Friday, May 29, 2009

Star Trek

I saw the preview for Star Trek while waiting for a Clive Owen movie to start, The International. The International was a pile of steaming dog turd, but the preview for Star Trek hinted at something far more exciting and watchable. I never mentioned my suspicions to anyone, for fear of being poked with a stick while onlookers mumbled the dirty "Trekkie" word in my direction. I let the thoughts of interest slide, and ignored any urges to investigate further.

Then, I saw that the movie was out in South Africa. I could go watch it. I told my girlfriend, and told her sister, and said "let's go see what's showing", knowing fully well that I would use my manly beard to influence their decision, and that we would go watch Star Trek. I watched it. My suspicions were confirmed in 126 minutes of sheer awesomeness - Star Trek is the greatest movie of all time, ever. There, I said it. I'm not ashamed.

You disagree? Have you watched it? If yes, and you still disagree, then shut up and go read someone else's blog (right after clicking a money making advert link, that is). If not, then reserve judgement until you have seen it, and until it has blown your mind hole. If you are one of those "Trekkies" and your complaints are about the inaccuracies surrounding the film, then I give you two statements:
  1. It is the year 2009. Things change (and get better). Deal with it.
  2. Shut up and go read a fellow Trekkie's blog.
For the rest of you, who are going to continue reading this post, I give you my mind-hole-blown thoughts on the movie, and why it has me reeling in childish giddy-excitement every time I think of it.

Firstly, I'll start by saying that the recent launch and success of the STS-125 Shuttle Atlantis repair mission played a huge part in my interest in the film - not in my interest to actually go and watch the film, but in the reignition of my interest in space in general. Twitter played a large role in that too, so you could say that twitter made me love Star Trek - a terrible crime if there ever was one! But back to point - the updates from Mike Massimino and NASA got my interest back and I did plenty of reading up on space, and planets, and the shuttle and Hubble and theory around faster-than-light-travel and all things included therein.

My next point regarding the movie is a standard thought I've had for the last few films I've watched (particularly new Hollywood movies) - the movies assume I am stupid and need absolutely everything explained to me, for fear I won't grasp the mind-numbing plot and won't spend my well earned cash on the brand. Well, Star Trek does a good job of avoiding the mistake of filling in every possible detail of certain themes - it skips large chunks of our protagonist's life without missing anything; we are well aware of what makes up his character by the time the story begins in earnest.

Our main protagonist was well cast (James T. Kirk, for those of you who have been living in a cave for the last 40 years), I felt - the girls will certainly love him, and he has that Hollywood "cowboy" manner that is common in movies like Top Gun; an easily likeable, but also troubled, character. The rest of the cast is also well done, easily recognisable for the fans, and fresh and updated so that the popular youth who have never watched Star Trek will be interested. Spock is a fantastic portrayal as well, so hats off to the casting crew for picking him.

The storyline itself is pretty cool, it's not dull and is not too obvious, and it gets away from any need to stick to Star Trek guidelines by throwing in some time travel and alternate universe theories - always a good bet. There are the typical cliches that one needs in order to keep with the Star Trek franchise, and I'm happy to say they're well done and not boring or unrealistic. The amount of times the young Jim Kirk gets the crap beaten out of him combined with the number of times he finds himself clinging to a cliff or ledge by his fingertips is a typical Hollywood move, but it makes for an entertaining, action packed watch in any case.

The visuals are awesome, and the sound is great too - in a surround sound cinema the loud sounds of space travel and fist fights set the mood for a great watch - I found myself on the edge of my seat, jaw hanging, utterly absorbed in the action for large parts of the film. The awe of space and space travel, new planets and things like Space Tethers and free-fall space diving made for a totally believable, absorbing, action packed, nail biting movie. There have been few movies that have kept me so engrossed that I barely touch my popcorn-smartie mix, and Star Trek was one of them.

It may not have the level of character development and thought provoking plot twists that critics need, but any seven year old boy watching this will be running around on flying motorbikes, dodging the event horizon of black holes made by red matter, and greeting their friends with the "live long and prosper" sign for much time to come. I felt like a seven year old kid watching Star Trek, and I insist that you won't find a more entertaining movie anywhere for a long time.

Watch this movie - resistance is futile.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Twitter Space

The recent meteoric rise of Twitter has influenced my life greatly in the last few weeks, for several reasons. One of them is the sheer addictiveness of the whole thing - it's easy, write a quick status update (my favourite part of Facebook anyway), click send, and watch a few friends update their statuses too. Add replies, hashtags, followers and Twitpic, and you have a whole community of people who are both completely normal, and a bit techno-geeky.

Another reason is the interesting combination of people who use it, with many celebrities and porn stars joining the fad, along with major news agencies and political campaignists, and your run of the mill average Joe Blogger. The topics are interesting, and there is the usual gathering of smut and crude spam crap that naturally follows all internet societies, but it is for the most part entertaining, enlightening and interesting enough to get me through boring meetings.

