Wednesday, 31 January 2007

The Them Crowd

Okay, I've now spent three days getting through all the features on The IT Crowd DVD because this is a brilliant DVD! (The series itself is really funny, but what is on this DVD...)

It starts with the animated menus. Now, I'm not for menus distracting me, but this is very "cheap graphics" style (by the same people who did the opening titles). The sequence on the Extras reminds me of Manic Miner, and the sequence on the Episode Selection evokes Head Over Heels. Great stuff!

But then there are the extras! Not one but two commentaries (always, for me, the most essential feature for a DVD to have), the first with Graham Lineham (the writer) and the other with Graham and cast members Chris O'Dowd and Katherine Parkinson.

There are deleted scenes and outtakes. And a film by Graham Lineham also about computers...

But I have to mention the subtitles. Allow me to quote from episode one:
Roy: Wosup luser??? P0w3r cycl3 17. WTF! H1v3 j00 g0tz L3DS? D0n'7 70uch th4t d14l!
That's right! 1337! Other episodes are in other styles, and I score geek points for recognising them (and even being able to read some of the ROT13 subtitles!).

One down side is the menu for Setup, which is rather hard to see which option you're on.

One fantastic DVD to appeal to the ITer insider all of us.

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Tuesday, 30 January 2007

What do YOU want?

As you know, I'm part of Conspiracy 2. Moreover, I'm organising the events. But, we got a lot of schedule and not enough events to fill them. So, what do YOU want to see as an event at Conspiracy 2?

Or, what events can we run in the months prior to help promote Conspiracy 2? (Note: these events will have to be in Wellington, although we take suggestions from anywhere.)

Any ideas out there?

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Monday, 29 January 2007

Re... cy... cling?

Thanks to Penn and Tellar, everyone knows that recycling is BS for the most part. (Aluminium is worth it, and maybe some other metals.) When you get down to it, it is basically not energy efficient to recycle. (I will add: yet. There may come a day when we can efficiently recycle products, but not at the moment.)

But this doesn't stop anyone. In many ways, we recycle to feel good that we are doing our bit to save the environment, no matter what the real truths are.

Thus when I came into work today, I found on my desk a photocopier box lid, a little wee black box and a piece of paper informing me of my new recycling duties. Paper goes in the lid to be recycled there, the rest goes in the tiny tiny tiny black box... and it is then up to me to then place that rubbish in the right place in our gathering area with the larger bins...

This is really just a ploy to fire our cleaning staff, me thinks. You can't spell "environmental" without spelling "menial" (...and shuffling letters around...).

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Sunday, 28 January 2007

Opening screens

(No, not opening credits, but they can be annoying too...)

So you decide to watch a DVD. You pop the disc into your player, and hit close. The DVD boots up... and there's the company logo... and there's the copyright notice... and the legal disclaimer... and the note about commentaries... and the GET THE $&*# ON WITH IT!!!

By this point, you'll be hitting all the buttons on the remote, trying to skip all this rubbish, but that's not allowed! (Although there are discs that aren't as strict as some.)

And then there's the anti-piracy segments. Hey, don't yell at us, we brought the damned DVD already, so don't inflict this on us! If you're lucky you can fast-forward, but that's about it.

Frankly, I could go watch another DVD during the time it takes that first one to boot up!

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Saturday, 27 January 2007

I'm smarter than you, and you're smarter than me

So, ever had the occasion when you've just imparted some piece of esoteric knowledge and had someone reply "Wow, you're smart"? I don't know about you, but that really irks me.

All this is really meaning is that "there is some aspect of life about which I have more knowledge than you". But you know what? There are tons of other stuff about which I have less knowledge than you!

Ever gone up to a chef after they created some amazing piece of gastronomic delight and said "Wow, you're smart!" Me neither. We tend to only apply "smartness" in particular ways.

People seem to want to rank either other on a linear intelligence scale, as if there is only one universal way to be intelligent(*). MENSA is supposedly a society of intelligent uber-beings, but lets stick them on an island with no tools, water or food and see if their intelligence enables them to survive better than a native from a nearby island who's lived all their life that way.

My point to all this is: smartness is contextual, so don't get so big about ourselves.

(*)And this is a good opportunity for me to link to one of my favourite books by Stephen J. Gould: The Mismeasure of Man.

