The Last Atlantis

It has been a while since I posted, so I thought I would share another poem with you. I wrote it last year and it is a poem with an apocalyptic theme so it is quite apt that I post it now, given that some people (nobbers) think the world will end on the 21st of this very month. So best to read it now whilst you can! (And purchase my first published collection – link at the bottom of this page.) It’s a bit of a dark one this…but then so was my last one about snowmen!

The Last Atlantis

Carbon copy officials uttered
Porcelain promises of hope
Radicals spoke out
The truth was what
Were we to die
Or were we not

The sky danced
Auroras engulfed the world
Tickled, teased, peppered by lightning
A destructive wonder
With force unknown
Were we to die
Or were we not

Flight impossible
The noble birds of human achievement
Grounded
Natures own confused
The magnetic field raged, twisted, broken
A majestic storm of colourful chaos
A frightened world

For years we mocked Newton’s fellow
Breaking it’s hold
Fighting it’s urge
The apple stayed up
With sky skipping superiority we knew no bounds
Distance was nothing
Commanding the sky, we controlled the world

Regressed to our ancestors
For whom flight was the play thing of gulls
Re-awoke
The impossible dream for anchored man
Like a nightmarish sun
Gravity reigned
It’s co-conspirator inhospitable for even natures aviators
Ground, the last refuge of man

Born to Earth
Returned to Earth
Everyman walked upon his own grave
Escape beyond impossible
The beautifully cruel sky blockading cosmic sanctury
Terra firma, our home, our graveyard, our prison
Gravity the shackles
Atmosphere it’s guard

Silicon sizzled, the chip fried
The information super highway crumbled
The Digital King was dead
Communication reduced to ways of old
Long live the Analogue Queen
Resilience raised it’s renaissance
Bodies enslaved to Earth
Voices travelled
Ideas forever unbound
Futile though it was

Families torn apart
Castaway through circumstance
Precious few heard words of love
Communication, the titanic struggle
Reunion a far off dream

The Analogue Queen decreed
Her subjects, relics of old, brought news
How, why, maybe
Because
Hazy shadows of reason and blame fill the airwaves
The scientists they say
An experiment they say
A freak accident they say
Fact born of pathetic postulation
Uncertainty unanimous

The spectre of suspicion hung

Carbon copy officials uttered
We implore you to stay calm
Porcelain promises of hope
We can fix this
Radicals spoke out
A cover-up, a conspiracy, a punishment
The truth was what
We did this to ourselves
Were we to die
Or were we not

That day our lives died
That day our lifestyle died
That day our complacency died
Our arrogance survived

Time would pass
Recovery inevitable
Stronger, more resilient, more learned?

Arrogance flourished
Man would cope
Man would survive
Adversity galvanises
Hurt pride drives
Man would recover
Man would make similar mistakes
An endless circle of human inevitability
War – advancement
Disaster – advancement
From the depths we claw our way up
Only to look back down
Marvelling in achievement
Losing balance to fall again
The human disease
Only that we climb so high do we fall so low

Defiantly the buildings stood
Breath still passed
But a society had been lost forever
Like before, like again

This was our Atlantis
The last?

If you like my writing, be sure to check out my first published collection of poems Love: unrequited, unrealised, unconditional and lost – available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle formats.

CG-Why?

Computer Generated Imagery has revolutionised film making. With photo-realistic graphics, the movie going public has been transported from a world where dinosaurs have been brought back to life, to Middle Earth where a corrupted creature cries out for his precious, and all the way across the galaxy to a world where an entire settlement of blue beings is threatened by man, in search of unobtainium (seriously, makes me chuckle every time they say it) CGI is, when used properly, an amazing creative tool, one that allows film makers to be limited only by their imagination…and computing power…and budget…and time constraints.
Banner from the Movie Avatar
Therein lies the rub, the key phrase, ‘when used properly.’ You see, for every Jurassic Park, Lord of the Rings and Avatar, there are countless other examples of horribly poor, distractingly so, computer generated images.

This issue has been eating at me for a while now. In the past, it could be forgiven, as film makers started to find their way in the world of technology, seeing how it could enhance their story telling. But in today’s world, where personal computers are capable of so much with simple ‘off-the-shelf’ programs, can poor, jarring CGI really be forgiven? The answer of course, is no.

