Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Numbers can be playful (the "Twosday" post)

It’s “Twosday” – the Tuesday of all the twos. The 22nd of February 2022, which can be written as 22.2.22. It can also be written as the palindrome 22. 02.2022. It even works if you write it the American way as 2.22.22.

If I had more wherewithal about me I would have posted this at 2.22pm. But sometimes work gets in the way of fun like blogging about weird numbers.

I do like playful numbers, though, and I like playing with numbers. That’s partly why I have done a Christmas Card Audit every year, or keep tabs on the amount of leaflets we receive at election times. Last week I went to see my doctor to discuss my flowmeter readings that I’m doing daily to analyse my lung function. The doctor asked if I minded doing another two weeks’ worth of readings. I said I didn’t mind at all. I love collecting data.

I realise this is an unusual trait – cataloguing mundane things in life. Cathy and I have a little notebook we use to keep score whenever we play Yahtzee. Over the past 10 years we have recorded hundreds of games in there. We have different tactical approaches to playing Yahtzee and one day I plan to analyse the data to see if there is any advantage to one strategy over another. I doubt there will be much of a difference at the end of the data trail.

I know other people share this focus. The aforementioned Christmas Card Audits are easily the posts on my blog that people engage with the most. I sometimes blog about my football stats – there is a whole app dedicated to supporting people like me who like to record which football matches they attend. And I have my own supplementary data projects too, like my ongoing ‘Book of Days’ project.

The obsession with numbers is part of the reason I really like baseball too. The baseball cards that I collect are full of statistics and I admire the way different designers attempt to spice up the data and display it a bit differently. And sometimes the cards trigger other number-related connections as well. Two new cards arrived in the post today, all the way from Rhode Island in the USA. That brace increased my total of cards featuring Tony Gwynn to a significant number that triggered instant recognition – 1066!

All I need to do now is make a reference to conquering my collecting goals and this blog post is complete!

Saturday, February 12, 2022

Snack of the Month - canned crisps from Yorkshire

We were sent a hamper at Christmas that included a can of Yorkshire Crisps. Last year I blogged a Snack of the Month from a Christmas hamper that lasted until September. We got round to these crisps much more quickly.

The side of the can made some bold claims, as you'd expect from a relatively fancy brand. They kept it Yorkshire, though, with the promise of "nowt artificial".

Opening the drum reminded me of the phrase I first read on boxes of breakfast cereal. "Some settling of contents may occur." About a third of the can was air.

But they filled a bowl for snacking.

Overall, there was a mild taste of tomato, basil and mozarella. I was expecting more from them. They had a lot of salt on them and the sodium really overpowered the flavourings. 

(On the plus side, the can was fully recyclable. Unlike other canned crisps like Pringles!)

Tuesday, February 08, 2022

When God revealed the secret of workplace success to Bender the robot

The Planet Express crew

There is an episode of Futurama where Bender, the robot crew member of the Planet Express spaceship, is accidentally fired into deep space. As he speeds into infinity, he becomes the home to a microscopic civilisation which he inadvertently destroys after they start worshiping him as a deity.

With all the life on him wiped out, Bender continues to drift entirely alone until in a far corner of the universe he bumps into God. This gives him the opportunity to ask where he went wrong. As he sees it, when he tried to give people what they asked for, it resulted in their extinction.

I watched the episode again recently, and, as it always does, God’s reply made me laugh. He says, in a suitably booming voice full of gravitas, 

"When you do things right, people won't be sure you've done anything at all."

I actually think this is really good advice for anyone in the workplace. Work can feel a bit of a thankless task sometimes. But, actually that’s part of the point – if you are doing what you are meant to be doing then everyone around you should be experiencing work without much hassle. People who don't get noticed often don't get thanked. 

But not being noticed isn't a bad thing. Most of the time, the bumps in our experience of work are caused by people not getting things right. Inadequate planning, or delayed decision-making, or subpar delivery, or missing deadlines, all cause problems for everyone else on the team. Similarly, negative experiences of services are almost all due to things not going well - every complaint is pointing out a flaw in the experience.

But when everyone is doing their job correctly, things just happen without anyone really noticing. If the system works the way it should then people don’t notice the system. The stuff people need to do their jobs is there for them to do their jobs. The things that service users need to happen, happen.

And often, when you do everything right that you are meant to do, people won’t really know whether you have done anything at all.

