Feedback THIS!

I just had an odd and possibly quite revealing experience after speaking with a customer support representative. While the rep was suitably polite, friendly and eager to help, they were at a loss as to how to resolve the issue I was having.

As it turns out, it wasn’t anything too complex, but the matter was something either beyond the rep’s realms of expertise, or simply unknown to the company’s knowledge base.

I ended up fixing the problem myself as I was talking to the rep, who was frantically shuffling through reference material. They even asked me a couple of times for pointers that really, I had just as good odds of knowing as they did.

As soon as the rep signed off, having made sure my problem was resolved and wishing me a good day, I was given the option of filling out a customer feedback form to rate my satisfaction with the product, and the service I received.

Almost without thinking, I started to tick off the ratings from one to ten, and finally I came to the part where I could add a comment to sum up how I felt about how I’d been treated. I was halfway through the paragraph, in which I basically summed up what I’ve said so far in this post, when I stopped and had a thought, and hit the Cancel button.

Fuck it.

Ultimately, I reasoned that the person who’d spent twenty plus minutes trying to help me with my problem was doing just that. Admittedly, they hadn’t known about the issue and I ended up fixing it myself, but they had been cordial and tried their best under the circumstances.

The person on the other end of the ethernet cable was, in all statistical likelihood, a young guy. Possibly even with family. And this was his job. Regardless of how well he understood my particular problem, he had made me feel like a valued customer in a way that would no doubt make his corporate overlords proud.

I’ve had dealings with dickish line managers in my time, who exude a false buddy-buddy charm while simultaneously looking for any hint that you aren’t hitting your quota. My feedback wasn’t harsh by any stretch of the imagination, but I had a feeling that it’s the kind of thing managers look for. Gaps in knowledge. Below threshold. That kind of bullshit.

While I considered giving the guy exaggeratedly positive feedback just to fuck with the line manager my jaded imagination had conjured up, I ultimately reasoned that no feedback at all was a reasonable – if expected – alternative to the whinging, rubbishy advocation of “must try harder” that my original response would no doubt have been taken as.

So in summary, I guess this has made me think a little bit harder about the full effect our throwaway actions and words can have. Either that, or I’m a massive pussy. YOU decide.

More “Britain is a Christian Nation” bollocks, plus meet my new hero

(Image source: clemente‘s flickr stream.)

I tend to shy away from debates involving the Daily Mail. Anyone with more than half a brain cell knows it’s a hateful, vindictive propaganda-sheet better suited for post-fecal hygiene. Usually when a person I know posts or tweets about some piece of sputum masquerading as a Mail article, it’s a given that the contents will disquiet, if not enrage those of us who understand and embrace such concepts as objectivity, intolerance and common sense; after all, flabbergasted liberals must constitute a significant portion of the Mail’s own website traffic, so it’s in their best interests to incense us to the best of their abilities.

Every now and then, however, the Mail manages to aggravate me enough for the mask of calculated indifference to slip a fraction. A friend posted a link to a recent editorial which criticised the National Secular Society for suggesting that antiquated laws enforcing “broadly Christian” worship in schools be scrapped. In a move that would make ‘Mox’ News ubercunt ‘Mill O’Meilly’ proud, the Mail throws in with Jesus, suggesting that the democratic process is “at the mercy” of advocates of the Human Rights Act. That’s right, folks! Forcing people to engage in Christian worship regardless of their faith (or lack of it) is something that “in this paper’s view” is something that should continue ad infinitum, human rights be damned.

The comments section of the Mail’s website is always a mixed bag, the quality of which is usually dependent on how many times someone on Twitter posted the link out of bemusement. This particular article had an inspired comment that warrants sharing:

“Leave aside that the law [forcing Christian worship in schools] is widely ignored (a matter for deep regret, in this paper’s view).”

Oh is it really! Well let me explain something to you. When I voted last, I cannot remember voting for the Daily Mail or seeing it mentioned on the ballot paper anywhere. In other words what you think is of no more importance than what my next door neighbour thinks or his cat for that matter. You are supposed to be reporting the news, not trying to push religion onto other people or worse still other people’s children. I and my partner are perfectly capable of deciding what religious beliefs or lack of them our children should follow, and we don’t need your help or the state sticking their nose into the matter, thank you very much. What is this 1810 or 2010?

Alan Bellis from Hull, my hat is off to you sir. Nail on the head.

Good Blog-keeping

For those of you who have missed my numerous subtle (and less than subtle) hints, I recently started a new film blog called 7 Films, 7 Days, in which I plan to post a film review for each day of the week for as long as I can stand it. You can find the blog here, and follow the associated Twitter stream here.

