Monday, April 30, 2007

Knowing Me, Knowing You, Ahhh!

Friday came round at last after an excruciatingly slow week and another member of staff was leaving. It's surprising we haven't started taking bets as to who's next.

As soon as the clock struck four, we hit the pub. I haven't been in the Errigle for some years and I have to say it's just not my kind of place. I can't quite put my finger on it but there's just no appeal and the atmosphere is completely lacking, as mundane as the decor.

The Guinness was good though and that's all that mattered on Friday afternoon as we gathered, mourned and celebrated before heading back to the leaver's house for food and drink.

It was a nice soiree and I was knocking back bottles of Stella and shooting the breeze over falafals and dip and wondering aloud to the group what those question mark spouts are on the top of old houses - answers on a postcard please.

After it got cold and darker we made our way inside for a main course of various kinds and I rather enjoyed a spinach pie and spicy vegetables.

A few hours later there was only me and five girls left and someone put Abba on the stereo which was my queue to leave. It's the metaphorical musical equivelent to wathcing Dirty Dancing and that was too much for any man.

Trust you all had a great weekend and come back tomorrow for the rest of the weekend round-up.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Gamespot #64

5 Minutes To Kill Yourself

A fun game to pass, well, 5 minutes.

Run around the office using various objects to hurt yourself until you're dead.

The stapler is my favourite...

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Links #35

2006 Yo-Yo Champion: Shinji Saito

Shinji Saito showcases his awesome freestyle techniques and scores first place in the 2006 Japanese Yo-Yo Championship.

Wikipedia - Yo Yo's

Turkish "Star Wars"

Officially titled, "The Man Who Saved the Word", this Turkish-made film is commonly known as "Turkish Star Wars" because of its notorious bootlegging of Star Wars film clips worked into the film. Released in 1982, Dünyayı Kurtaran Adam was created in Turkey caught in the midst of massive political upheaval. As a result, American-made films were not easily acquired and were often remade with a Turkish cast and setting. The musical soundtrack is entirely lifted from Western film hits of the time, primarily using Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Richard Dawkins - The Design of Life

The session was titled "The Design of Life," and the TED audience was probably expecting remarks about evolution's role in our history from biologist Richard Dawkins. Instead, he launched into a full-on appeal for atheists to make public their beliefs and to aggressively fight the incursion of religion into politics and education. Dawkins' scornful tone drew strongly mixed reactions from the audience; some stood and applauded his courage. Others wondered whether his strident approach could do more harm than good. Dawkins went on to publish The God Delusion and become perhaps the world's best-known atheist.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Bumbled Bees

After a brief period of humidity and rainfall, it looks like we're set to return to clear skies and sunny weather. This means I can finally put together the BBQ we bought several weeks ago but couldn't buy charcoal for.

However, with outlets now embracing the above average spring weather and getting a headstart on summer profits, we were able to pick up some charcoal last weekend which meand that meat is back on the outdoor menu.

While clearing the shed yesterday to allow room for the BBQ I was constantly harrassed by a wasp. I think he must have been trapped in there for a while and even though he escaped passed me after much arm flapping and grunts, he managed to find his way back through the door twice.

Lately there has been distress in the scientific community about bees disappearing and they do not know the cause. Of course with the loss of wildflowers in the countryside as agriculture has become more intensive, this could easily have offset the bee population. This combined with conurbation and the side effects of loss of gardens and various types of pollution could be a suspect but since I'm no scientist, it's mere speculation.

Of course the worrying thing is that the bees know something that we don't and have left the safe confines of the countryside and garden to amass underground and build a huge hive lair for themselves for an oncoming armageddon. An example of sixth sense (and not a tin foil hat suggestion) and bees is that they have predicted a major solar cycle event which will occur around 2010.

I don't mind bees. As long as they stay away from me when I'm relaxing with a cold beer in the garden.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Wii Sports

On Saturday, I had the opportunity to play through the Wii Sports package that comes bundled with Nintendo's newest platform. I had previously tackled the Bowling game and it was great fun for a group of people. Would the others come up to scratch?

