Thursday, December 31, 2009

Avatar - A 3D Spectacular

Well, well, well.

If you've been reading my blogs, you might remember that I panned the use of 3D technology in the cinema.  I suggested that only childrens films are made in 3D, and the constant putting on and taking off of the 3D glasses was a nonsense.


Today I took my eldest to see Avatar, the latest blockbuster from James Cameron, he of Terminator and Titanic fame.

Avatar, if you don't know, is the story of Jake, a paraplegic war veteran, who is brought to the planet, Pandora, which is inhabited by the Na'vi, a humanoid race with their own language and culture. Those from Earth find themselves at odds with each other and the local culture.

Humans are unable to breathe Pandora's air, but the Avatar Program enables people to link with their own Avatar, a genetically-bred human-Navi hybrid. Through his Avatar body, Jake will be able to walk again.

It's a visual feast, and the two interwoven stories work well together.

However, it's the effects and the scenery that really come into their own in this film.  Apparently, 40% of the film is 'real' with the other 60% being made inside a computer.  The thing is, it really is all 'up on the screen' to be seen.

James Cameron has been waiting for the technology to be available, to make this, and it wasn't until the Lord of the Rings trilogy that he realised this could be made.

So, back to my derision of 3D technology in the cinema.  I admit I was wrong.  The entire film is in 3D, so need to to put on and remove the glasses.  Just sit back and stare in awe at the beautifully rendered scenery, and revel in the story.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Seasonal Tidings

I'd forgotten that it's possible to blog via email. So that, wherever I am, I can drop a note, add some thoughts and generally stay in touch.

After yesterdays feast of Christmas (where we spent the day at family in Bristol), today was a slightly quieter affair.

It was nice not having to rush, to take time and relax. That was after chipping the ice away on the path so that no-one slipped.

Treacherous indeed. I sprinkled some salt, and as it landed, there was this explosion of crackling, as it started to defrost the ice. Like a huge bowl of Rice Krispies - "snap, crackle, pop".

I'm looking forward to doing not much this evening. Sitting in front of the television and catching up with some festive televisual entertainment.

Hope you're enjoying the break.
And just so you know, this was updated by email.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Lewis Hamilton - A Christmas Car(ol)

As THE day approaches, I saw this, and thought of you.

This is great.

Wishing you a Very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

Friday, December 18, 2009

Classic Movie Review V

For the last of my review, I have chosen a staple of the British Christmas television schedules.  You can't go far wrong with "The Sound of Music".

The setting, the story, and classic Oscars & Hammerstein music and lyrics all make this an all-time favourite.

Over the years it has spawned sing-a-long versions in the cinema, and the ressurection of a stage show, from Andrew Lloyd Webber.  There was even a TV show to 'find' Maria!

Now, I wasn't born when the film was originally released, in 1965; but I do remember going to see this at the cinema, probably in the late 70s'.

Julie Andrews made the character of Maria her own; and Christopher Plummer as Captain Von Trapp was also great.  The children are often brought out of retirement, to remember the days making the film, but many of them are no longer acting.  Indeed, I believe a couple never made another film!!  Correct me if I'm wrong.

Having said this is a staple of British Christmas television, I can't actually find it in the schedules this year - but never mind.  It's a classic whenever it's shown.  Grab yourself a mince pie, and settle down for a singsong in the company of Maria and the children.

The song "Do Re Mi" is probably the best loved, for children, as it can be sung in the round - I do remember learning it at school.

In March, more than 200 dancers were performing their version of "Do Re Mi", in the Central Station of Antwerp. with just 2 rehearsals they created this amazing stunt! These 4 fantastic minutes is a promotion stunt for a Belgian television program, where they were looking for someone to play the leading role, in the musical of "The Sound of Music" - sound familiar?

On YouTube, this has over 13 million hits.

This is the last of my reviews, before Christmas.  I hope you've enjoyed them.  If you feel like commenting, either agreeing, or disagreeing with my views / comments, then please let me know.

Have a very Merry Christmas and a Film Filled New Year.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Classic Movie Review IV

This film may not be a classic, in the true sense, but it has become popular.  The film is based on Helen Fielding's wildly popular bestseller "Bridget Jones's Diary".

Renee Zellweger, Hugh Grant and Colin Firth ham it up beautifully in the absolute chick-flick.

Just watch this:

Starting on New Year's day, Bridget is hungover and 'still' single.  She decides to get a grip on life, and starts a diary.

To prepare for the role, Renee Zellweger gained 25 points, and worked at a British publishing company, for a month.  She maintained her alias and her posh English accent during this time.

