26 February 2010

Let's piste again

It is once again time to embark on a trip up a mountain, nail some planks to my feel and chuck myself down steep, snow-covered slopes.

Wish me luck

02 February 2010


With my fabled Mini Cooper S continuing to cost me lots of money and the mileage climbing sky high, I started thinking about a different car.

This is a tough decision for me and one I make seldom - I have only chosen and bought 3 cars in the past and only one of those was what I really wanted at the time.

So I've spend some time scouring the magazines, reviews, price lists and so on and eventually came up with two cars which I test drove last week

Volkswagen Scirocco 2.0GT

I actually went and drove 2 of these, one was an auto and one a manual. The auto is a DSG box with manual change paddles

First car was the auto - drove around the outskirts of Oxford and felt a bit cheated by the route, but nevertheless I ended up less than impressed. I didn't feel involved in the driving experience. It made all the right noises and did mostly the right things but even using the manual shift still felt a little distant. Thinking about it afterwards, I decided it was the auto box - I just didn't like it - it always lagged behind what I wanted it to do. Not a great start

Second Roc was driven out in the country. I immediately felt the car was more alive and much more fun to drive. We did a bit of A road work and then lots of lanes and it was great fun. The engine pulls right from the low range to not far from redline and it's eager and responsive. Steering was good but not pin-sharp and overall it felt more eager but less positive and precise than the mini - But it's a bigger car. I really enjoyed this drive

Audi TT 2.0 Roadster

I don't want a roadster, but it gave me a good idea about the TT. Considering the shared heritage if the two cars, I was really surprised at just how different this car felt. It was sharp and nimble and fun and pretty damn quick. I immediately felt in complete control - like I knew how it would behave. There was no sense of anything other than precision in the steering and even when pushed around the lanes it did exactly as you'd expect - complete with a bit of understeer and rear slide at times.

The TT had buckets of grin factor, where the Roc was a bit of a brief smirk. I didn't have much doubt at the end about which one I prefered.

14 January 2010

Movie: Avatar

I finally managed to drag myself out, despite the snow and ice, and see a movie. The film that got me out of the house was the massively hyped Avatar. I had hopes and expectations of this film, but ended up being surprised in a number of respects.

Long before the film came to the cinema the hype machine started its work. In the case of this film, I allowed it to carry me along to some extent – mainly because I like quite a lot of James Cameron’s work. It took a fair bit of discipline to avoid reading or watching all the previews and interviews around before the film but I have found, in the past, that knowing less about the movie before walking in the door makes for a much better experience.

Having said all that, you couldn’t help but have expectations (and worries) about this massive presentation. I wanted to enjoy it, but felt that it was rather too gimmicky (or cutting edge as they like to call it) to be taken seriously. I’ve been let down by lots of films over the years, and was fairly certain this was going to be another one.

How wrong I was.

My first concern, the 3D. The previous generation of 3D films used to revel in the additional dimension – usually to such an extent that it destroyed the rest of the film. Avatar resisted the temptation to continually use this effect, but instead used it sparingly and in some very creative ways. For most of the film, you almost forgot about the 3D, then there would be a scene or sequence which would do something, often quite subtle, and jerk you out of your seat for a moment. Very well judged.

My second concern was the CGI characters. We still all live with the travesty that was Jar Jar Binks, but luckily things have moved beyond all that. The characters were well considered, well conceived and wonderfully executed. The motion was fluid and believable, the range of expressions and emotions was good and the blending of live action and CGI generally worked well. The rendered environment was incredibly detailed and breathtaking. The vehicles were perhaps a little less masterful, but overall the effect was very pleasing.

Then, of course, there was the plot – often the downfall of many films. In this respect, the film was anything but groundbreaking, relying on a fairly tried and tested formula – adding in a few twists, but nothing particularly revolutionary. But this was a great call by Cameron. Telling a solid story with a message held all the technology, effects, groundbreaking visuals and untried techniques together. He had a vision of what he wanted to say with the film and he stuck to it – which makes the whole film work as a single entity, not as a series of effects shots or clever animations.

