Thursday, July 29, 2010

The A-Team movie (2010): A quick review

I've just got back from seeing the new A-Team movie at the Odeon cinema in Leicester. I'll try not to give too much away, but be warned that there may be one or two spoilers contained below...

The short review
It was awesome.

The longer review
I can't remember the last time I saw a movie at the cinema in its first week, let alone its first day, but I've been looking forward to this one for a while. I turned up at the cinema to find the longest queue I have ever seen at any cinema, and quickly decided that the best thing to do would be to book tickets online (using my mobile), bypassing the queue entirely. This meant that I couldn't use my Orange Wednesday ticket, but hey, this is the A-Team. How often does an A-Team movie come out? Anyway...

The premise...
The first few scenes introduced the characters wonderfully, and I found the premise behind these scenes to be interesting: rather than being set after the TV series, or before it as a prequel, the movie reinvents the concept in a modern setting. The very beginning shows Hannibal and Face, who are already friends and comrades, meeting B.A. and Murdock for the first time. Cut to 8 years later, and the team are a unit of American soldiers towards the end of the war in Iraq. They are sent on a covert mission and... stuff happens. I won't detail what, but it's a good modern analogue of the Hanoi bank job that is the back story for the original series.

The characters...
Hannibal, Face, B.A. and Murdock are all very definitely the characters from the TV series, but modernised. This is a good thing, though: played absolutely faithfully, many of the team's original characteristics would jar against our expectations in a world that's moved on 18 years since the series first started: changed attitudes would have us not liking certain characters as much as we should (Face's misogyny, for example, has been toned down, but he's still the womanising conman we all love). Lynch is in the movie, but the only thing lifted from the original is his name: he's not even an army colonel. Having said that, the Lynch character is intriguing, entertaining and a worthy adversary for the boys.

The plot and action...
Ludicrous plans, over-the-top action scenes, generally unbelievable plot devices. In short: perfect. There are a couple of scenes that pay decent homage to the B.A-welding, Murdock-being-crazy, build-stuff-out-of-whatever's-lying-around montages from the series, and the original A-Team theme tune makes a brief appearance on a couple of occasions (but not enough for my liking!)

The verdict...
I loved it. I thought it was an excellent tribute to one of my favourite television shows. It brought the concept up to date, changed all the bits that needed changing and kept most of what made it brilliant the first time around. I'd love to see a new TV series resulting from this, but I can't see it happening.
Will you like it? If you want it to be exactly the same as the TV series, then no. But if you ever truly thought that it would be, you're kidding yourself. If you want to see a decent tribute, but are open minded to having a few things changed to make it suitable for a 2010 audience (some of whom have never seen the original series, remember), then you'll love it!

Some almost-spoilers...

  • Stick around until the end. The very, absolute end.
  • The van! There needs to be a sequel to put that right.
  • I love it when a movie gets all self-referential.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

For anyone who provides free tech support to their entire family...

I found what I am about to show you (not the cat- that's just to grab your attention) a good few yonks ago, but couldn't remember where and I've been searching on-and-off in the interim. Today, though, it popped up as if by magic while I was playing with my new Stumbleupon* account.

My phone number is an unofficial technical support hotline for various branches of family. Some weekends seem to be little more than house calls to multiple relatives to sort out wireless routers, photo printers, mobile apps, email issues and CD player 'play' buttons. I honestly don't mind sorting out these issues and, in the case of the more difficult ones, I actually kind of enjoy it, though I'd never admit that in public. One** thing winds me up, though, and that's someone hovering around behind me asking what the problem is and how to fix it. This annoys me for two reasons:

  1. If they had the experience and associated knowledge and understanding to make any sense of the words I would have to use to explain the problem and its solution, I wouldn't be there trying to work out what the problem is and how to fix it. They'd be doing it themselves. This is nothing to do with intelligence or lack thereof; it's simply an issue of a pathway of interest and experience that is orthogonal to any that they have any intention of ever travelling.
  2. A lot of the time I don't know what the problem is. I don't know what the solution will be. I am making it up as I go along. I am doing things based on a combination of interest, experience, gathered knowledge and, by way of looking at the words, pictures and symbols displayed on screens and buttons, a hefty dollop of common sense.
So, with this in mind, I post something originally posted by the genius behind XKCD***, The Tech Support Cheat Sheet:

I am so, so tempted to print out a job lot of these, laminate them, and hand them out to my entire extended family.

