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Oct. 18th, 2014 @ 02:55 pm Edge of Tomorrow
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Minor spoilersCollapse )

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Oct. 14th, 2014 @ 12:58 am Assorted rants
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Got to work late because of waiting for the bed delivery. Then got 8 hours of productive work done. That never happens! Why can't that happen every day?

Squeeeee! Bed!

Where would you put the "off" switch for a monitor?
Somewhere you can't reach
In a concrete bunker under the raptor cage
At the corner where you need to grab it to adjust the height
Anywhere else

How can you tell if a unicode character shows up correctly? :)

I added two more weekly resolutions to beeminder. It's a lot more convenient now it has a "max safe days" option, it's easier to make goals where you don't want to do a total amount, but want to do an approximate amount every week if you say "doing twice as much this week can give me credit for next week, but no more". But getting in to work 7 hours early, I wouldn't do, but if I did, would be equally unprofessional to getting in to work 7 hours late, not cancel it out. And no amount of cleaning now will mean I don't have to tidy again for three months! My new resolutions are 15 minutes of tidying twice a week (ie. not only at the last minute). And 15 minutes of practising some hobby (drawing, writing, juggling, etc) twice a week.

Personal pet hates, book blurbs that end with an ellipsis. LOOK, STOP BEING COY, THAT'S IMPLICIT IN YOUR PREMISE, IT'S NOT A SNEAKY SURPRISE, JUST SAY IT, WE KNOW THE PROTAGONIST IS GOING TO SPEND ALL BOOK JUGGLING THOSE TWO COMMITMENTS, TELL ME WHAT SETS THIS BOOK APART FROM ALL THE OTHER ONES WITH THE SAME COVER, OK?

In related news, I'm so averse to capslock that even when I am writing an all-caps rant, I just hold down shift! It's easier because my fingers do it automatically.

Come to think of it, why isn't there an italic-lock key?

Finished Saga vol 1. Beautiful and fascinating. I was somehow expecting less gore and disturbing situaitons, though, even if they were perpetrated by bad people. On to Vol 2, but not immediately.

ETA: In case it wasn't clear, guess who just hit the last day of "resolution to post three blog posts a week" :)

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Oct. 8th, 2014 @ 11:02 pm Ceilidh on Friday
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I've not had time for many ceilidhs recently, but I'm going with some friends to the round ceilidh on Friday if anyone else wants to come!

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Oct. 6th, 2014 @ 06:23 pm Bechdel-Wallace coefficient
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Any test along the lines of the Bechdel-Wallace test (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bechdel_test) is never a conclusive determiner whether an individual film is gender-balanced enough. No test ever can be, because there will always be some films which naturally have a predominantly male cast, and the real problem is that there's way too many films with a predominantly male cast.

However, I think the Bechdel-Wallace test is a useful shorthand, even for an individual film, not to say that it's "good" or "bad", but to say roughly how gender-balanced it is, which is something people often (not always) care about.

However, you might be able to have a _better_ shorthand. I'd suggest something like:

1. Gender (or orientation, race, etc) of main character.
2. Excluding main character, proportion of male-male conversations to female-female conversations.

Obviously that would need to be tweaked for films which don't have a single main character, but I think gender of protagonists is a different problem to gender balance in general: some things do well at having a non-male protagonist, but still have all secondary characters be male by default; other things are gender balanced in general, but still tend to focus on a male lead.

And using a ratio, rather than just a binary yes/no, lets you capture something about the film: for instance, edge cases with a female lead and no other characters at all; or the difference between a film which _barely_ passes, and a film which _clearly_ passes.

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Sep. 30th, 2014 @ 11:41 pm Learning to accept the HIMYM ending
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I've decided in my personal canon, the last one-two episodes were actually the ending one-two seasons earlier, and it was a _fairly_ good ending, and then the producers said, no, wait we can do even better than that, let's film an alternate ending.

And then they retconned out that ending, and filmed most of the last one-two series, all except the last one-two episodes. And the characters had some of the same character development, but spread out over a longer time period. Ted got over Robin, really, and he and the mother lived happily ever after. Marshall and Lily became successful. Barney grew up and had a decent relationship with Robin. Robin travelled the world, and joined shield!

