Missing the point.

I really didn’t enjoy Grave of the Fireflies.  Enjoy is probably the wrong word to use for a film like this one, actually.  ‘Moved’ is probably more appropriate.  I wasn’t moved by it.

I understand that there are differences between Japanese culture (especially prior to the end of WWII) and Western culture, specifically surrounding the way people maintain pride and honour, but nevertheless I was at a loss as to why Seita, the main character in the film, behaves in the way he does.  I should probably note (before someone else does) that it was a semi-autobiographical novel before being made into a movie, and thus some portions reflect real events, although I don’t know how the novel differs from the movie itself and the particulars of the original history.  Even though it has a link back to reality, the whole thing annoys the hell out of me because of Seita’s increasingly contradictory actions – all of which contribute first to the death of his sister, and then to his own demise.

Basically, it all boils down to his relationship with the aunt who takes him in.  She scolds him for not doing anything; he explains that the steel works he was working in got bombed (but then doesn’t explain why that stops him looking for anything else).  Following an argument about food, which stems pretty much entirely from his unwillingness to say to his sister, “this is all we have”, he refuses to apologise to his aunt and instead goes to live in the wild, taking his four-year old sister with him.

I don’t get it.  Why couldn’t he apologise?  Why can’t he go out and look for work; even the meanest, most menial tasks to bring something to the table?  If he’s so concerned about that, why does he end up stealing?  Isn’t that worse than having to suck it up and eat humble pie?  It annoyed me so much that I completely refused to accept the film’s message about the personal consequences of war.  Everything that happened to them after their mother died might well have been irrevocable, but Seita didn’t exactly put a lot of effort into preventing it.

More search engine tomfoolery.

I am being productive.  I promise.  However, the story I’m working on took a bit of a dark turn and I needed a break for some light relief.

Where do I turn?  The internets, of course.

Following my previous call for a “see who can find the most disturbing search term that leads to this site”, I had a browse through the recent searches to see if there were any significant entries.  No such luck.  Apparently there’s a new and improved version of Bejeweled Blitz on Facebook and every single cheating bastard in the universe has apparently clicked on a link to this site off a variation on Googling for “Bejeweled Blitz Cheat”.

The winner has to be “can bejeweld make u ill”, though.  To give that one worried browser an answer: yes, yes it can.  I don’t play it and I’m fucking sick of it already.

What else?  I continue to be bombarded with spam comments, although not so much since I banned a whole bundle of Russian IP addresses.  Also, I’m not sure if it’s just sloppy advertising or they’re peddling fake drugs but it’s spelt V-I-A-G-R-A.  Come on, guys, show some nous at least.  It’s just tiresome and from the general experience of dealing with spammers, if I was made King of the World tomorrow I’d spend a serious chunk of energy hunting them down and having them spayed as an example to everyone.

So, what else.  I read a bunch of Charlaine Harris novels; Grave Sight, Grave Surprise and Ice Cold Grave.  They’re pretty enjoyable for stuff in the mystery thriller genre, much better than the Lee Child book I read.  It covers the same sort of plot points – there is a murder in Hicksville, the outsider with unusual talents can’t leave until it’s solved – but I much preferred Harris’s style to the clipped, macho, trying-too-hard tone of Killing Floor (“He was a cop.  A tall one.  He looked tough but I could take him.  I can take anyone. ” – I’m paraphrasing, of course).

That said, whoever is doing the proofreading for Gollancz needs a slap.  I really don’t mind spelling mistakes, but when things like attribution errors (early on in Grave Sight, the waitress appears to drink Harper’s coffee), gender shifts (Detective Young turns into a man at least once in Grave Surprise) and just general continuity breaks (Mariella, Harper’s younger sister, is eleven in the first book and nine in the second) creep in it really starts to niggle at me.

In a similar vein, I was willing to let slide the Swiss-cheese nature of the Malazan Empire until Steven Erikson started wittering in the preface to Ian C. Esselmont’s shared-universe novel Night of Knives about how scrupulously they had maintained  a complete history of the world, which is, in the face of the overwhelming contrary evidence of his novels, complete bunkum.

