Monday, October 11, 2021
Thursday, October 07, 2021
For our wedding anniversary, Cathy bought me a new release from The Tragically Hip. It’s a six track CD mastered from sessions during the recording of Road Apples in 1991. The tapes were only rediscovered within the last couple of years, as this long form review and interview chronicles.
I realise this release probably isn’t of interest to most people, but I never I thought I would hear new songs from my favourite band ever again!
Even though The Hip are my favourite band, I wasn’t expecting much from the CD. These are songs that didn’t make it onto the album, gleaned from thirty year-old recordings. ‘Lost songs’ are generally lost for a reason. However, I was pleasantly surprised at their quality. They’ve been touched up a bit by the band while working on the project. The key component from those original sessions would be the irreplaceable voice of the late Gord Downie, the lead singer who sadly passed away four years ago. Fortunately, Gord's voice was captured well on the tapes.
Musically, the songs definitely belong to the early part of the Hip’s career. They fill a gap in the timeline between the bluesy tracks on Up to Here and the more expansive songs on Road Apples. I would be interested to hear songs from the recording sessions for Fully Completely, the next album in the Hip’s discography, when their music went heavier on the basslines. Road Apples was a transitional album itself, but the band’s sound moved on considerably in the short space of time between the release of Road Apples and the recording and release of Fully Completely.
Who knows, maybe another box of tapes will turn up?
As a fan and completist, I was always going to want this album. I’m just really glad that it was better than my limited expectations.
Wednesday, October 06, 2021
This post contains mild spoilers
In Free Guy (newly released on Disney Plus), comedy genius heartthrob Ryan Reynolds plays Guy, resident of ‘Free City’, whose happy life is interrupted repeatedly by people punching him in the face, robbing the bank where he works, flying attack helicopters through the streets and so on. Guy just thinks this is normal and cheerily carries on with his life – saying hello to his goldfish when he wakes up every day, ordering his regular coffee with cream and two sugars, meeting his best friend who works as the security guard at the bank, and just shrugging off the mayhem around him.
Eventually Guy works out that he is actually a ‘NPC’ (non-playable character) in a video game. His life, which feels real to him, is entirely generated within the servers of a computer game company. This becomes more awkward when he falls in love with a player’s character who knows he is a NPC but also seems to be falling in love back with him. Guy has been programmed to love the character or has he? Falling in “love”, it transpires, breaks his programmed algorithms and sets him off on new courses of exploration and discovery.
That in itself is a lovely concept and one that could provide a useful metaphor for platform speakers the world over.
On the face of it Free Guy is a bit of a mash up of a few other film concepts. Cathy kept saying how much it reminded her of The Truman Show. The idea that computer game characters might have their own lives within the game was also explored in Wreck It Ralph. As someone with a lay interest in artificial intelligence, the concept of an AI algorithm reaching self-aware consciousness is fascinating to me.
But the bit that really moved me was about two thirds the way through the movie, when Guy is talking to his buddy, the security guard literally called Buddy, played incredibly well by Lil Rel Howery. Through wearing game player spectacles, Guy has the capacity to see the world as gamers see it – picking up medpacks, ammo, and so on. Buddy doesn’t want to see the world as Guy sees it and refuses to put the spectacles on, but they remain friends.
When Guy is told that the world is about to end – because the villainous software developer who created ‘Free City’ wants to capitalise on its success by replacing it with ‘Free City 2’ – he asks Buddy why Buddy doesn’t want to know the truth about their world. Buddy’s reply perfectly encapsulated the power of living in the moment. He says something like ‘Maybe all this is just a game. But right now, I’m sitting here with my best friend who needs me. And is there anything more real than that?’
That really jolted me as a moment of truth in an otherwise fairly silly film. We have those moments when, yes, everything seems crazy and our worlds are rocked. But we still can connect. We can still hold those moments as real – the feelings we feel right then are actually the important things.
I really loved that brief scene. It elevated Free Guy from a decent way to pass the time to actually a movie with something to say.
We have the moment and in that moment, that can be enough. Because it is real.
