Archive for August, 2019

Repeats …

August 30, 2019

For most of my life, how my life gets organized is, basically, by a set of simple requirements that all come together to produce something that might or might not seem odd, but is always justified when you total up all of my desires and constraints and reason out to a conclusion. Or, at least, that’s true for anything that is actually organized and/or set; impulsive decisions aren’t quite that detailed. But, in general, if I’m doing something there’s always reasoning behind it, even if that reasoning might be incorrect.

So, on weekday evenings (Monday through Thursday), despite being on a kick to finish things, I’m only rewatching TV shows. I start with a couple of episodes of “Charmed”, and then finish with a few episodes of “Yu-Gi-Oh”. Why is that?

Well, as I’ve commented before, I’ve run out of new half-hour shows that I really want to watch. Yes, I’ve even finished “Stein’s Gate”. So instead of desperately trying to find one of those to kinda watch, I decided that until the end of the year I’d just pick up something from what I’ve already watched and re-evaluate after New Year’s Day. I wanted something, then, that was enjoyable but also something that I could easily ditch if a new half-hour show came along. Then I re-watched the Yu-Gi-Oh Abridged series and decided that that would be fun to watch right now. So that slots into my half-hour slot.

And weekdays is when I always have a half-hour slot. On weekends, I either can stay up a little later because I don’t really have to get up as early or am likely to be able to start watching earlier because I finish what I want to finish, or both. This means that flexibility isn’t as big an issue on the weekends — since my schedule itself is more flexible — and so I can almost always fit in a reasonable number of hour-long episodes. That makes it the perfect time for me to watch the long, long list of hour-long shots that I want to finish. So I start, then, with an even split: hour-long shows on the weekend and half-hour long shows during the week.

However, I want to rewatch some of my old hour-long shows while I’m on vacation. But for “Charmed”, at least, my vacation isn’t long enough to watch the entire series. So getting a head start on that would be good or else I won’t finish it and have to rearrange things anyway. And I don’t really want to steal time from the long, long list of new hour-long shows to rewatch something. And as it turns out my time on weekdays is variable, as I sometimes — or often — am able to come home earlier and so have more time, but also sometimes work later and/or have other things to do that eats into that time. So I wouldn’t want to plan on watching something new on weekdays because I might go many days without watching it at all, but that’s not an issue for the shows that I’ve already watched and am just trying to rewatch. If I have to skip a day or days because I’m too busy, I’ll still have time to get around to it later, like when I’m on vacation. So there’s no real pressure, which wouldn’t be the case if I was trying to get through a show that I’m trying to finish.

Thus, new hour-long shows on weekends, repeats of hour-long and half-hour long shows on weekdays. So far, this is working out fine, and we’ll see if anything changes after New Year’s Day.

Thoughts on “Soap”

August 29, 2019

“Soap” is, essentially, a half-hour parody of your typical daytime soap operas. One of the main advantages of this format is that the show can go to ridiculous extremes to generate humour because at worst it won’t be much more extreme than actual soap operas are and at best it being so much more extreme than normal soap operas but yet in line with them will only work to heighten the parody. Unfortunately, there’s a bit of a downside to the format, which is that soap operas, even at the time, were themselves reaching for more extremes, and so the show can seem stale or outdated, essentially as a soap opera itself rather than a parody. To overcome this, the show is going to have to be funny in and of itself.

Fortunately it, for the most part, actually is. It contains a number of strong comedic actors — including an early role for Billy Crystal — and has a lot of humourous scenes in it that aren’t directly related to soap opera parody. In general, the writing is pretty strong: but this itself is actually a weakness at times, because the show stitches in dramatic and emotional scenes into the humour, which is how soap operas work as well. Unfortunately, the scenes are so effective that it can make the humour less funny. If Jessica talks about how devastated her relationship with her husband is making her, or Mary talks about all the issues that her rather screwy family are causing her, it ends up being harder to laugh when they do those crazy things or when Jessica and her husband fight. The actions don’t seem as innocent anymore.

Anyway, the show is, as its intro constantly reminds us, about two radically different families, linked by marriage — Jessica and Mary, the two wives, are sisters — that also live radically different lives. Jessica’s family, the Tates, are rich and successful, while Mary’s, the Campbell’s, are more working class. They in general don’t get along when they get together, which adds to the humour as they fight with each other.

