27 May

Warsaw

I have been travelling a lot recently. I was in Warsaw all last week organising and running a conference. It was the first time I had stayed in Warsaw as opposed to passing through en route to elsewhere in Poland. Our hosts were great and the hospitality was forthcoming. My view of Warsaw was that it has a lot of old 1960s concrete flats in the ‘Corbusier‘ ‘machines for living’ aesthetic we have seen across the whole of Europe, with a great deal of building in the post war period and the 1960s and 1970s. [[Those from Eastern Europe think these are Communist buidlings, I often have to explaoin to them that we in the West built them too with similarly depressing consequences.]] This are scattered and intermixed with the newer glass and steel towers we see worldwide for business and retail. There seems, and the locals confirm, that there has been very little (sensible) town planning and that the city lacks a centre, a retail circuit or a logical area for nightlife. It is fairly higgly-piggledy, but at the centre is a huge skyscraper, the Palace of Science and Culture (PKiN), built by the Russians as a gift from Stalin. Now I am told the citizens love-hate the tower, but I found no-one who didn’t hate it or was indifferent. I thought it was kind of impressive and definitely worth keeping, but I am a Brit who hasn’t been opporessed by the Russians for hundreds of years, and I think it is not the style, it is not the Communist origins, it is the fact that it is Russian that makes the locals dislike it. How can I comment, I don’t come from this history and culture and yet I do hope they bear with it, it’ll be fascinating to Poles in a hundred years. Given that that demolished a huge Russian Orthodox Cathedral in the centre of Warsaw on reaching independence after the First World War, I suspect that it may not survive. Interestingingly the Czechs have a similar tower, it is now the Hotel Intercontinental!

21 May

Agon, the Greek Heroic rpg

I read Agon, an indie Heroic Age Greek rpg! I now understand gspearing‘s silence. A great recreation of one of the ways to play a game like D&D, but do you want to play that kind of island hopping monster killing, buddy competing fun?

AGON is a competitive RPG set in a fantastic version of ancient Greece similar to that of the Illiad and the Odyssey. The heroes work together against the enemies and obstacles created by the Antagonist, but the players compete to win the most glory for their heroes.The player who earns the most glory wins the game.

I think I would enjoy it as a game, but I am not sure if I would want to give it priority over another Greek game that was more story telling, or perhaps a Savaged one that was faster, since I suspect that the combat system (whilst cunningly put together) could take a long while to resolve.

I admire this game greatly. It recreates the competitive style of play that many of us have played and, even if we don’t choose to do it that often, the author John Harper has created a simple, well balanced and elegant game. I’m not sure I’d run it.

09 May

Various

Hooray! Chaosium have announced the long awaited definitive edition of their long loved Basic Roleplaying game. http://www.chaosium.com/article.php?story_id=246

I went to Brussels for a meeting held by DG TREN on their forthcoming Logistics Action Plan, which was fascinating and the best such event I have been to in years.

I have a stack of work to do since I spent most of last week helping finalise and submit FP7 proposals.

Matt’s first GCSE exam is in 7 days, Ann and I are more wound up about it than us. We make him do 2 hours revision a night as well as being at school, but I wish he’d play less World of Warcraft! Mind you, he is doing his revision and next week he’s at home all day every day so the really concentrated stuff will start then. I held a History revision day for him and 2 mates on Bank Holiday Monday and that went well.

30 Apr

Say No To 0870

You know those 0870 numbers that companies so kindly provide instead of a real geographical number? Have you noticed that they are excluded from most inclusive call packages on landlines and mobiles? You can pay up to and over 8p a minute, and since they aren’t regulated like premium numbers they can keepm you on hold for ages, whilst they get a kick backl for every recorded message they play, since the company (in cash or benefit in kind) gets a kickback from the telecoms provider.

