Random Thoughts

Tech, words and musings from an Englishman in Seattle

Movie Review (and more): Hitch Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy

This evening Nabila and I went to see Hitch Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy. To say this is a home coming for me is sort of an understatement in a "full-circle" kind of way. Before I get to the review, a bit of history is in order.

I grew up in the UK and was always a bit of a sci-fi fan, but also totally in love with the british "ironic" bent of humour. Think Monty Python, Yes Minister, etc...

The BBC TV production of HHGTTG was my first exposure to the saga, and I immediately went out and bought the books. At the time there was only HHGTTG and Restaurant at the End of the Universe.

I devoured them.

After reading the books, I was a bit disappointed that Restaurant was bascially given two episodes at the end of the BBC TV series (a mistake that the movie dosen't make by virtue of the fact that it doesn't include Restaurant at all), but I loved the TV adaptation anyhow. I then got to hear the original BBC radio series at school, in English class, because our English master was a cool guy who was into it also.

Fast forward a couple of years.

I'm in a physics class chatting to a friend of mine, Paul Marsden, and we get around to Hitch Hiker's. We're both massive fans. So we decide to put on a school play. Here's our plan: we'll each take on half of the original book and write the play. So that's what we do. It actually turns out quite good, but we then discover that an actual screenplay has been written and a movie is in pre-production (this is 1985 by the way).

So we write to the production team in that far off place called Hollywood, asking if they could send us a copy of the screenplay and whether they would mind if we used it to produce a school play. We didn't expect any response.

Lo and behold if we didn't get that response. Enclosed was the screenplay and permission to go ahead a do the play!


So produce the play we did.

We played to three packed houses, and made more money for the school than any other production before it (not that any other production had made any money, but we sure did). I have photos from that production - I need to scan them in and embarass everyone involved. Some friends of mine, including Richard Kibble (Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz, Deep Thought), Cordelia Molloy (Trillian) and Nicky Hicks (Barmaid, Eddie Two, Benjy mouse, Loon) have gone on to do better and bigger things, so this should be interesting for them! As an aside and a future reminder for me, Richard and I took part in another school show where we performed a Monty Python sketch that was, ahem, not well received by the audience...

The Hollywood production died, and I don't know if it has any relation to the current film - the screenplay sure feels different.

Fast forward a few more years.

I'm working at Magnetic Scrolls on adventure games and the owner, Anita Sinclair, knew Douglas Adams quite well. If fact, rumour had it that the first draft of "So Long And Thanks For All The Fish" was printed off on our laser printer.

Fast forward some more.

Douglas Adams dies.

I'm in shock. A hero of my childhood has died. What do you do? Re-read all the books of course.

Fast forward to the present.

OK, time for the actual review. I liked it. I liked it a lot. I think I have the history to call myself an original Hitch Hiker's fan. So even though some people think it doesn't live up to the original books, I don't care. It lives up to the spirit, and to a case in point, yes, some of the original great lines were missed (e.g. in the airlock scene), but they get made up visually - in the airlock scene, you are expecting them to go out the door, but instead they drop through the floor...

The graphics were great, the acting was superb and the script was good enough. Martin Freeman was a great Arthur Dent (even though he's basically playing the same character as in The Office and Love Actually - he'd better watch out about getting typecast as the archetypcal young, English, everyday man), I didn't like the interpretation of Zaphod much (I'm sorry, but he really needs two heads side-by-side), and I loved Zooey Deschanel as Trillian - she played Trillian as the everyday woman who doesn't take any crap, much better than Sandra Dickinson in the original BBC TV series. I especially loved the Whale scene - it worked so well and was basically the same as the great original TV series version.

It was great to hear so many people laughing in the audience. I could hear the jokes that I knew so well being set up, and was waiting in anticipation for the audience reaction. I was not disappointed. Those one liners and clever misdirections work as well today as they did when DNA penned them.

The scenes on Magrathea were exceptional. It was great to see the film-makers pay homage to DNA (as well as the inclusion of the original BBC TV Marvin stuck in line in the Vogon's queue, as well as Simon Jones as the Magrathean answering machine).

I liked it. Go see it. I wanna see it again.

In fact, I want to see them do "Restaurant".

