Wednesday, 10 November 2010

All Of This Has Happened Before...

...and, proving that the networks at least are doomed not to learn from their mistakes, it's happening again.

I returned recently from a vacation to New York, to read from the ether that popular science fiction drama Caprica, a show I enjoyed, has been axed by Syfy due to poor ratings performance.

A number of factors, it would seem, contributed to this: Syfy's decision to split the show's first season into two halves was one, then bringing the show back in a less favourable timeslot was no doubt responsible for a drop in audience numbers.

The remaining episodes in the season, which do not resolve storylines as the show was expected to continue to a second run, have apparently also been pulled from the schedules, to be shown 'sometime in 2011'. It is of biting irony to fans of Battlestar Galactica, the series to which Caprica is a prequel, that five episodes remain, and that these 'Final Five' will remain unaired until Syfy has a suitable gap in its schedules.

I remain mystified as to the reasoning behind the lifecycle of TV shows. While I'm fully aware that programming is produced on the basis of how much revenue it will generate, I have to wonder if executives take any interest at all in the opinions of their audiences. Do ratings alone determine a show's viability in all cases, or are other factors in play?

In the case of Syfy, who would give one to believe that the station's purpose was to deliver, if not produce, science-fiction and fantasy-related programming and whose stated slogan is 'Imagine Greater', at what level did someone decide that Professional Wrestling would be either suitable or popular programming for its audience?

That's entirely out of step with the format of the network, and would be like ESPN broadcasting Mass from the Vatican, or MTV showing music videos.

Not that a commissioning channel shouldn't be able to drop a non-performing show - Flash Gordon, for example, should never have made it to TV in the first place - but to kill something off without giving it a decent chance seems to me just wrong. And to handicap a show just so it will fail is nothing less than - I hesitate to use the word 'murder' - but you understand what I mean.

It would have been good if Syfy could have learned from the example of 'Firefly' - another well-written, well-acted show that went before its time but could have run for several years - but I doubt there'll be a reprieve.

Unless another channel buys the rights...

Saturday, 2 October 2010

A Legend Passes...

I was saddened by news of the passing of Tony Curtis, screen legend of my youth.

Born Bernard Schwartz and raised in the Bronx, New York, Curtis began his acting career after leaving the US Navy after World War II, starring in minor roles until breaking into the mainstream with a part in Winchester '73, headlined by James Stewart.

Other roles followed, in pictures such as The Black Shield of Falworth, before he made his name with roles alongside Burt Lancaster in 'The Sweet Smell of Success' and 'Trapeze', and with Kirk Douglas in 'Spartacus' and 'The Vikings'.

For me, however, it was his appearances in comedies such as 'Operation Petticoat' (opposite Cary Grant), as the conniving yet good-hearted Lt. Holden, and as Joe/Josephine/Shell Oil, Jr., in Billy Wilder's 'Some Like It Hot' that I'll remember him for.

However, his role as Leslie Gallant III, aka 'The Great Leslie' in Blake Edwards' 'The Great Race' opposite Jack Lemmon (his co-star in 'Some Like It Hot') as Professor Fate, cemented that movie as one of my all-time favourites.

Here's a classic scene, also featuring the lovely Natalie Wood, the not-so-lovely Keenan Wynn, and the positively dastardly Jack Lemmon and Peter Falk:



It's six-and-a-half minutes long, but worth it...

 Tony Curtis (1925-2010)

Friday, 1 October 2010

...

This is the flag of my country:


It's a flag of which I'm very proud, and I get to see it flying over my workplace seven days a week.

What you may not be aware of is the fact that here I'm displaying it upside-down, in the manner indicating distress.

A clever design on the part of our Founding Fathers then, ensuring that we keep our nation's problems to ourselves and say nothing, lest the neighbours gossip.

"What's that, Mrs. O'Leary? Father Murphy did what to young Jimmy? I think he's been telling stories, hasn't he, sure and begorrah the priests would never do a thing like that now would they? Beat some sense into the lad - for his own good, of course - and send him to confession..."

