I like his point about how the British PM is a total Mary Sue.

December 31st, 2012

Plot Holes in World War II:

[There are...] some shows that go completely beyond the pale of enjoyability, until they become nothing more than overwritten collections of tropes impossible to watch without groaning.

I think the worst offender here is the History Channel and all their programs on the so-called "World War II".

Let's start with the bad guys. Battalions of stormtroopers dressed in all black, check. Secret police, check. Determination to brutally kill everyone who doesn't look like them, check. Leader with a tiny villain mustache and a tendency to go into apopleptic rage when he doesn't get his way, check. All this from a country that was ordinary, believable, and dare I say it sometimes even sympathetic in previous seasons.

I wouldn't even mind the lack of originality if they weren't so heavy-handed about it. Apparently we're supposed to believe that in the middle of the war the Germans attacked their allies the Russians, starting an unwinnable conflict on two fronts, just to show how sneaky and untrustworthy they could be? [...]

Not that the good guys are much better. Their leader, Churchill, appeared in a grand total of one episode before, where he was a bumbling general who suffered an embarrassing defeat to the Ottomans of all people in the Battle of Gallipoli. Now, all of a sudden, he's not only Prime Minister, he's not only a brilliant military commander, he's not only the greatest orator of the twentieth century who can convince the British to keep going against all odds, he's also a natural wit who is able to pull out hilarious one-liners practically on demand. I know he's supposed to be the hero, but it's not realistic unless you keep the guy at least vaguely human. [...]

There's an excellent comment thread at the Straight Dope where users expand upon the original thesis:


You want to talk about lazy writing? You want to talk about deus ex machina? The whole thing gets suddenly cut short by a new mad scientist invention that is orders of magnitude bigger than anything used up to that point. Why even bother with any fighting to begin with? Just pull a crazy ass big bomb out of your butt and obliterate the other side.

They more or less ended the European part of it with an exciting large scale invasion and takeover, then decided to abruptly end the Pacific part of it with some bad science fiction.

[Via More Words, Deeper Hole]

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December 30th, 2012

Teachers, The Web Series:

[Via MetaFilter]

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25 versus 42

December 29th, 2012

Charlie Brooker, upon attending the Dosojin Fire Festival,1 found himself beholding the strangest of spectacles:

Imagine what would happen if a huge wooden spaceship full of laughing paedophiles landed in the centre of Hyde Park during a snow storm, and a mob turning up clutching flaming torches to dish out some instant justice. It looked like that – but conducted amid an air of good-natured, drink-fuelled insanity.

The story of what's actually happening is almost as strange, and makes for a pretty entertaining read.

  1. As it is held on 15 January each year I assume Brooker was attending last year's event, though he doesn't say so.

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21 Brilliant British People Problems

December 28th, 2012

21 Brilliant British People Problems:

# 4. I accidentally rang the bell on the bus at the wrong stop, and instead of explaining my predicament to the driver, got off and walked the rest of the way home.


#20. I'm a Brit staying with a family in New Zealand. My hosts told me to help myself to food and drink whenever I want it, otherwise I won't get fed. This goes against everything I know.

It's as if they've been following me round, taking notes on my life. And now they're publishing them on the internet for the whole world to see!

[Via swissmiss]

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December 28th, 2012

OrgOrgChart is a graphical representation of four years in the life of Autodesk Inc.: how it shed and gained staff, and how it reorganised itself as it acquired new companies and moved staff from one manager to another. It's hypnotic stuff:

At first glance, that looks like a company spending four years doing little but reorganising itself. I would imagine that if you dug into the details of the individuals involved, you'd see that quite a lot of the changes lighting up parts of the graph are a result of an individual manager moving on and another manager coming in to fill the same post – not really changes in the organisational structure, so much as changes in who is running a particular team or department. At least I hope so.

It's be interesting to see a version of the animation that reflected only changes in the responsibilities assigned a particular role, so as to reveal just how much time the management were spending redrafting their org charts rather than just writing in new names here or there as individuals progressed from one job to the next.1

[Via Flowing Data]

  1. Of course, it could also be that as one of those parasitic, feather-bedded, overpaid public servants with a gold-plated pension that you hear so much about I just don't understand how dynamic the real world of business is.

