Tuesday, 24 October 2006

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The Farepak who stole Christmas

I can't decide which of my two favourite recurring themes to file this under; it's a toss up between 'everyone is stupid except me' and 'unloading the emperor's new clothes'.

Prior to going bust this month, Farepak, was the best-known Christmas hamper and food/gift voucher supplier in the savings scheme market. The idea is that you set up a direct debit to issue monthly payments to the company, and then as Christmas approaches they issue you with either a modest hamper or the privilege of purchasing overpriced food or gifts from their own store. In effect they operate as a bank who profit from investing your money, but don't reward you with interest payments. Not only do they not pay you any interest, you actually pay them for sitting on it.

Believe it or not this bizarre scam appealed to thousands of people. Some thought it was such an ingenious concept they even signed up to become proselytising agents for Farepak. I expect they're having second thoughts now the company have gone into administration leaving them high and dry.

Of course it's atrocious that Christmas this year is going to be pretty much null and void for these low-income families (while the managing directors of this crooked firm stuff their faces with luxury mince pies and port at the Hilton), but you've got to wonder what they were smoking when they agreed to pay Farepak to take their cash. Even if they'd stuffed their savings under a mattress and let it gather dust it would still be there by the time Christmas rolled around. Rocketry it's not.
What have they got against grown-up money? The fact that it can be spent anywhere, or that - providing you don't shop at Harrods - 100 pennies equals a pound?

Wednesday, 11 October 2006

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Disciple of Zod, Non, lives...

...and equally shocking, speaks. Quite a feat for a mute alien whose only notable utterances are grrrr and uhhrrr!

Superman The Movie director, Richard Donner, had already completed 75% of Superman II when he was unceremoniously dismissed from the project by producers, the Salkind brothers. He was replaced by UK director, Richard Lester, who was at the time better known for his involvement in a slew of embarrassingly cheesy 'comedies' and his collaboration with The Beatles.

To Superman fans he is the anti-christ; the clueless usurper who transformed their beloved Man of Steel into a camp caricature. For Lester to be credited with the director title it was stipulated that he would have to be responsible for at least 51% of the Superman II footage. To meet this demand he set about re-shooting Donner's scenes, laying waste to decades of the hero's esteemed heritage. Lester's vision incorporated a number of excruciating, slapstick, pantomime routines, some unfathomable dialogue and at least one major plot hole.

Ever since its release, Superman purists have been petitioning Warner Brothers to allow Donner to restore his far superior cut of Superman II. Only recently did they concede to these pleas for sanity to prevail - it is due for release on 28th November this year!

While searching for a definite d-day on the IMDB message boards I stumbled across some insightful posts by, none other than, erm... Non, aka Jack O'Halloran.

Jack kindly gave up some of his time to answer a mixed bag of fan questions. A few tidbits I managed to glean from his replies include...

~ The actor has spoken to Bryan Singer about the possibility of himself, General Zod and Ursa appearing in the sequel to Superman Returns.

~ How the caped crusader regained his super powers after relinquishing them so he could become a mere mortal and be with the love of his life, Lois Lane, will be revealed in Donner's cut.

~ In response to suggestions that Donner was fired due to creative differences or an inability to work within the film's budget, Jack insists that neither statement is true, but doesn't offer any other explanations even when pressed.

~ Lester is an ice cream cone, Donner is a banana split.

Seeing Jack spring from nowhere to mingle with the proletariat got me wondering how many more celebs may have graced us with their presence on the IMDB forums. I decided I'd trawl the net looking for clues, construct a staggeringly protracted list of them and post it to my blog. People would travel from far and wide to witness the spectacle and I'd be awarded a Nobel prize for writing the most cunning blog entry of the 28 known universes. Then I thought, "sod it! - it would take forever and life's too short".

For more details of Donner's cut of Superman II refer to this Wikipedia article.

Friday, 6 October 2006


Free TV guide and scheduler for UK EyeTV users

Prior to EyeTV 2.0 we were stuck with the default EPG (or electronic programming guide), tvtv, a premium subscription service. Now a subtle new feature allows you to switch to a totally free alternative known as DVB Guide.

The advantage with using an EPG rather than, say Radio Times online, is that you can schedule recordings with a mere two mouse clicks, plus the information is instantly accessible because it's retroactively downloaded to your computer. The alternative can be a real chore: find the show you want to record, click 'new recording', give it a name (and optional description), set the date, start and finish time, select the right channel and click OK.

Here's how to ditch tvtv:

1. Open up the 'EyeTV Programs' menu by poking the rectangular button in the upper right corner of the virtual remote control.

2. Select the 'Channels' panel and highlight all the ones you want to receive listings for via the EPG. You can hold down the shift key and click on the first and then last item to choose all of them, or hold down the option key and click individual items to highlight a non-contiguous range.

3. Click on one of the downward pointing arrows in the EPG column and change 'tvtv' to 'DVB' within the drop down menu.

4. Switch to the 'Program Guide' panel, right click and select 'Update DVB Guide'.
To schedule a recording you would either browse the listings for a show or type its name into the Spotlight style search box, select it with a left click and then push the 'Add Schedule' button.

Thursday, 5 October 2006

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'Cos I'm dead clever I've known for a long time that the popularly held belief that lemmings commit mass suicide as a means of self-regulated population control is a myth. What I wasn't aware of until now is the origin of this legend.

As it happens it's all Walt Disney's fault - well more accurately it's the fault of people who watched the 1958 Disney nature documentary 'White Wilderness' and didn't listen to the narration carefully enough.

The film depicts a herd of lemmings mindlessly plunging over the edge of a cliff and into the 'sea'. Despite being good swimmers, the critters are unable to battle against the 'tide' indefinitely - rendered immobile through exhaustion they eventually drown and are seen floating in a watery grave.
The rodents' behaviour wasn't captured in-situ, the 'sea' was really a lake in Canada and their leap of doom was all staged - the poor creatures were actually hurled to their deaths by the producers. Nice, though we shouldn't be too surprised considering how the same animation house dispatched Bambi's mum more than 20 years earlier.

As interesting as this is, the film has been misinterpreted. The narrator refers to the lemmings' compulsion to keep moving, not to engage in hari-kari. Their goal is to migrate away from their current densely populated habitat where food and space are scarce. They dive bomb en bloc into the 'sea' because they have poor eyesight and so mistake it for a lake which they would otherwise easily be able to cross on their pilgrimage to the Great Valley (TM).

"...and so is acted out the legend of mass suicide and destruction of a species it would seem to be", the film concludes.

This is the answer to the opening precis:-

"In this land of many mysteries it's a strange fact the largest legends seem to collect around the smallest creatures. One of these is a mousy little rodent called the lemming. Here's an actual living legend. For it's said of this tiny animal that it commits mass suicide by rushing into the sea in droves. The story is one of the persistent tales of the arctic and as often happens in man's nature lore it's a story both true and false as we shall see in a moment."

It doesn't mean an avalanche of suicidal lemmings intentionally sacrifice themselves to allow the Chosen Few to stretch their legs and swing a cat or two.

You can watch the critical segment of the film on YouTube and read more about the mockumentary here.