Archive for December, 2011

South America Diary: Day 9

Monday, 26 December, 2011

Saturday, 23 April, 2011. 10:17

Across the Andes 3 We are on our flight from Lima to Puerto Maldonado, with a stop in Cusco on the way. We got up at 05:50 to get the breakfast Ale had said would be arranged for us at 06:00. But there was nobody else there and only bread rolls and a jug of orange juice there – no fruit or cereal or yoghurt. We had some bread rolls with our malaria tablets, and a guy came out to put plates of ham and cheese out – he looked surprised to see us there. We went to pack our bags and be downstairs by 06:45 for our bus to the airport with the others, except for Lyn and Gary, Zaina and Zeeshan, who were booked on a later flight and so got to sleep in. Our bonus for getting to Puerto Maldonado before them is a short trip to a local market before we meet up with them before our boat trip to the jungle lodge.

At the airport, I asked Ale if my sandals would be okay for the jungle, or if I needed closed shoes. She said the sandals were perfect, which was good because I wasn’t keen on wearing the newly bought tight shoes.

18:10. Corto Maltes jungle lodge.

We are having a rest after our first introduction to the Amazon jungle!

Soft, what toothbrush through yonder window breaks

Wednesday, 21 December, 2011

For about the past six weeks now, every time I go into a supermarket I check for toothbrushes. And I haven’t been able to find any suitable for use in our bathroom. There are two problems:

  1. We want toothbrushes with soft bristles. Our dentist and all tooth care advice I’ve ever seen, anywhere, ever, says you should only ever use soft toothbrushes. They’re gentler on teeth and gums, they clean just as well, and they don’t cause problems of abrasion or irritation. Every dental professional I’ve ever heard has repeated the same thing. Never, ever, for any reason, use medium or hard toothbrushes, always use soft. The problem seems to be that (a) everyone has heard the exact same advice, (b) except toothbrush manufacturers. They seem to make toothbrushes in roughly equal ratios of soft, medium, and hard. Combine this with (a) and the result is what I see at least 90% of the time I’m out trying to buy toothbrushes: The sections for medium and hard brushes are absolutely full of brushes, while the section for soft brushes is out of stock. Why don’t the manufacturers make more soft brushes??
  2. Toothbrush manufacturers are kind of like razor manufacturers. They seem to love adding new features to toothbrushes. Tongue cleaners, rubber massagey bits, spiral bristles, colour indicator bristles, ridged bristle shapes, micro-textured bristles. At some point it became de rigeur for toothbrushes to be made with big, chunky rubberised grips, moulded to the contours of your hand, presumably for easier gripping and manipulation. The problem is these enormous chunky grips don’t fit into the slots in our incredibly expensive and lovely gold-trim chrome toothbrush holder that matches all the other fittings in our bathroom. It seems only the el cheapo brands of toothbrush have plain handles that fit any more. And of course they’re only available in hard bristles…


Oh, and I had a dream last night in which we found a hidden stash of soft brushes lurking behind some hard ones in the store. We grabbed every single one to buy and hoard. I presume this is what everyone else does when they see soft toothbrushes in the store…


Tuesday, 20 December, 2011

After Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzie, and Gonzo, who is the next most important/significant Muppet?

South America Diary: Day 8

Sunday, 18 December, 2011

Friday, 22 April, 2011. 11:49. Lima.

Lima coast We’re having a short break after a morning spent walking down to the Larcomar Entertainment Centre at the west end of Avenue Jose Larcos – the opposite direction to the way we went yesterday. This is a large complex of shops, cinemas, video game arcades, restaurants, and other amusements on the cliff top overlooking the rocky beach and ocean far below. We took some photos of the mist on the sea, then browsed the shops for a while. Later the mist cleared enough to barely make out the horizon and a stretch of coast to the south appeared, curbing around to an imposing headland with an enormous hill of exposed rock and dirt on it. The hill dwarfed the houses which clung to its lower flanks. The really amazing thing was how bare it was, with not a single bit of vegetation visible on it.

After spending an hour or two there, we walked the few blocks back to our hotel. The plan is to go soon to get a simple lunch of bread, salad, and fruit from the supermarket, then pick up our laundry and wait for the beginning of the tour meeting at 14:00.

