Sunday, 29 May 2011

A Tale Of Cocktails #18

Disaronno Mimosa


3 oz champagne
1 oz Disaronno amaretto
2 oz orange juice

Taste: 7
Look: 6
Cost: 7
Name: 4
Prep: 8
Alcohol: 3
Overall: 6.2

Preparation: Add amaretto and orange juice to a champagne flute. Stir gently, and add champagne. Add twirl of orange peel.

General Comments: Does anyone know the name of those lollipops that taste and crumble like fossilised sugar? Because that's basically what this tastes of, assuming you'd dipped them in orange juice. It doesn't work quite as well as you'd hope, given that a) those lollipops are pretty much one of the best forms of confectionery ever created by mankind and b) there is very little in this world that can't be improved by a good slug of amaretto.  I wonder if it could do with a dash of sugar syrup, actually - that might solve the main problem, which is that the aftertaste is somewhat better.

Plus, that's a really boring name.  If you're going to just add one new ingredient to a well-known cocktail, you should at least have the decency to try and hide it a little.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

SpaceSquid vs.The X-Men #39: Diminishing Returns

Innovation and revelation can be tricky things.  Just because someone can blaze trails previously undreamed of doesn't mean they're necessarily going to be any good at laying roads.

So it is with art.  As vital and worthy of praise as they are, pioneers are rarely the greatest examples of the genres they forged, and when they are, one suspects it's only a matter of time before they're overtaken.  Philip K Dick is not the best sci-fi writer the world has seen.  No matter what anyone says, the Beatles are not the best guitar band so far formed. And Chris Claremont is not the best writer of superhero comics.

Obviously, some trailblazers remain relevant and entertaining for longer than others.  Clearly, the Beatles have done well enough in ensnaring my generation, and the one following it, sufficiently well to prove there is more to them than simply being first.  But even then, it doesn't follow that because what they did was new at the time, and still loved today, that we should be particularly hopeful about the results of them returning to the studio, even if they were all still alive.

There is no doubt in my mind that Chris Claremont's initial sixteen-year run on Uncanny X-Men changed the face of superhero comics forever, and delineated an approach to the team that no-one had seriously attempted to revise by the time he returned in 2000 after a nine year absence.  Even now, if a character walks into the comic and the X-Men recognise them, I'd be prepared to bet even money that they were created by Claremont.   When he took over Exiles a few years ago (with, by all accounts, distinctly underwhelming results), he was told to ensure every character on the team was a version of one he had put together during his - and the X-Men's - golden era (not to be confused with the Golden Age, natch).

In short, Claremont was a big fucking deal.   In the years after he first left the book in 1991, sales took a tumble, along with fan appraisal.  It's an interesting question as to whether or not the sales problems were because Claremont left, or whether he simply was lucky (or smart) enough to leave at the right time [1], but either way, Marvel brought him back to the book with high hopes back in 2000.  His opening salvo: a baffling "event" storyline that, amongst other things, introduced Neal Sharra: the third Thunderbird.

Friday, 27 May 2011

Last Of The Famous International Criminals

The always readable Charli Carpenter makes an excellent point over at LGM about just how different the European and American responses are following the tracking down of terrorist leaders/war criminals.

Obviously, I'd have much rather Bin Laden had been brought to trial.  I have to say that in the case of Mladic, though, I'm not so sure it's a good idea.  Not because I have any sympathy for the (alleged) mass-murdering monster, but because it's pretty clear that they've actually arrested Morrissey by mistake.

'As my opening statement, I would like to
submit "Every Day Is Like Sunday"'

Zero Sum Games

There is no lack of themes and ideas that lie behind A Song Of Ice And Fire, but as has been pointed out several times over the course of this week, two of the most obvious are the very much linked ideas that a good man is not necessarily a good leader, and that honour can do nothing but weigh you down.

In all the shouting, bile and violence of "A Golden Crown", these ideas were very much thrust to the forefront.