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Friday, 26 January 2007

Spiderman Heresy^2

New idea:

Uncle Ben faked his own death!

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Thursday, 25 January 2007

Spiderman Heresy

[Note: this was an idea I had last year...]

So what's the most annoying thing about Spiderman? The whole "With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility" guilt trip of course.

This storyline occured to me. Spidey gets a clue to some big smakcdown about to happen by some guy living in the middle of nowhere on his own island (or whatever) and goes to check it out. Whilst infiltrating the base, he comes across a list of people, mostly now signified by the note "dead", one or two still to go. But one of the names of the list is Ben Parker.

He can't take out the big whosit at the moment, so goes to the other names and finds out they were big military types (mostly now retired) that had this big whosit as a case to take out, but he got away. During Spidey's talkings, these people are assassinated (or nearly so), with some seemingly two-bit punks being the killers.

And so it comes out. Uncle Ben was a big kahoona in his time, and was against the whosit. And so the whosit, in his next plan, had to take these people out, including Ben, and his killer was this seeming two bit punk (and there were more waiting in the sidelines).

The upshot is: no matter what Spidey did in stopping the guy at the wrestling ring, Uncle Ben would have been killed either way. IT WASN'T PETER'S FAULT!

Thus, this big guilt trip Spidey's been on is now rendered irrelevant, and we can lead off into a new investigation of why Spidey is a hero (as he would undoubtly remain so at this point), which I think would be interesting.

Having destroyed one of the fundamental building blocks of Spiderman, I now await the lynching parties...

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Wednesday, 24 January 2007

A filmic non-experience

During Conspiracy 2, I plan on running an event on versus some of the guest talks ('cos I haven't read their works), taking advantage of the small group of people that would be there. I have been saving my ticket stubs from all the movies I've been to for the past two years (since the Con was announced) and thus will be running "Movie Bitchfest", in which I randomly draw a ticket and we start... "discussing" the movie.

But if the movie I saw yesterday gets drawn... Someone once said that the worst thing a movie could be is boring. That may be, but another serious contender is "generic". And Eragon so was. (Frankly, I wasn't expecting much just based on the posters.) How much more "boy gets called to battle" plot thin can you get?

(I hope the books have far more depth than this.)

I foresaw pretty much all of the plot points (and that ending!) and was making (privately) "hurry along" gestures because nothing was surprising me. Don't give me big speeches or long drawn out scenes, I already know where it's leading to!

This does raise the question about how innovative movies and even books can be now. I saw the trailer for another movie (Bridge to Talibathia) and immediately thought "Narnia rip off".

It's been said that there are only seven basic stories. Certainly, there appear to be only three basic movie scripts and only the actors are different (and even then, only more or less)...

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Tuesday, 23 January 2007

Not (Belief X) vs. Belief (Not X)

Take some concept X (such as, for example, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, the invisible pink unicorn, bigfoot, God, free will, etc...). In some ways, there are two positions. Either you accept/believe X exists, or you don't.

But the 'don't' is a complex beast, in that you might not believe in X, but that doesn't mean you believe X doesn't exist. And then there's the question of why you don't believe in X. These two positions are typically referred to the weak (no belief in X) and the strong (belief in not X) positions.

The weak position is fully justified if there is no evidence, or no convincing evidence for X. The strong position is justified if there is evidence against X (which I'll get into more in a later post).

Allow me to borrow an analogy I came across recently. Say you brought a lottery ticket. Clearly, after the draw, you have either won or not won. In this case, X is "ka-ching!". But what should your justifiable belief be?

Until you check the numbers, odds are you haven't won, but neither have you not won. All you can say at this point is that are without winnings, and are unlikely to be a winner (based on the odds). (The weak position.)

When you check the numbers, then you have evidence either for or against X, and so can either celebrate(*) or through the ticket out and try again.
(* Depending on how much you actually won, YMMV.)

The point of all this is is that not believing in X is not the same as believing not X. Without (convincing) evidence either way, the former position is the rational position.

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Monday, 22 January 2007

Not today

It's Wellington Anniversary day today! Huzzah!

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Sunday, 21 January 2007

Pound of dice!

Do I need a Pound of Dice? No. Do I want one? Of course.