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December 26th, 2012

Greg Kumparak has built himself a toy TARDIS. A toy TARDIS that's bigger on the inside.

I have just two things to say about this:

  1. A quick note for the benefit of whichever BBC executive is responsible for enforcing the BBC's copyrights: it definitely would not be a worthwhile use of time and money to track Mr Kumparak down and demand that he take down this post.

    If anything, you should be getting someone to dig out whatever specifications you have for other versions of the TARDIS control room, so that enthusiasts with the requisite knowhow can produce downloadable alternative interiors1 for those of us with fond memories of the Pertwee years.

  2. To quote the first comment on the original post: "I don't know who you are, I don't know what you want, but I will find you, and SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY!"

[Via MetaFilter]

  1. Let's face it, we were all thinking it. And now I mention it, it goes without saying that the alternative interiors should permit us to specify which Doctor and companions are going to be hanging out in 'our' TARDIS.

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Holland vs the Netherlands

December 24th, 2012

It turns out that differentiating between Holland and the Netherlands is a lot more complicated than I'd appreciated:

[Via iamcal.com]

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'Brains of Braga,' mused Wendy, 'what a mind-twister!'

December 22nd, 2012

Javier Grillo-Marxuach brings us The Middleman and Wendy in …THE PARADOXICALLY FESTIVE MORTALITY:


STARDATE 1212.23



Wendy disliked it when the people targeted by the many villains she and The Middleman were tasked with neutralizing blew their Huggies in the face of danger, but even she had to cut this kid some slack: not only had he been put in the crosshairs by a time-traveling superbeing from three hundred years in an alternate future, he had also seen his first day volunteering at the Higbee's Department Store Christmas Parade turn into a Grand Guignol of mayhem at the hands of a hundred foot long inflatable ferret. Also, he'd grown up with the incredibly misguided name "Tiberius Davis." Poor kid, his parents really should have shown him mercy. [...]

The only fault I can find with this epic crossover is that our heroes don't get to interact with the direct descendant of Tiberius Davis whose 5 Year Mission inadvertently caused such mayhem.

By contrast, last year's instalment – THE WIBBLY-WOBBLY, TIMEY-WIMEY JIGGERY-POKERY – spent quite a bit of time showing us how Wendy reacted to Eleven and letting us know which regenerations The Middleman and Ida had already worked with.

[Via MetaFilter]

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On Not Believing In Canada

December 21st, 2012

Daniel Davies On Not Believing In Canada:

Over time, all sorts of supporting myths and rationalizations grew up to support the "Canadian" faith. Apparently they fought a war against America in 1812, although not one with any noticeable or measurable political consequences. They don't have a football team because they play "hockey on ice" (really!), a sport at which they are world champions (naturally, because it is a fictitious sport). They have all the nice characteristics of America, but have a healthcare system rather suspiciously similar to the British one, and so forth, and so on.

As anyone can see, this isn't a country – it's far too perfect to be convincing. It's a fantasy roleplaying character invented by a kid who goes to mock United Nations camps instead of playing Dungeons & Dragons. Occasionally this is recognized in little cultural hints – a "girlfriend in Canada" is American slang for "an imaginary girlfriend". But in general, people humour them – these days, if you want to make it in Hollywood, you've got to be either a Canadian or a Scientologist. Then the concept was discovered by that sizeable contingent of French people who always want to pretend to be Americans, and the Canadian faith had to pick up yet another massive and glaring inconsistency in the shape of a massive linguistic minority who lived in a state of peace and friendship with the rest of the country. Do I have to mention that they struck oil and invented the Blackberry?

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'I find it more helpful to think of Father Christmas as a total brand concept.'

December 20th, 2012

A visit to Father Christmas, or When Little Johnny's address was omitted from the Service Specification. Not a pretty sight.

