14 May, 2009

I fall on the floor and I'm laughing

So here's the thing.

A few months ago, an announcement was made that Simon and Garfunkel would be travelling to New Zealand for one concert, in Auckland. And I was excited. I remember in 2003, when the duo reunited and went on a US tour, thinking how incredible it would be to see them perform live, and how sad it was that I would never get to have that experience. But now that experience was there, it was possible. And I was thrilled.

On 17 April 2009, tickets went on sale for the concert. And at 9am on that morning, I was sitting at my computer, hurriedly refreshing the Ticketmaster website as fast as possible, waiting for the "tickets are not yet on sale" screen to change to the "make your selection" screen.

Then it happened. Tickets were now on sale. Quickly I selected my options, made sure I was ordering the $150 tickets, went through the security check intended to separate humans from automatic systems, waited while it conducted a search, and then told me it couldn't find any tickets for my criteria. What? Tickets only went on sale one minute ago, they'll hardly have sold out the whole arena already. I tried again and again, with no result. After a few minutes, I stopped searching by price. Just give me anything. And after ten minutes of searching, it offered me a ticket. A $350 ticket. I nearly bought it, but with the clock in the corner of the screen counting down until the tickets would be offered to someone else, at that moment of pressure, I decided not to buy the ticket. I like Simon and Garfunkel, but not that much. I continued to try and search, for literally an hour, hoping it would offer me something in a cheaper price range, but it never did. I later learned the show apparently sold out in 19 minutes. For the last 40 minutes, I was just wasting my time with no chance of achieving my goal.

There were rumours that an announcement about a second show would be made in the next few days, but the announcement never eventuated. And eventually I moved on, pausing every now and then to kick myself. I should have bought those tickets when I had the option. They're never coming back here. It's literally a once-in-a-lifetime show, the only chance I'll ever have to see them. And I'm not a music person at all, there are few groups I would even consider going to see live. But Simon and Garfunkel are one group that I would love to see. And I turned it down because it might cost me a mere $200 more than I intended? What was I thinking? There were times when I found myself going back to the site and searching, just on the off-chance that tickets may appear. They never did.

Then, yesterday, long after I had given up on the announcement ever occuring, it was made. A second show, the night after the first. Tickets go on sale next Tuesday. I was excited, until I realised the date. With work commitments in the following week, the time I would need to take off to go to a Sunday concert rather than a Saturday would be difficult to justify. Dammit. But then, things changed again. For long and complicated reasons that I won't go into, something unexpected happened, and suddenly it looked like I could actually make a Sunday concert work with my job requirements. Hooray! Now I just need to get the tickets.

So it was that today, I went onto the Ticketmaster website, just to confirm the information about when tickets go on sale. And there it was, the second concert, sitting right beside the offer to search for tickets to the first concert, with no indication that show sold out a month ago. What the hell, I thought, and did a search for tickets to the Saturday concert, although I knew it was pointless. The show's sold out, I thought as I passed the security check. I'm wasting my time, as I sat there watching it conduct the search. Hey, that's different, as the search result came up with a screen that didn't tell me there were no tickets to offer. Instead, it said it had a ticket for me, a $350 premium ticket for me for the Saturday concert.

And immediately, I was unsure. Should I just wait and see if I can get cheaper tickets to the Sunday show. I actually closed the webpage down, and immediately started berating myself. You bloody idiot, I yelled at myself (in my mind - I'm not insane). You've just spent the last month angry at yourself for turning down tickets, and now you're turning them down again in the vague hope that you might be able to get something a bit cheaper in the future if you're lucky? What are you thinking? You're right, I responded to myself. I am an idiot, I will buy the ticket. You'd better hurry, my mind advised me. Every second that passes, someone else may find that ticket and snatch it up, and then you'll be annoyed with yourself all over again.

