Thursday, October 29, 2009


Went to see Up last night with Alice. Pixar has done it again, by taking risks and crafting original and wonderful stories, there's yet another masterpiece to the company's name.

Up is an extremely moving film, perhaps surprisingly so- it actually made Alice weep reasonably profusely, and I was certainly very teary. After all, it is the tale of an old man who has lost his wife searching for meaning, and regretting not having taken more chances in the past. The main character has not had a bad life by any means, but always meant to travel with his wife, and never did. Now she's lost, he contrives a Dahlesque plan to fill his house with baloons and travel to South America.

The story feels a little like a Dahl story, with an effectively parentless child joining Carl on his journey. Once they get to South America adventure begins, and while the first half of the film is a well observed, touching, and indeed amusing story about a man with little left trying to recapture it, the second half becomes a somewhat more standard Pixar adventure, which is no bad thing- its extremely funny, with the dogs providing a lot of the comedy.

Are there any animators as brave and inventive as Pixar? Their back catalogue really is astonishing, I truly am somewhat in awe of this company. This film is definitely worth watching.

If you can, however, try to avoid watching this with, for example, 3 11 year old boys with the emotional complexity of, well, 11 year old boys. I really need to get better about letting people like that take me out of the movie. Oh well.

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Monday, October 26, 2009

A Madness of Angels (Kate Griffin)

This book came very close to losing me.

It opens in first person, a rather frenzied, unexplained narrative, the main characters performs inexplicable acts and heads round London, engaging in a fairly unexplained magical combat with a creature made entirely of litter. Its meant to draw you in, but it failed with me. There was no tension, because I didn't really know what was going on, and I had no certainty that the story would make any more sense.

Luckily I was on a plane to America, so was forced to persist. I'm glad I did, because once our main character is forced to engage in some actual dialogue, the narrative actually takes shape, and its lovely. Set in a modern day London, with the idea that life itself spawns magic, it features such marvels as a creature of shadows begin kept back by a spell invoked by the terms and conditions of an oyster card, which manages to be hilarious and rather tense at exactly the same time. When the author takes her time to tell us whats going on, you find yourself in an involving and inventive narrative, that really does grip you all the way to the finish.

Its interesting though, how close it came to failing, to losing me entirely, by not grabbing me at the start, but almost actively repelling me. I would definitely recommend it, and indeed, give it a hefty chance to draw you in.

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Friday, October 23, 2009

Question Time

I watched it, how could I not? The BBC were pushing this hard, with their news channel reporting pretty much nothing but the event that evening. While the BBC loves nothing more than to report news on itself, this got a little pathetic, to the point where it was clear at least one person in the BBC thought this show would bring excellent ratings. I'm sure it did. Question time was a bizzare format to attack Griffin with, because the nature of the format should be to rove on a lot of topics and not really focus on any particular member. This was, however, no ordinary Question Time.

It was, basically, an excuse to point out Griffin's extremely unsavoury views by a fairly excellent panel. Mostly, it worked well, with Griffin smirking pathetically as people demolished him with his own words, memorably he attempted to say that he couldn't say why he had changed his mind on holocaust denial, because he would get arrested. Jack Straw, in one of the greatest moments of the night, pointed out that he was the justice secretary and to go right ahead. Marvelous!

It wasn't all great. Jack Straw was stunningly ineffective across the evening, reading long diatrabes that would impress no-one, and stumbling completely on immigration. The tory policy on immigration is rather similar to Labour's, but Straw utterly failed to communicate this, and undoubtedly switched off viewers and garnered the conservatives a few votes.

I also felt that Griffin's attack on Islam needed a stronger rebuttal, especially considering Sayeeda Warsi was sitting right from him. The attacks were silly, as an audience member pointed out, because its not hard to quote any holy book and make any religion sound dangerous. One could, of course, have an argument just about that, but picking on Islam is just a wholly ignorant thing to do.

Sayeeda Warsi was very effective, managing to dodge a question on homophobia neatly (I imagine if Griffin was there she might not have got away with it), saying that she believes that if gay people want a civil union they have a right to. Well.. yes, thats the law, but that hardly tells us your opinion, does it? It was a tricksy answer. I find such attitudes coming in to the next government rather disturbing, but perhaps its what I should expect of a conservative government.

Still, I think Griffin was mostly shown as the nasty little man that he is, a horrible excuse for a human being. His attitudes on race are not well hidden- the BNP still has voluntary repatriation and a halt to all immigration as key pledges on their site, and now thanks to this show people may become aware of his opinions that had not before. I hope this turns out to hurt the BNP in the long run... we shall see..