(Spoilers beyond the jump)

Thursday, 26 May 2011

From Out Of The Wild

Found via Balloon Juice, this list of "Top 10 New Species" is rather fascinating.  It's amazing that even in the second decade of the 21st century we can still find new mammals and previously unknown two-metre lizards.  Locating a new type of fish is less surprising, but the Louisiana pancake batfish is so brilliantly ludicrous that it's in a class all of it's own.

By far the most disturbing discovery, though, even more than the terrifying-sounding jumping cockroach, is the Darwin's bark spider. Arizona State explains that this new species will "[A]llow us to understand size dimorphism, mate guarding, and self castration".

Self. Castration. And I thought male praying mantises had it rough.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Monkeys With Calculators

After a five month hiatus, It All Adds Up finally returns, with some further thoughts about Prosecutor's Fallacy, and why people shouldn't be allowed access to calculators unless they promise to behave.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

1.4 Matriculation, Part 1

"You damn kids get offa my death-trap-strewn lawn!"

Apparently this place is more dangerous than your standard seat of higher education.  But will that mean less drinking and meaningless sex?

1.5                                                               1.3

Monday, 23 May 2011

Flocks With Glocks

Whilst Steven and I are putting the finishing touches to the fourth part of The Guilds of Goleg (which will be up by tonight, if we can manage it), here's a comic by Jon White. His idea is simplicity itself; take a hilariously pretentious and garbled statement from Newt Gingrich's press secretary and turn it into some kind of baffling fairy tale.

I don't remember if I mentioned it here, but it was my contention that Gingrich would never, ever run for President, right up to the day he announced he announced he was running for President.  Obviously, I got this one wrong, but in my defense, the sum total of my justification for my erroneous thinking was that Gingrich would have to have reached Sarah Palin levels of insanity in order to conclude that it was a good idea, and that he had any hope in Hell.

So, at least I was right about that, then.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Multiplayer Games

It's all downhill from here.  In the best way possible, of course.  The ascent has finished, and now comes six weeks of plunge, starting here.

(Spoilers galore after the fold)

Friday, 20 May 2011

More Damning

As I putting together my long-delayed eighth It All Adds Up column, I suddenly realised that Ben Stein's witless bleating actually has a name: "Prosecutor's Fallacy".

It's always worth explaining the fallacy, because it's so commonly held.  Stein's particular variant of it boils down to the following: "Almost no rapists are famous economists, therefore almost no famous economists are rapists."  The problem with this argument becomes entirely obvious when you point out that very few French people are famous economists.  Despite that fact, however, Stein seems entirely happy to believe Strauss-Kahn regarding the latter's country of origin.

A more mathematical (though very simple, I promise) demonstration after the jump.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Take Your Medicine

Awesome! Now all I need is evidence that booze makes you smarter. Wait.  What's that you say?

Truly the march of scientific progress is a wonder to behold, especially if you have the same vices as I do.  With any luck, by year's end someone will prove that cheese makes you sexier and prevents impotence.

Shut Your Damn Mouth

Shorter Ben Stein: it's hard to believe an exceptionally powerful man could be guilty of a crime that exceptionally powerful men are hardly ever convicted of. Surely, if exceptionally powerful men were ever guilty of crimes, more would be convicted! It stands to reason! 

Besides, there's very little evidence, because if there was the NYPD would have faxed it to me, Ben Stein.  Plus, I once met a chamber maid who was a total fucking bitch, so, y'know.  Just sayin'.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Linked Distractions

Something of a variation on the now well-worn first line music quiz format.  This time I've scoured my music collection for pairs of songs with identical names (give or take the odd "The" or punctuation mark).  I've found thirty three of them already, from A-J, and their first lines are given below (they're a bit shorter than normal, to make up for the song title link).

So, for each of the thirty-three pairs, you get one point for naming the song, and one point each for either of the two artists who provided the lyrics.  There is a final bonus point (to bring the potential score up to 100) for anyone who can identify any of the three song titles here for which I have a third version, along with the artist behind them.

