Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Diet Schmiet

I long ago swore that I would never go on a diet. Never ever. They seemed ineffective, horrible and a lot of the time for no other reason than to look fashionable or sexy or something. They just seemed so miserable and pointless, like some sort of self-inflicted torture. So in my mind, diets were just big fat waste of time. Apart, of course, from the diets that have medical significance- they're totally cool.

The other big, conflicting factor is that I love food! Seriously. I mean, who doesn't? Though I think I especially do. I often feel that unlike most men, who think with their brains and/or dicks (apparently), my belly does most of my thinking for me. Just this afternoon it made me go into KFC for lunch, the bastard. My brain was very angry afterwards, let me tell you. Even my brain is part of this nefarious scheme to make me fatter though. I just see food as such a wonderful, cultural experience and like to explore somewhere by both seeing locations and trying their exotic foodstuffs. You know, like KFC.

Keeping all this in mind, I have decided to go on a diet (probably). I feel it's the last possible area for me to sell out in and I like to be consistent. And get this- it's for fashion reasons, no less! As my health is, at the very least, satisfactory. However, it's not a desire to get more sexy on your asses that's driving this decision, it's financial. Yes, a few years of eating have made all my winter clothes a little too snug for comfort and cheap bastard that I am, I'd rather diet than have to buy any new ones.

Though I don't now where to start, and this is where I turn to you, my faithful handful of readers. What diets are good? Or should I just exercise more? I really have no idea where to start. So if you, like me, want a healthier, sexier Andy for winter, who looks great in his winter clothes, get writing some comments now. You'll be making the world a better place.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

The Virtual Killing Fields

Every now and again an article will appear in a video game magazine, website or blog lamenting the number of people each of us has virtually killed in our tenure as pixelated psychopaths and the increasing violence in today's games. It's an effort, I think, to bring some sort of justification to this hobby. To make it look like the vast majority of gaming fans aren't all socially retarded morons with a fixation on killing, which has been brought about by how new gaming still is and its common use as a scapegoat. Which seems odd to to me, considering every other fan base contains as high a number of these socially retarded morons. They rarely feel the need to justify them. In fact, certain hobbies often celebrate it. Not mentioning any names *cough* Football *cough*.

I, on the other hand, just like to look at these as a chance to take stock of how many people I have personally killed in the video game world. It's literally in the millions. Now a large part of that figure was through a nuclear war game called Defcon, which racked up the kill count like the score on a pinball machine (New York 11.2 million dead. Take THAT America!), so that's cheating really, and in all honesty, fairly abstract. The more telling figure is the blood on my hands through more personal means- bullet wounds, grenade blasts and the odd decapitation. It's still in the tens of thousands, distressingly. To you, I mean, not to me. I'd like to round it off to a nice even 100, 000 and then retire, a nice golden AK47 hanging on the wall as a reminder of all those I've mercilessly slaughtered. Also in case they come back as zombies, which is a real and vital occupational hazard these days.

But get this- I'm as normal as an person has the right to call themselves these days. I don't see opportunities for killing sprees when I'm out in the street. In fact, the only real way video games have effected me like that is when I was playing Tony Hawk's Pro Skateboarding too much and could see nothing but amazing grind spots everywhere. Video game violence is cathartic. It helps me relieve my stresses at the end of the day, not make me want to go out and add to them. In fact, I'd say that video games have stopped as many killing sprees as they've started (0). Not that you'd see that as a headline though.

Argh, I feel like I'm banging a drum that's been beaten many times before, when all I wanted to talk about is how much I like shooting people. I like it a lot. I'm in no hurry to stop. Worlds need to be saved and princesses have to be rescued and I'll always need to dump my stresses somewhere. So I'll continue to get my hands bloody and not give it a second thought. Care to join me?

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

The Last Piece of the Puzzle

I'd always been sliding towards being a big fan of boardgames. It was the final, inevitable step of my ascension to full geek, with honours. My whirlwind (boardgame) romance started around 6 months ago and the range and ingenuity of the games that are out there have blown my socks off. In fact, when recently asked by my girlfriend if I had now become a boardgame collector, my sighed 'Yes' spoke volumes. I love 'em.

I was going to start by saying that I've always been drawn to hobbies that sit on the margins a little more than others. But that's not the case. I've always been curious about the hobbies of people whose company I enjoy. If I like them and they like this, I want to know the reason why. It was like this for the boardgames to, in a round about way. I'd become aware of some stores that catered for boardgame fans in Taipei and through this ended up joining a group of foreigners and ne'er-do-well's. It's through them that I've really seen all that there is out there.

I had always loved the few boardgames I had played. Socially, they always felt like one of the most enjoyable things you can do. Combine the right game with a few drinks and you're in for an excellent evening. Since then, like any good medium, I've discovered just how incredibly casual and shockingly hardcore games can get. Some of the rule books could be released as books themselves to be honest. Which is great, if you ask me. I think the very best stuff is always worth putting in a bit of effort for. However, even some of the more casual games can be a stack of fun. I already have a list of games as long as my arm that I want to at least try.

Anyway, in the past few months, I've played as a waitress in a Lovecraftian horror, a giant monster rampaging through Tokyo, a grizzled renegade gunslinger and a general slowly pushing his fleet across the galaxy. Boy, does that sound nerdy when I read it back. But it was all an amazing amount of fun. Basically, play more boardgames you guys. They are great.

Friday, 29 July 2011

Like a Baby Boss

It's fair to say that life in Asian countries has become the norm for me. Things that I often raised an eyebrow at in my early days barely warrant a mention now. Though occasionally, something so brilliant is brought to my notice that I just have to write about it. Baby Boss is my greatest find. This is exactly what I've been waiting for all these years, something that so harmoniously fits with the Asian culture and attitudes, it nearly popped my head right off.

