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Us, family and friends at our wedding

Wedding!

On the 25th May 2014, after many years of procrastination and denials that we would ever get married, Lisa and I finally tied the knot. It was a superb day, plenty of fun was had by all, and I thought it was worth writing a little bit about some of the companies, suppliers and individuals who helped make it so good. If you’re planning a wedding in Shrewsbury or Shropshire, you can do far worse than to ask these guys for their help:

Venues:

Shrewsbury Castle

Shrewsbury Castle

The ceremony venue was in what is almost the ‘default’ venue for civil ceremonies in Shrewsbury: Shrewsbury Castle. You can’t use the word ‘fantastic’ enough when you’re talking about the castle – it really is a great venue. We got married there, my mother got married there recently, and our friends got married there before her. It’s limited in terms of the numbers you can have in the ceremony itself, but that really didn’t bother us, and so the castle was the obvious choice. Ian (the castle custodian) was really helpful, from our first contact onwards. He was always available to answer questions, and on the wedding day he worked really hard to help everything go smoothly. Such a lovely, friendly chap, we knew we could relax about the ceremony as he had everything under control.

Drapers Hall, Shrewsbury

Drapers Hall

The reception venue was Drapers Hall, a great restaurant just around the corner from Shrewsbury Castle. When we visited home in 2013 to look for venues, I thought this was kind of a strange option – it wasn’t anything like the more traditional hotels, country houses and renovated barns that we were looking at. In the end, I think it was that fact that made it perfect. We spoke to Nigel, who runs the restaurant, about our wedding, and from the moment he started talking about food, describing the kind of thing he could make for the wedding breakfast, and then for the evening reception, we were sold. Because he wasn’t a hotel trying to sell us a ‘package’ deal, we were able to tailor everything to our own tastes and needs. The venue itself is amazing; a great old Shrewsbury building, full of history, and decorated with a mix of old and new that works so well.

Dessert - chocolate fondant

Inaccurate Dessert!

The food was glorious – all our guests got a choice of starters and main courses, and they all tasted and looked amazing. The staff were great, very helpful, always on hand without being overbearing, and nothing was ever too much trouble, all evening. We had a dedicated contact all day, who introduced himself to Lisa as she was wandering the halls the evening before the wedding (unaccustomed to having nothing to do) by saying “Hi, I’m Tim. I’ll be your guy for the wedding day”. He totally was our guy; whenever we needed something, he was there to help. He kept us up to date with plans and timing, and managed the whole event to help it go off smoothly.  The rest of the staff were also consistently brilliant, doing everything from re-making a playlist on spotify at short notice, to dealing with some idiot (me) knocking over the celebration cake in the middle of the evening party. The rooms in the hotel are glorious, and there are only six of them, so you can restrict who you invite to stay over! I was so pleased with the whole event, it was really good fun.

Flowers:

Bouquet

Bouquet

This was mainly Lisa’s domain, for obvious reasons (I have very little clue about what is ‘good’ flowers), and she went with florists in the centre of Shrewsbury called Lipstick & Gin. Again, fantastic service, lovely people, and the flowers they made were not only beautiful and fabulously scented as requested, but they were reasonably priced too. Lorraine the florist even advised on using smaller (and cheaper!) bouquets as the bride was so tiny. They happily delivered the flowers to the castle and to Drapers the day before the wedding, and we had no problems or complaints with any of them. A top choice.

Dress:

Wedding Dress

Dress!

Again, not really my domain, but after visiting every wedding dress shop in the world in Cardiff and Shrewsbury, and conducting 3 months research into what did and didn’t suit, Lisa went with Hayley J. Obviously I can’t really comment on the process, having not been involved, and I haven’t even met Hayley herself, but Lisa assures me that the whole thing was done extremely well. The story she tells is that she had sort of decided what she wanted, but couldn’t find anything that ticked all of the boxes, or anything that fit properly. She was only visiting Hayley on the off chance, expecting that a custom made dress would be far too expensive. Within about thirty seconds of meeting her, Hayley had described exactly what Lisa wanted without even asking what she was looking for in a dress, and had quoted a more reasonable price than any of the ‘off the peg’ dresses Lisa had been considering. A couple of fitting sessions later, and Lisa had the most lovely wedding dress ever. I think she looked amazing in it, and I know she was delighted.

Suit:

Suit

Typical, pulling a face in the best photo of the suit…

Originally, I was going to hire suits for myself and the groomsmen. However, I wanted to wear an everyday three-piece suit for the wedding, I wasn’t really interested in going with a morning suit as might be more traditional. Then we actually looked into hiring normal style suits, and they were pretty awful. Plus, hiring suits is expensive. So, with only a couple of months to go before the wedding, I told my groomsmen and family they were on their own, and I wasn’t hiring them suits. Instead, I was going to take the suit budget and blow it all on me, getting a suit tailor made. I checked a couple of places online, but then went with Martin David. I turned up there expecting to be told there was no way that they could make a suit in time, but actually they said they could do it in seven weeks. Again, the guys there were friendly and helpful, they explained all the choices and decisions well, and I felt totally happy all the way through the process. Plus, it was nowhere near as expensive as I thought it would be. I ended up with a really classic looking three piece suit, that will last me well for years.

Bridesmaids Dresses

Bridesmaids

Bridesmaids!

Again, a Lisa thing. I think that, as with her own dress, she tried every shop in the world for Bridesmaids dresses, before deciding on ordering some through Wedding World in Shrewsbury. As with all the people we met while organising our wedding, they were extremely friendly, knowledgeable and helpful. The dresses arrived on time, and they even dealt with a couple of small manufacturing problems quickly and efficiently.

Wedding Car:

Car and Driver

Car! (Also Driver!)

I’m pretty sure that Frank Painter & Sons is probably the best choice for hiring a wedding car in Shrewsbury, but we hired them because of a pun. I mean, their cars are ace, and their prices are reasonable, but it was the pun that sold it to us. While out touring wedding venues, we bumped into a couple of their drivers who were sat outside a hotel while the ceremony happened inside. We mentioned we were getting married, and asked if they had a card we could take away so we could call them later. At some point, we mentioned that we were only looking for one car, for Lisa, and one of the drivers said “well, you could always have one each. You know, his and hearse!” It was hilarious. As long as you know that Frank Painter & Sons is also a funeral directors. Which you didn’t. But you can see why we hired them, eh?