The breakout character was, of course, the first butler, Benson, but in general I found the second butler, Saunders, more interesting. Benson’s humour was more hostile, while Saunders’ was more dignified and frustrated, at least in part because of the British accent.

Harris had planned for five seasons, but only got four, ending the fourth on a cliffhanger. That being said, while it was still good, the later seasons weren’t as interesting. For me, while I had originally liked the daughter Eunice, she was kinda derailed in the later seasons and then the other Tate daughter, Corrine, left after losing the ex-con Dutch — played by Donnelly Rhodes — to Eunice (who, to be fair, had found him first) even though Eunice had really treated him poorly in that season. This is sad because one of the show’s strengths was the characters and how you could interpret them. Eunice, for example, is very angry at Billy Crystal’s Jodie character early on, using some gay slurs that you wouldn’t think she’d do, but it’s later revealed that he kept taking some of her favourite clothes which is why she hated him, and later events reveal that this isn’t uncommon (Corrine at one point dressed the dog up in Eunice’s clothes). It’s easy to see how losing the things she loved most could make her a bit bitter. In the later seasons, there is an undercurrent that she’s unsatisfied with her relationships because she takes after her father, but it isn’t played up enough to really come off.

That’s the flaw in the later seasons: the characterization isn’t as strong or consistent, which then somewhat hurts the humour but more hurts the show. It becomes more something to watch as a comedy just for the rather standard jokes than as the at least slightly deeper show that it started out as. This sort of character derailment is indeed common in soap operas, as characters change to fit the convoluted storylines they find themselves in, but it did hurt the show a bit.

That being said, even with that, it was still a good show. I will definitely watch this show again at some point.

Psychology: Looking Into the Subconscious and Ignoring the Conscious

August 28, 2019

I ended up browsing on Dan Ariely’s blog. I’ve talked about his views before, but in general he’s trying to use behavioural economics and psychology to show how we aren’t always rational and what potentially can be done to work around that. In reading some of this posts — and in particular some of the times when he answers questions — I was reminded of what I found problematic about psychology in general when I was taking it as part of my Cognitive Science degree (which I’ve pretty much dropped due to life getting in the way): it tries to explain things by generalizations and subconscious motivations instead of looking at individual, conscious reasoning that often really does work to explain a person’s actions. I was tempted to go through some of these as blog posts, but I can’t find a way to link only to the specific posts and the ones that answer questions link to the Wall Street Journal which requires a subscription to read. So, I was going to ignore it, but then I came across one about football that so exemplifies what I was annoyed about that I simply have to reply to it.

In order to keep all the context in, I’m going to quote the whole thing — the graphs probably won’t come through, but I’m not arguing with the graphs — but will reply in-line. The post is by Wendy De La Rosa, Dan Ariely, and Kristen Berman, and is from 2014:

During the last month, the World Cup has captivated the globe, including our team at Irrational Labs. We have watched all 64 games and rejoiced / suffered through each of the 171 goals (not counting penalty kicks). This 2014 FIFA World Cup turned out to be an entrancing tournament: Eight of the “Round of 16” matches went into overtime, four went to penalty kicks, and the final match ended with Germany scoring in the 113th minute!

When we watched the now infamous Germany – Brazil game, we couldn’t help but come up with some interesting behavioral questions. When German midfielder Thomas Mueller scored the first goal against Brazil 11 minutes into the game, many of our Brazilian friends said this is just the start of the game.

And while we all know what happened, we started thinking: Were our Brazilian friends onto something – are there more or less goals and attempts late in the game?

One would stipulate that there is no difference in scoring between the first and the second half. Every goal matters equally, regardless of when it is scored, and players should attempt to score with the same amount of effort and success over time.

This will become important later, but stop and ask yourself about football or any similar sport: does it seem reasonable to you, knowing the sport, that players would try equally hard to score in the first minute as opposed to the last minute in the closest and most competitive games in that sport?

Another hypothesis is that fewer goals are scored in the second half as players fatigue Unlike basketball, where players are often substituted in and out, most of the football players are on the field for the full 90 minutes of play (sometimes 120 minutes if it goes to overtime).

Fatigue can obviously impact defensive abilities as well, as anyone who has watched those sports would know. Again, anyone who actually has knowledge of the sport itself can find a problem with this hypothesis.

Yet another hypothesis is that players score more goals in the second half as they are closer to the end of the game. Motivation research suggests that agents are more motivated as they near the end of their stated objective, whether a marathon or a life altering championship.