Checking Out Ecto

I've been looking for a decent blogging tool for ages. None of the standard builtin editors in the RSS readers seem to cut it, and posting via the web interface is a bit of a pain.

Today I stumbled upon Ecto, and am giving it a try. We'll see how it goes.

Ecto. Via Dave Sifry.

Voice Overs

One of the fun things I get to do every once in a while is act as voice talent for various titles being developed here at MGS. For example, I was the Mech pilot 'Nuke' in MechCommander 2 and the Concorde co-pilot in some flights in Flight Simulator 2000.

Well, this morning I got to do some more voice work for another project.

It's a fun and interesting diversion from my normal work, and being from the South of England, I get to put that BBC accent to use!

What TabletPC Should I Get?

Ok, so now I'm jonsing for a TabletPC. It's all Scoble's fault. I want a lightweight, high powered machine. With gobs of disk space, high-end GPU, high-resolution display. Oh, and can it be nice and small please?

So what's the best bet? Robert! I need a buyer's guide please!

No rush though. The Toshiba Tecra M4 looks cool, but maybe I should wait to see what IBM are up to with the ThinkPad?


Findory looks very interesting. More personalised news and blog reading based on what you've read in the past. It's adaptiveness seems to work very well.

Sort of like MSN's Newsbot, but with blogs too...

Microsoft and the Gay-Rights Bill

At last a calm and reasonable viewpoint on the issue.

The whole "Microsoft withdraws support for gay rights" issue came out of left field for me. I'm as strong a supporter for gay rights as they come, but the recent issue threw me for a loop. On the one hand, what is Microsoft doing? On the other, huh? Internally, Microsoft is probably the most pro-gay rights as they come. Ten years ago when I was hired, Microsoft had the same great internal stance that they do now.

But when the actual facts come out via Steve Balmer's email, I understood, but it still left me with a bit of a queasy feeling.

Scoble's response was kind of similar to mine.

But Vic nails it. Thank you for expressing what a lot of people are thinking.

Personally, it now looks like another religious fruit-loop trying to gain stature by posturing.

From the Seattle Times' article:

Hutcherson, though, said yesterday he met with Microsoft officials earlier this year, telling them he would organize a national boycott of the company's products if it did not withdraw its support of the bill.

Hutcherson also said he told the company's officials that two Microsoft employees who had testified in support of the bill should be fired because they misrepresented themselves as representatives of the company. Begasse said the two employees were testifying as individuals, not company representatives.

The pastor said he didn't care what the company's policies were regarding gay employees as long as they kept it within their business. "What I was upset about was when they tried to step outside their four walls and make their policy my policy. That gave me the right to step out of my world into theirs."

Dinner With Mick Stanic

Last night I was fortunate to be invited to dinner with Mick Stanic (is it just me, or were Mick and Bono separated at birth?) from The Podcast Network and the G'Day World Podcast, along with a bunch of guys from the Media Center and Longhorn teams including Charlie Owen and Sean Alexander. Mick is a very smart fella, and lots of great conversation ensued around podcasting, Windows Media Center, and the state of technology in Australia. Very engaging.

Plus some great food at Desert Fire. I had the Bison. Yum.

Table Tennis Scoring

Table tennis scoring

Uploaded to flikr by Steve Lacey at 18 Apr '05, 3.46pm PST.

We have a table tennis table in the lobby to our building. These are some scoring adjustments on a nearby whiteboard.

Oddworld Inhabitants Leaves The Games Behind

Wow. According to the any interview with Lorne Lanning, Oddworld is getting out of the game business due to frustration with the industry. Gamespy has another interview - dunno how I missed this.

This is sad. Lorne is a great game designer and art director. I was privileged to spend a few months in 2001 helping get Oddworld: Munch's Oddysee out the door and enjoyed every minute of it. There were some great developers there also, including Charles Bloom - one of the best programmers, and thinkers, I've met. It's a shame to see the franchise end.

A Must-Have Mouse

So I was in Bust Buy today, ostensibly to buy a $45 DirecTV receiver for the bedroom (can you believe these things are that cheap now? With retailer markup and distribution costs, DirecTV must be subsidizing that thing heavily) but mainly to give Nishal and Shyama the consummate US retail experience.

