So on Saturday I watched Inception. It’s the talked about movie of the moment and my initial reaction on Twitter was:

Inception – Good but not great

That was how I felt walking out of the cinema. Almost disappointed considering the hype. So I wanted to talk a bit about it which will involve some spoilers, but not yet. First, some general thoughts on the film rather than the plot.

As expected, the film looked gorgeous. The set pieces were HUGE but without the over the top use of CGI that is so prevalent in today’s film. To contrast, I watched the remake of Clash of the Titans just a few days before which was more akin to God of War on the PS3 with some actors placed into the CGI. Tosh. It was also an incredibly good looking film. Both sets and actors were of the highest quality. So much so it’s hard to really find fault with any technical aspect.

Leonardo DiCaprio turned in another captivating performance. To think that he’s come from Titanic to great films like Blood Diamond, Body of Lies, The Departed and now this – is he THE hollywood actor for this generation? For me it’s between him and Christian Bale as my favourite actor right now. In fact, are they this generations De Niro and Pacino? Other good turns from Ken Watanabe and Cillian Murphy…in fact the only actor sold short was Ellen Page. She was great in Juno but I felt her acting in Inception was a bit wooden – maybe being saddled with a script that sometimes made her the audience guide didn’t help – think the voiceover in Blade Runner. She always asked the obvious questions leaving the other talent with the job of explaining to her, and hence the audience, what was going to happen next. Something just didn’t feel right with her performance. Despite the great talent, Tom Hardy stole the show for me.

The British actor owned every scene he was in. Some of that was down to his character getting some great lines and being involved in the thick of the action. Mostly it was his sheer presence on screen. If you get the chance catch his performance in Bronson (showing on Sky right now). Future star, if not already one – he’s currently shooting a new Mad Max film and I can’t wait to see how that turns out.

Before we hit the plot, and the aforementioned spoilers, a word on Christopher Nolan. Momento, Prestige, Batman Begins, Dark Knight and now Inception. Some of my favourite films. Dark, clever and always require more than one viewing. Without doubt my current favourite director. I can’t wait to see what he does with the next Batman film in a couple of years. Also, if you haven’t taken in Prestige it’s well worth a watch although can be a bit….ploddy.

Yet I walked out the cinema on Saturday and was almost disappointed with Inception. That’s changed after some reflection. Firstly, cinema’s generally piss me off. Noise, phone’s, other people, crap seats and a really sticky floor don’t add to the cinema going experience. Yes you get a big picture but that feels soft when compared to what can be viewed at home. Audio is loud, but I can do that at home if I want to as well. All in all, not a stellar experience. I also felt a bit of plod around the middle of Inception but that’s more down to me. I wasn’t thinking. The next day I couldn’t get the film out of my head. What really happened in that film, what did that visual clue mean, am I over analysing? That’s what is so great about Nolan’s films. You need to think to get the best out of them, something I didn’t really do at the cinema, and with that, it’s onto the spoilers. You’ve been warned so if you haven’t watched the film, go read something else.

Inception doesn’t answer everything. It leaves you guessing at the end as to what happened. Is this the mark of a great film maker – not scared to leave it down to the audience to figure it out? Of course, that means there are a number of events open to interpretation.

The ending revolves around whether Cobb (DiCaprio) makes it home to his family or is he still dreaming. This is done via the totem that is referenced through the film which cut’s away before falling – falling would mean it is reality. Some points on this and my take are:

1) Cobb visualises his children in his dream at a very young age. IMDB list the children as 3 years and 20 months (don’t know how they know this but it’ll do for me). Yet earlier in the film Cobb is speaking to his kids and at least one of them sounds a lot older.

2) Sticking with the kids, when Cobb visualises them you never see their faces. You always see them in the garden of the house wearing the same clothes. When he finally ‘gets home’ at the end of the film you see their faces, but the clothes are the same (I think) and they haven’t aged.

3) The editing at the end of the film hints at one of the dream concepts mentioned earlier – the dreams feel real but how did you get there? It feels rushed between Cobb wakening on the plane and very quickly appearing in his house – is he dreaming, does he know how he really got there?

4) When we first meet Miles (Michael Caine – just wanted him to say never – see Dark Knight), I’m sure he says it’s time for Cobb to come back to reality…or something like that. Does that mean he’s dreaming at that point? Is the whole film a dream?

