purplecat: Texture by simpleandclean (LiveJournal) (Doctor Who)
I've always confused Meglos and The Creature from the Pit which, it must be said, I've always assumed was just me. But halfway through Meglos tame layman noted it was "very like" Creature from the Pit as well. While John Nathan-Turner attempted to put a very different stamp on the show, Meglos feels very much like a leftover from the Graham Williams era, and in particular one of the less loved stories.

It's not just similar to Creature from the Pit in general tone, it has a jungle planet, a high profile female semi-antagonist, comedy ruffians (whose humour is more hit than miss) and a fourth episode that goes off on a bit of a tangent (though not as much of one).

Its production is better than that of Creature from the Pit, but that sadly isn't saying a great deal and it has a joyless feel to it (possibly because Tom Baker was ill (if I recall events correctly) and possibly because it is a Graham Williams' style story being produced by JNT). Tom Baker should be unstoppable in the double role of the Doctor and Meglos but instead is strangely muted. It doesn't help that the Doctor doesn't actually manage to get out of the Tardis until episode 2, making the whole of episode 1 feel like set-up.

The casting of Jacqueline Hill (who had played Barbara back in the original Tardis crew) is the kind of stunt casting JNT was keen on but this case seems oddly ill-conceived in retrospect - not famous enough to bring in casual viewers and fandom and general geek culture wasn't anything like as high profile in the 1980s (though JNT was an early show-runner to recognise the value of playing to the fans) - and, for whatever reason, she doesn't really dominate in the way you would expect as the celebrity cast member.

All in all, it's not terribly good. It's not out-right bad in the way that The Creature in the Pit is in places, but it fails to be particularly good in an retrospect.
purplecat: Hand Drawn picture of a Toy Cat (Default)
We went to Forbidden Corner for Valkyrie's birthday. It wasn't 100% successful since G had a meltdown in the tunnels (as discussed elsewhere) but it ended with smiles. It's a very odd place - a weird combination of wild imagination and twee. I'd have liked to explore it more thoroughly but that was not to be.

Pictures under the Cut )
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Twenty-five years ago, give or take, the Oxford Arthurian Society used to hire out the Yellow Minibus of Doom and tour the country admiring miscellaneous castles, stone circles and anything that seemed vaguely related to King Arthur. We did this for a day in Michelmas Term, a weekend in Hilary and then a full week at the end of Trinity. The day trip was always the same itinery - White Horse Hill and Wayland's Smithy, West Kennet Longbarrow, Silbury Hill, Avebury Stone Circle, Winchester (if we could squeeze it in) and then ending up at Stonehenge around dusk because some bright spark had discovered, at some point, that if you wrote to Stonehenge and claimed to be a terribly serious student society, they would would let you in after hours and you would be free to wander among the stones.

I'm not sure quite when and how the idea arose to re-create this experience for the [livejournal.com profile] primeval_denial crowd. The Yellow Minibus of Doom has long gone to the great Yellow Minibus in the Sky but we had enough drivers that it was feasible to attempt the trip in cars. Being rather wealthier we also opted to book ourselves in to the Amesbury Travelodge and make a weekend of it.

Investigation revealed that one can no longer write to Stonehenge and claim to be some kind of earnest society (we were going to go with "writers' group" which excuse has served us well in the past) but instead there is now procedure and anyone can get in for the coughing up of £35 per head. We also discovered that if you want to wander freely among the stones at about 5.30pm on a Saturday in July you need to book your slot considerably earlier than January. After a certain amount of emailing back and forth it was decided that 6.30am on a Saturday morning was the lesser of the various evils on offer.