Tuesday, October 05, 2021
Well that month seemed to pass really quickly. Maybe it was because I got to get out and about a bit with work, including a trip to Carmarthen despite the fuel panic at the end of the month.
From a footballing point of view, it was a much quieter month for me. Just four games, the biggest being a trip to Sheffield to see Shrewsbury play at Hillsborough against Sheffield Wednesday.
Shrewsbury managed to earn a very credible point, helped by Wednesday missing a penalty and a host of other chances.
It was a couple of days after my nephew Zac's 8th birthday and he came with me and my brother on the trip. His verdict on the day out was "We went to the pub for lunch and now Maccy's for tea. This is the best day of my life!"
"And the football," I said.
"Oh, yeah..." was the reply. Ah well. I understand. Having chips for two meals in a day is pretty special.
In other sports news, the San Diego Padres fell completely out of contention for any honours as their form went into a death spiral. Lots of things have gone wrong this year but their chief problem has been hubris. I have consoled myself with my baseball card collecting project - two big parcels of cards arrived this month and took my collection to over 1,000 cards featuring Tony Gwynn.
And of course there was a welcome return to playing Blood Bowl!
At the end of the month, Cathy and I had our 23rd wedding anniversary. It feels strange to think that we have now been married for more than half our lives (we were both 22 when we got married!), AND that we are only a couple of years off our Silver Wedding Anniversary. That just doesn't feel right. Silver Weddings are what old people have!
One of the presents Cathy got me will be the subject of its own blog post soon!
Monday, September 13, 2021
This was the first time that Bryan and I had played Blood Bowl with new 'Second Season' rules. The main change has been the addition of a skill relating to how well a player can pass the ball. (Earlier this year I bought the new Second Season box set - read more here!)
Bryan has a dwarf team, which he has started painting but hasn't officially named yet. One of the possible names is the Dinas Delvers, so I've decided to go with that for now. I played with the skaven team with the addition of an ogre. Last time we played, my giant rats got really badly stomped on so I was hoping an ogre would give them a bit of protection.
|Scrimmage line melee|
What I didn't bank on was some of the dwarves (the "Trollslayer" characters) having an attribute called 'Dauntless', which basically took away the advantage of my ogre's higher level of strength. That led to a lot of shoving back and forth on the line of scrimmage and at one point my ogre ended up flat on his back.
Dinas Delvers 0-1 Bayside Vermin
(Match abandoned at half time as it was getting late and both managers were tired!)
Because we played the new season 2 rules which meant we had to look a load of things up and that slowed us down. This meant we only played one half, of 8 turns each.
There is a new kick off procedure and you have to roll to decide what happens while the ball is in the air and how far it deviates from where it's supposed to go. It then took a few turns for any of the players to actually get the ball under control. To pick it up, a player has to perform an "agility roll" - throw the dice and see if they score the target number needed. The Vermin kicked off, and then various Delvers fumbled trying to pick up the ball.
In this version of the game, your team go ends if (when) you mess up a dice roll. So every time a Delver failed an agility roll, the skaven could get closer to where the ball had ended up. Eventually one of the Vermin's pacy Gutter Runners eluded the attentions of the Delver defence and made a beeline for the ball.
|Eyes on the ball|
Then it was a sprint to the end zone for the Gutter Runner and a glorious touchdown!
As coaches, Bryan and I haven't got round to naming our team members and actually keeping any kind of record of what each individual player does. Over the course of a league campaign, Blood Bowl players earn Experience Points (XP) if they manage to do something like score a touchdown. However, any XP earned by this particular Gutter Runner would have been cancelled out, because on the next play he got pushed into the crowd and knocked out by violent fans!
With limited turns left before half time, the Delvers attempted a long pass over the heads of most of the players. The dice roll for the pass failed, but the Vermin player attempting to intercept couldn't couldn't catch it cleanly, instead knocking the ball astray. That meant more agility rolls.
On the Vermin's very last turn of the half, with the ball loose and for the taking, the Vermin player failed an agility test! This was very annoying, as agility is about the only skill skaven players really have. But, that was it, he fluffed the pick up and that was it for the night.
