Sunday, 8 August 2010

Sherlock: The Great Game or Moriarty revealed

Tonight's third and final Instalment of  the current run was as per usual, brilliant. Holmes chases after one distraction after another designed to keep him from solving the case most important to the the British Government. Based on The Bruce Partington Plans and borrowing liberally from a few other stories, the episode takes you from one squeaky bum moment to the next. It even makes you think the unthinkable. It was in a word, Effing Brilliant. ( ok  that's two words).

The introduction, finally, of Moriarty was not unexpected once you realized the three films were one story in three parts. Well played and paced, the story takes you where expected it to go, but still one found it incredibly fascinating. And just when you thought. "I got you rumbled Moffat", the story takes another layer away. It is our habit when we watch telly to chat a bit during the boring bits or when we'll learn nothing new. During 90 minutes we were continuously surprised by the twists and turns. Do not take your eyes off the screen for a second lest you miss a detail.

If one could define in a sentence the point of the story, it would be thus. Holmes and Moriarty are two sides of the same coin. Both massive intellects that find life in stimulation , intrigue and mystery. Put another way, human life and emotional attachment is worth less than the details of the game. If I had never watched these stories and only ever read the original ones, I would have come to the same conclusion. The fact that the Lord Thy God Moffat managed this without falling into the usual traps most telly producers of the modern era have, elevates the man to a club of writers we should all aspire to. In lesser efforts, the characters become two dimensional creatures whose sole purpose is to speak the lines of the author. Moffat and Gatiss, we mustn't forget Gatiss, create people, men and women who are more than mere Auton like shells with a limited shelf life. We met tonight people who would otherwise be interesting, people who if you knew them , we would want them to live. But in the telling you see just how detached both Holmes and Moriarty are from the mundane reality that Watson and Lestrade live in. Even the beautifully crafted and acted Mycroft has a certain air of elevation above the ordinary, he is first and foremost concerned with the defense of the realm, the loss of the submarine plans now updated to be rockets, over the loss of a single human life.  And yes he's right, for that one life is nothing compared to the thousands a rocket would kill. To call Holmes cold and heartless is of course incorrect.  He is just his brother a few years younger. Sometimes you need to rise above the mundane to discover the greater good. For example, the Curie's work on radioactivity eventually killed them both, but we have much to thank them for. Would they have been more concerned with a safe boring life, we would still not have pasteurized milk.

So if Moriarty is the evil yang to Holmes good Ying, is he equally noble in the pursuit of his craft? I would suppose so, and yet he does come off as bit mad. Would you have expected anything else? And yet you still believe that below the thin Vermeer of comic lunacy, there lies a real person waiting to be explored in future episodes.  I doubt we'll see the last of him nor can we say we know all there is to know about him. Thank God there will be at least 10 new stories coming soon to a telly near you.

One great line from the ep is " I'd be lost without my Blogger (Boswell)". Just one of many bits and pieces in the many layered dish that is The Great Game.  Sherlockians, Holmesians, fellow enthusiasts, a few things to look forward to when watching this highly entertaining ep.  A number of things are said that should make you run for your copies of Holmes to find the reference, there are at least 5 clear ones I counted and most assuredly more. I won't tell you what they are, and what's more if you don't get them I promise not to blow up your Gran.

In the grand tradition of The Strand, the story leaves us wanting more and anticipating greatness. The New Cumberbatch Holmes tonight did one other thing I thought would take longer, he took possession of the role as much as any person can. Or should I say , he allowed the ghost of Sherlock Holmes to posses him completely. The coming series will, if it continues to maintain the high standard of story telling, humour suspense  and believability despite the occasional mustard applied in some scenes, will be a massive success that will launch the new Holmes and Watson into the realm of Legend.

Finally, I must look at this as a stand alone story. Would I have watched this as a single film and enjoyed it? Emphatically yes. It gathered you  ever so gently and then took you hostage till the very last second of the credits.  Well done BBC for taking this story on, may you keep taking such decisions regardless of what the Condemns and certain Labour people think.  Were it not for the current set up, the English speaking telly world would be a poorer place.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Facebook and how it's changed the way we communicate

Gay, friend, talk, like and social networking. Like all words, these have evolved in meaning even to the point of absurdity where a word in  no way resembles the original intended use. Gay used to mean happy go lucky person with a positive disposition, it now means homosexual. The evolution is not linear but affected by the currents of linguistic usage and historically relevant events. As a word , gay, has moved from a simple description of a person's mood and basic character to mean a specific sub set of people. Much of this happened over a long time and seemed to make some kind of sense. But, like, Social Networking and Friend, have evolved so quickly as to be parodies of themselves.  Social Networking used to mean going to the Lions Club, becoming a Big Brother or joining the Chamber of Commerce, it then moved to mean using the computer to meet people of like mind to create a community that will support your musical,  ethnic  or cultural taste ( who, Trek, Star Wars) or to advance your business and recruit. Today social networking means a place to play games with other skill deprived persons who cannot sew, cook, whittle, fish, read, write, or play board games. Friend, as a word has lost it's meaning all together, like the the now nearly pointless like, it has been so watered down that if you have spoken to somebody once or briefly contacted them, they are your friends. Best friend or top ten friend then comes to mean somebody you like or communicate with more often. Now lets look at the communication involved. With 500,000,000 people on Facebook, communication means sending, virtual pets and chain letters to your mates.