So I was wondering around while they were drooling over the video cameras and went back to the bits'n'pieces section. You know, that part of the store with the weird cables and the odd peripherals, and found the Microsoft Wireless Notebook Optical Mouse that I have been jonesing over for ages. The Microsoft company store never has these in stock. I'm assuming that they sell out as fast as they arrive - a coworker has to order from the website and incur the shipping costs for his, but I had been holding out hope that it would be there time and time again when I visit.

Now I have one.

This thing is great. It has a little USB dongle and the diminutive mouse itself. I'd never actually held the mouse and was pleasantly astounded to find out that it is heavy. I was expecting a lightweight, flimsy thing, but the weight is perfect.

But here's the kicker and the reason I've been after one.

When you're done, you unplug the USB dongle, which clips in to the bottom of the mouse, turning it off.

That simple design feature is killer. How many times have you taken an optical mouse out of a laptop bag and seen the little LED flashing away? How much battery power do you think is wasted while it is tumbling around in said bag during a flight, commute, etc...?

What a cool idea.

And that's why I've wanted one. And now I have one. And you should have one too.

Ok Robert

The Scobleizer asks for more contact details. Ok, so now my email address (which was already there), my skype id, and mobile number are available.

Happy now? ;-)

Actually, maybe I should be the happy one. By blogging, I'm looking to contact you. The conversation implies that I want you to contact me.

Err, ok

Err, ok

Uploaded to flikr by Steve Lacey at 14 Apr '05, 6.36pm PST.

Or, 4 for 10 bucks? Is some form of discount missing or is this just silly marketting?


It's been three years now since our friend Tom left us. As I sit here with my rum and coke, I raise my glass to you. Well met.

Time may heal the loss, but I would have loved you to have met my son.

Movie Review: Sideways

Not much of a review this time, just an emphatic "watch this film"! The best film I've seen in a long time. Sideways has it all - great dialogue, superb writing, great characterizations, wine, golf and deeply screwed-up people.

For a great review of this film, listen to the Reel Reviews podcast review.

"Quaffable, but uh... far from transcendent."

Paul Giamatii is excellent in the lead role - his performance reminds me of Richard Schiff as Toby in The West Wing - you could imagine Toby as the character Miles in this film.

Each scene is to be savoured, and I'm looking forward to seeing it again. From the deep, personal introspection of Miles as he describes his love of Pinot Noir, to the humourous retaliation on the golf course as another foursome attempt to hit-though the pair - this film had me jumping from emotion to emotion.

Anyhow, if you haven't seen it yet, buy or rent it now and set yourself up for a treat of a film experience.

More Family In Town

Nishal and Shyama were arriving from the UK today, so Dave and I went to pick them up from the airport. Though the flight arrived at 4.15pm, they didn't get out of immigration until past 6pm and were the last people out of immigration. Apparently our wonderful homeland security decided to grill them for some weird reason, though Nishal and Shyama are too nice to complain about it.

I'm not though.

Personally, I've had nothing but hassle from the whole INS system. But it won't improve because, oh yes, the people on the receiving end of the bad treatment, indifferent care and generally crap service don't get to vote. Hey! They're visitors, or taking our jobs, or whatever. They get what they deserve. Yes, but they're also bringing money into the country. Hell, I pay a shed-load in taxes.

Maybe in a few years the citizens of this country will have had enough of the bureaucratic, pointless, shoe unlacing hassle they receive at airports (how many aircraft have been saved by people taking off their shoes?) and wonder where all those billions of dollars are going and whether those dollars are actually being put to any sensible use.

But I digress.

It's great to have Nishal and Shyama staying with us for a week. We now have a very full house! This is their first trip to the US - when they leave here they're off to New York, so I hope they have a great time. Dave is going to show them around whilst I'm at work - Nabila is still ill, so I'm hoping she's going to take it easy.

The Band

Another good practice this evening. I am really looking forward to the CD release party on May 18.

CD Release Party

After conversing with people at the Central Club last night, it looks like the CD Release party is set for Wednesday, May 18th. This is great as it's their normal music night, so we should get a good crowd as well as our friends that we drag along to every gig (I love every one of you ;-)

More details as they become available.

Cooking Class

A while ago Nabila signed up for a cooking class at Shamiana, a local (and very good) Indian restaurant. As she is still coughing up chunks it seemed like a good idea for her to bail, so I graciously stepped up the the plate (pun intended) and went along instead.

