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...

Sunday, 24 August 2014

I Need A Holiday...

Last Wednesday, I almost destroyed the company payroll system.

This was not my intent; indeed, I was assisting the application support team with their annual disaster recovery test by restoring a copy of their live database to their test environment. However, when the files were restored in error to the live server, there was potential for database corruption, since it was open and in use at the time.

The irony would be apparent even to Sheldon Cooper.

Fortunately, the files restored to a parallel directory structure, so no harm was done, but the fact that I made such a rookie mistake is testament to the fact that I need a holiday. As usual (and it's my own stupid fault), I've worked without significant downtime since January, and that, combined with some health issues, has culminated in a degree of stress that I need to address.

I have a system upgrade this week, then two more the following week. I'm going to take them as they come, then take a couple of weeks off.

I might even get away for a couple of days (somewhere)...

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Robin Williams, Your Table's Ready...

Robin Williams died the other day.

Even now, it seems wrong to have written those words. I mean, this is Robin Williams, FFS* - the man's lived so many lives he's got to be immortal.

Doesn't he?

Genie, Patch Adams, Walter Finch, Andrew Martin, Adrian Cronauer, John Keating, Popeye, Armand Goldman, President Eisenhower, Peter Pan, King of The Moon (!), Perry, Eupheginia Doubtfire (the name alone deserved an award), Teddy Roosevelt, Sean Maguire, Mork.

He had the ability to mix humour and pathos in just the right amounts; he could make you laugh so hard you'd cry, or cry until, finally, there would be a laugh.

Like many people, Mork & Mindy was the show that introduced - no, make that 'unleashed' the comic genius of Robin Williams onto an unsuspecting audience. The character's charm was his naivete and complete guilelessness, and his weekly reports to Orson were witty, if sometimes poignant, observations on life and the highlights of humanity.

I read somewhere among the many tributes in the press today that the writers on the show couldn't keep up with Williams's sheer creative energy, and would just leave gaps in the script so that he could ad-lib. I can't imagine what it must have been like to try to keep up with him on the set.

He made the move, naturally enough, to movies and found roles that gave him a chance to develop his dramatic abilities while still allowing him to use his manic comedic talent. He played doctors and teachers, and, in a curious sense was both a doctor and a teacher, healing our hearts and our souls while teaching us how to just let go and enjoy the things life has to offer.

I especially enjoyed his impression of Elmer Fudd, and recall his saying in an interview that he wanted to make an album of Bruce Springsteen songs in Elmer Fudd's voice. Then he sang 'Fire'. I fell off the sofa laughing.

And yet sadly, as happens to so many of those gifted with the ability to entertain, the spectre of depression was never far, and finally took him from the world to which he had given so much joy.

There are so many tributes being paid to this incredibly talented man, with many people posting quotes and videos by which to remember Robin Williams, but I found this clip on Youtube, posted by Jen Luckey Dancel and I thought I might share it:


Thank you for the tears and the laughter, sir - NaNu, NaNu...


*not his actual title...