Monday, 15 January 2018

Television: 'The Invisible Man' (1975-1976)

It's a series that got a short pilot movie, and ran for only twelve episodes before being cancelled. I have no idea why it was cancelled as it's a delight to watch now, a great concoction of humour, invisibility effects and a wonderful variety of plot types to explore. It's 'The Invisible Man', the television series featuring David McCallum from the 1970s, and if you haven't heard of it, then that's a shame.

While the pilot movie is sombre, and therefore appropriate to the original text despite being set in the 1970s (at least I assume the original text is sombre?), the twelve regular episodes are a delightful set of capers. They all positively revel in using as any practical effects as they can, and then making the best use of blue screen techniques to do everything else. It's amazing. You might get dizzy from counting the number of times the masks gets pulled off to reveal nothing, though.

The concept is this: Physicist Dr Daniel Westin, against the wishes of his computer genius wife, tests his invisibility generator on himself, and then ultimately ends up permanently invisible, and working doing missions for the corporation they work for, while trying to reverse the effect. As you begin to work through the episodes, you expect a rash of silly spy stories, but instead you get a raft of silly unpredictable nonsense! There's a reverse bank heist, a bid to stop a foreign premier's facelift being disrupted, an invasion of the corporation by a criminal mastermind, a false medium, a crooked judge (Harry Mudd!) ruling over a small town, and a corrupt prison scheme. There are still quite a few spy stories anyway, though.

It feels strange now, after corporations have in many ways become the villains in our global narrative, to have a company (The Klae Corporation) controlling and hiring out the Westins, for they work as a team, to any government entity that needs the help of the mysterious 'Klae Resource', but that's more of a problem in our minds than in the reality of the show. They go out of their way to explain that it's a family-owned business on many levels.

The main thing to take from 'The Invisible Man' is how goofy it is, and how much less time than usual that David McCallum must have spent on screen, as the leading man. He gets to do a lot of voiceover with the practical effects, and watch the lovely and talented Melinda Fee and stalwart Craig Stevens react to all effects, including with a hefty dose of mime-craft. It's delightful, and it's a shame that it didn't last longer.

'The Invisible Man' lives on. A great show, if you can handle the naivete of the past, and thrive on the comparative innocence of it all.


Sunday, 14 January 2018

Doodle Doodle Doodle

What to write about today? Nothing is springing to mind. Oh, if this were tomorrow, it could have been a post on the David McCallum 'Invisible Man' series, but there is still one episode to go. It has been surprisingly good, and is definitely the best of the Harve Bennett set of shows from the 1970s (see also 'The Six Million Dollar Man', 'The Bionic Woman', and by legacy extension 'The Incredible Hulk'), but let's not jump ahead.

January is a very awkward month, isn't it? It happens so early that we have very little context for how it's going to fit into the rest of the year. This is a silly phenomenon, as we have December for comparison, and all those preceding months, but the mental conditioning is that this is a whole new year, with its own tone and thematic context. What a load of silliness! Time is a long and continuous string, without knots to separate each calendar year. The knots do make it easier for us to comprehend the temporal vastness though, don't they? We have such funny minds. Once, in a lecture, the lecturer told us the average life expectancy, but in seconds instead of years, and it caused a small nervous breakdown! A year is intangible enough that it doesn't affect you too much, but a second is a time increment with which we are intimately familiar. Knowing your life expectancy in seconds is a crippling piece of knowledge, just like knowing it in monthly toothbrush changes. A second is a period of time of which we can be consciously aware, unlike a year. Changing between these periods of time can completely change the impact of what you are trying to express. It's interesting, isn't it?

Getting back to the previous cul-de-sac, January is a very strange month. There is no plan you can make for it, and many people use it as a great opportunity to try and change routines and norms. It is the season of the New Year's Resolution, after all! It's also the season for recruiting mathematics tutors, but that can be pursued on some other occasion.

For now, since it is so late, we stop. Tomorrow, or Tuesday, we will have a chat about 'The Invisible Man' television show.


Friday, 12 January 2018

One Year Ago, Almost

Three hundred and sixty four days ago, or a year ago tomorrow, our dog died. The magnificent Tess was no more, and some guilt still lingers amidst the general grief. Some times, those animals really do get to you. Thus, this is a sad time of year. She was a nice dog, and I still wish she hadn't been left alone, despite the signs. The heart aches.

