Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Sguiggle squiggle smash

When you're writing a blog, and you have no idea what's about to emerge from your fingertips, there can be some twinges of nerves. Perhaps it's not going to work this time? Perhaps you've used up your limited stock of creativity and are now a walking, talking waste of space? Maybe you've done too much mathematics? It's nerve-inducing. In these cases you do, as I am doing now, a little exercise and just type.

'How are you doing today?', 'That's a nice hat.', 'Are you glad to not be in New York?' and 'My head is too wide, please bring one with a bigger hole.' are all perfectly serviceable comments and questions for small talk and even general shopping but are they good content for a blog? What is 'good'? For information on this question, or no information at all, I refer you to the 'Complete Prose' of Woody Allen, one of my all time favourite books. It has also been a major inspiration to parts of my writing and work. Woody Allen is one of the most divisive comedic figures you can possibly imagine. By turns hilarious and incomprehensible it's hard to find material of his which is indisputably funny, and the 'Complete Prose' is definitely one of those. I refer you to 'What if the Impressionists were dentists?' and leave it at that.

Looming out at Aberystwyth from my office window, requiring as it does some dangerous acrobatics and cranking of the neck on the fourth floor, it is beginning to seem real that I'm back and maybe even will be successful in some endeavours. This is alarming. Even now clouds of self-sabotage are amassing on the horizon, vying to bring me back down to Earth. Will this downfall take the form of the dreaded Papanastasiou Regularisation? I hope not. Will the LLB condition finally break all my work down to its elementary constituents and blow it out to the seas? It's a terrible thought. Might a bubble function erupt from the firmament of FreeFEM++ and sweep me away into the gloom of mediocrity? It's possible.

Putting aside all the doubts of madness, mathematics, and giant space faring alien lemons, things are finally working.

<Waits for piano to fall>


It can't last. The hideous lambasting of Heinz on Film Bin will come back to haunt me. Five kinds of torment will shriek down when organising Internet for the new flat. My mouse mat will turn out to be defective and made of cheese! And 'Night Trials' will never come to an end but continue on as an endless shlock science fiction serial. Images of 50s horror hostess Vampira will haunt me despite her looking kind of silly and not scary at all. Doom!

Oooh, I should write another 'Night Trials'. Good idea. That's the thing to take from this post. Well, that and the fact that it's really not that hard to write a few paragraphs and post it in the modern age. Well done, Internet!


Monday, 28 January 2013

The importance of mousemats

Here in my new office all is going very well. It's true that I made the old minus sign error AGAIN but that can hardly be helped. 'Who needs a yield stress anyway?' is the rhetorical question I always deploy so that I can move on to the next problem. Of first priority is the purchase of a new mousemat, something that will make life infinitely more practical. A mousemat is the most important item in any modern computer user's office without doubt. Mine has swirls and will be delivered soon.

'Do you see swirls when I do this?'
The second most important thing about a new office, and the first day of a new job, is to find a good place to walk around and work off those programming and work stresses. Fortunately this is Aberystwyth and I have years of experience in aimless roving already. Who needs pacing on boring flats when you have hills, hills and more hills? Perhaps they'll find me one day, endlessly circling in an ambling path, muttering 'no, not with this plain old mousemat, not like this' and do the inevitable thing.

'Whoooooah... it never did that before!'


paean: (ancient Greece) a hymn of praise (especially one sung in ancient Greece to invoke or thank a deity)
'Oh swirly mousemat, you are most lurid,
You fill my office with colours lucid,
And do allow fluffy bunnies to assist
In these mathematics I can not resist,
For which I thank you, oh swirly mouse mat.'

That wasn't quite a paean to my mousemat but it was close, lacking as it did the true heartfelt tone of a paean to the old gods seeking help or giving thanks. The mousemat is by the most important thing to ever occur in this office, and that includes the pagan cake sacrifices that took place in 1994 during the last funding troubles.


PS New commentary up at Film Bin, and it's for the pilot episode of one of my favourite tv shows: Due South! We're planning to do all the episodes. Keep your eyes peeled.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

The incredible value of being silly

Throw a stick, any stick. Did it come back? Ah, then it wasn't a boomerang.

Such esoteric thoughts as those expressed above really epitomise the intended nature of this blog. Huzzah, it is truly wonderful that we can do things like this now, proclaiming to the whole wide world whatever we wish without fear but with hope of maybe reaching someone who thinks in some of the same ways that we do.

priggish: exaggeratedly proper

worldliness: the quality or character of being intellectually sophisticated through cultivation or experience or disillusionment

canto: a major division of a long poem

This capacity, this privilege, is unprecedented throughout history. For centuries, people in privileged countries have had the ability to write but not distribute freely, but we have both now and we can not only distribute but broadcast. It is awesome. We don't have the ability to make people read what we write except through good fortune and exceptional talent but the opportunity is there. It's really overlooked and taken for granted though, against the background of ubiquitous frivolity such as Facebook and Google+. Think about we can do for a moment. There, isn't that great? Isn't that awesome?

