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.

Snarkiness Abounds

No Rock 'n' Roll Fun link to this article in something called the Riverfront Times.

The article is a list of ten people who've done their bit to make Rock that much less than what it could be. I did try to avoid linking to this as it's a list -- that laziest of magazine articles, Q Magazine seems to be almost entirely made up of them nowadays. What's more it's a list of opinions by someone I've never heard of, let alone read, before, so I don't quite know what his angle is. Added in to that is the fact that, being an American list, I'm not as familiar with some of the people in the list as the article seems to assume.

However this is all redeemed by one small thing. The title:
The Ten Most Hated Men in Rock (Besides Sting)

Wednesday, 8 September 2004

Wishing the Days Away

Via Ron Gilbert's Grumpy Gamer site I found this page: Jay is .... It's a weblog devoted mostly to finding online flash and shockwave games (and some written in DHTML and javascript, check out Lemmings in the "Classics" section, but only when you've got a lot of free time on your hands). There's some really great stuff here. In the recommended section on the site Chasm and Samarost, in particular, are well worth playing right to the end.

Tuesday, 7 September 2004

Just Because It's A Tautology Doesn't Make It Wrong

For quite some time I've checking out The Top 10 Conservative Idiots on the Democratic Underground. I've not mentioned it before because it's American and politics, two things that far too many other blogs cover. I'm pointing it out now because this week's is spectacularly vicious and spot on and mostly for this entry:
Karl Rove
Karl "Bush's Brain" Rove made some bizarre pre-Convention comments on the subject of terrorism, demonstrating that he has absolutely no concept of the conflict in Northern Ireland whatsoever. "This is going to be more like the conflict in Northern Ireland," he said, "where the Brits fought terrorism, and there's no sort of peace accord with al-Qaida saying, 'We surrender.'" Hmm. Is it just me, or did Karl Rove just compare the Irish to al-Qaida?

It manages to sum up so much in so little.

Wednesday, 1 September 2004


Bryan-Mitchell Young over at Popular Culture Gaming links to an article in Gamespot (of all places) called Redefining Games: How Academia is Reshaping Games of the Future. It's about studying games design, not actually games design itself but the study of how games are designed, specifically computer games. They even have a word for it: Ludology.

This seems like one of those great areas of research, you get to play games, or watch people play games, and then talk about it afterwards. It's more rigourous than that, though being a study in it's infancy it seems you can get away with quite a lot of stating the obvious. For instance, I can't find it at the moment, but, somewhere on the Game Studies site I think, there's an article that points out the world Lara Croft inhabits is designed specifically for her alone and that the objects in that world are bound by the games rules to be certain sizes and certain distances apart. As an insight I find this logical, deep and yet trivial. It's something you know, but never think to articulate. Once you do, though, you do tend to notice it in games. Return to Castle Wolfenstein tries hard to look like a place that could be real, but, even ignoring the placing of switches, barrels, extra ammo, etc, the spaces within it are designed to provide balanced gameplay. As real world architectural spaces they probably don't work or if they do it is a secondary consideration to the primary one of providing just enough cover.

I hope Ludology progresses to become a more recognised and respected discipline as I think it can be capable of providing some interesting ways of looking at how and why we play computer games. The Gamespot piece is a better introduction to this than I have space for, but manages to have one of its interviewees shoot himself in the foot.
Still, Frasca, all practical notions aside, agrees on the importance of developing more game research departments, such as Stanford's and Georgia Tech's, in other universities. "Many gamers may think that university professors studying games should get a life, but I have a challenge for these players: Wouldn't it have been much nicer if you spent hours in college discussing Zelda rather than a boringly long story about ancient Greeks? Would it be great to spend hours in school dealing with an art form that truly speaks to you, such as games, and less about paintings or sculptures that are hundreds of years old?" Frasca considers the importance of studying the classics but asserts that today, "Will Wright and Miyamoto have more cultural influence than Shakespeare and Homer, because they are alive and well, and because they speak to us."

