Saturday, July 14, 2007

The Last Page

It's Bloody Marvellous isn't it? You start a second blog in order to keep the first one focused on its subject matter, then realise that you have two blogs with such general remits that everything you want to write about has a foot in each camp:

"It's about something I hate, so it must go in Bloody Marvellous."
"Yeah, but it's also about your life in Riyadh so it should belong on Neal of Arabia."
I have conversations like this with myself all the time.

Having two such blogs is like having two wives (so my friends in Utah tell me). You can't give one the attention it deserves without neglecting the other.

Therefore I sadly announce that this is the final posting I shall make to Bloody Marvellous! From now on everything, from holidays to Embassy functions to pet loves and peeves, will go on Neal of Arabia. It's a shame really because in some ways I enjoyed writing BM more, but the advantages outweigh the disadvantages believe me.

The full content of Bloody Marvellous! will remain on-line for your reading pleasure (who am I trying to kid?). Seriously there are some funny bits in here if you've got the time and energy to search them out, so next time you're looking for a diversion to put off doing something more responsible you could do worse than have a trawl through these archives.

This is Bloody Marvellous!, signing off. If any of you choose to run two blogs at the same time, make sure you have hobbies contrasting enough to make it work, like paintballing and crochet, for example.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Transformers: The Movie

We saw the new Transformers movie while in Kuala Lumpur recently. We'd ended up in a large shopping mall with multiplex cinema AND an IMAX screen and found that Transformers was showing in IMAX. I had not heard that a new Transformers movie was coming out to it was a complete surprise to me. I took the kids to see it while Karen got some pampering in the mall's Spa -- Yes, you heard right -- the mall had a spa too.

You remember Transformers the cartoon series from the Eighties? I don't too well but I remember the TV ads for the action figures, so I knew roughly what to expect. What I didn't expect was to enjoy the film so much. Films like this usually either take themselves too seriously or go to the opposite extreme and just become a comedy. The new movie successfully does a bit of both, and for every high-octane action sequence there is a quirky comdey moment to match. The special effects are totally stunning, as we've come to expect with CGI, and the plot is pretty good too. All in all a very entertaining family movie, and I'll definitely be getting the DVD.

Check out the official movie site, and the imdb page.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Cheap 'n' Nasty Games

Are you a Nintendo Man or a Sony Man? Maybe you're a girl! Whatever you are, if you choose fancy graphics and sound over gameplay you're wrong, simple as that.

Nintendo are the gameplay masters and the Super Mario series of games boasts some of the best gameplay anywhere, ever. All of which explains my bitter disappointment when I failed to find Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga for my Game Boy in the shops yesterday.

It's actually quite hard to find genuine video games in Riyadh: even supermarket chains like Carrefour carry pirated copies. You can tell a pirated cartridge by the cheap, over-colourful printing on the box, the lack of a manual, and the fact that 9 out of 10 cartridges don't work properly -- but at least they're cheap.

The last shop I went in had hundreds of titles for Game Boy, XBox, PlayStation (1 & 2), and all were phoney. By the time the Indian shopkeeper had told me he didn't have my game of choice I was emotionally committed to making a purchase, so settled on The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap, which is one of the few Zelda games I haven't played. I tested it in the shop and it seemed to work fine so I handed over my 35 Riyals (about £5).

Of course once I got it home I found I couldn't save my progress, which is kind of important in a massive role-playing adventure.

I took it back to the shop this morning and the man disappeared for a few minutes, then came back with -- joy! -- a copy of Mario & Luigi! He'd obviously knocked this one up sometime yesterday afternoon on the off chance that I came back. My joy was short-lived however when I tested the game out: this one wouldn't save either. I did find two games I fancied and that worked properly: DK King of Swing and Kirby: Nightmare in Dream Land. Well, sometimes you have to blow into the cartridge and knock it on the table before loading it in your Game Boy to get it load, but THEN it works properly.

Fair play, the guy let me have both games in exchange for Zelda so I left feeling quite pleased with myself. At the next shop I found another copy of M&L, and this one worked just fine so I bought that too.

Today's haul

Three Game Boy games for around £10: bargain. I don't normally agree with buying pirated stuff, but when you can't get the originals and you need it there and then what choice do you have?

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Cloud Atlas

One of the problems with trying to be a writer is that you have to spend a lot of time reading. Now if you're reading a book just for the pleasure of it then reading is no problem at all but one of life's greatest joys, but if you're a budding writer then reading the work of others can be quite demoralising.

