Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Hope Burns Bright

I've just read through Avengers vs X-Men (yes, once again, it was on sale on comiXology - I swear, they don't have me on retainer). It's a fun romp - and the omnibus I picked up included the individual "VS" issues which expanded on some of the two-panel fights we saw in the main story, which I enjoyed immensely despite initial disinterest. The "Fun Facts" are what really sell it. But the main thing that was nagging at me all the way through was:

Does Hope Summers even have an official character model?

Seriously. Her uniform is all over the place. Sometimes it's two chevrons, sometimes the lower one is a belt, sometimes it's mid-torso, sometimes that top one is more of a solid triangle. I guess her design includes the rag hood and nobody thought about what was under it?

I dug around and found that this seems to be a fairly constant issue for the girl. Here are some samples, some from AvX, all (I believe) from official sources.

It's possible she just owns a lot of similar outfits.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Weird Things I Say #3

"Sort of pinkish-avocado"
This is a quick one. Above is the phrase I use to describe my skin tone. It comes from an advert for a soft drink featuring John Cleese.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Weird Things I Say, And Why I Say Them: #2

"Birch bark and charcoal."
This was something my A-Level Physics teacher used to say when describing how we could hand in our course work, to express that he was format-friendly. Almost every lesson, when handing out homework, he'd say something like, "It can be typed or handwritten, on floppy disk, paper, or birch bark and charcoal." (This was before e-mail had really hit the mainstream.)

That physics teacher has since died, I heard, and I find I'm struggling to remember his name. I recall his face quite distinctly, and his determined opinion that "birch bark and charcoal" was definitely the funniest thing that any teacher could say. So in his memory I roll it out occasionally when I want to say that something is deeply, deeply outdated.

EDIT: Lambert!  Mr Lambert.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Weird Things I Say, and Why I Say Them (#1 in a series)

"Everything is NORMAL. You will not SUSPECT me."
There was a period when I got reasonably into reading ReBoot fan fiction. I was much more interested, though, in the critiques presented by a fan named Hanako. This introduced me to the concepts like the Self-Insert, the God Mode Sue, and many other fanfiction tropes, both specific to the ReBoot mythos, and common to any fandom. I'm reasonably sure it gave me some early direction on how not to write. It also introduced me to the notion of MSTing.

I was unaware of Mystery Science Theatre 3000 at the time, but nonetheless I was thoroughly engaged by the mechanic of fictional entities commentating on and responding to the occasionally-coherent ramblings of amateur authors. There was an ongoing Mystery Reboot Theater 4000 series, which had Bob transplanted directly to the Satellite of Love and Megabyte joining the Mads, but the above quote comes from one published by Hanako and sidekick Claire, featuring themselves.

The original fic was a parody/swipe of Sleepy Hollow. ReBoot's "Games" make it easy to literally drop in references to other properties wholesale, but I'm pretty sure this was set in one of the real virtual worlds, a mysterious old system somewhere during Enzo and AndrAIa's game-hopping journeys. The travellers were welcomed into the town by an innkeeper who was very keen to stress that nothing was amiss. The line at the top of the page was the MSTers underscoring this. It is all I remember about the story, and it has stayed with me about 15 years so far.

Hanako's site is not around any more, which frustrates me as more than a few of the weird things I say came from there, but despite the total obscurity of the reference it still seems to work. Possibly people think I am being witty.

Monday, 1 September 2014

Movie Poster Overanalysis, #1 in a series

At one time in my life I was reasonably plugged in on the subject of upcoming movies, but that kind of fell by the wayside for one reason or another. For a while now my main source of movie news has been the adverts on the side of buses.

So here is what I know about The Hundred Foot Journey:

The bus advert did not have either tagline.
  • Helen Mirren is in it
  • She has staff, but they are both chefs, so maybe there is a restaurant involved
  • The staff maybe make out?
  • Typeface and static layout suggest romantic comedy
  • Helen Mirren is more important than this
  • I guess somebody travels a hundred feet over the course of the movie, probably right near the end because something is preventing them from walking from one place to the other, maybe pride? And the thing they find there is ... Love?
  • None of that is important, we have HELEN MIRREN in our movie, shut up

Apparently the full poster has more people on it, and some landmarks that suggest a journey between Paris and India, but that is more than a hundred feet? Clearly none of that is important, though, because HELEN MIRREN.

Thursday, 14 August 2014


Guardian headline: "This is a war and we are soldiers on the front line"

BBC headline: "Tensions rise in Missouri"

(Edit: Since this morning the BBC headline has changed to "Anger at crackdown on protests".)

There is certainly such a thing as local bias - a riot in your back yard will naturally get more coverage than the same thing on the other side of the world - and, yes, on occasion, local media will blow a local story out of all proportion because making news is what they do.

I also know that following people in a certain area on Twitter will distort your channels of communication such that distance becomes less meaningful, you become more directly aware in things that aren't necessarily as significant to you, or in a global sense, as they might be. I mean far be it from me to imagine that what happens in the USA is inherently more important than, say, the cease fire in Gaza or Russian convoys advancing on the Ukraine. If we judged global significance by trends on Twitter, "That's So Raven" would currently be headlining.