Granted, Harris makes no such similar claim, but with an author as successful as she is I would have expected someone at the publishing house to flag some really basic and obvious copy errors before they started the paperback run.

Infectious material, or “The Gift of Love”

So, Lisa picked up a really nasty cold at work, from one of the new starts (a tech, I think) who decided that he had to martyr himself in order to show willing at the new workplace, and thus spread the germs around.  I was going to lay into him here over that, but in earlier, more naive incarnations of my current self, I’ve done it a few times, even to the point of being sent home because no-one wanted some of whatever I’d got.

Anyway, the upshot is that Lisa has been off sick, and I’ve been here with here all the time, so it’s just a matter of incubation times before I myself succumb to similar symptoms (Ouch – note to self: watch the alliteration.  It’s OK though, I can just blame it on the germs).

Whenever she’s ill, she gets into a cycle of wanting to keep active (because apparently you should try to be up and active while getting over a cold) and do things, but she’s often too tired and sore and grumpy to work up the motivation to do anything at all.  So far the solutions have included breaking 160k on Bejeweled Blitz, and breaking into her season 1 set of Gossip Girl.

I was going to find a link for Bejeweled Blitz, but googling it just links to primarily sites explaining how to hack it for incredibly high scores.  Apparently using other people’s script to cheat at games is a kind of “meta-game” where you pretend that it’s actually you hacking into the game, like someone might do in a movie.  Really, it’s just cheating, something as old as dirt, but if you use a cool word and pretend you’re totally the master  of what it is you’re doing when you follow a page of instructions to install a couple of lines of script, then it’s apparently alright to ‘blog about how cool you are.

Actually, I will link one of them.  This is the link I decided to click on from that one Google search, and this is the one that annoyed me.  Hey guys!  You can totally cheat at this game, so why wouldn’t you?

Because it’s Bejeweled, primarily.  On a secondary point, cheating at it so obviously makes you look like a bit of an idiot.  Look at those scores; 92k, 95k, 100k, 101k, and oh yeah, six fucking million.  If you’re going to undermine the game to the extent that the score at the end is several orders of magnitude beyond the norm, you might as well just not bother and instead write little status alerts for yourself.

Bob Somebody just awarded himself 18 billion billion points!  Congratulations Bob!

People are actually more likely to congratulate you on this, if in a cheeky, ironic fashion.  Scoring 6 million at Bejeweled just marginalises the concept of a high score table.  Nobody wants to compete against, or congratulate, an out-and-out cheat.  It’s like those Flixster quizzes; I used to do them, and was really pleased when I did a Back to the Future one in a silly short amount of time (although that does make me kind of sad).  The high score table for that?  Dominated by people who had apparently answered it all in 0.01 seconds.  What’s the point?

Anyway.  Gossip Girl.  I can tell Lisa likes it, because she was up past 1 am, sick as she was, watching episodes of it.  I managed to half-watch two episodes before I found myself too annoyed to stay in the room with it.  I don’t know if I’ve ranted about this before, but I get really wound up by the way a lot of tv shows operate on the premise of general stupidity on the part of the cast.  No one has any foresight, empathy, feels guilt, or does anything remotely human in the show; everything that happens is an emotional MacGuffin, something to move the plot forward.  Look, here’s the Bitchy One!  She’s bitchy!  Ooh we don’t like her but no one except the heroine seems to notice!

I particularly liked how everyone gets over the incident of an attempted rape  really quickly because they want to keep the antagonist as a major character.  “Ooh!  He’s all mean and arrogant, but that’s kind of cool right?” the show is asking us.  Was I the only person watching the second episode going; “wait, what – he attempts to rape someone, and people are fine with this?”  Even the protagonist characters who intervened on the victim’s part seem almost blase about it; after pushing the guy over at a brunch, it’s kind of forgotten.

The reason for all this that is foisted on us again and again by the show is that communication is just not the done thing, so nobody tells anyone anything and the viewer is left to stew in frustration as the plot barrels idiotically forwards under the guidance of a invisible, but still smirking, narrator who sounds exactly like the sort of person I’d throw a drink over at a party, then go to the bar, buy another drink and, if she was still there, toss that one too.

