Photoblog, just this once

September 7, 2010

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Small selection of photos from Berlin and kaunas.

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*yawn*

August 17, 2010

I’ll be straight with you, I’m having one of those incredibly un-motivated days for some reason, so I imagine this entry will be short and meh. (Taken from “101 lines to make people click away from your blog”)

Does everyone else get this the same way I do? That feeling like you want to do something, but you’re having trouble even putting together a reasonable line of thought and all your body is telling you is that the couch is your friend and daytime TV isn’t that bad. It’s a horrible feeling, but what’s more horrible is the day after when you think of everything you should have done yesterday…

I think that getting some energy back should be near the top of my to-do list. Going back to the gym would be a good idea – I think I wrote a ton more in the days when I went to the gym – it just seems to give you more energy. My friend Fiona has recently taken up parkour, which sounds good. I’ll look into it once my stamina levels have risen above that of an overweight sloth.

I think I need to prioritise some projects I want to write. There are a bunch of comic ones that I would love to do, but I don’t feel like it’d get me anywhere into professional writing in the near future. Maybe I should be doing some articles for websites or submitting like crazy to the BBC? More thought needed.

Anyway, I hope everyone else has had a more productive day than I have thus far. In fairness, it’s only 13:55, I could get a burst of energy any minute now and be super-productive!

Aaaaany minute now.

And to summarize…

August 14, 2010

The long day is over. Again. And starts again tomorrow. Still, this run of shifts has been good, and find myself looking forward to wittering on this microblog.

A big kudos goes out to president Obama for backing q potential voteloser in the WTC mosque that isn’t actually at the former WTC site. It was the right call, a big “dude, seriously?” goes out to the drunk football fans who likely intimidated a colleague up from London on the subway today, and a big farewell to Dermot, leaving our office for pastures new and wholly more fulfilling. Live the dream, dude.

Hope you’re all having a nice weekend, longer blog coming when I have the time. Likely Monday.

That’s what the train home microblog feels like already, some final thoughts at the end of an unsatisfying half hour or Mork and Mindy.

The lesson today? Work goes well with cake, but returns to being bog standard work when the cake is gone. The answer?

Giant cake.

Testing, 1, 2, testing…

August 12, 2010

Not quite sure if this will work, but here we go, direct from my phone, a micro-post! The Android WordPress app in all its glory.

Just on my way home from work and want to male sure I post something. I’m banking on the idea that I won’t have the brainpower to post substantially when I get home. Fire bad, tree pretty.

As much as dislike this shift, there’s an odd sense of workman’s satisfaction I get from it, like I just did a hard shift down t’mine.

What are you, my precious few readers up to tonight?

Machines

August 10, 2010

So it’s been a weird few months, and I think it’s taking its toll.

I supposed the bulk of my current mindset comes from late June/early July. My parents were on holiday in America and the world cup was on. Sadly, I hadn’t the time to enjoy the freedom and football much, as my shifts in work were fairly anti-social. I made the most of it though, had friends round one weekend, everything ticking along as usual. The weekend before my parents were due to return we got the news that my granda Sutherland was dying, and probably wouldn’t last the weekend. This in itself was of course a sad event, and family deaths and funerals always take their tool. Ultimately, it wasn’t something I could break my heart over. He was 89 and had been around since I was born. Tons of people don’t get any grandparents, I always had four and this one lived to a good old age. Of course I’m sad he’s gone, but at least he went naturally, not tragically.

My parents got home and the funeral took place. My brothers and I helped take the casket into the church, and then to the graveyard. Then I…went to T in the Park. It was something I’d had on the books for a while, but happened to fall on the day of the funeral. I felt bad for doing it, like I was just running off, but it was one of the first things my dad said to me when he got home. “When is your festival? That’s all I was thinking about, I didn’t want you to miss it.” He’s always been a dad who was the opposite of his own. His dad was gone, he was stepping up his efforts for his own children, as usual.

T in the Park was fun. Tiring as hell, but fun. Truth be told, I could have done with it being longer. And more shower-full. But mostly longer. I don’t know that I’ll forget seeing some of those bands with my friends. Good times, good people.

Home from T in the Park, and on to my least favourite run of shifts in work, the early starts. I’m not sure I had entirely recovered from that past two weeks until the end of the weekend. Sleep was needed, but probably not had in the levels required. The next few weeks went as most weeks do, work and the occasional piece of socialising (which, sadly, involved seeing the overhyped pseudo intellectual exercise in pointless storytelling and population bamboozlement that was Inception).