I’m really not sure why this works as any kind of hypothesis. Sports are competitive, not solo. The end of the game is really only the end of a stated objective if you’re going to win, not if you’re going to lose. And even in the case of a marathon, the motivation would increase only because you can see the finish line but are also motivated to finish as quickly as possible. In a sport like football, my hypothesis would be that if you don’t think the outcome can be modified you’re more likely to simply slow down and let time run out expending as little effort as possible. Even Ariely et al have to concede that, in general, humans are pretty lazy when they don’t see the extra effort as producing a better outcome.

It turns out our Brazilian friends were right; more goals are scored in the second half! Of the 171 goals scored in the World Cup, 39% of the goals were scored in the first half, 57% in the second half, and 61% in the second half when we include overtime.

Again, this will be more important later, but I don’t think that this would be surprising to anyone who actually really knew the sport.

After learning that players score more goals in the second half, we wanted to know why. There are two ways to increase goals scored: increase attempts or increase skill (measured as goals / attempts). Which one is at play here?

The skill hypothesis stipulates that players are “super humans” who perform best when they are under pressure. Consider German Mario Gotza, a substitute midfielder, scoring the game winning goal against Argentina just seven minutes before the end of the match.

To answer this question, we compared a team’s skill in the entire game to a team’s skill in the last 15 minutes of a game. Our analysis showed that there is no statistical difference in skill when you compare these 15 minutes. This is consistent with an interesting study done by Dan Ariely and Racheli Barkan, where they studied the shooting percentages of “clutch players.” Clutch players are NBA players who are widely regarded as “basketball heroes who sink a basket just as the buzzer sounds.” As it turns out, clutch players do not become better basketball players as the pressure increases in the last few minutes of critical games. Basketball players, like our football players, do not increase in skill towards the end of the game.

Except that we don’t generally claim that “clutch” players are players that suddenly get a burst of skill in pressure situations to make those shots. Rather, we tend to claim that they are players who do not collapse under pressure, and so maintain their focus and ability and so are able to hit that shot at the buzzer. So this reasoning about clutch shooting is incorrect; no one posited it was ever about a nebulous increase in skill.

That being said, in a number of sports you do have players who are pressure players and do better when the pressure is on than when it isn’t. They tend to focus more and so make less foolish mistakes. So there do seem to be such players that we can show both statistically and through observation that are indeed more “skilled” when the pressure is on. Marcus Stroman in baseball is a prime example of a player who pitches far better when the game is meaningful — at least to him — than when it isn’t. At times, he’s seemed bored when it doesn’t matter but is very focused when it does.

So if it’s not a question of increased skill (% conversion), it must be a question of effort (number of attempts). Given this finding, we decided to analyze the number of attempts made by players, and whether they increase as the game wears on. Which team is attempting the most goals at the end of the game? One hypothesis is that the leading team increases their attempts as they are more confident and have strong momentum behind them. The other hypothesis is that the trailing team would attempt more goals at the end of the game because the cost of losing is more salient to them.

Depending on the circumstances of the game, either can be true. A team that is dominating and has a clear lead that should win them the game, they probably would be able to ride that momentum and generate more offense, especially if their opposition is disheartened by the fact that the game is out of reach. This is one of the reasons against “running up the score”, because if a team is out of the game and having a tough day it’s only dedicated pride that can stop the other team from rolling right over them. If the game is close, however, then the trailing team is more likely to be desperate to score and so will be trying to press to score the goals they need to win, which isn’t a motivation for the team that’s leading.

Again, just watching a sport regularly will give you these scenarios, with the commentators specifically pointing out the reasoning. Ariely et al will not actually look at that to come up with their explanation.

We can see loss aversion playing out in golf green. According to researchers, Devin Pope and Maurice Schweitzer, “Golf provides a natural setting to test for loss aversion because golfers are rewarded for the total number of strokes they take during a tournament, yet each individual hole has a salient reference point: par (the typical number of shots professional golfers take to complete a hole).” After analyzing PGA Tour putts (the last shot before a hole), they noticed that golfers are extremely loss averse. Golfers make putts for birdie (one shot less than par) significantly less often than identical-length putts for par (getting to par). The researchers estimate that this loss aversion costs the average pro golfer about one stroke per 72-hole tournament, and the top 20 golfers about $1.2 million in prize money a year.