The problem is that CGI has, for some, become the ‘quick fix’. The industry has become saturated with digital effects companies and sadly they’re not all as good as Weta Workshop or Industrial Light and Magic. Yet film makers, it would seem, do not mind one bit, they seem to look at their budget and schedule, think for a second and then come to the conclusion – “We can CGI that.” No matter what your budget, sometimes this just points squarely to a lack of creativity.

Back in the day, before the wonders of CGI, film makers had to be creative in order to work around any financial or practical limitations. Think back to the shower scene in Psycho, the tension and fear created merely through Hitchcock’s choice of camera angles and cuts. A timeless moment of cinema, a classic piece of film making. Yet nowadays, CGI, for many, is the way to go. So much so that it has even led to less innovative location scouting – put your actors in front of a green screen and they can be anywhere you want them to be. It’s a tempting short cut to take, but when you’re dealing with an extremely savvy audience, if you don’t do it right – they’ll notice. And of course there is the scripting, whomever may be writing these movies, or deciding upon the massive over-the-top action sequences to include, if you want your movie to be taken seriously, and know you don’t have the budget for the best CGI possible – rewrite your film. The recent A-Team film, for example, was spoiled by the final ‘CGI-tastic’ set piece. Where as all they had to do was dial back some of the ‘stuff that happens to create added danger’ and they still would have had a pretty cool finale, there just wasn’t any need to go so far. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Going back to film knives, The Expendables has a particularly awful CGI knife moment. One that, quite honestly, between the laughter, made me want to cry…and vomit…at the same time. That’s how bad it was, I wanted to cromit.

It all comes down to a matter of control, just because something is available to you, doesn’t mean you should use it. Because in the end, bad CGI is like Cocaine that’s been cut with chalk and ground up Lucozade tablets*  – it’s a whole lot worse for you and will probably kill you quicker.

*That’s not to say that good CGI is like high quality cocaine, the metaphor does not extend both ways, though I’m sure if you ask Cocaine users they’ll say the good stuff is freakin’ awesome, so in that case it does.

Don’t do drugs.

One of My First Poems

This weekend I came across a poem that I wrote when I was but a wee boy. It was written at a time when, evidently, I was too cool to spell my surname with more than one ‘e’ and didn’t see the point in Snowmen needing that ‘w’. Early signs of my dyslexia or just a kid writing? Anyway, for your reading pleasure I decided to scan the piece and have included it in this article along with a completely unabridged transcription.

So then, without further ado, may I present the online world premier of ‘Untitled: A poem written by Drew when he was very young. Or at least too young for him to remember writing. Which, if he’s honest, could mean he wrote it last week – such is his terrible memory.’

Scan of an untitled poem by Drew

Five white snomen
Outside the front door
An icicle fell on one
Then there were four

Drew Spencr

I understand that it is a very sad tale. But it is a necessary one that strikes to the very heart of what it means to be a Snowman, living such a fragile life. It also contains a strong moral that stands the test of time – beware of falling icicles (be careful kids). The entire poem either points to me being disturbed as a child or very socially aware. I know which one I would go for.

That’s all for now, but if you’d like to see how far my poetry has progressed, remember you can buy a copy of my book Love: unrequited, unrealised, unconditional and lost (long title I know!) Available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle formats.

Being Human

In a slight departure from the usual articles, I have decide to post a poem. It was written over the past week in honour of the season finale of the excellent Being Human on BBC 3. A drama that gets to the core of what it means to be human by focusing on those who aren’t quite human any more. If you haven’t seen it, I can’t recommend it highly enough. 

Being Human

Sentenced to life
Fragile prisons bind their will
The choice of crime quite simple
To give life, or to kill 

Complex souls, free of this world
Understanding them through art
Animalistic in their nature
Yet endlessly divine in heart

But only if they choose so
The choice then, lies within
Survival or redemption
The strongest will shall win

As custodians of their own fate
Which way to turn the key
Such is the way they are
– Being human –
Such is the way they shall be

If you like my writing, be sure to check out my first published collection of poems Love: unrequited, unrealised, unconditional and lost (long title I know!) Available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle formats.

 

E-readers: The Greatest Advancement of the 21st Century

At the start of the year I read an article proclaiming the death of e-readers in 2011. Yes, the very same tech that saw a boom in 2010 is apparently destined for a premature death just a year later. Madness you’d think. But then again, was it? The argument you see was convergence; the idea that one device should be capable of doing many things. With tablet computing being the buzz-theme at the moment you can see why. Take the iPad; on it you can browse the Internet, play games, music and movies, all whilst tweeting, blogging and emailing to your hearts content. You can even read a book on it. Not forgetting that you can do this with a back-lit screen, so you don’t even need a torch if you go under the covers as you indulge in a little late night guilty Twilight pleasure – reading the book I mean. It’s a solid argument, why on earth would you want a piece of technology that, for all intents and purposes, just allows you to read a book.

