Thursday, 30 December 2004

Too Few To Mention

Dan Savage in his Savage Love column over on The Onion AV Club is asked if he has any regrets:
I regret advising one reader back in July that a staple gun could solve the problem of condoms slipping off her boyfriend's cock during sex.

I can see how that might weigh on his conscience, yes.

Tuesday, 28 December 2004

Saying the Sayable

David Thomson is on fine form in his review of the year in film.

It's possibly revealing too much to say that I keep a copy of Thomson's Biographical Dictionary of Film next to the toilet and I read it when ever I get the chance. Its position means some of the longer entries can be a bit of a serial thing, but I've read just about all of them anyway in warmer, more comfortable places. I just like to pick an entry at random and find an opinion that, whether I agree with it or not, will always get me thinking.

This quality is very much in evidence in his new piece. Except that I can't find anything to disagree with and much that is perfectly expressed. For instance:
Oliver Stone's picture [Alexander] was maybe the worst joke of the year, along with the notion that audiences enjoy Colin Farrell.

Definitely the snappier version of my opinion that Farrell is a a chunk of anti-charisma actually sucking the enjoyment, black hole like, out of a performer such as Pacino or Sam Jackson, while not letting any hint that he himself actually has any talent escape.

Thomson is equally succinct on Micheal Moore:
I share the sentiments behind Michael Moore's film, but I cannot look at or listen to Moore without smelling the demagogue.

And the Oscar for Best Picture:
Best Picture, you understand, is not necessarily the best picture: it is a genre, the picture that does happily at the box office; which has size and production values, as well as a lofty subject; and which makes the Academy feel good about itself.

Wednesday, 22 December 2004


The Legendary Ron Gilbert is hosting a discussion on whether games make as much money as films over on his Grumpy Gamer. The general concensus is: Hell no! and Why are we even asking this?

Ron -- I hope I can call him Ron, he's left a comment on my site once so I feel we're more than acquaintances -- says he's hoping for the computer game equivalent of 70s movies to happen. Great. I'm looking forward to EA's Harold and Maude and seeing what America's newly envalued society does with it. Actually, though, I think computer games probably have to get through the thirties and forties first.

You can, I feel, think of everything up to the 90's in computer games as silent films and one-reelers from when the film industry was starting up and learning the grammar of film. Up until then one person could make a pretty complete game in their bedroom and then sell it to a publisher. A nascent studio system was already beginning, though, Sierra, EA, etc. This would probably make Monkey Island (Ron's legendary game) the equivalent of a Laurel & Hardy film -- Way Out West, say -- it's an amusing piece and there's a lot of effection for it from those who saw it when it was released or caught it in a revival, or on TV, at an impressionable age, but you can't help but feel it's from another era when things were done different.

Of course now there is a studio system and that system seems to be content to put out western after western or film noir or adventure story. Whatever the current fad. Ron seems to want the emergence of men of art to rescue games from the money men (before, to extend the metaphor, messing things up and putting money men in a much stronger position), but first, I think, it would be good to see Casablanca or Treasure of the Sierra Madre or, well, Bringing Up Baby. We need a Ford or a Hawks, perhaps just a Huston would do, to show what the medium is capable of while slyly playing with it's conventions.

And those conventions are hardening: FPS, RTS, Sports, Racing. That's about all you get. The last good Beat 'Em Up, for example, was probably Soul Calibur, and that was for the Dreamcast (SC II is really just a remix of that and can't count). Text adventures -- interactive fiction, if you must -- are an obscure branch of gaming that's kept remarkably heathly, but non-commercial, by a group of dedicated enthusiasts. Text input is difficult with a joypad, besides even the best of that old genre had its "hunt for the right phrase" problems. Puzzle games are only done in flash (check out for the best of last year) or for handhelds recently, it seems.

Of course, the occassional oddity appears now and then. This years ball of oddness is Katamari Damacy which has been getting great reviews. As far as I understand it the point of the game is to roll around and allow things to stick to you (which you can probably do in my apartment, but that's not really fun). That it's Japanese is probably a given, that the Japanese are so comfortable with wierder gaming ideas something that needs closer inspection. Carrying on the movie analogy, I'd guess this is Rashomon, rather than, say, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon.

What I'm saying is that, for all its sophistication, the games industry is still in its infancy. I don't think that it has explored what it is capable of and what people want (rather than what they will accept) with an any great detail, falling back on the same old tropes time and again, eventually rejecting those that the public get bored with, without having anything like the courage, or saftey, to challenge them with different genres or even, you know, the gaming equivalent of a musical.

Tuesday, 21 December 2004

Monday, 20 December 2004

Meaningless Landmark Celebrated

At some point his weekend I passed 500 visitors. I realise this would be more exciting if some non-trivial amount of those weren't actually me, but I'm happy enough.

I even got a couple of referrals from search-engines this week. Someone looking for the lyrics to "Looking for the Next Best Thing", which Yahoo kindly has me their number one result for (Google doesn't get to me for more than I'm willing to count, but roughly 350). As well as "Incredibles Liberal Superheroes", which Google has me down for at around the 90 mark, that I would makes a "Davids Lloyd Georges" joke about if I thought it made any sense.

Finally I get to my favourite: "Scrotum Locks". I've put the link to the Google for this, because I thought that that phrase could cover a number of things and most of them can be found there. Plus a lot more information than I ever needed to know about breeding Alpaca. Really.

Thursday, 16 December 2004

It's Lemon Entry My Dear Watson

The title of this post is the punchline to my favourite Sherlock Holmes joke (well, that and "No you bumbling fool! Some bastard's stolen our tent!") and what better way than to celebrate finding, via Boing Boing, a whole load of MP3's of Holmes radio plays?

They are provided by the Sherlock Holmes Society of London and are as complete as they can get them. Actors portraying Holmes and Watson include John Geilgud & Ralph Richardson and Basil Rathbone & Nigel Bruce. Orson Welles also has a go.

Wednesday, 15 December 2004

Blast From The Past

In a naked attempt to secure even more hits, Splinters, the weblog for Spike Magazine (not, I must add, a mag devoted to James Marsters and that's not how I found it), mention that they get the most number of hits from Googles for "cock". This gives them, and now me, a chance to link to their classic article "The Man Whose Penis Made Him Locally Famous", one of my all-time favourite stories and something I do no justice to by attempting to tell every six months, or so, down at the Irish pub.

Friday, 10 December 2004

Just What Rock Are These People Crawling Out From Under?

Well, it's probably the rock of a liberal and permissive society that the right, now justified because of Bush's "mandate", feel is cracking.

It would explain a couple of articles I've seen recently. One, linked to by Making Light[1] (who, as always, has some cogent remarks in it[1]) is an in interview in the Guardian with a would be book burier Gerald Allen, a man incensed by the possibility of students finding as positive portrayal of homosexuality in a school book. So incensed, in fact, that he feels comfortable recommending that you "Dig a hole and dump them in it". The books, of course.

This man should not be news, he should be living his life far the glare of any publicity obsessively handing-out poorly mimeographed pamphlets and furtively seeking out rent boys that will do that special thing for him, but it turns out he's invited to meet Bush this week. It looks to be a meeting of minds.

Of course, this is all to protect the children. However when liberal atheist scientists try to prevent children from being lied to by creationists Voltaire gets wheeled out for his "I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it" party piece. Jay Bryant's piece actually makes a very nice contrast to the Jamie Whyte article below. You should read that and then Jay's and see if you can number all the logical fallacies and the plain errors of fact that Jay commits. I think you'll be unpleasantly surprised.

There's some particularly egregious guilt by association going on:
Liberals still profess to believe in the marketplace of ideas if the marketer in question is, say Robert Mapplethorpe, Larry Flynt or Michael Moore.

See what he's done there? Larry Flint, of course, being a pornographer, has his reputation stretched to cover Mapplethorpe and Moore, and Moore takes quite the hit because, as Mapplethorpe has been accused of pornography, the suggestion is that Moore must be a pornographer too. That's quite the ad hominem attack.

Further down science itself is called into question. Quantum mechanics is wheeled out to cast doubt upon the whole scientific edifice. Einstein is invoked. See, he didn't understand quantum mechanics and thought it was bad. Einstein was the cleverest of all scientists and yet physicists accept quantum physic so something iffy must be going on. Which is the kind of blether put out by people who have difficulty comprehending classical physics, never mind an area of science that very few can claim to totally understand.

There's plenty that's wrong about Jay's examples of science in turmoil, but the main thing is this: Science is a process, it's way of finding out more about the world and building models to help understand it. Finding that there's a problem with the model in certain conditions and trying to find ways to correct that model doesn't mean that science is cast into doubt, it means that science is working.

