June 2003

Well, I'm delighted to tell you all that my web shop is now officially up and running at http://www.getfluent.co.uk/shop.htm. You can buy subscriptions to Get Fluent's Welsh and French services, as well as Welsh language Clwb Malu Cachu t-shirts. I got it all working on Saturday and got my first online order today. I am chuffed as a small horse! 😀

If you know anyone at all who's interested in learning French or Welsh, please do email them and tell them about Get Fluent. It really is a great service and I've had huge amounts of great feedback from people who've subscribed to the Welsh service. So, take part in this 'gift economy' that we blog in, and tell everyone you know about Get Fluent!

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Short question, long answer

by Suw on June 30, 2003

Found Long Story; Short Pier today, and what a nice find, in particular this post which tackles the issue of 'Why you don't read comics'. That particular post includes a long essay that was published first five years ago, but which is a really fascinating read nonetheless, if you're into comics.

I love comics. Quite often when I say that, people look at me all askew as if to say 'But I thought you were intelligent?', and then I'm forced to come back with the response 'No, don't think of them as comics, think of them as literature with pictures' at which point whomever it is that I'm talking to will look at me with that 'Oh… Right…' look and I will realise that I've just slipped several miles in their estimations and will be forced to bring up the subject of the search for the Higgs Boson in order to prove that I do have two brain cells to rub together after all.

Unfortunately I've never had the resources to pursue my love of comics as much as I would have liked (an old tale, but true), but personally I don't think you can beat Sandman or Hellblazer in terms of just amazing story telling and fantastic artwork. There are issues of Hellblazer that I find it hard to read, because I just get too emotional. I suppose it's no coincidence that I have also had slight crushes on both Morpheus and Johnny Constantine (the two lead characters from Sandman and Hellblazer), but I believe that just goes to prove how beautifully characterised they are, how real, how fully fleshed out.

It's been a while, though, since I've had the money to go and buy comics. I never was good at the whole monthly thing – I have a crap memory for things like that – so have always tended to go, after the fact, for the graphic novel collections instead. Besides, their just nicer things to hold in your hands. However, that is going to change just as soon as Neil Gaiman's 1602 comes out. For once, I'll put the effort in to actually locate each issue as it comes out, or I'll take a sub out. Either way, I'm looking forward (hopefully in August) to getting my mitts on the first brand spanking new comic I'll have bought in years.

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Omg, what a match! That was quite astounding. Nail biting, edge of your seat, screaming at the tv fantastic tennis. I feel really quite elated that Tim has got through, after what was a real tough match.

Tim took the first set pretty easily – Nalbandian really didn’t get into his stride at all in the first set. Second set didn’t go quite Tim’s way, and the third. Well, that was like putting the Pamplona Bull Run through the Wedgwood factory – just breakages everywhere. Tim broke Nalbandian six times, but Nalbandian kept breaking back and Tim had to fight to take that set.

Tim kept his intensity fairly high, but his first serve percentage took a dive and aces were few and far between. That said Nalbandian doesn’t have a strong serve either, and Tim took advantage of that. At times Tim seemed to lose focus a little, but just when things looked a bit iffy, he found that extra energy to put one past Nalbandian.

In the end, the score was 6-2 6-7 7-5 6-3, with the crowd and, I suspect, most of the UK screaming in jubilation.

I have to admit, actually, I couldn’t sit down through most of this match. It was such a nail-biter, so intense. I was trying to cook dinner at the same time (which is bloody difficult! I’m surprised it didn’t burn!), so I was on my feet all the time. I never, ever vocalise at the TV, but I just couldn’t help myself – my neighbours must have wondered what the hell was going on, there were so many yells of ?Yes! Yes! Come on! Come on Tim!! Yes! Ooooh? Focus! Just focus! Come on – an ace! An ace’d be really good now!?.

Fflwff was looking at me, really quite concerned at this uncharacteristic outburst.

In other Wimbledon news, Agassi’s out, and so’s Srichaphan. Tim’s next opponent will be either Grosjean or Ferrero – they didn’t get to finish their match, so will have to play tomorrow. That’s good for Tim – he’ll have a day off, his next opponent won’t. At the moment Ferrero’s leading, but that could all change.

Roll on Wednesday.

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Oh, I'm gonna pay for this

by Suw on June 29, 2003

I ended up doing something today that I never, ever do. I ended up sitting outside, yes, that's as in not inside, in the sun. You know? That big fiery ball in the sky that's too bright to look at? This was not something I'd planned to do this afternoon, just something that happened, so I was entirely unprepared and didn't have my factor 60 billion sun screen with me. I am currently sitting with an ice-pack on each shoulder in the vain hope that somehow I'm going to escape with only minor burns.