Monday, February 07, 2022

Erasing Cara Dune from Mandalorian merchandise

Cara Dune was a major character in both seasons of The Mandalorian. She debuted in the fourth episode of the first season, when the Mandalorian and the Child he is protecting seek sanctuary on a quiet planet. Cara is also hiding out there, and they team up to protect a village that is being attacked by hostile bandits.

At the end of the first series, the Mandalorian assembles a team of allies that he has made on his various adventures, to take the fight to the people pursuing the Child. Cara joins him and at the end of the final epsiode in the series, stays behind on the planet Navarro, where the showdown took place.

A few episodes into the second season of the show, the Mandalorian returns to Navarro, at the request of Cara and another character, to help them destroy a remnant Imperial base. In the process, they discover some more of the Child’s back-story hinting at why the remaining Imperial forces are hunting him. At the end of that episode, Cara is recruited by the New Republic to become a Ranger, which is a bit like a police sheriff.

At the end of the series, the Mandalorian approaches Cara for help, using her privileges as a newly minted Ranger to find and recruit someone to help him in his mission to rescue the Child from the Empire. Cara joins the Mandalorian and is part of the climactic battle against the Imperial warlord who has captured the Child.

So, as a character, Cara plays an important role in the story arcs of both seasons of The Mandalorian. However, after the second season wrapped, the actor who played Cara, the former MMA fighter Gina Carano, made negative comments about transgender people and refused to apologise. Gina then moved on to other topics, including conspiray theories about the pandemic, and was subsequently fired by the Disney Corporation. This was despite her being lined up to star in a new series set in the Star Wars universe, which Disney has decided to ditch as well.

So, basically that means it’s the end of Cara Dune as a character in future Star Wars projects. Because of the controversial comments made by Gina Carano, any attempt to recast the character would just dredge up all the reasons why the original actor got fired. Disney have decided to move on without both Gina Carano and Cara Dune.

I don’t have a problem with that. Disney has every right to not employ people who don’t share the organisation's values. As the controversy dragged on, Gina Carano, had several opportunities to retract comments and de-escalate the situation. Instead, things got more toxic until Disney decided it had had enough.

However, Disney has now gone a step further and started removing the character from materials relating to The Mandalorian.

Towards the end of last year, Topps released a set of trading cards in the UK based on The Mandalorian. It was basically a re-release of two sets that had come out previously in the USA, with both sets combined into one big set covering both series. However, Cara Dune is notably absent from the cards.

Cara appears in a couple of still photos taken from various episodes, but very much as a background character. She barely features on the cards with pictures from the episode where she is introduced and first teams up with the Mandalorian. She is notably absent from the shiny ‘character cards’ that are in the set, although other characters who appear in just a few episodes are included.

While I understand the decision to not continue with the character in future projects, I feel ambivalent about the retroactive redaction of media to remove the character completely. Maybe there are contractual issues, although I would imagine the contracts for merchandise were signed a long time ago. Shiny character cards featuring Cara were included in the original trading card releases in the USA. So this is a decision made after the controversy.

I’m not keen on the phrase ‘cancel culture’, because it feels to me that the people who object the most to ‘cancel culture’ are, ironically, the people who think we should ban or boycott anything they don’t like. But this redaction is really noticeable. Because of how prominent a character Cara Dune was in the show, removing her is really obvious, and, weirdly, the removal of the character acts as a reminder by omission of the toxic comments that prompted the controversy. It’s almost as if Cara Dune – the character – made those comments and has been removed from the follow-up media.

I don’t know what the best way forward for the various companies involved would have been. They might have attracted negative attention if Cara Dune appeared in the trading card set from people who can’t distinguish between a character and an actor. Or maybe I am being na├»ve in thinking that it is possible to watch and enjoy a show without endorsing the views and opinions of the actors playing the characters. These things become intertwined and are hard to differentiate.

Some final notes

The Cara Dune action figure at the top of this post was released as part of a range of ‘retro’ looking figures that copy the style of the original Stars Wars figures that were released over 40 years ago. Because of the controversy, it is very unlikely there will be future action figures of this character. So, I bought one, as a future curiosity more than anything else.

The box of trading cards was a Christmas gift. I now have a complete set of the base cards and most of the insert series. The highlight of the box was a “parallel card”, with a purple tint. 

Only 50 of these were released and I got the very first one as noted on the back!

The character, Moff Gideon, is the Imperial warlord who captured the Child for his wicked plans at the end of the second season of the show. He's not my favourite character but at least he is in several episodes and has a speaking part!

