Wednesday, 31 August 2016

The Last Eminemperor

For the final Wednesday in Blaugust I present you the quiz that I've been working on almost all month, as it's been an annoying mind-worm that just wouldn't quit. Originally I thought it would be fun to do a mashup of the names of Bands and famous films and make you guess the constituent parts by decoding crude mashups of film plots and band descriptions like that video game quiz I did last year, but when I was half-way through I realised that the whole thing would just be better if it were just using the band's tunes and describing the film, which meant that I had to start from scratch again and that it pretty much had to become this big multimedia thing, and since I'm not a big multimedia person it came out like this...

Anyways, if your ears can stand my terrible late-night tone-deaf singing and your brain can survive my terrible lyrics, watch each clip and then provide a portmanteau of the name of the band that famously sings the song and a Best Picture Oscar winning film (eg. Amadonnaeus, or The Sting and the Police). As always, no using references of any kind. If you're not willing to put your ears or brain through that kind of punishment, please enjoy the following series of still images and don't press the play button on any of them. Good luck!









Thanks for joining in on all the wackiness of Blaugust 2016 with me. I've had a blast and I hope that you have too whether you've been following along or completing your own blogging challenges. I hope to keep writing here on a semi-regular basis this year, so keep dropping by for more of the same.

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

A Tempest in a Skull

What a week! I feel like I've been through the wringer with the readings, but I can't help feeling more informed and erudite week upon week as this project continues, and since those are rare feelings for me it's no real surprise that I'm keen to hold on to them for as long as I can. Let's hope we can keep this Conversation going for a little while come the end of Blaugust tomorrow.

This Week:

Elements by Euclid
Book VI

I have to admit to having given up on Euclid in disgust this week, and not having managed to get back to him in time for this weeks reading. As penance, I guess we'll do double the Euclid reading next week (as well as trying to catch up on the poster), so it's going to be a pretty mathsy one. I feel like me from next week is going to really resent me, but the other option is missing out on my Blaugust post for today and given that I've made the 30th of August that's not really an option at all.

Of Anger by Francis Bacon

This is pretty much exactly what I expected from Bacon on the topic. He sounds every bit the 16th century Christian philosopher. You're going to get angry, but take the time to look at the reasons afterwards. It's okay to get angry, but try not to let it cause problems. Attempt to resolve issues, but wait until the appropriate time not in the heat of the moment. All perfectly solid advice, if a little boring. 

What I really appreciate about Bacon is that he doesn't do philosophy in the abstract, he's all about actual application. It makes him feel genuine and relatable in contrast, as he points out himself some philosophers with absurd expectations (like the Stoics) just seem soulless.

I also like the way he uses some of the language from the Antitheses of the sermon on the mount that gives a real contextual underpinning to his words for those familiar with the gospels. Bacon speaks my language (if a little antiquated), and I'm sad that I lack the underpinning for so many of these other authors, but I guess that's what this Great Conversation project is all about.

We finish up our Bacon round, as has become our habit, with an exercise in futility with my attempts to translate his quotations from the Latin despite having no Latin. The phrase this week is '...animasque in vulnere ponunt' which apparently has to do with bees. From the context, I'm thinking animasque relates to 'anima' (soul) rather than just 'animal', so this is something like 'their soul is in their vulnerabilities'? Stop reading now and have a guess, the answer is in the next paragraph.

That could have been worse, it actually means 'they put their soul into the wound', referring to the way that bees die when they sting, which is a fantastically poetical way of thinking about how anger wounds the angry more than those at whom anger is directed. Nice one, Francis.

Theseus by Plutarch

It seems a little strange to start the Parallel Lives with this one, which is obviously not one of the first written, as Plutarch seems quite apologetic for having to rely on myth and hearsay instead of more reliably documented history. Having no idea what Plutarch writes like it's hard to know if this is par for the course or if this is an atypical entry in the Lives, but I suspect that it's the latter and that he's struggling to find fact in myths and probably isn't at his best in this one. It seems that the Greek historians did like to weave little mixtures of fact and fanciful together, so if Plutarch seeks to disassemble them then he's got a big job ahead of him.

