Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Hark, a Vagrant!

Kate Beaton's comics deserve much love. For your enjoyment-

She writes mostly about history, and some bits about her own life. I love the surreal humour that pervades her comics. Definitely would recommend.

Silly meme

Rules- type "(your name) needs" in quotes into google, and see what comes up-

Kieran needs a kick
Kieran needs... to find some different psychologists to talk to?
Kieran needs... to be a man
Kieran needs help.. AGAIN!
Kieran needs education
Kieran needs to raise £1600 for Marie Curie Cancer Care
Kieran needs to stop making groups and adding everyone on his list to them
kieran needs U!
Kieran needs five balls of crochet cotton to complete a bedspread she began in 1950
Kieran needs to find his soul mate to break this curse


Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Why I hate D and D alignment

Note- this post will be of interest of those who A-know what D and D alignment is and B-care about order of the stick. I give no promises for anyone else.

In the most recent order of the stick, Haley kills crystal. I found this act deeply disturbing. Haley, while often a little obsessed with making herself money, has had a tendency to do the right thing. This, however, was a rather cold and calculated act, taken when there was no pressing reason to do so- she is at peace with the thieves guild, and has decided to create a dilemma herself. For me, this felt, if not out of character for Haley, at least disturbing. Some people on the order of the stick forums disagreed, and thought it was just awesome. Some disagreed, giving fairly decent reasons as to why the act might have been justified. An annoying amount got very irate at the very notice of a criticism.

Now there were two main arguments that really irritated me, the first being that the comic is set in a different world, so the same laws of morality don't apply. This is in some ways accurate- if someone dies in this world, they can be brought back (although it is an expensive and not guaranteed process). Yet the characters mostly have fairly human attitudes, and indeed the comic itself does. Actions that we think of as evil or morally grey in real life are generally morally grey here. I think this argument bothers me most in the way it is presented- it is meant to shut the other person up, close off discussion, because my morality doesn't apply here. I would prefer to have a discussion about what is right and wrong here, and why the scene made me uncomfortable, but that is often hard to do.

The second argument, and this always bugs me, is alignment. Alignment is a pretty stupid concept in dungeons and dragon. The axis goes from good to evil, from law to chaos. This is meant to describe a characters moral compass, but it is woefully inadequate at doing so. The concept of evil is nebulous at best, and the idea of someone being pure evil is generally speaking, rather stupid. It's fine in a comic book world, which d and d sometimes is, where the lich is irredeemably evil, but it becomes far more complicated when you have a character who is driven to hurt others because of the oppression of his race.

The main issue with alignment is it seems like it gives people an excuse not to think about who their character is. What drives them to do what they do, what decisions they would make. Haley's killing of Crystal is driven by a multitude of motives. Revenge, a cool assessment of threat, perhaps a move to rid the world of evil. All possible motives. I'm very much NOT interested in whether doing this makes Haley evil or not, I'm interested if this makes her different to the character I thought she was, whether her actions were justly inspired, whether she is changing into something different. I guess I do sort of care as to whether the murder is an evil act, but to get bogged down in technicalities bothers me.

Alignment in roleplaying has always seemed stupid to me. Telling a character that they risk changing alignment is usually pointless, as it doesn't have that many in game effects, and also should not be necessary. A good roleplayer should be taking a character in a particular direction based on who that character is, and how they've been changed by the events they've encountered. Alignment might serve as a starting point, but it should never be a strait jacket to who someone is.

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Monday, April 27, 2009

I am a childish man

As per a request, linked is a version of my home town's wikipedia entry, which may or may not have been childishly changed by someone

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Friday, April 24, 2009

Fantastic article

This is an excellent article by Simon Jenkins, arguing rather eloquently that the government is far more beholden to special interests than it is to public interest. It is shocking how much many of the projects we are spending money on will cost.

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Snape (warning, may contain spoilers. OK, will. From the very first sentence in fact. Probably only spoilers for Harry Potter though.

I read an essay online about Harry Potter. It was mostly negative, and while I found many of it's points weak, one thing did bother me. Why is Snape idolised quite so much towards the end of the book? In particular, Harry tells us that Snape is the bravest man he ever knew (side point- one can only be noble if one is brave- a gryffindor trait. The only good slytherins are not really slytherins!)

