Thursday, October 30, 2014

Halloween: harmless fun or a growing menace?

Halloween is once again upon us, a festival dating back hundreds of years. But while many people enjoy this annual event, it is a celebration which many others now dread.


Halloween is observed in a number of countries on the 31st of October. The true origins are still one of debate, but there are indications that the festivities were connected to the end of the harvest and to pay homage to the souls of the dead with the lighting of candles and taking part in eating, drinking and games.

Many people might think the idea of Trick or Treat is a modern or even American import. However the roots of such activity can be traced back several centuries to places in Ireland and Scotland. In parts of southern Scotland a man dressed as a Láir Bhán [white mare] led youths house-to-house reciting verses, some of which had pagan overtones, in exchange for food. If the household donated food it could expect good fortune from the 'Muck Olla'. Not doing so would bring misfortune. The wearing of costumes at Halloween spread to England in the 20th century, as did the custom of playing pranks.

The festival is closely associated with Christian celebrations. According to some scholars, All Hallows' Eve is a Christianized feast initially influenced by Celtic harvest festivals, with possible pagan roots.

Modern day festivities

However, today Halloween is associated with guising, ghouls, ghosts, Trick or Treat and of playing pranks. But rather than paying homage to the dead, most Halloween celebrations are focused on dark, sinister and murderous imagery.

Television schedules will be filled with tales of horror, and films such as John Carpenter's Halloween are dug up for a repeated showing.

Those taking to dressing up for Halloween no longer adorn traditional costumes depicting ghosts, witches or werewolves. Instead one is more likely to encounter people replicating characters from horror films from the last two decades such as the Scream, Friday the 13th or Nightmare on Elm Street. More recently zombies have become popular due to the growing number of movies which began with George A. Romero's 1968 movie Night of the Living Dead.

Commercial overload

As the 31st of October approaches shops are filled with merchandise. From the humble pumpkin to aisles full of witches hats, broomsticks and spray on cobwebs, one can't walk more than a few metres around a supermarket without being reminded the witching hour is upon us.

The sweet aisle is overloaded with special Halloween candy for the obligatory Trick or Treat adventures. As we stroll past the fruit and veg we are reminded to buy apples for Apple Bobbing and as one passes the bakery we are thrust into a land of Halloween cakes, donuts and other ghoulish confectionery.

Trick or Treat

For kids, Halloween is perhaps harmless fun. There is the joy of dressing up as a witch, ghost or skeleton before engaging in party games. Some may even join their parents and knock at their neighbours in a game of Trick or Treat.

But Halloween is becoming increasingly sinister as older children and youths harass householders and play pranks that could be considered anti-social or even criminal.

Egg throwing has become such a problem in some areas around the time of Halloween that some supermarkets ban their sale to young people.

Intimidation and dangers

Police say the tradition of "Trick or Treating" has resulted in many people having eggs thrown at them and their property. Anyone on the receiving end can feel intimidated, but the elderly can feel particularly threatened [BBC].

The practice can also prove to be dangerous. Throwing eggs at moving vehicles can be extremely dangerous as it could cause drivers to lose concentration and have an accident.

Aside of the risk to life, throwing eggs at vehicles can cause thousands of pounds of damage. Damage might be minor with just a mirror being broken. However damage can be much worse. Protein in the egg can damage the paint surface and may result in the car needing a respray. For high end cars the cost could run into thousands of pounds [ / Popular Mechanics].

Eggs can even break windows, especially when the vehicle is travelling at speed, and can dent a body panel or chip paint where the shell breaks.

There have also been isolated incidents where people have lost their sight. A nurse was blinded in one eye when an egg was thrown at her from a passing car in March 2008 in Dublin [Irish Independent]. And in 2005 a boy in Long Island also lost sight in one eye after teenagers from a local high school threw eggs out of a passing car during Halloween.

In the US Halloween pranks are becoming more and more extreme with the cost to property owners and motorists running into millions of dollars.

Violent attacks

But more disturbingly this year has seen violent attacks in the run up to Halloween with people dressed as clowns attacking passers-by on the streets of France [Telegraph / Guardian].

And in recent days there have been reports that the chilling pranks have also spread through US and Britain as Halloween approaches.

"Evil" tradition

It is perhaps no wonder that some people are fed up with the annual Halloween festival and have even called for it to be banned [CBN]. It's a debate that has gone on for at least a decade [BBC]. Indeed the Vatican has called the event "evil" [Daily Mail].

