Wednesday, August 31, 2005

A passenger seat of one's own

I don’t need a laptop for work, so I tend to leave it at home during the day. Recently though, I’ve been taking it with me, and spending my lunch hour in the passenger seat of the car, radio on, typing away. I tend to park around the back of the office, in a secluded spot, and I’ve never been able to get so much writing done in an hour as I do there.

I never expected that having a modern, clean, comfortable car would have such an impact on my productivity.

It’s a turbo, don’t you know.

Category: Writing

It's my party

A well-meaning, anonymous passer-by recently took me to task; rebuked, admonished, castigised and reprimanded me for writing more about my computer problems than screenwriting progress. I thanked him, of course, as good form dictates, and as I have no defense against this charge. The last week has been a stressful time which has seen many daring acts of data rescue. I believe I may have had a mild stroke.

But I am concerned, and hope that no-one is coming here for sparkling pearls of screenwriting wisdom. I am a screenwriting neophyte without credit nor, in fact, finished script to my name and am therefore not to be trusted when, or if, dishing out advice. I do intend to be very open about my progress on Conchie when it gets on track. However, as I ultimately plan to submit the finished script to The BBC's Writers' Room, I wonder how much I can disclose before I begin to compromise the project's chances.

Take it from one who knows that you’re wasting your time if you come here expecting to read wild industry anecdotes. I am neither part of the industry, wild, or particularly well placed here in Chipping Norton to fake it.

What I am is a man with a Powerbook, some software, a blog, an idea or three, several contradictory opinions, a job, allotment, car, bedroom, X-Box, PS2 (and shortly a PSP), a woman who loves me (my mother), a lot of books, unconditional support for Uncut magazine's music recommendations and a belief in TV’s potential so strong I want to write for it. One day.

In short, despite my personal ambitions, it is a bit of a stretch to call this a screenwriting blog. Two very lovely people have been kind enough to call it so in their blogrolls but, you know, the blogosphere is a very large place, roughly the size of Eire, and just because two people have said I'm one thing doesn't mean I can't be many others.

See, this blog was only begun as a means to get me writing more. It has, some of it no doubt utter crap of no interest to anyone. I hope, though, that there is enough entertaining content here to maintain a regular readership and for me to feel like part of a community. Or several communities. As long as my focus remains slightly hazy I'll never become a statesman or ambassador or knight of the blogging realm, but I'm happy skirting many topics and skulking around behind the pack, like Joan Chen at the start of Salute of the Jugger.

Anyway, if I only ever chose to write about one thing then:

1) not many people would come back,
2) there wouldn't be many updates.

So be patient, my brothers and sisters. Keep coming back, look  at the category index; one day or another, as long as I continue banging at this keyboard like a monkey with a grudge, I will write something that's relevevant to YOU.

Category: Meta

All is right with the world

Although I can’t really see the attraction of either of them, I still find it gratifying that England’s “nail biting” fourth test managed to pull in a million more viewers than the Big Brother final on the same channel.

Ah, England, my England. Country lanes, vicars on bicycles, old maids at the fete, and the slap of willow on leather. Watching the cricket is a genetic imperative.

Category: Uncategorised

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

So that's how it was...

Women sold like chattel, evil mothers bathing in bull’s blood, brazilian bikini waxes; I must admit I quite enjoyed the premiere of HBO’s Rome, though it certainly wasn’t that good. Better than Empire sure, but if that’s not to damn with faint praise, I don’t know what is.

This first episode was very heavy on the exposition, so much so that despite the undeniable visual grandeur, I was left with no sense of what the show is. Or who the characters were for that matter. Or how Brutus could get from Gaul to Rome so quickly. Rome’s stable mates - The Sopranos, Deadwood, The Wire - all flew out of the gates like they had the devil on their backs. Not one of them left me in any doubt of what I’d be getting for the twelve weeks following their pilots. Unlike so many shows, they were fully formed from the first minute; they had to be, because when you’ve only got thirteen episodes to tell your story, you need to find your feet in pre-production. After episode one of Rome I can’t say for sure I know what this show is.

I hear that production was shut down after episode three, so the producers could retool the show. Obviously they knew there were problems - with tone, pacing, characterisation, dialogue and what-not - so I’m going to have to hold off on any verdict until the season’s midpoint, I guess. But if it wasn’t working, and they’d spent 100 million or whatever the fuck dollars on everything, shouldn’t they have reshot, rather than run with a pilot which, despite the nudity, was sorta dull? With that kind of investment, you want people to keep watching, yes?

I’m certainly going to stick with it, because this has the potential to be either a gloriously crass train-wreck, or a truly vicious and titillating political odyssey.

Category: Movies and TV

Monday, August 29, 2005


One of the things Apple does that really pulls my plonker is the way it uses its customers as beta testers. Its first iterations of any product generally reveal some pretty amazing oversights in the way they’re put together, which only gradually get ironed out over many revisions.

OSX is a perfect example of this, although Pages and Keynote have also had their flaws. 10.0 was unusable. 10.1 at least resembled an operating system. 10.2 was a small improvement. 10.3 introduced the sidebar and brushed metal in the finder but, for all that, was really starting to get somewhere. 10.4 again, much better, but introduced new features that seemed to have been developed by the hair on a monkey’s arse.

My pet hate in Tiger is Spotlight. Now, I can see what Apple are trying to do here, and I applaud it even though at first glance it’s not much good to someone who, like me, has an iPhoto library full of IMG_xxx. Nevertheless, it has found ways to prove itself useful - in my case, I have about a thousand screen and teleplays that I’ve downloaded over the years, and Spotlight is just terrific if I want to find every Buffy script written by Jane Espenson featuring Spike. Just accept I may have legitimate reasons to do so.

However, Spotlight’s implementation, especially within the Finder, is utter shite.

I’ve read dozens of reviews of Tiger since it came out, and none, not even John Siracusa’s dissertation, have mentioned my pet peeve.

