Friday, June 26, 2015

The Golden Hour

She got me when I was most vulnerable: flat on my back, sleeves rolled up, and bleeding into a plastic bag.

Flattery, gratitude, an acknowledgement of a long history of donating blood and a nice, clean (boring but reliable) record free of trips to exotic countries (Africa, the UK in the 1980s), drug use and exotic sexual encounters will get you an invitation to go that one step further into the world of plasmas donation. I was flattered, eager to please and matched the profile of age, gender and weight, so I said I'd give it a go. And this week was when I did it.

Apheresis is the technique used, a system not unlike blood extraction, but using a slightly bigger needle. They don't tell you that in advance, but I don't have a problem with needles (that shooty jabby clicky haemoglobin lance and the squeezing that follows, mind... I had a bruise on my pinky for two days!) You simply check in, lie on the reclining chair and over 42 minutes and three cycles an amount of blood is drawn out of you, fed into a centrifuge to extract the plasma, and then at the end of that cycle the blood is returned to you. Because of this, there's none of the requisite potential light-headedness or faintness after ex-sanguination, and you get biscuits and sweet cordial THROUGHOUT. And at the end you can get up, walk out and go back to work with just a couple of band-aids and an interesting story to tell.

My first experience was pretty interesting, but quiet. The room was warm (it's been a cold week in Wellington, but among the weird side effects of having your blood reintroduced to your veins alongside some residual anticoagulant is a slight chill), filled with the requisite equipment and machinery; quiet and business-like, the centrifuge in action whirred with a slight whine like an old hard drive. Above us and on the far side of the room a blackbird perched on the outside windowsill and kept leaping at its reflection in the glass, as it apparently had done for most of the week. Truth be told, I've had less interesting, weirder, and more uncomfortable hours. And unless you have a severe reaction to the experience of blood donation, there's an undeniably virtuous feeling about giving something of yourself freely that might save a life, ease suffering, make someone better.

My plasma may be used to help a burn victim, a cancer sufferer, or a premature child; it might be used to make one of three or four different types of drug or it might be used for research - Glasgow University is apparently making great inroads into synthetic blood substitutes, a great need thanks to the disastrous experience of CJD. It was, in the end, a very easy thing for me  to give - a little over a lunch hour, and a free taxi ride there and back to work, and the NZ Blood Service's need is very great at the moment because demand is high, and the alternative is to buy it from other countries.

I've given plasma twice now and will do so again.  If you are able, and have thought about doing so as well, I encourage you to take part.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

A Change of Base

A year or so ago, when this blog was still optimistically concerned with modelling and the works of Tolkien, Guanolad asked me whether my in-process Mirkwood Elves would be mounted in a diorama. At the time I hadn’t thought they would, as I had plans for individual bases and a little height adjustment in the offing – two birds with one stone. Mr G’s question stuck with me, however, because ‘til then I hadn’t given a great amount of thought to the group aspects of these miniatures. They’re not the same as my Company of Oakenshield who have names, recognisable features and (hopefully) personalities imbued in my conversions. These Elves, as much as I’ve worked on them, aren’t the same deal at all.

I don’t play miniatures games (or at least am unlikely to with these guys), so individual bases aren’t really necessary; and while I’m not yet ready to go the whole hog with a dynamic battle scene, I quickly came round to thinking that there could be fun in trying something more elaborate this time around, and planting my new minis in a terrain together. I considered my Balin’s Tomb model a success, but it’s just sort of there as a feature and little more, which is funny because its inspiration was the BGiME subscriber giveaway intended to fit the Fellowship minis free with particular issues. So, why not make a bigger stage for my guys indeed? So I did.

Here are the original bases, which will be re-purposed in time – it seems fitting.

And here’s the scenery stage for my Mirkwood Elves!

The base is from an electric jug – the terminal point in the middle has been sawn away and sanded down, with the hole patched with light card. Atop this is more card, pine bark for stones, sand, and various forest litter made from bark shavings, birch seeds, string (for the roots) green stuff mushrooms, and as a centrepiece, a log made from a scrap of branch found in the back yard, dried and tunnelled by various insects along the way. Thanks, guys!
In fact, nearly everything except the sand, the seeds and the jug base was sourced from under ten metres from the front door – even the scrubby plants are lichens plucked from our tree and dyed with some rather unused GW dyes. I’m really happy with it. I only hope there’s going to be enough room for all twelve Elves...