However there would be no easy way to enforce such a ban, only mitigate potential property damage through restrictions of the sale of certain products, increasing police patrols and informing people of the consequences of anti-social behaviour.

The Daily Mirror suggests there are several reasons why we should keep Halloween. The paper claims that aside from its ancient origins, people "love to be scared". Try telling that to a French passer-by who was recently accosted by an axe waving clown as she got out of her car in the Avenue François Trinquand in Chelles, on the eastern outskirts of Paris.

The Mirror describes describes Trick or Treat as "a wonderful neighbourhood activity in some areas". Some areas, maybe. But for a great many people, the time of Halloween is one of foreboding and an unwanted aftermath of clearing up egg splattered cars, houses or worse.

"Bottom line...It's fun!" the paper finally exclaims. Tell that to the police, insurers, irate motorists cleaning egg from their vehicles or the Dublin nurse who will never experience a 3D showing of Final Destination 5.

Despite all this, most people manage to enjoy the Halloween festival without incident [BBC]. Whatever you do this year on Halloween, try to stay safe, out of trouble and avoid the ghosts, demons and ghouls.

Happy Halloween

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Google unveils new Nexus products at premium prices

This week Google unveiled its latest Android operating system along with three new devices that will undoubtedly have Android fanboys salivating. However the expected price points will likely put many people off despite the high specifications of the new offerings from the Chocolate Factory.

Lollipop, lollipop

Android 5.0 otherwise known as Lollipop promises to change the face of Google's mobile operating system. The company describes the update as a "quantum leap forward" due to its revamped design and new features []

Security has been upgraded with all new devices being encrypted by default. But on the surface the changes will also be apparent with a slicker more customizable user interface. Google also talk of better information sharing across devices [BBC / Googlebog].

While Lollipop certainly looks promising, it is the three new devices that have got the Android community excited [BBCD Mail].

Nexus 6 'phablet'

First up is the much talked about Nexus 6 phone made by Motorola. This new device has been described more as a phablet than a phone given it falls halfway between the size of an average smartphone and a tablet device .

Coming in at 159.3 x 83 x 10.1mm and with a nearly 6 inch [150 mm] display, one will certainly need big pockets and large hands. And while some people on web forums have questioned the size of the device, phablets are becoming more popular. Indeed the Galaxy Note was particularly popular, especially amongst business people who demanded the flexibility of a tablet like device with the functionality and more notably the connectivity of a smartphone. In fact the Galaxy note and Nexus 6 have almost identically sized screens [5.7 inches and 5.96 inches respectively].

However the Nexus 6 is in a different class when looking under the hood, though the cameras are arguably better on the Galaxy Note [BetaNews].

Some have unsurprisingly begun to compare the Nexus 6 with the iPhone 6+. Even here the Nexus 6 beats the Apple device on almost everything. However Apple offers 16, 64 and 128GB devices while the Nexus 6 only comes in 32 and 64GB.

And while design may be a factor for some, the Nexus 6 certainly appears well crafted [ITProPortal / GottaBeMobile / Independent].

The most important consideration is of course cost. A SIM free iPhone 6+ will set you back around £619 for the 16GB model with the 64BG device costing £699 and the 128GB version pricing in at £789.

While only US prices have been published thus far, Google's Nexus 6 will cost $649 for the 32GB device and $699 for the 64GB model. This would equate to around £406 and £437 respectively, though tax, import costs and other factors could swing these figures either way - though more likely upwards. However with the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 currently priced at around £400 for a 32GB model, even these price points are certainly competitive [IBT].

Nonetheless, Google has received a fair bit of criticism for its apparent departure of marketing affordable yet powerful Android devices [Google+].

Nexus 9

After the success of the Nexus 7 tablets, Google has jumped a number and released the Nexus 9. Again the specifications are excellent, and the new tablet even supports a specially designed optional keyboard.

However, the price of the HTC manufactured device is once again likely to make many people, even Nexus fans, balk at spending out so much on a tablet.

It could well be argued that Google are attempting to offer better, premium quality products. But in so doing there is a cost both in terms of the product itself and of alienating loyal fans.

Again only US prices have been published but it is estimated that consumers could be looking at paying £330 for the 16GB tablet, £400 for the 32GB device and around £500 for the 32GB model which comes with 4G connectivity.

