More eggs, fewer baskets

Yesterday, I went to the cinema.  Nothing that unusual there, though I did have to visit one of Cambridge’s two multiplex offerings as my chosen film, the well-reviewed Looper, was not available at the Arts Picturehouse.  Still, a little occasional slumming is good for the soul I’m sure – though I was slightly alarmed to find that Cineworld boasts bouncers and bag searches.

It was not an entirely successful visit.  Just before the film was due to start, there was a very brief (<5 seconds) of power outage.  In days of yore, this would have been a minor inconvenience – the projector would have ground to a halt and then re-started when the power came back.  However, we have now gone digital – so the power cut crashed the whole cinema.  After about 30 minutes, I presume that someone had managed to re-boot the cinema and our film started – power failure spared us the ad reels and trailers, so not all bad!  I have no idea what happened to films already running, but I doubt there was positive outcome.

We were then treated to some 40 minutes of the film, before it was stopped and we were all evacuated for our own safety.  Apparently, the emergency lighting was broken: all of it!  Not really an issue in this modern world, as I should imagine almost everyone in the cinema was carrying their own torch in the form of a brightly glowing mobile phone.  I suspect we were actually evacuated to avoid issues with the cinema’s insurance policy or license: still, always best to blame anything that might be unpopular on health, safety, or failing that Europe (as these are three concepts assumed to be universally reviled.  As someone who has occasionally read a little history, I suspect our mill working ancestors of the 19th century would be amazed how little respect we grant to our hard-won health and safety).

As a (much) younger man, I used to repair the emergency lighting (and the automatic door closer mechanisms) at the block of flats where I was then resident.  These did fail, but did so as individuals – each one had its own backup power supply (or battery as we used to call them) and bulb.  To lose the entire building would have taken dozens of individual failures – and so, an evacuation was never needed.  I suspect the cinema has a single (if mis-named) uninterrupted power supply (UPS) for the whole building which must have been tripped by the power failure.  Centralisation may look like a great idea, but it does lead to a single point of failure.  Apparently, an engineer was called (though my friends who are engineers, would probably prefer me to refer to her as a technician) and the cinema was likely to remain closed for the rest of the day.  Sometimes more primitive technology which lacks a single mode of failure and can be fixed by an unskilled idiot (like the younger me) beats its over-centralised modern counterparts into a cocked hat.  Sadly, this tendency exists rather more widely than the world of the muliplex cinema – so that a single error can now inconvenience millions.  As a society we do seem to be keeping ever more of our eggs in ever fewer baskets and then trying to cut the costs of basket maintenance: I think there may be a lot of metaphorical omelette to be eaten in the future.

I now have to decide whether I want to see the film again, sitting through a first 40 minutes which will now lack any novelty.  I suspect not: the first chunk did not inspire me to continue, though the film was perhaps starting to become interesting.  However, the film is about time travel and it is a terrible mistake in such films to give the audience time to think as then all the inconsistencies and paradoxes become all too obvious.  The biggest error occurs very early on, and has nothing to do with temporal engineering.  Our “hero” is learning French from a futuristic version of an écouter et répèter style MP3 file but makes a pronunciation error which could only have arisen if he was working from a written source.  Very sloppy work!  I think I shall imagine my own ending and use my compensatory voucher to see something new…

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