Overall, this was a great learning experience. The dwarf team has some useful attributes and although the ogre didn't really achieve much, none of the skaven players were killed this time! Which in the crazy world of Blood Bowl counts as progress!
Tuesday, September 07, 2021
Sunday, September 05, 2021
Various apps are annotating my life. I've blogged about the Futbology app previously. Recently it has started pinging me reminders of football matches I attended, and have logged on the app. These are similar to 'Facebook memories' that often come up related to stuff I posted dating back to 2007 when I joined the site.
My Futbology reminder on 5 September is for Newport v Wrexham in 2010.
That's not a photo from the game in question - it's their generic photo for Newport Stadium where Newport were playing at the time.
What Futbology doesn't know is that the game was moved from the Saturday to the Sunday but I didn't know so I ended up at the empty stadium on the Saturday wondering what was going on. This was long before I carried a portable computer connected to the Internet in my pocket.
I had totally forgotten that aspect of the game, except that I got an aforementioned Facebook memory on 4 September that cryptically mentioned driving to Newport on a fruitless trip, and then the reminder today revealed why!
Facebook then handily provided me with these reminders of the action from the game, including a missed penalty.
There were more updates about the game, with details I didn't remember. It made me think about how so many of our memories are now preserved online - we are effectively outsourcing them. These are the memories of my "cloudgangers", as Douglas Coupland termed them. These digital versions of my life, stored on servers around the world, retain knowledge of the events that shape who I am long after I have forgotten them.
This does make me wonder if there is a statute of limitations on our cloudganger memories. We change as humans, but our preserved content does not change. Can it truly be seen as representative of us, when we are new people?
This question might seem trivial, but this week a professional footballer was disciplined by the Football Association for the content of a social media post made in 2012, when the player in question was 14 (and long before there were a professional footballer).
This made me feel slightly uneasy. Firstly, should we judge anyone as adults based on what they said or did as 14 year-olds. Most of us were dickheads when we were 14. Secondly, should we really hold people to account for opinions they held 9 years ago without checking in with them now? This blog has been running since 2006 - I feel I have changed my mind about a number of things since I started.
The choice seemes to be whether we delete the record and lose the richness of who a person is, their faults and failings in their history. Maybe we should seek to expunge everything that does not represent who we are in this moment, recognising that everything we commit to the servers now might be deemed expungeable in a few years' time.
But if we radically revisit our past selves and seek to remake them into versions we can accept, then we lose the sense of development that enabled us to reach the point we are at. We learn more from owning our past mistakes and explaining why we would do things differently now, than from pretending it never happened at all.
Otherwise our cloudgangers may be highly accurate replicas of us, but have no memories.
Saturday, September 04, 2021
August was a month of football for me. I went to 11 matches, which is more in a month than I have managed in some seasons. I started with a trip across to Tremorfa to watch Grange Albion play their local rivals, Bridgend Street. And I ended my footballing month on the 31st watching Barry Town come back from behind to snatch a win with a penalty in the very last minute aginst Haverfordwest County.
Along the way I watched The New Saints play against a team from the Czech Republic in Cardiff, watched Barry play away in Aberystwyth and Cefn, near Wrexham, and managed a "twofer" with a Grange Albion game in the afternoon and a Barry game kicking off at tea-time. It was hectic.
The Barry fans made a lot of noise at Aberystwyth - there was an interchange on Twitter where a local said they "could hear you in the pet shop", which would make an excellent slogan to stick on a banner some time. My friend Matt came with me to Aberystwyth, and after the game we went down and had a look at the seafront. It was a long day out, but it was a fun day out.
This past month we discovered a fast food franchise that does a decent vegetarian alternative. The KFC vegan burger just about meets Cathy's dietary requirements, and is a much better option than any of the meatless meals available at similar outlets. We have been restrained and not eaten too many of them.
I haven't had much free time inbetween a full work schedule and a full footballing schedule. However, I managed to finish reading a book! (One of the ones blogged about here.) My reading has taken a massive hit over the past year and a half. It's tempting to blame the pandemic because it seems to get blamed for every other disruption in life.
