De omnibus dubitandum
13 Jan 2011
What do you get when you take one of my favourite FPS games, and then throw in not one but two of my favourite authors – both of whom produce material that’s firmly on the gritty, violent and thought-provoking side of the Sci-Fi spectrum – and mix it up thoroughly?
You get this: Crysis 2
Sequel to the superb Crysis, this game is scripted by the indomitable Richard Morgan – known for his Takeshi Kovacs novels and the genre-defying The Steel Remains – and has an accompanying adaptation novel written by the unparalleled Peter Watts – author of the amazing and mind-blowing Blindsight, arguably the best science fiction novel of the past decade.
I’m afraid to get too hyped up about it, because we are talking EA and they have a knack for not living up to expectations and/or ruining games with great potential, but the involvement of these two authors can only be good for the final product.
Morgan’s violence, mood-setting and grittiness mixed up with Watts’ science, plotbuilding, attention to detail, and existential angst should – in theory – add up to something very special indeed. We’ll keep a close eye on this game, that’s for sure.
10 Aug 2010
You’d think that after 2009’s blockbuster no sane producer would dare tackle the Sherlock Holmes mythology for the foreseeable future. After all, any attempt at re-imagining Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous ‘consulting detective’ would inevitably be compared to Ritchie’s film, and the final result would have to be damn fine indeed if it was to survive that comparison favourably.
Yet the 3-part TV series recently aired on the BBC seems to have managed exactly that. Or, actually, it’s so bloody good and ingenious that no one even bothers to compare it to the Downey Jr film. The TV series, you see, is an entirely different animal.
The producers of the series have moved the setting to modern times, and have cleverly adapted the Holmes mythology to fit nearly flawlessly in this 21st century background.
They’ve also managed to cast spectacularly good actors in the roles of Holmes and Watson (and, as one producer remarked, have succeeded to cast an actor in the role of Holmes with a name even sillier than that of the detective himself).
What they haven’t managed is to conceal the fact that they’re the same people behind the current Dr Who. Some of that series’ flaws emerge in Sherlock as well, such as the amazing coincidences that move the plot along, and the protagonist’s apparent omniscience.
Also depending on your taste the character of Moriarty, when he finally makes his appearance, is either utterly brilliant or campishly disastrous. (I’m squarely in the former camp, by the way – I thought he was superb.)
I always thought Sherlock Holmes was a bit of a silly character. A Victorian age superhero of sorts, his observational deductionism as unlikely as Superman’s x-ray eyes.
But despite all this, I thoroughly enjoyed the re-imagined Sherlock series. With three 90-minute episodes ending on a cliffhanger, I sincerely hope there’s more to come.
If you live in the UK you can watch the series on BBC’s iPlayer. If you don’t, I’m sure your torrent/newsgroup site of choice will be of help.
22 Jul 2010
I enjoy reading books. I buy new books nearly every week, and at any given moment I have anywhere up to five different books on my bedside locker in various stages of reading.
I have a preference for certain types of books. Science fiction, specifically. One of my favourite SF authors has always been Dan Simmons. His 4-part Hyperion saga is one of the finest works of SF to date.
Recently I picked up a copy of the 20th anniversary edition of Carrion Comfort, Dan Simmons’ horror masterpiece about mind vampires. Yet after reading the new introduction Simmons wrote for it, I’m loathe to continue reading it.
You see, the introduction reminded me of the fact that Mr Simmons is actually not a particularly nice man. For starters in the introduction Simmons is guilty of a certain type of barely veiled chest-thumping that doesn’t sit well with me. I’m no fan of false modesty, but some of the phrasings in that introduction felt a little too much like arrogance and conceit.
Additionally, it reminded me of why I stopped visiting his official website years ago. One glance at the forum’s “Hot Button” category quickly reveals a certain type of right-wing nutcasery usually associated with the worst excesses of Fox News, ranging from revisionist Iraq-invasion apologetics to climate change denialism and raving anti-socialised healthcare madness.
Mr Simmons himself is an eager participant in this orgy of Glenn Beck-style paranoia and douchebaggery, especially when it comes to the topic of Islam. He’s the exact opposite of anti-Semitic – he’s plainly Islamophobic.
Now I have my own issues with Islam, primarily on civil liberties, women’s rights, and freedom of speech. But the vileness of the particular brand of Islamophobia rampant on those dansimmons.com forums is nauseating to behold, as it’s rooted purely in ignorance and hatred.
So my challenge now lies in separating the books from the author. So far I’ve received great satisfaction from reading Dan Simmons’ books, but I can’t deny that his political opinions are what I’d consider horrendously hateful and misinformed. I’m afraid my continued enjoyment of his works relies on my ability to forget about the author when I’m reading the book.