And, oh, look, can get it in a skull bag with a dwarven stone!

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Saturday, 20 January 2007

Family viewing

Just picture it now...

"Okay, little Johnny, settle down, it's time for some family fun as we watch the Doctor battle those evil creatures that are clearly not human, because no human would ever be so evil, and ... OH YOUR GOD! OH THE HORROR! OH THE HUMANITY! BLOOD AND GUTS ARE EVERYWHERE! AAAHHH!"

That's what you want during an episode of New Earth. ;)

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Friday, 19 January 2007

Damn you, music industry!

The music industry is forever complaining about people ripping off CDs and so forth, but then they refuse to release CD singles with any predictability overseas!

Can I Jump? I can not.

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Thursday, 18 January 2007

D&D Galore!

Okay, so I'm now adding permanently the link to Twenty Sided Tale, by Shamus Young. It's a really neat blog about D&D and general "geek culture ephemera" in itself, but it was started as a blog about a particular D&D campaign (based on 3.5ed rules, hence "twenty-sided".)

Ah, D&D. Recently I got to relive some D&D playing (although wasn't able to be involved earlier on for various reasons), and reading that campaign really makes me want to get back into it again like I did then. Unfortunately, logistics are a terrible thing in this adult world of work and lives...

(And I have done the email-game thing, but it's not quite the same...)

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Wednesday, 17 January 2007

You can't make this stuff up

(although it's a good bet someone did!)

Scientists find Extraterrestrial genes in Human DNA

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Tuesday, 16 January 2007

Following tradition...

Since we must comment on this, allow me my thoughts on TSV #42.

I don't remember anything about it. There, that didn't take long. But that won't stop me seeing if my thinking has changed. Yep, it's those review again.

Blood Harvest. Hmmm, Terrance Dicks is always good for a quick and fun read, if not deep. "this book can only be described as mediocre." Hey! I guess I haven't changed. :)

Strange England. My main memory of this was Gary Russell pointing out, when he came to NZ for a convention, that the face on the manmachinethingy on the front cover was a composite of the Doctor's and Ace's faces. Oh, and that this book wasn't very good. "I found this book very good and quite believable." Really? I find that bad and quite unbelievable.

First Frontier. At some point this might do with a reread, but I mainly remember that it featured aliens that David McIntee got far too excited about. "The best thing I can say about this book is that it's average." Yeah, there's ringing endorsement!

Goth Opera. Despite this being Paul "the Fan's God"(*) Cornell, I do recall being bored with this when rereading it for a TSV article. "not a bad start to a new line". Ouch.

Evolution. There is no good here. "I found this book incredibly boring." See?

Next time... still more reviews!

(*) No, I've never heard anyone call him that, either.

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Monday, 15 January 2007

The Truth Behind... Hats!

As we all know, tin-foil hats are a necessity in any conspiracy-buster's toolkit. The Faraday Cage effect is a required impediment to the waves being broadcast into us from every GOVERNMENTAL (*) AGENCY out to control you. Don't believe me??? Try going outside on a clear day, and stand there without your hat on. Feel warmer? That's the government's control rays COOKING YOUR BRAIN AND BODY! Get your hat on and get it on quick!

(*) Notice that you can't spell 'governmental' without 'mental'? The truth is in the word itself!!

But wait! Is that what they really want you to do after all? There was a study done by MIT (so you know you can trust them...OR CAN YOU!?!) that investigated the properties of different tin-foil hats. They found that although “all helmets attenuate invasive radio frequencies…certain frequencies are in fact greatly amplified.” The government WANTS YOU to wear these hats so they can CONTROL YOU better!

So now we know!

Or do we? Was this study commissioned by the government itself? IS THIS AN ELABORATE BLUFF?? Do they want us to stop wearing hats just to get at us even faster!?!?!

Instead, we suggest acquiring one Conspriacy II beanie instead. We guarantee no tin-foil components so your mind will be all the more protected, and the logo has the added benefit of informing all around you that YOU ARE ON TO THEM! Don't give in to their evil schemes! Stick it to them with one of our non-patented beanies! (Non-patented because you know the patent office passes the real ideas onto BIG BUSINESS who can put the ideas into production before you can see one five ten cents (*) of payment, and then claim the patent themselves!)

(*) The Reserve Bank has its own scheme that will be unveiled!

