March 2007 Archives


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My latest cinema trip was to see 300. The plot is rather simple. 300 Spartan warriors versus oodles of Persians - you can guess the rest. What is lacking in storytelling is more than made up for by the feast of visual treats. It is certainly a film of style over substance, but the style is so prevalent that it really doesn't matter. It's a film to be enjoyed on the basest level. The inevitable battle scenes are incredibly impressive. The stand out moments are the "hero" sequences. Each one a continuous shot lasting a couple of minutes which follows a single Spartan take out dozens of enemies in a mixture of slow and fast motion. It's reminiscent of the Burly Brawl in Matrix Reloaded, but far better executed. The film uses CG extensively, but it is so well integrated with the live action that it never becomes visually jarring (unlike the Matrix sequels!). It also sets a new standard for the use of colour grading in film. I wouldn't choose this as a date film as it's far too gory (unlike the similarly themed Gladiator), but otherwise I'd highly recommend a viewing.

Wedding Photography

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It seems as soon as the word "wedding" is added to a product or service, the price goes up by an order of magnitude. We visited half a dozen potential photographers at the weekend for our forthcoming wedding in summer. The prices varied from £450 to more than £3k!!! There wasn't much correlation between quality and price either, with the best two being under £1k. The fashion these days is to replace the traditional album with a glossy printed book. These books seem to be, without exception, chock full of (often badly applied) Photoshop effects. I can see the classiness in having a black and white photo with a small feature like a flower in colour. This draws the eye to the focal point of the image rather well. What looks terrible is things like putting a cheesy radial blur around people in an image to remove a dodgy background a good photographer wouldn't have put on film in the first place. Even worse is cramming lots of photos together on the same page with a garish background so the end effect is so busy your eyes don't know where to look. We both preferred the more classic album styles. Apart from the rings, forty toasters and (of course) ourselves, the photos will likely be the only tangible reminder of the day, so we want to get this right.

Windows Vista

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Despite OJ's sage advice, I now am running Vista Ultimate on my home PC. I picked up an OEM edition when buying a new power supply for my machine (sneaky perhaps, but legal in the UK). The web has been full of articles on the new OS, most of which are based entirely on speculation and hearsay, so I thought I'd try for myself. If it all went tits up, I always had my XP install backed up so it would only cost me time. Bolstered by ExtremeTech's Upgrade vs Clean Installation article, I first decided to try an upgrade install over XP. This was a mistake. The article is flawed for a number of reasons, but the main one is that they upgraded on top of a clean XP install, which is very unlikely to happen in reality. My system last had XP installed about a year ago when the hard disk died and I had to buy a new one. The system therefore had a years worth of crap on it, plus many applications, background services, etc, etc. The upgrade install took about three hours, and the PC crashed several times during the process (though would pick up where it left off when rebooted). When it finally got to the desktop, the machine was so slow as to be nearly unusable and some software just wasn't running right. For instance, AVG couldn't start itself, but the AVG auto upgrade process was still working. I switched from the fancy Aero Glass interface to the classic desktop, uninstalled as much stuff as I could (though some programs refused to uninstall) and managed to get drivers for all my hardware installed, but the system was still a lot slower than it was under XP. After a couple of days like this I gave up, reformatted the disk and did a clean install. This was much better. In fact, the clean install went by so quickly (roughly 20 minutes), that I wasn't convinced it had actually worked until it dropped me onto a fully working desktop. So, after a couple of weeks use, what is my verdict? The good
  1. Clean install was very quick and easy.
  2. Wireless just works. I run my wireless router using WPA2-PSK encryption, which under XP needed additional software to connect as Windows Zero Wireless only supported WEP (which isn't very strong encryption). On Vista, I simply clicked the "Connect to the Internet" button and told it I was using a wireless connection. After a few seconds it found my router and asked for the password. After entering this, it connected first time, and asked me if I wanted it to be my default connection. I clicked "Yes" and that was the end of it.
  3. Aero Glass. It's not just pretty, it's fast. My system is an Athlon 1800+ with a Radeon 9800 Pro, so it's hardly state of the art, but the system feels really responsive.
  4. Windows Update. This is now built into the system, rather than being a web driven thing, and finally seems to do an decent job of installing drivers for most of my hardware.
  5. My software all works - at least everything I've tried so far has.  I've not tried my games yet, apart from a quick run around Half Life 2.
  6. I'm legal.  My PC for the first time in it's life has no pirated software on it.
The bad
  1. The system crashes when it shuts down. This is due to the ATI 7.2 drivers as this didn't happen before I installed them. It's not a showstopper though, it just means I have to physically turn the machine off after the shutdown procedure. I would imagine this will be fixed in short order.
  2. nForce drivers. Vista installed drivers for most of my motherboard components automatically, and Windows Update found some more, but a few pieces of hardware needed a bit of cunning on my part to install. I discovered from reading a few forums that I could install the Vista nForce 4 drivers onto my nForce 1 motherboard and that sorted out the SM Bus and LAN devices. However, I still have an "Unknown device" showing in the device manager and I haven't a clue what it is. It doesn't seem to stop anything working though.
The Not Sure
  1. UAC.  This is the User Account Control system.  It means that programs run by default at a standard user level (even if you're logged on as administrator - which you most probably will be because the account you create when installing the OS is an administrator account).  If the program requires administrative rights, it pops up a dialog box asking first.  In fact the whole desktop greys out and you can only click on this dialog until you have either approved or denied it administrative access.  I'm still in two minds about whether this is just annoying or a good thing.  It's reminiscent of the Unix "sudo" command, though doesn't require a password unless you are logged on as a non-administrator.  I have a feeling most users will simply click OK all the time and it's usefulness will be lessened.
  2. The gadget sidebar.  This is a feature that sits on the side of your desktop and has various gadgets running on it, such as clocks, calendars, news tickers, weather forecasts, etc.  I'm currently running it with a simple clock, though I might disable it entirely as I can't see a compelling reason for it.
I shall post updates on my experiences over the coming weeks, but I'm cautiously optimistic at the moment.


