purplecat: A pile of hardback books (General:Books)
Reading: What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew recommended a long time ago on [community profile] primeval_denial as a source for Victorian details. It's an odd assortment of "stuff about Britain for Americans", random rather list-y facts, and some stuff I find genuinely interesting. I think I've warmed to it as its gone on, but I can't help a niggling doubt that its not really written by an expert and so some of its facts may be suspect.

Listening: I've quite enjoyed the first two of David Tennant's podcasts (with Whoopi Goldberg and Jodie Whittaker respectively). Twitter tells me that Jodie is wrong to refer to Doctor Who fans as Whovians. I admit it's not my favourite word but I had somehow thought it had nevertheless entered the lexicon. Apparently not. Or at least not if you are a Doctor Who fan on Twitter.

Watching: Comfort watched two episodes of Brooklyn 99 with G. who was stressed following teenage shenanigans. Given I'm not much of a fan of the sitcom as a genre, they were remarkable watchable.
purplecat: (General:Lego Rovers)

A girl and a boy, both standing.  A Lego Robot has just reached the girl's feet while the boy operates the control pad.

Two inquiries about Lego Rovers have come from primary schools in Huyton in the past week. There is obviously some kind of Teacher whisper-network there that has just found out about me. My best guess is that I ran an after school club session in a high school out there last term and the primaries have found out about it somehow or it might be the primary school in Widnes I'm visiting next month who found out about me because of the sessions we ran at Speke Hall in the summer.

Mind you, this picture is from a school in West Derby that I visited last week. The are trying out a "challenge" I set them where they have to see how close they can get the robot to each without actually touching - made more difficult by the fact that control of the robot is on the Earth-Moon communications delay.
purplecat: A Radio Telescape pointing upwards under a meteor shower. (General:Space)

A satellite disk pointing upwards under meteor shower (not that you can really see the meteor shower at 100x100 pixels Bright star on the right, faint space dust on the left. Hubble image of rather dramatic space dust, most coloured orange with a spike of formation through the clouds. Bright star top left, edge of planet bottom right. Hubble image of swirling pink and yellow coloured space dust
Snagging is free. Credit is appreciated. Comments are loved.


Original pictures taken from Astronomy Picture of the Day except for number 4 (no idea where that comes from).
purplecat: The Eighth Doctor (Who:Eight)

Book Cover for the Infinity Doctors by Lance Parkin.  A White background with the Doctor's Ring showing a swirling galaxy in the large blue stone
The difficulty with this book is where to shelve it since it is clearly intended to be an AU in which the Doctor never left Gallifrey though. Until about halfway through the book, I was kidding myself that I could pretend it was set after he had returned to Gallifrey at some point in the future but no. Anyway, since the Eight Doctor adventures occur in canon in publication order I eventually opted to shelve it among them in publication order.
purplecat: Faded B&W of a Child with a decorative border (General:Genealogy)
We currently have a great deal of B's father's possessions (consisting mostly of photos and equipment for performing eye tests) on the kitchen table. Amongst it was the below. Jonathan Sellers was B's great great grandfather. He started out as a "Bobbin and Shuttle Maker" but by the time of his death was being described as a "Timber Merchant".


A leather pouch with a broken clasp with the words `Jonathan Sellers' Mariners Lodge 249 stamped on it and a symbol I assume to be masonic
More pictures under the Cut )
purplecat: Hand Drawn picture of a Toy Cat (Default)
Reading: Postcards from the Edge by Carrie Fisher. I have to confess its not really my sort of book, though it is entertaining enough in its way. The manner in which it treads the line between fictional and audiobiographical is a bit disorientating.

Listening: I just listened to Cressida Dick on Desert Island Disks almost entirely because she and Maggie Smith are the only famous alumni of my school.

Watching: Not a lot, to be honest, my television watching generally reduces to virtually zero when B. is away. The Teenager and I have finished watching The Good Place and can't fix on anything else we really want to watch together (though I have tried tempting her with various 1960s TV shows).
purplecat: The Sixth Doctor (Who:Six)

Paper Doll of Colin Baker: Trousers and Waistcoat but no coat.  He has his hands on his hips and looks a bit cross.  Probably because of the lack of a coat.
You were all waiting for this one with baited breath, I am sure, and yet you will have to wait a little longer to see him in his full glory.
purplecat: The Tardis against a spiralling clock face motif. (Who:Dalek)
I should really post these to t'other journal, but I find I hardly use it any more.


