Monday, 27 February 2017

Story: The Ninja of Health, XXX

( Part XXIX , Ramblings , XXXI )

Was that the end? Did the images on the sandy screens pause and then cease forever? Would the two ninjas of health learn nothing more, and the situation back home become ever more critical until a disaster occurred and the mysterious entity became supreme? No, of course not!

The images resumed, with a rock hurtling through space and out of a solar system. For what seemed like aeons, the asteroid continued on, and on, and on. Within the space rock, there was a small cavity, in which an egg slowly grew. Where had the egg come from? We may never know? Where did it end up? In a small allotment in Toddlingham, releasing what seemed to be a monster into the world. How had this strange metamorphosis occurred? That would require some serious exposition out of the mouth of our present antagonist and serious rewriting at a far later stage!

The egg grew, as our heroes watched in an increasingly confused state. Was this supposed to be helping? The rock flew, and flew, and flew some more. Then, in the distance a star began to become brighter. Our solar system ran into view, and then the Earth, with the rock apparently making adjustments in trajectory before falling into the planet's gravity well.

The sandy curtains paused in their show once again, slowly cycling rainbows of colour around the circular edge of the crater.

"Is that it?" Asked the Man.

"No..." the Woman eventually replied, "there is something more..." She wrinkled her nose. "I have one of those feelings."

The holding pattern on the curtains cleared, and showed an entirely new scene. Two people were sitting cross-legged in what seemed like a chapel, with a great Pattern surrounding them on their floor. The two figures were very familiar, in that they were the same two who were watching the images now. In the corner of the depicted room, a figure stool silently, laughing, and leaning on a cane.

The figure was indistinguishable from he who had vanished in the path of the meteorite.

More shall follow...

Saturday, 25 February 2017

A Traitor?

It shouldn't be fun to watch people playing board games on YouTube, but parts of the latest Dice Tower marathon have been pretty good. Right now, on the recording, eight people are in the middle of 'Shadows Over Camelot', while the surplus players are investigating the identities of the possible traitors in the game. It shouldn't be all that interesting to watch people chatting with each other at a table, but it is.

Oh no, the King has been allowed to die! Horror! Oh well. He was acting fishy anyway. The world of board games is a fascinating one, even for a crazy hermit who never gets to play. Is the traitor gone now, or are they being paranoid for a reason? Paranoid?

Paranoia... the belief that things are going wrong for a reason, even if nothing is going on at all! It's irrational, and normally the extension of bad things having happened in the past. It is really easy to begin believing in conspiracies, curses, and alien tentacles conspiracies across space and time! Oh... Oh! 'Day Of The Tentacle'! I have been reminded of something...

'Day Of The Tentacle' is one of the very best of the LucasArts graphic adventure games, a zany adventure over three time zones, where the actions done in the past impact on the future. It's fantastic. The end of LucasArts adventures was a terrible loss, as we ended up with an endless string of first person shooting games instead. That is, however, a topic for another day. For now, paranoia is ruling.

Paranoia! They still think there's a traitor... Is there? Is there?


Thursday, 23 February 2017

Television: 'Star Trek: Balance Of Terror' (Episode 1x14) (1966)

'Star Trek' broke many barriers for its day. It was a science-fiction series that wasn't soaked in horror, a show that was intelligently and dramatically written, a vehicle for allegory and social progressiveness, and a beautiful opportunity to reimplement, rewrite and generally rip off ('pay homage to') any good movie or story that could be shifted into the Trek universe. 'Balance of Terror' (BOT) is a brilliant example of that last principle, being a grand reworking of the 1957 film 'The Enemy Below', albeit one with a different ending.

