Friday, 29 May 2009

Nope the recession has nothing to do with banks it's to do with file sharing...

What a load of tosh.

Personally I tend to buy DVDs (most recently Anime series, which are both long lasting and relatively expensive), games, CDs and occasionally software (It's ridiculously expensive stuff), so I don't hugely feel like this is aimed at me in a sense, however I do feel a little urked by the fact that they are using the concept of faster broadband speeds as a bad thing and essentially an aid for file sharing.

I somehow doubt that, had we not fallen into a pit of doom where no money exists, that this would have been such a economically focused news story. The concept of file sharing has been around for years so this is hardly new(s).

Well that's what I think anyway.

Thursday, 28 May 2009

Linkables 28/5/9

How to be persuasive.

How to open a suitcase with a pen.

In a move that will interest basically nobody, I link to a video of a ridiculous goal.

As seen in various TED talks, Gapminder.

LyricsWiki, for song lyrics without having to trawl through random unreadable and potentially dangerous "lyrics" search results.

Who to vote for in the upcoming European elections.

And finally, a game in which you play a cowboy riding a giant sperm.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

"Have you ever been raped?"

NB: This post is more a series of connected thoughts than a coherent argument. I was just struck by some links between random areas of my life.

For a long time, I never referred to myself as a feminist. I preferred to say I was an egalitarian, as I believe men and women possess some different and some similar characteristics but you should never assume someone's gender automatically determines their actions. In addition, just because a man may act one way and a woman another, it doesn't mean that either course of action, or the characteristics that lead to them taking it is more valuable. Societies are unequal when acting in a certain way or displaying a particular characteristic is seen as preferable and normal. Being egalitarian seemed to confuse people, so I eventually gave up and started calling myself a feminist.

I never subscribed to the argument that, physically, women could ever be as strong as men. It can happen, but from all the time I've spent fighting men in Judo, I know it's not that common. But, as a woman, I can move faster, I'm more flexible. And depending on the build of the man I'm fighting, I can be stronger. In short, everything is relative. If my technique is better, I can win. If I fight more intelligently, I can win. In Judo, it's possible, because strength is not paramount. In boxing, however, I would never feel comfortable fighting a man in a proper fight. They'll always be able to hit harder than me, because more of their body consists of muscle. A certain amount of power in the punch comes from your legs. My legs are bigger than most guys I've boxed with, but I store fat there, they just have muscle. Where they have pecs, I have breasts. They don't tone up so well, even if I wanted them to. Unless I all-out body build, I reckon a bloke the same weight and height as me will always hit harder.

It seems I'm not the only one who has noticed this unwillingness to admit the differences. In his latest, really excellent A Point of View", Clive James points out the importance of democracy to feminism by celebrating the election of the first four women MPs to the Kuwaiti Parliament. You have to install RealPlayer to listen to it, but it really is worth it. He gently criticises those feminists in the West who think liberal democracies are not liberal enough.

He makes the point that where violence holds sway, rather than argument, women are always worse off. Even when violence is not the ruling force, you can't argue away the differences. Listening to this broadcast in the car on the way home, a lot of thoughts that had been swimming idly around in my head like lazy tadpoles suddenly coagulated into a shoal of thought with some purpose.

Mainlining The Wire on DVD lately has frightened me because, for the majority of characters in it, death is a constant threat. I know they exist in a world that is a) not necessarily real and b) not mine, but it reached the point where I started feeling the only reason I was alive was because no one had decided to shoot me yet. I haven't done anything to deserve being shot, that I'm aware of, but the frequency of death in the show brought home how fragile life is. There are not many female characters in it, but it does show at times that, give a woman a gun and she can murder indiscriminately with the best of them.

I also recently finished watching Firefly and the last two episodes gave me pause for thought. In the penultimate one, a band of whores fights attempts by a local man with money to try to steal a baby from one of them. They are presented as legitimate business women refusing to kneel under the yoke of a male oppressor. Again, give a woman a gun and she can murder, though this time discriminately, with the best of them. It's all relative. Guns take away the advantage of strength. Clive James makes the same point.

In the final episode, a bounty hunter lands on Serenity and breaks into the ship. He knocks out the captain and sets about disabling the crew in one way or another. In a truly horrible scene, he says to Kaylee, the ship's female mechanic "Have you ever been raped?" in the same way you might say "Have you ever eaten Thai food?" It got me thinking, if someone spoke to me like that, discussing it casually, making it sound inevitable, what would my reaction be? Would I fight them? Would I acquiesce? Patrick and I had a discussion a long time ago about whether we'd be murdered or raped. As I recall, he could come to a definite answer. I really couldn't.

