Thursday, January 29, 2009

Unified Review Theory - the PODCAST

Yes, we have recorded a podcast! In this first-ever episode of Unified Review Theory, join your hosts Neill and James as we continue our ongoing mission to Review Everything. Only this time, you know, by TALKING. In this packed episode, we take it back to the 90's with a review of beloved time-travel TV series Quantum Leap, and get in touch with our highland roots with a frank and full discussion of the Cameron Family Motto.

Just click the above image , or follow this link:

We will put it on iTunes and stuff if we ever figure out how. Also, if we ever record another.

Your thoughts, comments and feedback would be very welcome, as would be suggestions of stuff for us to review in future episodes! Just leave comments below, or on our Facebook page.


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

McVities Toaster Waffles

(Low-effort 'convenience' foodstuff)

NEILL says:

Imagine waking gently from a deep, long, sleep. You push yourself up from between cool and crisp white linen sheets and let your mind slowly settle. What has woken you up? Not a noise - the house is blissfully quiet, the only sound being the gentle lapping of the waves on the beach outside. The light? It's true, warm sunlight is streaming in through the windows and across the bed. But that's not it. No, it's - a smell. A wonderful, rich, delicious smell. Someone downstairs is making waffles.

That is the dream that waffles represent, and it is a dream that is heartbreakingly poignant when one's real wake-up routine involves a regular 4am leap out of bed into a pitch-black and freezing-cold house to deal with a screaming baby who has the runs. So poignant, in fact, that it can lead one to doing odd, otherwise inexplicable things. Like, for instance, buying 'Toaster Waffles'.

The actual review: they're not aggressively unpleasant. They do taste vaguely waffle-ish, which is probably the best one could hope for. There's a certain degree of sogginess that is unexpected in something that is, after all, cooked in a toaster. But they possess one unexpectedly winning quality: the smell. Not only do they make your house smell like someone has actually been making proper waffles, but that smell then lingers with an astonishing degree of persistence and causes pleasant olfactory tingles of waffliness whenever you walk into the kitchen for the rest of the day. My wife suggests that the ideal solution would be to simply toast a couple every morning and then chuck them in the bin. But I think she underestimates my desire to eat soggy toaster waffles.


Sunday, January 11, 2009

A Short History of Nearly Everything

by Bill Bryson

JAMES says:

A very handy book for a new father, as it gives me at least some of the answers to the barrage of questions I will no doubt be subjected to in a few years time ("what is wind? Who build the moon? Why don't trains have legs?" etc), however I think once again I have fallen victim to my inability to do anything other than start a book then read it in numerical order by page until I reach the end. This is probably more of a dipper. Several elements are repeated, mainly trying to make you comprehend how big or amazing things are (If you put every zero in a row it would reach to Sevenoaks, it was as if a cat had suddenly learnt how to conduct hostage negotiations overnight). The whole book is basically one big "Isn't it neat". And it is is fact neat. Although the next time a scientist tells you he knows something laugh in his face.


Saturday, January 10, 2009

Ninjafied Rap

(New Musical Form)

NEILL says:

One of the advantages of being self-employed and working from home is that I am able to play lots of really loud hip-hop, and rap along at the top of my lungs in an excruciatingly awkward thirtysomething-white-man fashion. In a more conventional office workplace this would be somewhat embarrassing, if not entirely inappropriate, but in the comfort and privacy of my own studio I am free to really let rip. There is, however, one significant problem with the practise. As a guilt-ridden middle-class liberal of impeccable credentials, there is.... a particular word that I am literally unable to say. Even in the privacy of my own studio, where there is no-one around to hear or be offended. And, unfortunately, it is a word that is used a lot in a lot of rap songs. I mean, really a lot. You know the one, it begins with 'N'.

This has caused me minor consternation for years, as when happily rapping along to The Roots or Nas in my pleasantly ridiculous fashion, I am forced to either simply skip over the word, performing a self-imposed mental version of a radio DJ pressing their cough button, or substitute a random incoherent mumble for the offending N-word. Either of these take a certain amount of memory and concentration, which are not exactly my core competencies anyway, and generally end up messing up my otherwise formidable Flow. Even worse are the rare occasions when I fluff the procedure and the word slips out, causing me to spend the rest of the afternoon in the throes of a crippling liberal guilt attack and worrying that my subscription to the Guardian will be revoked.