First up is Tennis. This seemed to be the most widely demonstrated game when it was being showcased on TV but I have to say it doesn't come up aces. I can't picture 4 people playing this game in an average sized living room without continually pummelling the person next to them every other serve. The other problem is trying to make the game hit the ball in the direction you want it to go. Perhaps I was just lousy at the game (which could be the case) but I found it frustrating and it wasn't long before I tired of it.

Next is Baseball. This sport doesn't get a look in anywhere except America and Japan and so the main fun here is throwing and hitting the ball on using the controller. If any game on this package is going to make you lose your grip, sending the remote across the room, it's this. It's also the other two player only game with the bundle although I'm sure they could have made it four player and split each team in two. It's another game like Tennis where I just couldn't get my swing right and after two gos I only struck the ball a handful of times. Once again, it's probably another game where you could improve after a few plays but again, it's not my game.

The Bowling game is a clear party favourite as it's easy to play and once you get to grips, you'll be (half-)striking and scoring three figure games on the trot. There's not much you could add to the game to improve it except for additional features to make it more fun for experiences users. Perhaps being able to choose the weight of the ball or making the alley glow-in-the-dark would enhance the game a little but that aside, it's my joint favourite game.

The Boxing game is the only game to utilise both controllers and once you have a double set, you can K.O. your friend when they come sniffing around. By constantly moving the controllers like you're shaking macaracas like Bez on speed, your arms get very sore, very quickly and it's difficult to see exactly what the hell you're doing. I slowed down my approach and made careful pummels moving the controllers back and forth but unfortunatly this didn't relay to what I say on screen and I feared that the best approach is to attach the controllers to your body, have a fit and convulse on the floor.

Last but certainly not least is the Golf game. At first, another frustrating game but once you learn how to swing the controller, Golf has become the joint first game on the Wii Sports package. It's the flip-side party game to Bowling and a slower but equally fun way to spend an afternoon. My only quibble is there is only 9 holes to play on and I imagine these would become boring over a short period of time. I'm not sure if you can download more courses but I expect this is the case and it would certainly lengthen the game indefinetly if there were several 18 hole courses available.

Overall, the Wii Sports bundle is a great giveaway with the console - as long as you have friends or family to play with you!
As the console is aimed for this market, it makes for a good starting point to highlight the uses for both controllers although I imagine a game like Zelda would untilise all the buttons, especially on the nun-chuk remote. Assuming you can find it for £179.99 it's certainly worth the cost.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Return To Never Never Land

On Friday afternoon I was back somewhere I thought I would never return to after nearly ten years. No, not Brit Pop, but my old grammar school.

I usually enjoy re-visiting places of the past, as you remember how it used to be, can see the changes made over the years and you leave contented.

I return to my primary school every few years to vote and it brings back happy memories and I usually bump into someone I know which brings back a flood of internal snapshots and escapades that have been filed away in storage.

But grammar school is different and after leaving the shady corridors of teenage awkwardness I never wanted to go back. I really only enjoyed my last two years there after spending 5 years as a social pariah, slowly building up friendships. It was difficult at first because I, like my brother, was the only person from my primary school to go to this school and the vast difference was overwhelming.

But I digress.

The reason I was back was because I needed to pick up my A-level certificates. I know, I know. What the deuce? Having gone straight from school to University and gaining a degree, it has superseeded any prequisite for needing A-levels and I've always gotten by through producing receipts of my results. However, I thought it might be handy to pick them up now or never as I'll be off to New Zealand soon and unable to do anything about it.

I was also surprised that they haven't been thrown out by now either. Nevertheless, after a quick phonecall to Student Records, they confirmed my certificates were in storage and I could pick them up that afternoon and I after ten years, I finally have my A-levels.

And I'll never have to set foot in that place again.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Gamespot #63


Eat the smaller green blocks and avoid getting eaten by the bigger red ones. As you get bigger be careful not to get yourself into a space you can't get back out of!

Your score to beat is 64830!

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Links #34

Will Ferrell - The Landlord

Hilarious short from Will Ferrell where his young landlady chases him up for rent.

