Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Jailhouse Rock

A two part podcast story published by Variant Frequencies. Jailhouse Rock Part 1 and Jailhouse Rock Part 2. Written by James P. Hogan. Narrated by Rick Stringer. Voice acting by Will Hoffacker, Phil Rossi, Jan Dalton, Jack Ward, Lonnie Ezell, Ciaran O’Carroll, Neil Stringer, and Nobilis.

High above the stormy southern hemisphere of Mars, a routine cargo transport has turned into a high-stakes standoff between Skyguard soldiers and vicious mercenaries turned thieves.

This is the story of a formative moment in the early career of a new space gallant called Knight. Still wet behind the ears, Knight finds himself an unwitting victim of a mercenary troupe hi-jacking the weapons cargo he was accompanying. However, mercenaries find out that Knight has a level of daring and resourcefulness that is bound to make their plans go astray. All alone, without any weapons - what can Knight do?

This podcast story features engaging voice acting and convincing sound effects to evoke a spectacular sense of space adventure at its best. It is all about daring, quick wits and enormous cojones, chutzpah, sisu. There is no swearing, no gore, no aliens. I could imagine this story in the Firefly universe, or even Babylon 5 because both shows have a somewhat similar sense of cowboys in space.

I would very much like to see this story to continue into a larger adventure. As a short story, the focus was more on action rather than character building. Don't get me wrong, the characterisation of the protagonist was excellent, but I didn't feel like I got to know him very well. I didn't get the opportunity to care about him for reasons other than the fact that he was all alone against overwhelming odds.

I give this a solid 8 out of 10, and recommend it for any space adventure fan. I was hooked from the beginning of part 1 and gritting my teeth at the end of it when I realised I would have to wait for part 2.

One last comment: the title of the story is a sly pun which you won't get until the end of the story!

My Israel Question

My Israel Question by Antony Loewenstein, Melbourne University Press, 2006, 340 pp, rrp $AUS 32.95

ISBN-10: 0522852688 or ISBN-13: 978-0522852684

Antony Loewenstein's book is essentially about his staunch opposition to the actions of Zionist lobby groups who are determined to portray all criticism of Israel and its policies as Anti-Semitism, in other words conflating the terms Zionism and Judaism. This is the central, and most powerful, message in this book. Antony Loewenstein shows that because of the concerted lobbying of media and politicians by Zionist lobby groups in Australia, the US and UK, it is very hard to have honest discussion on the conflict between Palestine and Isreal.

I found this book very hard to read, and not just because my usual fare is more in the way of fantasy and science fiction. I felt drawn to this book, but I didn't like reading it and often put it down. This book is a polemic, the seed of which is a conflict so ingrained that a resolution seems impossible. The Israeli occupation of the Palestinian Territories is an extremely divisive topic, and I am continually dismayed by stories of the unmitigated hatred that come out of this conflict every week. It is not unique; there are many other conflicts around the world that deliver stories of equally depressing portent, but this is the one I feel closest to, due to my name, my lineage: my own Israel Question.

This book has helped me understand what Zionism is, and how the relationship between Zionism and Judaism involves the longing for a home land - which is what the Palestinian people want too.

There are four main sections to this book, each of which show a different aspect of the same general theme. The first part outlines Antony's family upbringing and how his questioning of faith and politics affected his life. It explores in detail a telling event in recent Australian political history - Hanan Ashrawi winning the Sydney Peace Prize - which was a formative period for the author's own career as a writer. The second part is an excruciating exploration of Zionism and antisemitism, and how criticism of the former is portrayed as an act of the latter in so many different ways. The third part continues this thread, closely examining the role of lobby groups as powerful political motivators that warp this debate all over the world. The fourth part focuses more closely on how this lobby driven bias directly affects the media, making it so much harder to find equilibrium between Israel and Palestine.

There are almost 60 pages of notes and references in this book. They are as fascinating as the text, and show the wide variety of influences that went into what was written. My version was accompanied by a small booklet containing essays of a few selected respondents to this book: Julian Burnside Q.C., Justice Alan Goldberg A.O., Robert Richter O.C., Peter Rodgers and David Marr. Justice Alan Goldberg A.O. called the book diatribe, the others were more positive. Each essay gave a revealing glimpse into the author's history and politics, showing how they have affected and been affected by their Israel Questions.

Read this book to gain insight into the Israeli occupation and the wide ranging political and religious issues that drive the conflict. Read this to understand how critical it is that parties on both sides be able to debate as equals, and how this is perhaps the most difficult goal to achieve.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Send in the Clowns

As I was writing about the Union Dues stories, I was wondering when we would get the next one. Turns out, the next one came out three days before I wrote that article!

EP128: Union Dues - Send in the Clowns is written by Jeffrey R. DeRego and read by Dani Cutler. It is the fifth in the Union Dues podcast stories. In this fifth story, Send in the Clowns shows how hard it can be to be a super-hero and obey the Union's rules at the same time. As a super hero, you have to deal with the people on the ground, but the Union sets rules to do with image management that make it hard to work out what action is right sometimes. Even the Union's hypnotically embedded training cannot provide all the answers. The characterisations are relatively personal, and you care about Megaton and Chrome as super-heroes who care more about doing the job, but Chrome gets caught up in the rules. Dani Cutler's reading is good - but has she got a blocked nose or something? Her voice was very nasally, which was somewhat distracting.

This series is strong because it portrays super heroes in a very different light. It eschews the comic book mandate of super heroes battling super villains, showing off super powers and (literally) paper thin plots. Instead, this series focuses on the moral dilemmas that might arise in a world where super-heroes get organised into a union. A union that looks after the interests of super heroes as individuals (training, supplies, marketing) and groups (marketing, legal frameworks, deployment of super heroes where needed).

Iron Bars and the Glass Jaw reveals some of the dichotomy involved in trying to live as a super human among normal humans, and the notion of "super-hero as a job". Off White Lies gives a little hint about where the bad guys might be really coming from. The Baby and the Bathwater explores even further the dichotomy of being a super human among normal humans by showing one reason why the Union is needed and hated at the same time. Cleanup in Aisle Five explores how hard it is to manage the image of super heroes in a prejudiced, greedy and short sighted world.

In this fifth story, Send in the Clowns, which focuses again on image management, this time showing how the machinations of "the greater good" can affect the individual - and how important it is to still try and be yourself.

I notice two common themes in these stories which are worthy of note.

Big Brother. In order to look after the greater good, you need someone to make hard decisions, someone to take in all the ambiguity of real life and decide what "greater good" really means. Inevitably, this leads to decisions that will chew up and spit out, as easily (but hopefully less often) as adopt and nurture. Big Brother means more than that though - it also means ulterior motives, which comes down to whose definition of the "greater good" is really driving the show. This gives the series a touch of X-Files: you have plenty of super (natural/human) and just a few Cancer Man plot devices to keep you wondering.

Dichotomy. This is what I like most about the series so far. Being a super hero is hard. You have to leave behind your family and your community, because they become liabilities. You can't always protect them from yourself when you have powers that might kill as easily as save. You can't protect them from all the baddies that know who it is you love (thought the Union Dues stories have yet to explore this aspect). And you can't protect yourself from the fear many of them will have, fear of you. Being super means being different, it means having awe and jealousy inspiring powers. It also means being held up to a whole new set of double standards: you are not normal like us, but you still can't prevent every crime or catch every villain.