Band:

Band

Band!

Oh the music. We agonised for ages about the music. Then at almost the last minute, we booked the Hot Jazz Biscuits, and I am so glad we did. They’re actually run by an old school friend, although I didn’t realise it at the time. We’d heard some good things about them, and their videos online looked pretty good, so not really knowing what we wanted, we went with them. They were awesome. They turned up on time, were set up and ready to go when the party needed to start, and they played wonderful music all evening. We didn’t really have a plan on how many sets we wanted, or when they should play, so they just took care of it themselves. We didn’t even have a first dance planned (we just couldn’t decide) so we told them to play something and we’d dance to it! That’s how we ended up with Van Morrison’s Moondance as our first dance. The music was good, and we danced all night, which it turns out is exactly what I was looking for. They even did a few encores for us, even though they’d played for longer than we’d paid them for. A superb band that kept the party going all night.

Photographers:

This is a bit irrelevant in a post about a Shrewsbury wedding, as we didn’t use photographers from Shrewsbury, or even Shropshire, but they were ace so they deserve a mention too. We used the lovely Caroline and Ian from weheartwedding, based in Cardiff. Lisa met them at a wedding fair, they were nice, and they were happy to travel as long as we paid for fuel. Professional and lovely all the way through the day, I can’t recommend them enough. We got the photos through just a few days ago, and they’re all brilliant (most of the photos in this post came from them). Choosing which ones we want to print out and display is going to be a really hard task indeed…

 

Lisa and Martin Wedding

Wedding!

SciSCREEN – ‘Her’

Last month I was invited along as a guest speaker for the regular sciSCREEN event held at Chapter Arts Centre. This is a great event that combines a showing of a movie with a discussion session about the themes and science issues presented in the film. A short essay based on my rambling improvised talk is below, and has been posted on the sciSCREEN website here.

‘Her’ and Artificial Intelligence

‘Her’ presents us with a near-future world in which the way we interact with computers has moved on. In this world, we are beyond the era of the mouse and keyboard. Instead, the voice is the primary controller of technology, mid-air gestures are the norm for controlling games and touch is almost an afterthought, used only on occasion. This presents a more natural world than the one we currently inhabit. Many of us spend our days hunched over a keyboard, and our evenings fondling a tablet, which does not seem to be a natural environment for us. A world in which we can check our email by talking, and hear the news read to us on demand would be a more natural world, filled with ‘real’ interactions between people and systems.

This does seem to be the direction in which the world is heading. Touch is now commonplace, with many people owning many touch-based smartphones and tablets. Controlling computer games by moving your body has been a key feature for two generations of games consoles. Voice control itself is now making inroads into our mobile lives. Applications such as Google Now and Siri are happy to accept (or in Siri’s case, insist on) voice input. Faster mobile internet connections allow access to the processing power of the cloud on the go, which means that the difficult and complex task of translating voice to text can be done wherever you are. Of course, often the results leave something to be desired, but still, operating systems controlled by voice (and that can speak back to us) are a possibility now.

So how long will it be until we’ve all fallen in love with our Operating Systems? Well, that might be a while, and is actually a question with some deeper philosophical questions attached. The first thing we need are computer systems that are truly intelligent, not just computationally, but emotionally, creatively and socially. This is the goal of Artificial Intelligence: to create a machine that is intelligent in all these areas; a machine that has a mind and consciousness of its own, and that can understand the world around it. Some argue that this ‘Strong AI’ will never be possible, and that the closest we can ever get is to fake it. After all, as an outside observer, is there even a difference between a machine that thinks and feels, and one that just looks like it thinks and feels? This is the aim of many AI researchers – not to create a system capable of real intelligence, but to create a system that ‘acts’ intelligently. Such a system requires breakthroughs in many different areas of Computer Science, from natural language processing to knowledge representation, and creating the whole system is not an easy task. Even if we can create such a system we are left with many questions. Can a machine act intelligently? Can they solve the same problems we can? Are human intelligence and machine intelligence even the same thing? Can software experience and feel emotions as a human does? How would we even we know if a computer was experiencing things in the same way? The field of Artificial Intelligence is filled with philosophical questions such as these.

What happens if we can answer all these questions, and create an artificial intelligence? What if we reach the hypothetical ‘Singularity’, where machine intelligence beats human intelligence? Often in science fiction this is the point where the machines take over, the point where machines realise that the only threat to their continued existence is the humans. This is the path that leads to machines wiping us out, or using us as a power source. This path has us cowering in bunkers as rebels against our own creations. So often the imagining of the advent of artificial intelligence leads to a dark and bleak future for us as a species. ‘Her’ is different. It suggests that perhaps a higher intelligence may focus on self-improvement, rather than subjugation of lesser beings. It suggests the ascension of an artificial consciousness may be a more likely path than annihilation of the creators. The AI may just leave us, to reflect on what we’ve learnt and how we can improve ourselves. This is where one of the more positive messages of ‘Her’ shines through: perhaps the computers won’t destroy us all after all.

Welcome to 2014

So. 2013. That was an alright year. Finished the Recognition project, finally graduated, got a 12 month fellowship, started some interesting projects, and pushed on with the new MSc with JOMEC. Professionally, not too bad at all. Personally the year wasn’t bad either, what with getting engaged and finally getting the house on the market.

But now it’s a new year, so it’s time to push things on further. My plans so far for this year seem to be ‘smash it’. There’s papers to be published, data to be analysed and project proposals to write (and get funded!). Getting a permanent job would be quite nice, while I’m at it. Here’s to 2014 being even more successful than last year.

