Monday, September 08, 2014

Film: Masquerade



Marking a change from the twisted, brutal revenge thrillers that South Korea excels at producing, Masquerade is a wonderfully sumptuous, comedic tale of high level switcheroo at the royal courts. When the king is poisoned by insiders, his aides manage to find a look-a-like (played by the same actor of course) to cover his absence so as not to give away the fact that the king is actually on his death bed. The replacement starts of as a joker simpleton who starts off taking orders and performing to script, but he soon goes on to learning the way of the courts and making ethical, impactful decisions, instead of remaining a stand-in puppet. Highly recommended.

****

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Film: Klitschko




I didn't think a documentary about two boxing brothers would be particularly interesting but this is a great film and fills the viewer with admiration for the Klitschko duo. The brothers come across as humble, simple and yet highly intelligent. Interestingly, while the young brother is still a boxing professional, the older brother retired from the sport and is currently mayor of Kiev, Ukraine.

****

Saturday, September 06, 2014

TV: Hell on Wheels (Seasons 1-3)


It's not quite up there with Breaking Bad but Hell on Wheels is a great, overlooked Western from AMC. It's set during the great railway expansion from East to West, when railways were at each others throats, corruption was rife, much of the terrain largely unknown, and threats around every corner. The protagonist in the series is the mostly admirable Cullen Bohannen, a simple guy with a code of ethics that reminds me of the typical cowboy (here I am talking about the cowboys as played by Clint Eastwood in the movies that dotted my childhood - men of few words, sometimes hell bent on revenge, and always with a deep sense of right and wrong).

The story arc is kind of weird and kind of hotch-potch, but there's plenty of entertainment packed into 40 minutes and and the production quality is first rate.

Worth a look-see.

****

Golf - a repeat performance

I almost forgot to mention that I played a round of golf earlier in the week, once again completing nine holes for a score of 46. It's not a bad performance by any means but as fair-weather player, the window of opportunity to crack 45 is fast closing . On the upside, this will give me a clear target for 2016 and may encourage a few visits to the driving range in the off season.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Struggle


 climb the mountain by sunrise666 on deviantART

“There is scarcely any passion without struggle.”

- Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays


You False Masters of Serenity

Damn all you
false masters of serenity,
gurus of the happy.

Struggle
is what it means
to be alive and free.

- David Budbill, from Moment to Moment: Poems of a Mountain Recluse (1999)

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Some existential quotes


"Why can't you have normal existential angst, like all the other boys?"

The above xkcd comic has been posted on my blog several times now, but hey, it's deep and meaningful right?

Below are some relevant quotes culled from the internet:
"The very meaninglessness of life forces man to create his own meaning. Children, of course, begin life with an untarnished sense of wonder, a capacity to experience total joy at something as simple as the greenness of a leaf; but as they grow older, the awareness of death and decay begins to impinge on their consciousness and subtly erode their joie de vivre, their idealism — and their assumption of immortality. As a child matures, he sees death and pain everywhere about him, and begins to lose faith in the ultimate goodness of man. But, if he’s reasonably strong — and lucky — he can emerge from this twilight of the soul into a rebirth of life’s elan. Both because of and in spite of his awareness of the meaninglessness of life, he can forge a fresh sense of purpose and affirmation. He may not recapture the same pure sense of wonder he was born with, but he can shape something far more enduring and sustaining. The most terrifying fact about the universe is not that it is hostile but that it is indifferent; but if we can come to terms with this indifference and accept the challenges of life within the boundaries of death — however mutable man may be able to make them — our existence as a species can have genuine meaning and fulfillment. However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light."
- Stanley Kubrick.


"All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better." -
Ralph Waldo Emerson

"I would like to beg of you, dear friend, as well as I can, to have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books written in a foreign language. Do not now look for the answers. They cannot now be given to you because you could not live them. It is a question of experiencing everything. At present you need to live the question."
– Rainer Maria Rilke

"Even if things are as bad as they could possible be, and as meaningless, then matters of truth are themselves indifferent; we may as well please our sensibilities and, with as much spirit as we can muster, go out with a buck and a wing."
– Annie Dillard

"Since water still flows, though we cut it with swords,
And sorrow returns, though we drown it with wine,
Since the world can in no way satisfy our cravings,
Let us loosen our hair tomorrow and go fishing."
– Li Po


Tech: Keyboard change


A keyboard is a pretty odd impulse purchase but when I saw this waterproof Logitech keyboard going for a mere £8, I had to take the 'plunge'. I've only been using the keyboard for about a week, but it is surprisingly enjoyable to use. The keys produce a slight click when pressed, which reminds me of a typewriter, and the white and black contrast and nice spacing between the keys lends modern, clean look to the unit. The keyboard also comes with a neat little cleaning brush attached to the underside, something which surely should be standard on all keyboards. Importantly, I can rest at ease as I drink my coffee around my workstation.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Golf - a decent score before falling apart at the seams

This May I achieved a personal best at my local golf course, completing 9 holes for a total of 45. The scorecard included five pars and all was proceeding rather smoothly, right to the end, but then the pressure of the final hole proved too much and I crumpled and folded in on myself, completing the last par-5 hole for an abysmal score of 9.

