Liverpool Sefton Park Fireworks 2010.

Liverpool Life The crowds waited ...

Crowds waiting for Liverpool Sefton Park Fireworks 2010

... and then to a soundtrack which included Katrina and the Waves, Arctic Monkeys and Queen ...

Liverpool Sefton Park Fireworks 2010
Liverpool Sefton Park Fireworks 2010
Liverpool Sefton Park Fireworks 2010
Liverpool Sefton Park Fireworks 2010
Liverpool Sefton Park Fireworks 2010
Liverpool Sefton Park Fireworks 2010

"Look, America is a very sad place right now ..."

Politics New column from Elizabeth Wurtzel wondering why US citizens are so depressed and scared:
"Look, America is a very sad place right now, which is what the Tea Party movement and the midterm elections are about. I could analyse the particulars, but then I would be no better than the whole 24-hour media machine – which, given that unemployment is at 9.6%, is lucky that no one has noticed that they don't exactly do their job. If the news outlets were actually reporting, they would tell us the honest and awful truth: the United States is a post-industrial empire in decline, like England or Belgium or worse (is there worse?). There is no next. We are at next."
I saw the restored version of Fritz Lang's Metropolis on Wednesday afternoon. It's increasingly looking like a documentary.

Firefox Greasemonkey and Google Chrome script for Google Reader sorting subscriptions and feeds by the number of unread items mimicking that popular feature from the now defunct Bloglines.

AskMe I'm going to get right to the point:

Firefox Greasemonkey and Google Chrome script for Google Reader sorting subscriptions and feeds by the number of unread items mimicking that popular feature from the now defunct Bloglines.


Google Reader Sort Subs.

I shifted from the Bloglines RSS reader to Google Reader not long after I realised it was broken and wouldn't be receiving much in the way of development funding and new(ish) owners Ask officially announced its closure.

One of the features I've missed terribly was the ability to sort by RSS feeds by the number of unread items so that I could easily see which haven't been looked at in a while/have the most content to read through.

This seems to be something of a holy grail for a number of users. Search the Google Reader forums and there are dozens of requests. I've made one myself before and here's what I think is the most recent.

I Asked Metafilter to see if a script exists. After a couple of misunderstandings with users who didn't understand the question, Michael, the same genius who created the script to remove duplicate items last year offered to have a go at putting something together.

And succeeded. Here's his technical explanation.

What this boils down to is if you install the Greasemonkey/Chrome script, a couple of buttons will appear above the feed list and you'll then be able to sort them in ascending or descending order, up or down. Just like Bloglines.

Unlike Bloglines, the sort isn't permanent.  Delete a folder or refresh the page and the original alphabetical search will assert itself.  But the sort is still just one click away.

Thank you once again Michael.

Now, once Google adds a save feed search feature, Reader will be just about perfect.
Elsewhere I've reviewed this week's The Sarah Jane Adventures. What I didn't manage to shoe-horn in was that once again in the series we were presented with a character isolated from one or two parents and the break down of a family unit which is ultimately reasserted. Hopefully someone cleverer than me (Frank?) will be able to put some theoretical meat on those bones.

The Empty Planet.

TV Since the first series of The Sarah Jane Adventures, one of the “motifs” repeated across the stories (other than parents are good) has been the lack of people on the streets or stories occurring in locales that don’t require too many non-speaking extras shuffling about, improvising silent conversation or walking a dog, with entertaining expository reasons from the cast such as “Well, it is a Sunday” or “The fairground closed?” Now finally, we have a story which turns this budgetary weakness into a strength in a way which will no doubt become the model as the license fee is squeezed.

The Empty Planet offers the same bracing images of peopleless streets familiar from the likes of 28 Days Later or the various versions of I Am Legend in which the mass of humanity is just gone and those of us who ironically like people but hate gatherings can fantasise about going to the cinema without being disturbed by the rest of the audience (once we’ve worked out how the projector works), break into the National Archive and see what’s really been covered up under the seventy-year rule and having the run of the expensive food isle in Waitrose. Or is that just me?