In my opinion the strongest of the series is still the first - Iron Bars and the Glass Jaw - because it gave me my first glance into this new vision of super hero-dom, of a society trying desperately to integrate supers and normals in a world where most of us identify ourselves with our job.

In further super-hero fiction news, another player has just hit the presses! Mur Lafferty is releasing her new superhero podcast novel, Playing for Keeps - look for it at http://www.playingforkeepsnovel.com and Podio Books. I have sampled the first chapter thanks to Escape Pod, and I am dying for more.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Union Dues

Earlier today I wrote about Path of the Bold, a collection super hero fiction I finished reading this weekend. This post is about a series (four so far) of podcast super hero stories on Escape Pod called Union Dues.

Two elements of super hero fiction engage us by making the heroes accessible, turning them into characters we can understand and identify with in terms of our own lives: awakening and strife. Awakening is the hero discovering something special about themselves and finding the courage to do something good with that power. Strife is the conflict that inevitably follows, in their personal and 'professional' lives. Most adults have awakenings of some sort or another, any time we find we have some skill or talent and slowly test it out. Heroes have the same thing, only their skills and talents are flashy, giving us something to look upon with awe. We all have strife. I once heard a comedian describe life as 75 years of getting kicked in the bollocks in various interesting ways. Like the awakening, a hero's strife is markedly more exaggerated. The key to "Path of the Bold" is that it showed the personal strife as being much the same. Each story struck a chord in this way.

Union Dues is a magnificent set of Super Hero Pod cast stories written by Jeffrey R. DeRego, hosted on Escape Pod. It plays upon the same elements of awakening and strife, tones down the former and tweaks up the latter in a way I have never seen before in other fiction. Like "Path of the Bold" and so many comic books, "Union Dues" is set in a world where heroes are common, almost 'every day'. But whereas "Path of the Bold" and so many comic books show groups of super heroes in small groups like "The Guard" and "Justice League", in the Union Dues world, the heroes have a union!

Being a super hero is hard enough.

Heroes might be super agile, super strong, energy manipulators, mind readers or super strategists. Cool huh? The strife starts young: powers develop early, sometimes while the child is a toddler or baby. An energy manipulator might electrocute their parents to death in a simple temper tantrum. Like a caring Big Brother, the Union looks after heroes by taking them in as soon as their powers manifest (read: legal, mandatory adoption). It indoctrinates the young heroes so that the Union rules and regulations are imprinted on their minds. The Union is a law unto itself, and operates much as other services like the police or fire fighters. The Union provides a valuable service: with thousands of super heroes, who is going to cater to their special needs? Who can train them, provide the equipment, costumes and legal protection for when innocents are hurt? The Union.

Here is the crux of the strife. As much as people like super heroes for all the good they do, we dislike them in almost equal measure. We fear them. They are different, not like us, they think they are so much better than us! And so the stories work by putting the heroes into a contemporary scenario - a government size bureaucracy with unknowable leaders pulling strings - and throwing in a hefty dose of "X-Men" 'scary mutant' xenophobia.

This makes for a lot of well thought out tension, and the protagonists are put through their mental paces. They have to control themselves, and somehow placate themselves into dealing with the normals nicely. Like us, they are trapped - all of us, trapped, in our work-aday lives. This is a very different style of conflict to the gritty gothic darkness of Batman, the edgy uneasy balance of power and romance in Spiderman, and more cerebral than the xenophobia of X-Men. I like it a lot... yet.. I am ready for some action. We need to see the heroes kickin' ass and takin' names a bit more - that tension has to change a bit, develop and grow.

Find all the Union Dues podcasts by searching Escape Pod with key words "Union Dues". Below is a brief synopsis of the four so far in the series.

EP027: Union Dues - Iron Bars and the Glass Jaw. By Jeffrey R. DeRego. Read by Jonathon Sullivan. The introduction story to the Union Dues world. super heroes.. have a union?! I will have to ask my boss for a comic book of my own! Features an excellent intro by Stephen Eley, where he iterates over some of the differences between for a writer when choosing to set a story in an alien world or a world "like ours". This story provides a detailed exposition about the separation of super heroes and other heroes, and how hard it is for all of them to get along.

EP049: Union Dues - Off White Lies. By Jeffrey R. DeRego. Read by Scott Sigler. Now I know where the bad guys came from. I swear I saw an episode of X-Files covering this topic. With a bureaucracy as large as the Union, you have to wonder, where does all the work come from?

EP062: Union Dues - The Baby and the Bathwater. By Jeffrey R. DeRego Read by Mur Lafferty (of I Should Be Writing and Geek Fu Action Grip. Tells of the harsh cost to family of having a super-hero baby, damned either way. Somehow, us normals don't accept the realm of super heroes too well - "X-Men" anyone? What would happen if we tried to live together, I wonder? Could normals and supers really integrate?

EP080: Union Dues - Cleanup in Aisle Five. By Jeffrey R. DeRego. Read by Rich Sigfrit. Carries the same muted, somewhat dark undertones as the other three. Again, this story shows us that being a hero really isn't all that glamorous and that super powers don't make it easy being accepted.

This is a brilliant series and I am eager to hear more. Jeffrey R. DeRego, if you are listening - well done, but I do have a suggestion. I get the gritty "hard to fit in" message. Now can we have some flashy "I love to kick butt" messages? Please? *grin*

Path of the Bold

This book has been released into the wild!

Edited by James Lowder, this anthology contains fifteen short stories about super-heroes, centred mostly around Empire City.

I was never much into comic books, but I love super-hero movies like The Hulk, Spiderman and Superman. The stories in this collection are set mostly in the same 'reality' and include some heroes and villains in common.

I enjoyed this book's consideration of heroes, as people with fears and hang ups as well as super powers and super images. They seem real in a way that Tobey Maguire's Spiderman captured well. These heroes have concerns such as how they are going to make a living and protect the ones they love.

"Fanboy" by James Lowder depicts the making of a new super villain, showing again how easy it is to find yourself on the path from Anakin to Vader. It is really hard to break into the super hero business when the market is already swamped. They really should have published his comics.

There are powerful themes echoing in different ways throughout these stories.

The theme that found most resonance with me was the awakening. Ordinary people, down-trodden people, crushed heroes or dis-heartened heroes discovering or re-discovering their special power and, more importantly, finding the desire and courage to do something with their gifts. This is what make heroic fiction so endearing. We all want to feel like we are special, and most of us want to make difference in some way.

If you are going to be caught on the news flying through the air and catching falling cars using only the power of your mind, you might as well do it while looking good, or at least .. shiny. Clothes maketh the super hero, as they say. The "Sir Spandex" image of a super hero in bright skin-tight costumes was played upon. Super-heroes are portrayed as living constantly in the spot light of media attention. Some comic books about real life heroes are created by the real life heroes themselves! A costume is important. Apart from whatever enhancements or super powers a costume grants you, it is a focus point that fuses actions with image, ego with a visualisation of self. Costumes become icons, which have a power all by themselves. There was a cool image in "R.A.O.K." by Joe Murphy: Raymond puts on a crude Sentinel mask, and the icon in place he feels like he can help out, "Do what you can...".

