Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Some streams of consciousness are better red and blue

A nonsense title for a nonsense day. It is a Wednesday and despite all the odds I have done work today. This was an unusual occurrence, and one I'm compensating for now, but work was done. I will even do work on returning to the awesome Flat of Ice, making calculations for outdated thesis papers and spaghetti sauce.

My flat is cold, so cold that sometimes I am convinced it is warmer outside than in. The heating seems to have little effect and sometimes even seems to have the opposite effect. Could it be a haunting of some kind? Is there an eccentric ghost in my flat, having a bored and lonely monologue about paint and the price of horse-burgers these days?

What would ghosts think about anyway? Would it be like 'Dirk Gently' where the main thing is getting the one thing done they couldn't complete before death, or would it be a morbid fascination with little details of existence as eternal lingering carries on. Do you think there's a ghost in my kitchen wondering at the broken plug chain in the sink and wishing it were fixed, as I do? Maybe being trapped somewhere means you become ever more imaginative in the interior design of that place? "Gosh, I wish they'd do some stripey wallpaper just for a change."

Ghosts aside, really far aside as I don't at present give much credence to their existence, it seems that the horse-burger scandal is finally settling down, the Papal Resignation has gone away, and now we need to look for some real news. Where could we possibly find real news in this day and age? It's hard and I won't even try. What I shall do is go and watch 'Lincoln' and report back on the morrow. My Spielberg expectations are now so low after decades of mediocrity that I might even like it. For the record, in Spielberg films, I like 'Jaws', 'Duel', 'Temple of Doom' and pretty much nothing else I've seen. Sack Aberystwyth now, Spielbergers!


P.S. Film Bin followers, the commentary for the 'A-Team' pilot is coming!

Monday, 25 February 2013

Story: 'Triangles', I

( Part II )

Giant shades of grey overtook the world, shrouding everything in colourless murk. Slowly everyone forgot how exactly things looked in the usually vivid daylight, but history remembered. History always remembers, unless tampered with by agents external. In museums and libraries the sun was documented and humanity's past life remembered. In laboratories and observatories, however, people strived to work out what had encompassed the poor planet.

Chemists analysed the murk and discovered nothing, in fact they discovered they couldn't detect the murk itself, and were perplexed. Physicists ran every test they could conceive of and found nothing conclusive. Within an acceptable margin of tolerance, the murk was simply not there and yet everyone perceived it and no one could see through it to the sky beyond. Medical specialists ran tests and slowly the world moved toward an understanding of what was really going on.

Brain patterns had been altered on a global scale. The murk wasn't there. Psychotherapists all over the world ran tests involving hypnosis and discovered that the grey disappeared under appropriate suggestion. The only problem was what was there once it was vanished. Within the murk there were shapes hanging in the air, triangular apertures hanging like apparitions through which you could see another world. The apertures were everywhere. People assumed they were the sources of the phenomena and indeed they were.

If you looked through the apertures, if you could see them to begin with, you saw a ghastly twisted version of our own world, crooked where ours would be straight, curved where ours would be fractal and pointed, and finally shifted to purple in colour wherever ours is leaning toward green.

No one dared to interact with the apertures, in fact it seemed impossible as people routinely walked through them obliviously all the time. There seemed to be no ill effects. Except for one Thursday, when Delores Grey touched one, and vanished.

To be continued...

PS It is not grey here at all, oh no.
PPS It is however very very cold.
PPPS I have long maintained that triangles are under-represented in nature, engineering and common every day products and now intend to part-remedy this failing. Onwards to Triangle Nervana!

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Book: 'So Long And Thanks For All The Fish', Douglas Adams, 1984

The last blog before moving house and going into temporary domestic Internet exile!

I've made it through four of the five 'Hitch Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy' novels now, and this fourth one is the one I've fallen in love with. It's a romance of the first order and somehow so lyrical that it blows your mind away. The first three books were very good but very much patchwork quilts of great jokes stitched together with perfunctory plot. This is a proper novel, a story with a beginning and an end and it was immediately the second Douglas Adams novel ('Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency' is the other) to make it into my pantheon. Perhaps it's the casual way that the previous three novels all contribute material to the genesis of this fourth, or perhaps it's the first novel to really explore Arthur Dent as a proper protagonist, or perhaps it's simply a great love story with a lot of flying and mystery. In fact the only time I really didn't like this book was when Ford Prefect popped in and imposed the reality of the first three books into this one and disrupting the narrative flow.

So, to recap, in the first three books the Earth was destroyed, Arthur Dent was saved his friend Ford Prefect and was essentially a passenger and accomplice to the saving of the universe on several occasions. This fourth novel begins with Arthur on a mysteriously resurrected Earth, trying to come back to terms with everything being back to as it was, even if he has been away for eight years and has spent a significant number of those years in a cave on prehistoric Earth. Now he's back and confused. In the previous narrative, there was a throwaway line that just before the demise of the Earth a woman had suddenly realised the perfect way to make everyone happy and was unfortunately destroyed along with the rest of the planet. This is the story of her new life and how it intertwines with the return of Arthur.

