Just an FYI that I found a couple of hours this weekend to make a little something. You can find it on the other blog here.

This one's probably not for everyone.


Friday Love Letter Blogging

La Lettre d'Amour, Jean-Honor Fragonard


Orbital Skylines

Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute
More info...

This is one of the images of Enceladus that Cassini took on my birthday last year. This one's cool for featuring Saturn, the icy moon, and the plumes of water ice at its south pole.

Click the image to turn on the bigmatron.


Thursday Comic

Gunnerkrigg Court, Volume 1: Orientation - Tom Siddell

Following the death of her mother, Antimony Carver begins boarding at Gunnerkrigg Court - supposedly a school, even if it more closely resembles a sprawling industrial facility. There are strange secrets hidden in its labyrinthine halls, and that's before we get to the mysterious forest over the river and the bizarre nature of some of the students. Robot birds; a girl with dirty, pitch-black eyes and an attitude to match; a demonically possessed soft toy; suicidal fairies and a ghost who can't frighten anyone... It's a good thing that Antimony seems able to remain utterly unflappable, whatever she faces.

Looking at the first three chapters of the fourteen contained in this volume, I can kind of see why Siddell had to start out posting his series on the web (here) instead of being snatched up by a publisher right away. The art, at first - especially and crucially when it comes to Antimony herself - is a bit ropey. But by chapter 4 Siddell starts to get into his stride, and shortly the story is being told in exactly the kind of rich, sumptuous, beautifully coloured artwork that I was so keen to own on glossy, high-quality paper. Antimony, her friends, the imaginative settings and creatures are all rendered in a simply gorgeous style.

But it isn't just the imagery that's gorgeous. Gunnerkrigg Court has a heart, a sense of humour and a vibrant, unstoppable imagination. Always understated and reserved - like its heroine - this is a story that blindsides you with its sudden but carefully constructed moments of bittersweet emotion. This is absolutely one of my favourite comics - the perfect combination of art and character to appeal to me - so it's a no-brainer that I think Siddell deserves to get paid for his work. But given that it's also available on the web for free, you've got no excuse not to at least try it on for size.


Old Time Spacescape

Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute
Image source

There's always an interesting arrangement of light, shadow and pastel colours to find around Saturn, and I rather like this Cassini image of Mimas against the rings, with smaller Epimetheus in the background.

Cassini made its all time closest approach to Mimas some time last week.


Times Saved Galaxy: 2

Holy moly, the final mission in Mass Effect 2 is pretty intense. Hats off to the people behind this: they made the game revolve around building a loyal team of nicely fleshed out characters, and then they made the final do-or-die mission one where, depending on your choices and performance mouseover for mild spoiler.

I've said before that I think linear plot and gameplay are perfectly capable of serving one another (although that doesn't mean I don't think we should explore the world of other possibilities) and I think this is the perfect demonstration of that. I wanted to do well at this mission, because I gave a damn about the characters in my team.

I'm also liking the way you get to keep playing after the credits roll, and each team member has a couple of lines about how things turned out and the choices you made. I'm always amazed at epic, far-ranging games that can't be bothered to throw in a little epilogue.

In other news, before embarking on this last mission, I found I didn't have enough cash left to buy any guns or armour, so I decided to stock up on pets instead. At the very least all these different coloured fish should look quite pretty when they're all floating belly-up. Kind of disappointed in my space hamster, though.

And last, but far from least, it figures that it's only just before the last mission that I suddenly stumble on the commander's en suite. To think I've been peeing next to the rank and file all this time.

Buzzing Hornets Nest

My Googlemail account is basically my Internet-facing email, so I'm not too concerned about my own privacy, but if I was, for example, a therapist using my account to email my patients, a journalist emailing whistle-blowers, or just an ordinary person who emails both nice people you know in person and crazy internet trolls - then I would be pretty angry at Google right now.

The thing is, when I see people complaining about this, I also see those usual knee-jerk commenters who don't bother to actually read the posts and regurgitate the same bogus information. At the moment you need to remember this:

  • If you selected 'Nah, just take me to my inbox' when you were first notified about Buzz, you still have Buzz.
  • If you click 'Turn off Buzz' at the bottom of your gmail page, you still have Buzz, you've just hidden it from yourself.
  • If you have a public Google profile, you should probably take a look at it and make sure you aren't broadcasting any email contacts ('followers') you don't want to.