BOT doesn't just reimplement that classic war movie, though, for it also introduces the first enemy empire that was the Romulans, Mark Lenard as the opposing commander, who would later return as Spock's dad Sark, and Kirk's vulnerability and doubts. James T Kirk becomes just that bit more nuanced in 'Balance Of Terror', and we see for one of the first times just how good a commander he is. (For an earlier example of Kirk's gutsiness, see the excellent 'The Corbomite Maneuver'!) Really, though, BOT is a classical example of a series repurposing a pre-existing story and making it its own. It was a fairly common practice of the time, but often not done well. For example, 'Maverick', despite it's many great episodes, had numerous examples of repurposed stories where Bart or Brett were shoehorned in the most ungainly and unsatisfying ways. 'Star Trek' never committed that error, although it did later feature some similar character humour to that classic Western.

What's good about BOT? Firstly, it realises that spaceships would function much more like submarines than battleships. Secondly, there is a large amount of character work on both sides of the starship/submarine duel. Thirdly, it does not demonise the Romulans , and presents a complex political situation in their political sphere. Fourthly, it produces some truly dramatic tension and a great speech from McCoy. Finally, it's technically brilliant, with some great practical effects and the introduction of a new starship. The McCoy speech is one of the great steps towards his becoming a regular in the second season.

The only disadvantage of BOT is that it was made before the introduction of Gene Coon as the second executive producer, so it lacks the humour that would really cause 'Star Trek' to pop out from the other shows in its genre, but which wouldn't fit for this kind of story anyway. Overall, it's one of the classic episodes, and one of the very best. Romulans, Mark Lenard, the only wedding in the original series, and a great McCoy speech. Go forth and watch.


Note: All references should be considered in terms of production order, not air order, except for the episode number '1x14'.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Time Off

It's extremely strange to have so much unstructured time, almost four whole days, but it's also very good. It's great to catch up on studies and have time to prepare lessons for a whole week in advance. After weeks of being slightly behind the eight ball, it's good to bounce around the cushions.

On the other hand, it's almost impossible to relax after so long on the horse. How does it work again? Is it something to do with not working and not having deadlines kicking about on a daily basis? Oh well, the skill will probably come back with due time. Is it related to waffles? Or giant wooden horses? Aha! Yes, relaxation is something that comes wrapped in a Trojan Horse of your own choosing. Maybe your equine wooden statue is a good book, getting ahead of business, working through your DVD collections (Yay, 'Mentalist' and 'Star Trek'!), or looking at dogs on the Internet. The form isn't important, be it knitting or origami, as long as it exists.

Dogs, dogs, dogs. We're looking at dogs here, and thinking of finding a successor to the dear departed Tess the Idiot Sheepdog, after this respectable period of respect. The search has been going on for a while, but has been impeded by dogs' home prices having gone up ridiculously in recent times, in excess of two hundred pounds in some places. It's really very bizarre, as if they don't actually want the dogs adopted at all. Also, vetting has increased exponentially, which is understandable, but still irksome. Have you ever been irked? Is 'irksome' a word that speaks to you on a fundamental level? I wonder where it comes from? Ah, it's from Old English, via Middle English.

We really need to find out more about Middle and Old English.


Sunday, 19 February 2017

Story: The Ninja of Health, XXIX

( Part XXVIII , XXX )

Was any of this true? The Two, ninjas of health both, gazed at the images presented on the sandy obscuring the crater on the clifftop, transfixed. Later, they would wonder if the experience was a real and physical thing or some imposition from the mental plane, but for now all they did was watch.

An unsettled humanoid man was hiding in a cave, with sunken eyes and a manic gleam in his eyes. On the wall were marked twenty short lines, seen in the light slanting in from outside. The cave shuddered, and the man giggled, making another mark with a burnt stick. His past could be seen in his eyes, small scenes playing out as clearly as snowflakes, images of his being shunned, of strange occurrences following him around, for all his days, of a mental chasm opening up and swallowing him whole.

Outside the cave, the world seemed to shake and he laughed loudly into the air, dashing outside to stare at the devastation as a massive quake rippled through the ground. The view changed as he emerged into the open air. Meteorites blazed across the sky, and blazed great gashes into the land. The madman stood in the middle of the chaos, completely untouched. Finally, the man tempted the forces that circulated around him in his life. He stood directly in the path of an incoming large meteorite and waited. Then he vanished, fading out of existence as if he had never been there, while the space rock bounced off the space where he had been standing as if it were a trampoline.