In many ways this isn't a Hitch Hiker story. It's not a madcap assortment of sketches for one things, and is really the first novel to be fully out of the shadow of the original radio source material. The third novel, 'Life, The Universe And Everything', was written with new material but was firmly written in the same style and probably with material intended for a third radio series that never happened.

This book is hard to write about, since it is quite ephemeral. It's mainly an introduction to Arthur Dent as a fleshed out prose character as opposed to a far less defined 'erm' machine, as well as a mystery with regards to the un-destroyed Earth, as well as a romance and finally yet another quest for some meaning in life, the universe and everything. That last quest is probably the weakest part but it does make sense in the context of the series as a whole. I would have been far happier if Ford and Marvin hadn't appeared at all but they did and it was done. The path of Marvin the Paranoid Android is, as one would expect, a fairly dismal one through these four novels and his ultimate demise here is quite quite sad but utterly unnecessary. The comedy contained within these pages is light and enjoyable, the prose lithe and gymnastic, and the overall result a remarkably worthwhile novel. It lacks only a sense of wholeness, undermined at the last for previously stated reasons, and yet I recommend it. I don't recommend it as much as 'Dirk Gently' though, nor am I sure this can be read without at least some knowledge of the previous books. Therefore, why not get some knowledge and then read 'So Long And Thanks For All The Fish'. You won't regret it. I only wish I hadn't been put off so long ago by my failed first attempts to read 'Hitch Hiker...' so many years ago.


PS Again, go read 'Dirk Gently'! And buy the DVD! And jump rope! Okay, not the last one.

Friday, 22 February 2013

Story: 'Night Trials', IX

Here we go again, and this time things actually happen! Previous part here.


Night Trials, Part IX
(Parts VIII , X)

Sheriff Tom flagged down the stage a mile out of town. He had had trouble believing that it had been less than a week since this whole trouble started but then finally realised it had to be so. It seemed as if months had passed since the lights took over town and the blackness knocked him out.

The stage rumbled to a halt a few feet in front of him and the driver looked down, obviously anxious to be on the move but not willing to cross paths with a man with a badge. 'What ya be wantin', Sheriff?' was all the man asked, and then he chewed his tobacco contemptuously while he waited for a reply.

Tom knew he wasn't the most impressive looking representative of the law at the moment. He'd been on the run for days, eating at best lightly, still had some gunk on his shoes, and had most disgustingly at all gained a few days of beard growth. He hated every itchy minute of it even though on the realistic scale it was completely irrelevant.

'You got supplies to make it back to Poon Hill?'


'Spare a horse?'

'They ain't my horses, mister.'

'Well, one of them is mine now. Wandering Yip is thataway, as you very well know.'



The driver looked at Tom steadily, saw something he didn't like and didn't want any part of, before finally harrumphing around and releasing one of the animals. He then carefully and slow trundled off down the trail to Wandering Yip and Tom took his tired horse down to his secret base, watered him and did his best to feed him. The following day, after so much fretting and impatience, the Sheriff took off for civilization at a canter.

Poon Hill was civilization, but it was also one other thing he hadn't anticipated. It was occupied. Alien sentinels stood guard over the moonlit city boundary.

To be continued...

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Movie: 'The Three Musketeers' (1973)

This is a fascinating movie to talk about. It has innumerable points of interest: The Salkinds, The Salkind Clause, Richard Lester, all star casting, Superman, George McDonald Fraser, sequelising, Spike Milligan and more!

Long before they took the insane plan to make Superman into an epic two part motion picture experience the Hungarian Salkind brothers did it on a smaller scale for this adaptation of the classic Alexandre Dumas adventure novel 'The Three Musketeers'. This was an almost unprecedented move and became an even more ambitious feat of daring when an all star cast including Charlton Heston, Raquel Welch, Faye Dunaway, Oliver Reed, Spike Milligan, Richard Chamberlain and many others was assembled. It was an awesome endeavour.

I watched this movie many times when growing up and was eventually deterred by the highly comic tone, which I assumed was added by the Salkinds and their director (much as in the not personally liked Superman II) but no, having read the book then and now I realise that the comedy was there all along. Of course Spike Milligan is playing the fool and exaggerating his part but his role was already comedy-fodder to begin with. I was wrong. Corr blimey. On the other hand I always thought that Charlton Heston was being peculiarly static in his performance and it turns out that and self-righteous anger were his only two modes in anything. Oh, I must not get started on Mr Heston! Back to Milligan instead. Milligan's role as Monsieur Bonacieux forms one point of a troubling love triangle that is completed by Michael York as d'Artagnan and Raquel Welch as their shared love. I just can't understand Raquel Welch in combination with either. It boggles the mind!

The music for 'The Three Musketeers' is rather unremarkable. I wish I could say more but it is non-descript and perhaps a little over-grandiose. The production design on the other is impressive beyond belief and forms the major selling point of the whole movie-making enterprise. At no point does any lapse or anachronism occur. We are never plunged into the present day, or then present day, and the glorious mud of rural France is counterpointed by the shear, opulent, and ultimately self-destructive luxury of the French monarchy. Yes, there was live chess with monkeys on dogs as the pieces. Enough said.

