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Irish Times articles


Monday, August 26, 1996

An Irishman’s Diary - The Silicon Valley

Most areas exist in two places at once. They have an actual existence on the ground, and an imagined existence in the minds of people that think about them. People who have never been to London can tell you about Big Ben and red buses.

And people who have never been to the Silicon Valley in Northern California can tell you about the hot-shot computer companies that are based there.

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Posted in • Irish Times
Wednesday, August 14, 1996

Apple’s Mission Impossible

Computers in movies have come a long way since the nerdy Matthew Broderick in War Games. In the current hit Independence Day, Jeff Goldblum saves the world by dialing up the alien invaders from his laptop, and in Mission:  Impossible Tom Cruise uses his computer to defeat the nasty double-crossing spies.

With hi-tech movies all the rage, the opportunity for product placement has not gone unnoticed by the computer industry. While Microsoft might look to have the real world sewn up, in the neverland of tv and cinema, Apple reign supreme - and it doesn?t cost them a penny.

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Posted in • Irish TimesTechnologyFilm
Monday, July 08, 1996

Ballpark figures - Irish companies playing softball

Received wisdom says that to work in computers you need only cerebral skills - rearranging noughts and ones is a singularly sedentary pursuit.  But there are a fair few IT firms in Dublin who would be pleased if you can also hit home runs or catch a fly ball out of the sun back on the fence.

The Leinster Softball League (LSL) boasts 78 teams (18 more than last year), and computer firms making up a sizeable chunk of the teams - the Claris Crusaders, Gateway Comanches, Digital Dodgers and Symantec Hackers turn out against the Isocor Angels, the Oracle Orbits and the Fujitsu Olympians. Even clubs without direct affiliations with companies seem to have more of their fair share of programmers, testers and project leaders.

?I?m not sure exactly why so many computer people are involved,?  says Paul Byrne, Director of the LSL. ?But there?s a bit of friendly rivalry between Lotus and Microsoft, for example,?

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Posted in • Irish TimesTechnologyIreland
Saturday, June 22, 1996

Future imperfect - sci-fi TV shows

?Those who are ignorant of the past are condemned to repeat it,?  runs the famous line. That?s all very well, but now there?s a televisual corollary: ?Those who are ignorant of the future are condemned to repeat the present.?

In some ways the future?s never looked brighter. Big-budget science fiction shows are entering the tv mainstream to an extent undreamed of by the creators of the original Star Trek; even Dennis Potter?s final work for television, Cold Lazarus, was pure science fiction.

This weekend sees a Star Trek convention at Dublin City University, and next week two of the cast of The X Files arrive in Ireland to promote a new video spin-off from the hugely successful series.

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Posted in • Irish TimesTelevision
Thursday, June 20, 1996

Born Curious - Interview with Jostein Gaarder

‘To study philosophy increases your identity, giving you more strength as an individual. If we learn a little about thinking, it gives us a stronger self, because philosophy doesn’t ask questions like ‘what have you got?’, but ‘what are you’’.

Jostein Gaarder talks like an evangelist. The author of Sophie’s World, the best-selling novel that doubles as an introduction to philosophy, has an unquestionable commitment to the cause of questioning everything.

‘For me philosophy is not something just cerebral, it’s also a question of sensuality. When I ask the questions ‘who am I? what is love? what is Nature? what is the Earth?’ I’m talking about physical things. And I don’t think at all that my mind is more important than my body - philosophy includes both.’

In his new book, The Solitaire Mystery, he underlines his argument that the best introduction to philosophy is to hang on to something of you childish curiosity.

‘We are born curious. Young children ask curious questions: ‘does God exist? Why do the stars twinkle? How go birds fly?’ he says.

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Posted in • Irish Times
Monday, April 29, 1996

The Moore the Merrier - looking for namesakes on the net

Nicholas Negroponte, director of the MediaLab at MIT, recently said that using the internet, ?information and community can be pinpointed with total disregard for geographic density and without the need to justify or qualify them in terms of a mass medium.

