« August 2006 | Main | October 2006 »

September 27, 2006


I've just sent Photobox a very stroppy email.

Photobox are an online service where you can order prints of your digital photos.

They sent me an offer to get free prints of large photographs, a buy one get one free kind of thing. I happen to need a couple of pictures for my wall. So uploaded the files to the photobox server, cropped them to size, and, being careful to enter the promotional code in the box provided, I entered my details and billing information, and placed the order.

When my confitrmation email arrived, it said nothing about the free copies of the photos I had ordered. So I emailed customer support, quoting the reference number, to say that if my promotional code had not been accepted, I would want to cancel the order.

This was late last night, and this morning an automated mail arrived saying my order was already dispatched, and I received a reply from customer support. Seems they think that I got my order wrong by asking for two different photos. No - I wanted two prints of each of them.

So a nice promotion that should turn me into a loyal customer, has now turned me into an angry person who will never buy from them again. There is still a chance that they can put this right, but my reply has been with them for over two hours now...

Posted by se71 at 03:10 PM | Comments (0)

September 25, 2006

The Sixth Sense

Writing a review of a film you've seen at least three times is actually more difficult than you'd think. Writing any review of this film is difficult anyway due to the chances of spoiling the story. So I'm going to skip most of the plot and stick to other things I can tell you about.

Bruce Willis gives a very measured performance as a child psychologist. He is very understated, and always believable. Toni Collette and Haley Joel Osment on the other hand get to act their hearts out, crying and screaming and being totally convincing as a single parent family that is falling apart.

This is a ghost story, and is chilling and scary in places. The music and cinematography are skillfully handled to create shocks in the right places.

The director Shyamalan kick-started his career here with what is still his best film, and one you'll want to watch again and again.

Posted by se71 at 11:06 AM | Comments (0)

September 21, 2006

Just Like Heaven

Reese Witherspoon is a very versatile and talented actress, and I really think it's time she stopped making films like this. This is a slightly above average romantic comedy, with only two, or maybe three real laughs. It will mostly be enjoyed by teenagers and younger children, who, of course, it is aimed at anyway.

Witherspoon plays a hard working doctor at a hospital. She has an accident, and turns up a few months later as a ghost in her own apartment. A man is living there now, and he is the only person who can see and hear her. Due to temporary memory loss, Witherspoon doesn't know who she is, and so they set out together to try and find out.

Of course, they fall in love.

It's likable enough, but too short on the comedy.

Posted by se71 at 01:57 PM | Comments (0)

September 12, 2006

RSS Aggregate Feeds

Recently I wanted to set up an RSS feed of all my stuff, you know, flickr images, blog, delicious links etc. I wanted to give someone a single link to all the things I update regularly online.

I decided on a web based solution so that I don't have to host it on my own server; no real reason for this, just being lazy really. But I thought it would be really easy, and maybe any lessons I learned would allow me to show friends how to do it too.

I've heard of Feedburner so logged in there and created an account. I found the whole thing a bit difficult to navigate, but eventually made this feed. Problem is, it's not really working very well. It only allows me to set up my blog as the primary feed, and then some predefined accounts as associate feeds to that. This would be OK if the ones I want were are all listed, but many that I want are not there. This really defeats the object of getting everything in one place. Also, the updates seem a bit sporadic. So I gave up on it.

I asked some friends on the #(void) IRC channel and they came up with a better alternative. SuprGlu has some standard services like flickr and All Consuming, it even showed me how to set up my last.fm recently played music. Additionally, any number of custom feeds are also possible so I was able to include multiple blogs that I write. Here is the feed and here is a nice web page automatically generated from it. Sadly, I've again had a bit of a problem making it do updates frequently enough.

Then quite by chance, Erik Benson told me in his blog how he solved this problem. He included it as a feature in the 43 People website. I already have a page here so did the relevant work and created a feed here too. It's pretty difficult to find the relevant setup page on 43people, but it's now working at least as well as the other options above.

I'm forced to admit defeat though. None of these options updates in a predictable or timely manner, so maybe I'll have to try something like plagger instead after all and install and host more software on my virtual server.

Posted by se71 at 10:43 AM | Comments (1)

September 11, 2006

Shallow Hal

I liked Jack Black in "School Of Rock", and even though I've been reluctant to watch another Farrely Brothers film, when I discovered he was in it, I thought I'd give this one a go. The Farrely's are well known for their apparent aim to insult just about any physically or mentally disabled minority they can think of, all wrapped up with generous doses of bad taste. This is only a '12' certificate, so they are more restrained. In my opinion, a few judicious cuts would make this a passable family movie, but occasionally the crudeness is annoying. It would be nice if film makers could really make up their minds who their intended audience is.

