Mixed media, 29 June 2014

Before we picked up Dad from the hospital yesterday, Mum & I went in to Perth to pick up some bits and pieces. We hit Waterstones, where my eye fell upon a copy of Sex Criminals by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky. I read about this book on Wired a couple of months ago, and it went straight onto my wish list. I thought that Matt Fraction and David Aja’s Hawkeye: My Life As a Weapon was one of the best things ever, and the premise of Sex Criminals sounded delightful:

Sex Criminals

Suzie’s just a regular gal with an irregular gift: when she has sex, she stops time. One day she meets Jon and it turns out he has the same ability. And sooner or later they get around to using their gifts to do what we’d ALL do: rob a couple banks.

It’s every bit as good as it sounds. Funny, touching, and sexy, but in an adorably geeky way.

I also just finished Wool by Hugh Howey, which is excellent. (Hat-tip to Alan for the recommendation.) The idea isn’t a new one — generation ships where the inhabitants have forgotten their origins is a solid staple of science fiction — but it’s well executed and gripping all the way through. I’ve already started on the second book in the series, Shift.

Musically, I’m still totally, gloriously stuck on De La Soul. I’m writing watching their performance at Glastonbury this year on the BBC iPlayer while writing this (what a performance!), and thinking that it’s waaaaaay past time that I attended a festival. It’s not going to happen this year, but I’m thinking that I might try to hit PinkPop or Lowlands in 2015.

Also a shout out to Blend Coffee Lounge next to the Thimblerow car park in Perth, where Mum and I stopped for lunch. I only had a diet coke to drink, but I did indulge in a bacon panini and a chocolate brownie, both of which were delicious. Their website puts a lot of emphasis on their coffee, but I’d go back for the friendly, relaxed, and unpretentious atmosphere.

Laparoscopiccholecystectomy (no, not me)

I’m back in Edinburgh this evening after spending the weekend up with Mum & Dad.

Dad was in hospital with a gallbladder infection back in May. By coincidence, I had planned to be stay with them for my trip Edinburgh trip of 7-9 May, and rent a car for driving back and forth to Edinburgh. When I arrived in Murthly late on the Tuesday evening, Dad was in a pretty bad state; it was handy that I was around to drive him to the doctor the next morning. The blood tests came back later that day, and he was admitted to hospital straight away. A variety of tests and scans indicated an extremely distraight gall bladder. When it became clear that the infection wasn’t immediately life-threatening, the doctors decided it would be best to treat him with antibiotics and wait until the infection had cleared up before operating to remove the organ.

During that time all learned much about what the gall bladder does; how you can live quite happily without it; and how its removal is one of the most common operations in the NHS, with more than 60,000 cholecystectomies performed each year, most of them via keyhole surgery! Which makes it sound easy and fun.


Dad had his operation on Tuesday. Although the surgeons didn’t need to open him all the way up, apparently it was a tricky operation. During keyhole surgery, the abdominal cavity is inflated with CO2 gas to make space for the surgeons to poke around more easily. The gas is partly absorbed by the body, but in some patients it can cause effects that are more painful than the healing wounds themselves. From Wikipedia:

Not all of the CO2 introduced into the abdominal cavity is removed through the incisions during surgery. Gas tends to rise, and when a pocket of CO2 rises in the abdomen, it pushes against the diaphragm (the muscle that separates the abdominal from the thoracic cavities and facilitates breathing), and can exert pressure on the phrenic nerve. This produces a sensation of pain that may extend to the patient’s shoulders.

By coincidence (again) I was across in Scotland this weekend anyway. On Friday I took the train up to Perth and saw Dad in hospital. Mum said he looked much better, but I thought he looked dreadful. A photo wouldn’t have shown it, but a video would have: he was holding himself perfectly still to minimize the pain in his shoulders. He has been better each day, though, and we got him home yesterday afternoon along with a gallon bag of drugs to keep the pain in check. It has been a tough weekend for him, but it will get better soon. I’m glad I was able to be around for a while to help out.

Love you, Dad!

Mixed Media, 22 June 2014

On Valentine’s Day this year De La Soul put up most of their back catalogue for free download. Because of licensing issues, you can’t buy or stream their albums online, and it’s possible this move didn’t pass by the appropriate battery of lawyers. Whatever the situation, I ended up with a massive collection of De La Soul MP3s that somehow I didn’t get around to listening to until last week.

