Outside, Looking In

Bird through frosted glass.
When I went in the bathroom, I could hear a strange scrabbling sound that was at first difficult to place. A little bird was hopping around on the windowsill, up to no good I'm certain, occasionally peering in through the frosted glass.

I took this photo of the creature in the hopes of stopping it in its voyeuristic ways.


DVD Review: The Proposition

Guy Pearce as Charlie, Danny Huston as Arthur
The Proposition is an almost psychedelic journey into the violent, untamed past of the outback, and probably the best film on the nature of crime and punishment that I've yet seen. As the film starts, lawman Captain Stanley (Ray Winstone) has just apprehended hardened criminal Charlie Burns (Guy Pearce) and his younger brother Mikey. As the three sit among the corpses of those who didn't survive the shoot-out, Stanley presents Charlie with the following (eponymous) proposition: if Charlie kills his dangerous older brother, Arthur, Mikey will avoid the noose.

As Stanley sees it, Mikey, a simpleton, and Charlie, mild and indecisive, are no real threat. Arthur, on the other hand is a cold, intelligent monster, completely without remorse. In his quest to, as he sees it, 'civilise this land', stopping Arthur from committing further crimes is more important to Stanley than punishing Charlie and Mikey for crimes that have already occurred. Unfortunately, everyone else in his little town has quite the opposite opinion, and although it might seem that Charlie is the one with the greatest dilemma, choosing as he is between two brothers, it is Stanley who finds himself treading the line between those actions he believes to be right, and those which cause others to despise him.

John Hurt as Jellon Lamb
The single line which encapsulates the moral message I took from this film – not that it is, at least in any conventional sense, a morality tale – is uttered with disdain by 'fortune hunter' Jellon Lamb (a show-stealing performance by John Hurt): “We are, at bottom, one and the same.” In this specific case, Lamb is pouring scorn on Charles Darwin for claiming that white men share a common ancestry with monkeys, and -shock, horror- even aborigines. “We're Englishmen!” he rages, shortly after holding a knife to Charlie's throat, “Not beasts!” A later scene in which the people of Stanley's town are unable to watch the flogging they were so eager for Mikey to receive underscores the sentiment that Lamb is so appalled by: that Mikey is a person, just like us. Although he may have committed horrible crimes, flogging him (and the words don't convey the ordeal he is put through) is a horrible crime in itself. One does not excuse the other, as we are all the same: criminals and law abiding citizens.

Ray Winstone as Captain Stanley
Not that anyone in this movie manages to keep their hands clean – one striking example being when, to assuage his superiors, Stanley engages in the genocide of aborigines with only the weakest reluctance. In this case he is enacting the law of his era, simply doing away with 'rebel blacks'. But to a modern audience this is (hopefully) clearly as much an evil deed as anything the Burns gang has engaged in. This is a further assault on our notion of civilisation and what (if anything) separates us from animals – the reminder that our civilisations are almost all built on the vile mistreatment of people who merely happened to belong to other civilisations, but who we convinced ourselves were not the same as us.

One final thing I found to be especially conspicuous was Charlie's profound hesitancy. At one point late in the film, Lamb accuses him of being singularly useless, and the charge is definitely one that sticks. Charlie drifts quietly through the film, sent to his brother by Stanley's proposition, but unwilling to act either to help or hinder his sibling's misadventures. In a film in which violence is superbly depicted as never less than repugnant (often with a noticeable lack of explicitness – for example, blocking our view of the knife sliding in and instead leaving us only with the expression of the person being stabbed), the one act of violence that would be the most justifiable – killing Arthur Burns – is also the one which is left until the last possible moment, when Charlie is forced to act, not by any logical consequence of the plot, but purely by his humanity. I find Charlie's characterisation to be strangely compelling; he is representative of probably most of the people in the audience: the infamous good person who stands by and does nothing, even takes part if it seems like the done thing.

Charlie rides past three graves and a ruined house.
The Proposition is a powerful, atmospheric movie, alternating between almost surreal depictions of outback desolation and nail-biting scenes of menace. With perfect visuals, outstanding performances, and an absorbing, anachronistic soundtrack of ambient noise and quiet vocals, this is a film that can't help but make you sit up and listen, though there's no guarantee you'll like what it has to say.


