Thursday, 8 May 2014

Book Review: "Rivers of London" by Ben Aaronovitch

I've been aware of Ben Aaronovitch's books for a few years, based on some good noises coming out of the blogosphere, but also due to their very distinctive covers. I hadn't been purposely avoiding them, but I also hadn't made any effort to pick one up. It might be the London-focus that perhaps inadvertently didn't draw me to them (I live in the North-West UK so geographically and culturally quite far from London in UK standards).

I follow Ben on Twitter (@Ben_Aaronovitch), and I saw a tweet a few weeks ago saying that the first of his "Rivers of London" series was available for Kindle for 99p. I'd just finished my previous read, so trotted over to Amazon and picked it up.

[some mild spoilers of plot to follow, but I'll be as careful as I can]

Rivers of London (RoL) is essentially a police procedural novel set in modern day London. It focusses on our hero Peter Grant, a young copper in the Met, and how following the end of his probationary period he ends up working not within the cool and trendy Murder Squad, but instead for DCI Thomas Nightingale who heads up a one-man secret division. The crunch comes when it becomes clear that Nightingale is not some ordinary plod, but actually a 120 year old magician who is responsible for policing the fantastical, magical and occult aspects of city life. Ghosts are real, as are spirits, magic spells and all manner of imps, vampires and karmic connections. The story takes us through the origin story of Peter and DCI Nightingale, their base of operations "The Folly", Toby the dog, and Molly the vampire maid, and sets up what seems to be a great set of stories to follow in later books.

I saw someone call these books "Harry Potter for grown-ups", but I disagree; there is magic and fantasy elements, but this is more Ashes to Ashes territory; Aaronovitch has a great knack for sharp and witty banter between his characters, and putting the magical elements to one side, it reads just like any other solid Procedural. There's an amusing take on modern-day policing methods, as well as Peter Grant's own inadequacies and worries, which are all very well observed and delivered.

I found the pacing to be a bit varied throughout the book and found myself flicking (virtually, of course) back to previous sections to remind myself of what had happened, but the story itself was interesting and well thought out. I certainly started to like both the main and secondary characters, and there seems tons and tons of material that the author can draw on for subsequent outings. The fact that this was very much a book focussed on London didn't detract from my enjoyment; I didn't feel left out not knowing the intricate detail and history of all of the places and events described, and even learned something along the way.

I really enjoyed this book, and I think I'll give the second instalment, Moon Over Soho, a go soon. I Wikipedia'd this before writing and was pleased to see that Aaronovitch had received a nomination for Best New Writer of the Year for this book in 2011.

It is published by Gollancz, with Moon Over Soho, Whispers Under Ground and Broken Homes also now available. The fifth instalment, Foxglove Summer, is due to be released in September 2014.

Monday, 7 April 2014

Chapelford BT Infinity: Installed!

So after approximately 3 minutes, the BT engineer had my connection up and running and I went from this, this morning:

 to this just now:


Friday, 4 April 2014

Superfast Broadband Arrives in Chapelford!

Truly a historic day!! Finally, fibre broadband is available in Chapelford! After years of uncertainty around funding and whether OpenReach thought it was even economically viable to upgrade the backhaul and exchange equipment, we were given a lifeline last year when the "Connecting Cheshire" partnership received £27m of funding from European Regional Development Fund, BT, BDUK, and 4 local authorities.
Following initial planning, it was determined that the Westwood Exchange, which serves much of Chapelford, would be available to provide fibre broadband from March 2014.

I've been checking the Openreach website throughout March, and the icon for the exchange has stubbornly remained at "Coming Soon". Today, it is showing "Accepting Orders":

In a fit of optimism, and plain stupidity, towards the end of March, and even in spite of the lack of "accepting orders" icon, I just went onto the BT website and clicked on the "Place an Order" link. To my surprise and suspicion the site was willing to let me place an order for Infinity! I picked the next available date, the 7th April, and completed the order. I received the confirmation emails, and all looked well.

So it looks very much that I just managed to get in early before OpenReach had chance to upgrade the icon on the website.

One other strange thing I've noted is that the Westwood Exchange seems to have magically moved position. Take a look at how the site was displaying a week ago:

Apparently as well as upgrading the exchange it's been moved half a mile!

I'll investigate whether they are using new premises, and hopefully by Monday night I should have upgraded my 4Mbps ADSL line to a 28-50Mbps fibre line!

Monday, 24 February 2014

Chapelford Fibre Broadband Even Closer

On Friday last week, I made my regular trip to the OpenReach Availability Checker website, and found to my increasing delight that the Westwood Exchange, we serves the majority of the Chapelford Estate has now moved to "Coming Soon", and is appearing in the .xls detail as scheduled from "Mar 2014".

Very exciting indeed, and I'm hoping that this will move to "Accepting Orders" over the next few weeks. Interestingly, the details spreadsheet shows that BT will accept Fibre to the Premises (FTTP) orders also.

Please note that the .pdf version of the "Coming Soon" detail doesn't show Westwood Exchange at all, so there's clearly been an updating problem. It is quite clear on the .xls version though.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Openreach come to Chapelford

With mounting excitement, I took note of no less than five different Openrrach vans earlier this week around the Boston Boulevard/Sunset Boulevard area. There were engineers working on the green cabinets underground ducting. 

