The Technology Merry Go Round

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Technology and gadgets are a bit like fashion. In that industry it is often spoken how certain styles that were fashionable in by gone eras  come back around to be popular today. To a certain extent, technology is the same. Ideas and principles that were attempted in the past are reinvented for the modern era with new technology allowing these ideas to become more prominent and feasible. Here I look at some examples of this. Continue Reading

Review: Amazon Original Pilots

Following my article about the new Amazon pilot TV shows here is quick review of the shows on offer:

Alpha House

Alpha House

Tagline: “They work in the Senate. They live in the house–Alpha House”

John Goodman stars as Gill Biggs in this comedy where four U.S senators share a house together. Goodman is a lazy senator who wants to do the bare minimum to get re-elected. His housemates and colleagues played by Mark Consuelos, Clark Johnson and Matt Malloy all have their own quirks. One is a bit of ladies man; another is constantly facing questions over his sexuality and manliness, while Johnson’s character Robert is suspected of some sought of fraud. The pilot episode also features cameos from Bill Murray and Stephen Colbert (of The Colbert Report), whether these two would feature in a full series is unclear. As political comedies goes, its okay but doesn’t live up to series like The Thick Of It. It’s a show that lives off its big actors and maybe with some better writers it could be funnier and do quite well for itself. At present though, I’m not sure it’s really got the legs to make it as a good comedy. I like the concept of Alpha House (four senators living together) so in some ways I hope this show gets picked up to see if it can be made better.

Betas

Betas

Tagline: “Four friends think they’ve cracked the code for Silicon Valley success”

Betas is all about four youngsters (well four youngsters and one older friend) who believe they have the next big internet sensation. The first episode follows the boys attempt to get their new social network app noticed with little money and in a crowded market. In terms of the cast, there aren’t the ‘big names’ like some of the other series available on Amazon Original. The main cast is made up of Joe Dinicol, Karan Soni, Jonathan C Daly and Charlie Saxton. I had high hopes for the series but it didn’t live up to my expectations. In concept it has the feel of a blend between The Social Network and The Big Bang Theory. It doesn’t have the comedy of The Big Bang but it isn’t trying to be either. With a bit of work it could have the endearing and aspirational qualities that made The Social Network so good. At the moment, however, it’s not quite what it should be and in my view it would be a risk to make this into a full series without taking it under the microscope to make it better. Like Alpha House I like the concept, but I think Alpha House is closer to being a good series than Betas (cue pun about the meaning of Alpha and Beta).

Browsers

Browsers

Tagline: “Fresh-faced interns face the music, and sing along with it”

This series follows four young people (you see a pattern of four emerging here?) start off their careers as interns at a news website. Not the most original concept is it? But wait there is a twist, it’s a musical comedy. Every menial and everyday task is quite literally made a song and dance of. I like a musical (secretly of course) and when normal sitcoms do a musical number or episode I tend to like them. In particular, I’m thinking here of the Scrubs episode that is a musical. However, I have my doubts over whether a whole series of musical comedy would really work. The songs need to be so clever and well thought out. I can only imagine the effort that went into making that Scrubs episode. Some might argue that Glee is a musical comedy that works. Personally, I’m not fan but you can’t doubt its success. The difference, however, is that Glee’s comedy isn’t the musical part. It’s the bits between the songs that bring the comedy element. The singing and dancing are covers and quite impressively done. Browsers is not on that level, nowhere near. This pilot, falls by the wayside for me. Truthfully, I found it so hard to watch I could only stomach ten minutes of it. The songs and comedy aren’t really funny, while the characters are generic and highly irritating. I’d be very surprised if this series gets picked up. Based on the comments on the website I’m not the only one that was disappointed by this offering.

