Sunday, 28 August 2016

Post-Blaugust Creativity

I don't know about you guys, but I'm looking forward to the end of Blaugust and my life returning to something more closely resembling real life. To be fair, it's the domestic situation rather than the blogging one that's been throwing things off, but I can't wait to things getting a little more normal. That said, it's not as if I'm planning to disappear into full time hibernation come the end of Blaugust, as I've got a couple of bring projects on the horizon.

The first should come as no surprise to any regular followers, as after Blaugust comes Raptember, a month of extremely hardcore rap extravaganza, and I hope that this year will be no different. I haven't got any really amazing ideas heading in to the month, but since that's par for the course and if you ask me we've managed some half-decent efforts in the past, I'm not too worried. If you have an clever ideas for rap parodies or ideas you'd like covered in the traditional Thomly style, feel free to hit me up and help me get excited about this little project. There's not enough rap in my life right now, and it's time for that to change.

The second big project, and one with slightly higher priority given that it's the annual festival with an even longer pedigree than Raptember, is the LoAP puzzlehunt, which Mrs. Owl and I promised that we'd run this year after a couple of years off to give our good friend Dan a bit of a break (the poor guy has been working his butt off to run the thing almost single-handed for the last six years). This means that I'll have my head down working on a suite of 25 lateral thinking puzzles for the puzzlers to join in on some time in December. This one's been bubbling along for quite a few months now, so I have a lot of ideas, but it's definitely time to start turning ideas into concrete puzzles to stump those foolish enough to join in.

There's always a theme and a story, which Dan has done a great job of in the past, and I'm a little bit worried if I'll be able to live up to the heavy mantle that he's passed on. I've been working on making this one themed like a super-hero comic, which just has the slight problem of my inability to draw letting it down. Here's a sneak-peek at what the intro puzzle will look like if I end up going down this route, based on some rough sketches that I've had running around my head the last few weeks, to give you a little bit of an idea of the sort of problem we're talking about here.

This is totally an ad, by the way. If you haven't already, you should totally look at making a little team (or going it solo) and taking a stab at the Puzzlehunt, which is in the same vein as the famous MUMS hunt but generally solvable by human beings. Sign up on the puzzlehunt website, watch the Leaflocker for updates, but get ready to start the hunt come the week of December 5th 2016.

Blaugust Writing Prompts
1) What are you going to do with your time come the end of Blaugust?
2) What's your favourite superhero story?
3) Got a good topic for a rap, educational or otherwise?

Friday, 26 August 2016

Bourne Again

I was home sick from work today, so that means that I had the whole day free for blogging, but on the other hand I was home sick from work so I wasn't exactly jumping up and down to do anything even moderately creative, and forming cohesive sentences was just not an option. Given that there's nothing holding me to this silly Blaugust thing but my own compulsive behaviour, I was planning on just skipping the day and waiting to see if anyone noticed, but as the clock approaches 11pm on the 26th of August with just 5 days left in the challenge my brain slipped into stubborn mode and refused to be beaten, so here we are, looking for a blog topic that I could smash something out about with short notice.

So I did what I always do in such situations and go looking for handy prompts, and stumble across Shaun's prompts from earlier in the week. What's my job like? Well I didn't go today so I really couldn't comment. What do I do when I can't think of a topic? I go looking for helpful prompts, thanks for that. What Simpsons references have I discovered lately? Honestly its been so long since I've watched yellow humans walking around I don't think I even remember any Simpsons references, or the ones that I do are from Naruto Abridged. So, that was a dead end...

Next, I head over to the Blaugust anook group that I've been neglecting this last few weeks as I've struggled to find time, and I notice that one of my fellow Blaugustines has been reviewing films every day this month. Now that's something I could do! Heck, I've even seen some films lately. I could do that. Man, I even went to cinema and saw something on a big screen for once! With popcorn and everything! Ok, topic selected, let's do get some popcorn and get this post on the road.