True, with just a roof shot of the London skyline to sell the absence, much of the action takes place on the same few empty streets, but as with the best of this franchise, the non-diagetic implication of what’s happening beyond the main characters field of vision can be just as chilling as endless shots of a deserted Trafalgar Square. These are the best scenes in the story, Rani dashing about suburbia to a soundtrack of nothing other than the low hum of the electricity supply showing off her inquisitive nature as she checks her neighbour's houses for signs of life. And what a messy bunch they are.

Except in such narratives, once the main character has twigged that they might be alone, often the scariest notion then is that they aren’t. Luckily for Rani, especially since all she had to defend herself with was in the dull end of tv remote control, that meant Clyde and luckily for us since writer Gareth Roberts replaces the silence with some really good character moments as the kids come to terms with their isolation and also their responsibility to discover what’s been going on despite being the zeppos of the group.

Like Sarah Jane, like the Doctor, like Xander, they’re so caught up on this life that they run towards the danger rather than away from it unless they're told not to and even then. For once, Daniel Anthony and Anjli Mohindra were allowed some meaty scenes (that's two stories on the run) in which their characters considered their place in the world (of the kind usually reserved for Tommy Knight) and what they might mean to each other and they were mostly up to the challenge providing some useful chemistry, Anjli offering her now trademark dreamy doe-eyes.

To an extent it’s a shame that as a kids rather than teen show a plot rather than just puberty has to assert itself; a real format buster would have had the two of them trailing about the streets of London (or Cardiff) coming to terms with the loss of everything, especially their parents, the true horror being that Clyde’s joke about him and Rani being the new Adam and Eve might come to pass with the loss of innocence that follows. Humanity would then have popped back in for some unexplained reason after an hour, along with the disappointing return of their hierarchical place within the family unit or some such.

Not that this necessary plot isn’t entertaining with plenty of moments for us to match our wits with the main characters as we um and aha along with them. Kids who’ve just finished watching the release of the third series were no doubt shouting about Clyde and Rani’s grounding by the Judoon and I was especially pleased with myself when I realised what kind of air, the robots were really thinking of, with its shades of Raymond F. Jones's pulp novel The King of Eolim and Lance Parkin’s Father Time, even if the number of choices isn’t exactly huge.

Following which we were gifted that gorgeous shot of an alien world reminiscent of the Boeshane Peninsula and Gallifrey. If only the budget could stretch to us seeing one of these places for longer than a few seconds. How do these robots fit within that society? Is this a Naboo affair were a small child is the one thought best for high office with Ketchup and Mustard or whatever they’re called as nursemade and coup-repellers? Perhaps if Big Finish’s licenses is relaxed a bit – as is rumoured (I read on the internet) – we’ll be gifted with a ten cd series by way of explanation.

Either way, The Empty Planet is brill entertainment, certainly the best story this series that doesn't feature the Doctor, making the most of the need to give Lis Sladen a holiday. It's also surprisingly interesting in mythology terms; the reactions of Haresh and Prince Gavin almost confirm now that Journey's End and The End of Time have effectively been rebooted out of everyone's memories. Again I ask (because I'm fishing for suggestions) are we to assume that its simply RTD taking advantage of the cracks or feeding into the ongoing main Doctor Who storyline in relation to the silence (whatever that is?).

Next week: That guy who played thingy in whatitsname.

Liverpool Biennial 2010: Touched Talk: Nina Power on The Wound of Work.

Philosophy Nina Power is amazing, and I use that adjective very specifically. Words spill out of her, but not just any words, but clever words, intelligent words, intimidating words and although as she might admit herself they’re not always coherent words, as I discovered tonight, to listen to one of her lectures is to find oneself at the epicentre of an intellectual tsunami, your brain sprouting its own metaphorical limbs in a vain attempt to keep afloat against the encroaching tide. It’s impossible to process everything. Often she’ll use phrases like “circuits of desire” but is so florid that her next thought is already forthcoming before the rest of us have even sensed or managed what we’ve just heard.  She's like verbal caffeine.

Lord knows what it's like to be one of her philosophy students at Roehampton University where she's a senior lecturer, especially if all of her seminars are this stimulating. In The Wound of Work, Power employed Herve Juvin and John Howe’s book The Coming of the Body and Melanie Gilligan's art film Popular Unrest (which looks like Flash Forward directed by Alain Resnais) to investigate how our own bodies have become the only element of value in the world and how in the post-Fordist society everything we do when we’re not sleeping has an element of work involved, with an assignable value. The boundaries between work and leisure no longer exist, the two are inextricably linked and that there's not now anything we can do about it.