I first heard about Baby Boss from one of my Kindergarten students who eagerly showed me his 'Baby Boss' dollars. My first assumption when I saw them was 'This looks fun! Like a Disney Land sort of deal.' I asked him if it was indeed like Disney Land and he agreed, but not that enthusiastically. Because it's not like Disney Land. Not at all. If anything it's more of a Communist Universal Studios. What Baby Boss does is simulate jobs for kids. It's a big playground city where they can take on various roles and essentially see what it's like to be an adult. Great, eh? And although it does offer some cool positions, like Fireman or Astronaut (which is what I want to be when I grow up), the bulk of what is on offer isn't so hot- Gas Station Attendant, Convenience Store Clerk and Cleaner, for starters. Way to set realistic goals, people.

The mind boggles at the possibilities and the dynamics that have to be at work in that place. I've never been, but I have to imagine that some parents must insist that their child only try roles like Doctor or Dentist, while more realistic parents just let their son spend all day as a Miner- 'Well... he prefers the dark.'

But it fits, so perfectly. The drive to have productive, society ready children is a major one and it makes sense that many Asian parents would want to start early. Let's make ourselves some nice little workers before their brains have fully developed- get that work ethic right in there. I know, I am being cynical, and I'm sure it's more than a little fun, but there's a sinister overtone to the whole thing. I'm quite sure that behind the screen of these fun activities, the idea to condition kids to get used to work at a young age is there. That seems a little messed up to me. Though in all likelihood, that's just the normal reaction of someone who hails from the increasingly work-shy western world.

And it's certainly not all bad. A lot of Baby Boss's jobs do sound fun, even the dubious ones like beautician, model and 'celebrity'. And hey, this attitude certainly seems to work. I'm still blown away by how efficient people are over here and how quickly things get done. We could definitely learn a thing or two. Really, this whole thing boils down to jealousy, I guess. I just desperately want to take part in the whole Baby Boss experience. It's just tough to decide what I'd be. Model and Celebrity are obvious fits of course, but I think I'd go with Crane Operator. Another dream to check off the list.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Chinese Learnin'

I've spent, much to my disgust, a great deal of time looking at the English language in the past few years and if I've come to any real conclusion, it's this- it is a horrible, lumbering pig of a language. Be grateful that it's the language that most of you have grown up with. Learning it from scratch is no picnic. The whole thing is full of quirks and exceptions making grasping even the basics a complete nightmare for non English speakers. And then they have the added problem of having a teacher like me...

But I digress...Chinese, when compared to English, is brilliant. Well, so far at least. Structurally, it just makes sense and putting together sentences is logical and sensible. As is the way they build words. From a base word like 'teach', you can add another sound and access the whole gamut of education related words. It makes understanding through leaps in logic actually worthwhile- you'll often hit upon the right meaning or structure.

It's not entirely rosy however. Chinese is a tonal language. And if you're asking what a tonal language is, welcome to my club. Well my old club anyway. What it basically means is that certain sounds can be pronounced in one of four (or five) ways and have very different meanings. Which is tough for someone who has never really had to think like that. If I say 'APPLE', 'AppLE' or 'APple' you'd all know I'm talking about a piece of fruit. It's not the case with Chinese. Plus the vocal gymnastics required in changing tones within a sentence is straining my tongue in terrible ways. Both straining AND training, ladies (Sorry Carol).

Keep in mind all of this is from someone just starting out with Chinese and I may face other more horrifying roadblocks as I continue down this path. So look out for the second part where I bemoan how tough it is. Still, it's very satisfying learning a new language and slowly starting to understand more of what I hear out in the world. I think I always knew it would be, I'm just glad I'm finally making a real go of it. Anyway, go learn a language, I highly recommend it. It sure beats speaking English in an increasingly loud voice when those foreigners don't understand you, right?

Friday, 1 July 2011

Drama Done Good

WARNING- Spoilers within, mostly related to Game of Thrones. Oh and some Heroes stuff, but who gives a shit about Heroes, right?

Game of Thrones came to an end just last week, and reminded me how much I love it when a TV show pulls the rug from under my feet. In case you didn't see, in episode 9 of the show, a major character lost a body part that was key to his very survival. The uproar was amazing. Lots of outrage and a hefty dose of complaining- why was he killed? I liked him! Bring him back! Sitting back and watching all this, it was hard to say which I enjoyed more- the event itself or the reaction to it. As for me is how all TV should be, producing real moments that people actually want to talk about.

However a lot of people weren't happy. They're not used to this sort of thing. Which made me wander what the average person wants from a TV show. Judging by the vast majority of content, they want something relatively unchanging, with nice neat plots that get wrapped up by the end of each episode. No consequences, thank you very much, and definitely no real surprises. What is the point of drama if it's accepted that certain characters are safe? That doesn't seem like drama to me. I guess it's what the casual viewer wants, though. But to quote David Simon, 'Fuck the casual viewer.'

I do get that some people want to just come in, switch off and let a TV show wash over them. But is it what people really want? Or is it something they've just been conditioned to expect? Making drama to cater for this attitude is certainly a lot easier for the networks. Personally, I find it difficult to really enjoy something when I know that the main characters are never going to be in real jeopardy. Because if you lose a big name, well think of the viewing figures. And the ad revenue. That guy cost a lot of money, you know. It creates a system were many shows need to follow a pre-prescribed path and the only risks are managed ones.

