Thursday, 31 March 2011

An Era Ends

Apologies for the slight dip in output; I've been busy.  Today was officially the last day I was in the employ of Durham University.  I arrive in Coventry tomorrow morning to start messing around with Warwick's Medical School; so presumably I'll have some first impressions pretty soon.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Statistically Speaking, It's Bullshit On A Bagel

Everyone in academia is in uproar over the Coalition's despicable blackmail tactics: essentially "Research what we tell you to or find yourselves new jobs."

And yes, obviously, it's a horrible idea and a horrible precedent (though Professor Jones is right, it would probably have been worse had we not got the money).

Still, maybe we should be optimistic.  Maybe all that we need to do is follow this simple three step process:
  1. Research "Big Society";
  2. Conclude "Big Society" is obvious bullshit;
  3. Tell everyone "Big Society" is obvious bullshit.
I mean, it can't possibly be as though Step 2 would be difficult.  It seems entirely obvious that this is simply a way to spin massive social spending cuts, and/or a pre-emptive move to blame us for when the country ends up in the toilet.

Unless I'm wrong about that.  In that case, it really would be worth checking that out.

Monday, 28 March 2011

Shockingly, The Internet Provokes A Fight

Fellow GeekPlanet contributor Lee Medcalf has an article up regarding canon. This is a subject very close to my heart, and as is so often the case, the piece misses a central point -that complaining continuityy-obsessives don't get that TV should be entertaining only makes sense if you decide ahead of time that enjoying continuity isn't a valid approach. 

Anyway, since I spent an hour or so crafting a response, I thought it might be of interest to people if I repeated it here.

At first, I thought this article was a text-book case of straw-manning, but that doesn‘t go far enough. It's a case of a straw-man article written by another straw-man, desperately hoping that if he's dismissive enough of other scarecrows, people will just assume he's made of tin.

The principle fallacy of the argument is right here:
You see, the aim of any TV show, SF or no, is to entertain.
Yes, it is. Also, water is wet and Charlie Sheen is unlikely to attend Lilith Fair 2011. No-one would dispute any of that. The issue here is what exactly people enjoy.

If people enjoy a (comparatively) seamless work, if their memory/interest is sufficiently engaged to notice flaws, and would rather they didn't happen, then who the frak is anyone to tell them they're enjoying it wrong? The only, and I do mean the only, thing worth saying over this is "Actually, canon doesn't really bother me”. Well, good luck to you. But tread beyond that, and you end up writing 1740 words on how the people who disagree with you are somehow less than you are. True, if you point out your laissez-faire attitude to canon and your hypothetical pub denizen won't shut up, then they're clearly a prat, but "I Meet Prats In Pubs" (“Give Prats A Prat-Fall”?) isn't really worth an article, is it?

This is to say nothing of the entirely obvious point if the next episode of Lee's favourite show swaps the genders of every character without explanation, and without ever going back, ("Gilmore Boys"? "The G Word"? "Dudes Of Prey"? etc.) he would almost certainly be pissed beyond measure.

Because by his own admission, he cares about canon too, at least to the point that he personally believes "consistency" should be maintained. Everyone does. Which means this rant is nothing more than saying "This is where I draw an arbitrary, subjective line; and anyone who draws it earlier is scum". Hence my "Please believe I'm tin" statement at the top of the post.

I love canon. I can't deny it. I have a certain amount of lee-way for the "rule of cool", but not much. I have an excellent memory, and it isn't easily overruled. I have no patience for an argument that boils down to "Can't you just consciously dampen parts of your brain whilst you watch?" No, I can't - that's just how I roll. And what I do and don't enjoy stems directly from what is going on in my brain.

All of which means that I will probably disagree with Lee on what does and doesn't constitute "entertaining" based on that principle. What I won't do is tell him the method by which he determines "entertaining" is somehow unworthy or even downright contemptible.

Fuck him for not extending me the same courtesy.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

A Tale Of Cocktails #15 (Take 2)

Fuzzy Shark


4 oz orange juice
1 1/2 oz Peach Schnapps
1/2 oz Blue Curacao

Taste: 8
Look: 8
Cost: 9
Name: 9
Prep: 8
Alcohol: 3
Overall: 7.8

Preparation: Pour the Blue Curacao into a cocktail glass. Put the orange juice, Peach Schnapps and a cup of ice through a blender, and pour into the glass.

