Friday, July 31, 2009

The Hummer is dead…

… long live the hummer Toyota FJ Cruiser.

Despite General Motors closing down production of the behemoth-like Humvee range, Toyota appears to still believe that the market is still calling for a huge SUV/truck. This is their answer:

ToyotaFJCruiser Saw one in Peru – they are big, and certainly look very sturdy. In a country where it’s still common to be mugged, it makes sense. But in the rest of the developed, ‘civilised’ world? I’m sure this will sell well – it does look like a nice truck, but I wonder if people are going to be convinced in the current economic climate. I guess we’ll see. I have no doubt, though, that it’ll get better MPG than the Hummer ever did.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

On Obama’s expensive holiday

Really this is only a link to a good story by John Avlon over at the Daily Beast, about the cost and ‘elitist’ nature of the holiday.

“It’s a miracle of modern spin that the grandson of a senator and son of a president escaped the “elitist” tag while the inter-racial son of a teenage single mom in the ’60s gets tarred with it.”

And also, continuing the assault on Republican hypocrisy:

“the digs’ monthly price tag is more than millions of Americans earn in a year—but that’s the market rate, which the president is rightly compelled to pay. And he doesn’t have a family estate in Kennebunkport to retire to for speed golf and boat racing.”

Very good piece.

Two Great, Recent Movies

It’s actually been a little while since I saw these, but I thought I’d mention two movies that really struck me, recently.

TheProposal First off, The Proposal, which stars Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds. In some ways, this is a mixture of Indecent Proposal and Green Card, only with a modern twist. Bullock was excellent as the career-focussed, cold Margaret Tate, who ropes Ryan Reynold’s Andrew Paxton (Tate’s over-worked assistant) in a fake marriage so she can stay in the country – she’s Canadian and her visa’s expired. The chemistry between the two of them, as they go off to see Andrew’s family in Alaska, is very good. The movie is filled with superb, very funny scenes; all of which work and are never forced or over-the-top. Thankfully, as well, the movie doesn’t fall prey to that oh-so-American need to explain every single joke or show it all. A very funny comedy, both the stars are on top form.

harry-potter-and-the-half-blood-prince The next movie is the latest Harry Potter, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. This I was initially not too bothered about seeing in the cinema. When we went to see it in Lima, though, I was amazed by how good it is – the direction, cinematography and even the acting from the three main kids… all are very well done indeed. The best so far, the movies continue down their darker path, with great promise for the final two instalments.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

This would never happen in a sane country

If you’ve been keeping up with the zany (ok, bat-shit crazy) “birthers” in the US, who claim President Obama wasn’t born in Hawaii, then this might calm your mind:

“the House unanimously passed a resolution on Monday affirming that Hawaii is, in fact, the birthplace of President Obama”

That it was ever thought necessary to pass such a resolution is bizarre and disappointing. What troublesome is how people like Lou Dobbs and many, many others, keep this ‘conspiracy’ alive.

Read the full story at Salon, here.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

An excellent innovation for cinemas!

Only ever seen this in Peru (where I am at the moment, by the way):

23072009083And, one photo (apologies for the low quality) of the tray in situ at my seat:

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It fits into the cup-holder in the arm-rests of the seats – it’s like a TV dinner, but with Dolby surround and a massive screen!

We need this in the UK!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A sloooow news day indeed

There is just no way this is "news":
"I Kelly, take you, Kelly - same name Facebook couple to wed"

Saturday, July 18, 2009

This got me intrigued…

“Anyway, Glenn Beck screaming like a cartoon mouse being stabbed in the scrotum with knitting needles is your new, terrifying ringtone. Warning: Once you listen to this clip, you can never un-listen to it.”

It’s referring to a recent Glenn Beck radio segment, when he went absolutely crazy when a woman called in about Health Care reform. It’s over at the Huffington Post.

I’m amazed that he’s described as “Fox News Channel comedian”, because he is anything but funny. Ever.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Excellent New Lacuna Coil Music Video

This is the latest music video from Lacuna Coil, for their single “I Like It”. It’s pretty cool, the song’s excellent, and it’s nice to see the band have a good sense of humour:

Some great input on the eBook market

Jack Shafer over at Slate.com on Wednesday published a story about illegal eBooks and sample of the publishing industry responses and his opinions on both eBooks and the various devices required to read them. The article had a lot of interesting additions to the general eBook debate – once again, far more eloquent than any of my own burbling on the subject, so I thought I’d add (again) my own two cents.

One starting point, about the eReader devices currently available. Shafer doesn’t like them at all:

“all the electronic reading gadgets on the market are subpar, if you ask me, making the reading of books, newspapers, magazines, and even cereal boxes painful. The resolution is poor. The fonts are crap. The navigation is chunky”

He also characterises your average eReader as “a heap of garbage”. Personally, I think he’s being a tad harsh. He’s completely spot on about the “chunky” navigation and the poor resolution – though, on 07042009009the last point, I find that most of the cover artwork is usually fine (see photo – not many eBooks actually have ‘covers’, though, which is disappointing).

