Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Bark: Mice won't play

Several things of significance have occurred during the last week.

Firstly, The Other Half has deserted me for 10 days to see The Outlaws for the Easter Holidays, whilst I'm stuck at home mired in a veritable mountain of work. With luck, she should bring me back a nice bottle of red wine by way of compensation.

Ironically, I'm having quite a good time at work lately. Really fecking busy, but rewarding at the same time. I had one of my best days in recent memory today - in (un)sunny Weybridge of all places - being the technical backup to my Project Manager in a meeting with the lead Resource Manager for Business Consulting Services in the UK and the BCS Resource Management Operations Executive. Anyone who reads Dilbert probably has visions of Executive-level meetings being a nightmarish complete waste of time, and I'm sure in some companies that's true, but a lot of the people at high level within my particular company are solid gold. In the two hours of the meeting, we all learnt a heck of a lot more about the importance of the reporting I work on, and more about how it is actually used by the end user (i.e. the Executive), enabling us to get a clearer picture of how our reporting should be designed. It wasn't anything like a typical boardroom bun-fight at all - in fact, it was very good-humoured, and the managers and executive were more than happy to listen to what the Code Monkey in the suit had to say... It wouldn't have made a good Dilbert cartoon, but it's reassuring to know that you can have meetings that aren't a complete waste of time, and that people towards the very top of your chain of command listen to and respect the thoughts of their underlings. AND I even found the time to come up with a clever little workaround that circumvents the inability of hyperlinked cells in Excel from shifting focus from one worksheet to a PivotChart sheet. It's days like this that make you feel good.

Secondly, my broadband got upgraded to 1Mbps on Saturday, which is fab, except for one small snag. It only ever seems to work after 10pm. Which is okay if I'm feeling in an insomniac mood, but not much use if I want to work from home or if I want to have a quick session on WoW or JOps while dinner's in the oven. I'm going to need to give the Pipex Support line a call, because it's not really on. I've never had a problem with the ISP before, but it's really erratic around peak times. The connection won't even stay up long enough to run Messenger - I swear I got better performance out of the Unix terminal's with 14.4kbps modems at university. 120KB per second downloads are awesome (I've been taking the time to download quite a few Sims 2 mods recently, in anticipation of the expansion pack, which I need to pick up from the Post Office on my way to work tomorrow), but not being able to game or surf the web because the guy upstairs in on the phone takes the piss just a little bit, given that it was perfect at 576kbps just last week. I almost wish I'd waited for BT to uprate the line and not paid the £15 now...

Thirdly, with my internet gaming options being somewhat curtailed by the instability of my ISP, I don't have anything to play at the moment. Actually, that's a filthy, dastardly, heinous lie. I do have things I *can* play. Dozens of them, in fact. I just don't have anything I *want* to play. I went back to The Sims 2 last week, in anticipation of the arrival of the University expansion pack from Play that I ordered about a week ago, but it's quite hard to get back into it without the added incentive of the extra content, given that I plugged about 50 hours into it last September. I've been playing some more JOps since my broadband upgrade, but it always leaves me with the feeling that something's missing. It just isn't as much fun as it should be, and it's hard to put a finger on why. The levels are well designed, the weapons are well balanced, etc, but given that the game has all the right basic ingredients, I still end up feeling that the more I play it, the less I like it. I don't know if it's the netcode that somehow can still allow you to miss a target DIRECTLY IN YOUR SIGHTS at ten paces with an M4 carbine whilst standing still with single digit pings and triple figure frame rates, or because the Assault And Secure servers are more often than not set up with 6 hour time limits, making them descend headlong into APC spawn-camping epics. The Co-op servers are more rewarding, as people genuinely go out of their way to work together (which they ironically don't do on AAS servers, despite it being a team game), but it's hard to find Co-op servers with a decent number of players on. Having been such a big fan of Novalogic's Delta Force games, I really wanted to love JOps, but games end up in frustration far too often for my liking.

With a distinct lack of motivation to game at the moment, I've been taking refuge in my ever growing DVD collection. Sunday night was a Michael Mann and Stanley Kubrick night, as I watched Heat (my favourite film other than The Empire Strikes Back), Collateral (probably my favourite Mann after Heat, despite my Tom Cruise prejudice) and Dr Strangelove - Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb in a monster seven hour session. My love for Heat is beyond mere words. The story, acting, characters and cinematography are spellbinding. I never tire of watching it, even with a running time of nearly three hours. Collateral is nearly as good, thanks to great performances by Tom Cruise (though it pains me to admit it), Jamie Foxx and Mark Ruffalo. The cinematography isn't quite up to the Dante Spinotti standards of Heat, but still has a very distinctive, almost muted feel. Watching the special features, I was intrigued to discover that the climactic scene on the train was filmed in Green Screen, so that Mann could provide appropriate backdrops of the action. It's a testament to the sophistication of CGI these days that I never would have been able to tell, had I not seen the documentary.
The SFX in Dr Strangelove doesn't quite stand up to the same scrutiny these days, but it's still a devilishly funny black comedy, and by far my favourite Kubrick. Coincidentally, I was inspired to watch it again when I stumbled upon a documentary on Peter Sellars, in which I learnt that the nuclear Vera Lynn ending was not the typical Kubrickian satire I'd originally believed, but was in fact suggested by Sellars's Goon Show cohort, the irreplaceable Spike Milligan, after Sellars and Kubrick mentioned to him that they'd had to ditch the original custard pie food fight finale. When you think of it, the absurdity and brilliance of the juxaposition is pure Milligan, so brilliant that you could be forgiven that it was Kubrick's idea, the film has so many of Kubrick's fingerprints over it. Slim Pickens (who plays the gung-ho Major Kong, the B-52 pilot) wasn't told that the film was a satire, making his straight-as-a-die performance even more poignant. The rhetoric of a "Doomsday gap" and "Mineshaft gap" is a razor-sharp indictment of the Cold War mentality, easily applicable to today's "War on Terror" - the enemies change, but the lies and paranoia remain the same. Strangelove gets better every time I see it, thanks to the barnstorming performance of George C. Scott as General "Buck" Turgidson (there's a Kubrickian character name if there ever was one), and the infinite subtlety of Sellars's three roles.

"Gentlemen! You can't fight in here! This is the War Room!"

Absolutely sublime. Worth a Top 5 spot in anyone's list of Favourite Films.
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