Friday, December 06, 2013

The Mandela Legacy

Less than a day after the sad death of Nelson Mandela I have already seen two Facebook friends share onward photo comments that slam David Cameron as a hypocrite for comments he 'might' make about the man's death in light of claim that he was instrumental in producing the 1985 'Hang Mandela' poster and that he went on a pro apartheid fact finding trip to South Africa paid for by the anti sanction lobby in 1989. Now I'm no fan of Mr Cameron, but firstly these 'facts' are not all true to start with - yes he did indeed go on the mentioned trip, but the poster allegation there is not evidence for at all. The Facebook posts claim he was a top member of the FCS student organisation that produced these posters, whereas he was a fairly passive member of the student body (most reports say he wasn't much interested in politics in his student days) and the posters themselves, although may have been produced by some members of the FCS, were not produced by the FCS itself and do not mention the FCS on them.
This though is not the thing that grieves me the most. No, what does is that the astonishing legacy that Nelson Mandela left was a South Africa that did not revert to civil war post apartheid, but instead was a society he nurtured to put the past behind them. It was not about revenge or hate. It was about forgiveness and cooperation; about ending the hatred and racial inequality - not replacing one injustice with another.
As one of his prison friends mentioned, Mandela said not to hate the white guards that oversaw them, but engage with them, make them your friends and thus the world can be changed for the better.
So my sadness now is that I think Mandela would be weeping tears of sorrow to think that people were reacting to his death by posting messages of scorn, hatred and blame.
His legacy should be one of love, forgiveness and rising up to the challenge of creating a better world!

Saturday, June 01, 2013

An Open Letter to Greek Taverna Owners

Greek cuisine can be some of the tastiest food in the world, and there is nothing now short of the Apocalypse that might stop me from returning again and again to Greece to enjoy it's lovely flavours and the hospitally of the country's wonderful people. However with at least a generation of taverna owners having been in business since the start of the package tour holiday business that have brought us Brits (for better or worse) to your many islands and beautiful mainland resorts, there are a few things that may help you to stay ahead of the competition if you can understand their significance to our British psyche.

1) toilets are not an afterthought. Many Brits will actually come in to your bar or taverna and buy a drink just so they don't feel guilty asking to use the toilet. Hence if they know you have nice toilets there's an extra bit of passing trade to be had here... "I'm busting! Shall we stop at Nikkos' bar?"...." Nah, lets go next door to Spiros's place, he's got locks on the door!"
There's about four basics that the Brit wants to see:- A clean toilet, a toilet roll, a lock for the door and last but not least a toilet seat! The cold porcelain to sit on just doesn't do it for us.

2) Nescafé is a brand name, not a just a label to say there isn't a layer of coffee grinds in the bottom of the cup. To us Brits if you say something is Nescafé then we're expecting a mug of instant coffee, not something that arrives with a foamy head on it that would sit proud on the average pint of Guiness.

3) Look up the meaning of the word special. Everything on the menu cannot be special, served on special plates with a special wine, in special glasses at a special price. Use the word too much and we really do start doubting the sincerity.

4) Tea is a hot drink. Most of us now understand that Greece has a slower pace of life and chill out enough on holiday that we're not bothered that things take a little longer to happen than we are used to in Britain. So a wait until the drinks arrive is fine, but tea takes a little time to brew in hot water, and a geological era to brew in luke warm. So when a cup of tepid water arrives with a tea bag waiting still in it's individual envelope on the saucer having not yet been close to being dampened, you should not be surprised when you hear the same phrase from the over 40's of the UK who with a grimace, chant, "Ooooo, they've no idea about tea over 'ere, do they?"

5) Taverna Greek has certain rules of etiquette. Some of us Brits make a stab at trying to learn the language a little and most that try after about 30 years of practice may achieve a level of competency known as 'Taverna Greek' which to keep us happy needs to be responded to according to certain rules. Firstly, it should not be ignored, even if your only reply is "po po, poli kala!", before you switch back to English and hope we don't befoul your classical language any further with our bumbling attempts. Secondly though, and probably far more importantly, if we've managed to ask for two beers and a saganaki correctly even down to pronoun gender and plurality, this does not indicate we are in any way fluent, and so launching into a full speed interrogation in your native tongue asking "how we learnt it?", "did we go to night class?", "How long have we lived here?", and "What do we think of the latest political scandal?", will only result in a look of utter confusion and mutterings of, "shall we just get egg and chips tomorrow at Zorba's where that welsh lass works?"
So humour us, don't ignore us, and certainly don't baffle us with the language, and we'll be back to assault your ears another night over a 'special' Mousaka.