Wait though – isn’t that just like a book? For me, the very beauty of the e-reader lies in it’s inherent simplicity. After all, they do aim to replicate an extremely simple medium that has well and truly stood the test of time. Still, it seems paradoxical to suggest that something with so little function should be hailed as the greatest technological advancement of the 21st century, but hear me out.

Books are amazingly wonderful things. They’re portable and accessible, they’re cheap and easy to use. Reading off paper is a joy that cannot be matched by LCD or OLED screens, screens that glare at you with each word. Nothing beats the look and feel of a book, people, myself included, even love the smell. There are few things more impressive or important in this world than a beautifully stocked library. The sentimentality attached to books guarantees we’ll never stop producing them.

Still, in this digital world, there is an argument that books are outdated – yet their longevity just goes to show why they are important and so hard to replace. For e-readers to be a success they needed to imitate books as closely as possible whilst at the same time giving us something very modern, something that can hold vast amounts of information – custom to the user. In my mind, there is no better example than the Amazon Kindle.

The Amazon Kindle propped against books
What we witness in the Kindle is the coming together of core technologies – connectivity, memory, display and power – in a beautifully simplistic manner that redefines the book for the 21st century. The Kindle is incredibly light, about the same size as a paperback, and one can store so many books on it that it effectively becomes your own person library. This represents what an e-reader should be.

Yes the Kindle can’t perform thousands of different functions, but what it does, it does brilliantly well. For me, books are an escape from the digital world. I spend my days either in front of a computer screen or a television, basked in the glow of artificial light. When I read, I want to be transported away from such displays. When I read the Kindle, I can easily forget that I’m holding a piece of technology in my hand – I’m just reading a book – albeit a book that happens to hold 1000s of other books. The Kindle doesn’t need a touch screen or a back lit display, arguably it doesn’t need features like the Internet Browser or even the text-to-voice system.  It just needs to allow me to read.

The thing that really excites me though is an e-reader’s potential to bring knowledge to the masses. The Internet is an amazing knowledge base that can free the world and in many ways has. But its availability isn’t yet as wide reaching as one would hope. The e-reader however, could touch every being on the planet – allowing access to the greatest literary works human kind has every created. One could create a device that has 1000s of the worlds greatest books preloaded on them, delivered in a lightweight portable device – in any language of choice. Removing some of the additional technology would lead way to a ‘dumb’ e-book that could almost be regarded as a throw-away device. It’s low power consumption means it could easily be charged by a wind-up dynamo or a simple solar cell. With no need for the Internet and very little electricity, the e-reader could give a library to every man, woman and child on this earth. Isn’t that what we all deserve? Knowledge is our very birthright. To be able to give that to so many is a outstanding prospect.

We are witnessing a major change in the printed word, arguably the greatest since the printing press. The digital and the physical word are finally combining in a way we’ll never look back from. E-readers are here to stay and they represent the day-to-day future of the book. That said, physical copies will definitely be sticking around. Because, should all technology fail, books will forever be the last bastion of human knowledge.

The Tall Ship, Glasgow – Last Chance to See

On the 27th of February the hugely successful exhibit ‘Titanic: Honour and Glory’, will come to an end at The Tall Ship in Glasgow. The exhibit will then be packed up and move on to a new home in Hawick. But it’s not just the Titanic exhibition that comes to an end on the 27th, the day also marks closure of the S.V. Glenlee itself. Fret not though! The closure is only temporary as the Glenlee prepares to say goodbye to its Yorkhill Harbour berth and set off for a new permanent home alongside the magnificent Riverside Museum at Glasgow Harbour, a move that is scheduled for March 30th.

The S.V. Glenlee
The S.V. Glenlee

It’ll be a sad day for many as the Glenlee finally casts off its moorings and says goodbye to her iconic Pump House home of 12 years. It will then make the short journey up the Clyde and take its place as the centerpiece to Glasgow’s new home of the Museum of Transport. And of course, the move is only half the story as the Glenlee goes through a massive refit, preparing itself as the Riverside Museum’s star attraction. Work began last year and will continue up until its grand reopening in May/June – I can tell you, it’s going to be good!

