Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Film review - Pixar go meta with Lightyear

I had goosebumps when I saw the first trailer for Lightyear, last year. It's the bit where David Bowie singing Starman kicks in that just gets me. Now, having seen the film, I have had some thoughts. 

This post contains a few spoilers below the video for the trailer, so maybe watch the trailer and then go off and do something else if you don't want to read any spoilers before seeing the film yourself. 

So, the headline meta stuff about this film is that it is meant to be the movie that inspired the Buzz Lightyear action figure who is one of the main stars of the original Toy Story film. In Toy Story, a little boy called Andy is given a Buzz Lightyear figure as a birthday present. In the Pixar universe, this is the film Andy saw in the cinema that made him so excited to get his own Buzz Lightyear.

As a way of extending a successful franchise without continuing an established storyline, this struck me as genius. It's as creative as anything in the movie and starts things off on a clever footing. It's also not really a kids' film - but it is the film for the people who were kids when Toy Story came out 25 years ago! 

The opening few scenes include Buzz exploring an alien planet and saying lines of dialogue that will be immediately recognisable to anyone who has watched the Toy Story several times. That cracked me up. The dialogue worked in the film even if you weren't aware that it was lifted practically verbatim from the first movie. But knowing how those phrases will be repeated in Andy's bedroom by action figure Buzz after Andy's birthday party just filled me with joy.

So, on to the story. Buzz causes an exploration spaceship to crash, marooning 1,200 people on a planet, without any hyperfuel to get home. He wants to make amends and starts repeatedly testing potential hyperfuel compounds, trying to find the one that would enable the ship to leave the planet. Unfortunately, when he tests the fuel by slingshotting around the nearest sun, he experiences time dilation, skipping forwards years compared to the people he leaves behind. Each time he returns a few hours older from a mission, everyone else has aged a few years. 

There's a thoughtful core to that idea, of someone so depserate to make amends for their mistake, they actually end up missing out on life. While his friends and colleagues find love and start families, and live happy, fulfilled lives, Buzz singlemindedly perseveres on his quest to redeem himself - a quest that nobody asks him to undertake. 

Driven by failure and guilt, Buzz doesn't share in his friends' big moments, as they celebrate births and graduations and anniversaries. And in a heartbreaking scene he misses saying goodbye to his best friend and supporter as he returns from a mission after she passes away from old age. I found the scene where he played her recorded goodbye message in her room that now lay empty very emotionally moving. 

That idea gave core meaning to the film, with the question of what really makes a person a hero. There is a grace in accepting the situation and making the best of it - in this case raising a family to be proud of while founding a functioning society on a new planet. 

Then, of course, Buzz lands after one final trip to find the colony city under siege from robots that all say the word "Zurg" and the adventure part of the story kicks in. Buzz and some new friends have to save the day in a way he never expected. 

So, in summary, this felt like Pixar have rediscovered a bit of their soul after a real mix of duds and delights lately. I realise I am one of the few people who really did not like Toy Story 4 and am on record as saying I never needed another Toy Story film. But this isn't a Toy Story film. It had something different to say and said it well, which leaves me feeling like I would be interested in seeing another Lightyear movie.

Monday, June 27, 2022

Celebrity selfies

Call me a fame hog, but I can't resist a selfie with a famous person. Here are some of my favourites.

Big Bird 

Paddington Bear (twice)

Scooby Doo

Wally the Green Monster (mascot of the Boston Red Sox baseball club)

A member of the Ghostbusters

And his nemesis, Mr Stay Puft

Lester, the store mascot for the Leicester Square Lego Store

Harry Potter (in brickish mode)


Dougal from The Magic Roundabout

And a blurry photo with Ermintrude, also from The Magic Roundabout

Samantha Stephens (from the TV show Bewitched)

And finally, long-time Cardiff resident and local legend, Billy the Seal

Sunday, June 26, 2022

Barriers to project success - an exercise in found data

I love 'found data'. It's the inadvertent information that gets shared and can reveal something deeper about the world we live in. My annual Christmas card audits (the ACCAs) are an example. It's almost as good as 'found art'.

Some art I found previously...

This found data was from a project management course that I completed this month (June 2022). There were nine students on the course, which was conducted remotely over five non-consecutive days. Seven students were from the NHS, one was from a university and the ninth worked for a public sector body. The project management programme was PRINCE2, which is a methodology that has been widely taught (if not widely followed) for a number of years.