"Forever Young" by Lucien Soulban was something different. It stepped far away from Empire City and showed heroes of a different sort. It showed them as reflections of old myth and recent fairy tale, subtly pointing out that we have had heroes for a long time. Only recently did they start coming in skin tight spandex.

This book is one of the most enjoyable accessible and least comic book like source of super hero fiction I have ever encountered. 9/10.

Review by Nathan Brazil at SF Site.
Get a copy of this book at Amazon.com.

What music I listened to today

Hi-Hop. I like Eminem, Ice T and Snoop Dogg for the speed, energy and rebellion in their lyrics, rhyme and melody. But I feel guilty listening to words that express little than hate and useless machismo. After the mood has worn off, I feel just a bit dirty. Don't get me wrong, everyone needs to touch their inner animal every once in a while - but in general, I want more. I want something that has that energy and leaves me feeling fulfilled, as well as drained. :)

Here is what I was listening to today - several artists that are well worth the asking price at Amazon or your local music seller - check them out, buy the ones you like!

Hilltop Hoods. Aussie hip hop group from Adelaide, South Australia. These guys drive me wild with a sense of how much they are enjoying rapping! Songs like "The Nosebleed Section" really make me want to turn it up and bang my head up and down!

The Herd. Aussie hip hop group from Sydney, New South Wales. What caught my attention with this group was their version of Redgum's "I Was Only 19 (A Walk In The Light Green)". They deliver a real punch in their lyrics and have proudly taken up the same traditions I loved Redgum for so many years ago. 77% in particular is one of my favourites.

The Streets I love the British accent here! The Streets album, A Grand Don't Come for Free is well worth a special mention as one of my favourite CDs of all time - "Fit But You Know It", "Dry your eyes" is from it. This CD is all that and a bucket of chips! It is a concept album, a story told in poetry and hip hop. The protagonist loses £1000 and it follows his adventure trying to recover the money with a bitter sweet romance thrown in.

Macromantics is an Aussie hip hop artist Romy Hoffman, based in Melbourne, woo-hooo! Check out her My Space page. Macromantics is frenetic hip-hop. There is no message in the music - instead she puts on offer a stream of words celebrating phonetics and artful alliteration. Moments in Movement is my favourite CD of hers.

Eh, got to love songs about the Devil gettin' beat!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


Would you rather be smart or happy?

*Some spoilers follow*

Written by Nancy Kress and read by Sheri Mann Stewart, Ej-Es is a slow story that truly creeped up on me and whose ending left me with a feeling of exquisite anguish.

At first I felt somewhat restless with the story because I thought it was going to be a tale of military irony - people go in with all guns blazing only to have some hidden aspect of the world or society turn the tables on them. I already got some of that this week in the disappointing Mother Tongue on Variant Frequencies. Truly loved the Rick Stringer's narration and the sound effects are tremendous, but the story felt two dimensional.

Once I could see it wasn't that type of story, I found myself caring about the protagonist, Mia. Sheri Mann Stewart made her sound bone tired but steel willed in her determination to do good while she still could. Sheri Mann Stewart's voice cracked a couple of times in the story and this added so much to the sense of determination I found in Mia's character, intended or not!

Her crew lands on a planet whose colonists underwent a massive plague some 250 years ago. The remnants of that society are now barely more than primitive humans who are under a continual, permanent delusion of literally orgasmic intensity. They can't cook, they can't build - they can't possibly be capable of looking after themselves. But the crew decides that they shall not extend a cure. It is a "biologically based cultural difference", and more importantly, they are not dying out. Somehow they are actually increasing in population.

The crew leaves and Mia arranges to be left behind with supplies - and the cure. She applies it to the one "friend" she had made, Es-Efeb. It takes days and is painful, but she is cured. Mia teaches her some basics such as water purification, sanitation, food storage and health care. Mia travels to the next place to continue with her cures. And in the night, all by herself, Es-Efeb wails out in the night, a mournful, cry of "I am alone" in her own language.

It was a damning ending. The wailing sadness of Sheri Mann Stewart's Es-Efeb made me do a complete 180 in an instant. I had been hoping that Mia could cure these people, a hope which tasted like ash in my mouth as I suddenly realised what she was taking away from them at the same time. Better happy than smart.

Escape Pod forum for this story.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Noel Pearson: White guilt, victimhood and the quest for a radical centre

I have just listened to a podcast speech given by Noel Pearson at the Art Gallery of New South Wales as part of a series called Big Ideas: Art Gallery Society of NSW in collaboration with Griffith REVIEW. This was recorded at the Art Gallery of NSW on Thursday 31 May 2007 before an audience.

Noel Pearson: White guilt, victimhood and the quest for a radical centre. Link to the mp3 file.

His ideas are confronting because they made me re-think some of my own ideas about Indigenous Australia.

Welfare. Paternalistic policies are needed, to a certain extent. Inalienable welfare doesn't work for people who have developed an addiction. Conditionality is needed on income support. Don't give money if it is going to be spent on drugs, alcohol and gambling instead of housing, food, clothing and education for yourself and your kids. Instead have structures in place where a responsible adult or welfare agency will ensure the money is used where it is needed.

What is needed is a safe place to live in which indigenous Australians can support themselves.

Victimhood. Much of white and black Australia have inculcated ourselves with the notion that indigenous Australians are victims that need to be helped.

We took the consoling hand of a kind romantic and empathetic Australia. The Australia of those Drysdale paintings with the big hats and the forlorn black figures. I just get a sense that much of that empathy [...] did us no good.

I first came across this idea in Naomi Wolf's book "Fire with Fire" (1994 - ISBN 0449909514) which spoke about women empowering themselves. The idea is that I am the only one who can improve my life. I need to make opportunities for myself. I cannot rely on being given opportunities because society owes me something.

How do these two ideas work together? This is the most valuable question I obtained from Noel Pearson's speech. The two notions of empowerment and paternalism are at odds. How can empowerment be encouraged by policies implemented by white society where, in the main, it will be white people deciding who gets the money? How do you implement paternalistic policies and allow for self determination at the same time?

I feel privileged that I have a job and resources to look after my family, and I want everybody in Australia to have the chance for the same thing. I do feel some sense of collective guilt that "white society" has a lot to answer for. We should make up for it but not by fostering a sense of indigenous Australians as victims we should send money to.

How do we, as a society, ensure that paternalism allows empowerment? I see two goals here. The first is that society has an obligation to itself to provide all members with safety and means for support. The other is that indigenous Australians have a right to maintain their own society, their own culture. Perhaps we need to start with conditional welfare. Then encourage (require?) indigenous Australians to take up those jobs of looking after their own groups. Perhaps we should not be scared to try other things like indigenous courts, ways to let indigenous Australians look after themselves, according to their own culture, to decide how they want to live responsibly for themselves.

I am going to read more by Noel Pearson. I am going to think more about this issue, and who I vote for, based on what policies they put forward for the black fella.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007


Variant Frequencies hosts the story Sacrifice, written by Jason McDowell and narrated by Rick Stringer and Ali Groves.

It could almost be the story of what happened to Cole Sear when he grew up - the boy who could see dead people in M. Night Shyamalan's "The Sixth Sense". Their stories are different, but have much in common in all the right places.

"Unfortunately, the great Roman Catholic Church, for all its history of exorcisms and the like, is no longer much of a believer in the supernatural."