Wikipedia - Will Ferrell

District B13 - David Belle Chase Scene

David Belle uses parkour to evade his enemies.

Wikipedia - District B13

Wikipedia - Parkour

The Contraption

A series of domino reactions set off by an alarm clock.


Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Squirrel vs Nuts

I was on my way into work on Monday on my usual jaunt through the park when a grey squirrel crossed my path no more than 20 feet in front of me. It picked up something in it's front paws, placed it in its mouth and darted up the nearest tree. I wasn't aware that Ormeau Park had any wildlife besides birds and so I was surprised to see it living on or adjacent to the golf course since I thought they might be considered a nuisance. Of course we all know that it's the other way around and that golf is a nuisance to wildlife.

Ormeau Park is Belfast’s oldest municipal park. It was first opened as a park in 1871 and the gold course opened in 1893. This probably explains why there's a public path that cuts through the golf course and on my way home last week I was a few feet away from getting a Titleist in my skull and the owners should really be forced to put up netting to protect passers by as well as other golfers.

Interestingly, along with the old Maysfield Leisure Centre site, the Ormeau Park site is one of two sites that have emerged in recent months as alternatives to the Maze as a site for a new Northern Ireland Stadium which would replace the current Ozone facility.

Now if hundreds of golfers don't threaten the wildlife, surely 35,000 football fans will.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Right At Your Door plays through the real-life scenario of a dirty bomb being used in an urban area and in this case, Los Angeles.

Brad (Rory Cochrane), an out of work musician, shares a house with his wife, Lexi (Mary McCormack), who leaves for work in down town L.A. leaving her husband at home when a dirty bomb explodes as he is listening to the radio and it is interupted by an emergency broadcast.

Brad attempts to phone his wife to no avail and decides to drive into town to try and find her but the area has been sealed off and he is forced to return home where he is told by the radio to seal off the house to prevent contamination from fallout.

The film is well executed and demonstrates the emotions of being caught up in a disaster with the overidding concern of a loved one taking precedence over your own safety.

As Brad fears the worst for his wife and seals himself into the house, he is told on the radio that contaminated people that have escaped the blast radius should not be allowed into houses that have been safe-guarded.

Following further failed attempts at contacting his wife, she makes a dramatic appearance at their house and Brad must make the decision to let her in and risk contaminating himself or keeping her outside and hoping that medical teams can help her.

Right At Your Door is an nicely directed debut by writer Chris Gorak although there are minor quibbles with the script in terms of anachronistic dialogue and plot-pivoting storylines.

Nevertheless, it shows promise as a film and it will be interesting what comes next in his work.
Worth watching when it hits your TV screens.

I would give this movie 6.7 sealed windows out of 10.


Monday, April 16, 2007

Red Red Wine

As the glorious spring weather continued, the Staff Social Committee (me) was reformed and first on the agenda was a BBQ lunch on the roof terrace. After a trip to Homebase and Sainsbury's, we were ready to go and feasted on marinaded chicken thighs, spiced pork sausages,burgers and home-made salads. It was a total crowd pleaser and I'm sure it'll be back on the menu sooner than later.

A last minute poker game was arranged for the evening, and after watching Ireland getting put out of the under 19 World Cup in embarrassing try after try for South Africa, we got down to betting. Usually I'm lucky not to lose everything so I was clearly favoured that night when I doubled my entry pot and walked away happy and contented.

On Saturday we had important business at hand and after lunch, Lou and I made our way down to Direct Wine Shipment to meet up with Chris for a sampling tour to choose wine for his wedding in August. We sampled well over a dozen wines and settled on our decision after buying our finalists and bringing them back home to the back garden for a proper tasting.

Later in the evening it was off to the Speakeasy in the Students Union to catch Amusement Parks On Fire. After a less than impressive warm up act, it was on to an ear bleeding wall of sound from the main act and although the music wasn't bad, the drumming wasn't up to much - I noticed on their website that they were looking for drummers on the UK leg of the tour so maybe there was a stand-in for the night who didn't know the songs. Nevertheless, it was ejoyable and after leaving, we jumped in a taxi back to Chris's folks place and sampled some more wine.