Let's look at Frasca's first question: "Wouldn't it have been much nicer if you spent hours in college discussing Zelda rather than a boringly long story about ancient Greeks?" Skipping lightly past the loaded "boringly long", I'd still have to answer "no". Or, at least, "Nicer, perhaps. More interesting or useful? Definitely not." The Illiad is a story that's lasted for centuries and has recently been made into a movie. It may be long and it certainly has its boring parts (the endless lists of the leaders and their men and how many ships they brought isn't exactly riveting) but it still has things to say about rage and pride and ideas about manliness and all that sort of thing that means it is still relevant today (along with being satisfyingly bloody in the non-listy parts). Zelda, I don't know about because I had a PC, a Playstation and then an X-box, plus, as far as I can tell, not having the right hardware to test it, Zelda seems to be an incredibly cute role-playing game. Two things that would put me off even trying it.

What Zelda has to say about the great themes of mankind, I'm not sure, but the walkthrough for The Legend of Zelda includes such stirring quests as "Get the Wooden Sword" "Purchase the Blue Candle" and "Buy Bait".

Then there's Keats who had this to say about Chapman's translation of Homer:

On First Looking into Chapman's Homer:

Much have I travel'd in the realms of gold,
And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
Round many western islands have I been
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
That deep-brow'd Homer ruled as his demesne:
Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:
-- Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
He stared at the Pacific -- and all his men
Look'd at each other with a wild surmise --
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

There is poetry about Zelda on the Internet but, as yet, I've not been brave enough to read it.

Frasca goes on to say "Will Wright and Miyamoto have more cultural influence than Shakespeare and Homer, because they are alive and well, and because they speak to us." He also complains later that people have trouble taking games studies seriously. To quote Mal Reynolds: "My days of not taking you seriously are certainly coming to a middle". According to About Bernard Levin has this to say about Shakespeare's influence on language (not theatre or storytelling or plots just the language):
If you cannot understand my argument, and declare "It's Greek to me", you are quoting Shakespeare; if you claim to be more sinned against than sinning, you are quoting Shakespeare; if you recall your salad days, you are quoting Shakespeare; if you act more in sorrow than in anger, if your wish is father to the thought, if your lost property has vanished into thin air, you are quoting Shakespeare; if you have ever refused to budge an inch or suffered from green-eyed jealousy, if you have played fast and loose, if you have been tongue-tied, a tower of strength, hoodwinked or in a pickle, if you have knitted your brows, made a virtue of necessity, insisted on fair play, slept not one wink, stood on ceremony, danced attendance (on your lord and master), laughed yourself into stitches, had short shrift, cold comfort or too much of a good thing, if you have seen better days or lived in a fool's paradise - why, be that as it may, the more fool you, for it is a foregone conclusion that you are (as good luck would have it) quoting Shakespeare; if you think it is early days and clear out bag and baggage, if you think it is high time and that that is the long and short of it, if you believe that the game is up and that truth will out even if it involves your own flesh and blood, if you lie low till the crack of doom because you suspect foul play, if you have your teeth set on edge (at one fell swoop) without rhyme or reason, then - to give the devil his due - if the truth were known (for surely you have a tongue in your head) you are quoting Shakespeare; even if you bid me good riddance and send me packing, if you wish I were dead as a door-nail, if you think I am an eyesore, a laughing stock, the devil incarnate, a stony-hearted villain, bloody-minded or a blinking idiot, then - by Jove! O Lord! Tut, tut! for goodness' sake! what the dickens! but me no buts - it is all one to me, for you are quoting Shakespeare. (Bernard Levin. From The Story of English. Robert McCrum, William Cran and Robert MacNeil. Viking: 1986).

But, I guess, on the face of it Wil's still alive and putting out expansion packs for The Sims so I guess he's having more influence.