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Created in media

I spend a lot of time absorbing media from the world around me, mostly in the form of TV, music and computer games. I was really struck by some stuff Mark Driscoll said during his talk on being a missional Church which has really changed the way I do that absorbing.

Ever since the conference I have been finding myself asking questions about what I watch/listen to/play. Questions like “what world has this artist painted?”, “why does this situation appeal to me?”, “what is wrong with this world view?”. Essentially I have found myself picking apart the world view that the media is trying to put across, and frankly it’s fascinating!

I found a new depth to the episode of Star Trek where the crew find a paradise world which seems to have no unlawfullness, only to discover that the reason for this was that the punishment for even the smallest crime was immediate death. This utopia is of course flawed because it relies on the assumption that people are actually capable of being good with the correct motivation. It does however imply that the law makers managed to convince the society as a whole at some stage that death was an appropriate punishment for all crime, not something I can really imagine happening but at least some people will entertain the idea!

A while back I had a spurt of writing reviews of various things (mostly movies and beer), I might get back into the habit with a slightly different approach and aim in mind.

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The Great IM Battle

Like most people who frequent the internet I use instant messaging to chat with a lot of my friends. The majority of IM users will tend to stick to one medium, be it MSN or AIM or Yahoo! or perhaps something else. I however have accounts on a number of different IM services so that I am more easily contactable, and so that I can easily chat with friends who only use a specific IM service. Obviously it would be silly to run three or four different programs which all do the same thing, so I have a piece of software called Trillian which combines all of the major IM protocols into one piece of software.

The trouble is, trillian can be quite annoying sometimes. The current version isn’t really being developed any more, and the new version costs money. As a result, I have embarked upon a search for a new multi-protocol IM program to use. I hadn’t realised there were quite so many, and after a bit of browsing around (mostly on wikipedia) I have downloaded five which all fit the criteria I set. Those criteria are as follows:

  • Must support the big four (that is MSN, AIM, Yahoo! and ICQ).
  • Must be for windows (this might seem silly, but there are some really good alternatives which are for Linux or Mac only)
  • Must be free
  • Must not do too much other crazy stuff (one program included a remote PC access tool for some bizarre reason)

So by those criteria I have selected these 5 programs to try out:

  • Miranda IM – The most extensive of the five in terms of functionality, although it is still in version 0.7.7 (whatever that means)
  • Pidgin – A cross platform offering which I have used before on linux
  • Digsby – Includes tools to monitor social networking websites such as facebook and myspace
  • Instantbird – A very young open source development, lacking in features but has potential
  • Sim-IM – A very basic program, may be a little too spartan for my tastes

A review of each of the five will follow after I have taken the time to test them all out fully.

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Beer reviews: Gordon Finest Scotch


Beer name: Gordon Finest Scotch
Origin: Genval, Belgium
Brewer: Anthony Martin
Alc. Vol: 8.6%

I’m not really sure why this is a highland ale, as the label declares. It is after all brewed in Belgium, and is definately european in strength. A little research reveals that it originates in the “limpid highlands amond isolated lochs and haunting Scottish castles.” Believe what you will. Setting aside the lying marketing ploy this is a very competent ale which I rather enjoyed drinking.

The last three beers I’ve reviewed have all been fairly unique and distinctive, this one was not. That lack of individuality isn’t necessarily a bad thing though, there is absolutely nothing wrong with the Gordon. It has a dark brown ruby colour and a nice thick head on it which is extremely tasty. The flavour is rich and warming, whilst still being a fairly light ale, making it a nice easy beer to drink.

This is a beer that stands proud on it’s own, one to drink on a cold winters evening beside the fire (or radiator if you’re a student like me). It’s also light enough that you could happily drink it with a meal, so a good all rounder.

The Gordon is a very good ale, but it doesn’t really have that special spark which makes it stand out from the crowd, so it gets a very decent, but not exceptional four out of five.

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Beer reviews: Mongozo Banana


Beer name: Mongozo Banana
Origin: Melle, Belgium
Brewer: Brouwerij Huyghe (they have a rubbish website, Mongozo is more helpful.
Alc. Vol: 4.8%

As the name suggests, this is a banana flavoured beer, and to be honest I wasn’t expecting it to be any good. I’ve had banana beer before and it wasn’t very nice, so it was a very pleasant surprise when I opened up the Mongozo!

Opening up the bottle, I was greeted by a fragrant aroma of bananas. Since this is a banana beer that may not surprise you, but my experience with flavoured beer is that it rarely lives up to it’s supposed flavour, so it was very nice to smell something which actually resembled what the bottle claimed it to be.