Look at this:

What’s wrong with this picture? Aside from the fact that it’s a Finder window masquerading as something else? See under the toolbar? That strip of locations to search? Servers, Computer, Home and what the now? The options don’t fit in the window, and that’s fine. But where’s the damn horizontal scroll-bar? Idiotically, the only way to see the rest of the options on that bar is to actually resize the window. Never mind that this is inconsistent with the rest of the system - the tool and sidebars manage to resize with the window, at this stage of our computer use it’s counter-intuitive and totally opaque.

The full window should look like this:

But say you open it for the first time and see this:

How the hell are you going to know that there are further options beyond “Others?” That you’re not restricted to searching only by Kind or Last Opened? You’re not, and I’m at a loss to understand why the size of the search window has to be the same as the size of the item window it switched from. Or why, in fact, it’s not a completely different window that opens at the right size.

It’s lame, half-assed and unfortunately indicative of Apple’s priorities as a whole that this can go unchanged for two dot releases. It’s cool that they want to get the bedrock of the OS stable and solid, but you can’t do that while ignoring the day to day obstructions that users face to a smooth workflow.

These kinds of things need to be caught and repaired, and since there’s little chance of seeing Path Finder 4 any day soon, can I please re-iterate:

Apple, fix the fucking Finder!

Category: Computing and Web

Sunday, August 28, 2005

So much to do

As I sit here, on what has turned out to be a beautiful day, squandering my time with this cocking technology, I can’t help but think of all the other, marvelous things I could be doing.

1. It’s a great day to go for a ride, for one thing.
2. I haven’t been up to the allotments in ages, not since the ridiculous hoo-ha about who’s allowed to dig where.
3. A visit to the gym would not be out of place either.
4. I’ve got a company of Empire Militiamen I need to start painting.
5. Also, let’s not forget, a god damn script to write.
6. I haven’t picked up Hell to Pay in weeks, and I need to finish Cloud Atlas, even though I don’t like it very much.
7. God of War is calling.

But no, I’m fussing around with cables and old DVD-Rs, just trying to clear up the shit I’ve been dealt.

Category: Meatspace

Cry for help

I really want to get back up to date with this, and normal service, with regular updates, will begin again before too long. I hope.

But this fucking hard drive is driving me insane, and I can’t figure out why. Every time it looks like it’s functioning as it should, it will eventually get to a point where all activity will slow and cease, completely freezing my system. All I can do at that point is perform a hard-shutdown on my Powerbook, or yank the Firewire cable. Both actions can result in the loss of all the data I’ve just spent hours copying AGAIN.

I know why this is happening, I just don’t understand it. Whenever things start to fuck up, it’s because my system is experiencing a cascade of Firewire bus resets. Take a look at this extremely dull system log:

Aug 28 11:33:30 Powerbook kernel[0]: FireWire (OHCI) Apple ID 31 built-in: 992 bus resets in last minute.
Aug 28 11:36:42 Powerbook kernel[0]: FireWire (OHCI) Apple ID 31 built-in: 312 bus resets in last minute.
Aug 28 11:39:54 Powerbook kernel[0]: FireWire (OHCI) Apple ID 31 built-in: 1341 bus resets in last minute.
Aug 28 11:43:06 Powerbook kernel[0]: FireWire (OHCI) Apple ID 31 built-in: 4518 bus resets in last minute.
Aug 28 11:46:18 Powerbook kernel[0]: FireWire (OHCI) Apple ID 31 built-in: 3988 bus resets in last minute.
Aug 28 11:49:30 Powerbook kernel[0]: FireWire (OHCI) Apple ID 31 built-in: 3069 bus resets in last minute.
Aug 28 11:51:14 Powerbook kernel[0]: FireWire (OHCI) Apple ID 31 built-in: handleSelfIDInt - nodeID not valid (reset bus and retry 2)
Aug 28 11:52:42 Powerbook kernel[0]: FireWire (OHCI) Apple ID 31 built-in: 1218 bus resets in last minute.
Aug 28 11:55:54 Powerbook kernel[0]: FireWire (OHCI) Apple ID 31 built-in: 1494 bus resets in last minute.
Aug 28 11:59:06 Powerbook kernel[0]: FireWire (OHCI) Apple ID 31 built-in: 2005 bus resets in last minute.
Aug 28 12:02:18 Powerbook kernel[0]: FireWire (OHCI) Apple ID 31 built-in: 1842 bus resets in last minute.
Aug 28 12:02:37 Powerbook kernel[0]: Bad SelfID packet 2: 0x0 != 0xffffffff!
Aug 28 12:05:30 Powerbook kernel[0]: FireWire (OHCI) Apple ID 31 built-in: 6518 bus resets in last minute.
Aug 28 12:08:42 Powerbook kernel[0]: FireWire (OHCI) Apple ID 31 built-in: 3495 bus resets in last minute.
Aug 28 12:11:54 Powerbook kernel[0]: FireWire (OHCI) Apple ID 31 built-in: 4611 bus resets in last minute.
Aug 28 12:15:06 Powerbook kernel[0]: FireWire (OHCI) Apple ID 31 built-in: 4176 bus resets in last minute.
Aug 28 12:18:18 Powerbook kernel[0]: FireWire (OHCI) Apple ID 31 built-in: 2520 bus resets in last minute.
Aug 28 12:21:30 Powerbook kernel[0]: FireWire (OHCI) Apple ID 31 built-in: 2106 bus resets in last minute.
Aug 28 12:24:42 Powerbook kernel[0]: FireWire (OHCI) Apple ID 31 built-in: 3926 bus resets in last minute.
Aug 28 12:27:54 Powerbook kernel[0]: FireWire (OHCI) Apple ID 31 built-in: 8531 bus resets in last minute.
Aug 28 12:28:36 Powerbook kernel[0]: FireWire (OHCI) Apple ID 31 built-in: handleSelfIDInt - nodeID not valid (reset bus and retry 2)
Aug 28 12:31:06 Powerbook kernel[0]: FireWire (OHCI) Apple ID 31 built-in: 5209 bus resets in last minute.