It?s a familiar argument that the internet creates communities of similar people that would otherwise be separated by geography. But how much of a sense of community is it possible to feel with people, when your means of communication is a computer and modem?

To test this theory, I went looking for a community of people that were just like me, or rather for people that were me - people called David Moore. (This might sound nothing more than vanity, but it?s actually not a bad name to choose: not too common and not too rare, and it?s a name that isn?t linked to any particular English-speaking country).

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Posted in • Irish TimesTechnology
Saturday, March 16, 1996

The agony and the empathy - TV teen drama

Episodes of Beverly Hills 90210 are like 50-minute commercials for a life you’ll never have

‘Yoof’ programming has had a bad press. We’re led to believe that it’s all inane magazine shows with manic audiences, and bronzed bodies on California beaches - visual bubblegum for sullen teenagers too old for safe kids’ telly, and too young for Newsnight.

American teen dramas in particular have drawn a great deal of criticism.  These escapist shows, such as Beverly Hills 90210 and Sweet Valley High, try to tell you that being a teenager is a brilliant thing because you’re beautiful, it’s sunny and everyone loves you.

However, recently a new type of teenage drama has appeared, which explores the difficulties of growing up in a much more considered fashion. More empathetic than escapist, this school is best represented by Party of Five (which won this year’s Golden Globe for best TV show) and My So-Called Life, which has just returned to Network 2.

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Posted in • Irish TimesTelevision
Thursday, January 11, 1996

Garbage in, garbage out - technology in movies

Bullock’s character still has to defeat the leading bad guy by hitting him over the head with a heavy object

Suddenly our movie screens are about to become computer screens, as Hollywood releases a crop of films about the Internet and virtual reality. Just when you thought the cinema was the only place you could escape from the media hype, it appears that swords and kilts are yesterday’s news.

The Net, starring Sandra Bullock, started the process here last autumn.  Johnny Mnemonic (starring Keanu Reeves) is due next month, and Virtuosity (with Denzel Washington) is on its way. These are big-name stars, and the films have the budgets to match, but their directors and writers insist they are thoughtful and timely examinations of how technology is changing our lives.

‘I see it as a fable for the information age,’ says Johnny Mnemonic’s writer William Gibson. ‘The film is a cautionary tale about how technology can expand our minds and horizons and how it can also reflect the worst of what we’ve become,’ says Brett Leonard, the director of Virtuosity.

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Posted in • Irish TimesTechnologyFilm
Monday, November 27, 1995

A blast from the past - retro gaming

Nostalgia has arrived in the hi-tech world of computers. Normally so concerned with bigger, faster and newer, it now appears that the next big thing could be smaller, slower and older. Remember those Atari videogames from the eary 80s? Well, they’re back.

As part of the current taste for retro-chic, people who grew up with Defenders, Space Invaders and Pac Man are now looking to play these games again.

Old and new are coming together in a rewarding way, with the internet being used to help enthusiasts swap information on retrogaming. Now you can use your Pentium-driven PC to visit websites and newsgroups devoted to consoles and home computers that could only muster 48K of memory, 16 colours, blocky graphics and tinny sound.

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Posted in • Irish TimesTechnology
Tuesday, July 18, 1995

Newt’s Knights - the real meaning of First Knight

. . . if Ben Cross is Saddam Hussein, then (and I hesitate to say it) Richard Gere as Lancelot is Newt Gingrich

It’s a cliche that history books say more about the time they were written than the time they describe, but the recent crop of medieval-based films have shown that the same is true of historical films. You go for swashbuckling and damsels in distress, and end up with a discussion of big government versus the rights of the individual.

Rob Roy, Liam Neeson’s latest film, and Mel Gibson’s forthcoming epic Braveheart both describe the little man fighting for freedom against the English military and political machine. First Knight, despite being a reworking of the story of King Arthur, shares this uneasiness with government intervention into individual lives, however well-meant.

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Posted in • Irish TimesFilm
Saturday, July 15, 1995

Doctor, Doctor! - Medical TV Dramas

‘You work in a pool of excrement. Your job is to swim to the shallow end’

‘Nurse, the screens!’

