What went….right?!

For her recent birthday our resident rock chicklet, Mrs Bull, was given a book about the Zomb-ocalypse: World War Z. Now putting aside the review of this tome (penned by the offspring of Mr Mel Brooks) until the birthday girl has read the thing, I thought I’d reflect on the canon of distopia which has peppered English literature throughout the last 100-odd years. In the guise of genuine classics like Brave New World, 1984, The Machine Stops, V for Vendetta, and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep we have been given terrifying glimpses into the not-too-distant. I’m certainly not complaining, but none of these visions has even come close to coming to pass. Not one hint of human fertility declining, absolutely zero suspicion of a secret fascisitic state growing in power, and (despite Daily Mail headlines) the Government is singularly failing to watch our every move and control our every thought.

For all the failings of this slightly disappointing world in which we live I suspect the sheer weight of numbers just won’t allow things to get that bad. Of course, slightly underhand things have gone on. Kings and dictators have risen and created havoc, but the people have always stuck back. So far, nothing has really threatened to end it all through our terrible decisions as human beings. I guess this is somewhat an anthropic argument, but for one it makes me rather pleased about the nature of human spirit. At heart we really don’t fancy ending it all as a species. But of course that doesn’t make for particularly interesting books.

Posted by: Adam

Published in: on 15/11/2010 at 10:39 pm  Comments (7)  

What Are The Odds?

Last night I was playing poker with my friends from work and a popular and oft quoted poker conundrum was brought up once again.  Now, I know many of you have absolutely no interest in poker at all, but as Adam has recently started a thread on stock trading and likened that to gambling, I figured I would try and transpose that problem to the world of trading to get some opinions from people.

Imagine, if you will, that you had decided to dabble in the stock market and had invested $10,000.  However, you have an imposed time limit of 1 week on your trading. For almost 7 days you play the markets, spending up to 15 hours a day concentrating furiously on your goal, and after some impressive gambling you have increased the value of your shares to $5.5 million.  That’s a good week’s work!  It’s getting close to midnight on that last day when suddenly you get an intriguing proposition. An opportunity arises to invest your money in some shares that have been fluctuating wildly throughout the week, but by carefully watching the markets you know that you have a better than average chance that if you invest all you money in this company then your shares will be up to $9 million when you are forced to sell.  However, there’s also a reasonable chance that you will lose $1.5 million and be left with “only” $4 million.  Alternatively, you can just walk away with your $5.5 million right now. 

So, what do you do?  It’s a one time only deal, you won’t get the chance ever again, and you know that the stats say that most of the time you’ll walk away with extra $3.5 million.  Even if you do gamble and lose $1.5 million, you’ve still got $4 million for your troubles, that’s a good return on $10,000 and a week’s work.  But is it worth taking the risk? Answers on a keyboard to the usual address.

Posted by Si

Published in: on 14/11/2010 at 10:08 pm  Comments (4)  

Where Is The Love?

On the radio this morning they were interviewing people who were camped out waiting for the premiere of the new Harry Potter film.  Some of these people had been sleeping rough in Leicester Square for 2 nights, in the pouring rain, in potentially sub-zero temperatures.  When asked why they simply said “We really love Harry Potter”.  My initial reaction to this was “The poor fools!”, but then I started thinking and began to wonder if I was actually the sad one here.

You see, I cannot think of any thing in the world that I love enough that I would effectively become a homeless person for a couple of days in the middle of winter. What makes it even more amazing is when you consider these people are not doing this in order to be the first people to see the film or even get the new book, they are sleeping on the cold, hard, wet pavement in the vain hope that they might catch a glimpse of the stars of the film or, if they’re really lucky, get an autograph or picture with one of their idols.  I racked my brains to try and think of a film, actor, actress, director, singer, band or anything at all where I would go through the same thing and I came up blank.  And this made me a little bit sad. I feel like I am missing out somehow because I don’t have that sort of love in my life. Is my life devoid of passion?  Or is it just that I am sane and they are all crazy?

Posted by Si.