Another failing of the film, which succeeds in this only marginally less than the novel, is in the depiction of the power struggle at the top of France's government of the time. The Cardinal Richelieu is opposed to the King, although he poses as an aide, and would like to destroy the Queen. Why does he wish to destroy the Queen? It's never explained. The novel hints at some things but doesn't explain in the portion of the novel that corresponds to the film. This film covers about the first third of the book while the second film covers maybe the last two fifths in detail. The book was adapted by George McDonald Fraser of 'Flashman' fame, and it is a magnificent job of capturing the humorous tone and somewhat epic nature of the narrative, as well as being faithful to the source text. Rather naturally this brings us to the Salkinds. Originally the two Musketeers movies were supposed to be one, note the weak ending to this and awful introduction to the next, but when they discovered they had enough material for two they split it and thus was born the 'Salkind Clause' in movie contracts. From then on, as the actors were rightly annoyed at being robbed of salary for a whole second movie, it had to be stated beforehand how many movies are being made in the contract, and that is the 'Salkind Clause'. Much could be said on the Salkinds but I won't pursue. Their limitations and flaws are more than compensated for by their audacity in securing excellent casts and proposing these projects.

There shall be more when we wander into 'The Four Musketeers'.


PS Film Bin Commentary now available here.

Monday, 18 February 2013


Everything has a trajectory. Everything is moving. The great celestial joke is that we don't recognise it's happening. To see it you have to intellectualise the whole thing and that's hard with a capital 'HA'. So, how is everything moving? As an example I will use this table. Please presume for a moment that I am rational and also that my honesty and veracity is unimpeachable (neither of the presumptions is in line with reality but that's beside the point). The table is static; it is not moving, it is staying in the same position compared to every other inanimate object we can see. Nevertheless, it is moving in many different ways. On the grand scale here are three ways the table is moving:

1> The table is spinning with the rotation of the Earth;
2> The table is travelling around the Sun with the orbit of the Earth;
3> The table is following the motion of the Sun as is traverses the cosmos.

On a much smaller scale the table is still moving. There is subsidence as the Maths/Phys building creeps down the hill, maybe a little buffeting from the weather (very fine today), and sometimes lifting with the warmth given off by academic hot air. Note: Academic hot air has more buoyancy than regular hot air due to the nobility of the enterprise and domination of ego over thought in some practitioners. This additional buoyancy is prevalent in other professions which we will not discuss at this point.

Getting back to the belaboured point, the table is actually travelling very quickly indeed, and so are you. You could be travelling at the average orbital speed of 107 kilometres per hour right now! And that's not including rotation! As humans we're emotionally unaware of many things: The motion of the planet, the vastness of the cosmos, and the microcosms of life within us and around us. Many times I've written at length on the wonder of everything around us, and it still holds. We sit here on the third rock from the Sun and spin wildly about its axis while hurtling through space around the sun as it zooms through intragalactic space. The galaxy spins on in its own merry way and we all get on with life.

Is there a message behind all this? Probably not, except for the fact that the universe is huge and we understand so much less than that which exists. We don't even know how gravity works, for one thing. We just take it for granted! Is the world really as we see it or is colour a totally imaginary concept? We don't know. Is there air? Will we need to construct rudimentary lathes to make it through the whole of our technological developments? ('Galaxy Quest' is a great movie.)

Perhaps one day we'll know more than we don't know, but wouldn't that we be dull? Perhaps if it happened we'd get bored and try to set up new places with new rules and then bang! There'd be new universes! Actually that would be interesting. Let's start a new universe where gravity runs like water and we can eat electricity in chunks of dark chocolate. Or has it happened already?


Saturday, 16 February 2013

Disney and the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal

Twice in the last week I've been perplexed by things not being even vaguely as I remember. I read 'The Hitch Hikers Guide To The Galaxy' and I watched Disney's 'Alice In Wonderland' from 1951. They were both far more deranged than I remembered, especially the Disney. This is very strange to me as I usually remember things well. So what is going on? My personal theory is that I reached a natural intersection in chaotic madness and lunatic creativity and skipped into another dimension. Has there ever been another apparently so natural combination of mad hatted franchises which never have come together as Disney and Hitchhiker? If Walt had been around, and remember that this was man behind the madness of Alice, Fantasia and Dumbo, he would not have hesitated.

Ironically the film of that legendary book/radio show/television series/thing was made distributed by Touchstone which I found out recently was part of Disney and is used for producing movies that aren't family oriented enough for Disney mainline. We needed a mainline Disney animated movie from the people who made 'Basil the Great Mouse Detective' or 'Aladdin'. It would have been a majestic and possibly catastrophic business but how can you imagine the Bugblatter Beast as visualised by anyone not from the Disney stable?

Serious, oh so serious. Stranger things have happened. 'Batman Returns' happened. That was strange.