This is stated in an incredibly convoluted way, but here’s what I think the gist of it is: golfers miss shots for birdie more often than shots for par, even if you control for length of putt. This is attributed to loss aversion: the idea that we, subconsciously, pay more attention to losses than to gains.

In golf, there are only two ways to lose ground wrt your competitors. Either they shot under par on a hole, or you shoot over par on a hole. Thus, any time you miss par, you lose ground against your competitors, but shooting over par doesn’t necessarily cause you to gain ground (they could make a birdie as well). So making par is almost always more important than making a birdie. So, in those cases, we can presume that the golfers are often taking more time to line up their shot to avoid actually losing ground. The only exception to this is when a golfer desperately needs birdies to catch a golfer ahead of them … but then this becomes a pressure situation which can cause misses. That the average pro golfer loses one stroke to missing a birdie that they might have made if it was for par seems pretty reasonable to me: early in the tournament, they’re likely to be more casual about birdie putts as they aren’t as important as par puts, and later when birdie putts become more important that’s also when there is the most pressure on them to make them, more than there was for those par putts early in the tournament. You don’t need to appeal to any kind of generic “loss aversion”, but instead to normal psychological processes specific to the game and the situations they find themselves in.

Does this theory hold true in football? After analyzing the data, we found that during the last 15 minutes of each game, number of attempts made by the trailing team (as a percentage of their total attempts made during the game) increase, while the number of attempts made by the winning team decreases.

Is anyone who follows football at all surprised at this? I mean, you can just watch the game and note that this is happening.

They are then going to try to explain this with loss aversion.

Why is this? We believe we can explain this phenomenon with loss aversion. Loss aversion is the behavioral economic concept that states that we value losses more than we value commensurate gains. The other stipulation in loss aversion theory states that we are risk seeking in losses and risk averse in gains. In other words, our risk appetite increases when we are losing. This phenomenon is known as “risk shift.”

The feeling of loss aversion is heightened in football. Think about the cost of a goal in football compared to the cost of a basket in basketball. Because goals are so difficult to make, the cost of giving up a goal is greater than the cost of not making a goal. Thus, teams are naturally more defensive, focused on avoiding “a goal” or a “loss” much less than “scoring” or “gaining” for most of the game.

Loss aversion is a powerful concept, and we are all susceptible; even world class football players. So to go back to our Brazilian fans, expecting more effort as the game continues is a reasonable expectation. Unfortunately, and as the Brazilian fans found out, sometimes effort is not enough.

So, they claim that it’s the concept of “loss aversion”, tying it to the general cost of giving up a goal vs getting one and all of that … and completely missing that in a close game in sports like football the team that is leading playing more defensively and the team that is trailing pressing offensively is actually an explicit strategy. In a close game, teams that are leading deliberately go into defensive shells in an attempt to do what is explicitly called “protect the lead”. They don’t need to score to win the game, and only need to prevent goals from being scored on them, so they pull back. A big part of this is that pressing offensively can indeed leave a team vulnerable defensively, and so make it easier for them to be scored against, so they want to minimize that as much as possible. The team that is trailing, on the other hand, had to take the chance of being vulnerable defensively because they need to score. Players, then, press forward more often, faster, and from positions where they wouldn’t and don’t come back defensively as quickly to help keep their offensive advantage. And it’s commonly noted in these situations that this puts them at risk for a counter-attack that could ultimately seal the game for the other team, but they have to do so to even have a chance at winning. And it’s also commonly noted that the team that plays to protect can indeed give up the momentum and, if the other team scores to tie it up, can end up not being able to switch to a more offensive mode quickly enough to win the game regardless.

These are not things that observers of the game merely note without explanation. These are not even merely things that they’ve come up with an explanation for. These are deliberate strategies that coaches instruct their players to do. And these strategies being in play would explain the results that they tried to appeal to the generic and subconscious “loss aversion” to explain. It’s this sort of thing that really annoys me about psychology at times and makes me believe that it will have a hard time explaining human behaviour. Yes, we have subconscious biases that might have an impact that we didn’t expect, but you can’t simply rely on those when there is conscious reasoning and strategies that need to be considered, and when individual beliefs and circumstances matter to the outcome. Too often, psychology tries to cut consciousness out of the picture, and when it does so it quite often gets things incredibly and ridiculously wrong.

Thoughts on “Avengers: Endgame”

August 27, 2019

“Avengers: Endgame” might be the last MCU movie that I just go out and buy as soon as it’s available. Still, I was very much looking forward to it. “Infinity War” was as far as I can recall the last MCU movie that I really enjoyed, after a string of ones that were “Meh” at best. I was looking forward to see how they managed to wrap up this story arc and seeing how it compared to the comics, which I had read.