I wonder if this is how Lisa feels when I sit and watch stuff like Band of Brothers?

Why the Yaris makes me nervous, junior doctor fail, and why am I such a confusing boyfriend.

The Yaris does make me nervous when I drive it. Not simply because it’s new, but for a couple of other reasons. First of all, the gearbox. It’s a lot tighter than the one on the Polo which, after years of abuse, had a range of motion one might describe as expansive. There was a healthy arm movement required on shifting from 2nd to 3rd.

In the new car, choosing second, fourth or sixth (!!!) gear isn’t too bad. Going into first, third or fifth happens a lot sooner than my brain expects it to, though. As a result, I sit with my foot on the clutch going “wait, did I get it in gear?” and then gingerly lift my foot off in horrified anticipation of a terrifying stall.

Every time, it’s just me being weird. I have stalled it a couple of times, but all of them have been, thankfully, from a standing start.

The other thing that scares me is the Optimal Drive engine. When you are stopped in traffic, if you put the car in neutral and take your foot of the clutch (but keep your foot on the brake) the engine will stop, ostensibly improving the car’s fuel economy. Put the clutch back down, the engine fires up again. The scary bit is that it has an internal timer, and if left for more than a minute or so, the engine will start automatically. Not a bad feature, by any stretch of the imagination, but to my mind the judder of the car as the engine starts suddenly feels very much like when the engine stalls, so every time it has happened so far, my brain has gone HEY WHAT THE CRAP and my first instinct has been to press the engine start button…which then cuts the engine.

I honestly would hold up traffic less if I stopped facepalming immediately after such things.

Continue reading “Why the Yaris makes me nervous, junior doctor fail, and why am I such a confusing boyfriend.”

Psychic sensitivity? Alien Abduction? Why isn’t it ever just in your head?

While I was in the Short Stay Unit at the hospital, I had the absolute joy of staying in a bed across from a young gentleman whose addiction to heroin had engendered in him what everyone (everyone who’s watched House, at least) would call “drug-seeking behaviour”.

When the doctor was on the ward, he was quiet and compliant; humbly and diligently delivering up the chronicle of his sorrow-filled days suffering dizziness, blacking out, chest pains, spasms, and a whole cornucopia of non-specific symptoms possibly linked to withdrawal.  You see, he’d explain, he’s been fighting to get off the drugs.  Fighting hard.

Nurses got similar deference, up to the point where he was certain that he was going to be given methadone – at which point he hopped out of bed and told the nurse on the ward to “jus’ leave it on the table.  I’m off out fer a fag, so I’ll get it when I’m back.  If you could stick a couple of them dihydrocodeine tablets in a cup fer us and all, love, that’d be grand.”

The nurse was so taken aback by the cheek of it, that he was out the door before she could get round to articulating that everything he’d just said, cigarette notwithstanding, was only going to happen in his bloody dreams.

You may have guessed that his natural demeanour was not one of down-at-heel quiescence.  Whenever he wasn’t asking people around the ward for cigarettes, a loan of a pen, the use of their mobile phone charger, a read of their paper, he was noising up the custodial staff (I forget the proper NHS term for them, but it’s a different job from nurse, and they wear a lighter uniform – they have nothing to do with your medication so they got no peace from him) for a coffee; strong coffee, with milk, lots of milk, and three sugars.  Here, love, I can hardly taste the sugar in that, did you put three in?  Let me put the sugar in, I know how I like it.  Could I have some toast?  What time is it?  When’s lunch?  Is it Sunday roast?  Can I have another Yorkshire pudding?  Can I have a bit more gravy?  Is there another sausage spare?

Once fed and watered, he took to sitting upright in bed, holding forth to the room on his personal philosophy of life, which mostly revolved around how he’d kicked “a mate” up and down Pontefract for saying bad things about his dead mother, and how this one incident justified all the other kickings he’d meted out in his lifetime.  He wasn’t a violent person, he told the ward.  It’s just that other people kept giving him reasons to beat them up.  So unfair!

