Thursday, January 31, 2008

The King of Schadenfreude

People say there are only two types of joke.

The first involves someone coming home and finding workmen from the council digging up their garden.

The second features someone on their first day at work in an utterly improbable situation.

Both types feature a rotund man with a beard, cleverly disguised with a bigger beard.

RIP Mr Beadle

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Carnie approaches

It's that time of year again, when the men dress as women, water bombs are filled and chucked and no-one sleeps for six days. Yes, Carnaval in Torres Vedras begins on Friday, and already the town is girding its loins for the big celebration.

As with the Father Christmas marionette, Carnaval gives a chance for the local plastic moulding company to show off its considerable skills and so far this year's efforts are amazing. I'm not sure what the floats for the parades will look like, but the main square has been turned into a comic book heaven in celebration of this year's theme, and I personally can't wait for next week.

Here's some pictures:

You dance like Zizi Jeanmaire

Gratuitous videoage aujourd'hui I'm afraid. I went to see Wes Anderson's Indian train film, The Darjeeling Limited, yesterday, and although it hadn't had great reviews compared to some of his previous work (specifically Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums), I thought it was pretty good. Dunno if it's still on anywhere outside Portugal, but it only opened here this week. Go and have a look if you get the chance.

One highlight is the short, Hotel Chevalier, which accompanies the main picture. Set in a Paris hotel room, it uses this song and Natalie Portman's arse superbly, to the extent I've now got both stuck in my head...

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Now Smelling a Darker Glove

A breakthrough:

The "darkest ever" substance known to science has been made in a US laboratory.

The material was created from carbon nanotubes - sheets of carbon just one atom thick rolled up into cylinders.

Researchers say it is the closest thing yet to the ideal black material, which absorbs light perfectly at all angles and over all wavelengths.

Applications of the technology are expected in electronics, solar energy and, as this video shows, music:

Charlie Wilson's War

So I went to see the new Tom Hanks film on Monday: good reviews, amusing trailer, Julia Roberts, Philip Seymour Hoffmann - what more could you want?

Well, although the film is good, I'm not sure it's deserving of all the plaudits it has received and I'd be very surprised if it were nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars (of course, with the strike, there's no guarantee the Oscars will run normally this year, but that's another story).

To sum up the plot, CWW tells the true (although as it was top secret, I guess we have to take his word for it) story of the eponymous Texas Congressman who organised the covert US funding of the mujahadin (sp?) against the Soviets in Afghanistan through the 1980s. As with Titanic, we all know it finishes in disaster ("We fucked up the end game" is the line that closes the film) but the actors clearly have fun telling the story on the way. Hanks plays Wilson, the whiskey-glugging good ol' boy, Roberts his evangelical muse and sponsor, while Hoffmann steals every scene (natch) as a Greek CIA fixer.

I suppose my main criticism of the movie is that it feels more like the first half of a big budget miniseries than a proper cinematic piece. Perhaps this isn't surprising, with it being written by the West Wing's Aaron Sorkin, but it left me a little disappointed. The story of how one man defeated the Red Army is fine, and we can whoop and holler a bit at the downfall of those pesky communists, but it would be nice to have a clearer exploration of how the Afghan situation moved on post-1989, via the rise of the Taliban, Al-Quaeda and 9/11 to where we are today.

I don't often say this, but I'd like a sequel please, Mr Nichols.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Are you an accomplished reader?

Here's a little tool that might intrigue one or two of you. Essentially it's a test to find out how good a reader you are, based on the speed you read and how much you recall from a particular text.

Apparently my reading speed is about 350 wpm on screen, which is something over 400 wpm on paper, making me an "auditory" reader. I reckon I could have gone a bit quicker, but wanted to make sure I took in as much info as possible for the comprehension test. Fortunately I got 100%.

via Norm

Worth a read

If you're interested in what some of the blogosphere's smaller contibutor's have to say on a wide range of topics, you could do much worse than head over to Blogpower's Best of 2007 round-up.