On Sunday, I had a record lie-in and didn't awake until 1 O'Clock in the afternoon. It was truly a lazy afternoon but welcome following a heavy social weekend. Hope you all had a great one whatever you got up to. See you tomorrow.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Gamespot #62


This is the best game yet from whoever brought us Grow and Grow Cube. Solve the riddles, build your tools and escape from the confines of wherever it is you are!

Should keep you occupied for some time. For those with less time on their hands, the solution is posted as the 1st comment.

(NB You can quit and close the browser whenever you like and come back to the game at a later stage as long as you don't wipe your browser cache!)

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Easter Break: Part 2

Sunday was another sunny day and we were off to Lou's folks for lunch. I stuffed myself with roast beef, potatoes and oven roasted parsnip and my glass was cunningly filled everytime I put food in my mouth so I couldn't say no - not like I was complaining!

After getting back into Belfast and prepping our back, it was off to Stormont for a small gathering of Jenny's friends. Lou and I decided to walk off the exuberance of the previous days excess and 4 miles and just over an hour later we arrived in time for food, although we had just worked off lunch and couldn't eat a single thing. I had also to carry the alcohol for the evening as it was Easter Sunday and under some crazy law, all the off-licences were forbidden to serve anything so it was lucky I had taken the precaution to stock-pile some wine.

The downside of the party was that unfortunately someone had decided it was a good idea to sing karaoke and I was requested to make peoples ears bleed with a rendition of 'Teenage Kicks' although it sounded delightful compared with Keiths cover of 'The Boys Are Back In Town'. At least I think it was - I had fingers in my ears.

On Monday Lou and I decided to take a run in the car to Ballysallagh Forest Park for a walk. It's amazing how many forest parks there are in the east side of Northern Ireland alone. Despite the overcast weather, the car park was full and families were enjoying a picnic as we strolled along the pine-tree laden path meeting fellow amblers and dog walkers.

In the evening it was certainly the timeout segment of the holiday and we watched two-thirds of the agonisingly boring El Crimen del padre Amaro [The Crime of Father Amaro] which was a crime in itself for lacking any serious cinematic impact despite the critical praise lavished on it.

We then re-watched El Laberinto del fauno [Pan's Labyrinth] on DVD as we hadn't seen it since last year in the cinema and I can confess it was still a great movie and worth adding to your collection.

It was more DVDs for me on Tuesday morning as I watched DiG! - a documentary about The Brian Jonestown Massacre and The Dandy Warhols and the friendship/rivalry between their respective founders, Anton Newcombe and Courtney Taylor. It was an insightful look into the rock and roll world and about the huge egos and what people are prepared to do to become famous [Courtney] and what people do not do or indeed sabotage [Anton] to not become famous. Anton is the more interesting of the two because of his Messiah-like self-delusion - not to say he isn't prolific in churning out (good) music but because he is perhaps psychologically unbalanced and continually feuding with his bandmates and it is a wonder that they don't walk away from him earlier in their careers. Worth checking out if you're into music and even if you're not as it is never boring as the director gains all access to their personal lives and the highs and lows of the lifestyle of two different bands making their own way in the world. [6.5/10]

In the afternoon it was off to the cinema to see a movie that is certainly not worth checking out and is continually boring as it is cliched - The Messengers. Continual shock-tactic horror moments piled on top of each other with admitedly smooth CGI graphics making small ground in an erstwhile forgettable film as a family moves to an old house with a dubious past and strange things begin to occur. [3.4/10]

And that about wraps up the Easter break synopsis. Tomorrow, weather permitting, we will be having a lunch-time BBQ and the close of a short and greatful working week. See you then.

Easter Break: Part 1

It was great to be off for a week over Easter and the best thing about it was that it felt like more which is great in review but makes it more difficult when you're sitting in your office at 8.30am with heavy eyelids and a few yawns in the bank.

The break kicked off in style though as the Thursday afternoon had the sun splashed all over the sky and we finished up early, grabbed beer from the off-licence and sat up on the roof terrace.
The blue sky and hazy city skyline made for a great backdrop to sun ourselves and talk utter nonesense which it probably turned to later as we sat outside until the bright red ball disappeared over the mountain and it grew grey and cold and we said our goodbyes.

