One of my photos

Overthinking the Hunger Games

August 13th, 2014 · Posted by Skuds in Life

Over the weekend I finally got round to watching the two Hunger Games films. I should have enjoyed them more, and if only I had remembered to do what I was told to at school I probably would have done.

All the way through the films I kept wondering how on Earth actors of the stature and quality of Donald Sutherland, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Stanley Tucci, Jeffrey Wright and Woody Harrelson could be involved in something so poor. That is not to say that I found them totally unwatchable: Jennifer Lawrence’s performance alone made it worth seeing, even if there is no way she can pass as between 12 and 18.

The thing is I forgot the golden rule of appreciating science fiction (well arguably any fiction, but especially science fiction) – willing suspension of disbelief. It was almost a mantra of my old English and film studies teacher and I forgot to do it, so I was in the wrong frame of mind completely.

What you are supposed to do is accept the starting premise that there was some sort of rebellion and that the government instituted these hunger games and proceed from there. Accept that all as a given and then it is all about how people would react in those circumstances. Instead of that I could not get over just how unlikely the whole thing was.

Admittedly, even if I had done that I would still have had other problems with the whole setup. The idea of an insulated elite of the idle rich, living in luxury while the masses struggle and starve is a common enough concept. The problem is that the pampered elite seemed to outnumber the masses enormously. The districts seemed to be able to gather all their children into a small town square for the reaping, implying a population of not more than a few thousand, while arenas in the capital were packed out with tens of thousands of people.

But I would have found that easier to ignore if not for the doubts over the whole premise of the story. There is also the small matter that the whole idea of the hunger games seemed like an inferior copy of Battle Royale, which is still one of my favourite films, which is why I put off watching for so long.

I’ll try to approach the third and fourth films with a more open mind, when I inevitably watch them.

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My favourite Robin Williams line

August 12th, 2014 · Posted by Skuds in Life, Politics

One reason why I like comedy is the way that a comedian can often manage to sum up a whole social issue in a one-liner that makes its point better than a politician could in an entire speech, and still make you laugh  When politicians try humour it is cringeworthy at best, but when comedians try politics it is often a lighbulb moment.

Which brings me to my favourite Robin Williams line, one which I have repeated many times, and although it comes from an old VHS I had in the late 80′s or early 90′s it is still depressingly relevent today.

When your company is paying you minimum wage it is just their way of telling you that they would pay you less if they were allowed to.

Of course, back then we didn’t have a minimum wage here, but we still got the joke and the implications of it.

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Will the last minister to leave the Foreign Office please turn out the lights

August 12th, 2014 · Posted by Skuds in Politics

I have never really taken to Baroness Warsi, but at least she resigned on a matter of principle, unlike Mark Simmonds. I don’t think that being unable to scrape by on many times the average wage really counts as a principle.

When I see him complaining that MPs’ expenses can’t pay for him to rent a flat in London, when those expenses would allow him to spend over £2300 a month on a flat I imagine that all those people in London who are not even taking home £2300 a month but still somehow managing to get by will be searching Ebay for the world’s smallest violin.

I also imagine that anybody who has to work away from home driving lorries, out on fishing boats, with the armed forces in Afghanistan, or just tgravelling to visit customers to earn a whole lot less than the £89k junior minister’s salary will be similarly sympathetic.

No wonder there is so much resentment aimed at politicians these days.

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Re-writing history

August 9th, 2014 · Posted by Skuds in Life

I have been building up quite a collection of Robert Rankin books on my Kindle. He keeps doing special offers on his birthday or a christmas where one or two are free and others are at reduced price for a short while and I snap them up.

This is not just me being tight, I just don’t want to pay full price for books I already have and have already read several times, but I am OK with paying 99p to have an e-copy I can take with me when I am travelling.

Anyway, over the last couple of weeks I have been re-reading the Armageddon series. These are probably my least favourite of Rankin’s books and I thought I would get them out of the way first.

During the second book I had a feeling that it might have been subtly changed from the old paper copy I have. It was in one of those bits where the characters are taking about the book they are in I think, and there was passing mention of the publishers, Far-Fetched Books. I was fairly certain that was a company Rankin set up fairly recently to buy up the rights to his older books and re-publish them, so it didn’t exist at the time the book was written.

In the third book of the series (The Suburban Book of the Dead) there is passing mention of Lady Gaga, which stopped me in my tracks a bit. When the book was first published Lady Gaga was only six years old.

It now has me wondering what other little changes were made prior to the re-publication. Those two only stood out because they were anachronistic – quite fitting since all three stories feature time travel with some very deliberate anachronisms that get acknowledged openly by the author and also by characters themselves.

