December 2002 Archives

Nice Flash animation / game

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You must check out Fly Guy. Make sure you interact with all the weird flying things (I like the boxer especially).

Fun books for Christmas - a tie

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Well, Christmas came, and with it the Book Box - the idea is you get a bunch of things that people might like (normally books), and you put them in the book box, and then people take stuff out of the book box, browse them, and keep the ones they want. No wrapping, no wondering whether this is the right present for (whoever), you just put stuff in the box. You might get something for yourself, and if someone else likes it you just buy it for yourself again.

Anyway, in the book box was Brewer's Rogues, Villains & Eccentrics, which has choice snippets like the fact that Prince Philip's mother believed that she was "enjoying carnal relations with Christ", or index entries such as "Hairdressers who have carried out Great Train Robberies" (there are two of them) or "Tortoise in one's pocket, attending a wedding with a".

Mike, meanwhile got what sounds just as good: 100 Pretentious Proverbs. Includes such gems as:

Despite its apocryphal ability to cheat the machinations of the Grim Reaper, the life of many a small feline mammal has been tragically curtailed by its inquisitiveness and quest for knowledge.

To consider that some people get socks for Christmas. Bah.

For a number of reasons, we first tried to see the Two Towers yesterday - but it was sold out. So we went home and watched the extended version of the Fellowship on DVD. Today we went to see it again, but it was sold out again. Feh.

So we decided to see Harry Potter 2. Feh.

(Read the rest at my new blog.)

Harry Potter vs Lord of the Rings - why Harry Potter is doomed to failure

I rant about Harry Potter being rubbish, having seen the latest film.

For a number of reasons, we first tried to see the Two Towers yesterday - but it was sold out. So we went home and watched the extended version of the Fellowship on DVD. Today we went to see it again, but it was sold out again. Feh.

So we decided to see Harry Potter 2. Feh.

Harry Potter is running out of steam as a cinema franchise already, and I think it's because, no matter how good the casting can be (Alan Rickman and Kenneth Branagh, for instance, are superb), the source material is fundamentally limited and is not suited to a 7-film sequence. What may work fine in a children's book - and I enjoyed the four books when I read them - does not work on film. (See, for instance, Cleodhna's analysis - not a permalink, unfortunately.)

All the Harry Potter books are, fundamentally, set at Hogwarts. But Hogwarts is not rich enough an environment to cope with this. We know about a number of locations in Hogwarts, but a) we don't particularly know how they relate to each other (which buildings do you have to go through to get from the Gryffindor Common Room to the Quidditch Arena?), and b) there isn't much of an impression that there's anything we've missed. In both films so far the secret, hidden evil places have been underground; there are plenty of aerial shots in the current film to show you that Hogwarts is actually a fairly small collection of buildings, conceivably small enough that you've seen most of it already.

This is a fatal flaw if it's supposed to be the setting for 7 entire films. Yes, there's the haunted forest, and a few other extraneous places, but Hogwarts itself already feels full. It's already been mapped, it's known. It doesn't have the feeling you'd have with Gormenghast that the place is so old, decrepit, sprawling and subtle that, for all you know, there could be a hidden Shinto temple somewhere in the grounds.

(Lord of the Rings leads you across all of Middle Earth - the Shire, Rivendell, Moria and Lothlórien in book one, Fangorn, Moria, Isengard, Minas Tirith and the outskirts of Mordor in book two; Moria and big huge battle scenes, oh and other outskirts of Mordor in book three. I may have missed some parts of the world that LotR visits - that's like missing a scullery in Harry Potter.)

My other problem with the series is that the magic system in Harry Potter is possibly the least well thought-out magic system in the history of fantasy. There is no clear indication of how magic works, other than a) it relies on magic wands, and the wands must be tuned to the nature of the wizard; b) magic spells work by saying latin words (4-5 syllables seems to be the norm) and pointing; c) there appears to be some degree of manual dexterity involved, although this is never really explored. As an aside, this means that you cannot point a wand at someone as you would point any kind of ranged weapon, because by the time you've finished chanting your spell they have time to either break, divert or grab your magic wand from you.

