Wednesday, 28 August 2013
DOWNLOAD FOR FREE THIS WEEKEND!!! FRI 30/08 - SUN 01/09
TARTARE - M. Trevelean
"Quitting Smoking can seriously damage your health"
'Edgar Ferrol is an anti-hero for the ages, and Tartare is a sly, surreal, Kafkaesque novel that really gets in amongst you. I really adore this book... hilarious, weird, shocking, thoughtprovoking, and written with rare elegance and wit. Tartare is the real deal, provided you love good fiction--and you take your humor black - (Amazon Review)
Wednesday, 10 July 2013
I'd like to thank Luke Abaffy from the writing site 'Author Feast', with whom I conducted a thrilling and thoroughly enjoyable interview last week, where we discussed my new book 'Tartare', along with a host of issues ranging from the publishing industry, Vampires, digital publishing and how to gain some great feedback on your writing.
There are also some surprise fireworks and a pretty awesome view of Manhattan thrown in for good measure!
Check it out at the link below and if you enjoy it please feel free to take a look at many other great author interviews and subscribe to the Author Feast site.
Saturday, 8 June 2013
The next generation of gaming consoles is upon us and both gaming giants Microsoft and Sony have recently unveiled their next iterations of gaming consoles.
While Sony took the approach of using their conference in February to tease us with upcoming game releases and details of their social platform for sharing gaming experiences, they kept a lot of the details (including what the PS4 will look like) under wraps. The hot topics such as DRM, backwards compatibility and the used games market were conspicuously absent.
Microsoft on the other hand decided to go all out, debuting the system design (it looks like a Betamax video recorder), the new voice and motion command interface based on the Windows 8 operating system, new smart TV options, commercial tie-ins with ESPN, a new Spielberg-directed Halo TV show and also got around to spending a couple of minutes talking about games.
After the big reveal however, unlike their rivals Sony, they were drawn into answering questions regarding DRM and used games. Without rehashing too much, what they said did not go down well with the gaming community. The jungle drums have been beating for weeks over the fact that gamers will not be able to trade their games in, that online passes will be required and a fee paid to play used games, that you can't lend games to a friend without them having to pay a fee...the PR disaster continued unabated.
Then yesterday Microsoft sought to clarify the situation -
The company has now said in a statement that games can be traded in, but only at "participating retailers".
"Xbox One is designed so game publishers can enable you to give your disc-based games to your friends," the statement said. "There are two requirements: you can only give them to people who have been on your friends list for at least 30 days and each game can only be given once."
Hmm...and cue the next round of outrage. Only at participating retailers - so not Ebay I assume - therefore keeping tight control of pricing for the second hand market. Only passed on to friends that have been on your friends list for 30 days and only given once.
This begs the question - why? Why is Microsoft (and potentially Sony who have been conspicuously quiet on the matter - no news is not always good news) so hell bent with pursuing this draconian business model? By limiting what consumers can do with the products they buy, by enforcing 'rules' as to how, when and for how much they can derive secondary value from their purchase, do they not see that this could be potentially extremely damaging to the future of the gaming industry, not to mention affecting their profit margins?
There are some interesting ways of using content - you can play games from two locations at the same time, up to 10 people can be logged into your library from different locations and play your games BUT it is the sticky subject of reselling your games and buying new ones that is still a thorny issue.
The problem for Microsoft (and Sony if they follow this lead) is two-fold.
Unlike with the last generation of consoles, including the original Wii - there does not seem to be a defining and compelling USP (Unique Selling Point). With the Wii there was the motion sensor breakthrough - something that convinced many million non-gamers to part with their cash and buy one. It transcended traditional hard-core gamers and brought in many casual and first time participants.
Sony had the Blu Ray angle, incorporating a Blu Ray player into the PS3 at a time when it was a burgeoning and expensive media. Buying a PS3 meant you were getting a Blu Ray player AND a gaming console. There was a reason it made sense to buy it.
Microsoft decided to go with pricing, setting the price point at a much more reasonable level than Sony (despite no Blu Ray after siding with the ultimately doomed HD DVD) and then successfully introducing Kinnect. Cheaper was better for many consumers and led to increased sales.
