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Remember that cartoon? 3 kids – Esteban the adopted Spaniard, Zia the Inca girl and Tao the descendant of Mu – go on a quest for cities made out entirely of gold throughout South and Central America in the 16th century. Cue evil conquistadores, bumbling adventurers, mysterious temples that are all fitted with self-destruct devices, solar powered ships and planes, and alien-looking bad guys. Oh, and not just one but two misplaced fathers.

cites_d_or.jpg

Yeah, if you’ve never seen the series, that description ain’t gonna sound too great, but the truth is, it WAS. It was one of the best, most iconic cartoons of the 80s – not just something pretty different from many of the offerings of the time, with endearing characters and brillant music, but it even had a 5 minutes mini-documentary at the end of each episode on meso-American civilizations and cultures. Fun AND educational. When was the last time we saw that on TV, mmh?

Anyway. I was doing my monthly scramble for space on my hard drives and deleting the stuff I’ve backed-up on DVDs when I found the series. I watched it again over the course of last week – memory lane with Inca architecture. Yep, still fun! Desultory browsing afterwards led me to this great bit of news: they’re making a sequel! 3 seasons of 26 episodes, release in 2011. Yum! As Jean Chalopin, the original creator, is involved in it, I have great hopes for the quality of this new production.

But 2011 is a long way away…

Still. This is not what prompted this sudden return to my poor, forgotten blog. It was that silly brainburp I had at the end of the last episode. If you haven’t seen the series and plan to, stop reading now, here be spoilers:

Last episode, our three heroes have concluded their adventures in Maya country and have decided to go look for the other cities of gold, which are said to be scattered across the entire world. Their destination of choice: West, over the Pacific. They get onboard their solar-powered flying gold condor and soar up and away to happy music. The end.

And now, I can’t help but imagine the conversation that must have followed inside the condor’s cabin.

Esteban: Soooooo. This is a pretty big ocean, eh?

Zia: Oh yes! We can’t see land anymore.

Esteban: Nope.

Tao: I told you.

Esteban: You never said it was THAT big!

Tao: I didn’t KNOW it was that big. That’s what I said, I don’t know how big it is.

Esteban: Humph.

Zia: The sun is setting…

Tao: Yep.

Zia: And we still can’t see any land.

Tao: Nope.

Zia: And the condor only flies while the sun is out.

Esteban: Yeah…

Zia: So, when it sets, we’re going to land – except on water.

Tao: Yep.

Esteban: D’you think the great condor will float?

Tao: A 10 metres tall, 20 metres wide bird of solid gold? What do you think?

Esteban: We’re fucked, aren’t we?

Tao: Yep.

  mrgreen  

I know, it’s terrible. Sorry!

 

Under the snow

Last night it snowed all over the country. France being what it is, large parts of it are paralyzed by lack of official preparedness, silly panicking from seaside and city folks (yes, Parisian twits, I mean YOU), and the very French attitude of pretending that, really, the roads aren’t cleared, they’re too dangerous, I really can’t come to work at all today, sorry. Of course, our German neighbours are quietly sniggering while they plow through walls of tightly packed snow with their panz… I mean their large and well-equipped cars, and Scandinavians look at them with amusement as they hack through their own seasonal glaciers with double-bladed battleaxes, wearing fur pants and light T-shirts…

Anyway. Today is turning out to be a ‘stay at home’ day, not out of panic but simply because we have nothing that important to do anyway, and so we got up late and took the time to shoot pictures of something that’s becoming rather rare these days.

This is my home – in shades of white:

The old well in front  

The side of the house from the back of the garden

The neighbours side seen from the front

… Look what I get a chance to eat! ^_^

null

I’ve been at work for about an hour and a half, and in that time I’ve seen a grand total of ten customers. And yet, I’ve had to go downstairs three times already to get change from the safe, because out of ten seven of them paid with 20 or 50 Euro notes – usually for 1 or 2 euros.

There’s a recession on, I hear. The fact that we’re seeing a lot less customers and that our income has gone down by at least a third would seem to indicate so, anyway. So why the fuck are people going around exclusively with big notes?? Aren’t you supposed to save every penny – and therefore use them to pay for stuff rather than lose them inside the couch or throw them at passing dogs and knackers – when you fear you might be running out of money soon?

If another one of those wankers comes around to pay for two photocopies with a hundred euros bill, I’ll throw the book at him. Litterally. I’ve got a big, fat, heavy bilingual dictionary behind me, I bet I could kill a moron at ten paces with it.

Ah, the weight of knowledge…

Nano winner!

Phew… Despite the feeling that what I wrote this year is mostly useless tripe, I still managed to kick my behind sufficiently to produce 50000 words this month. Even though Fallout 3 kept me quite busy too.

Go me! ^_^

Of course, the usual addendum at this point is that I still need to finish the story. 3 years, 3 Nanos on the same novel – and it’s still not finished. Damn.

This year. I’ll get it done this year. Absolutely.

WINNAH!

Nanowrimo 2008

So, for those of you who might be wondering why I’m not writing anything here lately, well… it’s November again! ^_^ Back to Nanowrimo, the crazy challenge that consists of writing 50000 words in one month.

This is my third year, and I’ve won both previous ones, but I never finished the story started in 2006 and continued in 2007. I’m hoping that another 50000 words will, if not complete the story, at least get me so close that I’ll just have to finish it in December.

 Regardless. It means that for November, once again, I’ll be off the communication wagon and trying hard to keep my brain from leaking out of my ears. And as to why I’ve been silent in October, well, it’s because I had a contract for three BDs to translate, and I worked extra hard to finish them before November rolled on.

