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John C. Kirk

Dec. 29th, 2016

11:32 pm - Life Stripped Bare

A few months ago, I watched a Channel 4 documentary: Life Stripped Bare. It's still available via 4OD, although you have to log in first (which is free of charge). The basic premise was extreme decluttering: three households were completely emptied, with everything put into a storage unit about 1 km away. This included furniture, curtains, lampshades, and all clothing. Every day for 3 weeks, they were allowed to retrieve 1 item, but they had to go and fetch it from the storage unit. That meant that on day 1, they had to go outside completely naked:

I like that clip: it has jaunty music, and there's a sense of fun. The same thing applies to the program as a whole; I generally avoid reality TV (e.g. "Big Brother") because I have no interest in watching people bicker with each other, but that wasn't an issue here at all. There was zero conflict between the people involved: they were cooperating, and rising to a challenge.

Personally, I've had an ongoing challenge to declutter my flat. I haven't quite gone to the lengths in this program yet, but I can see the appeal of doing something similar, and I recommend watching it. Having said that, I think there are some things that could have been handled better.

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Nov. 5th, 2016

07:00 pm - Comics clearout

I'm having another clearout of old comics, mostly from the 1990s. These are all now available in digital format (either on Marvel Unlimited or Comixology) so I no longer need the paper copies, and they're all going free to a good home. If I've marked something as a complete set then I'd like to keep those issues together, i.e. give them all to the same person.
Edit: These comics are all now taken.

Here's the full list:

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NB This is quite a big pile, so if you request any then spare some thought for how you'll carry them home!

Piles of comics

Oct. 13th, 2016

03:23 am - Unintended consequences

Disclaimer: As with all my blog posts, I am only representing my own views here. I'm not speaking on behalf of any of my employers (past, present, or future).

Every so often, I see people protesting against animal testing; this particularly applies to the pharmaceutical industry, where new drugs (medicines) are tested on animals before they're tested on humans. Some people have been quite militant about this, e.g. SHAC campaigned against Huntingdon Life Sciences for 15 years. Other people create petitions, e.g. "Make animal testing in all its forms illegal across the UK" (Jan 2016).

I've been vegetarian since 1992, primarily because I'm concerned about animal welfare, so I do sympathise with the campaigners on this. However, I'm not sure that they've really thought through the implications.

Read more...Collapse ) If Parliament did decide to change UK legislation and ban animal tests, I would certainly expect them to have a clear plan for what happens next, rather than just saying "We'll sort out the details later." This leads me on to Brexit.

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Oct. 2nd, 2016

10:20 pm - Skant-ily clad

I went to Nine Worlds in August, and one of the panels involved wild speculation about the future of Star Trek (particularly the new TV series). One joking suggestion was that we might see the return of the skant, i.e. the mini-dress from early episodes of TNG.

Women in skants Man in skant

Apparently the idea was to demonstrate equality in the 24th century, by showing that men would wear dresses too. However, it was reserved for a few background characters rather than the core cast, and it didn't really catch on. Anyway, there's a quite bit of cosplay at Nine Worlds, so I've been thinking about wearing a skant next year. I'd have to make it myself (or commission someone else to do it), since you can't exactly buy these things off the peg; I've done some digging online and made notes on that, but I'll save the logistics for another post.

For now, I've been thinking about what it means to be a man wearing a dress. This follows up on my previous post (discussing the allegedly "cis-heteronormative" code sample), although again I don't claim to be an expert on this topic and I apologise in advance if I say anything hideously offensive.

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Sep. 29th, 2016

01:44 am - Assumptions about sex/gender/orientation

I don't post much to Twitter, mainly because I find it hard to squeeze anything meaningful into 140 characters. However, I did get involved in a brief discussion yesterday, and I'm now expanding on my thoughts here.

This all involves some PostgreSQL documentation. Here's the code sample in question:

IF demo_row.sex = 'm' THEN
    pretty_sex := 'man';
    IF demo_row.sex = 'f' THEN
        pretty_sex := 'woman';
    END IF;

According to @alsothings, this is a "totally unnecessary cis-heteronormative example", i.e. it's both cisnormative (assuming that everyone is cisgender) and heteronormative (assuming that everyone is heterosexual). I'm not convinced, but I'd welcome any comments from people who know more about this area than I do.

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Jul. 18th, 2016

03:51 am - Ghostbusters (2016)

Tonight I went off to the BFI IMAX to watch the new Ghostbusters film. I'll get to my thoughts (with minor spoilers) below, but first a bit of preamble.

It's fair to say that this film attracted quite a bit of controversy, even before anyone had actually seen it. Looking at the Ghostbusters page on Facebook, each time they posted something about the new film they got negative comments. E.g.
Post: "Let the ghost journey begin 3 days today!"
Comment: "3 days today people will be vomiting in disgust of this injustice to the fans"

Based on the advance publicity, there were two things we knew about the new film:
a) This is a reboot rather than a sequel.
b) The Ghostbusters are all women (as opposed to being all men in the original film).

