Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Statistics Is Alarming And Depressing

So apparently this May was the 351st month in a row to have a global temperate higher than the 20th century mean temperature for the equivalent month. I figured it was worth doing a little noodling here.  Let's assume global warming isn't real, and test how likely we would be to see these results if that were true.

First, let's assume that each month has an equal chance of being above the average temperature and of being below the average temperature.  That's actually a pretty reasonable assumption, by definition. But we'll also include the much less likely assumption that each month's temperature is independent of the temperatures of the months before and after it.  Obviously this is problematic - a hot June implies a hot July - but we'll run with that for now.

Under these assumptions, the chance of 351 above average months in a row is equal to 0.5 to the power 351, or, expressed as a percentage, a probability of:


Winning the National Lottery seven weeks in a row is more likely.

But what about that terrible independence assumption? Well, we can compensate. Let's assume that if the month before was above average temperature-wise, there's a 95% chance this month will be above average too.  That's a number plucked entirely out of thin air, but it's deliberately high. Obviously I'm not a climatologist or a meteorologist, but from personal experience I'd be surprised if that were still too low - comments naturally welcomed.

So what do we do now? Well, since we know every month was above average, there was a 50% chance of month 1 being above average, and a 95% chance every other month was. That gives us a probability equal to 0.5 multiplied by 0.95 to the power 350, which is 0.00000080%.

The true chance almost certainly lies between those two extremes, but at the very best, the chance of seeing what we've seen without global warming being real is smaller than the chance of phoning three people at random and finding out they all share your birthday.

Your move, George Will.

(And since I've invoked the name of the bow-tied charlatan and rape apologist, I should really share this piece by Amanda Marcotte, which really got me chuckling.  Remember kids, if you write a column in which you worry aloud that men who "only" grope a girl and don't rape her might be getting too bad a rap, it's really unbecoming and evidence of simple-mindedness if you get upset about it.)

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Hearts And Minds

Stannis Baratheon. On Dragonstone, they call him king. At the Iron Bank, they call him a risky investment. Jon Snow probably just thinks of him as "the cavalry". And Cersei Lannister/Baratheon, Queen/ex-Queen Regent, refers to him only as "my arsehole former brother-in-law". Presumably.

For me, though, there's no title that better describes his story this year than the Incredible Disappearing King.

(TV spoilers follow. Book spoilers have been set aflame by some punk kid who'd clearly have an ASBO shoved up both nostrils if she lived in Broken Britain).

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Deep Thoughts: Wet And Wild Edition


So, in the world of The Little Mermaid, and of Finding Nemo, all the fish are sentient and can talk and demonstrate an awful lot of human-like behaviour, right? So does that mean they write stories? And when they do write stories, do they sometimes write, mainly for the juvenile fish, tales of things that don't really think and talk like fish thinking and talking like fish?  What are those things? Kelp? Phytoplankton?

And then, in the fictional worlds these fictional fish create, do their meta-fictional subjects have their own literature, with their own metaphors? Could Sebastian the crab write a story in which talking seaweed writes a story about a talking, er, chemosynthetic vent?

If it's turtles all the way down, what does each turtle think it is? And what do they think the thing they think it is thinks it is?

Actually, I may have to go and lie down...

Monday, 16 June 2014

In Which A Vicious Genius Rewrites The Past In Order To Be Mean To Chinese People And Women

This month's Doctor Who best companion was judged to be Leela, which then led to her "best story" being chosen as "Talons of Weng Chiang".  This, it turns out, was a disastrous move, basically explained by a very small voting pool and the fact that I'd only seen this and "Robots of Death", and clearly hadn't remembered the more complicated issues for Leela here. As a result, I've spent the last two weeks trying to put together a defence of Leela's character in this story. In the process I've created something that lacks the bite of, say, Phil Sandifer's comments on the story. I hope that nothing I say actively reaches the point of clueless mansplaining, but I guess we'll just have to see.

(I've also, after seeing friend of the blog hammard employ the idea, chosen titles for each of the episodes to keep things interesting).

