Duties, science, and entertainment - John C. Kirk
Sep. 17th, 2006
09:09 pm - Duties, science, and entertainment
Today didn't get off to a great start - four hours of sleep in three out of four nights makes John a sad panda... I managed to sleep through my 5am alarms (turned them off on autopilot), then I was woken up by my SJA colleague at 6:20, wondering why I hadn't met him at the station. This conversation was slightly complicated by the fact that I was thinking "Music - bash alarm clock - music still happening - bash alarm clock again - oh, it's my mobile, and now it's stopped by itself". Anyway, he came down to meet me, which gave me time to get dressed in a hurry, and we still made it to the duty in plenty of time, arriving in Richmond Park at 7am. This was for a duathlon, which went pretty well, with just a few minor casualties. This was apparently the world's biggest duathlon (so far), with 3500 people, so it took a while, and we didn't leave until after 4pm. Still, it was nice weather, and we were entertained by the girls at the finish point (who handed out medals etc.) having a water fight.
Following on from my recent post on scientific journals, I've now taken out a trial subscription to New Scientist: 4 issues for £2.95 (including full online access), then £29.95 every 26 issues if I stay with it. I've now received my first issue, so I read that today, and I was quite impressed. I understood most of it, and it was just the article about sunspots which was a bit tricky, so I'll have another go at that later. I noticed a few citations from journals like Nature, so I think I get the basic idea of NS - it's a way to stay current with the basic gist of various scientific issues, and then you have the option of going to a "heavier" journal for the details. That suits me nicely, since the articles seem to be pitched at my level. I was particularly interested in the claim that genius comes from hard work rather than innate talent, since that gives me hope for my future. As for Artificial Life, MIT are still ignoring my emails, so I don't know what's going on there.
On my way home from the duty, someone asked me for directions at the bus stop (probably motivated by seeing my uniform). It's slightly embarrassing that I didn't recognise the name of the road she wanted until I looked it up in my A-Z, since it's literally around the corner from me; I know lots of streets by sight, but I hardly remember any of their names. Anyway, that did mean that I was able to give her precise directions (I got off at the same stop), so it worked out well.
On a less cerebral note, some thoughts on TV/music...
I watched Free Enterprise recently, which was shown to tie in with Star Trek's 40th anniversary (there's a sequel due out later this year for the same reason). It's probably a sign of my age that I remember watching the first episode of Voyager 10 years ago as part of a "Star Trek night" on BBC2 to celebrate the 30th anniversary. I was late into work the following day, and when I saw the boss I said "I actually have a good reason this time!"; shockingly, though, he didn't feel that staying up late to watch Star Trek really counted as a good reason. Meh. For that matter, I have a set of TOS novelisations, which I bought in 1991 during the 25th anniversary.
Anyway, I saw the film by mistake, since I'd confused it with Trekkies (the documentary presented by the woman who played Tasha Yar in TNG). However, I thought it was pretty good, so this was quite serendipitous. I'm not quite sure how to describe it - it's similar to a couple of Kevin Smith films (Clerks and Chasing Amy), but rather more mainstream. Generally speaking, I'd say that Star Trek/Star Wars fans get sneered at by two camps - lots of people will just dismiss them as sad (for having a fringe interest), while other SF fans look down on them for not being fringe enough. By contrast, the characters in this film celebrate the fact that they enjoy the series. For instance, there's one scene where a bunch of friends are sitting in a restaurant, waiting for a midnight showing of Wrath of Khan; one guy looks at his watch and says "Right, time to go, for ..." and then they all throw their heads back and shout "KHAN!" in unison. I'm not quite sure how auto-biographical it is, but the two writers (named the same as the lead characters) have thrown in a lot of geeky references, and apparently the DVD has a mini-encyclopaedia as an extra that lists them all. William Shatner plays himself (more or less) in this, and the Sky info-blurb described his performance as spoofing himself, but I don't really agree with that assessment. I don't know much about his personal life, but I thought he gave a sensitive potrayal of what his life could plausibly be like. Anyway, I'd recommend watching it, and I'll keep an eye out for the sequel.
I also saw part of "Proms in the Park" (on TV) recently, which included a performance of the Superman theme tune. This reminded me that I really ought to get a copy of that on mp3, so I went hunting on iTunes, and this produced a new problem - which orchestral version to get? I went for the City of Prague Philharmonic, and I think they did a decent job, although they do lose points for missing out the prologue "boom ba-da-boom" bars and starting with "bum ba-ba-ba-bum". Anyway, John Williams is very much The Man!
Oh, speaking of iTunes, I have a bunch of vouchers for free songs if anyone wants some - they're being given out free with bottles of Coke, and I've exceeded my personal quota of five. (Technically they're not supposed to be transferable either, but I don't mind bending the rules there for someone I know.)
I was watching The Raccoons earlier - an old 80s cartoon that's being repeated on Boomerang. There are some cases where it's best to stick with nostalgia and not spoil old programs by rewatching them as an adult, but this one has held up fairly well - it's quite fun, with some catchy songs by Lisa Lougheed, although I probably won't make a habit of watching it. Mind you, the whole business of the park ranger is an odd quirk. Basically, you have the park ranger who lives in the forest with his two kids. He has a dog (Schaeffer), and a puppy (Broo). "On the other side of the forest" you have various anthropomorphic animals, such as the eponymous raccoons. (And yes, I am deliberately using long words in an attempt to justify watching cartoons!) So far, so good, and presumably the park ranger is just rather unobservant. However, when Schaeffer is with the raccoons he can walk upright (like them) and talk. For that matter, the animals live in houses (with electricity), and drive cars! Curiously, Broo stays in normal puppy behaviour - either the anthro behaviour comes with age, or he's something of an idiot child. Anyway, it does seem a bit tricky to reconcile the human world with the animal world, which may be why the humans were phased out in later series.
I think the best explanation is to say that "the other side" is a metaphorical comment, so Schaeffer actually has access to a mystical portal that allows him and Broo to travel between parallel Earths, i.e. the humans don't actually co-exist with the anthro animals. Schaeffer then presumably modifies his behaviour to blend in with the humans, suggesting that he is some form of undercover agent. In fact, this could explain Broo too - maybe he travelled to Earth-H, fell in love with a "normal" dog, and Broo is the result? I think I feel a fanfic comic coming on :)
And finally, the subject line for one of yesterday's emails (from a mailing list) was "CTO Replaces Trend Scan-Mail With Ninja". This is actually talking about two rival products, but I do like the idea of a different strategy, i.e. "we won't bother with anti-virus programs, we'll just hire ninjas to hunt down anyone who infects us".