So we started the day at Stonehenge under the watchful eye of two security guards who had instructions to expel us from the site if we had the temerity to touch (or lick - they were very specific about the no licking rule) the stones. [livejournal.com profile] fredbassett and [livejournal.com profile] bigtitch are currently on a quest to collect as much ancient graffitti as possible and so spent a lot of time peering closely at the stones and consulting with the security guards (who might not have been historians or archeologists but who had heard an awful lot of historians and archeologists go around the site) who were obviously only too happy to give up on the lurking and staring and instead talk about graffitti. [livejournal.com profile] fredbassett and [livejournal.com profile] bigtitch found a cock and balls on a fallen menhir and pronounced themselves thoroughly satisfied with the trip. Apparently there is an ancient graffitti facebook group and they were looking forward to posting their up close pictures from Stonehenge.

We then went to the Little Chef next to the hotel for breakfast and returned to Stonehenge after it had opened in order to check out the new exhibition and extensive gift shop.

We then went on to Avebury, where [livejournal.com profile] fredbassett and [livejournal.com profile] bigtitch found more graffitti and the sun rather unexpectedly came out and shone fiercely, revealing how woefully unprepared we all were in terms of sun hats and sun cream.

After lunch at Avebury we headed for West Kennet at which point it became clear I had broken some of the party (too tired to look for graffitti) and wasn't going to be allowed to do more than look wistfully in the direction of White Horse Hill and Wayland's Smithy.

On the Sunday we headed in the opposite direction towards Old Sarum which would bring various people closer to their trains, had lunch in the pub by the castle and then went our separate ways.

Photos under the Cut )
purplecat: Texture by simpleandclean (LiveJournal) (Doctor Who)

The first president on the left and the second on the right on the occasion of the second stepping down. Presented because in an idle moment today I googled the second president and found someone I think may be him on LinkedIn, though said person seems to be a very serious insolvency practioner which I find difficult to reconcile with a man who used to shout Lousiesie across the room at me. He also looks wierdly like Riley Finn from Buffy which is more than a little disconcerting.

Have sent a message via LinkedIn. We shall see if it's really him.
purplecat: Hand Drawn picture of a Toy Cat (Default)
Reading: Nearly finished Filter House by Nisi Shawl. I've loved nearly all the stories in it so far and they range over everything from futuristic science fiction to ghost stories to urban fantasy.

Listening: to the Doctor Who Bookclub discussing Crooked World. Their confusion about the Penelope Pitstop character and her relationship to her Guardian/The Hooded Claw reminds me forcibly about how the original Who novels spoke to a very specific demographic. They were equally confused (when discussing Love and War) about who the Travellers were supposed to evoke. They hypothesised that they were kind of like the Roma when, to me, they were clearly intended to evoke the New Age Travellers of the 1980s and 1990s.

Watching: Agent Carter - I find it odd how jarring the ongoing narrative structure seems when although Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D started out very episodic it became much more joined up later. I suspect it's the sense that, right from the start, this is a story about a transition -- the founding of S.H.I.E.L.D from the SSR.
purplecat: Hand Drawn picture of a Toy Cat (Default)
Trump’s joke about "Second Amendment people" was targeting gun owners, too.
A lot of nonsense has been written about Trump's "second ammendment people" remark. I mean it's obviously not something a cautious and thoughtful politician would have said but that's kind of the point of Trump. However this analysis is interesting.
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Meet Chuño, a space worthy food that the Incas made eight centuries ago
Freeze-dried potatoes with a shelf-life of up to a decade, made by the Incas.
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bironic | New vid! Book trailer for "Ancillary Justice" by Ann Leckie
Rather incredible fan video trailer for the book Ancillary Justice.
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100 Years of Film History Retold with the Best Shot in Each Year
Does what it says on the tin - though obviously one can argue about the choices of film.

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purplecat: Hand Drawn picture of a Toy Cat (Default)

G's first outing in a punt. B. forced to punt from the "wrong" end.
purplecat: Hand Drawn picture of a Toy Cat (Default)
Sunday: At my mother's. We took G. punting and she approved of the ducks. Given the parlous state of the Cambridge end of the boat, B. consented to punt from the Oxford end. It was a little breezy and we hadn't recalled punting being such hard work. B. got a blister.