Today I went around the same 9 holes in 46 shots. The first 8 holes included decent tee shots all the way, as well as some pretty decent iron play, but the putting was mediocre and costly. And guess what, the cursed final hole had it's dirty way with me; once again I collapsed on the par 5 and it took a painful 8 shots to complete.

My game has been all over the place this year, a real helter-skelter performance, but the fact that I can string together a few good holes fills me with hope for a decent round and keeps me coming back for more self-inflicted pain and punishment. This is the disease commonly known as golf.


Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Poem: Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley

Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley is a powerful, short poem that serves as a reminder to remain humble and not to fool oneself into believing that anything one does will stand the test of time. It also gets bonus points for having been recited by Ben Kingsley in a tv commerical, and by Bryan Cranston for the final season of Breaking Bad. Both videos are below.

See here, here and here for more on the meaning of the poem.






Ozymandias

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: `Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear --
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.'


New comic site...for me anyways


I've added Abstruse Goose to my online comic viewing roster. Other geeky comics in the roster include SMBC and XKCD.


: )

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Film: Expendables 3


After seeing the low ratings from both critics and the general audience. I was a tad hesitant about watching the The Expendables III. However, on "cheap Tuesday" such chances can afford to be taken, and Ex3 proved a chance worth taking. The cheese is laid on thick and fast in this third installment of this geriatric actioner, and the story is little more than a vehicle for lots of set piece action, but the action is first rate, delivering endless variety of shooting, fighting and blowing-up of all kinds of buildings and modes of transport. Also, the naff dialogue makes it all the better for not taking itself too seriously, even if many of the lines could have done with some re-work. The question is where can Stallone take the franchise next? The veteran Expendables seem to be on their way out while the young bucks lack sufficient appeal and brawn to carry the franchise to new grounds. Let's see where Sly takes it.

***1/2

Monday, August 25, 2014

smbc comic


Friday, August 15, 2014

Film: Guardians of the Galaxy


Guardians of the Galaxy is as crazy as it looks. It is great fun, takes itself lightly, and doesn't suffer a dull moment. The movie is pure popcorn fun, and I look forward to the sequel. Oh, and the soundtrack kicks.

****

Rocket Raccoon: [about Drax] Metaphors go over his head.
Drax the Destroyer: NOTHING goes over my head!... My reflexes are too fast, I would catch it.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

A few more South Korean movies

Using the Hola location unblocker, I've been able to watch a bunch of South Korean movies that are not available on Netflix UK. All three movies fall in to the South Korean revenge genre, a category I think may have kickstarted by the classic movie Oldboy - this film which was my gateway in to South Korean cinema. The stand-out movie in the bunch is "I Saw the Devil", which is up there with the best of them (think Oldboy, New Order, The Man from Nowhere, A Bittersweet Life, and The Good The Bad and The Weird).


I Saw the Devil
****1/2

A Company Man
***

Confession of a Murder
***

With Hollywood's well of originality running drier than the Atacama Desert, it's no surprise that I Saw the Devil is being remade for Western audiences. It's a shame, as I think the studios are repeatedly shooting themselves in the foot. If they simply bought the distribution rights to movies like Oldboy and I Saw the Devil, and marketed them like Western movies, I reckon they could really open audience's eyes to some foreign gems and leave them wanting more (witness the surge in interest in subtitled Scandinavian programmes in the UK). Instead, we get flat remakes that seem rather pointless.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Book: A Greedy Man in a Hungry World


Congratulations to Jay Rayner for writing a wise yet entertaining book about global food issues. Rayner takes the widest lens possible, looking at how rising populations (the UN predicts a rise to 9bn by 2050 and says that we will need to double food production by 2030) along with rising incomes in the emerging economies, primarily China, are overhauling the dynamics of the global food supply chain. The theme throughout the book is that our focus on local, organic, seasonal produce is a side issue, almost a non-issue in the grand scheme, and that while it may be hard to swallow, sustainable intensification may be the only way forward.

While Rayner has a clear opinion on most issues, he does well to consider the good and bad points of every argument and importantly, he comes armed with an abundance of well sourced facts. He also travels the world to report on the food production landscape from direct experience. Importantly, Rayner's conversational style of writing, which includes a fair chunk of personal, food related reminiscences, makes the book an easy swallow.