Brave? I don't know about that, and even so, that doesn't necessarily make him noble. The reason he decided to switch from voldemort's side was the death of Lily Potter, but bear in mind that HE WAS HAPPY FOR HARRY AND JAMES TO DIE. Horrid. Perhaps the death of Lily made him realise the enormity of what he had done, and certainly he took great risks for the cause once Voldy returned, but he was still unpleasant. He spent a large amount of time attempting to get Harry expelled, and nearly succeeded in doing so on more than one occasion, he was a terrible teacher, guilty of extreme favouritism- it is clear from the books that both Harry and Neville would have been better at potions without Snape glaring at them 90% of the time- and most important of all, he was responsible for Voldy's return!

Voldemort would have found it extremely difficult to return to power without pettigrew joining him, and thanks to Snape's old jealousies, thats exactly what happened- without his interference it is likely that Sirius would have been cleared (and not been holed up, and encouraged to take terrible risks), and Lupin may have kept his job, and pettigrew not escaped. Phew...

I dunno, he's a flawed character, and that makes him interesting, and a wonderful read, but a last minute decision that he was entirely noble? Seems a bit wrong to me.

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Wednesday, April 22, 2009


An interesting article by Christopher Hitchens on waterboarding: he underwent the process himself...

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Holy crap

I have never been a big fan of the daily mail. It's nasty, scaremongering, misleading politics are something I can do without. But this is completely insane....


Monday, April 20, 2009

30 rock

Having spent a day gorging on the DVD to completion (while at the same time updating Alice's laptop, which needed approximately 4 billion updates), I can definitely recommend 30 rock. It's smart, witty, flat out hilarious. Very much a fast paced and zany show, it's really nice to see something that is in many ways a very traditional sitcom, but with very modern sensibilities. I think I've got used to modern comedy being quite mean, while this is actually quite nice. While it never takes itself too seriously, 30 rock actually gets you to like all of it's weird and wonderful characters, which makes a bit of a change from things like the Office and Curb Your Enthusiasm. I absolutely love it.

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Friday, April 17, 2009

Dear man I walked past today

Hitler moustaches will never be in fashion again. If one sees the look and that's the first thing one thinks of, it's not a good thing. Unless you're a white supremacist, I suppose, but then I have many more issues....


Monday, April 13, 2009

mr norrell and jonathan strange

This book is an interesting one. It's well written, and often amusing. Yet the experience feels a little empty. Theres a lot of things that contribute to that- the characters are generally quite nasty, and we don't really know enough about most of them to sympathise. Often, when we begin to get attached to a character, the narrative shifts. The title character is the main focus of the book, yet his motivations remain shrouded for the most part. It's not clear where his wealth came from, how he amassed his collection of books, and why he has suddenly decided he wants to revive english magic. This frustration led to me being detached from the narrative, which is a shame.

The next major failing is the plot, which moves at a snails pace. It is excruciatingly clear that this book is intended to be read with a sequel, as not one plot thread is left tied. Instead we see pieces get into place that might have effects next book. This is annoying- I have read many a trilogy, and while there will be many open threads, it's usual for one or two major plot arcs to actually tie up during each book, giving the reader some sense of fufillment. This we do not get.

That said, I'm interested enough to read the next two books, but I hope they will pick up the pace somewhat, or at least introduce characters I can care about.

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Sunday, April 12, 2009

Issues with Dr Who

-It managed to have T Davies' trade mark maudlin sentimentality 15 minutes in ("I will get you home, blah blah blah, humans are awesome")
-It introduced a whole bunch of characters we didn't care about (I would rather the insect heads had lived rather than weepy lady)
-The plot was uninteresting and overstretched (hmm, before flying through with my bus, I'm going to take several minutes to look before driving off)
-It had nothing to say about the main characters (and, with no companion, that means the doctor), putting him in EXACTLY the same mentality as he was when he met donna noble.
-It didn't have much to say.

