Posts from 6th January 2006

Jan 06

THE FT TOP 13 ENDINGS: 6. Handing It In Late

Blog 7Post a comment • 195 views

In my younger days when I had some sort of inappropriate belief in some sort of natural justice, I would routinely curse those who insisted on handing in essays and coursework late. Here was I, an organised chap, able to produce the work within the deadline, who recognised that the existence of a deadline was actually part of the point. If you gave me two days to write an essay, it would surely be a different one to the one written over three weeks.

This priggish, prudish version of myself has existed unchanged for the last ten years, with the exception that somewhere along the line I started backsliding too. As we know it is remarkably easy to hold a belief whilst acting in a way contrary to it, and certainly at work deadlines soon dissolved into “I get the job done eventually” mindset.

So what is so great about handing stuff in late. Truth be told the best thing about it is that actually the problem I had with it as a kid is just not true. Someone requesting a week deadline is usually doing so because they HAVE NOT STARTED IT YET. So well known is this truth, subverting it by doing two weeks of work and then getting an extension is unheard of. Thus you can do a better job. And people don’t think you are some sort of spod with a stick up his arse. Yay!

Quit Stallin’, Call in Stalin*

The Brown Wedge1 comment • 542 views

Jonathan Meades’ show last night on Stalin and Architecture was so annoying. It promised to be a welcome exposition on a often-derided subject that’s generally dismissed glibly in one fell swoop.

But that’s not what we got. It was astonishly poor. He needed to pan it out with increasingly polemical references to Stalin and the nature of dictatorship, but if I wanted 6th form denunciations of totalitarianism, I’d have watched Bill O’Reilly. By all means remind us of the grim reality of life in Stalin’s Russia, but reminding us again and again? We know. Stalin bad man. Killing bad. Repression bad. Now, those buildings…

There was also a laughable attempt to ascribe something to the Russian ‘Bolshie’ character. He said that the Germans were, well, much more compliant people (scratch a libertarian and I’ll show you a vanilla right-winger happy to generalise about nations and ‘races’ who’s read Hayek and has a posh accent), he posited that there was a link to some historical essence of non-compliant Russian-ness which is why we use the word Bolshie. Eh? As opposed to an English word for being a bit uppity that equates being an agitator with being a Commie.

He kept referring to the impossibility of being an architect under Stalin; Stalin’s desire for a style defined by the bourgeois or imperialist styles it would not be rather than any conscious idea. These were good points, but I wish he’d done some research and perhaps identified a particular building and showing us how the bureaucracy and the whims of the apparatchiks of varying ranks interfered with the design and building process leading to the weird thing we see now. Instead, he did just do a few jump cuts set to music. And reminded us that Stalin was BAD. And that Jonathan Meades is so very, very, good.

* Apologies to the 1991-2 editorial team of SCAN, Lancaster University’s student newspaper, for use of their headline.

Not a novel

The Brown WedgePost a comment • 233 views

Short story collections which are presented as novels: they annoy me. I read two over the Christmas period, both of which were good short story collections, one of which was really straining trading standard rules to be presented as a novel, let alone a Whitbread Prize winning novel.

The first did not win the Whitbread Prize: and it is science fiction (SHOCK!). Now a science fiction novel actually being a collection of short stories is not that unusual, and actually this works quite well as a narrative in as much as each story, whilst from varying viewpoints, tell a coherent story. Coyote by Allen Steele is the standard first Earth colony kind of story, and initially seems very slow in starting. But you soon realise that is because the first 100 pages are a self contained short story more interested in describing a fascistic American state than the journey. Stories bounce around from different character viewpoints and various stories have very different micro or macro focus which lead to the short story idea. However the big hint is the list of when each story was published in the Asimov Science Fiction magazine…

Coyote however is coherent compared to Jim Crace’s Continent. Ostensibly a novel detailing the existence of a mythical seventh continent, I am surprised that it won the Whitbread First Novel Prize. Not so much because it isn’t good, it works very well in its own limited way: namely as a collection of short stories. But there are stories which in theme and practice seem to contradict each other, and leave very little coherent to say about its subject. I like a lot of Crace’s other work, but I cannot help thinking that the overwhelm secret of Continent’s award success is in matching a peerless style with it being very short (I read it in just over an hour).

Of course short story collections don’t sell, so hiding them as novels is a much better way of boosting sales. But if your tales really have nothing in common, don’t bother please. Continent is a book whose rationale is only given in its back cover blurb. Coyote works better – possibly because there is a well imagined narrative behind its disjointed stories. But not novels.

Matthew Broderick, you are the weakest link

Do You SeePost a comment • 313 views

You kind of know what you are going to get with The Producers. Well of course you do, its a remake of a remake – staring most of the original cast of the remake. The only new additions are Uma Thurman’s Ulla and Will Ferrell’s Leibkind. Ferrell eats the role up looking for more (and they give him it), Thurman is better than expected without actually being able to belt her big number as well as she should. So whilst this was never going to be a groundbreaking cinematic event, at least it should be a good representation of the US stage version.

Perhaps it is, but was Broderick THIS bad in the stage version. Nathan Lane seems to worked out his take on the character to perfection, the timing and jokes – whilst corny – work a treat. But Broderick is no replacement for Gene Wilder. The nervousness, the blue blanket, just does not work in this version. Broderick is on safer ground when he is singing, but even then there is a sense of holding in some gusto. This is a musical first, a movie second. Yes movies require subtler acting, but musicals don’t. It isn’t terrible, but when you are left with fond thoughts of Lee Evans, you have to wonder what went wrong…

More Electronic Book Bobbins

Proven By SciencePost a comment • 286 views

For some reason the e-book seems to be the holy grail for certain technology manufacturers, no doubt frustrated that millions of people in the world still endure – nay – enjoy reading words on paper. I am not sure of the environmental impact of the global publishing trade, but this lack of knowledge is probably due to it not being all that significant. With books being on the whole cheap (or free if you have my kind of library habit) punting out $300 to buy a machine which can display bought downloadable texts seems, well, redundant.

Enter the Sony Reader. Aiming to do for the e-book market what iPod’s did for personal stereos (ie, be a different type), it has significant advances on previous technology. Including a non-backlit paperlike screen which “almost rivals paper in readability”. And it is phrases like that which illustrate how doomed the whole project is. The paperback book is the pinnacle of one type of media technology and does exactly what you want it to do. There are no features which would make it better, only annoying things like the book switching off because it needs to be recharged.

And the final nail in the coffin of the Sony Reader is that it only seems to be able to display The Da Vinci Code.

Worst Food Website Ever

Pumpkin PublogPost a comment • 332 views

I have just received a box full of about 5000 flyers for a website called (also handily known as The flyer describes the website as “The website where you can get discount meal vouchers from different Chinese restaurants”. It also has a picture of two puppies peeking over a Chinese plate. I believe this is because it is the Year Of The Dog, however it may also be a suggestion of the signed up restaurants hygiene standards or a serving suggestion (not really, that koreanfood4u – and num num dog anyway).

So I went to the website. And after the painfully slow loading “movie” went past, I was presented with a vision of the web from 1997. Frames, pointless sidebar links, scrolling tickertape messages. And a moving crab in a box wishing me happy new year. Restaurants featured range from Devon to Muswell Hill, though it is unclear to what extent they participate in a scheme which is also unclear on how it works. I have applied for a voucher and will keep you up to date.

Oh, and the recipe section just nicks it off another website. Bravo the combined talents of the Chinese Takeaways Association and The Chinese Food & Beverage Webs Association.