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Sep. 29th, 2014 @ 07:25 pm Missing Box
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After we moved we were pretty good at unpacking, but we seem to have a few small things missing. So far, our small plates, our bowls, grandma's mortar, and maybe a few other small kitchen things.

It's probably most efficient to write those off, as the total cost is tiny compared to the total cost of the move. But I'm worried there's something important missing as well we've not realised yet. Or if there's any way it could be the removers fault (despite being exceptionally competent so far), it feels like a waste for them to *have* insurance and yet for us not to claim on it. If I knew for sure what the contents were, I'd be happy to let it go, but if there's a chance some of the things had a little bit of sentimental value (even if only a little) it feels harder to write it off, even if I think I'm chasing a sunk cost.

I checked the old flat afterwards, and didn't find anything left behind.

I asked the removers, and they said they checked the van and didn't find anything left over.

There are four boxes of books from the spare bedroom I need to check, because we haven't got anywhere to put them yet, but it seems really odd the kitchen things would have been muddled in with them and not marked, all the other boxes were labelled very accurately.

I can't imagine how else they could possibly have disappeared. Accidentally unloaded at Liv's parents' house somehow? Accidentally dropped and smashed and discreetly disposed of? Someone left the van unguarded and someone stole a box marked "kitchen misc"? Sitting in the new living room in plain sight and we've been overlooking it all this time? Is there any obvious possibility I've overlooked?

Is there anything I should do? Look through the last boxes? Forget it? Ask the removers again?

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Sep. 28th, 2014 @ 11:54 pm Free Will
Every six months I come back to thinking about free will, and wishing it were easier to grok the latest received wisdom... As I posted elsewhere, I have a couple of my own thoughts.

One is that on the apparent contradiction between free will and predestination is that if you imagine "me" is some abstract supernatural spirit completely divorced from matter, but mysteriously acting in concert with it, then you face all sorts of logical problems, including "if what I chose to do is determined by the laws of physics acting on neurons in my brain, then am I constrained by that". However, if (as I do) I think I am the arrangement of neurons in my brain, then I'm not being controlled by anything else, I am those physical processes. I think that's as free as you can ask for.

I prefer to call that "the concept of free will is an approach to several different things we understand intuitively, but doesn't correspond to a single coherent concept, and coherent definitions of it are either obviously valid or obviously invalid". But as far as I can tell, it's the same idea as http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Compatibilism, even though I disagree with the name.

The second thought is, as with any question, to ask "what would it mean for us NOT to have free will". Well, actually, we have very good examples of that. What we think of as our will is often overridden by impulses: impulses to be generous, impulses to be lazy, etc, etc, that pretend at the time there's a good reason for them, but really, we act on them on impulse because our rational brain doesn't override it quickly enough. In fact, both the impulsive and rational parts of me are all "me", but that process of being overridden is a very good illustration of what it means to not have free will. If that's NOT having free will, then it at least gives hope that the rest of the time, we do have free will.

A last thought, what is the evidence that we DO have free will (if that means anything). I've read many people trying to explain this, and I'm not sure if there's good arguments I'm missing. Because to me, most arguments boil down to "I really want to believe this is true" and "it feels like it's true" both of which apply all the time to things that actually aren't true.

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Sep. 27th, 2014 @ 10:20 am Southern Gods
Looking at the cover of Southern Gods tells you what I enjoyed about it.

I don't normally read horror, but I'm glad I read this, at least the first half.

The first half is dripping with flavour. It reminds me of To Kill a Mocking Bird post-WWII with blues and voodoo. A loan shark is sent on not-his-usual-job, to find someone who's disappeared in post-WWII American South. A pirate radio station plays unearthly blues music, which is haunting, but also dangerous.

It feels real in the way many books don't. The record producer isn't just fulfilling a roll, he's scrambling to get a dominant position in the emerging blues market, by bribing all the tiny radio stations to play his music. His assistants, one of whom have disappeared, are normal family men, doing their job of driving round the south schmoozing each little DJ or radio-station owner.

The record producer panics when he hears the rise-up-from-the-grave-and-murder music, and cuts it off, but manages to record some using his recording booth, and is willing to risk finding it to see if he can harness the magic in the music for less-ominous ends.