I found some time to build some Blood Bowl figures. I constructed half the team of lizardmen that I was given for my birthday back in 2020 (almost 18 months ago!) and I have high hopes to actually play a game this coming month!
Friday, August 27, 2021
Earlier this year, Topps, the company that currently has the sole license to produce official Major League Baseball cards, launched NFT trading cards. These are "virtual" uncopyable images that can be transferred a bit like cryptocurrency. There's all sorts of lingo that goes along with this like "blockchain" and so on. Digi wonks go nuts for this sort of thing.
This has made me realise that I am an analog boy at heart because I have zero interest in this. To me, it has as much appeal as collecting "baseball cards" by right-clicking save on a Google image search.
Topps apparently get 20% of any sell on fees so every time this gets sold on they get a cut. I can see the appeal although people sell them on eBay to circumvent the official system and avoid the fees. A card can change hands multiple times during its lifetime. The idea that every time it's sold on the manufacturer get a percent cut is a corporate executive's dream.
On the same day that Topps launched their digital cards, a packet of real baseball cards arrived in the post. I'd bought them off eBay and really enjoyed looking through them. I appreciate the tactile feel of cards 'in hand', feeling the different kinds of cardboard, the different finishes, spotting blemishes and imperfections.
I even don't mind cards that have been "loved" and have slightly worn edges and corners. Those cards have a history to them. They have character. I try to take good care of my cards, but I have added a bit of "character" to some of them, myself.
The digital replacement movement is pernicious. This month I have been going to a lot of football matches (going while I can - who knows if another lockdown is coming!) and on three occasions the clubs have offered a virtual programme instead of a printed one. It's not the same thing.
A printed programme is a tangible souvenir of an event - a record that something happened that acts a reminder when you see it. A PDF on a hard drive is a poor, ersatz alternative. You can't idly flick through it while waiting for the kettle to boil.
(I was very pleased when I watched a game at Pontypridd Town this week to discover the club have reverted from virtual to physical programmes!)
I feel okay about realising I'm an analog collector. That's just me being me. Although it does mean I need to find room for all the stuff I acquire!
Thursday, August 26, 2021
I've recently finished reading The Gospel of Loki by Joanne Harris, which is one of several books I've read over the past decade that have expanded on Norse mythology. It was a bit strange reading the book concurrently with watching the Marvel series called Loki on Disney Plus. It's a credit to Tom Hiddleston, the eponymous antihero, that I picture him when I'm reading a completely different book about Loki, the Norse god not the Marvel character.
The other books I've read are Ragnarok by A.S.Byatt, which I blogged about back in 2012, and Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman, which I thought I had blogged about previously, but obviously I didn't get around to it. I'll also chuck in American Gods by Neil Gaiman, which takes members of the Norse pantheon and relocates them to the USA where they struggle to get by on the new continent because of a lack of believers. (I can't locate my copy, which is why it isn't in the picture.)
And then there is the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), which includes the three Thor movies and the six-part Loki series, plus Thor and Loki have key roles in the various Avengers movies. Loki is central to Avengers Assemble as Thanos's agent to steal one of the Infinity Stones while Thor's character development, as he struggles to adjust to life after Asgard and failing to defeat Thanos, is one of the most memorable elements in Avengers Endgame, which capped off the first multi-movie arc of the MCU.
So, a brief synopsis of the source material
Thor, Odin, Loki and the other characters from the Norse myths are actually superpowered beings with various magical powers and abilities from a different world or plane of existence (I'm not exactly sure which it is meant to be). In this universe Thor and Loki are brothers, the sons of Odin, except Loki is actually adopted. Although the Thor films are meant to be about Thor, he's a bit of a dull character initially and Loki steals the show. Which is fitting as he is the trickster god. Loki's story continued this year with the release of a six part TV series on Disney Plus, which introduced a range of 'variant' versions of Loki from different timelines, leading into a multiverse scenario that will be the centrepiece of the next phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Myth-mining - borrows names, character traits and some of the mythic storylines, such as the end of the gods at Ragnarok for one of the films, and recasts them within a science fiction comic book universe. If there was anyone who took the mythos seriously, Marvel would be getting complaints about cultural appropriation.
