Sunday, February 24, 2013
http://www.bartrak.com.au/ (a Melbourne agent for http://www.aamotorhomes.com.au) in Berwick are sharks. Beware if you use them: don't go near them without a print-out verifying *everything* you ordered. And DO NOT PAY until you have seen the vehicle you will get.
Our road trip holiday started out with a nightmare. bartrak.com.au Berwick outright lied to us: we booked a 6 berth automatic and when we got there, they told us they only had a 4 berth manual (we can't even drive a manual). When we complained that this isn't what we booked, the response was: can you prove it? They wouldn't refund us, or even refund us the difference between the 6 berth we paid for and the 4 berth automatic they begrudgingly made appear after two hours of fighting with them. When I rang their Sydney head office, the guy was rude and hung up on me. Since they already had our money and would not refund us, we took the 4 berth automatic.
Once on the road, everything was great. We forgot our troubles and began enjoying ourselves: the motorhome itself was pretty good. The people were not.
Monday, February 18, 2013
Superman Earth One [Kindle Edition]
J. Michael Straczynski (Author), Shane Davis (Illustrator)
Brilliant art, good story - could be better
I enjoy superhero comics that are intelligent, coherent and rewarding.
Superman Earth One is rewarding. Clark Kent experienced a repressed childhood during which he found that he was extraordinary but could never show it. He put up with bullies and never retaliated. He comes to the big city of Metropolis, melancholy and frustrated by being unable to express who he really is and not knowing what course to take as an adult. Enter bad guys, self discovery and the reward of seeing Superman arise.
Clark Kent's development into Superman is coherent. The essential elements of his origin story are nothing new of course, but well told. He finds peace in being able to express himself as a superhero at last and is troubled but accepting of the need to wear a mask at all other times. I enjoyed the portrayal of Clark Kent as a character who is not afraid to look inwards (even though this was thinly veiled exposition through flashback).
However, the story is not as intelligent as I wanted it to be. It is too black and white. I did not find sufficient motive to explain why the bad guy acted as he did and I am not OK with accepting that his entire species would be so utterly ruthless. I want adult comics to be better than that. (Yes, I understand this is a *Superman* comic.) In addition, I did not like one particular sci-fi element in this story involving electrons: it is a minor nit-pick but I thought that element of the story could have been handled differently.
The artwork is great. There is superb detail, colour and expressive characterisation. The way the panels transition from scene to scene is really well done. Sometimes a panel will just focus on an expression - great artistry is required to communicate emotion in these stills and it is here.
The formatting of this comic is extremely well done on the iPad. Double tap and you zoom in on one panel, swipe left and right and you zoom in on the next or previous panel. This makes scene transitions *active*. At last I have seen Kindle comics do what Comixology comics do.
The one big flaw with the formatting is the lack of pinch to zoom - and I really wanted this. The art is so great that often after reading through a page or two as it should be read, I wanted to go back and examine the art in greater detail. I wanted to zoom and pan about to get a really good look. I think this should be added: the art is of sufficiently high definition that it would not suffer from allowing greater scrutiny.
In summary, the art and formatting of this comic is excellent apart from the lack of pinch to zoom; the story is rewarding and I enjoyed this introspective Clark Kent, but wanted a more intelligent motivation for the bad guy.
I would happily recommend this for Superman and comic fans, but don't expect the complexity of motivation you might find in Watchmen.
This review also appears on Amazon.
Sunday, June 24, 2012
Please note: if your answer to any of the below is "movie magic", fair enough, point made. But what I am really interested in is any cool explanations and speculations for how it might actually work as a story, sci fi or not.
Question 1 (has many parts). Did the Engineers pop along to earth 3.5 billion years ago to start all of life on earth.. or 85 million years ago to start just the primates.. or between 400,000 and 250,000 years ago to start homo sapiens?
How close was the the DNA match between humans and engineers?