It has always annoyed me to ring a company and then be on hold for 20 minutes and then be passed back and forth, and even more so when it could be costing me more than a quid (Sky are particularly bad at this). Fortunately some consumers have kicked back and launched a site that lists as many of the normal phone numbers for companies that they can find. For example not only do they have the normal geographical number for Sky but they even have an 0800 number listed. SayNoTo0870 is a consumer driven site and whilst it doesn’t have every number in the world, I have find it often gives you a much cheaper alternative.

04 Apr

Brothers Grimm

On the other hand, I watched the Brothers Grimm on Sky today and frankly this was a fantast for me. Slightly mad, wondefully imagined and realised, it mixes and matches fairy tales into a great tale mixing fantasy and the eponymous brothers. If you like rich complex work and liked Time Bandits or The Fisher King then try this.. oh and Matt Damon acts, I mean really acts..

03 Apr

300

I saw 300 at the weekend. I had so wanted to see if that I was deeply disappointed.

I thought it was a storyboard with almost no flow, but a series of muscular poses against CGI backdrops. I felt the portrayal of Spartans as defenders of Western civilization, whilst perhaps true, was unnuanced by the fact that Sparta was a hideous military aristocracy with the majority of the citizenship kept in perpetual serfdom. Xerxes grandad Cyrus is hailed as the first person to espouse human rights and yet the Persian Empire is shown as oppressors. The fact that the Thespians, who stayed with the Spartans for the last stand, were ignored, that the Athenian fleet fighting a sea battle to block the Persian fleet was ignored was all unhelpful. The simple fact that the Spartans and Athenians worked together to plan the blocking manoeuvre and that none of the shit about the ephors (who did exist then but certainly were not lascivious old priests) was true could have been forgiven but wasn’t great. Now, I rarely sympathise with the Iranian regime and I am not going to start now (Holocaust Denial Conference anyone) but the depiction of the Persians was insulting on so many levels. Why were the only baddies black or brown people? Why were the pederast Spartans not depicted as such but the Persians as perverts and freaks? Why does handicapped or disfigured equal evil in this film?

Now I can cope with a lot of artistic licence and I am sure that the argument that this is a narrative told utterly from a Spartan point of view might explain this appaling bias, but frankly does it really excuse making a film that Joseph Goebbels would applaud and Riefenstahl could have made?

It is fascist art, and I didn’t like it. 🙁

Sadly my friend gspearing and I disagreed and I may have put his nose out of joint with my vehemence, which was in no way aimed at him.

27 Mar

1984 and Brave New World

I read George Orwell‘s 1984 again last week. I enjoyed it greatly, but it is a work of it’s day and indeed the immediate past at the time of writing (1949). It is the twisting of truth that strikes you the most now, indeed the manipulation of people and society by media and doublethink is the key message for me.

On the other hand I also read Aldous Huxley‘s Brave New World, and that does strike me as a piece of actual prophesy. The nature of the society, with Fordism (or mass production) as the key driver to a society kept compliant on drugs and sex, has echoes on our Western world of the early 21st century.

Not that it is necessarily a dystopia. I am not at all sure Huxley thought it was wholly dystopian, but it definitely separates mankind from the mystical, and that was key for Huxley. For me? Well I quite liked the place as long as I could be an Alpha or Beta..

I am going to carry on having a look at this prophetic book idea, so have ordered Zamyatin‘s We which is apparently the book that influenced Orwell and Huxley, although Huxley is obviously satirising Wells utopianism (which is best seen in The Shape of Things To Come and before in other works.

I also read Ian Fleming‘s Casino Royale, and then we watched the recent film version. I have to say that the novel shows and much grimmer Bond, not as sure or smooth as the films to date, and the film did an excellent job of capturing that feel. Ann and Matt were not impressed, but I like this grittier Bond. Oddly it is in fact the original.

22 Mar

Travelling

Hi, I have been travelling and travelling. Antwerp, Amsterdam, Delft, Brussels, Gothenberg. Gosh I am so tired and so much want to come home.

Pete has finalised the latest Gwenthia magic chapter which is great, so I need to read and understand that and finish the Gwenthia religions chapter. Then I have a stack of actions from all the work meetings. I am going to be very busy this Easter!