Anyway, Hal is a shallow man, who only wants relationships with girls who have supermodel looks. He is hypnotised (by real life motivational speaker Tony Robbins in a cameo role) into seeing women for their inner beauty instead. And so when he meets really overweight, ugly, or disfigured people, if they are good people inside, they appear beautiful to him. He meets a truely gargantuan woman called Rosemary who is a volunteer at a local hospital childrens ward, and also does charity work for the peace corps. Obviously she appears to Hal as the lovely Gwyneth Paltrow and they begin a relationship.

In a gross misrepresentation of reality every ugly, fat person Hal meets has a heart of gold, and most of the pretty ones are mean and nasty people. I guess this simplification is needed to make the point. Unfortunately they haven't bothered to play the trick with every character, and I'm a stickler for detail like that. Rosemary's father is really quite an unattractive looking man, and stays like that even though he is a obviously a good person.

It's quite an interesting premise for a film, and there are a few laughs, though you always feel a bit guilty for it. Jack Black carries the film throughout - it really wouldn't be worth watching without him.

[trivia - I'm a big fan of the group Kings of Convenience, and was very pleasantly surprised to hear their song "Toxic Girl" during the film. It's not on the soundtrack CD though. I also felt that some of the incidental music had a real KoC feel to it.]

Posted by se71 at 10:14 AM | Comments (0)

September 08, 2006

Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell

"Cloud Atlas" is a bold experiment. There are sections of complete genius which you will never want to stop reading; these make it all worthwhile. However, there are also parts that will frustrate and make you wish they would end right away. I think that for different readers, the 'good' bits and the 'bad' bits will actually be swapped. Let me explain.

There are actually six short stories in this volume, all connected in different ways and with recurring themes. They start with a long sea voyage in the 19th century, and move forwards in time into the distant post apocalyptic future. The narrators have very different styles, with stories in the form of diaries/letters/interviews and first person narrative. The structure is that we get the first half of five stories, the whole sixth story, then the second halves in reverse order, like this - a-b-c-d-e-f-e-d-c-b-a. I really like the idea, but I remain unconvinced that it was successful. The links were very slight between the stories. I'm not sure that the whole was greater than the sum of it's parts, and I'm struggling to persuade myself that this is realistically a novel at all, and not just a collection of short stories.

In the beginning, it's very archaic and formal writing and I found this very hard going, in fact, I almost gave up. The more recent sections were an improvement. For me though, the tales from the future were completely compelling. However, the final story is told in a made-up dialect language. I know some people were completely turned off this, but I found it simple having already been through similar reading exercises with Riddley Walker and Feersun Ennjin. I also of course love science fiction, and this was good science fiction, as was the penultimate story of the clone Somni 451. The same people who dislike the future stories, will probably be much more interested than I was by the sea voyage.

There is an overall message about mankind's inhumanity to man, and his disregard of the planet, and this is somewhat satisfying. But like eating a meal made of many different small courses - you may be full by the end, but there will be some dishes you'd like to have had more of, and some you will want to have done without.

So what we have is a very mixed bag, and an ending that is actually in the middle of the book. This novel will amaze you with it's dexterity and scope, and the sheer quality of the narratives. Recommended reading, but be prepared for a challenge.

Posted by se71 at 01:30 PM | Comments (0)

A Short History Of Tractors In Ukrainian - Marina Lewycka

There are passages in this novel of a ficticious non-ficton book on the history of the tractor. Oddly enough, these sections are by far the most interesting bits of Marina Lewycka's overhyped first book.

I'm a sucker for best sellers and prize winners. I got suckered into reading "The Da Vinci Code", "The Shadow of the Wind", "An American Boy" and many others - all truely terrible books. And now I've succumbed yet again and am living to regret it. Maybe there just aren't that many good books around.

This is touted as being a comedy, but I found it distasteful and pathetic. It's the story of an 84 year old widower, who gets involved with a Ukrainian refugee in her thirties. His two daughters try to protect him from what they see as an attempt to part him with his money, and a tedious drawn out battle ensues. Each new disaster is supposed to be amusing, but since when was an partly senile old man soiling himself funny?

The story has many flashbacks to periods during the Second World War. We are told how hard it was for families in the Ukraine, and the trials this particular family went to to survive, and ultimately escape. This was more sensitively written, and provided a bit more insight into a somewhat overlooked tragedy; the loss of as much as 20% of the population of that country - 8 million people. Unfortunately juxtaposing this with the farce occurring in the rest of the story didn't really work.

I found the writing style juvenile and annoying also, and there were long paragraphs that were completely gratuitous (a list for example of every vegetable growing in the garden, closely followed by another list of all the flowers). This is just desperate page filler and should have been cut. Constantly reminding us how Ukrainian people pronounce English words got very tiresome too.

I am at a complete loss as to why this book is so successful, and I'm afraid to say that I think a few loose ends will mean an inevitable sequel will follow in due course.

Posted by se71 at 12:55 PM | Comments (0)