Dark Minions

Dark Minions

Tagline: “Rules, reports, a Galactic Overlord … just another day at the office”

Dark Minions is claymation sci-fi comedy. The pilot is only half claymation to give an example of the final product, the rest is cartoon. No huge names in this series but a few voices that will certainly be recognised. Fans of The Big Bang Theory will recognise the voices of the two main characters. Kevin Sussman and John Ross Bowie, who play Stuart and Kripke respectively in Big Bang, provide the voices for the main characters. They are joined by relatively well-known comedy actor Richard Kind and veteran voice artist Clancy Brown. Minions follows Andy and Mel, slackers working on-board an evil intergalactic spaceship (it’s the Star Wars death star basically). Taking little pride or effort in their jobs we see the pair end up in a variety of awkward situations. The pilot is strong with clever writing that is actually funny. When claymation does appear in the pilot it is of good quality. It certainly has potential in my opinion and is one of the best pilots released by Amazon. The series is reminiscent of the Star Wars Family Guy trilogy.  However, I do have my fears about whether this series will be picked up for a full season. Firstly, there is the fact it is claymation; an expensive and time-consuming form of production. This is perhaps best illustrated by the fact they couldn’t afford to do the whole pilot in claymation. Secondly, there are genre issues. Adult themed animations and cartoons are a narrow market with an often short-lived shelf life. Family Guy and American Dad are the stand out names in this category. Added to this we have the fact it’s a sci-fi comedy, which narrows the audience again. I’ve got my fingers crossed that this gets picked up, but unfortunately market factors could limit its potential.

Onion News Empire

Onion News Empire

Tagline: “Onion News Network journalists will do anything to stay on top”

Inspired by the online publication ‘The Onion‘, known for its mocking and comedic takes on news stories, Onion News Empire is a comedy show based on a news network. Along with Alpha House and Zombieland this has been one of the most talked about Amazon pilots. This is primarily because of its strong cast, which features Christopher Masterson, William Sadler and Jeffrey Tambor. It’s got a Anchorman cum The Newsroom feel to it, but with a more news based comedy to it than Anchorman. British readers will find its comedy not to dissimilar to various Charlie Brooker projects like 10′o’clock live and Newswipe. This pilot is one of the best offers from Amazon pilots. It has genuine moments of laugh out loud comedy with clever writing and a strong cast. The best moments come in the form of the actual news related jokes and reports, with the behind the scenes personal interactions not having the same level of humour. It could do with a bit of polishing work, but out of all the pilots, I think this is one that is almost certain to get picked up, even if only initially due to the strong fan base that the original website has.

Supanatural

Supanatural

Tagline: “These divas are humanity’s last line of defense”

Supanatural is about two women who work at the mall but in their spare time are adventurers/explorers almost in tribute to Indiana Jones. Lily Sparks and Jameeliah Garrett play the characters of Hezbah and Lucretia respectively. The pair are all but newcomers to this world and it’s refreshing to see some new talent being given a chance. Overall, the pilot is good. The animation is of a decent standard. I didn’t love the pilot but I don’t think it’s really meant for my demographic. It has potential, but like Dark Minions has difficult market to enter. It could get picked up though; with shows like Archer demonstrating that this type of series could work.

Those Who Can’t

Screen Shot 2013-04-26 at 19.47.18

Tagline: “The most immature guys at this high school are teachers”

The title of the show is taken from the popular saying about teachers “Those Who Can’t, Teach”. It’s a good title, but if I am honest that’s probably the best thing about this show. I could be a tad nasty here and come up with some quip like ‘Those Who Can’t Act, Should Teach”. Instead I’m going to be kind and compliment the series for giving relative newcomers a chance. This comes in the shape of the  Adam Cayton-Holland, Benjamin Roy and Andrew Orvedahl. The comedy follows three teachers who are even more immature than their students, so much so that in the first episode they attempt to get a pupil they don’t like expelled. I like the concept and it could be successful in a different form, for example the UK series ‘Teachers‘ starring Andrew Lincoln. However, the execution of this series doesn’t work. There isn’t any particular stand-out comedy moments in the pilot and it all seems rather obvious and generic. The characters aren’t likeable whatsoever and I don’t think the actors were right for these roles. In summary, I’d be very surprised if this gets picked up, at least in its current configuration.

Zombieland

Zombieland

Tagline: “Four survivors are killin’ zombies and searching for a home”

Based on the popular Zombieland film starring Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin, the series follows four survivors in a post-apocalyptic world filled with zombies (there’s that rule of four again). I enjoyed the film very much and with the same writer on board for the TV series, the show does a decent job of living up to the film. None of the original cast appear in the pilot, which although disappointing isn’t really unexpected. The characters and ideas of the show are the same as in the film, revolving around the rules for surviving in ‘Zombieland’ devised by the Columbus character. Tyler Ross and Maiara Walsh do a good job of living up to their movie counterparts. Whether or not this series gets picked up I’m confident we’ll see these two again. Kirk Ward and Izabela Vidovic aren’t quite up to the same level when they are compared to their movie counterparts. But, I’m reluctant to be too critical of the pair as they do a good job and should have their roles considered in their own right, not just as copies of the film. Out of all the pilots, this is the one I would be most confident about becoming a full series. It’s got a good writer and cast behind it, while this genre is certainly popular enough to be worthy of a full series.

