Monthly Archives: June 2010

Technical Gremlins

A couple of weeks ago I promised you a new video blog with various bells and whistles. All of the individual elements of the blog are done, but unfortunately some technical problems have muddied the waters like your average BP oil slick. Basically I’ve recorded video links on my iPhone which I then hoped to cut together with… er… “stuff” and edit together in a video editing program, but these clips are in the MOV format and unfortunately lose their video/audio sync very quickly on my computer. Some clips go across just fine, others don’t, and there seems to be no rhyme or reason as to why. I’ve tried everything but I simply can’t make it work. So until I can banish these demons, there’s going to be no video blog. I didn’t want it to be just me speaking into a camera, I wanted it to be more interesting. Curses.

If anyone has any suggestions (I fear that it’s something to do with how unfast my PC is, unfortunately) then please get in touch. I need a video editing program which can handle multiple tracks of video, audio, commentary and images without giving my PC a coronary, and which is able to handle MOV files without making it look like a bad anime dub.

So I’ve come to the conclusion that I hate computers. They’re great when they work, but as I’m sure you’ll all have experienced at one time or another, when you fill up a bit too much of the hard drive, or try to make them do more than one thing a time, or open a big PDF document, when you really actually properly need something to work right there and then, it’s like they collapse on purpose just to screw you over.

“Mozilla Firefox is not responding”. Gaaaaaah.

“Adobe Acrobat is not responding”. Sdfjdbgfsdjhyusdfbsdjfbsdjbfbaaaaarrrgghhhh!!!!

I love it when the computer freezes entirely with the mouse cursor suddenly not moving, or when after booting (yeah, I’ll show you what a fucking BOOT is), it takes ten minutes before you can open a single program without the thing wheezing like Godfrey from Dad’s Army running from Earth to Mars. Yes, this all happens much more on the work laptop than my home PC, but it’s amazing how cleverly computers can read your mood and really try to wind you up. All I want is for a few bloody clips to be in sync.

I’m starting to think that the Luddites were right.

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Halfway-through-2010 edition:

1. The Chemical Brothers – Further

Where on Earth did this come from? While I kinda liked the single Swoon when it was played on the radio, I certainly wasn’t expecting anything much from the full album, particularly as the Chems have been growing increasingly irrelevant since Surrender, their third full-length back in 1999. So it was most pleasing to discover that the record as a whole lifts its mojo from the classic Private Psychedelic Reel track at the end of Dig Your Own Hole, and ditches the gimmicky guest vocalists from the previous couple of albums. The result? Brilliance. The brothers back to their best.

2. Matt Smith

No, of course I didn’t know he’d be any good. Who did? How could anyone replace David Tennant? Well, now we know. By halfway through the first episode of Doctor Who season 31, or New Doctor Who season 5, or New New Who season 1 (your choice), it seemed like Smith had been playing the role forever. Old beyond his years, and with by far the most alien interpretation of the Doctor yet seen, Smith’s stock is now so high that he’s made the FTSE 100 index meaningless. Hell, he even appeared at Glastonbury:

3. The Complete And Utter Abject Failure Of The England Football Team

Let’s not go too far into this one, eh, for fear of reopening wounds that are still so tender and hurtful that they make me want to cry and weep and rain tears over the whole of our fair land. Joke. Still, we were pretty damn shit, weren’t we?

4. LibCon

Less than two weeks after bashing the shit out of each other in the final Prime Ministerial debate, David Cameron and Nick Clegg were bum chums. I don’t think Ladbrokes did odds on that before the election. The Tories have done pretty well out of the coalition agreement so far, as it gives them the latitude for savage cuts while also being able to push the message (or untruth, depending on your political viewpoint) of a progressive agenda. And it’s confused the hell out of BBC’s Question Time, which has been fumbling around trying to work out the balance of its weekly panel ever since election day. The Liberals, however, are plummeting in the polls at present, so it’ll be very interesting indeed to see whether the chalice of power turns out to be more poisonous than Asda own-brand Diamond White.

