Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Rise of Cultural Snobbery

I don't know if this is a recent thing, but I am continually frustrated by the rise of cultural snobbery.

What I mean by that is the notion that anything 'mainstream' is automatically dubbed crap by self-proclaimed hipsters who always choose the less well-known music, films, TV shows etc. There's almost an underlying competitiveness to it all (see the image above as my case in point).

I have a problem with this, mainly because – in the case of music, for example – I am known to listen to artists who have sold millions of albums. Yet, at the same time, I have listened to music by more obscure artists (thanks, mainly, to the wonderful Spotify music service). 

Does that mean I am 'betraying' those less successful artists? Am I letting the side down and succumbing to sub-standard cultural offerings when I could have so much more?

I certainly feel a bit like I am.

I could just call them 'guilty pleasures', so as to justify myself. Saying that seems to let you off the hook. Oh, he's having a guilty pleasure. Those are allowed once in a while.

I like to think that I don't totally follow the crowd. I'm a Christian, for starters. That's pretty unusual in today's secular, 'enlightened' Britain. I use a Mac (okay, I admit that ten years ago they were regarded with suspicion but not anymore). I drive a Skoda (even though they've gained credibility over the years, most regular people still look down on them). I don't drink excessive amounts of alcohol. I don't watch football.

Erm, okay that's about it.

I'm left-handed – does that count?

Okay, maybe I'm not as hip and alternative as I'd like to be. I'm a sheep, but at least I know I'm a sheep. That makes a huge difference.

I think, as always, we have the internet to blame. With the likes of Facebook, people can display their culturally superior feathers at the rest of us simpletons. Even though most people aren't doing it to rub others noses in it, culturally-inadequate plebs like me always feel left out, and a part of me is indignant that I haven't heard The Rainforest Tractor Collective's latest EP 'Starshine milkshake is better than the velcro boots you sent me last Thursday' as released on limited edition blue vinyl.

So let's not look down on each other. Let's embrace the muli-cultured and diverse world in which we live and let the obscure run alongside the mainstream, because one day your cherished band that no-one has ever heard of just might suddenly hit the big time and appear on – God forbid – Britain's Got Talent.

So what about you? Are you hip? Or mainstream?

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Movie Review - Inglourious Basterds

Inglourious Basterds (2009)

When this film was released, it was marketed as Tarantino's version of a gory Dirty Dozen-esque romp through WW2 occupied France.

Instead, it's actually something quite different and refreshingly so. Divided into several parts, it centres around the fictional story of a group of jewish US soldiers dropped behind enemy lines – tasked with the job of striking fear into the heart of Nazi Germany through barbaric slaying and scalping of Hitler's soldiers.

While it could have been a very predictable Saving Private Ryan-esque drama (with the group making their way from one place to another with action set pieces along the way), it actually tells the story from different perspectives and at different times within the story. Tarantino is of course fond of this approach, with Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill being prime examples.

Without giving away too much, Tarantino's love of and obsession with film comes to the fore in this film and confirms that this dude really does know what he's talking about. Playfully subverting historical truths for the sake of stroytelling, the film manages to do it in such a way that this is easily forgiven.

Even though violent and bloody in places, I didn't find it any worse than films of a similar rating. What stands out, however, is Tarantino's faultless dialogue and the masterful building of tension within each scene. I truly admire Tarantino for the way he is able to take a seemingly ordinary, mundane conversation and make it come alive, putting you on the edge of your seat.

Finally, I'd like to specifically mention Christoph Waltz, who plays the 'jew hunter' Nazi and blatantly steals the show. His performance of the matter-of-fact-yet-cunning Gestapo officer is mesmerising and effortlessly outshadows the rest of the cast (who are still brilliant).

So, Tarantino has pulled off a WW2 movie and it makes me wonder what's next.

You know, I'd love to see him take on Jane Austen....  

Verdict: 9 out of 10

Friday, April 20, 2012

It's the Friday video post!