Monday: Had lunch at the Pizza Pub by Kidlington Library, as recommended by G., then returned to Manchester.

Tuesday: My boss and I have been writing a book forever. I worked on getting some running examples for Chapter 5.

Wednesday: Worked from home. Got the chapter 5 examples up and running, then tried to beat the actual chapter into submission.

Thursday: Met my boss. Had an interview and got a job. Drank too much champagne.

Friday: Defeated Chapter 5. Decided to skip chapters 6 onwards and started work on the appendices.

Saturday: Volunteered at Parkrun. Had a go at blocking crochet squares. Made curry. Watched Cowboys vs Aliens (since it popped up as we scrolled through films on Netflix) which B. recalled being better than it was.
purplecat: Hand Drawn picture of a Toy Cat (Default)
[livejournal.com profile] kargicq announced on Facebook that he had signed up for the Great North 10K and asked if anyone else felt like joining him so I said yes, because why not?

The Great North 10K is organised by the same people who do the Great Manchester Run. Their flagship run is a half marathon, The Great North Run, and the Great North 10K used part of that route through Gateshead and along the side of the Tyne. The first half of the final kilometre of the route had been crowdsourced with the name "The Slog on the Tyne". As the run approached this began to loom quite large in my mind (Manchester is pretty flat) with chatter in various social media places remarking on how terrible it was and [livejournal.com profile] kargicq advising against attempting to get a personal best on the day, though he also said the slog wasn't as bad as people were making out (while also mentioning that he had walked up it in 2015).

Before the race selfie

My plan for the race, therefore, was not to get too carried away. There was a fair amount of down at the start so I figured around 5:05m/km on the down, 5:20m/km on the flat and I'd take the slog at the end at whatever pace I could manage having, hopefully, still some reserves of energy at that point. While a smaller race than the Great Manchester Run, the route was also a lot narrower than I was used to and so it often felt more crowded - particularly on any upward inclines where people tended to slow down while I was generally trying to keep to the 5:20m/km pace I was using on the flat. There was a tight turn at the halfway mark, with an announcer encouraging everyone to "do an aeroplane" as they went around the turn. I aeroplaned around the corner and then got to wave at [livejournal.com profile] kargicq who was a couple of hundred metres behind me.

The slog really wasn't that bad. Below is the Strava log for the run. There was a big banner over the route at the start of the slog, so you can see from the log below where I slow down in alarm when I see the banner, decide actually that the slope isn't too bad, gradually accelerate up it, slow down for a moment at the top and then accelerate again as I sprint for the finish. The run finished in Gateshead stadium with the theme from Chariots of Fire playing as you enter the stadium. My final time was a respectable 52m 34s - faster than I ran the Great Manchester Run in 2015, though slower than my time this year.

After the race selfie

[livejournal.com profile] kargicq's daughter is a keen amateur photographer (mostly of birds) and I gather she is somewhat contemptuous of the quality of the official run photos and also amazed at the price they charge. As [livejournal.com profile] bunn has noted, its not necessarily that easy to get good shots of the runners and there are a lot expenses involved that may not be obvious to a 12-year-old. There were a lot of me, so I feel I got pretty good value.

Some of the official photos under the cut )
purplecat: Hand Drawn picture of a Toy Cat (Default)
For the past few years my job status has been permanent insecure, meaning that my post was funded by money from grants and should those grants end without another being obtained then I would be made redundant. As of 1st September, half my time will be permanent secure meaning they need a better reason than the money has run out to sack me.

As of 1st September for half my time I will be a Knowledge Exchange Support Officer which means my job will be turning my Lego Rovers public understanding activity into an Impact Case for the 2020 REF. The other half of my time will continue to be a permanent insecure job as a postdoc on the Verifiable Autonomy grant.