I am not kidding.
Even taking all this into account, I'm slightly startled that this particular piece isn't getting more UK coverage.

The BBC2 and 6Music radio news segments are about two and a half minutes long, so they have to pick the three or four news stories that are of greatest interest to their listeners. The top stories this morning were "Annual event is once again proceeding as planned", "Something might or might not cause cancer" (which I've always thought of as newsreader code for "Slow news day"), and "Words continue to be added to dictionary". Not "American police are taking up arms against their own citizens".

It's at least made it onto the BBC front page, though less prominently than all the stories mentioned above. Between "Pope goes on tour" and "Pakistan also has protest march".

Seeing them alongside each other like that, it would be interesting to compare and contrast the US and Pakistani responses to their respective protests.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Piece of Cake

It's easy to forget the thematic differences between the classic He-Man and She-Ra series. He-Man operated from a position of privilege. Yes, his kingdom was constantly under assault by the forces of darkness, but he was still functionally a prince ruling a kingdom under his father the rightful and just king. So occasionally he had to put on his invincible muscle suit and fight this skeleton guy who was trying to take his stuff. It's still a story of someone who is effectively punching down.

She-Ra, perhaps surprisingly for what may be readily dismissed as a "girl's" show, strikes a markedly different theme. Rather than defending the top of the hill, Adora and her team are the last holdout in a world that has already been conquered. Though the effective tones of the series aren't so different, between the comic relief and the "Saturday Morning" restrictions, there's still an underlying distinction which is never so markedly shown* as in the "Secret of the Sword" movie.

In the middle of this quasi-serious tale of a struggle against oppression and hope against hopelessness, the gang take a detour to He-Man's homeland of Eternia, where She-Ra's foe Hordak recruits the aid of local hopeful Skeletor in an assault on their collective enemies. We can only assume that the conversation went something like this:

SKELETOR: Nyah! Yes, I'll help you, but on one condition! Our scheme must involve at least one change of disguise, and this enormous, hollow cake!

HORDAK: What. What cake. What ... I, Hordak, will wear no disguise.

SKELETOR: That's fine! The disguises are for us. You will be inside the cake.

HORDAK: What happened to you, man. Hiding? Trickery? You used to be cool. Where are your armies? We will march on this castle and take it by force!

SKELETOR: Look, after getting beat down by He-Man on a weekly basis for I don't know how long, you start coming at these things sideways. Trust me, we need the cake. Nyah.

So that is what they do. Skeletor and his minions fight their way through the outer defences of Randor's fortress, presumably with this giant cake in tow, wait until they get to the very last door and then disguise themselves as pastry chefs. They wheel the cake through into the dining hall and Hordak jumps out like some hideously misjudged strippergram. And this works, they successfully kidnap their target, and (we assume) waltz on out without any further resistance.

The pair of heroes just got done destroying a laser ray that is fuelled by the tears of the innocent, and now they're dealing with wacky hijinks and oversized confectionery.

I just think it's interesting that the show with the talking flying rainbow unicorn is somehow the darker/grittier one.

* I should note that I am not a scholar of the series, it's possible that halfway through there was an episode where Hordak started putting babies on spikes. I pretty much doubt it. Either way, I'm just making a point.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

What The Smurf

"Hey, hey!" said Eric*, sauntering into the park. "What up, my Smurfs?"
  The tiny, blue folk collectively stopped what they were doing and gaped at him in shock. Brainy Smurf gasped. Weepy Smurf burst into tears.
  "What?" Eric asked, "What, uh ... what is actually up? What's wrong?"
  "You can't say that!" scolded Smurfette. "We can say that! You can't! You can't ever say that!"
  "You don't have S-word privileges," Papa Smurf added firmly, though not without his characteristic gentleness.
  "What?" said Eric. "I don't - I've said it before! I've said 'smurf' lots of times!"
  "You've said smurf, and smurf," corrected Brainy Smurf, "And because you're a friend, we've even let you say Smurf."
  "But if we're to remain friends," Papa continued, "you must never say Smurf."
  Eric considered this. "You know what," he decided, "I think I'll be safe, and just stop saying 'smurf' altogether."
  There was another round of gasps. Weakling Smurf fainted.
  "I should hope so," grumbled Grumpy Smurf. "That's even worse."

* I am not familiar enough with any particular iteration of the Smurfs to give an accurate rendition of any of their canonical human acquaintances.

Friday, 30 May 2014

Do You Know Where Your App is?

The Huffington Post is reminding us that Facebook Messenger asks for a lot of permissions when you install it.

On the one hand, the article is kind of alarmist. It needs permission to do all those things because it is designed to be able to do all those things - you can use your Messenger app to manage your SMSs and make phone calls and so on and so forth. It wants to be your social hub or whatever. But, at the same time, it's absolutely right that once you've given it permission to do these things IT CAN DO THEM AT ANY TIME. It's sort of the same principle as the legal T&C thing that went around a couple of years ago - people were startled to find that Google, Flickr etc were being granted the right to distribute your images, despite that being exactly what the relevant services were designed to do. But, yes, once they have permission to do that, they can totally do that, and it's a permission that could be abused.