I went to see Jason Bourne, the next edition to the never-ending action franchise with a couple of mates, as it seemed like the sort of film that Mrs. Owl was unlikely to resent me seeing without her (we're still waiting for Finding Dory, is that still on?). I was slightly concerned that since I'd seen the first three films maybe once each and the fourth one not at all that I'd miss some of the nuance of what I'd kind of expected would be a classy action flick with a little bit of a brain. I needn't have been worried, as the necessary back story was quickly gone through, viz. Jason Bourne is still in hiding from the CIA, who are kind of scared of him. That's it. When a former agent hacks their files (conveniently labelled 'Black Ops' so that the audience can be sure), it's a race between Bourne and the CIA to get their hands on them. With as many implausible chase scenes and disposable faceless agents as possible.

I remember Matt Damon saying back in 2007 (thanks Wikipedia) that he had no plans to make another Bourne film, as he'd "ridden that horse as far as he could", and I can't help wish that he'd stayed out of the saddle. It's not to say that Damon gives a poor performance here, but the overarching plot is bland, made up of a bunch of generic set-pieces connected by increasingly inplausible and poorly-explained segues; and the technology, supposedly the bit where Bourne films really excel, was just laughable.

The attempts to make it politically relevant by talking about government surveillance and individual rights, particularly in the realm of social media, were promising. Given that I saw this one on the weekend of the ill-fated Australian census and the resulting social media cascade I would have been receptive to some interesting points on either side of the issue, but none were forthcoming, sadly that sub-plot was only introduced to be shoved aside as if by an armed assailant in a crowded hotel.

It was a fine film for a generic action blockbuster, but with the Bourne name behind it (and maybe with the rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia) I was expecting a spy film, and those two things are really quite different beasts. Once again my judgement was hampered by having faulty expectations going in. I think I actually quite enjoyed it for what it was, but what is there to so about an action film except that it has action in it? I guess it's just not my genre, give me a John le Carre film with most twists and turns than the Italian country town it's set in, and we'll talk.

This film is perfectly made for where it will eventually end up (and where I recommend you bother seeing it), running in the Saturday night movie slot on Channel Seven every couple of years between seasons of James Bond. It's a fine thriller, with fights and tense moments galore, but it was perfectly forgettable, which is exactly what you want in a film you're going to see again next time it's on TV.

Blaugust Writing Prompts
1) What's your favourite cerebral movie?
2) How do you ignore your preconceptions and enjoy things on their merits?
3) Got a good recipe for something hearty, maybe with chicken?

What's Brown and Schticky?

We talked last week about the games that I brought with me from Australia and have been enjoying this year, but thanks to a splurge or two and some generous donations, my games collection is looking a lot healthier now than it did when I left Australia. I mentioned the 7 Wonders expansion already, but I thought it might be fun to have a quick look at the rest of the new additions.

I think I met this clever little card game first week that we were here and I instantly went out and bought it, as it's the sort of silly little game that you can pull out quick and throw down a round or two and my collection was sorely lacking in one of those. It mostly operates as a filler between big games, but I've found that the simple version of this works for most crowds as a bit of a brain-warmer, too, and it mostly gets played for that reason at college rather than at the board-games club where we have lots of short little games and the 3-4 player restriction can be a bit of a downer.

Another one that I played at the club and loved, Paperback is best described as Dominion meets scrabble, and I added it to my collection precisely to try and get in the people that like the word games (this being Oxford there's quite a few around). It has the tendency to drag on with people who HAVE played Dominion before as they tend to avoid the victory point cards, which is an essential skill in Dominion but since they're still jokers they're not utterly useless cards in Paperback and should almost always be chosen unless there's an extremely strong reason to avoid them.

Not technically a new game, but I brought along this nice little abstract strategy number because it's extremely small so there's really no reason not to bring it. The fact that it fits snugly in my Paperback box means that it comes to most events. It's come out a couple of times at the beginning of sessions when we're waiting for players, but since I rarely have a chance to pull out a 2-player game and Mrs. Owl doesn't play this one (yet) it doesn't see the light of day that often. 

Not so much a new addition as a replacement for an old favourite that went to Schoolies one year and never came home, Saboteur was going cheap the other day so I picked it up chiefly to have something in my armoury to try and deflect any suggestions of Mafia, Werewolf, Resistance, Avalon, Secret Hitler or Coup, since as a social deduction game I hate it a lot less than those other titles. This copy came with Saboteur 2, but I'm pretty sure the base game is just a better idea most of the time. I'm yet to get this one to table, but as long as I remember the rules correctly, I'm confident it's good to go.