Sunday, 15 June 2014


Well, that was all very shouty and stabby, wasn't it? It wasn't hard to understand why the showrunners decided they wanted Neil Marshall back after his work on "Blackwater" twenty episodes earlier, and he certainly put a lot into "The Watchers on the Wall", too.

And yet plenty of people aren't actually all that happy with the results. Thoughts on the hows and whys of this follow after the fold. As always, TV spoilers abound, but book spoilers have been banished behind a 700 foot wall of ice, and we don't expect any trouble from them.

Friday, 13 June 2014

Friday 40K: This Green And Pleasant Land

Hoorah! Twenty-five past eleven.  This still counts!

This time round, it's all about the scenery.  Specifically, a Realm of Battle gameboard and a Manufactorum.  With a few models scattered around for colour, of course (including my latest Red Corsairs cultist).  I'm clearly pushed for time here, so I'll stop typing.  Here you go!

"We'd Need To Model Them Crying And Having Periods, Or Whatever"

Not having played any Assassin's Creed games this recent inferno of irk over a total lack of playable female characters is something I'm experiencing second hand, but that doesn't mean I'm not astonished Ubisoft didn't see this coming.  It's been, what, a few months since the last time a game got dumped on for only providing male characters for a dungeon-sweeping title?

That time round the excuse was that a woman in a dungeon would be fundamentally ridiculous (a dragon in a dungeon being simple historical fact, of course). This time it's because it would be too hard to animate a female character.

Even if we leave aside the fact that this point is only true if you make assumptions which dig Ubisoft even deeper into a pet of thoughtless sexism - a woman can only be significantly more difficult to animate than a man if your idea of a woman necessarily includes long flowing hair and/or a large chest - the sheer stupidity of believing the excuse would wash is staggering, and revealing all on its own.  The only way arguments of such coma-inducing ineptitude ever get released beyond the ids of orangutans is when no-one the argument is being deployed against has been allowed within a hundred yards of the discussion.  It is as obvious a demonstration of the need for inclusion as anything you're likely to see outside of a George Will column.  Or this:

People, please, I'm begging you. If you're facing down a storm of controversy over gender issues, talk to actual women before you draft your response.  Hell, you could even talk to women before you finish designing your game, and head this crap off at the pass. But baby steps, I guess.  Not like this is twenty fucking fourteen, or anything.

Update: A friend of mine who makes a living creating video games had chimed in to explain that, whilst "aminating wimminz is hard" is a shitty reason to not include female characters, it isn't quite as ridiculous as I was thinking.  To quote the man:
Ubisoft's claim is almost certainly a valid one. To properly do a female character justice does require a substantial amount more in terms of animation resources. It depends on the game engine, but at the very least I'd imagine you'd be looking at 50% more individual animations. Running male anims on a female character can work but often produces very odd-looking results due to the differing body proportions. Sharing the animations can work (I'm pretty sure Mass Effect does a lot of that) but to get things looking 'right' probably does require new animations. Ultimately it's a cost issue: adding female characters doesn't actually add much in terms of gameplay but it can double the animation requirements. Now, personally, I think that's a cost worth paying and I find it hard to believe Ubisoft can't afford it, but as a reason for not implementing them, it is valid.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Grand Unified Theory

Via Kevin Drum, Charlie Stross has a characteristically thoughtful and entertaining post up here, on the subject of the upcoming independence referendum in Scotland.

It does not make for particularly encouraging reading from my perspective, which I think is worth at least touching on, because I've not seen enough English progressives commenting on the topic of Scottish independence.

Obviously, this dearth is unsurprising, because part of what makes people progressive (if they're doing it right, at least) is a desire to not tell people from groups they don't belong to what they should do or what would be best for them.  And I'm not going to violate that principle here. I fully understand it wouldn't be my place to advise the Scottish on which option would be best for them, even if I understood the intricacies of the situation better than I do (FWIW, though, I tend to find Jane Carnall fairly persuasive).