The images paused, and their audience held its breath, as will we.

Note: Yes, he's a nuttier and less controlled version of 'Major Disaster'. Giffen Connection!

Friday, 17 February 2017

A Long Ramble About Board Games

It's Friday, and the week is almost over. Hurrah! Hurrah! Only three more sessions tomorrow and then it will all be over until the end of next week! Between now and then, there will be study and a trip to a board game shop... Good grief, these weeks of endless game reviews will finally come to fruition as the wish list on Board Game Geek reduces to something almost manageable. It is very difficult to work out what to buy when the individual items are so expensive, potentially complex and you have practically no-one to play with. It's so tempting to buy the most tempting and intriguing games instead of ones you might actually get to play. As a result, such magnificent ideas as 'Vast: The Crystal Caverns', 'Castles Of Mad King Ludwig', 'Paradox' and 'Kingsburg' will sadly lose out in favour of things compatible with the parents, and the students who end up caught in the board game trap. What to look out for? It's difficult, and most interesting games are out of print including some of the following: 'Scotten Totten', 'Pueblo', 'Keythedral', 'Baseball Highlights: 2045', 'Medieval Academy', 'Of Mice And Mystics' and 'Kahuna'. It's a ridiculous world of board games out there, people, full of diverse themes and mechanics. It's almost impossible to know where to begin. Oh, it is impossible. Totally impossible!

What does it all mean? What does it mean that 'Math Fluxx' is coming out this year and could become instantly indispensable? What does it mean that most of the games listed above are utterly dissimilar to each other? Oh, the wonder of it all. Time travel, baseball, modern abstracts, deranged castle architecture, mice adventures and more are all to be found! There are also piles upon piles of dice combat if you're interested in that sort of thing. Fortunately, the Quirky Muffin is devoutly pacifist, although 'Ghost Stories' might eventually win its way into the mix thanks to colour matching. Colour matching? It's too much. How can all these things exist and where will it all end? Will we all vanish into a black hole of board games?

Perhaps it's not a good idea to go to the board game shop. Perhaps it would be better to hide in a misers' hole until the compulsion has gone away. Madness could set in, and a pile of utterly wonderful but futile games could end up here. Such wonders as 'Thunderbirds', 'Through The Ages', 'The World Of Smog', 'Watson and Holmes' and 'Dice City' are not safe.

Please, board game shop chaperones, where are you?


Note: Trip cancelled. Sigh.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Story: The Ninja of Health, XXVIII

( Part XXVII , XXIX )

What is this going to be about now? Have our two brave protagonists vanished off the face of the planet or been shifted into an alternate state of consciousness, across which bourn people have yet to ever return? The second one sounds better, plus it fits in with our recurring astral themes...

*    *    *

"This is freaky."

"No freakier than the people I used to deal with back at the upholstery works."

The Man cocked an eyebrow. "The details of your life before you joined the Order never cease to confuse me." Gesturing around them, he continued, "Life in an upholstery works could be as freaky as this?"

The sands of varying hue hung as a grand circular curtain, surrounding the Two from the walls of the crater, if it were indeed still there. The Lady sat serenely, while her companion waffled on. She found that it sometimes helped to not pay too much attention as he often spoke to help himself think. At their feet, the angular caricature of their meditation Pattern had been filled in with coloured sands to become authentically smooth.

The Lady spoke succinctly. "Something is going to happen soon."

"I know. It's already beginning."

The sand curtains began to flicker, and the coloured grains to shift about haphazardly. It was like an old-style television tube's picture beginning to coalesce, as if someone were adjusting an old-fashioned tuning dial.

Back to back, the Two became ever more tranquil as the sand curtains that seemed to cut them off from the regular eddies and flows of time revealed the beginning of a story from a different world, a world so very distant that it hung there a few scant metres away.

In a reversal, the Lady began to talk, "Who would have thought it...?"

"Ssshh. We're getting to the good bit."

The good bit will come soon...