People as fair as me simply weren't designed to go outside. We're supposed to stay inside, stay in front of computers and stay pale. It's nature's way.

I'm toast, I tell you, toast…

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Edge of Darkness

by Suw on June 29, 2003

I've just discovered that BBC4 is re-running the old 80s political thriller Edge of Darkness tonight at 9.10pm, and I'm so looking forward to seeing it again. I missed the first episode last week, but I do remember roughly what happened so that's not too much of a loss.

It will be strange, though – I was 14 when this first ran and I remember being really quite awed by it. Edge of Darkness looked at issues that usually didn't make for prime-time tv back then – the environment, the threat from terrorists accessing nuclear material, the Gaia living earth theory. Of course, now a lot of that is either going to be old hat, or tosh, but then it was new and gripping. At least to a teenager from rural Dorset anyway.

I wonder what it will be like to watch it now, with a good 18 years of cynicism and experience under my belt.

I also wonder if they're going to re-run some of the other really good (or what I remember as really good) thrillers from around then – there was one that I remember as being fantastic which I think was a cold war based spy thing called Bird of Prey. My Dad and I were glued to the tv every week watching that, although I remember nothing of the plot now. Then there was, I think, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy which wasn't as good, but which obviously made some sort of impact on me.

Funny how these things lay dormant in your memory for all these years, then suddenly, up they pop, fresh as last week's underpants.

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Syndirella and my rss feed

by Suw on June 28, 2003

I've just installed Syndirella, and so far, so good. I have no idea if it's the best rss aggregator out there, but it works ok for me and I've no real time to trawl through alternatives and start trying to make value judgements on them.

However this has prompted me to sort out my own rss feed, which has in turn has prompted me to wonder about a couple of things. For those of you who use rss aggregators, do you prefer to get just the first few lines as a synopsis or the whole post through on rss? At the moment it's set to provide the former.

Also, do you prefer the feed to provide just the most recently created posts, or the most recently changed posts? Currently it's set to provide only the most recently created posts on the assumption that if I pop back into a post to correct a spelling mistake, you're really not going to want to know about it. To me that seems like the most sensible option.

This whole rss thing is new to me so your comments on the feed and aggregators are welcome.

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Karlovic out, Agassi through

by Suw on June 28, 2003

Well, Andre Agassi has beaten Younes El Ayanoui, in what was a pretty tight game really, with the last two sets coming down to tie-breaks. Eventually Agassi put the match to bed, but only just. 5-7 6-4 7-6 7-6. I didn't really watch much of the match – I had it on the tv behind me as I was working, (yeah, I know it's Saturday, but web sites wait for no man), and the one over-riding thing I would say about it is that Boris Becker is a really crap commentator. Oh, please, ditch him for the sake of all our sanities!

Meantime, I think yesterday I missed Max Mirnyi beating Ivo Karlovic. I'm quite sad that Karlovic has gone out really. He was looking promising for a while there, but i guess he must be really pround to have got as far as he did in his first ever grand slam tournament. Fingers crossed that we see a lot more of him next year.

Right… Henman's on tonight, so I'd best go do some shopping whilst I have the chance…

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It's amazing that Robin Soderling got as far as round three, frankly. He must have had two really easy matches, because at times out on Centre Court, he just looked lost. Of course, watching Henman play against someone whom we all know he should beat is far from being an easy experience. He's been known before to crumple under the pressure and allow himself to be beaten by someone who's simply not as good, but today Henman was in charge all the way, taking the match 6-3 6-1 6-4.

The second set was without a doubt decisively Henman's – he didn't so much 'break' Soderling's serve as smash it into tiny little bits. He took three of Soderling's service games and held his own serve to love several times, sewing up the set in no time at all. Soderling fought back a little in the final set, with a 'nothing to loose' attitude that earnt him a warning for swearing from the umpire at one point, but he was nowhere near good enough to significantly slow Henman down.

Surprisingly, Soderling's weaknesses were obvious even to someone like me who frankly knows bugger all about tennis – he had no idea what to do with low shots (tip: bend yer knees, mate), and seem positively baffled by the concept of coming into the net. That said he got a few lucky crosscourt shots in, but on the whole he was totally outclassed. At only 18, though, that's no great surprise. He did well to get as far as he did, but boy, he really needs to work hard on that serve.

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Ooh… it's so obvious now…

by Suw on June 28, 2003

I figured out why I got a spike of visitors on the 27th – I think it was all down to that 'warning, contains strong language' opening gambit I used. *chuckles* My, how disappointed many of the visitors must have been to have discovered that I was only whining about people's emotional fuckwittery.

I wonder if there's an optimum subject for blogging? Maybe it's a combination of swearing and the Matrix?