I remember the impact of their debut 3 Feet High And Rising, but I wasn’t much into hip-hop at that time. I never owned that album, or any of its follow-ups, so I only knew them from their early singles, and from their more recent collaborations with the likes of Gorillaz, Dan Le Sac and Scroobius Pip, and DJ Shadow. But now I’ve been listening to almost nothing else since I unpacked those zip files last weekend, and I’m all like, WHY WASN’T I INFORMED. Every album is a gem, and the whole collection is mind-blowing. It’s a great wall of funky, jazzy, inventive music so fresh it could all have been released yesterday.

On my flight to Edinburgh this week I watched Oblivion, and was very pleasantly surprised. I’d been expecting a sci-fi post-apocalyptic “one man against something-or-other” action flick, which it was, but with a more thoughtful script that was willing to play with ideas in an internally consistent way. It tried to make sense, and succeeded. Not quite as good an actual piece of science fiction as, say, Moon, but well worth a watch.

Wednesday evening I watched Welcome To The Punch on Netflix, a (very violent) competent British crime thriller, coincidentally also starring Andrea Riseborough. (Free wi-fi at Pollock Halls is good enough for hi-def streaming). Thursday I took in The Next Three Days, which…had moments. Good performances by Russell Crowe and Elizabeth Banks, but the plot seemed to revolve around too many coincicences. So it’s probably a true story.

Today Fiona and I watched Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, whose best feature is that it’s shorter than At World’s End.

I finished Greg van Eekhout’s California Bones yesterday. I read the ebook version, so I didn’t get a sense of the paper page count, but it felt like quite a short read. It takes place in modern-day alternate history Southern California. The Hierarch, a powerful but ageing osteomancer (bone magician), runs the place with an iron fist. But the easily-mined bones that power most of the civilization are gone, and resources are getting scarce. Shadowy figures behind the scenes (criminals and inner-circle ministers) realize that it’s only a matter of time before the population gets restless beyond the ability of the Hierarch’s forces to keep them in line. Daniel Blackstone is the son of an osteomancer killed during the Hierarch’s last “purge”, and he finds himself pressed into taking a job to steal a powerful weapon from the Hierarch’s heavily guarded vault.

The opening chapter suggests that the magic in this world can be understood scientifically, at least up to a point, but that turns out not to be a factor later on. The background of resource politics (magic and water) made me want to go and re-watch Chinatown, but the noir label doesn’t feel like the right fit for California Bones. Heist story, yes, though not in the comedic Ocean’s Eleven style. It contains too many elements of the traditional hero’s journey to create the sense of cynicism or hopelessness I associate with noir. I enjoyed it, but I didn’t feel much attachment to the characters or the world by the end.

Worldcon travel arrangements

Worldcon this year takes place over the last weekend of the kids’ summer holiday. Worldcons on this side of the Atlantic are rare. The last one was Glasgow in 2005, when Alex was four, Fiona just one, and I was still rocking a Nokia 6680.

Fiona and Alex at Worldcon in 2005

The Hugo awards ceremony takes place on the Sunday evening, and school starts the next day. We don’t want to miss the Hugos, and we can’t miss school the next morning. There aren’t any flights from London late enough on the Sunday for us to still attend the Hugos, and there aren’t any flights early enough on the Monday to get us to school on time.

Sooooo…. we’re going to drive. We’ll head down to Calais and take the ferry to Dover on the way over, ticking a box for seeing the White Cliffs at the same time. (I’ve seen them, but Abi and the kids haven’t.) On the way back, we’ll head off from the ExCeL centre straight after the Hugos, take EuroTunnel back to France, and then drive through the night to get back in time for school.

It’s only the first day – meeting new teachers, picking up books, etc., so I’m not too worried about them being tired. But also: adventure!

Awesome at the time

Mixed media, 15 June 2014 or thereabouts

Not a new discovery for me, but this week I’ve been listening to a lot of 65daysofstatic. I recognized their track “Debutante” in the new E3 trailer for upcoming game No Man’s Sky, and had to dive back in. I haven’t listened to much of their earlier stuff, but their last three outings, Wild Light, Heavy Sky, and We Were Exploding Anyway are splendid. Of course, I’m going to miss both of their appearances in the Netherlands in the next few months.