I only have the Sony Reader to comment on, so I’m not sure how it is for the Kindle or Iliad. The text font isn’t great, and it can sometimes look out of focus on the smaller font size settings, but it’s still readable. The page-refresh rate depends on what you’re reading: pages with images change slower, and the Sony format is marginally quicker than a PDF/Adobe eBook (as well as smaller in file size).

Anyway, back to the main point about the article – that of the possibility of “napsterizing” the book industry: “Only a student or a deadbeat with a lot of time on his hands is going to want to search the Web and scour the torrents” for free versions of eBooks. This is a fair concern, as I think the same about pirated eBooks as I do pirated MP3s – not good for the people who make/write/perform them, so damages their ability and desire to produce the stuff in the first place. Shafer has a point, though about the ease of getting pirated eBooks: “It’s as tedious as fishing!”

[Please note – I only did a Google search, I didn’t download anything – and couldn’t have if I wanted to, because the University network blocks all torrent sites, etc.]

Shafer’s arguments against raising the prices of eBooks are spot on, and I really hope publishers take note – if prices start going up, they’ll turn potential buyers off (especially if/when hard-copies are cheaper!!).

One of the best thing about the article, however, is easily missed: it’s a link to the PlasticLogic eReader site that will hopefully be released soon, which Shafer says makes “electronic reading painless”. All I can say is, like Shafer, I am very taken by this device, even if it doesn’t look as nice as the Kindle or Sony Reader (though it’s still not bad looking):

image(It would be nice if the borders weren’t so wide, and if it wasn’t white – damn the iPod and Apple for making manufacturers think electronics should all be white!!)

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Blog embarrassment?

A good, recent editorial cartoon by Bob Gorrell, one of my favourite editorial cartoonist:

crbgo090716

It’s strange for me that I post many articles, posts, reviews, etc., which any stranger with an internet connection can read (in the unlikely event that they might actually want to, or just happen to stumble across them), but when a friend or colleague visits the blogs, I can be become quite embarrassed, not to mention very defensive.

This is especially true when it comes to my review sites: I never feel comfortable when my friends read my reviews. I’m not sure why, really. For the fiction reviews, it’s not really a problem (different people like different books, so the reviews mainly focus on plot, style, readability, etc.); but for the non-fiction reviews, it definitely is. Perhaps this is from an intellectual inferiority complex or something – we’re all postgraduates, and for the main clued up to world events and politics, so my reviews sometimes feel limited or simplistic.

Speaking of reviews, I’ve recently had one published in the East Asia: An International Quarterly journal. It was for David Kang’s China Rising, which wasn’t bad (but not great). The review can be found here.

I shall leave you with another Gorrell cartoon, which is also pretty good, and simple in its execution:

crbgo090712

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Palin Signed WHAT?!

Sarah Palin has gone that extra step in celebrity signings. In the front page New York Times photo of her, she’s clearly signing a baby!

PalinSignsABabyThis is beyond weird.

A Newsworthy Occurrence! (London Fire)

While in London this past weekend, I found myself (for the first time ever) in a position to actually report on a newsworthy event: the fire on Dean Street in London’s Soho, where fire-fighters fought to put out a blaze that left the offices of Future Capital gutted.

Emma and I happened to be walking along Oxford Street, and were able to see the smoke (which we’d originally been able to smell in the Charing Cross branch of Borders). In an unusual display of journalistic-curiosity, I dragged Emma down the street towards the smoke. Below are some of the photos I took of the scene (my phone’s camera, for once, up to the task):

10072009073

10072009069

Finally, considering this photo…

10072009072… I thought this headline that evening was somewhat amusing:

11072009074

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

US Political Tradition – Sex & Polls…

An interesting post from The Atlantic’s “Idea of the Day” blog, by Conor Clarke:

“Polls are as integral to the American political tradition as sex scandals or earmarks. Yet it's not clear that they serve any beneficial purpose.”

Read the rest, here.

T2

(Sorry, I’m referring to Transformers 2, not Terminator 2 – which is one of the best movies ever made, by the way.)

Just got pointed in the direction of this rather amusing website, Topless Robot. (I think the author’s name is Rob, so I’m going to go with that.)

Rob had this to say about his 2,500-word (!) review of the new Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen movie:

“It dawned on me at about 4am last night when I was finishing my review that 2500 words might not be enough to fully describe the Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen experience.”

Having not seen the movie, this doesn’t bode well, as I was really looking forward to it. Heaven knows what he’s going to write about the G.I.Joe movie later this summer!

Anyway, the post is a list of his Transformers 2 FAQs, and they’re rather funny. Here’s my favourite:

What is the status of the Transformers at the beginning of the film?
The Autobots have joined the military to hunt down the Decepticons. We're told the Decepticons are "doing things," but they appear to be hiding peacefully when the Autobots show up and brutally murder them.

I also recommend this post about a Hello Kitty Tazer

Obama Admin: Dangerous to your health?

Two photos say it all, really. First, Supreme Court Justice nominee Sonia Sotomayor, with her leg in a cast:

200907-SotomayerCast[Photo Source]

Second, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton with her arm in a sling:

200907-Clinton-Sling[Photo Source]

What on earth are they getting up to in government?! At least now we know hazard pay is justified…

FOX In Palin-Critical Shocker!