Anyway, having cast doubt on science and liberals Jay goes in for the killer blow. A book published 8 years ago cast doubt on Darwin and Darwinism, liberal scientists didn't like this, therefore Darwinism is wrong and so are liberals.

Sometimes, I get all curmudgeonly about "begging the question" not meaning what it used to, and, if there was any need for the old meaning (a fallacy of reasoning committed when one assumes the truth of what one is attempting to prove in an argument), the last few paragraphs of Jay's article demand it's immediate reinstatement.

That's quite a journey, though, isn't it? We've gone from some scientist being upset that a book that is a load of old tosh[2] is being sold as fact in a government institution to science is bankrupt in a handful of paragraphs. Not that any of the arguments are more than innuendo, but, really, that's how right-wingers in the 21st century operate.

[1] Teresa calls Mr Allen "stupider than dirt", the dirt community has already lodged a complaint.
[2] And it is tosh. I personally don't mind the idea that God was somehow responsible for the Grand Canyon, but his responsibility stops at making a universe where it was possible to happen.

Thursday, 9 December 2004

Bad Thoughts

I recently bought and read a book called Bad Thoughts by Jamie Whyte, mostly, I think, because Amazon recommended it (Amazon's recommendations are occasionally strange and sometimes disturbingly accurate). It's subtitled A Guide to Clear Thinking and that's pretty accurate. It's short, witty book that looks at all sorts of logical fallacies and seems to find that Tony Blair commits all of them...

Anyway, its the sort of book I'd recommend to the very people who would never read it, namely those who don't often worry about the logic of their arguments. The people who would read it would probably just keep nodding their head ruefully through various sections.

Looking for anything else Whyte has written, mostly to bolster up my Wishlist, I found an article in New Scientist. This bit made me smile:
In your book you are quite harsh on religion. Aren't people entitled to their faith?

This is one of my favourite errors. An interesting change has happened, at least in the west. It used to be that people would argue for a particular religious dogma or a clear religious doctrine. That is no longer what happens. The world is increasingly dividing into those who have "faith" and those who don't. It doesn't really matter what the faith is. That is why you now get "faith groups" coming together from all kinds of different religions. The weirdest manifestation of this new tendency is when people say: "I'm not a Christian but I believe in something." Then I say: "Of course, I believe in many things, like there is a chair there and a table. What are you talking about?" And they reply: "Well, you know, something more." But what "more"? What they mean is something more than we have any good reason to believe in.

That really seems to get to you!

What amazes me is that they like to set themselves up as having a slightly finer sensibility than you or me but in fact they are completely intellectually irresponsible. They used to come up with very bad arguments for their faiths but at least they felt that there was something they should provide. Now mere willfulness has triumphed. This is what I describe as the egocentric approach to truth. You are no longer interested in reality because to do that you have to be pretty rigorous, you have to have evidence or do some experimentation. Rather, beliefs are part of your wardrobe. You've got a style and how dare anybody tell you that your style isn't right. Ideology is seen as simply a matter of taste and as it's not right to tell people that they've got bad taste, so it's not right to tell them that their opinions are false. I'm afraid that the cast of mind of most people is the opposite of scientific.

Note to Self: Make This Title "Incredible Something"

The Guardian Weblog nicely follows up on my post of about the hidden messages in cartoons with one of its own.

"Nietzschean" and "Randian" are thrown about as if the writers have never actually encountered superheroes in popular culture before. Elsewhere in the Guardian, the piece tells us, Oliver Burkeman comes up with this remarkable analysis:
The Incredibles is positively Nietzschean. Some people are just better than other people, it seems to say, and their resentful inferiors ought not to try to suppress them, but to let them shine.

I actually prefer this message to the Forrest Gump one about how stupid people can get by if they are just nice. Or, well you know, the standard "clever people are not to be trusted and having a folksy intuition is better anyday" rubbish that movies often peddle. But, anyway...

Not having seen The Incredibles yet, but being familiar with the Pixar oeuvre, I imagine the message that Burkeman is willfully misunderstanding is more likely to be "Some people are just different to other people, it seems to say, and that others who are resentful of this ought to try not to be, but let them shine." Which I think is roughly the same without the loaded language.

Perhaps what should be read into all these is that over-analysing The Incredibles is a great way to fill space in newspapers. And, strangely to get Americans apologising for themselves. I mean, I know where this comes from:
"I am an honest-to-god liberal, left-wing resident of Idaho, a state where GW got 91 percent of the vote. Let us not forget that slightly less than half the United States went with Kerry in the election, so not all of us are drooling slobs. A lot of us are, granted . . . I like the Guardian because it is not reverent of our rickety American institutions, especially the rotten presidency."

But I'm not sure it's needed when fitting yourself into a discussion about a popular film. Or maybe it is:

"I'm a left leaning Englishman living in Austria, a place where the FPÖ got 30% of the vote. I don't drool but I am, occasionally, a slob. I like The Guardian because I grew up reading it. This probably explains why I'm often compelled to watch, and mostly enjoy, cheesy action movies starring The Rock."

Monday, 6 December 2004

Short Shorts: An Apology Of Sorts

So, there's me hungover on Sunday subjecting myself to Sitemeter to see which two of my four daily hits weren't mine. For some reason, though, there's been a large, phallic spike in my hits for the weekend. I check the usual suspects... Yes, there's "Kylie", "Shat" & "Prince Charles" on my blog and, well, that's quite the Google magnet.

After getting SiteMeter to track referrals, it turns out that Making Light has linked to me. Me! After the initial joy, though, it turns out that something I linked to is quite dodgy. Teresa explains why in the article linked to above. As always this is a great article and makes much of something I'd not really processed past the "nice piccy" level.

Theresa says:
Here’s the missing part of the flowchart’s model: Suspending a student is a nontrivially consequential action. The students most likely to get suspended are also likely to have fragile and uncertain school careers. The loss of daily continuity and classroom instruction time can break them. So can the trouble they get into while idle. If you suspend them, they may flunk out, or stop coming, or tangle with the law. At that point, everything suddenly gets much harder for everyone concerned— except, perhaps, for the school that did the suspending.

And, for me, this is the point. Suspending a student shouldn't normally be simple. It's quite a drastic measure that needs all sorts of checks and balances to ensure that it's not abused[1]. If the process is trivial, then people will think of trivial ways to abuse it.

Apparently, Common Good are calling for the law to be reformed. In this case on the grounds of complexity, but mostly, it seems, to stop the rich from taking responsibility for their actions and products.

Private Eye's recent Secret Diary of A School Teacher does paint a picture of a place where easier expulsions seem almost welcome, though.

[1] Conisbrough narrowly avoided having their school being taken over by the Vardy Foundation, not because of parent action (60% of them wanted it), but partly because neighbouring schools realised that they would be left with Northcliffe's cast-offs. Something those schools would have to do when Northcliffe's school board was taken over by people eager to get rid of problem students.

Wednesday, 1 December 2004

Biggest Laugh of the Week

I've mentioned FameTracker before. I like it's level of snark and I can find much to laugh it in the forums, though often not in a good way. The following quote, though, had me in stitches:
Stuart Townsend as Dorian Gray is the primary reason that I bought the special, two-disk DVD of The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen. He's the only thing worth watching in that movie.

One of the most under-rated actors of our time, I think.

Now, Mr. Townsend is a fine looking chap, and, if you like that sort of thing, may well be the reason to go and see a movie...

In LXG he was out-acted by his portrait.

Who Likes Short Shorts?

Loads of links to places that almost all demand longer entries ('cept for the Shat one):

Tuesday, 30 November 2004

Superman as, err, superman...

The following quote about the Incredibles, from the Christian Science Monitor, should really be sent to Private Eye's Pseuds Corner:
"I can't help thinking of [philosopher Friedrich] Nietzsche and his idea that some people are better and more deserving than others," says Mikita Brottman, professor of language and literature at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore.

"The movie salutes Superman," Dr. Brottman adds. "Not the 'superman' in comic books but the one [despots] believe in. Its idea seems to be that even in a democracy some people are 'more equal' than others, and the rest of us shouldn't be so presumptuous as to get in their way."


To a certain extent it's probably true. Pixar's movies tend to be morality plays that encourage, beg even, this sort of reading too much into them. They are also pretty good at playing it both ways.

My Mum's convinced, for example, that A Bug's Life is a sort of updated Ragged Trousered Philanthropists for the ADD generation. And it's an entirely reasonable interpretation, especially if you look on the grasshopper's as a sort of bourgousie exploiting the ant workers, and view the ant's finally standing up to them as the sort of collective action that propelled the unions.

The film, however, also managed to play it the other way by centering on a group of misfits who's individuality is what makes them special. Flik, the main ant, is the sort of Capraesque everyant who's slightly skewed look on things gives him an insight into what's right that is much more profound than the staid committees that he pushes against.