5) The limbo visit’s and the multiple levels, kicks and jumps. The age difference between Cobb and Saito (Ken Watanabe) at the end is due to Cobb dying (and hence going to limbo) in level 1 – Saito dies in level 3 where time travels at a far faster rate. The bit I’m not sure about – how do they end up in the same limbo – is it because they are sharing the same dream space? All the jump’s kind of make sense to me, although again I’m kind of hazy with Cobb and Saito – was that Cobb convincing Saito that this wasn’t reality?

So with those points, and I’m sure there are more but that would only come with a repeat viewing, was Cobb dreaming at the end? Was the whole film a dream? My take is that the did complete the inception and that Saito’s phone call on the plane was real. From that point on though was a dream. The editing, the age of the children and the setting all point to this being a dream. What I, or I think anyone, can tell is whether that dream takes place on the plane, after Cobb is reunited with his kids or at some point in the future. During the film Cobb said he couldn’t dream anymore – was completing this inception and facing up to his wife in the dream world his chance to dream again?

The best bit about these theories – it’s entirely plausible that there’s another way of interpreting the events, and maybe thats the whole point. Has the movie been constructed in such a way that there is no right answer? Is this Nolan playing with our minds, stealing our dreams? In many ways it reminds me of Life On Mars which ended with no clear answer and open to many interpretations. That made it so much better and the same can be said of Inception.

I look forward to a repeat viewing in the comfort of my own house with a crossed finger or two that it will come with a directors overview of what he wanted to deliver and all the twists and turns throughout the film.

Inception – just great

New Digs

Consolidation. It’s a wonderful thing. After much postponing it was time to not only move from current host A Small Orange but also move my domain from 34SP. No real problem with either service provider – I’d just rather host everything at the one place which is Dreamhost. Since setting up with them last year for the podcast, I’ve had a couple of issues when they went through a network upgrade and then suffered a pretty big attack in May. The service for me is good value for money for the features and speed that I get.

So last Monday I kicked off the domain transfer (still not complete) and managed to quickly lose access to my e-mail, website etc. One day I’ll learn! However it didn’t take long to get back up and running. Exporting/importing in WordPress worked extremely well and it didn’t take long to get plugin’s and the theme installed.

Scarily, it’s almost seven years since I bought and stared the blog and it was the year before (16th Jan, 2002) that I first blogged at Time flies.

The Cobbler

It’s official name is Ben Arthur but it’s commonly known as The Cobbler and it’s one of the best known walks in Scotland. I’d done the neighbouring hill, Beinn Narnain, last year mainly because Narnain is a munro and one of the party had done the Cobbler before. However The Cobbler had to be done. It had been recommended by too many people, not just for the walk up but for the last 10 metres or so – threading the needle.

Yet again we were lucky with the weather. Setting off from Succoth car park we climbed steadily via the excellent path. I say excellent…it’s also pretty dull as it zig zags back and forth. You gain height but it takes a while.

Still a bit to go

Once the zig zags stop you join an old tramway path which takes you gradually but continually ever higher until you get to the south face of The Cobbler. You have two choices here – a scrambly route up to the summit or continue on the path for a mile or so and take a stepped route up to the summit. We took the former which made for a more interesting ascent and a far easier descent down the steps.

The ascent was pretty straightforward although we did lose the path from time to time and some scrambling was required to get towards the summit. After two and a half hours we made it to the top and were rewarded with some great views over to Ben Lomond and down Loch Long. While we ate lunch we some a couple of others thread the needle. Decision made – it had to be done.

Ian, Danny and Jim

Now the photo above doesn’t make it look to hard but it’s a tight squeeze through a small gap and then a short climb up to the top. You have a ledge around a metre wide to climb up on. Doesn’t sound too bad but there’s a drop of 100-200ft below and the ledge slopes away from you.

Quite a drop

That picture gives you a better idea of the slope and the drop. Getting up wasn’t too bad. Navigating back down was more tricky. Some of the drops starting playing tricks with the mind and you had to be careful as you inched back down. I would hate to have done this in the wet. In fact, I doubt I would have. I think the ledge would have been far too slippy. Spare a thought for Danny who was described as ‘humping the rock’ as he made his way back to firmer ground. Bless.


The gap in the rock you clamber through is called Argylls Eyeglass – I’m sitting in it in the photo above. Quite unique in my minor hill walking experience and a nice climax to the climb. It’s also worth noting that the walk was on May 9th and despite good temperatures at ground level it was well below freezing due to the wind at this height.

We descended quickly down the steps on the north face. Couldn’t believe how quickly we dropped – a far easier way down than retracing our steps. It was then a walk back to Succoth car park. We took just under five hours in total which included around 40 mins at the summit and quite a few stops.