It's strange for me meeting Theseus as if he might have been a real person after years of thinking of him as a mythical figure. Plutarch insists that the Minotaur was a real person who was simply called 'Taurus' who Theseus defeated in combat, an interesting idea that isn't mentioned on the Wikipedia page for Minotaur, and since he references a number of others whose work we no longer have it's hard to prove or disprove this theory. He proceeds to tear down a bunch of other myths about Theseus, but since these have continued to the present day either Plutarch wasn't very popular or people just prefer to believe in three-headed dogs and Minotaurs, which is a point of view that I can understand.

As an interesting aside that rather tickled my fancy, we also come across the character of Akademos, after whom the Athenian academy was indirectly named, who seems quite the conniving little bugger, and sets in motion the events leading to the revolt of Athens against their king. I wonder how many modern dictators who attempt to suppress the works of thinkers and academics realise the analogy that they're attempting to avoid the fate of Theseus.

Confessions of Augustine of Hippo
Books IV-VI

"Wow, the great literature of the Western World as defined by 1950's America sure has an oppressively Christian worldview, doesn't it?" Is probably the sort of thing that I'd be thinking after this weeks reading if I didn't hold with the whole Christian worldview thing, but as I do I can't find a whole lot to object to here as we move out of the Augusteens and into the Augustwenties. #punachieved

In fact, I can't help but draw some parallels between young Augustine's life choices and those of many many of my friends and contemporaries around me. Put off by some of the trappings of Catholicism, he flails around for another worldview, but ends up disatisfied with both the teachings of the Greek philosphers and of the major sect in Roman Africa at the time, the Manicheans as he realises that their teachings are irreconcilable with his knowledge of the nature of the world and doesn't know what to turn to next, and having been hurt before refuses to turn back to Christianity even when its core beliefs most closely match his own. I find it ironic that the very same friends that I would say this exemplifies would probably point at my and say the exact same thing, but that's just part of the fun, I guess.

There's so many great quotes in here that it's hard to pick a good one, including some real corkers on the nature of true friendship, but let me leave you with this one that better fits the overall religious themes of the document. 'Wretched I was; and wretched is every soul bound by the friendship of perishable things; he is torn asunder when he loses them, and then he feels the wretchedness which he had ere yet he lost them. So it was with me; I wept most bitterly, and found my repose in bitterness. Thus was I wretched, and that wretched life I held dearer than my friend'.

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
Book Seven Chapters I-IV

'To make the poem of the human conscience, were it only with reference to a single man, were it only in connection with the basest of men, would be to blend all epics into one superior and definitive epic.'  and 'One can no more prevent thought from recurring to an idea than one can the sea from returning to the shore: the sailor calls it the tide; the guilty man calls it remorse; God upheaves the soul as he does the ocean.' Do yourself a favour and go read chapter three right now, my friends. It really is full of Hugonic magic.

What can I say, except that reading chapters like this forgive all Hugo's fault in my eyes. What a poet the man was. This just confirms what I've always known. That Victor Hugo is my jam. The Christ analogues are like being hit on the head with a hammer, but somehow this is something that I'll willingly forgive in Hugo that I can't tolerate in Huxley.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Chapters 10-12

I'm really enjoying the juxtaposition of the cultures posed by the return of Bernard and his companions from the wilderness as represented by the flowing poetry of Shakespeare set against the humourless, merciless life in London. 

Altogether I found everything to too suddenly up and down to truly satisfy, but there's some nice ideas here that deserve greater exploration than I fear we're going to get. Lenina's struggles to understand how John works. Everyone's refusal to acknowledge that Linda is a product of their society. Bernard's inability to internalise any of the lessons that he'd learn in the face of sudden celebrity. Good stuff.

The Stats:

This week we smashed past 1200 pages of fictional works, thanks to big contributions from Hugo and Huxley. That's a big number given that Philosophy and Theology texts (the next biggest category) are sitting at 260, but not really surprising given that all the non-gbww texts we've added are works of fiction.

Pages last week: 120

Pages so far: 1726

Week XXVI:

As I'm sure you'll remember, we get the bulk of our reading each week from the seven-year plan produced by Dr. J to read the Great Books of the Western World. This week's suggestions include some of Tolstoy's Christian apologetics and more Usonian politics, but I'm feeling like we've got enough religion in our readings at the moment and I'm pretty sick of politics too, so we'll let them slide and continue with just our ongoing readings.