5. The Mirrorball and the rest of the One A Day network

Well, it would be remiss of me not to point out that nearly six months later I’m still here writing One A Day. Hell, if you’d told me back in January that I would actually stick with it and (most of the time) enjoy doing it, I wouldn’t have believed you. The One A Day network’s numbers may have dropped since the high point of thirty-odd people (or thirty odd people) writing daily blogs at one point, but there are still a few of us going, and I would be very surprised now if most of the remaining souls didn’t make it through to the end. Affectionate pats on the back to all. Anyone who started on 01 January, of course, is now very nearly on the downward stretch and will soon be able to see the finish line looking all inviting very far off. I look forward to joining you. And for me it’s the biggest surprise of the year so far that I’m 100% confident in saying that.


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What A Mistake-A To Make-A

A blog about work? Work? WORK? Rarer than a steak oozing blood, this. But I had to confess.

The thing about this illness I’ve had for the past week, which still hasn’t gone away (though I was back at work today), and has now claimed two more unwitting victims in my office, is that it makes it incredibly difficult to concentrate. It’s rather fatiguing. This morning plain knocked the sails out of me, as I was required to go to a client’s and indulge in a nice bit of cash flow jiggery-pokery to solve a problem that had partly been caused in the first place by the fact that I couldn’t see them last week due to feeling like death. The issue solved, I went back to my own office, knackered, and then had one very, very easy job to do.

The ability to pay online with the click of a button is dangerous – more so when the only authorisation you need to go through is when logging in at the start, not when making the actual payment. At my client’s earlier, I had a number of difficult payments to do with a different banking system that makes you authorise every single transaction individually, and I really concentrated incredibly hard to make sure that nothing went wrong. The added insurance of the extra check before authorisation helped.

This easy payment later on for the company I work for, though, was one that I just had to click twice on to submit. Disaster. I’d usually get it right 1,001 times out of 1,000 – pay a member of staff a couple of days early because he has a funny bank account that takes three days to process payments. Yes, that’s right: pay one person one amount to one account. How on Earth could anyone cock that up? Well, guess what I did? Armed with the payroll reports, I just didn’t think, and proceeded to pay him the entire company salary bill rather than his individual salary. Genius. My reaction when I realised a split-second after I’d hit submit, was a frozen look of sheer terror and the following silent scream: “Oh shhhhiiiiiiiiiitttttt…” I felt like Matthew Upson.

Luckily the silly bank account actually proved to be my salvation, as due to the transaction taking three days to reach its destination, my director was able to call the bank and get the payment stopped. Luckily she saw the funny side, and recognised that I wasn’t quite myself (in the morning, I had been told by the client I saw that I looked “bloody awful”. Cheers!).

Obviously, near the end of the month, paying out the entire salary bill in one transaction to one person probably isn’t the best thing to do. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why when the screen asks you if you’re sure you want to make a particular payment, you might want to check the amount again. As otherwise you’re in danger of feeling – and most likely, looking – like a complete gimp.

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Well, that was a depressing game. And, unfortunately, a depressing tournament as a whole for a vastly underperforming England side. Fabio Capello, the coach who seemed to have the Midas touch about him during qualification, appeared to forget to pack his tactical acumen in his suitcase. Playing Gerrard woefully out of position throughout the tournament, and making some very strange substitutions (putting Wright-Phillips on the left after half an hour of the first match, for example, and withdrawing Defoe for Heskey rather than Crouch today), international management – tournament style – has been a surprisingly tough baptism of fire for such a talented coach. And what of Wayne Rooney? United’s talisman, one of the best players of last season, has often been fearsome in an England shirt in the past, but at this World Cup his touch was appalling, his passing wayward, and he seemed a shadow of his usual self.

Today, of course, we can blame the Lampard goal that wasn’t given for some of our ill fortune. The match result may have been 4-1 to the Germans in reality, but with non-blind officials, going in 2-2 at half-time with the momentum strongly with England would have led to a very different second half in terms of approach for both teams. The opposition may well have won anyway given England’s shocking defensive display, but we’ll never know – the disgraceful decision had a massive impact on the game despite the three goal cushion enjoyed by the Germans in the final analysis.

But while it is a good straw to clutch onto (and surely the final nail in Sepp Blatter’s Luddite protests against goal-line technology), the fact is that England played absymally in two out of four games, pretty terribly in another, and scraped together only one half-decent performance. When you look at how optimistic we were before the World Cup compared to the reality of our participation in it, there’s going to be a major inquest into just how we buggered it up so badly. So many top class Premier League players didn’t perform on the big stage. When Capello came into the job, he immediately exorcised the nerves that had cursed Steve McLaren’s team; now, though, the shakes are back in force, and the unthinkable question a few weeks ago has become a real talking point: should Fabio go?