General Comments:  That is a simply spectacular name.  Fuzzy sharks might not be the best kind of sharks, but they're still better than anything else with fur in this world or any other.  Even the cutest puppy must bow down before the bloodthirsty might of the fuzzy shark.  If it knows what's good for it, at any rate.

Onto less cosmetic and dog-munching concerns.  The blended ice in this really works, combining with the orange juice and the slight tang of the Schnapps.  It's another one of those dangerous thirst-quenching drinks, especially if you've worked up a bit of a sweat (in my case, by bowling my worst game in eight years).  The Curacao gets lost a little in there, which is a bit of a shame, but it's just about detectable, and does enough to the look of the cocktail (which really shouldn't work, but absolutely does) that it definitely needs to be in there.

Friday, 25 March 2011

Friday Talisman: The Monk

I've spent the last few weeks diving back into everyone's favourite ridiculously over-long "Snakes and Ladders" analogue.  The result of this effort is my first painted playable character for the game: the monk.

Admittedly, this is a less than sexy first choice.  On the other hand, he was the first character I played as in this latest iteration of the game, so I have some nostalgic sympathy for him.  Beyond that, it was mainly an exercise in painting about nine different shades of brown.

Still, if nothing else, I'm sure Death appreciates the company.

"Fancy a game of chess, Death?"

Thursday, 24 March 2011

A Tale Of Cocktails #15

Fuzzy Shark

Oh, ha ha, leopards.  Very fucking funny.  I want my cocktail!  Give me back my cocktail!

That's better.  But lose the actual fuzzy shark, huh?  I don't want to spill my frothy green gunk on it.

Stop it!  No sharks, you understand me?  NO... SHARKS!!!

Right!  Fuck you all, then!  I'm going to sort this out myself.  Come here, you little-

Well, dammit.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

This Is Why, Why We're Fucked

I haven't written much on the American political situation for a little while now, mainly because it's all so thoroughly fucked.

I think the point where I started feeling they've reached the point of no return was when I read someone at Balloon Juice talking about helping the campaigns of Democrat-friendly judges to ensure Walker's anti-union bill is thrown out of the courts.  Wherever one stands on the idea of "activist" judges, the idea that courts can no longer be counted on to rule against their preferred political candidates is depressing beyond belief.  I have no idea if Democratic judges can be just as bad in the opposite direction, but it's pretty clear this current situation is a direct corollary from the Supreme Court thoroughly disgracing itself a) in 2000 with Bush vs. Gore, and b) by allowing Clarence Thomas to continue to enter the building.

Of course, if Governor Snyder of Michigan gets his way, there's no point even in campaigning any more.  All you need is to declare a state of emergency and: hey presto!  You can replace elected officials with anyone you want!

It's all pretty miserable.  But I'm not sure anything better demonstrates how thoroughly screwed America is right now than this quote from Republican Congressman Steve King:
"It's not the economy," he told the crowd, warning about gay marriage. "If we get the culture right, the economy will be right eventually..." 
On one level, that just sounds like standard Republican bullshit. On closer inspection, though, it strikes me as genuinely sinister.  Gays are what are standing between us and a good economy.  That's some pretty worrying (to say nothing of disgusting) scapegoating.  I'm reasonably sure that King is just trying to excuse his party's total lack of action on the unemployment front, but the fact they expect this tactic to work at all is scary enough in itself.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Tempus Fugitive

I have to say I disagree with Charlie Brooker here.  What's concerning about the Midsomer Murders casting policy isn't its Caucasian bent, but it's willingness to give the main role to David Cameron from 20 years in the future.

What hideous 2030's disaster has caused everyone's favourite moist-eyed poor-shafter to flee back to our time?  Did he irradiate Scotland?  Is he haunted by the gladitorial encounter that forced him to choke Nick Clegg to death with a copy of The Big Issue?  Or did he run in terror when George Osborne finally revealed his legion of undead Conservative Yourth members and brought eternal night to London?