So, plucky individualism trumps the inertia that unions can create...

Wait, what was the message again?

Of course, Shark Tale is definitely about coming out.

Monday, 29 November 2004

Swells Funny Shock

Steven Wells in the Graun is often a little too self conciously "mad" for my tastes and his recent article about American Brass bands at sporting events is quite the frenzied example of this. However, as Lisa over at the Rage Diaries points out, this description of a marching band is hilariously accurate:
Dressed in Little Richardesque uniforms - the sort of thing Liberace might have insisted upon had he ever commanded a 19th century British cavalry regiment - these amazingly talented kids (way, way more talented than the dumb psychos in the football uniforms) perform incredible acts of co-ordination while hammering out note-perfect brass'n'drum versions of irresistibly ultra-dumb punk rock'n'roll classics. Imagine the Brighouse And Rastrick brass band dressed by Leigh Bowery, choreographed by Busby Berkley and scored by John Phillip Sousa, Joey Ramone, Phil Spector and Jim 'Meatloaf' Steinman. On crack.

Music Critic Discovers Pop

In what is surely a heartfelt plea for tolerance Nick Duerden in the Guardian creates a straw-man that rock lovers and pop lovers are seperate and distinct individuals and then goes on to argue that there's a bit of each in both of them. Or, at least, rock lovers secretly love pop.

Then again his article does contain the line "U2's How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, [is] a magisterial record from the world's best band", which shows just how out of whack his critical facilities are.

Even the most jaded rocker has a small place in his heart for pop. If he says he doesn't be sure that there's a small but terrifyingly complete shrine to Kylie in his attic.

Friday, 26 November 2004

Rules Rule

The Graun ask Julian Baggini, the author of What's It All About? Philosophy and the Meaning of Life, for a few rules to help make modern life more bearable. His list is a pretty decent start:
  • You should not accept or continue a phone call if a shop assistant is serving you.
  • You should never text anybody while in the middle of a conversation.
  • You should always monitor your volume when chatting on your mobile.
  • You should only send email round robins in extremis.
  • Stop for pedestrians at pedestrian crossings.
  • On public transport, allow people to alight before you board.
  • Do not put your feet up on the seats.
  • Do not smooch in the company of others.
  • Always dump in person, not by text, fax or email.
  • If you go through a door first you should always hold it open for those who follow.
  • Offer your seat to the elderly, but don't assume they'll want it.
  • Offer your seat to a pregnant women.
  • If invited to someone's house for dinner, don't be one of the ungrateful fed.
  • Don't drink more at a party than you brought.
  • Do include little Emily and baby Jack when addressing Christmas cards to their parents.
  • Never tell somebody else's child off in front of them, or criticise adults for their poor parenting. Except when you should.
  • Do not undertake.
  • Wipe down gym equipment after use.
  • Stick to the swimming lane that's right for you.
  • Remember that neither the cinema nor the theatre is your front room.
  • Don't punctuate your sentences with profanities in public.
  • Don't think "I was here first" is a trump card.

Notes on "Notes on..."

Jamie Fristrom, Manager in a Stranger Land, continues his consistently readable and thought-provoking "Notes on ..." series about different games that have caught his interest with a look at Doom 3.

Footballer's Houses

The Guardian has a look at a few of the palatial abodes that are de rigeur for today's young millionaire footballer and, surprisingly, finds one or two that don't make you go "Eeeewwww!" (though including David Seaman is probably cheating slightly). The snark is in full effect for all the rest, though:
The reason for such conformity is this. Top footballers are as imaginative as lemmings. There they go now, diving after the Beckhams, who have sunk the flag of St George into the Dubai real estate empire. Last year they bought a £1.6m villa at the Palm, an exclusive development off Dubai's exclusive Jumeirah coast, that will be - oh yes! - visible to orbiting astronauts when it is complete next year. Each villa will have its own own 130ft private beach and swimming pool. Now 11 England players, including Michael Owen, Kieron Dyer, Ashley Cole and Wayne Bridge, have bought up £1m-plus holiday homes there.

Wednesday, 24 November 2004

Tony on Tony

I feel that many on the left regard Tony Benn as the thinking person's leftie. Despite, or probably inspite, of the times when he seems a little muddled, or just plain odd, the feeling he was always a little ineffectual and that whole nuclear power thing.

Every so often he'll pop up again to remind you why you like him, why you'll miss him when he's no longer here and to make you wonder where the politicians who didn't mind letting a little ideology get in the way of their popularity have gone.

This time he's having a restrained pop at Prince Charles, and his most recent gaffe:
This is why Prince William is now being carefully promoted, in case it is thought necessary to skip a generation and allow him to succeed the Queen and thus keep this absurd and undemocratic constitution safe for the next generation.

Britain is gravely handicapped by this medieval system of government which gives us a president without any checks and balances, and keeps the serfs firmly in their place. Any serious democratic reform of our constitution would give an elected parliament control of all executive powers, firmly cap the fount of honour, and arrange for the election of a small senate to act as a revising chamber, whose speaker could occasionally act as head of state for ceremonial purposes.

This would have the advantage of liberating the royal family, leaving them free, as citizens, to live their own lives, say what they like, and take part in elections like the rest of us. They could then safely vote for King Tony and his neoconservative courtiers, at No 10, knowIng that New Labour could be trusted to preserve privilege in Britain.

Tuesday, 23 November 2004


I've mentioned the move by some Americans to have stickers put on books that teach evolution previously. Well, Colin Purrington, has decided that a few more stickers might be appropriate, for example:
This textbook contains material on gravity. Gravity is a theory, not a fact, regarding a force that cannot be directly seen. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully, and critically considered.

For your edification, if not education, Colin has also included some links to Creationist sites. As he suggests a stiff drink is in order if you do check them out. As one sticker states:
This book mentions Creationism, New Creationism, Scientific Creationism, or Intelligent Design.
All of these beliefs rely on the action of a supernatural entity to explain life on earth. Scientists rejected supernatural explanations for life in the 1800s, and still do today.

Talking Bonollocks

I can't claim any credit for this neologism, I found it on No Rock 'N' Roll Fun. I will, however, be using it at every available opportunity.

The only thing I'm not sure of is the stress on the "no" part, should it be "Bow-no-locks" or "buh-nol-locks"? I'm tending more towards the latter.

But you can imagine the usages for it:

"Well, I have a contract with my fans. Two shit albums and I retire."
"Ah you're just talking bonollocks there."

"You've got to admit 'Tonight thank god it's them instead of you' is an important line"

Monday, 22 November 2004

Good Point

Teresa at Making Light makes a great observation:
One of the reasons I’ve never believed satanic ritual abuse narratives—the ones where the supposed victims are always being “groomed” (they always use that word) to become the high priest or priestess of the group—is that their stories are devoid of normal human complications. Nobody ever develops chest pains, and has to be gotten out of their ceremonial robes and rushed to an ER. Nothing funny ever happens. Nobody ever fluffs a complex ritual. The air conditioning never breaks down. There are no theological or procedural disputes, no arguments about bookkeeping, no rebellious music committees. Satanic covens are never incapacitated because the potato salad sat out too long before the pre-ceremony setup session potluck. But most tellingly of all, no satanic group is ever riven by dissension because a couple of its members have started selling Amway and they won’t shut up about it.

Friday, 19 November 2004

Product Names

So, anyway, we've done band names and my name for a Hornby rip off. Now brand names.

Scott Miller --he's heard all the jokes about Duke Nuk'em Forever, so don't bother -- sees a can of Diet Cherry Vanilla Dr. Pepper and asks "What flavor is Dr. Pepper?"

A valid question. The more pertinent one, surely, is what kind of society are we living in where a Diet Cherry Vanilla anything isn't met with a loud and derisive "what the fuck!?"?

Slacktivist has a recurring theme on how the more words you add to the name of somthing the less like that something becomes. He uses cheese as an example:
"Cheese" = cheese

"processed cheese" = cheese, sort of

"processed cheese food" = cheese, sort of, plus other stuff that's not cheese

"processed cheese food snack product" = the food in question is orange, but contains no actual cheese.

As well as the existance of weapons of mass destruction:
March 2003: Weapons of mass destruction.

June 2003: Weapons of mass destruction programs.

October 2003: Weapons of mass destruction-related programs.

January 2004: Weapons of mass destruction-related program activities.

So applying this to Dr. Pepper, you've got:

  • Dr Pepper: Interestingly flavoured drink.

  • Diet Dr Pepper: Interestingly flavoured drink with less sugar.

  • Diet Cherry Dr Pepper: Drink with less sugar and cherry flavour added to disguise that horrible diet taste.

