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I have a burning need to know stuff and I love asking awkward questions.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Mobile phones move into a new largely untapped market............

My Favourite Movies: Pacific Rim

Think about it for a few minutes. Giant alien creatures (known as Kaiju) – not unlike Godzilla - start appearing from a fissure in the ocean floor and begin to ravage coastal areas causing untold death and destruction seemingly shrugging off the best efforts of the military to bring them down. Eventually after weeks of battle they are brought down only for months later another and then another appears to take their place. Now given that scenario what is the absolutely least likely response from a technologically advanced world? That’s right – Giant human operated robots designed to go toe-to-toe with the creatures and take them on in basically unarmed combat (with the occasional rocket barrage thrown in for good measure) which mostly means fist fighting on an epic scale. But there you have it – the plot of Pacific Rim.

By all reasonable standards this is a film that shouldn’t really work. The plot, as I’ve shown above, is beyond silly. The characters are, by and large, paint-by-numbers which fits the plot nicely. The dialogue is often laughable with a few exceptions – though far too short I did like the leaders rousing speech just before the final battle:

Today... At the edge of our hope, at the end of our time, we have chosen not only to believe in ourselves, but in each other. Today there is not a man nor woman in here that shall stand alone. Not today. Today we face the monsters that are at our door and bring the fight to them! Today, we are *cancelling* the apocalypse!

The actors themselves where largely OK. The aforementioned leader – Stacker Pentecost – played by Idris Elba was definitely one of the better ones and carried his role pretty decently. The hero – Aussie Raleigh Becket – played by Charlie Hunnam was fairly nondescript and luckily very little acting was required from him. The love interest – Mako Mori – played by the delightful Rinko Kikuchi (above) was probably the only character to develop through the film moving from a frightened child survivor of an early attack (played very well indeed by 9 year old Mana Ashida - pictured below), to a researcher in thrall to Pentecost, to a fighter in the ring able to more than hold her own with hero Raleigh, to a rookie Jaeger (hunter robot) pilot to a celebrated combat veteran and world saver.

Of course, as with most of these films it’s the fight/combat sequences that really sell it. CGI these days is pretty much capable of anything so the thrills are basically only limited by the imagination of the director and his crew (in this case Guillermo del Toro). Which means that, certainly in this case, the battles are truly awesome events. If you haven’t seen this before just think of 100+ metre tall humanoid robots throwing and being thrown around by equally huge creatures in a cityscape with all of the resulting devastation. Now think of multiple robots and multiple creatures doing the same. You get my point I hope. One set of robots Vs creatures equals pretty amazing. Three of each and it’s off the scale awesome! OK, maybe it’s a teenage boy thing (basically how this film made me feel) but it hardly ever gets better than giant robots kicking giant alien monster ass – take my word on it!

One of the things you’ll need to do to enjoy this film is to give your more critical faculties a few hours off to do their own thing. If you start questioning things within the film that don’t make sense, don’t add up or are just plain silly (and sometimes downright stupid) you’ll have a hard time getting past the first 30 minutes. This is a film to be enjoyed on a simple emotional level. Just let out your inner adolescent (especially if you’re male) and go with it. The nonsense techno-babble is there to give the movie some much needed gravitas. Don’t give it a second thought. When it’s inconvenient to the plot the science is un-ceremonially dropped anyway so don’t give it a second thought. Oh, and try your best to ignore all of the basic scientific and technical mistakes scattered throughout the movie – although it could be fun picking them out on subsequent viewings with techie friends and a few cold beers. Above all else this film should be treated as fun and spectacle that certainly won’t stretch the mind but if you’re anything like me it will make your palms sweat.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Advice for foreigners on how Britons walk

by Mark Easton for the BBC

18 July 2014

We drive on the left, but which side do we walk on? Some friends from Australia asked me this question as we battled down London's Oxford Street the other day, weaving our way through determined shoppers, rushing office workers and ambling tourists. The answer is we don't. The British have little sense of pavement etiquette, preferring a slalom approach to pedestrian progress. When two strangers approach each other, it often results in the performance of a little gavotte as they double-guess in which direction the other will turn.

The British are ambulatory anarchists. We are oblivious to the Rules for pedestrians helpfully published by Her Majesty's Government. There are 35 in total but, frankly, who knew and who cares? Rule Number One tells us we must "avoid being next to the kerb with your back to the traffic" which implies we ought to walk on the left of the pavement. Such advice is blithely ignored, as any stroll down a busy high street will confirm. An attempt to bring order to this chaos was suggested in 2000, amid reports of rising "pavement rage". The Fast Lane Campaign proposed designated coloured lanes for pedestrians walking along Oxford Street in London - a fast lane for those rushing to get from A to B and a slow lane for window-shoppers and dawdlers. Inevitably, the idea was laughed away. One group representing the rights of pedestrians dismissed it as anathema to the anarchic spirit of British walkers. The British are bemused by countries which police pedestrians - treating those who don't use designated crossings as criminals. There are laws against jaywalking in the US, Singapore, Poland, Serbia, Iran, Australia and New Zealand among other countries. But in Blighty, the state leaves it up to the individual to make their own judgement. The only exception is in Northern Ireland where, occasionally, a pedestrian may be prosecuted for jaywalking if it is deemed to have caused an accident.