Consequently, any film-related news will henceforth be blogged about (and tweeted) through the 7 Films alter-ego, leaving Ebonics and Irony focused on my other interests, chiefly fiction writing and music. The film blog gives me something to work towards, but more importantly helps to overcome my writer’s block.

The next couple of chapters for Horns Of The Apocalypse are on the way, although I’m ditching the World Cup setting in favour of a more generic “ooh aren’t all massive sporting events a load of old bawbags” tip. I might even start using this as a ‘proper’ blog, too. You lucky lot.

Anyway, thanks for reading. Keep watching this space for the next phase in my no doubt riveting adventures.

Blog image sourced from wanderingone‘s Flickr stream.

Horns Of The Apocalypse, Chapter 1

by Matthew Pitman

Chapter 1

“Easy… easy…”

I was trying hard not to breathe as I gingerly extended my arm deep within the untidy shrubbery that flanked my home. Aside from not wishing to move unnecessarily and end up scraping my arm to pieces among the thorny branches, there was the small matter of avoiding anything that might disturb the football-sized lump of what at first sight might have been papier-mâché.

The advice I’d been given by a gardener friend of mine suggested strongly that I should have left this job until it was actually night-time, rather than the near-dark of early evening. Circumstances, sadly, were not in my favour, and as it turned out I was more worried about what might happen to me if I told two dozen of my nearest and dearest that the 42” telly I’d promised them to watch their beloved national side was out of bounds than the reaction of the inhabitants of a hornet’s nest when they found out they were being unceremoniously evicted.

I should have trimmed back these bushes years ago. I’ve never been one for gardening, but given that this particular annoyance was located to the rear of the property, combined with the fact I lived just far enough away from town to be considered “a bit of a trip”, there never really seemed much point. I’d copped a number of earfuls from assorted girlfriends, relatives and the one insufferable – and thankfully now long-gone – neighbour who considered my relaxed attitude to horticulture an affront to the refined tastes of her guests whenever she threw one of her la-di-da garden parties.

The memory of that old bat had me unconsciously gritting my teeth as I leaned in closer, trying to stretch my arm far enough in that I could reach the nest without lacerating my face against the bush. In my gloved hand I held an old broomstick, the end of which I had liberally plastered with a syrupy poison that the man in the shop had assured me was potent enough to get the job done without alerting the entire nest to my presence at ten metres away.

As I inched closer to the single, tiny entrance to the hive, my head was full of the advice I had been given from various quarters. From the moment I first realised I had unwanted guests, the childhood horror stories about people stung until they resembled humanoid raspberries had prompted me to thoroughly research my opponents. As such, I had covered every inch of skin I could with makeshift protective clothing and had a huge bottle of tea tree oil on hand, should the unthinkable happen. Common sense dictated that I should avoid excessive movement or noise, because heaven forbid those poor hornets think that I might disturb them in their own home! I had told my guests that they should leave it until the last minute to arrive, but inevitably there had been one person who had not listened, and whom I had explicitly instructed to sit down quietly in the lounge, patiently awaiting the arrival of the other guests. To his credit, at least he’d offered to help, but unfortunately the words “subtlety” and “grace” are as alien to Simon’s vocabulary as the words “white wine spritzer”.

It was going to take almost the entire length of my arm plus the broomstick to reach the mouth of the nest – Her Majesty the queen hornet had clearly put a lot of thought into how best to avoid the unwanted attention of disgruntled homeowners. I could feel my arm starting to get tired, and while I had a little room to move around in, I couldn’t let the stick touch the bush for fear it might set off a mass exodus of incredibly angry, fiercely territorial stinging insects in the approximate direction of my face. I also knew I couldn’t rush this, because if I accidentally knocked a hole in the delicate skin of the nest, there would be no way for me to keep all the bugs inside while the poison worked its magic.

I was close, now. Just another couple of inches and my heart could get back to its normal day-to-day activity. I knew the guests would be arriving very soon, but in my present predicament I could hardly check my watch and make sure. What was worse, I had the itchy, light-headed feeling that I needed to sneeze. Remaining calm, I eased the lethal weapon across the final stretch, towards the mouth of the hive.

“You BEAU-TY!”

came the unmistakeable roar of Simon’s voice from somewhere inside the house. I froze, but thankfully did not jump at the shock. There was a fleeting moment where I lost myself in the soothing mental image of jamming the entire colony of hornets onto his blaringly idiotic head, but I quickly regained my composure as I heard the first tell-tale hum of discord from somewhere deep in the hedge.