As you can see, this is a major problem for me. I would go further, in fact, and describe it as a major social problem for our times. However, it is a problem which I am happy to say I have totally solved. And all it takes is the easy substitution of the word 'ninja' for, you know, the other word. This is perfect, as:

a) it sounds almost the same anyway so the lyrics still flow perfectly
b) it renders even the hardest-to-excuse examples of gangsta rap into songs about ninjas. And I don't know about you, but I find that pretty amusing.

fig. 1.1 - The Wu-Tang Clan, Shame on a [Ninja]

fig 1.2 - Geto Boys, Damn it feels Good to be a Gangsta (Ninja)

fig 1.3 - Gangstarr, The Militia (Ninjafied Version)

My only regret is that this is without question the single greatest idea I will ever have in my life, and yet it is one that will almost certainly never make me any money. But that's it, my gift to the world and to future generations. You can thank me later.


The Originals:

Gangstarr, The Milita. Greatest video of all time? Very possibly yes.

Geto Boys, Damn it Feels Good to be a Gangsta. Doesn't it, though?

Monday, January 05, 2009


(Developmental stage)

NEILL says:

I am unable to give an accurate review of the subjective experience of teething, as it was quite a long time ago and I don't really remember all the details. But I would imagine I didn't particularly enjoy it. What I can give you is an all-too-comprehensive account of the experience from the other side, as the parent of a teething one-year-old. Essentially, in layman's terms for those of you who are fortunate enough to not yet have spawned offspring of your own: it involves a lot of being awake when you would prefer not to be awake. One's nights become a soul-destroying routine of being wrenched from pleasant dreams1 to spend several hours going through a futile cycle of milk bottles, teething gel, Calpol and "oh just leave him, he'll surely stop crying sooner or later". (He doesn't). Of course, when you do finally manage to successfully get the screaming ratbag back off to sleep, the mind then chooses just that moment to rebel and experience a perversely ill-timed bout of insomnia, and you end up lying in bed for hours in the middle of the night worrying and wondering about topics as diverse as whether the kid's okay, the global economic crisis and its likely impact on your mortgage, and whether this would be an appropriate time to get up and have that leftover ham in a nice sandwich with maybe a glass of milk.

I once heard about a scientific study which found that the impact of small-baby-enforced insomnia on one's mental acuity and intelligence levels was functionally equivalent to experiencing a mild but significant form of brain damage, and the only thing I can say about that is "well, duh." I do feel it gives one a peculiar insight into one's own parents. Have you ever wondered why your Mum and Dad were so weird? Well, it's because you, by the sheer fact of your existence and basic needs as a human infant, systematically destroyed their mental stability, judgement and decision-making abilities to the point where wearing corduroy trousers with bicycle clips seemed like a good idea. Are you happy now?


1 Tonight's, since you asked: with the assistance of Marvel supervillains and Thor adversaries the 'Wrecking Crew', I was helping that woman out of the first couple of series of Teachers move her new soapmaking business' stock of Bath Bombs out of her old premises and onto a nice new canal narrowboat HQ, and everyone present was very impressed that I could carry the whole sofa on my back with no assistance.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

New Year's Resolutions


NEILL says:

I hate to come off as the predictably cynical misanthrope that, well, I am, but New Year's resolutions really are a load of absolute shit. Whether to "lose weight", "stop smoking" or "try not to have more than two bottles of gin before the milkman's been, except on Saturdays obviously, everyone's allowed Saturdays off, right? Right?", they are equally futile. It is entirely inexplicable why people persist in the delusion that their catastrophic character flaws, stubbornly resistant to any attempt at change for the rest of their lives, will somehow be magically rendered soluble by the fact that the last digit on the calendar has changed incrementally. If anything, the start of January is the worst possible time for embarking on any attempt at self-improvement, as it's cold out, everything's pretty fucking depressing and you're probably hungover anyway.

New Year's resolutions can be useful and constructive, but the key is to set achievable goals. If you aim too high you only end up failing, depressing yourself, and reverting to your destructive behaviours harder than ever, the only winner in the whole ghastly feedback loop of self-annihilation being Paul McKenna and his ever-growing empire of fraudulent "I Can Get You Off the Pipe" style self-help books. As such, I have decided this year to set the following - entirely realistic - resolutions for myself in 2009:

  1. Learn all the (correct) words to the theme tune of Rawhide.
  2. Train my one-year old son to say "Daddy" and give a sharp military salute.
  3. Become rich and famous and successful and that.
One out of three seems a realistic target.