Our protagonist is Father Michael Brannigan, one of few who can see the spirit world. This story has a comfortable, steady build up, showing us Father Michael Brannigan's child hood, allowing us to understand that he is driven to help wherever he can. This is why he joined the church.

He was driven to go to those parts of the world where he might be most needed. He is a compassionate man, passionate about bringing peace - and Christ - to Zaire, Africa.
He will bring The Word to the natives.

"I learned the true meaning of "heathen". I learned why it is that God will allow no Gods before Him."

Father Michael Brannigan could see the spirits, and he could help them to the light, some of them anyway. Those who wanted the light.

"My second sin was lust."

Jason McDowell has crafted this tale well. The first part shows his boy hood, the second part shows his grasping for a manhood he always denied himself. In a heart-beat the third part turns from a leisurely pace to a thrilling dive where all sins are accounted for..

A thoroughly gripping story, with some inspired elements of Cthulu horror. I had to listen to this one twice to properly understand the ending, but it was well worth it. Easy 9 out of 10.

Monday, September 24, 2007

A short discourse the meaning of religion and science

I am of the notion that the implicit purpose of our religious texts (Bible, Talmud, Koran) is to provide a rule book and moral compass for a society. They tell us how to live. And because we all have a very basic need to believe in something bigger, more powerful, more meaningful than ourselves, these texts are written in terms of the actions and words of gods, angels, devils, saints, prophets etc.

As our societies change, our rules change; our sense of morals change. Unfortunately our religious texts have not changed as well. We are left with books that reveal we are not all equal and that belief in other gods is wrong. We should not look for literal truths in outdated texts. I would rather that we read these texts as parables to be interpreted and changed as we change.

Science represents our best understanding of the world as we know it at the time. Science and our understanding of the world as revealed through science changes in time. What we consider fact now is nothing more than what we can currently understand and can prove in some way.

I see a natural link between science and religion. Science is all about trying to understand and explain things. Many of our myths are religious stories and try to do that too: explain some natural event in terms of one god or other. Eventually, we reached the point where enough people began to wonder if it was really Thor, Guruwari or Yahweh that caused that light in the sky, shaking ground or pestilence among the people. Our curiosity grew beyond the stories we would tell each other, and soon enough our equipment and growing knowledge showed us that there other explanations.

I see this is as being the dichotomy broached in this thread: do we still need religion to explain things to us when science has an answer too?

I believe the answer is intrinsic: science is about what we know and religion is about how we should live. Both of them should change as we change, and we need to understand that what is right today, can be wrong tomorrow. Without this we will find it hard to adapt. [ erm.. evolve. :) ]

One last thought. We have a lot of religious hierarchy who do manage to interpret religious texts in different ways, and sometimes those appear to be positive ways. However, I am not convinced they have the good of society in mind. Instead they have a lot to protect: money and power. I have the same sense of cynicism for our political and business structures. None of these large organisations have the good of humanity at heart, because the need for making money and gaining power is too high a priority. We will never have a good balance between religion and science for this same reason: as long as someone has to be wrong for someone else to be right.

I originally posted this in the Excape Artist's forums.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Guggenheim Collection: 1940s to Now

Melbourne Winter MasterpiecesGuggenheim Collection: 1940s to NowNew York–Venice–Bilbao–Berlin30 June to 7 October 2007NGV International

This exhibition showed off a wide variety of abstract art from the 1940s up till now. I get it. Rebelling against the idea of art as a self contained picture, abstract art attempts to provide only part of the experience: the art comes about by challenging the viewer in some way to draw in the rest of the experience from their own reactions and emotions. I experienced many different emotions.

Some pieces were confronting.

A table top full of teeth. I walked around the table several times, imagining what creatures gave up those pieces of bone and what logic was used to place them on the table.

A wall of bathroom tiles, slightly dirty. Bulging in some places. In other places, bursting - with guts. Red, bulbous, moist.

A video showing two people copulating. When he withdraws, his penis is topped by a bee hive and bees fill the screen.

Some pieces are inscrutable.

Jackson Pollock is my poster child for inscrutability. Paint scrawled across a canvass. Despite a heart felt invitation to myself to look deep and see whatever my inner self wants to see, there is no meaning. It is just chaos, little more than a child's experiment in colour and contrast and almost but not quite more. There were others, but I only remember his name.

Some pieces were confusing until I let my perspective shift and find something to admire.

A set of large orange boxes placed in a straight row. I walk to the end and stroll back and forh, letting my eyes take in the shifting lines and colors reflected off the surfaces.

Bruce Nauman’s suspended Floating Room. A wooden room, hanging from the ceiling, "Light Outside, Dark Inside". From the outside it is a well lit wooden box. On the inside, it is a sparse white room without any illumination apart from the light outside. I walked inside the room and admired the shifting lines as my eyes pulled in and out of focus. It was somewhat like looking at a 3D Magic Eye image, except no pretty pictures come to the foreground when you lose focus. I would really get a kick out this if I were stoned!

One piece in particular felt like an in-joke:
Maurizio Cattelan in a felt suit
. I didn't understand the reference, but it was a comical piece that they made us walk down a corridoor to view, all by itself at the end.

Not all of the abstract art in this exhibition consisted of a single physical object that you could transport whole and hang on a wall. One peice by Felix Gonzales-Torres was a pile of liquorice lollies spilled in a corner. What a crazy idea! The 'piece of art' is really just a set of instructions: get a bunch of liquorice lollies. Find a spare corner. Spill them in the corner. Were they the same lollies displayed all the time?

The same goes for a another piece that consisted of nothing more than two pieces of elastic. One stretched along the floor, diagonally out into the room from the corner. The other piece at chest height, strung between the two adjacent walls.

I feel ambiguous about much of the art I saw in this exhibition - the confusing pieces in particular. What I enjoy is often not the piece itself, but my reaction to it. This is different to a beautiful painting, where my first reaction is visceral, automatic. In this exhibition, many of the pieces are not even identifiable as "works of art" except for the fact that they are all displayed at the National Gallery of Victoria under the banner "Guggenheim Collection: 1940s to Now".

Each piece was surely designed to be appreciated by evoking a reaction in the viewer, fuelled in part by their own history and experience. I read that so I know it is true. That is also why many people won't get it, won't appreciate it, will discard it as a waste of time. The perspective of the viewer is what makes any work of art great - nothing new here. But abstract art seems particularly vulnerable to this. Appreciation of abstract art is not visceral. It needs a conscious mental leap. You have to decide to shift your focus in the right way to see it, to experience it.

Later, on the drive back with Dad, I pondered aloud the fact in the whole exhibition, I liked Jackson Pollock's work the least, but his is the only name I remember - all other names in this entry are thanks to Google. Perhaps there is a meta game to abstract art. It is not enough to bare witness to the work, to view it as an exercise in imagination by letting your reactions and emotions fill in the experience. There is history behind each piece, behind the artist. I do not know much about Pollock, only a half remembered film and less remembered articles. From these, I know that Pollock was a tortured soul, that he poured a lot of effort into his work and that it must have meant something to him. So, I postulated aloud to my father, perhaps appreciation of the work also requires acknowledgement of the artist in some way, to help build the experience. Or maybe I want to justify paying $20 to see, among other things, what seemed to be a child's work on a very large canvass.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Harry Potter: my tale of the completion

July 21st, 2007. Around 8pm.

The biggest question was how many copies to buy, one or two?