And we promise the beanies will not enable us to locate you wherever you are, and amplify our own mind-control rays. Honest. Scout's Honour. Would we lie to you...?

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Sunday, 14 January 2007

Star Trek Alden-style

If you head over to a certain LiveJournal page, you'll see summaries of ST: TNG and DS9 episodes, mere moments are they air over here in New Zealand. And not just any summaries, but ones with added pointedness as Alden indicates where, frankly, it just gets silly.

Whether you've seen these episodes recently or not, they make for fun reading!

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Saturday, 13 January 2007

Writing Doctor Who

Big Finish have this open call for stories for their latest collection, which is great and all, and I would like to take advantage of it, but...

For some reason I'm just not that inspired to write DW fiction right now. I still enjoy reading it, but when it comes to putting pen to paper I think about trying to capture the characterisation of Nyssa or Polly, not to mention the Doctor, and enthusiasm just drains away.

I'm thinking it has something to do with, in many ways, that I'm restricted in what I can write. When I write my LNH stuff, I'm completely open to do whatever I like with the character under my control (insert evil laugh here), but for DW stories... Yes, I could just do what I like anyway, but then there's the spirit of the story and keeping true to the original source that... well... again fails to inspire me.

This is really putting a severe crimp in my plans to do my own Doctor Who anthology...

In the mean time, here are links to two online stories by proper DW writers, Deep and dreamless sleep, and The Feast of the Stone.

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Friday, 12 January 2007

My brush with the share market

A few months ago, due to some disasterious dealings, Telecom stock plummetted from $6 per share to under $5. At the time, I was saying "Yeah, you should buy some of that stock, it'll go back up, so now's a good time to get it." So, putting my money where my mouth was, I did. Got some shares for $4.60 per share.

And then the stock fell further to less than $4 per share...

It has now slowly crept back up, and is sitting around $4.90 per share. Due to needing to pay transaction costs, etc., I have now gotten out of the share market without losing money, but not gaining either.
(And, to be honest, even if it had hit the previous level, I wasn't going to be rolling in big bucks either.)

This all means that, according to Murphy, the stocks should now rise to $5,000 per share!

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Thursday, 11 January 2007

Skepdic's Newsletter

The latest newsletter from the Skeptic's Dictionary is out. Full of links to interesting pieces of reading (and for that reason isn't work safe ;) ).

And why not sign up for your own copy? It's all free!

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Wednesday, 10 January 2007

The Internet is Crashing!

There seem to be a preponderance of websites crashing lately (or, at least, not reachable). One site I visit (the skepchick blog) is completely inaccessible, due to, it seems, the Asia cable outage. If anyone from an NZ site can connect to this directly, I'd be interested to know. (I can access it via other means, but not directly.)

But there are also other sites falling over. I was about to link to the latest Bad Astronomy entry about dark matter, but now that site's gone down as well. And Skepticality seems to be bouncing along with access issues too.

Has anyone still got the warantee license for the internet? I think we need to get a repair man in...

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Monday, 8 January 2007

The evil that (this) man do...

First day back at work for the new year, oh the inhumanity! (And, obviously, I'm really busy and am not posting this.)

Not to mention was late getting up this morning, had certain... problems, and forgot my water bottle... great start. (Edit: and I'm threatened with a three hour meeting this afternoon!)

Oh well, at least I can finally catch up with the DM of the Rings.

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Sunday, 7 January 2007

Saturday, 6 January 2007

So sad...

I don't know what's worse: that there are Torchwood books, or that of course I will be getting them.

Namely: Border Princes, Slow Decay, Another Life.

And, just for the record, here are the upcoming DW books (featuring Martha Jones as companion): Made of Steel, Wooden Heart, Sting of the Zygons, The Last Dodo.

[Note: these links do not earn me money, as I can never be bothered playing that game.]

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Friday, 5 January 2007

Consciousness raising...

The latest E-Skeptic to come out has an interesting debate linked to, between Michael Shermer and Deepak Chopra. They are talking about Chopra's latest book, "Life After Death: The Burden of Proof".(*)

I'm sure you can guess the side I agree with, but there is the usual talking past each other, and a lot of attacks on things that the other side doesn't talk about, but it is still worth reading.

(And I finally give in and create a new label.)

