Monday

disappointing albums revisted 2: new erections

The locust, for me, first appeared in a manchester basement and entirely re-affirmed my appreciation of screaming. the first band (local) had a singer who appeared to be yelping the same word again and again - possibly 'R'lyeh' - and i thought, i've had it with screaming. then orthrelm came on, and did something very strange to my head, without any vocals at all. this was all a long time ago...

about this time, when they were touring the 'plague soundscapes' record, i guess you could describe them as 'avant-grind', alongside melt banana and perhaps fantomas. they not only made me love screaming again, but they're the band to turned me onto synthesisers - not the human league, john carpenter, or brian eno, but a californian spazz-core band dressed in uniform gimp suits.


so the 23 minute, 21 track plague soundscapes was a stand-by for me for a long time - years after that, if things got too stressful at a house party, i'd go and put it on and ten minutes in, i'd feel completely refreshed. I read somewhere in an interview that they said while they started as a blastbeat-heavy straight-up grind band, they now used blastbeats more as a punctuation mark than an end in itself, and it's this that i really appreciated - as i see it, this is the main difference between grind and spazz.


their next output, 'safety second/body last' e.p. on mike patton's ipecac records, was a ten-minute synthonic spazzterpiece. the track listing made no sense at all, while the music was arbitrarily divided into two tracks. it wasn't just dynamic, even the dynamics were dynamic - the lows were so long and patient, brooding layers of synth culminating in massive high explosions of noise and colour. when i last saw them play, at barden's boudouir in dalston, they played it straight through and i danced perfectly to every spang, beat, and deliberate misfire. nobody else seemed to get it.


So i was a bit disappointed when 'new erections' came out. carrying on the lyrical themes of body horror and social nihilism, it's still a 20-odd minute album, but with only 11 tracks. i thought this was a bit weird, but the music fits this - it's sludgier, with deeper screams and more legible lyrics. nary a blastbeat on the whole record! i didn't get it, and i didn't get into it.

so i prepared myself by putting on my beloved safety second, body last; then sat down to listen to new erections. and they actually flowed really well into each other. it still strikes me as less 'bonkers' than their earlier records; it's not as yelpy and screechy, but stylistically it has the same patient grumbles.

i enjoyed it a lot more. i realised it fitted better into the, um, 'arc' of their steady altering of their style, from grind to - well, just weird music that can't be described as punk or metal, just arty, angry, music. an album is better when it's a stop on a journey rather than a different iteration of the same formula; maybe that makes me love both their soundscapes-era material and new erections more, and actually stops me writing them off as a band that's lost their way with side-projects. again, when i saw them at barden's and they played the material off of it, i loved it; maybe i just couldn't find the right space for it at home.

so welcome back to my heart, the locust. i'm sorry i doubted you.

Sunday

StatChem

I was Playing Space chem, as you can see from this picture.

what's extra-great about spacechem is how it rates your performance against everyone else's, as you can see from the three frequency graphs on the left.

look at that top one. a perfect positive skew* - but then, a massive modal spike just underneath1000 cycles.

the spike clearly doesn't fit into the population, totally bucks the trend - you can see the shape of the rest of the data is from one population, the spike is an interloper. a separate group hiding in the population, revealed like an x-ray by looking at the data.

So, why the spike? This level has an unlockable achievementy thing - complete it in under 1000 cycles for bonus something. Well, that explains the position of the spike.

But why no smooth curve to blend it in with the rest of the data? Why the anomalous rise and fall? As I said, it's a separate population. people are either just trying to complete the level, or going for the 'just under 1k' mark - there's no points for getting nearly to 1k, it's all or nothing - digital.

I think this graph says something very profound about the effects of achievements on game play, and i'm not exactly sure what. My role as a statistician ends with me pointing out the anomaly. why it's there, and whether it's right or not, is up to the philosophers.

over to you, dan.








*I can never remember if that's a positive or negative skew - neither seems to make any sense.