I'm fairly sure this was prompted the fact I started looking for lectureship jobs earlier this year and so some money was found in order to keep my in place to work on the Impact Case. So it's sort of nice to be wanted, though it would also have been nice to have got an interview for one of the lectureships. That said, this wasn't a done deal. I had an interview today with a five person panel consisting of the head of school (of computer science and electrical and electronic engineering), both heads of department (CS and EEE), the university head of impact and the school manager.

The job does allow me to apply for grants in my own name, however, so the opportunity is there for me to turn this into a full time academic post (with a heavy emphasis on public engagement) if I can make that work out.

Still, Yay! for being half time permanent secure!!!
purplecat: Hand Drawn picture of a Toy Cat (Default)
Reading: Filter House by Nisi Shawl. Having said nice things about the Neocon Press short story collections, I have to say that (so far) this short story collection is far superior. I've particularly enjoyed The Pragmatical Princess in which a princess forms an alliance with the dragon that is supposed to eat her and The Rainses', an evocative ghost story, but one in which the end towards which the ghosts strive is ultimately as out of date and unnecessary as the ghosts themselves.

Listening: I listened to an excellent episode of Verity in which they discussed the first Virgin New Adventures novel which made me want to fairly seriously re-examine my own experiences with the novels. By way of this I also discovered the Doctor Who Book Club Podcast. I've listened to the first podcast available via my app (number 13 for some reason) - a little long at 90 minutes though it does include a detailed recap of the events of the novel under discussion, but given my fondness for the novels, I'm looking forward to the rest of these.

Watching: Having caught up on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, we've watched the first episode of Agent Carter (Jury favourable but still out). B. and I have fallen back on Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries in between episodes of old Doctor Who.

Linky links

Aug. 9th, 2016 08:34 pm
purplecat: Hand Drawn picture of a Toy Cat (Default)
Blockchain really only does one thing well
The Conversation has been running lots of articles on the blockchain (or blockchains) recently but this is the first that has actually made some kind of sense to me.
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How Jeremy Corbyn won Facebook
Facebook creates opinion bubbles (we all know this). This article starts prizing the lid off the problem but stops short of a detailed analysis, but touches on a lot of issues I know a variety of academics are interested in tackling.
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More United
I see this and I think it's all very well but they say they will fund parliamentary candidates who sign up to their principles. But how do they propose enforcing compliance to their principles and, given the vagueness of their principles, who gets to decide if someone is complying with their principles and how will they manage change to their principles?
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LessUnited | Sci-Ence! Justice Leak!
Not quite the critique I'd have made, but highlights several points that contribute to my view that MoreUnited, as it stands, is ill thought out with a surprising lack of attention to necessary practicalities.
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Are white, working class boys the least likely to go to university? - Full Fact
The answer is essentially yes with a couple of caveats.
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Why Trump voters are not “complete idiots” — Medium
A lot of this seems to make sense (in application to Brexit voters as well as Trump voters), particularly the observation that, at the bottom end of the value scale, particularly at the moment, you are more likely to benefit from volatility in the system than stability.
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You're wrong about Leave voters - four surprising facts about the 52 per cent
However, following on from the above, this is one of several articles I've seen in the past week or two that attempts to cast a more careful eye over the exit-polling data from Brexit and draws more nuanced conclusions than that the haves voted Remain and the have-nots voted Leave.

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Are internet populists ruining democracy for the rest of us?
Having recently hand-wrung on this blog about the tendency of the Internet to polarise and simplify debate, it is interesting to see an article discussing this, albeit in a straightforward way and without offering any answers.
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Traumatic breastfeeding experiences are the reason we must continue to promote it
I'm not sure I'd describe my breastfeeding experience as "traumatic" per se, but we definitely discovered a shocking lack of actual support for breastfeeding when I was having difficulty with it, in sharp contrast to the breastfeeding propaganda that was pushed on us before G was born. As a result I find even now, 13 years later, I get quite irrationally upset by Internet memes and the like that suggest that if you don't breastfeed you are somehow lazy, or don't really care about your child.
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Jeremy Corbyn's media strategy is smarter than his critics realise
I've been thinking a lot, recently, about the apparent paradox of a media space in which traditional, specifically print, media is rapidly losing readers (or at least paying readers) and yet which seems increasingly powerful on the political stage. This article, while mostly focused upon Corbyn, does at least attempt to disentangle this a bit.
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Aug. 4th, 2016 10:15 am
purplecat: Hand Drawn picture of a Toy Cat (Default)
I was tagged by [livejournal.com profile] philmophlegm, but won't be tagging anyone since I get the impression that's not popular on my flist. However, feel free to consider yourself tagged if you wish.