PRINCE2 has seven key principles that every project conducted in line with PRINCE2 is meant to adhere to. They are non-optional. The seven principles are:

  1. Projects must have a 'continued business justification' - they need to be checked regularly to see if they are still viable and will provide a useful product and value for money
  2. Projects should be informed by experience, incorporating lessons from other projects and ensuring lessons are learned during the life cycle of the project
  3. Projects should have 'defined roles and responsibilties' in the project team 
  4. Projects should be 'managed in stages' which includes a clear process for starting and ending projects
  5. Projects should also be 'managed by exception', so higher levels of management are only really involved if circumstances change and projects are unable to go as planned
  6. Projects should 'focus on products' - the result or outcome of the project
  7. And finally, project management and design should be tailoured to fit the context of the project

The person leading the course used an interesting approach to get us to discuss (and learn!) the seven principles. He gave all of us seven votes and asked us which of the seven principles we thought were least likely to be adhered to in our workplace. We could assign as many of our votes as we liked to any of the principles, depending how difficult it would be to adhere to particular principles in our workplaces. That was 63 votes in total.

Now, bearing in mind who was on the course, I found the results really interesting.

Top of the pile, with 20 votes - almost a third of all the votes we were allowed - was the first principle: continued business justification. So, basically, the feeling was that once a project got started it was never checked to see if it was still needed. It would just carry on, regardless. It didn't matter if the landscape had changed, new evidence had emerged, technology had advanced or whatever. There was no stopping it. Projects might even get started without a business justification in the first place. It was somebody's pet idea and if that person had enough clout they could make a project happen.

Next in the pile, with 14 votes - which is the rquivalent of two votes from everyone on average - was 'defined roles and responsibilities'. When we discussed this, it was either people not knowing what they were meant to do, people higher up in the system micromanaging and interfering, or trying to get support from the 'not-my-job' brigade who just refuse to undertake roles in projects. 

Both 'focus on products' and 'manage by stages' earned 9 votes each. The focus of projects is often on the process rather than the outcome, and everyone seemed to have a story about a project that started without a defined intended outcome. Manage by stages also seemed to be a difficult one because projects get launched with very little planning and without a step-by-step plan for product delivery. 

Tailouring and learning from experience both earned 7 votes. There is common phrase about reinventing wheels that crops up regularly. I've noticed a reluctance of people in the NHS to learn from other organisations, or even from other teams in their own organisatrion. The default position is that whatever worked up the road couldn't possibly work here because our job doing the same thing is actually so much harder and more complex! It's nonsense, but it's hard to argue with people who find that belief convenient for several reasons.

And then, finally, 'manage by exception' got 4 votes. That seems to indicate that people do bring problems to those above them in the organisations. Mainly that's because they will have run out of money and are asking for more (he says, slightly cynically).

Mathematically adept readers may have noticed that the total adds up to more than 63 votes, so some people obviously got carried away and lost count of their votes. But the general trend feels true to the discussions we subsequently had.

I'm not arguing for the reliability of found data, and I recognise this is a very small sample size. But it does capture the perceptions of people about the barriers to running projects according to an established methodology. And actually, this kind of subconscious sharing of information may be more reliable than if people were asked under formal conditions to give an opinion. This is what people really think about trying to make projects work in these organisations. 

Saturday, June 25, 2022

Snack of the Month - Nudie Snacks Cauliflower Crisps

Cathy spotted these in a shop and suggested I get them as a snack for the blog. It was only when I looked at the receipt afterwards that I realised how expensive they were. I kind of hoped they would be worth it. Also, "Nudie Snacks" sounds like something that wouldn't be suitable for work, but these are perfectly safe in that regard. 

With them being made from "fresh cauliflower" (it never crossed my mind that they would be made from any other kind of cauliflower) I thought they might be a lower carb option to regular crisps. However, a quick glance at the back proved they weren't particularly low on the carb front. The fat content was a little bit higher than I expected as well. 

The bag was a bit big for a random snack so I waited until we had a movie lined up to watch (Dr Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, since you ask), and then I opened them. They look a lot like lentil chips or similar snacks rather than crisps.

The crisps were cheese and caramelised onion flavour. They smelled sort of cauliflowery, but didn't taste particularly of cauliflower. Cathy thought they were very cheesy, but not in a bad way. There was also a slight sweetness to them, although that might have been from the beer I was drinking while munching. 

As a snack they were munchably moreish and didn't last long into the movie. I quite liked the taste and they had a pleasing crunch without being too hard. However, at about £2 a bag, they're a bit too expensive for everyday snacking purposes and I probably won't be buying them again. 

Monday, June 13, 2022

More fun with wings

Last month I posed with some wall-art that gave me angel wings. Then last week I found some different wings. (And Cathy was willing to stop and take photos of me again!)

If you want to pose with these dragon wings yourself, they are in the Red Dragon Centre in Cardiff Bay. Get there quick though, before the centre gets bulldozed to make way for the new Cardiff Bay Arena.  