Grief is a funny thing. Some things get filed to the back of the brain very quickly, never to be thought of again, and others become monumental in their permanence. It's very much like regrets over lost loves, where you realise that some of those failures were really very lucky escapes, and those regrets fade quickly, while others only grow in poignancy. They are all necessary parts of the rich tapestries of our lives. Where would we be without experiences, after all?

Despite sad things, there are reasons to be happy. Student registration is very suddenly at a high, and The overwhelming work overhead may be about to be slashed, if I can work out either how to balance everything well or stop part-time studies. The studying is really not working well! There's a problem, which ties in to a long-standing issue in past work: Switching between activities is really hard! In the old days, switching between research, writing, teaching and meetings was hideously difficult. Perhaps it's a sign of a warped brain, but not only is switching between teaching and studying difficult, but so is switching between written, spoken and online teaching activities. It's a monstrous endeavour! And that's not even factoring in household activities, which distract constantly. Well, without exaggerating any further, it's a difficult thing to try and pull off.

It obviously doesn't help to be hooked on the computer game 'Zeus: Master Of Olympus', either. Oh, the perils of old computer games! Things are looking up, nonetheless, and perhaps all will end well. Or the Kraken will get us all.


Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Computer Game: 'Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri' (1999)

This is the turn-based strategy computer game that defines the genre for me. There is no equal, since it combines super smooth gameplay with a nice level of glitz, but not so much glitz that it slows the computer down to a crawl. In second face we would probably find either 'Civilization II' or 'Civilization IV', but they both fail in one respect: They're not science-fiction! 'Alpha Centauri' beats them with a shower of conceits, and by being the rare sequel that works. 'Alpha Centauri' is thematically the story of what happened after someone won 'Civilization' by launching that spaceship to another world...

It's a lovely game. It has all the hallmarks of the 'Civilization' series, but some new features and a new setting. The most novel aspect is setting the parameters of your own society, which carried over to following games, but you also get to design your own units, which was marvelous and didn't carry over! To be fair, it did become cumbersome to micro-manage all the designs and fight the computer's meddling, but I still love being able to mix up the combinations and give them names of my own choice.

This game also has a nice narrative about human beings adapting to a new world, and eventually winning by achieving transcendence, amongst other victory conditions. There is no follow up that beats the transcendence victory condition. None.

The issue that comes to mind when playing 'Alpha Centauri' is much more philosophical than game-based. Since I always go after the peacemongering victory, and always choose one of the two factions that is environmental or diplomatic, it seems as if most of the game is being missed, but I don't want to be a military nut or crazy fanatic. (The factions are very stereotypical and polarised, but that can't be helped now.)

Is it right to play a game according to your own values and never vary? Is that okay? It's a bothersome question to have hanging about your head. It's not as if it's easy to win by your preferred manner, and it's not as if that manner is ever ignored. Sometimes, after being betrayed by The Hive or The Believers repeatedly over several hours, there is a perverse pleasure to be taken in rolling out a defensive counter-strike over their cities, but it always gets reined in once revenge fever cools. For those in the know, it's very similar to going after Genghis Khan in 'Civilization' after he has been similarly attacking you for several thousand years. It's an almost irresistible impulse.

Is it good to always try and win your game the same way? Is it a waste? Is it a good idea to try and do it the other way, even if the other way doesn't really chime with your own attitudes? Isn't that the point of games?


Monday, 8 January 2018

Free Wheeling

The controls are off, and now we're flying freely into the second thousand of posts. Hurrah! Can we make it through another thousand, this time without pushing lots of unnecessary self-imposed structures over the foundation of this silly mess of words? Begone, structure, begone!

I've been thinking about a rant on weather forecasting for a while now, but it feels like too negative a thing. Let it suffice to say that it's all a load of hokum, and that you really can't predict the weather, especially on this unpredictably manic island on the edge of the world. Let's be happy with looking out the window each morning and seeing what's there.

It would be nice to dig into one of those unfinished stories, but I have no idea where to go with any of them. The core conceits are rather nice ones. Let's see if we can work something out, without piling on the pressure. This blog has almost died under piles of automatic pressure on several occasions. It's not wise to get too lost in the quest to find the heart of 'Wordspace'.