44 Questions under the Cut )
purplecat: Texture by simpleandclean (LiveJournal) (Doctor Who)
Revenge of the Cybermen lies at the tail end of Tom Baker's first season. This is before the fourth Doctor truly got into his stride (or at least while Baker is still giving a, for him, very subdued performance) but with a Tardis crew (using the term loosely, considering how little actual travelling in the Tardis they do) that was already nearing the end of its time together.

Harry Sullivan was always somewhat overlooked as a companion (as I recall) in the DWMs of my youth. He was considered an unwanted extra, I think, to the dream team of the Doctor and Sarah. Someone who was "only" there on the possibility that the actor cast to play the fourth Doctor would prove unable to handle the more physical demands of the scripts. I think it can be argued that Harry is a lot more than that. He tends to give the impression of often being a step or two behind the Doctor and Sarah, but he's also dependable, good-natured and, well, thoroughly decent. Ian Marter does a pretty good job with a part that was written more or less as an archetypal English Gentleman just as the archetypal English gentleman was becoming a figure of ridicule. He treads a fine line between sending the character up and demonstrating his good qualities. Harry's had a bit of a renaissance in fan opinions as his stories have appeared on video and DVD and while I wouldn't say I was one of his fans, there have been worse companions and less appealing Tardis teams. This isn't a bad story for him, he's comfortably established in the part and interacting well with both the Doctor and Sarah.

Tame layman liked the Vogan costumes and make-up. It must be said I was a little disappointed that a weapon that appears in the middle of the 1970s and is called a "glitter gun" wasn't a bit more disco. We were both rather puzzled, as the Cybermen effectively dispatched Vogan after Vogan about why more glitter guns weren't being deployed. In fact the story in general looks pretty good. Filming at Wooky Hole supplied a better class of cave set than is normal in Doctor Who.

Revenge of the Cybermen is a fairly twisty tale with several factions at work: the Cybermen, two Vogan groups, the crew of the space station (though they don't have an agenda as such beyond staying alive) and Kellman (who I pegged as a baddie as soon as I saw him since I was familiar with the actor from Blakes' 7). I'm not sure any group really gets more than the most superficial attention paid to it, but that may be just as well. Doctor Who is often not at its best when actors in silly masks (even if Tame Layman liked them, I'm not sure the Vogan costumes were good for facial expressions) sit around talking to each other. The padding in this story consists, therefore, not only of the traditional capture-escape cycles but also a fair amount plan and counter-plan.

I'm struggling to have a strong opinion about this story however. It's a good solid Tom Baker story, that avoids any egregious production or acting problems. On the other hand, I don't find I'm particularly excited about it. I suspect the narrative was a little too rambling with too many groups having to change their plans too often to really hold together. It's easy to say, of any Doctor Who story from this era, that it would have benefited from one less episode, but I feel that is truer of this story than it is of many.
purplecat: (books)
I have, once again, persuaded Philip Purser-Hallard to pay me cold hard cash to write a story. It's another City of the Saved short story (i.e., another spin off of a spin off of a spin off of Doctor Who) in an anthology entitled Tales of the Civil War which details events after death returns to the denizens of the City of the Saved (where all humans have ended up after their deaths and where, up until this point, they appeared to be immune to physical harm).