I was surprised yet again when I poured it into a glass, not only by the bright yellow banana colouring, but also by the small bits of banana floating in my glass! Thats right, this beer wasn’t just made with bananas, they actually left some bits of banana in it! I actually sat and stared at it for a while before I drank, because the small bits of banana were actually floating around in the glass, being lifted up to the top by the gases being released, and then sinking back down again.

I suppose I should have expected as much by now, but I was once again impressed by just how much the beer tasted like banana. Indeed I would liken it to a banana milkshake more than a beer. Thankfully it also had a slight bitter edge to it, which made it very pleasant to drink, although it’s still a very sweet beer. Definately one to have with your fruity pudding!

This beer was thoroughly enjoyable, although it’s sweetness does mean it’s not the kind of thing I would have in a pub, I certainly would enjoy it after an evening meal. For me this gets a good solid four out of five.

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Beer reviews: St Benoit Blonde

Beer name: St Benoit Blonde
Origin: Purnode-Yvoir, Belgium
Brewer: Du Bocq
Alc. Vol: 6.3%

Before I begin this review, I have to mention that I have never been a big fan of blonde beers. I believe there are three more of them in my cupboard and I am quite happy to try them all, but there have been very few blondes which I have enjoyed, and I’m not keeping my hopes up.

Upon cracking open the Benoit I was greeted by the familiar smell of a sweet blonde beer, the aroma was light and pleasant and there was a somewhat fruity undertone. As I poured it out it fizzed away merrily, the beer was full of life which is of course a good sign. It produced a decent light head (I botched the pouring a little so there was more head than I intended actually!) and looked very much like a blonde beer with a typical golden yellow colour.

As I mentioned I’m not normally a fan of blonde beer, and sadly the Benoit was no exception. The first sip had a slightly tinny taste to it and it was quite sweet and fruity with a bitter edge. As far as my opinion goes there was nothing at all wrong with the beer, indeed it tasted very much like other blonde’s I’ve tried. Sadly though this is not the beer to convert me over to the light side, and whilst I didn’t dislike it, I didn’t enjoy it much either.

I’m sure if you enjoy blonde beer then you will enjoy the Benoit Blonde, and I wouldn’t be averse to trying out the St Benoit Brune (brewed in the same abbey of course), but this is not a beer I will be coming back to, and for me personally it would be a one out of five, however it gets the benefit of the doubt since I don’t enjoy blonde’s in general, so the score is two.

Rating:

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Beer reviews: Kerstbie

For Christmas my Granddad gave me 6 beer mugs and 20 different bottles of european beer. As I make my way through them I will be reviewing each one, so if you’re into beer then watch this space! This is the first of those reviews.

Beer name: Kerstbie
Origin: Loker, Belgium
Brewer: Brouwerij de Bie
Alc. Vol: 8.0%

The moment I opened up the bottle I knew this was a strong beer. Sometimes you can crack open a bottle and get nothing, but the Kerstbie was bursting with flavour and smelt sweet and spicy. As I poured it into a glass I could hear it fizzing, which is always a good sign!

I have to admit my first sip was a little overwhelming. I have a somewhat blocked nose at the moment and I wasn’t really expecting it to taste so strong. But once I’d gotten used to the strength (after all this is european beer, at a modest 8% vol) I was able to thoroughly enjoy it. The Kerstbie is to most ales as a pudding wine is to most whites, much sweeter than normal and considerably stronger in flavour. Indeed it wouldn’t be out of place alongside a nice steamed pudding, perfect for those cold winter months.

If I were to have another Kerstbie in the future I would definately not be drinking it on it’s own again. I would probably choose it to go with a fairly sweet meal or to drink just after a meal. It’s flavour was as mentioned rather overwhelming, and needs something else alongside it.

In the right context this is an excellent beer, unfortunately I rarely drink beer in that context so for me this gets a fairly average 3/5

Rating:

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Obadiah Parker

In my random browsings today I found this cover of Hey Ya by a guy called Mat Weddle, who is part of a band called Obadiah Parker.

I highly recommend that you check them out, Mat has a beautiful voice and they list Pedro the Lion and Stavesacre as their influences, so they must be really cool people too!

They have four tracks available to listen to on their myspace, all of which are wonderful.

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Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest at IMDb.com

I have to admit that I wasn’t expecting much when I went to see DMC, I’d heard a lot of mixed reviews and the general opinion is that it’s not as good as the first one. Thats an opinion which I echo wholeheartedly, The Curse of the Black Pearl was a masterful piece filled with tense action, wonderful comic relief from Johnny Depp and an excellent plot. They even did a really good job of the CGI on the Black Pearls undead crew.