And so on. You get the picture.

All I’m trying to do in this case, is write zeros to the drive so that any bad blocks can be reconstituted. It’s pretty low level, it shouldn’t be causing these hassles. These resets fuck up everything. They prevent data from being written to the drive. They cause massive system freezes leading to extreme reset action that causes data loss. They hinder Disk Warrior’s attempts to rebuild the directory, leading to even more corruption. They lead to hangs when all I’m trying to do is re-partition the drive after yet another freeze. It’s a vicious fucking cycle of hostility destabilising all the good-will built up between me and my laptop over the last three years.

Are there any Mac-heads out there who can help me out here?

Category: Computing and Web

Friday, August 26, 2005

Sheepish? Moi?

It turns out – and who could have predicted this – that in order for a hard drive to copy files completely, maintain directory structure reliably, be better recognised by a computer and generally work, an uninterrupted power supply is required.
Really? Well, knock me over with an elephant’s feather and paint me peach.
If only I’d known.
My hard drive is in much better working order now that I have plugged. It. In.

Category: Computing and Web

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Woe, woe, calamity and lamentations

Little bit preoccupied at the moment with catastrophic data corruption and hard-drive failure issues.

It's not fair. My external LaCie was running out of room for my music files, so I bought a 500GB LaCie d2 Extreme Big Disk (forgetting for the moment that anything with so many names can only mean trouble).

Two minutes after plugging it in, I had problems. Copying files from one disk to the other resulted in copious and irritating "data could not be written" errors.

So I tried copying smaller amounts - all the "A" artists, then the "B"s - took some time but got there in the end. With all the files successfully copied I (close your eyes now) deleted the originals from my other drive.

Why, oh why did I think it would be safe to do this? Although everything was fine for a while, as soon as I tried editing some album info in iTunes the Twilight Zone opened. All of a sudden, none of my songs could be found.

When I looked at my new drive, it was obvious that the directory had become damaged: viewing the drive in list view, none of the album folders had arrows next to them, and when I clicked on one it vanished.

In front of my very eyes.

Poof. Gone.


Something had felled my B-tree.

Tried repairing the drive in Disk Utility, no dice, "missing thread record," and "Invalid directory item count."

Tried Disk Warrior, got some files back, but couldn't rebuild the directory.

Tried Voodoo. Switched everything off. Unplugged it. Switched it on, plugged it in. Now it's not even a recognisable format and needs to be initialized.

Christ on a crutch.

Alright then, I've got all the data on DVD-R anyway, might as well reformat. Although restoring 130GB from DVD...not going to take it up as a hobby.

Except I can't create any partitions. The processes starts and then just...doesn't do anything. Nothing hangs, no errors, it just isn't doing anything.

So - the data is gone. I now have a drive no longer recognised by the system that I can't erase or re-format.

But I'm not done yet; there's a little more I can try before I'll have to repurpose the drive as a doorstop. Check the firmware. Reset the PRAM. Try it with another computer.

I'm a warrior! I will not be defeated!

Category: Computing and Web

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Bad blogger

Wrote a longish post about Charlie Jade and the new TV while at work today. E-mailed it to myself at home so I could give it a bit of a polish and archive it in MacJournal. Didn’t arrive. No post. Damn Phone Co-op server.


BTW, this template looks like shit in Internet Explorer; it rather surprised me. If you’re using IE, please stop.

Category: Meta

Honest, it isn't representative

While checking out my site stats, I noticed a visit from someone searching Yahoo for "Swazi girls burn sex-ban tassels." I had a link in my sidebar yesterday referencing this story, hence the search engine showing.

The site abstract for The Light, It Hurts, based on those search terms was a rather alarming:

... my shit on with girls I had a crush on ... He could orphan me, burn down my house and frame ... DIY endoscope. Swazi king drops sex-ban tassels ...

Alarming, but in many respects quite enlightening.

Category: Meta

Movies from Mars

Tenacious Martian rover Spirit, while continuing to scale Husband Hill, came face to face with a herd of speeding dust devils. Boffins have turned its snaps into a short video clip, which is pretty damn cool.

Category: Computing and Web

Friday, August 19, 2005

This town ain't big enough for the Post Office

The Observer Blog’s on a roll today, clearly they have no work to do on Fridays.

Here is a neat little flash animation of JohnnyB’s paean to rural Post Offices facing the threat of closure. As The Observer said, it’s as if Billy Bragg and Mike Skinner were to have bunnies together.

Please take a look.

Category: Computing and Web

Archbishop Backs Nuns In Pub Fight

I'm a week late here, but I just remembered the headline from last week's Oxford Mail and had to repeat it.

It's the best banner ever.

Far more entertaining than the actual story.

Category: Newsround


Thank you, Observer Blog, for this site, from Smack the Pony, Green Wing and, um, Bob the Builder scribe James Henry.

Category: Computing and Web

The Onion gets personal

I've been reading The Onion for quite a few years now, and don't remember it ever being quite this...full on.

Rumsfeld Makes Surprise Visit to Wife's Vagina

WASHINGTON, DC—Amid rumors of sagging morale on the home front, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld greeted his wife Joyce Monday with an unanticipated visit to her vagina, according to the Pentagon...

...The visit comes at a time in which controversial rumors have spread throughout Washington about low morale on the part of Mrs. Rumsfeld. Reports from confidantes indicate that her vagina is being undersupplied by the Department of Defense, and extended tours of duty have stirred up feelings of discontent. Although the two have faithfully served one another since 1954, Secretary Rumsfeld's busy schedule and demanding obligations have prevented him from visiting the fertile crescent since last November's highly publicized surprise visit...

...When asked about future plans for his wife's vagina, Rumsfeld grew somber.

"This vagina has seen a lot of action," Rumsfeld said. "And much of its infrastructure has fallen into disrepair. I do believe, however, that my wife's sustained efforts under my direction will ultimately allow us to re-establish order in this troubled area."