Edit:
What's also a little bit annoying that StarChem leaves out is the correlation between one form of game play and another - i want to know if the people who didn't use many reactors did it with a payoff of a longer run time, or did they manage to fix both of them? on one level, i was well under for reactors, but massively high for run time - is this usual? is it possible to score well in all areas?

Edit 2:
I just completed this achievement. it's funny how completely optimised you think something can be, but then to be given the incentive to reduce it further, you find something else - one little pathway to shorten. eventually i shaved it down to 1014 cycles, and couldn't find any other way to improve my machines - so i just made the pipes longer to serve as an ad-hoc overflow container and hey presto - while it felt like a cheat, prolonging overflow rather than actually improving the machines, it just about worked. and then i said 'right, got it under 1000. now i can move on.' and that's why achievements are bad.

Thursday

best unintentional goatse ever?

random nerd thoughts 2

imagine the scene: the school staff room.

i'd just finished eating a brie and cranberry sandwich. i considered the sandwich box they use:

And I said to Rob, "what does that look like to you?"

Rob looked back at me, knowing exactly what i was getting at.

"a spaceship", he said.

"which spaceship?" i asked, knowing he knew exactly which spaceship.

"a certain spaceship from a certain movie," he replied.

"you mean: an A-wing from star wars" i said, defeated.


now I'm not so sure. the sandwich box has a kind of StarCom feel to it:




anyway: there you have it.

thanks to andrew for putting me onto the plinkett thing.

Tuesday

on mark kermode's top 5 films of the year

1: inception
2: of gods and men
3: toy story 3
4: made in dagenham (apparently makes a very good double bill with brassed off)
5: chico and rita
lingering outside the top 5:
the social network
oil city confidential
skeletons
restrepo
kick ass
the arbor
eyes wide open
another year

I have watched a lot of films this year. but i've only seen one of these. that seems very wrong somehow, but i suppose it's because if there's this many good films out this year, it soon stacks up. we're wading through decades of great films.

I had a resolution a few years ago: no more bad films. i wasn't going to waste my time on avoidable shit. and since joining sofa cinema (love film with a guardian-endorsed front end), i've seen some crackers: 5 stars got to let the right one in, the wrestler, waltz with bashir, no country for old men and there will be blood (which weren't as good as a double bill as i imagined from the virtually identical posters), as well as older stuff like psycho, larry sanders, women in love.

but some complete dreck has also somehow crept in. the wicker man remake, muppets' wizard of oz, taken, death at a funeral, primal fear (just to name films we only gave 1 star to). so what are these films doing on my list?

it seems to be a combination of recommendations from friends and the need to go through the motions. muppets' wizard of oz and death at a funeral (directed by frank oz)... i think we knew they were going to be bad, but just had to see it through (we stopped the latter after half an hour of boring uncomedy).

muppets' wizard of oz was such a mis-step. such a very bad film. but what a weird thing, to have the opportunity to have some grand, self-reflexive opportunity for frank oz to turn up and admit that it's all a show, and waste it on a 'hmm, do you have a brother called frank?' quip. and if you can't make a climax like that - which you really can't with the muppets, since they're meant to be 'real', but at least you can have a nod to the audience - don't choose that story. muppet wicker man was much more in keeping with the tradition of muppet adaptations (except the lack of a human 'outsider', but then kermit makes such a good straight man [frog]. oh, and seeing miss piggy's breasts was a bit... um... argh)

i suppose i've got to keep it chancey; you can't avoid watching films because they might be crap. So i think I've fallen into a pattern of alternating between two strategies:
1. If someone says a film is good, or it's directed, written, in someway overseen by someone i like, then i'll watch it, and then watch the review after.

2. If a film is 'meant' to be good, by critical acclaim, i'll investigate a few different reviews first (generally Kermode, then the guardian, then Ebert) to see if it's worth a crack.

this way, some films i don't like will creep in - after all, it's important to keep making mistakes. but hopefully i won't miss anything i might like.

Saturday

in praise of plinkett

So here we are, in 2011. I've just finished watching the Red Letter Media review of Star Wars 3, and while it felt a little over-padded at 1 hour 50 minutes, it was good, entertaining stuff.