Here's the thing, though: I don't believe it violates the rule of not butting into internal deliberations to note that Scottish independence would be disastrous for the rest of the UK. It would immediately shift the median voter in my country to the right at a time when we're already seeing (as Stross points out) an exceptionally disturbing tack to the right from almost all parties. The resulting surge of laissez-faire economics and retrograde social policy would be a savage blow to the country's poor and disabled people, who quite frankly have been having a quite shitty enough time already since 2010, thank you very much.

This is not in any way an original point, but it is perhaps an under-discussed one. As a left-leaning middle-class white guy whose well-paying job isn't likely to go away no matter who's in power, I have no compelling reason to not say "this is none of my business". There are plenty of other people whose lives will plausibly become materially less well-off were the split to happen, and while that isn't actually the Scotland population's fault or responsibility, it might still be worthwhile to point it out now and again.

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Blood And Water

This was the best image I could find of the Boltons
from Episode 8. What could it be about them that makes
people so unwilling to honour them with screen-caps?
Westeros, it turns out, is just like every other place in fiction.  It's all about the daddy issues.

(TV spoilers below, all book spoilers have had their heads crushed like grapefruit)

Three Men And No Lady

OK, so a male-only cast is automatically terrible and wrong. But let's work from the principle that the wrongness is directly proportional to the size of the cast. Maybe a grant total of three cast members makes the complete domination of the Y chromosome at least bearable. Beyond the retrograde approach to casting, how does the recently-recast Perfect Nonsense hold up?

Well, it rather depends on how you like your Wooster served. At the risk of over-simplifying, potential punters can be roughly divided into three groups; those enthralled by Wodehouse's prose, those who fell in love with the Fry/Laurie adaptations of the early '90s, and those coming entirely fresh to the world of the Woosters, intrigued either by this show winning an Olivier, or the opportunity to watch Robert Webb and Mark Heap gurn at each other on-stage.

Before we go any further, a confession: I've never actually read a Wodehouse novel from cover to cover.  I'm really more of a Wikiquotes kind of a guy.  You may wish to season this analysis to a degree of saltiness generally associated with a drunken sailor who awakes to find his trousers stolen. But what I do know is that Wodehouse's descriptive pose easily matches and even surpasses his dialogue, and this degree of sharpness cannot help but be lost in translation to a dramatic production.

The ITV adaptation attempted to make up for this problem through utterly inspired casting, throwing the longest of shadows over anyone attempting to reinterpret the parts. If strength of performance is the hill the production is standing on, then, they've set themselves an exceptionally difficult job to do, and really they don't particularly come all that close.  Heap's Jeeves seems rather too underwritten to provide much of anything, and Webb's Wooster, at least initially, is entirely too close to the Laurie model for the comfort of anyone but the most litigious of copyright lawyers.

As the show develops, however, and as Marks Heap and Hadfield take on an increasing array of roles (Webb stays constant as Wooster, the Harry Seacombe of the production, which I in no way mean as a criticism) and achieve evermore impressive acts of stage-dressing in accordance with "Wooster's" whims, the truth is revealed. This isn't an attempt to re-present the original story on its own terms. Nobody really needs that at this point, after all - how many times has the story of the cow-creamer and the apoplectic Spode been replayed on cable by this point? This is an exercise in seeing how close to the original material you can get with three men playing nine parts and having to move their own scenery around (the conceit behind this being that Wooster himself is putting on the play and forced Jeeves to sort out of the technical details.)

This in the end is what Perfect Nonsense is about. Not to tell a story, but to deconstruct it.  With the characters and plot so familiar and the prose being necessarily mostly absent, there's almost no way to have played it straight and not been horribly redundant.  Instead, the focus is on the ingenuity of the staging and cross-dressing, with the goal being to impress through how close to a complete job is achieved through intentionally limited resources.  It's a puzzle to be solved in front of the audience, with Code of the Woosters just the underlying structure; chosen so its very familiarity frees the production from such minor concerns as putting effort into a compelling plot.