Distant Screams

Reading The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen for this week's podcast has got me thinking.  What is it about "historical horror" that works so effectively?

Admittedly, I'm biased.  If there is a single event in my life that could be considered my initial exposure to well-crafted horror, it was reading the log of the Demeter's captain from Dracula, given to me to read from an English textbook at age seven.  I immediately adored it, and the experience of reading each increasingly desperate log entry has stayed with me for over two decades.

In short, then, I can't be entirely sure if Dracula grabbed me because of its approach, or it grabbed me because I was new to the genre, and therefore its approach was the first to take root in my subconscious.

Either way, though, there are certainly unique advantages to setting a horror story in the past.  Isolation is one.  My esteemed flatmate once referred to cellphones as "The bane of the modern thriller", and he's right.  It's pretty hard these days to find a thriller or horror film that doesn't find itself having to go out of its way to explain why a quick mobile phone call is out of the question.  Phones, the internet - Christ, even Twitter - are all means by which the modern world can effortless communicate.  Removing those is almost always necessary for good horror (indeed, in some cases, they are turned against us).

Historical horror goes one stage further.  Long-distance communication is no longer something taken for granted, and its absence not something to be hypothetically overcome by a recharged battery or a better signal.  To us lucky denizens of the 21st Century, a sleepy Victorian hamlet is already unsettling even before the weirdness slithers into town.  Everything begins in a state of lonely isolation.  Put another way, a modern horror story must do two things, in general: explain how a situation unlike the one we know has developed, and then play that out.  Clearly, there have been many such stories that have done that exceptionally well.  My point is simply that "It's 1898" is a useful and very effective shorthand.  It certainly does the trick in The League...'s second volume, which is very important to the overall success of the book, since Moore tends to be someone who creates a beautiful recreation of an atmosphere, rather than an atmosphere itself. [1]

The other advantage to historical horror is what we might call "Second Order Inevitability Syndrome" (SOIS).  When we watch or read a story, we know that everything that's going to happen is unchangeable, at least until the end of this installment.  The dialogue and plot have already been determined.  The idea, of course, is that the characters don't know that.  For some reason, though, stick in something which the characters themselves know has already been determined, and things get a lot creepier.  Again, the Demeter log-book is a prime example, and you can add such diverse examples as the garbled message from the eponymous Event Horizon, the runic inscription in the (admittedly Dracula-tinged) Doctor Who story "The Curse of Fenric" and Captain Keyes unfortunate run-in with the Flood in Halo

It's not clear to me why this works so well.  Indeed, it seems counter-intuitive that a further degree of removal from the action should actually increase tension.  Nonetheless, it cleary works, perhaps because (ironically) it offers the characters a view of their own future.

Obviously, this idea doesn't directly translate to historical horror, because the characters don't know that they're in what we consider the past.  Still, I think a similar effect might be taking place, a subconscious discomfort with the idea that this "has happened", rather than "is happening".  Certainly, it's interesting that (including Dracula) horror that is historical by virtue of when it was created doesn't have the same effect. Not Frankenstein, not The Golem, and often not Lovecraft's work (though he too was a dabbler in SOIS).  Of course, this may be external confounding; it may be that the phenomenon is taking place, but is overwhelmed by the difficulty archaic language can have in immersing the modern reader (though that's a problem that affects some readers, myself included, more than others).

Anyway, that's as far as this line of thinking has taken me.  If anyone has any other thoughts, you know where the comments section is.

[1] Another advantage here is that Moore's story can use the comparative primitiveness of Victorian technology as a way to increase the obvious technological superiority of the Martian war machines.  Again, it may seem counter-intuitive, but watching the Mars Tripods decimate cavalry regiments and artillery batteries is more effective than seeing them taking on the US military in either of the two film adaptations.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

A Tale Of Cocktails #14: St Patrick's Day Special

Baby Guinness 


1 1/2 oz Tia Maria
1/2 oz Baileys

Taste: 9
Look: 8
Cost: 7
Name: 4
Prep: 9
Alcohol: 5
Overall: 7.5

Preparation: Pour the Tia Maria into a shot glass.  Pour the Baileys in afterwards, very slowly.