These first few weeks of January are a funny time, as schedules try to reschedule after that massive black hole of planning that is the festive week. Work begins to ramp up, demands on time escalate, and people begin to reappear after their family times. Here, much time is lost on 'Alpha Centauri' and 'Master Of Olympus: Zeus', as computer games stage a resurgence, thanks to GOG. Both are to be recommended, strenuously.

What will happen next?


Saturday, 6 January 2018

One Thousand

This is going to be a doddle. After one thousand posts, and innumerable words, writing a Quirky Muffin has got to be one of the easiest things in the world. One thousand posts! Ah, it gives a person a warm feeling to know that the wheels have been spinning here on this project for so long, and why wouldn't they keep on spinning for a thousand more?

One thousand is a large number, and was coincidentally the largest of the dedicated Roman numerals. They didn't seem to need any larger numbers, so why do we? Something fantastic must have happened in the centuries since for us to require gigantic numbers, or maybe it was just the advances in astronomy. You can't really describe the distances between planets without inventing a new number or five.

After failing to accurately predict where the Quirky Muffin would be heading for the last couple of hundred posts (I thought I would be able to keep the stories going, alas), it now seems pretty silly to make a forecast for the next thousand. At the moment, it seems very probable that there will be lots of blathering, quite a lot of talking around books, movies and television episodes, and lots of equally unimportant other things. There are no pretencions, for this is nothing more than an excuse to write a few hundred words every couple of days or so. Just a few hundred words, to avoid becoming rusty in the wordsmithery.

In the spirit of the uplifting time of year, with the lengthening of the days, and the stirring spirit of exploration, it's time to turn a corner here and be positively confused instead of negatively lost. There have been many losses of focus, and many recoveries, and they will probably happen again. This weblog is built from the foundational reading not of doom and gloom, but of Verne and 'Star Trek' (novels). This is a place where 'The Dish' is one of the barons of movies, and 'Galaxy Quest' is the cinema's court jester. Let's not be gloomy, but be optimistic.

There are brighter times to come. There always are. The Captain's String is holding, as they say in Diane Carey's 'Best Destiny'. 'Star Trek' novels have a lot to answer for, don't they? There are some very good ones in that pile, before mediocrity set in.

Onward to two thousand!


Thursday, 4 January 2018

Team Tortoise

We are proud members of Team Tortoise here at the Quirky Muffin. It's not entirely voluntary membership, as any attempt to do anything quickly promptly devolves into attempts to repair damage and or throw water on social infernos. There can be no rushing when you have less luck than a stranger in a small town who has unwittingly had 'lunatic' written on the back of his coat, and is being stalked by people with butterfly nets. Explosive butterfly nets. No, there will be no rushing, even though there should be when you are several hours behind schedule, and trying to write a few words for your weblog before pushing off to Sleepy Sleepy Land.

Ah, Sleepy Sleepy Land. How strange it is to think about being asleep. For more than a third of each day, if you sleep as much as you are supposed to, you are completely oblivious to everything and saved from the stresses and toils of everyday life. How lucky we are. What a marvelous invention sleep must have been, back at the evolutionary/divine design shop. What a jolly old laugh they all must have had, before hard wiring a diurnal rhythm into our DNA, alongside the ageing process and a tendency to enjoy things which are no good for us at all. There were probably party snacks and balloons as a celebration!

'Team Tortoise' has a nice ring to it, doesn't it? We could have baseball caps, depicting a cuddly tortoise wearing a fez. Why a fez? Because, once upon a time, fezzes were cool. To reproduce Gene Wilder's performance from 'Young Frankenstein', it is time to write: 'This... could... WORK!' Mild and accidental rephrasing may have occurred.

What would be the aims of Team Tortoise? Would it simply be a show of solidarity for all those people who don't want to bodge things or make a hash of anything rushed, or would this be an evangelical exercise? Would we want to go out into the world, and start a testudinian revolution? We could march, very slowly, for a more measured and silly way of things, and distribute hats. This... could... work...

Also, we could have a twinned movement called Team Turtle, who would be exactly the same except for the fezzes. They could have snorkels instead?

Why be serious, when you can write about tortoises instead?

Happy New Year from the Quirky Muffin.