Published in: on 11/11/2010 at 9:40 am  Comments (2)  
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Selsdon Wood Nature Reserve

In the interests of doing something a little different on my birthday, and being a big fan of the great outdoors, I decided to visit Selsdon Wood Nature Reserve near Farleigh with my parents, Rob, Elliot and the dog. I often go to Lloyd Park, which I consider an undiscovered treasure of Croydon, as it is generally very sparsely populated when I visit. However, much as I love it, there are still parts which are undeniably Croydon, with blown litter and a burnt-out scooter on my last visit detracting from the park’s natural beauty. Besides, I wanted to find something to do which was different but which would cost nothing. So, I recalled Selsdon Wood from my National Trust guidebook, and off we went. I’d thoroughly recommend a visit. The autumn colours were exquisite, the area is vast, there is little discernible traffic noise, and hardly any other people. Greatest of all, it’s very close to most of us, but feels pretty rural. Anyone for a picnic?

Posted by: Liv

Published in: on 09/11/2010 at 9:27 pm  Comments (1)  
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Film Review – The Spirit

I watched this on Sky last night despite knowing it has received poor reviews when released.  If film magazines could talk back to you then I would have been subjected to a chorus of “I told you so!”s this morning.  The best way I can think of to describe it is to imagine that they had remade “Sin City” in the style of the original Batman TV series:  the visuals are almost identical to the former whilst the acting and script has been taken wholesale from the latter.  Still, if you can get over the camp performances and terrible dialogue then it’s watchable, particularly if you like seeing attractive women in very skimpy outfits (or Scarlett Johansson dressed as a Nazi SS Trooper). There’s less in it for the women, although The Spirit does get his top off a few times.

In summary, Frank Millar should stick to writing his own comics in the future rather than directing adaptations of other people’s.  2 out of 5.

Posted by: Si

Published in: on 09/11/2010 at 1:43 pm  Comments (2)  
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Get out your parachute…it’s time to speculate!

So after months of dillying, with the odd moment of dallying, I finally got round to applying to my very own shiny account with an online trading platform. Buying and selling shares had interested me for a while and I realised that, although reading the theory was all well and good, there is no substitute for actually getting stuck in and giving it a whirl.

I’ve been at it for a couple of months now and I’m having a blast. I’ve been through the opening few weeks of beginner’s luck when all looked rosy and my holdings rocketed up. Easy peasy lemon sq…oh dear, something terrible has happened and there is a small, but significant horizonal bar in front of some of the numbers. Damn that minus sign. So, some early thoughts from a new plunger…

There is no formula. A lot of the books give helpful tools for calculating the value of a company. Dip into the FT and you will find P/E ratios, PEGs, growth forecasts and the like. I’m not doing these down for a moment, but they are far from infallible as you might imagine. After all, if they were accurate forecasters, everyone would be millionaires. So…you have to do your research and go with gut feel. Do you think a particular industry or sector will grow? Do you think Vodofone will crack the pay-as-you-go market for Christmas? What do you think of the new Chief Exec? I think you can definitely learn more by dipping your hand in your pocket and going with your view. Learn from both ups and downs.

Take tips with a pinch of salt. Following on from the theme of the one above. By all means listen to tips, but do your own research and come to your own view. Apart the common sense of not just blindly putting a monkey on Sad Ken in the 3.30 from Chepstow, think of your mental health and sanity. It can drive you nuts blaming the errant tipster when things go south. And, ultimately, blaming yourself for being so daft as to listen to the idiot in the first place. Incidentally, I’ve listened to two tips and bought at completely the wrong time and am currently scrambling to make a save.

Think about when to sell too. Have an end point in mind. Obviously it’s nice to see a share rocket up to a 100% increase and it does happen. But it’s rare. It depends on what you are after, but for most of us we probably want to see these speculations yield something more than what we get in the High Street. As we learn more, we can certainly be more ambitious (I, for one, am keen on actually making some money from this lark at some point – not just to squirrel money away). So pick a point to sell – say 15% increase. You can always review at this point. Do I have more information to suggest it will go up more? If yes, then set a new sell point. The same goes for getting out when things go bad. My old man is part of a shares club and they have let some of their holdings drop as a company has steadily gone bankrupt. Things of course may get better, but surely it’s preferable to sell if the value drops 15% rather than sitting tight and doing nothing as the share price drops to zero! Again, always think before selling, but give yourself a notional stop loss to minimise losses.