Have they gone too far, do you think? Why does reading this make me feel so soiled? Is it wrong of me to prefer Evangelical Scientists Refute Gravity With New 'Intelligent Falling' Theory?

Category: Computing and Web

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Identity crisis

I have spent – while mostly at work – the last two days – in a solipsistic state – scratching out – vainly, in the event– what should have been a manifesto – now that I’m writing in any case – of what this blog is for and should address.

I gave it up today as a lost cause, but because I spent so much time on it and don’t want it to go to waste, here it is anyway:

To the extent that this blog was set-up to give me a kick in the arse and bootstrap my off-line writing, it’s an unqualified success – I am going great guns through several episode outlines, and should have a rough draft in a few weeks.

I’m really happy about this. I mean, you have no idea – it’s like getting a hard-on after six years of penile dysfunction. I can’t stop fondling myself and blowing great spunky wads of wordsmithery all over my Powerbook. Which, granted, is not a pleasant image, but at least it’s safer than trying to actually make love to my laptop.

Regrettably, the inevitable result of any obsession is the neglect of other concerns. In fact, I believe that is the exact definition of obsession, so what an idiotic sentence.

My resolution to post every day has been exposed as the sham rhetoric it always was, just as I’m starting to get somewhere (ranked fourth on for TV Sluts, somehow). But this doesn’t mean my love affair with Blogger is over; that I’ve spurned her with the smell of fanny still on my fingers.

All the same, I do have a problem in deciding what, now that I’m getting ahead again, The Light, It Hurts is actually about, and why I should keep it up. I could continue tracking my progress of course, and will, but as for the rest of my entries…ask me what they should be about and I get that unique feeling of dread usually experienced only in those terrifiying generic dreams where I’ve forgotten the first line of Lear, or turned up to an exam naked, or find myself devoid of genitalia just when I’m about to get my shit on with girls I had a crush on at school (that is generic, right? You all get that one too?).

Take away the self-motivation and what’s left? A random sampling of blogs yields the following thoughts:

  • There is no fucking way I’m about to start blogging my job. It’s a continual source of self-loathing, and I durst not expose you to that misery, gentle reader. Otherwise I’ll be sacked. Again.

  • I do have a social life, but I believe it’s better to just live it and move on, rather than rub your face in my fabulous glittering lifestyle and risk a hail of sour grapes.

  • I’m not going to be yet another linkmachine. Who wants to visit ten blogs and see that same damn links on every one? The blogosphere’s got its Kottke and BoingBoing for those who lack the steel to set out on the internet’s wild highways for themselves. Besides, my explorations usually terminate at porn sites, so you wouldn’t want to be pecking at my seed-trail.

  • Everyone and their fucking pet hampster already have an opinion on – among other things - oxygen starved Cypriot pilots, Cindy Sheehan’s Crawford jamboree and Brit-Cit Judges (they killed an innocent man because someone was having a slash. Could you make it up?), so who in their right mind would want mine?

  • And that’s as far as I got  with this fucking idiotic waste of my precious time. You can see why I don’t get invited to many parties, can’t you? No links to dumb-ass websites, no half-baked opinion pieces? God’s eyes, man, is this a blog or isn’t it? Have some fun! I ceased my bitch-ass self-censorship not only because it was heretical nonsense, but because I realised something while I was writing it that made its completion unnecessary. A good blog is a gateway. To the very greatest wonders of the web and world, and to the mind of the blogger. So fuck it. I’ll do whatever I like and let it be random. And stop being so embarassingly self-conscious.
    ‘Cos for heaven’s sake, is the web really the place for self-consciousness? There are something like 15 million blogs out there, so it takes misplaced hubris, or a basic misunderstanding of the web’s mechanisms, to imagine you’re ever going to be noticed without making an enormous effort to pimp yourself.

    So do that: read and comment on other people’s blogs, find bloggers you like and link to them, make yourself, your opinions and preoccupations known, start making friends and influencing people and this can be great fun.

    You can’t blog for yourself, you have to open up and allow others to have some say over what shape today’s content is going to take. I read a couple of blogs over breakfast and then spend my time at work composing responses to them. In some cases they’ve got me thinking about things I haven’t considered in years, if ever. I’ve ended up publishing a post espousing opinions I never know I held, cobbled together from half-remembered magazine articles, and realising with some elation that, yes, I do think that way, I do believe what I’m saying, there is a process taking place here helping me to know myself better.

    I can get behind that.

    Category: Meta

    Tuesday, August 16, 2005

    Memo to torrent release groups

    There are certain TV shows that I rely on you guys uploading, and for the fact that you do I am most grateful. However, why even fucking bother with a release if the video stutters all the way through and the audio starts off two seconds out of sync and only gets worse, to the point where I have to stop playing the file every five minutes to add another second’s compensation?

    Now, I’m no full-time ripper, but even I can re-encode a DVD to .avi to watch on the train. We all know it isn’t that difficult to leave out the ads, or start at the beginning and end at...well, the end. It isn’t necessary to occasionally fill my monitor with enormous green artifacts, or for the soundtrack to start screeching like a cat’s kicked the digital stylus. I don’t want to watch last week’s episode when the file I’ve put together from 50 RARs is labeled with this week’s title. The point is, it’s not hard, so stop wasting my fucking time with your crappy, half-assed, unwatchable rips.

    Because until certain executives get their heads out of their arses and devise a new, worldwide distribution strategy, an iTunes for TV which may well be DRM’d up to the nines but at least provides consistent audio/visual quality, you guys are all I’ve got.


    Category: Movies and TV

    Sunday, August 14, 2005

    The Tragical Comedy, or Comical Tragedy of Mr Punch: A Romance

    From the BBC:

    A small boy goes to stay with his grandparents in Southsea, spending his days at his grandfather's failed arcade on the seafront. When Swatchell, a Punch and Judy professor, sets up his booth in the arcade, the boy becomes fascinated by the story played out by these strange violent wooden puppets - particularly when strange parallels start to develop between the story of Mr Punch and events in his own family's life.