"What's that, Mr. O'Brien? Corruption in government, you say? Sure and didn't you elect them? And you wouldn't vote for crooks, now would ye? Go 'way now, begob, and don't be causing trouble, or I'm sure the Revenue would love to give you an aul' audit..."

"The house I built is falling down around your ears, Mrs. O'Sullivan? Sue me..."

"Banks taking liberties with the economy, you say, Mr. Delaney? Keep your mouth shut and keep paying or we'll take your house."

I think the neighbours have all seen our dirty linen by now, haven't they?

We are a financially bankrupt nation, run by the morally and ethically bankrupt - and I fear things will only get worse.

Some hero, huh?

Sunday, 5 September 2010

It Probably Is...



Let's take a minute to enjoy this without further comment from me...

While You Were Out...

I know, it's been a couple of months for you, but it's only been about two or three days for me. I had to do something with the timestream, but everything's fine now, as can be shown from the fact that we once more have French Fries, a 26-letter alphabet and, unfortunately, taxes (you'll thank me later).

Oh, and the Pope was supposed to be a respected member of an obscure Australian Trappist order, but I just couldn't get it all to hang together (the letter J was a particular nightmare).

So, in your timestream, what's been happening?

Well, my sister got married, for a start, just over a month ago. Her husband, Stephen, is a great guy and they've known each other for a number of years, so they're both very happy, and so is Mitchel (my nephew).

Here's a sneaky video of their first dance, courtesy of YouTube:



The wedding day itself went like clockwork, and a most excellent time was had by all, to the extent that the party was still in progress at 5:30 the following morning and had been joined by guests from a wedding party of the previous day who found themselves in the Residents' Bar in the hotel when the festivities moved there from the main function room. The fact that the groom plays in a 12-piece swing orchestra (who played the reception), meant that the music continued into the early hours.

Sore heads and good memories.

In other news, I'm learning to play golf.

Maybe it's my age, maybe it's just time, but after a round with my dad, organised as part of Steve's stag weekend, I decided I'm going to give it a go. It's kind of weird to me - I'm about as coordinated as a very clumsy person (secret identity thing) and it's embarrassing how I seem to miss the ball more often than I hit it - but I'm improving and should be certified for actual golf course play reasonably soon...

And then there's the Italian lessons.

I signed up for a course in beginners Italian - 14 week course, Monday evenings. I don't know why, except that I like languages and wanted to do something that would get me out of the house of an evening. I already know the basics - 'Si', 'Grazie' and 'Questa é la sua valigia?', so that's a start.

We'll see how I get on...

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Red? Interesting...



Adapted from the graphic novel of the same name written by Warren Ellis and illustrated by Cully Hamner (which I must make a point of reading), I knew nothing of either work  until this very morning.

In addition to those appearing in the trailer, the movie also apparently features Richard Dreyfuss and the evidently-still-alive Ernest Borgnine.

A not-so-Over-the-Hill Gang movie, coming soon to a cinema near you.

Monday, 7 June 2010

I had a phone call this afternoon, from a young lady who said she was calling on behalf of somebody called Online PC Care about the problems I was having with my PC.

I enquired as to the nature of her call and asked how she obtained my phone number, at which point she hung up.

Curiously, a colleague of mine reported last week that he had had a similar call, only the individual had suggested they were associated with Microsoft. He strung out the call for a few minutes before deciding it was a scam of some sort, made his excuses and hung up.

I did a bit of Googling after my caller departed, and found that this is something that has been encountered in the UK, Ireland and Australia, the originators using the names 'Online PC Care' or 'Online PC Doctors' or similar.

I'm sure I don't have to remind bloggers and the tech-savvy to be wary of this kind of thing, but it might be worth warning family members and friends who may not be as aware in case they get calls like this one.

As you were...

Sunday, 6 June 2010

What? Has It Really Been That Long? Er...

I blame Facebook.

170 different privacy settings - W, as they say, TF is up with that???

I opened an account last month, having finally succumbed to peer pressure, and have spent the intervening time tweaking settings so that I don't accidentally leave any personal information in the hands of potential enemies.

