Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The two halves of my brain

I'm pretty sure I saw my first instance of racial profiling t'other day.

I was sitting in a phone retailer and, as I waited for my thingy to be processed (hur hur), two Arabic-looking gentlemen came into the shop and started enquiring about plans for Blackberries and PDA/phones. They were there for a while, and then just sort of wandered off.

After they'd left, a mall security person turned up and the manager of the store chatted with her for a bit. She'd started the process of setting up the transaction and photocopied the credit cards and licenses of the two men in question (a legitimate practice for phone dealers, to be fair) and she gave the photocopies to the security lady. Apparently, the two men in question had been to a few mobile phone retailers that day asking about various plans (adding the fact that more than one store person thought it worthy of notice and a ring around). I didn't catch if they were just looking at "disposable" phones (pre-paid and the like), but the information given seemed to interest the security lady.

So, apparently just comparison-shopping is enough to mark you in certain eyes if you look a certain way.

And here is where the subject header comes in, because the part of my brain that understands what damage can be caused in assymetric warfare and is aware that noticing something like this could help prevent an event was suprised at how well the situation was handled. I'm not alarmed, nor particularly alert, but the fact is that more than one observant salesman (or woman) at a phone shop (or hardware store or camping store or whatever) has been instrumental in preventing a crime.

However, the part of my brain that despises Li'l Johnny and the Ghoul with a firey, firey passion wants to know just how alert is too alert? True, they didn't call the police or make a scene or treat the two men in question with anything less than the politeness I'd expect myself, but the event itself left me feeling... uneasy. Why should two guys looking for a phone attract attention of the "photocopy the license and credit card and give it to security" kind just 'cause they look a certain way? When my head was shaved and I was wearing camo pants, I wasn't being followed around by security guards. Well, not more than normal anyway.

Oh, and both parts of my brain agree that actual terrorists would probably not bother with comparison shopping, 'cause they'd most likely have the cash to just get a phone in the first shop they came to.

[Edit]And as an addendum, the first half of my brain just flashed a "should I really post this, 'cause it could warn them" message before the second half smacked it upside the head. What fun times we live in.[/Edit]

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Unpopular opinions

For those of you who watch "Stargate: SG1", I have this to say.

I think Jonas Quinn is cooler than Daniel Jackson.

I'm not sure what it is exactly, but it probably has something to with the fact that a) he doesn't get possessed or infected every twenty minutes, b) he wasn't afraid, more or less from the get-go to grab a gun and get into the action and c) that hyper-observant, eidetic-memory thing he's got going made for some great dialogue.

Question 2/20

Should I go for the direct route now, or a quirky Lt. Kaffee alternate?

How about...

Did you play Magic with the rest of us?

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Book 18 1/2

"Everything's Eventual" by Stephen King

I haven't read much Stephen King for a while, and thought I'd jump in and look over this short story compilation (what I bought on my trip to Melbourne). There's the usual mix of very good and just okay to be had between these two covers. Some of the stand-out stories include "The Little Sister of Eluria" is a story featuring the Gunslinger from the Dark Tower series (about which, more later). It's kind of a "where was he before the first novel" tail featuring creepy bugs and even creepier nuns.

"The Road Virus Heads North" has a demonic painting as its central theme, with - and isn't this unusual for King - a writer being pursued across country by an ee-ville force. King builds the tension really well in this one, and the dude in the painting is just nasty.

"Everything's Eventual" is the story of a young man who can kill people by drawing pictures and is, if not the smoothest of the bunch, certainly one that features the most imaginative premise. This young lad is hired by a shadowy agency to use his talent against targets they identify and he starts to feel uncertain about it. A great story, in a clear - if not always smooth - voice.

I was less impressed by "LT's Theory Of Pets", not 'cause it was crap, but because it wasn't as smooth as it could've been.

I fair powered through this collection, with only a few speed bumps, and I reckon it's worth about a three and a half creepy bugs out of five.

Question 1/20

In response to Ratti's response, and just to clarify some of the info we think know about fatfingers...

I'm also going to try for a Perry Mason/The Practice thing by varying the tone and subject of the question to try and put fatfingers off and get them to crack under the pressure and admit their identity first.

Have you studied Spanish?

I am a weak, weak man...