Now, it is awesome that we can speak to the world and of course that has a flipside, the dark side of the coin. That flip side is the rapid evolution in worldliness that comes from the world wide web. We open ourselves up and inevitably get the negative effects and rejections that cause cynicism to set in. We lose the ability to be wilfully innocent in many ways as we're exposed to junk, scams, smut and advertisements. Now, I don't say 'innocence' but 'willful innocence', where both can be reasonably used. That is simply because we don't know to even emulate innocence any more. We could even be thought of as priggish, exaggerated toward the loss of innocence and incursion of worldliness. It's sad.

How can we reconcile the incredible liberty to communicate with the world with the accelerated worldliness that is its consequence? Well, it's hard. There are no obvious answers. The easiest thing would be to exercise good judgement to begin with but most of the damage is done in childhood and it always has been. This is not new. Long before the Internet it kids in the school yard, then radio, film, and finally television. The current canto in the long lyrical development of the global social community is the Internet. The world hasn't ended; it has merely become more cynical if not worldly. There's a little less fun.

Even if there's a little less fun, we can still throw a stick and watch it not come back. We can be silly if we want, and our main goal is to encourage silliness. It may seem impossible to lighten the mood of the world to make hard things seem easier, but... 'What if we could?'.

Go out and be silly. It's fun.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Movie: 'Quigley Down Under' (1990)

This is interesting. And incredibly simple. It seems like some of the most satisfying things in the arts are both interesting and simple. 'Quigley Down Under' is a western set in Australia. Starring Tom Selleck as Matthew Quigley, the story splits very neatly into two strands of his visit to Australia as a new employee of rancher Marston, as played by Alan Rickman. Actually the neatness of the two strands is what really makes this film interesting, as either one by itself would be unfulfilling. So let's break it down.

Ace marksman Matthew Quigley answers an ad and goes to Australia to investigate a job opportunity with Marston. On the way to the ranch with Marston's hands and some new pleasure women, he is adopted by one of those women, Crazy Cora. Taking her under his wing as protection from the ranchers, he discovers Marston's real reason to recruit him and his experimental long range rifle: Extermination of the aboriginal people. Revolting and attacking Marston and his henchmen, he gets battered and dragged out to die in the desert with the deranged Cora, where the movie takes off. From then on the two stories are Quigley's relationship with Cora as played by a lovely Laura San Giacomo and his quest to bring Marston down.

The relationship between Quigley and Cora is actually very touching as their ordeal together and witnessing of the persecution of the aboriginals slowly brings her back to sanity and helps her to come to terms with her own personal trauma. The quest to bring down Marston is less interesting but is a necessary contrast to the more personal Cora strand. Rickman does his usual serviceable job as the villain but is really wasted by the script. If you have Rickman as the villain you really need to use him more! Selleck does a good job but you can never buy him as implacable. He plays angry well, and maybe determinedly angry, but not ruthlessly implacable. It's really hard for Tom Selleck to overcome his innate screen niceness. Giacomo is excellent as Cora and it's a shame that her unconventional looks didn't win her a movie career. In many ways the combination of Quigley and Cora is one of the better pairings in movies that I've seen. She has the cutest teeth.

I'm making a habit of positive reviews... Blast!

In many ways this movie is an old-fashioned Western, a throwback to a simpler time, and it works well. As a marksman, Quigley's action scenes are pretty tame as he's most effective at a distance from his enemies, but it's believable. The aboriginal scenes are touching and the persecutions are torturous, and it all leads naturally and organically to the preordained showdown. There are some really nice touches that make this is a solid movie, most notably the shooting physics. I like that we see a delay in the bullet reaching its target, that's awesome, and the understated performances, and the fact that Marston is not such a horrible man that he's a cartoon. It's all well balanced. The music is incredible, if a bit too repetitive, and Basil Poledouris should have earned plaudits aplenty. Let's hope he did.

In summary, 'Quigley Down Under' is a very solid Western movie, not excellent but solid. In these days solid is the new excellent, and I like this film. The acting is well done, the direction is excellent, the music is good, and the Cora story and character arc is touching and almost ends in the rare non-resolution. It's a good movie. I like it.


Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Tiny flakes of frozen water

It's snowing for a second time here in Pontyates, which is surely a sign of some kind of oncoming apocalypse. At the slightest hint of snow here in Britain a laughably extreme reaction seems to break out in the citizens. There's a certain manic look that pops onto the faces of people, which I equate to that of a frantic heron, as they detect that first snowflake and sprint to their cars in search of bread and milk before anyone else can buy it all in a massive binge. Yes, they are in immediate danger of being buried under a massive snowdrift falling from the sky as one bulk mass, and they must get home, they must. Schools have special detectors that can see snowflakes from up to two miles away and immediately send everyone home just in case a child gets hit with a dirty snowball. Oooh, topical! (And unfair to schools.)

As my bus is turned back, and the prospect of meeting my appointment in Llanelli recedes like a dream in a whirly stream of colour, I sit here doodling and wondering how we are so bad at dealing with snow. We are laughed at by the whole continent and it's easy to see why. Five years ago we could maybe make a case for being surprised and unprepared but it now snows heavily every year at about the same time. There is no excuse anymore, and it is actually kind of annoying. I would hate to get overly political but maybe investing - not cutting - some money in snow equipment would help the economy and allow efficiency and activity instead of shutting down whole regions of the country. That is all.

I feel certain this is all connected to December 21st ending the world, and the fact that I'm still getting hordes of junk e-mail for Madeline Reeves. That is still inexplicable to me. I'd rather get my own junk e-mail, thank you very much, and now I'm being buried under junk astrology spam as well as cosmetic advertisements and all other kinds of pap!

<pauses for a moment>

As I abort my rant, which is now in abeyance until a more suitable time such as meeting the mythical Ms Reeves, the snow continues to fall harder and harder and the prospect of egress from this little village becomes more and more remote. We may all be trapped here until the end of time, or until a desperate rugby fan digs a trench out to the nearest train station to make an international in Cardiff.

And now I close, wishing you all a wonderful time playing in, looking at, or cursing the snow. Isn't it lovely?


<Throws hands up in disgust and walks away>

Monday, 21 January 2013

Never trust a stocky Texan in a near future gladiatorial robot movie

With great trepidation and courage I have settled down to watch 'Robot Jox' and am being surprised by it beating my admittably rock bottom expectations. Of course it is incredibly easy to surpass expectations that only barely manage to register on an electron microscope.

This week is a busy one as I managed to successfully navigate my way through an interview last week and am now faced with the incredible opportunity of... working. That's right, it is time to return to the stone face of mathematics! A prerequisite of doing that is finding accommodation, and I do so hate moving house. It's ironic for an academic to be intolerant of travel, but here I am and it is surely true. Still, at least I'm moving to Aberystwyth, a wonderful place by the sea, with rocks and squalls and swimming pools and space for cycling. There shall be much cycling.

In other news, Barack Obama was sworn in for his second term as President of the United States today. Well done, Mr President, you may not be perfect but I rate you over the opposition. I have a hunch Obama II will be a far different thing to Obama I, with a few more things attempted. We shall see.

Oh no, 'Robot Jox' has degenerated into two men in silly suits clubbing each other. Silly. I think we'll have fun talking about this one, if only because Gary Graham was rather dopey. "We can live!" Oh just kill him already. Good grief, has the bad guy relented? Yes? Yes? He has! Chalk up ultimate redemption for 'Robot Jox'! That was an unexpected little movie, but please don't watch it, you people out there, it's not that good!

With that I leave you now, dear imaginary readers. I fully believe you are all robots really, but nonetheless you deserve content. I shall continue to foist these silly offerings on you all as punishment for your devotion.

<retrieves keyboard from the blasted Clomp>

Good night.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Movie: 'Outland' (1981)

The movie 'Outland' was styled as 'High Noon in space' by many people and the similarities are easily seen. It's deliberately designed to replicate the shear difficulty and time involved in travel and defence in the Old West. It also has lots of guns and metal swinging bar doors like in the old saloons and a cranky doctor with a funny name. Directed by Peter Hyams, it has a lot of the high quality touches he brought to a lot of dodgy movies such as 'Sudden Death' and '2010'. Fortunately no one fights a penguin mascot in this movie as they did in that latter example!

Now, to the plot, which takes place almost entirely on a remote mining station on one of Jupiter's moons. The station is 70 hours by shuttle from the nearest supply station, and the journey home to the Earth takes an average of a year in suspended animation. In short, those miners are a long way away from civilization. The new Marshall O'Niel is rapidly drawn into conflict with the local company boss, and slowly uncovers a drugs ring being run by the company to improve productivity, whose corruptions extend even into the local police. Finally, after a large body count rises up, his wife has left him to go back to Earth with their dopey son, and he finally pricks the local doctor's conscience into action (she's called Dr Lazarus), it comes down to a prolonged battle sequence between O'Niel (well played by Sean Connery) and the boss Shepherd's (Peter Boyle) imported goons. Those goons come in with the full 70 hour warning of the shuttle ride, allowing some tension to rise.