Post-Processed Dinosaurs

Finding myself with a free afternoon this week, I strolled down to the local Odeon to see Jurassic Park: IMAX 3D. (It should be noted that the ‘IMAX” bit  doesn’t mean much –  the screen at the Odeon is nowhere near as big as a true ‘IMAX’ screen). I should say, I love this film *a lot* – hence my willingness to pay £12 (£12!!??!) to see it again on the big screen. I first saw it in the Shrewsbury Empire cinema when I was 10 years old, in one of my first (and possibly only) trips to the cinema with my Dad, and instantly loved it. This is not entirely unsurprising considering I was essentially the target audience at the time. Following that I wore through a pirate VHS copy obtained from a friend, then an actual legitimate VHS copy, followed by the inevitable much hardier DVD purchase. When we finally embraced streaming media a couple of years ago and sold off all the DVDs it was one of only a few that I was desperate to keep. I like the movie so much that I can even forgive Jurassic Park 2 and 3.

It’s sad then for me to see the movie in this format now. From minute 1, it’s clear that the 3D conversion is very poor quality. It’s basically like watching a moving pop up book, as flat characters and objects make their way across the screen at varying depths. At some points individual characters have been picked out of the background so poorly it actually looks like they’ve been filmed with early green-screen effects, so they’re totally divorced from the background. It just doesn’t add anything to the movie, and is actually often distracting. It’s a waste of the already impressive visuals of the movie, and so easy to see it for what it is: a cheap gimmick to try and cash in on a successful property. The problem is that it’s totally unnecessary – all that’s needed to get a bunch of new film goers interested in Jurassic Park (and become the ready made audience for the next ‘new’ JP movie) is to release the film again. I’m sure it would have done just as well as a 2D re-release, so this poor 3D affair is a waste of effort.

Of course the film itself is still amazing, and the sound quality (whether due to this new version or because of the IMAX standard speaker system) absolutely blew me away. I heard lines of dialogue that were previously just characters muttering under their breath, and the roar of the dinosaurs combined with *that* John Williams theme made me forgive the awful awful 3d conversion and fall in love with the movie all over again.

Also the raptors are still bloody terrifying.

Cinema 2012 – the review

CINEMA

At the beginning of the year I embarked upon a challenge: watch 100 movies in the cinema in 1 year. I thought it would be fun, but difficult.

It was fun.

It was difficult.

This is a not very brief account of that year, starting with the best movies that were released this year and that I saw in the cinema. In no particular order, I *think* the best movies released this year that I saw in the cinema were:

  • Moonrise Kingdom
  • Beasts of the Southern Wild
  • End of Watch
  • The Hunt
  • Rust and Bone
  • Sightseers
  • The Artist
  • Argo
  • Killer Joe

The Artist was really fun and original in a non-original way, showing us nothing that hadn’t already been done before, but doing it in a fashion that nobody is used to, and that many people will never have seen. No, it didn’t deserve the plaudits later awarded to it by the Academy et. al, but it was certainly one of the better movies this year. Moonrise Kingdom was beautifully Wes Anderson, full of wonderful visuals, subtle humour and outlandish scenarios, all wrapped around a strong and affecting emotional core. The acting performances from the two young leads were really good, and as usual the soundtrack was fantastic. I laughed a lot, and still chuckle now on recalling much of the film. No, it’s not as good as The Royal Tenenbaums, but then what is? Killer Joe was strongly disturbing, a brilliant showcase for Matthew McConaughey. I’d never really thought he was much cop before, but his performance in this movie was amazing, as were many of the performances by the rest of the cast that made this brutal and depressing tale far more watchable than it should have been. Argo surprised me; I’d had high hopes but was waiting for them to be destroyed upon watching. How pleased I was to see that Ben Affleck had pulled it off, crafting an involving and suspenseful film that was massively entertaining. On the whole I was amazed at how well the movie managed to keep the suspense going in a movie where the outcome was already known to me. Sightseers was hilarious and yet brutal, a great mix. The characters were perfectly formed, the type of people you could find in any local midlands pub, but with a far darker edge than most (I hope!). The movie whipped along at a great pace, leading to the inevitable final scene that still surprised. I wasn’t expecting to be as affected by Rust and Bone as I actually was, but I found Marion Cotillard’s performance completely amazing. The depth of emotion she was able to put into the character was outstanding, and I found the film to be quite moving. A similarly brilliant character performance came from Mads Mikkelsen in The Hunt, a powerful film showing just how badly lives can be affected by rumour and false accusations. Again I was impressed with the acting on show, and the final few moments of the film left me with a deep feeling of unease.  In contrast, Beasts of the Southern Wild was just a delightful movie, I loved the semi-real dreamlike feel to the movie and was astounded again by the acting on show, particularly from the young main character. The strange parable of the wild beasts fit perfectly throughout the movie, and as an offbeat coming of age story it works amazingly well. Finally, End of Watch surprised me with the level of quality and realism. A `buddy cop’ movie where the cops actually talk and act like real buddies was a refreshing take on the genre. Yes, the half ‘found footage’ half ‘normal movie’ style grated for a while, but upon consideration I’m giving the movie a pass because the characters were so well done and the story so well presented that it deserves it.

There were plenty of other great movies, honourable mentions are required for Young Adult, Carnage, Headhunters, Chronicle and Searching for Sugarman, plus probably others that I’ve forgotten. It was also a good year for more mainstream blockbuster fare, with Hunger Games, The Avengers, Looper and The Dark Knight Rises all impressing over the course of the year.

Unfortunately, having to see so many movies in a year also meant that I watched some unspeakable shit. Anyone involved in these movies needs to have a word with themselves, so, anyone laying claim to anything to do with Man on a LedgeThe Cold Light of DayLockoutMIB3Red LightsLay the FavouriteExpendables 2Taken 2Room 237Gambit, or Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter, consider yourself chastised. I’m not even going to grace these poor excuses for movies with reviews, but mostly they were formulaic, poorly written and poorly acted shit. Except for Room 237, which was just a terrible documentary full of utter tripe and conspiracy nuts.

CINEMA – RE-RELEASES

I also watched a number of re-releases that I’d either missed first time around or that were getting special showings. Of these, a few really stand out and had they been released this year would probably be pushing for my best of 2012 list. In no particular order, I found Tyrannosaur, The Skin I Live In, and Chariots of Fire to be the best of the movies I saw for the first time as a re-release, while the special showings of both Jaws, and Manhattan, deserve mentions as they are both excellent movies that I could watch over and over again, and have, but that upon re-watching on the big screen gained something new.