See you in 4 weeks – I’ve got to go back and try to get my main characters to do what I tell them, for once!

Nano!

Dawn… dawned on Atlanta, but I only got up a few hours after that – I’m not that crazy. Besides, most things opened only at 13.00 (that’s one pee-em, for all you military-time-impaired folks out there…), so it’s not like I’d be missing that much anyways.

Still, around 10.00 I was out of my room, in civvies still, and headed to the Hyatt bar in the hopes of meeting up with some of the others. A hope quickly dashed – either they were there earlier and left, or more likely they felt it a bit difficult to rise after the multiple rounds of… introduction the night before.

I had breakfast at one of the restaurants in the Hyatt. I only mention it because it was easily one of the nastiest expensive meals I’ve ever had. Tasteless fruits (in summer in Georgia? For crying out loud, you’re gonna tell me you can’t find ripe melons??), rotten strawberries, greasy croissants, watery chocolate… I ate better in the Navy. Hell, I ate better in French highway fuel stations. If you go to D-Con – or just to the Atlanta Hyatt – don’t eat there. Really, don’t.

Anyways, after a morning of waiting, eating, getting my bearings and all, I started walking around to explore the layout of the con and gawk at the costumes that were starting to pop up here and there. It was once I made it to the Marriott that I realised how many there were. From that moment on, anytime I wasn’t actually on my way to a specific place or event, I was just happy to amble around with big eyes and an even bigger grin, taking in the sheer energy, inventiveness and creativity of the people who were at D-Con.

I don’t think I can be too emphatic here. I’m sure that even among my faithful readers (HA!) there are some who consider this pastime of mine to be a colossal waste of effort, money and braincells. They’re entitled to their opinions. But I want to say again: the amount of thought and care and attention to detail, the originality of some of the made-up costumes, the crazy ideas… It was wonderful. Just wonderful. Seeing all those people’s creations, their pride and joys, exposed freely and without fear of ridicule, it was a heartwarming experience.

Granted, a few of them were a little disturbing too – Sunday night’s Jessica Rabbit, for exemple, will forever haunt my nightmares – but hey. And of course there’s always the T&A to keep a man’s interest at full intensity… mrgreen

But mostly they were brillant:

Headcrabs!

Half-Life’s headcrabs zombies. Where’s a quantum physicist with a crowbar when you need one?

Prisoner from 'Hancock'

I’m told this is from the movie Hancock, which I haven’t seen – but going around a public convention looking like you’ve got someone’s head stuck up your… fundament takes balls, so there!

It's the Hogfather! Er... Wait...

LET’S SLEIGH THEM. HO. HO. HO.

 The Order of the Stick!

The Order of the Stick. Costumes, taken from a webcomic. From a stick figures webcomic. How freaking crazy is that? mrgreen

Anyway, that’s just a few samples. My own full gallery is at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/90475328@N00/sets/72157607084451515/, some of my Flickr contacts have D-Con galleries, and if look around the web you’ll easily find yet more.

 

Time passed and the con officially opened. After a stop at the Aliens fan table to meet some more marines and cast a kind of anchor – it’s actually a good thing to have a place to go back to where you know you’ll find friends, rather than have to wander aimlessly hoping to randomly meet a known face – I did a round of the dealers’ rooms, where my self-control was seriously endangered by the accumulation of mostly useless but highly collectable gizmos and geek-traps, none of which I could really afford, bring back or find a spot for back home. But I’m proud to say I held fast against the lure of consumerism. Until Monday, anyway.

Later on during the day I also went to the “Walk of Fame”: the enormous ballroom in the Hilton where they had setup tables for celebrities to sit at and sign autographs. It was fun looking at people I’d only ever seen on a screen before. They’re real, you know? Flesh and blood and all. Actual people. No kidding.

I’ve never been much of an autograph hunter myself, or a celebrity-picture afficionado. Seeing them, or even better, meeting them, is nice. But that was the extent of my interest there. However I’d taken an ‘order’ from Kim for a couple of signatures that she kinda fancied getting if I could get them for her, so I noted placing and length of queues for future reference. And also decided that, since they were there and I was going to come this way anyway, getting Lance Henriksen and Carrie Henn’s autographs wouldn’t come entirely amiss – I am, after all, a full-blown Aliens nut.

But that was to wait, because before that I had to go see Mr Henriksen himself at his first panel, where he was to speak about his career in general. Since the man is actually an actor I enjoy watching, on top of being Bishop, I figured it’d be a good place to start on panel-watching.

Mr Henriksen seems like a very nice person, and he is a funny man. He spoke about his experiences in Aliens, Terminator, Near Dark, that horrible Jean-Claude Van Damme movie that I will not name but where he was set on fire (Lance Henriksen, not Van Damme) which he said was fun, and also the series Millenium. He said he almost lost himself in the Franck Black character from Millenium; I’d never really thought about it before, but it kinda makes sense, especially in the case of a very dark and intense character. Acting is a tricky thing in many ways.

Add in a few funny anecdotes, and there went an enjoyable hour and a half. But the panel had an unforeseen effect on me: it made me decide that, for all that I did enjoy it, it was making me miss on the convention itself (isn’t the panel part of the convention? Of course it is. Be still my quivering brain…) and all the crazy stuff happening in the non-organised areas – not to mention the bunch of Aliens nutcases I’d also come to meet and talk to. So, rather than pay too much attention to the program I decided to go back out and hang out with them, foregoing the “Steampunk” panel that had attracted my eye that morning. I figured there would probably a repeat.