* If you stumble, please follow me (I'm TeaKayB, funnily enough, and I'll follow you back if you let me know you've done so) and "like" this page or any of my other posts if you think they're any good!
** Actually, there are two main things. The other one is the implicit expectation that I'll drop everything I'm doing to go and sort out problems that can often be solved simply by gaining proficiency in the use of on/off switches or remembering, after innumerable reminders, that the little triangly symbol is understood across four galaxies to mean 'play'.
*** "A webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math and language"

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Things to do in Kettering - Bella Sicilia (Italian restaurant)

Arturo & his accordion (from the Facebook group)
From the outside Bella Sicilia doesn't look like much; it could almost be a basic take-away*, or even the reception for a small double-glazing firm, but walk through the main door and a surprising thing happens: you are transported to a little piece of Italy (or, rather, Sicily).

I don't know much about authenticity when it comes to Sicilian food and decorations, but this place certainly played up to my expectations- the decor is light and airy; basic yet inviting. The atmosphere when I arrived was immediately friendly and, although the tables (and therefore diners) are fairly closely packed it didn't feel claustrophobic.

Our drinks order was taken and menus provided shortly after we had been seated. Throughout the evening the service was fairly slow, but this was not a bad thing: we were in no hurry and there was certainly none of the feeling so often experienced in other venues that you're being herded in and out as quickly as possible. Maybe 'laid back' would be a better description than 'slow', with this in mind! My food was excellent, with both quality and quantity being high enough to leave me satisfied, and some of my companions enthusiastically expressed similar sentiments. The rest of the diners all appeared to be enjoying their food, of which there was (to me) an unusual and exotic array.

After we had finished eating, the owner of the establishment appeared with an accordion and a tambourine and skilfully played a variety of songs, including Happy Birthday, some Frank Sinatra numbers and what I assume were some traditional Italian/ Sicilian songs, with accompaniment provided by various diners on the latter instrument. After this entertainment, the restaurant's sound system played some Sicilian classics like Crazy Little Thing Called Love and Brown Eyed Girl until we left, after having paid around £230 between seven of us. This works out at about £33 each for two courses plus drinks - not cheap, but hardly bank-breaking either.

I was impressed with Bella Sicilia, and would not be upset at the thought of visiting again at some point in the future. It was a fun evening with great food and unexpected entertainment at a decent price. If you want to mark an occasion with something different, you could do a lot worse than Bella Sicilia.

* Bella Sicilia does offer a take-away service, but I haven't used it.

School's Out!

School is finally out for summer, and boy has this been a frustrating, annoying and generally difficult-to-find-the-positives year. But I don't want to talk about that, other than to express my hopes that...*

Anyway. That's not what this post is about. This is:

School's out for an entire five weeks and two days, and I'm damned sure I'm going to try to make the best of it. What better way to start than with a bit of Alice?

Actually, this isn't just Alice. It's also some Muppets, and it's from 1978. Enjoy!

*... September will see the start of an academic year in which I don't feel like a lone gunman just trying to hold my own against a hoard of students, parents, wider-school 'colleagues' and society as a whole, who seem intent on trying to convince me that mathematics just isn't important. Maybe I'll start to feel a little more valued in my current job role, or at least build up the confidence to take my enthusiasm for an unwanted subject somewhere else. [I put it down here so you can ignore it if you want to. It is a little bit ranty.]

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Social poll: class sizes / teacher quality

As always, feel free to comment with caveats, conditions, criticisms and 'cdotes!

