Thursday, 27 April 2017

Infinite Diversity, Finite Combinations 3.1.6

We're on the Enterprise-D this week, as are a bunch of weird snake-dudes and Gul Dukat pretending to be a dog. No way that can be boring as hell, right?


Geek Syndicate Review: Rebels (These Free And Independent States) #2

In which Brian Wood's frustratingly-titled slice of historical fiction continues to not really know what it wants to say.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Six Things I Learned In Berlin

1. Berlin Zoo is a good time, especially its collection of big cats. Some of the enclosures are a bit on the small side compared to zoos I've visited elsewhere, but - from my entirely uninformed standpoint - nothing seemed particularly unhappy. It was especially nice to see polar bears having fun; the only other one I've seen was back in Edinburgh years ago and it was clearly suffering. These two bears have about three times the space, and it seems to be doing the job. The biggest concern I heard anyone raise while I was there was the danger of the polar bears catching a cold if their pool wasn't heated, which I guess demonstrates that brain-swivelling stupidity is truly an international concern.

If you're going for the full afternoon, it's well worth getting a combined ticket for the on-site aquarium too. It's filled with a massive array of fish - too many in some tanks, actually, though again what do I know? - but also houses every cold-blooded animal in the zoo, so it's not just aquatic creatures.

They also have a common tern, presumably as a replacement after a much more impressive bird cancelled last minute. I foolishly didn't think to take a picture of the resultant colossal misfire of an exhibit, so I have used the magic of Microsoft Paint to reproduce the effect.

(Original photos (c) Birds of North America Online & Australia Adventure)

2. I'm officially adding nackensteak to my list of tasty German treats. It's meat from the nape of a pig's neck (hence the name) with a taste and texture halfway between a pork chop and well-done bacon, with the faintest hint of crackling. At least in the place where I bought it (a street market on Kurfurstendamm) it's a bit more expensive than sausage, and frankly not quite as good, but if you've already filled up on wurst and want to eat some flatter flesh, this is a fine choice.

3. Trabant wing mirrors come off really easily.

4. U-Bahn construction companies pay for some interesting artwork.

YES! Rock on, gay motorcycle gang members! I'm glad you'll soon find it even easier to get around Berlin.

Um, hi, Mark Wahlberg with a ponytail and also on a pony. I'm... not sure they'll let you take Scottie Gee Gee on the U-bahn, actually, but I'm delighted you're pitching in.

I didn't think this was legal, but maybe King Bear has issued a royal decree about lady-kissing. YOU SLY SCAMP, ROYAL BEAR.


5. Museum Island sounds like a terrible sequel to any one of a dozen horror/monster films, but in fact, it's a rather pretty and awesome grouping of, well, museums. F and I checked out the Pergamon Museum there, and it's filled with some absolutely breathtaking reproductions of ancient locations, including the Ishtar Gate (which makes me wish we hadn't so totally devalued "awesome" as a word) and a section of an ancient market place. The collection also contains a large number of examples of Islamic Art, which is both lovely on its own terms and tremendously satisfying when you think of how many people must be appalled that it even exists.  The place is huge, too; there were three exhibits closed for renovation and it was still three and a half hours before we decided we needed to leave, with maybe another half hour's worth of stuff still to work through.

Two tips: first, if you don't speak German, make sure you borrow one of the (free) audio guides to take round. Only about two thirds of the material has been translated into English, and the translations themselves are occasionally patchy.  Second, make sure to book in advance. We didn't get around to doing so and ended up in a queue for seventy minutes. Considering there's a sign outside the museum marking an average two-hour waiting period, we got lucky, but still.

Oh, and one more tip, actually. Don't touch the handrail around the floor mosaic in the antiquities section. There's a guard there who gets really annoyed if you do. There's no sign or anything asking you not to; they've apparently decided to hire a guy pretty much entirely to whisper "NO! NO!" furiously into your ear if you touch a bar that's at exactly the right height for you to grasp it. I think half the people who went in just took hold out of habit; some Pavlovian response conditioned into us by decades of riding the subway or going up escalators or grabbing for iron coshes when shit goes down.

Anyway, go see this guy if you visit the museum. He'd probably appreciate human contact that isn't handrail-related. Just make sure to engage him in conversation from an angle that allows him to see every inch of his wrought-iron charge. It may not be much of a job, but it's his, and he's very proud of how well he does it.

6. No jokes for this one. The Topographie des Terrors is chilling, and horrifying, and profoundly upsetting, and something everyone really should see. You'll find it hard not to cry and harder still not to punch the giggling American tourists - "I'm touching Gestapo bricks ha ha!" - but the exhibition does excellently at the almost impossible task of rendering the entire story of the Nazi Party and its legacy into something short enough to read in two hours without feeling like anything has been ignored or skirted over.  Every time I read about the Nazis I find some new reason to fucking loathe them - this time it was discovering they would have murdered both my siblings for their medical histories - and every time I find some new way in which the contemporary right is inching towards the same sickening ideas. "Work-shy Reich" sounds like something IDS would suggest after his second whisky.

Monday, 10 April 2017

No Apologies For The Infinite Radness 1.2.3 - "See You Soon" (Coldplay)

I've never been much for Coldplay in either their arena bombast or overly earnest modes, but I'm a total sucker for their quiet ballads, and this is their best. It's stripped down to almost nothing - a guitar riff that stretches out like a telescope, backed by slow, expansive keys. It's not until the final moments that anyone even remembers percussion is a thing.

And it works wonderfully, not just on its own terms, but in how it meshes with the song's story; a sad tale about a friend no-one in your social circle ever talks to anymore. Pretty much all of us must have been here; watching someone once loved at ever-greater distances as they drift away, or as they cut ties one by one in a seemingly calculated campaign of unprovoked viciousness. Watching as they coat themselves in more and more layers of armour for an attack they're convinced is coming, and thereby blocking out anyone who still cares. You still see them around, but as observers, watching someone who once meant the world to you pass by on the other side of the street, their gaze studiously avoiding yours.

The overall sense is one of space and distance, a story of old wounds that still ache from time to time. Martin sums the situation up early on:
Don't break your back if you ever see this.
Don't answer that.
Yes, this song is about how we used to be friends. We're not any more. Don't @ me. This isn't reconciliation. It's pathology set to music.

It just happens to be beautiful, too.

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Geek Syndicate Review: Rebels (These Free And Independent States) #1

Brian Wood's back with another American history lesson. Features Alexander Hamilton for no real reason other than he's popular now. I wonder if he's ill, though; he's all pale and totally off-rhythm.