Sunday, June 12, 2022

Silly Lego mischief

At the back of the Lego store in Cardiff there is a 'pick a brick' wall. (Think of pick and mix sweeties and it's the same concept.) Anyone can pick up a cup and fill it with fun Lego pieces. There is an art to packing the cups to get as many pieces in as possible.

I often stroll past the hoppers of Lego bits to see what's available. Currently they have cloud shaped pieces (which Lego fans will recognise as the figurine bases from the Unikitty blind-bag range) and they also have eyeballs. And, um, yeah...

I originally only made one of these, but then Cathy found the other eye shapes so we ended up with two little characters. While grey, is probably a suitable 'sky' colour for Cardiffians, Cathy thought it looked dull, so I moved my cloud people to the hopper full of aquamarine bits.

It just shows how much fan can be had with just a few pieces of Lego. 

Saturday, June 11, 2022

Footballing with company - 2022 edition

Following on from my end of season round up, here's a gallery of selfies with the many people who have made matchgoing fun in my record-breaking season.

First up, my friend Paul said he noticed that I didn't mention him in my review of May even though he came with me to both the Welsh Cup final and the Ardal Cup final. So here's a pic of us at Penrhiwceiber Rangers.

At the start of the season I persuaded my friend Matt to come with me to Aberystwyth.

While my friend Tom persuaded me to go to Aberdare.

I've been going to games with Steve for several years now. In addition to three Poole Town games, he also joined me on my first visit to Cardiff Draconians this year. This photo, however, was taken at the University of South Wales sports park, home to Pontypridd Town, and one of the 22 new grounds I visited this past season.

Speaking of universities, Callum joined me on a grim night in Cyncoed to watch Cardiff Metropolitan play Barry Town. 

I invited a lot of people along to watch Barry games this year, including James who I met on an internet forum and who joined me for a day out in Flint.

And my Mum came along to Jenner Park as well. She knitted us hats!

Here's a pic of Mum in more familiar surroundings as we watched Shrewsbury beat Lincoln on Mother's Day weekend. My nephew Zac was there too.

Earlier in the season, Zac was part of a boy's trip to Sheffield with me and his dad (my brother Dave). 

I also watched Shrewsbury battle to a 0-0 draw against Accrington alongside Dave, but I didn't take any photos of that.

I did, however, take a photo of me and Zac at Barry's last game of the season. It was a proper uncle-nephew day out with a stop in McDonald's on the way there and the way back.

He's smiling there, even though he was later very frank about just how rubbish the game was. 

In one of the last games of the season I sat next to my former work colleague Scott as we watched Treharris Athletic somehow lose the most one-sided game I have seen in a long time. Their opponents were Caerau Ely who had one shot on target - a penalty - and the rest of the game was conducted mainly in the Caerau Ely penalty area. 

There are some other people I saw at football matches and neglected to take photos with. I sat with the other Steve H and his son Adam (Cathy's uncle and cousin, respectively) at a game in Longlevens in Gloucester. And I sat next to my friend Ben at Caldicot Town. He was injured otherwise he would have been playing for Caldicot. 

But in the absence of photos of them, here's another photo of Paul. When Barry played Connah's Quay, they had bouncy castles and and ice cream van in Jenner Park. So we made the most of it.

(And, yes, I know the photobombing child looks like he's in my ice cream!)

Friday, June 10, 2022

Review of my record-breaking football season

On Wednesday I went to my 60th and final game of the 2021-22 football season. This was a record number of games for me and through judicious planning I ended on a nice round number!

The result of the game on Wednesday was disappointing, as Wales succumbed to a late, late goal and lost to the Netherlands. At the end of the game, Gareth Bale's body language said it all.

Still, at least the rain held off. I got there early with my friend Paul and we were able to thoroughly dissect the Barry Town AGM that we attended the previous week, and discuss how we felt the team would fare in the coming season in the Cymru South. 

Anyway, on to my season stats, courtesy of the Futbology app.

In addition to it being the highest number of matches I'd ever been to in a season, it was also the highest number of new grounds (22) that I'd visited in a single season. Futbology has a map feature that displayed all 22 grounds for me.

The majority of new grounds were in South Wales, naturally. Hillsborough in Sheffield was an outlier. The two grounds in North Wales were The Rock in Cefn and Cae y Castell in Flint. Over there right in the middle of Cardigan Bay is Aberystwyth Town.

The grounds I visited in South Wales fir the first time tended to follow the A470 corridor up to Merthyr Tydfil.