Unfortunately, the full version was taken down by YouTube, but if you hunt for it, I'm sure you can find it. So, instead, watch the trailer for this delightfully inventive and astonishing short:

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Notes from the maternity ward

Being the occasional blogger that I am, I suppose I should write about the delivery of my second son who came into this world in the early hours of Friday the 13th last week.

Yes, Friday the 13th. The date only dawned on me several hours after he'd been born.

Good job I'm not superstitious.

Ironically, it wasn't the greatest experience of our lives. I'll spare the gory details, but basically the little fella came into the world via caesarian in a surprisingly quick procedure that caught both me and wifey by complete surprise.

The main thing now, of course, is that he's out and healthy. Wifey is taking some time to recover, but basically she's doing fine.

So, as is my right and as is stipulated in my job description as a father, I have to say that he is a handsome, adorable little chap who I will love and cherish forever.

For those of you that wish to do so, you may vomit now.

Moving on, the main reason for writing this post is to simply thank the staff at the University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff publicly for all that they do. Without the nurses, midwives, doctors and consultants (and any other staff member I may have missed out), things would have been very different for us.

Put simply, my wife and baby would not have made it, and that's a stark reminder of the fragility of life even in the 21st century.

It's also a reminder of the fantastic healthcare system we have here in Wales. Yes, things go wrong and people sadly lose their lives occasionally because of bad practice or human error, but compared to most other countries I know where I'd rather have my baby delivered.

Plus, I dread to think how much the entire experience would have cost had we had to pay for it. My brother lives in the USA and even with health insurance the delivery of his daughter cost him and his wife about $900.00 (which was a straightforward delivery without complications – I wonder if they'd had to have paid extra for a cearsarian?). Makes you think.

I feel a rant coming on about how everyone should be entitled to free healthcare, but now is not the time or place (I'm very tired, after all).

By the way ... did you know that Maternity in Welsh is 'mamolaeth', which I think sort of translates as mother-milk.


Friday, April 13, 2012

It's the Friday video post!

This is wonderfully fun and creative. Enjoy!

Also, this is another video we have been involved with at work. If you know anyone in a wheelchair, you might want to tell them about this company.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A School Memory (Part 1)

I have lots of random memories about school. This one I remember from my 5th year (the year I had my starring role in, er Trig Trog).

Mr Pugh was our teacher and he was a young-ish and trendy sort who towered over us little ones with his huge frame (no doubt he was no bigger than I am now in my late 30s but when you're 7 or 8, adults always seem ginormous).

There were two incidents during the course of that year that really stick out in my memory and I've always wondered if they helped shaped me as a person in some way. This is the first one:

I remember one morning when Mr Pugh was telling the whole class off for behaving so badly in the playground (for some reason or another). He was threatening to ban us from playtime altogether if we continued on our path of social terrorism. That was when I uttered what was the most regrettable few words I'd ever said up until that point. It was something like "I don't like playtime anyway". It was a sort of defiant 'I don't care' comment that I was supposed to be saying inwardly but unfortunately my mouth got involved and decided to make the volume nice and loud for all to hear.

He instantly pounced on my ill-chosen words and decided to make me an example to everyone there and then.

"Right then. In that case you can stay in every break time until the end of the year."

And with that, my fate was sealed.

I was banned from spending break time with the rest of my classmates. I was devastated.

Weirdly, I was never a defiant child. I was usually pretty well-behaved. I got on with my work and obeyed orderes. The idea of going against authority is not something I'm naturally inclined to do. I have no idea where that particular bout of anti-establishment behaviour came from.

From what I can remember, the rest of the term was spent – as my punishment dictated – sad and alone in the classroom. I remember once or twice having a companion. You know the kid, the one who isn't 'allowed outside' because of some (made up) medical condition.

I have a theory that my self-inflicted period of solitary confinement had a small impact on my social skills later on in life. I'm not the most naturally confidant person around others, and am easily intimidated by those who appear sure of themselves. I'm not socially awkward per se, but definitely take time to feel comfortable around people.