Then, on cue, enter a world first (well, a universe first, if you like) as astronaut Mike Massimino becomes the first person to tweet from space. Fellow tweeters (in his field) are NASA and soon to be in space astronaut Mark Polansky. There are others, but these are the ones I follow (if you're suddenly itching to hear what I have to tweet about, I can be found here). Tweeting about astronaut training, the days leading up to the launch of Atlantis on STS-125 on the last ever repair mission to the Hubble telescope, and then tweeting about the spacewalks and missions in space, and now their return, these tweeple have kept me glued to my computer screen.

I have always been fascinated by space, but following their tweets (also where I learned of the existence of brought the whole experience right home. The images from NASA have been awesome, as have their regular updates on the missions, and I found myself wondering what it would be like to be an astronaut and if I could actually be one - thoughts I'm sure most boys have at some point - and it is possible (though difficult for South Africans, especially deaf ones like me) and more easily accessible than most would realise.

It has been a thoroughly revitalising experience for me, to see technology and a fast growing fad be used to get public interest growing in projects that people might otherwise not see or hear about. I would probably not have watched the launch of Atlantis live on NASA TV if it weren't for Twitter, and by extension neither would the girls in my house. It's awesome that things like these are made easy to find, and while it makes the world a smaller place, it gives us knowledge we'd otherwise have trouble finding, and that makes it more awesome.

The other interesting twitter experience I've had is following the account of Liverpool TV. The journalists regularly tweet about stories or promotions on the website, or generally interesting facts of life in and around Liverpool Football Club and the goings on. With tweets about training, interviews, youth and reserve team matches, team reports, press box lunches and generally the laughs surrounding the club and it's employees, they're a must follow for me. I know more about the club and players now than ever before, and my natural thirst for LFC knowledge is sated by the advent of a cool idea, Twitter.

It certainly has changed my life, even if it has just given me somewhere to post useless updates and read up on interesting bits of inside info. I never considered myself to be completely conversant with all bits of technology and it's uses, or to be a techno-geeky dude, but if these circles are what I'm confined to when I use Twitter, then I'm cool with that. I tweet. Do you?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Update: Go Kart Racing!

So, It's been 12 days since my last post (thanks, Justice, for the reminder). I promised to give an update on the Go Kart Racing, but due to certain copyright and invasion of privacy issues, I am unable to post full details. Therefore, I will certainly NOT mention in any way Justice's crashing into the tyre wall of the first corner, on the first lap, before he reached the starting line up. I will also in no way post this picture of him in action:

Now, getting that out the way, the afternoon was actually a blast!

We arrived, and had a beer to get us out of work mode. We then started chatting about relevant topics, such as deaths, burnings and scalpings all occurring from the partaking in go kart racing. Wise decision. This may have led to certain team members decisions to not go all out in the race, which may or may not have benefited those of us who were still keen on going balls to the wall.

The karts are pretty small, and the bucket seats are really buckety, so it's not comfortable and you feel pretty restricted. Also, you're encouraged not to touch the exhaust, as this would burn - so I kept my arms and elbows tucked in for the duration of my driving, which may or may not have hindered my performance. In addition to small and not entirely comfortable go kart seats, some helmets did not fit everyone, but apart from that, everything was cool.

Basic rules apply, so we split into 3 groups to have 2 heats each, the best 5 lap times going into the final. I was in the first group, and so received the first warning for dangerous driving. I did spin out once, and bumped one guy once, and nearly spun out once more, but I wasn't the only one as we were all getting used to the track, the car and it's handling and limits. It was pretty fun, we all went in pretty gung ho and the times were fairly good - I didn't come first, I came third in the race with second best laptime.

The other groups went, and everyone had interesting experiences - a couple of pileups, some close misses, plenty of spin outs, and even one disqualification (This wasn't discussed, but again, I'm not going to mention at all that it was Justice who was disqualified for his dangerous driving).

After all groups had done their first heat, we went again for seconds, and the competition really began hotting up - we had got to grips with the whole deal, learning the track and what our cars could and couldn't do, and our racing lines and braking strategies had improved greatly.

My main strategy was that I would brake slightly early, and quite hard - so that I could turn sharper out the corners. It took a while to get the right balance, but eventually I got it down and started making up time on fellow racers. I can't comment much on other strategies - but there was a clear group of racers who were fast and enjoying it! Needless to say, I made the final 5 with a close second fastest time.

The final race was exhilarating - I lost the lead with maybe 2 or 3 laps to go due to a spin out, but was murdering the rest of the grid with some ruthless driving and awesome chases (I will point out at this stage that the day's fastest racer, Garrick, had to take the slowest car in the final - a car so slow that 2 laps into the race, with a head start, he was last, so the race wasn't entirely even). A race is not quite as fun as when you are actually racing closely with someone (or several people) - when there are 2 or 3 of you overtaking, tailing, cutting off and turning inside and outside each other, the rush and excitement is amazing. It really is one of the most exciting, fun and satisfying experiences one can have.