Monday, 13 February 2017

Don't You Dare Quisle

Ten digits? Check. A keyboard? Yes. Still there. Mental tranquility? Nope. Nowhere around here. There's just a little bit too much tiredness in the old head, and so this is going to be... strange. It's always strange when you don't have a theme or idea to jump upon. To one side, the Dice Tower's 'Top 10 Games With Exciting Endings' is running and adding multi-tasking to the procedure.

It has been two weeks of heavy board game research at this point, with more than a hundred reviews watched and read, and many decisions made. Why on Earth so much effort is being made, I have no idea, but that wish list on BoardGameGeek was really groaning under the weight of hundreds of items marked 'Thinking About It', and there is a trip to a board game shop coming up soon. Hurrah! (Is it still worth a hurrah if your budget is two paperclips and a giant picture of Captain Kirk?)

Have you ever quagswagged? Really? Are you bluffing? It's supposed to mean 'to shake to and fro', according to the Phrontistery, that repository of wonderful arcane words that are mostly disused. Does to quagswag mean to yourself shake or to shake someone of thing else? I have no idea. There is not that much information.

Here's a less obscure word, 'quisle', which adds much context to the word 'quisling'. Yes, 'to quisle' means to betray. Whenever you see the epithet 'quisling' you now have the meaning! Except... it doesn't have an origin. According to the dictionaries, the term 'quisling' doesn't come from 'quisle', but from a World War II collaborator actually named Quisling. How bizarre! Presumably the verb came after the noun, in a highly unusual turn...


Saturday, 11 February 2017

Story: My Life As A Yak, Prologue

I never used to believe in reincarnation, but then I changed my mind after my death. Yes, it was a bad day when I was locked up in that safe, and dropped out of a plane at twenty thousand feet by mistake. Sometimes I still wonder for whom the three men in suits had mistaken me. It doesn't really matter though, as I'm a yak now. It's a far more relaxing lifestyle. I especially like the fields on a cool Autumn evening, with the Sun setting behind the mountains.

They told me at the sorting office that we're not supposed to remember our past lives when we're born again, but I do. That past life as a wooden leg salesman seems so silly now, now that all I need is a good supply of grass and an occasional visit from the doctor. Sometimes the locals, a Tibetan strain, come and get me to help with some heavy task, but mostly I'm a happy and relaxed lounger of the mountains. I only think about wooden legs occasionally in the middle of the night. Would that deal have gone through with the Albanians, I wonder until falling back to sleep.

It could have been much worse. Some of the other yaks, not great chatters but pretty nice despite that, have been recruited into some new novelty human sports like yak skiing and yak-polo, which look like far too much hard work! I didn't like polo even when I would have been the one doing the riding. Fortunately, my hoof was a bit wonky and they passed on to yak in the next field, who's a bit of a bully.

Last week there was a great festival, which I watched from the pasture. Apparently the great wise man (The Dalai Lama) has passed on, and they had identified his new body. He is very lucky that he didn't come back as a yak as well... Or maybe he has? I'm not exactly a believer in the way they are? Maybe one of these yaks around me used to be the Dalai Lama, and is now sharing the greens supply with a humble shmoe from Long Island?

Now, isn't that a thought?

Friday, 10 February 2017

Background To 'My Life As A Yak'

Having students in English is a great thing, as you can often get creative bursts while preparing their lessons and notes. This is inevitable when you have to prepare texts for punctuation and spelling correction exercises. One moment you're thinking about what to write, and then suddenly the proofreading passage has a title: 'My Life As A Yak', and something weird scrawls out beneath it. It may not be particularly good, but it's always at least interesting, and on this occasion will form the basis for the next post of the Quirky Muffin. It's a nice feeling that ensues when something daft pops out of the mind!

What does it mean, 'My Life As A Yak'? It's mightily complicated, and involves several balls of yarn, and a trip to the wrong dentist, as well as reincarnation from a wooden leg salesman into fairy flowers. All at once? Well, some of those bits may not make it into the final version, although the real world phenomena of yak-skiing and yak polo might. Yes, you read that correctly, there is such a thing as yak polo in the world! The world outside of the United Kingdom has some very different things going on it.