The novel I'm currently reading is Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, and while the Reader in me is enjoying it immensely the Writer is being punched to the ground and savegely kicked where he lies. Reading stunningly good writing like this makes me realise how high and steep is the hill I have chosen to attempt.

Cloud Atlas is a series of six stories, all set in different times yet interconnected in sometimes simple, sometimes ingenious ways. The book begins with the first story, which is set in the nineteenth century, and moves through the stories (and jumps forward in time) until the sixth story is introduced in the middle of the book. That's the point I'm at right now but I was intrigued to see how the second half of the book would be handled so I flicked ahead and discovered that we have only the first half of each story, and that each will be revisited and finished in the latter half, travelling backward in time in the process.

What we have here is a mountain of a book whose peak I'm about to reach before beginning the descent to base camp. It makes me wonder how one can come up with such a multi-layered idea in the first place, let alone map it out to the required level of detail.

The novel was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2004, the prize that year being won by The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst.

I won't comment on the novel's merits until I've finished it but I will say that I am finding it a fascinating read and a maddening showcase of just how inventive and compelling writers can be. I look at my own scribblings to date and slump with dejection at the comparison.

Still, I bet even David Mitchell had to start somewhere and has some early drafts that he's not too proud of. Please say it's true!

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Sites about sites

Don't get me wrong, the world wide web is a wonderful thing, but lately I've been feeling a little swamped by all the sites, directories, blog search engines, and community portals that are supposed to make your life on-line easier, but have lately been having the opposite effect on me.

These are coming at me from a couple of different directions. Firstly there are those sites that help you promote your blog(s), propogating content around the internet in RSS feeds, indexing content for blog search engines, and those that gather statistics about your readership. Sites I've found/use in this category are:-
  • ClustrMaps - See map on left. They capture info about the geographical location of people hitting your site, the upshot being that over time your little world map is peppered with red blobs showing you where your readers are. I am currently a ClustrMaps User of the Month, which is nice.
  • Feedburner - RSS aggregator that captures your content and sends it to various hubs where people who use RSS readers can pick up their subcribed content. Essentially RSS feeds let you gather all the blogs you read into one place and read the content there instead of having to go to each site individually, and some RSS readers even have an off-line mode, so you can read Bloody Marvellous! on the plane :-)
  • Technorati - is a blog about blogs. They have rankings and log every time somebody adds your blog to their (Technorati) favourites. You can also search every registered blog here.
  • Statcounter - this is the latest one I've been playing with and it's very cool. It's a free service that gathers stats about all my visitors: not just location but also what operating system and web browser they're using, their screen resolution, and something called the "referring page". With this I can see when people land on my blogs as the result of a Google search, complete with the search term they typed in. If you have a blog of your own I recommend this service.
Then there are those famous ones I haven't tried yet:
  • del.ici.ous - no idea what this site is about but I see references to it everywhere
  • Digg - ditto
The second area where I'm feeling like a victim of the web firehose is in those sites aimed at teen networking and on-line discussion. Sites like MySpace, Bebo, Facebook, MSN Spaces, and Tagged are all about teenagers creating their own spaces and linking to all their friends. My two kids are obsessed with these, which means I have to be too if I'm to monitor what they're doing on-line and keep them out of harm's way. So I have to accept when Abigail invites me to be a Facebook buddy or Elliot creates a new Bebo page so I can make sure their on-line behaviour is as exemplary as in the real world.

Of course the result of all this is, not only do I have about twenty userid's and passwords to remember, I spend at least half my time on-line checking stats, accepting invitations, reading teen comments tht r all wrtn lk ths kwl lol (gives me a headache) and scanning my blog stats logs.

It's a good job I've got nothing better to do!

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Lost in Translation: Episode 8

More Riyadh signs that don't quite make the journey from Arabic to English unscathed:

"Please use other door"

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Boneless Girl

Here she is, the star of iGoogle's game gadgets, it's Boneless Girl!
(code hacked to make her appear here without kind permission of TheWeather.TK: I hope they don't mind!)

If you're ever stuck for something to do just come back here and watch Boneless Girl fall about for a while. Actually she's not boneless at all, just floppy really (and a bit double-jointed), but Floppy Girl doesn't sound so good does it? You can watch idly as she plummets through the sky, and go "Ouch!" and "Eewww!" as her limbs get bashed into all sort of unnatural positions.


If she gets stuck you can grab any part of her anatomy (Oo-er!) with your mouse and either drag her through impossibly small gaps or fling her spinning up into the sky.

If you have iGoogle (and if you don't, get it!), you can add Boneless Girl to your page by clicking here.