Now, 'Outland' is actually a rather impressive movie, although a little gory and graphic for my tastes. The visuals may be a little gratuitous at times but Connery grounds it with his usual gravitas. Did anyone ever have more gravitas than Sean Connery? He just forms a gravity well on screen that pulls your eyes to him no matter what's happening. It's a solid supporting cast, where no time is wasted on theatrics. I reserve special mention for Frances Sternhagen as Dr Lazarus, who was actually awesome in some bizarre way I can't define. It may be just her breaking out of the mold of her 'Cheers' character Esther Clavin in my head. Oh, how I like Frances Sternhagen. Ahem, Sternhagen worship aside, the cast is solid although Peter Boyle is a bit unconvincing. Maybe it was the wig being stamped on his head under that baseball cap that was inhibiting him.

In a science fiction movie, and this is on the 'hard' side of science fiction, visual effects are key and those shown here in this movie were great for 1981. The only way you might consider them bad is if you compare them to the near-contemporary 'The Empire Strikes Back' which was unparallelled in its efforts and made EVERYTHING look bad. The music is an excellent Jerry Goldsmith score, defying my view of him being someone who is usually overrated. The ending is a good, if somewhat standard, on-the-run battle between O'Niel and the assassins which can be considered a technical and thrilling suspense without being particularly memorable.

On the whole, I like 'Outland'. It's a curiosity and an example of Connery in the odd part of his career, that portion where leading men should really disappear and skip 'graying' for the eventual white haired distinguished look. Here he does it better than he would in other examples. It's a strong effort, and I think that most people would appreciate it, although if you're prone to boredom you might want to stay away. Oh, and if you're sensitive then be ready to avert the eyes from time to time.


Thursday, 17 January 2013

Story: 'The Great White Mountain'

From atop the Great High Mountain was a great voice heard. The voice, billowing forth with a cold breeze and audible waxing and waning with the currents, said this: "There can be only one." (Note: Thank you to 'Highlander' for this combination of words.)

Villages all around the base of the Great High Mountain heard the voice as did towns further away, and even the citizens of the great City of the Marshes. They waited in anticipation of elucidating comments along the lines of 'He shall come from far away, bearing hats', or 'The One will show you the Way, and the Way shall lead to the Local Government Consultation meeting'. No new sound would be heard for almost exactly a month.

Thirty days later, days being the same length near the Mountain as they are here on the third moon of Slanty, the great voice was heard again. The words boomed down along the air and were: "The points lead elsewhere." Even more consternation was caused at the foot of the Mountain and violent scuffles broke out among rowdy philosophers with their own pet theories on what it all meant. People had already been eyeing each other since "There can be only one", wondering who they would need to bump off first so they could be The One. Now what was all this talk about points?

A further thirty days later, the voice called out "Doo wop, doo wop, shimmy!" and everyone became red faced and embarrassed, except the philosophers who had long since descended into desperate wrestling bouts to prove their own intellectual superiorities over each other. Consequently they didn't hear as the voice then continued with "I'm a gnu, I'm a gnu, the most glovely thing in the zoo..." Rolling their eyes, the people at the foot of the Great White Mountain rolled their eyes, muttered about the stupid sense of humour their mountain had sometimes and went back to work. They kept their list of disposable neighbours just in case.

The Mountain chuckled to itself and did a little shimmy. Sadly the avalanches weren't funny at all.

What a jerk of a mountain.

PS New Film Bin commentary for 'Zulu' up at the usual place. Enjoy!
PPS Interview went well. There'll be an interruption for some days soon when I move.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Things that happened at school

I'll start this with something that happened to my sister at school: Once our Biology teacher stuck a tube down his throat and extracted a sample of his own stomach acid for a demonstration. Yep, it was a good school. I sometimes think that this is the kind of behaviour that they're trying to breed out of schools with league tables and examination focus and it's sad. Maybe some of the silly things still happen out there, adding wonder and mystery to those dull school days. It's more important to open people's minds than get exams passed. You can't run services for profit as the profit is the service! Get wise, people up there in the Ivory Towers.

Hmm, what else? My maths teacher used to lie down on the front empty row of tables during class to help his back. Mr Physics used to play 'Chariots of Fire' on a two (or maybe more) note xylophone on school sports days. I walk raced other kids around the school sometimes just to get them to leave me alone. Once a king bully actually stopped to chat to me alone because none of the bullying was working. Ah, those rose-tinted grim old days.