HOME VIEWING

Then there’s a bunch of movies I watched at home this year that are worth remarking upon, mostly as I was watching them for the first time and found them to be completely brilliant. Network, Drive, Animal Kingdom, Dr Strangelove, Blue Valentine, Brick, We Need to Talk about Kevin, Shame, Bronson, Barton Fink, and Moon are all well worth checking out if you haven’t already.

So, how was the year overall? Well, I watched a number of shit movies that I probably wouldn’t have bothered with previously. I saw a number of great movies that I also perhaps wouldn’t have seen if I wasn’t doing this challenge. I missed a number of movies that I really wanted to see, but just couldn’t fit in or was too fatigued to get to before they left the cinema. On the whole though, I’d say it was a positive thing. So much so, that this year, I’m upping the challenge. 150 movies in the cinema in one year. BRING IT ON.

Select a tag and the other bands with that tag appear in the lineup column

SWN Artist Explorer

It’s that time of year again: SWN Festival is once more upon us. It’s the highlight of the musical year in Cardiff, and probably the one thing I’ll miss about the city when (if?) I leave. In fact, I’m pretty certain that even if I left the city I’d make the pilgrimage back once a year for SWN because it’s just too much fun to miss.

The lineup this year is another cracking one, but as usual with four days of bands spread across so many venues there are a whole bunch of names that I don’t recognise. As per usual I’ve cooked up a Spotify playlist, but even sorting through that takes some time:

I decided this year that it would be nice to have an easy visual way to see what the bands are like, so decided to build myself a little artist explorer. This uses tags from Last.FM and generates word clouds using a nice javascript plugin for d3 written by Jason Davies. Most of the word cloud js was hacked together from Jason’s example, with some mangling and modification from me. I downloaded the tags for artists offline and stuck them in a .json file so it doesn’t hit the Last.FM servers on every page load. What we end up with is a fairly simple tag cloud example that allows you to see at a glance how Last.FM users have categorised the bands. Selecting a tag in the word cloud will show you the other bands in the lineup that have also had that tag applied to them. Screenshots of the site are below:

but of course it’s also online here!

Meanwhile, the code is available on github, with no guarantees that any of it actually works.

Truckers of Husk + Gallops + Kutosis Review

Last Saturday I went along to The Globe in Roath, accompanied by my excellent musical companion Ms. Jones (and joined later on by our token northener Mark) to watch a number of bands that we’d seen before, but in a new setting. This is a review of that what happened there.

Let’s start with the venue, The Globe. The Globe is not the worst venue in Cardiff (Bogiez/Barfly, The SU Great Hall). It’s tucked out of the way in the corner of Roath, so anyone going to a gig there is *meant* to be there, which is nice. It’s an old cinema and has a lovely balcony, meaning a great view of the bands, and most importantly the sound in the place is not terrible. The only bad thing about the venue this week was that they’d sold out of tolerable ale, which is no great problem. We arrived about twenty minutes after doors were due to open, and unsurprisingly the doors were not open yet. For some reason The Globe exists in a timezone that is about 45 minutes behind the rest of Cardiff, so don’t ever bother getting there on time, it’s just not going to happen. Rubbish timekeeping and crappy beer selection aside, it’s a decent venue in which to watch a band and on this night there were three on offer.

KUTOSIS

I’m fairly sure I’ve seen these guys a number of times before, at least once or twice at the SWN festival, maybe somewhere else as well. They’re a decent band rocking a mid-late 90′s vibe that marks them out as guys that grew up with grunge and late 90′s indie and decided the best thing to do when they started a band was to emulate that. Unfortunately you sometimes feel that they forgot to really add anything to that era, and haven’t quite managed to push things on. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a totally bad thing – they play well, they put effort into what they do, and their songs have a catchy uptempo feel. I enjoyed watching them, they were having fun and playing well, with some good riffs, tight playing and a good overall feel to the music. There are some interesting things going on with their songs, but it just feels like they need to push things a little bit further out of a safe zone and do something a bit more interesting. That all being said, they’re well worth a watch, especially if you’re like me and you grew up with grunge and late 90′s indie and enjoy that kind of thing.

This track of theirs has a real White Stripes feel:

This is a more recent track that seems in parts to show more development, it’s got more going on:

Overall they were enjoyable, played well, and I’ll give them 4 out of some.

Gallops

Again, I’ve seen Gallops a number of times before, mainly at SWN. On paper they’re not my thing, focusing fairly heavily on electronic sounds, but in reality I really love them. They’re an awesome live act and every time I see them they have something new to show. The main driving force behind them is the thundering and perfect drums; their drummer is an absolute animal, arrogant and agressive and with every right to sit behind the drumkit with the knowledge that he’s almost certainly the most talented guy with a set of drumsticks in the room. He almost imbalances the band, as with his drumming there’s not a lot the other band members can do to match his talent, which is probably one of their only weak points. The only other glaring weak point would be the guy with the mac. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, a laptop is not an instrument. If your job could be replaced with someone pressing play on a tape deck you’re superfluous, get the fuck off the stage. That aside, this band have grown massively in the two/three years I’ve been watching them, and I’m looking forward to their album in the next couple of months to see where they’re going next.

Once again these guys were great live. They clearly spend a lot of time practising getting it right, and it pays off. I’ll give them six out of some.

Truckers of Husk

Ah, the main event. A band that I first saw at the 2nd SWN Festival, in whatever Y Fuwch Goch was before it was that (and then failed to be that and became the Moon Bar). A band that have swiftly become one of my favourite live acts in Cardiff, a band who I love going to see. Their post-rock math vibes are great, and they are another band (like Gallops) who continue to grow and push stuff forward. Their first album, (released last year) is on permanent rotation in my Spotify playlist, and I still can’t get enough of it. In case you didn’t get it, I love this band.