But technology has moved on now. Now we have tablets, touch screen, mobile gaming, Steam, smart TV's, video on demand. Motion sensor gaming is widely available now, on all three systems. Blu Ray is now a prerequisite, as Blu Ray players are now cheap to buy and HD the norm.
So what is going to be the big draw about Xbox ONE? Voice command for TV? Hmm, I have a remote. A Kinnect sensor that is always on monitoring your heart rate and gathering market data? Too Orwellian for most. Windows 8? Now standard. You can watch TV through your XBox? I have a TV to watch TV. Steven Spielberg? After Indy 4...no thanks. Price? With the bundled Kinnect 2.0 it is rumored to be more expensive than the PS4.
So where is the USP that will get people to shell out over £300 on a new system? And then there is the used game issue...
If we leave the convoluted DRM system for a second and look at the wider macro-economic context. There is a global economic crisis, ordinary people all over the world (and specifically the European market which is the second largest market behind the USA for Microsoft) are being made redundant, have cash-flow problems, have seen savings shrink and household incomes disappear. Putting it simply people can not afford expensive luxuries like they once did in the heady days of the early 2000's. No-one is lending, unemployment is at an all-time high (particularly in the core 16-24 demographic) and all of a sudden the idea of shelling out £400 on a console with maybe one game is seen as a non-essential purchase.
Now factor in that the used game market is going to get hit hard with Microsoft's new policy. At present you can buy used games from independent stores and Ebay and even friends for a fraction of the price of a full price title. You can trade them in or swap them with friends. Not any more - now the XBox ONE will enable Microsoft to dictate the price of the second-hand market through their 'selected retailers' and kiss goodbye to selling your games on EBay or to your pals. By monopolising pricing Microsoft become the used game 'market maker' - essentially forcing gamers to pay more. Only the casual gamer and 'new to gaming' market - the one's that ensure that a console is a success, the one's who bought a Wii for the family - they don't have the disposable income anymore. Neither do the kids and students and the young adults. Why? Because they're unemployed.
So by restricting the used game market, in essence Microsoft are forcing gaming to become the pass time of the wealthy. By excluding those unable to afford pull price (and the price of next gen games is going up to £50-£60 per game) then they exclude those unable to afford it and dissuade anyone considering buying one who doesn't have the funds. Not exactly a sensible business model.
An expensive console with no clear USP, that brings nothing new or essential to the home, that will charge you an annual fee to play online, that is the most expensive console on the market, that monitors your living room activity, forces you to pay top whack for a game every time, doesn't allow you to sell your games on for cash to reinvest in other non-gaming essentials and restricts your consumer rights in favor of milking every last revenue stream?
Now the question is will Sony try to do the same? The future of traditional gaming hangs in the balance.
Friday, 26 April 2013
Sport. To some it is a pass-time, some a religion, to some it is an excuse to go out and do something else entirely. It can be a reason for elation or the catalyst for depression. It is a way of keeping fit or an excuse to sit eating snacks on the sofa. Sport brings out the best and worst in human nature, keeps the competitive spirit alive whilst nurturing cross-border friendships and rivalries. At it's best it is as close to 'world peace' as I have ever seen and at it's worst it can be a source of utter depravity. No matter where you are live, sport will have impinged on your life in one way, shape or form.
I love sport. I've played various versions and codes during my life, I love watching it, I love the unscripted unpredictability of it all. I have been lucky enough to watch many different kinds in many different venues, all different, all unique in their own special way.
Many years ago my father took me to see a game of American Football at Wembley stadium - The San Francisco 49ers versus the Washington Redskins - I was transfixed. Being able to see and to hear the impacts of giant armoured athletes smashing into each other, throwing themselves through the air to catch a ball with seemingly little care for their own safety. It was a game of gladiators, a game for the fearless, for those with slight of hand and feet just as equally as it was for the monsters of brute force and ferocity. Not long afterwards I was throwing my own football around in my back garden, a Chicago Bears jersey on my back, pretending to catch the winning touchdown and narrowly missing the kitchen window after the celebratory 'spike'. That was my initiation to American sport.
Recently I have been fortunate to witness two of the other most popular US sports - Basketball and Baseball. Two entirely different sports, with entirely different experiences of both.