Now I was in a hurry. I knew that ticket was there, I just needed to get to it before anyone else. Every click on the website became agony, as I waited for the page to load up, but every click brought me one step closer to my goal (or further away, since at one point I clicked the wrong link and found the site offering to sell me tickets to the Pussycat Dolls and Disney On Ice - quite a variety of shows at the Vector Arena). Finally I made it through, got my tickets, somehow managed to make it through the purchase without messing it up, and now I am going to Simon and Garfunkel.

Although, $350. That's a lot of money...


And this seems like a good opportunity to share the best Simon and Garfunkel joke I've seen in the last few weeks. Okay, it's the only Simon and Garfunkel joke I've encountered in the last few weeks, but it's still a legendary joke.

From How I Met Your Mother, 4.22, "Right Place Right Time"

07 May, 2009

Humanity reaches its peak

So here's the thing.

This may be the greatest news story ever.

You see, KFC have introduced a new product over in the States. Believe it or not, it's Kentucky Grilled Chicken, "marinated and grilled to perfection for that five-star, fall-off-the-bone taste." And looking at the photos, it really looks awful. I'm pretty much the prime market for KFC, I go there way too often (although at least I hate myself for it afterwards), so if I'm looking at the advertising photo that is supposed to make the product look its best and most appealing, and I'm thinking "that looks awful", then it must look pretty bloody revolting.

Anyway, to promote the release of the new chicken, they've put coupons for free grilled chicken up on a website. All you need to do is download the coupon off the internet, print it off, and then take it in to KFC. In return, you get two pieces of non-original-recipe grilled chicken, two sides, and a "biscuit" (which is what the Americans call a kind of scone/bread roll). The coupon was only available to download for two days, but it could be used for two weeks, although for some reason they excluded Mothers' Day from the offer. Which was wise, because otherwise they would be inundated with mothers looking to spend Mothers' Day getting ghastly-looking chicken with a free downloaded coupon.

So what happens? Well, firstly, everyone in America apparently tried to download the coupon. As you might expect that they would. Which means servers crash, and people have real difficulty downloading the coupons. In one of the more intriguing comments on the website, someone wrote "I WAS JUST NOW ABLE TO PRINT THE KFC COUPON! IT TOOK OVER 3 HRS."

Now, let's put a bit of context on that comment. Simon and Garfunkel are coming to New Zealand next month, so a few weeks ago, I tried to buy tickets on the internet as soon they went on sale. I spent an hour trying unsuccessfully to get tickets before giving up. We're talking about tickets to what will probably be my only chance to see an important iconic music duo that I really enjoy, and I gave up after one hour. This woman spent three hours just to get $10 of revolting-looking KFC chicken. Isn't that a bit crazy?

But at least that's just people being inconvenienced while sitting at their computer. It's all in the privacy of their own home. I mean, as long as the thousands upon thousands upon thousands of people who actually succeeded in downloading the coupons don't then have to all converge on a limited number of places to claim their free chicken, then no-one else should be inconvenienced, should they?

So what does happen when hundreds of people turns up to a KFC store demanding free chicken? Well, in one New York store (that I'll randomly select because this was the store where everything happened that prompted me to hear about the story in the first place), the manager understandably decided "Enough. We are not accepting any more coupons today." But if you offer people free chicken, be prepared to give away lots of free chicken. Otherwise, irate customers may feel ripped off, and decide to start an impromptu sit-in, refusing to leave until they get the free chicken that they were entitled to. Let me say that again: these people had nothing better to do with themselves than sit in a KFC store all afternoon. Their afternoon was valued at $10 worth of horrible chicken.

But clearly this reaction wasn't enough. So the hundreds of people crammed into the store took the next logical step to express their disappointment. They rioted. One report has "racial epithets ... being spewed" and the manager running from a "screaming horde". Now, don't forget, this is over chicken. And not even good chicken, but KFC Grilled Chicken. I keep looking at this story, trying to find the point where this behaviour makes sense, but I can't find it. Who are these people, and why are they acting like this?