Elements by Euclid
#gbww #mathematics #greek
Book VII (23 pages)

We've already got a double dose of the Elements this week, so if this 'week' takes...well, longer than that, you'll all know why.

Romulus and  Romulus and Theseus Compared by Plutarch
#new #ggb #philosophy #english #reallyshort
(18 pages)

So after a mythical Greek we get a mythical Roman to stack him up against. I wonder if the possibility of a real man behind the myths will be as tantalising as those of Theseus were? After Plutarch's treatment of Romulus we'll compare Romulus and Thesus and maybe learn something, which is apparently the whole point of the Parallel Lives.

Confessions of Augustine of Hippo
#gbww #autobiography #latin
Books VII-IX (36 pages)

You have to wonder how much longer Augustine can go along thinking that the Catholics are probably right about things without becoming a Catholic himself, so hopefully that moment is coming in these chapters. I hope that when it does come we don't see some sudden magical transformation but we see Augistine the man continue and continue to struggle with his vices, because his awareness of and honesty about his shortcomings are my favourite parts of this work so far.

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
#not_gbww #fiction #french
Book Seven Chapters V-VII (17 pages) 

Enough thinking! Enough vacillation! Time for action, Jean Valjean! Just a short little reading from Hugo this week to leave room for a big wodge of the Hux so that we can cut a little bit of fat off the top of our weekly reading, as the proscribed doses from the GBWW are coming in thick and fast at the moment.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
#new #not_gbww #fiction #english
Chapters 13-16 (33 pages)

Two weeks of Huxley to go until we can put this sucker to bed. Will Bernard ever learn anything? Will John get the girl? Will London society ever be the same? Find out in the thrilling penultimate episode of...Brave New World!

Blaugust writing prompts:
1) Blaugust. Was it good for you, too?
2) What's next after Blaugust?
If that's not enough for you, how about a quiz?

Monday, 29 August 2016

If You Go Down to the River

Since it was a lovely day today, I wandered down the Isis to look at the boats. The river is one of my very favourite Oxford places, and it's great to watch the riverboats come and go and the slow changes of the riverside population over the year. Come for a ramble with me and look at all the pretty boats. If you're the kind of person that gets offended by me using female pronouns for boats then maybe this isn't the post for you.

Today was the August bank holiday, which is always on the last Monday of August on the assumption that no-one wants to be cooped up inside on what is likely to be one of the nicest days of the year, so I was by no means alone down on the river. The Isis Farmhouse (known to students universally as the Iffley Pub, despite not being in Iffley and there already being a bunch of pubs actually in Iffley) was doing a roaring trade. Most days of the year you think they're having a laugh with this many picnic tables out in the rain, but on their boom days it's easy to see that they easily fill the place.

This black riverboat has been berthed here most of the year. You can normally tell the actually lived-in boats from the tourist ones because the lived-in ones tend to accumulate plants. These guys are growing a bunch of succulents, but some of the others have full-blown veggie patches. Apparently vegetable theft on the river is quite the problem, though, so these boats are becoming rarer or more carefully protected.

There are a few of these fibreglass numbers moored up each day. They always look bright and clean, but if you have the choice between one of these and a narrowboat why would you pick one of these? The extra space and light can't possibly make up for the character (and the wonderful earthy smell!) of a genuine narrowboat. If you look closely you can just see the fingers of the little girl about to pop from the hatch and make me jump by shouting 'Bananas!' at me. Apparently my new system of measurement is getting around.

These littler boats are inevitably populated by two blonde middle-aged ladies and a large box of white wine. I'm honestly surprised that this one has its top on, as it was a lovely day outside and there's nothing like an afternoon nap in the sun after a long morning on the river.

Hey, it's the Dee Gee! She's always here. I've never seen her move, but she turns up at different moorings up and down this stretch, so someone loves her enough to take her out now and then. I'm pretty sure that her main use is as a fishing boat, but it's hard to tell, as her windows are extremely aged, making it hard to get a good look inside to be sure.

If you ask me, you can have a lovely colour scheme and a great boat, but you're not a proper boat person unless your boat has a name lovingly displayed on her somewhere declaring something of her character to the world. This blue one looks charming with her red curtains and her pinewood fittings, but how can I know for sure unless I know what she's called?