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Friday, October 16, 2009

In America

Ah, theres nothing like a 23 hour journey to make your heart sing with joy. It wasn't too bad, although the 5 hour wait in the airport was not great. I managed to eat some nice American cuisine (grilled sandwich and chips!), and discovered that if flying United, I should not say that I'm a vegetarian. I was given a "special" meal, which consisted of soggy spinach, nasty eggs, mushrooms and a pitiful tomato. Everyone else got eggs, bacon, waffles, fruit and a bun. Bah.

I watched Moon on the plane, which, other than being a bit depressing, really wasn't a great film to see on a plane. I'm not sure there are too many which are suited to that unique medium. I am now in my fairly pleasant hotel room, in the rather unexciting state of Missouri. I'm not certain, but this may be the least interesting state in the world...


Tuesday, October 13, 2009


Off to the US tomorrow. I shall be leaving my house at 3:30 in the morning, and arriving in Columbia, Missouri, at approximately 7, if all goes well. I will effectively have travelled for a day, and gloriously will be there for three whole days before travelling for another day on Sunday and getting home on Monday. Woo, and indeed, hoo. No doubt this is an exciting experience, although I do wish the conference was actually a little longer to justify the absurdly long travel times.


Monday, October 12, 2009


I went paintballing on saturday, which was not only great fun, but revealed to me quite how physically pathetic I truly am. A few hours of running around shooting people (well, mostly getting shot, but meh), and I'm basically a cripple. The bruises coating my skin don't help of course....

I do like a bit of paintballing, although the experience is always marred by certain things. Lack of visibility is frustrating, especially when the goggles get so misted that you are almost firing blind (although my favourite moment did come when I managed to shoot an enemy despite him being only a blurred outline). The other is the blatant cheating that tends to go on, with people not noticing or ignoring shots and keeping on fighting. This is sad, and can take away from the experience. More than one person indicated that after getting killed they took the other person with them, which is rather missing the point, I feel....

The physicality of it is a lot of fun though, and it certainly gets the adrenaline pumping. Laser quest should, in theory, be better, as it is harder to cheat, and the weapons are more accurate, and there are no issues with visibility. Sadly, due to constraints on the technology, the games are inevitably indoors, and usually with infinite respawning, making war like tactics unlikely, so games dissolve into a kind of rambling FPS experience, where running around, having brief encounters with the enemies, then running again, seems to be the norm. I do enjoy both, and part of me wonders if it would be possible to take the best of both and combine them together somehow...


Friday, October 09, 2009

World building

I've never been interested in world building in RPGs. I'm not that interested in creating a framework or society, I'm interested in creating stories within someone else's framework. This is probably why D&D has never appealed to me. While it has a ready made world, its very much "generic fantasy land", with fluff tacked on from here and there. I could move the system elsewhere, but 3E is inherently unbalanced, with ridiculous magic, that would only create certain types of societies. I can't tell stories that I want in D&D.

The reason I like WFRP and L5R so much is that I enjoy the worlds they inhabit, and am happy to play in their worlds. The systems are designed for these worlds, and work well in them, and are not easily exportable, other than to worlds that function by the same kind of rules: escaping low fantasy would be difficult using WFRP, and the structured societies produced in L5R are somewhat inevitable in a world where death comes very, very quickly.

This is my main problem with Dark Heresy. While it lives in a universe I enjoy greatly, the system, exported from WFRP with extra bits tacked on, grates against the world. Dark Heresy is a universe full of hideous gribbly threats, and you are employed by the inquisition. So you should be able to destroy some random gang punk without too much difficulty. You certainly shouldn't fail your goddamn perception tests every 5 seconds. I might be able to make some fixes to it, but I do wonder if a whole new system needs to be connected to DH to make it more fun.


Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Playing Chess

Whenever someone talks about not being able to play chess, because they can't think several moves ahead, I do wonder how much chess they've played. When I was younger, and was undoubtedly much better at chess than I am now, I was given a simple piece of advice that is very true "Wait for your opponent to make a mistake." This is very, very accurate. In chess there are multiple ways to attack your opponent, to push for checkmate early. You don't actually need to do any of these things.

Most opponents in chess you will encounter won't be terribly good- I'm certainly not- and at some point will make a mistake. If you can spot that mistake and take advantage of it, then you can obtain victory.

Chess rewards careful play. Many players make the mistake of attacking early, thus leaving themselves exposed to a counter attack. You will do well for a large part of chess to just play a development game.

A development game has the aim of utilising your pieces as efficiently as possible. You should try to do the following things:

1)Control the centre of the board
2)Move your pawns as little as possible, and when you do, they should both control the centre and allow other pieces to move
3)Every move you make should ideally develop a piece: that is, move it off the back position into a good position
4)Try and avoid developing your queen too early

Doing these things, and reacting carefully to your opponents attacks, while avoiding attacks yourself (unless your opponent presents you with an irresistible opportunity), will serve you well.