*** 1/2

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Wimbledon 2014

Alas, the annual Wimbledon tennis frenzy is over. The women's final this year was an extremely one sided affair, lasting just around an hour. The quality of tennis from the champion (Kvitova) was first rate but her opponent (Bouchard) didn't get a look in. With Wimbledon finals tickets for going for a song, I'm sure many people felt a little cheated, although in compensation they did get to witness a fantastic doubles final later in the evening. In contrast, the men's final this year (Federer vs Djokovic) was a finely balanced, grade A, balls to the wall, nerve wracking, knuckle biting, sweat inducing, battle of strength, stamina and skill. Kitchen sinks were thrown over and over, lapses were punished, and come backs were swift. The match was a four hour masterclass in in class and fortitude by two great ambassadors of the game. Tennis was the winner, along with Djokovic. Federer also proved to the armchair doubters that he still has what it takes, although I'm sure he doesn't give a jot about what the scribblers from the sidelines think. The guy still loves the game and it shows.

Saturday, July 05, 2014

Mobile phone renewal

Here is a picture of the phones I've had over the years:



I received the last phone six years ago, in 2008. Here it in the close up:



Nokia 6300

Apart from a few nicks and scratches, the old work horse has held up surprisingly well over the years. However, in recent weeks, the battery wouldn't hold its charge for more than a few minutes of talk time and it was also worryingly swollen to the point where I could hardly get the back plate back on.

I did look at a few smart phones as potential replacements but in the end opted for a new battery (just £2.99) and a SIM-only EE deal for £9.99 a month (12 mth contract), which includes 500 minutes talk time and 500 texts and also still includes a valuable, free home broadband deal which I took up way back when. Hopefully, the little solid brick will keep going for a little while longer.  : )

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Wimbledon 2014

A few pics from the first day of the tournament ... managed to get my paws on Court 1 tickets!




And here are some rapid fire stills of Tsonga serving and striking a clean back hand:



Monday, June 16, 2014

A few films recently watched on Netlfix

The Hola.org Firefox Add-on is still working a treat, providing access to the much wider Netflix US movie catalogue. Recent movies enjoyed include:

- Never Back Down 2 (featuring and directed by Michael Jai White) 4/5
- New Order (excellent South Korean cop/mafia movie along the lines of The Departed) 4.5/5
- Drug War (an over rated Hong Kong crime procedural) 3/5
- The Grandmaster (a good movie from Wong Kar-Wai, but perhaps a touch too much style over substance) 3.5/5

A nice quote from The Grandmaster: 'In life, ability isn't everything. Some thrive in light, others in shadows. The times make us who we are'.

- Jiro Dreams of Sushi (exquisite documentary about devotion and dedication to perfection) 4/5


Sunday, June 08, 2014

Annual hayfever update

The hayfever medicine cabinet contains an ever growing list of products. For those who don't suffer, trust me, it is a right pain in the ***. You feel all bunged up like you have a cold. You can't concentrate and are forever sneezing, rubbing your eyes, and blowing your nose. This is the plague of the modern era and it sucks.

This year my arsenal comprises:

- Cetrizine Hydrochloride - when I first developed hayfever, half of one of these tablets would clear up the itchy eye and sneezing symptoms almost immediately. However, their effectiveness has decreased each year and now they are only a modest help (they are at least off patent so are cheap to buy). These days the runny nose, itchy eyes and sneezing must all be adressed individually.
- Eye drops containing that sodium cromoglicate - used as needed for itchy eyes. Good stuff.
- Pirinase nasal spray contains fluticasone propionate - used last night and I had a great sleep with no runny nose. Seems to be at least as good as Beconase.
- Sudafed Decongestant with Pseudoephedrine. These tablets are the manna from the gods for those days when the nose doesn't stop dripping like a tap. I used to end up blowing my nose so much that it would start bleeding. Last year, I couldn't get a hold of Sudafed with this active ingredient and really suffered as a result. Note, these tablets are only available from the pharmacist, no prescription required. The substance is quite potent and is banned in many sports and is also used a precursor in the production of crytsal meth. In some other countries, its sale is much more tightly regulated and requires identification etc. You know its good stuff when it's on a restricted substance list! 

If the meds don't solve the problem this year, I may have to perform the annual ritual of making my bedroom into a clean 'safe zone'. I'll avoid this if I can though, because it is nigh on impossible to keep the window closed in summer, and once it's opened, it's game over and all the effort is wasted.

Relegated for now:

- Prevalin - turned out to be a complete waste of money last year. The dispenser was ineffective and it didn't do much more than coat the nose with a protective layer, which a few sneezes or nose blows would render useless.
- Sudafed Blocked Nose Tablets containing Phenylephorine Hydrochloride - these looked very similar to the Sudafed Decongestant Tablets described above but the active ingredient is nowhere near as helpful. To date I would say they have only been about 25% effective, if that. Definitely a waste of money.
- Beconase containing Beclomatsone Dipropionate - this was clearly effective last year, but this year I wanted to try something different.


See the below graphic to figure know your enemy:

Pollen in the UK
The pollen season separates into three main sections:

  1. Tree pollen - late March to mid-May.
  2. Grass pollen - mid-May to July.
  3. Weed pollen - end of June to September
Source: metoffice.gov.uk