[Taglines and screen shots taken from Amazon website]

Innovative Smart Car Parking

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What I’m Watching #2

Featuring Go On and The Following

Comedy: Go On

Etro 465

Fans of Chandler Bing in Friends are bound to love the new Matthew Perry comedy Go On. From one of the key writers and producers of Friends (Scott Silveri), the series sees newly widowed sports broadcaster Ryan King (Perry) join a support group to help him get through the tragedy. On paper this seems like an odd, rather too deep emotional basis for a comedy series, but the series pulls it off. The support group is naturally a whose who of quirky and strange individuals. From Sonia (Sarah Baker), grieving over the loss of her cat to the peculiar Mr K (Brett Gelman) whose character is not dissimilar to that of Alan (Zach Galifianakis) in The Hangover. The cast too is made up of some other notable names, including John Cho (Star Trek), Julie White (The Transformers Trilogy, Lincoln) and the always popular Bill Cobbs (NYPD Blue, Night At The Museum). Perry’s usual energetic performance and wit are what draws viewers into the series, but its the charm of his interaction and chemistry with the rest of the cast that make this series unique. At the same time as well it manages to touch on real issues with these people and blends this perfectly with heartfelt comedy. If what I have said so far hasn’t enticed you enough to try the series then how about a mini Friends reunion? Yes that’s right, Courtney Cox plays a role in episode 20. It’s not yet airing in the UK but expect it to arrive later in 2013. A second season has yet to be announced and I’m unsure how many seasons this series could go on for, I mean for how many years can they reasonably have Ryan go to a support group. But for now at least it’s an enjoyable simple watch.

Drama: The Following

DSC_8554

DSC_8554 (Photo credit: Genevieve719)

Like a lot of people, I’ve never been a particularly big fan of Kevin Bacon. My favourite thing I’ve seen him in is the clever EE adverts (although I suspect that’s largely due to the clever writing as opposed to the man himself). However, his performance in The Following has earned him some respect and credibility in my books. Bacon plays washed up FBI agent Ryan Hardy, whose troubled past has led him to an alcohol addiction and the belief that all those around him will die. Hardy is brought back to the FBI to help catch serial killer Joe Carroll (James Purefoy) who he once put away. Carroll is no run of the mill serial killer, his murders carry a dark poetic philosophy behind them based on the gothic works of Edgar Alan Poe. Hardy’s previous encounter with Carroll led him to requiring a pacemaker. At the end of episode 1 Carroll is caught and goes back to prison, but this is where the story really gets going. Upon his return, we discover that Carroll has been biding his time in prison gathering together a group of followers who join his cult. His escape was just the start of a chain of events. The cult quickly gets to work, kidnapping Carroll’s son Joey (Kyle Catlett) and start killing people across the country. In a series of chilling confrontations, it is revealed Carroll is writing a book with Hardy as the key protagonist trying stop the cult. The series then follows Hardy trying to unravel the intricate web of people involved in this cult who have significant power and training. As the series develops we learn about Hardy’s personal traumas involving Carroll’s wife (Natalie Zea) and other relationships, as well as the background stories of the various sadistic killers in the cult. At this point the series probably doesn’t sound anything out of the ordinary, just another crime drama. But the nature of the cult and poetic darkness involved makes this drama chilling and intriguing. The personal nature of this killing spree and the subsequent relationship between Carroll and Hardy is similar to the relationships present in the great Hannibal Lecter films. James Purefoy is brilliant in the series. His calm yet chilling nature perfectly captures the charismatic cult leader and his performance is encapsulating. Equally, Bacon is good as the broken man who, unlike many heroes, is not doing this out of a sense of duty, love or patriotism but because he has to. He wants no fame or glory but to simply return to his depressing alcohol fuelled life. Season 1 is coming to an end in the UK on Sky Atlantic but a second season has been confirmed.