But a weak, weak man with a PS2! :)

I finally got myself a credit card and, well, one thing led to another and I went into Dick Smith's and came out with a PS2, an EyeToy and the Buzz! game. It was an extravangance, but as I was going to lay-by it anyway I just figured I might as well put the lay-by payments on my credit card and play with the thing right now.

The Buzz! game is much fun. It comes with these paddle thingies with coloured buttons and depending on the stlye of the round you either pick the colour that corresponds to the answer you want to give or use the big red button to buzz in quickly. I think there's a lot of party potential in this one, and also in the EyeToy.

The EyeToy is very groovy. It's a USB camera that attaches ot the PS2 and then you turn up on the screen and play the game by moving around, jumping up and down and generally acting like a 'nana.

I also picked up 24: The Game and it rocks! The gameplay is pretty standard 3rd-person shoot-em-up with stealthy bits and some sniping, but there's also bomb defusal, interrogation and code-cracking to do. And you can "restrain" people. If civilians are running around, getting in your way, you can call out "Federal Agent!", or words to that effect and then they crouch on the ground and you handcuff them (personally, I think that Tony likes handcuffing the girl civilians a little too much). As for arresting baddies, you have to wound them or possibly get one who's a girly-man and you also yell out "CTU! Put down your weapon!" (or whatever) and they put their hands up. Then you handcuff them. Of course, if you press the wrong button, you don't handcuff them but rather break their neck with an accompanying evil sound. Very cool. :)

The game itself is basically an episode of the TV series where you play the characters. It was written by one of the show's writers and most of the cast voice the characters in the game. There's even the wonky camera and collage-like aspect to some of the cut-scenes that you see in the bits between scenes in the series. Oh, and Kim Bauer is about as useful in the game as she is in the series (ie; not in the least).

Monday, August 21, 2006

My first active guess...

And it might just be the right one, but is Miss FatFingers more commonly known as.... Melanie McMillan?

And does she have a blog I can link?

Friday, August 18, 2006

A possible sequel!?

And this time? It's badgers!

Tha Duke

I'm watching Rio Bravo and while most of the adjectives commonly ascribed to John Wayne have differing levels of accuracy - iconic, archetypal, masculine, black-lister, misogynist, really big - there is one that is perfectly accurate. The man was cool!

And so's this movie. I've heard it referred to as the archetypal buddy moive, the archetypal siege movie (tho would Zulu have a claim to that? It did come out 5 years later) and the archetypal action movie and it is interesting to see all the things we take for granted in action movies nowadays in this one from nigh on fifty years ago. Comic relief characters, snappy one-liners and some threatening dialogue and scenery chewing that would make Arnold or Chuck jealous.

Just in case...

Just in case there were some boys (and girls) Daniel Radcliffe's age (and older) who didn't want him dead, there's this picture to cement it.

Lucky little bastard.

Samuel L on Jon Stewart

'Cause I found this on Ratti's friends page and didn't want to be the only blogger in the world who didn't link this.

And Cleolinda is right. Jon Stewart, the Uber-cynic, just goes fanboy for the whole "interview". :)

The great fatfingers mystery

Two more pieces of evidence.

Fatfingers lives in (or has a proximity to) Sydney...

Fatfingers seems to be on a first-name basis with Ursula Le Guin (although that could be a joke :) )...


Thursday, August 17, 2006

Book 17 1/2

"A Short History Of Nearly Everything" by Bill Bryson

Science is cool!

Carmen got very, very sick of hearing this every night when she came to bed. I'd be reading this book and finding out something new (or possibly inaccurate) and I couldn't help spewing it out at her. 10 million kilometers of DNA in the human body? How cool is that!? Bacteria that can survive inside a nuclear react? How cool is that!?

Bryson's style in this, as my brother has said to me, is that of a ten year old discovering new things and running up to you going "guesswhatguesswhatguesswhat!?" and... well... spewing out a new fact (possibly misremembered, but who cares?). This book is conversational, engaging and smooth flowing. It's also pretty chucky, so don't be falling asleep in bed reading this one or you could break your nose.

Four and a half should-be text books out of five.

Book 16 1/2

"Collaborator" by Murray Davies

What is about speculative fiction that gets me going? The "What if" factor is something that always interests me, especially when it's done right and this one is. Not perfectly, but certainly smoother than some Turtledove, and without the gratuitous sex (or, at least, the gratuitous sex scenes). There are a few instances of clunky weapons-specs (mayhap Mr Davies needs a chat with Msrrs Clancy and/or Birmingham), but overall the quality is very good. It is true that I picked the twist about halfway through, but that did not significantly impact my enjoyment of the book.