Rhoda May has it going on. Big, bold name. "Look at me! I'm here!". Nice details with the black and red, obviously well looked after. She's a local too, and is often sitting idling with her engine running when I come past. Sometimes when I have time I like to stand around and let the charcoal smell soak into my clothes.

Tom Tug has been here a few months now, and is a really nicely kept boat. He's one of the few boats that I don't think of as a woman, partly because he obviously has one of the most masculine names possible, but mostly because there's just something stereotypically man-cavish about this armchair sitting snugly in the bow.

Errol is so cute! I'm pretty sure that I saw this one once the first couple of weeks that we were here last year, but he must come from elsewhere on the river. The plants at the stern suggest that he's a living boat, but if he is then whoever lives here live quite snugly. Errol feels like a good name for a batchelor, maybe a retired vicar or something?

Another boat with classic character but no name. They're really missing out. Maybe it has a name but it's just not displayed to the public, or is only or the river-side or something to keep her secrets from the pedestrian riff-raff. I love this rich red colour, it feels very much like the boudoir of an aging countess or something.

Anglo-Welsh are one of the big companies that rent out narrowboats, and their boats are all this pretty Welsh bottle green colour scheme. Their boats always look great, but you'd want them to for the price, I looked this 8-berther up online, and know that it would have cost these guys £1770 for a weekly booking this time of year.

There was a little black Scotch terrier running back and forth on this one yapping his little head off, but he kept disappearing whenever I tried to get a photo. This one is almost as little as Errol, but those dark-wood furnishing are just smashing.

There's quite a few of these slightly wider, more modern boats that are so wide that the name 'narrowboat' seems like a misnomer, so I guess 'riverboat' is more appropriate. I like the big bench at the back of the Celtic Lady here , it just screams cups of tea and crosswords on sunny afternoons.

The council is working on some much-needed riverbank repair, and there's quite a few places that are marked for work, so this crane and barge is going to be a regular for the next couple of months. It's not technically a boat, I know, but the whole arrangement is quite impressive. I'm kind of surprised that the council had to load a regular crane onto a barge instead of having some kind of barge-crane on speed-dial.

As I wandered down the river I heard a sudden shout and explosion of giggles up ahead, and as I rounded the bend I came across this classic Oxford scene. To the right of the frame are a punt full of embarrassed tourists slowly drifting down the river, and to the left is their punt, trapped in the river mud. The only way that this could be a more stereotypical Oxford scene would be if they'd left behind their punter clinging to the pole! Student punters tend to keep to the Cherwell, which is a shallower river with less mud and fewer people walking past to take photos are laugh if you make a fool of yourself.

 I knocked. It doesn't seem like Ramy was home, but you never know. Maybe he just doesn't like visitors. This is another boat that I've never seen before. But she really stands out with that Royal blue, doesn't she?

Boats up this end of the river tend to be in more long-term moorings, and some of them don't move at all. I'm pretty sure that this us one of the ones that serves as accommodation for some more enterprising international students. It has a pleasingly classic tug-boat look to it, and somebody obviously looks after it, though, and that doesn't seem like student behaviour, so maybe I've got this boat mixed up with one of the others.

This green boat often has a number of washing lines rigged up, so I think they must live there with their kids. This isn't the boat with the lady that home-schools her kids, which seems to have moved on, but it's always kit up at night time. They seem to have all the mod-cons, a television and everything, which all seems very unromantic to me, but I guess even people on riverboats want to be able to tune in to University Challenge.

The Jay Bee obviously either houses or has connections with some seriously artsy types, as there's a nice rendition of a Jay and a Bee on the side. It's all very nice.

This one has a very suspicious boxing glove on the end of a long pole, which I can only assume is used for the legendary sport of narrowboat jousting, which is a good way to get yourself very wet. I haven't tried punt jousting yet, as it's the sort of thing that the establishment frowns upon and I'm a very responsible and respectable young man, but riverboat jousting just seems a little bit next-level.