I was lucky enough to have a sneak ‘below deck’ peek of the ship as Learning Assistant, Fiona Carmichael, took me behind the scenes and explained the new features that will be in place for its reopening. There will be a host of new interactive features to engage visitors as well as two brand new audio trails for them to enjoy (I hear the family trail will be particularly fun!) New areas of the ship will be open to explore as well as a great new play area for the under 5’s. Fiona is particularly excited about one new feature that will have guests experiencing work on the ship,

“There is one new large-scale interactive exhibit that allows visitors to haul cargo sacks from the hold to the deck above and then push them back down a slide back into the cargo hold again – it’s great fun and really encourages team work between friends and families for it to work correctly!”

And continuing their pedigree as an excellent venue for weddings and celebrations (I once blagged my way into a graduation party there…but that’s another story…) the S.V. Glenlee will have swanky new facilities as well as improved accessibility, with a lift opening up the lower decks to everyone. It is sure to be an exciting new chapter in the adventures of Glasgow’s Tall Ship and they already have exciting plans for the summer with their living history team breathing life into the old gal as well as a brand new ‘green heating system’ to keep patrons toasty all year round.

But that’s all for the future, for now, be sure to get down to the Tall Ship and remember her past as well as enjoying the wonderful Titanic exhibition – there isn’t long left so get there whilst you still can. To celebrate there will be a “Strictly Titanic” tea dance on Saturday 26th. Visitors will get the chance for one last waltz on the decks between 2- 4pm with a short break for tea and scones. Live music will be provided by the Nova Scotia Jazz Band and short demonstrations will be provided by Fly Right Dance Co. It is sure to be a wonderful event and a great way to end the Titanic exhibition whilst enjoying the Glenlee in the shadow of the Pump House one last time.

“Strictly Titanic”  is on Saturday 26th February
Adults £10 and Concessions £8.
Tickets available from The Tall Ship reception or by calling 0141 222 2513.

The Nintendo 3DS

Everything is all about the 3 D’s these days, Sky are offering 3D football, every movie under the sun is “Something Something 3D” hell, I have a sneaky suspicion that the entire world around us will soon come in 3 whole dimensions. So when Nintendo made the announcement that their next handheld console would be 3D…some cynics would have called bandwagon jumping. But this is Nintendo afterall, supreme ‘funnovators’, the guys who took the casual gaming world by storm with motion gaming in the shape of the Wii. Sony has already introduced us to 3D gaming on the PS3, this meant Nintendo had to do something special. That something special was 3D gaming…without glasses.

Now we all have a vague idea of how 3D works, and it involves glasses. Which, to some, look silly and are an annoying distraction – even more so if you need to wear glasses under the glasses. And nowadays they’re not even red and blue so you don’t have that retro charm that made you look like Biff Tannen’s pal in Back to the Future. You just look like a guy with sunglasses on indoors, cheap plastic sunglasses. I say cheap, but that’s only at the cinema. Anyone who’s bought a 3D television will know that most employ active shutter glasses that cost a ridiculous amount of money. I digress. The point is that up until now, 3D displays need to be supplemented with glasses in order to trick our brains into seeing the 3D image on screen. The technology is there for glassesless 3D, and there are even some TVs capable of doing so. However not only are the expensive, they also require users to sit at specific positions at correct distances from the screen in order to experience the effect. Herein lies Nintendo’s genius, they took this tech and put it into a screen where there is generally only one viewer with an intensely focused, fixed, viewing position – giving us the 3DS.

The Nintendo 3DS Console, black

The only problem is – you really do need to see it to believe it! Cue Nintendo’s marketing machine under the slogan ‘Believe Your Eyes.’ In the run up to the March 25th UK release Nintendo will be holding roadshow events much in the same way it did with the Wii to help generate a buzz and give potential customers hands on (eyes on?) experience with their latest offering. This marketing blitz began, almost secretly last week, as Nintendo invited club members to special preview events in Bristol, Manchester, London and Glasgow. I went along to the Glasgow event held at the Lighthouse on Mitchell lane and I can tell you now…

The 3DS is stunning.