  • Diet Cherry Vanilla Dr Pepper: Man, those last two were bad let's try and sweeten it with something.

Thanks, but I'll stick with beer.

Thursday, 18 November 2004

One Of Those Great Questions Answered

What happened to Band Aids 3-19? Of course a greater question might well be "There was a Band Aid 2?", but apparently there was. It's slightly more knowing than funny, to be honest, so the value of it probably depends one whether you find the following funny:
Band Aid 17: "Get Ur Christmas Freak On" by the Freelance Hellraiser was the toast of the London scene for those two heady minutes in 2002. How we laughed.

Very Wrong, But Cool

A book shop in America decided, for one week, to order its books by colour. It looks great.

Tuesday, 16 November 2004

Typing Swearwords Into Text Adventures

Never mind band name, the title of this post sounds like one of those angst-ridden thirty-something books put out by column writers. This one especially targetted at ex-nerd thirty somethings who remember the frustration of trying to get that damn dwarf to carry you out of the cellar.

Anyway, for those people, a site called Monkeon has launched an in-depth investigation in to what happens when you type in naughty words into various ZX Spectrum Interactive Fictions.

Ah, good days....

Monday, 15 November 2004

I Want To Defy The Logic Of All Sex Laws

Seemingly taking some Beck lyrics to heart a couple are doing a lot of naughty stuff that's illegal someplace then taking photos (that first link, by the way, is not even remotely safe for work). Given some of the strangeness in the second link, though, I'm not sure they're going to break all of them. I'm guessing this one is going to be right out:
It's against the law to make love to a virgin, whatever the circumstances, anywhere in the state of Washington. According to the wording of the legislation, it's a major crime even to marry and then spend the night with a virgin bride in that city.

(Via Memepool and an obvious need to get more hits)

Friday, 12 November 2004

Band Names

Memepool recently linked to an article about Vampire Watermelons, which struck me as almost, but not quite, a great name for a band. Then again I was briefly taken by "Airborne Scrotum", though I think you'd have to be in the right sort of band for that to be really great. I've always had a soft spot for "Woodland Fire Hazard" for no good reason except it's got a "Hindu Love Gods" rhythm to it.

Not that I need a band name at the moment, but if I do it's good to be ready.

Plus having vampire and scrotum in a post is bound to send the hits up...

Hey! Now there's a band name Little Pauli and the Vampire Scrotums.

Thursday, 11 November 2004

When The Saints Go Crashing Out

Fans are asking Southampton's players to refund the ticket prices 2400 of them paid to endure the 5-2 Carling Cup humiliation at Watford.

From The Guardian.
I sympathise, but that's football. Ask Newcastle fans who had to endure a 4-1 thumping by Fulham despite seeming to have the run of the ball. As for players being disappointing, I doubt Saints fans have payed to close attention to the career of Harry Kewell, but I reckon he'd owe fans of Leeds and Liverpool quite a few bob a-piece by now.

Speaking of owing right-thinking people a bob or two... Apparently Micheal Bolton has recently claimed that he will stop singing when he stops breathing. I'm sure some people are more than willing to help him with that, in fact No Rock & Roll Fun want a large pillow for Christmas.

Wednesday, 10 November 2004

Book Angst

Vince Keenan describes Book Angst as " the website of the moment". So I'd better link to it.

Certainly if you like long, mostly coherent screeds on the publishing industry (and who among us doesn't) it's a place to go.
I take issue w/ the fact that I'm bashing the industry per se--I see this as trying to open up some sort of constructive dialog--but beauty (like abuse) is in the eye of the beholder.

Tuesday, 9 November 2004

Tin Foil Hats At The Ready

The conspiracy theories have started already. It's being said that exit polls in states with Electronic Voting were curiously inaccurate compared to those without, and that inaccuracy almost always favoured Bush by around 5%.

MSNBC have found some more incidences:
Interestingly, none of the complaining emailers took issue with the remarkable results out of Cuyahoga County, Ohio. In 29 precincts there, the County’s website shows, we had the most unexpected results in years: more votes than voters.

I’ll repeat that: more votes than voters. 93,000 more votes than voters.


Talk about successful get-out-the-vote campaigns! What a triumph for democracy in Fairview Park, twelve miles west of downtown Cleveland. Only 13,342 registered voters there, but they cast 18,472 votes.

Vote early! Vote often!

Of course, you would be a fool and a communist to read anything but glitches and errors in to any of this.

Well, That Didn't Take Long

Ah, the "Values Voters" are starting up already. Evolution textbooks row goes to court is about a school board trying to placate Christian fundamentalist parents by putting a sticker saying that evolution is "a theory, not a fact" on science text books. Two things strike me about this. One is that the sticker is true; evolution may be as near to a fact as a theory gets and it does explain and predict so much, but it is still only a theory.

The second thing to occur to me is what would happen if, to placate me as an atheist, I had them put a similar sticker on all the Bibles at school.

As usual an image of fairness is attempted:
The board says the stickers were motivated by a desire to establish a greater understanding of different view points. "They improve the curriculum, while also promoting an attitude of tolerance for those with different religious beliefs," said Linwood Gunn, a lawyer for Cobb County schools.

Obviously this is a load of old cock. The stickers were motivated by one viewpoint while promoting intolerance for those who would tell you different.

Scarily, near the end of the article it is mentioned that "Pennsylvania's Dover area school board has already voted to teach intelligent design". As I've mentioned before intelligent design is creationism in slightly fancier clothing and, as such, a way of attempting to get religion taught in a science classroom. It is not a scientific theory and has no reason to be regarded as such.

Thursday, 4 November 2004

Pulled Off At Half Time

Warning: The banners on the linked to site are not "Work Safe" and neither is the pop-up it generates.

For those of you who think football doesn't have enough homoerotic moments as it is...

Smilin' Through The Tears

Fark doesn't really need my traffic, but what the hell.

Fark, for those who don't know it, is a kind of collaboritive effort to find links to some of the weirder corners on the Internet -- and plain ordinary corners, too, if they suddenly become interesting. Americans often post links to the Guardian as an example of how wacky those English can be.

A constant of Fark is the Photoshop contest. Some of them are very funny and some devolve in to slagging off how bad an idea the contest is. Some reach a halfway point where insider jokes (know on Fark as "cliches") tend to overwhelm what's there.

Today's Photoshop was "What if other popular movies were performed by puppets?". There's some great stuff. Be warned, though, that there's some really awful stuff, too. I particularly liked the "Passion of the Pig", "Apocalypse Now", "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest" and the one below.

Disturbing, but funny... Posted by Hello

The People Have Spoken... The Bastards!

Eric Alterman in Altercation (linked to on the right) puts it well:
Let’s face it. It’s not Kerry’s fault. It’s not Nader’s fault (this time). It’s not the media’s fault (though they do bear a heavy responsibility for much of what ails our political system). It’s not “our” fault either. The problem is just this: Slightly more than half of the citizens of this country simply do not care about what those of us in the “reality-based community” say or believe about anything.

They don’t care that Iraq is turning into murderous quicksand and a killing field for our children. They don’t care that the Bush presidency has made us less safe by creating more terrorists, inspiring more anti-American hatred and refusing to engage in the hard work that would be necessary to make a meaningful dent in our myriad vulnerabilities at home. They don’t care that he has mortgaged our children’s future to give trillions to the wealthiest among us. They don’t care that the economy continues to hemorrhage well-paying jobs and replace them with Wal-Mart; that the number without health insurance is over forty million and rising. They don’t care that Medicare premiums are rising to fund the coffers of pharmaceutical companies. They don’t care that the air they breathe and the water they drink is being slowly poisoned and though they call themselves conservatives, they even don’t care that the size of the government and its share of our national income has increased by roughly a quarter in just four years. This is not a world of rational debate and issue preference.

Just about every blog I've looked at today is upset and trying to work things out. I realise these thing are self-selecting so I probably had greater hopes that Kerry would win than I should have. Still, it's hard not to feel a little down today.

Tuesday, 2 November 2004

Damn! My Job Is Boring... Here's A Diary of It

The Indy has an article by someone being reasonably witty about his terribly disappointing job, in this case as a Bookseller. It has all the usual little anecdote about silly customers:
Constant enquiries along the lines of "Have you got that book? It's red," begin to chafe.

Angry customers:
The growlers were the worst, barking at us, demanding maps of the Dordogne and biographies of Napoleon.

"What do mean you still haven't got it! It was ordered a bloody age ago!"

Crappy managers:
He had caught me leafing through a copy of Sylvia Plath's diaries. Before I could turn the third page, Ronald was upon me. Incandescence in a cardy, he stormed: "Get on with some fucking work, Anthony, I've got better things for you to be doing than reading in this shop."