What I’m Watching #1

Featuring: New Girl and Blue Bloods

Comedy: New Girl

Zooey Deschanel, Jake Johnson, Max Greenfield,...

Zooey Deschanel, Jake Johnson, Max Greenfield, Lamorne Morris, Hannah Simone (Photo credit: Genevieve719)

Zooey Deschanel (Jess) has been around in the acting world for sometime now, but situational comedy New Girl has really increased her status. Season 2 began in the states in September and is only now arriving on UK shores. It would be a big season for the show, which had rave reviews for its first series. The big question was, could it carry on the success and maintain its affection in our hearts? I’m delighted to report, having nearly finished season 2, that is has. Nick (Jake Johnson) and the gang picked up where they left off from season 1. With its use of the lost art that is ‘physical comedy’, coupled with clever writing that depicts friendships and characters very much based in the 21st century, the show continues to succeed. Although the show is centred around the Jess character, its the cast combined that really makes this comedy stand out. The way Nick and Jess play off each other with their extreme differences yet inherit similarly is lovely to watch. However, I am worried that the writers are pushing their potential relationship too quickly, it could lose its edge if not handled carefully. The surprising star of the series would have to be Schmidt, played by the energetic Max Greenfield. His role as the weird over the top metrosexual man will be one of those comedy characters that people will remember for an age. With his bizarre antics and obscure lexicon he shines in most episodes.

Drama: Blue Bloods

Tom Selleck and Donnie Wahlberg from 'Blue Bloods'

Tom Selleck and Donnie Wahlberg from ‘Blue Bloods’ (Photo credit: djtomdog)

The New York based drama, now in its 3rd season, focuses on the lives of a family of New York Policeman. It’s not just a simple a crime drama but a family drama as well, which is what makes the show unique. There isn’t one out right star for the series, its all about its ensemble cast. If I had to place one character as the main then it would be Danny Reagan (Donnie Wahlberg) the oldest son in the family. As a senior detective in the major cases unit, most episodes feature him attempting to solve a crime of some nature. What is nice about the crime aspect with this series is that its not all unnecessarily fancy or high tech like many crime dramas. Cases are solved by good honest traditional police work. Tom Selleck plays Frank Reagan, the father of the family who is also the Police commissioner. We regularly see him battle his way through the labyrinth of politics surrounding his role, including battles with the major, budget cuts and media pressure while also being careful not to give special treatment to his family. The rest of the cast is comprised of Will Estes (Jamie Reagan) the Harvard law drop out starting life as a rookie cop, Bridget Moynahan (Erin Reagan-Boyle) the idealistic assistant district attorney and Len Cariou (Henry Reagan) the grandfather and former police commissioner. All of their career roles continually overlap and the series focuses on the professional-familial balance. This culminates in the weekly family dinner, where the main cast are joined by their wives and grandchildren. The traditional family values here are plain to see. What is interesting though is the dynamic at these meals. Work, naturally, becomes a topic of conversation with often heated debates about law enforcement: how the law hinders the justice system and when excessive force should be permitted, for example. While I love these scenes because of this, the realist in me hates them. Firstly, there is the fact that its unlikely that it would be possible to do this every Sunday. Secondly, there is the fact they treat such serious and often disturbing issues so casually in front of the grandchildren. I mean what kind of parents would talk about murder and rape around the dinner table with thinly veiled metaphors hiding what they are really talking about. My other big complaint with the show is just how often the characters roles are involved with each other. It happens all too frequently and somewhat takes away from the realistic side to the show. For example, in a city as large as New York you would not believe the amount of times rookie cop Jamie stumbles upon a criminal somehow related to one of his brothers cases. Overall though, I really enjoy the series. It has a glossy high quality finish and the cast give very good performances. I am also glad to see a show that gets people talking about issues and projects traditional family values.

A Look Back at the Malaysian Madness

Review: Bloc Hotel Birmingham

Bloc Hotel

The Bloc Hotel is a futuristic hotel in the Jewellery Quarter of Birmingham. Recently, I have been travelling around the UK a fair amount and have stayed in several hotels. With that in mind I thought I’d have a go at reviewing the hotels I stayed in.