Can art be interactive?

Roger Ebert is a reasonably famous American film critic who, from what little I know of him, I think is quite worthy of respect. When I bump into his name these days, though, it tends to be for his participation in the debate about whether or not computer games can be 'art'.

Personally, (and this may or may not surprise you) I struggle to effect any interest in this debate either way. So what if games aren't art? And I certainly think that Ebert is correct when he asserts that:

To my knowledge, no one in or out of the field has ever been able to cite a game worthy of comparison with the great dramatists, poets, filmmakers, novelists and composers.

At least as far as the most mainstream or mainstream-styled are concerned, games are almost universally immature and/or simplistic. (I might actually point to Galatea and some other interactive fiction games as possible counter-examples.) But what's really grabbed my attention here is just why Ebert considers that games aren't art: because they're interactive. Because the artist creates something which is then altered by the person who attempts to appreciate it.

Cards on the table: I don't really understand what art is in the first place. As Wikipedia snappily puts it:

The most common usage of the word "art," which rose to prominence after 1750, is understood to denote skill used to produce an aesthetic result. Britannica Online defines it as "the use of skill and imagination in the creation of aesthetic objects, environments, or experiences that can be shared with others."

By these definitions, the term 'art' is definitely inclusive rather than exclusive. Computer games are certainly 'art' in this fashion, as are Mills and Boone romances, newspaper comic strips and pornographic movies. The exclusive variant of the word 'art' on the other hand, never fails to confuse me in terms of what it chooses to allow under its umbrella and what it turns its nose up at. Jack Vettriano's paintings aren't allowed into the club, but an unmade bed is. By Ebert's decree of non-interactivity, however, an unmade bed upon which visitors to the exhibit were encouraged to lie down would also fail to measure up.

To me, as someone whose first love is external reality (and by extension, science), this can't help but seem hopelessly subjective, relative and personal. No-one can really define art in objective (mathematical, for example) terms, so 'art' is whatever it means to you. Why then, do people make factual pronouncements like 'art can't be interactive', instead of providing personal opinions such as 'something that is interactive can't be art to me'?

Does anyone have any wisdom to offer me? Do you believe that art can't be interactive, that it's sole purpose is to provide a one-way conduit of ideas from creator to consumer? Do you have a definition for art that is both objective and exclusive?


Poll on Polls

How many times have you voted on this poll?
Once 5 (50%)
Twice 2 (20%)
Thrice1 (10%)
I have lost count now 2 (20%)

Well, I voted four times, for each possible answer.

Assuming the additional votes for 'twice' and 'I have lost count now' are separate people, that leaves a grand total of 2 people, or 40% of respondents who only voted once, hopefully because they were unable to vote more times. (If they just chose not to vote more times, they weren't really getting into the spirit of things.)

I look forward to the day when general elections are resolved using a blogspot poll widget.


State of Mind

I have been writing these past two months since I last posted a story, just not anything that I've been able to finish. I'm going to try and come up with a little story for this week's Sunday Scribblings, since the prompt seems almost too perfect for me.

In the meantime, here is a short poem:

Little spacecats learn to fly,
Very quickly lest they die,
For in the lowlands of our world,
Poisonous snakes are often curled.

space cat flies over poisonous snake


Is it just me...

More information and images
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell

Or is it getting dark out here?

This chronological sequence of images shows increasingly darkened skies over Mars Rover Opportunity as it rides out a dust storm. As of this week, things seem to finally be starting to brighten.



Galatea is an interactive fiction game in the form of a conversation with Pygmalion's eponymous statue - or, rather, an anachronistic variant of that character. Galatea isn't a game in the sense of it being something that you 'play' to try and reach a goal, but instead encourages the player just to interact with Galatea and see where you end up. Becoming best of friends, or being strangled by her are two possible endings.

As well as being an important milestone in modern interactive fiction (no longer viable as a medium for commercial games, and dominated almost entirely by dedicated hobbyists), Galatea is an example of how computer games can be meaningful, nuanced, moving and, dare I say it, grown-up. Given that the most popular, most financially lucrative computer games often combine mature content with immature tone, it can be nice to give yourself a little taste of how else things can be.