This is Very Exciting indeed, and surely heralds our introduction to fibre broadband very soon. The last update I saw on the Connecting Cheshire and Openreach sites indicated that the Westwood exchange was undergoing "evaluation" and that Chapelford would start to have fibre available "from March". 
Fingers crossed.....

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Review: "Olympus has Fallen"

I watched "Olympus has Fallen" last night, from director Antoine Fuqua and staring, amongst others, Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart and Morgan Freeman. Fuqua has also directed, and I didn't realise this until I looked it up this morning, gritty stand-out films as Training Day and Brooklyn's Finest.

The film follows Lead Presidential Detail Secret Service Agent Mike Banning (Butler) as he attempts to save the President, the White House and the rest of the world presumably from North Korean baddies. There's some exposition at the start to setup the back story, and to explain some of the motivations of the characters.

(Mild Spoilers below so take care if you are going to be shocked that Gerard Butler's character kills lots of baddies in it).

I enjoyed it immensely, but also found myself groaning at a number of key places. Things I liked and/or groaned about.

1) Mike Banning is sort of a Super-John McClane but with ninja skills and fewer cool one-liners. I mean, you really really would not call Mike a knob, even if you had a gun/two knives/kung-fu/a giant laser gun. He is totally rock. This made me completely unconcerned for his safety throughout the film, to the point where I knew 30 minutes in that the main baddie (more on him below) was gonna end in a bad place, with Mike saying something like "Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker". He doesn't, but he should.
2) It's got lots of guns, explosions and people getting shot through the head. And I mean actually shot through the head. A lot. This gets a bit wearisome after a while, but the unfortunate realism of it lead to both of us recoiling over and over throughout the film.
3) The White House has the most ridiculously poor security. Apparently, if you attack it, people will stream out of the front door to protect it. You just fire with a giant gun at these doors, shooting these folks as they stream out, unknowingly into bullets,  and then you can walk in. Easy. Also, it has a single big Anti-Aircraft gun on the top of it (to prevent 9-11 type attacks, I presume), BUT it only has one bullet/Rocket. 
4) (Mild spoilers here) The Americans have something called "Cerberus", which is a fail-safe device installed on all of their nuclear weapons. If these weapons were launched, and they then change their minds and decide NOT to end the world, then Cerberus could be used to "self-destruct" the missile before it hit the target. Hmmm. Not sure why they wouldn't just press the abort button, but ok, I'm going with it. Then, the North Korean baddies realise that if they get the codes for Cerberus they can use it to SELF-DESTRUCT the missiles as they sit in their silos, thus devastating the whole of the US! You can see the "...oh shit we didn't realise you could do THAT!" look on the faces of the Joint Chiefs of Staff when this nefarious motive is revealed. Cerberus is the most stupid invention ever, clearly.
5) Continuing with Cerberus, and the buffoons who invented it, to use Cerberus, you need THREE codes. Not one, not two, but three. Then you can activate it. Looking quite smug, one Army chief person calmly reassures everyone that no-one person knows all three of the codes, as only the president, vice president and Secretary for Defence know one code each. Ha ha!!! About 30 seconds after saying this everyone realises that all three of those people are currently being held captive by the baddies. Everyone looks a bit embarrassed.
6) (More spoilers here) So how are the baddies going to get the codes from three of the most important people in the US government? By beating them up a bit. Then the President, who clearly feels absolutely terrible about this, orders them to give up their super-secret codes. He does this because he knows he would rather die than give up his code. He isn't President for nothing, you see. What the President does know is that actually you only need TWO of the codes to launch Cerberus. Not three. Even though it has been designed to need all three codes, you can sort of break in with just two. This is officially RUBBISH and the mostly badly designed Super-Secret system ever.

Groans and odd plot queries to one-side, I really enjoyed the film which is paced like a 100m sprint once it gets going. It has MORGAN FREEMAN BEING PRESIDENTIAL, which generally is a Good Thing. It has Gerard Butler kicking ass in quite a spectacular way. It has a genuinely spooky-scary baddie (with a rather languid backstory/motivation, but who really cares: He is a Baddie). It's got helicopters, the best Super-Gun I've ever seen. It also has a lot of fake blood, which surprisingly looked quite fake.

As an aside, watch out for the hilarious photoshop'd family photos of the President and his family; sort of a "cut out Aaron Eckhart's head from a magazine and stick it onto the body of a man in a family photo" effort.

Overall, I'd completely recommend this film for a no-nonsense action smash night. Try not to think too hard about some of the details and enjoy it.

Score: 3.5 out of 5 

Friday, 23 August 2013

Lazarus (Graphic Novel)

I got a recommendation to try "Lazarus", a new Image comic from Greg Rucka and Michael Lark; thanks to Steve Aryan from Comic Book Outsiders for the push.

In short it's great and after the first two editions, I'm really hungry for more. Amazing artwork and a genuinely interesting world starting to be built, with a plot that seems to have so much room for growth; I'm dying to see where Rucka is going to take this.

I don't read a lot of graphic novels, so for a more thorough review I'd recommend checking out this, which reviews with a lot more authority than I have on the subject.

Score: 4.5 out of 5 so far