Saturday, 6 December 2014

Longmire...


I learned today, with no small amount of relief, that Netflix has picked up Longmire for a fourth, 10-episode season.

Originally aired by A&E (apparently it doesn't mean 'Accident & Emergency), the network inexplicably cancelled it following the third-season finale, despite consistently-high ratings. Season Three (it hasn't aired here yet) apparently ended on a cliffhanger, so it'd be a shame not to see how things play out for Walt and Absaroka County.

I first became aware of the Longmire character about a year ago, while visiting Canada and short of something to read. In a Toronto bookstore I happened upon a copy of Craig Johnson's 'The Cold Dish', and was hooked.

For the uninitiated, the stories follow the exploits of Walt Longmire, sheriff of (fictional) Absaroka County, Wyoming; a man recovering from the untimely death of his wife and having to deal with re-election and the day-to-day management of law and order in his territory.

The setup is not unlike Ace Atkins' character of Quinn Colson, a returning US Army Ranger who becomes sheriff of his own home county following the suicide of his uncle, the previous sheriff, although neither can be said to be taking from, or even confused with, the other.

It was upon reading the Longmire novels that I discovered that it was being developed for TV, with Australian actor Robert Taylor taking the lead, and backed up by Katee Sackhoff (Battlestar Galactica) as Deputy Victoria "Vic" Moretti, a former Philadelphia PD homicide detective; Cassidy Freeman (Smallville) as Cady, Walt's daughter, Lou Diamond Phillips (Stargate:Universe) as Henry Standing Bear, owner of the Red Pony Bar and Walt's oldest friend; and Peter Weller (Robocop hisself!), as retired Sheriff, Lucian Connally.

And although some characters were at odds with their description in the narrative, or created simply for the TV version, the casting was, for me, spot-on, with Taylor especially seeming to have stepped out of the pages and onto the screen. I will, of course, watch Katee Sackhoff in anything.

A character created for the show is that of Deputy Branch Connally (Bailey Chase), nephew of the former sheriff, Walt's friend and mentor, Lucian (Peter Weller). Branch is young and eager, and wants to bring policing in Absaroka into the digital age; this places him at odds with Walt, who believes in the more traditional approach. The pair are frequently seen at loggerheads, but Walt sees something in Branch that tells him he'll make a good Sheriff - someday.

An overarching storyline within the series is the investigation into the murder of the man suspected of the murder of Walt's wife in Denver, with evidence leading ambiguously to both Walt and Henry, and a seemingly-relentless detective on the case, unwilling to let go.

I haven't seen Season Three yet, but I'd hate for a series as good as this one to simply drop off the radar - so thank you Netflix!

And on we go...


Saturday, 29 November 2014

The Holidays Are Coming...

November is fast becoming history, and December will be upon us in a matter of tick-tocks.

Starting Monday, I have a four-day project to upgrade my company's backup and recovery application, and then the shopping can begin.

This will be the first year in about fifteen that I will not be on call over the holiday period, and the first in about five years where I'll be able to take the whole holiday off, so I'm actually looking forward to it for a change, if only for the rest.

As I will have mentioned previously, I don't particularly enjoy Christmas. Of course, there's Christmas dinner with family and visits to (and by) friends, but the holiday itself leaves me with a sense that something's missing. I have my own ideas about that, and won't burden the regular reader, but the feeling hasn't diminished over the years, and so I generally just put my head down and make a charge for January.

I also still have several days' leave to take (three-and-a-half, if anyone's counting) plus a flexi-day (bonus time worked), so I'll have time for a bit of Christmas shopping and people-watching. For the last couple of years, I've taken to visiting a pub in Dublin called 'The Old Stand', which has a large window looking out onto a four-way junction in the heart of the centre of town.

Armed with a pen and a (cheekily overpriced)  pint, I sit for an hour (or even two) watching people go by, wondering what's going on in their minds, what their stories might be.




In some ways it's like being in an Edward Hopper painting, only on the inside, looking out...

Last year, I watched as, among others:
  • The CEO of my company went past, carrying a plastic shopping bag and checking a list or similar as he did his shopping; 
  • A group of four young women, laden with shopping bags and unable to agree on where to go next, who went into Butler's Chocolate CafĂ© for a coffee while they decided; and 
  • A young couple, reluctantly going their separate ways, finding reasons to delay taking their leave of each other. There was a brief exchange, then each produced a cellphone, no doubt to exchange details. It struck me that they hadn't known each other more than a number of hours.But then the time came to part - it was like something out of 'Brief Encounter'.

Ah, holidays...



Saturday, 25 October 2014

Stand By For Action!!!