Then we got onto the thing that stuck with me.  Despite everything that had happened to him, he was okay.  Despite the drugs, the crime, the fights, the jail and everything else, he was okay, because God had given him psychic powers.

Continue reading “Psychic sensitivity? Alien Abduction? Why isn’t it ever just in your head?”

Italy – land of scary drivers and excellent food.

So I’m not really planning on doing any big holiday report posts for the ‘blog.

However, I guess a quick pick of the photos and a short set of accompanying text might be edifying.  I’ll link the full Flickr set of images at the end for anyone who’s interested.

Continue reading “Italy – land of scary drivers and excellent food.”

Shaving; how not to lacerate your face.

It’s all in the choice of gel, and the choice of razor.

For some reason, back somewhere in my early twenties, I went from being able to shave in two minutes with disposable blades to taking ten minutes and requiring a fairly sharp razor to do it with.  Maybe there was a threshold toughening point in the bristles that I wasn’t fully aware of occurring, but when I look back on how I used to shave, I wince.

Additionally, I can’t shave on consecutive days now.  If I do, I end up cutting myself horribly.  While I’m not working (and, lets be honest, sometimes when I was working) I let myself foster a good few days growth before I shave, just to let my skin recover a bit.  It saves on hot water, and I seem to get fewer issues with ingrowing bristles because of it.

I can’t bring myself to stay beardy.  It’s just too itchy, and Lisa hates it.

Anyway, I ran out of shaving gel while on holiday, so I had to buy new stuff.  The supermarket was out of my normal choice, but there were other King of Shaves brands available.  Normally would have just waited, or gone to another shop, but I’m willing to investigate the rest of the KoS line.  I’m not massively into brand loyalty, but through investigation of various different types, it really is one of the few instances where one brand stands head and shoulders above the rest of its competition.  I even tried Clinique shaving foam for comparison.  It was terrible.

So the brand I bought this time was called “Azor”.  see, they’ve taken the word “razor” and removed the “r” to make it seem space-age and cool!  How awesome is that?  This, everyone, is what happens when you name things by committee.  Shit like that starts to seem plausible.

Irregardless of stupid naming conventions, the gel is actually really good, although the company seem to be heading the way of Pantene Pro-V.  With each further generation of their product, they slowly move towards something that has the colour and consistency of male ejaculate.

For the first time in about seven years, I shaved in under two minutes.

It makes you wonder what they blacked out…

So the CIA Inspector General’s report (2004) was released yesterday, focussing on the detention and torture of suspects during the period 2001-2003.  A massie amount of it has been censored, but the stuff that isn’t is damning stuff nonetheless.

A quick summary, if there is such a thing for a report like this, can be found over at salon.com on Glenn Greenwald’s ‘blog.

If you’ve really got the stomach for it, click through to the comments on that link.  Prepare to spend your time sighing, or becoming increasingly irate.

Returning from our holiday (eventually). Was it really just a week?

Due to high winds around Firenze airport, we got delayed by a good ninety-minutes-plus-change and missed our connecting flight.  Thanks to Lisa’s perspicacity, our flights were with a proper airline and not a cheap and nasty cattle-class affair like the sort I used to regard as being the only realistic option.  As a result, we were rebooked on flights this morning, and given hotel accommodation overnight along with details of the customer service office should we feel any need to lodge a complaint.

Had we taken cattle-class flights (assuming there were any to be had, that is), we would likely have been told to fuck off, left to sleep on the airport floor overnight, and would have had to buy seats on a replacement flight at enormous personal expense.  I’ve read a few blogs about cheap flight carriers and their recent escalation from simple money grubbery into the heady territory of possible extortion.  I always thought that behaviour such as turning up the heat in the aircon and then making people pay through the nose for lukewarm drinks was limited to the Bullfrog classic, Theme Park,  but apparently not these days.  I’d honestly rather travel less than expose myself to that kind of low-class machination.