Heading from the bottom of the map, there's Bridgend Street's ground in East Cardiff, then that line of five grounds in sort of a row are Canton Liberals's brand new pitch in the Cardiff International Sports Village, Lydstep Park in Gabalfa where Cardiff Draconians play, Cardiff Corinthians's ground in Radyr, Taffs Well FC and then the University of South Wales sports park in Treforest that Pontypridd Town call home. Also on the map are Pontyclun, Clydach Vale, Treharris, Penrhiwceiber, Aberdare and Penydarren Park in Merthyr which hosted the Ardal Southern Cup final at the end of May.

The last two seasons really have been famine followed by feast. After the pandemic curtailed the season in Spring 2020, there was an entire year (actually 16 months) where I didn't go to football matches. This is reflected in my graph of games attended with a grand total of zero games rocketing up to 60. 

If the 60 games this season had been spread over the last two seasons I would be round about average compared to previous seasons. At the start of the season I had secretly hoped to make it to 40 games. I overshot that target by a considerable distance, despite the lockdown in Wales suspending football here for about a month over Christmas. I more than made up for that with my 'decamonth' in April - although that wasn't the month with the most games; I started the season strongly with 11 games in August.

And that just about wraps that up. There are already details of friendly fixtures coming through for a few weeks' time. The new football league season starts on 30th July. Football will be back soon enough!

Monday, June 06, 2022

Blood Bowl match report - dashing past the dwarves

My friend Bryan and I decided we were going to play Blood Bowl more often. We said that back in September... and it's now June. Still, yesterday we found the time for a game.

For a change, I played with an orc team, while Bryan stuck with his trusty dwarves. It was the meeting of two "bash" teams that are set up to thump their way to victory.


In the end, thumping-wise, it was honours even. Both teams inflicted an injury that saw an opponent carried off the field. Score-wise, the orcs won 2-0, with both touchdowns scored in the very last turn of the half. (The way Blood Bowl works, both players take 8 turns in each half.)

The second down was funny as my orc thrower picked up the ball next to the endzone, tried to throw the ball but fumbled it, so had to pick it up again, then ran with it, avoided some dwarves and ran with it some more. He was almost stopped by a dwarf attempting to blitz him, but the dice favoured him and the dwarf fell flat on his face instead of tackling him.

That sort of thing is hilarious when it happens to your opponent. Not funny at all when it happens to you!

There is no way the orc in possession (far right)
should have got out of this!

But he did - and he scored! (far left)

(In case you're wondering, yes the orcs are painted in Wrexham colours. I do that to amuse myself.)

Sunday, June 05, 2022

May 2022 - a month of bumpy beginnings

I had a week off after leaving my previous job before starting my new job. We did plenty of stuff, including a trip to Oxford to see a friend. We had some time to wander around Oxford includng a very brief look into the Ashmolean Museum.

We also saw the Bridge of Sighs. Here's Cathy stood under it to give an indication of its size.

We really liked the gargoyles on Brasenose College. This owl really caught my eye. He looks like he's pumped!

And there was some modern cultural artwork in the shopping centre.

Unfortunately, I came back from Oxford with a respiratory memento.

Yes, over three years into the pandemic I finally caught the 'rona. I felt pretty rough with it for a few days, with a raspy cough and feeling like I could not fully inhale air into my lungs. 

Unfortunately, the timing meant that I couldn't go into the office on my first day. I spent my first week and a bit logging into meetings virtually. It wasn't the way I wanted to meet my new team but everyone was kind about it. I am slowly getting a handle on the new ecosystem I am working in now. It's a slightly odd feeling, leaving behind a work context I really understood and having to learn a new one.

In football terms, I missed a few games while isolating. I still made it to four games either side of having covid. The month started with the Welsh Cup final, which had quite an exciting end as Penybont scored twice from 3-0 down and were pushing for an equaliser at the very end of the game. But TNS held on and were crowned 'pencampwyr'.

As a bonus, when I logged into Futbology, I got a badge for being at a cup final!

There was another cup final at the end of the month. I've been to see Cardiff Draconians a few times this year. After the league campaign ended, there were some league cup fixtures. The Dracs progressed through to the final, which was held up at the Bont in Penydarren. That was a new ground for me so I drove up after work.

The Dracs were posing in the goalmouth before the game.

But it was Trethomas Bluebirds who lifted the trophy.

Sadly, I was having a problem downloading the update for Futbology so no 'badge' for me at this cup final. I did, however, have the most marvellous chips from the New Dolphin fish bar in Caeharris, which is up the hill and then up again from the ground. 

And despite the enforced break from going outside for both me and Cathy (who tested positive a few days after I did), we still managed to see the Snoopy statues on the Dog's Trail. I'm going to post a load of selfies at some point, but for now, here we are outside a toy shop in the Queen's Arcade.