<smiles at Clompie. Clompie throws an anvil.>

I like anvils. Here in Wales, schools have little competitions called Eisteddfods (there are big national ones too). In our school we were split up into three Houses (no Hufflepuff I'm afraid) called Caradog (I think), Glyndwr and Myrddin. Myrddin was where they dumped the English speaking slime so I was in there. There would then be some kind of mammoth talent show / skill contest of some kind and points would be allocated. One of the other two houses almost invariably won. There was a big sword that the Biology teacher carried maniacally at the beginning and the end of each ceremony. I think he was amazing in retrospect.

In the sixth form we had our own little house with two rooms for our own leisure. It was amazing! Unfortunately that got turned into one room in the main building near the end. No more grape fights after that happened, although I never used either anyway. Self-imposed exiles had other ways to spend their time, mostly involving the library. I really should return that school library book. Is 15 years too long to read 'Ivanhoe'?

These quaint things seemed to fall away once the new Headmaster took over. It was sad. Everything seemed to get more Welsh-centric. I think the school is being merged with the Welsh-medium school sometime soon, and that is even sadder. It's not so much the change as the fact that English-language pupils are getting less of a fair deal as time goes on. That's a debate for another day though.

School days? Who needs 'em? WE DO!


PS According to Mr Computing it was always best to rob supermarkets rather than banks as they had more cash. How unbelievable. Tish tosh. We don't endorse crime here.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Movie: 'The Black Cauldron' (1985)

Writer's block and a horrific spate of mathematical work has conspired to destroy my ability to string words together. My incoherence has increased a hundredfold but I shall attempt to do this movie justice anyway.

As mentioned yesterday, Disney had quite the panic in the early to mid 1980s. Losing focus and key personnel they produced movies that did not make much money and weren't exactly Disney-like. 'The Black Cauldron' and 'The Black Hole' are probably the worst examples by far of what was a dangerous drift, of which I know very little. The fact that this movie was followed by 'Basil The Great Mouse Detective' the following year was a miracle in many ways.

'The Black Cauldron' is based on the first two of a sequence of books called 'The Chronicles of Prydain' by Lloyd Alexander, making this the first Disney movie to be strongly influenced by Welsh mythology. In outline it seems that the story is ideal, involving as it does a bevy of funny witches, a magic sword and magic cauldron, a bard, a princess, a prophetic pig, and a loveable anthropomorphic animal called Gurgi. Where does it fall apart? Maybe in that it's just a bit bland and dark? And that it's thankfully missing the ten minutes of undead soldiers killing people? Again... maybe... but it's really not that bad. It's like an arrow that has been shot into the bullseye of the wrong target. You see, it's just a bit off, and the arrow hit the generic animation company tone instead of Disney tone. For Disney tone there should be a song, a dance, and the villain should be less threatening.

In 'The Black Cauldron', a young pig keeper called Taran loses his prophetic magic pig Hen Wen to the forces of the evil and menacing Horned King, failing in his very specific duty, and somehow has to rescue the brave porker or destroy the Horned King's ultimate objective: The Black Cauldron. This Cauldron would allow the King to bring his dead army back to undead status and secure him dominion over the world and that can not be allowed to occur, but there is only one way to destroy the power of the Cauldron... the voluntary self-sacrifice of a person's life.

Now, in essence that could easily be the description of a Disney movie but somehow it didn't work out well. The pacing is odd, very little really seems to happen, and the oh so important villain was menacing and evil without being watchable or fun in any way. Indeed the King's cartoony toadlike henchman stuck out like a sore thumb when not being throttled by that bony undead hand. Perhaps that last sentence really underlines the problem with the movie: A cartoony henchmen being throttled by a skeletal undead hand. It's all just a bit too dark and none of the good bits seem to be savoured at all. It's as if the script supervisors took holidays through the whole of the production.

I'm not going to say any more about 'The Black Cauldron' except this: Try again, Disney, for there's a good movie here if you can just pull it off. Go, go, go and redeem this failure and the problems with the similarly Celtic 'Brave' by doing it well the second time.


Saturday, 12 January 2013

Story: 'Night Trials', VII

I've said it before: Mathematics and writing are anathema to each other. After two days of numerical things I can barely draw a few words together in coherent fashion! Pondering boundary conditions and pounding out finite difference schemes seems to ruin the writing soul.

Tonight's movie is 'The Black Cauldron'. It's creepy as anything so far, but not exactly Disney-like. It's fascinating to me that in the 1980s Disney was looking for a direction, having lost the focus that made it legendary to begin with. People like Pixar stars John Lasseter and Brad Bird were moved out of Disney in this period, which of course is madness in retrospect.

Anyway, back to the business at hand... which is cold.


Night Trials: Part VII
(Parts VI , VIII)

Two weeks later the situation was clearer. Bob had used his time wisely and secured a base in some old diggings just out of town, obtained food covertly from his friends on the outskirts and observed the behaviour of Wandering Yip. It seemed that there were far different patterns at work in town to those he had known.