When I first signed up to Facebook in 2006, it was a truly interesting place. I was able to speak and interact with people from my region and the tools were there to look for animators in Newcastle. Back then a group was a group of people who genuinely were sufficiently interested in a subject or cause to talk about it to other people. I could find lost friends and relatives, even the ones I wanted to keep a few miles clear of me on the best of days. Now I hear you saying that it's still there, and yes you're right, but most people on Facebook aren't there for that. The vast majority use Facebook to waste time, to play games to achieve landmarks in their sad lonely life, like level 100 in Ninja Wars. The art of communication has been reduced in some groups of people to a few shockingly shortened words used to express shock or joy or anger. Any visit to the X factor forum will let you know where the illiterate masses have landed. If that's English, I'm a space alien.

Some Facebook users claim it empowers young people and connects them to the day to day reality of politics and the rest of the world.  For a few seconds maybe. The time it takes to LIKE a link and swear a bit about something. Signing a petition used to mean taking pen to paper and depositing the finished result with the appropriate authorities. Now it means clicking , LIKE on a cause PAGE. Will the government ever really know or care you did that? Will you ever break a sweat and join other real people in the street to show your numbers to those who are swayed by such public displays? The fact is that the vast majority of the Facebook generation will not vote, do not volunteer or go out of their way to be informed or talk to others about their causes. There is a reason why the extreme right in the West are advancing at such a pace. FB and other such sites provide a willing and uninformed mass of recruits who aren't bothered to check beyond the pretty picture or the single strongly stated phrase. Bored young people now find political activism through a few clicks that cost them little time and next to no real involvement. Regardless of political ideology, the average young activist on FB is a ghost that does not go to meetings, do door to door or join the movements they claim to support. Most discussion sections in groups or pages are pointless now  as most topics started on FB groups seem to consist of one post followed by 20 identical such topics. It's as if no one actually reads anything others have bothered to post.

And on the subject of extremist movements like the BNP and the English Defense League. These groups have discovered just how easy it is to spread hate and ignorance to the easily impressionable people currently using FB.  FB claims it's against stalking and hate speech, but does nothing to make it harder for fascist and far right groups to peddle their anti gay,  anti immigrant, anti Muslim, anti not OUR COUNTRY diarrhea. Entire protests and racist attacks have taken place under the noses of FB bosses and the police have had  to enlist online volunteers to root these anti social elements out. The same auto filters that seek to advertise at us do not monitor the groups and pages for racist content that would get you arrested if you were to say it on the radio or telly. I'm all for free speech , but what I have seen in statuses, groups and pages is so blatantly hate speech it causes immediate protest. Has this kept the users responsible for this from going away? Far from it. They seem to have discovered the FB weak point. Few efforts are made to stop them and when they are banned, they come back almost as quickly. These racists and radicals thrive on hacking and flooding other groups to the point of killing any real dialogue such at it is on FB. The fact that many of the younger shockingly ignorant, users are habitual offenders of such tactics leads me to wonder where the tolerant society we had worked so hard to build has gone to?  As for the American based FB police, it takes them so long to get with it with other local customs , that groups such as  "feed bacon to all Muslims  HAHAHAHA" stay up far longer than they need to and the damage gets done. Far right groups have used FB repeatedly to start unsubstantiated rumours about the police, Muslim groups, and things frankly too preposterous to repeat here, leaving us rational people to fight a rearguard action against the morons and the people who buy into it. You would think that the trend tracker at FB would notice a spike in the number of groups claiming to know  police will ban the English flag during the World Cup, being formed. Despite being patent nonsense, these groups were allowed to stay up and some even openly fomented violent action and provocation. Where the hell was FB?

On a less serious but equally annoying point, why would I want to know that 300,000 people on FB LIKE X factor, so maybe I should. Or the time every single one of 350 FRIENDs on a mates list was suggested at me?  So what if he LIKEs Katie Price, it's enough I have to read what he wants to do to her with his "magic wand".... Oh he's also a massive Harry Potter nerd. FB  has gone as far as suggesting I be FRIENDS with at least 3 of the 7 Mike Ashleys on FB. If you're not from the NE of England.... Mike Ashley is another name for useless oily twat, fat wanker, leech who is doing all he can to destroy our NUFC. And if I'm honest, how many things do I need to LIKE? Do I like sleeping? Do I like scratching my nose? I'm not making these up. You asked me once and I div'nt want to tell you again. That's another thing. To join a debate on something, I have to LIKE a topic before I can say owt about it. What if I hate racists?  Must I LIKE "Hitler was a role model" to discuss it?  It makes me truly uncomfortable.  Give us back the JOIN button, it at least meant something.