My step-daughter would take to her copy like a ravenous wolf and possibly swallow the whole thing down in under a week. But was I willing to wait that long for a second hand book? Plus I knew she would be excited enough about the book that it might be hard for her to relinquish her copy into the hands of another reader.

I had discussed the possibility of buying a second copy previously with my partner, who told me in clear and concise terms that I would not buy second copy when we would already have a perfectly serviceable book in our house that would be made available to me imminently. But wait, I reasoned, my Dad didn’t have a copy. I would purchase the book, not for myself, but for him. Maybe I would read just a few pages, nay, chapters, in the time between the book’s purchase and the book’s delivery. That was acceptable to my partner.

The thought of the second copy weighed on my mind as I entered Borders that looked somewhat like a circus at closing time. Littered with the detritus of excited purchasers long since gone home, the shop was still haunted by those left behind. Workers patrolled the floor and checkout desks like veteran soldiers, still sporting odd bits of Harry Potter regalia from scarves to glasses, bravely hiding their weariness behind smiles. Customers floated here and there around the shop. No matter what section they inhabited, whether it was picture books, anime, computer programming or CDs, they all carried a soon to be bought copy of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows”.

I stopped and checked myself just after I walked in the door. Amazing. By no conscious process of thought or movement I had already accumulated my own soon to be bought copies of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows”. They didn’t even have to wave a wand and mutter “bookulous, purchasos!” Yes, some of them had wands. The doorways themselves must have been charmed.

But I digress. Why did the thought of the second copy weigh on my mind? Why did I find myself hovering around the pile of un-claimed Harry Potter books, pondering the price sticker, swapping my second copy between my nervous hands and the un-bought pile, trying to see whether one copy or two felt more natural? Why was I trying to let my inner self tell me whether I should buy one or two copies? It was because I had lied. I knew my Dad had already bought his copy that morning; the second was for me, all for me and no-one else!

After July 21st, 2007.

I bought two copies. I owned up when I got home and took my share of dirty looks. I put down the book I was already reading (My Israel Question by Anthony Loewenstein) so that I could start on Harry Potter right away. My step-daughter took just a few days to read her copy, even taking into account the fact that she stopped Harry Potter to finish a school book in between! There was a period of about two weeks when she would ask me where I was up to in the book, annoyed that I hadn’t caught up, peeved that she couldn’t discuss this or that with me. I pointedly told her that she should not tell me anything, even if it was just her opinion of the direction. It was quite a subtle to and fro there for a while. When she had finished (I was about a third of the way through) she let me know that it was “the best that could be hoped for”. She swallowed the rest of the conversation about what her school friends also thought of it; my eyes were glowing and smoke was coming out of my nostrils by that time.

Warning: some spoilers follow.

I finished the book soon enough. In short, I loved it. It answered a lot of my questions about two of the most charismatic characters in the series: Snape and Dumbledore. In quite a satisfying way it filled in their back stories and left me feeling that each was more human, less archetypal than before.

I had not wanted to believe that Snape was an outright villain, even when he killed Dumbledore. I felt there was more to be revealed about his relationship with Harry’s parents. I felt there needed to be a resolution between Harry and Snape, and there was. But the form of it surprised me. I imagined a tense stand-off between the two, where Snape managed to explain some hidden circumstance behind his actions – a devious double cross against Voldemort that ended with his killing Dumbledore, perhaps under an Imperius curse. What we got instead was Snape on his deathbed after being dealt with by his master Voldemort in a casual, almost arbitrary manner. He released his memories to Harry as silver tears for the Penseive. The memories revealed that Snape’s unrequited love of Harry’s mother Lily and hatred for Harry’s father James had driven him to betray the couple and spend the rest of his life paying for it. The antagonistic relationship he had maintained with Harry throughout the series was shown to be equivocal. There was indeed a deeper purpose. He had sacrificed himself to the service of Voldemort at the behest of Dumbledore. He had become the villain Dumbledore needed him to be. He killed Dumbledore because he was told to do so… by Dumbledore.

The tragedy of Snape’s life was laid bare in this book. His dichotomy involved a love that would never be realized, and forgiveness that would never be granted.

Dumbledore had his own dichotomy, though compared to that of Snape, it was not as stark. The reason was simple enough though. The cracks in Dumbledore’s characters, the shadows that followed his legend, were only developed in the last book. The shadows had been growing around Snape from the first.

Dumbledore was not as pure as the driven snow. He had courted power for much of his life. He came to realize that it was a temptation he could not afford to give in to, but the realization had cost him and his family dearly. It is revealed that Dumbledore was already dying at the end, a result of his own foolish hope to apologise to the dead. He ordered Snape to kill him in order to save Draco Malfoy from committing that same act.

This plot device really made the whole book for me. The sense of tragedy imbued to Snape by this act of sacrifice was moving. It was more than the sacrifice of one’s life: it was the sacrifice of one’s moral soul. It wasn’t just “die for me”, it was “become an evil bastard because I am telling you to do so, just trust me!”

This is why I liked the book: it showed some deep emotions behind these two characters.

There were some things I didn’t like so much.

The pacing in some parts of the book felt a bit uneven. Harry, Ron and Hermoine were on the run for months. During this time, Voldemort was in charge of the Ministry of Magic and Hogwarts, through Snape.

Harry, Ron and Hermoine were running, not spending much time in any one place. The passage of time was marked through references to weather and calendar, but not so much in progress towards their goal of finding the Horcruxes or, later, the Deathly Hallows. The book portrayed their decline towards argumentativeness and boredom, a sense of hopelessness driven by the lack of new clues, going over and over old ground. During this time I was more interested in how the larger wizarding and muggle worlds were coping under the increasing influence of Voldemort. The book disassociated from this part of the story though. It showed the social changes through an occasional magical radio show or by overhearing characters talking about the changed world. This felt too forced to me. I would have rather the perspective shifted to another character instead, to show us first hand what was going on – showing, rather than telling.

Harry’s romance with Ginny stumbled and was forestalled in what has become a common moral dilemma for heroes in blockbuster movies of late: “I cannot protect what I love from my enemies, so I cannot love”. This worked for Spiderman 2, but I don’t think it worked for Harry. Why? Because Harry had “Dumbledore’s Army”. Ginny Weasley, Neville Longbottom, Luna Lovegood, Fred and George Weasley were all members of Dumbledore’s Army and didn’t quite get enough airplay. They are fodder for fan fiction writers no doubt, itching to put into stories all the variations, strengths and weaknesses those avid readers imagined while reading the books. Those writers are braver than I, better able to express themselves for the most part. I will satisfy myself by expressing the qualms I felt with J K Rowling’s own creation. I thought that these characters were all strong enough to have books written about them too – so strong that Harry should not have left Ginny, he should have taken her on the road. It should have become Harry, Ginny, Ron and Hermoine.

Perhaps the reason this didn’t happen is because it would not have been realistic to let Ginny take such a star position without getting hot and heavy on the personal side of their relationship. She would have been far more than Robin to Harry Potter’s Batman!

This brings me nicely to some overall comments I want to make. What I have enjoyed about the Harry Potter series as a whole, is that it has grown. The characters have grown and the story telling has grown. While maintaining an appeal to a wide variety of ages throughout, J K Rowling has let the characters grow older and the story grow darker. I think this means that new, young, readers will grow naturally to each successive book. This makes for a powerful series overall.