Heroes was probably the worst offender for this that I've seen. A show with little in the way of forethought, consequences or script. Kill someone in season one? Look, he's back! And it's Malcolm McDowell no less! As a ghost type thing, possibly! It felt to me like the show's creator, Tim Kring, had stepped out of the TV and shat directly into my mouth. At least I stepped away from the show at that point. Normally I wait around like an abused spouse until the bitter end.

I learned from these mistakes, and I have become better, and possibly, a lot more snobby. Though if snobbishness is wanting my media to be challenging and well made, then I'm OK with it. Sadly, this whole effect is not confined to just TV shows. I can think of few mediums that aren't guilty of pandering to the crowd. My other obsession, comic books, are one of the worst offenders, but that's an itch I'll never stop scratching. Still, even comic books have excellent examples of powerful storytelling, just not enough for my tastes.

Anyway, enough complaining about rubbish TV. I love good TV and Game of Thrones is exactly that. I should be celebrating how lucky we are. We're in a golden time for TV, people, and if you haven't, it is easy to mine the past 10 to 15 years for a dynamite catalogue of shows to work your way through. More than enough to wipe out your need to watch CSI. But with Game of Thrones both providing quality drama and bringing a big audience, let's hope shows like this can wipe out CSI and it's ilk altogether. Hope springs eternal.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Video Game Xmas

So Santa Mario has been again and, as is the custom, has largely brought a bag of disappointment. For the uninitiated- This years E3 started just a few days ago and being the massive geek that I am, I was very excited. Yes, I'd heard all the rumours, but what else would be unveiled on this magical week? Sod all. I don't know why I get so het up. All we ever get are the rumours confirmed and little to nothing else. Just lots of lovely, lovely shiny objects and pictures. Is it only Apple who can actually keep a secret these days?

We did get SOME nice new stuff, I'll admit. We are in the midst of two great on-going franchises, and they look to be developing in exciting ways. I am, of course, talking about Mass Effect and Assassins Creed, both of which are telling stories in very interesting ways, even if the dialogue isn't that good sometimes. They're just great games too, so I'm very excited about the next instalment for both of them.

The Wii U looks interesting, mainly because it brings back some wonderful Pacman VS memories. If they release a new Pacman VS, I'm sold. That and the fact that the new Aliens game is going to allow me to use the new controller as a motion scanner. Which is an incredible idea. The PS Vita (terrible name) was the other big hardware reveal, and it looks nice and pretty, but in the age of the tablet computer, I don't think it'll sell. We will see.

One of the other things of note was El Shaddai, a biblical themed beat-em-up, of which they've just released a demo of. It's filled the biblical beat-em-up gap in the market I've been banging on about for years thankfully, and is a great game to boot. Last Guardian and Dark Souls are also on the horizon, and both look like amazing experiences. The former will probably force me to buy a new PS3 as well, damnit.

So, this turned in to a mini E3 review of sorts rather than the bitching fest I'd anticipated. Eh, it was at least as interesting as any other year and pointed to some compelling looking games to look forward to. And a heap more shit too, obviously. Bring on next year!

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Kindergarten Diplomacy

 So I've been teaching for around two years now, on and off, and teaching Kindergarten for about a year of that, which has been pretty great to be honest. If you like kids, then getting paid to sing, dance and play games is living the dream, my friend. Though I think what's most fascinating about the experience is seeing how they deal with each other. Watching them interact tells you more about undiluted human thinking and behaviour than anything I've ever read or seen. It's like a daily version of the most adorable Shakespearean play ever, only without the murder.

Fights, to begin with, are amazing. Not physical fights, but disagreements over crayon ownership, who is whose friend and the like. These often end with a 'You're not my friend!' followed by a hopeful 'Are you my friend?' to another student not long after this. Allegiances like this are commonly formed and broken between 5-10 times daily. They normally just slip away as attention is drawn elsewhere, but treaties are often brokered with an offer of sharing or through some hilarious poo-poo related humour.

Fighting's old drinking buddy, jealousy, is rife too. If someone has something, you can be damned sure everyone else wants one. I mean, why should only they have that pen/ book/ hat right? Just another reason for fighting I suppose. So I do my best. I placate and distract, and often things are back to normality in less than five minutes. Even the very worst situations, those that involve crying, are past history in a little over ten.

The most interesting thing to me though, is the similarity to 'adult' arguments. The main difference's being that they tend to last a lot longer, and are normally only buoyed by stubbornness and a better memory. It sort of demonstrates what I've always suspected - how pointless most arguments and disagreements between friends are, at any age. Among people I have known it's a rare occasion when I ever see something good come out of an argument and it often just ends up with people who were close moving further apart.

Maybe it's an effective way to communicate for some, but I've always thought that there are better options. Actual, proper talking is a good start. And at the end of the day, most arguments aren't of any more importance than crayon ownership really. So quit arguing, you babies.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Geek Zodiac

So a friend of mine has been working on this for a while and the current, and I think final, version of it has just been released. It's a great idea and you should all check it out. They've also started some lovely, deeply tongue in cheek horoscopes that are also a lot of fun. Check them out here- Geek Zodiac

I'm not going to do this too often, but I really like this idea and I hope the two guys working on it can make a fat stack of cash from it. So go, support them! Regular-ish service will commence next week!

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Enter The Void

 'Enter the Void' is not an easy film to write about. It's not an easy film to watch either, for that matter. Yet for both of these things, it's hard not to. I've been talking about it all week now and I still find any way I try to describe it to be imprecise and unsatisfying; the experience it creates really demands that it's felt, heard and seen. Which isn't to say it's a film I'd recommend you to see, lord no, but I absolutely think it's one you should see.