General Comments: Well, it's a fuck-ton better than actual Guinness, that's for sure.  Actually, it's better than most things, Gaelic or otherwise.  Irish cream with a dash of coffee - what's not to love? If you don't like Gaelic coffee, then there is quite simply something wrong with you.  This is... just a more direct delivery system. Short of injecting drinks straight into my veins, of course, but hopefully we're still a little ways away from that.

Crappy name, though.  Like I needed to be faced with the idea that Guinness is capable of reproduction.

The Trial Of Mark Millar

Issue 12 of Panel Talk is now online.  If listening to Chris and I argue tooth and nail over whether Mark Millar is a mean old racist homophobe sounds like your thing, then this is the podcast for you.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Quz 11 Redux

Answers to the final quiz (for the foreseeable future) are up now.  In the meantime, those desperate for more question-based goodness might want to check out Gooder's Opening Images quiz over at the other blog.

What Was Lost, And What Has Been Regained

The problem with sequels, as I've talked about before, is the worst case scenario that accompanies them.  Sometimes, a sequel doesn't just suck mightily on its own terms, it manages to be so indescribably craptastic that it manages to drag the original down with it.

Needless to say, this is a depressingly common problem.  But every nightmare scenario brings with it, or at least suggests the possibility of, its opposite.  A sequel so good that not only does it entirely satisfy on its own terms, but it actually drags the preceding entry in the canon kicking and screaming into the light of awesome.

This time last year (more or less) I discussed the second season of Being Human, and how it hadn't really lived up to expectations, its impressive penultimate episode very much notwithstanding.  Its most obvious problem, I felt, was the implication that Mitchell had somehow "got away" with the massacre he and Daisy committed.  Not in a legal sense, true, but in terms of the show's structure; a kind of "Save a hero, paper over a massacre" kind of thing.

Simply put, I couldn't see how Mitchell could survive as a character. Well, that's not quite what I mean. I couldn't see how Mitchell could survive as a hero. As I said at the time, it's just too much to deal with (hence, I argued, Kemp's last minute switch from relatable antagonist to pervy villain; a transparent attempt to make Mitchell seem less despicable by comparison).

A word of warning: from this point on, spoilers abound...

Monday, 14 March 2011

Belated Salutations

In all the kerfuffle of moving and assembling comic strips (and dammit if Steven's art this time round isn't even more awesome than before) and dealing with a quite exceptional level of idiocy from my department, I somehow managed to miss the fact that this 'ere blog reached its third birthday at the weekend.

As always, I've had a massive amount of fun updating over the year, and thanks to you all for reading.

1.2 Communication Failure

1.3                                                     1.1

Next Up: Sesame Streetcar Named Desire

I'm busy at the moment putting together the second strip for Guilds of Goleg, but in the meantime, here's some alternative comic action sent to me by Gin-Soaked Boy: The Muppets' Wicker Man.  It''s truly brilliant, even if I suspect I could have gone the rest of my life without seeing Miss Piggy's naughty pillows.

Of course, this all raises the critical question of which Muppet would play Malus in the Nicholas Cage remake.  My money's on this gentleman.

Uncanny, no?

Friday, 11 March 2011

Friday 40K: Giant Death Worm Is Go!

At long last, a little under two months since it was so kindly presented to me by edenspresence, Chuck, and Josh Sapiens, I've finally finished painting my trygon prime.   As you'll be able to see from the pictures below, the invasion of Hive Fleet Tengu has now reached the stage where the very crust of SkwydRuum X has begun to fracture, causing random eruptions of molten lava, superheated steam, and, er, giant guitar amplifier boxes.  Man, those Tyranids sure know how to screw up a biosphere.

I've also included a termagant for size comparison, and because it makes it look like the trygon is taking his pet for a walk.  Y'know, while the planet still exists.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

(Scott) Walking Off A Cliff

I don't know if anyone else has been following the situation in Wisconsin over the last few weeks, but it's becoming increasingly interesting/depressing/potentially explosive.  For those not up to date, let's summarise:

GOP Senate Candidates: Vote for us, and we'll protect collective bargaining rights for public worker unions.

Unions: Here are some votes!

Governer Walker: We need to save money.  Public workers; take a pay-cut!

Unions: Umm... OK...