How quickly does DNA in general change with evolution? I am wondering this because if the story is asking us to believe we are an exact DNA match with the Engineers, then there is a big puzzle regarding how we turned from crumbling Engineer who drank the black juice to a new race a) within a short enough time that our DNA stayed the same and b) how we managed to "inject" ourselves into the fossil records?
I can imagine that they popped along to earth at any of the times listed above and that their tech is somehow so super smart that it could have even have triggered homo sapiens at any time in the chain - maybe it was like some sleeping function in the DNA that waited for the right conditions before working its magic?
Question 2. Why did they trigger the cave paintings to be made? (And was it indeed an invitation or something else?)
Question 3. Of course, the third question is the same question asked in the movie: why did they change their minds and decide to destroy us with alien black goo?
My pet theory for 2 and 3 is that they were truly interested in creating life and leaving a sign to see if we could grow up enough to follow it. But then over the proceeding thousands of years, their society changed and became more aggressive, more warlike. Perhaps they suffered a terrible war? Perhaps they even had a war with another species they created? Perhaps they have been seeding the galaxy for millennia before they popped along to earth and one of their earlier creations came to fruition, found the Enigneers and started a huge war that was so bad that the Engineers got scared and decided they should destroy their other creations before the whole thing could happen again?
What do you think?
I posed this question on IMDB too. :)
Monday, June 18, 2012
In case you don't know, Mike Daisey does theatrical monologues that have a social conscience behind them. He did one about Steve Jobs, Apple and Foxconn (who makes devices for Apple and just about every other big tech company in the world) called The Agony and the Ecstacy of Steve Jobs. None of the themes were new:
- Steve Jobs was brilliant but also ruthless and a lot of people found him impossible to work with (watch Pirates of Silicon Valley).
- Foxconn is in Shenzhen, a huge industrial city controlled by corporations where working hours and conditions make for a soulless, depressing existence for thousands of people (see The stark reality of iPod's Chinese factories - August 2006).
- Steve Jobs knew about these conditions and still went ahead with production of Apple hardware there (like every other big hardware manufacturer). Steve Jobs spoke about this in an interview at the 2010 D8 Conference - here is a three minute extract where he specifically answers this question about Foxconn.
The monologue is an attempt to prick our conscience: to remind us that our tech has a human cost. It is powerful stuff. It got featured on This American Life, and was then retracted because they "learned that many of Mike Daisey's experiences in China were fabricated". This American Life made another episode all about the retraction, and I must say that Mike Daisey's answers were not forthright enough: I think he should have said outright that this work was a fictitious account, but based on facts - and if there was a reason why he couldn't use his exact experiences in the play, he should have stated those reasons. I think that his monologue should have been entirely factual in the first place, because all the controversy has diverted attention away from the message and can only cause distrust in Mike's work amongst people who might otherwise have been open to hearing what he has to say.
Richard Pettifer performs the monologue and places it in the context of the controversy from This American Life. He does it very simply, by playing an extract of the retraction episode before and after the monologue and wearing a t-shirt with "Liar" printed on it throughout. Richard's delivery of the monologue is intense - I saw the emotion in his eyes and it resonated with me. He told a story I certainly related to about how our lives change with technology, about loving our favourite devices, and about a sense of disillusionment that comes from knowing a few truths behind the construction of this wonderful technology. Richard's presentation was sparse, which suited the venue and allowed me to focus so much more on his delivery. The way he put the monologue within the context of this recent controversy shifted the central theme of the monologue for me in a very interesting way: knowing that Mike Daisey's account of his visit to Shenzhen was not entirely accurate, is there enough truth for us to still be concerned about conditions at Foxconn? Can a liar still be telling us the truth?