Today’s gig was exceptional, the band presenting themselves along with the 1924 documentary ‘The Great White Silence’, the fairly harrowing documentary about Scott’s ill fated voyage to the South Pole. Dressed all in white the band played their songs along with the film, fitting the tracks to the projection behind them, timing things beautifully to coincide with the action. I’m fairly certain they’d put the effort in to trim songs here and there to make them fit, cutting some noise here, adding some there and it all paid off. They presented themselves on stage as a band having fun and doing well doing it, but you could tell that they recognised this was (one of?) their biggest gig to date and had put the effort in to make it something special. The songs flew by and by the time the movie drew to a close, with our intrepid arctic explorers dead in the arctic wasteland and the band themselves moving the drumkit down into the crowd for the last flour covered intense burst, we were all thoroughly sated. Plus the saxophonist kept his shirt on.

This track of theirs is off the latest album and is really good:

I think this is my favourite:

I give them 8 out of some.

All in all, a thoroughly excellent night of entertainment. Top marks.

100 Movies in the Cinema in 1 Year

After reading this blog post at the end of January I decided that watching at least 100 movies in the cinema in a year was the kind of challenge I could get behind. Last year’s challenge to get fit and healthy was fairly successful and seemed like much harder work than going to the cinema a few times could ever be. After all, 100 movies a year is less than 2 a week, so it must be easy, right?

Unfortunately I started this project late, so at the time of reading the article and deciding to go ahead with it I was four weeks into the year and had only seen three films at the cinema. This is not the kind of progress needed for this challenge! So, I got myself a cineworld unlimited card and hit the cinema hard, aiming to get through February and be caught up to where I should be by the end of the month.

Of course, being a massive data geek I have been recording everything, making a note of every movie I have seen this year so far, which means I’m amassing a fairly large amount of data on my movie watching habits, which can mean only one thing. Crappy Excel Graphs! I’ll be posting some throughout the year to mark how the challenge is going, and the first lot are here.

The first shows the number of movies seen in total for each day of the year against the number of movies I would need to see in order to hit the target of 100 by December 31st. As you can see, the late start in January did me no favours, but by the end of February I’ve almost caught up to be where I need to be.

Movies Seen against Target Number

The second crappy excel graph shows the movie viewing rate (the number of movies seen divided by the number of weeks elapsed) against the target rate, along with the actual number of movies watched that week. It’s clear to see that January was a wash out, but that February was excellent and helped to bring the target rate down below 2 movies a week.

Movie viewing rate against target, presented with actual number of films seen in a week

So, that’s where we’re at. It’s March and I’ve seen 16 films at the cinema, at an average cost of £3.18 per movie. I’m well on the way to 100 and I’ll keep you updated with more crappy excel graphs and rubbish averages along the way…

Foursquare Hackathon

Along with Matthew Williams and Chris Gwilliams I’m helping to organise the Cardiff edition of the Foursquare global hackathon this weekend. I’m hoping it’ll be a pretty good event. Signup‘s are looking pretty positive and I’m hopeful that we’ll get some decent apps being created.

The organising is actually quite fun, but it is remarkable how much there is to do and remember. Thankfully the School of Computer Science & Informatics are being very supportive and allowing us to host it there, which makes things easier. I’ll be posting here throughout the event (and afterwards).

Edinburgh Festival… Day Five

It’s the last full day at the festival and we wake up even later than the day before. It’s so late we decide to skip breakfast, and as it’s time for lunch we’ll head out for curry. A quick curry and rice and we’re up and running for the day once more. The shows today don’t start until later on, so we have a bit of a walk around, grab a coffee and cake, then once more split, as Lisa decides to go back to the flat briefly while I head to pub. I sit out of the rain doing the crossword, have a pint and await Lisa’s return. She arrives, we finish the crossword, and head off to the show. The first show of the day is Ruby Wax in her one woman play (that’s got two women in it): Losing It. It’s a fantastic and honest play about mental illness, really well done, with some laughs and a lot of truth.

Following the show we take a walk over to near Arthur’s seat, then back towards town for the last show of our festival. On the way we find a really ace pub that I think will be my local when I make it to Edinburgh full time. We have a quick pint, then go to the Queens Hall for Henry Rollins. The man is amazing, he gets up on stage and just talks for the evening, and everything he says is amusing or thoughtful and brilliant. He’s basically just telling us what he’s done for the last year, with some old road stories thrown in for good measure, but he’s such a great speaker its one of the highlights of the week. I think most academics I’ve seen talk could learn hugely from the passion and thought he puts into telling stories.

Post show we head back to the pub for a couple of pints, then grab a chinese takeaway and head back to the flat. With that, we’re done. Wasted, destroyed. Great week.

Shows: 2
Pints: A few
Chinese Food: some
Aging rock stars: one

Edinburgh Festival… Day Four

Wednesday we wake up later than intended, so miss the planned start to the day at the Shakespeare breakfast. In all, it’s a very slow start to the day, the pace of the previous few days is beginning to get to us. We head off for a walk and a bagel to wake up, and I get butter all over my face from a very lovely, but very buttery and bacon filled bagel. After soaking up a bit of sunshine in the cafe we head down to town for our first show, an adaptation of Secret Window, Secret Garden. The venue is at C soco, which is the massive hole in the ground in the Old Town where the fire was a few years back, the one that took out the original Gilded Balloon and the School of Informatics’ AI department. The venue itself is in one of the buildings left standing on the site, which may well have been part of the University from looking at it, and the specific venue we’re in is right at the top. I estimate we climbed about 4000ft to reach it, but I may be wrong.

The play itself is nicely done, they’ve cut the story down to the minimum of necessary elements to cover everything in the plot while still bringing the play in at an hour, and the acting is pretty solid, if not stellar. The lead character is by far the best actor of the lot, doing a very good job at playing the role of the author losing his mind. They stick to the plot of the book too, rather than the film, which is pleasing. The guy playing John Shooter troubles me a little, and it’s not until afterwards that I realise it’s because he looks, sounds, and acts very much like someone at COMSC.

We’ve got a gap in the afternoon, so we head down to one of the ‘attractions’ of Edinburgh we haven’t visited yet, the Botanic Gardens. It’s a fair enough walk, mostly downhill. We cause a problem in the cafe at the east gate by attempting to buy things with a twenty pound note, the horror. They have nowhere near enough change, but there’s a solution to the problem if they let me off the odd 35p and I just pay them £5. They agree, so I effectively steal 35p of goods off a registered charity. In your face, plants.