I have finished my journey with Harry Potter. I want to thank J K Rowling sincerely for a most enjoyable ride. I can honestly say that I have never read a book or series that has seemed so equally attractive to teenage and adult readers alike. The greatest gift is a book that I have read and enjoyed with my step daughter from the start!

What happened with my second copy? I thought about it for a while, that book sitting all by itself on my shelf, without any siblings – I had been reading my step daughter’s copies after all. I decided to release my copy into the wild. Book Crossing allows me to share books I have enjoyed with the rest of the world. Hopefully someone else will enjoy this book. Hopefully they will pick it up and decide to journal their own experience with it.

Hopefully I will have helped someone else complete their journey with Harry Potter, walking the worlds of J K Rowling.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Six movies, five minutes

My five minute review of all the big comic book style movies I have seen recently.

Spider pig, spider pig, does whatever a spider pig does. Can he swing, from a web? No he can't, he's a pig! Look out, here comes the spider pig! It was funny in places. (Simpsons movie.)

Spiderman 3: loved it for the new villains, particularly Sandman. Not as meaningful (!) as 1 or 2.

Fantastic 4: ridiculous plastic women like botox filled barbie dolls that had been left out in the sun for too long. Cool big bad guy (the world eating one) that left me wanting to know more.. but only about that bad guy - the rest of them could go jump in the lake.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: excellent new chapter in the series, but it suffers from Lord Of The Rings'itis: the book was so huge they had to leave out lots and you really noticed it if you had read the books.

Pirates of the Carribean: At World's End: cool special effects, pretty funny movie, but ultimately an anti-climax for me. Like the Matrix, they should have left it at one movie only (but the cash registers just keep ringing)..

Transformers: very cool special effects, music, good humour, moderate hot babe factor. I enjoyed the story line too. They added in a couple of funny characters (the computer geeks) that they didn't do anything with and this was disappointing - I wanted more of them. Despite the fact I wanted to know more, I felt no room (or strong desire) for sequels.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Hating Samsung X660

I have a Samsung X660, which I purchased a little over a year ago now. It was the first phone I bought with a camera and the ability to download and run Java games, so for quite a while I was in rapture with my purchase.

Over time, though, there are aspects of this phone that have become the source of constant frustration rather than joy.

I was so disappointed to learn that the infra red cannot be used to transfer multi-media. It seems that I will simply lose all of the photos and short vids I have taken when I get my next phone.

It has a camera button on the side, which cannot be locked. This means that while it is in your pocket, it will take a few nice photos for you! I had to delete 400 photos of black last week when I realised this! Prior to this I was using a generic phone cover, which protected the camera button from accidental snap shot taking. I grew sick of the cover though, because it sweats. My choice: sweaty phone or hundreds of photos taken from within my pocket!

I have an extreme dislike for the calendar. This is the first phone I have used with a calendar but I found the interface to be limiting and unfriendly.

The middle button is hard-coded to the browser function. This is disappointing for a couple of reasons. 1) I rarely use this function and would much rather have been able to assign it to something else. 2) I find myself too often accidentally hitting that button when I meant to push up/down/left/right instead and find myself hurriedly cancelling the browser, wondering how much of the opening page has the browser managed to download already.

When responding to a text message, the quick English language option is not available. When I want to respond to a text message now, I start a new message and assign the recipient myself.

I like this phone because it is the first phone I have bought that has a camera and the ability to download Java games. However, I dislike this phone for all the above reasons. Overall, I would not have purchased this phone if I had known about the disadvantages, and I doubt my next phone will be a Samsung.

Some other reviews

From gsmarena.com.
From mobile-review.com.
From mobile-phones-uk.org.uk.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Pseudopod: Were-wolf, President, Clint Eastwood, Nick Cave, Horror!

Just listened to Full Moon Over 1600, by Christopher Michael Cummings and read by Rick Stringer.

I thoroughly enjoyed this story! I didn't think I would at the start, when I realised it was focused on politics. However, I was hooked from the sentence "when a strange sensation crawls down his nose, into his throat"; this first hint that the President's lycanthropy had pushed him into a world of heightened senses. In other werewolf stories, those senses are used for hunting, fighting and generally eating people. In this story, it is what turns the President into a type of hero; and his eating people makes him a rather horrifying hero!

This is why I like "Full Moon Over 1600": in most stories I hear (fiction and non-fiction), presidents and were-wolves aren't usually good guys. In this story, becoming a were-wolf makes the president into a good guy! I enjoyed how Christopher Michael Cummings turned smell and intuition into a moral sense and it was amusing to find the "media spin" angle working for a good guy.

Perhaps most noticeable about this story is that it isn't just President as Were-wolf. Thanks to the voice of Rick Stringer, it was also Clint Eastwood as President and Werewolf!

There are questions in the Pseudopod forums about whether or not this a horror story. Thinking about this question was what led me to write this blog entry (and forum post).

I think it is a horror story. The were-wolf did some typical scary were-wolf things: i.e. eating people - but did so publicly, on camera, and it only increased his popularity! The contrasting figures of werewolf and president in this story were twisted together so that two common images appeared in one character in a disturbing way. This is what a good horror story should do: disturb the audience!

In a broader sense, the question isn't very important to me. Horror is visceral - therefore it is open to interpretation and different people will classify different things as being horrific. Someone thought it fit the genre, and I enjoyed the story with that in mind. Most of the time, that's all it takes for me. Even if I do find a "horror" story that I don't personally think is a horror story, I find value in the story just by wondering why we might be at odds; why that other person found it horrifying, even if I didn't.

A small side story. A friend once made a tape for me of Nick Cave's The Murder Ballads. Now that is one scary album! Each song creeped me out in a different way, with "O' Malley's Bar" being the song that burnt itself most strongly into my mind with a detailed portrayal of a twisted mind. This song was effective because the "detail" I mention came not just from the lyrics. It was Nick Cave's voice and the jarring melody that really gave me a sense of how insane the man was. I digress: the point being that this album was the most horrific music I had ever listened to (and I loved it!).. but at the end of the tape, my friend had included another song, "Into My Arms" from The Boatman's Call - an album of (ostensibly) love songs from Nick Cave that I had not heard about. The first verse:

I don't believe in an interventionist God
But I know, darling, that you do
But if I did I would kneel down and ask Him
Not to intervene when it came to you
Not to touch a hair on your head
To leave you as you are
And if He felt He had to direct you
Then direct you into my arms

After listening to a whole album of songs about twisted, murderous minds, this song fit perfectly! Even though I have the Boatman's Call on CD now and have enjoyed listening to it many times, I still think of "Into My Arms" as one of the most subtle and chilling works of horror ever!

Horror is visceral; if it feels like horror, it is horror; maybe not to other people. "Full Moon Over 1600" felt like a good horror to me.

Variant Frequencies: sci-fi, horror and fantasy podcast

While I was listening to an episode of Escape Pod yesterday I heard about a new podcast, and it is amazing! Unfortunately they only come up with about one a month, so it won't take me too long to catch up, but I will do so gladly!

Last Flight of the Esperanza

Fifteen ships left Earth in search of new places for humans to live. When the Esperanza 15 crashes, only one of the crew is left alive. How will she survive when she is the only human on an entire planet?