What is most unique about this brand of hotel is their minimalist approach. The philosophy behind the hotel chain is that most people who use hotels in the city centre don’t need massive rooms, wardrobes or views as they live out of their suitcases. By having that outlook the hotel has small rooms that are finished to a high standard. They model the rooms on the inside of a luxury yacht cabin and while you don’t feel that you are out at sea in the hotel, the prices at as little as £45 a night, don’t make you feel sea sick (sorry couldn’t resist). Continue Reading

The Day I Called 999

Welsh Ambulance Service

Welsh Ambulance Service (Photo credit: Mark-Hobbs)

With it being announced this week that Welsh Ambulances failed to meet response targets for the eighth successive month, I decided it was about time I reflected on my own experience dealing with the emergency services.

It was a bitterly cold morning last November when the event occurred. I was working at Cardiff University and driving in along the same route I had been driving for the last few months. To the naked eye the roads didn’t look too bad, the frost wasn’t noticeably visible from distance. But, as many commuters found out that morning it was still dangerous. The infamous ‘black ice’ would rear its ugly head. Continue Reading

Top 3 Most Overused Words I Hate

1. Love/Hate

Love/Hate

Yes, I do realise the irony by the fact I have used the work “hate” in title. But crucially, I use the word sparingly when its meaning is true. If you look up the word “hate” you get a varied amount of results. The basic understanding of the word is to intensely dislike or experience extreme animosity towards something. In a world that is a bit too use to hyperbole and sensationalism, these words that express really strong emotions are overused. Likewise, people say the word “love” without really considering the impact of their speech. It’s a deep psychological state that no one can really understand, so to use the work too frequently with little thought takes away all meaning. It has a knock on effect to the words in its comparative chain as well. “Like” and “Dislike” are now less valuable than they should be.

2. Genius

Vitruvian Man by Leonardo da Vinci, Galleria d...

The other day I had the pleasure of spending some time in the British Library. There I was able to explore some of the greatest works of culture throughout the world. Seeing the original drawings and writings from the likes of Da Vinci, Austen, Shakespeare and Newton was quite inspiring. I even came across a special exhibit dedicated to the Beatles, where I saw original lyrics on napkins written by Ringo and McCartney. This got me thinking about it the types of people we call ‘genius’ at the moment. Apart from the likes of Stephen Hawking, Sir Tim Berners-Lee and Mark Zuckerberg, the people most describe as a ‘genius’ tend to be people in sports or arts and culture. Much like ‘Love’ and ‘Hate’ the word is too liberally used. Of course, I don’t intend to demean the talents of our sports people and musicians, but to use the term after having only a handful of hits or one season in the premier league is not comparable to Da Vinci. In that case, maybe we should start reserving the term ‘genius’ for retrospective praise, for those older statesmen or people passed away who really were the smartest and most talented people of their age.

3. Legend

Tune in to Sky Sports football coverage any weekend and you’ll hear this word used in abundance. Without repeating too much of the sentiment I’ve stated above its been overused and lost all meaning. There are two variations on the definition for a ‘Legend’. The original being a myth or story about an often historical character but with facts not necessarily verified, these includes characters like Robin Hood and King Arthur. Spanning from that, there is the expression ‘a living legend’. A person who is so important, famous or notorious that their status is comparable to the mythical stories of old. Again, although there are many talented footballers about these days, to call half of them ‘legends’ doesn’t do justice to the status of the terms. To best illustrate my point in relation to footballers, here is an image doing the rounds on the internet.

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What are the words that most irritate you and why? Let me know below

My Calculated Arsenal Rant – Part 1: The Players

Carling Cup 2007 (Credit: Scott Dewey)

Carling Cup 2007 (Credit: Scott Dewey)

Another season, another poor term from the once glorious Arsenal Football Club. After last’s years opening few months which included an 8-2 loss at Old Trafford and a 4-3 defeat to Blackburn, Arsenal fans could have been forgiven for thinking that things couldn’t get much worse next season. So far this season they’ve lost to Norwich away, Swansea at home, and 2 losses in the champions league away to Schalke and Olympiakos. Then there was the somewhat predictable Capital One Cup exit to Bradford. More recently we were knocked out of the FA cup by Championship side Blackburn. With the now seemingly impossible task of overturning Bayern Munich in the Champions League and the prospect of finishing outside the top 4, the outlook is bleak. My thoughts on my club Arsenal have been brewing for a while, this will be the first of a series of posts examining the problems that Arsenal face. Continue Reading

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