Early Disney movies are mad, utterly barmy and crazy, five sheets to the wind, possibly chemically augmented, and in no way connected to rational thought. That's why they're frustrating on many levels. You can watch 'Dumbo' and think it's really good and then get hit around the head by the Pink Elephants sequence, which is pure evidence of someone having fallen off the sanity wagon a little too far. It's abruptly lunatic, and potentially a cross-cultural conflict of the ninth degree. At any rate it breaks the flow a little. It can be explained though because those movies are very old, which we forget because they're in colour. Animated movies could be in colour long before live action ones could be. Early Disney movies are contemporaries to the Marx Brothers and musicals, in a time when movies felt obliged to break the stream to have a little song and dance, or dreary romantic interlude from the guest stars in the Marx Brothers case. They were just fitting in. Strangely, Disney movies have maintained the musical interlude through all these decades. It's amazing, and it gave us Ratigan so we should be grateful.

Oh, the Marx Brothers. Never has chaotic lunacy been sabotaged so much by the forced interruption of a romantic tryst...

The Marx Brothers didn't achieve what Sherlock Holmes achieved; they arguably didn't become icons. Something happens if you're constantly in the public eye for more than fifty years and maintain popularity. Sherlock has been around for more than a hundred years and still sells books - despite being public domain! 'Doctor Who' is about to break the fifty year barrier, which means that it's passing into that whole different status. It's slightly more debatable, but I think 'Star Trek' will do it too because the original series is so ingrained that they've become part of the furniture. Kirk, Spock and McCoy are together an icon. What does it mean when you last so long and remain so popular that a craze becomes a legend? Maybe that's something to talk about tomorrow?

Don't forget your towel.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Who to be on a Thursday? (Revised)

Thursday, the demon day of the week. A time so bizarre that the world seems to squeeze into nothing and then get expelled like toothpaste from a tube. Oh, Thursday, must you be so vexing, so wild, so unforgiving? Thursday is normally the day that we wind up the Film Bin springs for the weekend recordings, allowing a respite from the other more ghastly endeavours. This week, since three Binners are down with sickness, instead there is time for reflection.

It's amazing how you can forget the things you like and enjoy in the midst of the pressures of doing what you do to get by in the world. As an example, I had completely forgotten how lovely interactive fiction is, although I much prefer the term 'text adventure' to 'interactive fiction'. Bizarrely in recent times, illustrations have begun to be woven in but it somehow seems unnecessary. Words are the wonders of the things. Words! A long time ago, before Sky, before the Internet, text adventures were a fairly common type of computer game entertainment, with probably the leading purveyor being Infocom (now defunct). A stack of dusty Infocom magnetic disks rested in a giant box on my shelves for years before being backed up onto DVD and those games are treasured still. They're innovative, creative, and most of all based entirely on words. I've been replaying 'The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy', but they're many others with evocative names like 'Planetfall', 'Starcross', 'Enchanter', 'Deadline' and 'Plundered Hearts'. Strangely, even though commercial purveyors have been gone for decades, this medium lives on.

The medium of the text adventure lives on via the people at large, and lives on in a large way, thanks to numerous and utterly free designing languages and softwares (Inform 6 and 7  , TADS, and others) . They're not even difficult to use, although having a mind capable of either tantalising prose-fests or elaborate puzzle sagas is the more demanding skill in any case. In principle, anyone can pick up a piece of paper, write some prose, doodle a map and create their own adventure. Then you could enter your game in one of the competitions (IFComp , XYZZY) , stick it in the IF Archive (IFArchive), watch it be listed on online databases  (IFDB , Baf) and get feedback from the world at large. This doesn't just happen in English as the community is strong in Spain and Germany and prevalant in many other countries besides. Thinking about it, it was obvious that it wouldn't go away, as writing never has, in all its simplicity. Please, go out and try out such games, there are wonderful examples out there such as 'Galatea' and 'Savoir-Faire' and 'Spider And Web', all different and all the same. 'Spider And Web' is one of the most non-linear games you could ever play, and 'Galatea' is more of an interactive interview than anything else and bizarrely enjoyable to boot.

It's a fascinating medium. By typing 'east', 'take book', 'read it', 'ask Hannibal about jazz' and many other similar commands a marvelous story can be paced through, or puzzles unravelled. You can also go out of your mind with frustration at the parser not knowing the verb 'corral' or your own favourite pseudonym for the word beret. It's all part of the fun. I'm hoping that one my own magnum opus known as 'Egbert's Surgery' will make it to fruition, if I can somehow more fully integrate the obelisk without undermining the underlying existential angst of red cabbage.

Obviously when there are so many ways to play these games out there, where you can be cooks, wastrels, adventurers, detectives, monsters, superheroes or even a troll, the question that began the post is wrong. In many ways it should be 'Who not to be on a Thursday?'.


PS I've just discovered 'The Baker Street Babes' and their Sherlock Holmes podcast. I think it might be very good indeed. Go Team Sherlock!

PPS So many links this time. Happy one hundredth!

