Tuesday, 25 July 2017

A Few Moments More

I'm running late. This is dreadful. The first attempt was the wrong kind, and has been put into pre-planned holiday cover, so now there are but a few minutes to manufacture a few words out of nothing. Unfortunately, the woodwork project doesn't provide much content, unless planing and sawing in preparation for joinery is of interest? No, maybe not. Finger joints, people, finger joints!

It has been a brave few days. with the notable highlight being the first attempt to deliver a Spanish lesson, which went absurdly well. This whole plan to build up a multi-disciplinary tutoring service and remain independent might actually work out. Who would have thought it? The subsequent lessons will have to be very well thought out, though. It might be time to start digging into teaching intuition and working out the best balance for revision and moving on. It was fun.

In a scattershot summary of things gone by in the last few days, the film 'The First Men In The Moon' (1964) turned out to be pretty good, and volume two of 'The Conan Chronicles' continues to be as excellent as volume one. Robert E Howard surely had a great head for pulpy adventures. It's not even as sexist as you might have expected, with some sparky heroines being thrown into the mix. You would think that there would have been more productions of the Conan stories in this era of digital effects, wouldn't you? Perhaps, in a world with more credible film writers with some creative freedom, it could happen. That is a story for another day, however.

Now, it is time to settle back and think about the happy things, before falling into a deep and wonderful sleep. Then, tomorrow, amongst other things, there will be the episode of 'Supergirl' that I suspect will be the best of the season, the crossover with 'The Flash'. It will probably round out the mini-series of posts on individual episodes, and leave only the season (and, for me, series) wrap-up. What an unusual season it has been.



Sunday, 23 July 2017

Television: 'Mork And Mindy: Mork Learns To See' (1980) (Episode 2x17)

'Mork And Mindy' had a pretty troubled run, with many reshufflings and reschedulings coming down from the network and studios involved after an extremely successful first season. As a result, every season has a new settling in period to be dealt with, before getting into a new normal. The higher-ups just didn't understand why the show worked, and kept messing around with it in vain attempts to make this series about an alien living on Earth with a human flatmate fit into one of their templates!

'Mork Learns To See' is one of the most successful episodes of the second season, and features one of the most interesting uses of Mork (Robin Williams) and Mindy's (Pam Dawber) downstairs neighbour Mr Bickley, the legendary Tom Poston. Most of the time, Mr Bickley existed to complain and make snide remarks, but on this occasion, we got to see the most touching part of his history writ large, as he struggled to deal with a visit by his blind adult son, a pianist and musical performer, and decides to run off and let his neighbours deal with him instead.

There's a remarkable turn in this episode, once Mork and Mindy discover that their painting of Bickley as a villain for avoiding his son is not quite fair. It turns out that it's not nasty behaviour but rather crippling fear that is driving Bickley, and that he is effectively the wounded person in the relationship, after having given up so much to see his son end up an independent and valiant person. You have to think about it for a little while, but the extended sequence of Mork learning and living how Tom Bickley lives in perpetual darkness is really there to establish Bickley the younger as an independent person, while his fully sighted father is the weaker of the two. Oh, and it gives Williams a chance to emote freely, as was his gift. It seems that 'Mork And Mindy' was where Williams had the most control of his emotive energies, although that might have been the result of strong leadership inside the series.

'Mork And Mindy' was all about telling the truth, often when it wasn't the polite thing to do. Sometimes it went too far, or misfired, or had absolute disasters such as the season two premiere, which is the single worst hour of television that I've ever seen. Here, they hit it exactly right, with a great red herring of Mr Bickley as a rotter, before wheeling around and making it clear he is the self-punishing victim. Also, Tom Sullivan produces a very strong performance as Tom Bickley, portraying great inner strength before finally confessing that he misses the father he hasn't seen for more than a decade.

Very good. Not for the cynical.


Friday, 21 July 2017

Pardon Me, That's My Horse

My penguin is giving me the evil eye. At least, he would be if he were real. As it is, a fluffy toy penguin is giving me the fluffy evil eye. I might need some fluffy toy fish, except that would be somehow very disturbing. Perhaps the penguin is reminding me to write this blog, which is proving extremely difficult even with the bonus powers associated with a recent haircut. The Reverse Samson Effect is in full play, except for this piece of anticlimactic writing. Well, we don't know if it will be anti-climactic yet, do we? There might be a UFO landing partway through, or the invention of a new term for redundant cheeses.