There does not appear to be much thought involved into how some spells can be more difficult than others. As a result, spells appear to be tossed into the mix as and when they would be appropriate. So first-year students can paralyse people (Hermione to some random student); second-year students can make people puke up slugs (Ron Weasley), chuck spiders around (pretty much everyone), or brew potions to take the appearance of someone else (Hermione again). Yet Harry, as a second-year student, is unable to repair his glasses with a simple mending spell - something, you'd have thought, which he would have learned to do fairly quickly.

A final flaw, I think, is that J.K.Rowling never considers the consequences of having a magic society live alongside a normal, "Muggle" society. This, I think, is how she envisages it:

  • Some people can do magic, some people can't. This doesn't necessarily follow blood lines, so Muggle-born can be magicians.
  • A thousand years ago or more, clearly, being able to do magic would have brought great benefits. Those who could do magic separated themselves from non-magic-users (Muggles) and kept the benefits of magic to themselves.
  • To this day, the separation continues. Muggles are unaware of magic-users (possibly because of forgetfulness spells), and magic-users tend to disdain (and be unaware of, or not understand) Muggles.

Now, this clearly can't work. The Muggles must have satellite photos of Hogwarts by now, and the ancient train that goes to it, unless the wizards have amazing powers of concealment - which nonetheless they happen to not teach to their students in the first four years of their studies. And if the wizards have stayed unnoticed so long, it must be because they're aware of the new technology being developed by the Muggles and have developed spells to counter-act it - except, whoops, they know almost nothing about the Muggles.

Frankly, if I was setting up a world where ancient wizards coexisted with modern technology, I'd have to find a reason why they're still using quill pens rather than, say, word-processors, given that they can, presumably, just go and get one from a shop. Say that electricity is the anti-magic (no lightning bolts from these mages, then), say that you need a personal touch, have people make quill pens that are animate and intelligent so you dictate to them and they write, whatever, but at least think about it.

Frankly, if you're a bunch of wizards hiding from the rest of society, explain to me why you're not the Templars, or the Illuminati, or any other juicy secret society.

Please see my other blog

I haven't been updating this blog recently, because I've got a blog of my own instead. Suggestions for better titles will be gratefully received.

Why the fishermen don't get it

I'm annoyed at fishermen protesting about the recent fish quota cuts, and not getting the point of the cuts, which is to reduce the amount of fish being caught - and therefore also the number of fishermen.


The EC has decided to drastically reduce the allowable fish quotas, notably for North Sea cod. Fishermen are protesting about the cuts, saying things like "People can't believe this has happened to possibly the hardest working industry in the country," and bemoaning the lack of jobs that will follow.

Aarrgghh! That's the point. The fishing industry is, at the moment, over-productive. We're catching more fish than we should, and the stocks aren't being replenished fast enough to cope. As soon as we say that we should catch fewer fish in the future, it therefore follows that there will be less work in fishing to go around, and some people will lose their jobs.

That sounds harsh, but some people have their jobs in the fishing industry as a direct result of the over-fishing. These jobs are temporary, nonsustainable, and in the long term shedding a few thousand jobs will be worthwhile if it can safeguard the rest of the industry.

It would be far more interesting to see what skills fishermen have could be turned to other jobs - in the same way that farmers these days get subsidies from the EC to maintain the land without actually farming it.

Now, it's true that huge supertrawlers like the Atlantic Dawn are mostly responsible for the depletion of fish stocks in recent years; but I don't think we can realistically turn the clock back on this sort of technical advance. And we can't, without a great deal of hypocrisy, bemoan the existence of huge technologically-advanced trawlers that take the place of dozens of smaller trawlers, and at the same time in other industries claim that the only way for Europe to compete is to be a knowledge economy and not try to compete against developing countries with far lower labour costs.