At night there was no obvious human activity at all, with perhaps everyone staying inside. Whether this was forced was not obvious but it could just as well have been for people to avoid the presence of the aliens, who stood still at regularly placed positions about town, sentinels until the day ahead. As the sun rose above the horizon the aliens would lean from side to side, moaning, until finally retreating to the old liberty hall. As the aliens withdrew so would the humans emerge. At night the alien behaviour would be in reverse. Obviously there has to still be alien influence in action, otherwise the townsfold would escape at night, but how?

During the day, the aliens were rarely seen at all, although their machines moved around commonly. Two such machines floated around some defined perimeter of town all day, always on opposite sides of the town from one another.

As to the aliens, they were of bizarre aspect, oozing and sliming through metallic casings. The first he had seen was short and stout, but of the nine he had seen there were all the comibinations of tall and short, stout and slender, pale and dark. In terms of appendages there was little difference between these aliens and humans, but in vision the alien had four additional smaller eyes around their heads. What that meant, Bob could not say, but the silence at night time did not bode well.

Taking it all into account, Bob decided it was clearly time to act. That night, he would secure a witness and two horses and make a break for civilization.

To be continued...

Thursday, 10 January 2013

The 'stench theory' of good cinema, or anything else for that matter

I have a ridiculous theory about the movies that I like and think are good. I think they have an aroma, a flavour, a sense of some organising power behind them. To put it far more crudely, I like movies which a great big stench of someone good being involved somewhere. If you can't detect that aroma then there's something wrong. For example the first Superman movie has a distinct whiff of Richard Donner's hard work and exactitude coupled with Mankiewicz's snappy dialogue (spelling provisional), every Peter Weir film has that sensation of the great man in the background, Ghostbusters and Groundhog Day both reek of Bill Murray and the directors Ivan Reitman and Harold Ramis and there are many more. It's a sign that someone has put effort into something to make it their own. It doesn't have to be a director or actor; it could be a distinctive writer or author or even musician but it needs to be there somewhere.

Now, it is possible to make an excellent movie without that smell, but it may not be a likeable excellent movie. The classic example for me is 'The Dark Knight', which I infamously don't like much at all. It doesn't really smell of anyone at all, and is more the product of engineering than a work of passion. Perhaps this 'stench theory' can be equated to works of art versus the exercise of technique? This stench theory is a necessity for a good movie but does not guarantee a good movie. For example, while I didn't like 'The Dark Knight' I have recently reversed a long dislike for Tim Burton's 'Batman' of 1989 and remembered why I liked it in the first place. It's really a very controlled mix of Tim Burton and Michael Keaton, creating a powerful product which manages to mostly survive the Jack Nicholson torpedo in its side. 'Batman' was a good movie, and much more artistic than its successors. 'Batman Returns' is the opposite as it is the work of a less controlled Tim Burton and so it fails despite being sufficiently stinky by our theory, much as a lot of the famed auteur's work does except for the underrated 'Ed Wood'.

The stench theory could be extended further but why bother and be redundant? For now, movies are being made by technique rather than by art and we will have to wait for either a renaissance of personal involvement in cinema or watch it sleep for a while longer. So, the next time you go to a movie and wonder why it didn't work for you despite being well put together, consider the stink theory of film making and wonder if any one person was responsible for anything. If not, then maybe that's the reason you didn't engage. If yes, then perhaps even the greatest of directors aren't worth a bucket of wooden nickels being stinky in some way.


PS I don't like Spielberg much, except for 'Jaws'. I wonder whose is the stink in 'Jaws' that keeps me interested. <Cheeky grin>.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

An interview?

What to write about? After months of job searching I have managed to achieve the first step: An interview. The first important thing about an interview is to remember that it is possible to pass. The second important thing is to remember that it is not a mere formality but a genuine test. One must put oneself in the dead middle of reality and tackle it much like everything else. Best not say any more, it would be unseemly and inappropriate.

Talking of interviews, suddenly an incident has come to mind. There was a psychotherapist called Emil Zargo (well, not really, but let's not spoil things) and he notably conducted a series of interviews with a notable patient known only as Logarithm. An excerpt is shown below.

<excerpt begins>
Zargo: Well, good afternoon, Logarithm. How are you feeling today?

Logarithm: Quite well, but I would really like Luxembourg.

Zargo: Luxembourg? The country? Why would you want Luxembourg?

Logarithm: My head feels bare. I need a hat.

Zargo: I see. Why not Wales? It's woolier there.

Logarithm: Don't be silly. It's too big!

Zargo: Of course. How was lunch?

<some chatter later>

Logarithm: And that was how Ziggy painted the rec room in pink before anyone noticed.