Could it be that I happened to lose out on the most crucial time of social development? Surely I was supposed to be out playing and learning how to interact with others in an informal setting. Instead, most of my interactions were within a formal, classroom context (or with the weird kid who sometimes made an appearance). Is it possible that had I not been stuck indoors for an entire term then I would have grown up to be a well-balanced party animal?

Well, no not really because I did get to go out at lunchtime. I'm sure I got plenty of social developmental interaction credit power-ups that way.

But I did get slightly less than everyone else so it makes you think, doesn't it?

No? Oh well, must be me then.

This was the 80s, when things were so much more laid back and teachers didn't have seventy-five policies and procedures to deal with handling crayons. Mr Pugh had made his point to the rest of the class. Chances are, if I'd snuck out at playtime with everyone else after a few days, he wouldn't have noticed or even cared. If only I'd done that....

Next time (when I get round to writing it): How I stupendously failed at maths.

So – do you have any random memories from school where you look back and think 'what was I doing?'

Monday, April 9, 2012

Fighting Fantasy - A Nostalgia Post

Back when I was a teenager, when being a geek was incredibly uncool, I used to secretly love the Fighting Fantasy books by Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson.

I read this post today and was transported back to the land of nostalgia for a bit.

When FF was around, it was a time when you had to use your brain to imagine a lot of the stuff you read in fantasy or sci-fi books because CGI simply didn't exist back then. I have fond memories of these books, and a strong sense of being immersed in the worlds that they portrayed. I particularly enjoyed the artwork, which helped accentuate the immersion, produced by the likes of Brian Bolland (of 2000AD) and Ian McGaig (co-designer of Darth Maul).

What was great was the fact that each title wasn't always the same stuff each time – they often strayed into other, more interesting genres such as superheroes or horror.

Ironically, I was actually more interested in the books as books rather than playing them as solo roleplaying games. I did read them, but more often than not tended to flick through, savour the artwork and then put them on them shelf with the intention of playing them at some point in the future. I was the kind of kid who rarely looked at instruction manuals, so never got into playing the books the way you were supposed to. I think I was a bit intimidated by the seemingly-complicated scoresheets you had to do every time you played. Usually, I omitted using dice, thus playing in 'invincible' mode defeating every creature I came across, which kind of missed the point.

I had pretty much every book up until the late 80s, which is when I decided it was all a bit sad and regrettably threw them away.

I'm a bit annoyed at my younger self for not giving the books the attention they deserved. I really should have played them more and taken the time and effort to succeed. I would have been happier about throwing them out if they were falling apart due to overuse, but sadly they were mostly in pristine condition.

I was also into a magazine called Proteus, which was a short-lived fantasy magazine that worked on the same principle as FF, but in a shorter format. It didn't last very long, but I remember again spending more time looking at the artwork than actually playing the games!

Interestingly, Fighting Fantasy was not the first to introduce the idea of 'interactive fiction'. Choose Your Own Adventure (CYOA) was an American series of books which started back in 1975. Once they were picked up by a major publisher in 1979, they went on to become incredibly successful.

From what I can remember, I don't think these books had a fighting system like FF so it was far simpler to pick them up and start playing. I  had a few of these books and because they were much shorter than Fighting Fantasy managed to complete most of them. They weren't limited to fantasy or science fiction, though, and were typically about solving crimes or mysteries. I do have vivid recollections of the stories being quite gruesome in some places, and found them a bit scary (ironically, moreso than FF). That, and the fact that the cover illustrations were completed by inbred mutants (compared to the usually stunning Fighting Fantasy ones), however, meant my allegiance would always lie with Messrs Jackson and Livingstone.

Interestingly, both FF books and CYOA are still around. The latter still have ridiculously bad covers, and some questionably atrocious titles: 'Zombie Penpal' and, er 'War with the Evil Power Master' being prime examples. Fighting Fantasy seem to be going strong still and are very much in the digital age now, with some titles being available as iPhone and iPad apps.