As for friends, I used to have real friends, still do, some of them are on FB, some are on MSN ( though not nearly as many there used to be) some face to face. In every sense of the word, they are my friends. They do however break into distinct groups, political ones, football ones, business and entertainment ones and family. Some even straddle a number of these groups. I do however have a number of FRIENDS who are the casual-est of acquaintances that happen to support the same football team I do, some, in the belief that because I created a group they LIKE, I need to be FRIENDs with them.  Now I don't mind some of my friends knowing my business, but do I need to have near complete strangers in Ohio or Pakistan knowing what I had for breakfast or when I'm going to watch Doctor Who? The question is simple, where is the line in the sand that says, I don't mind you , but you don't need to know my most intimate of details. Even among my own friends, I take care not to say certain things, lest it be taken as too much information. Yet every time I say ( write) anything in FB, even the person I barely know in Ohio or the Congo also knows this. On FB, you are my FRIEND or you're not. I cannot set my privacy filters past these basic settings. My FRIENDS are all on the same footing. That of course means we have to retreat behind private messages and e-mail. Which of course brings us back to the reason we're all on FB. Most of us migrated to join all our mates who abandoned MSN and E-mail in the first place. Formerly active and vibrant forums where we just talked ( talked, as in wrote in whole sentences to other people) have gone empty and only the biggest and strongest ones survive. .

This last week while I waited for my turn  to use the single lappy, as the other was in the shop for an update, my wife spent several hours buying homes and renting them to virtual rock stars, she them spent 30 minutes accepting gifts, then about the same time sending gifts to people she never ever talks to. She was upset that I asked her to pry herself away from this incredibly important work to help me with the real world stuff.  We "chatted" and discovered that from over 250 so called friends, she only wanted about 50. These other gaming friends, had on average between 200 and 400 friends on FB, all of which were addicted to games. They all did the same as my wife did but even more obsessively. Some, I kid you not, had not said anything to anybody in months. FB had become a time killing site at best and a gaming addiction at worst.  FB makes no effort to discourage this addictive behavior as it makes money off Zynga and other partners. Millions of users are spending otherwise productive time, building civilizations and running fake restaurants in unrealistic conditions while their real lives go completely ignored. This week since extracting herself from the grip of FB games, my wife has started embroidery, got back to reading the three books she started last winter and is back at work on our principle project, in addition to pulling her weight in the house again. For the record, you can remove almost any button from your FB profile, but you can't get rid of the GAMES button.

In a separate but related item, the vast majority of the games on FB assume the only working societal model and linguistic structure we need, is the American model. Even weak attempts at breaking out of this still end up mired in American assumptions of what is normal, what we as users would want as items and what events we choose to honour.  FB has a world wide following but persists in catering almost solely to it's American user base which is less and less. In Africa, Asia, in fact the entire emerging world ( in computer terms), users are being taught the internet through FB. The repercussions of culture and habits on these people are yet to be seen, but it can't be good. It's bad enough we have entire armies of young people saying things like "ur rite".

FB and social networking are now miles apart from where they started out. Today I cannot without expending money, find who I need for our business. I cannot limit my search area to Newcastle Upon Tyne, I cannot hope to market our opportunity to the right people through FB without spending money. Social Networking used to be easier and more efficiently done on FB, but now the business model in effect is that of a retailer of users to game creators. Virtual games with virtual accessories for real money. People with real causes and projects don't stand a chance.

I, unlike some of my mates new and old, still use any platform open to me, to talk to real people in real time. I have come to depend on FB for that link I need when Gally Base, E-mail or the phone won't do.  I still read directly online all manner of newspapers and blogs, sometimes I catch up with them in FB, but I see that despite over 60% of eligible computer users in the UK being on FB, it's all they can do to muster the energy to comment on the Guardian or Telegraph.  Thousands have joined the online Labour Party, but it's the same handful of voices you hear ( well read) on a regular basis. Most FB users today are not bothered enough to do more than LIKE something.