The Gospel of Loki
This retells the various Norse myths from the perspective of Loki who is, as expected, an unreliable, dishonest narrator who blatantly positions himself as the wronged victim. The various gods are portrayed as clueless and vain, obsessed with power and prestige and unwilling to share their wealth with anyone else. There is some depth to the world that Joanne Harris creates, with runes carrying magic and therefore being the tools by which the gods can create and some other contemporary touches to how the characters interact.
Myth-mining - this stays relatively true to the source material, injecting humour into the stories as Loki tries to explain his mischief was actually quite funny, if only the other gods were intelligent enough to get the jokes.
Neil Gaiman's books
Norse Mythology is a fairly straight retelling of the Norse myths in contemporary English. It does exactly what it says on the cover. I found it a dull read, which surprised me because Gaiman's work is usually anything but dull. American Gods meanwhile, has versions of the Norse gods seeking to establish themselves in America, against the tidal wave of new gods being created in American culture. Within this framework, Odin is a wily conman, Loki is a similarly shifty lowlife, Thor has committed suicide and Baldur has forgotten who he is. Other gods from other old world mythologies are also surviving in the shadows of the new American cities, imported to the new world with their believers who emigrated there (or were taken against their will). The Norse gods are the old world gods who have been there the longest, arriving with the Viking adventurers that discovered Vinland and then clinging on in a liminal existence ever since. The book concludes with an epic battle between the old world gods and the American gods.
Myth-mining - As a straight retelling, Norse Mythology is as close to pure Norse myth as could be imagined. American Gods, however, develops the characters in unusual ways but with a solid basis in the original myths - Norse, African, Egyptian, Eastern European and others.
The premise of this book is someone writing about how they discovered the Norse myths and how those myths got them through tough times as a child, when they thought the world was ending. It was a very clever vehicle for retelling the myths and exploring their psychological impact and appeal. There is also an essay in the book that tries to draw some life lessons from the stories and make them relevant to current issues, particularly drawing a parallel between the impending doom of Ragnarok, that the gods knew was imminent yet were powerless to prevent, and the damage being caused to the world's climate that similarly seems to have powerful people acting obliviously and ignoring the predictions of catastrophe. That really stuck with me as an illustration.
Myth-mining - The stories are retold faithfully, while intertwined with original material, which helps make them more real and important.
I don't think it's coincidental that these writers and creatives are drawn to using these myths in their own work. The stories of the Norse gods are stories about how wielding power contains within it self-destruction, how trying too hard to preserve something hastens its loss, and how actions that seemed like a good idea at the time often have unintended consequences. The gods respond to the threat of Fenrir, the wolf destined to swallow the moon, and seek to neutralise the threat, which only drives Fenrir further down a path of madness and destruction. Odin hoards knowledge, worried what will happen if it gets into the wrong hands, only to find that the other gods embark on courses of action that are damaging anyway.
These are all powerful, seminal themes. Love, hate, pride, ignorance, valour, courage, selfishness, heroism, nihilism, betrayal, honesty, and many more very human traits. The "gods" in this fiction are just humans writ large, which is why we can learn from them. That's probably why these story-tellers feel it is worth retelling these tales.
Wednesday, August 25, 2021
Sunday, August 15, 2021
Recently we have had some Islamic 'tracts' pushed through our letterbox. Over the years we have often had Christian material delivered, but Islamic leafleting feels new (although we did have some last year, which I blogged about). It makes me wonder if whoever is distributing these Islamic tracts has seen Christians doing it and thought it would be a good idea to emulate.
There was a particular design choice that caught my eye on one of the most recent leaflets. It stood out for two reasons. Here's the leaflet in question:
Some of the instructions aren't particularly direct. It felt to me that they had decided they needed to have 50 and then were stuck trying to reach that number. Maybe 50 is an important number in Islam. I honestly can't recall hearing that before though. Or perhaps they are trying to be five times better than religions that only have ten commandments?