Right, then.  To battle!

1.  Hallelujah (Chuck) 
     "I've heard there was a secret chord." Leonard Cohen (Chuck)
     "I've been a desperate man." Ryan Adams
2.  Captain (Dan Edmunds)
     "This is my ideas for captain." Idlewild
     "Angels fall to the floor."  Biffy Clyro (Dan Edmunds) 
3.  Catapult (Jamie)
    "All of a sudden she disappears." Counting Crows (Jamie)
     "Oooh, we were little boys." R.E.M. (Jamie)
4.  Bad Habit
     "Hey man, you know I'm really OK."  The Offspring
     "Biting keeps your words at bay." The Dresden Dolls
5.  Boxer/The Boxer (Dan Edmunds)
     "You got your pride and your prose." The Gaslight Anthem
      (Dan Edmunds)    
     "I am just a poor boy." Simon & Garfunkel (Dan Edmunds)
6.  Compliments (Ste)
     "We sit and we sigh." Bloc Party (Ste)
     "I'm fixing a drink in the morning." Band of Horses
7.  Give It Away (Chuck)
     "No more you choose to sue for peace." James (Jamie)
     "What I've got, you've gotta give it to your momma." Red Hot
     Chili Peppers (Chuck)
8.   Anthem
     "No man, no madness." "Chess"
     "The birds they sang at the break of day." Leonard Cohen
9.   Be Gone
      "Be gone, be gone."  British Sea Power
      "It's getting hard to stay up." Brand New
10. Good Time (Jamie)
      "Roller coasters, holy roller." Leroy
      "The gentleman caller in the blue suede shoes." Counting
       Crows (Jamie)
11. Jack-Ass/Jackass (Jamie)
      "I've been drifting along in the same stale shoes." Beck
      "To know you is to hate you." Green Day
12. Bodies
      "Cast the pearls aside."
      "She was a girl from Birmingham."
13. Avalanche
      "The avalanche we strode towards." Hundred Reasons
      "I found your photograph in a cardboard box." Ryan Adams
14.  Closing Time (Ste)
       "Oh, we're drinking and we're dancing." Leonard Cohen (Ste)
       "Closing time, open all the doors and let you out into the
        world." Semisonic (Ste)
15.  Burn
       "There's a lightning storm, each and every night." Alkaline Trio
       "I thought about leaving but I couldn't even get out of bed."
       Matchbox 20
16.  Desire
       "Lover, I'm on the streets." U2
       "Northern star, am I frightened?" Zwan
17.  City Hall (Dan Edmunds)
       "All you people up there." Tenacious D (Dan Edmunds)
       "I'll meet you outside the city halls." Idlewild
18. Closer (Chuck)
      "Every day I get a little closer dear." Jimmy Eat World
      "Stranded in this spooky town."  Kings of Leon (Chuck)
19. Beautiful
      "What if you were not just for show?" Barenaked Ladies
      "She laid in bed all night watching the morning change." Belle &
20.  Have It All
      "You're my size, I need to try you on." Foo Fighters
      "Some days I feel like crying." Jeremy Kay
21. Bubbles (Ste)
      "Take an axe to your past." James (Jamie)
      "Well how's your view of things today?" Biffy Clyro (Ste)
22.  Boy
       "Oh, I am, I'm tired out." Reuben
       "There was a time when everything you cared about was
       free." Hundred Reasons
23.  Cold Water (Jill)
       "Cold, cold water." Damien Rice (Jill)
       "I feel faint, what have I just heard?" Reindeer Section
24.  Fine 
      "It's gonna rain like this for days." Alkaline Trio
      "I'm a boomerang in the outback." James
25. Gone/Gone! (Jamie)
     "I thought I'd write, I thought I'd let you know." Ben Folds
      "Oh you know how it is, wake up feeling blue." The Cure
26.  Bed
      "My little darling, it's a crying shame." Semisonic
      "My head is lead." Brand New
27.  Better Days
       "Well my soul checked out." Bruce Springsteen
       "It's a bad night, and I don't wanna think." Anthony da Costa &
       Abbie Gardner
28. Crawl (Chuck)
      "You fall, my pride." Kings of Leon (Chuck)
      "Waking up I'm zeroed in on medicine." Alkaline Trio (Chuck)
29. Feel
      "What you want, what you got, little luck in a crawlspace."
       Matchbox 20
      "Here it comes again, like the first time again." Stereophonics
30. Everybody Knows (Jamie)
      "Everybody knows that the dice are loaded." Leonard Cohen
      "When you took me in your arms I knew I'd revive." James
31. California (Jamie)
      "Driven through the canyon I was." Semisonic
      "Going out to California." Josh Ritter (Jamie)
32. Disintegration
      "I've spent my last nights strung up." Jimmy Eat World
      "Oh, I miss the kind of treachery." The Cure  
33. El Capitan
      "Ooh, la la la la la la la." OPM
      "By the harbour, I harbour the strangest memories." Idlewild