Flying daleks Drawing of Dalek Lots of daleks of different colours and shapes Home made Dalek from Resolution Two Daleks from a Comic
Snagging is free. Credit is appreciated. Comments are loved.
purplecat: The Fourth Doctor (Who:Four)
The Power of Kroll is not generally considered highly and certainly tends to be compared unfavourably with the rest of the Key to Time season that surrounds it. However, I had a feeling going in that it might not be that terrible and so didn't mention its reputation to Tame Layman, though I did say "All Hail Kroll!" to which he responded "Oh, it's one of those stories is it?"

And it honestly isn't that bad. On the other hand, it's not really that good either.

The biggest problem is the swampies (or, I suppose, the bad CSO of a giant squid attacking the swampie camp, but mostly I feel one is missing the point if you complain about the effects in 1970s Doctor Who). The swampies are clearly intended as an analogue for Native Americans and the story clearly wants to say something about the displacement of native peoples and the need to respect their cultures, unfortunately the swampies contrive to look faintly ridiculous and we are never invited to actually respect their culture (what little we see of it), nor does anyone ever really seek to present a point of view on what is worthwhile about their culture (beyond a little bit of random Earth people all live in metal boxes stuff which doesn't even really reach as far as suggesting that they have lost touch with nature). Their worship of Kroll (which is about all we know about them) is mostly held up for ridicule, particularly by the Doctor. Robert Holmes, of course, is neither the first nor the last author to attempt to address an injustice and contrive to be rather offensive about the victim of the injustice in the process, but he normally had a defter hand than this.

Swampies aside, the story has several decent characters, with a spectrum from narrow-minded ideology to pragmatism and compassion on display in the debates both within the refinery and in the swampy camp. The location filming is actually rather impressive and makes a change from quarries. One feels that series 11 NuWho with its anamorphic lenses and love of scenery would have made much of the flat landscape of marsh and reeds. The nuts and bolts of the plotting is perfectly coherent and has several clever bits, including the story behind Kroll's great size. We get to see the actor who played K9, which excited tame layman no end.

I suspect The Power of Kroll suffers both from comparison to the first stories in the Key to Time sequence, which are much better than this, and from a few key production points that let it down but it is mostly a perfectly solid Tom Baker story.
purplecat: Programming the Eniac Computer (General:Computing)
I spent most of Wednesday at a Northern Powerhouse Mini-conference on the relationship between artificial intelligence and inclusive growth. The morning was spent on a certain amount of "what is AI?" but with a good deal of discussion of the pitfalls of algorithmic bias and so on.

In the afternoon we had a presentation from Simon Reid, Sector Lead for Manufacturing for LCR 4.0 (Liverpool City Regions Industry 4.0 thing) which included ciivsoft as a case study for the good work LCR4.0 has been doing in the AI space. Ciivsoft is an automated recruiting tool which, among other things, builds "personality profiles" for you from people's applications and scours their social media presence for further information. No risk for algorithmic bias there then. One of our senior retired Computer Science professors immediately piped up once the talk had ended to ask why the ethics of this was so side-lined. The question was not answered. Indeed it was barely acknowledged. In fact the conversation moved on to how to encourage more young kids in the Liverpool region to be "the next Mark Zuckerberg"

While I agree with the sentiment here. There is a desperate need to stimulate aspiration in certain Liverpool City Region areas, but Zuckerberg seemed like a particularly tone deaf example to select when there had just been so much talk about the potential problems arising from the deployment of AI (and Big Data and social media) and how the region might seek to harness the potential of these technologies without entrenching its existing problems.
purplecat: Hand Drawn picture of a Toy Cat (Default)
A day late, but I felt more like this than throwback Thursday.

Reading: I have just belatedly finished Thick as Thieves the latest in The Queen's Thief series of novels. It was fine, but very like The Thief in some ways (it was mostly a travelogue) and the "twist" was pretty obvious if you've read the other books in the series - also I was frankly far less interested in the two main characters than I am in Attolia and Eugenides.

Listening: With the banishment of Doctor Who from our screens my podcasting list has shrunk back to a normal size (there are several podcasts I can't really be bothered with if they're not talking about actual new Doctor Who). I've put David Tennant's new podcast in which he talks to various celebrities on my list, though I've not listened to any yet. In general I'm not terribly engaged by celebrity interview podcasts so I'm a little dubious about this, but will give it a go and see.

Watching: Mostly we are watching A Series of Unfortunate Events and I'm torn between admiring it's presentation and production values and finding it rather repetitive. We've ground to a bit of a halt with Grimm because it seemed to be about to descend into tedious relationship drama - I suspect said drama will only last an episode or two, but I don't think either of us particularly want to watch through it.
purplecat: Peter Davison as the Fifth Doctor (Who:Five)

A paper doll of the fifth doctor in the pierrot costume from Black Orchid
The trousers don't actually cover the legs of the underlying trousers properly but a) you can't see that in this photo and b) you already know that these paper dolls are inadequate as paper dolls.
purplecat: The second Doctor reading his 500 year diary. (Who:Two)
The Abominable Snowmen was one of the very first Doctor Who novelisations I ever had, so I'm very familiar with the story. I'd never actually watched it all the way through, however, though I had seen the second episode (the only one remaining) a couple of times.

Superficially, its another Troughton base-under-siege story and yet it feels very different from the stories that surround it. Possibly this is because Troughton's bases tend to be full of scientists with a clearly defined external threat. The Abominable Snowmen is mostly about understanding what the real threat is, and instead of a base full of scientists, we have a Tibetan monastery full of monks and moreover, we have an antagonist who is working much of the time to minimise loss of life and is fundamentally sympathetic to the Doctor and his companions. It is also, of course, one of Doctor Who's few forays into non-Western history though it isn't very obvious that it is supposed to be set in the 1920s.

Victoria has been one of my companion disappointments with the randomiser, but she's not too bad here and given the novelisation is probably the first time I came across the character, that might explain why, as a child, she was always one of my favourite companions. I think quite a lot of the book is written from her point-of-view and she is given more inner strength than often came across on the show. That said, she is more inconsistent, than uniformly strong here. Her characterisation veers wildly almost from scene to scene, at one moment she will be your typical companion: curious, a bit reckless, determined to investigate and moments later she is the Victoria we saw more often: timid and anxious to be somewhere safe.

Somewhat to our surprise it was quite difficult to find a reconstruction of the missing episodes on YouTube. Our normal source - Loose Cannons - didn't seem to have one. Our options appeared to be two different animated versions, we picked the one that looked to have been made from telesnaps/screenshots and were, after a while, quite taken with the effect of animated still pictures against CGI backdrops. We thought it was something that with a little more time and money could have been very effective. However that gave out after episode 4 and the final two episodes were full CGI affairs made, we were fairly certain, using machinima techniques (i.e., moving the characters around inside a game engine). This was quite odd in places since much depended upon the models available in the engine. Mostly it was OK, but the final confrontation was rendered almost incomprehensible - Jamie and the monk, Thonmi, disappear behind a screen from where smashing noises are heard, the search for the right thing to smash takes place entirely unseen, meanwhile the Doctor, Victoria and Padmasabhava stand around doing nothing (presumably in reality there was much acting of struggling against mind control going on, but the 3D models weren't really up to that).

As the story which introduced both the Yeti and the Great Intelligence to Doctor Who, you would expect The Abominable Snowmen to have been an obvious choice for an attempt at animation. Instead it seems strangely neglected. I wonder if there is a concern that it will fare no better than The Talons of Weng-Chiang if exposed to 21st century fan attention - certainly the Tibetan monks are all played by people with names like Norman Jones and one has a nasty suspicion that the writers did not know a great deal about Tibetan buddhism.

That said, I nevertheless wish more of this story existed. I remain very fond of it and think it is an interesting and different take on the base-under-siege format. More than many, I think it is a story that would have benefitted from being able to see what the actors were doing.
purplecat: The Thirteenth Doctor and Tards (Who:Thirteen)

Book cover for The women who lived.  Artists drawings of Thirteen (centre), Idris, River, Missy, Osgood, Donna, Clara, Bill, Yaz and Amy.  Amazing Tales for Future Time Lords is the tag line above the names of the authors Christel Dee and Simon Guerrier
Freebie postcard from Vworp!


The teenager got me this book for my birthday on the strength of it being publicised at Vworp! I think we were both a little disappointed with the reality which is capsule biographies of various women in Doctor Who not, as we'd somehow thought, new short stories about them. Still, there is lots of pretty artwork and it's the kind of thing I would have loved as a child/teenager getting into the fandom - though I'm less clear how much demand there is for this kind of thing in the age of the Internet.

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