Cobbler Runkeeper

One last point – it’s a very popular walk so it’s advisable to set off early as possible. We passed by lots of people on the way back to the car park and the summit was busy enough when we were at the top.

The Cobbler is a great walk, one of the best I’ve done so far, and it should not be overlooked just because it’s 100ft short of being classed as a munro. The paths are excellent and there’s the thrill of threading the needle at the end of the climb. Hopefully you’ll have as good a day as I did.

Beinn Dubh Horseshoe

My latest walk was in glorious sunshine. We decided against a munro in case the summit was still snow clad, instead walking the Beinn Dubh Horseshoe. This is a just over seven mile route that starts from the small village of Luss on the edge of Loch Lomond.

Loch Lomond

We walked over the wooden bridge that crosses the A82 and were soon on the assent up Beinn Dubh. Although there was a chill in the air the fleeces were dispensed with pretty quickly as there was warmth in the sun. It was also a pretty steep and constant climb to the Beinn Dubh summit. The views over Loch Lomond were stunning and from the summit there were great views of Ben Lomond and down Loch Lomond to distant hills in the North.

Beinn Dubh Summit

After a quick lunch we followed the path and fence into more boggier ground. This took us around the horseshoe and then down towards Luss again, Loch Lomond swinging into sight. You take a small rough road back to Luss which isn’t always downward but before long your crossing the wooden bridge and your in Luss car park again. A wword of warning – we set of early and the car park was empty but by mid afternoon it was swarming with visitors so get there early to an easy parking space.

Beinn Dubh Horseshoe Runkeeper

Looking at the Runkeeper timings indicate a four and a half hour walk but I never bothered stopping Runkeeper while we we stopped for breaks so it’s probably more like three and a half hours. Beinn Dubh horseshoe is a rewarding walk with great views all round and is strenuous enough to consider instead of a munro if the weather is against you. The full photo set can be found on Flickr. This was my first walk with the 550D. I was pleased with the photo’s although would have liked a bit more time to experiment. I took just the camera and one lens, leaving tripod and other bits and pieces. It was certainly more heavy and cumbersome compared to the point and shoot but the weather meant I had less walking gear to carry. The winter might not be so easy – I’ll certainly need a bigger back pack.


War isn’t easy. There is no black and white. In the heat of battle mistakes happen. With that in mind, watch this video.

This video was released by Wikileaks and shows an Apache helicopter killing 12 people. Two were Reuters journalists. The full details can be read in this Guardian article. For me, this was murder. Watching and listening and remembering this was real and not some video game or drama is sobering.

No side is ever innocent in a war but it’s how a government reacts after incidents that tells the real story. The cover-up’s are worrying. Watching The Pacific tonight and wondering how grotesque a 10 part Iraq would be.

Canon EOS 550D

As hinted in my previous post I’ve finally done it. I’ve bought a Canon EOS 550D. This is my first DSLR and quite a step up from Panasonic TZ5 point and shoot I currently use. Since the first reviews came out I’ve been pretty convinced about the camera. Great stills coupled with an excellent video mode made it a fairly straight forward choice.

One issue was that friends are all Nikon users so I could borrow lenses but this quote from DPReview sums up my feelings on the 550D.

With all this taken into account, it is hard not to recommend the EOS 550D. Quite simply, taken as a whole, it is the best camera of its class that we’ve ever seen, and one of those rare cameras that won’t look out of date in a couple of years’ time.

The Nikon vs Canon debate is like Mac vs PC. Timeless with no clear winner and no doubt banter for the next few years between me and Shakeel. For me the camera body was the easy bit. The real difficulty was in choosing a lens. So much choice, and prices ranging from around £100 to a few thousand. I’ve been trying to decide for a few weeks now. One choice I did make early on was to pick up a ‘nifty fifty‘, a Canon EF 50mm f/1.8. This is a cheap lens with low build quality but is optically very good. My first pic with the lens was Ollie the Twitterrific mascot.


I was pretty chuffed with this as my first picture. I think the lens will turn out to be a great purchase. The real difficulty was sorting out a lens that would cover all other bases. So many choices, so many reviews, so many opinions. I started off looking at lenses around the £900 mark but I had no real idea if the lens would be good for me, suit the majority of my shots. So I dropped my budget and ended up with something a bit more affordable, but with some compromises – Canon EF-S 17-85mm f/4-5.6 IS USM. Not too hot indoors but the nifty fifty will cover that, has some barrel issues but overall is a great lens for walk about purposes which is going to be the majority of my shots, at least in the next few months.