In a modern bookshop, literature is of no great importance unless it is neatly stacked, branded with a three-for-two-sticker and sold to some idiot who wants what they saw on the advert. God forbid you read any.

It's not a bad article and, as I said, reasonably witty. It just seems to me that there's a lot of this sort of thing about these days. I'm pretty sure there someone who works in Waterstones (or wherever) blogging something now along much the same lines. I know that there's at least one fast-food employee, video shop employee and prostitute (assuming Belle De Jour is real, but there are probably plenty of others out there) blogging merrily away, letting us all in to their little private hells, or epiphanies, or that moment when the manager did something really funny/ totally out-of-order.

You know, people you would start drinking in other pubs to avoid are suddenly touted as the fresh face of blogging. I don't get it. When I go out, I don't really want to hear other people's work stories, unless that story is exceptional or something that really affected their mood and them not getting it out of their system is harshing my buzz. Daily accounts of the tedium of someone else's job is, well, tedious.

These things happen in jobs everyday for just about everybody. The decor changes and some of the props, but the main difference between a bloke at McDonalds and a bloke in an office is that the bloke in the office is going to go out of his way to deep fat fry something.

I suppose on one level these blogs are the living embodiment of "Write what you know". But at least one writer has opined that "Write what you know" is the sort of advice you give to writers that you suspect have difficulties holding a pen.

Wednesday, 27 October 2004

It's Irony On A Base Level

(via Boing Boing)
Only people in America can access

As always someone will try and fill an available gap. Apparently everyone can access, though. It bills itself as the "Official Re-selection Site" for Dubya, but this might be one of those "exaggerations".

Update: The BBC is reporting that the blocking has been done on purpose for "security reasons". It also gives an alternative address that you can use that actually works:

Two points of interest here are that the BBC also gives the .ORG parody site address as an alternative and that the real site and the parody site aren't particularly different in tone, it's just one of them is more ready to compare Kerry to the devil than the other (see if you can guess which, I'm sure you'll be pleasantly surprised).

John Peel: RIP

I didn't really listen to John Peel as often as I should have, but always appreciated him when I did. Thanks, then, to ACME for having a good tribute to him:
Peel had his World Service show as well as the domestic ones, of course. He made us look good all around the world. Better than we are, sometimes. But exactly what you want the BBC to be doing. You hope there are people in Micronesia saying "yes, I know what they listen to in Britain: Dub Creator, Allen Shaw and The Woggles".
John Peel: I get letters from people who say "I hadn't listened to your programme for twelve years, and I was driving home the other night and heard something I thought was fantastic. I've listened every night since, and it was just how it used to be." Sometimes kids write in and say, "I was listening to your programme in my bedroom the other night when I was doing my homework, and my mum came in and said, 'What are you listening to?' I said, 'John Peel,' and she said, 'Oh, I used to listen to him when I was your age.'" It's nice being woven into people's lives in that way.

Update: No Rock N Roll Fun are linking to just about every Peel tribute on the 'Net.

Monday, 25 October 2004

Myths About Games & Gamers

PBS has a brief but footnoted article about "large gap exists between the public's perception of video games and what the research actually shows". The Myths debunked are as follows:
1. The availability of video games has led to an epidemic of youth violence.
2. Scientific evidence links violent game play with youth aggression.
3. Children are the primary market for video games.
4. Almost no girls play computer games.
5. Because games are used to train soldiers to kill, they have the same impact on the kids who play them.
6. Video games are not a meaningful form of expression.
7. Video game play is socially isolating.
8. Video game play is desensitizing.

Wednesday, 20 October 2004

A Modest Proposal

I like The Edge of England's Sword. It mostly seems to be the thoughtful face of Right Wing UK blogging and therefore, for me, a valuable look at almost everything I used to march against when I was Young and Socialist.

A recent post, however, moved me to swearing. Especially:
Because let's face it, a bad day in America is still far better than a good day anywhere else.

To which the only real answer is: Fuck right off!

Then again, a person who seems to primarily define themself by their relationship to someone else is bound to be a little off kilter.

Update: And the funny just keeps on coming... I get accused in the comments of the linked to post of not having a sense of humour, which in this case is probably true. I take it gracefully.

Pointy Haired Bush

Making Light picks up pretty much the same things I did in the last post, but are a bit more thorough in the exploration if it.

There's a nice diversion to look at corporate culture in general and motivational posters in specific. Making Light has collected the slogans from a number of these. Looking at them in one big lump is really quite disturbing:

Reflections on the relationship between labor and management:

  • Destiny is a matter of choice, not chance
  • Power gravitates to the man who has courage.
  • We make way for the one who pushes past us.
  • The block of granite which was an obstacle in the path of the weak, becomes a stepping stone in the path of the strong
  • It is a sad fact that regardless of effort or talent, second place really means you are first in a long line of losers.

There's something horribly wrong about that last one in particular.

Tuesday, 19 October 2004

Fool On The Hill

A while ago I read an article that portrayed George W. Bush as just about all the shitty managers you've ever had. He would be informed of issues by his staff and then brow beat them in to coming up with ideas and solutions in a way that he probably thought was motivational, his lack of knowledge on a subject giving him, to his mind, a position of purity with regards to the issues. I'm sure we've all been in meetings like that. They probably have special management courses to teach you just the right note of uninformed bullying and annoyingly smug expression to use, right after the one where you're taught how to fiddle your expense account.

Scary stuff. Then I read this:

Forty democratic senators were gathered for a lunch in March just off the Senate floor. I was there as a guest speaker. Joe Biden was telling a story, a story about the president. ''I was in the Oval Office a few months after we swept into Baghdad,'' he began, ''and I was telling the president of my many concerns'' -- concerns about growing problems winning the peace, the explosive mix of Shiite and Sunni, the disbanding of the Iraqi Army and problems securing the oil fields. Bush, Biden recalled, just looked at him, unflappably sure that the United States was on the right course and that all was well. '''Mr. President,' I finally said, 'How can you be so sure when you know you don't know the facts?'''

Biden said that Bush stood up and put his hand on the senator's shoulder. ''My instincts,'' he said. ''My instincts.''

Scarier still, no?

Give Biden his due, though:
Biden paused and shook his head, recalling it all as the room grew quiet. ''I said, 'Mr. President, your instincts aren't good enough!'''

This all reminds me of my favourite psychology article (slightly spun by the fact that it's probably the only psychology article I've ever read): Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One's Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments. This is an article that will either put a huge dint in your self-confidence or have you going on your way as before blissfully unaware of your own inadequacies. Just look at the abstract:
People tend to hold overly favorable views of their abilities in many social and intellectual domains. The authors suggest that this overestimation occurs, in part, because people who are unskilled in these domains suffer a dual burden: Not only do these people reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the metacognitive ability to realize it. Across 4 studies, the authors found that participants scoring in the bottom quartile on tests of humor, grammar, and logic grossly overestimated their test performance and ability. Although their test scores put them in the 12th percentile, they estimated themselves to be in the 62nd. Several analyses linked this miscalibration to deficits in metacognitive skill, or the capacity to distinguish accuracy from error. Paradoxically, improving the skills of participants, and thus increasing their metacognitive competence, helped them recognize the limitations of their abilities.

One of the things it does is back up that old saw about "The more I know the more I realise how little I know". In order to be a competent judge of how good you are at something you have to be competent at it in the first place...

Monday, 18 October 2004

Ron Gilbert Speaks

Idle Thumbs have posted the first part of an interview with the Grumpy Gamer, Ron Glbert. Well part of it is him seeming to interview them, but Ron, as always has some ideas about games that he's spent time thinking about (that is, I don't know if he is right or wrong, but you can tell that he's not just spouting off, I agree broadly with what he says and very much miss the style of game he is advocating).
I think the main thing that really bothers me is that the games business is in this dangerous cycle, where a lot of people are spending a lot of time satisfying this very small group of very vocal people, and every time they do that, they really knock out this fringe group of people who would really like to be playing games. I'm not talking about this, you know, "mass market," of moms out there who would supposedly "love to be playing Doom 3 if it just eren't so violent." I'm just talking about people who go into stores, they look for stuff, and they just don't find anything. Or maybe they buy one game, they're disappointed with it, six or nine months later they'll try something new.

"I think for those people, we could really be doing a lot more to bring them into the games industry, a lot more creative things with the games. I wish the publishers were a little more adventurous in terms of things they'd like to do, and not completely obsessed with "everything has to be so driven," you know? I guess it's a little bit frustrating to me that we're really not actively trying to branch out a little bit more.

I'm not sure if he quite gets away with comparing Monkey Island to Citizen Kane, though.