I would never have bought this strange worker-placement myself, given that I tend to go for the lighter fare when it comes to buying games, but I was given it (and the incredible box) by some friends last time I was in Australia, a surprising and utterly undeserved present that I somehow managed to squeeze into my luggage on short notice. I still can't exactly describe what it is about the game that I like, but it's fair to say that it's unlike anything else I've ever played and it retains enough difference every game to reward multiple plays. I feel like I don't play it enough, and given that I've already played it 9 times this year, I guess that's just about as good a recommendation I can hand out to a game.

The deserved winner of the most recent Spiel des Jahre award, Codenames doesn't really need any introduction. I never get sick of playing or teaching it. After playing it a couple of dozen times I got a copy myself, I know of at least two more copies that I've caused to be bought after I infected other people with a love for this aggressively virulent little word game. It's become a college favourite, and I've discovered that with a little finesse I can play with my friends at home over Skype, so those are both big positives.

A game I met back in Australia and thought was perfect for my kind of parties, most of the action in Chrononauts involves messing with history in order to kill or save Hitler. Somehow I always end up having to save the guy, but I like it anyway. Since I managed to pick up a copy dirt cheap, I now own this silly little card game, which makes the occasional appearance at some of the more raucous gaming nights that I attend. This is as munchkinish/fluxxy a game as I can manage, but every now and then I get a kick out of it.

This one looks like a super-cute kids game about feeding a family of penguins, and I suppose that it is that, but it's also a ruthless little abstract strategy game that plays in a short time, works great with 1,2 or 3 players, and keeps people coming back for more. I think all abstract strategy games could probably be made into great penguin games, with a little bit of effort. I have the new little edition, but the original deluxe full-size one is good too. Surprisingly, (since I'm the chess player in the household and strategy games aren't her jam) I've played half a dozen games of this with Mrs. Owl and haven't beaten her yet.

Between Two Cities
An odd city-building drafting game that I added to my collection recently to scratch the Sushi-Go itch with something a little different, I love the way that this game flows and how close people's games always are at the end. I like this one not just so the game itself but for the stream of home-brewed variants that keep popping up to help keep what is ultimately a very simple, luck based game interesting.

Guilds of London
I decided that if I was going to buy a bunch of games when I went to UKBGE, I should at least come home with one BIG game, and this much-anticipated number was what I ended up with (my friend and I got two of the last 12 copies). This is quite a standard worker placement, but it has a great theme, lots of different strategies to win, and a single-player mode that I really enjoy (single player board game! I know!). I don't think I've pulled it out enough to totally make up my mind about exactly how good it is, as it takes a long time to teach new players since it has a lot of cards and a whole extensive symbology that you need to pick up on.

Not technically mine, but living in my collection since a friend never wants to see it again, I've also come into possession of a copy of innovation (the ugly ugly first printing rather than the crisp new one). For some reason there's a lot of hate for this one at board games club, which surprises me, and they're often into games where there's a lot going on, but I think they think that it's TOO random. It's true that the experience differs wildly each time you play, but that's one of the reasons that I really like it. I really enjoy manipulating my hand to make strong combos only to have my plans foiled by one of my opponents by accident.

Blaugust Writing Prompts
1) Ever lent anyone something you liked and never got it back? (If it was me, sorry!)
2) Tell us about a children's game or activity that you still enjoy.
3) Got any new games lately?

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Sometimes YOU Do a Quiz...

I had an actual quiz planned for today, but it just won't co-operate (again!), so instead of doing it half-assed, I'll save it for yet another week. Please accept my apologies and this video of me hurting my brain attempting to compete in an episode of University Challenge (from the comfort of my living room).

Needless to say, 'compete' is an unnecessarily strong word.

I hope to be along later in the day with a quiz for you guys to actually participate in, but just in case it doesn't happen, please accept these answers from last week's quiz.