I dare say that some obsessives have gone through the versions line by line and put all the differences online somewhere, perhaps even on the Golden Sprout site.

By the way, I am not complaining about this. I’m sure that plenty of books could do with periodic tweaking to maybe update topical cultural references, or embarrassingly superseded technology. I remember reading an EE ‘Doc’ Smith book set in the distant future that mentions the Bakelite control panel of a spaceship for example, and a Harry Harrison book writeen when 386 computers were the cutting edge that mentions a 586 computer to help establish that it is hundreds of years in the future.

Of course there is an argument that these period details give books a certain charm and that you wouldn’t keep re-writing Shakespeare to bring it up to date – though plenty of people do that one way or another.

I’m not particularly bothered one way or another, but it does mean that when I do re-read all those Rankin books on the Kindle there is still the chance I could get surprised, even if it is a book I have read two or three times before.

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Catching up

August 9th, 2014 · Posted by Skuds in Music

During this week I have been using Spotify to catch up on some of those things I missed out on the first time around.

Sometimes it gets a bit embarrassing to realise just how many popular and important albums I have never even heard or properly listened to. Only slighly embarrassing though, because I know the reasons. [Read more →]

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Laffer spotting

August 4th, 2014 · Posted by Skuds in Politics

I had a real surprise the other day. I was watching Sky News and they had an interview with Arthur Laffer, the bloke who has that curve named after him.

For some reason I had always just assumed that the Laffer curve, and by implication Laffer himsef, were a lot less recent than that. I just imagined him being perhaps a contemporary of Friedman and therefore probably either dead or extremely ancient. It turns out he is only 73 but looked a lot younger than that. It turns out that the eponymous curve only came to fame in 1974! [Read more →]

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This is an ex-Python. It is no more.

July 21st, 2014 · Posted by Skuds in Life

Well I watched the last ever Monty Python show on TV almost live (had to pause it to take the dogs over the field) and was a bit underwhelmed.

To be fair, I think this was one of things where you just had to be there. I remember watching an old episode of Fawlty Towers, plus a couple of the John Cleese training videos at the Barbican with about 100 Python fanatics and the atmosphere and laughter was infectious. I’m sure people at the O2 had a great time, but I don’t think the stage show translated well to the TV, which is ironic considering that that it was really a live version of a TV show.

It did not help us at home that the performers were playing to the audience in the room, which is of course what they should be doing. You do sometimes see a film of a live show where the performers are playing to the cameras and the cameras are all over the stage obscuring the audience’s view and wonder why the audience don’t kick off more about paying through the nose to be treated as set dressing, so fair play to the Pythons for that.

To be even fairer, I think that I really wanted it to be the funniest thing ever in the world so it didn’t have to be terrible to be disappointing. It just had to not be the funniest thing in the world ever. I feel bad for not enjoying it more. [Read more →]

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An advertising question

July 18th, 2014 · Posted by Skuds in Life

Saw a TV advert the other day. It was for a specific product, said how good it was, then mentioned how it was on special offer at a specific supermarket and ended with that supermarket’s branding.

Who would have placed the advert? The manufacturer or the supermarket? Both working together? Maybe the supermarket placed the ad and the manufacturer stumped up towards it, or gave them a discount on a shipment to enable the cheap price. Or maybe the manufacturer placed the ad but the supermarkey has agreed to some prominent aisle position for the product in return for the publicity?

How do these cross-promotional things usually work?

For some reason, my 35-year-old CSE in Mass Media Studies isn’t helping me with this.

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Nearly there

July 16th, 2014 · Posted by Skuds in Work

So there I was last week. I was at a Bid and Project Management convention. Had my laptop all set up to do a product demo of a new tool that is nearly finished, checking emails on the BlackBerry and handing out business cards to anybody who showed an interest in our product, and it suddenly occurred to me…

…I was only a BlueTooth headset away from achieving full wankerdom!

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Health & Safety Gone Mad

June 24th, 2014 · Posted by Skuds in Politics

Here is an idea. I would like to propose a change to H&S regulations to the effect that any politician who complains about health & safety regulations in the workplace is not only exempt from all such regulations themselves, but if they ever go on a photo opportunity visit to a construction site, factory, warehouse, depot, disaster site, oil rig etc. they are, under no circumstances, allowed to wear hard hats, safety goggles, hi-vis jackets or any other items of PPE.

If nothing else, it would reduce the number of tedious photo-ops of politicians in hard hats. They may moan about H&S but they do love to dress up whenever they get the chance don’t they? In an ideal world it would lead to a bit of gloriously ironic natural selection.

An extra flourish to the legislation would force them to state whether they specifically object to safety or to health.

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