Also, some bits were excessively over-the-top particularly the fairly pointless scene where Zavulon's female minion decides to drive her Ferrari along the side of a skyscraper and through a window just to get to a meeting with him. On the plus side, the film's mythology is quite original and intriguing and I think I like the characters better in this than in Night Watch.

We also went to see Prince Caspian at the cinema, which I thought was actually a surprisingly good film. There are a few problems, principally Peter and Caspian both being quite irritating for most of the film but most of the Epic Fantasy elements are done well. The two big battles scenes are both well-executed and do mostly seem to make some sort of strategic sense (sometimes a rarity in Hollywood battles), at least until the climatic Aslan-ex-machina that finishes the final battle and they're also surprisingly violent for a Disney film.
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