1. The Weakest Link (UK)
2. Countdown (UK)
3. The Price is Right (Aus.)
4. University Challenge (UK)
5. 21 (USA)
6. RocKwiz (Aus.)
7. Jeopardy (USA)
8. A*mazing (Aus.)
9. Eggheads (UK)
10. Pointless (UK)

Excellent work by everyone involved, we obviously all watch far too much television. The only exception is Pointless, which you guys should check out, it's pretty cool, even it's it's no University Challenge, what with being pitched at humans and all. The M Cats win with 7.5, their half point is because they gave 3 synonyms for Eggheads and obviously knew the show, even if they couldn't come up with the name, Shaun and Mark share second with 7 points, so you guys can claim a technical victory if you like.

Blaugust Writing Prompts
1) Was there a TV show that you wanted to be on as a kid?
2) Who's your favourite artist, visual or otherwise?
3) What subject do you wish you knew more about?

A Gulf of Flagitiousnesses

The reading was a bit of a challenge for me this week, as some poor weather reduced my walking reading time, some poor temperament some of my normal reading time, and some of the readings were just pretty dense and inaccessible without applying a good portion of effort, but I more-or-less squeaked by, leaving me only the reading from the Elements to push this morning. I promised myself that I wouldn't leave Euclid until last any more, but I never have been good at keeping promises.

This Week:

Elements by Euclid
#gbww #mathematics #greek
Book V

Just yuk. Yuk. Yuk. Yuk. Please go back to geometry, Euclid, I'm drowning here. Or at least invent fractions or something. I'm really starting to wonder if understanding this thing is going to be remotely possible for me, even with my fancy poster (i'm still working through book II on the poster, so I have to do a lot to catch up).

Of the Education of Children by Michel de Montaigne
#new #gbww #philosophy #french #short

To prime the obvious petard that has been presented to me: 'I was reading a French book, where after I had a long time run dreaming over a great many words, so dull, so insipid, so void of all wit or common sense, that indeed they were only French words.'

This one started out strong with a lot of really quotable lines in the first section where he has some wonderful turns of phrase, but I think I'd prefer it if Montaigne stuck to the shorter pieces rather than rambling like this. You want to raise a good son, according to Montaigne you should get him a tutor, talk to him only in Latin, send him to Germany lots, let him decide what to learn but make sure he learns pretty much everything (but not Greek, stuff Greek) and don't let him see his mother very often. If I were a French countess in the Middle Ages I might take his advice, but for myself I think I'll leave this one to lie.

Confessions of Augustine of Hippo
#new #gbww #autobiography #latin
Books I-III

Whew! This autobiographical text is written in the form of an extended prayer of attrition, and as such is a bit of a struggle to work through when you first start out, even for someone like me that does a lot of reading of psalms and prayers, but Augustine eases up a bit over time and becomes more accessible as time goes on.

Some of the anecdotes from his life when he was young and carefree and trying desperately to be one of the hippo cats were very relatable for me. I've never been a big follower of crowds or sucker for peer pressure, but I definitely dredged up some uncomfortable childhood memories in the reading of book 2. A particular incident fills me with shame to this day. I know my mother reads this blog you remember that time I shoplifted a pretty ribbon, mum?

The Confessions also include the word 'fornication' more often than one tends to find in this day and age. By the end of the reading I was giggling out loud each time that I came to an instance, with probably indicates that I've not yet attained the level of maturity required to read 6th century theology.

I'm not familiar enough to with the various 5th century sects and heresies to pass sensible comment on the Manicheans. Believe it or not I once actually had a lot of that stuff in my head, but I'm drawing a blank on exactly what transgressions I'm supposed to be disapproving of in chapter three, but hopefully we'll get to it next time we meet.

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
#not_gbww #fiction #french
Book Six

Does anyone else picture Javert as Stannis Baratheon? I know I do.

I love the way Hugo repeatedly dangles the hope of a happy ending before his characters before yanking it away again with another surprise plot twist, and I adore it when a seemingly hopeless situation suddenly presents a solution that could give them an out but causes moral quandaries. It was difficult to stop myself reading this week, because I know M. le Maire has some tough thinking to do and I do so enjoy a moral quandary.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
#new #not_gbww #fiction #english
Chapters 6-9

Well, we're more than half-way into the book and it still feels like it's building up steam. The contrast of cultures plays the lead role in these chapters, with both cultures finding the other repulsive, which is fine and all, but it's all done in this bare-faced, utterly unsubtle way that makes even Hugo's characterisation feel nuanced. Apparently the attractions of pneumatic women apply universally though, so that's good to know.