And at this job, the show succeeds admirably.  The restrictions on the three-man format might force the denouement to be badly short-changed (the usual last-minute reveal of Jeeves masterful plotting is replaced here by him suggesting an incriminating suitcase be thrown from a window, and suddenly all is well), but Webb compensates by increasing his character's mania and physicality until the building crisis passed, which serves the triple function of papering over the finale's lack of punch, distinguishing him ever more from Laurie's more restrained Wooster, and preventing him from fading into the background in comparison to Heap and Hadfield's multi-costume antics (with the seven-foot Spode a particular highlight).

To summarise, then; don't go to Perfect Nonsense in the hopes of seeing Wodehouse's magic summoned onstage. See it instead to watch three actors who know full well such a task is all but impossible, and instead demonstrate how the task can be attempted rather more interestingly than you might have thought possible.

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Hustle 2: The Wrath Of Khan, Kimani, Chen, Cabrera...

One of my guilty pleasures in younger days were the early series of Hustle. It can be interesting seeing how stories deal with trying to make heroic or hero-adjacent characters from unrepentant criminals. In this particular case, it was just to make their marks a collection of the most unbearable inflated pricks that ever acquired obscene wealth. Sure, our guys were criminals, but nobody got themselves ripped off who didn't deserve far worse.

Except that only worked up to a point. The long con each week might have been targeted at gibbering turdwhiskers, but there was no shortage of low-level theft perpetrated against decent law-abiding folk so Mickey could fund his next heist, which rather ruined the cheeky-chappy avenging angel vibe of the whole thing.

So let's have another show in a similar vein, but without the ripping off of everyday folk on the way to targetting colossal gits.  Also, let's take out the idea that the targets have to be utterly horrible human beings.  The only criteria for a fleecing should be that they're disgustingly wealthy, and doing little to nothing to help anyone with it.  Let's dispense with the thinking that says curling up on your disgraceful wealth like a tax-dodging dragon isn't despicable behaviour all on its own. Stealing from those people would be a great idea, socially speaking.  You get the money back into circulation, meaning more revenues for the government and a stimulus effect on your local area.  The increased paranoia of Scrooge McDuck or whoever will mean hiring more security and so forth, which will bite into unemployment.  And of course if you chuck a healthy percentage of your scores at assorted charities, who know how many orphans and puppies you could help?

Obviously social justice is the bedrock here, so let's see some variation in the cast here.  None of Hustle's "you can have one non-white guy and one white non-guy" here, thanks very much.  I don't want to see a single white cishet man on the team, unless it's his job to make the tea.

All of which leaves us with only two problems.  First, we need a catchy name.  Fun though it is to say, "White Arseholes Get What's Coming To Them: The Series" lacks a certain punch.  But the second problem is much bigger. An assembled team of women, people of colour, trans* people and LGBT people?  Who the hell could we possibly trust to actually write that?

Monday, 2 June 2014

A Tale Of Cocktails #49

Sex in the Water


1 1/2 oz blue curacao
3/4 oz vodka
3/4 oz peach Schnapps
8 oz lemonade

Taste: 7
Look: 6  
Cost: 9
Name: 6
Prep: 8
Alcohol: 2
Overall: 6.7

Preparation: Pour ingredients into collins glass one after another, then add ice, and a lemon slice to garnish.

General Comments:You don't call it "Sex in the Water", obviously. It's "SEEEEEX! IN THE WAAAR-DUH!" in one's best Ian Gillan bellow, a fact which makes this cocktail's name fully two points better than that of its cousin, the unbearably named "Sex on the Beach".

Alas, the brief amusement had by bellowing this drink's name is probably the most fun you'll be having with it.  It's not that it's bad, by any means.  It's sweet and bubbly, and everything works perfectly fine together (though if you're not careful it's easy to overdo the lemonade and drown the other flavours), but it lacks the bite of say, the cranberry juice in a Woo Woo. There's an obvious void here which is just a little bit frustrating.