Unfortunately (unlike apps running on Facebook itself), Android does not have functionality for users to grant individual permissions on install. They just have to ask for everything, and you have to agree to everything or reject everything. So even if I'm not using its SMS functionality, I need to give them permission to read SMS. I can configure the app to not do that, but at a system level it still has permission to read and send them. In the event of software error or developer abuse I would be boned.

I'm sure there would be a huge scandal if it emerged that Facebook was actually abusing these privileges, but of course by then the damage may have been done.

The ability to rescind or decline specific permissions would be a good first step (though there could be knock-on effects - the need to check for permissions, or respond to permissions being denied, would increase development time and potentially slow down execution). Personally, the most disturbing things about these permissions are the "at any time" aspect, which may be more of a problem with the O/S than the app itself. Any app that uses the camera can use the camera at any time. Anything that records audio can do it at any time. To me this seems like a very lazy way to go about things. Perhaps Android needs to introduce an "only while the app is in the foreground" or "in response to user prompt" level of permission.

Monday, 31 March 2014


  "Good morning, sir, I'm calling from RTA Legal Solutions as a follow-up call, regarding a transport incident you may have been involved in."
  "Oh really, do go on."
  "Yes sir, a claim was filed for damages following the incident."
  "When was this?"
  "Within the last three years, sir."
  "You're going to have to be more specific than that."
  "Well, this is the question, sir."
  "Ah, so you don't have a specific incident in mind? You're just fishing."
  "Not at all, sir, we don't fish, I actually take exception at the use of that word -"
  "No, you have cold called me and are now trying to trick me into giving up information. Your use of the phrase 'follow-up' suggested a pre-existing relationship, when in fact -"
  "It is a follow-up, there are people in need of legal advice and - I don't have to listen to this from you -"
  "And I don't have to listen to it from you. Good day."

Friday, 21 March 2014

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Share to Enter

Back in the mists of time, Companies on Facebook would run promotions where you could share their content in order to enter a competition - effectively getting customers to advertise their product in exchange for the chance of winning one. Advertising costs were slashed, and everyone was happy.

Then Facebook said to themselves, "Hang about, why are we letting customers advertise products for free, when we can totally charge them for that?" So they added the option for companies to pay them money in exchange for increased visibility.

The Companies said to Facebook, "You are having a laugh, why would we pay you to do this when we can get punters to do it for free?" and continued with their viral-style promotions.

The cunning Facebook replied, "Because we have made it illegal under our terms and conditionsPersonal Timelines must not be used to administer promotions. See, right there."

"Oh," swore the Companies, and scratched their head for a way to get out of this one.

And then one clever rogue said to his fellows, "Ah, we cannot any longer entreat users to share our photographs to their friends. But look, here is a thing: Over the last few years people have been trained to scan blocks of text for important words. If we put the word 'Share' in quotes, while talking about how to enter our competition, they will think they have to share the photo. Even if we do not say any such thing, and are in fact telling them to comment on it, there will be a good proportion of users out there who just reflexively click 'Share'. All we need is a percent of a percent and we've saved our advertising budget for the year."

And so they did.

Sunday, 9 March 2014

The Beyonder

I played through the "Beyond: Two Souls" demo this weekend. Yahtzee's review seems pretty fair - it's an extended quick time event disguised as an awkward, disconcerting, hard-to-control shambles of a game.

Bumming around as a ghost could have been fun if it wasn't so fiddly and, bizarrely, restricted; the ghost-centric demo level was initially fun but it soon became apparent that it was really a matter of sweeping the area for all the little interaction hot spots, then moving the joysticks in or out or down, and sometimes (if it's a "possession" hot spot) tapping a few prompted buttons. There was no sense that I could properly roam and chuck shit about at will.

On the other hand, the human-centric sequence is (as Yahtzee says) confused and disorienting. The camera switches angles as dramatically appropriate, which is nice and cinematic, but when running down a train it leaves you confused about which way you've just come (and when driving a motorbike leaves you terrified about steering off the road). The total lack of anything but contextual controls made me uncertain about what I was expected to do in any given situation until it flashed up on the screen, either with the slow-motion "guess which way we hope you'll interpret this movement as leading" moments or a literal icon.

Zero Punctuation makes the point that Quantic Dream keep trying to explore the nature of the interactive narrative in video games but keep coming out with these confused messes. I'd say the problem is that they are focussing too much on the stories - or, possibly on the very pretty graphics - and just entirely forgetting about the "video game" part of the project. There's really nothing resembling a game here, you're just watching your TV while occasionally flapping your controller.  Beyond: Two Souls appears to be a reasonably interesting movie that is trying, not entirely successfully, to convince you that you have some level of agency or input into the unfolding events.

I might play it through if I see it for very cheap indeed, because I would kind of like to see the story and don't mind flapping the occasional button as I watch. It gives one something to do with one's hands. Plus, apparently there are hot boys in it! So that's something.