Idle Thumbs, by the way, is rapidly becoming about the only on-line games site worth visiting. Sure, it doesn't do reviews with any kind of timelyness, but that's not the point. They care about games, and write insightfully about them. They manage to do this with quite the fanboy glee in what they're doing but without devolving into the immature gibber that most games site do.

Though if you do need immature gibber, there is always UK Resistance and for timely reviews there's metacritic.

Friday, 15 October 2004

Play To Win!

The strategies and discipline needed to win at sports and games offer lessons that we can use in the real world. So far, so obvious. But not so obvious people can't be told it over and over again in books and after dinner speeches.

Marc Prensky has taken this a step further. It's not particularly a step in the right direction and it's probably not and advisable step, but he's written an article called "The Seven Games of Highly Effective People". It looks at how computer games can instill in us effective habits for success. For example:
Be proactive. This is the habit of doing, rather than waiting. You don't beat a game by waiting around for things to happen to you. You have to be there making decisions, testing strategies, defending, attacking, and pulling information from the players and characters you meet. There are many Windows games that can help hone these skills. Whether you're flying a plane in Flight Simulator, running a historical world in Rise of Nations, or building a theme park in RollerCoaster Tycoon, in games, as in life, the world is constantly changing. Those who don't learn to anticipate proactively don't succeed.

As I've mentioned before, games have their own set of acquired behaviours, shooting barrels, etc. and some of them might not quite translate as well to the real world as a Flight Sim's lessons might...

There's always a key (or hidden button, whatever). That door is there for a reason. It's to stop you from progressing. Somewhere nearby is a floating key icon, or a pressure pad, or a guard who needs shooting. As in life, a locked door shouldn't stop you, it should be seen as an opportunity for further advancement.

Killing things increases your charisma. And wisdom, dexterity, intelligence and endurance. If you are having problems at work try going for a walk in the woods killing anything that you come across then going for a nap. It's good experience and you might level up enough to cast that Level 10 Procrastination spell.

Always go for the head shot. It takes less bullets and the animation is usually a lot better.

If at first you don't succeed. IDDQD IDKFA. No problem. (Though it should be noted that not every game has cheat codes. Resign yourself to never finishing them.) In real life there are no cheat codes, but having lots of money is close enough.

Frantically pressing any button can work. OK against a suitably skilled opponent button mashing isn't going to work, but it will get you right to the end of just about any console beat-em up. Some times the appearance of work will fool most people.

Annihilating the opposition is much more satisfying than a diplomatic victory. It's also a lot easier. Winning the race to Alpha Centauri is also good, but can take ages. Better to just research Mathematics early and start buidling catapults.

Sex with hookers in the back of your car restores your health. Actually...

Thursday, 14 October 2004

The Pedantry Is Revolting

The Graun has a look at the history of pedantry. Surprisingly it is sympathetic. However, you can't help but be a but non-plussed by this:
In a letter to Saturday's Daily Telegraph, Dr Ross Watkin of Chipstead wrote [of the shower scene in Psycho]: "Someone should have told Hitchcock that a dead person's pupils are widely dilated. The final shot of the murdered Janet Leigh on the shower floor showed normal-size pupils. It quite ruined the film for me ..."

Plenty of things can ruin a movie for me -- the words Stephen Sommers in the credits, for example, or the presence of a colon in the title -- but the size of someone's pupils has never been much of a factor.

I think the spotting of movie mistakes like this tend to fall in to two categories: those which are related to the expertise of the spotter and those that are the product of the spotters obsessive need to spot something wrong. The example above falls in to the former definition, it has to be noted that it's a Doctor making the observation and on-screen errors that fall in to your area of expertise are bound to cause a niggle. The difference between the two is that Dr. Watkin had his suspension of disbelief broken, whereas disbelief was never much part of the reason for watching the movie for the other spotter. At least you get that feeling looking at a site like Movie Mistakes. For instance Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl is listed as having 267 mistakes, probably about 2 per minute, which, if you really spotted all of them, would be annoying. However most errors are of the order of:
Continuity: Jack walks past the dock master, behind Jack the desk is on a wagon and the handle is leaning on the left side of the desk. Also the feather quill on the desk is leaning towards the back of the desk. When Jack walks away and takes the sack of money, the handle of the wagon isn't leaning on the desk and the feather quill on the desk is leaning forward towards the front of the desk.

It takes a special sort of person to notice that sort of thing. Actually for a couple of weeks I did try this. You can watch a movie in such a way that it's more about the process of the movie being made than anything that's happening emotionally on the screen. At the end you know a lot about the movie and you can guess a lot of things but you don't really know the story or have any idea about the motivation or lives of the character. It's a completely empty way to watch a film but it's easy to do and also gives you a lot of facile insights into the movie that no-one else will have except all the others who do this (they can then chat about it on the Internet).

Sometimes it's just better to accept the whole than pick out the imperfections of the parts that make it up.

Wednesday, 13 October 2004

Moe Szyslak Unavailable For Comment

Here's a tip for any potential Mr & Mrs Peacocks -- proud parents of baby Drew -- out there. Say the name out loud at some point before signing the birth certificate, preferably in front of a 12 year old boy (or equivalent). It will save a lot of heartache and pain later.

Monday, 11 October 2004

Nah Then, Si Thee!

I should have linked to this article when I found it. Involving as it does Austrians, Doncaster and Dialect. So here it is: GPs confused by 'manky' patients
A group of foreign doctors left baffled by South Yorkshire slang are being taught the local dialect so they know when their patients feel "champion".
The seven Austrians are fluent English speakers but were left confused by patients feeling "jiggered" or "manky".

But now doctor-patient relations in Barnsley and Doncaster have improved after the local NHS trust compiled a special Yorkshire language guide.

It's nice of the BBC to include a small glossary, too.
Ey oop = Hello
Fizog = Face
Lughole = Ear
Jiggered = Exhausted
Manky = Rough
Our lass = Wife
Gipping = Vomiting

As always with these sort of reports there's a slight air of "Don't those Northerners talk funny?" about it, though I imagine a glossary for foreign Doctors would be useful in any part of the country, just as an English Doctor with Hoch Deutsch would need a little time to understand patients in Vorarlberg or Tirol.

To me it seems that Doncaster West Primary Care Trust have spotted a problem and dealt with it, which should be a good thing not the target for slightly snide articles from the BBC.

The Truth About Dr. Strangelove

It's the 40th Anniversary of Dr Strangelove and the inevitable "Special Edition" DVD is being released. Fred Kaplan in the New York Times, though, looks at how accurate the movie really was:
Those in the know watched "Dr. Strangelove" amused, like everyone else, but also stunned. Daniel Ellsberg, who later leaked the Pentagon Papers, was a RAND analyst and a consultant at the Defense Department when he and a mid-level official took off work one afternoon in 1964 to see the film. Mr. Ellsberg recently recalled that as they left the theater, he turned to his colleague and said, "That was a documentary!"

Tuesday, 5 October 2004

Bono Makes Effort To Forget Rattle & Hum & 90s

Some things don't really need much of a punchline, eg:

Bono reveals U2's deal with fans
"There's a real deal. A real deal, between us and our audience.

"Which is we don't have to worry about where our kids are going to school, paying a hospital bill, paying the mortgage, in return we don't make a crap album.

"Two crap albums and you're out. That's our deal with our audience."

I mean, there's shooting fish in a barrel and then there's having the fish has jump out of the barrel suck on the end of the revolver.

Apparently, the grovelling apology that was "All That You Can't Leave Behind"1 wasn't actually for spending the 90's noodling about and being all ironic (or postmodern or a bunch of wankers whatever that was -- though I must admit it was probably my favourite U2 phase). And that best of 1990-2000 where all the songs were remixed to sound more like the U2 that the fans actually wanted to hear, that was probably forced on them by their label, or something.

Of course, the cruel might say that this deal would have their career stopping somewhere just after October was released.

1 Alternative title: "sorry about all that electronic stuff, we can still sound like we did before, please come back, please"

Monday, 4 October 2004

Keepin' Those Hits Up

Chris Avellone is an RPG Designer with an impressive list of credits to his name (Fallout 2, Icewind Dale, Icewind Dale 2 & Planescape: Torment). Now he's lead designer on what should surely be the second biggest X-Box title ever1 Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic 2: The Sith Lords (KOTOR 2 for those who can't remember all that).

The first KOTOR is probably the greatest Star Wars product since ... well depending on your preference Empire Strikes Back, Tie Fighter (the Lucasarts game) or the LEGO UCS Tie Advanced. It has a decent story2 with an excellent twist in the last third, great production values and characters you actually feel something for (and in HK 47 a fine comic character). So Avellone has a lot to live up to with KOTOR 2, I think he's up to the challenge and In this Gamespot article he explains how he's doing that, suffering for his art and our enjoyment:

Step 51 B: Do Your Research

Before sitting down with your story, do some research. For example, with The Sith Lords, I sat down and watched each of the Star Wars movies again, read every single Star Wars novel and comic book, and even shackled myself to a chair and endured the "Star Wars Christmas Special." (I incurred minimal drain bamage but did experience mildly impaired arithmetic skills that prevented me from counting or scripting anything properly.)