Game file (this link leads to a randomised mirror of the IFArchive - at least one of those mirrors is currently down, so just click it again if you get an error).
Run that file with a Windows/Linux, or Mac interpreter.



It seems you can't get away from these random facts memes. Tagged by Diddums.

I guess I should reproduce the rules, because it's so damn complicated:

The rules:

1. Let others know who tagged you.
2. Players start with 8 random facts about themselves.
3. Those who are tagged should post these rules and their 8 random facts.
4. Players should tag 8 other people and notify them they have been tagged.

Eight! And to think I felt good for dodging 'six random things' memes.

1. Films posters on my walls: The Nightmare Before Christmas, Apocalypse Now, Aliens, Leon.
2. My hair is no more than 3cm long.
3. I graduated a year ago today.
4. I am about to finally watch Pan's Labyrinth.
5. My favourite crisps are the 'salt and shake' variety.
6. I am over a quarter Irish.
7. I have never been outside Europe.
8. I find it really hard to think of random facts about myself.

I am tagging the numbers 1-8, as seen on Sesame Street.



So my poll is now over:

What is your favourite kind of poll?
Gentle 3 (75%)
Acerbic 0 (0%)
Stern0 (0%)
Mellifluous 1 (25%)

If I make any further polls, I will be sure to make them gentle ones. However, I am not convinced about this whole polling malarkey in general. Every time I came to my blog it gave me the chance to vote on my poll a second time. Many people on the Internet need to learn that 1 I.P. address does not equal 1 person. Whatever layabouts are beta testing blogger in draft, probably while drunk, need to learn it too.

If I do make another poll I think I will make one where I encourage everyone to vote on it loads of times. Actually...


Iapetus: Patchwork Moon from Beyond Time

Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

Saturn's moon Iapetus has long been one of the most curious objects in the solar system. From Earth, astronomers can see that it has two radically different hemispheres - one bright as snow, the other dark as tar - and up close, things only get weirder. Iapetus bulges at the middle, and has a stark chain of mountains around its equator, lending it the appearance of a giant, battle-scarred walnut.

After modelling the probable history of Iapetus, scientists working with the Cassini spacecraft have come to the conclusion that its past activities may be every bit as peculiar as its current state. It may even be something of the James Dean of extraterrestrial worlds.

"Iapetus spun fast, froze young, and left behind a body with lasting curves," said Julie Castillo, Cassini scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

Read the NASA press release


Gyro Jane

Gyro Jane cruising through the sky
As I am sure you are already aware, the Interplanetary Space Cat Council (ISCC) has declared this to be Solar System Gyrocopter Week. I have decided to get into the spirit of the season by creating this intricate rendition of Gyro Jane, the infamous combat gyrocopter pilot who racked up over 73 Moon-man kills during the Earth-Moon war (I am sure that you remember it well), beating Manfred von Richtofen's previous best tally of 2 (both of which were Moon-balloons).

Many recent historians have claimed that Gyro Jane only achieved this remarkable score by tying Moon-men down and hitting them with sticks, but this is ridiculous as everyone knows you can't tie knots on the Moon.


Now Life Is Perfect

I solved all your problems, here.

yo wassup d

Dear David Cameron,

As a young man raised by a single mother, I just thought I'd shoot up on drugs, put away my graffiti spray-paints and write you a remorseful blog post on this stolen computer. I must say that I have been very distressed to learn that my mother and I are responsible for the breakdown of British society. I would like to take this opportunity to apologise, and also to thank you for raising awareness of our guilt.

I am so glad that you have discovered that money is the solution to everything, and that giving married couples money will stop them from falling out of love, arguing, having affairs or experiencing domestic violence. If only all those star-crossed lovers throughout history had known!

And what a cool idea to help one married parent stay home, while forcing lone parents out to work - that way, the kids of married parents will get extra care and attention, while those of lone parents will get even less. It's like forcing a whole category of British children to sit in the corner and think about what they've done (i.e. destroy society). Drastic crimes call for drastic punishments.