During the inevitable Q&A I wondered if indeed, if that was the case, if rebellions against work in the form of strikes aren’t in and of themselves an important and productive part of the work process, a kind of system of checks and balances which stop a business from going to far in one direction, perhaps even to financial doom (noting as an example the single photograph in the Tehching Hsieh piece at FACT Liverpool where the artist breaks uniformity by throwing his hair in front of his face in one of the photos). In other words that strikes are a necessary way of increasing productivity. Power noted that the leaders by putting an end to solidarity and restricting the reasons why people can strike, reaffirmed the hierarchical structure.

Note I’ve just gussied up what I really said which was a stream of consciousness that stretched on for what might have been an eternity. At least at the end of Power’s lecture, when she’d made what she thought was the final point she said, “Ok, that’ll do” apologising that she didn’t have a better ending. This blog post doesn’t either really. Other than to say that when the Q&A strayed onto the topic of social networking it inadvertently led to a realisation for the person sitting my chair that, as the Wachowski brothers prophesied (and the people they borrowed from), we now live in a society were probably if someone disconnects from the web, they almost cease to exist. Is that why I’m still blogging after all these years?

Nina Power's book, One-Dimensional Woman is out now.

Update: Nina's talk has now been posted by the Biennial so you'll be able to hear me stutter through my question:

Touched Talks: Nina Power from Liverpool Biennial on Vimeo.

Isn't that remarkable? [via]

rally to restore sanity, antarctica

Looks like the entire cast of Werner Herzog's documentary, Encounters at the End of the World. Apart from the penguin.

As Werner says: "The rules for the humans are do not disturb or hold up the penguin. Stand still and let him go on his way. He's heading towards certain death."

Rotten Tomatoes #fail

Film Here is a story about a popular website critically ignoring its user base since acquisition.

The "My Critics" feature on the now Flixter owned Rotten Tomatoes was originally added so that users could look for the aggregated opinion of just their favourite critics rather than the great mass of anyone with an opinion and web connection.

Just the thing for someone like me who only values the opinion of about four people.

It has been broken for what could be four years.

There are ongoing threads in the help forums and all of them feature complaints from users saying that they signed up expecting the feature to be working but are now disappointed to find that it isn't, some noting that the instructions for the feature seem to relate to an earlier version of the site and are no long valid.

This is the longest running, begun in 2006 and still being update:

From what I can see, no one from RT has visited the thread to offer an explanation despite the many hundreds of comments which have been left, the 15,483 current page views and being the fifth item on the forum list -- though as you can see if that forum was still being moderated, there wouldn't also be the dozens of spam threads originally posted in February).

That thread has been running for so long, in the meantime the Firefox browser has been launched and the latest comment suggests a workaround in the form of a Greasemonkey script.

Considering the size of the Rotten Tomatoes brand name, their tech support is non-existent. If the feature won't ever be working again, why not just remove it? Why the tease?

Rotten Tomatoes #fail etc.

"Lucas’ classical action cinema"

Film If nothing else, this very long essay investigating the Duel of the Fates Jedi battle, the one copper-bottom success to emerge from The Phantom Menace debarkle demonstrates that for all the many decades of mythology developed by Lucas, he's most interested in images and that the Star Wars prequels would probably have worked better if they'd been produced as silent films:
"Some quick inserts of in-fight close-ups are also employed—mostly for moments where Obi-Wan cuts up droids and twirls his lightsaber, evoking the visceral, broken-piece editing for the shootouts in ANH, where Lucas’ shots were not just motivated by straight coverage, but also for the graphical presentation of laser beams streaking cross screen —as well as some long shots to clearly illustrate the geography. Long master shots like these are an essential part of Lucas’ classical action cinema, acting very much in the same way that he uses his self-described “pointer scenes”, moments where characters gather around a hologram projection to formulate a plan of attack (or, in the case of ANH, watch a two-dimensional projection that amounts to literally watching a movie)."


that field's most important works

Film Roger Ebert hates lists, or more specifically "The 10 Greatest films of All Time" exercises:
"No list of films has the slightest significance, unless it involves box-office receipts. Every film critic I know loathes making lists. Most of us make an annual Year's Best Films List, because that's our equivalent of signing the Hippocratic Oath when you're a doctor. One year I picked the year's 20 best films, and the readers screamed bloody hell. Didn't I know that the rules said I had to choose 10?"
About the only time lists are useful is if they've been prepared by an expert in a field about their field then they can be invaluable for investigating that field's most important works (French New Wave, Philadelphia westerns, dystopian sci-fi).