This is not investment. Some people think trading in shares is investment. Of course, we do it because we hope to pick shares that will go up in price. But, as the small print in adverts remind us, prices can go down as well as up. Let’s be honest, this is effectively gambling. So I prefer to use the word “speculation”. Remember that and I think you will make better decisions. And, back to psychology, it’s much more fun to feel the fear and enjoy the adrenaline. There are safer options which will give you more reliable, but smaller, yields. It’s well worth having those as well, but where’s the fun in only getting involved with that!

…Probably enough for now. I have more which I’ll bore you with soon.

Enjoy your plunging.

Chief Banker Stroydont

Published in: on 09/11/2010 at 12:56 pm  Comments (3)  

Short but sweet

A comment below has led me to share the following.  To the less than casual interneter, none of these may be a revelation at all.  Even so, i reckon they are well worth a visit.

Here a few of my favourite short films :

The hole

Alive in Joburg by Neill Blomkamp

Alma by Rodrigo Blaas (warning : pretty creepy)

And, although possibly technically not a short film :

Smile around the face music video for a track by Four Tet

Enjoy! 🙂


Published in: on 06/11/2010 at 9:13 pm  Comments (1)  
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Break the mold, build the tension

Monday night is Spooks night for Michelle and myself. I was never interested in watching it, but Michelle had been a fan since the beginning and as is often the way with couples her interest became mine. I now really enjoy it, glad to have been influenced by Michelle’s TV choice, and I relish the tension of the cut-throat world of modern espionage and the incredible cliffhangers.

Last week’s was particularly tense, to the point I found myself holding my breath. One of the characters seemed in dire peril, and with so many series ending with a shock death, it seemed like they were for it. Glancing at the clock I could see that there was 5 minutes left, surely not enough time for them to be saved and a great way to end a series.

But it wasn’t the end of the series. Whilst watching it I didn’t know this. All I knew was that it would end after an hour, giving me a possible clue as to what may or may not happen.

I have a voracious appetite for TV programmes and if you look beyond the mass-produced drivel there are many gems to be found. They all, however, suffer from one problem, one that i honestly don’t know if it could ever be fixed. They all have to last for a pre-defined period of time. Be it an hour, 45 minutes, half hour, 22 minutes, whatever it is, you know when it will end. This, in my mind, takes power away from the narration. If you didn’t know when it would end, would you be more drawn in?

A little research into why TV programmes are the length they are – a waste of time it turns out, it’s all down to money and scheduling – did make something apparent that i hadn’t either realised or appreciated. The traditional notion of the episodic story all comes down to the story of “1001 nights”.

The story is of a woman who, to save her life each day, tells her captor a story. The story ends each night with a cliffhanger that keeps her alive until the next night when she tells the next part of the story. It’s the use of cliffhangers and narrative hooks that has been carried over into mass storytelling of all formats, not just tv. The problem is we expect it. You know when it’s coming, you knows it at the end, and you know when the end is. Doesn’t really help build the tension, does it?

Here’s my idea to fix this. Make a tv series where the number of episodes is unknown and the length of the episodes varies. It might be necessary to create a block of programmes grouped together. Say two or even three programmes sharing two hours between them. To start off, they’re all the same length, if nothing else but to allow the viewer to get used to the idea. If there’s three, then 30 minutes each, plenty of time for adverts if needed, and traditional enough to not scare most people away. Of course, you will have to end them all with cliffhangers and they would have to be of a common enough genre to make the target audience happy to sit through all of them.

The next week you change things. One of them gets 50 minutes, one 25, and the last one 15. Maybe change the position of the ad breaks around, something which no doubt will take some execs some convincing to allow, and make some of the breaks smaller and some of them slightly longer. The week after that, leave one of the shows out altogether, and again change the lengths of the programmes on offer. The key thing, is to not allow the audience to know when it’s all going to be over.