This story has sound effects: a sound-scape that intensified the level of imagery invoked by the narration of a magnificent forest world. I kept thinking of the forest as an ocean, and I enjoyed the contrast: slow moving creatures that could almost be translucent jelly fish with their long tendrils, and the height of the trees that felt like the depth of an ocean. Both images (forest and ocean) were imbued in my head with the same sense of age, alien and beauty.

Other themes I greatly enjoyed in this story were transmogrification, adaptation and acceptance - in that order I believe. :) For the protagonist of this story, it wasn't a matter of choice. But it got me thinking of another story I read years ago. "Waiting for the Rain" by Dirk Strasser (found Metaworlds - ISBN 0 14 023766 6). "Waiting for the Rain" is a very sad story with the same themes but in a different order: acceptance, transmogrification and adaptation.

First Born

This was a horror story, which to me seemed a blend of Omen (without the child) with a touch of Dogma (without the humour).

All the way through it, my sense of dread grew as I felt the inevitable conclusion draw me in. It was all in the voices, both written and spoken: the angels were all resigned, even at the start of the story. Resigned to the idea that there was no chance of redemption for anyone anymore, because the big G was gone; without evidence of a divine presence, time leached away their hope. It seemed even Raph was only continuing out of a sense of bloody mindedness.

I find this sense of resignation fascinating in vampire stories too: when they grow so old that they lose the ability to be interested in anything. When they become resigned to the idea that there is nothing worth .. un-living for anymore. In those stories it seems to me that it is fitting and right, because it shows that even their great evil can pass.

It this story, it is horrific - the wrong entities are giving up!

Perhaps the only sequel story to this should fall into the same vein as Louise Cooper’s Time-Master.. eventually, millennia from now, the pendulum will swing the other way.. Lu will be so bored of ‘ever lasting’ dominion that he will face his own sense of resignation…

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Spiderman 3

I have also put this review on IMDB.com and Escape Pod.

I saw Spiderman 3 recently and enjoyed it greatly for the special effects and for the new bad guys it introduces.

Most of all I empathised with and cheered for Thomas Haden Church's Sandman. His creation scene was sad and poignant: a poor man battling so much bad luck. He couldn't keep his family together and now cannot even keep himself together! I found Sandman's creation scene emotionally resonant with the sand blown scene in Altered States - which I imagined to be an allegory for two people who loved each other but were growing apart so slowly they didn't notice it any more.

An aspect of the first and second Spiderman movies that I most enjoyed was the emotional wrangling Peter Parker went through with his love for MJ. He loves her, but he feels as though he should reject that love, because he cannot protect her from the evil in his life. Ironically, he has brought the evil into his own life by choosing to "fight crime", to be a hero.

By implication, he is choosing the life of a hero over the life of a lover, a partner.

Why does he make this choice? What can make Spiderman reject the love of a good woman? Does he find the draw of being a hero, of having power and glory to be greater than the joy and satisfaction of having a partner? I won't mention the sex. Or does the emotional and moral imperative to help people form an irresistible urge that draws him to the inevitable conclusion that since he can't both help people and have a lover whom he can protect, helping people is what must win out.

I think the first and third movies present different answers to this question. In the first movie I felt that Peter Parker was irresistibly drawn to helping people. But in the third movie, he was after the glory! He fights so hard to make sure Spiderman gets good news paper coverage. Sure, he was under the influence of the black gunk - but it just exaggerates what is already there, so Peter loves the power and glory too.

Escape Pod has a very thoughtful review of Spiderman 3. It questions how easily Peter Parker rids himself of evil. He can strip off the black gunk and is immediately absolved of the evil he has committed (at least in the eyes of the audience). "We always have a choice", Peter says, yet in the words of the reviewer Jonathon Sullivan, Peter Parker paid the smallest price for his own evil.

The problem, Sullivan says, is that true evil comes from humans, not from external objects like black gunk from the sky. By relegating the source of Peter Parker's evil actions to the black gunk, we don't get to examine the true source of evil - the dark thoughts and desires in our hearts.

I find this to be a valid and important point. I was thrilled when Spidey managed to wipe the gunk off himself and "gong it to death", and I enjoyed the resolution he found with Sandman at the end.

However, as I was walking out I wondered "how many people died in the scenes they portrayed?" The movie showed lots of buildings and property getting destroyed - but surely all that damage would have taken quite a few people out as well. The aspect of "Collateral Damage" wasn't addressed - did Peter Parker have nightmares about the innocents who died while he was wearing the black suit? Perhaps this is common enough for all superheroes (or police, or soldiers..): in trying to do good deeds, sometimes innocent people get hurt.

Something I really wanted from Spiderman 3 was a bit more acknowledgment that tearing off the black suit doesn't mean Spiderman has torn all evil thoughts from his heart. It just means they aren't being amplified anymore. Some people will say that was reflected by his statement that "we always have a choice" - the choice to follow through with our dark desires or not. That is true, but I still wanted something more: something I see in shows like Law & Order. That final look on the face of the main character, a lawyer, cop, DA, coffee boy etc: thoughtful but uncomfortable. They are thinking: "something bad has happened, unavoidable, necessary perhaps, but bad - and it can never be taken back.. I hope I can live with myself."

Escape Pod: Impossible Dreams

I recently listened to one of the most memorable short story/audio podcasts on Escape Pod: Impossible Dreams.

The story is a fantasy genre love tale about two lonely souls meeting each other in a Video Store that shouldn't be there.

I thoroughly enjoyed this story, and came away from it feeling satisfied, as though everything in the story fit perfectly together, from beginning to end.

The Magnificent Ambersons. The main character is a movie buff. "He believed in movies the way some people believed in God" and this story portrayed his passion in such an earnest fashion. I did not know about Orson Welle's movie. When I finished listening to the story, I read about The Magnificent Ambersons just to see if it was real. The story behind The Magnificent Ambersons is tragic because it is infused with sense of so much potential lost. I cared so much about the protagonists in this story because I felt that their lives also seemed imbued with a sense of lost potential.

The protagonists are ordinary people in an urban 80's to 00's world. There is nothing special about them, they are lonely, they are struggling, they are trying to do the best they can. I empathised strongly with the characters because of this. The story wasn't sappy or romantic; it portrayed a burgeoning attraction that made my heart beat faster, hoping it would have the chance to grow into something more. The resolution of the story was satisfying: it painted the final details of the characters perfectly, their actions succinctly matching the images I had built up in my head for each of them.

It was simply beautiful: think of the most soulful love song you have ever heard, and you will be playing that song in your head as you think about this story later..

2007 Hugo Nominee!

"Impossible Dreams" by Tim Pratt.
Read by Matthew Wayne Selznick.
First appeared in Asimov’s Science Fiction, July 2006.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Eric Bana and the Incredible Lycra Shorts.. err, Hulk!

Saw this in 2003 and loved it!

My IMDB review from 2003! (Text below.)

thought The Hulk was an amazing movie.

I nominate it for First Prize in all movie awards in the `Make-Up and Special Effects' category for the most stunning effect in the whole movie: Eric Banna/Bruce Banner's Super Stretchy Lycra Shorts!

I grew up with Lou Ferrigno's Hulk and it was a wonderful surprise catching his cameo.