It has been an interesting week, primarily concerned with mysterious gallivanting timber consignments, the re-ignition of working through the final French coursebook, and the booking of the second year's modules. Yes, the madness will continue for one more year! After that, it will be time to reassess, if the courses are passed. Language courses aren't like those you might find in mathematics degrees: It's entirely possible to miss the point, make errors and not know it, and then be caught casting around wildly for what is going wrong. The second year will be half French and half Spanish, so that's potential enough for confusion...

Is it possible to take French and Spanish courses at the same time? Well, it's not impossible. Some fearsome mental ingenuity and stamina will have to be imagined, as well as some unknown pots of energy from the secret stores that exist in the vicinity of the mythical karma core. Ah, karma, that grand feeling of not having harmed anyone or anything in the world, and doing as much good as you could have while making recompense for any mistakes that slip by. No-one's perfect, after all. Maybe it will be karma that gets this second year completed successfully? Maybe it will be the penguin. I say, Mr Penguin, are you an imaginary expert linguist?

In upcoming posts, expect some book blather, more 'Wordspace', more reviews of various things, and the beginning of the woodworking horror stories associated with Summer Project 2017. There's not much mathematics here at the moment, is there? Perhaps there will be, sometime soon. Perhaps. It's probably time to get back on that particular horse, before it leaves the barn for good.


Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Television: 'Supergirl: Solitude' (2016) (Episode 1x15)

The good: Everything with Kara and the CatCo people, the missile interception, most of the things with Hank/J'Onn but without Alex, the Fortress of Solitude and its Key.

The bad: As usual, most things with Alex, most of the militaristic DEO things, negative Lucy Lane, a lot of the fighting with Indigo.

The neutral: Wynn and Siobhan the Weird, Indigo the wannabe Brainiac.

You never know what you're going to get. Will it be the frustratingly violent punch-fest episode, or will it be something special and unique to a Super-character? Will it be fitting to what makes these lead characters special, or not? To cut to the core of all the recent problems with interpretations of Superman: A hero is someone who saves people, and a warrior is someone who fights people. The overlap exists, but is hard to capture. To be explicit Superman and Supergirl need to be heroes, not warriors.

'Solitude' wins, on the whole, by virtue of the Key to the Fortress of Solitude. It's made out of collapsed matter and so dense that only a few people in the Universe could lift it, and is essentially a golden S-shield on a stick. For any one with even a passing knowledge of the old Superman comics continuity, it's the homage that finally tells you that this is a show that loves Super-lore. It's so cute that it's the same as a sign saying 'Welcome Home, Stranger, The Fridge Is Full'. Sadly, the next episode will throw it all away with some humdrum 'Red Kryptonite Turns Kara Bad' shenanigans, but for now we have the Key, and it is good.

We also have a great non-punchy Labour of Supergirl as she stops a runaway nuclear missile (sound familiar?), which is executed brilliantly, and some nice moments with James Olsen at the Fortress. James is really being played out well on this show, although his ascendancy is at the expense of Kara's other admirer, the now-rejected Wynn. As a result, we have a strange imbalance, with James being lined up as a Super-lover, and Wynn being set up as a partner to Cat's second personal assistant, the sadly ill-omened Siobhan, in order for him to not fade away out of the show completely.

If there's anything to complain about this time, it is again Alex, and I will not beat up the character at length, but merely say that she is from another series. Chyler Leigh is a fine dramatic actress, but she's not even remotely of the same comedic/hearty mold as everyone else and collapses down to flatness in comparison. On the other hand, David Harewood has steadily improved as Hank/J'Onn, especially as his real identity has emerged and been expanded upon. If he could only be extracted from the DEO, and instead be a straightforward mentor character, he would be perfect and actually collapse onto the character as he was in the 'Justice League' series by Giffen and DeMatteis back in the 1980s and 1990s. Oh, some of the stuff with the computer creature Indigo was not great, especially the technobabble, but they managed to avoid generic fights with her, so that was a partial success too. Lucy Lane's negativity was so annoying that it was a relief to see her break up with Jimmy Olsen, but that could be debateable. That's enough carping.

Yes, a definite hit. The Fortress of Solitude was great, the missile sequence was great, and the hand holding with J'Onn to mend the personal rift touching. Very solid episode. Only five to go until this iteration of the series is over, and we finish.