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The Future

December 19th, 2012

The Future:

Fun as it is to play spot-the-film, I can't help but notice that over the last decade or so the standard of SFX work has become so routinely high that it's almost boring to see yet another beautifully rendered spaceship or futuristic city or giant robot.1

Even last week's first trailer for Pacific Rim didn't wow me: my main thought wasn't about the quality of the special effects work, but rather that "This is how the Transformers franchise would look if someone had taught Michael Bay that it's no crime to hold a shot for more than three seconds, to give the audience time to grasp the relative sizes and positions of the two robots punching one another out so that the fights are actually exciting rather than just dazzling and confusing."

Obviously the trailer isn't the film, and I have faith in Guillermo del Toro's ability to wow me with a good story and some fantastic monsters, but I miss the days when it seemed as if every SF blockbuster was putting things on screen that I hadn't seen before, things I had imagined as I worked my way through the written works that made up the Golden Age of SF.2

[Via Extenuating Circumstances]

  1. Also, it's been far too long since I watched Blade Runner and 2001: A Space Odyssey.
  2. For anyone who doesn't know, that's "13".


'Truckload of mimes just pulled up and they ain't talking.'

December 18th, 2012

A nice little Xmas present from the schedulers at ITV: the second and final season of Bryan Fuller's glorious quirkfest Pushing Daisies has just started a repeat run on ITV1.1

Although I enjoyed the first season quite a bit, for some reason I never caught up with season 2 the first time round, so it was lovely to get reacquainted with the show's highly stylised world. It shouldn't work, but somehow it just does. Having a particularly able (and adorable) cast2 all of whom can keep it all just the right side of too sweet for words probably helps quite a bit.

Is it escapist, romantic fluff? Yes, in the best possible way.

As I did when I first saw the show, I can but endorse Gary Farber's thoughts after he'd seen the first episode:

IJWTS that Pushing Daisies is very strange, very different, and not particularly like any other American tv show ever done.

If I compared it to, say, Twin Peaks, you'd be misled into thinking it was different in a way similar to David Lynch, which it isn't; the only similarity is in that each was fairly different from any other American dramatic network tv fare.

As such, it's definitely not for everyone, and maybe not for you, but you might want to check it out.


There's a faint hint of Addams Family, as filtered through the Coens and Tim Burton, with a touch of Robert Altman's version of Raymond Chandler, and a dash of Princess Bride. Or something.

If you're in the UK, set your DVR and give it a try.

  1. In the wee small hours of the morning, on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. This week's episodes have been starting at 3am, whereas next week's start shortly before 2am. That's what DVRs were invented for.
  2. Led by Lee Pace, Anna Friel and Chi McBride, with Kristin Chenoweth, Ellen Greene and Swoosie Kurtz in support, plus Jim Dale as the narrator of the story.

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December 15th, 2012

Pinokio is smarter than your average anglepoise lamp.1

[Via jwz]

  1. Not to mention creepier. I was feeling a certain amount of sympathy for the poor thing being teased and tricked, with up until the moment it started flipping that power switch back on.

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Seizing the Commanding Heights of the New Economy, one idea at a time

December 15th, 2012

The Pinboard Investment Co-Prosperity Cloud:

Can you explain it in PR-speak?

In 2012, Internet thought leader Maciej Cegłowski rocked the startup community with his provocative slogan 'Barely Succeed', challenging prospective entrepreneurs to reject the lottery culture of Silicon Valley in favor of small, sustainable projects that could give them a more realistic shot at financial independence.

Today he has unleashed the second part of his business philosophy, 'Barely Invest', which shatters the myth that financing is the main obstacle to creating a small technology business. In a world where social capital has become the bottleneck to success, Cegłowski intends to seize the commanding heights of the New Economy as the Internet's premier social capitalist.

[Via marco.org]

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What has he achieved?

December 12th, 2012

Back in April 1976, ARPANET staged the fourth in a series of online dialogues between significant cultural figures. This one featured Yoko Ono, Ayn Rand, Sidney Nolan and Jim Henson. It's fair to say that Henson and Rand didn't see eye to eye:


I think Ms. Rand and my character Oscar the Grouch would have a lot to talk about actually. I am laughing out loud at this idea.