It was 8.40pm when I reached the enterance to Ormeau Park and although the sign said "This Park Closes At 8.30pm" it evidentally was not and I took this as my cue to enter and work my usual route across to the other side. It was only half-way through that I realised my walking was, well, drunken and all too soon the dim realisation set in that the other side was closed. "You fool!" I thought to myself, "Now you're stuck in the park!".

Instead of walking back I forged onwards and saw construction lights about 30 yards ahead and decided that I could always use dimplomacy with the workers should I wonder onto a hard-hat area and put myself in mortal danger. I navigated my way around the wooden fenced-off area and low and behold, a gate was still open. I increased my pace and before I knew it, I tasted the sweet air of freedom and bumped my way home.

On Saturday, we met up with Keith, Jenny and two of their Dutch friends that were over on a short trip to Belfast and snagged a booth in the Crown. Despite the history to the bar, its never really appealed to me although the respite of having your own space is prevalent to the hustle and bustle going on outside. I think it's the gloom that I find depressing. I'm pretty sure they had lights in the 19th century and sans smoke, I shouldn't need to be squinting across the table to read lips.

We were joined by our friend Sandra and her sister who came up from Dublin and after a few pints were sank, people were getting hungry and we walked up to the Jharna for some Indian food and I was quite surprised that the Dutch had never tried this type of food before. Cue a long and agonising deliberation over the menu and I was seated beside Lou with a bottle of red between us and we were soon chatting about the recent Richard Dawkins programme The Root of All Evil about the negative impact of religion.

In one memorable scene, he visits the New Life Church in America, where Pastor Ted Haggard once presided over a 14,000 strong congregation and claimed to have a weekly conference call with United States President George W. Bush. Haggard says that American evangelicals fully embrace the scientific method, expecting it to eventually show how God created the heavens and the earth. Dawkins asks if he accepts the scientific demonstration that the earth is 4.5 billion years old. According to Haggard, this is merely one view accepted by a portion of the scientific community. He goes on to contend that Dawkins's own grandchildren may laugh at him upon hearing this claim. Dawkins responds "do you want to bet?".

Once the meal was over we were offered some complimentary shots of Baileys and we grabbed a taxi and headed for Jenny's house for some Wii and drinks. We checked out the bowling game and were so engrossed, it was 2am before we realised. It's a very addictive game and great fun when several people are playing - I shall have to buy one in New Zealand...

Part Two tomorrow!

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Chocolate Egg + Easter Bunny = Jesus

A few of us were talking this morning about Easter and the reason why people give each other chocolate eggs and also as to the significance of the Easter bunny. I saw on channel 4 news last night that most people did not know the reason for this and I have to admit that I am one of the majority with no clue to this beyond a cynical view that it was a marketing agenda for multi-national corporations to make more money after people gave up chocolate for lent and come the end, they would devour chocolate eggs.

After a quick check on Wikipedia, I was led to believe that the Easter Bunny is a traditional holiday character in the form of a giving rabbit which is said to leave gifts to children at Easter and originates in Western European cultures.

Eggs, like rabbits and hares, are fertility symbols of extreme antiquity; since birds lay eggs and rabbits and hares give birth (to large litters) in the early spring, these became symbols of the rising fertility of the earth at the Vernal Equinox.

The rabbit was used in early Easter celebrations to symbolize fertility, perhaps because these animals give birth to multiple offspring at a time.

The Romans believed that all life proceeded from an egg, so the egg came to symbolize birth and rebirth. Christians regarded eggs as the seeds of life and attributed them with the symbol of Jesus' resurrection. One wonders why the church doesn't get more involved in this and produce kinder-type eggs with various toys inside. Imagine a toy crucifix set and you have to fit it together. It could even come with what looks like a joke but it's actually scripture. I imagine these would sell incredibly well if marketed (in)correctly.

I hope you all have a great time whatever you're up to. I'll be off from today and back on Wednesday for a full Easter break report. Thanks for stopping by!

