Which Doctor?

According to the Guardian, Channel 4 is going to launch TV's first interactive drama, wherein viewers phone-in to decide "what happens next". How groundbreaking! Or at least, it would be, if the BBC hadn't done it first as a throwaway kids show in the 1980s, presented by top future Doctor Who, Sylvester McCoy. According to TV Cream, and who am I to doubt them, it was called What's Your Story?. So there.


Off with their... obvious puns

More television related malarkey. I watched the pilot of "head cases", a drama about a pair of lawyers with mental disorders. Do you see what they've done there? Passable, I thought, but unfortunately everyone else disagreed, and it got cancelled after a mere two episodes.

Still, at least it gave headline writers the opportunity to bring out every possible cliche. Here are some of their worst:

Fox Cuts Off "Head Cases"
FOX's 'Head Cases' First on the Chopping Block
"Head Cases" Get Axed
Fox's 'Head Cases' is a little too nutty
'Head Cases' a no-brainer
Fox's Tedious 'Head Cases': Criminally Inane
'Head Cases' Fails to Convince Jury of Peerers
Head Cases may be crazy like a Fox
Despite likable stars, 'Head Cases' is a major trial

Perhaps it's a good thing it got cancelled, sparing us more of this awful headlinery.


Jack's Off

From the Guardian's Ask Jack column:

USB limits
Is there a restriction on the number of files that can be saved to a USB drive?
Jim McAllister

JS As far as I know, the only limitation is that imposed by the file system. A USB thumb drive, memory card or phone is likely to use FAT16, the "file allocation table" system from Microsoft's old DOS disk operating system. This can store a maximum of 512 files in the root directory — and this assumed 8-character file names! If the card is 512MB or larger, it probably uses Windows 95's FAT32 file system, which has no such limit. Since using 8.3 filenames (eg Track001.mp3) is probably impractical, you may need to store FAT16 files in separate folders.

What the hell is he on about? "Store FAT16 files in separate folders"? What on earth is a FAT16 *file*? FAT32 does have a limiting size -- 2^16 within a single folder, according to MS. I don't know whether Jack is the victim of bad editing, or just bad information.

Galveston, oh Galveston

One does begin to worry rather that these are the end times and the US is being punished for its actions. Or something like that. I suppose we'll see how things go over the weekend. Things are so bad that the world is apparently running out of hurrican names. Or, to quote out of context, "A little bit of Rita is all I need.."


I'm thinking about my doorbell...

...when are you going to fix it?

When someone rings my doorbell, it keeps ringing until you go downstairs and lever the pusher back out of a stuck position.

Fortunately, no one ever comes to visit, so I just have to deal with it when pizza arrives or someone comes to read the meter.

In other news: I noticed that my network was very busy last night, when there shouldn't have been any external traffic. But I was too lazy to get off the couch to investigate, so I used VNC from the laptop to get onto the desktop and figure out what was running. The only application that was using any significant chunk of processor was something called winvnc4.exe, which I didn't recognise. Could it be a virus or a worm? Then I realized: it was only the VNC server that was using the bandwidth, internally, so I could see what was on the desktop.

If this hasn't made you dislike me, then I really don't know what else I can do to make you hate me.


We love to hear him swear on the TV

What is it with the Americans? They can be really quite brutal in films, but somehow on TV they are unable to say a bad word to anyone. When they were making the US version of Pop Idol, they searched high and low for the American Simon Cowell, but eventually had to buy in Simon Cowell, because they couldn't find anyone else to be nasty to talentless singers. Ditto Ann Robinson on the Weakest Link. Now we find that they can't even be grumpy or swear on TV: they have to hire in Hugh Laurie, possibly the most English person on the planet behind Steven Fry, to scowl and take drugs on House, and Ian McShane (TV's lovable, joyous, Lovejoy) to swear and spit in Deadwood. Our sweetest, fluffiest actors play the worst, nastiest characters on US TV. Thank goodness Vinnie Jones is unable to fake an American accent, or we'd all be in trouble.