I definitely wasn't the only person out enjoying the river on this bank holiday, and this is the most packed I think I've ever seen one of the local tourist ferries. I've heard the patter of the tour guides so often that I think I could probably do a pretty good job of it myself (...if we keep going from here for another four days or so we'll be in London...). At least it's a more factual and relevant speech than some of the ones you get from the tour guides out around town, but that's a story for another day.

Blaugust Writing Prompts
1) Have you got anything that you've always wanted to do that is technically against the rules?
2) If you had a pretty riverboat, what would you call it? What colours would you pick?
3) It's a public holiday! What are you doing?

Sunday, 28 August 2016

Let Us Build Us a City

In our ongoing translation project we've finally reached out of those big long chapters of pretty much names and not much else. In fact, we've reached two of them. As tempting as it is to skip them entirely, that's the sort of thing liable to get one excommunicated, and besides, poor old Dan put a lot of effort into finding transliterations for some of these names.

Since the random number generator can't be relied upon to give me anything but names to make graphics of, I've just gone and picked the ones that I thought were more viable and ran the randomiser on them. Believe me, this is a better option for everyone involved.

Beginnings 10
 1 Now these are the families of the sons of the man who built the water car, the first son, the second son, and the third son: and to them were sons made after the lots of water.
 2 The sons of the third son; "Go More", and "More God", and "Mad Eye", and "Yeah Fun", and "Two Ball", and "Miss Each", and "Tire As".
 3 And the sons of "Go More"; "Ask An As", and "Rest Have", and "To Go Mark".
 4 And the sons of "Yeah Fun"; "Else Sigh Share", and "Tea hard ships", "Kid Team", and "Do day him".
 5 By these were the lands all around with water of the people who were not from God's chosen people; every one after his tongue, after their families, in their lands.
 6 And the sons of the second son; "Kiss", and "Miss Rain", and "Foot", and "Can In".
 7 And the sons of "Kiss"; "See Bar", and "Have All Are", and "Sad Tire", and "Run Are", and "Sad Take Are": and the sons of "Run Are"; "She Bar", and "Dead An".
 8 And "Kiss" had "Name Road": he began to be a great one in the world.
Picture modified from photo by user Vera Kratochvil
 9 He was great at killing animals before the god: where for it is said, Even as "Name Road" the great at killing animals guy before the god.
 10 And the beginning of his land was "Buy Ball", and "Ear Rock", and "are Card", and "Call Near", in the land of "She Near".
 11 Out of that land went forward "As Her", and built "New Never", and the city "Red How Box", and "Call Are",
 12 And "Resting" between "New Never" and "Call Are": the same is a great city.
 13 And "Miss Rain" had "Loud in", and "An Am In", and "Lean Have In", and "Nod Foot Are Him",
 14 And "Pass Rush Him", and "Cat Shoe Him", (out of who came "Fill Is Them",) and "Cat Or Him".
 15 And "Can An" had "Seat On" his first son, and "He Is",
 16 And the "Job Us Sight", and the "Am All Right", and the "Guy Guy Sight",
 17 And the "He Fight", and the "Are Cry It", and the "Seen Night",
 18 And the "Are Fact Eyed", and the "Seem All Right", and the "Him At Hide": and later were the families of the sons of "Can An" found across the world.
 19 And the edge of the land of the sons of "Can an" was from "Side On", as you come to "Chair Are", to "Guys Are"; as you go, to "Sold Home", and "Go More Are", and "Add More", and "See Bore Him", even to "Last ha".
 20 These are the sons of the second son, after their families, after their tongues, in their lands, and in their lands.
 21 To "Slam" also, the father of all the children of "He Bar", the brother of "Wrap Lets" the older, even to him were children given.
 22 The children of the first son; "He Land", and "As Her", and "Are Facts Sad", and "Led", and "Are Am".
 23 And the children of "Are Am"; "Us", and "Hall", and "Get Her", and "Mays".
 24 And "Are Facts Sad" had "Sir Laugh"; and "Sir Laugh" had "He Bar".
 25 And to "He Bar" were given two sons: the name of one was "Pair Leg"; for in his days was the world shared; and his brother's name was "Joked An".
 26 And "Joked An" had "All Mad Add", and "She Left", and "Has Arm Have Is", and "Goer Are",
 27 And "Had Or Am", and "Ours All", and "Drink Laugh",
 28 And "Oh Ball", and "A Be May All", and "She Bar",
 29 And "Off Here", and "Have A Laugh", and "Job Add": all these were the sons of "Joked An".
 30 And their land was from "Me Share", as you go to "See Far" a large rock place of the place on the right of a picture of places.
 31 These are the sons of the first son, after their families, after their tongues, in their lands, after their lands.
 32 These are the families of the sons of the man who made, after their families, in their lands: and by these were the lands set out in the world after the lots of water.