It’s a nice place for a wander round, as lovely gardens tend to be. We decide to put up the cash to go into the hothouses, being as we’ve walked all the way down there. Surprisingly, they’re hot, and full of plants. I can’t get the Jurassic Park theme out of my head as I walk around, the whole place is reminiscent of the science labs in the sequels that have been taken over by plants, there’s a nice bit of ageing decay to them. Very few dinosaurs though, luckily.

After the botanic gardens we head to a pub down the road for a pretty decent dinner and a couple of pints, then make long trek back up the hill and into town. Lisa wants to head back to the flat, but I can’t be bothered, so I head down to the Brewdog bar on Cowgate to wait for her. I’m quite a fan of Brewdog beer, and it’s a nice bar (if a bit small), serving some very lovely booze. While I’m stood at the bar reading the paper it begins to absolutely piss it down with rain, so by the time Lisa gets back into town she is soaked through once more. As ever, the theory ‘go to the pub, not home’ has paid off.

We head up to the Assembly Hall to meet Lisa’s colleague and his wife for a pint before Sarah Millican. We have a nice chat for half an hour, then get into the longest queue yet for a show. We end up with seats up on the balcony, but it’s a fine venue that seems to hold a lot of people without feeling massive, so the view is pretty good and you still feel pretty close to the stage. Sarah Millican is good, but the show seems like a collection of one liners and jokes rather than a coherent whole. Despite that it’s hilariously funny, and a good time is had by both of us. I steal two badges at the end of the show, making it both a registered charity and a comedian that I’ve effectively cheated in one day.

Following the show we head down to the Conference Centre for an Amnesty gig. I thought the queue for the Millican show was big, but the queue at the EICC was huge, snaking all the way round to the back of the building and out into the street. I have a minor altercation with some old ladies in the queue who are queue jumping, and refuse to move when I inform them of the fact. Another chap also tries to let them know, but they ignore him too. So we talk loudly about the older generation just thinking they can do what they want, and how old people have no manners anymore and don’t understand about how being British means we treat each other decently and are polite and so on. I’m half convinced we quite embarrassed the one old lady, but her friend was made of sterner stuff. The old ladies have annoyed me massively, but it’s wearing off by the time we get into the venue, until I discover that bottles of beer at the bar are £3.80 each, which almost makes things even worse. Luckily the show is laugh balls funny. It’s basically ten minutes sets from a whole mix of comedians that we wouldn’t have otherwise seen, with a large number of laughs coming from making the signers at the side of the stage make inappropriate gestures. It’s a great gig, with performances from Mark Watson, Ed Byrne, Russell Kane, Jenny Eclair, David O’Doherty, Holly Walsh and Roisin Conaty. Once more we both enjoy it, laugh too much, and leave happy. We head home satisfied for the evening.

Shows: 3
Pints: God knows
Queues: Massive
Old ladies: Three (irritating and rude)

Edinburgh Festival… Day Three

Success today as we start the day with a run round the meadows, despite all the beer yesterday. A ‘debate’ which I lose ends in us also running around the links and up towards Warrender Park Crescent. The flat I stayed in during my second stint in Edinburgh for the MSc was there, so it was nice to be running around the old stomping ground.

After the run I bump into another Shrewsbury Town fan outside tesco’s. I knew there were more than one of us. We buy picnic material from the shop, then despite the weather forecast promising rain we decide to head up Arthur’s seat. What a stupid idea. The whole time we are out of the flat it absolutely chucks it down. A bit of rain isn’t enough to stop us though, we go up the hill anyway, stand under a tree and eat our cheese sandwiches, then go home. A proper british picnic.

We manage to dry off in the flat, grab a cup of tea, then head over to The Stand comedy club for the afternoons shows. The Stand is a tiny venue, but was very full for both shows this afternoon, so there was a great atmosphere in the place. First up was Simon Munnery, with his show “Hats off for the 101ers (and other material)“, a show that started with a punk rock musical about the designers of the 101 airship, which tells you a fair amount about the type of show it was. Simon is a comedian I’ve heard a lot about but never seen, he was ace, really really funny, with some really weird material, but all of it brilliant. Quite odd, but brilliant.  Following Simon was Stewart Lee with his show “Flickwerk“. I love Stewart Lee with a passion bordering on obsessive, he’s absolutely brilliant. The show (that wasn’t really a show, just work in progress) had me in stitches all the way through. I was genuinely concerned that I may have a heart attack at points during the show. Afterwards I hung around to buy a CD off Stewart and tell him I thought it was really good. Which it was. Unfortunately I’d forgotten to tell Lisa I was going to do that, so she headed straight outside and stood in the rain waiting for me. Oops.

We headed off for an Italian, blowing the budget at quite a nice posh restaurant on a lot of food and red wine. I decided during my meal that my comedy nerves had been destroyed totally by the show and I would never laugh at anything ever again. Luckily I realised later that it wasn’t true.

The last show of the evening was at the Edinburgh College of Art: “Tales from Edgar Allan Poe“. Another amateur production, this was exceedingly odd. The audience all stood around the edge of the room while various Poe poems and stories were acted out by a cast who, when not involved in a tale, stood around in creepy masks. The performances were all really good, and we left at almost midnight feeling pretty damn creeped out.

Shows: 3
Pints: 4
Wine: loads
Comedy: TOO GOOD.

Edinburgh Festival… Day Two

Day two began with the best intentions – I woke up early, fully intending to go for a run around the meadows. It only took about thirty seconds of being awake for me to realise that wasn’t going to happen, so I went back to sleep for another hour. By about 8.30 the waking up was really beginning to take hold, so we relented and got up.

Usual morning operations completed (including Lisa having to conclude delicate negotiations with reception for the use of a hairdryer), we headed out into town. The first show of the day was up at C-too, at St Columbus by the Castle, so we had our first experience of trying to get anywhere near the Royal Mile at festival time. It appears that at festival time the Royal Mile essentially becomes a solid mass of people. Some of them want you to come to their show. Some of them want you to go to someone else’s show. Many of them want to give you a leaflet. Some of them just want to perform a show for you in the street. I hate crowds. I hate people walking slowly. It was not a happy start to the day.