PPPS If you believe in such things, I hope Valentines Day went well for you all.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Lucky 99

This post number ninety-nine, a mighty landmark in the history of the Quirky Muffin. This modest webpage didn't exist a few months ago and it has now achieved the magic ninety-nine. It's amazing. Who cares about one hundred when ninety-nine is so wonderful. There was never a character on 'Get Smart' called Agent 100, was there? No, only the awesome Barbara Feldon as Agent 99. Oh, 'Get Smart', for all your stupidities you were also clever in unexpected ways, and you had Feldon to hold it all together in her pixie-like way. I could do a whole piece on 'Get Smart' but won't as I've only seen two seasons out of five and it wouldn't be fair. So far it seems to be a bizarre mix of drop dead turkeys and inspired successes with no middle ground.

Ninety nine posts, who would have thought it? That doesn't even count the first incarnation of this blog, now long gone, or my old Multiply page which I've let lapse into the mists of time. Would you believe that there are still things to write about? The long dark days of winter are wearing out and creativity is coming back to the fore.

'Lucky 99' seems like it should be a perfect story title of some kind. There should be something really nice to dig out of that number. It has a prime factorisation of 3*3*11 which in itself is excellent but somehow not inspiring. It's much nice than 100 = 2*2*5*5 though.


'Lucky 99'

Slappy threw paint over his canvas, growled in frustration and finally threw it across the room. His talent was elsewhere and it bothered him. He felt that his one hundredth picture was burning to escape if he could but find his way to the image within, but the way was blocked. Not even his muse Elise had been able to help. They had spent hours chatting over the last few days, hours spent in the park strolling and skating, hours or her being sprawled in the highly contested old armchair in front of the window and hours in the middle of the night when profound things seem simple and simple things seem inexplicable and unapproachably distant.

"Unapproachably distant." The words struck a chord.

Much as anyone would, Slappy Paxton had become fixated on the number one hundred. The milestone loomed and loomed more in his mind until it seemed as if nothing would be worthy of it. Slappy had finished many more than a hundred pictures in reality but only a fraction of those could he call 'good' and add to those he put in his catalogue.

Slipping into a pensive frame he slowly realised the truth; that one hundred was unapproachable distant. Why? Because it was a number and not a picture. The two had nothing to do with one another. With that he put his paints away and plucked the less favoured pencils from a window seat. Sharp geometry in blues and yellows spread from one corner to another to another and finally to the point where only the corner of his large sketch pad remained free of pattern. For a few moments more that blank space remained as it was but then reds, oranges and greens scrawled and swirled in ordered chaos before being done. More than done really, for in fact he was pleased with what was a wholly unusual piece for him.

Reflecting he realised he had been silly. The hundredth wouldn't be any harder than this, not would the hundredth and first. Surely there would be problems but then there always would be. The block was over, numbers were meaningless, and for these revelations he thanked the picture, his lucky ninety-ninth.


Numbers are meaningless. Take that, Maths gods!


Monday, 11 February 2013

'Some days you just can't get rid of a bomb'

There is an intrinsic problem with getting up at five o'clock in the morning to get to your workplace four and half hours later, half of which time has been spent on an uncomfortable service bus munching sandwiches and desperately trying to stay awake. The problem is that you're completely useless for the rest of the day! At the moment, as my flat arrangements dawdle on and become ever more redundant, I am splitting time between workplace and staying with a friend and staying at home with my parents. This results in a slightly schizophrenic outlook on life and is not to be recommended. I now half believe I'm both a postdoc and unemployed and will live in three places simultaneously. I'm also possibly one of or both of Dastardly and Muttley. It's hard to say.

Breaking through the block of being tired is quite hard, but it's not impossible. It helps if you start telling yourself jokes and thinking how everyone would look in their Disney animated versions. That last part is also quite useful for breaking out of presentation jitters. Of course, they need to be cute Disney versions or it all goes to naught and you'll end up being intimidated by a room full of Horned Kings and Minister Frodos. I sincerely hope you have noone in your theatre who is the equivalent to one of those nasty pieces of work, and you're surrounded by Goofies and Donald Ducks. I would say I'm digressing, but actually there is no clear theme to today's writing. This whole post is a digression and I do not care.

Working in mathematics requries a massive amount of motivation or curiousity. In my case it's motivation as curiousity died millennia ago. I'm actually quite interested in geophysics and oceanography but some fancy sideways steps and a reputation as someone who gets things done are going to be needed before that kicks in. Oh, and trees are interesting too! Oh, I love trees. For once I'm going to send out a charity plug, and it's for TreeAid. TreeAid is important as they actually provide resources that will allow people to eventually fend for themselves instead of relying on relentless handouts in the future.

That was, again, a digression, and I think one that brings us back to the title of the piece: "Some days you just can't get rid of a bomb". That's a quote from the legendary Adam West as Batman in the 1966 theatrical movie, and I have indeed spent this whole post trying to get rid of the bomb of wanting to write something but without any real idea what to write. The ending to 'Night Trials' is starting to ferment but is not yet ready to emerge, and some random words will spike something tomorrow but for now it's quite the meandering ribbon of words searching for the ocean. The random words posts are fun to write, as you try to stumble across a combination which strike off each other synergistically in some way, but not good for today. Today is a tell it from the deranged core day.