And then there's the games - I've been playing Mahjongg and that Scrabble thing where they put in words that don't exist so you never get past the second round and Kingdoms of Camelot (fail) and other things so insidiously addictive that I've come to believe the whole thing is a creation of Lex Luthor or the League of Super-Criminals or something to keep me distracted as they go about their various misdeeds like setting fire to the Sun and such.


Then, right? Then they go and change all the privacy stuff so I have to review the whole thing all over again...


Evil, I tell you - just plain evil...

Sunday, 25 April 2010

And Now, For Paul, This:...*



*May one do that? I mean, add an ellipsis after a question mark? Answers on a postcard or comment to the usual address...

I Love This Show...

For any of you who may be unaware, there's a show on Disney called Phineas & Ferb, regarding the adventures of two (step)brothers who use their imaginations to fill in the long days of summer vacation, to the annoyance of their sister Candace and the occasional frustration of Perry, their pet platypus.

It starts like this:



and is well worth a look...

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Where Are They Now?...

Anybody who has seen John Cusack in Grosse Pointe Blank will understand how I felt about the prospect of attending my 30-year high school reunion last week.

To wit: "I just honestly don't know what I have in common with those people anymore... or with anyone, really. I mean, they'll all have husbands and wives and children and houses and dogs, and, you know, they'll have made themselves a part of something, and they can talk about what they do. And what am I going to say? "I killed the president of Paraguay with a fork. How have you been?" I just think it'll be depressing."

Okay, so maybe I didn't think it would be that bad, but a certain amount of trepidation was very much the carte du jour.

But, in my idiom*, I went. And it wasn't so bad after all.

The reunion was organised by the Templogue College Past Pupils Union, and was aimed at a number of graduating years, but as the 30-year men, we were the so-called 'feature year'. I half expected we'd have to lecture the younger lads on life and such, because our former teachers were not averse to putting one on the spot from time to time, but it was not the case, and we spent an enjoyable evening catching up.

One of the lads has made a successful career as an artist, and he trotted out a bunch of statistics about how a group such as ours might be demographically divided; x% married, x% divorced, x% gay, x% in prison, x% dead, etc.

And while I can think of one or two individuals from my year who could perhaps have been expected to end up behind bars, I guess it was that last statistic that got us thinking - at least three of our graduating class are no longer with us. Gary died as a result of a brain aneurysm while on holiday; Eoin was tragically killed in a fall; and our friend Finbar fell victim to, we believe, an inoperable brain tumour barely two years ago. Some of the lads hadn't heard about Finny - it came as something of a shock.

It's a sobering thing to be faced with the prospect of mortality - in school we have our lives ahead of us, every day's another day and summer's just around the corner. I guess thirty years on, you have to just stop for a minute and look around at what your life's become.

That being said, everyone enthused about their kids, moaned about their bosses, laughed about past sporting successes and sang the school song, and we resolved to get back together more regularly.


I can live with that.

*Mightiest of Men

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

On My Bedside Table (if I had one)...

...would be a large pile of books, some read, some in progress, some waiting.

Since, however, I don't have such an item of furniture, books tend to get piled (well, neatly stacked) on shelves or the floor until I can get to them.

Recent additions to the library include The One From The Other, a novel of post-war German private eye Bernie Gunther, in which Philip Kerr's eponymous hero finds himself involved in a missing persons case where the client wants the subject to stay missing; Faceless Killers, the first of Henning Mankell's Wallander series, in which the detective is introduced in the investigation of a brutal murder on a remote farm in Sweden; and Stieg Larsson's The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, the first in his so-called Millennium Trilogy, a locked-room mystery set on an island and introducing the unlikely pairing of Mikael Blomkvist, journalist, and Lisbeth Salander, the titular character, a young woman with a troubled past who finds herself assisting Blomkvist with solving a forty-year-old murder.

I've long been a fan of Philip Kerr's Bernie Gunther series, following the adventures of the Weimar-era homicide detective in Berlin's KriminalPolizei or KRIPO, striving to do his job while the Nazis begin their rise to power. Forced to quit the police, he becomes the hotel detective at the famous Adlon Hotel, before finding himself back in uniform and co-opted into the SS. Choosing a combat assignment on the Russian Front rather than continue in his police battalion, Gunther survives the war and life as a POW under the Russians and returns to Germany, trying (and failing) to run a hotel with his wife in (of all places) the town of Dachau before giving up and returning to his old trade as a detective, this time in Munich.