Then again all these things together with menus full of 'Rost Lamp', 'Fried Squits' and 'beef steaks' that end up being burgers, are probably part of the charm of what makes Greece such a wonderful, friendly and rich culture for me, that brings me back time and time again. Would I want any of it to change? Probably not. As the man from Shirley Valentine said, "Greece would be alright....if it were more like Spain!" Well, no it certainly would not, and if you want your ideal home toilets, egg and chips, no risk of gritty coffee, and a perfect cuppa, then bog off back to the Costas and leave Greece for me.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Vengeance is a dish best served cold

The events in Woolwich have without doubt caused complete uproar and within that will be those who feel justified in wanting vengeance. I am not one to judge if it is right to do so or not in that my first reaction was that I wised the police had targeted the assailants knee caps with gunfire and then left them to die in agony. But amid all this, my fear if that vengeance is all too likely to be misguided, and a 'Daily Mail' style backlash will target Muslims.
Please let us remember, those that commit these atrocities are totally evil wankers and they may say they are doing something in the name of Allah, but as 99% of all Muslims would concur, Allah has nothing whatsoever to do with this. There are evil people from every religion, nation, and walk of life. There always has been and there always will be, but did we, for example, take vengeance on the Icelandic people as they descended for the Arian stock the Nazis considered superior for the horrificcrimes of  the Third Reich? No, and just as we do not target blond haired blue eyed people, neither should we target mosques and Muslims.
Lets not stoop to the same level as these evil bastards, but resist evil and strive to be better in the face of it. Use a little cold logic to temper the hot vengeance.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Finer Things In Life

A strange duality is occurring as I get older when it comes to those diminishing levels of return that comes with greatly escalating investment. Back when I was young I was very keen on my HiFi, and although I was never in a position to afford to high end stuff (that end of the market where vinyl is still very much king, CDs are sneered at, and the mention of an MP3 is like inferring carnal knowledge of someone's mother) but I was always spending much time reading the magazines to determine what the experts considered the best quality kit that could be afforded if I routed 80% of my student grant to deck, amp and speakers, and lived off pasta in white sauce with green beans for the whole rest of term. And at the end of the day, I probably spent most of the time just pretending I could hear the 'startling increase in bass definition and subtle warmth in the high end vocals' from one HiFi setup to the next.
Nowadays, I think I'm a little more pragmatic about things, and for the amount of time I end up listening to music, that accursed MP3 file in it's little metal iHome that he shares with 8764 of his mates, is just far to easy and convenient to ignore, and the bits of old HiFi now sit in the transistor and valve graveyard of an attic waiting for that mythical time when I'll 'get them fixed up properly'.... Yeah, right!
So I've settled for something decent enough and usable. But strangely, the converse is now true in other areas where I'm now far more willing to throw extra money into things to try that little extra, again probably without have the ability personally to make the distinctions. With some items it's a matter of 'just in case' such as the mattress topper we bought the other day. Having gone through the shop looking at them all, of course they seemed to be better and better the more expensive they expected, and when dealing with the possibility of ensuring my wife gets the best possible night's sleep (and hence my best possible waking day) then it just seemed to make sense to say, let's have the best we can. Did I feel like I'd had any better night's sleep? I'm really not sure, but I still don't begrudge spending the dosh there.
With wine however, I seem to be caught in a bit of that same youthful feeling I had about HiFi. I so want to be able to appreciate the difference between the 'levels' of wine value and actually do enjoy a decent bottle more than others, but once you get beyond the realms of what the 'average' person might spend on a bottle, can I tell the difference? I so want to be able to, and at the same time my logical mind says, 'hope for your wallet's sake that you can't!'
I've always said that it has to be a very, very dire bottle of red before I'll actually not enjoy drinking it (in fact I can still count on one hand the occasions when I've had a problem drinking a red), so I was quite content quaffing the contents of the Coop box of cab-sav on offer, but I could instantly tell a huge leap in yumminess when switching to a delicious Californian cab-sav from Charles Smith at about the £10 a bottle mark. Yeah! My aspiration to wine snobbery seems to be happening, but then I went from that to the converted bottle of Amarone that I parted with £25 for as it was on offer at half price. Hmmmm, now here is the most expensive bottle of wine I've ever bought, so again just like my student HiFi days, I'm not going really high end (it's no 'chateau d'ReMortgage'), but I guess it's fine wine much in the same way my amplifier and speaker were HiFi as opposed to being a 'stereo centre'. And what did it taste like? Well very, very nice it has to be said.... But at the end of the day, it looks like my logic and wallet are going to win, as nice as it was, being brutally honest, I couldn't say for one moment it was any nicer that the Charles Smith of the night before.
So for wine at least, I think I have found my level beyond which the diminishing returns are tending to zero. I wonder what the next luxury item will be that will start to tug at my wallet and ingrained desire to be a snob :)