Even though I never read The Hulk comics, I greatly appreciated the added color (apart from green!) brought to the movie by the comic book style `split screens, wipes, fades, and boxes'. The story told by the movie shows a warm compassion for my favourite main characters, Eric Bana (Bruce Banner), Jennifer Connelly (Betty Ross), Sam Elliott (Betty's Military Dad) and Nick Nolte (Bruce's Father - a most satisfying anti-hero).

The Hulk effects were very exciting on the big screen, and it fit perfectly with the efforts made to fill in the story of Bruce and his father.

I was getting a tad restless in some parts towards the end of the movie when the energy of the film starts to slide a bit, but I was just too hyped from the action scenes!

My favourite scene: watching Eric Bana's charismatic face made huge, green and angry and then sad, lost, confused and somewhat love struck by the tender face of Jennifer Connelly (Betty Ross). (For some reason, it reminded me of a very funny Eric Bana in Channel 10's Full Frontal - used to be on Australian TV 1992 to 1994.)

Babylon 5: Thirdspace

Just aw it today and loved it!

Check out my IMDB review (text below).

loved this movie - I have been so thirsty for more Babylon 5, that even the elevator scene didn't faze me.

The aspect I love most about this movie is "One mistake out of so many." I love it that the Vorlons.. almost the "angels" in Babylon 5 universe, are ultimately as screwy as we are. They have things they regret; they made enormous errors. A poignant example of this arrogance is trying to reach another dimension thinking they would be Gods there too.

This thought brings another question to mind: why are the dominant race of the "Third Dimension" so hooked on wanting to kill everybody else? Working on a common underlying theme of Babylon 5 - that no-one is all bad (or all good) - maybe they thought of themselves as Gods once too, just like the Vorlons. Maybe they brought up some other race out of the 'dark ages' only to be savaged and almost destroyed by them, so from that point on they took the view that they should protect themselves by killing everyone else. This thought occurred to me as I was wondering what their story was, when the Vorlon memory inside Lyta said they were "anti life".

The elevator scene certainly didn't really belong - mostly because AFAIK it didn't link into any other love interest between those two characters in the rest of the show.

I found the ending to be quite satisfying for the most part. Galactic devastation avoided by the narrowest of margins.. *phew* :) Of course, the stunning effects played their usual brilliant part.

Two aspects of the action at the end didn't make sense.

1. What happened to the ships that made it through when the device was destroyed? Surely there were plenty that had come through. Surely they wouldn't have simply been destroyed by the gate being destroyed.

2. The being that Sheridan encountered inside the Gate seemed like it was an ancient and malevolent intelligence. "Intelligence" being the operative word, why didn't it pay any attention to the BOMB Sheridan placed there?

If it was the same tentacled thing that inhabited Ivanova's dream, it seems to me that it is smart. It seemed prescient enough to know that Centauri females would be enough to seduce Vir and that Ivanova was rebellious enough that she should be killed. Maybe I am incorrectly interpreting the dream, but it seemed to indicate that there was a driving intelligence in the background, something that could read peoples *intentions*.

So why did it seem to ignore the bomb? Perhaps the bomb was so alien to the ..um.. alien, it didn't know what to make of it and wouldn't have been able to de-activate it anyway. But the movie only showed the alien trying to stop Sheridan leaving. I felt it should have showed some curiosity about what Sheridan left there; I refuse to believe the alien simply didn't see or understand what Sheridan was doing!

Overall, I really enjoyed this movie and would give it a solid 8 out 10. It filled my hunger for Babylon 5 (for now...).

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Podcasts I love

My iPod and radio transmitter (and bud earphones, and shell earphones, and $100 computer speakers and sub woofer) are daily companions of mine, providing the kind of on-call entertainment that the radio's unforgiving schedule never can!

Below is a list of my faviourite podcasts. You can search for any of these by name in iTunes.

So many shows from ABC's Radio National. I love our Australian public broadcaster!

  • Background Briefing

  • Big Ideas

  • In Conversation

  • Late Night Live

  • Movie Time

  • Music Show, The

  • Philosopher's Zone

  • The Law Report

  • The Media Report

  • The Night Air

  • The Religion Report

  • The Science Show

Technical podcasts, can be Java specific or not.

  • Aussie Tech Head

  • DrunkAndRetired.com Podcast. Usually on topic Java talk, sometimes amusing off topic talk, sometimes "I wish they were retired - from podcasting!"

  • The Java Posse. Excellent chat about everything Java from guys who sound like they know what they are talking about!

  • this WEEK in TECH. Wide variety of coverage for anything tech related (rarely programming related though. Cool range of panel members, sometimes annoying when they all talk over each other.


  • Kasper Hauser Comedy Podcast

  • The Chaser's War on Everything - another ABC product, this time from ABC the TV Station

  • triple j Raw Comedy - another ABC product, this time from our "youth oriented" Radio Station


  • British Science Fiction Podcast

  • Escape Pod - brilliant, excellent podcast for sci-fi short stories

  • Pseudopod - brilliant, excellent podcast for horror short stories

  • Sci Fi Saturday Night

  • Sci-Fi and Fantasy Podcast

  • The Sci-Fi and Fantasy Podcast

  • Variant Frequencies

Gaming.. as in computer games or RPG's

  • Have Games, Will Travel

  • One Life Left


  • Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing

Maths: Long Division, or DMSCB - Does McDonalds Sell Cheese Burgers

I might be a programmer, but it was recently revealed to me that I couldn't remember how I was taught long division in school.

Finished laughing at me yet?

I searched around and found the technique, but didn't find enough examples that I understood the technique again straight away. Here is my attempt to clear that up for anyone else who forgets how to do long division (not that I am implying anything of course...).

The rule: Does McDonalds Sell Cheese Burgers.

A.K.A. Divide Multiply Subtract Check Bring down.

Example: 956 / 18.


18 | 956

18 into 9? No.
18 into 95? 4 times.

18 | 956


18 | 956

4 * 18 = 72

18 | 956


18 | 956

95 - 72 = 23

18 | 956
- 72

Check that that the result of your subtraction is smaller than your divisor.

18 | 956
- 72

23 > 18 ... made a mistake!

Start over again..


18 | 956

18 into 9? No.
18 into 95? 5 times.

18 | 956


18 | 956

5 * 18 = 90

18 | 956


18 | 956

95 - 90 = 5

18 | 956

Check that that the result of your subtraction is smaller than your divisor.

18 | 956

5 < 18 ... whew!

Bring down digits that haven't been divided yet.

18 | 956

Bring the 6 from 956 down to the 5, to make 56.

18 | 956

And repeat..

Divide Multiply Subtract Check Bring down.

18 | 956

18 into 5? No.
18 into 56? 3 times.

18 | 956


18 | 956

3 * 18 = 54

18 | 956


18 | 956

56 = 54 = 2

18 | 956


18 | 956

2 < 18

Bring down... nothing to bring down, so we have our answer.

53 R 2
18 | 956

956 / 18 = 53 R 2

Another example with much better presentation (but without the Cheese) is given by mathsisfun.com.

The first example of DMSCB that I found in my search helped a lot. It is on Shannan's Math Web Site on AngelFire, but I didn't find it sufficient because it didn't explain the Cheese. :)

On the same site I found an example of another technique, which I think is more useful for numbers larger than 4 digits. Check out this Partial-Quotients Example.

True story: I learned for myself what the Cheese was, when I made the very mistake I showed up top (18 goes into 95 only 4 times)! Yeah, you can laugh at me now. :)