Wrong. I missed the panel and a chance to mingle with the Steampunk community, something I quickly came to regret as the costumes came out of the woodwork. See, I had come up with a steampunk idea myself, but I thought it was still a fairly fringe movement, and that I’d probably have to spend most of my time explaining what the costume was, then what steampunk was. But, to my surprise and delight, steampunk has become quite a fast-growing phenomenon, and some of the outfits there were quite astonishing – to the point that my own steampunk bits felt woefully insufficient. A few examples:

Steampunk explorer / terminator

The usual time setting for steampunk is late 1800 – the Age of Steam, funnily enough, early flight and zeppelins and all that. Also the age of hardy explorers in pyth helmets exchanging pleasantries and “What ho!” in the jungle. This one looks a little bit like a cog-and-Tesla-coils version of the Terminator, though, with that minigun.

We aim to misbehave...

The most common costume for steampunk fans is that of the generic “adventurer”, something that encompasses everything and anything from Jules Verne and H.G. Wells’ gentlemen of leisure to pre-Firefly crews of misfits on the edge of legality (like above!). Airship pirates, dilettante archeologists, billionaires in submarines… There was even a steampunk ghostbuster at the con – I didn’t get a pic, but you’ll find plenty all over the web and Flickr. The advantage of this broad definition is that it really leaves it up to you what you want to do. Unlike fandom-based costumes which usually have to stick to the original material, at least in some part, steampunk is pretty much wide open.

The guy just HAS to be a woodworker himself...

Big version for this one because the details of his back-pack – his whole outfit, really – are just amazing. Pretty much all wood and brass, glassed backpack with detailed mechanism inside, beautiful clothes… His partner was gorgeously attired too, and you can see a bit of her crossbow/gun on the right. Unfortunately the picture I took of her came out crappy.

There were others, which I mostly missed or saw when I was camera-less. Fortunately there are plenty of pictures available on the web: Honest Cyber-Abe, a German glider-man, the Cog Fairy (for obvious reasons, I’m really miffed I didn’t see that one myself), and there, I found my all-wood couple again!

 

So, in short: Steampunk is great, and I missed the panel, and that’s my one big regret for this year. The good thing is, it gives me time to work on my costume and bring it to par with those I saw, so that next year I can try the other thing I totally missed that Friday: the official costume contest. Silly idea to put it on Friday night, really…

And so, now would be the time to show pics of the costume in question, but this post has gone on too long already, so I’ll stop here now and talk about said costume in the next entry – description, background, and nice pictures if Kim sends them to me before then. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with the only pic of me in the official DragonCon gallery: enjoy!

http://photos.dragoncon.org/main.php?g2_itemId=72620&g2_imageViewsIndex=1

 

Ok, it’s about time I stop procrastinating about this and begin writing about my DCon trip before the memories start fading away. I’ve been fairly busy with a little work, and a lot of Yankee-related activities (and occasional moping bout – I know, I’m pathetic, but I miss them, so there), but that’s no longer an excuse by now.

So, without further ado, here’s “What I did on my Georgian holidays”, by a Hob… Er… I mean: “DragonCon 2008 – European Invasion!” – there and not quite fully back again.

Let’s start with a little explanation of two facts. First, what is DragonCon? Well, it’s a science-fiction convention that takes place in Atlanta, Georgia, every year around the end of August, beginning of September. Over the course of a weekend, people with interests in many things that are broadly speaking sci-fi related have access to various activities and social interaction with similarly minded folks. The site explains it better, and I’ll be going into more details later; but for the moment, just think of it as a geekfest, but with more T&A than you’d expect.

The second thing is: why did I go there? Well, apart from the T&A, there’s this little costuming interest I have, which is fairly new and due in most part to a certain online community, the Aliens Legacy boards. Now, the general consensus among those who had been there was that, unless you go to Dragon Con at least once, then 1. You haven’t lived, and 2. you’re not a real Colonial Marine. So, in order to live a little, be a manly man, and also meet the US and Canadian members of the boards – while I did meet most of the British crew and a couple of US guys at the NSC in Leicester last year, the American portion of our group was mostly limited to screen names and avatar pictures to me – I took that week off, bought a plane ticket, a Con membership and booked a hotel. All of that back in January. I’m not getting any younger. If I wanted to do this before I start feeling self-conscious about silly, semi-adolescent behaviour, this was the time.

 

Comes the hour and good ol’ El Robo drives me to Dublin Airport in his fiery Robmobile – me, my two suitcases, backpack, laptop, and 5-feet long cardboard box containing one musket (replica) and one infantry saber (replica too, but it’s still a pointy lump of metal…). We went early so I’d have time to talk to customs, concerning those and a couple other weapon-shaped resin bits. All harmless, but you never know, do you?

Turned out of course that Irish Customs could hardly have cared less, and only had a proper look at the contents of my luggage through the X-Ray machine for oversized bags, and ONLY because I insisted they pay attention. Residents of Ireland, we can sleep safely knowing our borders are protected by this savvy band of motivaded professionals. grin

So I boarded the British Airways plane to Gatwick, and promptly fell asleep – that was 9 AM. I’d slept about 2 hours that night, between the need to get up before dawn, the excitement/nervousness I always feel before a long trip, and the fact that I’d only gone to bed at 3 AM so I could pack the costume Kim had just finished making. Last minute is also the way I work most of the time, but it’s hard on the sleeping muscles!