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Gamespot #61

Alpha Force

Nice little side scroller shoot-em up.

Guide your jet fighter along the screen using pulse lasers and missiles to destroy your opponents!

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

A Spring Tale

The weather has been great recently and it's allowed me to do two things: tidy up the garden and, my all time favourite, have a BBQ.

I ran into my dead nextdoor neighbours sister from Canada when I moved in many weeks ago - he was recently deceased and she had flown over to sort out the details. A few weeks later I thought I passed her by again outside my house talking to a neighbour down the street, but it turned out it was her twin sister from Lisburn and she was with her husband. She said that I had been talking with her Canadian sister and I passed no my regards about her father. She was there with her husband and explained she was also here to sort out the house and I said I would help her out as best I could. Her husband piped up and said he would do me a deal. He would mow my lawn if I helped him move some furniture. It seemed a great idea at the time because the garden was overgrown and my current landlord had left us nothing but an old push-mower with one handle missing.

However, a week passed and the sunshine came and stayed and the grass was still not cut. As I fancied a BBQ there was no option but to go ahead and do the work myself. I was glad to be able to borrow my brothers modern fly-mower and soon set to the garden. However, since the grass hadn't been cut in a long time, it was around 6 inches long and an absolute beast to navigate a mower around.

It took more than an hour to cut a lawn the size of an average living room and it still wasn't complete. It had to be raked, which, due to the last time it had been cut, involved taking a lot of faux-grass in the form of moss with it and I was left with sporadic bald patches in one area. Nevertheless, the garden was prepped and ready for action. All that remained was to purchase a BBQ.....

We picked one up in Argos and on the way home stopped in a petrol station to pick up charcoal. Nothing. Lou dropped me home to finish working in the garden while she dropped the lawn-mower off at Keiths, pick him up and grab some charcoal. More than 5 petrol stations and shops were visited to no avail. What was wrong with the universe? Is it not written that a sunny day in spring shall the shops sell charcoal to the whores of BBQ's?

With a tear in my eye I had no option but to call off the event. I texted around telling friends that there may be no cooked meats over flames but there will be a party to honour the cloudless day in March. I was in the middle of making a marinade for the chicken drumsticks and mulling over the fact they would have to go into the oven instead of on a metal griddle over hot coals when I recieved a glorious phonecall from Colin telling me he had a disposable BBQ and could bring it over! Praise the Gods of BBQs! It's on!

And so there was much beer and cooking of meats and all were satisfied.

The End.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Inntrek 2007

Inntrek 2007 follows on from the success of last years event at the Roost and was hosted in McCracken's this year, where we met up for team preperation before heading out to complete the quiz.

Our first destination was Whites Tavern with the bonus question being what stuffed album adorned the mantlepiece and although said animal was easy to find, it was not so easy to identify as it looks like a cross between an otter and a squirrel.

Next was the Duke of York and after buying drinks we managed to find seats in the small cubbyhole at the back of the bar which was cosy to say the least! The bonus question was kindly answered by the barman as to the age of the bar which I have now forgotten and google has been no help at all. Suffice to say it is one of the oldest bars in Belfast and once served customers who worked in the heart of the newspaper district although it has since outlived those publications whose patrons frequented to quench their thirst.

The buzz lately has been whether the bar had actually changed its name to the Glory Hole or whether this is the new name for the upstairs area. Answers on a post-card please. Nevertheless the outside leading on the cobbled street alley is nicely decorated with bench-seats and quaint garden parapanelia which would make it an ideal area for summer drinking.

We made an all too brief appearance at the John Hewitt as we were pushed for time and made our way to the Garrick for our final pint before heading back to McCrackens. It's a great bar for a slow pint during the day as you can make use of the boardgames and stack of papers by the pumps and while away an afternoon over a few slow pints.

And so back to where it all started to hand over our dubiously correct answer sheet and sink a few more pints while a dixie band played in the corner and the converasations turned to merriment and laughter.

Although we didn't win, it wasn't why we were there and it was a great night in aid of a very worthy charity and I hope a lot of money was raised.

I wonder if we could host a similar event next year in Belfast, Christchurch...

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