If you've never raced go karts before, I reccommend it. It is cheap, easy, and a killer time will be had for all. Here are one or two pics from the day:

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Go Kart Racing

Tomorrow is our work team building function, and the chosen activity is Go Kart Racing. There will be two heats, and a final. I think this is a good opportunity for me to terrorize my colleagues, show absolutely no fear, and do some mental and possibly physical damage to co-workers who annoy me.
Beware. I'll do a post on the event some time afterwards.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Till We Can Keep an Animal

So, last night I went to the book launch of Megan Voysey-Braig's Till We Can Keep an Animal at the Exclusive Books on Kloof street (thanks for the invitation, Themba!) where the author did a reading, had a bit of a Q and A session, signed some books, and then mingled whilst us attendees made good use of the free food and drinks.

It was an interesting experience for me, and there was plenty of food for thought (for me, anyway) when I got to thinking about how books and stories come about, and also how they are written and intended to be read. I did wonder beforehand what the author would actually be like, and I suppose it must have been a little strange for her as this was her first novel, and so therefore first reading and book launch too, and first ever signing (I got the first ever signed copy of her book, just by the way. As in, first ever signed copy EVER in the whole wide world, which was pretty cool).

Anyway, I found her a timid seeming woman (outwardly only, she is quite small physically but no doubt very strong opinionatively) and her voice and reading showed that as well - her voice is not strong and loud, and she somewhat mumbled slowly through the passage she'd selected. The passage was pretty bleak (the whole book is pretty bleak and intense) and her reading it the way she did (which is no doubt the way she intended it to be read) gave it the whole feeling the book should feel, I think. Which is a feeling of hopelessness, restlessness, bleakness, and general non-happiness.

In the Q and A, I asked her whether the story was something she'd always wanted to write, or whether it was just at the time, to which she answered "It was just at the time." Which is fair enough, I suppose. But it made me wonder on how and why she wrote the story - there are different ways of writing and reasons for writing, but in my opinion, the main ones are:
  • You have a story that needs to get out, so you write it.
  • You are exploring a theme or subject, for example "What would happen if...." and follow on with a story.
  • Or, and I think this was her reason, you want people to be aware of something (e.g. a political, misogynistic, democratic situation in a country) and so you write a story about it to show what you think about the subject.
I'm not a huge fan of the last one, as I'm one for fiction as fiction - a story that takes us away. My choice of literature is and always has been the fantastical, esoteric, horror kind of literature - because that always tends to have some element of paranormality or something that isn't possible (or very unlikely), and doesn't happen to us in reality. I like reading about such things because they take me away from here, they show me a world of magical awesomeness that makes me feel like a kid, they show me a place that exists only in my mind the way I have imagined it, and that escape is what I crave for.

When I read a book, I want to be able to read through it in a matter of days (even hours), I want it to draw me to it, suck me in, let me lose myself in it completely and utterly, and long for it's stories when I'm done. I want the characters in it to become real, I want to be there with them watching the story unfold, I want the entire world in the book to be around me, to be imagined even if it is not explicitly mentioned in the story itself. That's how I like my books, and so why a book like this one would never attract me normally. However, this book is narrated by a dead girl - by a ghost.

That, obviously, is something that would pique my interest, and so there is a small chance of reading it. Even reading the first few lines, I was interested in reading further, but this bubble has kind of been burst since, mainly due to the author's reading and her answer to one question in particular.

Her reading showed that the book is intended to be read in a subdued, bleak, helpless manner. My initial tone for the narrator was nothing like the author's intention, and so already the book is not what I expected and not something I'd look for in a book (generally, if there is going to be helplessness, I would prefer it to be due to a demon or alien or some kind of horrible supernaturality, rather than the political situation in the country I live in).

The question she was asked was something along the lines of "The narrator is a ghost. Why doesn't she rest? Why is she still here?" (I have to add, at this point, that the asker of this question had a lofty, important, educated, I'm-so-clever-and-fancy-and-book-readingly-important-like, pompous-ass-like tone) and the author's answer was (not, as I thought to myself at the time, "read the book", but) that it's part of the metaphor for how the helplessness of the girl and the situation. That answer makes me wonder, did she write the story and then think of the metaphor, or the other way round? Did she sit down and think "what is a good metaphor for the helplessness of this particular plight against woman?" and then decide that a dead narrator was the way to go? Not really my kind of story then.

In any case, I bought the book. I'll read it first, and then post a review, but I'm not sure if it's something I will enjoy, or something else entirely (beautifully written, but unenjoyable because of its close to home topic?). In case you're wondering, the title is also a metaphor for democracy in our country: Till We Can Keep an Animal. The animal in the title is democracy, and obviously it's along the lines of us not taking the big steps before we've taken the little ones.

Aside from all that literary crap, the food was good and the wine was nice. Once again, thanks Themba and Exclusive Books!