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Taking the Red Pill

by Suw on June 28, 2003

I was quite surprised at the slew of books spawned by The Matrix. I mean, yeah, it’s a great film ?n all, but it’s still only a film. And anyone trying to make it into some great philosophical treatise was bound to fail miserably. I came quite happily to this conclusion without ever having read any of the Matrix-spawned books.

Reading Wendy M Grossman’s review of Taking the Red Pill, ed. Glenn Yeffeth, in the New Scientist just serves to reinforce my decision not to bother buying any of this crap.

(I would link to the New Scientist, but they haven’t got this review on their site. Oh well. Let’s hope they don’t mind me reproducing it here.)

There is something about the earnestness in parts of Taking the Red Pill that made me want to say, “It’s just some movie, you know?” The feeling begins early, when the introduction tells you not to compare it to The Pooh Perplex, the 1970s cult-hit collection of satirical academically styled essays on A. A. Milne’s children’s classic.

The Wachowski brothers? blend of kung fu, video game leaps, special effects, comic books, science fiction, and alienated youth is an eye-catching and fresh retelling of Joseph C. Campbell’s monomyth, but that doesn’t make it a philosophical treatise.

This would probably be clear to anyone who’s seen the sequel, The Matrix: Reloaded, which manages to be both formulaic in its reuse of all those elements and needs the third film in the trilogy, The Matrix: Revolutions to make it interesting. The film is due for release this autumn.

Some of the writers whose essays are included in Taking the Red Pill, however, take it just that way (the essays were written before Reloaded?s release). The Matrix is not philosophy, certainly not new philosophy. The idea that we live in a fake “reality” that is far different from the real thing is an old one, explored by writers from David Lindsay in Voyage to Arcturus all the way back to the shadows on the walls of Plato’s cave.

It’s not even new science fiction; its themes have been explored many times before, as James Gunnably demonstrates in his essay on reality paradoxes.

But the ideas in The Matrix are broad enough for anyone to project more or less any pet obsession onto it, as several of the essays in this book make plain. For example, Bill Joy, head of the computer maker Sun, uses the movie as an excuse for a lengthy ramble on the dangers of technology to human values.

Robert J. Sawyer thinks it is all about AI, which would be all right, except that a chunk of his essay also insists that 2001 was really about artificially intelligent monoliths that wanted to meet HAL. Even the infinitely better discussion by Ray Kurzweil of the potential for symbiotic man-machine intelligence will probably be familiar to readers of his The Age of Spiritual Machines.

My favourite is Peter B. Lloyd’s effort to rationalise the apparent inconsistencies in the technical workings of the Matrix itself. But the silliest of them all has got to be Mercer Schuchardt’s contention that this movie is a parable of the original Judaeo-Christian world view and therefore a new testament for a new millennium.

So is it a good present for the Matrix-obsessed geek in your life? I tried Schuchardt’s essay on a small sample of geeks. To say that they were not impressed would be an understatement.

I’ve said before that The Matrix means whatever you want it to mean, and I’m glad to see that finally someone else agrees with me.

I’m reminded of Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics in which he explains (far more clearly than I am about to) that the reason comics can be so powerful is because the very nature of the illustration means that anyone can see themselves as the comic character.

The stripped back nature of comic book illustration allows the reader to identify more strongly with the characters because the detailed visual clues that tell them whether or not they are looking at a picture of themselves are missing. Compare an illustration with a photo – the number of specifics is dramatically reduced in the illustration so it becomes more of an ?everyman?, and therefore easier to relate to and sympathise with. A picture of Einstein is a picture of Einstein and no one else, whereas a J could be anyone.

(Trust me, Scott McCloud does this so much better in Understanding Comics, really.)

What I think the Wachowski Bros. have done is to create the filmic and philosophical version of this using both highly stylised characters with a strong wardrobe and accessories and a multitude of disparate philosophical references. Seems like a weird match, but bear with me.

The Matrix is the only film that I know of where you could identify almost every individual character from their sunglasses alone. I know MIB had a sunglasses merchandising tip going, but not to the same extent as The Matrix and not in the same way – the MIB’s sunglasses were the same, part of the uniform, not a distinguishing stylistic feature as they are in The Matrix. And X-Men 2 is just cashing in on something started four years ago by The Matrix.

It could be said that in The Matrix sunglasses play a major role in terms of developing character identity, in particular during scenes when Neo and pals are actually inside the Matrix. Their sunglasses, and their clothes, separate them from the other people in the Matrix, their stylishness marks them not only as different but also as superior.

However, there’s another thing going on with the shades. Ages ago there was an advert trying to recruit new young blood into the Army and the premise of this ad was a solider trying to calm a frightened Eastern Bloc woman whom he was trying to help, but in order to communicate properly with her and gain her trust, he has to take off his sunglasses.