If you fancy a laugh, then this will be right up your street.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Classic Movie Review III

Now here is a cracker.  This film is not shown very often on TV, which is a shame, because when it was released (can you believe, 20 years ago) When Harry Met Sally was a hit.

Famous for the 'I'll have what she's having' scene in the diner, the following clip shows Harry and Sally on an airport walkway, as he tries to amend the rule that men and women cannot be friends.

Here are some facts about the film:
The orgasm scene was filmed at Katz's Deli, an actual restaurant on New York's E. Houston Street. The table at which the scene was filmed now has a plaque on it that reads, "Congratulations! You're sitting where Harry met Sally.

In the 1990 Academy Awards, the film was nominated for Best Writing, Screenplay written directly for the screen, for Nora Ephron.
Also, in 1990, Billy Crystal won the American Comedy Award for Funniest Actor in a Motion Picture (leading man).  Meg Ryan also won for Funniest Actress.

You could class this as a 'chick flick'; but to be honest, it's an all-round feel-good film.  With the Christmas and New Year theme, it's a great film to watch at this time of year.

I'm sure you've seen it, but if you haven't, take a look; you'll enjoy it.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Classic Movie Review II

In the 2nd of my series of Classic Christmas films, you already know that one of my all time favourite films is the 1946 classic "It's A Wonderful Life" by Frank Capra.

Every year I make a point of watching it, (with the Kleenex handy of course!)  It's wonderfully funny, sad, poignant and romantic.

Here's a clip:

It's quite a long film, at 130 minutes, with James Stewart, Donna Reed and Lionel Barrymore.  Despite being set around Christmas, it was filmed during a heat wave. It got to be so hot that Frank Capra gave everyone a day off to recuperate.

The story of George Bailey, who feels useless and decides the world will be a better place without him, is a strange choice for a Christmas film.  However, this film has a real and important message about how our lives touch others, and it deals with issues like poverty and freedom and sacrifice.

I haven't seen the recently released colourised version, and I'm not such a purist that I think it should have been left alone.  Having said that, whether black and white or colour, it is beautifully written and directed, and the arrival of Clarence, and his 'mini story' really brings it together.

Nominated for 5 Oscars at the 1947 Academy Awards, including Best Actor (James Stewart), Best Director and Best Picture; it never actually won; but that doesn't detract from the film that it is.

With wonderful characters, great cast and uplifiting message, this truly is a Wonderful Christmas Classic.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Classic Movie Review

Tis the season to watch films.  Each year, at this time, broadcasters tempt us with their cinematic fare.  Back in September, I wrote a post about 'Movie Magic' and I thought this would be a good opportunity to review some more of my favourites.  Films that warm the cockles of your heart and are good, no nonsense, fun.

Last night I watched a film I love.

From 1973 (but set in the mid 30s) this film stars Paul Newman, Robert Redford and Robert Shaw.

"The Sting", in case you've never heard of it, is the story of a small time crook (Robert Redford) and a veteran con man (Paul Newman) who are looking for revenge on the crime lord (Robert Shaw) who has murdered one of their gang.
This is classed as a comedy caper, however, the story, and the clever twist at the end makes for one of the greatest double-crosses in movie history.

This trailer doesn't really do it justice - it's a cracking story, brilliantly made, with some of the best music in a film.  The ragtime style was first introduced around 1910; twenty years before the time this film is set.  Theoretically, this shouldn't have worked, but since a lot of the film is without dialogue, the music totally sums up the mood.

One of my all time favourite pieces of music is "The Entertainer", which is the theme to this film.

Another interesting point to note; whilst the story is set in Chicago, the mayor in 1973 wouldn't allow any films to be made there, that portrayed the city in a bad light.  He finally allowed the producers three days to film.

Much of the film was made on the back-lot at Universal Studios and the diner in which Hooker meets Lonnegan is the same diner interior used in Back To The Future (1985) in which Marty McFly first meets his father and calls Doc Brown.

The film was recognised for it's greatness in winning 7 Academy Awards in 1974; including George Roy Hill for Best Director and the overall Best Picture accoldade.

If you haven't seen this, then treat yourself; I promise you won't be disappointed.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Electricity Monitor - UPDATE

On Wednesday I wrote about my new gadget - the electricity monitor.

Now that it's been in operation for a couple of days, I thought I'd give a first review of how it's going.

As I wrote, the installation is quite easy.  The supplied clip is attached to the red mains cable.  It's perfectly safe to do, there is no requirement for electrical knowledge or qualifications.  You can seen mine attached here.

The cable then connects to the wireless transmitter (seen here) and from there the information is transmitted to the display.