Walker: We must save more money!  I shall now end collective bargaining rights!

Unions:  Hey!  I thought those were off the table!

GOP Senators: Hey, we're elected now.  We're just gonna do what we're told.

Unions: How does taking away collective bargaining save money?

Walker: It just does!  Invisible hand, motherfuckers!  All I have to do now is pass this bill through the Senate, and... GODDAMN IT WHERE IS THE SENATE!?!

Democrat Senators: Thanks for the paychecks, beetchez!  We're all in Illinois now.  Good luck getting together a quorum!

Walker: But I need a quorum.  I need it nooooooooooow! The legislature can't vote on anything that will materially affect the budget without one!

Democrat Senators: You should have thought of that before you guys all became pooheads who smell of poo.  Beetchez.

Walker: I'll be mean about you in the media.

Democrat Senators: You're already mean about us in the media.

Walker: I'll start laying off workers.

Democrat Senators: Yeah, right.  Tell that to the mob outside.

Walker: Oh, crap.

Massive Public Protest: Walker out!  Walker out!  We're not leaving the state house until this crappy bill is put out of our misery!

Walker: Hah!  I shall have the police throw you out!

Police: Actually, we're on their side.

Walker:... Oh, crap.  Bolt the windows!  With actual bolts!

Prank Caller: Hi, Scott Walker?  I'm totally one of your evil capitalist overlords, and I want to know if you've planted agitators in the crowd to ensure everything goes tits up.  I'm not recording this conversation, if that's what you're thinking.

Walker: We thought about it, but we couldn't work out how to do it.  But don't worry, I promise all the unions are gonna get what's coming to them.  Filthy hippy layabouts!

Prank Caller: Psyche! I was recording this conversation.  Let's see what happens now!

Massive Public Protest: Boo!  Let's start the petitions we need to recall the governor.  And his little senate friends, too!

Walker:  Eek!  This is going pretty badly wrong.  Time for drastic measures!

Democratic Senators: Heh!  Whatcha gonna do, dawg?  I don't see any spare quorums sitting around here.  Except ours, obviously, which is just sitting in a hotel and getting loaded by our indoor pool.

Walker: You're paid to do a job, you douches!  You've abandoned the fundamental principles of democracy!

70% of Wisconsin: Don't end collective bargaining!

Walker: Shut up, you ungrateful proles!  This is for your own good!  Ayn Rand told me so!  And it will materially affect the budget, like you wanted!

70% WS: How?

WALKER: SHUT UP!!!  You guys, we can totally still vote on this thing.

GOP Senators: How?  We need our Democratic colleagues to hold a quorum.

Walker: Then we'll just take out the bits of the bill that materially affect the budget.  We can vote on the rest of it right now.

GOP Senators: So all that's left is the stuff that won't materially affect the budget?

Walker: That's right.

GOP Senators: And what would that be?

Walker:... Ending collective bargaining!

I hope that's cleared everything up for you.  To summarise, if 52% of the people elect you to clear up the budget, you can ignore the 70% of the people who don't like the way you're doing it, you can rely on the help of those who specifically said this was one thing they'd never do, and you can do it despite the fact that the only way you can enact the laws you claim will increase revenue is to strip out all the bits that have any chance of increasing revenue.

Plus, and Caller ID is for pussies.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Second Order Expanding

Yay! A brand new, large-scale expansion for Arkham Horror is on the way!