Kerr weaves fiction and history deftly, evoking the realities of pre- and post-war Germany while crafting solid, almost Chandler-esque detective fiction. Actual historical figures move through the stories, among them some of the most evil characters of the era, and Kerr effortlessly conveys Gunther's distaste for Nazism and its proponents, while painting a portrait of a proud society destroying itself from within and the struggle to rebuild.

In Kurt Wallander, Henning Mankell gives us another character in the archetypal mould of the divorced detective, complete with problems that only his work keeps at bay. The difference, of course, is that the stories are set in Sweden, and thus while character types are familiar, the locales and customs may not be, certainly to readers used to skyscrapers, high-speed pursuits and 9mm automatics. Having recently seen episodes of both of the series produced lately that feature the character, with Kenneth Branagh in the English-language version and Krister Henriksson in the Swedish-language drama, I was sufficiently interested to go in search of the first novel, and I wasn't disappointed.

The late Stieg Larsson wrote three novels featuring Lisbeth Salander, and I've just finished the first. There is a Swedish-language movie version on release at the moment which I'd like to see, and I understand a Hollywood adaptation is in the works. (My casting suggestion would include Natalie Portman as Salander, with Stellan Skarsgaard as Martin Vanger and nobody but Max von Sydow as Henrik Vanger.) The book follows Salander and Blomkvist as, hired by octogenarian industrialist Henrik Vanger, they investigate the disappearance, forty years earlier, of his niece, Harriet, from the family home on an island from which the only bridge was blocked. Along the way they uncover family secrets and intrigue, and are met with resistance by those intent on keeping the truth hidden. Intermixed with this story are the personal lives and backgrounds of the two protagonists, who both grow as sympathetic, three-dimensional characters long before the end of the novel. Excellent stuff.

I'm about to begin book two, The Girl Who Played With Fire, which finds Salander on the hook for murder...

Saturday, 13 March 2010

I Seem To Have Discovered Portishead...

If you, like me, are one of those people who aren't quite in tune with what's musically popular (job pressures, you understand), you'll understand the feeling that comes with realising what all the young people were so enthused about a couple of years ago.


Portishead is one of those examples of how I knew the music but not the band, and it was only out of a search for a track from the movie Tank Girl (featuring the lovely Lori Petty) that I discovered the artists behind the song "Roads".


This is Ms. Beth Gibbons singing it:




There's something incredibly moving about what, in essence, is a simple, unadorned lyric, soulfully delivered, albeit (in this instance) with the backing of a full concert orchestra.

And thanks to Amazon, I now have some cool stuff to catch up on...

And on we go.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

The Anti-Midas Touch...

We all remember the story of King Midas, how everything he touched turned to gold, and how, in popular parlance, 'The Midas Touch' is used to refer to the ability of a gifted individual to bring success to any venture to which he or she turns their hand.

This week has felt like I have the Anti-Midas Touch, where everything I put my hand to either broke down, malfunctioned, fell over or otherwise went to pieces.

I'd have only myself to blame if it weren't for the fact that I was at no time acting outside of my expertise or intellectual comfort zone and had done a reasonable amount of planning and preparation for some important tasks during the week.

Song of the day for last Friday was this:


Next week I have brainwashing, dentistry, and troubleshooting...

The Icicles Are Melting...

The weather's growing milder, the days are growing longer; we're getting back to the time of year I like best.

Yet the temperature remains low, which, in the building where I work, means we need the heat to stay on all day, which it doesn't (The building is a listed historical monument, so there are regulations limiting how it may be maintained structurally; hence, double-glazing is not an option).

We've raised the matter with our facilities management dept., in the hopes that they might do something about it, however they're keeping us in the dark as well as out in the cold, so to speak. We think it's a timer problem, since the heat comes on early in the morning and gradually cools so that by lunchtime the room is cold again, however we've been given to believe there may be 'sludge in the pipes', something of which I'm skeptical, but then I'm an interplanetary hero, Jim, not a heating engineer.