Which would be the BEST situation? free polls

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Things kids say - 1

Had a couple of good ones today:

P: "It's not fair. We shouldn't be in school now. I'm going to write to parliament."
S: "Parliament? Ent that in Spain?"

Me (waving forgotten exercise book): "P, this should be in your bag!"
P: "It is."
Me: "Oooooooh. K."

3 (my personal fave, for obvious reasons...)
Me: "Next lesson will be all about Pythagoras: Nice bloke, but a bit obsessed with triangles."
Not sure which kid (whispered to friend): "He sounds like Matt Smith!"

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Godblock or not?

My attention was drawn, via a tweet from @evilbiblequotes, to a new (to me at least) web utility, GodBlock.

The premise of the utility seems sensible enough at first glance: in tune with similar products dealing with unwanted advertisements and pornographic material, Godblock is a web filter that actively blocks websites with overtly religious content from being downloaded by your browser. From the website, GodBlock:
" targeted at parents and schools who wish to protect their kids from the often violent, sexual, and psychologically harmful material in many holy texts, and from being indoctrinated into any religion before they are of the age to make such decisions."

Surely, as someone who is a thoroughly convinced atheist, I should be supportive of such a utility?

No, actually.
Don't get me wrong: I'm of the strong opinion that religious indoctrination of children is a form of child abuse, and I fully support the GodBlock team's implication that children should be protected from indoctrination into any religion before they reach an age at which making such a decision sensibly is a reasonable possibility.

But I don't think that this is the way to do it. I have a few reasons for this, the most important being...

I am against wanton censorship in general
The key phrase here is 'before they are of age to make such decisions'. This age is surely different for every individual and depends on many factors, not least of which are their personal intellectual development and life experiences.

Picture this: Somebody spends their first eighteen years of life completely sheltered from the idea of religion. Then, the day after their 18th birthday, after the hangover has lifted, they are all of a sudden bombarded with invitations to join various groups with such rewarding carrots as heaven, eternal life and The Answers dangled in front of them as well as sticks like hell, eternal damnation and All Seeing Eyes brandished behind. How on Earth is this person supposed to make a reasonable, informed decision with absolutely no experience behind them? They're plunged straight back to square one; the learning process has been stalled by eighteen years.

The same concept works with many of the morally objectional, offensive and illegal things that we, in today's society attempt to hide our children from, and it doesn't really work that well with them: sex, drugs and pornography are all taboos in our prescribed moral culture, and as such we attempt to hide them away from our children. Yet their misuse is rife. I'm not saying we should throw these things at our kids, but trying to lock them in cupboards wrapped up in layer after layer of cotton wool plainly isn't working. But I'm getting off topic...

There are a couple of other reasons I don't like the idea of GodBlock (and these can also be applied to other such issues of contention, but I'll try to keep it relevant!):

  • It won't just block the objectional stuff.
My personal experience of web filters is that they do more harm than good. When I'm searching for new and dynamic ways of thinking, explaining and presenting the material that I teach, I am often barred by a page telling me the content I am trying to access has been blocked for some tenuous (and usually falsely applied) reason based around keywords, and it frustrates me something chronic.
  • Forbidding something makes it all the more desirable.
It's human nature to want things we can't (or shouldn't) have. Block it, and the mind asks why, what and how can I get some? Honestly, if we made sprouts illegal, the British public wouldn't be able to get enough of them.

In conclusion...
As with most of the world's issues, the key is education. And by that I certainly don't mean hand it over to the teachers and let them deal with it*. I mean that children should be educated and encouraged by their family, by their friends, by their peers and elders, and by society at large, to think for themselves wherever they are, whatever they do and whenever they do it. Censorship is never the way: it promotes apathy, stifles free thought, and encourages the offloading of responsibility onto parties that often don't even exist.

Sorry, that turned into a bit of a rant, didn't it?

* This is the way it all seems to be going at the moment, which is bad and won't help / isn't helping anything.