Random notes: Linux is not easy to install. People seem to have a phobia of buying blank discs. Never show a Clomp an open flame and a dirty olive. The whole world looks the same at five o'clock in the morning. Chicken is ubiquitous, like Facebook, but also appealing, not at all like said Facebook. Go Google+, straight into oblivion!


PS There's a new Film Bin commentary up and it's for the wholly overlooked Japanese anime of 'Jack and the Beanstalk' from 1974. Check it out at your own peril, either at the link below or the feed on this page.

PPS I added a Twitter feed to this blog a while ago. Please interact if you like and want to. This is the last gadget to be added, after the Film Bin feed below.

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Story: 'Night Trials', VIII

It's been a while... so far aliens have taken over town and Sheriff Bob is trapped outside, far too far from any other place to easily go for help.

Night Trials: Part VIII
(Parts VII , IX)

Nightfall came and went, and even then Bob waited for another hour. He watched the alien sentries assemble on the town boundary and freeze into place and activity in the town settle down to nothing. Finally he was satisfied, scurried down into the diggings and scuttled along a tunnel until he reached the abandoned shaft entrance. He had known for a long time that Slim Edwin had used this shaft to get contraband in and out of his back room to the saloon and had kept the information to himself. Slim Edwin had uses as an unknowing honey trap for other criminals.

As he had seen days before, there was a trapdoor at the top of the shaft and a ladder leading up the side. Climbing silently he reached the top and boldly opened the trap. It was dark in the chamber beyond so he lit a long slow match and was shocked.

Slim Edwin, or the remains of Slim Edwin, was slumped in a chair and the whole was encased in a transparent crystal. He was dead, bullets in the head usually do that, and his gun was in there with him. Bob steeled himself, pulled himself out of the hole and headed for a lantern. Having secured a functional light, he headed for the door into the saloon proper and was stunned for a second time.

The saloon proper was playing home to about thirty people, sleeping in cots and mats all over the chamber. He saw his old Deputy Sawyer behind the bar and stepped around people to reach him. Nudging Sawyer awake, he held a hand over his mouth in order to stop his calling out, and stared him into calmness. He removed his hand.

"Sheriff!" Sawyer was clearly nonplussed. "We thought you were dead, or long gone..."

Bob merely shook his head. "Horses?"

"Gone." Sawyer shuddered. "Eaten."

"Blast. I need a witness and horses to get away for help."

Sawyer chuckled bitterly. "You don't know what day it is, do you, Sheriff?"

"Why? Speak up or shut up. I don't have time."

"The stage is coming in tomorrow."

Bob cocked his head.

To be continued...

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Television: 'Press Gang' (1989-1993)

Okay, I might be ten or twenty years late this time but it is worth it because we're talking about 'Press Gang'. This incredible show ran for five series but I only really like first two, which are quite different to the later sets. 'Press Gang' could easily be dismissed as a kids show based on a frivolous and unrealistic conceit but it functions on many different levels. At it's core it's a romantic comedy of lovely almost lost, but on an episode-by-episode basis we have mystery, capers, farce, tragedy and real life issues presented small. It's all such a bizarre mix but it works.

So, what was 'Press Gang' about in those first two sets of episodes? Well, it was a landmark ITV series about a junior newspaper staffed by gifted and problematic children from local schools. It starred Julia Sawalha (who was adorable beyond belief) and Dexter Fletcher as hard-nosed editor Linda Day and wayward American reporter Spike Thomson. Dexter Fletcher of course isn't American but he does a pretty good job and pulls off his witty dialogue really well, sparking like a wild thing with his real life amour of the time. The other stand out cast member was Paul Reynolds as Colin Mathews, the advertising man and chief scammer. He's notable for incredible timing and being the heart behind one of the most notable 'issue' stories in the whole run.

'Issue stories', the poison pills of television series, were mostly handled with aplomb by 'Press Gang' and its chief writing brain Steven Moffat, long before his successes in 'Coupling', 'Doctor Who' and his utterly awesome two episodes of 'Sherlock'. Those two 'Sherlock' episodes are about twenty times as good as the other four. Subjects tackled include the problems of being paraplegic, death due to drug abuse, suicide and sexual abuse. It's a mark of genius that an all out comedy one week can be followed by an issue episode the following week and it not be incongruous. Kids shows had not done that before. Adults can watch this show now (once the first two or three episodes break it in) and still find it interesting.

I won't go on too much longer. There are things to be treasured in 'Press Gang', and things to be tolerated as endearing. There are a lot of tropes in side characters, but it really doesn't matter as Spike and Linda are throwing barbs of with at each other in vain attempts to forestall what is bound to happen. We all know that Spike will eventually slay that dragon and win the girl, against the backdrop of that incredibly silly news room. We know that at the end of the second series the final scene should have been the preliminary toward their getting together and not the split that actually occurred in the interregnum. They should have been together, blast it!