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I finished this novel by Rob Grant last night.  Like Eddie in the superb Colony, and to some extent Rimmer or Lister in Red Dwarf, it tells the tale of one man's situation going from bad to worse to ludicrous.  Then just as you think it can't get any worse, it does. The story is told from the first person perspective of a secret agent (of some agency or other) who works in a near future United States of Europe, where bureaucracy has reached amazing (though in some ways realistic) heights.  The name of the book is in reference to the law in the USoE which states that people cannot be fired for being incompetent at their jobs.  Our protagonist is on the trail of a lone and very competent murderer. I ploughed through the book really quickly as it was compelling enough to keep me reading another chapter.  It's really inventive and is hilariously funny in parts with some really impressive pacey set pieces. I think this book contains the most impressive and audacious way to catch a train ever commited to paper. Definitely worth a read.

One down. Two to go…

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For Lent, I decided to give up cake, chocolate and crisps (as documented in this post). Unfortunately, I ate a piece of carrot cake on Friday. It was Microsoft's fault. I was at their office in Reading for the day and cake was all they provided as food during the afternoon (after some poor sandwiches at lunch). I did resist the chocolate cake though... You'd think one of the largest companies in the world would provide better food, but alas not. Still going strong on the chocolate and crisps though.

Belleville Rendez-Vous

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This is a charming French animation I watched last night.  If you've not heard of it, it tells the story of a young boy who becomes a Tour de France rider, gets kidnapped by the Mafia and eventually rescued by his grandmother and ever loyal dog Bruno (who in some ways is very badly treated). The story is told entirely visually with very little speech (part English, part French - though I didn't bother with the optional subtitles on the DVD).  The protagonists are very well fleshed out, with their visual look emphasising their character. The art style is beautiful, and the direction sublime, with several laugh out loud moments. I think I'll watch this one again in the near future.

Catch Up

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I've not written for a while, so I thought I'd better update everyone on what's going on. I started my new job at The Creative Assembly last week and it's going well, though I'm really not used to getting up at 7am for five days a week. I shall be starting a new section on programming on this site soon. It will cover anything that interests me, from web coding through C++ design to hardcore assembler optimisation. It'll partly serve as a reference for myself for anything cool I discover, but hopefully others will make use of it too. It'll be separate from my main blog to keep this from turning into yet another tech blog, but I'll post about new articles when they are uploaded. Anyway, normal service should be resumed!

End of Another Era

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After sitting in my mum's car port for three years, I've finally sold my old Mini to a friend of a friend. That little car took me through many a roadtrip, enabled post pint Pringle's missions to Asda, moved several people's stuff between houses, caned over Snake Pass on the edge of control and even did such mundane things as take me to work and back now and then. It will be missed.

Doughnuts: Cake or not?

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Given my current Lent fasting, I was wondering if doughnuts count as a cake or not (particularly my favourite jam doughnuts).  Unlike cakes, they're fried rather than baked and made with quite different ingredients. What do you think?  I think I'm just trying to find an excuse to pig out, but there you go...

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This page is an archive of entries from March 2007 listed from newest to oldest.

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