Sunglasses do two things – they block you from seeing someone’s eyes and therefore from reading a large part of their expression, thus creating a barrier to trust and communication, but they also wipe out a lot of the key identifying features that make, say, Keanu Keanu. You can’t see his eyes, his clothing is stylised, and he becomes as close to being the comic book ?everyman? as you can get on film.

Thus, not only do the sunglasses make a point within the plot of film, that these escapees from the prison that is the Matrix are different, and not a part of the Matrix (ditto for the Agents), but they also allow the viewer to more easily identify with the lead characters on a subconscious level. They do this in the same way that comic book illustrations do – by removing some of the key features required to identify faces either as someone else or as ourselves.

Anyone could be behind Spider-Man’s mask, and anyone could be behind Neo’s sunglasses. And that anyone could be you*.

The Wachowski Bros. have done exactly the same with the philosophy of The Matrix, and for this they do deserve credit. They’ve taken a load of references from many disparate sources, from the bible to binary code – Neo is (we find out in Reloaded) the sixth The One, and his apartment is no. 101, which is 6 in binary when you remember that binary starts not at 1 but at 0.

Having read quite a few features and discussions about the meaning of The Matrix (and Reloaded) lately, I’ve only become more firmly entrenched in the idea that there is no underlying all-encompassing philosophy behind the film, but that it’s just supposed be a vague framework which can support pretty much any interpretation that you care to hang on it. Look for Judaeo-Christianity and you will find it. Look for Buddhism and you will find it. Look for Daoism, you’ll find that too.

The Wachowski Bros. have created the philosophical equivalent of sunglasses – smoked glass through which you can’t really see, but which allows you to interpret what’s behind it to fit in with your world view, your opinion of what it really ought to all be about.

This is why the Christians feel justified in claiming it as some sort of Really New Testament – because they’re peering through the smoked glass just like everyone else, seeing what they want to see and allowing the facts and references that don’t fit in with their theory to remain conveniently obscured.

And the same goes for everyone else trying to find some all-explaining Theory Of Everything In The Matrix. They can twist the set of references that they spot round to mean whatever the hell they fancy.

And this doesn’t even begin to discuss the fact that people will only see the references with which they are familiar in the first place and that they will project their own presuppositions onto the film without noticing that they’re doing so.

Personally, I wouldn’t be able to spot a biblical reference, for example, because I’m not a Christian and haven’t read the bible since I was last forced to at school. I can, however, quite easily imagine a Daoist explanation behind certain scenes because I am a Daoist. Of course, this doesn’t mean that there really is a Daoist explanation behind any of it, just that I can interpret what I see that way because it fits with my personal philosophies and knowledge.

However you look at it, the Wachowski Bros. aren’t really breaking new philosophical ground, but they are ploughing it up a little bit and in the process bringing philosophy to a whole bunch of people who would otherwise probably never have given much thought to the reality of their existence at all.

Not bad going, for a scifi flick, really.

Please note: this is not the reason I bought Neo sunglasses, and anyone suggesting otherwise will be taken out back and given a good sound drubbing (just as soon as I can figure out what a 'drubbing' actually is).

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Stats madness III

June 27, 2003

I wasn't going to post anything tonight, because frankly it's 10.30pm and, although the sky is still orange with the glow of the setting sun* and I only had dinner and hour and a half ago, I was going get an early night with the every intention of turning it into a very late morning […]

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Henman reaches round three

June 26, 2003

Three straight sets, beautifully played. For once Henman was a joy to watch as he played Lladra today. None of those cringingly painful moments as he fucks up what should have been a simple shot. None of those ?Oh puh-lease!? exclamations as he teeters on the edge of defeat. Nothing but beautiful, glorious tennis! Oh, […]

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The depersonalisation of the net (a rant in F minor)

June 26, 2003

Warning! Contains strong language! (i.e. if you don’t like it, don’t read it.) Yesterday and today have been two of the shittiest days of the year. Probably doesn’t seem like it from my posts – does it ever? – but jesus f fucking christ either someone snuck up overnight and put shit-coloured contact lenses in […]

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Greg throws a little fit, Ivo cleans up, and so does Paradorn

June 25, 2003

Watching Greg Rusedski go out against Andy Roddick this afternoon was a pretty disappointing experience, but pretty familiar to any fan of British sport. He put up a good fight, but just when he needed to pull something special out of the bag, there was just nothing there. I had thought, along with probably everyone […]

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Tuesday mornings

June 24, 2003

Two questions. Well, maybe three. 1. Why do I always forget to put the rubbish out on a Monday night? 2. Why, on the weeks that I remember to put the recycling out on a Monday night the recycling collecting people don't come til Wednesday, but the week that I forget, they come on the […]

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