The venue is worth commenting on here, because La Mama's plays a very important part in any production set there. La Mama's is small: it only seats maybe 20 or 30 people. When you sit in the front row, you are less than two meters away from the performers. There is no anonymity here: the actors' stare hits you full in the face - they see you as well as you see them. My first time at La Mama's was to see Strands with my Dad and one of the actresses looked me in the eye when she asked a question and for precious seconds I couldn't decide if I was meant to answer aloud! The point is that the venue brings you so close to the performer that the barrier between audience and participant is very thin - they are not actors on a distant stage: they are people talking directly to you. After the show, the actors will join you in the little courtyard - I enjoyed a very lively conversation with Richard and my fellow audience, and we discussed at length some of the issues involved in the performance. My partner Süheyla expressed a very important consideration: this is not just an issue with Steve Jobs - it is a question about the cycle created by capitalism.
Thank you Richard Pettifer - it was a great performance, and I look forward to seeing what you work on next. Props to you as well for setting up the blog just for this performance.
Sunday, June 17, 2012
About a month or two ago I noticed that video playback on iTunes (on Windows 7) was stuttering - the audio would remain in sync, but every few seconds the video would stutter or freeze for a moment. Audio files play fine. Tonight I updated to iTunes 10.6.3.25 and the problem is still occurring. I experience this issue even when iTunes is not otherwise busy doing something else, like updating an iOS device etc. I checked the drive and it has heaps of space available.
I was going to check if I needed to defrag my drive when I decided to play the very same m4v file in VLC (2.0.1) - and it plays fine! So how's that for a work-around: I won't watch Apple media files on Apple's player anymore. (Playback on my Apple TV unit also seems fine, so I have that too.)
Wednesday, June 13, 2012
One of the stories Bloch wrote while Lovecraft was alive featured Lovecraft as a character, killed by a monster. Weird Tales required Bloch to get the victim's permission before publishing the story, and Lovecraft authorized Bloch "to portray, murder, annihilate, disintegrate, transfigure, metamorphose, or otherwise manhandle the undersigned in the tale entitled THE SHAMBLER FROM THE STARS." In November 1935 Lovecraft responded in kind with "The Haunter of the Dark," in which young Robert Blake (living at Bloch's actual address) is killed by an alien. He dedicated the story to Bloch.Fungi from Yuggoth, see Fungi from Yuggoth on the H.P. Lovecraft site.
Saturday, April 21, 2012
This Easter I spent an eventful and sorrowful week with friends at the Gold Coast, in a little suburb called Mermaid Beach right on the coast, with such rough waves that it was perfect for surfing. It so happens that there is a modest tower on the beach that used to be a light house some hundred and twelve years ago, but which has recently been converted into a bell tower, used for signaling the beginning and end of the local surf events. On the day of my arrival, a surfing festival was running for that week and there was a commotion around the tower. Upon questioning, I learned that a man of extremely short stature, a humped back and no arms had shown up and asked for the recently vacated job of alarm activation specialist at the tower. We all watched a demonstration of his skills: after climbing the modest, but still rather tall tower, he made a mighty leap and struck the bell with his head! The sound was clear and pure and indeed he did not seem hurt by this. For two days I would walk down the beach each morning and hear him perform his duties so admirably. But on the third day, I was passing the tower as he made his leap - and the poor fellow missed! He tumbled down some ten metres and fell to his death on the sand below. A crowd of us gathered around as the police arrived, and the sergeant asked if any among us knew his name. With tears in my eyes, I responded honestly: "no, but his face rings a bell."
The poor man was identified later that day and his family notified. We were all downcast, but the next morning I cannot say that I have ever been more surprised to find that, when I took my morning stroll, there was another man of extremely short stature, a humped back and no arms climbing the tower. Upon enquiring among the gathering crowd, I learned that this man was the sibling of the earlier misfortunate alarm activation specialist and, in memory of his sibling, had applied for the same position. I stood still as the man reached the top of the tower, stood facing us bravely for a short moment and leapt into space - but missed the bell! We gave out a collective gasp of shock as he too fell that same ten metres down to his death on the sand. The sergeant was once more called to the scene and in a low voice asked if anyone knew the man's name. Again with tears welling I replied "No I don't know his name, but he is a dead ringer for his brother."