The bounty hunter even says at one point "Men are always stronger than women. Yet it takes a woman to make a child, what's that all about?" No one answers him in the show, but thinking about it, perhaps I'd say you don't need the same kind of strength to make a child as you do to kill someone. It's all relative.

Clive James mentions in his broadcast how some of the first female MPs in Iraq were murdered by men to make an example of them. In a situation like that, when someone tries to kill you, they're frightened of what you represent. Change.

I'm not really sure what my conclusion is, except that I don't want to need a gun to defend myself. Being a feminist or an egalitarian or whatever I am can some times be difficult in a liberal democracy, because it can be hard to distinguish between the important things to get upset about and those that can really just wait. I know for certain that I'm very lucky. I think the TV episodes made me uncomfortable because they made me realise just how cocooned and special my liberty is, compared with a lot of other women out there. I wish there was more I could actively do to help them.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Cutest Video Ever!

I challenge you not to awwwww at it.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Business Challenge

Watching the Apprentice last night (I know, it's all I talk about nowadays*) I decided it was like a business-oriented Scrapheap challenge. When someone actually wants to build a go kart (or a trebuchet, or a speedboat, or any other Scrapheap-type contraption) in the real world, there are lots of steps to go through - materials and suppliers need to be sourced and researched, schematics drawn up and experts consulted. But for the purposes of entertainment, these considerations are put aside, and the competitors are encouraged to build something without the necessary materials and time that will almost certainly not work particularly well. But then that doesn't matter, as there's nothing riding on it, and it's just a bit of fun.

So then, contrast with the Apprentice where there is ostensibly something riding on it (how much, or how little is open to interpretation), and where it is supposedly "business" skills that are being tested. Like scrapheap challenge, then, the tests are done without appropriate materials or time, but there is none of the sense of friendly competition about it (because the Apprentice is real and serious, dontchaknow), and the results of the tests are given huge importance. Imagine if the winning team in scrapheap challenge was offered an engineering position at Ferrari? That wouldn't be fair, of course, because why does building a war machine that happens not to fall apart quite as quickly as your opponents' qualify you for anything (other than perhaps a humorous trophy)?

In the same way, I find the idea of putting together a pitch to rebrand a Kent town in two days flat with no experience, expertise, resources or time to be a pretty strange way of testing business nous. Someone who could well have done the job brilliantly in reality might fail on the task for any number of reasons beyond their control - factors provided by the context of the task and the structure of the program.

Clearly, this is true of any interview (or indeed any situation in which someone's ability is judged), but for a show that is constantly reaffirming that it is testing "business" skills, it relies an awful lot on standard reality-tv task tropes. In scrapheap challenge, the teams spend 5 minutes choosing what to build, and then hours building it. Throughout, the smallest problem can scupper a team's (possibly badly laid) plans. Rather than being a test of engineering skill (in as much as an entertainment program can be any kind of real test, naturally), it is a test of ingenuity and luck - no bad thing in itself, of course. Eventually someone comes out on top, because their machine, made out of different parts, to a different design happens to do better. It's entertaining, but it's not particularly rigourous. In a real engineering situation, there would be research, feedback, and, if a plan was obviously going wrong, the chance to put back the deadline in favour of quality. Obviously none of this matters, because scrapheap challenge isn't pretending to be a rigorous test, it's a competition, and competitions can rely on luck.

The Apprentice, on the other hand, is supposed to be an interview - a specific test of ability in which the most able person comes out on top, but is structured like a casual competition, where luck plays enough of a role to keep things entertaining, with rules that benefit some over others. Anita might be a brilliant businesswoman, but we'll never know, because she got a fraction of the time available to the other interviewees to show what she could do. You might be able to learn something about someone by putting them in a high pressure situation in which they might easily do everything right and still come out on the losing team, but doing it twelve times doesn't necessarily give you the person with the best business mind.

In last night's episode, when Sir Alan asked what the cause of the failure was, a response of "we were given no time at all to do a job we're not experts at, without the possibility of research or feedback, we had to go with the first idea we came up with, and with a small pre-set team, we lacked the specific skills required for portions of this task" would not necessarily have been out of place. Essentially, with so much restricted by the framework of the competition, there's no way of telling success-by-skill from success-by-circumstance.