‘Yes, doctor, I know. They’re full of hospital dramas.’

Rescued from the mid-afternoon limbo of Young Doctors and A Country Practice, medical programs are now back in prime-time. Casualty has finished another successful season, but now we also have ER, Cardiac Arrest and Chicago Hope.

One of the most notable features of all these shows is their convincingly incomprehensible technical vocabulary. The instructions barked over the speeding trolleys make very few allowances for a non-medical audience.

Pursuing realism is fine, but what do we get out of this emphasis on obfuscation? We get security. It is comforting to place yourself so completely in the care of a doctor who speaks an obscure, almost sacred, language.  You don’t want to know what it all means, so long as these magically cryptic words (such as ‘intubate’ and ‘O neg’) somehow make you better.

The hospital dramas might use the same language on both sides of the Atlantic, but they’re saying different things with it. The American shows (Chicago Hope and ER) are much less bleak than their British cousins, which often concern themselves with the way political and medical issues interact.

Chicago Hope is named after the hospital in which it is set, but the abstract noun in the title is telling. In each episode we only see a handful of patients, and there seems to be the time (and the elaborate offices) in which to discuss abstract issues such as hope, morality and religion.  Where we do see medical procedures being carried out, however, they are detailed in the extreme, placing the discussion over issues into context, and showing us that the safe technical terms describe startlingly physical actions.

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Posted in • Irish TimesTelevision
Saturday, March 25, 1995

Looking back in desperation - 80s revival in the 90s

?Nostalgia isn?t what it used to be. Like a crew of rowers, artists have always looked backwards to earlier times in an attempt to move forwards. At the moment, however, they?re not looking back very far: there?s a 1980s revival going on.

Last year, there was a 1970s revival, and we were awash with flares and platforms, disco and Starsky and Hutch. This year, however, it?s The Human League and the Rubik?s cube. We?re running out of decades to be nostalgic about.

We have classic Eastenders and Grange Hill episodes on the BBC, and a Tube retrospective series on Channel 4. Radio stations play the classic hits of the ‘60s 70s and 80s’, and students have started having 80s parties, where dressing up as Adam Ant or a kid from Fame is compulsory.

Abba have scarcely been so popular, and the ?Strictly Handbag? night at The Kitchen specialises in kitsch tunes from the period. Record companies are releasing 80s compilations hand over fist, and even Kajagoogoo must be preparing for a comeback.

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Posted in • Irish TimesTelevisionMusicFilm
Tuesday, February 21, 1995

Have you seen the film of the ad? - movies and commercials

You know the tv commercial where two men in an office washroom are discussing the imminent sacking of a colleague, when the doomed workmate emerges from a cubicle and starts singing? What?s it all about?

It?s hard enough to remember what it?s for (Allied Dunbar pensions and life assurance), without trying to work out why it says anything about the product aside from the most basic, ?he?s not fussed, he?s got a pension?. However, the advert is a fine example of a recent trend in commercials to stop talking about the product.

Instead, the desire is to make 90 seconds of entertainment for an intelligent tv-literate audience. Make us like the ad as a piece of art first, and then maybe we?ll think about a pension.

The way many advertisers are doing this is by borrowing creatively from movies, to the extent that commercials are now often much more inventive and visually stimulating than the ?real? programmes they interrupt.

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Posted in • Irish TimesIrelandFilmTelevision
Saturday, January 14, 1995

Wait ‘Til the Midnight Hour

‘Not bad for a table and two bits of wall’

In the beginning was The Word, and the word was loud; next was Fantasy Football, and loud became lad; and now comes The End, and the word turns languid.

Making weekend tv programmes for people watching after 11pm is more difficult than it sounds. Half your audience have just returned from the pub and intellectual stimulation is the last thing on their minds. Mildly diverting entertainment to get them ready for bed is more appropriate, and several stations have risen to the challenge of post-pub programming with differing results.

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Posted in • Irish TimesTelevisionIreland
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