Saturday, May 12, 2007

Half a Century

The big advantage of having a 'milestone' birthday on a Sunday is that the "celebration" can be spread over several days!

In part the celebrations started last Bank Holiday weekend when common sense flew out the window (what with impending unemployment and all) and I finally spotted a price on the bare-bones Sony PS3 player that justified my buying it as a Blu-Ray player, with "birthday present for self" as the pathetic excuse for squandering money I should really be saving to pay the mortgage while hunting for the next contract.

I've watched the Blu-Ray disc version of Casino Royale in episodic bursts over the last five nights. This is not the way to watch a movie, but work and life in general makes any other viewing experience difficult at the moment. It looks great in hi-def once you've realised that the Sony PS3 player won't let you play Blu-Ray discs in anything other than fuzzy, standard definition 420p resolution even when set to 720p hi-def output. The ill thought-out set-up menu needs to be told your TV supports 1080i/1080p (mine doesn't) to be tricked into yielding the hi-def goods, otherwise it happily displays in 720p hi-def goodness until a Blu-Ray disc gets pushed into the unit, when it shunts down to fuzzy, moire-patterend 480p resolution. This, of course, has done nothing to dissuade me that Blu-Ray isn't another Sony-pushed, ill thought-out beta product being sold to us gullible high def film fanatics on brilliant (if factually incorrect) marketing. But that's a rant for another day!

Work has clashed badly with plans to just chill out and "celebrate" half a century on the planet. It's always feast or famine in this life it seems, and since famine sets in the second week of June, I guess I shouldn't bemoan the "feast" I'm going through at the moment - I just wish it hadn't all arrived in May. Somehow I've ended up with several major milestones all happening at once, which doesn't do much for stress levels, and turns even mundane events like getting birthday presents for a nephew whose birthday you've forgotten into 'straw that broke the camel's back' situations.

One project I've been working on, pretty much in isolation, went "live" Thursday morning and thankfully went without hitch. The next - also a "solo" project - affects some 50 different "branded" financial web sites and goes into "user acceptance testing" on Tuesday morning before being deployed to go "live" at midnight on the final May Bank Holiday. All of which means the planned extended 50th birthday celebration into Monday has had to be cancelled as deadline dates can't be moved even when you've had no involvement in estimates based on a lack of knowledge of the work needing to be done. Hopefully that won't spoil attempts to "relax" with a small celebration at a theatre in Sonning this evening, and then a 50th birthday buffet lunch with friends in Reading tomorrow. 50 seems an awfully old age to be, but luckily seeing the senile old git who stares back at me from the shaving mirror each morning has prepared me well for the event! The ravages of work and life in general and that morning reminder of the passing of time mean I'm already mentally prepared for my 60th!

Anyway, I got home after a 'guinea pig on a treadmill' week of cut and paste coding to find a lovely start to the weekend - a wooden boxed large bottle of champagne from Seth at Sybar Associates. Sybar Associtates are the small agency who found me an 'eight week' contract some two and a half years ago that kept getting extended until I baled out with a '4 weeks notice' clause (since extended to six weeks, by consensual agreement with the client) three weeks ago. Generally, agencies are not popular with contrators. They typically do nothing other than get in the way, with lots of pressure having to be applied to even convince them to forward the CV you've sent them to the appropriate parties, only to find that for the cost of fowarding that CV they're charging you anywhere between 5% (very very rare) and 30% (more the norm!) of your earnings for the duration of your contract. In the case of my current contract, two agencies had already rejected my CV ("You need five years HTML and your CV doesn't talk enough about that") for the contract providing senior ASP.NET web developer services that Sybar Associates got me, and which I won as the last candidate seen after days of interviews with competitors sent from those agencies who'd rejected my CV. Enough said! Sybar are the first agency I've dealt with where I've actually met someone from the agency I'm earning money for, and one regret I have about moving on is that this may mean having to go back to the faceless rip-off merchants who seemingly don't know how to do anything other than do keyword searches within Microsoft Word documents. Seth from Sybar has taken me to lunch several times throughout my various contracts, and has always made me feel I'm as important as the client his company have placed me with, and that my requirements are paramount over any simple need to make money. If only other agencies displayed such salesmanship skills! The unexpected birthday present, on top of some nice Christmas bottles of booze in the past, was a pleasant surprise but typical of the sort of care and attention to detail his agency takes. I'm dreading having to go back to dealing with the other guys when the need for work arises again next month.