'Enter The Void' concerns the life and death of a man called Oscar. A man whose eyes you you'll see the entire film through. Spoilers, I guess, but it happens fairly early on and is signposted from about 2 minutes in, so deal with it. Anyway, it's his death and the journey he takes after the fact that drives the majority of the film and creates the experience I'm talking about. Oscar spends the movie travelling through the lives of those he knew in life and revisits his past and his relationship with his sister. It's not an easy ride. Something I thought about a lot while watching the film was finding the best word I could use to describe what I was watching. Harrowing came to mind. Unsettling and disturbing, too. The problem was that none of them seemed to fit and all of them made the film sound a lot worse than it is. You see, it is hard to watch, but that's the idea. Death would be fairly unsettling, I'd imagine.
It isn't some kind of intellectual odyssey either. It doesn't answer any big questions about life and death or even really offer a good interpretation of what is or is not out there, nor does it really want to. It just forces you to think about these things in a whole new way. A way that's quite compelling, refreshing and a little scary. It's as if Gasper Noe had popped your brain open and sprinkled some fairy dust inside. The question is- how evil is that fairy dust?

Not doing the best job of selling it so far, am I? Honestly, I don't think I could if I tried. What I will say though, is that it's stunning to watch. The camera work and the use of visuals are like nothing else you'll have seen. Matched with the film's incredible sound and music it is almost otherworldly. We're presented with elements that will be familiar to all of us, but they're just a little... off. Ambitious, but director Gasper Noe handles it confidently and you never question the vision he's presenting to you. The movie has it's flaws- the acting and storyline can often be poor, but part of me thinks this was a conscious decision so as not to draw your attention away from the journey we're being taken on. It is the core of the film after all.

You know, few things have ever gotten under my skin like this has. 'Fight Club' did at first (though looking back now I sometimes wonder why) as did some Cronenberg, but what 'Enter the Void' most reminds me of is Iain Banks book 'Complicity'. Banks also puts you in someone else's shoes to great effect, and it's something that has stayed with me for about 15 years. Only in the case of Banks, he's making you a murderer, not a victim. Either way, it's a powerful narrative tool when used effectively.

It isn't for everyone. I hope I've said enough to allow you to make up your mind either way. Though it does do exactly what I think cinema should do more often- create an experience, puts you somewhere else, in someone else's life (or death) in a way that only cinema can. So, if you think you're up for it, check it out. Just don't say I (sort of) didn't warn you.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

The Third Circle of LOL

I'm kind of particular about the use of LOL - I only ever use it when I actually laugh out loud at something. Which is rare. Really rare. Why don't I laugh out loud that much? Do other people? I get the impression that most people laugh a lot more than me, to be honest. Which started me thinking about comedy in general and what it means to me and my fellow hu-mans. So I thought I'd attempt to distil into a short blog post. Ambitious. OK, you've put up with my rambling intro- prepare for it to be focused into a tight laser beam of text. Right...now...

I love comedy. Love talking about it. Love finding new funny films, shows, stand ups and clips online. I spend a lot of time looking for things that will specifically make me laugh but I often turn my nose up at most of the crap I find. Though even the good things, that I enjoy, don't often make me properly laugh. A recent example would be 'Limmy's Show', which is great. Really smart, creative and doing something genuinely interesting in the medium. I like it a lot. Did it make me laugh? Nope. Raised a few smiles, and the occasional snort, but it didn't make me actually laugh. I would absolutely say that I enjoyed it, but I can't shake the feeling that something I regard as good comedy really should though.

You know, the last show that made me properly roar with laughter is, and this is going back a bit here, Bottom. Now that's probably as much a reflection on my age at the time and when it came out, but that show would have me in tears. Considering this and my fondness for Jackass, I think it's physical comedy that really makes me laugh. Which obviously I baulk at, considering my pretentious 'The best comedy is well written comedy' ideals, but they're hilarious to me. I have no doubt that all of you have something that you find funny that you're kind of ashamed of too though. Like my relationship with 'You Don't Mess With The Zohan.' (It's a GREAT film!).

I guess this just speaks of how subjective comedy is. I love to recommend any number of things to people. It's a big part of the reason I spend so much time looking for new music, films, comics etc. But comedy? Very hard to recommend to people. I always find it so difficult to judge what an individual would find funny. I think that the majority of my friends would be surprised at the terrible shit that really tickles my black heart. It's the same for everyone I'd imagine.

Finding new comedy is vital for me though. I love to laugh and I'm always trying to find something that'll properly slay me, it's just that so few things do. Recently, one of my students was goose stepping about class in a pair of slipper/flip flop things when she kicked too hard and one of her slippers flew off, hit the wall and landed neatly in the bin. I roared with laugher. So since then, they've been trying to recreate it. But it's not the same. Which I think neatly sums up why I don't LOL too often- unlike most other entertainment, it can never be as good the second time around. In fact, for me, most comedy even struggles on it's first pass.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

One door closes....

So after months of on and off planning for it, my Canadian working holiday trip is officially off. I got a lovely personal, computer generated email from the Canadian embassy to let me know. It's bloody frustrating to be honest, but at least I finally know either way. The waiting was driving me crazy. The reason for it baffles me, however- in the past few years they've had a residency stipulation, that requires you to have spent the past three years in your home country. This seems like an odd criterion to me- I'm not sure why somebody well-travelled with a wider range of experience would be LESS suitable for a working holiday visa. Whereas Country McDumbFuck who's lived in his mothers attic for the past 10 years, working part-time at his local petrol station would be ideal, I suppose. Argh. I do get where they're coming from, to an extent. Doesn't make it any less stupid though.