A lot of people complained about the reboot aspect, but they were dismissed as misogynists. For instance, here's a recent article from The Guardian:
Why Ghostbros on Twitter are monstering my Ghostbusters review
"It's that latter, and vital, aspect that naysayers who have yet to see Ghostbusters will vehemently disavow as the reason they're not jazzed for the latest iteration. [..] Yet few, if any, people complained that their childhoods were being stolen when word got out that Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill were going undercover for a big-screen update of 21 Jump Street, the beloved 80s show that introduced the world to Johnny Depp."

Personally, I saw the original version of 21 Jump Street once when I was a kid, but I don't remember anything about it other than the basic premise (cop goes undercover at a high school). There may be people who remember it a lot more clearly, but I don't think that it's iconic in the same way as Ghostbusters. (As Spike put it in an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer: "Who you gonna call? ... God, that phrase is never gonna be usable again, is it?") In any case, I haven't watched the remake. In a similar way, I enjoyed the original versions of Robocop and Point Break when I was at school, but I haven't watched either of those remakes either. I also enjoyed the original version of Total Recall; I have seen the remake (when I was round at a friend's house), but I wasn't particularly impressed by it. I watched the three Spider-Man films with Tobey Maguire, but I haven't watched either of the Amazing Spider-Man films.

So, if I say "I'm not enthusiastic about reboots in general, and I won't rush out to see the new Ghostbusters film", I don't think it's fair to assume that I'm lying about my motivation because I hate women. More generally, I prefer to assume good faith; you're not going to win anyone over if you refuse to engage with their actual arguments and just attack a strawman instead. (I think this is a wider issue of partisan politics. For instance, I voted "Remain" in the recent Brexit referendum, but I don't think that everyone who voted "Leave" is equivalent to Alf Garnett. Some, yes, but not all.)

If you want to read the continuing adventures of the original Ghostbusters, I highly recommend the IDW comic. It's been through a couple of relaunches, but it's all part of one ongoing story. Right now (18th July), most of the collections are on sale at Comixology: I think that 4 issues for £2.49 is pretty good value. It's worth noting that they've brought in new characters and had female Ghostbusters (at one stage the team had 3 women and 1 man) but they've done that as a sequel rather than a reboot.

Looking online (e.g. Why Ghostbusters Went With A Reboot Over A Sequel), the explanation is that Paul Feig (the director and co-writer) thought it would be a better story if the new team created their own equipment rather than having it handed to them. I can see his point, but I think it's possible to have the best of both worlds. Look at Extreme Ghostbusters: this was set about 10 years after The Real Ghostbusters, and the basic premise was that the original team were victims of their own success. They'd caught all the ghosts and put themselves out of work, so they moved onto other things. When ghosts started reappearing, a new team took over, but then they found that the old equipment no longer worked properly so they had to redesign it (e.g. the dome shaped trap that Kylie carried on her back). Looking at the trailer for the new film, they've developed new equipment that wasn't in the original film (e.g. the pistols and boxing glove), so they could still have done that even if they'd inherited the basic gear.

Also, look at the Doctor Who relaunch in 2005. This wasn't a reboot, but you didn't need to have watched any previous episodes in order to understand what was going on. The new stories stood alone, and re-introduced any relevant information (e.g. "this is a Dalek"). They only started to draw more on the backstory when they'd established the new series on its own merits. So, I think that the new Ghostbusters film could have done the same thing: all you need is the line from the trailer ("30 years ago, 4 scientists saved New York"), and you could skip over the details.

Based on all that, I figured that I'd watch the new film at some point, but I'd probably wait until I could stream it at home. However, a few friends independently said that they'd enjoyed it at the cinema: peer reviews count for a lot, so I figured that I'd give it a go. Also, I suspect that people will be talking about this at Nine Worlds next month, so I'd like to have an informed opinion. Read more...Collapse )

Apr. 21st, 2016

01:50 am - London mayor 2016

I haven't given much thought to the Brexit referendum yet, because the election for London Mayor is coming up first (on Thursday 5th May). As I mentioned before the 2012 election, I think it's important to distinguish between national and local policies, and it doesn't necessarily make sense to vote for the same party at different levels of government.

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Apr. 4th, 2016

12:42 am - Eddie the Eagle

Tonight I went off to the cinema to watch Eddie the Eagle. This has a similar premise to Cool Runnings: both films are based on true stories, and both are set during the 1988 Winter Olympics. (In fact, there's a brief reference to the Jamaican bobsled team during this film.) I think both films also involved quite a bit of embellishment: you can watch Lindsay Ellis' review of Cool Runnings for more info on that film, and according to the BBC, Edwards said that only 5% of this film is true. Still, it makes a good story, and it's a satisfying film to watch.

I was 13 when the actual events took place; I didn't watch the Winter Olympics, but I'd still heard of Eddie the Eagle. A few months later, The Sun printed an article on April Fool's Day: they claimed that he was attaching rockets (jet engines) to his skis, because there was nothing in the rules that specifically forbade that. They had a photo, and I actually believed the story for a few weeks. Nowadays I'd be more sceptical, both about the date and the source! The point is that it fitted in with my general impression of who he was: someone who took part, had a laugh, and always came last because he wasn't actually any good at the sport.