What a great evening! Basically, you sit at a table in the restaurant and the head chef demonstrates how to cook all the dishes that you are being served. It was a small group of people, so there was lots of time for questions in between stuffing my face full of really great food.

Highly recommended.

When RSS is not RSS

I really like RSS feeds. RSS is the way I read blogs, but the use of it by some a lot of people, even by some proponents of RSS really irks me.

The final 's' in RSS is syndication. I.e. syndication of the content. Don't just push out a headline or a teaser, push out the content.

I recognize that a lot of these site's revenue is driven by ads, but figure out a way to stick the ads in the RSS feed - I don't mind that at all. Just don't force me to go to your site to read the content.

If the point is click statistics, then just place a web beacon in the feed. Most (if not all) aggregators use a browser to display the content anyhow, so you'll get your click metrics.

RSS is about content syndication. Yes, there are other uses like search subscriptions, but in the end content is king.

A Brit Abroad - April 9, 2005

I found a spare hour today while Julian was taking a nap which means that it's time for another edition of A Brit Abroad!

At just under 26 minutes and weighing in at 9.64MB, I talk about some movies, new video gear, Flight Simulator and give a few plugs to people. And, of course, some music curtesy of The Trash Monquis.

Links To Some Of The Things Talked About

A slight correction to my aural speculations: I lived near Highbury and Islington tube station in London.



Poor little Chub. Err, Julian. He finally appears to be over his latest bout of fever/ear infection, though he's still coughing a fair amount. It all started on Sunday with general lethargy and then vomiting, then he was just miserable and basically didn't want to move Monday and Tuesday - antibiotics and tylenol helped but not enough.

Anyhow, now he seems better. He slept for about six hours today and this evening was back to his usual tyrannical self. Phew.

The world is a better place when Chub is happy.

Baby Gifts

Yesterday a friend and co-worker of mine Rod Fergusson stopped by with a gift for Nabila of some receiving blankets and "Preggie Pops". Great quality and we're very grateful. Julian instantly wanted one of the receiving blankets, which, of course, is now his ;-) The other blankets will wait for the new arrival...

The gifts were from Rod's wife Sandra's company Coastal Baby. Go check them out.

Movie Review: King Arthur

We just watched the Director's cut of King Arthur. Well, I liked it - it had a lot going for it, especially as the story line is very different to any other Arthur film. It was definitely a Bruckheimer film - the final battle was great, but some of the squishy swordplay sound effects seemed like they were straight off of an over-produced sound effect library CD. That is not to say the movie as a whole is over the top, it's not. But it's not your usual Arthur fare.

I'm a big Clive Owen fan, and this role as an understated, confused Arthur suited him well. Kiera Knightley played the Guinevere role perfectly. Having her cast as an Amazon style character was a great change from the usual Guinevere role. The costume and make-up for the final battle were, ahem, different. No wardrobe malfuntions though.

Overall, King Arthur is definitely worth watching. It's a grittier, demystified version of a classic tale.

TV Is Pretty Much Done

The TV is mounted and the main living area is back together. DVD player and XBox are hooked up, and man does it look and sound great. We watched "The Incredibles" this evening and, well, just wow.

The installers didn't have time to install the new satellite dish and the rear speakers and run the satellite cables, so that'll have to wait until Tuesday. But for now, I'm a happy geek.

Dave Is In The House; The House Gets A New TV

Dave, my father-in-law, arrived from the UK yesterday and is staying with us for a month - yey! He really helps us out a lot with the kid, dog, house, etc... In fact, as we speak, he is out taking the dog for a walk.

Talking about the house, today is major install day for the new plasma that's getting placed above our fireplace, with the mounting (a new wall needs to be built to take the weight) and the audio setup (we have vaulted ceilings and little, very tight, crawl space above, which is going to lead to some interesting gymnastics), the installers have an interesting job ahead of them.

Props to Cutting Edge Design for doing a great design. The components will be going in next to the fireplace with a door at the back of the cabinet so they can be accessed from the rear in the adjoining room. I'm taking pictures during the install that I'll be posting tonight over here.

© 2001 to present, Steve Lacey.