Friday, January 11, 2013

Adam's Apple - Information Consumers from Eden to Ebay

It's said by some that sin came into the world when Adam succumbed to temptation and took a bite out of the apple, and like most things sinful, I'm guessing that until he did all the guilt trip hiding behind bushes and fig leaves once he realised he was tackle out in public, he though, "boy, does this taste good or what!". I'm also guessing that the munching did not stop at a single fruit, but rather many a 'om, nom, nom!' could be heard for much of the day as Adam chomped through a major banquet worth of deliciously sinful helpings of juicy knowledge laden edibles. He became the world's first information consumer; an addict for knowing more whether he needed to or not (not, being the case as far as the big G was concerned in this instance).
And humankind have been on the same track ever since. In this latter age of course we have come full circle and the information consumer 'apple' we bite into is the corporate giant of the same name, and indeed I, like Adam, have succumbed and am typing this on one of my many 'i' devices.
Of course Apple, like the whispering serpent, would very much like me to continue consuming too, and if I want to maintain my addiction to information I have a hard time resisting their insidious whispering to buy and upgrade to the latest and best iDevice. Don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to equate Apple with Satan here; they are not (subjective opinion) evil as such. More they are just extremely annoying as they have a fairly aggressive strategy to ensure you keep buying more and more hardware. To illustrate, I recently came to the end of my contract with Orange for my Windows Phone, which as I'm sure I have mentioned before, I really didn't take to much (it still seems absurd that the only phone OS that can't directly sync with Microsoft Outlook is the only one written by Microsoft), so was keen to take the opportunity to switch to a lower tariff, sell the Windows Phone and buy something else. And of course having previously invested in an iPad, I followed the same logic (even though it had turned out to be flawed in the Microsoft instance) and went for an iPhone for compatibility's sake. All was well and good until I did the same for my wife (her Nokia never really recovered from a dunk in the toilet) and accidentally bought the iPhone 3G instead of the 3GS. It hadn't occurred to me that there would be much difference and I guess I didn't do my research properly. Here is where I first came across the deliberate manifestation of that strategy, as the 3G will only support iOS up to 4.1.something, and Apple themselves will only support 4.3 and above. At first glance this is all normal and the same as the policy of most IT companies, but the point here is that Apple don't just drop support for the older OS and hence the older hardware, but positively make it harder for people to use the older technology. The developers for apps are given toolkits to test and the older OS modules are deliberately removed from these so that the applications cannot be created to be backwards compatible. Probably the first most obvious one of these was the Facebook app that would not run on the iPhone 3G. On more traditional computer systems it wouldn't be a problem as you can go get the older version of the application that does work on the older OS, but as iOS needs it apps to be loaded via the App Store online, then we just don't have access to the older versions and so slowly and surely the older iDevices will become more and more worthless.
Quite how worthless I will soon find out as ebay hosts my current listing for an iPhone 3G that is being 'sold due to upgrade' :)
And now that my wife and I both have shiny new (well slightly newer second hand actually) iPhones with access to the whole world of knowledge and information to gorge on.....what will we actually do with them? Well 99% of the time we'll look at cute pictures of fluffy animals doing strange things and post the words 'beer o'clock' every Friday. Adam, was it really worth the fall from grace?

Sunday, January 06, 2013

3D Was Jonny Woo ahead of his time?