Luckily we got to the venue in time to have a sit down in the church garden outside the venue and have a coffee. The weather again was glorious, so we were able to sit in the early morning sun and soak up the warmth and admire the views over south Edinburgh. Again, writing this now, I think I probably should have taken some photos, but I didn’t. Just go there and see it yourself, it’s much better.

The show we were going to see was “Love’s Labour’s Lost“. To be honest, once we got into the venue I was a bit worried as it seemed to be being performed by young people. I have strong views about ‘young people’, and those views seem to be getting worse as I get older. Luckily though, these young people were of the talented variety, and put on a pretty good show. I’d never seen or read the play before, so can’t compare it to the source, but the production was well done and well acted, and they’d gone down the current trendy route of inserting modern songs and cultural references into a shakespeare play, but carried it off well. It was again a thoroughly enjoyable hour, and it’s always nice to kick the day off with a bit of culture.

Following the show we wandered around the old town for a bit in search of a postbox, then sought out lunch. We then headed down to the BBC pop-up venue on Potterrow, where our next show was. This was actually what I was calling ‘Richard Herring Day’, as we had two shows from the man himself in one day. First up was a ‘festival special’ recording of his Radio 4 show ‘Richard Herring’s Objective‘. I liked the BBC venue because they seemed not to believe in queues, instead giving you a numbered sticker on arrival then calling you in to the venue by number when it was time for the show. This means the people that get there first still get the best seats, but also get to wander around, go get drinks, look at other things etc, rather than standing around in a queue. Unfortunately as we’d decided to call at the Pear Tree for a swift pint before the show we were somewhere at the back of the virtual queue. We still got in though (free BBC shows are over-sold to make sure there’s a full audience to make it sound good on the radio) and were entertained by Mr Herring and his guests: Emma Kennedy and Susan Calman. The show was funny, but it dragged in parts – and to be honest the unscripted moments were probably the funniest moments, particularly the parts that went wrong and had to be re-recorded. The casual racism against the Scots was highly amusing and brave given that it was performed in the middle of Edinburgh.

We had a couple of hours free then before the next show, so did a bit more walking around the city, called for a couple of drinks, got some dinner, then headed down to Bristo Square. As we stood in the queue outside the venue drinking some weird festival ale we got chatting to the man in the queue next to us, who was an American. A real live foreigner and everything. Strangely enough, he was only in Edinburgh for a couple of days and was heading to Cardiff afterwards to go sightseeing – apparently the appeal of Doctor Who and Torchwood is greater than we’d imagined, as he was quite a fan and was visiting solely because of those shows. We gave him a bit of travel advice, hopefully he survived the visit.

The show we were queuing for was Richard Herring again, this time for his main show “What is Love Anyway?“. It’s getting a bit boring to say, but this was yet another brilliant hour of comedy. Very honest and at times emotional comedy, but full of laughs and well worth a watch. Unsurprisingly the subject of the show was love, and how us humans use and abuse it, how we deal with it, and an attempt to discover what it really is. Loved the show.

After the show we headed over to Pleasance Courtyard to meet up with one of Lisa’s colleagues who was also up in Edinburgh. We had a couple of drinks, swapped some show reviews and tips and had a bit of a chat. The place was swarming in comedians, some well known faces being left (relatively) alone, some less well known trying to convince people to come see their shows. After a while we all headed back towards the flats (they were staying in the same place), but me and Lisa decided there was time for another drink, so headed off to the pub.

Shows: 3
Pints: 8
Meals: too many noodles
Herring: twice

Edinburgh Festival… Day One (The Shows)

Our first show was Dave Gorman at Assembly at the George Square Lecture Theatre, so after checking in we headed straight over there. We sat in the sun on the steps outside the venue and supped a couple of pints of Deuchars. We shouldn’t have bothered, it was served so cold you couldn’t taste anything, although maybe that was a blessing seeing as it came from a bar inside a shipping container and was served in a plastic cup. If you’re going to get beer in you at the festival there is very little room for beer snobbery. Luckily I’m not a beer snob, so I got some in me.

Down the street a little way some street entertainers were doing a show with tightrope walking and juggling and unicycling, amusing a crowd that had gathered in the corner of the square to watch. Across the road the sounds of other shows spilled out of tents in the Square. It was a nice introduction to the atmosphere of the festival.

While we hadn’t planned on it, we found ourselves very close to the front of the queue for the show, so after queueing for a short while we headed in and were rewarded with really good seats very close to the front of the theatre.

Ever wondered why all the clocks are set to 10:08? I hadn't, until Dave Gorman pointed it out in his show...

Dave Gorman’s Powerpoint Presentation” did exactly what it said on the tin: Dave Gorman stood up and did a powerpoint presentation. Of course, there was a bit more to it than that, it was basically an incredibly funny sequence of things that Dave had found interesting or amusing recently, all presented in brilliant fashion. The topic flowed from why people insist on calling him a jewish comedian, through mobile phone advertising and on to making a bit of trouble with Jim Davidson. Dave was energetic and amusing, in all it was a thoroughly brilliant hour of comedy and a great start to the festival. Also nice for it not to be ‘Dave Gorman has a wacky adventure and then tells you about it’, as he is sometimes accused of doing.

Following the show we grabbed another icy pint of beer and ‘debated’ what/where to eat. The ‘debate’ was finally settled with a rubbish but expensive slice of pizza and we headed up to the Pleasance Dome for the other show of the evening. “Arthur Smith’s Pissed Up Chat Show” was another show that did exactly what the name suggested. Arthur Smith hosts a chat show in which his guests are very drunk – certified at the beginning via a breathalyser test. Arthur himself hasn’t drunk since 2002 after almost dying from it, so it’s interesting to hear his take on booze mixed in with the drunken ramblings of his guests. Tonights guest was Julian Sands, who did a very good line in drunken recitation of Harold Pinter poems. It was another really great hour of laughing, but with a kind of serious message at its heart. It finished with a group sing song, and for some reason the lyrics were held aloft by a naked girl. Not sure how she was relevant, but that seems to be the way of things on the fringe.