So, with all these concerns out of the way I could sit back and enjoy the film. And enjoy it I did - it was great. Not without flaws and not without a couple of poor judgements, but generally very entertaining, engaging and enjoyable. Definitely one for the big screen, it initially carries you along with the visuals before wrapping you up with some very nice characterisations (Sigourney Weaver enjoyed herself a lot) and a strong, emerging plot line. Yes, it takes you where you expect it to, but with a few twists and turns along the way.

The first two acts are very enjoyable, and the film only falters towards the end, where it feels that Cameron wanted to do more with the characters and the story. The pace stumbles for a few steps and is overlong in a couple of sequences before recovering for the predictable, but enjoyable finale.

I came out of the cinema feeling that I’d really enjoyed it – from start to end. I felt the story had something to say and the characters were believable. This, in the end, is the thing that makes the movie. The effects are great, the 3D is fun, but the story, the characters and the overriding message create this whole package that is just undeniably enjoyable. And that, after all, is what a movie is supposed to be all about.

9 / 10

13 January 2010

Let it snow

Why does the whole country go mad when small amounts of snow fall?

This is a question that has been puzzling me for a few weeks now.

We've had 3 helpings of snow of late, one before Christmas, one a week ago and another today. The middle one was, at least here, reasonable - in that about 15cm fell overnight. The others have been 2-5cm.

When I wake up in the morning and there's any amount of fresh snow on the ground, I take the trouble to walk up to the main road and have a look to see what conditions are like. If the road is solid with snow or ice, I'm not budging. What the world at large seems to do is anything but.

People, and by people I mean drivers, seem oblivious to the conditions beyond their windscreen - so you get the ridiculous situation where the road is covered in snow and ice and people believe that 83 mph on a B road is a good idea (estimate). Then you get the road which has been cleared and had 4 million cars drive on it such that there is not a hint of snow or ice and captain terrified in the car in front is doing 23mph all the way from Oxford to not-quite-Oxford.

I don't know if it's a product of the non-challenging conditions we have through most of the year, the improvements in car handling, poor training or rank incompitence, but it's very confusing and annoying to make an informed decision to venture out into some demanding conditions and be confronted by a not-inconsiderable number of people who fall into one of those categories.

08 January 2010

Looking back again

I have to come clean and say that 2009 has not been my favourite year.

I know everyone’s got a bit of a downer on it and it came from a broken home and all, but that’s the fact.

The year is underscored by the 6 months I spent without a job. This was serious time “without a job” because I even went to the job centre and claimed allowances and everything. It was strange to be working on the computer most of the day but have no one pay me a sum of money for my troubles. Of course, with the general job situation the way it was, it took some time to find something suited to my skills and when that didn’t work I just took something that looked vaguely credible.

After getting the job things turned around a bit and after settling in, things were going quite nicely. We even went on holiday and had some time away. I never really felt settled in the job, but it was ticking along reasonably well. Then big reorganisations came along and everything was thrown into disarray once more. It brought back memories of the uncertainties of the future of the year – which is not something I want to re-live.

We did manage to visit several people we’ve been meaning to see for ages this year and do a few of the things we wanted to but I feel we’ve not really felt like we can relax and do things and plan things because of the uncertainty of what may happen next month or the month after. Of course, there is always uncertainty, but most of the time you aren’t so acutely aware of it.

So after feeling that 2008 was a year that went nowhere, 2009 did go somewhere, just not very far and we may all have to turn around and go back to the beginning again. I won’t say it was a bad year, but 2009 has not been my favourite year.

24 December 2009

Time flies

Is it really Christmas again?

21 December 2009


I got to work and found my car door frozen this morning

Bit of a shock - went to get out of the car and the door wouldn't open - it was fine when I got INTO the car at home! I eventually had to clamber out of the passenger side in a most undignified way.

Further investigation seems to indicate that it wasn't frozen at all, but probably broken. Looks like the car will pay YET another trip to the garage (it's only just come back from having a new expansion tanl)

Update: The door is officially broken. Garage man said it's probably one of the clips inside the door.