(Revisited here...

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Clouds and Rain

A couple of days ago we recorded a Film Bin discussion for the movie 'Outland' and it set me to thinking about what film criticism or reviewing actually is. Then after a few moments it dawned on me that it would make an incredibly dull blog post and so instead I looked out the window and saw weather. I am currently on the coast and we gets lots of weather, varying and shifting on an hour-by-hour basis and it is thrilling if you think about it. Here in Britain we have a bit of a reputation for talking about the weather, but it's understandable because it's always changing, nowhere more so than on the coast, and that is fascinating.

Fascinating is a good word, isn't it?

Some time ago I must have talked about how everything is fascinating once you think about it enough. Think about the weather for a moment, if you will, and then be awed.

<One hour passes>

A little while ago it was sunny. Now it's it pouring down with rain. Probably somewhere up above two huge masses of air have met and rubbed up against each other. One is of a different pressure to the other, and in the mixing we have made weather. The mixing may be nowhere near here but unsettled weather is going to happen here anyway and it is good. And it's because of the air. Now, we all think of air as light but it's not. It's actually quite heavy in the bulk volume we're considering and its little bouncing molecules press down on us all day every day. Air is awesome.

We can't blame air for all of the weather as there is also heat. Different levels of heat in different parts of the air mass cause the pressures partially. Heat comes from two sources. Firstly the sun, an immense fusion reaction at centre of our solar system that's sending out light photons which then partially convert to heat on contact with matter. On top of that, we're living on a giant rocky ball in space, which at its core is full of incredibly hot molten iron and lava. And that core is spinning! Spinning! That's a lot of heat, and it affects the local weather systems in myriads of ways. Now, that is awesome.

Weather formation doesn't end there, oh no, because heat affects the environment, the environment affects the air, and the air and contained clouds affects the amount of sun that reaches us in a vicious cycle. It's an enormous chaotic system which can not be predicted except in the shortest of time scales.

<looks out of window at points at rain>

Sometimes the air masses clash so much they make electrical charges that lightning leaps up to the clouds above in a titanic event to complete a circuit and ground the system, and it works. Visible forks of light illuminating the usually dark world in vivid moments of clarity. Why usually dark? Well, because some types of behaviour are more likely in the night or the day. Even the spinning of the world is important.

Now, all of that was grossly over-simplified and even partially wrong but I can't help but think of all that air high up in the skies, thinning unto the edge of space. They're gaseous continental masses of differing temperatures and densities which conspire and mix to make our favourite default topic: The weather.


Monday, 4 February 2013

Buy this, friend!

It gets tempting to write bizarre creative things each day, and never to write about events and the world at large. Well, I never do that anyway, but if you have 'Yoghurt Vat Kids', 'The Carrot Man', and 'The Ninja of Health' percolating under the surface somewhere then perspective can be lost. Perspective is everything, and also impossible to reach if you're looking for it.

"New Perspective-In-A-Jar! Thanks to the groundbreaking research taking place here at Frank's Sensors we have now perfected a revolutionary therapy that can be sold over the counter worldwide. Kiss those depressive tendencies goodbye and calm those manic periods right down with Perspective-In-A-Jar. For every one hundred bought collect a free easel."

You see, the smallest opening can let out the crazies, and when you're in an office by yourself there are lots of openings. Actually despite all that I've made lots of progress today. I've twisted FreeFem++ about as far as it can go and am now working out normal derivatives of a very important function. It's so important that I've named it the Smurf function. It has the potential to change almost entirely nothing. That's research, friends!

Aberystwyth is nice today, with a scattering of clouds blowing across a light blue sky. It's strange to think that I spent so long inland. The coast is definitely the place to be, with scudding weather and blinking lights on the sea's horizon. Somewhere far across the waters is Ireland, and if you skirt around Ireland you could make a break for Iceland. Iceland would be a good place to visit sometime, and is on my list of places still to see before giving up holidays. Also on the list: Luxembourg (no reason), Thessaloniki (friends there), Seville (ditto), Copenhagen (no reason again), and Stockholm (ditto). Oh, and maybe Seattle/Vancouver. That list would exhaust my wanderlust if completed!

"Wanderlust, now with added sparkle. Are you out of travelling inspiration, friend? Do you need a new infusion of curiousity and enthusiasm? Then look no further as here at Toxicala we have the thing for you: Wanderlust PLUS! This wondrous shampoo oozes straight through your scalp and motivates you in the only way possible: With chemicals! Buy Wanderlust and travel like you've never travelled before. Not to be used in conjunction with spray deoderant."

Oddly, it seems as if the terrible movie 'Masters of the Universe' has a pretty good score, or at least the segments I've heard on YouTube are. Who would have thought it?