More recently, I had some good news regarding my jobs security that prompted me to seriously look at buying my own house. I mean, why not? I have money saved, my job and half my social life is in Glasgow anyway, it makes sense. Certainly more sense than renting. A meeting with a financial advisor, however, has me staying put and saving more money for the next several months before attempting a purchase. Don’t worry, a point is coming.

The point is, I’m bored and frustrated and tired. I’m tired of my commute and not having time to do things that involve staying up past 12. As great as my parents are, I’m tired of living at home. I want to move out but I want to do it sensibly. At the same time, I want to vanish. Go somewhere in the world for years and not have things like shift patterns and mortgages on my mind. I think deep down, more than anything, what I really want is change.  Any plan I’ve had recently hasn’t come to much, either through impossibility, impracticality or my own sickening lack of resolve.

Interesting, as I come to the end of this increasingly whiny-ass post, I realise that I’ve enjoyed writing this more than most things I’ve done recently, and that for all my talk of wanting to move or travel or build a castle on the moon or whatever idea I come up with next, the only thing that stays constant is my desire to write for a living one day. Maybe I should focus on that.

Ex Machina

May 27, 2010

Hello, and welcome to what I hope will be the first in a series of reviews and articles on comic books and the comic book industry. Now and again I may venture in the realms of genre TV and movies too, but the lion’s share of updates will be on comics. So, let’s kick off with a new favourite series of mine, Brian K Vaughan’s Ex Machina.

Ex Machina

First published in 2004, Brian K Vaughan and Tony Harris’ Ex Machina charts the term in office of former superhero turned politician, Michael Hundred, as he becomes mayor of New York City.

Plot  summary

An engineer, Hundred is called out by his friend, Bradbury, who discovers a strange device under the Brooklyn Bridge. The device explodes, injuring Hundred and causing scarring to his face. Upon his recovery, Hundred finds that the accident has also given him the ability to communicate with machines. This communication manifests in several different ways, and Hundred uses the ability to become “The Great Machine”, the world’s one and only superhero. Becoming disillusioned with his hero career, Hundred publicly reveals his identity, retires from the superhero business and announces his candidacy for mayor of New York. As an independent candidate, Hundred stands no chance of winning. That is, until September 11th, 2001. Hundred becomes The Great Machine one last time and manages to divert one of the World Trade Centre planes, saving thousands of lives – and securing his political future. From then on, Hundred must juggle the responsibilities of running one of the biggest cities in the world with the complications of his past. Part West Wing, part superhero comic. No wonder I bought it.

Is it good?

Yes. Yes it is. Brian K Vaughan is a writer with a spectacular track record of creator owned work, penning critic and fan favourite alike, Y The Last Man, and he does not let that record slide here. The comic is irrefutably Vaughan – the dialogue is liberally garnished with facts and figures, the most interesting of which being the historical oddities of New York City – did you know that former New York mayor, Fiorello La Guardia, read newspaper comics over the radio in wartime? Vaughan knows that an a whole lot more about the city he clearly loves. His knack for writing the perfect cliffhanger remains perfectly intact. Although slightly dulled by my reading of the series in trade paperback format, the impact of these cliffhanger last pages is still incredible, and shows Vaughan’s mastery of the form of serial storytelling.

Tony Harris on art duties is a wise choice. Harris depicts individual, distinguishable characters and a great likeness of New York City. Thought not the best artist in the business, Harris is a great talent who’s presence on any book should be welcomed – just try not to get a chill down your spine when he renders scenes from 9/11.

Themes and criticism

The Politics

Maybe it’s the English grad in me, but to me, Ex Machina works on a number of levels. The most obvious of these is as political commentary. Vaughan has said in interviews that the comic doesn’t support either of the main parties in America, and that much of the material was written as criticism of the poor leadership both sides were showing from 9/11 to the date of publication. This can be a bit of a double edged sword – if you’re someone like me, a political junkie and massive comic book fan, a comic book about politics is a dream come true. However, if you have no interest in politics there are sections of the comic that will bore you to tears – heated arguments over school vouchers, the ins and outs of running a mayoral campaign, running spin for New York City Hall. I love them, but maybe not to other people’s tastes.