In Gatwick the layover wasn’t too bad – only about 2 hours – and allowed me to gorge myself on sushi from the revolving bar they have in the terminal. Yum. Sushi good. And of course, towards the end of that wait, I followed the loud exclamation and coarse laughing to a knot of people gathered around the gaming area. Whaddaya know? That’s where I found the UKCM crew – United Kingdom Colonial Marines, a fringe group of deluded people who still don’t understand that they are part of EUROPE now, and cling to their tiny, damp island, the silly buggers.

There was much merriment at this meeting, of course! (No, really – I have to do some dissing because this is the Grumpy Frenchman’s blog after all, but compulsory cultural in-good-fun-poking aside, they are a wonderful bunch, the Brits are, and even though I’d only met them once before I was welcomed like a long lost brother). Merriment that continued during the boarding process (oh, what fun they had with the “Are you bringing any snails into the USA?” question on the US Customs form!), on to the plane, and through the flight. I didn’t participate directly, as I was sitting slightly apart from their group (us flying together was actually a coincidence), but rumor has it that they drank the plane dry of Jack Daniels within an hour of taking off…

Once in Atlanta airport, the fun continued. Long ID checking process, fingerprinting, picture-taking, customs and immigration forms to fill in… Welcome to the Land of the Free and the Home of the Carefully Filed Under… It was even worse for the Brits as their country is taking that particular road too, and they had to do much of the same at the start of their own trip – whereas Ireland is much more “Aw, move on lad…” in its approach to border security.

One thing my British friends couldn’t do, unfortunately, was bring their various replica weapons and ordnance. They’d have left the UK without a problem, but would have been confiscated on the way back. Lovely, innit? Anyway, what that meant was that I was the only one traveling with anything looking like a weapon: the musket, the saber, a couple of handguns, and my Pulse Rifle. A regular little arsenal, perfectly legal, but likely to provoke serious delays while Customs officers check it out. But of course, Murphy’s listening. And while I flew through customs without so much as a “What’s in there?”, at least one unfortunate Briton was stopped for some mysterious, photo ID related problem; and of course another had seen his zippo lighter confiscated when leaving the UK. It really felt silly and ubuesque…

Anyway. We made our way through the several miles of terminals and secondary baggage conveyor belts (in Atlanta, you get your luggage back from the plane the usual way, you go through customs, and then you give your luggage back to airport people and get it back again at the exit. I still don’t know if it’s a way to make the long walk easier on the travellers, or if it’s a weird security measure…), headed to MARTA, the mass transit system, and scared the natives with our various colourful accents – and insane behaviour.

I think most of us thought it within 10 nanoseconds of hearing the name...

Once at the hotels (I was in the Hilton, the Brits were mostly at the Hyatt, and the Marriott was in the middle) there was the compulsory pause to shower, change and take our bearings, then we proceeded directly to… the Hyatt bar! Rallying point of the Colonial Marines in general and Spat in particular, it was apparently the central point in the previous years for most of the happenings during the con – although this year it was eclipsed by the newly-redecorated Marriott - it was the logical spot to gather and get introduced to the other marines as they arrived. Also, it’s a bar. With alcohol. And stuff.

Now, bear in mind, this was Thursday night – the Con wasn’t on yet. A couple of people had some mild costumes out already – rather more like strange casual clothes than costumes, really – but that was all. Then on Spat’s advice, the whole Brit group and the few others who were there headed to registration to get the Con Badges, the ones you need to get anywhere interesting during the week-end.

That’s when it started to sink in – the queue for registration went from midway through one side of the block all the way around the corner and down another side. That’s a lot of people already. Thanks to the fact that Spat is a well-known figure at the Con, we managed to get expedited entrance into the registration room – which turned out to be huge, and the line of people waiting for badges, snaking through the entire place, was easily four times the size of the one outside. Talk about icebergs and hidden depths…

The badge, precious! The badge! 

Finally in possession of our precious passes, we made our way back to the bar, where the process of getting acquainted – and roasted – continued. At some point that evening, Gareth, who hails half from London and half from Outer Space, slipped out and came back as possibly the first hard-core costumer of the event: full “Bug” suit. An amazing costume, and a second skin for him. He certainly has the movements and gestures nailed. As usual, Abe (his Xenomorph alter ego) was a show-stealer as soon as it appeared. Then again, since most of us were busy getting tanked (or in the self-confessed case of a few Brits, staying tanked) rather than getting into Convention mindframe, we certainly didn’t mind him having the limeline! Aside from Dom Beaudouin and Rex Adams showing up in Starship Troopers armour a bit later, the only costuming bits available at the time in our group were the bunch of pith helmets that the Brits had brought along for some weird reason…

That, however, was pretty much the end of the evening for me – little sleep the night before, lots of hurrying up and waiting in airports, no sleep during the flight… I needed rest if I wanted to function during the week-end and enjoy the place. And since I considered that this was most likely to be my one and only D-Con, I wanted to make sure I’d see a fair deal of it. So, I did my old man impersonation and bid the revellers goodnight. The next day was Friday, first actual day of the con, and I’d seen a couple of things in the program that I wanted to check out. Busy day tomorrow, I thought.

Man was I right! ^_^

 

 

 

Yesterday I was a very sad Frenchman indeed. After 6 years of friendship, 3 and a half of life in common, 6 months of neighbourly fun… my American friends are finally going back home to San Francisco.

Kim left Monday morning at 5 AM with the munchkin. Sean will follow in three weeks. There are no words to express how deeply sad I am to see them go. It’s a very selfish feeling – they’re going back to their families, better professional prospects, in all likelyhood better life all around. It’s good for them.