I also have a song called "Anthem" by Blink-182, a song called "Desire" by Ryan Adams, and a song called "Beautiful" by the Smashing Pumpkins.

How I Make New Friends

SpaceSquid has dropped in to his local massively expensive cocktail bar, since it’s the only place in town with working broadband. The barman is holding court over how awesome his drinks are.

BARMAN: A lot of people ask me “Will I not feel bad after drinking here?” And I say “No. I bet you can drink here all night without feeling bad.”

SPACESQUID: Until you look at your bank balance, obviously.

BARMAN: Well, yes. But you won’t have a hangover. Unless you’ve been drinking already. You have no idea how many people come in here having downed a bottle of Blossom Hill. At which point the bet is off.

SPACESQUID: Yeah.  Just because these drinks are more expensive than NHS prescriptions don’t make ‘em medicine.

BARMAN: Exactly. I can’t undo the damage they’ve already done.

SPACESQUID:It’s like sleeping with a ten quid hooker after lunch. Doesn’t matter how pretty your dinner date is, you’re not going to wake up feeling good the next morning.

BARMAN: Well, I guess that's...Wait, ten quid? Really?

SPACESQUID: I’m from the North. Everything’s cheap up there.

You Don't Need To See The Verification

This, obtained via Robert Farley at LGM, is absolutely brilliant.  Particularly inspired is the first comment from Yoda: "Until body I see, believe it I will not. "

Indeed, the only thing missing from the analogy is a bunch of miserable, dissatisfied (former) Senators loudly proclaiming that Palpatine is inappropriately hogging all the credit, and that in actual fact the only reason Kenobi was caught at all was because of the policies Palpatine inherited from Chancellor Valorum.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Word Games

Well, that was certainly interesting. But was it any good?

In all honesty, I’m not entirely sure. I told people I’d enjoyed it immediately after it had finished, but after some reflection, it may be that “enjoyed” might not be the past participle I was searching for. I think what actually happened was that I appreciated it.

Whatever one’s opinion of my fiction, I can at least be described as having some experience as a writer, even if only in terms of how long I’ve been doing it. And you can’t spend too long as a writer, particularly one with a taste for science fiction, without coming up against the problem of exposition.

Exposition can kill a story faster than almost anything else. That’s true across the board, but with sci-fi and fantasy, the problem is massively magnified. Not just because of the increased amount of extra information the audience needs to process, but because so many writers can’t wait to show you their Big Idea. Take Peter Hamilton, for example. Yes, the idea of a network of wormholes allowing planets to be connected by a railroad is a neat idea. That doesn’t mean we need to spend more time on trains than the Fat Controller, now does it?

The point here is that once you’ve spent sufficient time deconstructing the genre, you start to really appreciate good exposition.