A few weeks back I attended a New York Knicks (Knickerbockers) game at Madison Square Garden. It was my first experience of the legendary venue and it did not disappoint. Like squeezing a stadium into a building, the venue is cavernous. Multiple tiers of seats, 360 degrees around the court with massive video screens hanging from the center - it is an imperious sight. The game itself was fairly one-sided with Knicks running out comfortable victors but it didn't detract from the flow and athleticism of Basketball itself - the swift thinking, fleet of foot, hanging aerial prowess and accuracy of shooting. I completely lost myself in it and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
Then a week later I was treated even further, when, barely had the season started but I was invited by a good friend of mine to watch the New York Yankees take on the Boston Redsox at Yankee Stadium. Another stellar venue, rich in history and folklore, with it's enormous 'Great Hall' and perfectly manicured pitch. I even had the opportunity to visit the museum to see the memorabilia from the greats of the game like Babe Ruth. Our seats were fantastic, directly behind the Home Plate and we could see every type of ball that was being thrown during the course of the game.
Baseball for me however, is like Rounders for Accountants. I admit I am an ignoramus concerning the intricacies of the game but it seemed to simply be summed up as the following -
Throw the ball.
Hit the ball.
Repeat for 9 innings
After 3 hours of watching what seemed to be not a lot - and only being on the 5th of 9 innings - I started to wonder how anyone could endure watching all 162 games in a season. 162. That's a lot of throwing, hitting and running. In the end I had to accept that it simply was not for me.
A curiosity I had about attending both sports was the strangely muted atmosphere at both. It surely wasn't for lack of support, both venues were packed to the rafters, yet there was a distinct lack of frisson. Where, particularly at a derby match involving football (soccer), there would be an intensity to the support and a tangible excitement at the rivalry, here there seems to be restraint, an almost tacit recognition that sport is a family event and that the rivalry must be of a PG certificate. An associate of mine rather unfairly called it 'Disney Sport' - however I did kind of see his point.
At the basketball it was eerily quiet at times, with the electronic billboards occasionally urging the crowd to 'MAKE SOME NOISE' or to shout 'Defence' repeatedly (which I found bizarre as it'd be like shouting 'hit the ball' at a tennis match). What I found even more mind-boggling was the message that would pop up after the demand to 'make noise' with a polite request to refrain from swearing, cursing or directing any abuse at the players. Now I'm no hooligan but I found this approach to be quite anodyne, robbing the event of any real form of edge.
That said, both events were very good-spirited, there was no trouble (probably due to a visible amount of security) and I would imagine for families and kids, it would be an extremely enjoyable and safe day out.
So sport is alive and well in the United States; commercialised - yes, but then what popular sports haven't been - but in terms of excitement (even Baseball if you have the patience and I know those that swear by it - obviously not in the direction of the players) awe-inspiring venues and playing sport in the true spirit it was intended? Well I'd certainly buy that for a dollar.
Thursday, 14 March 2013
Okay, first things first. I have been here 5 weeks now and at no stage has anyone asked me -
"Do you want fries with that?"
Never happened, not once, sorry to disappoint. That is not to say that it won't happen but in my (albeit limited) experience, most things that come with fries, come with fries anyway. It'd be like ordering soup and someone asking - "Do you want a spoon with that?"
So that's that out of the way.
I love food. Sounds silly to say that, as food is a prerequisite for life, but then a lot of people eat shit (not literally) on a daily basis, seemingly uninterested in trying different cuisines. I am not one those folk. I like trying new things, eating what the locals eat, sampling the weird and wonderful. For people like me, New York is a cornucopia of edible delights. There are so many restaurants, diners, pubs, dives, food carts, markets...it's enough to make you dizzy.
New York has 7,966 sit down restaurants with a further 9,056 places that deliver. That is a whole lot of choice. Naturally I haven't had a chance to even scratch the surface of what is on offer here but I thought I would share some of the high's (and lows) of my culinary quest so far.
I love a good burger, it really is one of my guilty pleasures in life. I have tried a few so far but by far and away the best I've tasted so far is from the famous '5 Napkins' in Hell's Kitchen - http://5napkinburger.com/
One of four restaurants in the city, they are lauded for their supremely juicy burgers (which is where the name comes from - it takes 5 napkins to eat one!). I was fortunate enough to get a table the other week (the place is constantly rammed) and tried the famous 5 Napkins Burger - 10 oz of ground beef with Gruyere, caramalised onions (like a scoop of French onion soup on a burger), rosemary aioli on a soft white roll. It really is burger heaven, the freshest, juciest burger with the melty cheese and massive flavour from the onions...I inhaled it.
