Monday, 26 December 2011

Xbox Live listen to their customers (eventually)

When my previous Xbox Live subscription came to an end, It was automatically renewed without me asking for this service.

After several phone calls to their customer service department, I was told apologetically that my subscription would now not be automatically renewed (there was no option allowing their customers to do this at the time, meaning a lengthy phone call to customer services).

In fairness to them they did offer to reduce the cost of my subscription as a way of saying sorry.

Imagine my surprise then when the lovely people at Xbox Live have sent me numerous emails telling me that my automatic subscription cannot be completed as my card details were out of date!

After the scares of the Playstation Network and other high profile hacking cases, I decided to use a pre paid Xbox Live subscription card rather than enter the details of my new card online.

Upon attempting to sign in to Xbox Live I'm informed that my account has been suspended as no payment has been made, I try to reactivate my account by using the code on their pre paid card which the console recognises, but as soon as I click on Redeem Code I'm told that there is a problem trying to process my request.

Can't say I'm very impressed Microsoft.


Following the initial post, I spent 35 minutes on the phone to Xbox customer services, who were very helpful, and I am now back online! They have now given the option to cancel the auto renew feature on their web page now, which wasn't available last time I had this issue.

I would like to say for the record, their customer service advisors were excellent.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Patrick Troughton: The Biography by his son Michael Troughton

To say that I have been keenly anticipating the release of this book would be something of an understatement, like many of my fellow Doctor Who fans I have been following the progress of the author, Michael Troughton, via the social networking site Twitter. He has been very generous with his time answering questions posed by fans and sharing stories about his dad.

So has Michael been able to meet the extremely high expectations raised when the book was first announced? Absolutely yes!

Michael Troughton has written a very fair and balanced account of his father's life, Patrick was a wonderfully talented character actor and a rather complex person who seemed torn between his life as a family man and the life of a high profile actor.

During his career as an actor, Patrick was able to inhabit a wide variety of roles, including starring as Robin Hood in the first televised version of the classic tale, he also played Paul of Tarsus in a much lauded production.

After reading this book, the one performance (outside of the rest of his remaining missing Doctor Who episodes) that I would dearly have loved to have seen would be his much admired interpretation of the vile Quilp in Charles Dickens' The Old Curiosity Shop, broadcast in 1962.

The book is full of interesting stories including several accounts of Pat's bravery during his navy years in the second world war.

There is also an air of sadness as the author writes about his father leaving the family home, Patrick by many accounts was a lovely man, but it must be said that he treated his wife rather badly.

Michael could easily have glossed over this aspect of his father's personality, he obviously loved him dearly, and to his credit, he has given us a fully rounded view of this most interesting man. While his acting career was a great success, I think he had a romantic notion that if he could only find a perfect partner he would be truly happy, but in reality I think he realised that he had made some very bad errors of judgement and chose to put a brave face on it.

Although there are quite a few traumatic moments brought to light in this biography, I would hate anyone to think that it is a depressing read, there are plenty of fun anecdotes scattered throughout the pages that will bring a smile to your face.

There are some great photographs featured in the book including a great shot of Pat in his legendary Tea Cosy hat!

One minor quibble would be a few typos that missed the scrutiny of the proof readers, since this review was originally posted, a friend who also writes for Hirst Publications pointed out that the wrong version of the manuscript was sent to the printers and that this will be rectified in time for the next print run.

For many people Patrick Troughton will be most fondly remembered as the second actor to play the lead role in Doctor Who. This period in Pat's career is covered in extensive detail, with some wonderful first hand accounts of visits to the television studios, these passages provide a fantastic insight into the work that went on behind the scenes to make one of the most iconic series to be shown on British television.

So to sum up if you are a fan of, in my opinion, one of Britain's finest character actors, this book is not to be missed.

This fine book is available from Hirst Publishing and It can be ordered here

Friday, 16 December 2011

Harold Lloyd in Safety Last! (1923)

I was inspired to watch this again by episode three of the Prognosis Negative podcast, where Eric and Warren discuss Martin Scorsese's latest movie Hugo, which features clips from silent movies including "Safety Last!".