Bitter? Me?

Anyway, onwards and upwards. This just frees me up to make some other plans for next year and finally get my CELTA sorted. At least that's the theory. In the short term it also allows me to buy myself a consolation iPad. That'll soothe the savage beast.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

State of the ((superhero)comic book) arts

Like the majority of comic book fans, my gateway books were all superhero titles. In the most part this is due to the fact that, well, super hero books make up the majority of what is out there. Being from the UK I had other options in the form of 2000 AD and the like, but a lot of them tapped into the same experience we all craved as youngsters- that of a talented individual (or a group) facing off against overwhelming odds. Not a lot's changed to be honest, apart from the medium I use to get my fix. I mean, I'll always love superheroes, but it seems to me that the genre that birthed them has given up trying anything challenging or new with them. It seems to me like they're just slowly letting them die. Just why are there so few good superhero comics anymore?

This all started when it occurred to me recently that of my top ten favourite superhero projects over the past few years, only one of them was a comic. The initial plan here was to give you that list but I realised that would be tip most of you over your justifiable boredom threshold. Suffice it to say- just the fucking one. From the genre that birthed the superhero. That seems shocking to me. It's only since I've been revisiting recent-ish DC and Marvel books that I've realised just how shocking the general quality is. Sure, we can rightfully bitch about the quality of so many film scripts too, but they're like 'The Catcher in the Rye' compared to your average superhero book.

I hope they weren't always like this. I hope that my early memories of comics aren't as rose-tinted as I now come to suspect they are. Really, I'm writing this in the hope that somebody will come along and go 'Look, asshole, here's an amazing superhero book. You don't know what you're talking about!'. I am horrendously out of the loop these days, after all. I'll just keep my fingers crossed as I still love the medium, and always will. There are still so many quality comic books out there, it just makes me sad that my old friends, the superheroes, seem to be getting such a short shrift these days. Apart from their non-unionised, Hollywood equivalents, of course. So, am I wrong? Is their hidden amazingness going on that I'm not aware of? Can you show me? Please?

Friday, 11 March 2011

Oh Canada....

I'm currently in the midst of applying for a Canadian working holiday visa, for those of you not in the know and it is a grim and harrowing experience. Just like a trip to Canada, I guess! Boom! Just joking Canadianite friends who peruse this blog! I'm quite sure your country is tops. Let's just hope I get to find out first hand....

Nearly all long term visas and similar schemes seem to be increasing the number of hurdles as the years go by, and I get it, I really do, but it's shitting on the little man more and more. And by little man, of course I mean me. Right now I have to get a police certificate from every country I've spent more that six months in, can only get the visa if I haven't spent more than three years in a foreign country (I'm close!) and need to sign a stack of forms declaring I'm not going to do anything unsavoury once I get there ( Your sheep are safe Canada- for now). It just drives me mad- I'm just going to go there, work hard and enjoy myself. I do treat things with respect! I will not break any laws, probably! Argh!

In a way this all happily dovetails into my 'douchebag card' system I'm going to implement once Northern Ireland rises up and seizes control of the world. The basics are this- you'd apply for said card and then be followed around by an independent adjudicator for one week over the course of the next three months. After that period of time, a ruling would be made and you'd receive a card that would either say 'Not A Douchebag' or 'Douchebag'. Having a 'N.A.D' card would bring all kinds of benefits- upgrades all over the place, drinking booze on the train and a significant reduction in the amount of paperwork you have to do, amongst many other things. Just an idea right now, but let's make it happen, people! I mean, at least 50% of you would see the benefit of this system. It's either that or we just go full on 'Judge Dredd'.

Sigh. It's only a wonderful dream. In the meantime, if you are ever applying for any work permit, visa or entry card, drop me a line. I've almost certainly been through that shit before.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Fireside chats- Lifestyle Choices

A friend and I used to while away an evening lamenting the experiences we would never have- those paths that shall always remain closed to us. True, as an individual it's possible to taste only a fraction of the things life has to offer, but it can be interesting to dwell on what could have been, even in a bitter-sweet fashion. Here, in no particular order, is a list of some of the things I've never been and never will be.

Human Trafficker

I will never be a human trafficker. There. I finally said it. Wow. It feels good, you know? Cathartic. Not that I'd ever be a human trafficker, you understand, but it's always hard to close the door on an experience. All in all, it seems like a tricky business anyway. Profitable, maybe, but tough and pretty competitive. In honesty, I think it was my upbringing that denied this world to me. Damn my middle class roots. Maybe in the next life I'll be lucky enough to be born in some Eastern Bloc nation and get to experience all the wacky adventures that brings. Fingers crossed.


Mainly because I just don't think I could deal with beatin' all dem hoes. And they need to be beat, no doubt. I can't even hit a guy, never mind a girl. Which isn't to say I'd discriminate in my choice of hoes, of course. I'd like to think I'd offer a broad portfolio of guys and girls to satisfy all potential customers. That's just Business Studies 101 right there (I'm glad I took something away from that class). Regardless of all this, my hoe beating handicap will always stop me from moving into this lucrative industry. So sad. But talking about hoes....

Rent Boy

Now, I'd imagine this will be a crushing blow for a lot of my readership, but I'm sorry, I just don't think I'll ever be into it. The worst thing is that I'm built for it. You've all seen this face. I'd be getting ass left, right and centre if I was. But it's not to be. I'll take a soft, nice smelling cute girl over a smelly, dirty dude any day. I guess I'll always be one of those damn reverse-queers. Those cries of 'You disgust me you fucking straight!' will just have to continue to haunt me til the day I die.