For breakfast today we began with our first malaria tablet, since we head into the Amazon jungle tomorrow. We washed it down with cereal, yoghurt, bread, and fruit.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture

Monday, 12 December, 2011

Enterprise approaches VgerWell that break didn’t last long. I found myself pondering what to watch on a spare Friday evening and my hand drifted to Star Trek: The Motion Picture, the first movie entry in the series and the first new Star Trek since the TV series ended in 1969, ten years earlier. I remember this movie with some fondness, because it was the first Star Trek I got to see in first release, and on the big screen to boot. I remember being immersed in the wonder of spaceships and the pretty visuals. Being only a kid at the time I think the story was mostly lost on me.

And that’s kind of how it appears in the canon now, in the ripeness of time. It’s a luscious visual feast and a nostalgic return to something already loved, but not a strong piece of film in its own right. It plods along and is cerebral rather than exciting. I have the Director’s Edition DVD (one of several recuts of the film to make it work better), which runs to 141 minutes on PAL (it’d be a solid 2 and a half hours on NTSC). The first 2 minutes and 50 seconds of that is an orchestral overture accompanied by a receding starfield image and nothing else. It feels like attending a concert. And I remember being grossly disappointed by that music when I first heard it in the cinema. I was hoping for a rendition of the theme from the TV series, but instead I got this… foreign, unfamiliar music. But that theme is now intimately familiar, as it was used as the theme music for Star Trek The Next Generation. And watching the movie again, I have to say that Jerry Goldsmith’s music is one of the highlights of the film. It’s given prominence by the many scenes in which nothing happens but panning and sweeping shots of space exteriors to the accompaniment of the music. You could almost close your eyes watching this film and enjoy it as much.

The overture eventually ends and we are treated to and opening scene of three Klingon vessels attacking a mysterious space cloud thing. Klingons!! Awesome, I remember, when I was that excited kid in the cinema seeing this for the first time. The movie was going to be a huge space shoot-out between Klingons and Captain Kirk on the Enterprise! What’s not to love?! (I was prejudiced somewhat by the recently released Star Wars, 2 years earlier.) Except it didn’t turn out that way. The Klingons are merely there to show how impossibly powerful and impervious this cloud thing is, as it destroys them each without lifting a cloudy muscle. The Klingons, by the way, are the first appearance of the modern brow-ridged variety, and look much cooler than the Klingons ever looked in the TV series.

There’s a scene of Spock on Vulcan, apparently failing some sort of ceremonial logic thingy. We switch to Starfleet Headquarters, which apparently has taken over the Presidio in San Francisco, where Kirk is revealed to be an Admiral, but is heading up to the newly refitted Enterprise to take command, as the hostile cloud thingy is headed straight for Earth. Kirk beams up to an orbital station – the transporters have been upgraded with late-1970s special effects and now take twice as long to do their job. We are treated to a full four and a half minutes of orchestral starship strip-tease as Scotty takes Kirk over to the Enterprise in a shuttlecraft, flying lovingly around the Enterprise in a sensual manner.

Kirk relieves Captain Decker of his command, setting up the only real tension in the movie. The crew are rushing to get the ship ready for departure, and not all the systems are working yet. This is demonstrated when Starfleet tries to beam science officer Sonak and another crew member directly on board, only for them to get mangled. In a welcome return, Janice Rand is now the transporter chief. When she gets the contraption working properly, the last crew member to beam aboard is a bearded and reluctant McCoy, who complains about having been drafted back into service. With his beard and giant gold pendant around his neck, he looks more like a Bee Gee than a doctor, dammit! Another crew member is the exotic Deltan navigator Ilia, who makes a bizarre comment about having an oath of celibacy on record with Starfleet. This makes sense when you know the back-story given in the novelisation (which I had and read, though it took me some years to figure out what “celibacy” meant) about Deltans producing human-affecting pheromones and being so sexually advanced that any human having sex with a Deltan would be consumed by addictive lust – but none of that is ever mentioned in the film, making it weird and inexplicable.

