Tag Archives: fun

What an amazing time

Gwen Stefani gig ticketOn the approach to Wembley there were a gaggle of vendors selling glowing rabbit ears and furry wands. We speculated whether this was where Gwen Stefani bought the wardrobe for her tour. They probably sell the same merchandise for most gigs here, but there are few other artists that I could imagine actually wearing such cheap and cheesy accessories.

Of course she didn’t, at least until about two thirds of the way through the set when she launched herself into the audience, alternately running around and standing in the crowd to sing a verse. At one point she borrowed some rabbit ears from a fan. Very fetching.

Okay, so I’ve now written two paragraphs about the gig and I’ve not said a word about the music. I think that’s a function of the kind of music she’s performing these days. At one end of the spectrum you have people like Madonna who do a show. This isn’t a gig in the traditional sense of the word. It’s tightly choreographed, with dancing that is tiring to watch much less perform and audience involvement limited to dancing and singing along. At the other end you have your standard four-piece bouncing around the stage; it’s all about presence, music and, maybe, a little banter. It’s a positive feedback loop.

Stefani tries to straddle the two worlds. Her dancers are energetic and well synchronised (but not quite up to the standards of Madonna’s “Confessions” tour), while she generally struts around them but not joining in. There are frequent dress changes, ranging from track suit pants to red, sparkly hot-pants. Every two or three songs she stops the music and switches into “banter mode.” We need to be louder than Paris. She’s nervous because her father-in-law is in the audience. This song was co-written by a member of Keane.

For me it didn’t quite work. The switch from the tunes to the “ad libs” felt forced, scripted in some places, random in others. You expect exhortations to sing along, but normally on the up-tempo tracks rather than ballads.

But that’s not to say that the gig as a whole failed. At the moment there are few other people making such fun, bright and energetic pop music, and even fewer with the quirky, playful nature of Stefani. “The Sweet Escape” tour reflects these qualities from beginning to end, the whole “who’s that girl” bit when the lights go down, in the choice of songs, the projected videos, the stage set and everyone performance.

In summary: well worth seeing.


This review has taken a long time coming. We saw it a couple of weeks after its initial release — so late that we had difficulty finding a cinema in London that was showing it in fact — but I’ve been sitting on my thoughts since then. Why? Well, as useful and informative as the CRAP Alert system is, not being able to compare and contrast my score to that of the CAP Alert team removed some of the fun. Nevertheless, you can’t wait forever so here is the full review.

“Shooter” starts well. As it begins, “Marky” Mark Wahlberg is a sniper in an operation that, to cut a long story short, goes wrong. The sequence ends with his team-mate dead and a helicopter exploding. Only a few minutes into the movie and it’s looking good on the CRAP scale already!

The film then relocates to US soil a few years later. Swagger (Wahlberg) is brought in to help thwart a suspected plot on the president but is actually set up. The plot, therefore, is his efforts to evade capture by the FBI and prove his innocence.

As luck would have it, not the whole US government is against Swagger. He teams up with rookie FBI agent and his spotters widow and, naturally, the good guys prevails.

Chopper: 81%. As an action film this is where Shooter excels. In one sense the movie is just a collection of action sequences strung together with some plot. There are a couple of exploding helicopters and the sequence where he escapes from a house features burning napalm and plenty of loud blasts.

Relations: 19% There are some tender moments between the spotters widow and Swagger and respect between his and the rookie FBI agent, but this was never going to be the next Titanic. There are some tight T-shirts in places but no nudity.

Amusement: 43%. As an action film, laughs are not the primary aim, nevertheless there are some good chuckle moments. One of my favourites was, “I don’t think you understand: they killed my dog.” And, “We want someone trustworthy. How about the guy with sunglasses?” “You mean Bono?” “Yeah, or how about Nelson Mandela?”

Plot: 61%. The basic plot I mentioned in the introduction. Clearly it’s not the kind of film that’s going to keep you awake at night trying to come to terms with the philosophical questions posed, but it does have some twists and turns. I’m unconvinced that the method of dealing with the “unbeatable” bad guy was the best that could have been done. I’m not even sure it was really in character. Equally, it is far better plotted than most action films.

Overall rating: 51%1

So overall “Shooter” is an entertaining movie and, thus, does pretty well on the CRAP scale. With a complete lack of gratuitous nudity it was never going to be a top scorer but this is a very respectable outcome and if ‘action’ is your thing it does come highly recommended.

  1. To the untrained eye it may seem like I have just made these numbers up. Nothing, of course, could be further from the truth. The calculation is very complex but I wouldn’t want to bore you with all the details. []

Merchant Bankers

Citi Sign

I came across this sign while exploring China Town in San Francisco. Certainly in my dealings with CitiBank I have often thought that they were speaking a different language. This sign explains a lot.

(Yes, I know that this is the retail banking arm of Citi, but I didn’t want to spell out what I think of them on a family website.)

Pet Shop Boys

Pet Shop Boys

We went to see Pet Shop Boys play live at the Hammersmith Apollo on the 6th. It was a great gig, possibly the best of theirs that I’ve seen. This is perhaps the fourth or fifth time I’ve seen them over the years and the first time I’ve not left at least a little disappointed.

But despite the ups and downs of their live shows, they have maintained their prime position in my music collection since at least Actually came out in 1987. That makes me feel old! Of course you can’t really rationalise something that tugs at raw emotion in the way that music often can1, but that has not stopped me trying to figure out why I keep listening to them2.