Proviso: Unless the money was VERY right, of course. Well, slightly right.

Fighter Pilot

Because, genetically, only my eyes are up for it. Don't tell the RAF.

So don't be shy. What lifestyle choices have you been denied by some terrible scheme of genetics, upbringing or sanity? Let's share the pain together.  

Saturday, 26 February 2011

Charlie Brooker

When I think of the people I regard as heroes, at least those of whom have a voice that speaks to me, I'd list people like Doug Stanhope, Louis CK, Stewart Lee, Adam Curtis, Charlie Brooker and of course, Kanye West. A group of sneering misanthropes if ever there was. Or so they tell me anyway. I think it's because they all expose the elements of life that we'd all rather not think about too often or even forget. Which is why I like them all, really. Though none more so than Charlie Brooker. It only occurred to me as I was watching his most recent series how much his way of thinking resonates with me and just how long I've been reading and listening to his furious, bile filed rants. Furious and bile filed perhaps, but always spot on.

I probably first read his work back when he was writing for PC Zone, though at that stage I couldn't care less who was writing the articles in magazines. They were about video games, that's all that mattered. It was only when he started writing his Guardian column and nearing the end of his work on the 'TV Go Home' website that I really started paying attention. His writing was thick with barbed insults and he readily demolished anything he set his focus on. It was great. Funny and insightful. He played for laughs and used language so effectively to achieve this, but he also tapped into the anger that any right thinking person has for so much in this world.

I think why I was such a fan is because he focused on a subject close to my heart- TV (with sly references to video games now and again). He treated it with the disdain it deserved, but was also responsible for championing some of the great moments and shows that do crop up from time to time. Through his show, 'Screenwipe', I learnt about things like Deadwood, The Wire and Rome. Shows that I came to love. He cut the wheat from the chaff like no one else.

His most recent show, and one that feels like the culmination of everything he's done so far is 'How TV Ruined Your Life'. It's exactly what it sounds like and breaks down the various ways TV has irreversibly twisted how we perceive life. Focusing on subjects like Aspiration, Fear and, most recently, Love, it's both funny and chillingly accurate but doesn't tell you anything you probably haven't thought yourself. It's just does it in a much more entertaining package.

But enough of my rambling. I don't want this to sound like too much of a love letter, I just wanted an excuse to spread the word a bit and post some links. So I'll not be pleased if I get any 'Why don't you marry him already?' comments. Besides, I'm too late. The lucky bitch.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

The Amazing Adventures of....

I've been banging on at a handful of people to read 'The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay' for years now. The book always seemed like a perfect fit to some of my friends and I was always eager to bang on about it to them. But after re-evaluating it recently and reading some more of Michael Chabon's work, I now think that it's a book for more than just some of my friends- it's a book for everyone. The themes and story lines just speak to a far larger audience than the comic shell that holds the whole thing together. So let me whet your whistle and convince you to pick up a copy.

I can't remember how I found the book, particularly. Though once I had, and discovered it was a Pulitzer prize winning novel and also related to the comic industry, I snapped it up, appealing as it did to both the pretentious and geeky aspects of of my personality. The book itself is set in 1939 and is about two cousins, one escaping from Prague coming to live with the other, based in New York. Kavalier and Clay, respectively. The story follows how they influence each others lives and come to form a partnership which ends up creating a widely successful comic character known as 'The Escapist'. It's a fictionalisation, though is loosely based on other key comic creators of the time, such as Stan Lee and Will Eisner, and how they drove the industry and the iconic characters they created. However, this is merely the glue which holds the whole thing together and the book itself tackles all kinds of other subjects that I won't even mention for fear of spoiling it for you.

I hadn't even heard of Chabon when I first read the book, though he quickly became one of my favourite writers. His writing alone makes the book worth reading. He's the sort of author that will write a sentence that just makes you put the book down, grin, and curse the world that you didn't write it. He makes you want to become a writer yourself. His beautiful form of descriptive writing can sometimes threaten to be twee or over-cooked, but never is. It's perfectly judged balancing act and he never fails to put you completely in the time or place he desires. He also sprinkles his books with delicious little morsels of Jewish slang or vocabulary which never fail to raise a smile. I've always found the way Jewish people use the English language (and even the sound of Yiddish) to be weirdly fascinating, especially to an outsider like me, and I love getting a peek into that world, even if it is a fictional one.

You know, I'm not going to write about this any-more for fear of saying too much. Just go and read it. I guarantee you won't regret it. In fact, you'll almost certainly want to thank me. In that case, cash is always welcome. That or a hug.  

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Chinese New Year

It's always nice to be in a country for a holiday that they don't celebrate back home. It's all exciting and new. An experience that my American chums seem to miss out on, being that they tend to celebrate not only their own holidays, but every other bloody countries. Cinco De Mayo, indeed. As for me, I got a taste of Chinese New Year in a Chinese (ish) country. It was fun and as I'm currently staying with my girlfriend and her family, nice and authentic too. Like all great holidays, the focus of Chinese New Year seems to be around food. Though what great things aren't focused around food, eh? My poor, poor body. Other than that, Chinese New Year's eve is much like any other day, apart from what I assume to be the mortar attack that happened at 12 o'clock.

Turns out it was Chinese fire crackers. Which are terrifying. They're hellishly loud. And over the course of the holiday it is open season on those bad boys. Being from 'colourful' N. Ireland your instinct is to jump when you hear loud noises, so my nerves were frazzled. It's mostly the adults who are at it too. They'll throw them at you, the swines! Though the craziest moment was actually after the New Years holidays on my way into work. It turns out most businesses let off a row of firecrackers to announce them opening for business after the new year. Which I only found out about as I weaved my way through the smoke and explosions on my mean machine. A fun way to start my new job. Though in fairness, it was kind of badass. I felt like Jason Statham.