Perhaps the boldest statement that Vaughan makes in Ex Machina is in saving one of the World Trade Centre buildings. You can’t help but feel that Vaughan is allowing himself this one moment of beautifully child like wish fulfilment in an otherwise realistic story – he saves some lives. It didn’t even have to be all of them, just some. Just a little difference. Vaughan has never been one of the industry’s great lovers of superheroes, using one in this case, I think, only to serve a point I’ll discuss in a moment. But here, in this world he controls, he dreams up his own superhero (probably for the last time, both in the comic and for Vaughan personally.) With his previous statement about the flawed political leadership in mind, you can probably see this as Vaughan giving an example of what might be achieved if those in power used it wisely. Maybe things like 9/11 wouldn’t happen.

Superheroes

Like I said, Vaughan has never been the biggest fan of superheroes. He writes characters, first and foremost, with any superhuman or supernatural settings being window dressing. And that’s fine, it’s something the western comic book industry needs more of. We have plenty of capes and tights and whatnot, but not nearly enough actual, complete stories and characters.

It’d be easy to think that Vaughan’s stance on superheroes in Ex Machina is a fairly straightforward one – Superheroes are for kids. Don’t sit about and dream up some power fantasy where you solve everything by being the biggest, strongest person. If you want to make actual change, do what grown-ups do and educate yourself, get involved and try and make the real, big changes that actually matter. By and large, that’s pretty damn good advice, but I think Vaughan still has that kid in him somewhere, just like Mitchell Hundred. Silly or not, Hundred saved lives by being a superhero, and does again during the series by using his abilities. Situations occur that seem like they can only be resolved by his particular talents. Things have taken a more interesting turn recently with the idea that Hundred was given his powers to prepare Earth for a forthcoming invasion from a parallel world. Could we be seeing Ex Machina making the leap from political drama with superhero sprinkles to sci-fi adventure with politcal overtones? Honestly, I don’t think so.  I think Vaughan has a tighter grip on his aims with the series than that. However, Hundred’s powers and the invasion could all be Vaughan making a comment on…

The Comics Industry

Let me explain. Mitchell Hundred is an engineer by trade. A builder. He has a known love for all the old buildings of New York, particularly the Brooklyn Bridge.  All of a sudden he’s touched by greatness and can build extraordinary things.  So what does he do? He runs for office and tries to change things properly instead of superhumanly. Now, exchange “engineer” for “writer”, ” all the old buildings of New York” with “comic books” , “touched by greatness” with “hired by a big comics company” and “he runs for office and tries to change things properly instead of superhumanly” with “tries to write a comic that is different from the usual superhero fare, in an attempt to improve the comic book industry as a whole.”  Could Mitchell Hundred be Brian K Vaughan in disguise, trying to make things as right as he realistically can?

Whatever Vaughan’s intentions, Ex Machina is a great read, very enjoyable and very informative at the same time. If you’re looking for something different in your comics, you’ve found it.

In The Garage

May 24, 2010

Happy Geek Pride Day, everyone.

This might just become my favourite event of the year. Because when it comes down to it, there are few things in life that I love more than being an honest to goodness unapologetic incurable geek.

I’m pretty sure I’ve always been a geek. Some of my earliest memories are of playing at Superman (pyjama top around my neck, fastened by one button. Instant cape.) or Captain Planet (learning the names of the voice actors at 5 or 6 years old. LeVarr Burton was Kwamme.) I remember when I heard they were killing Superman in the comics. I remember the first comic I ever owned personally, that wasn’t a hand down from my brothers.

That issue had it all. A criminal from the future, Tiko, escapes from the Challenger’s time-cube with five rings that each grant an elemental power (back to Captain Planet…), and lands in 1994 Metropolis. He gets beaten up by some street punks who take four of the rings and become giant elemental monsters. Cue theme tune. Superman and the Challengers of the Unknown Vs Elemental monsters and a crazy future criminal. I was 8 and it was brilliant.

I was about to apologise for the above paragraph, for being so distracted by old Superman comics that I forgot the subject I was talking about, but that’s the beauty of geekery in a nutshell. You can get lost in it, excited by it. What starts as a throwaway comment becomes a love note to your best memories and favourite moments.

