Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Tetris Retirement

This comes off the back of talking to Vincent yesterday in #tetrisconcept and also for the ending of the TC Carnival of Death. It's been a while since I posted anything particularly heartfelt into this blog, if I ever have, so I've decided to make a bit more of an emo post.

There was a long time where I'd say that the Tetris community and the TGM series was a fairly massive part of my life. I worked fairly hard to get good at it, and I enjoyed it. I didn't spend all my free time playing Tetris, but I probably clocked up quite a lot of hours, and I certainly made an effort to play a bit every day or two. I'd say I got pretty damn good at it too. I was one of the best 4-player Tetris DS players in the world, one of the best western TGM players (for the series at least, not TGM1 - I always hated that), and there was a brief period when Edo gave it up for a bit that I was the best TGM player in the UK, before he returned and kicked my ass anyway. Even a year or so later, my Sudden Ti record is still 3rd on the TC leaderboard.

I can't put a date on it, and I didn't make a post for it or anything on TC, but I'd say I've retired from the hardcore Tetris scene. I still enjoy the community, and I don't think I'll ever leave it, but I'm finished trying to be one of the best players out there. It's a bit of a weird thing to come to terms with, especially when I spent so long trying to get there, and succeeded to an extent. I can't imagine how it must be when professional sportsmen retire from stuff, because even this was a fairly odd and slightly unsettling thing to come to terms with.

I can't really put a finger on one specific reason why I've stopped. I think a fair bit of it comes down to the fact that I just don't quite have the time now I'm at University. I have these ten week periods of work and distractions and social stuff, and it's really difficult during those periods for me to motivate myself to play. Then term ends and I've lost so much momentum and practice of those ten weeks that I find it difficult to get going again. The Carnival of Death this year outlined it for me. I got 20 M grades last year, this year I got 8. I felt near the end of the week I was getting back to where I was before I stopped, but the fact still was that I had other things to do and I didn't play enough to get anything like 20 M grades.

The main reason is probably lack of motivation. Beating your own records feels awesome, but there's nothing other than that feeling to really push me on. It's OK to start with because new records come fairly frequently. Once you start hitting the major grades though, progress gets so fucking slow and tiresome. You can put hundreds of hours in and get basically no tangible improvement. And for me I have nothing really to motivate me and keep me going. I don't have a direct rival, except for maybe Kevin, but he seems to have so much extra time to lay into it than I do that I don't really feel I can try and compete with him without just losing and getting even more frustrated. I don't have a real Ti/TAP version to play on (that'd definitely fucking help) and I don't have anyone I see in person in a regular basis to play with and keep me going.

I know there's a ton of people on TC who won't really understand it, either because they're not that far in the rankings yet to understand just how ball-breakingly frustrating things like the M grade in TAP Master are to get, or they have Ti machines or people around them, or they just don't play for the same reasons I did. I'm hyper-competitive in everything I do. I can't just play something for the fun of it without getting bored or frustrated. I play to win, and I play to be the best, and I do that regardless of what I'm doing. "It's the taking part that counts" means nothing to me because I don't get anywhere near as much enjoyment if I take part and don't take it seriously, even if I lose I enjoy the competition more when I care. I tend not to be a sore loser (unless I felt I was cheated out of a win by other people) or a sore winner, I just take my enjoyment out of the competition rather than out of the game. It doesn't matter whether it's tetris, mahjong, rowing, Counter-Strike, Monopoly, whatever. I want to fucking win, and it's all I care about. There's no point playing otherwise.

I know Vincent, and possibly Kevin will understand what I mean, and I know Vincent especially knows how frustrating and difficult it is when you're completely focused on beating everyone, when that is what drives you forward, and when you realise that you're life is preventing you from ever being able to do that.

It's quite possible someday I'll pick TGM back up seriously, and play more often than the couple of hours a month I maybe put in nowadays. If someone gets onto my level without blasting straight past me, or I find someone IRL to spur me on (who isn't massively better than me - Nicola would spur me on to play shmups more if she didn't utterly annihilate my scores), if I finally find the money to get TAP or Ti (or it gets cracked and I can play it on my laptop). Right now TGM just frustrates me, and it's difficult for me to put the time in because I have other things I want to do, and other things I enjoy more, and frankly it'd be retarded to not do things I enjoy just so I can frustrate myself failing to be better at TGM.

I still have things I still want to achieve, namely Death Gm, Master M and Shirase 1300, but I don't reckon I've got the time or motivation to get them in the foreseeable future. I'm still happy with what I've achieved, how good I was back in the Tetris DS days, my current records on TC, the fact that I'm the second most active member of TC behind colour thief, probably in time as well as posts. The various TC meets were fun too, in London last July and with muf in September (even though we spent more time getting drunk and stoned than playing Tetris :P). I'll stick around and be content with my position as one of the old guard of TC (still fucking weird to think I've been there nearly four years), and that I was at least for a period one of the best TGM players outside of Japan.

Here's to hope that I'll have a Schumacher-esque return in a couple of years. Except hopefully it'll be a bit more successful, because Schumi seems to be doing a bit shit right now.

Reading Festival 2010 - Initial Line-Up

I got tickets to the Reading Festival last September or something, so it's been a fair wait for the bands to be announced. I feel like I'm betraying the North somehow in going to Reading instead of Leeds, and it probably won't be as epic, but I know more people going to Reading so it makes way more sense to go South with mates than North on my own.

I'm really not sure what to think about the line-up so far. The Friday looks pretty damn good, and so far I'm planning to basically just get to the main stage for Billy Talent and then stay there all day. NOFX are a band I've been wanting to see for ages, and I loved them when I was a teenager. QotSA were awesome in 2007, as were Biffy Clyro, so looking forward to seeing them again. Lostprophets and Billy Talent should be decent, and Gogol Bordello sounds interesting from what I've heard so far on Spotify. Guns n' Roses is going to be an interesting one. If it was the original band I'd say it'd be awesome, but considering it's now just Axl and randomers I'm expecting it to be pretty shit. Unless they have Buckethead. That might swing me around.

Saturday is looking unpleasantly barren so far. I'll see Frank Turner and Pendulum, but other than that I don't really see much for me. Modest Mouse could be worth checking out. I'm thinking it could be a day to recuperate and hopefully see something good at the TBA comedy tent or another of the five stages yet to be announced. Sunday is just a bit weird. Cypress Hill? Weezer? Limp Bizkit? They're still around? I swear I've not heard them for like ten years or so. Sunday has a lot of bands like Band of Horses and We Are Scientists that I've been meaning to check out, and probably will go and see. Plus I'm really looking forward to Blink-182 headlining. So yeah, promising start to a line-up, but I hope it'll improve a bit more when the rest of the bands are announced. It's good enough at least so far for me to not want to sell my ticket.

Time to maybe get a few recommendations off people and to do some searching on Spotify.

As an extra, quote of the week goes to Nicola:

<HarmoNicks> I just had a cool idea
<HarmoNicks> I reckon you could make an image folder
<HarmoNicks> where if you clicked through it really quickly it'd be animated
<HarmoNicks> like a flick-book
<HarmoNicks> a load of images, but you'd be able to watch it like a movie
<Rosti_LFC> so a GIF, basically
<HarmoNicks> ... yeah
<HarmoNicks> :\

Friday, 26 March 2010

Summer Wars

The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is quite possibly my favourite animated film. I'd also say it was probably one of my favourite films in general. Not sure if re-watching it I'd not feel a little less enamoured by it, but either way my recollection of watching it holds it in high regard. So I was excited to hear that the same director was making a new film, titled Summer Wars.

No spoilers in this review (unless you're Meroigo and consider any info to be a spoiler), because putting spoilers in a review is stupid. I won't say anything here you won't learn in the first ten minutes or so of the film or by reading a synopsis.

The show is set in basically the present day, but there's this cybernetic world called OZ, which is accessed from computers and phones. OZ is basically a sort of cross between the current internet and an MMORPG. You can walk around OZ as an avatar, but essentially it offers everything you could possibly want, from shops to finances to communities and sports.

The film is centred around a teenager called Kenji Koiso. He's your stereotypical slightly nerdy teenager, and is gifted at mathematics but fairly socially awkward, and altogether a pretty likeable character. He's asked by a girl at his school, Natsuki Shinohara, to accompany her to her grandmother's 90th birthday party. He agrees to go, and it transpires that she's asked him along to masquerade has her fiancée in front of her huge extended family and grandmother (who turns out to be extremely wealthy and well-connected socially), fake backstory and all.

A mysterious hacker breaks the OZ security system, framing Kenji as the culprit. The virtual world is thrown into chaos, as the hacker gains control over it's infrastructure, and in turn the real world is also badly effected, as the hacker gains control over it's networks through information collected by hacking into the accounts of various authorities. The film then revolves around Kenji and Natsuki's family as they fight to beat the mysterious hacker and bring order to both worlds again.

In terms of animation, I thought it was fantastic. I really liked the cell-shaded animation style in the OZ world, and in the real world it's also very pretty. Definitely worth getting the full 1080p release.

The characters in the film are very well done, and are energetic, varied and importantly are believable. They work well with the story, with the main characters being developed fairly well and the fringe characters being interesting and entertaining.

I'd say that Summer Wars is as good as, if not better than The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. It's got slightly fantastical concepts to it (OZ) but at the same time it's presented in a way that doesn't stretch the imagination. It does a decent job of bringing you into the story and connecting you with the characters. It has an original storyline and concepts, it's well-paced, well animated and I think it's all-round possibly the best anime film I've seen. It's possibly the best anime film to be released in 2009 in Japan (and therefore 2010 in the west), depending on how King of Eden turns out.

I'd recommend everyone sees it, both people who have watched a fair bit of anime and people who haven't watched any, because I'd say it's a decent starter film for people who haven't watched any anime stuff, and it's nice to be able to recommend a decent film that feels a bit less childish than Ghibli stuff and a bit more original.

Link to Frostii's release, with 1080p/720p torrents and IRC bot packlists.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Healthcare & Right-Wing America

So some bill on Healthcare and Student Loan reform in America just got passed, and the republicans seem massively angry about it for some reason. I've read a fair bit into the bill, and have a decent idea what it's about. I've not found anywhere that seems to be unbiased that actually lists all the stuff that's in it, so I don't have as good a grasp as I'd like, but I'm fairly sure it'll end up being a good thing for America.

The thing is, I wouldn't even need to bother reading into it that much. Right-wing America is horrifically up in arms about it, therefore it's almost certainly going to be a good thing, whatever it is. Usually I'm not one for making sweeping generalisations in a serious context, but with a lot of the supporters for the republican party, I really don't see an issue with it. Sorry for those who follow those political beliefs and actually have a shred of common sense and independent thought, but I really don't get how you can align yourself with such a bunch of crazed and fanatical retards. How the hell can you see that you vote for the same party as some of these people, and not maybe reconsider your political standpoint?

(Click to enlarge)

The healthcare marks a victory for two groups of people. Firstly it marks a victory for the American government for actually beginning to start to bring America into the 21st century, and for starting to bring in laws which are better for the people, rather than for those at the top of the corporate pyramid. Secondly, it marks a victory for the right-wing American media, for FOX News and the like, because despite this bill almost certainly being a good thing in the long term, for the short term they've managed to raise up pretty good support and anger against it.

There are apparently polls out there which suggest only 10% of Americans know what's in the healthcare bill, meaning that the vast majority are horrifically ignorant of what they're actually being angry about. I'm only hoping that time will show that this is a successful move, and maybe a handful of people might come to realise that the likes of FOX aren't as on the ball and aren't as unbiased as they'd like to have you believe.

The main problem with America is all this bullshit patriotism that they throw around in the right-wing media. The US Constitution and the founding fathers are held with far too much regard when it comes to making modern changes to the law. Who fucking cares if something is unconstitutional? Who cares if it's maybe not what the founding fathers would have wanted? The US Constitution was written in 1787 for fuck's sake. It's 100 years older than Edison's light bulb. Maybe this new healthcare reform is "un-American". Maybe it's not what the founding fathers would have wanted. But then, they were OK with slavery of African people, so really, what's your point?

You've also got the Tea Party movement. The name is clever, because it plays on patriotic American feelings. The Boston Tea Party was arguably the start of America's eventual existence as an independent country. And, you know, they're both about increases in taxes, so the name is appropriate, right? Well not really, because the Boston Tea Party was primarily because it was taxes going to the British government. The problem was that the taxes were going to officials that weren't elected by the people paying them, that the money wouldn't necessarily go back to the people paying them. Which is completely not the case with Obama increasing taxes. So the name can invoke those feelings while only really having tentative links.

Plus, there are a lot of people in the Tea Party movement who range between being very stupid and ignorant, to just downright racist.

I find it really difficult to take anyone seriously once they label themselves a Republican, because on the whole they're just so utterly crazy and moronic. It could be that I just don't agree with Republican views, yet still respect them, but I can't even do that because things that keep coming out that are frankly just insane and unsettling. It's hard to take Republicans seriously when you get polls like this.

67 percent of Republicans (and 40 percent of Americans overall) believe that Obama is a socialist.
The belief that Obama is a “domestic enemy” is widely held.
57 percent of Republicans (32 percent overall) believe that Obama is a Muslim
 45 percent of Republicans (25 percent overall) agree with the Birthers in their belief that Obama was "not born in the United States and so is not eligible to be president" 

38 percent of Republicans (20 percent overall) say that Obama is "doing many of the things that Hitler did"
24 percent of Republicans (14 percent overall) say that Obama "may be the Antichrist"

On a first read it's just hilarious that that many people could seriously think like that. On a second read it's actually a little bit scary. I mean, sorry. A Muslim? Hitler? Antichrist? Are you fucking insane? Yes, of course, Obama is actually just a Muslim terrorist, who has managed to infiltrate the American government and has risen to the top, and this new socialist healthcare reform is just the first step before he enslaves all American White Christians and puts them in concentration camps.

I wish in joking like that I was actually a bit further away from what some people seriously seem to believe...

Yeah, it's out there. Socialism can only possibly lead the the Holocaust. It's a wonder that all these socialist countries like Japan and those in Europe aren't continually being put under the control of Neo-Nazi parties . Sweden especially has it coming. No fucking clue how Sweden has managed to be so atheist and socialist as a nation and still not had a fascist dictator imprison and slaughter half their population.

I know all Americans don't share anything like this view. I know most Americans are as appalled by it as I am, in the same way that when you see things that exist in Japan and think "wtf that's crazy", most Japanese people actually feel the same way. But still, these people exist, and in surprising numbers it seems. I don't see how any Republicans with an ounce of decency and sense can tolerate sharing a party with them.

I think the main issue is that Americans are far too up their own asses, again with their Constitution and stuff. Free speech is way too fucking overrated. I love when I come into contact with right-wing American patriots and they seem to have this impression that in the UK and Europe we're all massively restricted for free speech and stuff. That we have so much CCTV that the government can see us in our own living rooms. That if I make any sort of public speech against the government I get arrested by the police and then secretly executed. Which is laughably far from the truth. It's not like we don't have protests, like we don't have the ability to express our opinions, that I actually don't have pretty much the same level of free speech as I would have in America.

The difference is that in Europe we don't feel so damn entitled to it. We don't feel like our opinion, no matter how retarded, how bigoted, should matter. We don't feel like any dissent towards what we're saying, any movement to silence us for being crazy, is a fundamental violation of our human rights. We just keep the free speech sensible. We don't let bigoted, fascist racists like Glenn Beck appear on TV. Well, we do sometimes, we just don't give them their own TV shows. 

All America's obsession over people having free speech seems to result in is that their public are massively influenced by the media, are utterly dominated by political and religious extremists (because not all extremists have to be muslim terrorists), and that the majority don't really have a clue what's going on in the political forum. To be honest, most Europeans don't know either, but the crucial difference is that we're not being conned into believing that we do know what's going on, and more importantly, we don't feel like we need to have an opinion anyway.

I really hope the US Government sticks through with the sorts of changes they're implementing. It's sort of funny how the right-wing media continually attacked Obama for not fulfilling any of his pre-election promises during his first year in office, and now that he's actually started fulfilling them and doing stuff, they're even more pissed off with him. I hope over the next two years things people start to see positive changes and results. I'd like to say I want that just because it'll mean that Americans are having a better standard of living, but honestly it's just because I'd like to see all these utter morons and bigots being proven wrong. Also because if this sort of drama doesn't die down, then the next US election will be won by a Republican party just playing on ignorant public opinion, and they'll get in just claiming to undo everything Obama has worked for. Which isn't progress, it's just stupid. Especially when these sorts of major overhauls need time to settle and bear fruit. It needs a fair chance. 

The greatest irony of all is that all these people opposing socialist healthcare because they're so fiercely "patriotic" are doing so because they don't believe that the government should have any control over their lives. Which is fair enough if you think they'll do a shitty job, but if they don't, then what's the problem?
Socialism seems to be working fine for us over in Europe. Our taxes provide us with a pretty good standard of healthcare, regardless of social status and financial situations. If anything, these "patriots" are basically saying that they don't think an American government of American officials elected by the American people can do as good a job as us people in Europe can do.

That doesn't seem very patriotic to me.

Saturday, 20 March 2010

One Week

Woo, Barenaked Ladies title. Chosen because I've now been back home for one week (lame, I know, but I like the song). And fuck, it's gone quickly. I'd set the first week back as a week where I'd do no work and I wouldn't feel guilty because I'd timetabled not doing any work. That's the real trick to beating your inner guilt about not studying hard enough. You can do no work and feel like you're doing no work, and feel bad because of it, but if you tell yourself you're not going to do any work in advance then somehow that makes it all OK, or at least it does for me.

So today was the day I was meant to start working again. And I sort of did, because I added a fair bit to the Mahjong Society website. Which isn't proper work, but it's not just having fun, and it needed to be done. Plus I travelled home on a Saturday, so technically I could say that this was the last day of the first week back, rather than the first day of the second week.

I'm also not going to get any work done tomorrow because of Chris Thomas's birthday stuff in the evening, and because in the afternoon it's Manchester Utd v Liverpool.

Oh how I'd love it if that could be the scoreline again. Not particularly confident going into this, but at the same time, I don't think Liverpool can't win it. We've got Gerrard and Torres back fit again, and crucially Torres is not just fit enough to play, but looking match-fit as well, so fingers crossed it'll be another Vidic red card and a confident win that puts us on course for 4th place and halts their charge for the title.

It could also be a game where both clubs unite, as we're both currently the victims of American owners taking over with leveraged buyouts and placing huge amounts of debt in the club's name. It could see us unite as clubs where both sets of supporters are starting up campaign groups to take control of the club away from the current owners. It could see that, but there's a fat fucking chance it will and I'd be disappointed if it did.

Win or lose I look forward to that fixture more than any other, and by a large margin. It's easily the most passion-fuelled, history laden and bitter fixture in the Premier League.

So yeah, work starts on Monday I think, hopefully celebrating a good night the night before, and a fantastic victory over the Manc scum.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Countering Creationism II: Irreducible Complexity

This one is a fairly big one. I swear if there's a handbook out there of the top stupid and flawed creationist arguments, this has got to be in the top three. It seems to come up in pretty much every single discussion about Evolution and Intelligent Design. The basic premise basically a re-hash of the two hundred year old Watchmaker analogy and is usually written something like this:

The human eye is excellent proof for intelligent design, because it is irreducibly complex. If you take out any component, it ceases to function. There is no way something like this could have evolved, because half an eye is useless. It also couldn't have just randomly happened by itself; that would be the same as a whirlwind passing through a junk yard and forming a Boeing 747. Therefore it must have been designed by some sort of intelligent creator.

It's the principle that the eye is like a basic arch bridge, where removing any single stone causes collapse and you no longer have a bridge. The thing about the Boeing 747 is completely extra, but I've included it because it was in the initial source of irreducible complexity and as a result also seems to be included with every single repetition of the concept by mindless individuals. I bet any time I link to this entry as a response to this argument, the 747 idea will have been included maybe nine out of every ten times.

One of my first arguments against the idea that God created our eyes is more a theological one, which is to say that our eyes actually suck compared to a fair bit of the animal kingdom. We can see in colour, but our movement and peripheral vision aren't nearly as good as some animals. You've also got creatures like the Mantis Shrimp, whose eyes completely obliterate ours. Their eyes can see polarised light, and there are successors to Blu-Ray that are looking to copy ideas from the Mantis Shrimp, so to say God gave us the gift of sight is a bit of a double-edged statement, because he sure could have given us a far better gift.

Anyway, on to the proper point.

The eye is undoubtedly an incredibly complex organ. Anyone who had studied Biology to a reasonable level would probably agree when I say that actually, pretty much any organ you could care to name in the human body is incredibly complex when viewed in detail, and amazing in it's own way at doing what it does, but the eye is the one that's usually used in the argument of irreducible complexity (if not, wings or brains are).

It is indeed true to say that half an eye is going to be useless, but only if you cut it in half with a knife, which isn't ever going to happen in nature through genetics. However, I'm pretty sure if you remove any single component of the eye short of the optic nerve, it's going to be far from useless. Sure, it won't nearly be as good as the finished article, but we're talking about early evolutionary principles here. Remove my lens and sure, I'll struggle to read stuff and see at a distance, but I'll still be able to detect movement and things. In a struggle for life against something which was entirely blind, I'd be far better equipped to catch prey or escape predators. The argument of irreducible complexity is based on the idea that there's absolutely nothing in between a human eye, and a completely functionless one.

For example, if we go back in time to the point where no animals had eyes, before the eye had appeared through evolution. If one animal genetically mutates in such a way as to form what's basically just the optic nerve, the most basic form of eye, a single pixel, black or white. Compared to what we have, it's useless, it's almost inconceivable how it would benefit, but compared to being completely blind, would it not offer a benefit?

You can take quite a gradual set of intermediate stages between no eyes whatsoever and human eyes. There are plenty of traits you can slowly level up and increase together to get to the finished article, and it'll fit perfectly into evolutionary theory as well. Animals that have eyes with better movement recognition will be able to escape better from predators than animals who don't. Better resolution (ie. the fovea), the ability to focus, wider peripheral vision, the ability to see in colour, all of these providing various advantages in the wild, increasing the chances that the animal will survive and pass on it's genes.

If anything, the eye is the worst example of irreducible complexity for fans of intelligent design to pick, because unlike other organs such as the liver, it's extremely easy to see how any minor improvement would directly increase the mutated animal's prospects of survival and passing on their genes.

The other example used aside from the eye, though not usually used by the sort of dumbass creationists you tend to find dispersed throughout the internet, is that for the bacterial flagellum, which is the little spinning tail thing that bacteria use to move around through fluids:

The flagellum is quite an intricate and clever system of propulsion, given that it operates on such a tiny molecular scale. I'm not an expert in microbiology, so I can't really explain in this how something like that operates, let alone how it could possibly have evolved, but luckily and importantly there are people out there who can:
That's a pretty heavy and long scientific document, and I don't remotely expect anyone to read it all, but the summarising first paragraph is all that really matters. It's possible to see how it could have evolved in stages, and that beats the irreducible complexity argument.

Really the irreducible complexity argument is instantly destroyed if you can find a way from nothing to the finished article in fairly logical and plausible small steps, where each individual step preferably offers a benefit over it's predecessors, or at the very least doesn't add a disadvantage. If you know enough about the subject, then it's usually not that hard to do this, it's just that fans of intelligent design tend not to think of it that way.

Anyone interested in further reading on irreducible complexity, creationist examples and proofs as to how they're not irreducibly complex should try here:

I'd also like to say, as a footnote, that the Boeing 747 can't really consider to be intelligently designed either. It wasn't formed by a whirlwind going through a junkyard, but it was the result of years of hard work, a lot of trial and error and a lot of borrowing from previous ideas. It came about as a result of human thinking and ingenuity, rather than principles of nature and natural selection, but it's not that tenuous to suggest that it was an evolutionary-style process that actually formed it. Mankind just reduced the timespan to a couple of centuries (or millennia if you want to be picky) instead of the couple of billion years that it took nature.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

A Moment Of Stillness

This has been a pretty awesome week so far. I'd be lying if I said I'd spent any of it actually really doing anything, but I've not been entirely idle. I guess I'd say I've been productive and efficient with enjoying myself.

First off, watched/QC'd Summer Wars for the weird Frostii-drama group, and it's an absolutely epic anime movie that I'll probably give a proper entry for later this week. Also did some work on other series. Aside from that I'm now caught up for House and Big Bang Theory (or at least I would be if it wasn't for new episodes yesterday) and I'm also completely up to date with FullMetal Alchemist, which seems to be getting pretty close to it's conclusion. I expect it to be a 52-56 episode series in total. Started watching K-On! today, might even have the whole series watched before I go to bed, we'll see.

Oh yeah, and I also started sorting my images collections.

What made me laugh in the news today was the story that a US TV network broadcast Playboy previews on a kids TV channel. I'm sure that there are plenty of parent groups which will say it's a horrific mistake, and it should never happen, but really it's just pretty funny. It's not going to have hurt anyone, I doubt kids can be particularly scarred by light exposure to stuff like that. It's just the humour that this sort of thing would be shown on a kids channel of all things.

Anyone trying to put any more spin on this than just a rather hilarious and unfortunate mistake is stupid, but I am curious to how the fuck things like this happen. It's not the first time this has happened either, with stories of a porn clip being shown during the 2009 Superbowl. How exactly do the systems that control TV networks operate to even make these sorts of things possible by mistake? Do their broadcasting servers really have pornography side-by-side with kids TV shows? I've always been quite curious as to how TV broadcasting systems actually work, how things are aired, and how much of it is automated and how much has to be done by people.

Given the number of channels broadcasting around the world 24/7, it's surprising fuck-ups don't happen that often. Actually, they probably do, they're just not usually noted unless they're quite as amusing as porn on kids TV.

As most people almost certainly know, it's St Paddy's Day today. Bit miffed that it lies in the week between me coming home from Uni, and everyone else getting back home. I'll probably still do something, be it just sucking it up and drinking alone while watching K-On! or maybe just going out round the pubs in town, soaking up some atmosphere and seeing who I bump into that I know. Be it the sad (in the non-depressing sense) option or the social one, should still be a fairly fun evening.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Countering Creationism I: Our Ancestry

I seem to have developed something of a reputation amongst people who know me for being fiercely atheist. I get linked fairly frequently to various sources of creationist bullshit and fake science. Most of these are message boards or other similar things, and I've wasted a lot of time arguing with people who have been completely blinded by creationist viewpoints and arguments. 

What's really annoying is how much of it is just completely wrong. I can tolerate people believing in a God because ultimately there's never going to be any proof God doesn't exist. However, there's an absolute shit ton of proof for the big bang and evolution, especially the latter. All this evidence seems to have no impact on the majority of creationists, either because they don't understand the implications properly, or they've never seen it in the first place. 

The other thing I've noticed is that a lot of the creationist arguments seem to be pretty much identical. It's like there's a single source of creationist bullshit that's spreading itself out to everyone. All of these flawed arguments, all of these completely false claims are repeated over and over by various different creationists. I find that I don't have that many arguments, more I'm just having the same few over and over again. So, rather than have the same arguments over and over, I'm writing a series of blog posts for reference, because it should hopefully be a more effective solution and save me a lot of time.

A phrase that gets banded around a lot in religious debate is that humans "descended from monkeys". While from an evolutionary perspective this statement isn't necessarily incorrect, it's definitely misleading. It leads to fundamentally incorrect conclusions, and various bullshit creationist questions like "if we descended from monkeys, why are they still around?". If you're going to be picky, humans didn't descend from monkeys, because that's not how evolution works.

The nature of evolution and natural selection means it's very difficult for a species to continue unaltered. The notion that we "descended from monkeys" implies that a few tens of thousands of years ago there were only monkeys, that there was a new species that branched off and eventually became modern man, while the monkeys continued as they were until the present day. Evolution tends not to work in this way. Even in the same species and lineage, the actual individuals are constantly changing. The evolution family tree does not work in a way that has main branches with several other ones splitting off, like a fir tree. It works far more in a fractal manner. If you were to draw the network of species over time, it would look something like this:

It's very difficult there to single out any of the edge branches as being the main descendent from the original single main one. In practice the tree isn't quite as symmetric or perfect as that, and there'd obviously be millions and millions of branches, but that's just to demonstrate my point.

We did not descend from chimpanzees, gorillas or any other modern ape. We are merely 'cousins' with those species, and our original descendent was something else entirely. Our original descendent doesn't exist as a species any more. Humans are not a branch from the main line of monkeys, more that humans and all the different monkey species are various branches that all lead back to the same common ancestor species. It's totally inaccurate to say we descended from monkeys, more we descended from a totally different species that would probably resemble modern apes more than modern humans, but ultimately is totally separate from both, and didn't closely resemble either.

This fractal analogy applies to all species. You can't take just any two modern species and say one is descended from the other. It's almost always the case that the two share an ancestor that is neither one nor the other, but somewhere in between. Because of the way the evolutionary tree works you can also do this for any two animals, no matter how far apart. Humans and monkeys share an ancestor, but so do humans and rabbits. You might have to go back a lot further towards the trunk of the tree than you do for monkeys to get there, but there's going to be a point where it branches into two, and one branch contains rabbits somewhere at the end, and the other contains humans (and both branches obviously contain a crapload of other species as well). All the species around today link back to common ancestors at some point, which usually isn't alive, it's just a matter of how far back in time you have to go before you get to it.

It's a fairly simple concept, and it seems that quite a few people, supporting of both creationism and evolution don't actually understand that this is how species change and evolve. It's why there's such a diverse range of species alive at this point in time, and why it's not quite so straight forward to link them all together, because none of the intermediate species are alive right now. We did descend from something you'd probably call a monkey if you saw it today, but you're not going to see it today because that species has itself branched out and evolved into modern chimpanzees and the like.

Monday, 15 March 2010

God Is An Astronaut - Institute of Contemporary Arts, London - 17/02/10

God Is An Astronaut were the first band I ever saw at a proper festival (ie. not counting Mathew Street Festivals). I'd already got them marked down as a band I should see from I think Alex and Tina, and they were playing in the first slot on the first day at the Oxegen festival, Dublin, in 2008.

The ICA in London is an interesting venue, as I sort of expected it to be from it's name, and it's by far the most intimate venue I've ever seen a proper band in, even more so than the Junction in Cambridge. I spent a fair portion of the gig literally within touching distance of the guitarist.

This gig was a while ago, and I've forgotten the name of the first support act. I remember them being OK, but nothing particularly special or memorable, as demonstrated by my lack of memory of them. The problem with the sort of music that GIAA and Mogwai and their support acts all have is that it's quite samey. It can be good, but at the same time a lot of it sounds fairly similar, and it's difficult to stand out.

The second support act, Butterfly Explosion, did stand out a bit. They had some vocals, for one, and also a girl on a keyboard. Their drummer was also pretty good. I thought they sounded really good, and I'm going to buy their album at some point. I would have bought it then and there, but I don't have the money, and currently it's only available to buy as a download, so I'll wait a week or two until the CD is released. Their songs had a decent energy to them, and I liked the way they built and climaxed. They were pretty heavy for certain portions, and it was a good sound. What I dislike about a lot of music in the instrumental rock sort of genre is that it tends to feel like it's building up to something that never actually comes. I remember seeing Battles at Oxegen, and it felt like so much of their music just built and built only to simply finish the song. Butterfly Explosion have some pretty epic finales to the song, and you get a proper climax at the end, which plenty of songs from other bands in the same genre just don't do. They just simmer out instead and leave you musically blue-balled.

So yeah, yet to hear Butterfly Explosion's music on CD, but from what I remember of their live set they're a really good band, and they should do well (or at least well for the relatively obscure genre they're in).

For a band a lot of people have never heard of, God Is An Astronaut have been around a while, and their live set was predictably pretty tight. They have good energy on the stage, and despite just being a guitarist, a bassist and a drummer, they manage to put on a pretty decent live show. The guitarist has an absolute crapload of effects pedals and stuff, which are well used, and pretty crucial given that the songs sometimes have multiple layers and loops of guitar.

The gig was good, the songs were mixed up a bit from the album versions, which was nice, and there was a lot of energy on-stage. My only disappointment was that they didn't have videos projected up behind them like they did at Oxegen. Not to say that I go to see a band live for the eye candy and not the music, but the videos they had behind them at Oxegen were probably the reason I really took notice of the band. They were awesome, and they added a hell of a lot to the live performances. I don't know why they didn't have them at the ICA, especially given that there was a projector on the ceiling, but I really hope they've not permanently dropped them from their live set. I expect the videos probably took a lot of work, but they really did make the live shows exceptional.

Still, it was a very good gig, and really nice to see one of my favourite bands so up-close. Given the tickets only cost a tenner (it cost me more just to get there), it was probably the best value for money I've ever gotten from seeing a band live. I hope their new album is as good as their last one, and I really hope I can see them on tour again, because even without the videos, they still make for a good show, which is especially impressive for a band who don't have any lyrics in their songs. There aren't any sing-along moments, and the crowd is a bit weird, but they still make for a really good display of musical talent.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

The Mechanism of Life

This is something that's been bothering me for a while now. It's something I completely can't explain, and something which I've been unable to find an explanation for that I can understand and agree with. If anyone has any opinions on this, either scientific or philosophical, I'd be really interested to hear them.

We are living, sentient creatures. We appear to have free will, we appear to be in control of our own actions. As far as we are concerned we have choice over what we do, and we have the ability to change our own future. However, firstly we are made out of cells. These cells do not have their own brains and do not have their own sentient thoughts or emotions (at least as far as we know), yet together they make up entire human bodies, capable of independent thought.

Even further, the cells themselves are made up of molecules and atoms. These molecules are essentially inert, and individually are definitely not "living" by any definition I would accept. When we think, when we choose to do something, it all boils down to the interactions and movements of individual molecules which at their level have no fucking clue what is going on and can't influence it. We are somehow a group of completely unthinking objects which are combined in such a way that on the larger scale gives the impression of thought.

If you consider the molecules themselves, they're not able to change their own interactions. They're just obeying the laws of physics and chemistry. Surely their interactions are merely pre-determined by their own, random-but-obeying-laws motion? How the hell can we change how we think, how we act, if we're just a collection of objects obeying the fundamental laws of the universe?

I suspect quantum mechanics breaks a lot of what I've just said to an extent, but it's still extremely bizarre to think that I am supposedly in control of what I do when by my knowledge of physics all the movements and interactions of my component parts are already defined by classical mechanics. If a molecule can't change it's own movement path, how can I ever possibly think or do something which I wasn't always pre-determined to do.

It doesn't seem that weird for me to think that a set of components which are 'dead' on their own can make something which is 'living' - the same sort of thing can easily be seen to be feasible in a car engine or something. All of the valves, crankshafts, fluids and the like are completely immobile when just considered individually, but can come to life when combined, but an engine still just works within the laws set by mechanics and the chemical reactions inside. An engine can't just choose to turn itself off, or do something different, which is what I really don't comprehend. Set in motion any non-living contraption will obey entirely predicable behaviour. It might not actually be predictable in practice due to chaos theory, but in theory it could be entirely predicted. Given all the millions of initial conditions, you could predict the behaviour until the end of time perfectly.

Does this apply to people and other living objects? Given the exact parameters of me, given every single detail and initial condition, would my behaviour be predictable? Am I in true control of my own destiny, or am I merely the macroscopic result of billions of predictable microscopic interactions?

So please, opinions really welcome on this. Especially if someone actually has a decent explanation. I'm pretty sure that it lies in quantum mechanics and the like, but I don't have a good enough understanding to figure it out for myself.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Term Ends, Formula One Begins

Finally, term is over. No more work to he done now for the next four or five weeks (aside from general work over the holidays and revision). Got my Japanese reading, writing and oral exams over with, and I can finally shut off for a while.

I fucking hate oral exams. Even the most important and difficult of written exams don't really phase me too much, but jesus tapdancing christ I get nervous for orals. There's something about being put on the spot with knowledge that I really don't like. In a normal exam if I don't know stuff I just skip the question, maybe come back to it later, or maybe think about it for a while. In an oral exam I feel I have far more pressure to answer the question and to do it fairly quickly. The exams felt like they went fairly well, so hopefully I've got a decent enough mark to mean I was right to let it count towards my Tripos mark.

Aside from the fact that term is finished, my main excitement source right now is that the new Formula One season starts this weekend. It feels like fucking ages since the last one ended, and the pre-season stuff seems to imply that the racing is going to be really close between quite a few teams and drivers, which should really make it interesting. Stuff like this usually gets pre-hyped as "the best yet", and while I don't think it'll be the best season of racing ever, it's hard to deny that the driver's championship could be fought between about six or seven drivers (Hamilton, Button, Vettel, Alonso, Schumacher and maybe Webber and Kubica, in that order). I'll be supporting McLaren and Hamilton, but to be honest I'll be happy as long as the two Ferrari drivers lose. The rules and points changes should hopefully give us some more epic racing this year.

In F1-related news this week, Stirling Moss fell down a lift shaft. What's really fucking impressive to me is that he only broke his ankles. I mean, I'm sure he's pretty badly injured, but the fact is he's come off pretty fucking well for an 80-year old man falling three stories. He must be made out of fucking steel or something, because I don't think I'd manage to fall that far without life-threatening injury, let alone at the age of 80.

It's weird to think I'm heading home the day after tomorrow. I've got Mahjong social stuff tomorrow, and then I'm going home early Saturday afternoon. Unlike usual, I'd say I'm probably a bit ready to go home. I'll be bored after a week, but it'll be nice to just be in an environment where I don't feel like I should be working. Going to try and blast through a few anime series I've been meaning to watch for ages (K-On!, Kanon, Mushishi, Rurouni Kenshin, Black Lagoon and Samurai Champloo), I'll update all the Mahjong soc website stuff, because it's a bit out-of-date, and I'll write a crapload of entries in this blog, because I've been neglecting it a bit while I've been struggling with the Uni workload. I have so much I want to write stuff on, I've just not had the time and focus to do it.

Bring on a week or two of rest, bring on the Bahrain Grand Prix this weekend.

Thanks goes to Godly-Effect from TEC/Gamerhold for making the new banner for this blog. It looks awesome :D

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Sunshine Highway

I've only got two more supervisions and a lab write up before the end of term now, so the main bulk of my workload is pretty much finished, and after a few hectic weeks I can finally take time out to relax and enjoy myself a bit more.

Combined with the fucking awesome weather today, I'm in a really good mood. I know it's March, but subconsciously my mind is stuck in May Week. Sure, I've still got labs and lectures and work, but all that's flashing around in my head are the fantastic memories from the end of last Easter term. May rowing, paddock football, just generally lazing around and enjoying myself. It's really weird, because I'd never have thought that the weather would have such a massive effect on my mood, but it has. I'm a cheerful and un-embittered Rosti for once. Drunk on sunshine and love.

Random demotivational is random, but also funny

Also in a good mood because I've got confirmation of a place at the UK Riichi Mahjong Open. I'm probably going to get absolutely raped by any of the semi-pro people there, but it should still be fun. Really looking forward to it, and it's fucking ages away.

Frostii projects have stalled a bit, and would probably be nice to get some of the work done before I end up back with having to do real-life work.

Still, the Easter break is coming and I'll have a lot of time free again. I'll probably have to stick in some revision or I might horribly fail the exams this year, but I should just generally have more time free for catching up on shows I've been missing and for writing entries in this blog. I might also learn how to typeset and do AFX and raise my fansubbing skillset a bit.

So yeah, proper blog entries coming soon, posting this to get all the shitty mushy life stuff out the way for a bit.

Monday, 1 March 2010

Ocean Colour Scene - Cambridge Corn Exchange, 28th February 2010

I noticed these guys on the listings for the CornEx, but didn't bother buying a ticket, mostly because I thought the £25 or whatever that they were asking was a bit steep. I would say I'm fairly acquainted with OCS, but I'm hardly a huge fan. They're basically a band that my Dad was a fan of, and as a result there are two albums by them in our house, and I'm familiar with a lot of their songs, if for no other reason than they're planted into past memories of my childhood.

Still, I do occasionally listen to them, and I think they've got quite a few songs. Ocean Colour Scene were one of the string of successful British rock bands in the mid-90's. These guys were a support act for Oasis, back when Oasis were nearing the peak of their fame. They're also pretty good friends with Paul Weller from The Jam. They've had a number one album and six top-ten singles (and back before the charts were quite as shit), so definitely aren't slouches musically.

While £25 was a bit too much for a ticket, when I was offered a free one by Chris, who is reviewing the gig for the tab, I was pretty happy to go. Getting into a gig by being on the press list is pretty sweet, even ignoring the fact that the ticket is free. I bought a t-shirt too, because it's a pretty swish looking one and I liked the design, and figured that I should maybe pay something given I do quite like the band.

As a band who were at their most successful in the mid to late 90's and have sort of fated into obscurity since, I wasn't expecting much youth at the concert. I know a fair few people of my age who know of them, but most of them are through dads, and I don't know anyone who properly follows them any more. It didn't surprise me that we seemed to be distinctly the youngest people there, and I'd estimate the average age to be around thirty. Makes sense, given I was still in primary school when they were topping charts.

Have to say though, they put on a pretty damn good show. I wasn't expecting the sort of visual effects that they actually had, and they clearly made enough money back in the 90's to splash out touring today. They had a far better lights set up than any other band I've seen in the CornEx, which includes massively successful bands like Bloc Party and Feeder. Visually it was far better than I was expecting it to be.

The music was varied for me, mostly depending on whether I knew the song or not. Any songs which were from Mosely Shoals or Marchin' Already I'd know from my childhood and from listening to the albums a occasionally in the last few years. Obviously I knew the big hits like Hundred Mile High City (video below), The Circle, The Day We Caught The Train and The Riverboat Song (video above), as well as the personal favourite of mine, Get Blown Away. There were a lot of other songs I didn't know, including quite a good one called Go To Sea, which I really liked and which had an epicly long guitar solo.

One thing I have to say is that despite this being their 21st anniversary tour as a band, which if nothing else marks how old these guys now are, they still sound really good. Their counterparts Oasis have had fairly battered vocals from Liam Gallagher when they've performed in the last few years, but Ocean Colour Scene still sound good for their age. The vocals are still strong, they're still in tune, and the band still has energy. It didn't feel like I was watching ageing rockers who had been doing this for over twenty years now; it felt like I was watching a band who were still as good and as youthful as they ever were.

Other notable moments of the evening include a really drunk guy who must have been well into his forties to our right shouting out song suggestions. When they finished the first part of the set, and were still to come on for the encore, he was repeatedly yelling "Fuck off! Riverboat or fuck off!". When they predictably played The Riverboat Song in the encore he was going absolutely mental.

So yeah, really awesome evening overall. Some enjoyment was from nostalgia, but most of it was from seeing a genuinely good band giving a very good live performance. Would definitely consider seeing them if they tour in Cambridge again.