Got a few other things to sort now. A bag, tripod, maybe some filters if I get totally hooked (which probably means a yes) but most of all I’m looking forward to getting out and about and experimenting with the camera. Happy days.

Camera Thoughts

Over the last 9 years I’ve owned three different digital camera’s. A Fuji FinePix 6800, a Sony DSC-P200 and my current camera, the Panasonic DMC-TZ5. Each has seen an increase in quality and features and I still love my current camera. Compact but takes a great picture on a hill walk. But I’ve got an itch. That itch is the Canon EOS 550D.

I’ve said for quite a while I had no interest in getting a DSLR. Bulky, expensive and while I liked taking photo’s it wasn’t enough to make me invest. So whats changed? The hill walking has got me out and about a lot more than I used to. I’ve loved taking the photo’s as we visit different places around Scotland. I also think back to mine and Shak’s little tour around London just over a year ago. Again, I really enjoyed the photo taking and also getting the most out of the images via Lightroom. Final reason – video. Current camera takes video and at 720p but the quality isn’t the best so I’ve been thinking about getting a dedicated video camera. The video quality of the 550D looks to be excellent.

So, thats it then. Decision made. Mmmm, not quite. I’m still swithering. The cost is one reason. Once the camera is bought there’s the little matter of lenses. There’s a bewildering range from Canon, never mind the third party offerings. I’ve spent the last few days trying to pick my first lens or two and I’m no closer to settling on anything. Then there’s all the other little things – memory cards, bag and tripod plus all the other little things that I’ll get sucked into buying. I’m even struggling with how best to carry the new gear, if I get it, on my walks. Probably another 1-2 kg’s of weight and need to work out where best to carry it to make it accessible but keep it safe.

Despite my grumblings, no doubt I’ll post in a few weeks time about how impressed I am with the new camera. Once my mind is 90% there then that’s usually enough. One thing that Shakeel did mention was the number of stories around photographers being stopped by police and asked for details under section 44 of the terrorism act. I had seen a video by a Paul Lewis, a Guardian journalist, from last year of how the police challenged him using Section 44. I’d also heard of I’m a Photographer, Not a Terrorist which was setup to chronicle and fight the growing fear that photographers were being tagged as terrorists. As I dug a little bit more I was shocked by the growing number of photographers who were being challenged by police.

For example student Simona Bonomo was arrested, held in a cell and fined for photographing buildings in London. While you might think this a London only problem Robert Norbury from Leeds was challenged for filming buskers. One of the worst examples I found was Bob Patefield who refused to give his name and was arrested as police said picture he took at Christmas in Accrington town centre were suspicious and amounted to anti-social behaviour. Wow.

Media reporting on this topic has been sending out mixed messages. Back in Dec 09, The Independent reported that the Association of Chief Police officers had sent out a statement saying:

“Everyone… has a right to take photographs and film in public places. Taking photographs… is not normally cause for suspicion and there are no powers prohibiting the taking of photographs, film or digital images in a public place.”

Sounds good. Then on Jan 12, the BBC reported that the European Court of Human Rights rules that it was illegal for the police to use anti terror laws to stop and search people without suspicion. Sounds great except that the UK government is likely to appeal the decision. There’s a great article in The Times today that covers all the points so far and gives out some tips on what to do if you are stopped. Hopefully if (when) I do get the new camera’s it’s advice I’ll never need. We live in scary times.

Conic Hill

The weather recently has been pretty good. Clear sky’s, crisp at night but getting slightly warmer during the day…time for a walk methinks. We considered a munro last weekend but blizzards at that height and pretty bad windchill predictions put us of. We considered a munro for today but there’s still a lot of snow on the hills so we settled for something local that’s easy to climb but promised good views if the clear skies held – Conic Hill.

Loch Lomond and Arracher Alps

Conic Hill is easily accessed from Balmaha car park. It only takes just over an hour to climb but as you can see from the photo’s here and at Flickr you can get some great views if the weather is clear. What was still a surprise was the amount of snow at this low level. We were up to out knee’s and sometimes more on the ascent and there was some ice to watch out for as well. Thankfully I’d picked up a pair of gaitors so my feet and legs kept dry. After returning to the car park we bumped into a work colleague who’d got up at 04:30 to get to Ben Lomond summit for sunrise. He said crampons and pick axe were a must for the conditions up there so we had made the right choice. For next winter it looks like they’ll be essential purchases.


Star of the day was Milly who seemed to have no problem with the climb or the conditions, even cooling off at the end with a wee swim in Loch Lomond. I say cooling off but she was shivering after a few minutes in the water – bless. So that was Conic Hill, a cracking walk to dust off the cobwebs or when the weather elsewhere prevents a more ambitious climb.