    Yes, Neil Gaiman’s audio adaptation of his haunting, postmodern take on the British seaside allegory is being re-aired on BBC Radio Three this evening, at 8:30.

    Mr Punch was originally published as a graphic novel in 1994, with illustrations by Dave McKean. Those were the halcyon days of “comics for grown-ups,” when illustrious publishers were actually willing to commission original graphic novels. The trend lasted only a while, but gave us great works in prestige formats, the best of which were this, and A Small Killing, by Alan Moore.

    I missed this previously, but will definitely tune in tonight, if only to satisfy my curiosity regarding the format shift. The story is a disturbing tale of innocence lost, but much of the terrifying and soul-destrying atmosphere of the book is provided by McKean’s artwork. He makes everything in out of season Southsea look so wasted and dilapidated, it eventually becomes wearing to look at.

    Last week I pointed the interested in the direction of Big Finish’s dramatisation of Luther Arkwright. Now this shows up. The question I have to ask though, is when are we going to get that 26 CD adaptation of Cerebus?

    Incidentally, if you can find a copy, you’ll be doing yourself a very big favour by reading McKean’s own Cages.

    Category: Books and Comics

    Friday, August 12, 2005

    Too busy to blog!

    But is that a bad thing?

    What with mad friends from Persia, married friends from Seattle, birthdays and pool parties (though not, even if one wishes otherwise, involving lounging around on inflatable mattresses, occasionally paddling over to the pool-side to snort cocaine from a beautiful girl’s bikini. No, no Easy Riders, Raging Bulls style excess from The Phone Co-op. Still, Chipping Norton musters up a respectable amount of beer, chilli and jazz when it wants to.) there’s been no time.

    And now I’m going out to dinner and won’t be home until tomorrow.

    There will be some updates this weekend though. Secret plans have been a-brewing, so keep reading.

    Category: Meatspace

    Wednesday, August 10, 2005

    Press Gang

    Steven Moffat wrote the best episodes of the recent Doctor Who revival, the terrific two parter The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances. Prior to this, he is probably best known for the sit-com Coupling, about which my boundless loathing of Jack Davenport prevents me from commenting. He is also the creator of two, earlier, short lived comedies: the unfairly maligned Chalk, and the under-appreciated Joking Apart, as well as a handful of one-off projects. But to anyone coming home from school between 1989 and 1993 he will always be the man responsible for Julia Sawalha's career.

    The dude invented Press Gang. He could orphan me, burn down my house and frame me for touching a ten year old's privates and I'd still love and worship him.

    The show invented dramedy long before Buffy, and the "72 hours earlier" trick years before JJ Abrams took it to the knacker's yard and turned it into glue.

    Season Four has just been released on one of those little shiny disc things, and either I've always had far too much taste for my nostalgic fancies to ever be embarrassing, or I'm much too easily pleased. All the same, this seems just as brilliant and groundbreaking to me now as it did sixteen years ago. With its high production values, daring structure, surprisingly hard-hitting plots, cracking dialogue, honest characterisation (rare in a show about teenagers screened at tea-time), and an ensemble cast with a passel of Oscar and BAFTA nominations/wins between them, Press Gang deserves to be seen again.

    Category: Movies and TV

    Monday, August 08, 2005

    more...heaven and earth...your philosophy...blahdy blah, Horatio

    "Alice laughed: "There's no use trying," she said; "one can't believe impossible things."
    "I daresay you haven't had much practice," said the Queen. "When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."

    I have of late, but wherefore I know not, experienced much uncharitable schadenfreude at the explosive displays of outrage in the blogosphere, all focussed on U.S president George Bush's off-the-cuff comments about "Intelligent Design." It's been an absolutely hilarious week – within my narrow web wanderings, I particularly love these reactions from Al Swearengen and Kung-fu Monkey.
    When he's not representing a dire threat to the known world, Bush is just so fucking entertaining.
    Alas, the discovery that city schools could be front for evangelists shattered my mirthful exo-skeleton, leaving me thrashing in a puddle of frustrated tears.
    Almost half the Government's planned new flagship city schools are sponsored by religious organisations, prompting fears that the programme could become a 'Trojan horse' for radical evangelicals.

    The next wave of privately-funded City Academies includes at least one school planning to teach children creationism - the doctrine that the earth was created by God and that the Darwinian model accepted by scientists is therefore wrong.

    Holy crap. Western civilization wants to know: who turned out the lights?
    However, after I remembered that evolution has granted us the mental ability to overcome the stimulus-response imperative, I reconsidered my reaction. Does this development really presage the collapse of our way of life? Of course not. Does it herald the birth of a new evangelism? I doubt it. This is not about indoctrination. What it offers is the chance for children to embrace and evolve contradictory world-views - evolution is a process that advances over millions of years from protozoic mollusks to life as we know it, AND the world was created 6,000 years ago through the grace of God's utterances - and thus widen their capacity to experience awe and wonder.
    Some of the greatest minds in history have belonged to people who were capable of assimilating contradiction. The seventeenth century Fellows of the Royal Society didn't renounce their God or burn their bibles just because some of their discoveries indicated that they would be wise by our standards to do just that. Their devotion to the word of God can hardly be said to have kept them mired in ignorance.
    It looks to me that the only winners in this debacle will be our kids' imaginations. Inquiring minds will still enquire, their pursuits no doubt enriched by their broad-spectrum secular/devotional education. Closed minds…well, it's the lesser of two evils isn't it? Would you rather live in a society of devout rationalists or unforgiving fundamentalists?
    Chesterton would disagree, but any good chaos magician will tell you that a more valuable skill than believing in one thing, is believing in everything. Not on different days of the week, but all at once. Such is the way to true enlightenment, my friends.
    As with any point in history, this is a great, great time to be alive.
    Writing this evoked memories of: Daemonic Reality and The Diamond Age.
    Category: don't appear to have one for this; must rethink my taxonomy

    UPDATE: I have rethought things, and this is:

    Category: Newsround

    Sunday, August 07, 2005

    The fall and rise of British drama

    Single TV drama in Britain is a commercial dodo. Yes, we make them but we make about four per year per channel, as opposed to the 100+ that were crafted in the 60s. The audience just won't come to them. – Paul Abbott

    That's fine by me. I mean, this is TV we're talking about, not film or theatre, and of the three, television is most uniquely suited to the crafting of narratives in serial form. There is often more seriousness of intent, development of character and grandness of vision in three forty-five minute TV episodes than in a movie of equivalent length. The capsule-like nature of individual episodes forces TV writers to compress their material mercilessly, so that in many cases more can be produced with less.