Why would I want to talk to him. What has he achieved or trying to achieve.


He has achieved what I think is the ultimate goal of your way of thinking.



Isolation. Contempt for others. A hard heart. Yet even he can muster a bit of empathy every now and then.



I am not isolated. I have no contempt for others. Millions of people read my books and find my thoughts inspirational. I hardly spend my time on the sidelines in a trash can grumping.


Not yet anyway.

[Via The Null Device]

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Glitch out

December 11th, 2012

Massively Multiplayer online games that close down tend to do so in a highly unsatisfactory manner, with a date being announced for the servers to be turned off and little fanfare beyond that created by the players themselves. Tiny Speck, the company behind Glitch (official site | Wikipedia article) took a much classier approach:

Tiny Speck resurrected favorite rare in-game items, such as the Stoot Barfield Pullstring Doll and the 2010 Glitchmas Yeti, as rewards for participation in the last feats. The company also continued to release new content, from feats to recipes to new areas, until a few days before the closure. Players raced to earn new achievement badges and take screenshots in the just-opened areas. [...]

Players enjoyed the fresh content, and developers enjoyed creating it. [Glitch designer Stewart Butterfield...] said that much of that content was almost completed when the staff was notified of the game shutdown – and the jobs that would go with it. Letting staffers complete their own pet projects was a way to recognize their work.

[Via rc3.org]

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December 9th, 2012

There are times when authors should just let criticism slide, and then there are times when you've just got to let 'em have it:

Author Scott Lynch responds to a critic of the character Zamira Drakasha, a black woman pirate in his fantasy book Red Seas Under Red Skies the second novel of the Gentleman Bastard series.

The bolded sections represent quotes from the criticism he received. [...]

Your characters are unrealistic stereotpyes of political correctness. Is it really necessary for the sake of popular sensibilities to have in a fantasy what we have in the real world? I read fantasy to get away from politically correct cliches.

God, yes! If there's one thing fantasy is just crawling with these days it's widowed black middle-aged pirate moms.

Real sea pirates could not be controlled by women, they were vicous rapits and murderers and I am sorry to say it was a man's world. It is unrealistic wish fulfilment for you and your readers to have so many female pirates, especially if you want to be politically correct about it!

First, I will pretend that your last sentence makes sense because it will save us all time. Second, now you're pissing me off.

You know what? Yeah, Zamira Drakasha, middle-aged pirate mother of two, is a wish-fulfillment fantasy. I realized this as she was evolving on the page, and you know what? I fucking embrace it.

Why shouldn't middle-aged mothers get a wish-fulfillment character, you sad little bigot? [...]

[Via Electrolite (Sidelights)]

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Featuring a cameo appearance by Charlotte Rampling, channeling Mr Oliver Hardy?

December 7th, 2012

Contemplating the career of Ludivine Sagnier, Xan Brooks came up with a striking comparison:

[In her early 20s...] she gave us a 21st-century riff on the French gamine: at once innocent and perverse, beautiful and bent out of shape. The press promptly touted her as "the new Bardot", although that barely scratches at the surface of her wonky appeal. On screen, Sagnier manages to be at once coolly carnal and haplessly gauche. For me, she's like Stan Laurel as played by Marilyn Monroe, though I'll concede that this description may well not catch on.

Not a parallel that occurred to me when I first watched Swimming Pool.

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50 years on the road

December 6th, 2012

Visualizing 50 years of The Rolling Stones on tour.

It's hard to imagine anyone matching the scale and longevity of their career as a live act.1 Is Jay-Z still going to be embarking on massive world tours 30 years from now? Will Muse? Take That? Metallica? The Pet Shop Boys?

[Via Flowing Data]

  1. I don't doubt all sorts of rock, pop and rap musicians will still be making music in their 70s, but they'll probably not touring on the scale of the Stones' recent tours.

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December 5th, 2012

How tall can a Lego tower get?

I'll admit to being just a tad disappointed that this wasn't discovered by actually building a Lego tower until it collapsed under the weight of 375,000 bricks.

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