In any case, it feels like we’ve been gone for a month, at least.  Maybe it’s because we haven’t been away since January, but it felt like a complete disconnect from the normal reality of life.  Was it really just a week?  Feels like it was a month right now.
Anyway, I had a couple of story ideas while I was away.  I duly wrote them down in the chicken scratchings I claim as handwriting and will transpose them to the PC later.  I should also get back to work on the urban fantasy thing I’ve been doing (25 k booyah).  It’s pretty mediocre stuff at the moment, but once I’ve got the bones laid out I’ll spend some time kicking it into shape.

On a side note, what the hell is up with the US media, and to a lesser extent their government, at the moment with regards to the UK?  Fucking fair-weather friends, that lot.

Going on holiday, why summer cinema is a washout, and why I shouldn’t be reading news websites.

So, at the end of the week Lisa and I are off to Italy!  Hooray!  I get to wander around lovely Tuscany going “ooh isn’t it pretty?” and Lisa gets to have her bum pinched by Berlusconi (it could happen).

She’s been practising with the phrasebook, which has been interesting to listen to.  There’s a touch of the it’s-a-me, Mario! to her delivery as she reads out the carefully-split phonetic renderings, bouncing a little on the emphasis, that adds a certain comic charm to lines like, “I do not want a blood transfusion” and “can you use a clean needle?

We were meant to go and see The Ugly Truth on Monday, an event which ended up not happening due to someone not being able to make it along.  I can’t say I was too bothered, really.  So far I’ve missed out on quite a lot of cinema viewing this summer, and from the trailers I’ve seen perhaps I’m stretching the term, ‘missed out’ to the very limits of definition.  I have missed out on wasting money on humourless industry potboiler churn would be more appropriate.  I popped onto Apple’s trailer site the other day and sat through ten minutes of increasingly generic twaddle that made me suspect the Apocalypse is long past and no-one had quite noticed yet.  I mean, Sandra Bullock has already had her yearly rom-com, hasn’t she?  Do we really need another?  Going to the In Development section of IMDB, the titles forthcoming up to 2012 include Bridesmaids, Jingle, One of the Guys, Kiss & Tango, and The Sprinkler Queen.  Who’s with me on betting at least two are about a kooky, socially inept woman who has no time for a personal life meeting the man of her dreams and winning him over with the hitherto unrecognised sunniness she hides inside?

I know, I know.  You’d all bet it was 4 of them.

All of this leads me on to my morning internet reading, which includes a browse of the BBC news website and the Guardian.  I won’t even start on the BBC news, at least in an in-depth fashion.  Lets just say, whoever sits down every morning and decides that yes, these are the big stories that require as much lead time as possible, needs a goddamn slap.  Along with that, whoever has the job of going out and getting a ‘public reaction’ needs to do something other than  picking the first person they see and just making do with that.  I read news stories on there and just get angrier and angrier and angrier.

The top story of the day is “Unemployment poised to rise again”, with the strap revealing that the actual numbers are yet to be released.  So, what it really is, is speculation, not news.  Granted, it’s a pretty safe bet, but then if we were to take this method to it’s logical conclusion, the headlines should really read:

Sun expected to rise tomorrow

Giant ball of gas in space is expected to illuminate the British countryside again, following a brief dip overnight.

OK, so it turned out I *was* going to rant about it after all, which leaves me hardly any space to rant about the Guardian website being so full of op-ed bullshit that I think it’s somewhat remiss for them to call hijinks over the Investor’s Business Daily printing a fallacious comment about Stephen Hawking.  At least the IBD Editors went and removed the erroneous paragraph (although I guess they stopped short of rolling up a newspaper and smacking the author of the piece over the nose with it), a full day before the Guardian featured it in their online diary.

Of course I could take all the space I want, this being my ‘blog and all, but there’s a certain limit I hit when ranting after which I just start making spluttering noises and start weeping in an uncontrolled fashion that makes it hard to see the screen.  Since I’m dangerously close to that point, and I doubt you want to see what happens when I inneffectually paw the keyboard while gurning and wailing (but you do that already, I hear you cry), I’ll leave it there.