    Well, at least in anything that's seen the hand of Aaron Sorkin, David Milch, Joss Whedon, Amy Sherman-Palladino, or David Chase. In this land of mostly anonymous drama we get the current torpid season of forensic-bollocks Silent Witness, where the dictum of "get in late, and get out early" was one of the first pre-credit casualties.

    Nevertheless, I regard television as the foremost medium in our modern times for crafting, developing and telling stories.

    So why is no-one with the visibility of the above writers creating multi-season serial dramas in the UK? Why can our output not match theirs in terms of variety of genre? Why is there so little output, full stop?

    I mean, let's look at what we were treated to just last week. We have five national television channels, all broadcasting twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Between them, they have eight hundred and forty hours of airtime to fill. Looking through the schedules for July 30th to August 5th, first run British drama occupied twenty-two of those eight hundred and forty hours. And what grand drama it is: two and a half hours of Coronation Street over four nights, two hours of Eastenders, over four nights, three hours of Emmerdale over six, two and a half hours of Family Affairs, and a further two and a half hours of Hollyoaks. Fuck me. If you like your drama badly written, histrionic, lazily produced, lamely acted, and with no sense of pace or a narrative goal, then you must be as happy as a pig in shit, because almost 60% of drama in this country is created just for you. You cunts.

    I know. You're thinking I looked through a whole week's scheduling at the beginning of August and have the gall to be upset that there's nothing on to watch. I'm ignoring all the original, brilliant drama we produce every year by artificially inflating the predominace of daily soaps during the middle of the summer season. What do I expect in August?

    I expect not to have to download everything I want to watch from questionable sources, damn you! And don't accuse me of being impatient either; if I could rely on my favourite shows being bought in in timely fashion, and shown uncut at reasonable and consistent hours, I might just wait for them, but the fact is that despite the received wisdom that we only get to see the best U.S drama here, and that most of their stuff is even worse than ours, as of today, no terrestrial channel has yet aired a single episode of: Battlestar Galactica (now in its second season), Deadwood (two seasons under its gun-belt) The Wire (three seasons), or Gilmore Girls (FIVE seasons), which for my money ARE the best shows being produced right now.

    So there, suckers. It's worse than you think, because not only are the shows we do get to see better than ours, most of the ones we don't are even better than those! That's right, at the moment we can't even produce anything to compete with the middle tier of American drama - you know, the hyped to the skies, Emmy winning, million pound imports like Desperate Housewives, Lost and 24 - all decent stuff but not, creatively, the top rank.

    And even though the States have their October to May season, it's not as if there's nothing on the rest of the time. This week, I have been watching Charlie Jade, Battlestar Galactica, The Closer, The 4400, The Dead Zone, and Stargate Atlantis. Some of these are better than others. All of them are better than 60% of our production efforts and all of them are on now.

    And I'm not the only one. God save the Queen, but we Brits are so dissatisfied with the shit that's shovelled at us every day that we lead the world in illegal downloading. According to Envisional, twenty per cent of all TV downloads end up on UK hard-drives. This despite us being the world's laggard in broadband adoption.

    This was not an atypical week. There may well be five or six top class pieces of work produced each year and scattered through the schedules like mana offered to a starving man - and in recent years I'm talking about stuff like the new Doctor Who, Shameless, Spooks, Holding On, Casanova, Conviction, State of Play (I'm not hung-up on genre, I just demand quality), but we're talking about, what? Forty hours A YEAR. Let's be generous and say an average of an hour a week. How do the remaining eight hours typically break down?

    Most of the drama in this country can be forced through the hacking off of a limb or two into one of the following pigeonholes:

    1 - the soap (Eastenders, Emmerdale)
    2 - the quasi-soap (The Bill, Casualty)
    3 - high profile literary adaptations (they must be good, they come from a book: The Long Firm - BBC 2 stuff, what we pay the licence fee for. There was NO drama on BBC2 last week. Or this week, I've checked.)
    4 - sensationalist cobblers (Bad Girls, Footballers Wives - generally on ITV)
    5 - the fish out of water comedy-drama (these fuckers are everywhere. Originally Northern Exposure wannabes - like they ever had a chance - shows like Ballykissangel, Heartbeat, Thousand Acres of Sky and Monarch of the Glen are like cockroaches. You can kill off every single member of the cast and they'll still find their way on air.)
    6 - one-off dramas. Mini movies that grey haired old bastards might remember as Wednesday plays or whatever, the stuff that Paul Abbott is so sorry to see go. Eventually became stuff like Sharpe and Inspector Morse that used to be great fun but have now destroyed all my good-will by transforming into the family detective story: The Last Detective, Rosemary and Thyme, Dalziel and Pascal, Midsomer Murders, will it never end?
    7 - breakout vehicles. A cancer on the TV landscape; shows seemingly conceived for the sole reason of allowing shit soap/quasi-soap actors whose characters have become inexplicably popular to entertain the notion that they have the chops to carry a series by themselves. I'm talking about you, Ross Kemp, Mr Ultimate fucking Force. Utter follies, one and all.
    8 - anything with Martin Clunes or David Jason. John Thaw is dead now, but would have been here.