My real problem with the Apprentice, of course, is not that it has this structure, since it is welcome to have any structure it likes, but that I feel it is making claims to rigour and accuracy that it cannot possibly deliver on given the constraints present in the program. And so no matter how entertaining I find the buying and selling and marketing-speak, I can't ever quite get past the idea that they may as well be building giant crossbows out of car parts.

* it's pretty much 100% of the broadcast TV I watch these days, and hence, I like to believe, this kind of indulgent blog-focus is allowable.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Linkables 13/5/9

Snatch Wars

Fast paced word-creation game.

Article busting some of the myths behind which side of the road particular countries drive on.

Victorian riddles, and surreal re-imaginings of them.

From New Scientist: 13 things that don't make sense.

Type a word or phrase and get back a picture and caption at milk information. Sometimes garbage, sometimes strangely perfect.

Where are you in the movie?

Thinks what my brain does

Ok so this is the stupidist first post after such a long hiatus but I have a slightly more interesting post that I'll do later.

I saw a van for this company today on my way to work and noticing the tag line I let my brain wonder off down a silly path, with the result of this:

If it's on the roof.... they stock it! Cats, Frisbees and leaves, amongst other things

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

In the beginning...

...Wolverine was a little boy called James with a tendency to shoot bone claws out of his hands when particularly enraged or upset. He had an older brother called Victor who grew his finger nails long when the violent urge was upon him. It is said both brothers fought with animal-like ferocity and a strength inhuman. They discovered early on their limitless capacity to cheat death and regenerate their physical substances and fought in many wars. The endless killing became the consuming passion for older brother Victor and hence, the two brothers found themselves facing execution at dawn by a firing squad for the murder of a senior army officer.

Having come through this unscathed, the indestructible siblings caught the attention of a military scientist by the name of Colonel William Stryker...

So begins X-Men Origins: Wolverine, one of the better movies I have seen in the cinema in recent months, though this verdict may be slightly influenced by the fact that the last three films I saw were The Boat That Rocked (amusing, if sexist and with a plot so thin it would fit with room to spare between the testicles of a gnat), The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (too long, somewhat boring, apparently shot mostly in a sepia-like colour palette for no good raisin and ultimately unsatisfying) and Marley & Me (let's not even *go* there).

I really enjoyed this film. It was perhaps a little long and at times felt unfocused, with the reveals of several plot twists coming a little thick and fast on each other towards the end. But these late additions nicely resolved various earlier sections of the film which seemed inadequately explained.

After the car crash that was X-Men 3, the motivations of this film's characters was much more realistic and considered. Although one wonders if, having made a man indestructible, the top military dudes really thought sending another mutant after him with a couple of guns was going to do the trick? It did provide a stunning action set piece for the film, but predicated on a completely ridiculous starting point. Still, don't let that stop you enjoying it.

Hugh Jackman obviously wanted this project to succeed because he's listed as one of the producers and he does work as the lynchpin of the story although Liev Schreiber's character, that of his brother, at times steals the show and could have done with a bit more elaboration. As this is the explanation of why Wolverine is as he is, it's wrong to expect the swaggering Logan we know and love, but at times he is just a little weak. And when he says he's going to kill everyone, there's not always enough weight behind the threat. There are, however, a lot of cool fights scenes and either impressively ripped/manicured/made-up men pounding seven kinds of hell out of each other at regular intervals. The final two-way fight between three people on top of a nuclear power plant stack is gripping and well-realised.

There are some nagging threads to this film. At one point Wolverine is with an elite gang of mutants working for the military. Their powers are never really explained. One guy is really, really, really good with guns and jumps about a lot. Same for another dude, but swords are more his thing. Yet another guy just punches things. HARD. When Wolverine is re-visiting them later in the film to find out what's been going on, their knowledge about the TOP SEKRIT military stuff seems is patchy and inconsistent one minute and briliantly on the money the next. Having said all that, there are some pleasing nods to the films that preceded it in the making, which helps when tying all the threads of the story together. I've never read the comics or watched the cartoon, so don't know how annoyed to be by all the non/canon and continuity stuff. All I can contribute on this level is that's amusing that a character as fey as Gambit is played by someone called Taylor Kitsch. If that really is his real name, I salute him.

Also, stay in the cinema until the end of the credits for a tease of what's to come. There are two apparently. But I missed the last one because my fellow cinemagoers were getting impatient.

I'm not one to rate things out of ten, but that's what people seem to do on this blog when reviewing films, so I give it three bananas, a bottle of fairy liquid and four chupa chup lollipops. Go see it. It's dark, fun, well-acted by a skilled ensemble cast and lots of buildings get seriously damaged. Rock on.