"That would be awful!"

Music An entertainingly absurd ramble with Jon Bon Jovi. Slippery When Wet was the first cd I bought with my own money. At the Our Price in Central Station. As we established yesterday, I'm old. So's he:
"You become that thing that you looked at your parents and the older people in your life, and said: 'No! I don't want to live to be that old! I don't want to!' But it's actually… much better than dying. And there are too many people that are my age, that are dying. God, I didn't want to be that! That would be awful! You can see why people get fat, grow old, give up! Because every day is: get up, do the same mundane shit. When you don't know anything more, and you don't see anything more, and you're not willing to open up your eyes and take a step in another direction… that treadmill would make any young man old."
Perhaps some musicians eventually inevitably become stuck in their own careers.

Liverpool Biennial 2010: Marina Rosenfeld's P.A. in the old Renshaw Hall now car park on Benson Street.

Renshaw Hall, Benson Street.

Art Last night was the visually stunning if slightly chaotic Lantern Parade in Sefton Park of which flickr is awash with images. But during the Biennial, Liverpool is also wired for sound in various spots, one of which is the old Renshaw Hall now converted into a car park. On the far wall opposite the entrance are two massive gramophone-type speakers which like many other items in this Biennial appear to have dropped in from another dimension, in this case one were Bosh are at the steam punk cutting edge contrasting sharply with the formal metal girders and mechanisation of the cars.

Assuming the audio has been turned on (I had to phone the visitors centre and a volunteer duly rushed in and pressed the relevant buttons) the speakers vacilate with a series of disjointed and uncertain electronic sounds and random eerie voices of no fixed explanation. Rosenfeld seems to be primarily an atonal musician who also likes to create installation art (of which there are plenty of examples here).  Allow the sounds to wash over you and an anarchic pattern eventually does emerge.  That she gave an interview to experimental radio station Resonance FM underscores the genre within which she works.

Stand for long enough beneath the speakers and you slowly realise that there is a complex web of performance at play. Firstly we stand and listen to the "music" from the speakers. The music is also being performed ambivalently for the functionary visitors to the car park, perhaps not even aware of its existence as they park their cars. But the sound they make, the engines stopping, children, shouting, laughing, mobile phones ringing add an extra complexity to Rosenfeld's soundscape, almost becoming harmonious within the echoey space.

"any aspirations either way"

Life I suppose I should say something. I turned thirty-six today, twice the age of an undergraduate and psychologically not much has changed. I'm more self-aware perhaps and world-aware, but basically I'm the same person. The burden of responsibility still yet to properly descend. Not that the eighteen year old version of me didn't exactly have any aspirations either way anyway. As the expected early midlife crisis descends, I've pretty much decided that so long as I'm breathing and still have my higher brain functions along with my questioning genes in fully working order, everything else is a luxury.

I watched The Big Chill tonight to celebrate which might not have been the best of ideas since between the hilarious script and remarkable performances, it's also about how the people who're most important to you and who you could be yourself with tend to move away. Or something. Either way, I said as much in a reply to an email to an old friend who'd only contacted to send her birthday wishes. I suspect the ensuing email exchange will be excellent. That'll teach me to also drink my one beer in the past six months. The youngster who was half my age didn't drink which accounts for my cretinous alcohol intolerance now.

But thanks for all of your birthday wishes via the usual modern interrelated socialist communication devices and apologies for inevitably not returning the favour in the future. The problem with having Halloween as your birthday is that it's fixed target; everyone remembers my birthday. I'm then at the disadvantage of having to remember everyone else's and though Facebook offers the ability to track such things, that doesn't include everybody. Perhaps that's what's missing. Perhaps if I made the effort to remember that one thing (or several dozen things), everything else would fall into place. But I doubt it. We can't all live in a feel good film about friends, with soundtrack nostalgia.