Thursday, August 12, 2021
When I was studying Business Psychology I briefly got sidetracked onto a tangent about the psychology of collecting (blogged here). I think that offers a good insight into why some people obsessively go to football matches - often called 'groundhopping'. It's a collecting impulse.
People who go to a lot of football matches in a lot of different places tend to keep some sort of record of it, for example, in an Excel spreadsheet (I do this), or using an app created to help them, like the Futbology App (which I use regularly).
As an aside, Futbology was originally called Groundhopper, but apparently that had less of a cachet to it than the developers had hoped, so they changed the name.
The problem is if you have all this data, what do you do with it? Futbology has a neat feature where you can review your personal stats, looking at all the different grounds you have been to, and a list of all the clubs you have seen. But that only goes so far, and like a spreadsheet, it's not that exciting to look at.
I used the list of teams I've seen to update my Top 10 Table of teams that I have seen. I previously did this up to the end of the 2017 season and a lot has changed since then. This is my current top 10, up to the end of the 2020-21 season.
The big new entrant since the last time I posted a table is Barry Town, who weren't even in the top ten back in 2017. They are now second in the table, usurping Cardiff City, although I have seen the Bluebirds 18 times since I published my previous top ten. The New Saints are also new entries and are going to climb the table as well, given that I've already seen them twice since June!
Tables are all well and good, but I also have another project on the go. A long time ago, before we were married, even, Cathy gave me a 'Book of Days' as a present.
These are handy books that you are meant to write birthdays and memorable events in on given dates. I wrote a few in, but then it sat and languished in a drawer for two decades. Then a few years back I decided to go through my lists of football matches and fill in the book with all the games on the date I saw them. The result is something like this.
It is fun flicking through the pages, remembering games. It's also fun when I get to 'tick off' a day like I did when I saw TNS in a Europa Conference League game at the end of July.
One of the fun aspects of collecting is arranging and rearranging, cataloguing and organising your collection. Playing around with different ways of displaying the data from intangible collected items is the same impulse. I find a sense of satisfaction from looking at my spreadsheet's many pages, my Book of Days, and the blacked out year calendar, which is akin to looking through a binder of baseball cards, or a full football sticker album.
The challenge is on to "complete" the year!
Friday, August 06, 2021
I know that, technically, a staycation is when you stay in your own house, but surely staying with family for a holiday week is close enough. This was the first time we had stayed with my brother and sister-in-law since they had doubled their children from two to four. Our eldest niece very kindly surrendered her room for us to sleep in. Meanwhile, my sister and her three kids were staying next door in my mum's house, so we had six adults and seven kids roaming around for the week. We needed activities!
There are things to do in Shropshire, but it was only at the end of the week it dawned on me that our big days out were all either in Cheshire or Wales.
We started the week on the Monday at Chester Zoo. One reason for the trip is because back in January we adopted an Orangutan for my Mum for her birthday. So we went to see the Orangutans and some of the other animals. It was blisteringly hot and most of the animals were being sensible and sheltering in whatever shade they could find.
But the rhinos weren't bothered by the heat.
The next day we headed to Llanfair Caereinion to take the narrow gauge train back to Welshpool on the Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway. We were two members down as second-eldest niece had been admitted to hospital with rapid onset ear pain (which was thankfully resolved later that day!) and my sister naturally was with her rather than jaunting off to Powys with us.
I thought we had booked the train pulled by a steam loco, but instead we had a diesel hauling the train. However, even diesels have a backstory. This loco was built in Germany for the Taiwan Sugar Corporation, was used on sugar plantations in Taiwan for 25 years and now is pulling tourist trains in mid-Wales.
We had a day off from day trips mid-week. On the Thursday we all got back in the cars and headed back to Cheshire to the Blue Planet Aquarium.
I think I probably enjoyed it more than the kids. I especially loved the shark tunnels where you can get up close to the fish...
Then for our last day out of the holiday we went back to Wales and I ticked something off my bucket list. I had never gone across the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct before, but now I have.
We travelled across aboard a narrowboat named after Thomas Telford, the man responsible for the aqueduct.
And that was the last big day out on our Salopian Staycation, where, ironically, we didn't stay in Salop.