Sunday, February 06, 2022

Tracts and trickery

Recently I met up with my longstanding friend, Mark (Hi Mark!), for a coffee. We chatted at length and after we collected our second coffees of the evening, we decided to switch tables. The table we moved to had some literature left on it that looked like this.

At very first glance, I thought someone had left a leaflet along with a decent tip for a hardworking busboy. Then I realised it was something else - and I got a bit excited. This is the first time I have seen an example of a "Fake Bank Note" religious tract in the wild.

When it's taken out of the other leaflet it looks like this.

That's right it's a one million pound note from the 'Bank of Eternity', which bizarrely seems to be endorsed by Simon Cowell. I doubt he has agreed for his image rights to be used like this. The point of the tract is to warn you that large amounts of money or even being as famous as Simon Cowell won't save you on judgement day, so you need to get repenting or you will go to hell. (I'm paraphrasing here, but that's the gist.)

Mark was a bit surprised about how keen I was to look at this bumf. But I have an interest in religious marketing (because I seem to get sent religious post regularly). I've also never seen this in use in the UK. I remember reading several highly critical responses to similar Fake Bank Notes being used in America several years ago - for example, in this post from 2014 on Stuff Christians Like - but I didn't ever expect to see something so tacky in use over here. 

I suppose, like most terrible things that develop in American culture, it was almost inevitable that they would show up in the UK eventually. I can only imagine the disappointment of a staff member thinking for a fleeting second that they have been given a generous tip, only to find it's a hard sell for religion. I can't think of anything more offputting, really. 

I was slightly impressed by the designer's attention to detail. The serial number starts JN316, a reference to John 3.16 - but I can't figure out if the rest of the serial number is meant to mean something. [Edit: Carol W thinks it might be another Bible reference - IS551 meaning Isaiah 55.1] It's a bit of a hidden gag that I appreciated even if the target audience wouldn't get it. There is also a line saying it's not legal tender. It's almost as if the "Bank of Eternity" isn't a real bank after all.

Saturday, February 05, 2022

January 2022 - end of month review

Cathy and I kicked off the New Year with a Lego build that took us most of New Year's Eve and was completed on New Year's Day. It will fit in  nicely with our other large Lego vehicles.

I had a few days off at the start of the month and we put away the Christmas decorations before I started back at work after the seasonal break. The Christmas cards came down around about the same time and I embarked on the annual audit (results posted here!).

Halfway through Januray I had an exciting weekend, which included the first community litterpick that I had been on for ages, and the first local football match as restrictions eased. I made it to three games in January - the game at Cardiff Draconians I blogged about, a dismal defeat for Barry up at Cardiff Metropolitan, and at the end of the month, a trip to Gloucester to watch Longlevens play Bishop's Cleeve.

I went to that game because Cathy's cousin's stepson, Luke, plays in goal for Bishop's Cleeve. He wasn't called on to do much in the game, but he made a couple of very good saves and it was nice to see him keep a clean sheet in a 2-0 win. In the picture below, he's the tall goalie wearing a purple kit. He looks small in this photo because he's further away than any of the other players.

This was a rare month of matchgoing, because I went with different people to each game. Steve joined me at Cardiff Dracs. I somehow persuaded my friend Callum to come to Cardiff Met, and we picked up Paul, the other member of the Barry Town West Cardiff Massive, on the way. And then I watched the Bishop's Cleeve game with Cathy's uncle Steve, and her cousin Adam. 

For the first time ever I had a personal stake in the Africa Cup of Nations, supporting Gambia who were appearing there for the first time. They did well in their group games and won the first knock-out game before losing in the quarter-finals. It was enjoyable sharing updates on the Gambia team's progress with my mum and brother. None of us could really believe how well they were doing. 

Unlike last year, this year we were able to celebrate my Mum's birthday with her. We spent her birthday weekend in Shrewsbury. On her actual birthday we had a jaunt to Oswestry, which meant we could meet up with some friends we hadn't seen since before the pandemic started. We also had a Sunday lunch out, with some of my cousins coming over. We hadn't seen them for almost 3 years, which is just another reminder of how long the world has been pandemified.  

The big TV event this month has been the weekly release of episodes of The Book of Boba Fett on Disney Plus. This started strongly, but hasn't really gone where I expected it to. I am holding off until the season finale on the 9th of February before giving it a proper review. Suffice to say, I have thoughts!