There are several things you might not know about yaks, but perhaps the most interesting one to me is that yaks will not eat grain, opting exclusively for growing green grass. As a result, yaks can not be migrated over deserts and wastelands, meaning they're only found in central Asia, where they are then used for nominal beast of burden work, for milk and dairy, and for... polo? Apparently, the central Asians have taken to the yak theme for attracting tourists, which is alarming. What else could be yak themed? They already have polo, skiing, racing and all the agriculture. What about yak dancing, where the dancers have to do their best to imitate yak patterns? Or yak Buddhism, a doubly local tradition of meditating exclusively with the friendly creatures?

There must be much more to write about with regards to yaks. Does anyone else have any ideas? Which aren't about yak carousels? Mwahahahaha.


Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Television: 'The Invaders' (1967-1968)

It's over. All of 'The Invaders' has been watched, and it ended just as it was getting interesting... Blast you, infernal executives of cancellation! Ratings? Who cares about ratings?! Humbug! Well, I don't feel quite as strongly about it as all that but the idea of a television series from that era actually evolving its story as it goes is almost unprecedented. Yes, the earlier episodes were of a much higher quality, but the whole concept actually changed a little. It went from David Vincent, supposed architect and sometime nasty paranoid lunatic, erratically hunting down the incredibly disorganised and uncoordinated conspiracies of the alien invaders to him being part of an organised group, and then in the last episode the aliens ramping up their plans from reconnaissance to full scale invasion and extermination. Yes, actual story progression! And then cancelled!

'The Invaders' used to be the target of mockery at home, with much fun being had especially at the extremely fragile aliens, who seemed to burn up and die at the slightest provocation. Now, on rewatching, it seems a remarkably well done science-fiction drama of the time, while still being worthy of mockery on a regular basis due to the goofiness of the alien plans. It's well done, and very intelligently made, with excellent production values. The guest stars return fairly frequently, which is a problem if you watch it in a fairly short period of time, but at least they're solid actors.

Side note: There seems to have been a segregation in actors back in this period. Guest actors especially seemed to appear either in 'seriously played dramas' or 'goofy genre' shows and never crossover. For example, 'Star Trek' and 'The Invaders' has almost no crossover apart from Susan Oliver. How does that explain 'Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea', though, which attracted many of the serious types? Maybe it was more studio based, although 'Voyage' and the other Irwin Allen shows did play things utterly seriously, unlike 'Star Trek'. Maybe 'Star Trek' was looked down upon, and 'Voyage' and 'The Invaders' weren't?

Back to the main flow, 'The Invaders' could have many great games associated with it. You could score points for: Aliens being shot and burning up, David Vincent (the ever serious Roy Thinnes) being called a maniac, rogue aliens turning up and dying before they can be helpful, all evidence being destroyed during the climax of the episode, and allies dying (especially in the latter episodes). There is also the 'Is he one?' aspect of watching some of the more suspenseful episodes too.

A great and unwttingly silly series, which I have already written about once, and one which transcends all the other Quinn Martin feasts of grimness. Now it's over once again. Blast, blast, blast, Doom-Mongering Experts of Cancellation!


Monday, 6 February 2017

One Lonely Beam In The Dark

It happens to everyone, inevitably. You arrive home one day and realise that something is missing. If you're lucky, it's something utterly invaluable and you carry on with your life, or you walk out the door and find the lost item on the doorstep. If you're not so lucky, then you have to go looking. In the dark, during a windy frigid drizzle.

Cut to black. You're retracing your footsteps along a dark and windswept path, waving your torch all around to ward off spooks and try to spot what you've lost. You're very thorough, even as rain blots out your bespectacled vision and your fingers go numb from the February cold. You just have to find it! Losing things is not to be permitted! You go all the way up, and then come all the way back down. The flashlight peers into bushes, patches of field through a barbed wire fence, and onto tops of hedges, and nothing is to be seen but stray beer cans and bits of wrapper. The cold seeps into your bones and you begin to give up. It would have been easier to stay in and relinquish it, and maybe watch 'Mission: Impossible' or 'Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea' instead of this.