18 Mar 2010
Best article I’ve read all week. I’d say more about it but yesterday was St Patrick’s Day and I haven’t recovered yet. Read it for yourself:
“Instead of reading an entire news article, watching an entire television show or listening to an entire speech, growing numbers of people are happy to jump to the summary, the video clip, the sound bite — never mind if context and nuance are lost in the process; never mind if it’s our emotions, more than our sense of reason, that are engaged; never mind if statements haven’t been properly vetted and sourced.”
7 Jan 2010
“For many years after the explosion of the TWA plane over Long Island (a disaster that was later found to have nothing at all to do with international religious nihilism), you could not board an aircraft without being asked whether you had packed your own bags and had them under your control at all times. These two questions are the very ones to which a would-be hijacker or bomber would honestly and logically have to answer “yes.” But answering “yes” to both was a condition of being allowed on the plane! Eventually, that heroic piece of stupidity was dropped as well. But now fresh idiocies are in store. Nothing in your lap during final approach. Do you feel safer? If you were a suicide-killer, would you feel thwarted or deterred?”
Read the full thing here: The truth about airplane security measures (Slate.com)
(Via Unreasonable Faith)
9 Dec 2009
Few things get me riled up as much as deliberate ignorance about science. Every time I hear someone promoting homeopathy, talk favorably about energy healing, or spew forth some other pseudo-scientific nonsense, I try (and often fail) to control the urge to set them right.
Ask my girlfriend. If I had to give her a penny for every time she asks me to stop yelling at the TV because of some mind-numbingly ignorant piece of ‘news’ (I’m looking at you, BBC Breakfast), she’d own substantially more than just my heart.
The reason I get so enraged at such displays of wilful ignorance is because it’s so terribly easy to check if any given scientific ‘fact’ is true. All you need is an open mind and a web browser.
But people as a whole are lazy, enjoy being ignorant, and suffer from a phenomenon known as confirmation bias that makes them focus on the few scraps of information confirming their pre-conceived notions, while ignoring the mountains of evidence that contradict their point of view.
We can’t fix this by showering people with real, verified facts coming from genuine, evidence-based science.
We can only fix this by teaching people to think rationally, clearly, and with an awareness of their own biases and limitations.
The book Bad Science by Ben Goldacre is a goldmine for sceptics. It effectively demolishes homeopathy, deconstructs nutritionists, and delivers staggering blows to the media’s horrendously flawed reporting of science news.
But it does all this almost carelessly, as an added benefit, in the course of its real goal: educating the reader in spotting the fallacies in medical science as it’s reported in the news, in advertisements, and on TV.
The real goal of the book is to teach people to think for themselves, to not allow themselves to be manipulated, and to base their decisions about medicine on valid scientific evidence.
Bad Science is a very important book. It’s so important that I think everyone should read it. Unfortunately I don’t have the resources to buy six billion copies, so I can’t send this book to everyone. But I can buy this book for the readers of this blog, as few as there are.
I’m going to give away ten copies of Bad Science. The first ten commenters on this post will get a free copy of Bad Science, paid for entirely by me.
All I ask you to do is when you receive the book to read it, and then lend it out to someone who you think will benefit from reading it. Spread the word.
2 Jul 2009
There’s a big huffle going on right now in the blogosphere, centered around Chris Anderson’s Free book. Malcolm Gladwell of The Tipping Point fame has skilfully dissected Anderson’s argument in a rather scathing review of Anderson’s book. Gladwell does a fine job of undermining Anderson’s case, but one could argue that Gladwell has cherry-picked from the book in order to deliver the most devastating blow possible.
But then none other than Seth Godin throws himself into the arena with a blogpost entitled ”Malcolm is wrong”. This pro-Free rant doesn’t actually counter any of Gladwell’s arguments, but it has sure succeeded in throwing massive amounts of combustible liquids on what until now was little more than a smouldering exchange of views.
This vendetta-of-ideas between kindred minds has even sparked a Squidoo page listing many meaningful, and less meaningful, diatribes on the topic that are appearing on the web.
Personally I understand and agree with arguments from both sides of the debate, though I’m slightly more inclined towards Anderson’s point of view – if only because Gladwell seems to be defending the side of professional journalism and paid newspaper subscriptions. This is an outdated business model that, like the music industry, has been made obsolete by technological advances yet seems unwilling to accept its inevitable fate.
Printed newspapers will likely become extinct, replaced by e-reader subscriptions and/or free content supported by advertising and/or premium paid content. Amazon won’t be able to demand ridiculous prices for newspaper content forever as the market for ebook readers grows and the devices become more feature-rich and less expensive.
In the end, whether it turns out to be Free or just Less Expensive, businesses will die, new businesses will emerge, and hopefully customers will benefit.