The basic concept of the film (and reality?) is that Britain wasn't entering anyone in the ski-jumping category, so he got in by being the only person to apply. I've also taken part in a few world championships which had similarly loose entry requirements:

Going into those events, I never expected to win anything: I was happy just to take part. However, I was also never in any real danger. Admittedly, one person died at the WSWC, but he was doing the endurance swim (450m) and my longest swim was 50m. What struck me during the film is that ski jumping really is a risky business. Even if someone finishes last, it still takes quite a bit of skill just to walk away from the landing.

I enjoyed the first half of the film, but then I heard a ringing noise in the background. It was muffled and intermittent, so I thought that it was someone's mobile phone ringing inside their bag. Then the film stopped, the lights came up, and an automated message told us that there was an emergency and we had to evacuate the building. This wasn't anything too dramatic, but I think there are lessons to learn from this.

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Jan. 5th, 2016

01:32 am - 2015 in review

Time for another yearly round-up. Here are some stats:

SJA hours655342235233
Distance swum (km)0.02.911.04.2
Distance cycled (km)3678356032093059
Eddington number29323234
BCQ checkpoints8004
Books reviewed95403531
Cinema trips8342
Theatre trips2352
LARP events0566

I took up a new hobby in January: life drawing. I didn't make it to all the sessions in Croydon, but I think I have improved over the course of the year. I've posted my pictures from a few sessions (with more to come) and all of my finished pieces are on DeviantArt. Now I just need to use that practice to actually draw some new comics!

I also went down to Brighton to swim under each full moon, starting in January. Actually, I couldn't make it to one of them, but the quirks of the calendar meant that there were 13 full moons in 2015 and I went into the water during 12, so that's near enough. In July, I went off on a short cycle touring holiday around the Isle of Wight with a couple of my swimming friends: we visited each of the BCQ checkpoints (and a few beaches) and the daily distances were long enough to increase my Eddington number.

My theatre trips were fairly small scale, watching a couple of friends perform on stage in January (a panto and "The Three Musketeers"). At the opposite end of the scale, I only went to the cinema to watch the new "Avengers" and "Star Wars" films, since they'll benefit from the big screen; the rest of the time I'll wait to watch a film at home.

On the IT front, I passed a couple of new exams: CWTS and Network+. Those links both go to my tech blog; this time last year I'd "seeded" the blog by copying over relevant posts from LJ, and I put new content there in 2015. My most popular post by far was Installing dd-wrt on a Linksys WRT320N wireless router; I think that says something about how non-intuitive the installation process is! That fits into one of my other goals: I finally got IPv6 internet access at home, which is something I've been working towards for several years.

My plans went a bit awry in August, when I fell ill with acute sarcoidosis. Basically, my feet swelled up so much that I could barely walk. I spent 9 days in hospital, and I was off work for about a month. The good news is that I've now made a complete recovery.

That hospital trip unfortunately meant that I had to miss out on the biggest LARP event of the year (Renewal). However, I still attended the other 3 big events, as well as 3 faction events and a mini-meet (pub night) for my group in Bristol.

I'm surprised that my number of books is so low, but that's partly because it only counts books which are new to me (or at least the ones which I haven't reviewed on Goodreads before). For instance, after Terry Pratchett died, I started to re-read all his Discworld novels; I'm only about halfway through the series so far, but some of those books don't count towards my total. Also, I don't review individual issues of comics, only collections. 2000AD have been making a lot of their back issues available digitally, with each year available as a bundle; last year I read through all the weekly issues from 2006-2012, which kept me entertained while I was stuck in bed.

Meanwhile, I've continued to do volunteer work for St John Ambulance, and I think I've struck the right balance: I do enough to make myself useful, while still leaving time for my other hobbies and interests. This was my 11th year, so after next year I'll be eligible for a service medal.

My main goal for 2016 is the traditional one: do more exercise and lose weight. Specifically, I want to cycle (and swim) longer distances, so that I can get back to my pre-illness level of fitness. Aside from that, I'm aiming to draw at least 1 new comic and pass at least 1 more computer exam; hopefully I'll do more than that, but that seems like an attainable goal.


Nov. 29th, 2015

06:48 pm - WNBR 2015

I've been involved with the World Naked Bike Ride since 2009. This year, I took part in three rides: London, Brighton, and Bristol. I also did a few interviews to help publicise the ride and explain what we're trying to achieve.

Content warning: as you might expect, this post contains photos with nudity, so view it at your own discretion.

I wrote a WNBR FAQ in 2013 which covers the most common questions I get, e.g. "Is it legal?" and "Doesn't it hurt?" Just to restate our goals, we are:

This year was the 12th London ride, and it still continues to be relevant. For instance, here's an article from the Evening Standard: 'Oxford Street pollution levels breached EU annual limit just four days into 2015'. More recently, Volkswagen have been in trouble for faking the results of emissions tests on their diesel cars (as reported by the BBC, among others). I think it's fair to say that none of this air pollution is coming from bicycles!

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