Then, swishing your torch around all the while, you reluctantly wend your way home, resigning yourself to buying a replacement. What nuisance, what a typical event in what should have been a surplus week! Your front door looms our of the misty and rainy dark and you manage to click off your light and the red bike lamp you've been waving behind you as a warning. Then, you make it inside and wince in pain as your fingers begin to warm up, until you get them all back in working order. What were you doing before going on that fruitless quest? Oh, putting the things from your tutoring trip away. You go back to your bag, previously searched, and pull out a carrier bag with something mysteriously soft within.

What is in the bag? Is it the item for which you have spent half an hour searching in the frozen outdoors? It is, isn't it? You open the bag, and there is the scarf. The lost scarf. The scarf you never even had to buy as it was found one day on a bush in the middle of nowhere, near Aberystwyth.

Mondays have a reputation for a reason.


Saturday, 4 February 2017

Story: The Ninja of Health, XXVII

( Part XXVI , XXVIII )

At the bed and breakfast that evening, the two ninjas of health lay, contentedly thinking about the day. Finally, the Man reached for the phone and dialled for home. The familiar voice of their mentor picked up, and quieted as he listened to their story until it was concluded. Then, Ken asked two questions.

"Are you sure the design was triangulated?" Was the first question.

"Yes. Rendered extremely jagged." His lady companion half-smiled at the technicalities.

"Have all the elements from the tablecloth been explained?"

"We don't have anything for the spaceship/lighthouse, but otherwise it matches." The ninja of health then added, hesitantly, "It has to be the right place. Everything points to something important here."

"Yes, it does. The last element will fall into place. Prophecies are inherently abstract. We have so little practical experience with them that it's difficult to explain."

"What about the Oracle? Any sign of improvement?"

"No, he remains out for the count."

The conversation then rambled for a little while, and we leave the two to their repose.

*    *    *

The world turned once again, and at dawn we find the two back atop the cliffs, with more bags of coloured sand than you could possibly ever count. The Woman casually gained access through the construction panels and began to slit open the bags, which her companion then poured down the side of the crater. Finally, the sand was a foot thick, streaked and layered in its many colours.

The two descended to the crater and settled into their classical poses of meditation. The sand began to swirl around them. The crater grew dark as the Sun apparently vanished, and the world became dimly distant.

More shall follow.

Thursday, 2 February 2017

A Brief Post

It's a little dubious to write while in an online tutorial. It's very much an illicit activity. There's just something about these sessions that triggers the 'write or flight' reflex. Long long minutes of passive listening to other people causes an excessive burst of boredom, surely indicating a serious personality disorder. That must be something serious, yes? A severe disinclination to pay attention to other people's questions or presentations? This is one reason why academic conferences were so unbearably tedious. Unending hours upon hours of talks and questions...

My apologies should really go out to those other people in the tutorial. Especially the lady who got a wrong grammatical hint from me. Sometimes these things just happen. Thankfully, it is now all over, and there were some good things to take away for next week's French assignment. It's a nightmare to be so far behind on all the work, after weeks of disruption and poor concentration. Now, weeks after the demise of our poor hound, and definitively past the darkest period of the year, it feels like things are going to start working again.

Catching up from a backlog of over a month is extremely difficult. All you can do is keep going, and triage wherever possible to save some time. It's amazing that anyone ever finishes Open University courses, but the writer of the Quirky Muffin will be on that august list somehow.

It is, however, far too late now to crank out a proper blog post. For the curious, the current books on the top priority are 'Riders Of The Purple Sage', 'Journey To The West', Freud's 'Jokes And Their Relation To The Unconscious', and Doyle's 'Brigadier Gerard' stories. Also coming up on the screen side, 'The Bachelor And The Bobbysoxer'. Now, to sleep, and perchance to dream.