The display shows a number of different pieces of information.

The large number is the current (excuse the pun!) cost; in pence, per hour.  This fluctuates, and you can immediately see the difference when you switch on the kettle (for example).  This morning it jumped from 5p to 20p just to make a cup of tea.  The important thing is to only boil what you need, and not a full kettle - that way the cost reduces as soon as the boiling is complete.

Other information, seen here is the accumulative cost, since starting transmitting.  Here it shows £4.19 - which is the approximate cost of electricity used since Tuesday evening.  The current temperature is shown (although this has no bearing on anything other than giving information - unless your heating is electric) and the time.

The time is important if you have more than one price tariff during the day.  You can then set the cost within the unit, and the price will automatically change to the relevant tariff, giving a more accurate indication of cost.

There are other displays available, such as the amount of energy used - accumulative, this is showing 36Kwh since Tuesday evening; with a approx 0.5kw per hour being used.

From a greenhouse gas perspective, the unit informs me that we have used 0.0154 tonnes of CO2, which equates to 0.215Kg per hour!!

All in all, this does make one a little paranoid; however, it's an impressive unit, and we are now working, pro-actively, to drive down the cost of our electricity usage.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Save Energy - Get an OWL

Everyday we are bombarded by news of increasing greenhouse gases, climate change, ever increasing energy costs - it's all doom and gloom.
Not in our house.  Oh no...
Yesterday I purchased an energy monitor.  To be more accurate a wireless electricity monitor.
No more guessing - this is the real deal.

Let me explain how it works.

  1. The clip sensor, provided, is attached quite easily to the main supply cable (the red one) that goes into your electricity meter.
  2. This sensor is the attached to a wireless transmitter.(Batteries supplied)
  3. The transmitter sends data to the display unit (up to 30m away) every 2 minutes.
  4. The display unit receives and displays data on a large, easy to read LCD screen.

The information displayed includes:

  • The cost of electricity used
  • Electricity in Kwh
  • Greenhouse gas display
  • Temperature

You can set up to 4 electricity charges and set them across the day, so that it calculates, quite accurately, your actual spend.  For ease of use, I've calculated and average price, across peak and off-peak.

The monitor I bought is an OWL Wireless Electricity Monitor and to quote the blurb:
"This unit provides up to the second information on the amount of electricity you are using in terms of power, cost and your carbon footprint.  This means you can see in real time the benefits of turning off electrical devices at home.  Whether it's turning off at the plug rather than just using standby, or simply turning off a light, OWL shows you the cash impact of changing your habits and behaviours which could amount to savings of hundreds of pounds per year."

As I've already mentioned, it's very simple to install and get started.  What I do like is the ability to purchase a USB Connect device.  This is an add on tool, which, in conjunction with the transmitter, when the USB device is plugged into your PC, it will stream real time data to the supplied software, allowing you to track your electricity usage.  This seems a little bit extreme, and I think paranoia could soon set in!!

The monitor is a very neat device and at less than £40, I believe this could be recouped quite quickly.

Having looked at recent bills, I've worked out that we're spending approximately £3 per day in electricity.  That gives us a target to work towards - I think it's going to get quite tense!!

I'm not trying to sell it, just give my initial opinion.  However, I was pleased to note that this has achieved "Best Buy" status from the consumer organisation Which?

If you're looking for a good Christmas present, or are interested in reducing your own costs, this is a terrific unit, which will definitely help do the job.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

My Family Search

You may remember that I wrote a blog about researching my family history.  A sort of personal "Who Do You Think You Are?"

Over the last couple of weeks I made some progress in finding out some information, and had some great conversations with my dad about his father and aunt.  I also, finally, found the census proving the existence of my great-grandfather.  Not that I disputed his existence, but it was slightly un-nerving not being able to 'find' him.

Using websites, like or, makes it easier to search records, and I found immigration papers showing my great-aunt leaving for America, as well as the incoming passenger lists when she returned, not once, but twice, on a transatlantic liner (Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth, if you're interested).

I then discovered she arrived in Liverpool, on returning from South Africa, where she had stayed with her mother for a period during the war.

Researching family history is akin to a good detective novel.  The more you delve and dig, the more you can uncover; and the more you can start to learn about how people lived.  Not fictional characters, but real people.  People who are related to you.

It's a great project, and one that can never, really, be completed.  Many of the characters have left us, but with what we have, and making a conscious effort to remember, this is a life-long project that will provide family history for generations to come.

The family story is ever-evolving, with new chapters being written each and every day.

You can read my previous article here - "Who Do You Think I Am?"


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