    Although some of these shows are watched by very large numbers of the switched-on and ironing public, they're more comfort, than essential, viewing. They are watched because they're on. No-one gives a shit. Do you think for one second that if they were only available over the web anyone would bother downloading them? Would they lead anyone to temptation and theft? Like fuck. Would anyone mourn if there were never another episode of Cutting It? Don't make me laugh. Or cry, or gasp, or care at all about your shitty shitty shows.

    Our serialised drama lacks the confidence to go out and really grab its audience. It's unaware of its aims and ignorant of its audience. Until it gives us realistic characters, behaving in believable ways, who actually demonstrate things like intelligence and self-awareness, in long-form stories with compelling arcs, then those download rates are only going to rise. The idiots in charge will be left trying to understand why no-one's watching their gentle new two hour family drama about accidental investigator au-pairs. And they won't get it. They'll just order extra Coronation Street for Tuesday and Thursday nights.

    But despite all this, there is still:

    9 - the good stuff.

    You know what I'm talking about. Is there anyone who didn't watch The Second Coming, Bob and Rose, Clocking Off, Shameless, Swallow, Holding On and think "fuck me, that was brilliant?" Not "that was just the right combination of anodyne and soporific to see me off to bed," but "how the holy christ can I sleep after that?"

    Well alright, not everyone, but you get it.

    Quality, novelistic television. This should be our nation's pride. We do it brilliantly - four to eight episode stand-alone mini-series. One writer. One story set in motion and played through to the bitter end. All loose ends tied off. No chance of a sequel. Thank you and goodnight. I watch stuff like this and I know that despite all the crap we put out, we are more than capable of making television with integrity.

    But there is also a part of me that views these prestige shows with a certain cynicism. The fact that we're asked to see them as flagship productions, for one thing, gets on my tits. The thought that viewing something better than the day to day crap is some sort of treat and that it wouldn't do to expect that quality in everything that's shown feels like a sop. It's not right that we have to put up with outrageous shit like Midsomer Murders that will sell to every country in the world for millions of pounds so that we can have our forspecial television. It's bollocks that our best writers have to be broken on the wheels that are Holby City and Hollyoaks before being allowed to work on anything worthwhile. Most likely it's BECAUSE the pool of existing shows is so stagnant and fouled that no-one with a choice wants to work on them, but would rather shut themselves in their attics to write only their own short-term projects, instead of trying to create better serials with groups of equally talented writers that can stand a chance of flushing away the turds. So we're left in a situation where we do have quality television, but it wouldn't do to expect more because it's so very expensive to shoot on location day and night, and brand new sets have to be built all the time, and besides we've only got three writers in the whole country to churn them out.

    And the funny thing is, they are all written by the same people. Pretty much the entire edifice of serious, risk-taking, taboo breaking, format smashing, dramatic television in this country is held aloft by the triumvirate of Russell T Davis, Paul Abbott and Tony Marchant, with assistance from the other Tonies Grounds and Garnett, and substitutes Bill Gallagher, Peter Flannery, Peter Bowker, Edward Canfor-Dumas and many others.

    All the writers are there, but they've been led by a culture of theatre and single-drama by the greats like Potter and Bennett to believe that if they want to be taken seriously they oughtn't to do serials, except as a training ground. And there doesn't seem to be a producer out there willing to discourage them, because writers write and producers produce, and producers can't deal with writers unless they're under the cosh and already writing what they're told, or treated like an auteur and told not to worry themselves with the details. And I confess that is probably the most naive thing I've ever written. There's no scientific evidence for it, it's a fact. We've got actors, directors, photographers capable of brilliance, an audience that wants it, and knows it when it sees it, but a bunch of clueless producers and broadcasters who just aren't giving it to us.

    What's their problem? Well it's fucking greed, isn't it? Rather than create great stories to entertain and amaze us all, they'd rather be creating flexible formats that can be sold for great sums of money abroad. In this we do lead the world, and the race is on for the next Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? (sold to 107 countries) or The Weakest Link (75 countries). Far more lucrative than investing in new drama - Shameless sold to 15 countries in 2004.

    I have hope that the massive, unexpected success of Doctor Who at home can lead to some sort of renaissance: not just in Saturday tea-time telly, but for drama as a whole. Not only has it been the most successful series of recent years, it's the only one that hasn't been about a bastard police officer whose name provides a cunning pun for the title. It's science-fiction, for fuck's sake, and no-one produced SF in a decade because "no-one wants to watch it." Not a clue, I tell you.

    Despite what some may think, after sixteen years Who was never guaranteed an audience, but because it took the risk of following another country's established lead and eschewed the traditional British method of creating ponderous television, it found one. Russell Davis has said for years that he's a massive fan of what Joss Whedon did with Buffy. This may seem strange to our U.S. cousins, but I don't think we've ever developed a series where a writing executive producer assembles a writing team, has a clear vision of the season's arc, demands character continuity and emotional beats and builds a season around "sweep" episodes. And now I'm sure there'll be a lengthy reassessment of how we go about things. Season one hadn't even finished before two and three were confirmed. I have no doubt there'll be a fourth, and by the time it gets to the fifth or sixth I WILL BY GOD BE WRITING FOR IT. If my friend Louise can decide one day, with no experience, that she "wants to work in radio," and be producing John Peel four years later then, awesome as she is, don't doubt that I can do this.

    I have a vision, where in five years the pages of the Radio Times will be wringing wet from the flood of new drama produced in this country. Where, HBO like, great writers are given leave to create and produce thirteen episode seasons that contribute to grand five season schemes, assisted by a staff of writers who later go on to glory with their own shows.

    If I am not totally and utterly misguided, look for me to be one of them.

    Category: Movies and TV

    What I did on the web today

    A catalogue of Saturday's surfing:

    A fierce rebuttal to all the scare-mongering among Mac fans regarding potential Trusted Computing support in future hardware revisions.

    Damn good advice about cutting the crap you don't need from your scripts.

    Funny post detailing the process writers go through when trying to break a story.