Wasting no time, I channeled the ghosts of Bruce Lee, Harry Houdini and Neo from The Matrix, slotting the business end of the poison-stick neatly into the hole from which the now-buzzing hive threatened to erupt. As I did so, the noise intensified, causing the nest to vibrate angrily. I could feel the motion being carried down the broomstick, and worried the whole thing might explode. I’m pretty quick on my feet, and while I may not have been able to out-run them, I would have had at least a chance of reaching Simon and giving him one last kick in the family jewels before the pair of us were stung to death.

“Oy, how’s it going out here?” came a voice from behind me. “You sorted out them hornets, yet?”

“Can you not keep that cavernous gob of yours shut for just ten minutes, Simon?” I hissed at him, still fixated on the vibrating ball of insectoid fury that was, for now, indirectly connected to my arm.

“Hey, relax!” he said, as I continued to do anything but. “I just got a call from Parkie. Him and Mary are about five minutes away, and he’s only brought his PS3 with him! We can have that Pro Evo rematch we’re always talking about.”

“YOU’RE always talking about. I don’t even like that game!” It was true. I hated football simulators almost as much as I hated football itself, but I was routinely goaded into playing whenever the console was turned on. Either Simon got a kick out of letting me win, or he was genuinely awful, but since I always seemed to beat him, there was forever the excuse to get me to play again. “Anyway, can’t you see I’m busy trying to avoid becoming hornet target practice?”

“All right, all right. Don’t get in a mood with me! Anyone would think I put the nest there myself!”

I let this thought linger perhaps a little longer than I should have. I knew he was too much of an oaf to have carried out such a diabolical master plan, but all the same I didn’t think there was anything outside the realms of possibility wherever such concentrated block-headedness was concerned.

“Make yourself useful, would you?” I said. “Get in the kitchen and put the kettle on. They’ll be here soon, and I’m going to need at least a gallon of Glengettie to make it through the next few hours.”

The noise and movement from within the hornet’s nest seemed to be dying down now, but I was still hesitant to withdraw. The man who’d sold me the poison had said no more than a couple of minutes, but I wanted to be absolutely certain. It’s possible that after 90 minutes of watching 22 overpaid cavemen run from one side of a field to the other while honing their acting skills, I’d actually welcome the sweet release of a bloodstream full of insect toxin; all the same, I’m not sure my guests would entirely agree.

Movie Trailer: Tron Legacy

Tron: Legacy in HD

Trailer Park Movies | MySpace Video

Here’s a new trailer for Tron Legacy, highlighting the disappearance of Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges), the protagonist of the original Tron film. Flynn’s son Sam (Garrett Hedlund of Troy and Eragon fame) receives a clue as to his father’s whereabouts and goes in search of the man he hasn’t seen in 25 years. What awaits him is beyond anything he could have imagined.

I must admit, I wasn’t too sure about this film when it was announced. However, if the visual style and atmosphere of the trailer is anything to go by, Tron Legacy looks set to be one of the most impressive and epic sci-fi blockbusters of recent times. Looking like the kind of film done a disservice when viewed on a small screen, it may well be worth shelling out a few quid extra to see it in 3-D at an IMAX.

Movie Trailer: A.D.

Here’s an interesting little teaser for a forthcoming zombie apocalypse animation called A.D., from writer Haylar Garcia and director Ben Hibon.

I’m a somewhat vocal critic of the zombie genre; appealing though it may be, the sheer volume of terrible films, movies and games featuring some form of the walking dead has led me to develop an involuntary shudder whenever anyone mentions a brand new title (or plain old re-hash) in the works.

That said, I like the animation and overall style of this clip, and would be interested to see some more. Director Hibon is responsible for the frankly rather excellent Codehunters, a post-apocalyptic sci-fi animated short released in 2006.

Source: BoingBoing.

Movie Trailer: The Losers

<a href=";from=sp&#038;fg=MsnEntertainment_MoviesTrailersGP2_a&#038;vid=1b9d070f-aff2-47f6-8a86-9b2b44ec4fc6" target="_new" title="'The Losers' Exclusive Look">Video: &#8216;The Losers&#8217; Exclusive Look</a>

For those not familiar with the story of The Losers, told originally in a five-part graphic novel series by the British partnership of writer Andy Diggle and artist Jock, this all-too-brief trailer should be able to bring you up to speed.

The eponymous Losers are five members of a special forces unit in the employ of the US government, who are one day betrayed and left for dead by their CIA handler. Out for revenge, they team up with the mysterious Aisha (portrayed here by Zoe Saldana), whose goals seem to align with their own.

The story is far from cut and dried, however, and there’s enough betrayal, intrigue and double-dealing to keep you guessing from start to finish.

Comparisons can be drawn between this film and the A-Team, which also sees a release this year. Still, anyone who enjoys their action movies with an intelligent plot, a dash of sly political wit and a broad cast of genuinely well-developed characters, you should definitely give this one a go.