I dunno, it feels like Russel T Davies is really burnt out. If he only has 4 stories left, why not make them stories he really wants to tell. I can forgive stories that aren't about character, or some issue, if theres a really strong story (Blink is an excellent example), but the story was really weak- the characters are trapped on a planet, and are going to die if they don't get off. Thats it. Even that could have work if it was told with pace and urgency, but it blatantly was not. The wormhole was shut with the usual deus ex machina, which always drains tension... bah.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Alternative readings

This is a pretty funny article from cracked where rap singers are proven to be gay...

I watch the watchmen

The day after my birthday I went to see Watchmen. This was a unique event for me, in that it was the first time I have ever been to the cinema alone. While it was a somewhat lonely experience, the cinema was virtually empty, and I rather enjoyed myself- I am not unfond of my own company, which is good, because I have to put up with myself a LOT.

So, to the film. Watchmen is a tough film to review. It does a lot of things right, and is clearly made by someone who loved the graphic novels, but equally seems to undermine the books message at some points. First of all, I'd recommend everyone actually read the graphic novel. It is excellent, and I suspect the film suffers without it. Watching the film, there is a strong feeling of it being a tribute to the book, rather than a film in it's own right, to the point where the majority of the panels from the comic are re-created (sometimes in slow motion, which rather misses the point of having a moving medium, but never mind).

I read reviews which mocked the film for taking dialogue directly from the comic book, and while that doesn't always work, the film is at it's weakest when creating dialogue that ISN'T in the comic book. While changes are fine, some of them weakened the narrative, I felt. I got the impression that the film really wanted Nite Owl and the Silk Spectre as the heroes, and while they are probably the most sympathetic characters in the comic book, Nite Owl in particular is meant to be a force of impotence, both sexually and physically, wanting to save the world in a very childlike fashion, and not being able to cope when the world is not the way he thinks it is. Rorschach, on the other hand, was a pretty much perfect movement from book to screen. He is such a wonderful character, basically driven to effective insanity by the things he has witnessed, and drawing a line in the sand he utterly will not cross, which causes him huge problems in the films conclusion.

I do wish Zach Synder would grow up a bit as a film maker. His addiction to slow motion, and bizzare choices for the music (as well as the surreal sex scene which I'm, not sure what to make out of- is it meant to be hilarious, because it comes across as such?), undermine the film badly, and his addiction to revelling in violence during some scenes really hurts what the novel, at least, was talking about. All in all, it's a good film, and for a supposedly unfilmable novel, it's been done pretty well, but it's definitely rather flawed.

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Wednesday, April 08, 2009

plot holes

Gotta love em!

The importance of conditional probability (why screening is not always a good idea)

Jade Goody died from cervical cancer. This has caused some people to call for the screening age for cervical cancer to be lowered to the age of 20. A laudable goal, perhaps? Indeed, if we have tests, why don't we screen for every type of cancer?

Sadly, unless a test is very good, there will be many false positives- a simple example: Suppose 1 in a 1000 people gets cervical cancer, and lets suppose our test is 99% accurate. That is, it will miss the disease one percent of the time, and falsely claim the disease is present when it is not 1% of the time. Bayes theorem allows us to calculate the probability that someone who is declared positive for the disease actually has it. Rather than subject you to the equation, I will explain how it actually works.

Suppose I scan 1000 people. Of those, 1 of them will (on average), have the disease, so we correctly identify this with a 0.99 percent probability. There are 999 people remaining, and our test is 99% accurate, so thats 9.99 people diagnosed falsely with the disease.

So thats 0.99 who actually have the disease, and 9.99 who do not! And this example is actually generous: Generally speaking tests are MUCH worse than this, and I'm not sure the disease is even that prevalent.

Now one can increase these probabilities greatly by repeating the test, providing that we accept that our patient has the disease only if both are positive. Still, this is a lot of cost, and worry for the patient who has endured this. This is why screening tests are generally saved for those at risk to the disease. Bear in mind that we only have finite resource, and if the NHS spends a lot on screenings tests, while some people who wouldn't be picked up won't be, who knows who will suffer thanks to the massive waste in resources in checking these hundreds who do not actually have the disease.

This result is not immediately obvious, when looking at probabilities, but it is vital, and sadly not known by the majority of people

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