It disappointed me.

The details will contain spoilers and so I’ll continue below the fold:


Missing Horror

August 26, 2019

Readers might have noticed that I haven’t done very many horror films in the past little while. The main reason for this is the usual “I’ve been really, really busy lately” reason that applies to, oh, pretty much everything that I haven’t been doing lately. I’m hoping to see the light at the end of the tunnel soon, and hope that it’s not a train. But the reason why horror itself has slipped so badly is, at least to me, a relatively interesting one.

I don’t watch those horror movies primarily for entertainment. Sometimes I do enjoy them, but for the most part I watch them to analyze them and so to provide content for the blog. Usually the movies aren’t that bad — often better than, say, watching Enterprise — and they might take a couple of hours at most and provide a blog post for me and also help me build up my experience with them to have more things to talk about when I watch them. In general, they work out to be a pretty efficient — if not maximally pleasurable — way to spend my time.

But since I’m watching them to analyze them, I can’t watch them in the most convenient time to do that: while I’m at home eating lunch. The problem is that pretty much anything I watch while and after eating is something that I’m going to doze off during. I can do that while, say, watching MCU movies because they’re primarily about the entertainment value and I just write about them later to express what I thought of them, not as any kind of on-going series. But horror movies are primarily about the analysis, and are generally short enough that dozing off will result in me being totally unfair to the movie, especially since most of the complaints end up being about things they didn’t develop enough which might have happened while I was asleep. So I have to try to find times to watch where I’m not likely to fall asleep and have a couple of hours free.

To be fair, there is some time in the evenings when I get home from work that would work for this. The problem there is that that timeslot is also taken up by the shows I want to finish, and so I almost always end up choosing them instead. And the worse the show is, the more likely I am to try to get through it in that timeslot to get it finished so that I can move on to something more interesting.

It doesn’t help that the big horror movies that I’m most tempted by are parts of larger series. The Stephen King adaptations, for example. Or the Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th series. I don’t really want to start them — or start them up again — until I can dedicate some time to going through the entire series, but those are the ones that I’m most interested in watching right now despite having a large stack of horror movies to get through.

And, of course, I still do buy interesting cheap horror movies when I find them, so the stack just keeps getting larger and larger.

I am going to try to get back to watching and commenting on horror movies, for those who find it interesting. I’m just not quite sure when.

Blood and Tyranny

August 23, 2019

So, last week I talked about Chuck Sonnenberg’s discussion of “The Elite” and how the calls for a superhero to kill the supervillains to prevent future horrific crimes was an abdication of the responsibility of society and an attempt to have their cake and eat it too: to have the villains disposed of while keeping their hands and consciences clean. And then I was rewatching/listening to his Justice League reviews and came across “A Better World Part 2” where in discussing that issue he makes the exact same argument that I did, including the comment on the blood being on the hands of society. I made the link to Raiden’s “why didn’t you?” comment which he didn’t, so I still going to assume that I did come up with that myself and wasn’t just remembering what he had said.

The interesting thing, however, is that the argument fits better in response to “The Elite” than it does to “A Better World”. While he does comment that we can either give the responsibility to the heroes or simply let them take it, the key difference is that “A Better World” is explicit that they do this pretty much regardless of what society in general think of it. Whether society sees them as heroes or villains is irrelevant because they are going to produce a better world, whether society sees it or not. This is explicit in Luthor’s taunt of Superman at the beginning: Superman doesn’t break his code because he wants to be seen and see himself as the hero. To take those actions means that Superman can’t be the beacon of hope and virtue that he wants to be and sees himself as. And he ultimately decides that producing the better world is more important than that, and is more important than anyone’s opinion of it … including Lois’ and other people that he most trusts.

“The Elite” is different, as is in general the calls for Batman to kill the Joker. In those, society calls out for the hero to do this. In “A Better World”, again Luthor’s taunt implies that if he does that society will not cheer him for it, and will at a minimum be wary of his doing that. No matter what Superman says, forcing his way into the White House to ultimately kill the sitting President that he’s long had an adversarial relationship with is going to seem suspiciously convenient. But society did cheer “The Elite”, and continued to do so and would continue to do so right up until the point that the hero did something that they felt, rightly or wrongly, crossed the line. A careful hero could remain a hero as long as they only did what society agreed with, while in “A Better World” the first step was always going to be that step too far.