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Reasons to be Cheerful - 92 minutes' worth!

Speaking for myself and all other current events cast aside, 2015 is turning out to be an astonishing year for new albums from old acts.

A new Darkness album with their reunion now well behind them is cause for celebration. A new and unexpected album from Blur is up there with Lazarus as comebacks go, and if the music gods smile and deliver a new Chills studio album later this year as mooted, I will be a happy man indeed.

Still, the aforementioned is just new output from previously fragmented acts, free of contractual obligations or cynical nostalgia cash-ins. What's to get excited about there? Well, how about this  latest bit of good news received, courtesy of Tim B of this parish. Bruce Dickinson is now cancer-free and back in the saddle, and his band have a new album out in three months' time.

A double CD or triple vinyl if you're so inclined, including one track over 18 minutes long. I think Maiden may have finally gone Full-Prog, but ah well. Something to look forward to on the other side of winter, regardless. And I'm liking that cover art!

Still, we might need to take the afternoon off to give this one a decent listen - yes, mister B?

Monday, June 15, 2015

This Is The Day The World Ends

In the summer of 1982 the Stockholm Scientific Institute prepared an analysis of the aftermath of a theoretical nuclear holocaust set a few years into the new decade. The work caught the attention of Vatican Radio, who made much mileage over its doom-laden forecast of human annihilation and a planet reduced to desert and scavenging rodent survivors. As mention of the study was also made in this book, it also caught the attention of me and my friends mid-1984. After all, the fateful date in question for the study was the slightly more imminent June 15, 1985.

Today marks the 800th anniversary of a much happier milestone event, King John's signing of the Magna Carta, but the aforementioned date held our juvenile attentions much more, I should think. For a while, at least. A year after reading this tid-bit the thought really only occurred to me at a local youth group social, when I realised on the dance floor, awkwardly twitching to something ephemeral and of the moment, that that date had actually arrived - as in, right now. With somewhat nervous laughter I informed one of my friends, and, well, we danced on, a little more reassured - or not.
Thirty years on and the world has not collapsed into a radiated wilderness - yet. I don't recall why this anniversary popped into my head over the past weekend, but here we are, upright (or vaguely so) and here I am grown up, schooled up, mortgaged up and looking for work in all the wrong places. My adolescent anxiety/enthusiasm over nuclear Armageddon seems hopelessly quaint now, almost enviable. The stuff of nostalgia - and long may it remain so.

So in the spirit of thermonuclear nostalgia and misplaced plans, here's my get-through list for Post-Apocalyptic modelling, post-Mirky Dozen, of course. I've stuck to a short, easily-manageable list this time, even though with a new Mad Max movie out and Fallout 4 having just been released, PostApoc gaming and modelling has never been busier! 
My dreams of conquest (ruined):
1 irradiated roadside diner
1 scavenger dune buggy
and maybe,
1 Battletruck(tm) should I ever want to drop down a scale and join the kids kit-bashing Matchbox toys. Looks like fun!
Should that all fall into place then maybe I'll branch out into a Cursed Earth model and go full-Helltrekker. But that might have to wait for a few Dredd models first.

Old Saurs, New Grievances

Last week in an act of great kindness, Al shouted me a ticket to see Jurassic World. Here is my review! And here is Al's. And Jamas'.

Twenty-two year since Jurassic Park. Seven years since the death of Michael Crichton, and nineteen - nineteen years since Billy and the Cloneosaurus. One of us is getting very old, and it may not be the dinosaur. Nevertheless, and despite an advertising campign that left me a little non-plussed, I quite enjoyed this little low-budget indie movie that dared to dream. One of us may be going a little soft in the head. It's still not the dinosaur.