I have to say, the approach being applied here is... interesting.  A few brief comments based on a quick look at what's on offer:
  • There's no new board section this time.  Whilst this doesn't really go down well with the part of my brain that's obsessively devoted for new haunted playgrounds to play in (or die screaming in), this is probably a wise move.  I have said before - and still maintain - that an Antarctic board section based around At The Mountains of Madness could work, assuming the travel issue was properly handled (a few transition locations similar to how one gets to Kingsport Head might work, for example, based around a ship voyage with plenty of opportunities for scary nautical encounters and attacks by aquatic monsters), but I may be in a minority there;
  • The idea of expanding the current expansions is an interesting one, but in terms of actually adding to the enjoyment of playing the game, it could go either way.  On the one hand, once (like me) you have all seven expansions, the chance of any one of them significantly contributing to the game is quite small.  Act cards don't show up often enough to be much of an issue. Monsters are rare enough in Dunwich that its eponymous horror unlikely to show its tentacly non-face.  I think this has occurred to the game designers, both Innsmouth and (arguably to the detriment of the game) Kingsport remain relevant, because both respond to general events as well as those within their respective borders.  Extra cards could deal with this problem if handled rightly.  On the other hand, part of what makes the uber-game work is precisely because of this balancing act.  Each time round the most urgent threats are different, but you don't generally have to keep every plate spinning at the same time.  Upsetting that stability could mean every game with full expansions could end very, very bloodily;
  •  This might be unfair, but it feels a little as though this is an admission that the game has been taken about as far it can go. Of course, if there really is nothing more that can feasibly be added, then that's fine (though I will miss the odd thrill of seeing the latest pack of extra-dimensional slime-encrusted bastards who are all geared up to ruin Earth's shit).  And, of course, if this expansion takes steps to tweak some of the less enjoyable parts of the game (like having to give one poor soul the job of exploring Kingsport for almost no reward), then that's all to the good.  Still, it feels a bit... uninspiring, doesn't it?  Every previous expansion has added to the basic game decks, and then given the game a new flavour and twist.  This is more akin to asking if you want the same meal again, only with a bigger portion.
  • Having said all that, I do like the idea of the institutions, especially since (with the possible exception of Hypnos), there is simply no way that the use of Guardians compensates for the damage done by the inclusion of Heralds.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Dimensional Theory

I sometimes feel sorry for Daniel Larison, watching him try to make what sense he can from the word soup of idiotic political commentators.  This comment from Conrad Black:
NATO (the U.S. Sixth Fleet in practice) can’t take out Libyan air defenses at no or minimal cost, we should all start studying Arabic and spending an hour a day with our foreheads pressed to the floor.
prompts this response:
[I]n what universe does that sentence make any sense?
That would be the universe where the only two types of military are those the massively superior American forces can crush without any difficulty, and those that are so powerful they can invade the mainland US.  A world in which everything is either a bug to be squashed or a terrifying monster to fling one's own be-shatted pants at in hysterical desperation.

In short, it's a world in which hawkish political commentators reveal themselves to be simultaneously dangerously bloodthirsty and pitifully craven.

Oh, wait.  I guess that's our world.  Forget I said anything.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Obvious In Hindsight

John Seavey does a good job of briefly breaking down the Republican field for the 2012 presidential elections.  I thought it worth pointing out mainly because he sees something I'd missed, and I'm not sure how I did:
[Palin's] going to make a token run, because she’s an utter fame-whore and she only has two ways to get on the media’s radar now that she’s no longer an actual politician, and criticizing Obama for everything he says or does is starting to get stale. Running for President extends the timer on her fifteen minutes of fame, but she doesn’t have the organizational skills, establishment connections, or real desire for a sustained run. Expect her to drop out the first time she loses a primary, citing negative remarks about her and a need to protect her children from the harshness of a political campaign.
I've been saying for a long time now that there's no chance Palin will run, despite increasing evidence to the contrary, because it's so thoroughly clear that it's a job she absolutely doesn't want.  The fact she has no interest in responsibility hardly distinguishes amongst big-name Republicans, but more unusually she shows no interest in power either, except insofar as it gets her access to what she does want, which is fame and attention.

As Seavey notes, though, while that continues to mean that there is no chance of her trying to become president, that doesn't prevent her from running for president (though her massively inflated opinion of herself might mean she'd be unable to distinguish the two: if she ran, how could she not win?).  Once you realise the difference, a presidential run becomes much more likely, and perhaps even inevitable.
All of which means that the only point on which Seavey could be mistaken is the assumption she'll bow out when she loses her first primary. It's by no means unlikely, but I think it would be safer to predict that she'll bow out at the exact moment that people start to lose interest in her campaign, and/or the questions she fields from the media stop being variations on "Do you really think you can win?" and start being variations on "Just how fucked are you right now?"

Friday, 4 March 2011

Friday 40K: The Swarm

I've now reached the point where I can field an entire squad of Vespid Stingwings (though I wouldn't give much for the squad's life expectancy just yet), so it seemed like an opportune time to return to the barren plains of SkwydRuum X.