The tone of the novel is dark, but not hopeless, as it deals with a Nazi-occupied England. The "What if" here being what if Operation Sea Lion actually worked? The protagonist of the novel is a former POW who is attached to the local administration of his home town because he can speak German. There follows resistance attacks and involvements, a sexy American assassin (female) and a selection of old and new friends and enemies.

This one is definitely worth a look, and although it's about as thick - if not thicker - than Turtledove at his most loquacious, it still moves smoothly and freely. I'll give it three and a half British brown shirts out of five.

Go Chloe!! (24 spoiler)

So I'm watching Season 4 of 24[1] and Chloe just used an assault rifle to take out a hitman. Not bad for a systems analyst with a personality disorder.

Oh, and Holtz just turned up. Or, at least, Keith Szarabajka.

[1] Be wary of the Wikipedia entry. There are many spoilers!

Book 15 1/2

"In The Company Of Cheerful Ladies" by Alexander McCall Smith

More fun with Mma Ramotswe and the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency. This time one of the no-good apprentices has found himself a fancy lady (with a Mercedes, no less), Mma Makutsi has taken up dancing classes (and found a nice, klutzy gentleman of her own) and Mma Ramotswe clips a cyclist in her little white van.

And so begins another "cut and paste" review of another enjoyable book. You can pretty much just go back and read my other entries on the other books in this series, 'cause I'll be saying it all again. Great storyline, great characters and smooth writing.

Four reliable old white vans out of five.

Book 14 1/2

"The Birthday Of The World" by Ursula Le Guin

If you haven't heard of Ursula Le Guin (presumably because you've been living in a bubble regarding significant sci-fi and fantasy writers of the 20th Century), follow the link above and you'll find Ms Le Guin's Wikipedia entry. A quick read through will give you some idea of her importance in the genre. Of course, I've only read about one of her other books (actually, about 3/4 of one of her other books), but I know of her.

This book is a collection of short stories exploring, among other things, gender and love in a variety of sci-fi and fantasy settings. This is old school fantasy and sci-fi in the best traditions of the genre, using fantastic settings to look at current social and other issues.

The styles of the stories are various, their execution (mostly) smooth. I think next time I have a huge backlog of Books, I'm going to have to take notes, because like the previous (and most of the next ten books) I've only got a few impressions left in my brain of this one. I definitely enjoyed it (powered through it, in fact), but I wasn't always entirely satisfied with the stories themselves. I think it's because the ideas of gender that Le Guin explores seem awfully reliant on the act of sex. A bit like Whedon's "One Moment Of Perfect Happiness" comes after shagging, I think that the sexual nature of any of the stories, while not gratuitous, is perhaps over-emphasised. But, then again, what do I know? Also, and I know this is always a risk with fantasy and sci-fi stories, but many of the names are way too long and complex.

Three and a half non-gender-specific entities out of five.

Book 13 1/2

"Double Whammy" by Carl Hiaasen

Another enjoyable, rollicking crime yarn from one of my favourite authors. This time the story revolves around the million-dollar professional bass fishing circuit (I'm not making this up). There's naughtiness and shenanigans and all sorts of fun and games going on, including adultery and murder. The writing style is, as I have come to expect from Hiaasen, slick and smooth. The plots are twisted without being convoluted, and come together neatly towards the end.

Of course, I don't have a perfectly clear recollection of the book, given that I read it in May, but I seem to recall feelings of the three and a half hawgs variety...

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

May Melbourne Trip Part 4: Wrap up

I had a great time! Yes, Greasy Joe's Bar & Grill wasn't open and it took me three days to find lemon meringue pie, but I still had a great time.

It was fun just to hang with Gra, and see people like Harry, Eamonn and Bobbi again. I made pizza for some goods friends (both old and new) and experienced a wee slice of what life might be like if I actually pull my thumb out and get published and successful. A nice young lady paid for my tram ride cause I had no change and I spent more money than I should've. And I forgot to buy Carmen a present, and boy did I feel crappy about that.