Zargo: It seems you're very observant. You're showing a marked improvement in your environmental awareness, Logarithm, well done.

Logarithm: Thank you. It's all part of my plan.

Zargo: Plan?

Logarithm: I have to get out of here so I can avoid looking at any more of those inkblots!

Zargo: But why? They're quite pleasant.

Logarithm: You expect me to see things in them! I can never see anything. Well, once I saw Sherlock Holmes playing a trombone but it didn't seem relevant.

Zargo: Sherlock Holmes playing a trombone?

Logarithm: No, I never saw that.

Zargo: I see.
<end of excerpt>

Logarithm's behaviour was even more unexpected when you consider that he was a Mexican with a doctoral degree in foot fungi. He was finally released upon admitting that he had in fact stolen the roof off his house and used it to build a small pagoda in a nearby park, which he had moved into and named Little Smedlinghurst.

To summarise: Interviews can be very interesting.


Sunday, 6 January 2013

Eidetic and specular

I have made a mistake. I'm watching 'Eegah!' for Film Bin and it's pretty terrible. It does leave a lot of spare processing power for other things though, which I suppose is an advantage.

Eidetic: of visual imagery of almost photographic accuracy
Specular: capable of reflecting light like a mirror

Given the fact that sight was the last of our senses to be developed, there are masses of words with visual connotation and relevance. We seem to have become obsessed with how things look rather than how they sound or taste or smell or feel. That may be because of the vast amounts of ranged sensory impression we can take from sight but it's mostly due to the fact that sight is an intellectual sense while the others are primal. We have trouble describing smells in any detail, for example, or textures and that's because we don't have the vocabulary and we haven't developed the skill in ourselves for converting such earthy impressions into descriptive terms.

<Gosh, it's all serious today. I've gotten very lucky with the random words too, as you'll see.>

For example, if someone has an eidetic memory, then they can supposedly remember things as near-perfect images of how they were, remember pages of text as if they're reading them afresh, and look for new details in paintings they'd seen weeks earlier. In effect their memories have become mirrors into the past, reflecting images from past days as if they had never gone away. Their memories are temporally specular and unusual beyond belief. We don't comment if someone has a memory that expertly reproduces sounds or smells or touches, only sight. I would be surprised if there's a comparable word to 'specular' that deals with sounds.

'What does all of this have to do with pies?' is the question I can feel welling up from the subtext of this plot, and of course the answer is 'nothing'. I just wanted to mention pies. It was that or write a piece on 'Eegah!', which would be sad as this movie can only end badly. And now it has. Goodbye, Eegah. Hello, pie plans.

Apple, maybe?

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Movie: 'Flash Gordon' (1980)

How can a terrible movie be so good? Is it Brian Blessed? Is it the spectacular cast in general? Is it the score by Queen? Is it the screenplay by Lorenzo Semple junior, the writing brain behind the best parts of the 1960s Batman series? Does Sam Jones have some mystical power that transcends his slightly dubious performance? Is it Melody Anderson's hair? Perhaps the answer is the same answer that Richard Donner wanted for his Superman movies: Verisimilitude.

verisimilitude: the appearance of being real

Now, we can't argue that 'Flash Gordon' is realistic, but it is internally self-consistent, as was Superman. It may be silly but it's consistently silly and doesn't contradict itself. In fact, 'Flash Gordon' is more consistent in itself than the first two Superman movies but there are well documented reasons for that. As a result it bears the scrutiny of viewing well, and is boosted by some of the great performers involved instead of being undermined. It is silly though, very silly, ridiculous even.

A football player called Flash Gordon and a travel agent called Dale Arden have just met each other on a small plane and have crashed into an obscure facility run by a mysterious scientist after being struck by meteorites. Dale and Flash are conned into a spaceship - looking for the bathroom no less - by the scientist, who Dale recognises as the mad Dr Zarkov. They're then launched on an adventure into space with the fate of the Earth and their own lives imperilled by the evil Emperor Ming the Merciless. Do they manage to save the day?

'Flash Gordon' is a massive, colourful, nonsensical epic of bizarre proportions with so much camp in evidence that you almost don't notice the score by Queen. It's a good score, by the way, understated in places and bombastic in others. It's interesting to note that this was conceived and produced in order to exploit the sci-fi wave that followed the success of 'Star Wars'. Indeed, if MMM Commentaries are to believed, George Lucas wanted to make 'Flash Gordon' but these guys beat him to it. Oddly, this movie has very little that unites it with 'Star Wars', moving to less realistic in every way that the Lucas movie tried to be real. The planets don't make sense, the vehicles make no sense, the aliens are odd, the costumes are ridiculous and scanty beyond belief, there is bizarre raciness, and the characters are akin to pantomime villains played by master actors. It's still good though, bizarrely good, in spite of the machinations of the producer behind it all or because of him?