We may have a reputation for orderly queuing but I suspect that stems from foreign bewilderment that such organised behaviour, where it still exists, is voluntary. There is no rule that says you have to line up at the bus stop. Residual affection for the queue is explained by a general belief in fair play, first-come first-served and good manners. The accepted autonomy of the pedestrian, free to ignore the demands of pelicans and zebras, is in contrast to views on the behaviour of cyclists. The shift from foot to wheel, from kerb to street, changes everything. The sight of a bicycle rider happily free-wheeling through a red light inspires a fury never inspired by a walker who won't wait for the green man at the crossing. The rule of law may be a fundamental British value, but we recoil at legislation that might impact on our right to roam free in the public realm. A sign demanding that we Do Not Walk On The Grass is often seen as an invitation for rebellion. A legacy of the enclosures which robbed people of their village greens and common land, perhaps, Brits fight for such freedoms.

 At some busy UK railway stations, I have seen one-way systems for pedestrians - staircases and walkways emphatically marked with arrows and "no entry" signs to regulate foot traffic. While tourists obediently follow the instructions, the locals seem almost to take pleasure in walking up the wrong side. On London tube escalators there are instructions to walk on the left and stand on the right, some with feet symbols to ensure everyone knows the form. People do obey these requests, for the most part, suggesting that different rules apply underground. But on the street? No, we don't walk on the left or the right. We are British and wander where we will.

[It’s funny that when I used to work in London I thought that two types of people existed: those in a hurry, and those who get in the way of people in a hurry. It took me months to slow down again when I moved out of the city to somewhere a little more sedate. I did enjoy dodging foot traffic though. I tried to walk as fast as I could whilst weaving, dodging and avoiding other traffic often doing exactly the same. It was a lot of fun! But I know exactly what the author of this article means – we Brits are pedestrian anarchists. No one can tell us where we can and can’t walk and any attempt to do so will be ignored, subverted and eventually abandoned. I am a Brit and I’m a Free Walker. We have nothing to lose but our footpaths!]

Thursday, July 17, 2014


Just Finished Reading: War on Wheels – The Evolution of an Idea by C R Kutz (FP: 1940)

This is yet another book I picked up in my misspent youth haunting out of the way bookshops. First published in the USA in 1940 my edition is the 2nd published in the UK in 1942. Telling the story of wheeled (and to a lesser extent tracked) warfare since ancient times it ponders on how Blitzkrieg came about and what, if anything, could be done about it as the war in Europe developed so badly for the Allied forces. Those final chapters where the author speculates on an unknown future (if any) for the Western democracies are both poignant and a stark reminder of the darkest days of WW2.

The road to those final chapters is equally fascinating. Focused mainly on WW1 the author mainly focuses on the development, deployment and use of armoured cars first on the Western Front where they inevitably became bogged down in the mud and trenches of that largely static fighting. Subsequent chapters told of the much more fluid fighting on the various Eastern Fronts but about a third of the book analysed the fighting in the Middle East with its often ideal conditions for highly mobile warfare which suited wheeled conflict a great deal. Showing how early attempts to shackle the cars with horse cavalry eventually became recognised as a huge mistake the author explained how fast moving combat vehicles, supported by truck loaded infantry, artillery and air support could range far afield and cause chaos wherever they went. Blitzkrieg, he clearly illustrates, did not emerge from nowhere. The tactics so ably used by the Germans in the opening years of WW2 had been developed by the Allies in WW1. Decades later the Germans had learnt, adapted and improved those lessons whilst the Allies had, by and large, forgotten them. Despite its title and main focus it was difficult for the author to completely ignore tanks and he spent several chapters discussing their origin and early halting use. Rather bizarrely he also spent a chapter discussing armoured trains which whist vaguely interesting did seem a little pointless.    

Overall this was an interesting and largely well written book on a weapon platform that is largely ignored. Armoured cars for reconnaissance and the daring dash into enemy territory to take and hold strategic points of interest generally gets short shrift from histories of both wars so it’s good to see that redressed a bit here. Almost equally as fascinating is that this is a historical document written as WW2 was in progress with the outlook looking rather bleak for the Allies. You can almost hear the fear and uncertainty in his ‘voice’ as he writes what may be indeed the final chapters in his story. Although probably long out of print this is worth picking up if you can get hold of it.