Saturday morning post bought the usual mixed blessings. An unexpected tax bill (I must have words with my accountant - the exact same thing happened last birthday!) was thankfully balanced by a bunch of high profile HD-DVD movies which were ordered months ago but seem to have finally been released all at once, and a bunch of birthday cards. The first birthday card arrived on Tuesday, which either means people are as forgetful as I am when it comes to actual dates, or that they have the same confidence I do in what 'first class' postal delivery actually means! The hightlight, as in most years, was a wonderful card and letter from Mark's parents. Mark, my last partner, died over 10 years ago and was pretty much estranged from his parents during the five years we were together, with enough bitterness on his side for him to change his name by deed poll, and so I felt slightly treacherous when I invited them to his funeral. They turned out to be a lovely couple of course (it wasn't hard to see why Mark had 'turned out so well') and it's genuinely touching that despite their disapproval of Mark's lifestyle they always remember Christmas and my birthday, despite having only met me on the one occasion of their son's death. Their card is always an unexpected treat and trigger for some happy memories of times with Mark.

This blog is normally about films on shiny disc, so getting back to the main subject I should mention that in the ton of stuff delivered this morning are HD-DVD discs of Freedom Writers, The Fountain, Flags of our Fathers, a Blu-Ray disc of Deja Vu, and a standard DVD of Little Children. More birthday treats than any film buff could hope for, although I suspect any of you reading this blog may have to wait a while for reviews. I had hoped to get a review of the excellent The Painted Veil up on my UK Film Review blog, but alas a train to Reading beckons, so it will have to wait for another time.

Let the celebrations begin and I promise to update the various review blogs that most come here for some time in my second half-century when work deadlines are over, and life is a little less fraught!

Monday, May 07, 2007

With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility!

Despite all the mediocre reviews I went to see Spider-Man 3 last night. I thought it was great! You can read my full review here.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Away From Her

The Bank Holiday weather must be a big disappointment to many, particularly given the beautiful weather we've had up to now. Why is it that when you're stuck inside a busy, over-heated office the weather's perfect but as soon as you get some time off it changes?!

Fortunately my weekend plans revolve mainly around needing to study, and get to grips with all the stuff Microsoft announced at their MIX07 Conference last week, so the inclement weather hasn't really impacted me too much.

Not that the holiday is 'all work and no play' - despite the impending unemployment which means I should be using every available hour to get up to speed on technologies I haven't been using on my current contract - I've been adding a 'study incentive' of a new movie at the end of each day.

Friday night saw me enjoying the UK HD-DVD release of Smokin' Aces which Universal, echoing pretty much the whole HD-DVD launch story in this country, have managed to totally screw up. The disc sells at a hugely inflated price because it's supposed to be the UK's first 'combo' disk (one of those irritating faceless silver discs that has the DVD version on one side, and the HD-DVD version on the other). The sealed packaging boasts endlessly of the advantages of this 'combo' format. But the disc inside is just a straightforward HD-DVD disk that WON'T play in an ordinary DVD player.

As for the film itself - it's enjoyable enough in a 'look what Tarantino started' derivative sort of way. I guess I'm officially getting old, because I find films like this (and Alpha Dog which I also caught on HD-DVD last weekend) annoying because of the way they encourage violence, bad language and objectionable behaviour in the name of 'comedy'. Anybody who's travelled on London public transport with a crowd of ipod-blaring, ringtone-incessant, feet-all-over-the seats with effing and blinding all over the shop school kids will know what I mean!

Having renewed my Clapham Picture House membership I used two more of my free tickets to book seats for Spider-Man 3 (tonight) and Away From Her (yesterday afternoon). I've posted a quick review of Away From Her over on my UK Movie Review blog which has been languishing with no entries for a couple of months now.