New technology put to good use


Good to see that there's nothing better to talk about.


Is it just me...

...or does the new Gwen Stefani single cool remind me of "I never promised you a rose garden". In particular the "smile for a while and let's be jolly" bit.

Here an awful midi rendition here.

What's that? Just me then. Fine. Lovely lady lumps indeed.



...the Guardian nano.

I got polled yesterday. While I was writing my epic review of all new television, someone called up and asked my opinions of Dick Forrester, GWB, Hillary, John McCain and Corzine. I think the middle three were controls to determine my secret allegiance. They also asked if I had voted in the last US election and I replied honestly that I hadn't. In fact, I answered all their questions truthfully. With luck I will have completely skewed their results. One can but hope.


Shoot the Pilot

In what is sure to become a new tradition, each summer TV companies release screeners of the pilot episodes of their new TV shows, and each summer these get leaked onto the internet. Subversion of the usual rules of copyright, or wanton attempt at free viral marketing by the networks? Um, probably the former, but let's pretend it's the latter.

I've watched about half a dozen of what looked to me to be the most promising of these, and for want of something better to write about, here's what I think:

  • The Unit -- the prospect is intriguing: a top-secret black-ops army unit, out there fighting terrorists and other enemies of the united states. Intercut with scenes of their nervous wives back on the base. Created by David Mamet. Um, right. Bascially, President Palmer from 24 has retired from politics and is the leader of this dodgy unit; a new recruit joins The Unit, and his young wife (Fred from Angel who has retired from vampire hunting and is now a ditzy mom-to-be). Fine, but it didn't quite grab me. The opening action sequence in Afghanistan just rather unfortunately reminds me too much of Team America: World Police, when the ignorant westerners attempt to infiltrate a terrorist cell, and end up blowing stuff up. The closing action sequence involves the take down of a hijacked aeroplane. On the ground. What basically happens is they open the door, then President Palmer runs in and shoots the terrorists. Not particularly thrilling. Still, a slightly more hands on approach to emergency management than Clinton or Bush Snr.
  • Just Legal -- another interesting idea (actually, all of these ones are, I suppose). A Jerry Bruckheimer produced series about an impossibly young lawyer (18), with a title that implies you might have accidentally tuned in to a channel that you need to pay a very large monthly fee for to have listed on your bill as "additional programming". You can just hear the concept being pitched: "Doogie Howser but with a lawyer". There's only one problem: it doesn't work. The kid is too old to have the cuteness of Neil Patrick Harris playing a sixteen year old. And because he's qualified as a lawyer, he's a dork. Not only that, he's not any good. For this show to work, it needs to have moments of genius when the kid solves the crime, or at least comes up with the spectacular defence to get the client off. Instead he just stumbles through. Even Don Johnson as the grizzled alcoholic disillusioned trial lawyer who hasn't stood up in court for over a decade... can't save this. It's a Bruckheimer, so there's some action. The kid has to interview a hood for the crucial alibi for his client. The kid asks a harsh question. The hood takes offence, and swings a punch. Don Johnson hits him back, and they run off. Um, yeah.
  • Everybody hates Chris -- genius title, this is a Chris Rock vehicle that, in a moment of even greater genius, doesn't actually feature Chris Rock. It's rather like one of those kids cartoons made from a film that features none of the original actors from the film doing the voices. In this case, the solution is to have a kid playing the young chris rock going to school in brooklyn. So Chris appears in this pilot episode only in voice over. The plot is great: Chris has to go to school, has a fight with a bully, then runs home and looks after his siblings until his mom get home. No, really. It's moderately amusing in places, but it's hard to see that this can string it out for more than a series or two before running out of ideas. But then I thought that about Malcolm in the middle, and that seems to be doing all right for itself, about to go into its seventh season.
  • Reunion -- this was supposed to be the big one. High concept in the extreme. 24? Screw that. Instead of each episode being one hour in the same day, each episode covers one year in the life of six friends: three guys and three girls [hmm, sounds familiar]. It starts off in 1986, and follows forward to the present day (2006, I guess) where a terrible murder has been committed, the secret of which will only be revealed over the course of the series. Here's the problem: I switched it off after fifteen minutes, maybe I was in the wrong mood. But, I hated the characters. Even thought I couldn't tell them apart. They're all rich, preppy kids. One of them thinks she is pregnant, but by one of the guys who is not her boyfriend. One of them gives a speech to celebrate their graduation of high school. He then drives off drunk in his dad's porsche, gets hit by a trucker, gets his passenger to take the blame, discovers that the trucker died, and... I screamed out "I just don't care about your idiotic behavior. I don't care if you all get murdered by the reincarnated vicious spirit of the truck driver".
  • Threshold -- aliens arrive on earth, popping in and out of the fifth dimension, appearing as mysterious fractal hypergeometric shapes and bizarre piercing noises that drive people crazy. We must conclude that they are ravers from 1992. Perhaps they are justified and ancient. A "contingency planner" is called up to investigate, and puts together a rag-tag team of scientific misfits, including Brent Spiner (Data) doing his best impression of Christopher Lloyd in BTTF, and a four foot tall linguist. It's fairly cliched stuff, with all the jump cuts, bizarre dreams of alien landscapes, and people posessed by the spirit of the aliens who just won't die. Still, given the elusive promise that by the end of the first season, the world will be taken over by aeliens, and the next phase of the plan will have to kick into effect, might just be enough to keep me watching. I think I'd still have preferred the original 1986 "Misfits of Science" version of events, though. They really did drive an ice-cream van.
  • Global Frequency -- this one reads rather like an amalgam of the all the others put together. A secret cabal of 1000 people spread around the world protect us all from mysterious supernatural attacks, commanded by the mysterious Miranda Zero. In the first episode, a guy gets recruited into the group after stumbling on the corpse of one of the members of the 'frequency'. Demonstrating his perspicacity, he saves the world, thus earning him the right to become a member. It's a little bit stilly and overdone, but it doesn't really matter since the pilot was never picked up, and hence there will be no series. Worth checking out the pilot though, it's sufficiently diverting, just like the equally never to be seen "Heat Vision and Jack" pilot.