The Stats:

We’ve gone past 1500 pages read in the project, and while some of them have seemed like hard work, that means we’ve read enough pages of great literature to fill the pages of Gone with the Wind. And I remember how long it took to read GWWT, so that feels like quite an achievement.

Pages last week: 111
Pages so far: 1557

Week XXV:

Elements by Euclid
#gbww #mathematics #greek
Book VI (28 pages)

Book six might seem like a bit of a monster after the last couple of comparatively shorter chapters, but at least be have the consolation of knowing that once we finish this week’s reading we’ll be half-way through. Put it like that and it sounds depressing, but I’m pretty sure that’s a positive. Let's hope book VI isn't related to book V, because at this point I think book V was a write-off.

Of Anger by Francis Bacon
#new #ggb #philosophy #english #reallyshort
(2 pages)

For our short philosophy text this week, it’s back to Francis Bacon and whatever it is he has to tell us about anger. If I were to guess, it’s that anger is bad for us and that we should just forgive everyone and move on. Given that the text is only two pages, I find it hard to believe that he could say much more, but he is the master of squishing that stuff in there. Let’s find out.

Theseus by Plutarch
#new #ggb #philosophy #english #reallyshort
(15 pages)

Hot on the heels of Montaigne’s recommendation last week, we’re going to jump into Plutarch’s Parallel Lives. The Lives are yet another large work, even if we've lost of them over the years, but we’re going to dive in and out of them as time permits in order to give ourselves a little room to breathe.

Confessions of Augustine of Hippo
#gbww #autobiography #latin
Books IV-VI (24 pages)

Part two of the Confessions. I honestly have no idea what’s coming. In fact, I find myself saying variations on that so often that I have to wonder if these little blurbs each week are really a useful addition to the post. What do you folks think?

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
#not_gbww #fiction #french
Book Seven Chapters I-IV (22 pages) 

I can only hope that we’re in for some philosophising and wrestling with conscience in the next few chapters. Hugo is at his best when he really gets inside characters heads like this. Strap yourselves in, it's gonna be great.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
#new #not_gbww #fiction #english
Chapters 10-12 (29 pages)

All the pieces are in place for things to really heat up over in London, aren’t they? The clash of worlds, the crumbling of towers, the dropping into place of clumsily foreshadowed plot points…I’m trying hard to read BNW sympathetically, but it’s hard. There’s a lot of preconceived notions in my head that are hard to override.

Blaugust writing prompts:
1) What have you always meant to read, but never gotten around to?
2) Do you have a favourite pop-science text, something that makes a hard subject come alive for you?
3) Don't have time to read? How have you been filling your downtime?

Monday, 22 August 2016

One Banana, Two Banana

I have noticed an interesting pattern along my route to work each day. This pattern is best described in pictures, so I'll let them do the talking.

You may have noticed a couple of things. Firstly, that my walk to work each morning is really quite picturesque (Oxford is pretty nice, you know), and secondly and most importantly for the purposes of this post, that the distance from the Low Commission to the nearest public bin (outside the churchyard at the end of Church Lane) seems to be exactly the same distance as it takes me to eat a banana at my normal walking pace.

Strangely enough, if I'm feeling particularly peckish and decide that it's a two banana day, then the next public bin (by the horse paddock) is exactly the right distance to deposit my next banana skin. I hereby designate this distance to be One Oxford Banana and will endeavour to use this measurement wherever possible.

Fun fact: This isn't the first time in my life that I've used bananas for measurement, in honour of an old friend I've rated every movie I've seen for a last decade as 'seven cool bananas'.

I'd hoped that the Oxford Banana would be more useful globally, breaking down the barriers between metric and imperial measurement, causing world peace and unification one measure of distance that we could all get behind, but Mrs. Owl has helpfully reminded me that there's a slight flaw in my plan. Bananas come in all sorts of zany shapes and sizes and can't be relied upon. The ones she's been eating in Bangalore probably wouldn't produce the same results.

Blaugust Writing Prompts
1) Noticed anything you've never seen before while travelling a familiar path?
2) The wonders of camera phones helped you capture anything awesome?
3) What do you think has gone wrong to produce bananas that small?

