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This Friday gone marked the release of Christopher Nolan’s latest epic blockbuster, INCEPTION. A film about a team who work for shadowy corporations stealing secrets from within the minds of victims. They also offer the opposing security services and are challenged to do the opposite of stealing – they’re asked to plant an idea in a mind.

It is a wonderful scifi plot grounded at its heart in the guilt of Leonardo Dicaprio’s character. The work is big, loud, dark… And wonderfully intricate.

Nolan has been tagged the new Alfred Hitchcock by mainstream press for a reason. His cerebral filmaking has reached such a mass popularity and critical acclaim as to make him the number one man in Hollywood.

INCEPTION, as wildly enjoyable and compelling as it is will probably not make the money of The Dark Knight. Nor should it. No built in audience (besides growing Nolanites ala Hitchcock fans) and an insanely complex idea that it will probably turn off some people who fail to grasp the intricacies and concepts at play. Still, I will be renting it for a second viewing when its out.

INCEPTION is also somewhat a love letter from Nolan to cinema and film making in general. Think of it. The film features a man projecting images, ideas into another mans mind and manipulating him in the process. Is this not what the auteur, the film maker-artist does? When he writes a script, shoots a film and projects it on screen he is taking you to another reality, a dream, in your mind where he plays with ideas and concepts. Trivial, revolutionary. The final moments of the film (careful choice of words follows to prevent spoiler) when the plane lands and Leo steps off is also perhaps a metaphor for the cerebral, complex high quality film making of decades past finally arriving back to Hollywood.

I could go on and dissect it more thoroughly. The media student in me demands it but that would mean spoilers. Therefore, I encourage you instead to go and see it and endorse this supremely talented film maker at the height of his powers.

In terms of a review, this gets 3 Bells out of 3. Ding dong!

I understand that I may be coming to this debate late, and indeed you may have seen the following arguments mentioned elsewhere. However, with the international release of the iPad recently and the start of what promises to be a price war in the ereader market my interest has been renewed.

Mr Vysocina wants to spend some money.

Amazon’s Kindle is now retailing at $189 which my nifty xe.com app tells me is equivalent to £125.50. One of the biggest issues over ereaders has been entry cost. The technology, especially e-ink is perfect and is being delivered in styles and forms that are appreciable. The $489 price of the larger Kindle would cause any but the most die hard to balk at. However the magical £100 mark for us in the UK is almost reached by the smaller Kindle and psychologically it makes the device suddenly accessible. The latest software update including social media integration also added a powerful second use for the kindles global wireless network. All those literary bloggers can now review on the fly. Further provisions for email/basic blogging would round the device out. However as a reading device, the massive catalog of books and use of e-ink makes it perfect for purpose.

Now hold on you say: Why buy a kindle when I can buy an iPad and not only read books but watch movies, search the wider web and listen to music?

Good point. The iPad is of course more expensive but has so many other bells and whistles that it could best be described as a consumers device. All media, in one place. More ability to create content (emails, bloggage, social media) than Kindle also gives it some clout. The Kindle software is even available on it. Buy an iPad, use Kindle on it! Best of both worlds.

The problem which I have always come back to has been glare. The failure of the ipad to deal with glare to me makes its ibooks a bit of a gimmick. On the Kindle, Nook, Sony Reader etc the e-ink technology means you can read in the sun at the park. You can’t do that on an iPad to the same quality.

So which device will I be buying in the great Kindle vs iPad war?

Both.

Not to show off, but I think they both have different uses. I will get a Kindle first as I have rediscovered my love of reading recently thanks to a history book I reviewed here recently and HG Wells ‘The Time Machine’. Later I will buy the iPad. 75% of what I and Mrs Vysocina do on a computer the iPad does faster and more conveniently. That’s the purpose of the technology and I am happy to embrace it.

Where do you stand in the Kindle/iPad debate?

The following is a book review of ‘The Time Traveler’s Guide to Medieval England’ by Ian Mortimer, published by Vintage (London, 2009).

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During the Summer term at the school I teach in we are pursuing a topic on Rievaulx Abbey and Medieval Monasticism for the Year 10 GCSE course work. The GCSE (which means General Certificate of Secondary Education) is the last set of exams required by law for students to sit. A Levels and Degree’s are non-compulsory though the government is looking to extend the leaving age to 18 which would make A Levels and equivalents compulsory as well.

Fortunately this topic is close to my specialism as I studied a lot of the workings of monasteries when researching the lives of Charlemagne and Louis the Pious (Frankish/French Kings circa 755-830s) as most historical sources from the period are written by the clergy in monasteries. So I did not need to do much research, however I took the opportunity to learn a bit more about medieval England to provide background information to liven and colour lessons. The book I bought was the Time Travelers Guide to Medieval England by Ian Mortimer.