Anyway, the reason for this is simple: If you are working in someone else's universe, know it inside and out. Know what's been done in it, know what adventure seeds or game ideas have been done to death (or not done enough), know what bad ideas to stay away from, and know the parameters of the universe. If you're using someone else's genre, it usually comes with its own set of story-based bookends and parameters you need to consider when writing a story.

When not using someone else's universe (which is a lucky thing in today's role-playing-game market), there's still research to be done. Know what other games have done the genre you're working in, and know what's going to make your game stand out when compared to the others.

1 Halo 2 being the biggest, obviously.
2 Given that it's 40 hours of gameplay if you do most side-quests, it tells all of the seven archetypal stories and most combinations of them and happily ploughs through Joseph Campbell's 12 Step Hero Programme.

Follow Up From Way Back

In accordance with prophecy, Metallica are the new Spinal Tap.

Friday, 1 October 2004

Some Follow Ups

As sequel to Peter's post here's a comic that deals with Han Solo's trial for shooting Greedo.

As a sequel to one of my own posts, I should really mention last night's Stand By Your Man in the style of Bill Shatner (me as Bill, Peter taking up the Joe Jackson parts) at the Blues Bakery Jam Session. But you really just had to be there...

Thursday, 30 September 2004

ID: Irredeemably Dumb

Wired Magazine (is that thing still going?) look at an attempt to get Intelligent Design taught in Biology classes.

Intelligent Design is the idea that living things are so complex that there's absolutely no way this could have happened at random and therefore must have been designed. As Science this is useless, it predicts nothing and explains only by adding a layer of extra complication: "Who designed the designers".

The articles starts:
A panel of four experts - two who believe in evolution, two who question it - debated whether an antievolution theory known as intelligent design should be allowed into the classroom.

Which is a problem right there. Of course, if you are debating this the first person to shout "Fuck no!" should win but it shouldn't even be debated in the first place. Debate gives ID legitimacy that it doesn't deserve and a larger platform than it would normally receive. The Catch-22 here is that if the scientists don't debate they will be protrayed as running scared.

As the article points out:
"By no definition of any modern scientist is intelligent design science," Krauss concluded, "and it's a waste of our students' time to subject them to it."

The real problem is that politics and religion have, again, been brought into the science classroom. I wonder what would happen if it were the other way around. What if people demand equal time in religious studies to point out the factual inaccuracies of the Bible?

Wednesday, 29 September 2004

Built Like She Was She Had The Nerve To Ask Me If I Planned To Do Her Any Harm

I'm trying to think of my most inapproprite response to A Four-Letter Word in Tomato Nation. It's probably "Damn! Stop that you're turning me on!" A slut, as described, sounds remarkably like my perfect woman.

Via Rage Diaries, kept by Lisa Schmeiser, who's got lots of good stuff there and some at TeeVee, too.

Snowclone cyclone

A snowclone is a cliché that's adapted by changing or adding one or more words, I discovered today. You've probably seen these everywhere and not known they had a name (other than, perhaps, "atrocious pun"). Headlines of the type "Sex lies and Advertising", say, are snowclones. Language Log describes them as "the some-assembly-required adaptable cliché frames for lazy journalists", which quite sums them up.

Private Eye, of course, have been on to this for quite some time with their Neophiliacs column, which has been recording that laziest of the snowclones "X is the new Y".

I found this out because I was curious about one of them as I'd been seeing it a lot and had half an idea I knew where it came from. The snowclone is:
"I, for one, welcome our new * overlords"

One of Language Log's contributors recogised it as a Simpsons quote (as is so much these days) from the episode "Deep Space Homer":
News announcer Kent Brockman mistakes a floating ant in a space shuttle experiment floating close to the camera for a giant space ant:

"Ladies and gentlemen, uh, we've just lost the picture, but what we've seen speaks for itself. The Corvair spacecraft has apparently been taken over -- 'conquered' if you will -- by a master race of giant space ants. It's difficult to tell from this vantage point whether they will consume the captive earth men or merely enslave them. One thing is for certain: there is no stopping them; the ants will soon be here. And I for one welcome our new insect overlords. I'd like to remind them that as a trusted TV personality, I can be helpful in rounding up others to toil in their underground sugar caves."

It gets used and discussed quite a bit as a Google shows.

Computer programmers even have their own specialised one: X Considered Harmful. This is from a classic article "Go To Statement Considered Harmful", the title usually being shortened to "Gotos Considered Harmful". An article on Dives Into Mark shows just how much harm hackers believe themselves to be in.

On A Scooter Pappin' His Hooter

Three Kings, which Cinetrix -- don't call her Trixie -- persuasively argues is the first hip-hop war movie, has run into trouble with it's re-release on DVD. The re-release was to commemorate something or possibly just to piss people off by reminding them that, hey!, we've been here before people.

As part of this re-release the director, David O. Russell, wanted to add a documentary called Soldiers' Pay to the extras so that those DVD buyers who had the original weren't just getting a new box (and I expect to highlight the fact that the issues in Iraq did not go away and let others know that, hey!, we've been here before people). Warner Bros. decided that the did "not think it's appropriate to attach this polemic to an entertainment piece. We don't think it's appropriate to marry these two things". Possibly proving that no-one at Warners had actually watched Three Kings, or that those who had just didn't get it or the movie's audience.

Anyway, the documentary is going to get released separately now. have an excellent timeline of the whole debacle.
Sometime before Aug. 26:
Warner Bros. executives see the film. Turns out it's "political," which is something they never expected from an Iraq War film coming out weeks before an election.

Tuesday, 28 September 2004

Welcome Peter and Other Guests

You know if I thought a post on Star Wars would create a spike1 in visits here, I'd have been discussing my Lego collection from the get go.

Anyway, it's nice of Peter to join us. He has his own site, too. It's a tribute to Magnetic Scrolls, who did some fine text adventures back in the day, and it's worth checking out, not least because it brings the pretty in abundance.

[1] At least I'm hoping the spike is because of Star Wars. I've noticed my page has quite a few words like suck, Dick, kinky and scrotum on it at the moment, which is worrying -- out of context, anyway.

Turn The Other Cheek

Punch-up at tomb of Jesus
Fistfights broke out yesterday between Christians gathered on the site of the crucifixion and burial of Jesus Christ.

Irony, then, not dead yet.

Monday, 27 September 2004

Maybe Greedo will shoot Lucas first - A discussion on Star Wars

Resistance is futile. Although this phrase has been adopted by a different science fiction setting, it is (for me) inevitably linked to the article I want to talk about. Originally wanting to start with my contributions to this blog on a different subject, I simply could not resist to share the latest article by a certain Scott Holleran over at Box Office Mojo.

Much has been said about George Lucas' constant tinkering with the original Star Wars trilogy, but the topic is hotter than ever, now that the original films have (finally?) been released on DVD. The original films, including the changes made in the '97 Special Editions, including yet more changes especially made for this DVD release, that is. Of course the unaltered versions of the films are not included on the DVD's, as GLu was never happy with them and therefore doesn't want them to be seen anymore. This attitude produced a wave of hate directed towards Lucas by the fans and finally a brave knight has stepped forward to valiantly defend the master storytellers' honour. The result, an unintentionally funny, hilarious and questionable attempt at defending Mr Lucas' rights to do whatever he pleases with his creation, can be found here.

If you're done reading the article, do check out the various responses it has produced, some of them being a lot more thought out than the actual article itself, especially the one by a poster who calls himself 'horbrowski'. The comments can be found here.

The Shat

The Guardian have a little fun with Bill Shatner's music career, with links to places that have samples. It's right about Common People:
I had feared that Shatner’s version of Pulp’s Common People, aided and abetted by Joe Jackson (is he really singing along with him?), would be a Dick Van Dyke-esque cock-er-nee knees up. But in fact, it’s wrong, but so wrong it’s great. Not great, perhaps, but not quite as dreadful as you might think.

It's quite possibly the funniest thing ever recorded while you are listening to it, but afterwards you have no desire to ever listen to it again.