The closest thing to a conclusion I’ve come to actually relates to something that Scott Adams, the guy that does Dilbert, wrote in one of his books (and blogged about but the link appears to be missing) about drawing successful cartoons. He says that a cartoon should utilise at least a few of these qualities:

  • Cute
  • Naughty
  • Bizarre
  • Clever
  • Recognisable
  • Cruel

I’m not sure that writing songs has exactly the same requirements, but there’s certainly an overlap. One of my favourite recent tracks is “You Only Tell Me You Love Me When You’re Drunk.” The first time you hear the title your reaction might be to think it’s funny. But the music and other lyrics are kind of sad and beautiful. And at the same time it’s almost universally recognisable. We may not have been there but we can imagine what it would be like. Each element might work individually but together they’re a killer combination.

But then, perhaps there is something to Adams’ original list. “I’m with stupid” is pretty cruel if you’re George Bush (funny otherwise); doing the sound-track to an early, black-and-white, silent, Russian film is quite bizarre; posing with a small dog on the sleeve of “Introspective” could be called ‘cute’; and appearing naked in front of the Queen is quite naughty. That last bit is on their album ‘Very’ and not some Jarvis Cocker-eque act of rebellion.

Anyway, back to the gig. I would never have remembered the set list unaided, but I did find a very helpful website that did the job for me. I created an iTunes iMix3 if you want to recreate the gig in your own living room:

  1. Something that I’ve noticed is that pretty much all of my closest friends are passionate about music. Not necessarily the same kind of thing as me, but they’re all above your typical couple of dozen CDs. []
  2. Such are the perils of being INTP. []
  3. Unfortunately the list isn’t entirely complete. iTunes didn’t have all the tracks in the same format I have, even though I decided against including the original Bobby Orlando version of “West End Girls”! []

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You scored as Scientific Atheist, These guys rule. I’m not one of them myself, although I play one online. They know the rules of debate, the Laws of Thermodynamics, and can explain evolution in fifty words or less. More concerned with how things ARE than how they should be, these are the people who will bring us into the future.

Scientific Atheist


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Double Standards?

Microsoft have been getting lots of press recently because of their new Zune music player. One of its major features is its wireless interface that lets you share music; even most of the advertising talks about the social implications1. But let’s have a quick look at that functionality in more detail.

If I decide that I want to expend an hour of battery life in order to see other Zunes in the area, what can I do? Most famously you can transfer songs. As I’m sure you’ve heard by now, there are limits. When I receive a song, I can play it three times or hang onto it for three days2 but after that all I get is an electronic post-it note reminding me about it. Clearly a lot of thought and a lot of engineering effort has gone into these limitations.

What about movies? Sorry, bad news here. You can’t transmit them at all.

Zune can also store pictures. What limits have Microsoft provided to protect photographers?

The answer, it turns out, is none. You can transfer as many pictures as you like to as many people as you like. Once transferred, they are visible indefinitely and can even be copied to further Zunes.

Er, hello? Double standards?

I imagine that the main argument is that most people don’t have a bunch of professional photographs on their computers but do have commercial music. How far can we get with that line of thinking? Well, in fact, there is a certain logic in that. Most people don’t write their own music, even with relatively simple to use applications like Garageband, but they do have large collections of holiday snaps.

However the argument starts to fall down when you start to think about movies. Do people have only commercial movies and nothing personal? I don’t think so. While it is possible to rip a DVD and put it on your iPod it’s legally dubious, non-trivial (because of the CSS scrambling scheme) and time consuming (transcoding to MP4 takes a long time even on quick machines). Even if you use P2P software to download an illegal copy it’s likely to be is DivX format which cannot be used directly by the Zune, so that time-consuming transcoding step returns. My guess is that people are, in fact, much more likely to have home movies. Of course, if you made the movie you’ll also own the copyright for and are quite likely to want to send to friends and family. Certainly my wedding video has done the rounds and my attempts on a Segway has been distributed fairly widely.

That being the case, then why are the limitations on distributing movies even more severe than that for music? There’s a definite mismatch between desired usage patterns and the programmed restrictions.

So where have the restrictions come from and why do they vary so widely? Maybe a clue can be found in the fact that Microsoft are paying the RIAA $1 for each Zune sold.

Why would Microsoft do that? Clearly, in the US, the RIAA, for music, and the MPAA, for movies, hold a lot of sway. But for photographers? I’m not aware of a single organisation that has the same level of influence.

I’m sure Reuters and PA protect the copyright of their own images, but who protects everyone else? Perhaps this is because while movies and music require large teams, photography is more often a solo activity but certainly it has no relation to the value of the medium.

Ultimately I think this is another strike against the draconian DRM measures that are currently being applied to movies and music. I have nothing against digital rights management in the abstract, but implementations that restrict or remove rights that you already have by law just make the music labels and movie distributors look like money-grabbing opportunists.

  1. It amuses me that with all the money that Microsoft has, the best their marketing people can come up with to describe this is “squirting.” At best that sounds comic, at worst somewhat rude. What were they thinking? []
  2. Even this, it turns out, is a simplification. At least one of the major record labels has forbidden wireless sharing of their music entirely. Unfortunately they don’t tell you about this until you actually try to transfer the file yourself. Is this legal? Is it not a case of adding restrictions after the sale? []