But they won’t be my neighbours anymore. I won’t be able to nip in for a quick cup of tea or a weekly Doctor Who viewing. No more playing with the Munchkin, no more staring at Kim ’till she yells at me. It’s a big hole in my life, right there.

  cry

Still. Planes are marvellous inventions. And they aren’t that expensive anymore. I’ll visit.

And of course, it doesn’t matter how far they are. They’re my friends. And that won’t change.

 

Kim, Sean. I owe you some of the best moments of my life. I love you like family. I will miss you oh so much.

Take care, my friends.

 

Booyah!

I’m off to Dragon Con! Wheeeeeee! mrgreen

Yeah, you read the title correctly. This is something that wasn’t actually inspired by Wall-E, merely brought once again to the fore of my brain. The real inspiration (besides the fact that it’s something I’ve been pondering for a while generally speaking) came from watching Star Wars III recently. In Revenge of the Sith, C-3PO and R2-D2 feature less prominently than in the original trilogy, and their presence often feels a bit shoehorned into the narration, but they’re there, the two lovable/irritating bolt buckets. No one who’s seen any of the Star Wars movies can deny that these two have a personality. They learn. They have a sense of self-preservation. In short, they’re sentient. Proof enough come from the fact that their human companions treat them like… well, other human companions, not just tools.

And yet, at the very end of RotS, after Senator Organa gives the two droids to Captain Antilles, the CO of the Corvette they are on, the captain orders C-3PO’s memory purged without batting an eyelash. o_O

So… That’s the mighty Republic’s take on artificial sentience? Biological organisms are free to erase a droid’s memory like that, effectively destroying its personality? We are the sum of our experiences. Take two identical twins, and the older they get, the more different they become, because they won’t have the same life, and chance and circumstances will not mold them the same way. Similarly, if those droids can learn and evolve beyond their programming, then they too are the sum of their experiences, and purging their memory is in effect the equivalent of, at best, a brainwashing, and at worst an execution. The body might still be functional and have basic skills and personality modes built in, but once it’s rebooted, it won’t be the same droid anymore.

You might argue that what we see is only the result of the droids’ original programming, and that they cannot actually learn, thus remaining firmly into the non-sapient camp. And it’s true that people don’t seem exactly heart-broken when astromech droids are dropping like flies during the escape from Naboo in Episode I. But if that’s the case, why bother giving the survivor – R2 – a commendation? You don’t give a toaster a medal for working according to its parameters, that’s ridiculous!

The whole take on droids in Star Wars is quite ambiguous, and while in the original trilogy it could always be explained away by saying: “It’s the Empire – they’re eeeeevil!”, in the I-II-III trilogy we’re supposed to be seeing the Republic in all its fading glory – the shining, if possibly a bit tarnished, beacon of freedom, democracy and tolerance at the heart of the galaxy. If that is truly the way they treat droids, sentient artificial creatures, one cannot help but think that maybe the Sith have a bit of a point when they go on about rotten fruits and all that. Apparently the Jedi are all about tolerance and respect, but it stops where the chrome begins…

 

Anyway. Beyond the extra-nerdy helping of Star Wars lore (I’m not actually that much if a Star Wars fan; I mean I love the movies, but I’m much less into the universe than I would be into Lord of the Rings or even Star Trek – quite possibly because they’re a lot better structured…), the question does stand on its own. While we’re not yet at the point where we actually have to decide on whether it is acceptable to create A.I., and how we must treat them, we’re approaching that, and we certainly think about it in cinema and litterature. A movie like I, Robot puts it firmly at the center of the story for example. Hell, even 2001 A Space Odyssey brushed on it. When HAL goes mad, Dave Bowman doesn’t have the problem of wondering if turning it off is good or bad – it’s a survival thing. But Kubrick leaves absolutely no doubt in anyone’s mind with the disconnection scene: we’re not seeing a human being flip a switch on a piece of malfunctionning equipment, we’re seeing the execution – you could almost say murder – of a sentient entity. Toasters don’t get afraid.

But most movies that deal peripherally with robots seem to adopt a very Star Warsy approach to dealing with sentient robots. That makes them (the robots) interesting, especially narratively (ooh, the plot devices they generate!), that can make them cute, or nefarious; but it rarely makes them the exact equivalent of humans. Partly because of narrative lazyness, as such a state of affair can necessitate explanations or exposition. But mostly, I think, because deep down we’re afraid to face that prospect. Cute machines are okay – as long as they’re still machines. For every R2, there are millions of soldier droids or blaster-fodder astromechs that respectfully toe the line and don’t inconvenience their human masters. R2s are pets, bright pets. Lassies. We can tolerate a few, and we feel good about ourselves when we treat them well, but that’s it. And the annoying ones, pet or no, gets memory-wiped when it’s convenient. Even in Wall-E. After all the effort to show robots with personality, capable of outgrowing their programming, of experiencing emotions (especially love), there’s a very short bit where two humans splash water on a robotic pool attendant and short-circuit it – and that’s perfectly fine, because no matter how much of a personality it has, it’s still just a machine, AND it’s humans doing it, so it’s more important! Funny how even in such a wonderful movie you still get that little contemptuous flick of the hand.

 

We will have AIs. Someday, we will have sentient machines. They’ll probably be born by accident, to be honest – spontaneous generation among the information torrents of Internet, a science experiment gone astray; a military control system named SKYNET, maybe. Who knows. But unless we manage to kill ourselves before we reach that technology level, it’s pretty clear that we will reach it, and then will come the time to face the fact that sentience can take different shapes than humanoid.