34 and a half minutes into the film, the Enterprise finally gets underway, with another 2 minutes of visual starship porn. A very cool feature of this Enterprise is that it is not lit by some mysterious ambient lighting that pervades space and conveniently illuminates space ships. It’s dark, and lit only by an appropriately directional light from the sun and exterior running lights. The ship looks fantastic. It heads out at Warp 0.5, passing Jupiter in 1.8 hours (which implies Warp 0.5 is about a quarter the speed of light). The problem is when they try the warp engines, which haven’t been tested since the refit. They produce a wormhole and the ship is in danger of being destroyed by an asteroid. Kirk tries to fire phasers, but Decker overrules him and uses a torpedo to destroy the asteroid, explaining later that the phasers now go through the warp drive, so wouldn’t have worked. 1-1 Kirk-Decker. McCoy is straight into his most important role – not doctor, but advisor to Kirk, telling not to push people so hard. It’s now that you become acutely aware that something is missing from the old team: Spock.

Cue the appearance of a mysterious long-range shuttle, which deposits Spock, fresh from Vulcan. He fixes the engines, then explains how he felt a “mind” calling to him from the mystery cloud. As they approach the cloud, Spock becomes more contemplative. The cloud fires at the Enterprise, injuring nobody but Chekov as his panel explodes. Another shot will destroy them, but Spock notices the cloud is using frequencies of “a million megahertz” (i.e. terahertz radiation), and broadcasts friendship messages at that frequency, which halts the attack. They spend another half an hour of screen time flying into the depths of the cloud, past lots of cool scenery. Eventually the cloud gets bored and probes the Enterprise, disintegrating Ilia. She reappears as a robotic reconstruction, assigned to investigate the “carbon units” (i.e. life forms) on board Enterprise. Decker draws the short straw of showing robo-Ilia around.

Going to talk with VgerSpock leaves the ship in a space suit to try to meld with the cloud’s mind, and comes back half dead, but with a story about it being perfectly logical, but with no sense of who it is. The cloud is curious and naive. Robo-Ilia says the cloud is named V’ger, and V’ger demands information about its creator, which for some reason it thinks is on Earth. If its creator does not respond, it will destroy all the carbon units on Earth. In typical style, Kirk bluffs, saying he needs to talk to V’ger personally to explain why the creator hasn’t responded. Robo-Ilia takes him, McCoy, Spock, and Decker out of the ship, across a Giant’s Causeway of hexagonal blocks, to a dilapidated but eerily familiar looking space probe. Kirk reads the name plate: “V—GER”, and brushes off the dirt to reveal “VOYAGER 6”, an Earth probe launched in the 20th century and lost into “what they used to call a black hole”. Apparently its programming was corrupted and it returned to Earth to seek what it thought was its creator and destroy everything else. Shades of Nomad, from the TV episode “The Changeling“, anyone? Anyway, they try transmitting the download code to V’ger, but it burns its own wiring out, forcing the creator to physically reconnect it and join with V’ger. Decker volunteers and melds with Robo-Ilia in a symbolic rebirth thing, leaving just the Enterprise and a saved Earth to fade into the end credits.

It’s not a bad story. It’s just… watching it is a very… leisurely experience. There are several nice scenes. The music is good and the special effects are very nice for the 1970s. The story makes more sense in the novelisation, where it actually has some exposition. There are themes that could have been explored here – the relations between the power trio of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy in particular – that aren’t developed until the following films. It’s not terrible, but it’s not great. About the same as a mid-range TV episode – about the same as “The Changeling”, in fact.

Tropes: Kicked Upstairs, Leave The Camera Running, Teleporter Accident, Mandatory Unretirement, Our Wormholes Are Different, Putting The Band Back Together, Russian Guy Suffers Most, Robot Girl, Machine Monotone, Recycled Script, Ascend To A Higher Plane Of Existence.
Body count: Crew of three Klingon battle cruisers, entire personnel of Epsilon IX station (all vapourised by V’ger), Commander Sonak, unnamed female crew member (both mutated in transporter accident), Lieutenant Ilia (zapped by V’ger), Commander Decker (officially listed as “missing”).

The December without a summer

Monday, 12 December, 2011

Sydney weather, December 2011It’s supposed to be summer here, but you wouldn’t know it. Here’s a graph of Sydney’s weather for December so far, including official observations and the current 7-day forecast.

iTunes by genre

Wednesday, 7 December, 2011

Putting all my filed* music on to my iPad and exploring it with the “Genre” navigator reveals to me the following:

  • Alternative & Punk: 43 songs
  • Australian Pop**: 165 songs
  • Australian Rock: 622 songs
  • Classical: 136 “songs” (really movements)
  • Classical Crossover: 25 songs
  • Comedy: 56 songs
  • Country: 80 songs
  • Folk: 104 songs
  • Holiday: 15 songs
  • Jazz: 20 songs
  • Latin: 52 songs
  • Musical: 304 songs
  • New Age: 135 songs
  • Pop: 280 songs (non-Australian)
  • R&B/Soul: 20 songs
  • Rock: 1059 songs (non-Australian)
  • Soundtrack: 544 songs
  • Steampunk***: 13 songs
  • Swing: 46 songs
  • World: 42 songs

I still have a bunch of CDs to rip which will add stuff, mostly in the Soundtrack and Classical genres. I prioritised ripping popular music when I started the long process. The iPad (and iTunes) has these cool genre icons for most of these, but very annoyingly doesn’t have one for Musical. Nor Swing. (Nor Steampunk, but that’s kind of understandable.) It’d be nice if there was an easy way to add custom genre icons (of which there are lots), but apparently you need to dig through the guts of jailbroken code to do so, which isn’t my idea of fun.

* What’s the right word here? It’s not “digitised” because music on CDs I haven’t ripped is already digital. It’s not “ripped” because I’ve bought and downloaded many songs that aren’t ripped from CDs.

** Yes, I sub-genre-fy my pop and rock stuff into Australian and non-Australian. It helps split up two large categories into more manageable and searchable chunks.

*** Yes, Steampunk! I grabbed a free concept album. Some of it’s pretty good. “Clockwork Heart” in particular is brilliant.


Saturday, 3 December, 2011

I guess with the Star Trek episodes done, I should post some other things here.

I donated blood plasma today – I think it’s my 44th donation. I usually do whole blood, but they don’t want my red cells for a few months after I visited South America earlier this year. I took a photo of myself hooked up to the apheresis machine (avoid if photos of needles are not your thing – photo here).

And I ran across this: Legend: an OGL fantasy roleplaying game rule set, available for the next week on a “pay what you want” basis, with all proceeds going to Child’s Play, a charity that uses gaming to make kids stuck in hospital feel a bit better. Cool – it’s always nice seeing people contribute work for a good cause.

Star Trek 3.24: Turnabout Intruder

Thursday, 1 December, 2011

Turnabout Intruder“Turnabout Intruder” is the last episode of Star Trek, and what a dismal ending.

Kirk meets yet another old flame from his academy days, Dr Janice Lester, part of an archaeological expedition on some planet that sends a distress call. Lester is ill, but as soon as she and Kirk are alone she activates an alien device that swaps her mind with that of Kirk’s. It turns out she is insane with envy of Kirk’s starship captain position, and resentment of the fact that (in her mind) it was because she is a woman that she could not succeed as well as Kirk.

The rest of the episode is spent with William Shatner hamming it up as the mind of an insane woman in Kirk’s body. “Kirk” uses his authority to have “Lester” (with Kirk’s mind) safely sedated in sick bay, but “Lester” manages to talk to Spock and convinces him that it’s Kirk’s mind inside. Spock can’t convince anyone else though, and “Kirk” organises a court martial for mutiny. McCoy and Scotty don’t know what to make of the situation, though the fact that “Kirk” is suddenly clearly bug-nuts insane in between filing his nails should ring some bells. And all the time there’s this rippling 1960s-style sexist undercurrent that Lester lost it because she could never be as powerful as a man, and couldn’t accept that like other women. It seems like in the Star Trek universe women can have positions of power, but Lester seems to blame her own incompetence on the “fact” that they can’t – so it’s a rather mixed message here.

There could have been a dramatic ending, but it’s deus ex machinaed away by the expedient of Lester going even more insane and losing her grip on Kirk’s body, so the mind swap simply wears off. It’s a lame ending to an uncomfortable story, about the only redeeming feature of which (by which I mean so-bad-it’s-funny) is Shatner’s positively loopy over-acting.

Well, it’s been a long ride through all the episodes, and what a downer to end on, but there were definite highlights along the way. I’m not sure if I’ll continue with any more of these sort of reviews. I might have a few months off and then see what I feel like watching.

Tropes: Grand Theft Me, Driven By Envy, I Just Want To Be You, Female Misogynist, Large Ham, Evil Is Hammy, Kangaroo Court, Anti-Mutiny, Axe Crazy, Different For Girls, Values Dissonance, Stay In The Kitchen, Deus Ex Machina, Reset Button Ending.
Body count: None!