As an aside, did you notice that lovely stone wall around the churchyard? They rebuilt it last week and I caught them in the act of cutting back the earth to install concrete blocks and give the wall some additional strength. What is the world coming to, when even an 11th century Norman churchyard isn't as it seems?

The Stick That Throws Sticks

It's Sunday, and that means it's time for another extract from the strangely compelling story that is the Up Goer God Book, our buddy Dan's translation of the King James Bible into the ten hundred most common words in the English language.

 1 And God wished good on the man who made the water car and his sons, and said to them, Be full of babies, and have children, and fill the land.
 2 And the fear of you and the great fear of you will be upon every animal of the world, and upon every flying animal of the air, upon all that moves upon the land, and upon all the water animals of the water; into your hand are they given. 
 3 Every moving thing that lives will be food for you; even as the green tree thing you can eat have I given you all things. 
 4 But dead bodies with the life there of, which is the blood there of, will you not eat. 
 5 And for sure your blood of your lives will I need; at the hand of every animal will I need it, and at the hand of man; at the hand of every man's brother will I need the life of man. 
 6 Who so drops man's blood, by man will his blood be dropped: for in the form of God made he man. 
 7 And you, be you full of babies, and have children; bring forward many in the world, and have children there in. 
 8 And God spoke to the man who built the water car, and to his sons with him, saying, 
 9 And I, check it out, I make my promise with you, and with your children after you; 
 10 And with every living animal that is with you, of the flying animal, of the food animal, and of every angry animal of the land with you; from all that go out of the water car, to every animal of the world. 
 11 And I will make my promise with you, no more will all bodies be cut off any more by the waters of a lot of water; and no more will there any more be a lot of water to break the world. 
 12 And God said, This is the sign of the promise which I make between me and you and every living animal that is with you, for as long as you have children: 

 13 I do set my stick that throws sticks with points in the water smoke in the sky, and it will be for a sign of a promise between me and the world.
 14 And it will come to pass, when I bring water smoke in the sky over the land, that the stick that throws sticks with points will be seen in the water smoke in the sky: 
 15 And I will remember my promise, which is between me and you and every living animal of all bodies; and the waters will no more become a lot of water to kill all bodies. 
 16 And the stick that throws sticks with points will be in the water smoke in the sky; and I will look upon it, that I may remember the not ending promise between God and every living animal of all bodies that is upon the world. 
 17 And God said to the man who made the water car, This is the sign of the promise, which I have made between me and all bodies that are upon the world. 
 18 And the sons of the man who made the water car, that went out of the water car, were "She Him", "Him", and "Jump Hairs": and the middle one who has a name that also means a sort of dead body from a food animal that rolls on the wet ground is the father of "Can an". 
 19 These are the three sons of the man who built the water car: and of them was all over the whole world. 
 20 And the man who made the water car began to be an person who makes food by growing things in the ground, and he grew a lot of food that makes a nice drink when it has gone bad: 
 21 And he drank of the nice drink made of bad food, and was off his face; and he was not wearing clothes within his house made of the same stuff as clothes. 
 22 And the middle son who had a name like the dead body from a food animal, the father of "Can an", saw the no clothes that were not on his father, and told his two brothers without. 
 23 And the other sons of the man who made the water car took a bit of clothes, and laid it upon both their shoulders, and went back, and covered the no clothes body of their father; and their faces were not forward, and they saw not their father's no clothes. 

 24 And the man who made the water car woke after his good bad food drink, and knew what his younger son (which was actually his middle son) had done to him. 
 25 And he said, thrown down be "Can an"; a worker of their worker will he be to his brothers. 
 26 And he said, Good wishes be the god God of the first son; and "Can an" will be his worker. 
 27 God will make the other son big, and he will live in the houses made of clothes of the first son; and "Can an" will be his worker. 
 28 And the no clothes, good bad food drink drinking man who made the water car lived after the lots of water three and a half hundred years. 
 29 And all the days of him were half of a hundred less than ten hundred years: and he died.

Blaugust Writing Prompts
1) Tell us about a friend of yours that's a lot more talented than you are.
2) What do you think about when you see rainbows?
3) What do you do to relax on weekends?