Other notable mentions on the list of Americana favourites are The Delta Grill - http://thedeltagrill.com/ - which serves Creole-infused dishes like Fried Green Tomatoes, Duck Mac and Cheese (yes you heard that correctly and it tastes as good as it sounds) and Hot Gumbo (a Louisiana tradition)
Brother Jimmy's BBQ on Amsterdam Avenue - https://brotherjimmys.com/node - where the 'Pressed Bourbon BBQ Brisket Sandwich' nearly stopped my heart - BBQ Brisket, Bourbon BBQ sauce, Gouda, Onion straws pressed on Texas Toast, which also came with Sweet potato fries - phew! Really tasty but work up an appetite first.
Another quick shout-out goes to Rue 57 - http://rue57.com/ - whose 'Truffle Fries' have to be tasted to be believed.
Away from the deep fried delights of our American friends, I have found there are a plethora of fabulous Japanese restaurants here serving everything from Sushi and Miso to Yakitori and Shumai. My two favourites so far have to be -
Ichi Umi - http://www.ichiumi.com/ - which does the most fabulous 'all-you-can-eat' buffet and featured quite possibly the best Teriyaki (beef and chicken) I've ever had. The buffet is enormous, includes a Sashimi bar, Yakitori, Shumai, Miso, Ramen ...the list goes on. Service there was also first class.
Yakitori Totto - http://tottonyc.com/ - a bijou cubby-hole that serves the tastiest Yakitori. Try the Chicken Heart skewer washed down with hot Saki. Unbelievably good and very affordable, a little gem of a place.
I could go on about all the amazing places to go and may well revisit this subject in the coming weeks as I have only described the tip of the iceberg (I could tell you about my addiction to cupcakes but that will have to wait) - but I do want to mention a couple of places that have registered on the other end of the culinary scale.
Masina Trattoria - http://www.masinatrattoria.com/menu - take a bow! An Italian restaurant in Weehawken (NJ) which is about as Italian as my Scottish pal Eddie. Winner of arguably the worst pizza anyone has ever had the gall to describe as 'pizza' - it consisted mostly of processed cheese - three inches thick of it - and some lonely looking sausage on top. So bad I had to leave the restaurant after a third of it to get some fresh air. If the Italians knew about this place...mamma mia!
Cosmic Diner - http://www.newcosmicdiner.com/ - Let me assure you there is nothing 'Cosmic' about this place. I actually think they misspelled it and stuck an extra 's' in there. About as depressing an experience as you could possibly hope for. Considering the expectations of a diner are fairly low it was quite some feat that they managed to cock up pancakes and bacon - with the pancakes clearly made out of a packet (and made badly) and the bacon...well...it didn't taste like any bacon I've ever eaten...maybe it was cat bacon? Add in that it was hopelessly overpriced and our server stacked plates of food on top of each other - there was the indentation of the plate above in my pancakes - it isn't hard to see why this health hazard of a 'eatery' should be condemned to the 'AVOID' section of the list.
I will return with further adventures next week, no doubt telling you about the 'Quest for a New Belt' after eating all this food. Happy eating folks!
Friday, 8 March 2013
I lived in Scotland a long time. I lived in Scotland so long that it now takes me a week of sunbathing to go white. I didn't even know what the sun was for a while, I thought it was a myth. That's how long I lived in Scotland for. A long old time.
Living in Scotland you accept a few inevitable truths. Things like -
- Scotland will never suffer from a drought. Ever.
- You can eat any part of an animal as long as it is deep fried in batter.
- Losing with pride is better than winning at all costs.
- Whisky is not a beverage. It is a way of life.
- Scotland is one of the coldest places on Earth.
However recently I have experienced an epiphany in regard to the last point on this list. Scotland isn't cold at all, in fact it is a balmy haven of temperateness. I realised this on my arrival to New York, which I had laboured under the false impression for most of my life, that it was warmer than Scotland. Not so.