The Losers is due to come out in April 2010.


I’m Happy For Anyone Who Wants To Get Married…

…And Really, It’s Nobody’s Business But Their Own.

With the recent announcement on his blog, Neil Gaiman has confirmed that he is to marry his girlfriend of 8 months, Dresden Dolls lead singer Amanda Palmer.

There are those who might question why the pair feel the need to formalise their relationship. Others might raise their brow and mutter to themselves at the 16-year age gap between the two. Still more might consider a marriage after such a relatively short period of them being together.

To any and all of those people, I implore you: hush up and mind your own damn business.

The debate over the worth and validity of marriage is a prickly one, even in an age of supposed enlightenment and acceptance. Religion (or lack thereof) plays a pretty major part of the discussion, with some questioning why people who don’t follow a given religion would choose to have a religious service held in a place of worship, and others asking why anybody would want to get married at all. After all, marriage is expensive, divorce is rife and everyone’s heard the stories about how marriage and kids ruin your sex life and make you miserable, right?

There are those who even now could not get married even if they wanted to. Conversely, there are those who are forced into marriage against their will out of a twisted sense of duty and loyalty to their family. It’s no wonder the whole issue is so contentious, and why there seems to be no end to the debate in sight.

But honestly, people… what people do with their lives – whether that be dating within their gender, marrying their grandmother’s best friend, or chaining themselves to one another using matching nipple rings – is really only their business, and none of yours. Just because you subscribe to a religion, or don’t, or because something offends your morals or your sensibilities one way or the other, that gives you precisely zero call to interfere in the lives and lovelives of other consenting adults.

My good friend Mike gets married this year to his girlfriend of almost four years. They’re both affirmed atheists, yet they decided they wanted a church wedding before they would even start thinking about having kids. At first, this struck me as odd, but the moment I realised that it’s what would make them happy, any doubt left my mind. At that point you shouldn’t give it another thought. Life is short, and questioning or forbidding a couple from making an informed decision they have come to of their own free will is just another thing that’s stopping our species from evolving and moving on to the real problems in the world.

Not long after my dad died, I had a conversation with my mum about marriage, specifically asking her would she still have gotten married if she had the chance to do it over.

Her answer was no.

She told me that she and my dad would have stayed together even without the need to get married, and the only reason they did it in the first place is because of pressure from religious members of my mum’s family. It’s strange to think how far we’d have come along as a civilisation if more people lived in a manner that made them truly happy, rather than living as they felt they ought to.

I still haven’t decided whether I want to get married. The only reasons I can think of for myself to actually do it is for the financial benefits, or because I was seeing someone without UK citizenship and we both wanted dual nationality. If those are the best reasons I can think of, maybe it’s best I leave off the idea for the time being! Time and experience will tell, of course, but I have a feeling I’d have a hard time being in a relationship with someone who insisted that marriage was an inevitable part of being with that person.

Does that mean I think you shouldn’t get married? Of course not! Marriage may make you happier than you’ve ever been before, or it may ruin your life. The fact is, it’s your life to experience as you will, so to those who are doing what makes them joyful, I truly am pleased for you. For those who would rather control others and stop them living a fulfilling life, I hope soon you realise what it is that makes you happy, and embrace it.

ETA: Oops! Since I posted this, Mike and Laura have both pointed out that they’re not getting married in a church, as I mentioned above. Rather, it’ll be a civil ceremony held in some grounds that just happen to have a church on them! Admittedly most of the conversations I have with them are when either one or all of us are inebriated!

Video Spotlight: The Third & The Seventh

If you’re not especially smitten with fine art and architecture, you’d almost be forgiven for overlooking The Third & The Seventh.

At a whacking 10 minutes plus, you might think it a bit of an investment to sit through what is admittedly a very pretty montage of architectural shots overlaid with a gentle, haunting instrumental melody.

But what’s truly amazing about this piece is that it is the work of just one man, Alex Roman, and that it was created almost entirely using computer generated imagery. With very few exceptions, everything in the short film was skilfully crafted using Autodesk 3ds Max, V-Ray, Adobe After Effects and Adobe Premiere.

Source: The Third & The Seventh at Vimeo.

Movie Trailer: Iron Man 2

Well, here it is. The first proper look at both Whiplash and War Machine. I think it’s safe to say that Iron Man 2 will deliver more of the slick, explosion-heavy popcorn fodder that the original brought by the bucketload.

I just hope they don’t pull a Spider-Man 3 / Batman & Robin and leave most of the characters undeveloped. With so much genuine acting talent on display here, it would be a shame if Iron Man 2 didn’t kick the comic adaptation genre into a much-needed higher gear.

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