So, what have we learnt from all this? Or, to put it another, from these pilots, which will I go on to see? This time last year, I was sufficiently intrigued by Veronica Mars and Eyes to seek them out. Veronica Mars turned out to be the best TV show ever made by the Americans (it's no Press Gang, to be sure, but it's not bad); Eyes turned out to be moderately diverting, not quite living up to the densely packed promise of the pilot, and died an ignominious death after being yanked by its network mid-season. This year, I'm not really inspired by any of these. I might look out for Threshold and The Unit to see if they can improve on their so-so performance in the pilot. I will be avoiding Reunion like the plague, though doubtless it will become the breakthrough smash hit of the season. Fortunately, the sustaining concept rather precludes a second season with the same cast, and will lead to a lacklustre rehash of the same idea with new faces that is doomed to fall on its arse (see also: "That 80's Show". Shame, since I was quite looking forward to "That 60's Show" and "That 90's Show"). Just Legal I might look for the occasional episode of, it looks like it could easily be dipped into, but I can't really see it taking off. Everybody Hates Chris will probably go on forever.

So what will I watch this year? Well, there's the bound to be disappointing second season of Veronica Mars, as network enforced changes water down the show's pure genius. Alias looks like it will stagger from ridiculous extravegance to extravegance after last season's frankly apalling "Look at me, I'm an enitrely unnecessary cliffhanger"-cliffhanger ending. House ought to be able to live up to its greatness after the first series, but there's always the danger that they will try to take the edge of Hugh Laurie's stubble. The Daily Show continues to be great; Family Guy and American Dad are watchable, the former more so than the latter. And... well, I really should get out more. So I'll leave it at that.


Jamie Kaning it

Well, I finished playing the BBC's "interactive fiction" game Jamie Kane, due in part to the brouhaha surrounding some fan-based wikifiddling. And the verdict is... it's all right, I suppose.