As a history text it is quite a different beast to the dusty academic works on my bookshelf. That should not detract from its historical merits. It is historical fact, not the fiction written by the likes of Bernard Cornwell or Conn Iggulden. It is the collection of a historians patient exhaustive research on a topic presented in a completely alien form.

The book describes the lives of 14th Century english men and women and the great events of the century in the very modern style of a travel guide. Just as if you were going to modern Peru, this book purports to be a guide to a living, breathing 14th Century England. Etiquette, dress, food, politics, law and order, entertainment, social order… These are all topics covered which you would expect in a modern tourist guide. The book sleeve leads with the familiar line that;

“The Past is a Foreign Country; they did things differently there…”

Which I think illuminates the inspiration for this book brilliantly. As history has been traditionally approached – as something that has been, is gone, is in the past… Is DEAD. Something to be poked at and debated on the basis of available evidence. The truth of that past, the knowledge of how life actually was is impossible. You simply cannot put yourself in the mind of Edward II or Geoffrey Chaucer and know why things happened truthfully. You could ask him immediately after a decision, and then thirty years later and you would get different answers because of how our memory changes and differing motivations become prominent.

What Ian Mortimer tries to do is instead of analyzing the past as being dead and cold, he tries to approach it as a living thing – a place you could visit tomorrow. As a result you begin to think about life back then differently. As a reader you come to respect and appreciate the lives of these people – both lowly villein and noble Lord.

The descriptions are vivid. You react with laughter, horror and bemusement at the everyday quirks of life in 14th century England. The stories are real, culled from documents of the time and they offer snapshots of a way of living we could not condone from our position in the 21st Century. But then I have always argued since I was a 14 year old studying Nazi Germany in a predictable boring good guys beat the bad guys approach that you cannot apply your morality to the past. If the aim of the study of history is to understand the past we should leave our judgments aside and try to experience from the sources how it was for the actors involved.

The Time Travelers Guide to Medieval England is a very useful and easy to digest book on a wide range of everyday topics in 14th Century England. It is not a detailed social study, it is more an introduction but told in such a fashion as to make you want to explore more. I am not known for a love of poetry but after reading this book I will be looking in to the poems of the GAWAIN author and John Gower.

Inspired by a family nickname of ‘The Three Bells’ (mom, dad, me) I’ve decided to adopt a three bell scale for reviews. One bell means its OK/Passable, two bells mean its Good and three bells means its a Must Read/see.

This book proudly earns THREE BELLS. Ding dong!

I bought my copy from English Heritage at Rievaulx Abbey but it can be purchased from all good book retailers online too.

Just a short belated note on the passing of the MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland Ashok Kumar on March 15th 2010.

In an age of disenchantment with distant expenses flouting politicions, Ashok was someone who was very real in my familys life.

When the NHS tried to sack my father for being unable to do his job a short time before his retirement date (he had suffered from illness and does to this day), we wrote to Ashok as our local MP. He wrote a letter expressing his dissapointment in what the NHS were trying to do and expressing his support for my father. Soon after, attempts to sack him ceased and he was able to take early retirement.

Ashok Kumar was a labour politicion. My father said to him that he was a fine man and would have happily voted for him except for his politics. He helped my Dad regardless. Ashok lost my dads vote because he could not support Tony Blairs government. As a man, Ashok will always have our vote.

Have any of you had any experiences of Ashok Kumar? Share them in the comments below.

Post it Note on Food

Cooking turned into a treasure hunt!

I have a lovely fiance. The best in the world. Ever…

She’s not looking? What? You think I only say that because I think she reads this blog? Tsk, you think so little of me.

Today muj milachku (my sweetheart) cooked a lovely czech breakfast. Think of a mushroom omelette – you know eggs + mushrooms. Well this breakfast was best described as mushrooms with egg. Delicious! I deserved it too, answering an emergency call to cover someones sickness at the museum. For dinner we had a lovely pasta, cheese and tomato sauce she does. I am definitely spoilt.

Get to the point? Hmpth. Work on your manners please. We came up with an idea for a game whilst cooking. We call it Gastric Treasure Hunting!

It works like this. You leave a series of notes on pans, pots, ingredients in cupboards and freezers etc. So your partner doesn’t know what they are making until they serve it up.

There’s a twitter version too: one person tweets an ingredient, others respond adding ingredients (that work) till the recipe is stopped. Building new meals piece by piece over social media eh? Okay it may be a bit wacky but the original idea certainly has legs and we’re likely to do something this week. I’ll tweet the results!

Themes of Interest

And in the Twitterverse…