Even if we took the 3D display out of the equation, the 3DS would be a wonderful successor to the DS/DSi. The processing power is much improved, it’s akin to that of the Gamecube and the Wii – which on a handheld looks wonderful. That additional power also allows for vastly improved augmented reality gaming over the DSi with inbuilt games like face raiders and AR card games that will astound you. Then there’s the addition of gyroscopes and accelerometers to enhance those AR games and give you the same kind of motion control afforded to you with the Wii Remote. To top it all off there’s wifi connectivity with 2 very special features in the form of Streetpass and Spotpass. Spotpass will have your 3DS searching out for free wireless hotspots when you’re out and about so that it can constantly update game. For example, unbeknown to you, Mario Kart could be updated with a new racing challenge whilst it sits in your bag. When you’re next ready to play, the update is already there and you don’t have to worry about wasting time downloading it. Then Streetpass – this system will have your console seeking out other 3DS’ as you walk about. They will then exchange data like high scores. They can even perform automated battles between you and that user – without you having to do a thing. There’s a great emphasis on community gaming, creating new friendships and connections though your 3DS – although you won’t make many friends if you try to play augmented reality games on the bus, flailing about as you shoot down invisible spaceships. Basically though, it’s the kind of hardware upgrade you’d expect given the kind of tech we’ve been spoilt with in smartphones.

Then there’s that 3D, glassesless display – the Pièce de résistance of the 3DS. Quite frankly, magical is the only way to honestly describe it. On games where the 3D effect works well, it truly is amazing. Removing glasses from the equation draws you deeper into the effect, connecting you, almost emotionally, with the 3D world. Games come to life in front of your eyes, as though you are watching a play being performed on a tiny stage just for you. There are instances, beyond all reasoning, where you think you could actually reach into the display, or where characters just jump off it. It’s like being a child again, discovering a whole new world. We don’t think twice about the actual three dimensional world around us but years of 2D displays have conditioned us to think in a very specific way about what to expect from a screen. Then Nintendo put this screen in front of you and your mind does a back flip – you know it’s not actually real, but the effect is so wonderful it beggars belief. I think that’s why, as I looked around the event, there were so many smiles as we all shared in this magnificent experience for the first time.
Me on the 3DS
Now I mentioned fleetingly in the previous paragraph that 3D is stunning on games where it works…because on some, not many, it doesn’t feel quite right. The most noticeable being one of the launch titles, ‘Pilotwings Resort’. You’d expect a flying game to give a wonderful array of depth however the 3D effect you get is focused more on your vehicle than the scenery in which you fly. This results in a very lovely effect where it looks as though your plane is hovering over the screen, but when you really want to feel like you are up in the sky – it’s rather disappointing. There are also some concerns as to how people will cope with the 3D effect, with fears of headaches and nausia. But of course all of this is understandable seeing as this is a new machine with new technology. And one must also remember that all games can be played with the 3D effect turned off, negating any of these issues whilst taking away from some of the fun.

Back to the positives, one thing that will be magnificent on the 3DS is the prospect of 3D video and movies. Nintendo have promised that blockbuster 3D movies will be available on the console, as well as 3D sports highlights in a deal with Sky Sports as well as a host of other non-game treats. This could be the tactic that proves the winner as it opens up personal 3D experiences to the masses. If, for example, you have 2 children and they wish to watch ‘How to Train Your Dragon’ in 3D, you would need a 3D Blu-ray player and a 3D television as well as those expensive active shutter glasses. For considerably less, you’d be able to buy them a 3DS each and they could then experience the movie in, arguably, a much more immersive way.*

*plan also applicable for big kids!

Finally, I should once again mention the event that made this article possible. In true Nintendo style we were taken on a quickly little adventure deep into the world of the 3DS. We were thrown into the games with a live action Street Fighter bout taking place in front of our eyes before being escorted to safety from hordes of zombies by Resident Evil’s resident brother and sister Zombie killing team, Chris and Claire Redfield. (Unfortunately one of the zombies did get at my leg so there is a high percentage chance that I’m infected with the T-Virus. This suspicion was reinforced on my second visit when the zombies left me alone…obviously sensing one of their own. Thanks a lot Redfields!) All the staff were all lovely, friendly and enthusiastic – not to mention attractive. It is quite hard to talk to a bevvy of beautiful ladies, openly flirt and play this wonderful new machine at the same time, I managed though…just about. I’m a simple man after all – I’m weak. But, as the kids say, massive props to Nintendo for the event (what do you mean the kids don’t say that?)

Nintendo are holding more events, open to everyone, over the coming weeks. You can find out where on their website – www.nintendo3ds.co.uk. Alternatively you can find out more information on their Facebook page – because, you know, everything is on Facebook these days.