Saturday, 2 February 2013

Story: The Glove, I

(Part II)

On Ganymede, a moon of Troos in the Farseeker system, there were Scots. Sometime in the millennium since practical spaceflight to the stars blossomed a band of colonists set their caps for this dim and distant yellow star and flew. The moon Ganymede was large and spacious and hosted two large cities, both on the equator but on opposite sides of the planet. These cities were known as Edin and Burgh, and traditionally were spaced so as to allow each the best chance of survival should the other fall. Of course, as centuries rolled by, the two cities became more distinct in their cultures and beliefs.

Edin became the focus for academic and scientific advancement, where technical achievement begot industrial progress which in turn begot more technical achievement. Burgh developed the arts, and was hereditary home to the bards, pipers and libraries of artefacts brought from Earth in the last days before departure. There would be no more artefacts as Earth was no more, vanished inexplicably forever.

One fine spring day, an apprentice piper called Steffan awoke and rolled out of his hammock to face the new day. Troos was large in the sky, but no longer intimidated people as it had done for so long. Now it was normal, a great rocky mass that seemed to orbit Ganymede as the moon in reality spun on its axis. This was hoped to be a landmark day for Steffan, the day when he might cease life as an apprentice and become a journeyman. He shaved, washed, dressed and ate before finally leaving his apartment in Burgh and heading out to the Circle.

Crossing Burgh and traversing the four great parks, Steffan reached the Circle, that great performance area where all musical rites were performed and exams undertaken. Standing at the periphery it seemed as if an extra layer of magic lay over the place. The great standing stones that stood in a ring encompassed the world literally hanging overhead and the air tasted of cheese and sulphur.

Now all he could do was wait. The exam would come when his peers arrived and sat in judgement. Perhaps he would fail and remain an apprentice for another six months, or maybe he would pass. Seeing someone ready for a performance park visitors drifted over to the circle and began to settle down, not knowing how long the wait might be for.

The wait would not be for long...

To be continued... ?

Friday, 1 February 2013

Movie: 'Speed Racer' (2008)

I am becoming convinced that 2008 was a miniature golden age for movies I actually liked and ended up buying. Listing off in no particular order I have seen and even purchased:
  1. Encounters at the End of the World,
  2. Get Smart,
  3. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,
  4. Iron Man,
  5. The Incredible Hulk,
  6. Kung Fu Panda,
  7. Speed Racer,
  8. WALL-E,
and while a few of those are of questionable quantity (Kingdom Skull, cough cough, Get Smart) I did like them all. I saw five of those in the cinema, for goodness sake, which was unprecedented. The others I watched much later, and in fact, I only watched 'Speed Racer' this week, making it more than four years late.

'Speed Racer' was made by the Wachowski Brothers (now known simply as the Wachowskis for readily discerned reasons) and was based on the Japanese anime. This movie was roundly criticised on release, with some holdouts, and is now comparatively unknown. I really don't know why that happened, except as a punishing self-correction of critics after the 'Matrix' series.

I really enjoyed this movie. There are obvious flaws, and apparently noone was expecting a family movie from the Wachowskis, but it is overall a very enjoyable romp. The story is simple, as is everything else: The young Speed Racer (yes, that's his real name) is racing for his family's company in the futuristic racing league, and trying to redeem his dead brother's memory, when he and his family are approached by corporate behemoth Royalton Industries for a racing alliance. When Speed rejects the offer thoughtfully Arnold Royalton reveals the corruption at the heart of racing in bitter vengeance before vowing to break the Racers by any crooked means necessary, as he broke Speed's brother Rex before his demise. This lays the groundwork for most of the racing action in the movie as Speed endeavours to defeat Royalton and save his family and his own future.

The movie has twin cores of easy appeal in the incredibly colourful and dynamic racing sequences which dominate, and the excellent score by Michael Giacchino. Giacchino is clearly the composer of now; I love his scores and have ever since 'The Incredibles'. He is awesome and marries sound to colour vividly and coherently.

As mentioned the races are visually colourful and kinetic, forming miniature masterpieces of cartoon-like action linked together by the routine plot and John Allam hamming it up mercilessly as Royalton. Colour zooms all over the screen, in the backdrops that are halfway between cartoons and realism, in the blur of the racing and the costumes and colour schemes everywhere you look. It is awesome and a throwback to the '60s colour boom. It's also one of the things people didn't like, and I can appreciate that, but it is a good way to insulate the movie from reality.

Amidst all the special effect frothiness, there is a surprisingly heavyweight and high profile cast that includes John Goodman, Susan Sarandon and Christina Ricci as well as comparative newcomer Emile Hirsch. John Goodman seems to know no bounds; He will appear everywhere and in anything, and always pull his considerable weight. Ricci is an enigma as always, and someone whose back catalogue should be investigated. I had forgotten she existed in her quirky excellence. The cast also provide the one moment that sticks out like a sore thumb, the infamous brawl where Goodman as Pops Racer twirls a hoodlum over his head and everything looks wrong.

Summing up, 'Speed Racer' is an exciting, colourful, kinetic, musically gorgeous cartoon of a live-action movie. It has some bizarre moments that break the mood, and probably too little story for many viewers, but I liked it. I don't understand why it was ridiculed so badly. C'est la vie.


PS Now to get back to reading. Far too many movies recently!