The game is based around an internet messageboard, of which you are a member. Smart, eh? Very postmodern. It's all supposed to be interactive. Only, the technology isn't quite up to it yet, so you can't actually post, just read the characters talking too each other. You get to chat to them via a flash pretend instant messenger (pity they couldn't get it to work through a regular IM client, that would really make for a nice confusion between fantasy and reality). It's supposed to be really good AI, but it doesn't quite work... I was asked where I lived and said "New Jersey, USA", and the character replied something about the channel islands. Trying too hard. There's not much of that anyway, mostly they ignore what you say and just get on with their scripted plot moving on.

And that's the basic problem with the game, if you want to call it a problem: for an "interactive" experience it's pretty damn linear. Completely so, in fact: nothing you do seems to make the slightest difference to the progression of things. The game is broken down into tasks, and you have to complete one each day, but the tasks are particularly challenging: just play some silly little flash game, or click on a few links. It's diverting, but there's no great sense of achievement, and there's too much help offered too quickly to force you through.

There's a whole lot of detail to begin with -- the messageboard characters have blogs, there's lots of Jamie Kane information, songs, trivia and so on -- but while this makes the game seem very rich to begin with, it hardly gets used, and so after feasting on the detail to begin with (reading up all the past few entries in the blogs, for example), this kind of gets lost. The blogs get updated as the game goes on, a nice touch, but not very much, and not always convincingly (far too much supposedly private information is posted in what are supposed to be public blogs).

There's also some fossil evidence of the game's evolution. One of the characters has a web page on cheapserve. It's here. Well, fool around with the URL, and you get to this, which gives some useful information -- but never appears in the game itself. Looks like some kind of vestigal thing from an early game (where you have to find JK's mother's maiden name: the answer is in the lyrics of one of his songs), which eventually got dropped. But, just goes to show you shouldn't use mother's maiden name as a security question, since it can be quite easy to find the answer.

[Edit: commenter points out that you get directed to this website somehow if you complain that you are unable to listen to the song. Which is dumb (of the game creators), since all the lyrics are on the JK website along with the songs]

The game has a few risque moments, which seems a bit much given its intended audience. Chief amongst these is probably the chat that directs you to the following link: NSFW! (not safe for work!). Perhaps they are being clever and checking your age from your profile before choosing to send you to graphic depictions of female nudity. But I somehow doubt it. All this paid for with licence payers' money! Good thing I don't pay my licence fee (because I don't live in the UK, duh). Also, for some reason there's an awful lot of the fictional characters linking to images to illustrate their point. Which I've never seen anyone do in real life, but never mind. Anyway, most of these are to non-BBC sites, which is a bit dodgy, since the site owner could easily swap the image for something extremely NSFW. But that's life, I suppose.

Anyway, it passes the time, and the plot is reasonably if a little contrived in places (and one of the plot twists is just silly). Play it if you like, but don't expect it to change your life.


Things must be bad...

...petrol is only 200% more expensive than gasoline instead of 300%:
cultural differences


My favourite headlines

I know that desperate times call for desperate measures. But some of these stories seem verging on police brutality:

Police hold two over burning man

Police hold man over barbecue [shooting]

Police hold woman over deadly Paris Hotel fire



Following the mysterious text message last week, I replied and got the following four messages in very quick succession:

Who r u and why did your house explode?

Do u live in nyc?

How old r u?

R u a chick or a guy?

within a 3 minute period. Still unable to tell from this whether I am dealing with some bizarre robot or a hormonal teenager. Possibly both.

Bad Wording

GWB: "Aid is surging toward those who have been affected by the hurricane. Millions of gallons of water and millions of tons of food have begun to arrive."

Millions of gallons of water surging towards the victims? Not the best image to use, really.


A little light relief

By way of a distraction... are these the worst lyrics ever committed to the annals of popular culture?

My hump, my hump, my hump, my hump,
My hump, my hump, my hump, my hump, my hump, my hump.
My lovely lady lumps

(by the way, are there *any* lyrics sites out there which don't try to infect you with all manner of unpleasant spyware and detritus?)