Harold moves to the big city, where he has sworn to make a successful career so that he can marry his sweetheart Mildred.

So determined is he to make a good impression on her, that he embellishes the letters that he sends home, and she soon believes that he has risen to the lofty status of general manager at the department store where he works (rather than his lowly position of fabric salesman).

When the store owner says that he will give $1,000 to anyone who could come up with an original idea to promote the store, Harold persuades his friend Bill to split the money 50/50 if Bill climbs to the top of the store without any safety harness. Bill has already proved earlier in the film that he is adept at climbing after a run in with a cop.

Their money making scheme seems to have hit a snag when the same policeman shows up to apprehend Bill before he can start his daredevil stunt. Harold agrees to pretend to be the mystery man that featured in all the publicity shots with his face blanked out, as Bill offers to switch places with him on the second floor, but things don't go quite as planned, and Mr Lloyd presents us with one of the most iconic images from the world of cinema.

There are some beautiful visual gags in this movie, the very first shot with Harold behind bars, the scene in Harold's apartment when the landlady turns up to get her overdue rent are fantastic.

This picture was made by Hal Roach studios, Mr Roach was responsible for Laurel & Hardy's greatest films, and he also gets a writing credit.

Harold Lloyd was famous for doing dangerous stunts, he climbed up a facade placed on top of a four storey building for the scenes used in the film, when he is hanging from the clock pictured above he was ten storeys up, by the time he reaches the top he is nearly fourteen storeys high. There were mattresses laid out on one side of the building, if he were to fall off the wrong side of the building he would land on the street below, if he fell straight down he would go through the roof below. Now all this is dangerous enough, but when you learn that he was missing the index finger and thumb from his right hand after a mishap with a bomb used as a prop in a photo shoot three years previously it puts a fresh perspective on things.

This is one of my favourite silent movies, if you haven't seen it, I would urge you to check it out!

Friday, 9 December 2011

Apple iPhone 4S First Impressions

I had been weighing up getting a new smart phone for a while and finally bit the bullet and opted for Apple's latest handset.

My last iPhone was the (new at the time) 3G. Things have certainly moved on in the intervening years, the 4S boasts a dual core processor, a gorgeous retina display, an upgraded 8 megapixel camera with video recording at 1080p full HD resolution, increased battery life and the all new ios 5 operating system featuring hundreds of improvements to enhance the overall performance.

The other high profile addition the iPhone 4S is Siri, your virtual personal assistant. Now admittedly I have only had a little bit of time to try out this new feature, the first thing I asked siri was "what is the time in New York?" and lo and behold Siri brings up an on screen clock with the time in New York city. I also managed to successfully set a reminder which was very straight forward.

The UK version of Siri's voice is a tad on the dull side (sorry Jon Briggs!) so I decided to experiment with the various voice options. The Australian voice sounded positively disinterested in wanting to answer my questions, so I have opted for the American version for the time being!

The design has been tweaked from the iPhone 4, the major improvement on the phone side of things is an overhaul of the infamous antenna which caused problems if you held it in a certain way. It seems to handle multi tasking very well letting me access apps while syncing (not something I remember being able to do on the 3G).

Being back in the iPhone stable also gave me a preview of the new layout for Twitter which rolled out yesterday (8/12/11). At first I was unsure about the redesign, but I am warming to it.

Overall at this early stage I am very pleased with this phone.

AFI 100 Movies #11 It's A Wonderful Life (1946)

Frank Capra's 1946 opus has divided opinion in our household.

I love it, but Amy can't bear to watch it.

So I took the opportunity of a day at home to sit back and enjoy.

Jimmy Stewart plays George Bailey, a thoroughly good man, whose early days are covered at the start of the film. As a youngster he rescues his younger brother from drowning after he falls through the ice while sledging near a pond, and as a consequence of his brave act he is left deaf in one ear.