(*) Burden of proof is something I want to talk about later.

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Thursday, 4 January 2007

Bring out the sun!

Brrr... it is summer right? You wouldn't think so by the weather. Over the past few days it's been brass monkeys down here, and I'm not the only one to think so.

Coldest on Record according to the newspaper, and we all know that statistics are believable right?

The sun is staging a come-back now, but with people already heading back to work it seems a little on the late side.

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Wednesday, 3 January 2007

A hundred score and seven years ago

A year is a fairly artibary unit, but we have them, and moreover they are increasing as we count them, which means we are counting away from something. Something that happened 2007 years ago.

When this type of counting was first initiated in 525 AD, it was calculated that it was 525 years from the birth of Jesus Christ (as that was considered the most important event to those who were doing the calculating). However, current scholars believe that Christ was born at least 4 BC if not earlier (due to Herod), so it's good to see that accuracy was built in from the beginning. But hey, what's a few years when designing a new calender system? At least, they were making the point that this event was a new beginning and everything referred to it.

But what of CE? 2007 AD = 2007 CE, so what happen 2007 years ago to initiate what is called the "common era"? (Also called the "Christian Era" which would be more accurate, but not very secular based if that is the point of changing notation.) Well... not a heck of a lot. At least, from a secular standpoint. Sure, the Greeks and Romans were doing amazing things, but why then and not some other event in a nearby year?

Or, even better, why not some other point entirely for a secular beginning? Why not the first recorded note of civilisation? Or why not when America was established as a country? (Let's face it, America thinks it's the greatest country in the world, so it would certainly favour an American-centric view like this.) Why choose the same starting point as the religious dating you're objecting to? WHAT'S THE FRICKIN' POINT???

Heck, why not switch to the Chinese or Mayan dating system? When you come down to it, it's only for forming a common basis and one can easily convert from one to the other.

But if you really want a new, entirely secular and, probably, rational standpoint, you can't just adopt another system and change one or two items. Either go whole hog and start from scratch, or just lump it and deal with it. The rest of us are capable of doing that...

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Tuesday, 2 January 2007


Keeping with the new year theme, let's talk context.

We are counting the number of years, referring to some point from where we started counting (and I'll talk more about that starting point tomorrow). Currently, we are the 2007th year of...

Well, that's the thing. Most people on the street would say "AD", as in "Anno Domini" aka "Year of Our Lord". But there is a... I'm not sure if 'movement' is the right word, but I'll use it anyway... a movement to secularise the year counting, which has been going on for a while. But if you don't know you're in 2007 CE, I won't blame you.

This has to be one of the more subtle "attacks" on religion, because hardly anyone is aware of it! I know for a long time, I had come across CE here and there, and was able to infer they were talking about years, and moreover, that a CE year seemed the same as an AD year, but never knew that CE stood for "Common Era".

Now, by now, I'm sure you know my position on religion, but this, to me, seems really pointless. A lot of our common terminology stems from some religious or political event that is buried in the past, but for some reason "AD" has been selected for special treatment. It's not like there's some conversion rule, AD = CE! And BC = BCE! (That's "Before Christ" and "Before Common Era").

Doing this is just going to confuse people, and, presuming it ever became noticable, will just become another case of "rally the troops, the evil ones are attacking religion!" (which, maybe, at the heart, really is the point).

But what about the days of week, based on Norse mythology? Or the months of the year, numbered from the latin, but also throwing in Roman mythology and emperors?

Minor evolution does happen to language over time, but I'm not seeing this as a change sweeping over nations, so I hope I will be forgiven for still saying that we are now in "2007 AD".

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Monday, 1 January 2007

12 months later

So here we are, at the start of a new year. And...?

What is it about humans that make this cyclic period so exciting? And why choose this particular part of the cyclic period to make big hooray? (Let alone the rest of the planet only slowly joining in over the next 24 hours at their psychologically appropriate moment.)

I feel the same way about birthdays. It's an entirely artifical moment created by our definition of time, which is entirely forced upon nature. That nature doesn't care is just one of the reasons why we have to make adjustments every now and then.

Never mind Christmas, this is really the time to say "bah, humbug!"

Edit: Hey, I see the Bad Astonomer is on my side! He really goes to town on the whole calculating time side of things...

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