To say too much more would spoil the movie, but if you watch it then pay attention and watch for the following:

- Brian Blessed as Vultan shouting things and misbehaving
- Topol as Dr Zarkov deploying the deadpan snark
- A former Blue Peter presenter being executed
- Richard O'Brien looking bemused by the whole thing
- Bore worms!

If that hasn't prepared you then nothing will. Good luck. Let the great god Dizan be with you and not against you.


(Also written about in a later post, here.)

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Story: 'Night Trials', VI

We're settling into 2013 now, funny people, and it's time to get back down to business. After a busy day of LaTeX and coding I've settled down and produced a new episode in Night Trials, my epic and somewhat silly Western story. I wish you joy in the reading of any other thing but this. Well, it's probably not quite THAT bad.

When last we checked, Sheriff Bob was on the run from an energy-spewing alien after escaping his imprisonment. For more detail, check the previous instalments.


Night Trials: Part VI
(Parts V , VII)

For the first time in this bizarre interlude, Bob realised he had avoided being knocked out or incapacitated. This, he thought, was progress. Now he was on the run from the deeply dubious slime aliens instead of being knocked out.

Looking back on the grand mystery of the aliens he realised that he was in the most dangerous of positions. Yes, he was scarpering through the desert with no clear objective in mind, a limited supply of food and an even more limited supply of water. Suddenly he realised there was a natural objective. Bob adjusted his course as he ran through the rubble of Bubble Ravine, looking for a very special exit. A rattlesnake almost caught him with the vicious bite but he dodged behind a boulder and kept going.

What could be done about Wandering Yip? How could he know what to do? The next nearest town was the unfortunately named Lame Moose and it was too far across rough country to travel by foot in high summer. He would need a horse and water, the water much sooner than the horse. Still, that's why he was heading this way.

An hour passed.

Edwin's Hole was a natural water hole, far off the regular trails, that had been neglected in recent times. The water was brown and dull but drinkable. Bob scooped out water with his hands and doused himself and indulged in some of the food he'd brought with him. Then he thought hard again. He was alone. If the aliens could do one thing he didn't understand then they might be able to do others. Could they find him? They had waited until daylight to come and see him before, so maybe they disliked the dark? There were still five or six hours of daylight left, so that had no immediate application.

He was going to need a way to survive, an objective, and finally a plan. He would need a horse to get to Lame Moose, but would do little good there without some evidence. He could lie to them just to come out, he supposed, but knew his ability to deceive was minimal. He therefore added evidence to his list of necessary items and then one more item: He would need a base.

With nothing else to do he checked that he was secure and settled down to wait for nightfall. At some point he fell asleep, and finally rested in the natural way, but his brain whirred on through it all.

To be continued...

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

A Grand New Year

It is 2013 and a whole new vista of opportunity is open to us all. It was there before of course but hidden behind the fake blind that was New Year. As a result we will make promises in the next few days that we know will be almost impossible to keep, from behind the sheen of the rose tinted glasses of January 1st, the day that makes no sense.

As the great shady Oak of Time bends to the Great Wind from Clomp's ego we wonder what will come in the weeks and months ahead, and whether we will appreciate all or come to rue our actions.

In many ways, which I will not uncomfortably recount, 2012 was a rather upsetting year. A rather important bridge was burnt and several major life changes occurred. Humans don't like changes, but can love surprises. It's a facet of how our brains evolve. We see far more negatives and postives and self-training is required to take our lives on in a positive manner. Also in 2012, I finished my PhD and made major progress in the world of self-awareness and general niceness.

Let's be more positive in 2013. I, for example, will work very hard to nail down an article draft within three or four days and then work on my new modelling project and look for MATLAB/Python jobs. It's all fun in the world of scientific computing! Or the total opposite of fun. Sometimes the distinction is very hard to find.

Scientific computation: The process by which we take some equations that have been quite fun to work out and then turn them into mindless programming drudgework. Oh, what fun and glamour the life of a mathemacian can be! Actually it can be sometimes fun to do all the coding, sometimes, when the world has turned to charcoal and snowy cherubs are blasting you with arctic breath. Sometimes the identification of a little bug that has been tormenting you for days or even weeks and then the smooth rolling out of a solution can be the most amazing experience, the fantastic culmination of such enormous amounts of stress you've stopped being able to process mango. Oh, if only there could be more of those moments and not the annoyed wrinkling of eyes as a jagged line creeps across a plot in some nonsensical manner.

Mutter mutter.

So, returning to the topic, there is a brave new world in 2013. There will be a job, papers, people to visit, a new place to live and maybe a whole lot more Spanish and Greek to learn.

Let's get started.

PS Happy New Year!