Besides, I'm personally far more concerned with fish farms, and all the noxious results of intensive farming - pollution, disease, distortion of the breed like we've seen happen to battery hens, and the consequential lack of flavour - than I am with big boats with big nets which are, nonetheless, still catching wild fish. As long as the nets are properly designed so they only catch what they're supposed to (and not dolphins or under-aged fish), and the trawlers don't sweep breeding areas, I'm not too

Why I need to change the size of type in a web page

I'm not always sitting at the same distance from the monitor.

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I was partly thinking about this because of Charlie's insistence on labeling all of his blog's text as too small, but I've noticed it through other websites as well.

Simply put: the most common keyboard shortcut I use is Command-T (open new tab), but the next more common shortcuts are Command-W (close window) and, crucially, Command-+ (make text bigger). Command-- (make text smaller) happens somewhere as well. Now, this can't be because people are building websites that have text in the wrong size.

I realised this is because I read web pages differently. Some web pages, I read with my face fairly close to the screen, possibly because I've been programming. Others I read with my face further away - perhaps because I'm taking time out from "work"*, and I want to relax a bit.

A really evil thing happened a while ago: CSS stylesheets started specifying explicit font sizes, and you couldn't override them. Thankfully, at least in Chimera, this era is over.

*: Only pointy-haired bean-counters imagine that time spent reading up on your profession is somehow wasted.

Why dogs have to be taken out to pee

I briefly wondered if our dogs could be trained to use the toilet.

Dogs are like children - they take over your lives, they demand constant attention and activity (feed them, take them out to pee, take them out for a walk - which also, I understand, involves shitting - and fill up their water bowl. I occasionally do this last one.) I was vaguely thinking tonight about how it would be good to train dogs to use the toilet.

Note that ours are not allowed in the bathroom because Laszlo, in particular, will take the toilet roll, in its entirety - he's an unsubtle dog - and sit down happily in either the hall or, frequently, our bed, and then proceed to rip the toilet roll to shreds.

In case you haven't experienced this sort of thing yet, here's some information you'll get for free that you don't need to experience yourself: once an Alsation-Malamute cross has ripped up an entire toilet roll, you end up with a lot of shreds. We're talking about explosion-in-a-chicken-coop type volume of shreds of thin paper. Some of which (people with delicate sensitivities may want to look away at this point) is, well, moist.

Anyway, I mentioned to Cleodhna that I thought it would be potentially interesting to train the dogs to pee in the toilet. She then pointed out that, when Laszlo is actively trying to aim at the exact same spot that Berkeley peed on - because Laszlo is dominant, and has to have his pee on top of Berkeley's pee, so when other dogs come along they'll realise that Laszlo Woz Here, rather than some other subordinate dog - then well, Laszlo may occasionally miss by up to 10 inches.

Readers with bathrooms may at this point mentally envisage a blast radius of 10 inches from the toilet bowl, and imagine anything within that range slightly dowsed with dog piss.

Some things do not, in fact, get worse

Google is up to a whole bunch of things at the moment - but at least it still works.

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Google is up to a bunch of things at the moment. I'm slightly amused at Froogle, which is a product search for Google (does anyone remember that catalogue search they had briefly for a while? What happened to that?). But a bunch of people have been complaining that Google is getting too powerful - that it's becoming a monoculture, which is bad, because if your business depends on Google, and then Google bans you from its listing, you're in trouble. This New York Times article (via Google weblog sums it up, I think.

But the important thing is, it still works. While I was wandering around Google links, I came across The Register's take on the discovery that if you type "More evil than Satan himself" into Google, you get Microsoft. Nowadays, of course, if you type that into Google, you get news reports of the discovery that it used to link to Microsoft. I don't know whether this is a sign that Google is better at categorising news sites, that there are more news sites around these days, or just that the Internet is becoming increasingly self-referential.

But the thing that I liked was the end of the article - from 1999, back when Google was just becoming new.

And please, please don't tell anybody about google - it's wonderfully fast at the moment.

Wouldn't you know it - it still is. And the world is a better place as a

Harry Potter - Pampered jock, patsy, fraud

This Slate article, by Chris Suellentrop (via Paul Boutin) sums up exactly why I've thought, particularly since the films, that Harry Potter as a character was a bit rubbish. Short and excellent.