(Spoilers follow)

Thoroughly Voided

I finished Peter Hamilton’s The Evolutionary Void yesterday, and I figured a bit of reviewing was called for.  Spoilers follow, unsurprisingly.

The three biggest problems Hamilton’s Confederation Trilogy suffered from were; in no particular order, a damp squib of an ending, characters who were introduced far too long before they were in a position do anything interesting, and sex scenes so toe-curling that even Alan Titchmarsh would have deleted them before he reached the second paragraph.

As I noted after finishing the Commonwealth Duology, Hamilton had managed to curb the first and third of those issues (not so much the second one) on his second attempt (I’m bypassing his stabs at near-future fiction, for the eminently sensible reason that I never read them), but that even so Pandora’s Star (one of my favourite names for a book ever, by the way) and Judas Unchained worked rather less well than their Confederation cousins. There was too much of a sense of desperately trying to avoid repeating himself, which only led to a series of technological gadgets reminiscent of those employed by Joshua Calvert et al, only a little bit less believable or well-named. I mean, OCtattoos? There was also a slight whiff of attempted revisiting-without-repeating regarding the Prime alien, another awesomely powerful and (almost) totally unrelenting threat with a nasty habit of taking control of people (albeit in a very different way). I don’t want to criticise the Primes too much, because they were some distance from the Possessed in a lot of ways, and genuinely inventive to boot, but I still had high hopes that the Void Trilogy would provide something more than another vicious malicious [1] extra-dimensional/extra-terrestrial force hell-bent on destroying the universe as we know it.

Did we get that? Well, yes, in the main. One way in which Hamilton’s writing certainly has matured is in his dealing with politics. He touched on political manoeuvring all the way back when he was writing about the Confederation, and tried – not particularly successfully – to introduce more of it in his first books set in the Commonwealth. This time round, though, he seems to have gotten the hang of it. It’s not Dune, or anything, but for what this is – expansive, primary-coloured space opera, it serves well enough to give context to Hamilton’s apparent purpose here - to take a break from offering up malevolent external threats to humanity in favour of having ourselves fuck everyone else over for a change.

It’s telling that the two most troublesome alien races in this series are the Ocisen, who are noteworthy only because a Commonwealth faction are supplying them with aid, and the Raiel, who unquestionably are in the right almost every time they start gunning for humanity. This time the unquestioned technological and intellectual superiority of humanity is part of the problem, not the solution.

Indeed, the two key messages the third book imparts are as follows: absolute power corrupts absolutely (if not necessarily indefinitely), which we already knew, and absolute fulfilment arrests absolutely, which is a little newer. Not that much newer, of course, the idea that it’s adversity and the risk of disaster that motivates humanity (to say nothing of the rather unpleasant possibility that no human can be happy without being able to identify someone else who is demonstrably worse off than they are) has been around for a while. Hell, the idea that we have to face and solve our own problems has been a key theme of Hamilton’s work since the very beginning.

Even so, this is his best expression of it yet. It’s not exactly massively complex, for sure, but far more assured than the rushed and muddled ending to The Naked God (though in fairness, I was far less disappointed than the end of the Confederation Trilogy than most). Add in the genuinely impressive manner in which Edeard’s story is tied together with that of the Commonwealth characters is very nice (one quibble, though, if Makkathran’s architecture was so obviously similar to a major feature in the Greater Commonwealth’s sphere of influence, how come only Gore Burnelli made the link?)

I’m not sure this series will win over anyone who hated the Confederation Trilogy. It’s also fair to say that anyone who didn’t read the first two Commonwealth novels is going to find some of this a little baffling, if not in plot terms then certainly regarding why we should care about a lot of the characters. And yes, once again the story basically breaks down into a lot of time and energy spent searching for something much more powerful than humanity and asking them to bail us out. It’s not a change of tack for Hamilton, for sure. It’s simply the best example yet of him doing what he does.