As I mentioned on Facebook the other day, I had the great misfortune to watch 'Journey 2: The Mysterious Island' and decided that it was one of those moments when you realise it's 91 minutes of your life you can never get back.
However the experience did leave me musing a little on the latest fad for 3D cinema which seems like it might be here to stay unlike the several previous attempts in the decades gone by - for some reason 'The Creature From The Black Lagoon' and 'Jaws 3D' never converted the world to thinking that 3D was the new talkies. This outing for the technology seems to be lasting with TV channels (or channel at the moment) and home equipment making it much more accessible.
Unfortunately I just don't like it for a variety of reasons. Firstly, things looks unrealistic in 3D, as the way it's portrayed on the screen is not how the eye sees in reality. There's just too much in focus! Look up from this screen for a moment and at the nearest wall - the wall will be in focus as you look at it and the computer screen will be out of focus. Look back at the screen and that will come into focus and the wall will be out of focus. This doesn't happen on a movie however. Every level is in focus, so what you end up with is a sense of 'layers' rather than a continual depth. The director can never focus and de-focus individual objects on screen to reproduce 'real' viewing as he can't know which bit of the screen you'll be looking at at any time. So 3D actually ends up producing just 'cool looking' special effects rather than something realistic.
That then, plus the crappy glasses you have to wear, are my problems with the technology, but my bigger gripe with 3D is with what the movie makers do with it. 'Journey 2' was a good example of these issues (well it had to be good for something). Now it has to be said I wasn't watching the 3D version of this film, but this in part serves to illustrate one of my points. It was very obvious the 'bits' of the movie where the 3D effect was supposed to 'wow' you and hopefully they were far more successful than it's predecessor (Journey To The Centre Of The Earth, which used the red and green cardboard glasses on the DVD and in which sadly the best bit of 3D was a dripping tap), but there was no other substance to the movie. It seemed like the entire plot and action was just engineered around setting up cool 3D sequences. And that's just lazy - 3D should try to enhance a movie, not be the sole purpose of the movie.
In 2D of course all these effects didn't just not work, but the way they are filmed make the scene look just a bit 'odd' - generally everything goes into slow motion and there's random objects floating in the screen that just look out of place. I remember Jonny Woo always overdosed his movies with slow motion, and the standing joke was that at normal speed you'd only get a movie half the length of anyone else's. We have the same here; Journey 2 is only 91 minutes to start with, so once you have taken the slow motion out you've probably only got an an hour or so left - no wonder the plot seemed a tad light.
The other problem with this use of slow motion, is you just get very, very bored with it. Sometimes slow motion enhances things, as Attenborough's recent Africa documentary showed with a battle between two giraffes, which just looks like an almost playful scuffle at full speed, but in slow motion you can see the ripples of force the impacts of head butting causes, and get a better idea of the serious nature of the fight. However, when every time there's a special effect the movie goes into slow motion then you just end up groaning whenever it's kicks in.
Lastly, as I say, 3D should enhance rather than detract, and this should include respect for previous formats. Much as Dolby digital and DTS sound systems made a huge difference to the surround and the 'oomph' of a movie's soundtrack (I'll always remember the thrumming in the chest of the sound of the pod race in Star Wars Ep. 1, even if it was the only impressive thing about that movie). To watch the movie on a regular TV will not make it sound worse than had the DTS technology not been used in the first place - it sounds better if you have DTS, but sounds no worse if you don't. 3D on the other hand, does make a movie look worse if you can only see the film in 2D, so for me I am still clinging on to that hope that I am wrong, and that this current fad will after all be as short lived as the attempts at 3D in the 50's and 70's. it's probably an eternal cry to Hollywood, but can the movie makers concentrate a bit more on making good movies first, and then tinker with the toys if you have time please?

Friday, January 04, 2013

iBlog? The shape of things to come?

Have found finally the iPad app for Blogging so perhaps this might rejuvenate this blog page as I haven't posted on here for a while now.
The sad truth is that Facebook these days seems to take care of the short musings you have and want to share and with the advent of smart phones and tablet computing, those sort of dedicated social media sites (and their associated 'i' apps) make the kind of longer more thoughtful posts that if typical of a blog site, seem just too much effort when you can sit in the pub with pint and post how happy you are that you have a pint in the pub, with such ease.
I tend now to use an iPad in preference to the laptop for most things 'social' or browser or media related these days so until I found this app for blog posting the thought of faffing about with signing on to google blogger via safari was just too much effort. but now you never know.
So, watch this space to see if it's just technology that's blocked the blogs, or if it really is that I'm just too darn lazy. :)