I must say, I'm seriously tempted – just so I can redeem my younger self, of course.

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Monday, April 2, 2012

There's always a way...

If you really want to do something, you'll find a way. If you don't, you'll find an excuse.
- Jim Rohn, rags-to-riches entrepreneur

Since starting my own business over three years ago I have had some incredibly hairy moments, usually centred round getting a project to a client in time for a deadline. So far, I have always delivered. It may have been close to the bone - but despite whatever challenges or obstacles thrown my way, each and every time I have given the client what they needed when they needed it (eventually).

Many times I have found myself in the editing suite despairing for a lack of 'cutaways' or 'b-roll' footage. Sometimes this can make or break a video. Every time, me and my colleague have managed to find a way to make it work. It's amazing what you can pull out of the bag when all you've got is a steaming turd of a video and zero extra footage to work with.

When you look back over history, there have been numerous problems facing us puny humans. They might have taken decades or centuries to solve, but we did it eventually. Everything from power to travel to medicine to construction, somehow we were able to overcome whatever obstacles were in the way and nudge our species just that tiny bit closer to utopia.

The lesson here, kids is: There's always a way.

There's always a way to fix it, to do it right, to do again, to do it so it works.

Often I have been faced with a practical problem that confounds me and begins to get me all riled up. Sometimes it's just silly stuff like when I'm trying to fix my bike or if my computer starts to go weird. It has dawned on me, however, that with a little patience and 'standing back' time I am able to come up with a solution.

Of course, we are sometimes faced with a situation that simply cannot be changed or improved on. The death of a loved one, for example, or when our favourite football team loses stupendously in a cup final.

But in most, normal everyday situations, I think it's wise to never give in and trust that something can be done to fix a problem. In my experience, there's always a way.

If only politicians, businessmen and other leaders had that little sentence in the back of their minds. It might just mean things got a bit better for all of us.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

The waiting game...

This is just a stock image!
We are currently awaiting the arrival of our second child, and I must say it's a bit of an odd time. We are two days past our due date and there's no sign of anything about to happen.

The problem with pregnancy is that, unless your wife happens to be a high-risk case, nobody really knows when the little bundle of joy is going to make an appearance. In spite of modern medical techniques, it's really down to mother nature to make that decision (in my case I believe it's God who chooses, but there you go).

I'm fortunate that, currently, work has quietened down. I've completed the main, pressing tasks and am working on less priority stuff. This means I can easily drop everything the moment things start to happen.

Wifey's dad has returned from Australia (he's retired and spends half the year there) to take care of JKY when we need to head to hospital. We've kitted out the baby room. All the urgent house repairs have been done. I've even managed to get my accounts up-to-date.

Actually, no I haven't done the last one. I would never be that organised!

So, all we can do is ... wait.

All this waiting means you have a bit more time to think (and write blog posts!). I can't help but think about when my folks were my age. They didn't have the fancy scans and methods for induction that we do nowadays (methods, which, have their downsides). I imagine C-sections were very rare. You just waited for the baby to come.

I guess the frustration with waiting is a symptom of the modern world where you can order most things – books, pizzas, films, furniture – via the internet, and get them almost instantly or next day. Yes, sometime you do have to wait, but you usually know when it will arrive.

There's no tracking ID for a baby. Well, at least not yet.

I'm sure one day in the future, when my sons decide to have children, there will be some technique that will either predict delivery with pinpoint accuracy or make labour happen at a time that suits the parents. Which is kind of sad, because I think it's nice to live a little bit of uncertainty every now and again. Life can be, after all, full of surprises and the more we're prepared for them the better we'll cope.

So, we just have to wait and accept that he (for it is a he) will come when he's ready.

And in the meantime, maybe I can finish off those pesky accounts!

Experience YouTube – offline!

This is brilliant – I especially like the vinyl soundtrack option.