Beginnings 11
 1 And the whole world was of one way of using words, and of one tongue.
 2 And it came to pass, as they went from the place on the right of a picture of places, that they found a even land in the land of "She Near"; and they lived there.

Picture modified from photo by Flickr user dynamosquito used under CC BY_SA 2.0 license

3 And they said one to another, Go to, let us make rock boxes, and burn them well. And they had rock boxes for rock, and not clean water had they for sticking the rock boxes together.
 4 And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tall house, which has a top may reach to the sky; and let us make us a name, in case we are sent away across the face of the whole world.
 5 And the god came down to see the city and the tall house, which the children of men built.
 6 And the god said, Check it out, the people is one, and they have all one tongue; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be held back from them, which they have imagined to do.
 7 Go to, let us go down, and there confuse their way of using words, that they may not understand one each other one's tongue.
 8 So the god sent them away from there upon the face of all the world: and they left off to build the city.
 9 For this reason is the name of it called "By Ball"; because the god did there confuse the way of using words of all the world: and from there did the god send them away upon the face of all the world.
 10 These are the children of "Slam": "Slam" was an hundred years old, and had "Are Facts Sad" two years after the lot of water:
 11 And "Slam" lived after he had "Are Facts Sad" five hundred years, and had sons and daughters.
 12 And "Are Facts Sad" lived five and three tens of years, and had "Sir Laugh":
 13 And "Are Facts Sad" lived after he had "Sir Laugh" four hundred and three years, and had sons and daughters.
 14 And "Sir Laugh" lived three tens of years, and had "He Bar":
 15 And "Sir Laugh" lived after he had "He Bar" four hundred and three years, and had sons and daughters.
 16 And "He Bar" lived four and three tens of years, and had "Pair Leg":
 17 And "He Bar" lived after he had "Pair Leg" four hundred and three tens of years, and had sons and daughters.
 18 And "Pair Leg" lived three tens of years, and had "Real":
 19 And "Pair Leg" lived after he had "Real" two hundred and ten less one years, and had sons and daughters.
 20 And "Real" lived two and three tens of years, and had "Shrug":
 21 And "Real" lived after he had "Shrug" two hundred and seven years, and had sons and daughters.
 22 And "Shrug" lived three tens of years, and had "Near Or":
 23 And "Shrug" lived after he had "Near Or" two hundred years, and had sons and daughters.
 24 And "Near Or" lived one less than three tens of years, and had "Tear Are":
 25 And "Near Or" lived after he had "Tear Are" an hundred and twenty less one years, and had sons and daughters.
 26 And "Tear Are" lived seven tens of years, and had "A Bar Am", "Near Or", and "He Ran".
 27 Now these are the children of "Tear Are": "Tear Are" had "A Bar Am", "Near Or", and "He Ran"; and "He Ran" had "Lot".
 28 And "He Ran" died before his father "Tear Are" in the land where he started, in "Are" of the "Child He's".
 29 And "A Bar Am" and "Near Or" took themselves wives: the name of "A Bar Am's" wife was "Sir Eye"; and the name of the wife of "Near Or", "Mark Are", the daughter of "He Ran", the father of "Mark Are", and the father of "Is Car".
 30 But "Sir Eye" could not make children; she had no child.
 31 And "Tear Are" took "A Bar Am" his son, and Lot the son of "He Ran" his son's son, and "Sir Eye" his son's wife, his son "A Bar Am's" wife; and they went out with them from "Are" of the "Child He's", to go into the land of "Can  An"; and they came to "He Ran", and lived there.
 32 And the days of "Tear Are" were two hundred and five years: and "Tear Are" died in "He Ran".

Phew, on with the plot next week.

Saturday, 27 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?

Thursday, 25 August 2016

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?