(Thinking about it though, isn’t this how a good story with a complicated plot works. Many threads all woven together, some go unresolved and hang in the air, others are the focus of entire episodes. Maybe the only way would be to actually not specify the length of the slot at all. Instead find other unrelated stories to fill the gaps. Something which I really don’t know would ever work. Or maybe it’s considered standard for most stories to either focus on one plot only, to avoid confusing the viewer, or to share time for different plots, to avoid potentially annoying the viewer!)

If the basic format of my grand idea is nothing but a description of a well written and complicated tv series, maybe the final piece could be different. Avoiding traditional series length’s. In the UK, make it five parts. For the US, maybe 17. Here I can see that less would definitely be more. Alternatively break it up into smaller pieces, 8 episodes but broken up over the course of a year so that you get a blocks of 3, 3, and 2. Don’t tell anyone that this is what’s planned. Maybe the 2 could be at Christmas but don’t announce until the end of the last 3.

Of course, something like this will require some pretty hardcore writing and would no doubt be a hard sell for any and everyone involved. Would an actor be happy to see his role slashed one week and then find himself overwhelmed the next? Maybe you could have the same cast act in each show, or make the three shows compliment each other in other ways. Different takes on the same events, crossing over of characters, stories set before, after and during some interesting event. (As I write this, the more I can see this only being something that would ever work in the realm of science fiction programmes where cross-over and spin-offs abound.)

It all feels like a pipe-dream to me. Wishful thinking. (Or nothing other than a dream of a multi-plot series with some really decent writers that avoid clichés.) For now I think all i can really do is hide the clocks, avoid reading tv schedules, and hope I forget how many episodes of my favourite series I have already seen.


Published in: on 06/11/2010 at 8:13 pm  Comments (1)  
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Just add stock(s)

An uber-quick post here to gauge reaction. My recent hobby (there may actually be a pop-psychology post in the offing about my need for ongoing projects, but for another time…) is to get into a bit of stock market speculation and dabble in stocks, shares and all things world-market. Now, much like sharing one’s own dreams, I am aware that such a topic may lead readers to jab sharp pencils into their own eyes. So…post a comment if anyone is interested in my musings. Either stay silent or politely scoff if you are not. I shan’t  be offended!

(Shock breaking news: after a peak in price, fireworks shares are now plummeting badly. Sell! Sell! Sell!)

Dr Stroydont

Published in: on 06/11/2010 at 1:50 pm  Comments (3)  

Ego Boosting

Last night I wasn’t feeling my usual razor-sharp self and I decided I wanted to watch something that wasn’t too taxing.  A quick scan through Sky Anytime later saw me settling in to watch “Couples Retreat”, a film which I probably wouldn’t have considered were it not for Rob and Liv’s recent review.  The movie itself was exceedingly average (2/5) but one thing that did stay with me afterwards was the couples themselves, specifically the matching of the men and women.  Now, I’m not saying the actors in the film are unattractive, but I would say that the actresses seem to be of a slightly higher calibre.  I’m not even including the severely obese 42 year old who was dating the slim 20 year old as that was part of the plot, I’m talking about the fact that both Vince Vaughan and Jason Bateman’s characters were married to very attractive women 10 years their junior.

I realise that this is not unheard of in real life but when I discovered that Vince Vaughan had both produced the film and written the screenplay I couldn’t help wondering if this was a bit of wishful thinking.  After all, for he and his onscreen wife Malin Akerman to have a 13/14 year old child, she would have been about 18 when they got pregnant.  Again, not impossible, but the way they talk about their relationship in the film suggests they were together for a while before getting married and having kids.

The one couple that are evenly matched in age are Jon Favreau and Kristen Davis, who are 44 and 45 respectively.  However even they are not beyond a bit of personal flattery as in the film they have a 18 year old daughter who they claim was conceived on their own prom night, making their characters 10 years younger than they actually are.  Oh, did i mention that Jon Favreau was the other writer of the screenplay?

Anyway, it’s not exactly a big deal but just a little observation. I suppose I can’t really blame them,  I’d probably do the same thing in their position.


Published in: on 05/11/2010 at 10:15 am  Comments (3)