I'm also making some progress with my Trygon Prime, AKA "Giant Death Worm."

Man, those wasps are gonna be screwed once I paint that thing a head...

The Reptile Ceilidh

Well, there you go.

Sixty Second Film Review Corner: True Grit

This is the second Cohen Coen Brothers (edit: this is what happens when I'm too tired to check spellings) remake I've seen without actually watching the original (though since this is based on a novel, considering the John Wayne version as "the original" isn't really the best idea), and once again absent comparison, everything seems to work very well indeed.  Matt Damon is on his best form, Geoff Jeff Bridges is all slurry, cantankerous charm, and Hailee Steinfeld is truly remarkable.  Highly recommended.

Glad I didn't see it with The Other Half, though.  She's increasingly sick of films that don't warn the viewer of an imminent snake-blizzard.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Quz 11

Right. That’s that then. My final quiz has been delivered, and is replicated below for your entertainment. Given what happened last time, I shall wait a full fortnight before handing out the answers (YOU’RE WELCOME).

This time round the winners scored 32, with three other teams scoring 31, 30 and 30. Be warned: the last round is a pisser. I've also included the bonus round, in which no team scored higher than 4.

(Particularly observant readers will note a common theme here: me. I figured I may as well go out with a grotesquely self-absorbed bang).

Round 1: Words (Each word contains the letters “RIC”)

1. A fruit with a scientific name which means “Armenian plum”, and which is believed to have been introduced to Greece by Alexander the Great. Apricot

2. A set of instructions, such as those found on an exam paper, which are often in a different colour to the rest of the text. Rubric

3. A member of the ginger family, which when boiled and dried can be crushed into an orange-yellow powder which is used as a spice and a colouring, and was once used as a cheap alternative to saffron. Tumeric

4. To be expressing thoughts or feelings in a particularly beautiful way, perhaps most obviously in the context of songs. Lyrical

5. A description given to the method of imparting information in a non-literal way, so that characters, events or objects can be used to represent particular qualities or ideas. Allegorical (or metaphorical)

Round 2: Mathematicians

1. In which country did mathematicians first use “zero” as a number, and not merely a symbol for separation? India

2. Which third century BC mathematician and inventor was killed by a Roman Centurion during the Siege of Syracuse, with his last words according to legend being “Do not disturb my circles!” Archimedes

3. The Chinese mathematician and astrologer Zu Chongzhi created an approximation for the value of pi, which he found by dividing twenty-two by what other whole number? Seven

4. What was the cause of death of the mathematician and staunch Republican Evariste Galois, who died at twenty in circumstances some believed to have been arranged by the French Secret Police? Shot in a duel

5. Which mathematician co-authored the papers “Random Walks with Restraining Barrier as Applied to the Biased Binary Counter” and “The Distribution of the Number of Locally Maximal Elements in a Random Sample”, before going on to write such songs as “The Elements”, “Poisoning Pigeons in the Park” and “The Masochism Tango”? Tom Lehrer

Round 3: Leaving

1. Which band released “Leaving New York” in 2004, the first single from their thirteenth album Around the Sun? R.E.M.

2. Which Shakespeare character notes that “Parting is such sweet sorrow?” Juliet Capulet

3. The poem “The God Abandons Antony”, by Constantine P. Cavafy, recounts the tale of how Marc Antony was abandoned by Bacchus, who left with a parade of people from which city, being held at the time by Antony against a siege by Octavian? Alexandria

4. According to legend, Winston Churchill once claimed that the best way to make a martini was to pour gin into a glass and simply look a bottle of what other beverage, thus leaving it out of the cocktail entirely? Vermouth

5. Which country did the British Empire not leave until 1936, despite having installed Sultan Hussein Kamel there in 1914? Egypt

Round 4: Ends of Eras

1. Which geological era was brought to an end by the meteorite impact at Chixulub about 65 million years ago? Mesozoic (though I accepted Cretaceous, because Gin-Soaked Boy asked me to, and he wrote this round)

2. A major factor in the end of the Communist era in Russia, what policy and movement meant, in English, 'restructuring'? Perestroika