You don’t think so? Look at apes and dolphins. Their language is rudimentary at best, they don’t really make or use tools that much (especially the dolphins)… Yet people are debating whether they can be considered sentient or not. Now try to imagine the possibilities offered to a machine that’d have the equivalent intelligence of a dolphin or ape, but the capacity to process calculation at even PC speeds, electronically controlled appendages, access to databases through the internet… If that particular machine displays the slightest hint of sentience – self-awareness, self-preservation, reproductive instinct – are we going to be able to gloss over it? If we’re already wondering about Flipper, how are we going to ignore HAL? 

And yet we are very likely to ignore it, to do, as a species, the social equivalent of putting our hands over our ears and going “Lalalalalalala!” Machines are a lot better than us at a lot of things. If they start having feelings and learning for themselves and creating or understanding beauty, making up jokes, coveting their neighbours wife and falling in love… What the hell do we have left?

Of course, it’s entirely possible that we’d be much better at those things that they would. Maybe even a sentient robot wouldn’t be able to make art, or know humour. It’s hard to tell. Defining “sentient” is complicated. But if WE create those machines, chances are they’ll have some of our characteristics. And however long it might take, they’ll probably develop some of our skills too.

And we fear that, deep down. It’d be a loss, a theft of identity. We are who we are. If someone else comes along (robots we create, or aliens from outer space, for that matter) who can do the same things, the identity crisis that will hit the human race will be of epic proportions. Expect riots and waves of suicides and fundamentalistic religions and pogroms and finger-pointing and all sorts of lovely proofs of our better nature. The first thing of course will be the suppression of the offending people, or their subjugation. And an enslaved, sentient population is always going to be a source of serious problems – beyond the obvious risk of revolt (Galactica, anyone?), the impact on the human psyche will be enormous. You don’t enslave people without consequences, not when you have reached a level of social acumen that tells you slavery is wrong…

Where am I going with that? Not too sure. Just one of those ideas that occasionally pop up in my head and get me wondering about deeper things than where the next meal is coming from. Generally speaking, I have very little faith in Humanity’s ability to do the right thing right away – I tend to believe we’ll screw up first out of anger or fear, then figure out it was wrong and do something better. That undercurrent of contempt for sentient robots that I saw in Star Wars, smelled faintly in Wall-E, an have been detecting in many ways in mainstream culture, kinda woke up that general distrust of our species’ moral sense.

Was it worth such a long post? I dunno. But it’s my blog, innit? mrgreen

Anyone wishes to comment?

 

I will freely and unabashedly admit that I am a “movie Nazi”. By that I mean that I belong to these people who think that going to the cinema and watching a movie on the big screen is an individual experience (contrary to theater), that you should be fully immersed in the film and have no distractions whatsoever, and that there is, in the words of Shepherd Bock, “a very special Hell, reserved for child molesters and people who talk in the cinema”.

I may be grumpy and irritable, but I’m also mostly reasonable, and enough of a coward that I don’t act upon all my little flashes of annoyance. But among the things that are most likely to trigger utterly irrational acts of verbal – and possibly even physical – violence in my chicken-shit brain, someone making unnecessary noise in a cinema comes first. I hate the sound of popcorn being masticated or whirled around in the bucket, the slurp of coke going up the straw is like fingernails on a black board, and the Gods help someone who answers a mobile phone anywhere near me… There’s a certain amount of leeway – I’m not actually psychotic, a couple of words won’t turn me into Freddy Krueger - but that’s one area where I’m not entirely reasonable.

Anyway. That being said, let’s go back to Sunday, 12.30, when I go into the room where they play Wall-E, here in Athlone IMC “Incredibly Meh Cinema”. It’s a small room, and there are maybe… 25 people in there, mostly children, a good few around 2 or 3 years old.

Now, I’m usually not a fan of children in cinemas, but first of all I’ve made a lot of progress in child tolerance these past few years, thanks primarily to a certain half-Californian munchkin of my acquaintance and her uber-cuteness (I’d cite my nephew but it’s not like I’ve been around him much to be honest…), and secondly I went to the showing fully expecting that situation. Besides, children speaking in cinemas is different. Kids are kids, you can’t expect control or manners from a two year old. That’d be stupid.  

And it wasn’t actually that bad for most of the movie – occasional exclamations, a few words, a bit of crying, really nothing to set me off. As I said, I’m not psychotic. Towards the end though, the youngest members of the audience started losing the plot a bit, fidgeting, and eventually went into full “I don’t care” mode and started shouting and running around and pursuing each other.

Briefly (I thought) annoying in a general way, but not unexpected either. What was, though, was the response from the parents.

Nothing.

For 20 mn or more, the parents of the 2, then 3, then all the way up to 6 children let them run up and down the central aisle and scream and play tag without uttering a single sound of disapproval or attempting any control or, and I know I’m being totally unreasonable here expecting something that novel and strange, taking the children with them and leaving the theater.

I know! How crazy, eh? I mean, who would do that? Who would possibly accept full responsibility for their children’s behaviour, no matter how natural it is, bite the bullet, and actually leave the other patrons to enjoy what they paid to see? I mean, it’s not like parents know that they should expect children that young to not stay put for the whole feature. They couldn’t possibly have thought ahead. And of course they want to see the movie too, you know. They paid for it after all.

Sheesh.

Funny think was, just the day before a previously mentionned munchkin was taken to the cinema for the first time by her parents. And would you believe that when she inevitably began to make noise, one of them left with her, and had to pay for another ticket to see the whole movie on the next showing?