Plinkett has made watching the star wars prequels into something more than a waste of time. they now seem like an investment, without which, i could not have enjoyed his feature length reviews.

And then this comes up on the internet - a response to the SW1 review. It misses the mark so tragically in so many ways.

So why do i think so much of plinkett? Firstly - it's so internet. it's so now.
these things simply could not have existed 15 years ago. the technological advancements which george lucas claims he has waited for so that he can get his vision directly from his head onto celluloid (do they still use celluloid?) are the same ones that allow some bedroom filmaker to mercilessly take him to task for his lack of vision. sorry to use 'vision' twice in that sentence. and better still, it's free - you couldn't sell something that steals so wholesale from someone else's work anyway, but it's freely distributable. I'd happily buy a boxset of these reviews, but it's not even an option. of course, there's red letter media's feature films, and you can donate...

secondly - the framing device of 'being plinkett'. plinkett's a good character; a balanced mix of humourous idiot and insightful critic. furthermore, the pornocidal maniac side of him that comes out gradually sweetens the irony - because what kind of a madman would honestly spend this time and energy nitpicking his way through these reviews? and yet you agree with him - reflecting the joke back on you. and you enjoy laughing at yourself, because you like Star Wars.

The humour is so important to the reviews - it makes it all worthwhile. But by comparing the prequels to not just the originals, but to everything from citizen kane to the last starfighter, he shows up just how many specific mistakes lucas makes in his films.

all these qualities are entirely absent from Raynor's response to Plinkett - attempting to parody his obsessiveness by nitpicking _his_ way through 108 pages of pdf.

The first thing that strikes me about Raynor's analysis of Plinkett is you thought SW1 was a GOOD FILM? i had the same response to this post on io9 about going cold turkey from star wars: i can't sit here and read an article by someone who can sit through the prequels and not feel traumatised, especially if that person was partly responsible for Lost.

Raynor argues that by using the written word to criticise Plinkett, he's helping us - we can skim it, we can search through it, it's handier. But it's completely retrograde. Plinkett is brilliant because it's a film, more entertaining than the film he's criticising. It's content and form - he's telling us where Lucas has gone wrong, and showing us how to do it right. What's Raynor doing? an extended, poorly-formatted diatribe in defence of a bad film. This isn't entertainment.

He responds to almost every point Plinkett makes, often with a withering comment, sometimes agreeing with him. But his responses are usually not addressing the point Plinkett is making, and Raynor's obviously having an argument with his monitor, and suffering from the illusion that because he can respond to his monitor and not vice versa, he's won, no matter how weak or inconsequential his remarks are. His attempt at explaining the actual plot of the film still leaves me confused as to who is doing what to whom and why, which just backs up Plinkett's whole point more. "Stoklasa has time to make all this silly speculation, but he doesn't mention the easy explanation that actually works: That the Trade Federation is reliant on trade, and the taxes on trade routes are negatively affecting them. They're blockading Naboo as a protest to the Republic government." wtf? when lorry drivers protested about petrol prices, they blockaded petrol stations. wtf has naboo got to do any of their space taxes? Raynor is right when he calls the space taxes a Mcguffin, but a mcguffin is supposed to be something you understand the importance of - like, hey, the plans to a battle station with the power to destroy entire planets.

I'm becoming Plinkett here, because what he does best in criticising the prequels is make me really appreciate how great the original films are. Every comment he makes, he backs up with a comparison to something that does it well. Raynor's idea of a good film is SW1, so he's onto a loser. By trying to explain the plot, he just highlights how chaotic and/or complicated it is.

Most of all, Raynor reminds me of a bible fan who can't cope with criticism and is just lashing back without actually considering that his opponent's arguments have already taken his responses into account. He just comes across as nasty. the more of it I read, the less tasteful it gets; Raynor seems to have taken Plinkett's attacks as both real and personal, and is responding as such.

So did you see what I did there? I compared Plinkett to Raynor, to show how had the review is and how good the original is, which is like an analogy with what Plinkett did - reviewing the one thing, to remind you how good the older thing is.

It's like it rhymes... yeah?

anyway, let's remember the good times: