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Breaking the 4th wall in light of recent ominous rumblings about LJ possibly dying for good, to say that I am the same username on Dreamwidth, and indeed, posting the same drivel, as I've been crossposting for quite a while now. If I've not added you there yet, please comment.

In other news, feeling run down and fed up today.

Because Yogi has been sleeping like crap for 3 nights and just not settling, we've tried having the heating on all night, and I am BOILING and keep waking up all the time. Hate it.
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I've just cleaned up the third poo Balthazar has done on the stairs in the last few days, and it's getting really tired. And yes, it's not even 8 in the morning yet. So far he's been doing them in the evening, but yesterday we shut him outside for that period, and it looks like he maybe just miaowed on the windowsill the whole time and kept it in till sometime in the night.

It started last Tuesday when I caught a whiff of something on the landing, and went to the top floor to investigate. I'd left Caractacus' bedroom open because I've put a drying rack next to her radiator for big stuff like sheets (because things suspiciously fall off the drying rack that's in Marlowe's room and I reckon it's because she climbs on it, and the floor in there is filthy because of her accidents and bringing in her prey to torment). On C's little rug, the one that used to be next to her bed in the old flat, I found three massive turds, in a heap, each the width of my thumb and longer than my finger. They were pretty dry, so I was able to just pick them up with toilet paper, and I wasn't sure how best to clean the rug until I saw from the underside that it had been well soaked with wee, and so I had to fold it up and put it in the washing machine. It's got quite a tough backing (it's the little square fluffy one from Ikea that comes in several different colours; H has a green one, and Tolstoy wanted to get a blue one for Yogi but they're not doing blue any more), and that folded in ominously cracking ways. And it came back out (two washes, still smelt after the first) with cord that's frayed from the edges and managed to tie itself up in knots, so it's still on the washing line as I'm not sure what to do with it next.

So I closed C's room and thought that was that. Then a few days later, Balthazar howled a lot and crapped on the stairs. (Though it's possible the howling comes after the shitting, rather than before as a sign of desperation. I used to think it was desperation ('I need a poo!'); now it seems like it's apology or a request for a clean-up.) That was not too hard to clean up. Then Sunday night he did it again, and we spotted it just before sitting down to dinner (which rather spoiled the really nice moussaka Herbie and I had just made; I was torn between cleaning up before eating and having the smell in my nose putting me off, or eating first, and then spoiling any lasting enjoyment of the meal. This time it was really wet: scraping it off the carpet made brown water pool where I was pressing down with the scooper (it came when we first got a litter tray for Marlowe, and had a lot of use since). It had also splashed all over the skirting. This morning's is not quite as bad, but still, not a clean removal, and we're now out of the carpet cleaner which to be honest, I don't think really covers a large smearing of cat shit in its cleaning capabilities.

Balthazar has been shut out again. I'm not sure when I'm letting him in again. He may have to have a period of being an outdoor cat and sleeping in the utility room with Marlowe and being let in for occasional meals and short supervised periods. I really don't need more cat shit incidents.

Other drama at the moment too, but that'll wait.
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Settling in to work a bit better this week. It probably helps that by the end of Friday I'd scoped out how I was going to build a particular feature, and the client had agreed to the proposed solution (I sort of hate that use of the word, but I grudgingly accept that there isn't really a better one, as 'method' implies just actions, rather than also building blocks). I'm maybe also getting used to the new people and the different atmosphere. It seems strange to think that there can be a different work atmosphere when I work from home and mostly communicate with people over Slack (hipster souped-up IRC, basically) and the occasional skype call or google hangout. But there is. The last place (where I'd been working since getting back from France in May) felt busy; there'd be chatting on slack in the project channel fairly often, people asking questions about the build, or checking things with the project manager. There was a main channel too, with people on other projects. I hardly ever went in there, so I don't think that really contributed; so just our project channel with about four or five people in it felt lively. There was banter, and silly gifs. With the new place, it feels so much quieter. There are only about five of us in total across all projects, as far as I can tell, which is the same number of people as previously, but it can be silent all afternoon. I suppose the difference is that here we have 5 people in the general channel for the whole company, and while I think everyone is also in each project channel, there tends to be only one person working on a project at a time. So it feels a lot more solitary, a lot less like being part of something, even if at the last place I felt very much on the fringe. Also, at TLP there was an office (two in fact), and while some people were working from home (at least one other person on my project was also a freelancer, and other people would from time to time), I'd be on skype with people who were in offices. For several months, until they changed the routine, I was on a scrum call every morning, with one connection being to one office's conference room showing a table full of people. With TNP, the scrum call is about six of us, and apart from one guy who seems to be working in an open plan office somewhere in Russia, everyone is at home. The scale feels so much smaller, and I feel quite isolated.

So that didn't help last week; going from a lively virtual workplace to a very quiet one, on top of it being very quiet with people I don't know yet. What I'm now starting to find I like more about the new place is the processes. The project manager, who spoke to me a month or so ago when he hired me, had said they've got a strong ethos of doing things the right way, not cutting corners on hacks, and that sounded great to me, but last week as I got deeper into the two of their projects I've been given access to so far, I started having doubts about that. One is a site they've just taken on, and known to be a mess, but the other is their main client, and I presume at least was their original build. This week though we kicked off with defining the stories (more agile terminology: cases, issues, tickets; I prefer tickets usually) for the feature, as the initial story to investigate how to go about things had now produced some work we needed to write up first. So we broke it down into stories, and each story into tasks, and then we did a blind vote to estimate for each story how much time would be involved, which was something I'd not done before. (To my surprise I estimated lower than the other developer; normally I always over-estimate. I wonder why that is; possibly because here the stories were much smaller units of work and subdivided into defined tasks.) That then put me in charge of about 3 or 4 stories: plenty to get on with, but also a feeling that I knew what was involved, so I didn't feel overwhelmed.

It may not seem like much, but it's a huge difference from the previous place. There, the casetracker was used in a much broader way, with a single ticket for a much larger feature. The client would frequently post additional questions and bug reports on tickets that were thought to be done with (and often not entirely related problems). Before work started on a feature I'd write up a spec, which the client would approve, and that would give me a fairly clear idea of what I was doing, which was good, but tasks is better. Smaller issues is better. Issues which the client signs off and then (presumably, I've not seen that far yet) any bugs with that work get filed as new tickets, not allowing tickets to drag on and on and on and lose all focus, is good too. Possibly the best thing though is me being part of the time estimation; at the previous place, I'd be assigned to a feature and the time allocated to it would already have been worked out (I'd see it in their time tracker app). It's possible the lead dev would have had a say in that, and certainly if I started to see something was spiralling out of control I'd flag it up and there'd be a rethink, but it feels completely different to be in on this from the start.

So showing promise, despite missing the social aspect of the old place. Though I'm fed up with the project manager not managing to get my name right, despite my correcting him quite a few times.
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Balthazar was back at the vet's yesterday to monitor his progress. Tolstoy was out with Herbie for his 6 month check-up, so I had to get Balthi into the cat carrier on my own. I chucked a couple of bits of ham into it, then pushed his head and shoulders in. He struggled, but a lot less than he has in the past. I don't know what happened to the ham.

He's had one week on an anti-inflamatory, Metacam. We've had two more similar incidents, but each fairly brief. The other evening, I was on the gaming PC and he came up and reached through the arm of the chair to claw my side. A few moments later he was slumped on the floor. I tried to move him and he slumped some more. I carried him downstairs and by the time we were in the kitchen he was fine again. Also, that time it was his right leg rather than his left.

The right leg means it's not an embolish. The lack of pain means it's not arthritis. Which leaves it as a neurological problem, which could be just about anything. We'd need a load of tests, culminating probably in an MRI, to pin it down, and it would be expensive, and not much fun for Balthazar. So the vet is taking a pot shot at the possibility that the neurological problem might be caused by a tumour, and has prescribed steroids. Small pill, easy to crush up, so should be okay to give to him.

At least if it's not an embolism that means it's probably something that's only going to get worse slowly, so he'll be okay until we get back.
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I had the odd experience the other day of realizing that CDs are now old technology, and pretty crappy technology at that.

We've set up a CD player in Herbie's room, so we can play a variety of things while we're in there with him. Already, I'd been finding that the CDs are faffy: you have to get one out, put one back. Tolstoy said, 'It's easier than faffing with iTunes'. Well maybe. Then, there's finding the track. We got a super unexpected present when I went to register his birth: the Scottish National Chamber Orchestra (I think?) has recorded a CD of various things, a mix of classical and nursery rhymes, and every child born in Scotland over the last two years receives a copy of this, given out by the registrars. There's only a slight design flaw in that the track listing is neither on the back cover of the case, or the back cover of the booklet, but two pages in from the back in the booklet. So I have to get that out, flip to it, look up the track number (Herbie and I like the William Tell overture, which I tickle him up and down in time to, as he wasn't big enough to be bounced when I started doing this; he doesn't get ticklish either, but he still enjoys it), then press 'forward' that many times, and finally 'play'. Every time I think, crikey can't it do track names? And then the final nail in the coffin the other day: as I went out of the room, the CD jumped and switched to a different track entirely.

I took him to the library for rhyme time this morning. We had fun. Snow on the way back.

Tolstoy and I tidied up the coffee table in the living room today, where I'd made a bit of a start the other day. I've got the dresser in the hall looking civilized. The house is losing some of its 'hit by a baby bombshell' look.
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I don't normally do memes here, but here is an exception.

List 10 books that have stayed with you in some way. Don't take more than a few minutes and do not think too hard. They do not have to be the 'right' books or great works of literature, just ones that have affected you in some way.

Catch-22
Jonathan Strange &  Mr Norrell
Harriet the Spy
The player of games
The liar
Special topics in calamity physics
A suitable boy
One hundred years of solitude
Good omens
The secret history

And for once, you may take a guess at the source of this entry's subject: it's the first line of one of these.

I nominate anyone who reads this.
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Tolstoy woke me up at 3am on Sunday morning to tell me the cat had found a mouse, and was making a racket in the hall trying to get it out from the big heap of boxes. I ended up locking the cat in the kitchen and going back to bed, wondering why Tolstoy had been unable to do the same herself.

Sunday the cat was very preoccupied with the hall, in particular the dresser under which we figured the mouse was hiding. It did at one point make a break for it, and Marlowe (the cat) found it by the coat stand. But when I got the cat to prevent it from mauling the mouse, the mouse went right back to beneath the dresser.

Early the next morning, this time at about 1, I was awoken by the distinctive rhythm of a cat wearing a bell chasing and toying with prey. We've had this before; a few months ago we had two dead mice brought to us in the bedroom in fairly quick succession. There was one she flung into the air.

This time, I got to the cat before the mouse was mangled to bits. I grabbed the cat, got Tolstoy to lock her in the bedroom, and tried to figure out how to capture a mouse in such a way as to then take it outside and free it humanely a long way from the house. This was not easy. The mouse was cornered under a shelf unit, but I completely failed to coax it out and into a waiting cardboard box. So I had to retrieve the cat, to get her to locate the mouse once again. I then managed to get the mouse trapped under a cardboard box, but I really didn't know what to do with it after that. When I lifted the box to try and trap it under a glass, it ran off too fast, and I had to get the cat all over again.

The cat and I soon had the mouse trapped under the bookcase, under the bottom shelf. I rotated it round until the back of the bookcase was facing out, and then had to figure out how to get it out and into the glass. Obviously, this was a dismal failure: the thing ran out and went right between my kneeling legs like in some sort of cartoon. But it ended up dropping down a step on the stairs, and this confused it a bit: it couldn't come back up and it didn't want to drop again. It was sniffing at the big drop down to the hall at the end of the step when I managed to grab it by the tail and shove it into the glass.

So that's how I wound up talking a mouse in a glass covered up with an envelope for a walk at one in the morning, in jeans and my pyjama top.

Marlowe spent most of Sunday sniffing around in the hall and the landing, looking for the mouse that wasn't there any more.

Poor thing.

On the plus side, the mouse seemed physically unharmed. Probably stressed as hell, due to spending nearly 24 hours trapped by a cat. I dropped it over the fence onto the railway line cutting at the far end of the road. It landed on a tree branch and scuttled down.

Two nights of not enough sleep though. Not fun.
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I can see why people staunchly defend the NHS. 'Gawd bless the NHS,' I said to myself as I left the surgery last Wednesday.

I'd come in for my fortnightly verruca freezing with the nurse. I'd barely sat down that she asked how my leg was, having presumably just seen it in my notes. I reported that the doctor on Monday had given me antibiotics, strong dose (he'd said) as they had to travel quite far. (He also told me it's not an 'old person ulcer' and it should heal up rather than drag on for months as I 'have youth on my side'.)

The nurse took a look at my leg, which by then was looking a bit less angry and swollen, but was still quite red and raw. She declared I should probably have a dressing on it. So I got given a packet of honey-imbued gauze which apparently draws out the infection, from which I snip off a little piece each morning (and the sheet in the packet it about the size of a paperback so it's going to be going in the medicine cupboard and will likely kick around for decades, much as similar things do at my aunt's house), and a bunch of single-pack dressing that stick on (and amazingly come off without taking leg hair with them). So I left the place with what felt like an armful of medical supplies, just liberally thrown at me.

I would write also about ongoing work on the house and pipework in the kitchen, but it's too fucking cold.
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I have occasionally mentioned my elderly, late, slightly batty great-grand aunt. She was a bit eccentric, what with the hoarding, and her frequent madcap ideas. And she was right source of family catchphrases, mostly because she would talk incessantly, often seemingly without pausing to think about what she was saying.

She kept up to date with modern affairs, took the paper every day and read it (and then stored it in the basement, every single copy).

One frequent topic of conversation was new technological developments: the Channel Tunnel, space probes, the Internet (which she knew had only a very vague idea about based on what she read in the papers; the one time I offered to take her to an internet café for a surf she got a rather nervous about the idea), mobile phones, all that sort of thing.

And one of her recurring catchphrases for this sort of topic was, 'C'est fou'. 'It's crazy', but without the pejorative edge. 'It's insane', in the way that we'd say 'You can get 16 GB flashdrives now', say. She's also say, 'C'est inoui', which I think translates as 'It's unbelievable'.

But my example about flashdrives leads me right to my point. As much as I used to make fun behind her back of this phrase of hers, which was almost a verbal tic so frequently did it pop up, perhaps when she was reading the day's newspaper or recounting it to us, it occurred to me today that myself and my contemporaries exhibit a not dissimilar reaction. The size of flashdrives. The fact that flashdrives exist at all, when I remember downloading the demo of Quake as a zipfile split over 8 or 9 floppy disks. That computer games are now things that are advertized on TV and in the cinema. That website addresses are plastered all over, and exchanged at the drop of a hat, when we remember a time when we not only had to spell them out painstakingly, we first had to explain to people what they were in the first place.

We're living in the future, is what we remark to one another. We're living in a world that has now significantly changed from when we were growing up. I was thinking about how it's to do with my age, and wondering at what age my aunt started to feel like this. But I think the shift of the internet from a plaything of techies to a part of everyone's life has been a huge change; anyone who remembers floppies and dial-up probably feels this way (Tolstoy does). So maybe there's not a clear comparison.

I don't remember what prompted me to think of this today. Perhaps it was just because I was sitting in a café with my laptop, coding while on the internet (out of the house for the day while the bedroom floor gets sanded). I don't know. But the world these days: it's insane.
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I was in Waitrose the week before last, idling in the queue for the basket checkout, probably weighing up whether to get a free paper or not. (Waitrose some time ago started giving you a free paper if you have their loyalty card and you've spent over a fiver. It began with just the Torygraph and the Daily Fail, so I only partook once of twice of the former. Then about a month ago they added the Grauniad to this, and it's become a much more interesting offer, but one that is dependent on whether I feel I will actually have time to read it during the day. While I think it's acceptable for Sunday papers to drag on into the following week a little, with maybe the colour section being flicked through on Tuesday, the business pages perused Thursday, with daily papers it's just a little pathetic. Waitrose also added the offer a free coffee to this promotion, which does lead me to wonder what will come next, and at what point it'll just be down and out oral sex round the service entrance at the back of the store.)

Ahead of me in the queue was a woman with a double buggy, with two boys in it who were maybe around three years old. It was hard to tell if they were twins or very close together in age. Each had a bag of Hula Hoops. I remember thinning my eyes slightly in disapproval at the feeding of junk food to kids. And in Waitrose, where one expects a better class of parent. Then when the woman got to the checkout came the crowning glory: she took the packet off one of the kids, to explain to the cashier that she needed to have it scanned.

Now let alone the shame of doing that (a strip in Viz once took it to extremes, where the screaming toddlers needed the loo, and you can imagine what had to be used in store before it was actually bought). Maybe the kids were diabetic and it was important to get something down them urgently. But then crisps, really? And if not, surely they can wait for all of ten minutes until stuff has been paid for. Delayed gratification is a hugely important skill to learn, and early on is the best time to learn it. I am always spotting ways in which I can let Caractacus practise that a little. Not deliberately holding something back, but say, if there is a parcel from my aunt waiting at home, I might tell her when I pick her up from nursery rather than when we get home, so there is something exciting that she just has to wait for. Or when we get in, and I have to unpack my rucksack first before we can go play. That sort of thing. So I do think that waiting ten minutes for crisps should come under that heading. Though I wouldn't buy crisps in the first place.

My quiet smug middle class parent judging was thrown all off kilter when this woman proceeded to take a free Grauniad. Clearly she had failed the test they impose on the readership.

They do still have that, don't they?
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Here's a wizard wheeze I invented today for getting a free ice cream.

First, find a random small child, and tell them you'll give them an ice cream in the nearby ice cream parlour. (I appreciate this first step is somewhat tricky, but it's crucial as will be seen in due course.)

Then, present yourself at the nearby ice cream parlour, and get an ice cream each for you and the kid. Then, discover that you have no cash on you. Tell the person on the till that you're going to leave the kid there while you go to the cash machine.

Take your ice cream with you, leave the kid in the shop, and never return. Five minutes later, a member of staff will no doubt ask the kid, 'Your dad's taking a while', and they'll blithely say as they scoff the last of the cone, 'Who?'

I failed to implement this plan today in two ways, both of them crucial.

Number one, the child I took into the ice cream parlour was my own, so I had to return.

Number two, I forgot to take my ice cream with me to the cash machine.
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Does it say something bad about me, or about society, that I am surprised when I google for instructions on how to mend a tear in fabric, and find a video where the person showing how to fix a torn shirt is a man? And likewise, that when last time I took my bike in for a service, the mechanic was a woman?

I did find myself wishing I'd taken Caractacus in with me that time. I've lately been trying to suggest that some of her various Lego firefighters could be women. 'Non, c'est un monsieur!' she said to me the other day.

The thing is, they do look like men. Or rather, they look like men because they don't look like women. Draw a circle and add two dots for eyes, a line for a nose, and a curve for the mouth. What have you got? A man. To make it female, you need to make it not-male. You need to add one of long hair, or twinkly eyelashes around the eyes, or red lips, or (personal pet hate) earrings. This appears to be the way that we collectively intepret. Is it just convention that gets perpetuated? Is it because of the way women are expected to look? Is there a deeper element here about how society considers men as 'standard' and women as 'other'? Whichever combination, in whatever proportion, Caractacus is now affected.

There is a bit of progress though, perhaps. Last Monday, the two Duplo firefighters were a mummy and a daddy.
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I feel that I have lost the habit of writing accounts that detail everything. Rewinding mentally to start at the beginning of the trip feels like too much. So it's going to have to be a tangled brain dump, which actually I suddenly suspect is the way I've been doing it all along.

First, food. Of course. We ate out in Paris, which was an experience it itself, but that's for another time. In Florence, the first evening we went to the place on Via Faenza, Trattoria Nero, that I remembered from last time I went (and in fact, had kept the card for as a bookmark all these years). Big, cavernous seeming place, made up of lots of heavily decorated rooms, where with [livejournal.com profile] morganaus we had to share a big round table because it was so packed. This time around, it was totally different. The place hadn't changed, but because we were tired and Tolstoy was hungry, we went at about 7, not long after opening. It was empty, and without the crowds and the atmosphere, the decor seemed garish more than anything, the Italian equivalent of the crocodile and road signs on the wall. Food when it came was alright (starter I don't remember, pizzas for both of us, house red), and the chocolate cake I had for desert was possibly the same one I had last time, and was pretty good. But I left the place feeling that whatever had made it special that last time must have been due to the circumstances. Nice dinner, but nothing to recommend it over anything else.

Second night we went to a place off San Lorenzo that we'd passed a few times during the day (the way that in central Florence you quickly find that you are walking the same routes, over and over again). Again, eating far too early, and therefore stepping into an empty restaurant, which I always find a big off-putting. Called Cipolla Rossa (red onion), it seemed a little less aimed at tourists (no English menu outside), or at least a bit on the upmarket side (no pizzas on the menu). I had gnocchi in a sauce that was amazing (and was probably just mostly lard; where the menu said 'lard' I thought it was bacon because of the French word, and when I asked the waiter he corrected me and said something like 'white fat'). Tolstoy had ravioli (I think) in what was called 'carriage sauce' on the menu's translation (which doesn't google, and so which we will never know what it was... but how wrong I am, for we now live in an age where restaurants actually have websites, even if often crappy ones, and I can read the menu and see it's called alla carrettiera). We swapped plates halfway through so we could have some of each.

Thursday we ventured further out. Tolstoy had found a few places on the web that she thought warranted a try, and this one, Il Vinaino, turned out to be very good indeed. I had chicken in a balsamic vinegar sauce, and Tolstoy gnocchi (again!) with gorgonzola. Very friendly place, which had the feel of a local restaurant. Only about a ten minute walk from the centre, which felt on the way like we were heading into uncharted territory (bunch of guys hanging around on motorbikes at one point, for instance), but really wasn't that far at all. To prove that, once our mains had arrived, a troupe of about a dozen American students tramped in and took a big table behind us. Waiter reminded us of that at the erstwhile Mouton Noir: he gave the impression that it was his joint, that he was very much involved in it. I think we were too full for desert. Or rather, we figured we'd get gelato on the way back to the hotel.

The last evening we weren't sure where to go, and on our amblings around I kept an eye out for interesting places. One option was the restaurant just across the road from our hotel, which had a garden, and which would have been a good plan had we wanted to just come straight back and crash. On leaving the Palazzo Vecchio (it's open till midnight, so we went at about half 5), we looked at the menu of one place nearby where I'd spotted a wild boar stew on the menu, but decided to go to the place that had rabbit. Definitely was a good idea. I find rabbit rather fiddly, as unless you get it in little pieces in a salad (as I once did), you basically get half a carcass, with leg bones and ribs and allsorts. Eating it is a challenge in itself. Here it was a rewarding one, as it was in an amazing olive and rosemary sauce. Again, I think we skipped dessert for gelato.

The gelato round-up. I am going to be more vague here; I am not 100% certain of the flavours. First day, across the Ponte Santa Trinita, I had peach and melon (possibly). Second day we stopped off in a place off Via Calimala (the pedestrian street that runs south from the Duomo), where I thought I was ordering blackberry and something else, and ended up with those two flavours alright, but piled so high on a cone it was unreal. There were four (count them!) wafers just to hold it all up, and the whole thing came to 6 euro. I was flabbergasted, but unfortunately proceedings of insane amounts of gelato had already begun by the time I realized and I felt it was too late to say something. Oh well. Other flavours I tried included fig (pretty good) and dark chocolate (Tolstoy pointed out the existence of this: how had I never noticed?).

Lunches were not that memorable. Couple of days we got stuff from the market; last two days we just got pizza at places on the piazza around it.

On our stopover in Turin we just grabbed a slice of pizza and a toasted sandwich in two places side by side near the station. In Milan on the way back we had a not very interesting lunch outside at a table where my back was out of the shade of the parasol, so I didn't enjoy it regardless of the food. Then at the train station later on we got panini to eat on the train for our dinner.

Museums and sights and hotel another time!

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In Paris at my aunt's. Journey went smoothly. No incidents, unless you count the Americans who were already sitting in our seats when we boarded the train at Waverley.

I'd booked us a table, with facing seats so we could play card games. We got to our table to find it occupied by a old couple, with bags all over it. No problem; there are four seats there. But there was someone else coming up behind us who was also saying she was at this table.

So I did the British thing of saying, 'I think these are our seats'.

It turned out the seated couple were Americans. Who didn't realize that the seats had numbers on them (indicated clearly above every single seat, like on most trains). And then, the man said, 'How are you supposed to know they're reserved?', to which I pointed out the big pieces of paper sticking up on top of every seat, with the word 'Reserved' on each one. He got his tickets out and said he wasn't sure where they were meant to be sitting. They didn't have reservations, and then he grumpily said, 'Where are people without reservations supposed to travel, on the roof?' I pointed out, again, the reservation tickets on the seats, and the seats that didn't have them, of which there were some nearby.

So it all turned out fine, but bloody hell, what a rude and ignorant old git. We'll see if we can do better as foreigners in Italy in two days' time!
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Took time out yesterday afternoon to go see Populaire at the flicks, as the times over the weekend were no good, and we won't manage to see it after this week.

(Oh yeah. Spoilers!)

I really enjoyed it. Did it pass the Bechdel test? Well, sort of, if you count a conversation the heroine has with her mother's grave, though she does at the end of that mention her father than the male lead. But perhaps it's unfair to hold a romantic comedy up to that: after all, the classic set-up is that each of the leads has a confidant(e) of the same sex, to whom they talk about their problems with the other lead.

What it did have me pondering though is whether this is another instance of the classic romantic comedy quest plot, but reversed so that it's a heroine who has to overcome the odds, endure the trials, win her prize and get the prince. Pitch Perfect had this too: the female lead wants to win the competition. The guy doesn't do much for large parts of the film, and she gets him at the end. Here it's perhaps not as entirely clear-cut, as the male lead is the one who inspires and pushes Rose to enter the competition, forces her to train, and so on. This makes him somewhat of a pygmalion figure; or perhaps he performs the dual role of being both the older mentor in the quest, and the romantic prize. But it's clearly Rose's dream to succeed: from the off she declares she has a dream of travelling the world. If she's unformed at the start, it's because that's the way this sort of story works: it charts a protagonist's development using the quest as an allegory for the process of becoming an adult.

(I finally finished reading The Seven Basic Plots a few months ago, and I can spot them all over now. Good book, though has a few awful generalizations in places and the talk of things like 'masculine values'/'feminine values' gets grating, even if you try to accept those terms as indicators of archetypes. For example, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is a comedy in the classic sense, in that its central character is unhinged, behaving badly within a group of people, and has to be brought down to understand and correct the error of his ways. And so on.)

On the one hand, I think that seeing this reversal in films is good. The girl isn't the prize, she's the character we root for (I suppose Hunger Games is there too, though I've not pondered the picking of that one apart). At the same time, I worry whether much has changed, really, since we see her being completed at the end by getting her man. But then, that is a pure reversal of the male hero getting the girl. Is it just that we don't worry about what that says about him, because there isn't the same cultural baggage? I don't see the end of, say, Jack the Giant Killer and think, 'Argh, it's all just a thin veneer over the notion that the boy needed to get a girl for his life to be complete'. So maybe it's okay when it's a pretty fair mirror image. And one nice touch at the end was Louis admitting to Rose that she didn't need him: he needed her.

Oh, also, does one speed-typing competition contestant hissing insults at another over the typewriter at the start of the match suffice for Bechdel?
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Watched Walking Dead the other night. I'm rather enjoying the new series. [Erm, yeah, spoilers for season 3 start in a few paragraphs. Listen for this sound: ARROOGA!] I still think I would do way better than most of the characters on that at surviving the Zombie Apocalypse.

For starters, boundaries. It's taken them three seasons to figure out they need to hole up somewhere that reliably keeps the zombies out, after hanging around in a wide open camp and then a farmhouse surrounded by flimsy fences. Prisons are a good idea I hadn't thought of. I'd be heading for the Isle of Wight, just like in Day of the Triffids, but on the way there, I'm sure there'd be plenty of good spots. There's plenty of gated developments around, and most schools have fences all around them; both usually have only one way in (parks would be less good).

Second, ammo. The Wikipedia article for the zombie genre explains how the setting is always a post-apocalyptic world, where nonetheless sufficient trappings of the destroyed civilization remain for practical reasons, scare enough to add dramatic tension, but available enough that people can continue to survive in the same way. There's always food and medicine to be scavenged, cars to be jump-started, fuel to be siphoned off, and let's not wonder how they always seem to have enough water to drink. And bullets, there's always more bullets to shoot, despite every few episodes there being mention of being low on them. Basically, if I was in an area surrounded by a very high, very secure wire fence, I wouldn't waste a single bullet: let the zombies come up close and use a knife or a machete through the holes in the fence, as has been on occasion (but not often enough) been demonstrated. Also, given that zombies are slow and shambling, and not very bright, the other week when there were about a dozen loose in a wide open space, no bullets would have been needed. Run far enough that they are no longer an immediate danger, then make short burst runs towards them to polish off just one at a time. They're slow enough that in a wide area you can circle round them and whittle them down like that. Of course, that's not as visually satisfying or clear to convey or dramatic as everyone going into a panic and shooting them all with the supposed precious precious bullets. Perhaps I need to stop thinking of this show as a hypothetical documentary.

One thing the show has managed to sneak past the viewer (well me at least, until I really thought about it) is how much Carl has aged since it started. [Oh here's that noise : ARROOGA!] And it does seem like a fair amount of time has passed. Yet given that the baby's just been born, and it was conceived while Rick was in the coma and Laurie thought he was dead, only about ten months have passed since the zombie plague began. But it feels like more, and so that the actor playing Carl has obviously got a lot older doesn't jar at all.

Where that problem does definitely come up is True Blood. Show time there passes way more quickly than real time: the last season by my rough reckoning covered only about a week of fictional time, the one prior to that not much more, and they followed on directly from one another. Which is probably why the two kids of that redhead waitress (Arlene, the internet tells me) only showed up in one scene in the whole of the last season, in which they looked ludicrously oversized and overgrown in their clothes. I also suspect they'd been filmed for that shot sitting at an oversized table to make them look small enough. So there the makers of the show have obviously just avoiding having the kids around, which is fine as they're pretty minor characters.

Another show that's imminently going to have the same problem, and won't be able to avoid it is Game of Thrones. There are three Stark children, and again, fictional time is not elapsing at a rate anywhere near one year per season, which unfortunately is the rate at which child actors grow. The youngest Stark already looks quite a bit older than when it started, though in the first season he was hardly seen. I do wonder what they're going to do to get round that.

While I'm in the throes of a post that is not all about Caratacus being cheeky/cute/funny/intelligent, or about life woes and drama, and instead about the sort of good old rambling nonsense that I used to post back in the good old days when I had nothing better to do than spend the better part of an evening writing this sort of thing on my laptop, how about I mention gaming?

Tolstoy suggested I try Assassin's Creed on the PS3, and I hated it. For starters, I don't get on with 3rd-person perspective very well; I much prefer 1st person. Second, I find the way controls work on consoles for 3rd person to be all wrong: I expect to control the character from their perspective, not mine. So I want to use one control to turn them on the spot, and one to say forward or back, for them. Instead, the controls are mapped (so Tolstoy explains) to basically be the directions I see on the screen: 'up' means into the screen, 'down' means towards me the player, and so on. That's frustrating enough.

But what really convinced me that I can't be bothered to persevere and get used to this was when I realized how much the game actually does for me. There's a bit [AROOGA, I suppose, if you really want to, though really?] where you climb up onto some sort of wooden scaffold, and then jump from one beam to the next for quite a bit. Being accustomed to PC games, I figured this would be quite a feat of dexterity: jumping just the right distance each time. But no. You just press 'run' and 'jump', keep them held down, and your character does all the fancy footwork for you. That's just depressing. I take the point that forcing you to learn how to jump just the right distance by holding buttons right just the right amount of time can be tedious and discouraging, but this feels way too far in the other direction: I feel I'm being spoonfed. And I know that modern FPS games like Half-Life 2 spoonfeed me in different ways (I'm thinking of the way there is in HL2 never any choice at all about which direction to go in next; the environments may look complex but they're really a very well disguised single pathway obstacle course, and there is a graphic somewhere on the internet comparing the complexity of the average Doom map with those of HL2 and modern games), but this combined with the faffy controls just made me feel depressed and bored. Again, somewhere on the internet there's a flow chart of how to choose your gaming platform, and it ultimately came to 'do you like computer games?' and if 'yes' the answer was 'Get a PC'.

Not that they're perfect. More or less ever since I built mine, it freezes or crashes at certain things. Flash videos kill it; it just goes to a black screen. Some games freeze, but not all. Those that do, it's within a minute or so. Sanctum, for instance, on the PC, never gets past about 10 seconds of a level. I bought the Alice game because it was on offer, and I can't get more than a minute out of that. I have no idea what could be the problem; I fear it's something like the graphics card conking out because it's not got enough power, but I don't really feel like buying a bigger PSU just to test the theory. Or that it's faulty memory, but again, that involves replacing bits to try to figure out what's going on. So that's a bit annoying, mostly as I'm never sure whether to actually buy a new game in case it turns out to have that problem. Still, I have bigger fish to fry. I think if the new Sim City does it, I'll have to get help with it, as that's definitely something I will want to play.

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