As a child, I was something of a TV addict (I blame my father for sitting me down in front of 'Batman' when I was about 4). I loved adventure shows; 'Champion the Wonder Horse', 'Lassie', 'Skippy' (featuring a young Liza Goddard ); and more grown-up programs like 'The Man From U.N.C.L.E.', 'The Saint' and so on.

Then of course, there was Doctor Who, a show I watched without really understanding until Jon Pertwee took over from Patrick Troughton, who I always thought was silly with his tin whistle.

Star Trek came along later, and some of my fondest memories are of sitting with my dad on a Monday evening and watching an episode on BBC1 (without commercials!). I recall he was scornful of the Horta in "The Devil in The Dark", and the flying parasites in "Operation:Annihilate!"

"You can see the strings!", he'd laugh, but we both enjoyed it anyway.

Which brings me neatly to the point, nay, the meat of this article, for throughout my childhood, my favourite shows were those that featured the logo "Filmed in SuperMarionation" and were produced by Gerry Anderson's APF Productions or, later, Century 21.

Stingray, Thunderbirds, Joe 90 (a favourite then, but less so now) and Captain Scarlet - all of these brought 30 minutes, or in Thunderbirds case, an hour of non-stop action, edge-of-the-seat adventure, incredible explosions, daring rescues, knife-edge suspense and a little humour injected in just the right places. Using puppets. And you could see the strings.



For me, the strength of the stories made one forget that the players weren't human, so the strings didn't matter. The mechanics of the vehicles, buildings that retracted or sank into the earth, all of these fascinated me. I could watch Zero-X be assembled twice...

What crystallised it all, of course, was the music, all of which was composed by Barry Gray.

A long-time collaborator of Anderson's, Gray produced elaborate scores for the various shows, with strong, dramatic themes and incidental pieces arranged for orchestras of anything up to 60 instruments, predominantly strings (an in-joke, perhaps?) and brass.

Gray's compositions stood out by being almost characters in their own right; the music treated the material as though it were regular, prime-time adult drama and not part of a children's production. This, in the era of ITC classics like The Saint and Danger Man, was important in that it meant (to me, anyway) that the producers of Thunderbirds and Stingray were treating their audience with the same importance as those of the live-action shows.

This, as much as the strength of the material, conspired to make me a TV addict.

I remain unrepentant.

And to this day, the music of Barry Gray can be found on my phone's MP3 player in the form of a playlist to which I return regularly, especially when I need to concentrate my mind on a task or de-stress.

They don't make them like this any more...




Saturday, 4 October 2014

Any Star Trek Fans Out There???

If so, you might (if you haven't already) want to have a look at this:



The full movie is in pre-production - I'm more than a little excited about it...

Sunday, 14 September 2014

For The Good of My Health: Part Two...

Last Thursday, I visited the Dublin Neurological Institute as what I hoped would be the final part of my investigations into the health-related episodes I encountered earlier this year.

My appointment was for 3:15pm, which gave me time to take a guided tour of my home city, to see what the tourists see (more of which later).

Arriving at the DNI's premises on Eccles Street, opposite the Mater Hospital (Best Care Anywhere - trust me on this), I checked in and was shown to a well-lit, brightly decorated waiting room that contained, unbelieveably, a baby grand piano. Although not in use while I was there, I was assured that occasionally a volunteer or member of staff would play, and that most patients appeared to like it. Fair enough, although I doubt I would have been one of them.

The room was full; about a dozen people, some by themselves, others with a friend or family member, all waiting to be seen by a neurological specialist. For myself, I wasn't worried: I had already learned that my CT and MRI scans had come back clear, and that blood pressure and cholesterol were my immediate issues. But the subject of neurology covers a wide field, and so it was possible that my fellow patients were awaiting diagnoses of other, potentially more serious conditions.

A lady, perhaps in her seventies, sat by the window. Accompanied by her daughter, she displayed a slight tremor that I mistook for nervousness, but upon reflection could have been Parkinson's.

A couple in their late sixties; the husband, asleep on one of the large leather sofas along the opposite wall; his wife, evidently troubled by back pain, unable to get comfortable on either the sofa or any of the hard wooden chairs. When they were called, I couldn't tell which of them was the patient.

A young couple, he Irish, she Polish, sat quietly at one end of the room. They were called shortly before I was, and I met them halfway down the stairs as I was being led to my meeting. They embraced quietly, and I can only hope that it was due to having received good news.

I was called by a young woman who introduced herself as Adrianna, and who led me to a small examination room in the basement. After taking my blood pressure to compare it with other readings, we discussed my case and an action plan.

Firstly, Adrianna confirmed what I already knew - that my scans showed no irregularities, other than what she termed "normal wear and tear" - not an expression I ever expected to be used in conjunction with my brain. And while she were satisfied that what had sent me to A&E in the first place may well have been stress-related, Adrianna felt that my chances of a stroke or heart attack were not high. It was up to me, however, to keep things that way.