I've mentioned before the sort of adversarial relationship we have with our colleagues in building management and how, with the exception of one individual, everybody there appears to have gotten their jobs by assmosis. Nothing has changed, except that the group have increased in notoriety following a two-page spread in the company magazine with interviews where they explain what great guys they are and what great a working relationship they enjoy with all of their corporate colleagues.

And it feels petty and small-minded to keep on about it; certainly unprofessional, but I can't understand how someone who's supposed to be trained in problem management and resolution can come into an environment where a problem has been reported, examine the situation then go away without acknowledging the problem or offering an interim solution.

To put things in perspective: in January, after a particularly cold spell, the heating failed in parts of the building. A truckload of portable heaters was delivered and distributed to most areas, but perhaps there weren't enough to go around. Once the heating was repaired the portables should have been reclaimed, so that when we gave up waiting for Buildings to offer us some and went and asked (which we did) they'd have plenty to spare.

Given the size of the room, I figured we'd need at least four to evenly heat the area.

We got one.

An old, battered-looking model that, far from being able to heat a room 40 feet by 15 by 12, had trouble with 40 inches by 15 by 12 and died five minutes after we switched it on.

Happily, however, the one helpful person in Buildings was on hand and she ordered up a new batch, four of which were delivered on Friday last. We almost broke out the champagne.

My team leader emailed the manager in charge of environmental services two weeks ago asking for an update and an action plan on what Buildings propose to do to solve the problem. He has not, as yet, received a reply in any form.

If it wasn't so tragic it'd be almost funny...

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

And Now, A Cultural Interlude...

This is Tina Guo, cellist:



And so is this:



I think that's reasonably comprehensive, don't you?

A Night At The Opera...

Well, not exactly...

I did, however, attend a performance in the RTE Concert Orchestra's Signature season of 2010 on Sunday night last.

The performance took place in the National Concert Hall, Dublin, and was given in front of a full house by special guest conductor Lalo Schifrin, who has been one of my favourite film score composers for as long as I can remember.

The composer of over 75 movie scores, including Bullitt and Dirty Harry, as well as unforgettable TV themes such as Mission:Impossible and Mannix, he led the orchestra in a two-and-a-half hour programme that included mainly his work but also arrangements of music from other classic scores including Casablanca, The Third Man and Dr Zhivago.

Schifrin introduced each piece, explaining briefly how he had come to write it or work on a particular picture, and shared anecdotes about working with the likes of Bruce Lee and Ray Charles.

At the end of each piece he would single out particular soloists for the appreciation of the audience, but this invariably ended up with the entire orchestra being brought to their feet for applause, entirely deserved.

The final item on the programme, entitled 'The Plot' was from Mission:Impossible and Schifrin declared it to be his favourite piece from the score of that show, even more than the iconic title music.

He appeared visibly moved by the sustained ovation that followed the conclusion of the piece, and it was several minutes before it subsided enough for him to announce a final number, the theme from Mission:Impossible.

They played it twice, in slightly different arrangements, with Schifrin at the piano.

Couldn't have been better...

I was looking around for a suitable video to attach, but there wasn't much in the way of live performances available. Instead, I chose this, from one of my favourite Lalo Schifrin scores - enjoy...


Sunday, 7 February 2010

And We're Back (sort of)...

First off, my apologies for the lack of service.

I've been attempting to use a new template for the blog with, it must be said, only marginal success, so I've reverted to a more familiar appearance until I get it sorted.

Using a third-party template requires a little editing, however, as an IT professional, I naturally have little expertise with HTML, XML or PHP, which means research and a lot of trial and error.

I'm working on it offline, so as soon as I have a result you'll be the first to know.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

A Bit of DIY Going On...

...which, in my case, can mean 'Destroy It Yourself'...

But please bear with me while I attempt to redecorate.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

I Was Stumbling On The Web One Day...

...when I came across this little gem:


It's really quite breathtaking - I hope you'll enjoy it as much as I did...

An original work by melodysheep