Monday, 17 July 2017


How will this go? Will it be funny? Will it be serious? Will it be about the mysterious timber delivery that is currently roaming the country apparently at random, never to arrive at its ultimate destination? No, that last one would be too mean. Instead, this can be about the perils of never having time to think about rhubarb. Yes, yes, we all know about the dangers of not having time to think things through and form actions instead of reactions, but the risks involved in disregarding rhubarb are far more devastating.

For one thing, disregarding and neglecting the word 'rhubarb' robs you of one of the most famously amusing words in history. Yes, 'rutabaga' is pretty good too (the common swede to those of us who live outside the United States Of America), but 'rhubarb' has a great theatrical tradition behind it. It's a mighty and historical noun. Just saying 'rhubarb' is enough to build internal energy and summon resolve for the day ahead. On the other hand, it may just be a funny root that is used in some desserts. You take your pick and make your choice.

Apparently, and this may be apocryphal, extras often said 'rhubarb' over and over to make convincing crowd noises in old dramatic productions. I can just imagine it now, the 'rhubarb' iterations going and on and on, overlaying and reinforcing, until a resonant frequency was achieved and all the extras went hopelessly insane. Even now, I suspect, there are homes full of victims of the Rhubarb Practice. Maybe, one day, a cure will be found. Of course, this could also all be rubbish. You're not reading a blog with a high ambition for sense or logical reasoning.

Logical reasoning. That's one of the great challenges in teaching mathematics. My own learning had logical reasoning as an asset so intuitive, but also oddly polarised, as to make its teaching perversely difficult. So, if there's one area for improvement in the next few weeks, that is it. How to teach logical reasoning, and of advocate rhubarb in all its forms. Without 'rhubarb', how can we ever impart the wisdom to solve for two unknowns at the same time?


Saturday, 15 July 2017

Story: 'Wordspace' Phase II, Part X

( Part I , IX , XI )

Club's knowledge of the Ordinals was limited to a few stories told by School and some of the Old Timers. He had never met them back in the earlier days of their world, which no-one had ever really come to understand, as he had replaced an earlier word who had met an untimely end. The Ordinals had been just a story told to fill the long evenings of his early years, and dreary days out camping at the foot of Mountain and Vale.

To Club's left, the enigmatic Fifth walked, a mostly silent word who looked around him in wonder at the parts of the Wordspace that he and his friends hadn't traversed in many eons. Ahead, the Zone of Impenetrable Jargon loomed, and his head cocked to one side. "What is that?" He enquired of Club.

"It's the Zone."

"The Zone?" Fifth looked confused. "There was never a 'Zone' when we were here. What is it?"

"It mystifies us. It is a great dome build out of punctuation an syllables of no practical use, that became embedded here in the ancient history of the Space. We have used it as a prison." Club was unused to being the one who answered questions.

Eighth, one of the younger Ordinals, had been listening along. She seemed sceptical. "A great mass of jargon does not simply form a dome out of nowhere. It is... interesting..."

Spying an opportunity to change the topic to one he didn't have to explain himself, Club asked a question. "Why have you and your friends been out here for so long? Did you not want to come home?"

Fifth looked embarrassed. "We couldn't find our way back. The Wordspace has many interesting places beyond the Frontier, but also vast expanses of featureless punctuation tundra. "We have been utterly lost." The Invader could now be seen dimly in the distance. "By the Great Conjugator! It is massive!"

The Invader loomed above the dome of the Zone, crashing its clenched digits down in futility. Suddenly, it seemed to them, it crashed over in complete spontaneity.

"That was odd." Was Eighth's only comment. "Very mysterious."

Club smiled. Where mysterious things happened, his old friend would not be far away. "Yes. It's a Mystery."

To be continued...

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Experimental Chocolate Cake

Returning to baking for a glorious moment, here is the latest prototype for a sugar-free chocolate cake. It's approaching good, ridiculously! How to improve from here? It's hard to know...

Ingredients2 medium apples, finely chopped
4 teaspoons lemon juice
1 cup margarine/butter
3 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
5/2 cups flour (and maybe a bit more to stiffen it up)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup cocoa
1/2 cup set honey

Procedure01 Preheat your oven to 160C, and line a cake tin with greaseproof paper.
02 Sift and combine the soda, salt, flour and cocoa.
03 Melt together the margarine/butter and honey.
04 Mix together the dry and melted ingredients.
05 Add the eggs and vanilla extract. Combine.
06 Finally, mix in the apple.
07 Pour into the baking receptacle and meditate on the nature of success, for about an hour. My prototype was cooked after fifty-five minutes!