[1] Sounds like the best ice-cream flavour ever.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

To Serve Mankind

Picked this up at FPI this afternoon.  Like most such games, it probably works best with more than two players, but even with just The Other Half and I doing battle, it was an awful lot of fun.  I mean, who doesn't want to spend a couple of hours consuming the flesh of the living and turning them into their undead slaves?  Especially since you all have your own character with (very slightly) different powers.  You can be a musician zombie, for example, or a cheerleader or wrestler.  Moreover, each person you infect becomes a little carbon copy of yourself!  You can form your own zombie band!  A zombie cheering section.  Or, er, the WCW.

The only thing you have to worry about is that those pesky humans are packing heat.  Given to them by enemy zombies, no less!  Fuckin' race traitors...

Apparently it can be combined with Zombies!!! as well, which sounds pretty good in theory.  In practice, you know everyone is just going to be arguing about who gets to be Zombi Jimi Hendrix.

Thursday, 5 May 2011


Speaking of the lovely Ms Bellanfante, how much must it hurt that her Wikipedia entry contains exactly one line about what she does, and three about why she's so horribly shit at it?

The Game Of Life

Hmm.  Well, my correlation theory from last time around seems to have struck again.  There is again a general sense of dissatisfaction over "Lord Snow", but only from those of us who already know what's going on.  Amongst the newcomers, it seems to have hit the mark.

(Spoilers follow)

3(X+2Y) = You Racist Fuck

I wasn't going to post anything on the finding and killing of Osama Bin Laden.  There's a lot of very interesting and complicated issues thrown up by what has happened, and I'm not really inclined to go through the necessary reading and consideration to decide as to whether or not I should be glad the world is rid of him.

However, there is one thing I think we can all agree on: FUCK THIS GUY.
A ninth grade algebra teacher was suspended from a Texas school district after making offensive comments to a Muslim student in front of the entire class.
“The teacher told the student that ‘I bet you’re grieving,’” the mother of a student in the same class told ABC13. “And she basically looked at him and said what are you talking about? And he said I heard about your uncle’s death and she said wow, because she understood that he was referring about Osama bin Laden being killed and was racially profiling her.”
She added that the teacher “just kind of smirked and giggled and walked away” after the Muslim student ended up crying over the comments.
On behalf of maths teachers everywhere, I'd like to apologise, and point out we're not all like that.  A lot of us are just hollow emotionless shells.

(h/t ABL)

Does This Make Cars Congress, Or Just Democracy?

I hate traffic jams as much as the next squid, obviously, but I have to admit to being amused when the tailback I found myself caught in yesterday turned out to have been caused by some idiot sitting in the outside lane whilst dragging along a Senator caravan.

I'm not sure there's any better name for a massive, lumbering waste of space that prevents anyone else from moving in the direction they've all agreed to go, all whilst being dragged along by a force no-one else can see.

But why be so generic?  Why not name models after individual senators, so you know exactly what you're getting?

The Lieberman: Includes a Tom Tom that spends the entire journey telling you how your destination is the only morally acceptable choice.  Stops dead three miles from arrival until you agree to reverse direction.

The Bayh: Refuses to move unless you drive in the right hand lane [1], and only moves over for the most expensive cars, all whilst the onboard Tom Tom lectures you constantly over the importance of steady traffic flow.  Eventually stops dead, lamenting the massive traffic tailback it itself has caused.  The instant you unhook it, it ploughs into the nearest car and explodes, rendering the road unusable for as long as his FOX contract lasts quite some time.

The Obama: Peggy Noonan mocks you mercilessly for the money you spent buying it.  One year later, you're given control of all the roads.  Made in Hawaii, but no-one believes that because of the paint job.

The Binks: Sports an infuriating and racist Tom Tom which combines a might-is-right attitude with disgusting personal cowardice.  Somehow carries constant risk of destroying the democratic process.  A Republican, in other words.  Wait, what was this analogy about again?

[1] Not because he's American, but because he's a shithead.