Maybe so. This campaign was unacceptable, and I have a feeling that there’s a lot to come out over the next few weeks about life in the camp, which may go some way to explain why the England from qualification didn’t turn up. We’ll see. Whatever the answers, this disappointment will be yet another long-lasting painful memory. But having watched England for so many years, we’re all used to those now, right?

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The Why And The Who

I think that I often wrongly approach my own writing from a pretty negative point of view. My thing is usually to think about what’s on television, in film and in print that I think I can do better than, rather than look at the highest of high watermarks and think, “You know what? Maybe I can get there too.”

It’s partly self-doubt, partly a wish not to think I can run before I can walk, but it also indicates my frustration with people getting on in their writing lives who I don’t think are really any good, yet have somehow become successful regardless. Deep down, I know that “somehow” probably comes from them applying themselves far more than those countless thousands of people who’ve never quite had the nerve to push their boundaries, so it’s more of an attempted kick up my own backside than any real sullying of their abilities.

But tonight I thankfully came across the other point of view that I encounter from time to time, which is to see something so magical that I think, “Yeah, that’s what I need to aim for.” I refer, of course, to this evening’s Doctor Who series finale. Of which, more soon, but just as an initial reaction it immediately encouraged me to up my own game when it comes to the script submission I blogged about yesterday. For while it’s easy to get bogged down in thoughts about why rubbish ever gets commissioned, and how something seemingly ill-thought-out could ever get published, it feels a lot better to sit back and think about how Steven Moffat wove the tapestry of tonight’s Doctor Who together so beautifully, and managed to tick all the drama/emotion/sheer-ambition-and-cleverness boxes you can think of into the bargain.

I’ll get into this a bit more when I give my views on the season as a whole, but when Doctor Who works under Moffat’s tenure it now truly feels like “my show”, far more than it ever did under Russell T Davies. That has more to do with the way it’s written than anything else. And all of a sudden I can see my own script thoughts coming together – not aiming to better the mediocre, but blazing for the stars of the unforgettable. Which as attitudes go, is far more pleasing.

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Voyage To The Red Planet

I haven’t written about writing for what seems like forever, so let’s correct that.

There are many people out there who really like entering writing competitions. Personally I’ve never got into them, but they do seem to provide one way to “get into” the industry for the lucky few. I did enter one once, waaaaaaay back in the day, when I was in my early twenties. It was the first year of BBC Talent, and they were after new sitcoms, asking for a pilot script and outlines for the remaining episodes of the series. I wrote something called The Freshers, which was about a group of students in their first year of university (surprisingly enough). It was pretty rubbish really, and so got nowhere. Then again, if I recall correctly, the winners didn’t get anywhere either.

And that’s kind of the problem with these competitions whenever I’ve looked at them since. They all promise cool judging panels and excitement, adventure and really wild things for the winners, but off-hand I can’t think of any project that’s ever actually come out following a competition, or a writer who’s won one who’s been really successful. Maybe I’ve just been looking in the wrong places.

Anyway, for the first time in an age I’m actually thinking of submitting something to one of these things. The Red Planet Prize has piqued my interest, mainly because of the involvement in partnership of Kudos Film And Television, makers of such fare as Spooks and Ashes to Ashes. Now there’s a company I’d like to say hello to.

The entry requirements for this competition change slightly every time it’s held, and this year they’re asking for a 60 minute television script – either for a one-off drama or the pilot episode for an ongoing series. I happen to have the latter in a drawer. It needs some work – the initial submission has to be the first 10 pages, and they’re (oh so typically) by far the weakest in my script. There was some pretty nice stuff thereafter, though, and it was written a while back, so having a bit more experience under my belt in terms of thinking my way around story problems will hopefully enable me to sort out the start.