When a shadowy creature appears, it's really terrifying.

Unfortunately, when the second half gets more specific, it breaks the magic for me. The mythos is tied explicitly into the lovecraftian mythos, which rather broke my suspension of disbelief. It even uses the word "godshatter", which really, really broke my suspension of disbelief -- it's a good concept, but to me it just doesn't how the several-hundred-years-ago church would have described it. And there's an abrupt transition from scary to "beat them up".

And there were a few other problems, like the relationship between white estranged-daughter and black housekeeper, who were closest friends as children, is nice, but develops the daughter at the expense of the housekeeper.

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Sep. 26th, 2014 @ 08:58 pm In what ways is facebook more attractive than DW/LJ?
I used to tag posts about LJ "meta", but I had no way to tag posts which were about "meta" itself. I could have used "meta-meta", but then, well, that enters an infinite recursion of paradox...

In what ways are facebook more attractive than DW/LJ? Either better or more addictive. I agree with all the reasons facebook is bad (that it hides what you want to see in favour of things that will get more advertising, that they obscure the privacy model, that they inconsistently enforce real names policy and let abusive things pass but ban anything vaguely detrimental to advertisers, etc) And why many of us like LJ,DW, because I love long-form posts. But I suspect that I end up using it because it's convenient in some ways, not *just* because of the network effect.

Off the top of my head:

* Easy to do many things
* Easy to "share" other people's statuses
* Easy to post short updates and have *some* (albeit bad) comment threads on them
* Easy to post albums of pictures
* Easy to see weddings, births, etc from distant friends
* That simply everyone is on there

What else?

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Sep. 26th, 2014 @ 07:11 pm Early plot should matter to late plot, at least a little
There's something I often find unsatisfying and I find it hard to put my finger on what.

It's often the case that early plot in a book doesn't matter _much_ to later plot. The protagonist's problems with his job matter less after aliens invade, etc. However, my theory is that it's surprisingly easy to make plot that doesn't matter AT ALL to later plot (or for its own sake), and this often comes across as a bit dissatisfying without clearly knowing why, even if it makes logical sense that it would be engaging at the time.

For instance, in Dave Duncan's Past Tense trilogy, the protagonist is thrown into a parallel world where people from our world have magical powers powered by belief and end up joining, or resisting, the resident pantheon. But before that, in the process of discovering the corresponding bad guys in our world have magic, he's framed for the
murder of a friend, and has a lot of moral anguish about whether he should stay to fight in WWI or go to the parallel world. But none of that ends up mattering because he's tricked into the parallel world, and the murder plot is dropped by the next book.

For instance, in Paul Cornell's enjoyable tv-ish urban fantasy london policemen book, the first several chapters deal with the distrust of the officer in charge for one of the undercover officers who seems to have gone native with a crime boss, but a lot of these suspicions turn out to be obviated by the discovery of the satanic rituals. That's fine the first time you read it, but is completely forgettable afterwards, as it ends up not mattering at all.

There are LOTS of stories where the protagonist spends most of a book, or multiple books, befriending someone, who turns out to have been a spy all along. If the spy genuinely liked them but sacrificed that for higher (possibly misguided) principles, that can work, but often it
turns out to be "oh yes, 2/3 of everything they told you was a lie, depending what was necessary for the plot at the time". My problem with that is the reader's put a lot of emotional engagement into the relationship, which is then thrown away. If it's portrayed as a deliberate reversal the character has to recover from -- oh no, you
are betrayed, how foolish you were, it can work. But often it's just ignored, that a true friend impulsively betraying you, and a dedicated spy who nurtured a completely false relationship with you, are treated
exactly the same.

My theory is that these can work if the early part of the plot turns out to matter even a little. If it matters completely by coincidence (the small macguffin from scene one is important in the last scene) or
because of the character's growth, or if it matters for it's own sake (the character achieves something not taken away by the larger plot), then it's still tied in. But if it's thrown away entirely, then those
scenes retroactively lose their impact.

This matters more for rereading, so it matters a lot less for the first reading. But it's still a squandered opportunity. And especially annoying if everything in one book is thrown away in a later book,
such as all the relationships growth in Ender's Game being retconned to be, not more complicated, but usually elaborate lies, in the prequels :(

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