Finally caught Avatar at the cinema on Friday night. Booked the tickets a few weeks ago and wasn’t expecting much but it has become the biggest grossing film of all time so it must be good, no? Also, it would be my first 3D film and seeing as the local IMAX was showing it in 3D it made sense to view it their. Firstly, was the film any good?

Well, yes it was. It was extremely predictable with no plot twist that I can remember. I won’t post any spoilers but I will say that despite knowing what was about to happen throughout the film I didn’t get bored and the time (a flabby 2hrs 40) passed pretty quickly. Performances are mostly good although the actual screen time for the real actors is pretty small. So it’s worth watching but what about the two talking points – the CG and the 3D.

The CG is excellent and to the film’s credit almost every shot probably has some CG in it and at times you won’t notice it. Of course on the planet of Pandora it’s 100% CG and some of the locations are amazing. The tree’s, water and interaction between machines and the planet are superb. The motion capture and movement of the Na’vi (aliens!) is also well done but there’s also a niggle. Your watching CG, not an actor, despite the advances in technology. It meant that sometimes the movie felt a little cold.

However the most interesting aspect was the 3D. This was my first 3D movie and at times the 3D worked really well and other times…it was absolutely rank. First issue – those glasses! At the IMAX the glasses were big and uncomfortable like the ones in the pic below.

With a half hour to go they really started to irritate me. They were big enough so that I could wear my glasses underneath but it was a pretty uncomfortable experience. Second issue was the 3D itself. In Avatar some of the scenes were truly impressive – some of the control room scenes were really well done, the flowing water and some of the early mess/ship scenes stick in my mind. What didn’t work though was I think my eyes. Well, not just mine I suspect. As things were falsely thrown into the foreground you would naturally try and focus on them which is the wrong thing to do as you then lose focus on the film. At times it got pretty awkward, especially in scenes walking through the planet where plants and undergrowth were brought into the foreground.

I also felt the colour and definition were lacking and also there was a dullness to some of the scenes. Might have been the focus issue I’ve already mentioned but some scenes just looked a bit poor. One good thing is I didn’t suffer any headaches or motion sickness but we did get a verbal warning before the film started that people may get motion sickness so it must happen quite often.

So a good film with great CG, some good 3D and overall worth catching at the IMAX just due to the size and scale that the screen offers. One thing I won’t be rushing out and doing this year though is buying a 3D TV. I don’t want to wear another pair of glasses to watch TV or play games and the experience, at the moment, doesn’t match the expense. It’s not like moving from SD to HD. I’ll think about 3D at home when the technology doesn’t rely on glasses which will be a few years away yet.

Drobo and Mini

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged on my tech and latest purchases. Over Christmas I picked up a Drobo and a Mac Mini. Recently I’ve been running out of disk space so wanted something that will grow with time. I also wanted an easy way to watch my ever growing media library. The PS3 and 360 just weren’t cutting it when streaming from the iMac.

I’d considered an Apple TV for a long time but this would just be another compromise. Closed format viewing isn’t for me and even though you can hack it to install Boxee, HD playback looked to be an issue. I thought about some cheaper options but in the end went for a Mac Mini. This gives me the choice I was looking for in a quiet neat unit. The only hardware it’s missing is Blu-Ray which I’ll use the PS3 for.

Disk space was a more difficult choice. I considered a variety of NAS units but I kept coming back to the Drobo. I bought the normal Drobo with 2 x 1.5TB drives. It’s worked flawlessly hooked up to the Mini via firewire. My only doubt, and I hope it doesn’t come back to bite me, is that the disks are now in a proprietary format. If the Drobo dies I can’t use the disks in another device – it has to be a Drobo. Ouch. Despite the worries I’m really pleased with the new toys.

If your interested in how I’ve setup the Mini and what software I’m using you’ll find more details in a series of blog posts at DigitalOutbox. I’ve been through the hardware setup and also the installation of Plex and Boxee. Future posts will look into running the Mini as a server, downloading media and remote access to the Mini and home media.

The next purchase on my list is a replacement for the iMac and Macbook Pro. I just can’t work out what to buy though…and how to afford it. Options at the moment are…

  • 27″ iMac and iPad
  • Macbook Pro and monitor
  • Straight replacement new iMac and Macbook Pro

Favourite at the moment is the Macbook Pro and monitor. Easier to manage, everything on the one machine and increased real estate. Makes most sense and is least costliest option.

Then again, when did I ever follow that route?