You know, in general, it just makes me feel all warm inside to see you identify single parent families as uniquely troubled and disadvantaged, and then decide that married parents need extra support. That'll teach us!

Yours masochistically,
Pacian Space-Cat



Today I have been making doodles.


Can't Stand Still, Can't Move Ahead

I've been having trouble writing lately. The sentences I string together seem stilted and badly structured. I have stuff in the works, but I am hammering at it uselessly, trying to shape it up and seeing no real improvement.

My mum's cat did something strange and distressing recently. Mum is hoping it's just a one off thing. Money doesn't really flow well enough in our family to spend it on extravagant medical care for pets.

Lately I have been drifting through life with my head down, trying not to think about things or face up to my problems. But this has shattered the peace somewhat. I feel really shaky and ill. I'm suddenly thinking about my own cat's health - he's a year older and I need him and I don't give him enough attention. And of course, there's me as well, because what's so special about my body that nothing can go wrong with it?

Normally at times like this I just want to crawl into bed and hide until it has all blown over, but what do you do when it is the passage of time itself that is scaring you?


Self Portrait on Mars

A mosaic of images that Mars rover Spirit took of itselfImage credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell
Click image to learn more and see a larger version.

Two new links have made it into the 'space' section of my sidebar. One that I highly recommend is Riding with Robots, a website that aims to collect the best, prettiest and most thought-provoking of all the images from space being posted onto the Internet by NASA, ESA, JAXA and others.

Via Riding with Robots, I've also found where the majority of the processed Mars rover images are posted online. I had naively assumed the best of the lot would end up on the official NASA page, as is the case with obvious Space Cat favourite Cassini, however it seems that the best Mars rover images are to be found on the official Cornell University website for the rovers' panoramic camera (or 'pancam'), which you can find here.

It is, unfortunately, the most dial-up unfriendly website I have ever seen, with pages consisting of hundreds of large thumbnails, and with a different huge background image for each page, so I'm kind of glad to have Bill at Riding with Robots go through the images and pick out stuff like the one above.

One of the chief reasons the rovers weren't expected to last as long as they have is because dust accumulates on their solar panels, slowly cutting them off from their power source: the sun. NASA was surprised then, when the rovers started experiencing 'cleaning events', whereby the power generated by the solar panels would suddenly increase after steadily dropping. Although the term 'cleaning event' conjures images of little green men with squeegies pouncing on the rovers when they're stopped at traffic lights, they've now conclusively been linked with strong gusts of wind.

In the above image, the rover Spirit cranes around to look down at itself, seeing that much of the dust on its solar panels has recently been blown away. Handy, in fact, given that the rovers are now both (as far as I last heard) in a large dust storm that is threatening to blot out much of the sunlight they are receiving.

UPDATE: Emily Lakdawalla reports that NASA is certain the rovers are going to be unaffected by the dust storm.


Mad Dogs and Englishmen

I am so tired. I got up at 5.30 (in the morning!) to help my mum at a boot fair, selling off a load of old crap, including much of my childhood. On the off-chance, mum also brought some of the first teddy bears that she ever made (a hobby of hers), which are quite amateurish compared to the ones she makes currently. But people kept looking at them, and eventually we sold all of them.

I was dreading doing this, actually, but it was great to be forced to interact with people from all walks of life. Even if I do now seem to have been burned by prolonged exposure to the sun. And did I mention that I am tired?


Steven Seagal

Pacian hugs Steven Seagal, in Doodle-o-vision
Is it me or has Steven Seagal gone really cuddly in his old age? When I catch the odd part of some of his more recent action films on Channel 5, he is walking around with a gun like, "I must save the innocent orphan who is being held hostage!" but all I can think is "HUG-HUG-HUG-HUG-HUG-HUG."


Essential Supplies

Water, beer, cat. Right - I'm ready for anything!


A Day in the Life of Mr Lee

Via Bad Astronomy of all places, we find the Mr. Lee CatCam. Seems somebody had the idea of sticking a small camera on their cat's collar and posting the pictures that resulted on the Internet.