But there's one detail that I haven't mentioned yet, one detail that stops this story from being merely an amusing story about a misguided promotion and a weird chicken-loving populace, one detail that lifts it to the level of "the greatest news story ever". What website was it that the coupon was posted on? What website partnered with KFC to make this offer available, and thus inflict all that trouble on the world?


Yes, people were angry and frustrated and irate, people felt cheated and ripped off, threats were made, impromptu protests occurred, riots broke out. And the woman that caused it all to happen in the first place, the woman whose actions led directly to this pain and suffering and misery, was Oprah Winfrey. I have to say it again. Oprah caused a riot to break out in a New York KFC restaurant. And I think that's pretty damned funny.

Memo to Oprah: For future reference, screaming hordes are good when the people have been given free cars. But that doesn't mean screaming hordes are good in every circumstance. You may want to be more judicious in future with your giveaways. Just a suggestion.

03 May, 2009

Mirror, Mirror

So here's the thing.

For many years in geekdom, there was a well-known, authoritative rule that you could absolutely rely on. This was the "even-numbered Star Trek film" rule.

The basic principle of the rule was simple. The even-numbered Star Trek films are all excellent, or at least very good. If you're watching an odd-numbered Star Trek, it will be at best an average film, at worst it may make you lose your will to live.

Think about it:
- Star Trek: The Motion Picture - Terribly slow and tedious, with a pacing closer to 2001 than Trek (and I do love 2001, but it's an entirely different thing to Trek). Plus, the climax doesn't even involve the original characters at all.
- Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan - The standard by which all Trek films are judged. Just brilliant. And it has one hell of an ending.
- Star Trek III: The Search For Spock - Probably the best of the odd-numbered Trek films, in that it's pretty average rather than actually bad. It's not bad, it just is.
- Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home - In my view it's the least of the even-numbered films (it's preachy, the fish-out-of-water comedy is frustratingly broad and obvious at times, and it is terribly dated these days), but despite that, it's a very enjoyable film.
- Star Trek V: The Final Frontier - No. Just no. ... No.
- Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country - The end of the Cold War interpreted through Trek. Complete with a murder mystery, some great action, and some nice commentary. An all-round excellent film.
- Star Trek: Generations - Who cares about the rest of the film, we were only watching for Kirk to meet Picard. Instead, Kirk vanishes ten minutes into the film, and only reappears right at the climax, where Kirk and Picard make breakfast before Kirk dies in a bridge collapse. Major disappointment. And the rest of the film is pretty average as well.
- Star Trek: First Contact - The Borg. On the big screen. And time travel back into Trek's past but our future. And James Cromwell is in it. What is there not to like?
- Star Trek: Insurrection - Just bland, a film made solely for the purpose of making a Trek film. There's no cinematic scope to the film, nothing to distinguish it from dozens of Next Generation episodes.

And then they had to go and ruin such a perfect pattern by releasing Star Trek: Nemesis, a bad even-numbered film. I rewatched it recently, just to see if it was as bad as I remembered, and it really was. The film felt like an exercise in cynical filmmaking, as though throwing a bunch of explosions and space action was enough to fool us into believing we were watching a good film. The film itself is well-made, but the core of the film, the script, just felt underdeveloped and empty, with a collection of potentially interesting ideas that never go anywhere. In the end, the film just lacked a soul.

And, if that wasn't enough, early reports of the new Trek prequel film, Star Trek, sound like this could be a great odd-numbered film. And if that proves to be true, it puts a final end to the even-numbered-Trek rule.

But back in 1999 I noticed a much more interesting pattern developing in the Star Trek films, even though that pattern was, by its very nature, only half-developed at the time. The pattern was, to me, more interesting than a simple odd-number-bad-even-number-good rule, largely because it draws on the core plot elements and character motivations that underpin the different films. Over the last ten years, as another two Star Trek films were released, I've looked to see whether the pattern would survive. And it's a pattern that, with the release of the new Star Trek film, has reached its completion. To the best of my knowledge, I'm the only person to have ever noticed this pattern. I've certainly never seen it referred to anywhere else. Which is a shame, because I find it rather interesting.