3. In which year did the Shearer era end, when Alan Shearer retired from playing professional football? 2006

4. The end of the She-Ra Ee-Ra occurred in 1987 when the cartoon was cancelled, but of whom was She-Ra the twin sister? He-Man/Prince Adam

5. Due to an administrative error; we now have a question on the ends of ears: what 'c' is the innermost organ of the human ear? Cochlea

Round 5: Egomania

1. The proud and handsome Narcissus was made to fall in love with his own reflection by the Gods as a punishment for his mistreatment of which nymph? Echo

2. Sapamurat Niyazov spent 21 years as first President and then President for Life of which country, during which time he had a giant golden statue of himself made, which rotated to follow the Sun? Turkmenistan

3. By what method does the narcissist and hedonist Dorian Gray take his own life? (Be specific) Stabbed his portrait in the heart

4. Which Beatle announced to the world that the group was “More popular than Jesus” in 1966? John Lennon

5. Which US President and former Five Star General, who among other accomplishments concluded negotiations with China to end the Korean War, said “Any man who wants to be President is either an egomaniac or crazy”? Dwight D Eisenhower

Round 6: Warwick

1. On which river is Warwick located? Avon

2. The Lady Ethelfleda, sister to Edward the Elder and daughter to Alfred, is believed to have founded Warwick as a fortification to drive out the Vikings from which Anglo-Saxon kingdom to which she belonged? Mercia

3. Which famous resident of Warwick (but born in nearby Coventry) was offered the position of Poet Laureate upon the death of John Betjeman, though he turned the role down? Philip Larkin

4. White Koan is a modern arts sculpture outside the Warwick Arts Centre which is intended to represent the quest for “koans”, or questions without answers; an idea which is important in which religion? Buddhism

5. What title does Warwick University graduate Gus O’Donnell hold in the Civil Service? Cabinet Secretary

General Knowledge

1. (Watership Down) What property is shared by all of the rabbits who are to be stolen from the totalitarian warren Efrafa? They're all female

2. From which English county does Stinking Bishop cheese originate? Gloustershire

3. What kind of creature is Nils Olaf, a resident of Edinburgh Zoo who holds both a knighthood and an honorary commission in the Norwegian King’s Guard? A penguin

4. What is the sum in degrees of the internal angles of a regular hexagon? 720

5. Who directed The King’s Speech, which won four Oscars on Sunday? Tom Hooper

6. What is the closest member of the Local Group? The Milky Way (yes, yes, I know...)

7. The name “Molotov cocktail” was coined by the Soviet Union’s enemies during the Winter War to mock Soviet Prime Minister Vyacheslav Mikhailovich Molotov. Who were the Soviets fighting? The Fins

8. The financial sector often refer to companies or economic sectors that rise early after downturns as being what kind of flower, referencing its ability to thrive in late winter and early spring? Crocuses

9. The trans-Neptunian dwarf planet FY9 was originally codenamed “Easter Bunny” after discovery, but was officially named Makemake in 2008 following the convention of naming such objects after creation deities. From what place does the myth of Makemake originate? Easter Island

10. How many hearts does a squid have? 3

Bonus Round: Cider (Five words for cider; I want the language)

1. Cidre (French)

2. Apfelwein (German)

3. Saidaa (Japanese)

4. Sidro (Italian)

5. Seidr (Welsh)

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Legalisms And Smugness

This is probably the best website I've stumbled upon in quite some time (h/t to Mother Jones).  It reminds me a little of my own amateurish attempts to decide if killing a Cylon legally constitutes murder, but obviously it's much more compelling when approached by people who know exactly what they're doing.  If I get time later I might take a closer look at some of their conclusions with regard to the X-Men, to see whether I agree (from a fanboy perspective, I mean).

While we're on the subject of comics, I figured I'd mention that Chris B and I received an email from Mike Carey earlier in the week, saying how much he enjoyed listening to Panel Talk #11.  Obviously, the fact that my favourite comic book writer enjoyed listening to us discussing something he wrote has me speechless with geeky joy.  Hopefully we'll be adding a tag-line to our subsequent issues reading "Panel Talk:  Not Actively Disliked By A Guy We Thought We Might Have Pissed Off".