And it hasn't even been 48 hours since Sunday dinner. Damn it! My tummy grumbles and gurgles. I want a meat pie, or a steak or something!

May Melbourne Trip Part 3: Culture

You've already heard about the first show (sort of), but Graham also took me to another show and a very cool comedy thing.

The other show was called... shit. I forget now. It was called... "Doubt"! Ah-ha! Thank you, Google!

"Doubt" is a three-hander, and is the story of a young nun teaching at a Catholic boy's school in New York. A new Priest has started working at the school and there start to be doubts as to the propriety of his relationship with the students.

It was a superb show. The performances were great (although the accents not entirely flawless), the sets and lights were brilliant and the script was very good. There were no cheap, expected moments, but rather a whole lot of excellent characterisation and dialogue. If you get a chance to see this production (I think it's touring) then do so! If you get a chance to read it, or audition for it, then do so too.

We also went (along with Harry) to the Glitch bar on Sunday afternoon to see "My Top 5 Songs". This is a thing that, I believe, they do regularly where someone comes in and plays and talks about their top songs. As the Comedy festival was on, the one we went to featured 3 comedians, those being Daniel Kitson (UK), David O'Doherty (Ire) and Courteney Hocking (Aust) and was awesome. They were all funny and candid and interesting. And there was cake!

Courteney made a great point (and one that kinda relates to my own worldview), that everyone is after the Big Joy and yet it's easier to find small joys and be happy with the. The Big Joy may come, but while you're at it you can still cuddle the puppy or eat the ice cream. Daniel Kitson's "Secret To Happiness[TM]" was to find a girl who thinks the word "poo" is funny.

Oh, and you should go to the Glitch bar when you're in Melbourne. It bills itself as a bar/theatre and is pretty much just that. The front room is comfy and couchy with a simple bar and some books and Scrabble sets, and the back room is a very small, but also comfy, theatre and by theatre, I mean place for showing film. It was a perfect venue for the "My Top 5 Songs" thing, cause it had a sound system (that sort of worked with Ipod and CD, but had a few issues) and a steep enough rake that although there are only four rows of seats and not that many people can fit in, everyone can see clearly.

In my travels with Sam and Graham and Harry, I also found a bunch of great 2nd hand bookstores, including one that I'm pretty sure is a money-laundering front for the Mafia. They had a great selection, two floors of books and the owner/man at the counter seemed to have stepped out of an episode of The Sopranos.

Oh, and I also caught up with Bobbi one night and she, Gra, Harry and I checked out Martin Martini And The Bone Palace Orchestra at the Rainbow Hotel. Walking into the Rainbow Hotel, one cannot help thinking that Tim Burton has taken over direction and writing for the evening. There's a central bar, with low, wrought-iron hangings. The main bar is dingy, but in a companionable way, and there's still retro computer games in one corner and a beer garden complete with pool table that, just by the way, also looks like a cheerful, Australian Tim Burton has lit and designed it.

As for the band, Martin himself looks like the love child of Aunty Jack and Weird Al and, I have to say, my experience on the night was that the group could do without his vocal stylings. His keyboard playing was good, but I'm not sure if I liked his singing. As for the orchestra itself, the violinist was a pretty young lady in yellow wellies and stripy socks, the tuba player was a young Dom Deluise, the clarinet player was a clean-cut school of music type and the trombone player looked like Sideshow Bob's illegitamite son. I had no real impression of the drummer, but he did complain that a perfectly good song was crap, so maybe he just wanted to play it louder and faster. Their sound is, to stretch the metaphor a bit further, also Burton-esque. It's bold and brassy and enjoyable, with a sort of Mikelangelo and the Black Sea Gentleman feel, but not quite as polished. Check out their web site and check them out if you see them performing near you.

Well that wasn't too horrible...

Got to the surgicentre on time. Waited for a bit then, after talking for a bit with a good, solid nurse (one of those female nurses who, in the badly paraphrased words of someone I can't remember, looked like the sort of nurse who copes equally well with forgetful old patients who don't always wear clothes and aggro, drunken footballers on Saturday mornings at 2AM), a very brief, somewhat scattered and fast-talking (in that he talked rapidly, not that he was double-talking) surgeon, a slightly longer chat with an anaesthesiologist in natty blue Birkenstocks and finally a chat with another solid, friendly nurse and I was led into the OR.