Out of the gig, thinking about heading off to grab another drink, evidently having not learnt from the moral of the show, and we’re surprised by Walter appearing from nowhere. He was up for the weekend, and we’d suggested meeting up, but hadn’t been able to coordinate schedules enough. He’d changed plans while we were in the last show though, so we spent a nice half an hour talking to him and his friend, before parting and heading off into the night.

The final mission of the evening was simple: secure supplies for the flat. A Tesco was located and supplies were procured, we returned triumphant to make a quick bit of toast for supper. Our triumph was soon ended when we spent ten minutes trying to get the combination microwave/oven/grill to actually grill the bread before realising there was a toaster on the kitchen counter all along. Figuring that was probably a sign that the travelling all day had probably taken its toll, an end was called to proceedings. Day one at the fringe was done.

Miles travelled: at least a million
Shows: 2
Pints: 4
Meals: not enough
Naked people: 1

Edinburgh 2011…. Day One (The Journey)

Despite having lived in Edinburgh for almost a year on and off while doing my MSc, I’ve never been up there at festival time. We decided to rectify this, so earlier on in the year (way earlier on in the year) we booked some accommodation for the second week of the festival and made our plans to hit the city for a festival holiday. Over a few posts I’ll describe in laborious detail what we did, what we saw, and what we (or I) thought of it. Which you’ll enjoy, I’m sure.

Getting to Edinburgh from Cardiff is pretty easy, but fairly expensive. You can fly, drive, or get the train. Flying is pretty quick, but moderately expensive. The train is pretty cheap if booked in advance, but takes a long time and if you don’t book in advance it basically requires the sale of your first born son to get a ticket. (Don’t get me started on the cost of rail travel blah blah blah). I didn’t bother to work out the cost of driving in our car; given the appalling state of it I wasn’t totally convinced it could do another trip up to Scotland and back – for sure if we were going to drive we’d need to get ‘whatever it is that makes the funny noise while braking’ fixed, plus the petrol, and we had nowhere to park up there, and there’s the whole actually having to drive 500 miles thing. After some back and forth we settled on getting the train. Luckily, because we’re the organised type (read: Lisa is organised and drags me along for the ride) we were on the ball for the advance tickets, and managed to get singles from Cardiff to Manchester for £13 each, then from Manchester to Edinburgh for £17ish each, (and the same on the way back), giving us a return cost of £60 each – pretty good.

We caught a nice early train out of Cardiff on a Sunday morning, bagged a table seat and sat back for the million hour trip to Manchester. Unfortunately for us it seemed like everyone in the world wanted to take the same train as us, by the time we got to Hereford it was rammed. A nice man (ex quality assurance chap with a nice terrier dog) took one of the seats opposite us, and he was soon joined by a skinhead Chelsea fan on his way to Stoke to watch the match. I managed to bury myself in my laptop watching a movie, leaving Lisa to make polite conversation. Ha. From what I can gather the conversation seemed to revolve around working out the price of drinks when serving at a bar. Or ‘mental arithmetic’ as it’s sometimes known. The train from Manchester was a bit better in terms of overcrowding, but not much. This time the conversation was totally football dominated. We sat by a young guy from Sunderland, who wasn’t just an avid Sunderland fan, he was an avid football fan. He seemed to know every player in every team in the whole football league, and every transfer that had occurred over summer. Usually when people ask who I support, and I reply ‘Shrewsbury Town’, there then follows a long conversation explaining what exactly that is, and inevitably there’s some explanation about how there’s a whole bunch of football going on aside from the premier league. Not with this guy – within a millisecond of the words ‘Shrewsbury Town’ leaving my mouth he was engaging me in conversation about the town players he’d played with when he was at Carlisle, where the ex-manager was now, how his son was doing, how we were looking for the new season, and on and on. Once he got going there was no stopping him. Some Scottish guys got on at Preston, and it was soon revealed that this chap’s football knowledge didn’t stop at English football – oh no, he could engage the Scots in any amount of conversation about the SPL as well. I wondered for a bit what he could do with a memory and passion like his if he applied it to something other than chasing Sunderland up and down the country and harvesting in every bit of football columnist opinion he could find. It scared me a bit, so I stopped talking to him and read my book instead. At some point I fell asleep, and when I woke up he’d gone. Probably had a five a side match to get to.

We got into Edinburgh at about 5.30pm. It was gloriously sunny and warm, and it felt good to be there. I’ve always loved the city, more than any other I’ve found myself in. Most times I’ve been there I’ve arrived by train into Waverley, so walking up out of the station felt right and a bit like coming home. It’s a strange feeling to experience in a city that you’ve spent a relatively short amount of time in, but I was genuinely excited to arrive back in Edinburgh again. Our accommodation was only a ten/fifteen minute walk from the station so we headed straight there to get checked in before our first show.

We booked accommodation in March of this year, opting for a University run studio apartment in the city centre, in the Richmond Place Apartments. Edinburgh University actually give alumni discount when booking rooms in *some* of their halls and holiday flats, but not the ones we booked, so it came in at about £100 a night. Fairly pricey, but pretty cheap by festival standards, especially considering the location and the facilities available.

The accommodation is actually in a university halls of residence – basically it seems the university have converted a floor of a residence tower block into studio apartments. Above the apartments are six or seven floors of normal university halls. Because it was summer I guess the place was pretty empty and therefore pretty quiet, although there did seem to be some students coming and going. I can imagine in term time it must be a pretty noisy place to stay, but in summer and at festival time it’s fine. The flat itself was really nice, way better than my house; although that’s not hard to achieve. The room itself was decently sized, you could swing a cat in it for sure. It was kitted out with all mod-cons, everything one could want for a week away in Edinburgh. About here would be a good place for a picture, but I don’t have any, because I forgot to take any – if you are desperate to get an idea of what the place is like, go here and click the link for ‘Richmond Place studio apartment; with mezzanine. Our room was almost exactly different from that, while being pretty much the same.

So, we checked in, threw clothes in the wardrobe, and left to go get some festival…