A couple of weeks ago I was sick, and spent a whole day in bed watching season 1 of The Following on Netflix. Good stuff, very intense, though possibly about two episodes too long. The final act could have been more compact, especially seeing as they were clearly planning to leave the door open for a second season.

I watched four (well, three and a half, ish) films while I was in Edinburgh the week before last. Starting on the flight over on Tuesday 3rd (yay electronics during take-off and landing), Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit was smarter and more intense than I’d expected. Before watching, I had no idea that Kenneth Branagh was in it, let alone had directed it. I liked the low-key espionage, and how it wasn’t an all-out action chase movie, at least until the end.

On Wednesday 4th, after a drink and a burger at the Holyrood, I walked up to the Omni with Jim. It was drizzling rain most of the way, but the heavens opened as we crested Calton Road onto Leith St. We were drenched by the time we got to the doors. I hadn’t bought a ticket yet, and I deliberated whether I would still enjoy watching X-Men: Days of Future Past with my sleeves damp (I was only wearing a hoodie), shoes squelching, and my trousers plastered to my legs. The alternative was to head back to my room and have a warm shower. The film won. It was good, but not life-altering. I ate too many chocolate buttons.

I was staying at the Pollock Halls of Residence, which is perfectly nice student accomodation for rent as hotel space during the summer months. Unfortunately they seem to be under the misapprehension that summer in Edinburgh is “warm”, and the heater in my room wasn’t adequate to dry my shoes overnight. Note to self: if there is a hole in the sole, Converse All-Stars are absorbent.

Squelch, squelch.

Thursday evening I had dinner with Mum & Dad at the Whisky Society on Queen Street. I made the mistake of having the burger again. Last time I was there I’d had a venison burger, which, while tasty, was very dry. This time it was a bison (or was it buffalo?) burger, which, while tasty, was very dry. The bun was thick with grainy mustard that I couldn’t get rid of by scraping. I only recently learned (to Abi’s surprise) that mustard, as well as cabbage, sprouts, broccoli, and cauliflower are all members of the Brassica family. This explains so much. I didn’t like vegetables at all as a kid, but over time I have come to even like salads. I still hate all of those brassicas. But knowing they’re all connected gives me something to hang on to — like I’m not being inconsistently fussy. They share some common aspect that just tastes vile to me.

After dinner I want back to my room and watched Seven Psychopaths. It is brilliant; the trailer doesn’t do it justice. Just like Martin McDonagh’s previous film In Bruges it’s quirky, funny, thoughtful, and tender in places you wouldn’t expect.

Seven psychopaths

On the flight back I watched the first half of Casino, convinced I’d never seen it before. But it seemed so familiar that I’m sure I must have watched it some other time. For ages now, it has been sitting on my movie to-do list; maybe I just forgot to scratch it off ten years ago. I don’t know. (I guess that says enough about how memorable I thought it was.) I watched the rest of it after I got home.

(Or did I?)

More: Archer finally made it to Netflix in NL. I watched seasons 1-3 over various trips to Edinburgh in the winter, and I scarfed down seasons 4 and 5 (Archer Vice!) as soon as I saw they were available here. I feel it has passed its peak, but it’s still way funnier than it has any right to be.

Colombiana was a midnight snack one day last week while I was going through a bout of night terrors, and needed something to calm me down. A merciless assassin revenge fantasy was obviously just the trick. Um.

And finally, today we all watched The Lego Movie. I was disappointed to have missed it at the cinema, but delighted to see on Father’s Day after a breakfast of home-baked croissants . Great fun.

I think I’m watching a lot of TV and films right now because I’m stuck on books. I’m stuck half-way through Debt (the anthropological history doesn’t interest me as much as the earlier economics and sociology), I’m stuck part-way through Confident Ruby (good, but not exactly entertaining), and I don’t have the heart to start on Piketty’s Monster right now. Fortunately I have Greg Van Eekhout’s California Bones to try out. Los Angeles noir urban fantasy heist caper? Yes please.