I arrived here a mere few hours after the snowstorm 'Nemo' (why each storm gets a moniker I am not entirely sure, as if it were the same in Scotland the list of names would have long-since been exhausted and we'd be on to binary code by now). Nemo, depending on where you live, dropped anywhere between 2-5 feet of snow in a matter of 24 hours.
Now to put this into perspective, if the same had happened in the UK then a state of emergency would have been declared, schools would be demolished in order to make way for impromtu grit mountains, while the National press clamoured for international assistance for what could only be described as 'a natural disaster on a scale not seen since the Indonesian tsunami.'
But in America? No sir. As soon as the blizzard had stopped then roads were ploughed, runways cleared, shovels sharpened and life...well life carried on. Why? Because they are used to snow. And not just a sprinkling, tonnes of the stuff.
In the UK we get surprised when it snows, as if we have no way of forecasting it, or as if it has never happened before and then all of a sudden this novelty frozen water starts falling from the sky. But in New York they take it seriously, people are mobilised, forecasts are updated on the hour, people are informed. Why? Because it's bloody cold here!
On most days since my arrival it has been in minus temperatures, sometimes getting well into double figures. This is not something I am used to, and I lived in Scotland a long time (which I may have mentioned). I keep going outside thinking I'm 'wrapped up' but then I get ten yards down the street and wished I'd worn my thermal underwear and buffalo skins. Even as I write this it is snowing and Manhattan is covered in a liberal dusting a few inches thick. It is properly cold here but more often than not the sun shines and the skies are clear and blue.
And that got me thinking. It has struck me that I prefer it to be colder as long as I get blue skies accompanied by sunshine. Where I'm from it's not quite as cold but the sky is a constant grey mono-cloud that hangs around like an impenetrable pall. It's wet and dark and miserable. But not especially cold.
So my apologies Scotland - I shall no longer call you cold and miserable. Instead you shall always have a place in my heart for being wet and miserable from now on.
Much better I'm sure you'll agree.
Tuesday, 19 February 2013
Adverts. We get inundated by them on a daily basis, like coitus interruptus during television shows or a slew of them before a movie. We even have to sit through them to watch a youtube clip these days. Adverts are everywhere.
It seems we can't do anything in our lives anymore without the spectre of consumerism casting its shadow over us, whispering softly into our ears -
"Buy something, wear something, eat this, drink that."
Most of the time it is not even a whisper, it's a shout, a great big bellow accompanied by a glitzy slap to the chops. BUY SOMETHING!!!!
Not all of us are slaves to adverts, some of the more discerning switch off, turn the channel over or shut our eyes and ears to the incessant call to delve into our wallets to buy something we think we need.
As you may be aware I am currently ensconced in New York City. As you may also be aware, this is not the place for those who dislike being sold to like a tourist in a bazaar. So it may surprise you to hear that I am not going berserk at the endless commercialism, in fact, I'm rather enjoying it.
I've been pondering over why - in a land where you can't watch anything for more than ten minutes without a message being piped into your retinas for the new 'double cheese, half pound delux bacon cheese donut' or frankly mystifying catheter ads where a bevvy of earnest 'real folk' talk about how their lives have been changed by an invasive rubber tube - that all of this isn't driving me to gouge my eyes out with a titanium steak knife which is available now at an exclusive one-time-only price.
I think the answer lies in the earnest, single-minded determination to sell. There are no half measures or excuses. There is no pretense behind the will to drive the wheels of capitalism. I may not agree with the underlying sentiment but I have to concede that the advertisers in the States or a savvy bunch.
Chances are that I'm not going to buy 99% of anything that is advertised but I have to admit I've had a giggle at some of the more creative ways of selling a product. There's wit and somehow an honest sentiment behind it all. The lack of cynicism is refreshing, I don't feel as if they're trying to fool me into buying something. Maybe I'm going soft, but I haven't noticed the ads as much as I do in the UK.
As a full stop to this article, consider the production value and budget behind this Kia ad. You may hate it, you may think it's utter tosh and switch off after only a few seconds, that is your prerogative. However consider the scale, the sheer effort and dollar value that it must have taken to create this ad. Churchill the nodding dog this is not. I am not a huge fan of ads, but if I'm going to be sold to then I much prefer advertisers to throw the kitchen sink at me.
By the way, it still doesn't make me want to buy a Kia. But it has spaceships in it. You can't argue with spaceships.