Of course, I say at the moment, because, after their initial, predictable "No, you do like it!" response, Google have promised to change things... over the next few days.

For those of us who've been using Blogger and other Google services, this reluctance and then slow reaction are pretty much what we expect, but it shows up Google's hubris that they seem to think they can still do this here. An hour is an age in Facebook-time. People go crazy if they can't access Twitter for fifteen minutes. If Google want to break into this market, they need to realise that a service built on small, frequent communications needs a response time of minutes (although the users would prefer seconds).

But probably the most surprising thing of all is that this happened in the first place. Obviously, Google wanted to give birth to its social network whole-formed from its Gmail contact lists, which isn't all that surprising given that their business model is basically making money from our information (see also: the targeted ads you get in your Gmail inbox). But if they had just peeked out of their own little world for a moment or two, they would have seen that nothing is kicking up Internet shitstorms lately as much as privacy concerns over social networking.

It's like Google just walked into an airport and started joking loudly about exploding underpants. Where have they been all this time?


Friday Hoff Blogging

Thursday Comic

Birds of Prey: Dead of Winter - Gail Simone, Nicola Scott et al.

"At one time I ran this operation like a finely tuned espionage machine," Oracle muses at one point in this last collection of Gail Simone's issues for Birds of Prey, "now the cast is much bigger, and a lot harder to control." Which kind of says it all.

Although the series has once again found stability in its artwork with the fine pencils of Nicola Scott, what was once a tightly focused story about a handful of second-tier Gotham superheroes (as well as not-quite heroes Creote and Savant) has expanded into the kind of Galaxy-sized, obscurely grounded and ridiculously framed story that is what so many people (including me) dislike about superhero comics.

I can kind of see why Simone took the chance to move to another series at this point, but for her Birds of Prey swansong she makes sure to try bring back a couple of her best characters, including (yay!) Creote, and her skill at characterisation and dialogue makes sure I'm never really bothered by the fact I don't know what's going on half the time.

Still, reading these books has helped me to feel like less of a complete philistine when it comes to what is obviously a very important part of western comics culture, and I'll probably make a half-arsed effort to read the further adventures of Oracle, Huntress and the rest when I can.


Dead Fish

So I guess I just found out the hard way that you have to feed your pets in Mass Effect 2. Kind of glad I didn't buy that expensive hamster now.


Thursday Comic

Birds of Prey: Blood and Circuits - Gail Simone et al.

The penultimate collection of Gail Simone's run on DC Comics' Birds of Prey sees Black Canary leave the team to focus on raising the nine year old girl she's rescued from being trained as a lethal assassin - leaving Oracle to inadvertantly bite off more than she can chew. Seeing the core cast of characters broken up so that the team can become more of a dumping ground for DC's lesser known superheroines might have fazed a lot of writers, but Simone shows her excellent knack for characterisation by lending great dialogue to the likes of Judomaster and Manhunter.

The art also stabilises for the first time since Ed Benes left the book, with Nicola Scott and Paulo Siqueira providing just the kind of bold artwork the series needs.


"With no power comes no responsibility."

On the off-chance that you've missed the hype-machine gearing up for anti-superhero movie Kick-Ass, allow me to provide you with a link to the official site.


Monday Movie: Good Night, And Good Luck

It's the fifties, and Senator McCarthy is conducting a witch hunt against Americans he suspects of being 'card carrying' communists. Anyone who criticises him risks being accused themselves. But following on from a tangential story, incisive newsman Edward R. Murrow decides to tackle McCarthy head-on, even as his bosses warn him that they can get better ratings in much less risky ways.

George Clooney's second film as director is a far more sedate work than his energetic debut, with snappy banter and gorgeous black-and-white cinematography. Good Night, And Good Luck does little to explore the emotions of its characters or to try and provoke outrage - instead it's more of an urbane civics lesson, presenting Murrow's views on American discourse in his own eloquent words.