I should warn you that many of the posts are well-written, cogently argued, and powerful enough to restore your faith in the little person being able to say something worthwhile. Topics include politics, snowboarding and the death of Harry Potter.

There's even a piece by me.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Lists Lists Lists Lists Lists Again

Right, becoming a bit of an annual event here this one. Let's hope we soon get the good news about Suharto, i.e. that the old bastard is the first name ticked off this year's Deathlist.

For the uninitiated, the Deathlist is an annual prediction game where the 50 celebrities most likely to die during the course of a year are named and we all have that extra incentive to look at the obit pages.

Last year was slightly disappointing by recent DL standards, with only 10 departures and proven survivors such as Fidel Castro hanging on to fight another year (if not another election). However, I can see 2008 being a different story, perhaps a record-breaker (only need 15 deaths for that), even if it does mean saying a final ta-ta to such diverse luminaries as Charlton Heston, JD Salinger and Vera Lynn.

Here's the list in full, and may they all go out with smiles on their faces:

Charlton Heston, Sydney Pollack, Albert Hofmann, Ronnie Biggs, Oscar Niemeyer, Claude Levi-Strauss, Norman Wisdom, Michael Foot, Fidel Castro, Chapman Pincher, Karl Malden, Eli Wallach, Yitzhak Shamir, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Mark Felt, Kirk Douglas, Arthur C Clarke, Fats Domino, Herbert Lom, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Vera Lynn, Betty Ford, Ariel Sharon, Billy Graham, Dino de Laurentiis, Russell Watson, Edmund Hilary, Richard Widmark, JD Salinger, Elizabeth Edwards, Jake Lamotta, Hamed Karzai, John Demjanjuk, Jesse Helms, Suharto, Blake Edwards, Francis Pym, Jack Klugman, Eric Sykes, Patrick Moore, Bo Diddley, Cyril Smith, Harold Pinter, Basil D'Oliveira, Elizabeth Taylor, Bobby Robson, Levi Stubbs, Captain Beefheart , Charles Taylor, Clive Dunn

Lists Lists Lists Lists Lists

OK, here's one to start the year. I know a thing or two about old lesbians, so I chuckled a little at this of 25 mildly famous men who look like them, from

An example:

Robert Redford

He Is:
Actor. Director.

Looks Like:
The head of Women's Studies at Community College of Denver.

#3's a doozy. See the whole list here.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Those Resolutions in Full

Happy New Year!

Yes, I know I'm a few days late, but it always seems to take a while to get the turkey and mince pie-driven lethargy out of the system at this time of the annum.

Of course, everyone else has been up and running for days,and why not, with such a lot of things to look forward to in 2008. Aside from the Olympics and the US Presidential Election, it's also 30 years since Boney M took the charts by storm with Rivers of Babylon and 60 since Prince Charles was born. Will he be the oldest person to ascend to the throne? We may never know.

Moving on, it is by now a tradition amongst the lazy and feckless to aim for self-improvement at the start of January with so-called New Year's Resolutions. It is also a sign of their lazy fecklessness that by the start of February, these promises are, if not broken, largely forgotten. Being of such a disposition, I hereby list my own resolutions:

1. Blog more frequently. Or at least better. Easy to say this, but I do enjoy this whole process of writing my own nonsense and reading and responding to other people's, so I'm going to try and make more time for it.

2. Learn more Portuguese. I spend my working life helping people get their heads round my native language, and yet I haven't really made any structured effort to get mine round theirs. This must change!

3. Read more Russian literature. Or Soviet literature - however you want to describe it. I don't think I need to explain this, for of course, dear reader, were you the sort to make resolutions (you're far too good for that, I know), you would doubtless say the same.

4. Visit some new countries. I don't mean newly designated countries like Eritrea, East Timor and Montenegro, although I'd be happy to visit them, but any that I haven't been to yet. I'll never get round the whole planet if I don't keep ticking them off steadily.

I'd say that's probably enough for now, although there is undoubtedly a large chance the same things will be trotted out next year. Have a good one!