Moving the story on a little, George forgoes his own life goals in order to allow his younger sibling to pursue his ambitions.

As George's life progresses, his dreams of moving away from the little town of Bedford Falls and exploring the great wide world gradually diminish as he is forced to stay on in order to do the right thing by his co-workers and family.

Although he is happily married to the lovely Mary (played by Donna Reed) and has four children whom he loves dearly, the viewer is left with the distinct impression that George feels that the life he had planned has passed him by.

Things take a turn for the worse as George's nemesis, Henry F. Potter, who has sought to close down the Bailey family business for years, takes advantage of a very costly mistake made by George's absent minded uncle Billy, who manages to lose $8,000 from the company funds just as the tax inspector makes his visit to look over the company books.

Unable to cope anymore with the mounting pressure, George considers ending it all by jumping off a bridge, at which point Clarence, his guardian angel steps in tasked with trying to convince George that the world would be a poorer place without him in it.

It's described as a feel good movie, and I would go along with that, but I think that Amy has a valid point when she says that one of the reasons that she can't watch it is that George has to go through a lot of torment before there is any chance of a happy ending.

That's not to say that the film lacks humour, far from it, the scene at the school reunion with the swimming pool is tremendous fun, as is the scene following it when George and Mary walk home in clothes borrowed from the mens locker room.

I am a big fan of Jimmy Stewart, I think he personifies the everyman, and his portrayal of George is superb, you care for his character and when he reaches that lowest point of desperation you feel his pain.

One of the better films from the AFI list so far for me.

Friday, 2 December 2011

Blake's 7 Series One

My poor wife has a lot to put up with, after a chance remark made by BBC Radio 5 Live's Mark Kermode saying how much he liked Howard The Duck, I felt the need to rent it and make her sit through it (it wasn't as bad as I had expected) and more recently I have been working my way through the series one boxset of Blake's 7. She sees it as a way of getting on with some reading.

My memories of the programme stem from watching it as a kid in the 1970s and seeing the occasional repeat on UKGold when I still lived with my parents, my recollection was that the first series was rather good and that the subsequent series saw the quality slide a little.

The first series seems quite bleak and dystopian compared to the colourful campery that was to follow in later series.

Gareth Thomas as the eponymous Blake and Paul Darrow as Kerr Avon have a sparky on screen relationship, which adds a good deal of tension to the proceedings. Michael Keating brings a bit of needed humour in his portrayal of cowardly thief Vila Restal.

Sally Knyvette and Jan Chappel provide the glamour and essential skills to the team as pilot Jenna and guerrilla fighter Cally respectively. The final pair who complete the group of seven are David Jackson as Olag Gan, who must have been a bit miffed when he realised that his role would be restricted, as his character, a convicted murderer, was fitted with a 'limiter' in order to stop him being violent, which results in him being sidelined while the others get into all sorts of exciting shenanigans, and Peter Tuddenham as Zen the ship's computer onboard the Liberator.

The theme music provided by Doctor Who stalwart Dudley Simpson, is one of the more memorable ones to grace our TV screens from that era.

If you are well versed with Doctor Who from the 1960s and 1970s you might find it fun spotting guest actors in the series who have also featured in that show.

Memorable episodes include The Web (despite some low budget effects), Seek-Locate-Destroy with a slightly pedestrian security robot, and Duel directed by Douglas Camfield and featuring some revealing costume decisions (!).

Jacqueline Pearce is great as the icy Servalan and Stephen Greif who plays the hapless psychopath Travis is fun to watch.

DVD extras include; commentaries by the cast and crew on selected episodes, out-takes, a trailer for series 2 and a segment from Blue Peter with Lesley Judd showing viewers how to make a Liberator transporter bracelet, which I have vivid memories of watching when I was a child.

So, if you can see past the budget limitations (not too much of a stretch for fans of Doctor Who from this era) and you want something to watch during the break between the Doctor Who christmas special and series 7 due in the autumn of 2012, you might consider giving this a look.