A similar theme exists in Persona 5. The Phantom Thieves start out simply doing what needed to be done, but then as they grew in popularity started listening to society and taking on the targets that they asked for. And they were cheered for it. But as soon as it was believed that they killed rather than converted their latest victim — which they were framed for — society turned on them. They went from heroes to villains overnight, surprised at the sudden about-face when they were only trying to give society what it wanted.

That’s the ultimate end of the “The Elite” and the calls from society for heroes to kill the villains who need to be killed or deserve it: society turning on them when the necessary measures are too extreme or when they decide that there’s too much blood on the hero’s hands to remain a hero. By contrast, tyranny is the ultimate end when the hero decides that they don’t care anymore about what society says it wants. The best heroes are always willing to do some things for society that society can’t or won’t do for itself, but always keep in the back of their minds that, ultimately, it’s society that they’re trying to preserve and, ultimately, that they serve.

Thoughts on “Alien: The Cold Forge”

August 22, 2019

When I was browsing for books, I came across a relatively recent Alien universe book called “Alien: The Cold Forge” by Alex White. I’d liked at least some of the earlier series and in general had had decent luck with adaptations, and so decided to give it a try. Unfortunately, I didn’t get lucky this time, because this was a really, really bad book.

The general plot is that a Weyland-Yutani auditor, Dorian, is sent to a major secret research facility to recommend what projects should continue and which ones should be shut down, and all sorts of other things. Given the universe, one of his jobs is also to ensure that the people running the projects aren’t hiding things from the company, which of course they probably all are. One of the ones that we know is hiding things is Blue, who is someone with a debilitating disease who is hoping that the Alien ability to fuse their own genetics with the genetics of their hosts — as we found out in Alien 3 and Alien 4 — will let her cure her genetic disease and thus return to health. Right now, however, she gets around and does her work by mind linking to a male android and essentially inhabiting its body. At any rate, while they’re there one of the other projects — an exceptionally adaptive computer virus — gets loose and starts shutting down the station, putting everyone’s lives at risk. And, it also releases the Aliens.

The first big flaw in the book is that the Aliens are essentially environmental hazards. Their only role is essentially to make doing things on the station difficult and dangerous, but they neither cause the bickering employees to band together nor does their presence cause the employees to splinter on the basis of self-interest and survival. The employees were already at each others’ throats, and it doesn’t get appreciably better or worse when they come to see the threat from the Aliens. You could have left the Aliens out completely and it wouldn’t have impacted the plot one whit. Even the cure isn’t uniquely Alien, and so Blue could have done everything she did trying to preserve a cure without it being related in any way to the Aliens.

So, if we don’t have the Aliens being the focus, then that means that the focus has to be on the characters. Dorian and Blue seem to be the viewpoint characters, but neither of them are interesting or sympathetic. Dorian is probably the most interesting as a cold-blooded manipulator who seems something interesting in the Aliens, but that aspect is never followed up on and a sadistic aspect is added to him, likely to make him out to be a more obvious villain. This isn’t very interesting and everything he did because of that sadism could have easily been justified with him being uncaring and working things out the best for him regardless of the feelings of everyone else. For example, early on he leads a woman he audited and slept with to believe that she was safe when he really recommended that she be fired. The book seems to hint that he did this because he relished her devastation when she found out — even though he wouldn’t be there when she did — but just trying to avoid a scene would have been more than sufficient. In fact, the only thing his sadism does is cause his death, as he could have left Blue to die but had to go back to prove his superiority over her because she was such a thorn in his side, despite the fact that she really, really wasn’t. This doesn’t even really hit a “hoist by his own petard” note because he was already established as putting his own interests ahead of that, so he really just looks like an idiot.

A lot of this is, of course, in service to what is probably supposed to be the sympathetic character of Blue, who ends up being utterly unsympathetic and unbelievable. There are constant attempts to hint that she has some altruistic motives — she went into genetics because she wanted to cure those diseases for everyone — but she’s so incredibly self-centered otherwise that it falls flat. She also never really does anything intelligently despite being shoehorned into a lot of situations, and at the end when she is rescued by her benefactors — and given a new android model — claims that she’s invincible now because she survived, which comes across as idiotic because she only lived by luck, still has a very short lease on life, and still has to rely on the android her benefactors provided despite Dorian proving to her that that can be overridden by command. She should be paranoid, not overly confident, especially considering that her ordeal would leave her in worse shape than she was before.