The script is for a series I talked about at length with a few friends (hello, Chris! Hello, Raze!) called Jump. In a nutshell, it’s Quantum Leap meets 24 meets Lost. The lead character, in trying to save his girlfriend from being killed right in front of him, is forced to embark on an odyssey across multiple realities, each populated with slightly different versions of the people he knows, and in each one he has to solve a particular dilemma before he falls asleep and is trapped in that reality forever. If he can make right all the things that are strangely wrong with the universe across dimensions, then he can finally get back to his own reality, with his girlfriend alive and well. That’s the deal.

The idea was to have a show which could hop genres depending on the episode, and give the 6 or 7 regular actors subtly different things to play each week while keeping the same characters. It’s an inexpensive character drama with a ticking clock and various genre elements, basically. No doubt I’m explaining this all very badly here, which is where the required work comes in.

Anyway, I have a month to sort it out (and saying that I’m going to do it on here means that I will actually do it), and it should give me a bit of respite from my epic wait for final feedback on that other thing. Of which, I found out today that the agency concerned are no longer accepting submissions. How that affects the prospects for my existing material (if at all) remains to be seen. I’m getting that sinking feeling, but then again I always have that.

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Anyone For Tennis?

While the World Cup has been lapping up all the media attention and hype, Wimbledon has been quietly going about its business. But when that business involves Roger Federer nearly going out in the first round, a similar scare for Djokovic, the worst performance of the also-ran Brits in the championship’s history, and Andy Murray recapturing some of the form that got him to the Australian Open final back in January, it was already shaping up to be one of the most interesting first weeks on record.

But then THAT MATCH happened. You know the one by now, surely, and all about two players you’d likely never heard of before yesterday: John Isner and Nicolas Mahut. Sporting colossususususes… er… colossi. Gods among men. It’s the usual hyperbole trotted out in epic sporting contests, but this one made the Lord of the Rings trilogy look like a GCSE film studies project. Already dubbed “the greatest tennis match of all time” even before today’s finish, it was certainly the longest. 11 hours and 5 minutes, in fact, spread out over 3 tortuous days. The records kept falling – longest match ever, longest set ever, most games in a match ever, most aces from one player ever, most aces in a total match ever, most sore bum for an umpire ever. Scary stuff.

While the tennis itself wasn’t always brilliant – oh for this to have been Federer versus Nadal, it would have been beyond mindblowing – the match had intrigue and drama in abundance, beyond any admiration for racquet skills. Two men pummelling each other via the medium of serves into exhaustion, the combination of physical and mental strain forming the battlelines of a unique encounter. At times, Isner looked out on his feet, with Mahut quick out of his chair between ends to try to gain the psychological edge. But while Isner had doubtless depleted his energy reserves more quickly than Mahut, he had the twin advantages of serving first in the final set (Mahut having to hold his own serve repeatedly to stay in the match) and his serve being a very potent weapon. Sure, by the end he wasn’t doing much running in the rallies, but Mahut had little answer for his 130+ mile an hour bullets. Whenever he seemed to be in trouble (at love-30 down, for example), he would piledrive down a couple of aces to rescue himself. By the end of the match, he’d fired 112 of them, beating the old record by a massive 44.

It seemed like it would never end, that the players would be continuing the match until the insects rise up to overthrow their human masters and the Sun eats up the world, but Mahut finally capitulated, with a couple of tired shots on his serve putting an extra spring in his opponent’s step. The final score was 70-68, and when Isner hit the passing shot that won him the match, he collapsed to the floor, staring up into the sky, barely believing that the torture was finally over. Isner admitted afterwards that he had been “delusional” at times through sheer fatigue, and who can blame him? Mahut looked like he wanted to go back to the locker room for a good cry, but was required to hold it all together with the stiffest of upper lips for a special presentation to mark the match, and some photos next to the scoreboard. I hope that whatever he was handed in that present box was made of real crystal.

So where does this all rank in sporting folklore? Pretty damn high, as we’re unlikely to ever see another match quite like this one. It made all previous Wimbledon wars of attrition look like a walk in the park. The level of fitness required to play for as long as Isner and Mahut did, and how they had the mental strength to maintain their levels of concentration for so long, are scarcely believable achievements.

The greatest ever, then? Beating that Federer vs Nadal final a couple of years ago? Maybe. Certainly Wimbledon has a story that may even beat out this World Cup when it comes to sporting history, and a new pair of tennis heroes who will never be forgotten. Isner and Mahut – long may we speak their names. What a match!

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