Think of it as "The Mirror View of the Star Trek Films".

The basic idea is that every Star Trek film (with the exception of Star Trek VI, for a particular reason) reflects one of the other Star Trek films in some fairly fundamental aspects.

Let me explain. The reason why Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country doesn't reflect any other Trek film is because it is the mirror point. The pattern is revealed by moving backwards and forwards film-by-film from Star Trek VI. Make sense?

Here's what I mean. If we start at Star Trek VI, the film before that one was Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. In that film, the villain was on a quest to find God. Now, at the same time, the film after Star Trek VI was Star Trek: Generations. In that film, the villain was on a quest to find the Nexus. Which means nothing, until you realise the Nexus was a place where people live forever, happy and content in a wonderful perfect paradise. Basically, the Nexus was a non-theistic heaven. So basically, in one film, the bad guy is trying to find God, in the other the bad guy is trying to find heaven. In my view, there's a pretty strong similarity to those central ideas.

Let's move along one step. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home and Star Trek: First Contact are the time travel films. In both films, the crew of the Enterprise deliberately travel back in time to prevent the destruction of Earth in the future. Given the fact that (with the exception of the new film, which reportedly uses time travel in a very different way) these are the only two time-travel films in the run, again, that seems like a strong similarity to me.

As I say, I first noticed this pattern in 1999 with the release of Star Trek: Insurrection. In Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, the Enterprise crew deliberately defied a Starfleet order. (This was not a minor plot point - it actually led to them having to steal the Enterprise as a result.) Plus, the film revolves around the Genesis Planet, a planet that actually brought Spock back to life. In Star Trek: Insurrection, the crew of the Enterprise also deliberately defy Starfleet orders (not a minor plot point either - it's actually reflected in the film's title, Insurrection), while the film revolves around a planet that has life-rejuvenating, fountain-of-youth-type properties. Life-giving planets, open defiance of Starfleet orders? Yup.

Having noticed this pattern, I eagerly awaited Star Trek: Nemesis, to see if the pattern would hold out. And it did. The climactic point of Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan had the most logical member of the crew, Spock, choosing to sacrifice himself to save his crewmates. But, before he dies, he implants part of himself in Bones' mind, which allowed him to come back in the later films. In Star Trek: Nemesis, the most logical member of the crew, Data the android, chooses to sacrifice himself in order to save his crewmates. But, earlier in the film, he downloaded all his memories into the Data-prototype android B-4, offering the obvious suggestion that Data could be recovered. (Indeed, in the recently-released Star Trek: Countdown comics that acts as an official prequel to the upcoming film, we discover that this has indeed happened.)

And so we come to the new film. And where Star Trek: The Motion Picture was the first film for the original crew of Kirk, Spock, and Bones (as played by William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, and DeForest Kelley), the new film, titled simply Star Trek is also the first film (indeed, the first adventure) for the original crew of Kirk, Spock, and Bones (albeit played now by Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, and Karl Urban).

Plus, here's the really great thing. I was always a little worried by this pattern because it breaks down after 11 films. After all, there's no film for the 12th film to reflect. But instead, based on reports of the new film (which I obviously haven't seen yet), the appearance of Leonard Nimoy as the older Spock acts as a perfect finish to the existing films, while the time travel element reportedly establishes this in a different timeline to the original series. In other words, the mirror pattern applies only to the films that relate to the original Trek timeline, and this film puts a fairly definitive end to the pattern. I don't need to worry about whether the 12th, 13th, 14th Trek films will reflect the other films, and how that will damage the pattern, because in my mind at least, there is a definite break between those films and any future Trek films.

Anyway, that's the mirror Trek pattern. I think it's quite cool, I'm rather proud of noticing it, and I hope you found it interesting.