This time, it has to be said, the book I purchased for research (a biography of Anne Boleyn) cost more than I was paid. I think I'm currently running about evens on this "professional author" lark.
purplecat: (books)
When I first stumbled across The Story of Fester Cat, on Amazon I think, I was equal parts interested and dubious. I'm very fond of cats; I have mixed feelings about Pauls Magrs' work; and I was concerned about the twee potential of a memoir written from a cat's point of view. The book opens with a critique of another cat memoir in which the protagonist looks down upon its owners from heaven, so this last point was clearly a danger Magrs was well aware of.

The story starts with the final week of Fester's life, an artefact I think, of the way the book was written. I got the impression those first chapters were written in the immediate aftermath of his death as a coping mechanism and only after that did Magrs go back to write the rest of story. It shouldn't work, but somehow it does, in part because the book is meant to be a celebration of Fester Cat and dealing with his last week at the beginning means it does not have to be the end of the book itself.

It is very much the story of Fester Cat as imagined by Paul Magrs. You get the impression that Magrs was very much a watcher of the local cats even before Fester took up residence in his house. The opening sections give names and characters to many of them and, within reason, flesh out Fester's life as a stray. Later on Fester often discusses Magrs' own thoughts and feelings but, necessarily, Magrs' partner Jeremy remains a more shadowy character.

It is, essentially, a cat's eye view of two men settling down properly for the first time. There are ups and downs but it is coloured by lazy summer days spent in the garden or curled up on someone's lap. It is full of the details and rituals that surround Fester and infused with their love for him and the central place he assumes in their life. At the end of the book, I had to go and do a bit of concerned stalking to establish that they now appear to have been adopted by another cat, Bernard Socks. So someone feline is still keeping an eye on them.

It is, frankly, often twee in places but somehow it works, possibly because it is written from the heart.
purplecat: (lego robots)
As ever, I have got behind on posting about events. I knew the end of May and early June were going to be hectic with trips to Dagstuhl, Bristol and Cheltenham all happening in short order, but somehow things never really let up and it was only last week that I began to think life was beginning to get back to normal a little.

Last year Cheltenham proved to be a major undertaking which swallowed a good part of my time for four to six weeks for, I felt, somewhat dubious returns in terms of actual engagement with the public. This year we were actually approached to participate, rather than volunteering via various contacts which was nice. The Research Councils were jointly sponsoring a marquee with a space theme (the Space Dome) in order to capitalise on all the excitement around Tim Peake.

We took the decision that we would participate for half the week. The Space theme meant we wouldn't have to alter the Lego Rover activity in anyway to make it work with the marquee theme and I thought that three days would actually be considerably easier than six to manage in terms of the number of volunteers required etc. Instead of taking a team of eight people, some of whom only did a few days, I took a team of two. I worked them pretty hard but over three days that didn't actually exhaust anyone. Apart from the discovery that we didn't have enough hotel nights booked, everything went pretty smoothly and the amount of preparation needed in advance was minimal.

I think our stand worked a lot better as well. This was mostly a case of the additional programming work that had taken place over the summer. Thanks to some money from the STFC we'd hired a student to implement the activity on Android tablets, rather than on laptops. But I think the practice we'd had running the activity at various local events during the year meant we were much better at actually moving children at the stand beyond the "drive a robot" stage and into discussions of sensors and programming and so on.

It still cost in the region of a couple of thousand pounds to do, so if we get asked in future we'll have to think about budget and what we get out of it. I think it is fun, is a good experience for the PhD students who help out, and raises our profile as a public engagement activity. I think we did better in terms of actual engagement with science this year, but I find it hard to evaluate how much value we actually deliver in those terms and I continue to think that school visits are more worthwhile on that front. All in all I think the costs versus the benefits are fairly borderline. I certainly think we'd need something more (which might involve broadening our stand to include more of the robotics work at Liverpool or some such) before I'd contemplate putting the resources into a whole week.


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