How ridiculously responsible of them. Is that truly the way we want our children to be raised, mmh?

 

At any rate, that explains why my attention was somewhat diverted during the final sequence of the movie, and why I do not want to give an opinion on it as it could be entirely skewed any which way. It’s hard to judge the narrative timing of a movie when you’re concentrating hard on not putting babies on spikes…

 

Wall-E – Part 1

I went and saw Wall-E this weekend. And that inspired me to write this three-part post. No recipe this time, and only one is going to be me bitchin’ at someone. Ain’t that great? ^_^

So, part 1 is the movie itself. Brilliant. I really loved it. Technically it’s as good as the usual Pixar fare – in other words, it’s damn near perfect. The animation is fantastic, the art is beautiful, the character design is great and the range of their expressions awesome – especially for robots [and yes, I know, they ripped off Johnny 5, blah blah blah. Wall-E is cuter!].

As for the storyline… Mmh. This is trickier. Many other reviewers seem to have some sort of problem mostly with the end.  They found the final sequence stretched out and a bit of a let down; I didn’t, really; I mean, no more than I do when I like a movie and would like it to last longer than it does. However, for reasons explained in part 2 of this post, I couldn’t concentrate as fully as I would have wanted on that bit, and maybe that sort of influenced my opinion. So I’ll refrain from passing judgement there.

What I did truly enjoy was the beginning, on Earth. For the exact same reason that so many people disliked the movie: because it was almost a silent movie. Because neither of the characters said much at all. Because all of the communication was in the images, the body language – and when the body is basically a metal cube or a plastic egg, fair play to the animators for conveying meaning and emotions.

Amazing the number of people out there complaining that there wasn’t any dialogue. What? Is it too hard to stop munching on your fucking popcorn long enough to concentrate on the actual screen? Having to engage your brain cells hurts? Not being spoon-fed all the information needed impairs your sense of enjoyment?

Get a clue, you buffoons. It’s a movie. Primary medium: images. And contrary to Hollywood’s current belief, there’s no need for every other image to be an explosion to make a good movie. Even if the flashing lights have a better chance of capturing the attention of the mentally deficient twits who populate most of this planet.

As for the message behind the movie… Yes, it’s another “our consumerist society is on autopilot for FUBAR-City” plot. You’re tired of that? Better slash your wrists now, because soon enough this won’t be sci-fi anymore. We’re headed for some serious environmental problems, overpopulation, pollution, the whole thing. We still have time to avoid the kind of nightmare described in the movie, but whether we have the guts and intelligence to do it is another problem. We (yes, ‘we’, I count myself in there) love our disposable goods, our comfort too much.

Anyway, whether or not we agree with the probable future of our still-blue planet, Wall-E delivers its message well – the images of Earth are, well, seriously depressing really, and the first view of the humans is even more so. Of course, it’s counterbalanced by the funny moments, and the sweet ones. Wall-E and Eve’s E.V.A. ballet around the Axiom for example made my throat feel really tight. But even so, I thought it did a pretty good job of painting an unpleasant picture of our possible future.

At the same time I read a couple of reviews that complained that the generally happy ending sort of spoiled the message, by ultimately saying “it’s ok if we screw up the world, we can always sort it out later”. I tend to disagree – it’s a message of hope, not an absolution of sins past. But in any case… it’s a PIXAR movie, not something by Oliver Stone or in the Mad Max tradition. You kinda have to expect that not everyone will die at the end…

 

Sooo. My opinion: great movie. As good as any Pixar I’ve seen before, better than many. Well worth watching. Hype, expectations, nay- or yay-sayers, I don’t care, that’s how I feel about the movie. On a side note, this review was supposed to be short and ended up being long and ranty – and possibly not even very informative. Ah well. It’s not like I’m being paid for this – or have many readers anyway.

So, part 2 in the next installment – full-blown rant, sorry – and part 3 to follow later this week. Stay tuned and all that.

Beep.

… get out of the Cybercafe…

Summer is here, even in good old, cold Ireland (thank you Mr Climate Change!), and the temperature has gone up to a fancy 20, 21 degrees. This is actually my ideal temperature – not too warm, not too cold, perfect for enjoying a bit of a breeze. I should be delighted. And, generally speaking, I am.

Except at work. Because at work, there’s no air conditioning, very little air flow, but there are 22 computers creating large amounts of heat, not to mention customers’ bodies and the overhead fluorescent lights. And what it all amounts to is a nasty indoor sauna, minus the naked Scandinavian damsels (so far anyway – I’m still working on that). I’m reasonably certain we reach 30 degrees here sometimes.

And I hate the heat. That’s why I came and stayed in Ireland in the first place – the weather felt so much nicer to me than freaking Reunion Island… When you’re cold, you can always add a layer. If you’re too hot, you run out of layers eventually – especially in public.

So, anyways, going to work these days in an exercise in unpleasantness, even more than usual. And being too hot, and sweaty, makes me cranky, so the unpleasantness is shared equally between staff and customers. Especially the moronic ones like the one I just had, who calls for help every five minutes about things that have been explained to him a good ten times already.

And of course, after having called me away from my precious fan six or seven times in half an hour so I could show him how to print, again; after having personally made sure that my wild berries sorbet would melt before I had a chance to eat it; after having printed a gazillion pages and almost melted the printer (bonus question: guess where the printer is, and how much extra heat a laser job like ours can generate when printing for a solid five minutes non stop?)… After all that, what else could he ask but for a crapload of laminating, eh?