Friday, 24 September 2004

Suck My Knee, Muddy Funster

The Guardian fills space with a cute little article on movies that are hacked up for TV.
Movies like Slap Shot and The Last Detail (87 f-words) were among the first examples of what later became a thriving parallel universe: TV versions of foul-mouthed and violent movies. You haven't lived until you've seen Goodfellas cut for TV. All 250-odd obscenities are just gone, replaced by ridiculous euphemisms ("melon-farmer", indeed) and tin-eared pseudo-cussing. See The Usual Suspects on TV and the phrase "you fucking cocksucker" becomes "you fairy godfather", which, come to think of it, is no less homophobic. Die Hard gives us Bruce Willis in his wifebeater vest yowling "Yippee-ki-yay, Mr Falcon!" And so on.

My own favourite example of this was in the TV-edited version of, I think, Blue Jean Cop where a suspect was threatened with prison and a cell with a "big, black, kinky fella", which I felt was a better line.

There's also an extra on the Shaun of The Dead DVD which makes the case for "Prink!" being an insult of choice.

Tuesday, 21 September 2004

I Got My Kicks

Jazz Jam Sessions: A First-Timer's Guide. I may have mentioned on here that I occassionally get up and belt out a few blues numbers at the Blues Bakery when there's a jam session on (and when a proper band plays, too, I hijacked a recent concert to sing The Hootchie Cootchie Man -- and was damn good, I might add).

Not really being a proper musician or a jazzer, I didn't quite get all the jokes in the above linked to list, however I did find the section on vocalists a scream. Partly because it's true and partly because it isn't aimed at me, what with being male and everything.
Vocals: Vocalists are whimsical creations of the all-powerful jazz gods. They are placed in sessions to test musicians’ capacity for suffering. They are not of the jazz world, but enter it surrepticiously. Example: A young woman is playing minor roles in college musical theater. One day, a misguided campus newspaper critic describes her singing as “...jazzy.” Voila! A star is born! Quickly she learns “My Funny Valentine,” “Summertime,” and “Route 66.” Her training complete, she embarks on a campaign of session terrorism. Musicians flee from the bandstand as she approaches. Those who must remain feel the full fury of the jazz universe (see “The Vocalist” below). I.H.: The vocalist will try to seduce you - and the rest of the audience - by making eye contact, acknowledging your presence, even talking to you between tunes. DO NOT FALL INTO THIS TRAP! Look away, your distaste obvious. Otherwise the musicians will avoid you during their breaks. Incidentally, if you talk to a vocalist during a break, she will introduce you to her “manager.”

Later, or course, the vocalist will return with a bunch of flyers for their new band that is too often called [type of music] [location]. You know Jazz Lounge, Soul Delta, Funk Basement... Something like that. They do the numbers mentioned above, plus they'll throw in a few modern songs, often from the Morissette oeuvre, and proceed to inflict the same note perfect blandness on those as on the standards. Much later there will be a demo CD where the thinness of her voice and the exact breaking point of her range will be explored in digital clarity.

Via the ever amazing Making Light.

Brian Clough: RIP

"I want no epitaphs of profound history and all that type of thing. I contributed - I would hope they would say that, and I would hope somebody liked me"

Friday, 17 September 2004

Firefly: An Observation

Firefly is Joss Whedon's prematurely cancelled TV series. It's probably the best thing Joss has done so far, excepting certain individual episodes of Buffy (eg. The Body, Hush, Once More With Feeling). For those who don't know it, it's a post-Civil-War Western set in space. It follows the Firefly class spaceship Serentity and it's crew of nine. It has been released on DVD and I really can't recommend it highly enough.

Anyway, on one of the DVD commentary tracks, Joss points out that the crew of Firefly all represent parts of the soul of the Captain, Mal Reynolds, that he'd lost after being on the losing side of the war. When you break it down like that it becomes clear that the characters are archetypes and map quite clearly, and cleanly, to certain, defined, roles.

Mal is easiest as he's the Captain, the leader and father figure. Zoe is the warrior. Wash is the comic relief and pilot. Jayne, the muscle. Book, the conscience and faith. Kaylee is the heart. Inara is the mother. Simon is the intellect and River is the enigma.

What's good about this is that you can take any two or three characters from this list and put them together and there is going to be conflict. What I recently realised, though, is how a few of these are paired together not as opposites but different reflections of the same idea.

What I mean is this: take Mal and Inara, they are the Father and the Mother of the ship. They are leaders and strong people and they are both nurturing of the crew in their own ways. It is mentioned at least once in the series, in the episode "Heart of Gold" for instance, how alike they are, and yet they are very different. Zoe and Jayne are the Warrior and the Muscle. Both fighters, but in different ways, relying on stealth and brawn respectively. Kaylee and Book are the heart and faith, again the same idea, belief: one believes in the goodness of all because their heart tells them people are good, whereas as the other looks to God for the same realisation. What I found clever about this is that you have different aspects of the human character represented from the male and the female sides -- at least heart, body and soul are represented this way.

You can combine a lot of pairs of characters in similar ways, though not quite so cleanly. For instance Kaylee and Simon are the mechanic and the man of science. It is mentioned that Kaylee's ability is quite intuitive whereas Simon went the normal route through University to his knowledge.

Perhaps I'm over analysing here, but I do think that it was mostly intentional on the part of Joss and the other writers.

There is one other theory I have on Firefly, and it's this:

Part of what makes it seem so good is that it was cancelled. It reminds me, in some ways, of The Magnificant Ambersons, it's a flawed, yet still great, glimpse of something that could have been so much better. Then again, perhaps our imaginations are just filling in the missed greatness -- hinting at something that could have been but without the disappointment of actually existing. The lost possibility of so much richness adding a mystique to what does exist.

Laughin' Len

The Guardian celebrates Leonard Cohen's 70th Birthday by giving us 70 facts about him.
His album Death of a Ladies' Man was produced by Phil Spector, the reclusive genius of girl-group pop. "I was flipped out at the time," Cohen said later, "and he certainly was flipped out. For me, the expression was withdrawal and melancholy, and for him, megalomania and insanity and a devotion to armaments that was really intolerable. In the state that he found himself, which was post-Wagnerian, I would say Hitlerian, the atmosphere was one of guns - the music was a subsidiary enterprise ... At a certain point Phil approached me with a bottle of kosher red wine in one hand and a .45 in the other, put his arm around my shoulder and shoved the revolver into my neck and said, 'Leonard, I love you.' I said, 'I hope you do, Phil.'"

Thursday, 16 September 2004

Life Thru A Browser

TBogg asks the pertinent question:
Exactly when did bloggers start to believe that they are the next step in the evolutionary process that started with cave drawings (although some, like Misha, have evolved so far that they've come full circle back to pre-grunt) and has led to this?
The end of old media as we know it will arrive when the majority of editors come to respect the blogosphere for what it is instead of sniffing at those of us who contribute to it like we’re a bunch of gap-toothed peasants raising pitchforks at the palace.

His rant on this is very good indeed. As is his blog in general. Bookmark it now.

Tuesday, 14 September 2004

Do The Math

Keith Devlin -- who used to have a regular column in the Guardian that was avidly read in at least one household -- has a comment piece in the Graun in defense of maths.
Clinton's bypass operation is just one example among thousands of how our lives are dependent on science and technology. Behind that science and technology is mathematics - the often overlooked backroom boy on which everything depends.

Galileo, the father of modern science, said it best. In his book Il Saggiatore (The Assayer), published in 1623, he wrote: "[The universe] cannot be understood unless one first learns to comprehend the language and read the characters in which it is written. It is written in the language of mathematics ... without which it is humanly impossible to understand a single word of it ..."

The Guardian did see fit to publish a letter from a disgruntled dissenter than manages to be muddled and incoherent and without, it seems to me, a point.

If there is one, I think it's this. Maths contains paradoxes and is therefore to be taken with a pinch of salt. Especially as it's not real. Devlin and Galileo, of course weren't claiming that maths is reality. They were simply stating that in order to describe the reality (eg. do science or technology) you need maths. As for the paradox thing, maths inherently can't solve certain propositions. Mathematicians know this. They even have a name for it: Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem. Douglas Hofstadter summarised it as:
All consistent axiomatic formulations of number theory include undecidable propositions...

Essentially, in any consistent representation of maths it will always be possible to say something like "This statement is false", which is unprovable. It's slightly more complex than that as the above link explains. One consequence of this, however, is that some people think that this is what distinguishes us from machines, that "this (alleged) difference between "what can be mechanically proven" and "what can be seen to be true by humans" shows that human intelligence is not mechanical in nature."

Also, it is worth pondering the excellent question: If a barber shaves only those who don't shave themselves, who shaves the barber?

Thursday, 9 September 2004

Another Headline So Good You Don't Need A Story

Depp In Venice. Strictly the title of the SciFi.Com page is "Depp In Venice For Neverland". But it's close enough.

It did occur to me that this was one of those puns that everyone had done, but a Google on the phrase only comes up with 25 results, which surprised me.