The best thing about being a geek? I’m not alone. Our numbers are legion. And I’m not just talking about the friends I’ve made by being a geek – although meeting Matt is reason enough to love my affable affliction, not to mention the acres of common ground that Pickwick and I stomp around on – but I mean everyone else. The chances are, most of you reading this are a geek about something or other (every news site having an article on Lost makes me grin). Hand-made things, perhaps. Like my best mates, you could be less of a sci-fi fan and more of a music buff or computer games fan. Figure skating, maybe?  The majority of guys out there will have a surprisingly large number of football or sports related statistics committed to memory – I’m looking at you, Andrew.

It’s about passion, people. It’s about an interest in something beyond your front door and everyday. Because the best thing about our interests is that they as much as we say about them, to anyone and everyone who’ll listen, they say more about us. So do me a favour, if you’re reading this. Post in the comments everything you think you’re a geek about. Something tells me that we could have a very long list of varied, fascinating and brilliant stuff, from some varied, fascinating and brilliant people.

Alternatives

April 23, 2010

Hey guys, this is just gonna be a quick one, into which I shall dump a random assortment of thoughts. Sift through them at your pleasure.

OK, so by now most of you who know me personally will know that I didn’t get an outright acceptance to the JET programme. I was placed on the Alternate list, which means I may or may not receive a phone call to replace a JET who has dropped out. Its not the worst news in the world, thousands of people apply for this every year and they only take 100 or so. Even to make the alternate list is pretty good going. The downside is that it means I have more waiting. They could let me know any time between now and the middle of June if I’m being promoted. Ah well, I’ve waited this long, another month or so wont hurt.

However, not being accepted does mean that I should now be looking more towards what I’ll do next, my plan B. Ideally, I want to get a professional writing career off the ground.  This means I’ll be blogging more, and hopefully finishing a comic book project that I’m really excited about for self publishing. I’ll pretty much take any writing job people can throw at me just now to get more experience and exposure. So, gentle readers, if you need anything written then drop me a line! I’d be happy to help if I have the time.

Another alternative that has cropped up in recent weeks, but on a completely different subject, is the Liberal Democrats. I’ve liked their policies for a while now, but Nick Clegg’s performances in the past two debates have set him up as a credible potential Prime Minister. I’ll be casting my vote for the Lib Dems, if only because the getting in would lock Rupert “Baphomet” Murdoch out of UK politics. Even if the Lib Dems don’t get in, it’s been great to see people energised and talking about politics, and also to see Labour and the Tories get the kick up the backside they needed.

OK, I can’t think of anything else to fit the Alternatives theme, so I’m gonna end it here. Short and sweet. Tune in next time to see if I mustered up the courage to do a blog on religion…

Churchillian Wisdom

April 5, 2010

Anyone who knows me has heard one word pretty constantly for the past few weeks, and it has probably annoyed them to hear it (again and again) only a little less than it annoyed me to say it.

Japan.

Every damn conversation seems to come back to it. Usually preceded by the words “Well, if I get….”, Japan and the JET programme have become, if I can say this without being ashamed at how melodramatic it will sound, a turning point for my life. A yes from them will send me to the other side of the world for at least a year and a no will mean I failed at something. (NOTE: This is more important than it sounds.)

I’m going to go Churchillian on this and be an optimist (what with there being no point in being anything else). I’ll either get the Japan placement or I wont, and there’s really nothing I can do about it at this point. In my heart of hearts I’d admit that I don’t think I’ll get it. There are way too many people who are more qualified for the position than I am, and there are some things that I just should have done by now that I haven’t. Don’t worry, this is where the optimism kicks in.

It doesn’t matter.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re either thinking “He totally doesn’t know what I’m thinking”, “I wonder if he knows what I’m thinking” “this joke was old by the second guess and the third is somewhat laboured” or “if he doesn’t get this he’ll be a gutted, hollow shell of his former self and may contemplate suicide. The brave face is cute but don’t kid yourself, kid.”

It’ll be disappointing, of course it will, but it is by no means the end of the world. I’m in a…I don’t want to say “good” job but…not terrible? And I’ve got plenty of ideas for my life if Japan doesn’t come to be. Things that will be difficult, but doable. Anyway, a good dose of failure and a goal I need to work my ass off for could be very good for me. Japan will always be there unless the Jong Il family take their mania to its logically illogical conclusion, so I can always visit for a few weeks.

Optimism in this case isn’t the notion that I’ll get what I want or succeed at every endeavour, it’s just the belief that no matter what happens, everything will be OK.

The next update I do will very likely involve “So, I’m going to Japan” or “Japan is a stupid country anyway”. Come back and find out.