Guess how laminating works?

Yep. You heat up sheets of special plastic to melt them together. You heat them up.

Fracking bastard.

 

Encouraged by Kim’s fabulous Chinese BBQed pork, I decided to try some more exotic recipes – up till now I’ve been fairly staying around things that are either French, or pretty familiar to a French palate.

Now, since I’m cooking for two Californians, I also decided that Chinese food is not something I should attempt – they’re a bit too familiar with it for me to feel comfortable with something like that. Same thing with Mexican food, I suppose! I’d rather leave that for Kim’s own turn on Wednesdays, or whenever Sean feels like going nuts himself.

Fortunately, there are plenty of other places or traditions to choose from. And while I wait for my online-order whale blubber to arrive so I can try Inuit cuisine (WARNING: this is a joke. Any Lightholders reading this need NOT change the locks to their appartment door and call the Taste Police…), I decided on trying something… islandey. This week I will be making a Cari d’Espadon (that is, if I find swordfish today of course…) straight from Reunion Island – report to be posted in a month or so probably! razz – but last week I settled for a Polynesian starter. 

So, we had: Tahitian-style Raw Fish, Turkey with Dried Fruits and Chestnuts, and Coffee and Cardamom cream.

 

Tahitian-style Raw Fish (4)

  • 400g of very fresh tuna
  • 1 tin coconut milk
  • 5-6 limes
  • 3 carrots
  • 1 cucumber
  • 1 onion
  • 2 tomatoes

Start with cleaning the fish thoroughly (or having your fishmonger do it…), removing the black part of the tuna, the skin, and any large piece of fat. Cut it in small bites, put in a large salad dish.

Grate the carrots, dice the other vegetables finely.

Juice the limes and cover the fish with the juice. Mix well, make sure that all the fish is covered. Let it marinate for 5-7 mns.

Add the coconut milk, which will stop the ‘cooking’ of the fish by the lime juice. Mix well, add the other vegetables, add salt to taste, mix again and serve.

Delicious, refreshing, healthy and unusual, I personally loved that one, and wil probably make it again for myself just so I eat fish more regularly. There are other recipes out there for such type of dish, and they include a lot more spices (ginger, peppers, you name it…) but I kinda liked the mild taste of this one. If I want hot food, I’ll order from Kin Khao, thank you!

Two notes: first off, I didn’t find any fresh tuna on a Monday, so I got some salmon instead. Worked very well indeed. Also, you can leave the fish in the lime juice longer to ‘cook’ more, but no more than 20mn apparently – after that, you might as well break out the pan and the butter, really!

 

Turkey with dried fruits and chestnuts (4)

  • 700g of turkey breast
  • 2 onions
  • 100g diced bacon or pancetta
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • A good dash of cinammon
  • A dash of balsamic vinegar
  • 1 glass stock (vegetable)
  • 3 or 4 dates
  • 3 or 4 dried apricots
  • 2 or 3 dried figs
  • A few raisins
  • Bay leaves, thyme
  • Roast chestnuts (one large tin)

Chop the onions in thin slices, then cut the turkey into large cubes. In a big pot (need I say it again? Le Creuset cast iron! Go get one, dammit!) lightly cook the onions, the bacon or pancetta, then add the turkey and let it get a nicely golden brown colour.

Add the vinegar, the stock, the honey and the cinammon.

Chop the dried fruits (dates, apricots and figs) in small bits and add them to the simmering dish along with the raisins, the bay leaves and the thyme.

Then leave it to cook gently for about an hour, making sure there’s always some liquid in there.

Just before serving, heat up the chestnuts in a pan with some butter; serve together.

While very different from the entree – definitely a Mediterranean feel to this dish, Moroccan maybe, even though the recipe’s comments simply pegged it as ‘medieval’ - this was quite a tasty dish as well and I’ll file that one for re-making, although it does require a bit more effort than the fish. I can easily picture this as a very nice Holiday dish.

 

Coffee and Cardamome Cream (4)

  • 40 cl liquid cream
  • 120g brown sugar
  • 5 egg yolks
  • 10 cl strong coffee
  • 2 tablespoon instant coffee
  • 5 pods green cardamome
  • 1 tea spoon powdered cardamome

First of all, select a dish that will be suitable for ‘bain-marie’ cooking. As I managed to destroy one dish while making this dessert, I have to insist that this step is quite important, more so than you would believe. Or maybe I’m just dumb. shock

Open the cardamome pods and take out the seeds.

In that carefully selected dish put the cream, the coffees (liquid and powder), the brown sugar, the cardamome seeds and powder; beat the yolks together and then add them to the mix as well. Whip it lightly, then put the dish in the bain-marie.

Let it cook there and stir regularly with a wooden spoon, until the cream is thick enough to stick to the spoon some. Pour into individual cups, then refrigerate for twelve hours.

Quite tasty, even for someone who’s not usually a fan of coffee. I’d recommend, for people like me who aren’t used to caffeine, to avoid eating this before going to bed, it could create problems for your sleep cycle. If you drink coffee regularly though, this is weak enough that you won’t mind.

This was one recipe that almost didn’t happen. First week I tried it I ended up spilling the whole cream on the stove, then this week I cracked a dish – mine, fortunately, not one of Kim’s. Should anyone attempt this one, let me know if I’m just clumsy, or if there is, as I suspect, A HORRIBLE CURSE ON THIS CREAM! EEEEYYAAAARGH!!

Ah. Who said this blog was turning into a boring recipe list, mmh? Who said the insanity had gone out of it?

Tama’a!

 

 

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