The official Google Keyboard Folio case, for the soon to be released Nexus 9, is of course an optional extra. The device is held in with magnets, pairs with the tablet using NFC and turns the tablet on and off when opened and closed. The keyboard has mechanical keys, and while needing a separate charge is said to last months between charges. The price is as yet unknown, but given the price points of the aforementioned gadgets it is unlikely to be cheap.

A real Android fanboy could well be expecting to shell out around £1,000 if purchasing both the top spec versions of the Nexus 6 and Nexus 9. Even if grabbing the lower spec versions one will still be looking at a little over £700.

It is perhaps unsurprising that many users have expressed their likelihood of holding on to their Nexus 4, 5 and 7 devices, at least for the time being. The good news is that all these devices will still receive the Lollipop update in the coming weeks.

Further forays into TV & the car

The one device that made less of an impact in the news is the Nexus Player, Google's latest foray into TV. Built by Asus it allows users to stream movies, music and videos to through an HDMI connection. It also acts as an Android gaming console if used in conjunction with an optional Bluetooth gamepad. There's no news on the price of the gamepad as yet but the Nexus Player will cost around $99 or about £69.

Google are also planning to invade the car with built in Android devices offering navigation, music and telecommunications. Dubbed Android Auto Google describes its plans to incorporate its OS into the car as having been designed with safety in mind. "With a simple and intuitive interface, integrated steering wheel controls, and powerful new voice actions, it's designed to minimize distraction so you can stay focused on the road," Google says.

A number of manufacturers have expressed interest with several already incorporating the new technology in its latest models. It remains to be seen whether one will be able to retrofit older models.

As for the release dates on Google's latest gadgets, they should hit online and physical stores in November. Pre-orders for the Nexus 9 and Nexus Player start on October 17th, but Nexus 6 pre-orders are not expected until October 29th. The devices will not start shipping until early November which at least gives consumers a couple of weeks to start saving!

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Hong Kong protests dwindle with no clear winners

Hong Kong's C Y Leung may be breathing a sigh of relief that the Occupy Central protests are gradually withering away, but both he and Beijing have been woken up to the fact that political reform in both Hong Kong and the mainland is both necessary and inevitable if China is to progress forward.

Exhaustion and fear

C Y Leung had given an ultimatum that the protesters clear the streets by Monday morning [6th October] or face being forcibly removed. However, hundreds remained, defying both him and Beijing.

The numbers had dwindled significantly, however. Following the tear gassing of protesters numbers swelled to tens of thousands, filling streets across the main business district of Hong Kong and essentially shutting down the financial district to traffic [BBC].

But after the a week of protesting, singing and speech making fatigue began to take its toll. Many had slept on the streets for days, only popping home for a shower before returning.

There was also the fear that authorities might become more heavy handed, and whilst unlikely, there were some that feared a repetition of Tiananmen [CNN].

Another factor that also saw a dwindling of numbers was purely financial. Whilst businesses complained of losing money due to the demonstrations, the protesters too had taken time off of work as well as study [BBC].

After nearly two weeks of protest there was also a fading of media interest. Following the tear gassing of protesters there was a sudden deluge of news articles and media coverage. Indeed it got to a point that there was information overload coming from some news outlets.

Wake-up call

However, despite what might be seen as a withdrawal and giving in to demands to leave the streets, the protest has left an indelible mark and shown both Beijing and Hong Kong authorities that something needs to change. Talks have been promised but few are hopeful they will lead anywhere [Reuters / BBC / BBC].

The protests have also shown there are divisions in Hong Kong. Idealistic, forward thinking students have battled with angry triad gangs and shopkeepers in Mong Kok [Time]. The older generation have meanwhile largely stayed away and kept quiet, and whilst some have expressed sympathy for the students' cause, many feel that the disruption to the city was counter-productive [Time].

In the short term there may be few concessions. But the very size of the protests will be a wake up call to the government that political change must be addressed. If not, the next wave of protests may not be so peaceful. Indeed they may well be armed with more than just umbrellas.

With the elections of 2017 only months away it remains to be seen how the demands of the protesters are met. The real question mark hangs over 2047 when Hong Kong becomes a part of China proper. [Wikipedia: 2014 Hong Kong Protests]

tvnewswatch, London, UK