But she seems to be (sigh) the Social Justice representative here. The idea of someone who was physically compromised using one of the androids as a shell is an interesting idea, but it isn’t explored in any detail, with time instead being spent on describing Blue’s struggles with disability. She’s in a “lesbian” relationship with the security chief — who is of course the typical butt-kicking, tough woman model — using the male android shell for the sex. At the end, when offered a female android she insists on keeping the male one for no reason. It seems to me that the author expected us to sympathize or empathize with her because of those traits, but made her so unlikable that it doesn’t work.

So, with no plot to speak of, the Aliens reduced to environmental hazards, the main “hero” and “villain” uninteresting and hard to tell apart, and no interesting interpersonal conflicts or plots to follow, there’s nothing in this book of interest. I regret purchasing and reading this book, and have no interest in reading it again.

The games I’m not playing …

August 21, 2019

As regular readers will already know — and are likely getting tired of hearing — I’ve been really busy over the past few months. Actually, I suspect that I’m getting more tired of it than people are of hearing about it. Anyway, one of the things that always gets lost when I get busy are video games, right after all of the errands and household jobs that could be done but aren’t urgent so I can say “I’ll do it later as I have lots of time and surely I’ll get some free time soon!”. So for the past few weeks, I haven’t been playing video games much at all.

The problem this time is that I don’t actually have time to play anything serious, even though I both want to play “The Old Republic” and “Elsinore”. This is the reason this post is coming out today instead of another Ranathawn journal, because I only have one section left and don’t know when I’m going to play the next one, and would like to keep that as regular as I can when I actually can play it. But I don’t have the 3 – 4 hours available to play a planet to get ahead a bit. Elsinore is the same way, as I need more time to get through it and if I’m having a hard time finding 3 – 4 hours once a week for TOR I’m not going to find 3 hours multiple days in a week to make that work.

I do have a few — though not as many as I’d like — more casual games that I can pick up and play for an hour or so when I get the chance. The big game for this was always “The Pinball Arcade”, where I can play a few games on some of my favourite tables. I could probably also play the Persona Dancing games, although they aren’t as interesting to me, or drag out some of the fighting games. However, I also recently picked up some of the retro gaming consoles. I’ve had the Atari 2600 and Commodore 64 versions for a few months now, but didn’t really play them much. As I noted to a friend, the Commodore 64 one didn’t have any of the games that I actually played when I had that system, although some of them were interesting (oddly, the only exception was “Impossible Mission”). For the Atari 2600, oddly the graphics got in the way. “Burger Time” was the worst for this, as it looked simply terrible. “Asteroids” was pretty bad as well. On the other hand, “Missile Command” and “River Raid” worked really well. The graphics in those games worked well enough for their gameplay as you had other things to focus on. Anyway, there were other games that didn’t work that badly that I could have played.

The bad graphics in the Atari 2600 version got me to buy another classics console because it actually has a nice version of “Burger Time” on it, and a couple of other interesting games (“Street Fighter II”, for example). And I broke down and bought the Sega version for “Altered Beast”, although when I tried it out I never managed to get to the beast part. And there are other games on all of these consoles that I’d like to play at some point, so there are things to play on them, as well as some shorter games from GOG that I could try.

So why don’t I? Well, the time to do this is when I’m watching something on TV that I don’t really care that much about watching, like baseball. But with my accomplishment kick, it’s rare that I’m not watching something that I want to watch. And if I’m not, I’m usually doing something else that’s incompatible with playing those games. So what’s been happening is that I get home, throw on some TV for background noise, do some stuff, and then settle in to watch the shows that I’m supposed to at least be paying some attention to. That leaves little time to play games.

I could fit them in while watching “Charmed” … except that out of all the shows I’m watching right now it’s the one that I’m most enjoying watching. Which is kinda sad, come to think of it.