Terrifying or not though, I'm definitely buying some for the next time I go back home. Fingers crossed they aren't counted as explosives.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011


People seem to like to ask me for advice, for some strange reason. It must be this face of mine. It's happened before, certainly, but it seems to more prevalent the older I get. I think the theory is that the older you are the more wisdom you have. Maybe you have a clue about how this whole crazy world works. Sweet, but misguided. However! I've been thinking about something recently which may very well make a good piece of advice. Finally! Let me break it down for y'all.

I enjoyed school for the most part, but couldn't wait until I ventured off into the real world. I could leave behind all of the childish bickering, the gossiping, the idiotic rivalries and most of all, the morons. None of that for me! I was off for a university education and then on to a working life with my peers! Thud. It all came crashing down around my head. I quickly realised that the 'real' world is, if anything, worse. And considerably more childish.

For me though, the most disappointing thing was how little people gave a shit. Again, one of my delusions about the working world had always been that people needed to be professional and hard working to hold down a job. Such an innocent! Half-assery is the way to get by in this life. Don't doubt it for a second. I think that a lot of people go through life in disbelief, not sure how they're getting away with it. It's cause everyone else is doing it! Hard work will do nothing but make you look like a suck up, most of the time, and on other occasions may even get you punished. I remember in one job I lost marks in a performance evaluation due to the fact that we worked overtime to get a project finished. I mean, REALLY, what were we thinking? We should have finished it in normal work hours! That was the beginning of the end of my working days in that place, let me tell you. Though I did end up staying there for 3 more years. Hey, it gave me a chance to get all my CD's ripped.

That's not to say that you shouldn't work hard. Just don't work hard for somebody else. The only person worth breaking your back for is yourself. Which can be within another institution, I'll admit. Just make sure you're doing it for the right reasons and that you'll get recognition for it. I also fully support taking a half-assed job to support some other worthwhile cause, like travel or art.

I think everyone ends up working in a pointless, stupid job for a moronic, petty boss, at least at some stage in their lives. It's one of the terrible realities of life; just don't get trapped. Which happens all too easily. Just keep it simple. Keep you head down and smile politely. Keep it half-assed.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Taiwanese Animated News

I've been lax in posting about Taiwan recently, so with that in mind I present a video spectacular blog entry. Not any of my own work, of course, but a primer in the news sensation that is Next Media's animated news reports. Delivering news to you in 1-2 min long animated truth bullets. Not hard hitting serious journalism, perhaps, but they don't pull any punches either. Here are a few of my favourite stories-

Ah, the Spider-man musical. I don't know what the awareness levels of this epic disaster in the making are back home, but it's something I've been following with an evil relish (which is amazing on hot dogs). Featuring music by professional shitehawks, Bono and the Edge, this 65 million dollar (!) musical just goes from one disaster to another. This video not only sums up the problems the production has had but also nails it savagely. The best bit is when a doctor uses a defibrillator on the script. Burn!

I'm assuming that somebody involved in making these is from the UK, with the Grange Hill reference, but this is another big story that is excellently summed up in just under 1 minute 30, mostly by making all the key politicians involved look like a pack of tools. I especially like Gordon Brown defusing the time bomb and the guy throwing darts at Nick Clegg.

Finally, good old Masheen, doing what he does best. Getting naked, trashing hotel rooms and threatening to kill hookers. All while on holiday with his family. Truly, this is the Hollywood life I dream of.

There are many more videos and most of them are worth checking out, but they can be hard to find with an English translation. Still, the video of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates cast as Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader respectively is pretty self explanatory. I like it when Steve steals Bills Darth Vader helmet. Oh, how true it is!

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

To Yaar or not to Yaar?

It's not exactly big news that movie and TV piracy is rife these days. All piracy is, really. Every one of us, no matter how much we try to avoid it, has probably either watched a pirated movie or tv show. It's just so easy. Piracy often provides quick and simple access to almost anything you could want to watch. How could that not be appealing? I'll be honest, it's appealing enough that I do it often and without regret. Yet conversely, it's not something I entirely agree with. So what should I do?

I think the main problem comes down to the industries inability to keep up with the digital age. Yes, I know services like Apple and Netflix offer TV shows and movies on demand. Which is great, of course, and exactly what I'm talking about. If you live in America, at least. I fully believe that if companies were able to offer the shows when they air to a worldwide audience and for a reasonable price, a large percentage of people would stop pirating. I understand that it's far from that simple, but it feels to me like a goal worth pursuing for all major broadcasters. You may say that it's unfair to demand access to TV shows as soon as they air when I should wait for them to be broadcast in my area or to be released on DVD. Perhaps, but clearly there is a more immediate demand for many shows, so why not cater to it? Also in my particular case, living in the East, many of the films and shows I want to watch won't even get a release here. So in order to see the shows I love, I pirate them and will continue to do so. At least until I'm given a better option.

What gets to me most about piracy is the number of people who do it constantly and then complain about shows being cancelled or the quality of TV going downhill. We're to blame! Partially at least. If you care about the quality of TV at all, you should at least pay something towards the shows you enjoy. If you want more good TV shows to be made, show the networks that you love them! Buy a Sopranos DVD, pick up a box set of The Wire or even watch an episode of Mad Men on TV (I'm slowly building a back catalogue of my favourites, sitting at home, still wrapped in plastic). I'm not telling you to stop, as I certainly won't, but do a bit at least. That way the best shows can continue to flourish or at least finish as they were meant to and we can continue enjoying quality entertainment for years to come. Just don't moan at me when you don't buy anything and we're watching endless reiterations of CSI. CSI: Belfast, anyone?