I wasn't under a general anasthetic, but rather under a deep sedation that would've let me signal if there was a problem, but meant that I was completely out of it. I had a canula (is that the word, medical people?) in the back of my hand and a quick preop. The anasthetic-guy (not writing the -ist form again) was talking me through it, and I was apologising in advance for anything I did or said under the influence. Then it was a few nerve-blockers in the mouth and the next thing I know I'm in recovery being asked by someone who I've never seen before if my nausea (which I don't remember having) is better. I had a bag of IV fluid dripping in the back of my hand (which really does just get sucked into you like a popper) and a very friendly nurse. Mum came into the recovery room and we got the post-op briefing.

Mum drove me home, and my jaw started to hurt a little in the car, but apart from some minor chip-munking (as I said) and a semi-constant tickle from the sutures, it's nowhere near as bad as I feared it would be. There's some pain (duh) and there was a bit of blood to spit out yesterday, but today I'm just sitting in bed. Not cause I feel I need to, but mostly just cause I can. :)

I've started my antibiotics, although I'm a little disappointed that the prodeine forte hasn't sent me into a Hicks-ian, consciousness-expanding drug haze.

May Melbourne Trip Part 2: Wanderings

It's only taken me three months to get around to finish telling you guys about my trip to visit Gra and Sam IV. I'll also ask you to bear with me if there are any random typos or missing letters, as my "M" is still acting up, and I got 60mg of codeine going through my veins, so my coordination may not be at its apex.

So after arriving in Melbourne and watching a show, I slept like the proverbial log and then... um... okay, so, as I said, it's been three months, so I'm not going to be able to put events in even a remote chronological order, so I'll try my best and in all likelihood just jump around randomly.

With a few days of wandering under my belt (and the trip last week), I can say that I love Brunswick street. Cafes, book stores, CD/DVD stores, funky bars, Jasper's coffee and all manner of groovy-looking hippy chicks, goths and ferals. Also, Bobbi's sister works at a health store (which Graham pointed out the night before), and I popped in to say hi. She sort of recognised me, but couldn't quite place me until I identified myself and who could blame her? I ain't exactly the skinny, long-haired wee man I used to be. Christine, on the other hand, looked absolutely fantastic. There was a spring in her step and colour in her cheeks I'd just never seen before. She looked fabulous!

I also spent a great day catching up with Sam. You all know I think Sam is great (and I know he reads this blog) but I do have to say at this point that the direction "get off at the tram stop near the Uni", when the uni in question is Melbourne University, may not be the most precise piece of navigational advice ever dispensed. There are a lot of tram stops near the uni. Add to that the fact that we agreed to meet at a cafe in/near the uni, but given that all the buildings I was walking past were freakin huge, I could've been two streets away from all the cafes in the known universe and I would've had no idea. As it was, it took me a fair while just to find the Element bar, which was a great cafe/restaurant place on the corner of... well, I don't know really, but it's very close to Lygon street.

Sam had much more luck finding me than I did finding a cafe and together we headed into the city. He showed me the Kelvin club (all mahogany, red carpets and polished brass it was), the gentleman's club were he works/worked (I haven't heard from him recently, but he was hoping to find somewhere else). It's interesting to note that the all memebers of the Australian SAS have honorary membership, so in a subtle corner is a cupboard with some memorabilia, including a mannequin in current desrte cams with an - I would imagine - deactivated M4 carbine.

He also showed me Minotaur books, a shop in which I could easily spend a great deal of money, and a fantastic Chinese restaurant in a side-street that looks like a greasy-spoon diner, complete with plastic cups, and yet serves awesome food for a great price. Then we checked out Mission Impossible 3, which I very much enjoyed.

There were more wanderings, including a great day shopping in a Spanish Deli and finding things for pizza (about which more later), and a couple of very enjoyable caffeine-fueled reading binges.

Monday, August 14, 2006

And they did hold together

Until today. When they got pulled out. I'm doing okay, thanks to the joy of drugs and the care of me Mum, who stayed with me today. And Carmen's Mum, Maria, who popped in to say hello, and brought me a rubber ducky who is a Devil, complete with pitchfork. Yay. :)

I'll be catching up on my Fifty Books and the two Melbourne trips (and "Boy From Oz") over the next couple of days, coz I'm staying home for a week to recuperate. Oh, and only minimal chipmunk-ness.