So I don’t have the time to play either longer session games or shorter session games, for different reasons. The good news is that while I’m busy I often read more. The bad news is that right now that’s logic puzzle books and not anything on the list of books that I really want to finish. The good news is that I’m actually enjoying them. The bad news is that the books contain sodium benzoate …

Anyway, I expect to find some time to play the longer session games — especially TOR — next month. I have no idea when I’ll get to play the retro console games. Maybe Christmas …

Thoughts on “The Great Sherlock Holmes Puzzle Book”

August 20, 2019

I’ve read a few of those logic puzzle books that I’ve mentioned before, but this one — by Dr. Gareth Moore — is the first one that I want to briefly talk about. It contains a series of short — one to two page — puzzles structured like a Sherlock Holmes mystery: Watson recording what happened in the first person while Holmes outlines the problem and the facts. The puzzles range from coded messages to mathematical puzzles to logic puzzles to simple riddles to rebuses. I, obviously, liked the logic puzzles best and eventually managed to grasp what a rebus was and so was able to solve some of them.

The main issue with the work is that the framing device doesn’t work. They aren’t (usually) examples of Holmes solving a case, but most often are Holmes presenting some kind of puzzle for Watson to solve. Since some of them are simple trick-question riddles — one is the standard “try to prove to someone that they aren’t that smart” puzzle of “On what side would the survivors be buried” — it often makes Holmes look like a bit of a jerk. This is especially true in those cases where Holmes presents a puzzle that annoys Watson, like the couple of occasions where Holmes restricts Watson’s dinner or biscuits if he can’t solve an appropriate puzzle, and one type of puzzle — I think it was the sequences — that Watson despises. The book tries to set it up as Holmes trying to test and develop Watson’s reasoning abilities, but the riddles work against that. It’s then jarring, since Holmes’ in-story jerkiness was more related to his sense of intellectual superiority, not deliberate antagonization. It would have worked better to insert these into cases, and not as distractions from them but as key facts in them, even if the book never tries to explain exactly why the facts were important to the case, or even gives the details of the case.

Still, it has a pretty good mix of puzzles, and so if there’s one sort of puzzle you don’t like or aren’t good at you can easily move on to the next one. That helps to keep it entertaining. It just doesn’t make as good a use of its framing device as it could have, and in fact makes me more interested in reading real Sherlock Holmes mysteries than I was in reading the book.

I guess it’s not me …

August 19, 2019

The shows I’ve been watching lately haven’t really been thrilling me. “Agents of SHIELD” was meh. “Agent Carter” was terrible. “Voyager” was meh. “Enterprise” was terrible. “2 Broke Girls” was meh at best. “The Nanny” started and finished well but had a really terrible part in the middle. “Mork & Mindy” was very disappointing. “Soap” was good but ran out of steam a bit at the end.

But what really got me thinking was starting to watch “Star Trek: Discovery”. I wasn’t enjoying it. But what was strange about that was that I couldn’t really find fault with the writing. It wasn’t Shakespeare, but it was miles better than Enterprise and even Voyager, but I actually in general enjoyed Voyager more. Arguably, I should have enjoyed it more than I had been.

Since I’ve been busy and so also tried lately, this made me wonder if the problem was not with the shows, but instead with me. Was I just not really interested in watching TV and so was letting that get in the way of my enjoying it, despite the fact that there really wouldn’t be anything else that I could reasonably do? Was my fatigue and stress level simply making me less tolerant and patient with the show, so that any slight would cause me to overreact? Was I simply not really capable of enjoying TV shows due to my mental state?

And then I decided to start watching “Charmed” again after getting tired of Discovery after watching two episodes. And I found I really enjoyed it.

This is despite the fact that the first two episodes, at least, have a number of issues, including with the writing. They fumble the ball on a number of occasions. One big example is in the second episode, where Phoebe goes off at some point in at the latest the afternoon to a photo session with the demon that’s stealing the youth of various women. The show then stops to show Piper resolving her fear of being evil by entering a church — which is a scene that I’ve always loved — and Prue having lunch or dinner or something with an old beau and, I think, having a meeting with what will be her new boss. Prue finally gets home after dark and it’s only then that they figure out that Phoebe might be in danger (from talking to one of the victims that Piper ran into at the church). The scenes are natural because while we knew that Phoebe was in trouble, they clearly didn’t, but this runs into the artificial rules of drama because it really feels to us like they’re puttering around with trivialities while their sister is getting attacked and possibly aged. At least Piper’s scene led to them figuring out what was going on, while Prue’s was extraneous.

So, despite its flaws, it was still actually enjoyable. Discovery wasn’t. I’ll talk about the reasons why later when I finish the second season — I’ve just finished the first — but it really does seem like the shows just aren’t fun to watch, and that when I find a show that is fun to watch I can still have fun. So it isn’t me, but for the most part really is them.

That’s a bit of a relief …