I’ll be damned, Liz Trotta goes off message on FOX, and politely tears Palin a new one (despite the host’s attempts to make it positive):

Amazing that they allowed this woman on the show without cutting her off mid-segment! (They’ve done it oh-so-many-times before.) She should be given… well, anything she wants, really.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Semantic Trickery…

Just took the MSNBC.com US citizenship test, and I didn’t pass it (!?!). Got 75%, which is effectively a “Want to become American? Well, tough” grade.

14. Who selects the Supreme Court justices?

The President nominates someone, and the Senate confirm. Which is “selection”? Technically, the Senate selects the nomination they think should have the job. Turns out, though, it’s “nomination”:

They are appointed by the president. (NOTE: This is the response given on the official United States Citizenship and Immigration Services Web site. The president selects the justices; however, they must be confirmed by the U.S. Senate. If they are rejected by the Senate, then the president must choose a new nominee, who, again, is subject to Senate approval.)

Foiled by semantic trickery! That, or I’m just having a dense day.

I also had no idea that the “N-400 Application for Naturalization” was the form I would need to fill out. (Now, where can I get myself one of these…) No idea that the 7th Amendment has nothing to do with voting rights, either. And I don’t recall ever noticing Patrick Henry’s name in my reading of copious numbers of presidential biographies, or that he said “Give me liberty, or give me death!”.

When/if I ever have to take this test for real, hopefully I’ll pass. Only need 85%, which is showing knowledge of more than many Americans, I imagine (same goes for UK’s Citizenship Test, so don’t start calling me anti-American).

WTF?

I’m sorry, but I don’t get this. Is someone reaching for an allusion? I’m not dense, but this I just don’t get.

Friday, July 03, 2009

eBooks – An Author Weighs In

Ah, someone else has been weighed in on the issue of eBook prices; and, I have to say, he does a much better job than I did (it helps that he’s actually a member of the publishing community, and therefore has most of the facts involved). It’s the author Joe Abercrombie, who wrote the excellent The First Law Trilogy, and has most recently released Best Served Cold. (He’s a very, very good author, so check his stuff out!)

After announcing that his books are now available in eBook format from Waterstones.com, he said,

“The prices are a tad disappointing - £10 and change for Best Served Cold when a hardback is selling at £8.50, and around £6 for the First Law books when mass-market paperbacks are available for a mere £4.”

This is pretty much the argument I’ve been making, and it’s nice that an author has mentioned this. He goes on (big quote):

“a lot of users somehow think that eBooks, since they don't have to be printed, are pure profit for the publisher and should therefore be virtually free whereas, of course, the great majority of the costs that go into making a paper book (commissioning, editing, artwork, marketing, repping, promoting and, erm, paying the author) still apply with an eBook… Even so, selling eBooks at more than the cost of the paper books is going to look just a wee bit like taking the piss to some buyers, I suspect.”

As an eBook buyer, I can say that it does. I appreciate that books need to be marketed, and I’m certainly all for authors (and musicians, but that’s a different discussion) getting paid – in fact, I believe they should get a bigger share of the pie. To bring up my main bugbear again, it’s the fact that they cost more, but require less – i.e. printing and shipping are not an issue.

Emma, my girlfriend, is in publishing, and she edits on-screen in a Word document. Surely it’s cheaper/easier to convert a Word document into an appropriate eBook format? I know the Sony eReader can convert PDFs made from documents into a perfectly readable format very easily (it struggles a little with scanned-page PDFs).

Abercrombie says that he’d like to see them “retail at most at the same price as the paper equivalents, and ideally somewhat lower”, which I think would be perfectly fair. The author does provide a potential reason/explanation for eBooks being cheaper:

“At the moment most publishers and booksellers are still focused on the paper market where heavy discounts are applying more and more widely, making eBooks something of a speciality item and hence relatively more expensive.”

Ok, fine, I can more-or-less accept that. But, then why didn’t this apply to MP3s, too, when they first came out through iTunes or wherever? In that case, I remember an MP3 album being roughly the same price (usually about a £1~ more, but only because I can get a student discount). Ok, Amazon was sometimes able to sell them cheaper still, but not at the same discrepancies that you find with eBooks.

All this being said, I’ve got £1.99 on my Waterstone’s card, which would bring Best Served Cold down to £8.18, which is a pretty good price for a new hardback-eBook.

The debate continues, I guess…

Anyway, go check out Joe Abercrombie’s books, while you’re thinking about it.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Purdum on Palin

Just started reading Todd S. Purdum's Vanity Fair piece about Sarah Palin, and I think the following questions sum up many people's concerns about US politics and Palin's nomination as a whole:
"What does it say about the nature of modern American politics that a public official who often seems proud of what she does not know is not only accepted but applauded? What does her prominence say about the importance of having (or lacking) a record of achievement in public life? Why did so many skilled veterans of the Republican Party—long regarded as the more adroit team in presidential politics—keep loyally working for her election even after they privately realized she was casual about the truth and totally unfit for the vice-presidency?"
The rest of the article's pretty good, too.