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

The Maddest Man

TV is going through a revolution. Over the past 10-15 years, we've had some shows that have redefined the medium and really embraced the potential of the long form nature of a TV show. The Sopranos is probably the most famous breakthrough and the one that everyone has heard of. Rightly so, as it was a compelling, brilliant piece of drama. It's importance in shaping the high quality TV we see today is key, particularly in regard to HBO's output. It makes sense that one of the head writers (Matthew Weiner) of Sopranos would be driving force behind Mad Men - it feels like a natural evolution of that show in terms of pace and character.

An evolution, but a bigger risk too. The Sopranos had the appealing hook of the mafia lifestyle to draw in potential viewers and was able to carve an audience from those who tuned in for the tits and violence and those who watched for the characters and storyline. Mad Men is aimed squarely at the later, those concerned with character and story. Sadly regarded as the smaller, niche audience.

Anyway, Mad Men is about an advertising agency called, Sterling Cooper, set in the 60's, and deals with relationships of the people working for and connected to the agency. It delves into the issues and attitudes of the time, without focusing on them, using the whole setting as a springboard to tell a story about,well, people: Their fears, hopes, desires, relationships, problems and how they make their way through life.

The key to all of this is the characters. Don Draper is usually regarded as the lead, the marketing wizard who is the secret to much of Sterling Coopers success. Peggy Olsen, however, is just as important and it's her rise from secretary to copywriter that has really provided the whole show with much of its impetuous. If you could say this show had any sort of traditional impetuous. Which is probably both the best thing and worst thing about the show.

Because Mad Men is slow; very slow. It's not going to rush to get it's point across or to force a dramatic ending just because this weeks episode has finished. It's not going to hammer you over the head with large unsubtle hints as to peoples motivations or emotions. Which is what makes it so good. Mad Men wants you to get to know these characters. It wants you to understand their motivations and emotions for yourself. It wants you to pay attention! It's interested in what drives real people and how they deal with what life throws at them. Something you just can't say about the augmented reality that most entertainment provides.

Which is fine, of course. People don't want to have to deal with real life, for the most part. You get enough of that at work. Many, many shows cater for this way of thinking and will continue to do so. But they'll always be lacking. They'll never be able to tell a story with a sentence or make you laugh with look. They'll never be able to make you cry with a flawless moment of silence. Of course, it's difficult to adjust to something this subtle considering what we've all grown up with. We're used to our story telling in broad strokes, with easy to understand motives and clearly defined roles. Mad Men is told in fine, subtle brush strokes and is defined not by an ongoing narrative drive, but by the characters who inhabit it. Most of all, it requires an emotional investment, but it's one that you'll never regret paying.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

I Am Otaku

For the uninitiated (you lucky people), I guess I'll start with an explanation of what an Otaku is, or at least what my perception of one was. On the forums I frequent, an Otaku was always thought of as the obsessive, normally Japanese nerd. The sort of guy who could tell you the name of the voice actor in that obscure anime or the release date of an early Final Fantasy RPG. For some westerners, it was seen as an ironic badge of honour. A way to climb to the top of the geek hill. Not something I ever aspired to, (if you could even call that aspirational) for me it became something I was aware of without ever really looking into it. I just laughed knowingly at the references I read in games and books. Only in recent years did I think about it again, when talking to Japanese friends of mine. I discovered just how negative a term it actually was in Japan, describing people who are mostly regarded as socially deficient oddballs. The sort of people who take their love pillow away on a romantic weekend.

However, in recent months, I've read two things that have really resonated with me. One became the title of this blog and the other, which I'll have to paraphrase, describes an Otaku in a different way. It talks about them as people who are only able to deal with and understand things by first researching and learning about them. They are driven by curiosity and often have a deep knowledge that serves no single, obvious purpose. Their curious nature leads them from one thing to another; with a lyric in a song leading to a book, which then maybe leads to a movie, which eventually points them to a new videogame and so on. A constant chain of discovery.

It was like someone was describing me. It made me realise, that perhaps, I had been an Otaku all this time. I've certainly always found it easier to deal with something by doing my homework first. I feel at edge if I don't know as much as I can about a given situation, area or event. I approach life in quite a logical, structured fashion and I think that this has been the only way I have ever been able to deal with things. And it helps. It allows me to build a nice shell around myself, and using this knowledge and research, better equips me to deal with the outside world.

It's far from ideal of course and often means that the things you can't learn about through curiosity and research, such as sports, relationships and life can all feel quite alien. All areas in which I feel worryingly unprepared for. I guess this is at the forefront of my mind as I struggle to make friends out here; something which is compounded by my inability to talk to new people. Again, it's not something I can prepare for and as such, will always be very difficult. It's not all bad, though. Part of me likes thinking like this. I love to learn and know about a wide range of subjects and I'm genuinely curious about other people. It also allows me to rationalise problems and situations, which I've always found useful when other people ask me for help.

I suppose I'm writing this as I wonder how many other people out there feel this way too. I know it's not easy for anyone in this big old world, but does everyone look at things the way I do? Would they admit it if they did?

Actually, while I was preparing this post last week, I read an article about geek culture which came to the conclusion that we are living in a world were everyone is an Otaku about something. The proliferation of the internet and the information contained within means you're a mouse click away from anything you could ever want to know. Instant Otaku's. I think the article missed the point somewhat and I don't think it comes close to nailing the true essence of what an Otaku is – someone who will forever be on the outside of everything, looking in.