Last thing, I represent the gen X crowd, we are online, we are tech savvy and we are users, but to be honest, if you look at most aps, you see teenagers as young as 14 being touted as the only demographic worth running after, FB groups and polls that are far from scientific are held up as the definitive list of the all time greatest comedians and singers, nary a sight of the Beatles or the Ramones, James Corden gets the big numbers as most of us are never asked our opinion. It's as if we are invisible. To say FB is the true reliable face of modern society is insanity  and yet we are doing it.  FB  invades our privacy, treats us like commodities for sale and seem happy to keep doing this for a long time to come. As long as FB is not about Social Networking and continues to be about games and gamers, those of us who have no choice but to stay through  social pressure, will be subjected to an endless  stream of service cuts and useless fixes that make navigating the site more and more difficult while a few million more get addicted to the games and forget what it is to truly communicate.

I'd love to migrate to something else where all my mates are, but sadly that option does not as yet exist. As and when it does come around, I will leave and take as many of my FRIENDS with me. Till then I have to use  the wholly unreliable chat feature of FB,  as my current crop of FRIENDS are too used to it to go back to the vastly superior MSN.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Sherlock: The Blind Banker or Holmes meets Rathbone

Tonight's instalment of Sherlock did not disappoint. It was a combination of the old Basil Rathbone thrillers with a healthy dose of Cannon and Fu Manchu thrown in as well. Holmes and Watson are on the trail of killers who leave messages in an inscrutable ancient text. If like me, you are familiar with certain classic methods used in the original Holmes stories you would be on the lookout for the code in question before our stubborn young Scotland Yard man could say Valley of Fear. From the creepy museum at night to the stage show later on, Moffat and Gatiss turn on the B movie charm. I could have watched it in Black and White it was that good.

I'm trying hard not to give the story away, so suffice to say that the apparent suicides are anything but. A number of people die in the pursuit of a stolen object. Said dead people are clearly somehow connected. Will Holmes figure it out before too many bodies drop? You'll have to watch.

What was particularly enjoyable, was the sense of humour developed in the story and Holmes himself. The story has a number of moments where they play silly buggers with Watson. If we're lucky , he'll get the occasional ritual humiliation and mistaken identity that will get him in the kind of trouble he doesn't seem to mind. Watson, having found a live wire to live with , he now sets about moaning throughout the entire ep that he's tired and hungry, clearly not so tired or hungry he won't give up the chase. Good man John, just the kind of companion you want in a crime fighting sidekick. I suspect, dear readers, he won't be alone for long, Watson has discovered the lovely Sarah whom he immediately fancies something rotten. Will they or won't they? wait till you see their first date. I doubt most relationships would survive such an encounter, but it worked in Young Sherlock Holmes so why not here.  The perils of Pauline sequence is well put together and has some story telling element, unlike many which serve only to titillate. Watson and Sarah will have a healthy onscreen fling that will either end in her eventual demise or Watson marrying her.

I did mention Holmes and humour, In this outing, Sherlock engages in some gentle flattery. He presses the buttons of his lab partner who had tried to get his interest in episode one. And there are loads of apparently inadvertent japes aimed clearly at Watson. Holmes delights in getting Watson wound up over things trivial and dangerous. For example, he only opens the door of the girl's flat when it's too late for Watson to help, but two things have occurred, Watson's words are taken out of context and Holmes rather than admit he could have asked for help, pretends that nearly being strangled to death is nothing special.  Earlier in the ep, Holmes allows Watson to think nothing is amiss and  maintains the fiction he has in fact been sat there doing nothing all afternoon. In the closest thing to a nod to Clouseau and the man servant fight meets anonymous Bond villain moment, Holmes is cool as a cucumber when Watson comes home from having been in a row with a computerized till. Take my card he says, never letting on he was in a fight minutes before.

Sarah, who we meet properly for the first tonight runs the practice Watson has stepped into. Much like the Victorian Watson, this Watson is a stand in for people on hols and frankly would make a rubbish regular doctor. Sarah spots this from the first but hires him anyways. They seem made for each other and her reactions later on  belie a more complex person seeking an escape form the mundane. One hopes she makes the cut and appears in the new series.

Ah yes the new series. In case you haven't been reading the news, or missed the flurry of sqeeeing at the BBC. They have ordered a full series of 10. Word has it it will begin filming soon and be on screen as soon as a spot can be found for it in the rotation. I'm sure that won't be a problem at all.  Ratings for the first ep were through the roof and even the most hard bitten curmudgeonly critic was quickly on board. Sherlock is coming and you need to make room for all the DVDs.

So how was this episode as a story? Even if you strip away all the identifying markers that say Sherlock Holmes, you end up with a well acted story that drew you in and made you jump when it wanted you to jump, laugh when it wanted you to laugh. You knew some of the baddies were going to be a bit old school and some of the good guys were going to be just a tad twatish, but it worked. Mixed with humour, was fear and tension. You knew people might get hurt and you cared, you knew yet others would die , but you hoped somehow they might avoid a grisly fate.  For what could easily be a formulaic box ticking exercise, The Blind Banker turns into the sort of fun 90 minutes you don't often see anymore.