So I have to work on my general fitness and diet, and keep taking the meds prescribed for me - they, apparently, are for life, not just for birthdays...

We also discussed the possibility that the pressure in my head, combined with loss of feeling, blurred vision, etc., might be due to migraine. I had seen a poster in the waiting room which described the symptoms of migraine, many of which tallied with what I had been feeling, and indeed what prompted me to seek further investigation.

Migraine does not necessarily involve a piercing, blinding headache, which previously I had believed, but can also produce effects as shown in this video produced by the Mayo Clinic:

While my symptoms don't include the visual element, I have experienced many of the other effects, so it was a relief to learn that it isn't all in my head after all - sorry, that it is all in my head... you get the picture.

Joking aside, though, this diagnosis will in itself help to reduce my stress levels. Now that I know what's happening to me, I can start taking steps towards taking control of the situations in which stress can become a factor. Chief among these will be in work, where a reassessment and reorganization of my responsibilities will be among the first tasks I begin following my return from vacation, the week after next.

Shouldn't be too difficult - I am, after all, The Mightiest of Men...

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Doctor Who - Robot of Sherwood...

Tonight's episode saw The Doctor and Clara travel back to 1190-ish Nottingham in an effort to meet Robin Hood, Clara's childhood hero, someone whom the Time Lord claims is 'made up'.

Arriving in a leafy forest, they indeed meet the legendary Outlaw of Sherwood Forest (Tom Riley) and his, ah, 'Merry Men', much to Clara's delight.

But if there is a Robin Hood, there must also be an evil Sheriff of Nottingham, in this instance played by a suitably-bearded Ben Miller (Death in Paradise), there to subdue the peasants in the name of Prince John (not appearing in this picture). With an army of robot knights.

The episode covers many of the elements of the legend, with Riley's Robin played very much in the Errol Flynn mode, and Miller's Sheriff reminiscent of Alan Rickman in Prince of Thieves. There's an archery tournament, a castle rescue, a duel or two, and a lot of laughter and thigh-slapping. To say any more would be to spoil it for those who have yet to see it, so I'll simply share this image:


Plenty of laughs, a lot of running around, and Clara as a Saxon Princess - what more could anyone want?

Next week: Something under the bed is...?

At Last...

Yesterday, I finished what has been one of the most action-packed weeks of my recent career in preparation for a two-week vacation that will hopefully cure my stress levels, if only for a short time.

I've also taken myself off of the on-call rota for a while, if not indefinitely. It means a pay cut, but I think the tradeoff for a proper night's sleep is worth it.

How on-call works is that, one week in four, I have to be available 24/7, Friday to Friday, for any IT-related emergencies that might arise. Fair enough, you say, how many calls are you likely to get in a given period, and surely it's money for (practically) nothing?

There's that, of course, and I'd be lying if I said that being on call hasn't, in the past, provided me with a reason to avoid the occasional social event I might have felt uncomfortable attending. And in the earlier years, this was very much the case.

But now, as I've gotten older, I appreciate social contact and cherish my free time, so I've grown to resist anything that might interrupt my so-called life.

My health has also taken a hit, however, mostly from stress, something I don't deal well with (It's one thing being an interplanetary hero with powers and abilities far beyond those of ordinary mortals, but when you have to hold down a day job and deal with politics and personalities as well...).And since when I'm on call I don't sleep much, well, something had to change.

I had a chat with Dave, my team leader, a while back - he noticed that I was having trougle dealing with something and wanted to make sure things were okay.we discussed what was going on, my health concerns and the stresses I felt I was under, and he said something to me that I hadn't considered:

"You put too much of yourself into your work, Bob."

Dave's a good guy; I've worked with him for nearly twenty years at this stage and consider him a friend, and value his opinion.

And maybe he's right.

I used to enjoy my work. Data backup and recovery might'nt sound the most interesting of subjects, but I think of it in terms of a logistics exercise; I have x amount of data to be written to y number of tapedrives in z hours. The schedule is ever-changing as clients are added or removed, and resources are limited, so it's a challenge; and I'd think nothing of staying back in the evening to finish something or going in for an hour or two at weekends. I still do, but not so much.

Storage administration is my secondary speciality, one I have less time than I would like to spend suitable time on.

But I do my best with it, and I'm good at what I do.

What I don't enjoy is work that I'm not good at, don't have training or background in, or being in a position where someone might have to depend on me to solve a problem in one of those areas, something that's happening on a more-frequent basis than before.

So I guess I've been internalizing a lot of frustration lately, because the cracks have been starting to show, and I may well have been headed for some sort of episode, which hopefully will not now be the case.

So I'm going to relax and chill, maybe blog a bit, see if I can't start to write that book I've been tallking about, that sort of thing.

Let's see how I get on...