The same cannot be said of DMC. The action is farcical at best, with very little tension. There’s nothing about the action sequences that had me on the edge of my seat, and whilst some of the swordplay is quite fun, it’s nowhere near as good as in CorBP. There is one particular sequence which will stick in my memory for a while purely because of how ridiculous it was, three of the main characters end up fighting on a water wheel which is rolling through a jungle, they fight on top, inside and around the edge of the wheel for a very long time. The fight is vaguely interesting, but it drags on far too long and is far too silly to be exciting.

As for Johnny Depp, the star of the show in CotBP, well he really wasn’t. He had his wonderful drunken swagger throughout, and played his character wonderfully well as he did before, however the script was poor at best. There were very few throwaway lines for the viewer to giggle at, nothing quotable at any point in the movie, and the humour element which was the saving grace of CotBP just wasn’t there. As I mentioned before, the fight scenes were somewhat silly, but where the script should have been amusing it was cringe worthy, and where it should have been silly it was just plain poor.

There were of course some good points as well, the best of which by far was Bill Nighy’s portrayal of Davy Jones. His character was fully animated, so he only provided the voice, but it was put together extremely well and was by far the best CGI character I’ve seen in a movie with real actors. On top of that the Kraken made an excellent monster, which (unlike the crew of Davy Jones ship) was genuinely frightening.

All in all, it was enjoyable to watch, but had very little substance to it, and none of the flare of the first. Of course, it was written as the second part of a trilogy, and as such it ends half way through the story. I am quite looking forward to seeing the third installment purely to see where they take the plot, and who else they will introduce in the third film. There are a lot of threads beyond the main plot which are hinted at or started in DMC, but not fully explained, and I am intrigued as to where they will go.

So is it worth watching? In my opinion no, not on it’s own. However if the third installment is anywhere near as good as the first, Dead Man’s Chest will work well as part of a trilogy.

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Dreamfall: The Longest Journey

Dreamfall: The Longest Journey website

I am a fan of computer games. I enjoy playing them and consider them to be an excellent source of entertainment, and a great way to relax. Many of my friends do not feel this way, they see games as “geeky”, indeed sometimes games are perceived as offensive. The reason I mention this is because Dreamfall is one of those wonderful games which I believe could bridge this gap between gamers and non gamers. The game demands that you view games (or at least, this game) in a different light.

Dreamfall is not simply a game to be played, it’s a story that unfolds, it’s an extensive world which has been created for you to explore and discover. In many ways I could describe Dreamfall as an interactive movie, the purpose of the game is to tell you a story, and the means of telling you that story is through your own interactions with the world and all of the many people in it. The game is entirely linear, and there is little else to do within the game except progress the storyline, so the pace is very much dictated for you and the plot is not optional. In this respect, Dreamfall is very alike to films. The difference however, is a powerful one, and the reason I think this is a game that will appeal to “non gamers”.

First of all, unlike a film, Dreamfall is extremely long. My total playtime so far is almost 9 hours, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if I have as much again to come. For this reason the game has to be broken up, you simply can’t enjoy all of it at once (unless you don’t need to sleep, eat, or work!). But by far the most important difference is that you actually have to do something to move things along. There are puzzles for you to solve, errands for you to run, people for you to speak with. And whilst these tasks are never too complex, they are engaging. The game requires very little skill, so it’s easy to access for someone who isn’t used to playing games, but the interaction which is required serves to immerse you in the world that is created in Dreamfall. This immersion which can only come from you taking an active part in the story means that you have an increased empathy for the characters involved, you have a strong desire to see what happens next, because it’s happening to you! This connection with the world and characters is something that can only be achieved by a game, no film can engage you in such a way because you have absolutely no control over a film, no say in the outcome.

Dreamfall as a game lacks any challenge, it’s linear and there is nothing that will tax your brain for more than a few minutes. But Dreamfall as entertainment is pure genius, it’s engaging and intriguing, the characters you control (there are three of them) have a history which you catch glimpses of. The whole world has a background which has been developed and thought about carefully (Dreamfall is actually a sequel to an older game), and the characters are believable and easy to empathise with (even though the world is fantasy). You care what happens to them, and in the few moments when you are faced with choices they are difficult ones. Do you trust this stranger who is offering you help? Do you set this prisoner free even though it will cost you your life? These decisions are important, and they depend entirely on who you think the character is, it’s your choice!

So if you aren’t a gamer, I hope you will consider checking this game out anyway, and if you are a gamer, take a break from shooting things and relax as this beautifully worked story unfolds on your screen.

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