    Audio dramatisation of Bryan Talbot's The Adventures of Luther Arkwright starring David Tennant. Can it possibly work? I'm willing to give it a try (this is not free, by the way).

    Brilliant site devoted to analysis of British telly.

    Well, no need to thank me; off you go and be back in time for dinner.

    Category: Computing and Web

    Friday, August 05, 2005

    Whedon sluts with cash to burn, read on

    Buffy fans may recall the release of a highly desirable, deluxe box-set of seasons one to seven, around last November-time. A strictly limited edition, it sold out in no time at all. Well, this October, it's being re-released:

    Thirty-nine discs, seven seasons, all the extras from the regular releases in tasty packaging for around one hundred and thirty-five quid. Less than a pound per episode.

    But the really good news is that not only is this set being re-released, its (in my opinion) superior stablemate Angel is getting the same treatment.

    Here's the pic:

    If I hadn't already spent a shitload of my credit card company's money on, first the VHS releases, then the DVDs, I would sure as hell be putting these at the top of my "to buy, and waste not a moment" list.

    Category: Movies and TV

    Wednesday, August 03, 2005

    Wednesday again

    My new favourite day of the week. Come Friday, all you can think about is going back to work again on Monday. Wednesday means all the hard work is done, just chill and get ready for the weekend. Am I wrong?

    I have had such a productive day. After years of woolly thinking and avoidance of the issue, I finally came up with a one paragraph synopsis for Conchie, a solid beginning, end and cliff-hangers for episodes one, two and three (it's a four-parter).

    I also started putting together some thoughts for a post on the state of British drama over the last decade, which I'll try to get up at the weekend.

    I made dinner for my parents, and my pictures are ready to collect from the framers.

    Also, I am now a fully endorsed "spec-monkey;" my first appearance in anyone's blog-roll. How thrilling! But by fuck! My Technorati rating's dropped 3,000 places overnight.

    All in all, yeah.

    Category: Meatspace

    Tuesday, August 02, 2005

    John Rogers telling it like it is

    A terrific post today from the Kung-Fu Monkey about the attitudes and discipline required to carve out a career in screenwriting. Pretty blunt too. Rogers may finish with a rallying flourish:

    Know your strengths, your limitations, and most importantly, what you need to accomplish with your writing to feel like you're achieving your art. In short, as cheesy as this is – know yourself.

    but he doesn't hesitate to shatter a few rosy illusions along the way.

    The piece could be seen by some as totally demoralising, but I actually feel regalvanised. Yes, if one wants to make a career for oneself then it helps to remember that writing is a job and requires all the dedication you possess. On the other hand, you can't do it if you don't love it.

    I'm just starting to find that love again after years of self-induced anxiety.

    Having knocked around and generally wasted my time in various offices and stores over the years, I now understand that my job is not a sink that I need to pour my self-esteem into every day. After I finished school, I foolishly hitched all my self-worth to the idea that I could become a great writer. Needless to say, I found it impossible to perform under such pressure.

    Now it's fun again; and I credit most of that transformation to guys like Rogers, and Alex Epstein, Paul Guyot, John August, Craig Mazin and others. They're the guys doing what I want to do, and telling it like it is and putting all those juvenile inadequaces of mine into perspective.

    So thank fuck for the internet, frankly.

    Category: Writing

    Well that's a turn-up for the books

    Apple's squeezy new multi-button mouse.

    God damn. First I find out Pluto isn't even a planet any more, and now this. Someone keeps changing the universe behind my back.

    Category: Computing and Web

    Monday, August 01, 2005

    A second chance for the sadly neglected

    God of War is the biggest, most brutal, beautifully ugly action adventure game I've ever played. It's already one of my top three PS2 titles, sitting comfortably behind Ico at number one, and Prince of Persia: Sands of Time at two. I'm not that far into it yet, but I am awed by its scale and slightly nauseated by its violence. Nevertheless, I hope to be fully desensitised before supper and swinging my serrated blades like a warped Celtic warrior, fingers slipping on the spittle-flecked coating of my controller. It's an absolutely magnificent feat of world-building – character and level design, architecture, script, backstory, mechanics and music are all in perfect harmony.
    It's also the last PS2 game I'm likely to buy. It seems like development for the platform is winding down now that PS3 looms, but it's going to take a while for everyone to get a grip on Sony's new console. History teaches us to expect twelve months of shallow, rushed to retail, amateur first generation releases. I for one look forward to using this period for a little reflection and reassessment.
    Between Vagrant Story on PSX and Ico on PS2, practically nothing was released on either platform worth playing. In the twelve months that sales of Sony's black box were driven by DVD playability rather than games availability I re-visited many of the great PSX games on which I had never actually expended any effort, sometimes because I just hadn't been able to find the hook, or the time. Sometimes I'd moved onto the Next Big Thing before completing what I was doing. I'm fickle like that.
    After three and a half years in the fabled third place I've amassed several games whose cases I've never even cracked. I can't wait to finally take a run at Project Zero and Metal Gear Solid 2, push further into Dark Chronicle and Broken Sword 3; complete Beyond Good and Evil and Gregory Horror Show. I will at last be able to develop those L337 Rez, Amplitude and Virtua Fighter 4 skills I've always wanted. I predict a period of multiple and utterly joycore "why the hell didn't I play this years ago?" moments.
    Similarly, on the X-Box, I can't see myself buying anything much until 360's had some time to mature. Far Cry: Instincts looks promising, and maybe the conversion of Half Life 2 will be half playable, but I don't know. I'll be too busy finishing Metal Arms and Stranger's Wrath to pick 'em up.
    On the other hand, I'm a bit of a gadget whore, so maybe I won't be revisiting these unsung heroes of the current generation anytime soon. Maybe I'll just splash out on a PSP come September. That said, I'm not so convinced there's anything particularly compelling on that platform either.
    Perhaps I'll spend several months using a cracked PSP 2.0 system to play Link to the Past and Secret of Mana in emulation. That'll be awesome.

    Category: Gaming