Now, to thinking ahead. This is what you should do ever turn:

1)What move did my opponent just make? How did it change the board? Are any of my pieces now under threat that were not before?
2)What move do I want to make? How will it affect the board? Will it put any of my pieces under threat that were not before? Will it defend against any threats my opponent has created?

Being able to do this does require practice, and mistakes can easily be made if you move in haste (which is why competitive chess, where each player only has half an hour in total to make all their moves, is hard).

For all of these you only really need to think a move ahead. Attacks are really the only time when you need to think ahead, and often these will flow relatively naturally from the game, if you study the board, and understand what your opponent is doing, and what mistakes they have made.

Chess is by no means an easy game, but it should not necessarily be an overly intimidating one.


Tuesday, October 06, 2009


Super hero facebook status updates

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I should stop thinking about Spiderman 3

In Spiderman 3, Mary Jane is the lead in a broadway musical. From the look of the theatre, this is a reasonable big deal. The next day, the reviews don't accuse her of being a bad actor, or being unable to sing, they accuse her voice of not carrying.

Huh. So in the months of auditioning and rehearsals that must have been done for this musical, no-one ever checked to see if her voice carried? I have little experience of producing musical theatre, but surely that would be something you might check.

After these reviews, they replace her after her first night. Is that even legal? Surely she'd have a contract? Fer crying out loud, at least give your lead (who after all, is the one you rehearsed with), a chance to project next time....

That really is quite a stupid film...

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Monday, October 05, 2009

Why we're here

I'm sure you've all seen the sheer awfulness of Jack Chick's "Christian" tracts? Well now you can experience Cthulu tracts!


You better watch out because I'm going to say fuck

I enjoy a good bout of swearing. There's nothing like an expletive to punctuate an important point, and certainly when I've had too much to drink you'll find me practically incapable of not swearing. That said, I do think theres a time and a place. While punctuating your points with swear words works, punctuating your sentence with them sucks them of meaning. Perhaps for you that swear word has lost all its meaning, but it hasn't for everyone else, so it sounds like you are ridiculously emphatic about your stupid point.

It can also lack professionalism- I read interviews in Empire with actors who cannot help swearing every sentence, and it just makes them sound kind of pathetic. I'm not opposed to actors swearing, of course I'm not, but you're trying to sell a product, so if its time to swear, make it actually count.

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Sunday, October 04, 2009

Final Fantasy 13

I'm always ready to enjoy final fantasy, and this trailer, if a little random, does make me happy.

Looks like we're heading for a futuristic world. It looks like they may be keeping some of the elements of 12, which would be pleasing, as the combat system was solid, despite all the hate that was directed at it. I know FF is full of melodrama, but damnit if it isn't fun melodrama!


Friday, October 02, 2009

Free food

A vital skill as PhD student is the ability to acquire free food, for the university is full of it, and it deserves to be eaten. This bounty is balanced by the possibility of bumping into someone you know, or, heaven forbid, your supervisor, so you must choose your moments carefully. Of course, sometimes there is compulsory free food eating, as today, when we met the new crop of PhD students (who seem pleasant enough), and chatted. One of the most irratating parts of this was that I already HAD lunch with me. I suppose I could have shown some restraint and not eaten there...

Nah, that's just madness.

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Thursday, October 01, 2009

Incompetence and foolishness

Once again I braved the library archives today. While papers from this decade are mostly online, for older ones you need to do some photocopying. I had a serious load to do.

I made my usual mistake of going to Q instead of Per Q, smiled at myself, and headed to the correct section, where I succesfully found the Canadian Journal of Chemical engineers. Next was the American Institute of Chemical Engineers. I went off, found the correct letter, and looked.

It wasn't there. The American institute of Electrical Engineers was, but that wouldn't help me. Baffled, I decided to find the other journals I needed first then look into it. I thought about it, looked around, wondered aimlessly for a while, checked the reference, but could not figure it out. Admitting defeat, I went to the help desk on the third floor and asked.

She took the reference and entered it in, and asked if I had looked under American. I replied in the affirmative, and she pointed out that the journal's listing was in fact its initials, AICE... Sigh. Worse yet, the journals were about a foot yet from where I had been searching fruitlessly....

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Librarian: Quest for the Spear

Alice got bought this for her birthday, a made for tv movie, starring some people you may well have heard of, including Carter from ER, Bree's husband from Desperate Housewives, and whats her face from Third Rock from the Sun.

Its actually pretty entertaining, to the point where you're not entirely sure how much the film is in on the joke of quite how bad it is. The special effects are dreadful, the film is undercast, the plot ridiculous, and the script can be creaky, but theres some genuine wit in there, and the performances are generally entertaining. Its also called the Librarian, which really gives it points!

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