Sunday, February 18, 2007

Whoop, whoop. It's the sound of the Fuzz...

It is hard to believe that Spaced only lasted for 2 short seasons (1999-2001), it so completely captured the feelings of the period towards popular culture that it still remains a reference in its own right.

Even more hard to believe is that we had to wait until 2004's Shaun of the Dead to see the team of Wright, Pegg, Frost and friends reunited. Made for a mere $4 million its very British sense of humour managed to gross well in excess of 5 times that amount in the US and UK alone. Also a major hit on DVD we were guaranteed a follow up.

After toying with a direct sequel to Shaun the team instead went for lampooning their other favorite genre of action flicks.

I will admit that when I first heard about Hot Fuzz I wasn't completely sold on the idea. The best I could imagine would be a film version of the Bill with slightly knowing winks at the audience, but then I had faith in the dream team of Brit big screen comedy and so I, along with many, waited.

Ignoring the joke of releasing a film like this on Valentines day, the humour and parody kick in almost immediately with a wink to Infernal Affairs, or should that be The Departed (slight aside, is it just me or is it most indicative of the current state of films that a remake of a 5 year old film gets nominated for 5 Oscars!).

All the way through the jokes are well crafted, with many of them relying on the impeccable comic timing of the players. The players which represent a who's who of British comedy (I'm sure it wasn't a lack of talent that required one person to take on 2 roles) and all play their parts wonderfully. Even better is to see Ewar Woowoo on the big screen, thinking that to myself gave me a laugh out loud moment which no one else in the packed cinema seemed to understand.

The film neatly breaks down into two distinct parts. The first 3/4 is all setup, introducing main characters and numerous support roles, as well as the mystery to be solved. Then you get an almost completely different film for the last 1/4 which I am sure you can guess is the major action set piece. A formula pulled right from the action film play book that Michael Bay takes to bed each night (okay he misplaced it while making Pearl Harbour and The Island).

Frost and Pegg are suitably well paired again, but it is interesting to see that they can play a subtly different dynamic, at least for a while. There is a moment on a sofa where I really thought the duo would manage to show us something other than Tim and Mike, but alas it was not to be. Still I would much rather watch 2 hours of Tim and Mike than most of what else was on offer on the other screens that night.

It is easy to sum up Hot Fuzz, if you liked Shaun or Spaced then you will love this, if you didn't you won't. Where the team of Wright/Pegg/Frost go next is any one's guess, I just hope that it is something a little different, but just as good as where they have been before.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Follow up ...

Back at the top of the year I wrote an article on the growing popularity over the past few years for TV shows that play with the conventional use of time (Playing with time ...). It prompted a nice discussion in the comments with Tom suggesting reading "Everything Bad is Good For You" by Steven Johnston.

Just a week after posting that article I ended up being pointed towards “Narrative Complexity in Contemporary American Television” by Jason Mittell. This essay is the answer that I was so desperately trying to grasp at in that article. It's not that long and totally worth the read if you are at all interested in why TV shows are being written the way that they are today.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Web Scale Applications ...

The other night I met up with some of the people I used to work with in my previous job. For all its faults that job had one highlight and that was the people that I worked with. It was great to catch up with so many of them and swap many stories of the places that we all now worked.

Amongst the many non-geeky conversations that were had that night there were of course many very geeky ones, one of them was a great discussion of Web Scale Applications. In case that term is completely unfamiliar to you let me explain a little. When you are working at your computer and you use an application like Outlook to check your e-mail, offline, the application is running locally, just on your computer. The programmers who wrote that program could predict with a reasonable degree of accuracy the amount of work that it would be expected to do. They knew, for example, that there would only be one person using it at a time, they could analyse the way people use e-mail and come up with a usable set of figures to suggest how many e-mails people would have listed on screen at any one time. By understanding the expected workload the programmers can write code that works best at that level.

When you check your e-mail at work, whilst you are probably still using Outlook on your local machine, however it will also be connecting to an e-mail server. This will be supporting all the users within the company which could be 10, or a few hundred or several thousand. This unknown puts a little more stress on the developer as they have to code to a much bigger window of expected performance. Such software is said to be Enterprise grade (assuming that it works properly). There is hope for our poor developer though, as it is not unreasonable to state maximum acceptable performance for such software, for example stating that it will only support up to 2000 users and that after that point the company must have a second server to cope.

The classic example of Web Scale Applications is online web mail, e.g. Hotmail, Yahoo Mail, GMail etc. These applications have to support a completely unknown level of usage, the maximum of which could be everyone on the Internet, a figure that grows by the minute.

There is little in the way of standard practice when producing a Web Scale Application, it is quite a new field and something very hard to test in a lab. So whatever is out there about this type of work is of great interest to geeks like us. I mentioned a few articles I knew on the subject to people the other night and promised that I would post links to them here, so here they are;

The are all fascinating accounts of how people approached some of the web scale issues in very different ways. There still needs to be a lot more work on all of this in general, but then it is not something that is easy to assess.