To borrow an already laboured description, Jurassic World is a game of two halves: in the first act of the movie you get the "ooh aah" bits - the technological advances and the realisation of the actually-running-no,-not-a-dry-run-this-time full attraction. There are some familiar elements - the journey to the Island, the rides, the fragmented family group - one of whom must learn about nurturing and responsibility, one of whom just likes big reptiles. There are several contenders for the Jeff Goldblum role of doomsayer, and a not-unsympathetic pretender to the role of Richard Attenborough's John Hammond. One thing I did approve of in this setup is the acknowledgement that this was not a simple case of history having been ignored and then repeated; human nature also plays its part - there's some hubris, of course, but also greed and fickleness. The new dinosaurs of Jurassic World are new dinosaurs because corporate sponsors want a bigger, scarier, "cooler" attraction in a time when Stegosauruses are no more remarkable than a zoo elephant to the modern punter. There's an obvious metatextual element to that, and so I sadly note that Jet Jr is watching movies that are highly sophisticated with CG effects and rendering, but that as he grows up the wonder at the skill behind it, not to mention the great leaps made since my childhood (or even 1993) will be lost on him. When the spectacular is the norm, all you can look for is the flaws.

Monty Python, 65 million years ago...
Jurassic World does have its own flaws - the main characters are pretty one-note (though I finally 'get' Chris Pratt now, I guess), and the two juvenile characters effectively kill their babysitter by abandoning her, and yes, the dinosaurs are the most interesting and well-rounded characters in the movie. But that's what you pay to see, right? So it's good news that once things properly kick off with the iRex at large and proving itself smarter-than-the-average, it's a fun ride. The chases are pretty good, even if the lead [human] female is in high heels, and by crikey the final battle is a doozy. I was actually a little sad that for an audience of people at an opening night with freebies, there was really no interaction or cheering during the feature. I know Kiwi audiences tend towards reticence at these things, but it's an element of US audience culture that I think I could bear to be part of.

In closing then, I recommend this movie. Thanks, Al! But don't bother with the 3-D, it's not that important.  Also, as cool as the ending was (with extra cheese in that closing line), I'm a little worried about what a sequel might mean for this franchise. I was pleasantly surprised this time around, movie gods, maybe we could leave it there?

Sunday, June 14, 2015

The King under a Mountain, or The Hobbit reviewed part three

With the passing last week of Sir Christopher Lee, it seemed fitting to mark the event in some small way by viewing one of his films. Of his large and impressive rap-sheet I only have The Wicker Man, and so Mrs Simian and I spent our Saturday night knocking off another milestone - we finally watched The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies.

Let me say in opening that this is not a good movie to watch if you're after classic Lee. Much of the great man's role was filmed in isolation, and vastly supplemented by distracting CGI and an obvious body double keeping his face out of shot (a pause to recall the fate of another great cinematic Dracula actor may or may not be appropriate here). Unfortunately, the appearance, scripting and execution of Lee's role in Five Armies sums up the maority of the movie to me, also.

I went in expecting to be mildly disappointed, but came away just feeling cross. This film has no heart. It's cluttered, over-saturated, poorly-edited, narratively confused, and bogged down unnecessarily with future continuity. Throughout the production of this trilogy the spectre of Lucas' Star Wars prequels was frequently invoked, and despite my doubts, I think those naysayers were pretty bang on. 

The horse is some way back - it's a metaphor!
To me this movie's greatest failing is as an adaptation. A straight conversion from book to film was never going to be on the cards, pre-existing Rings trilogy or not; and yet as I mentioned in my review of The Desolation of Smaug, the result waters down the core of Tolkien's story with unnecessary diversions. Jackson, Boyens and Walsh's insistence on turning the story into an ensemble piece of elven, human, orc and wizard leads longside its titular hobbit and his dwarven counterpart makes the series title almost redundant. The tragedy of Thorin gets a good covering here, but it's delivered with a hammering home of other things - a made-up blood feud with a character from Tolkien's Rings Appendices; an elven-dwarven romance, Laketown refugee politics, Sauron's gambit with Smaug - also from the Appendices (the reason of Erebor being a strategic stronghold seemed a weak and unconvincing explanation given the movie's confusing geography), the fate of the elves (again) and the all-important scene-setting for the Rings movies.

On paper these additions don't look so bad - some even compliment the sketchiness of the original book in detail. But their execution here is just shoddy, and underline to me how in selling the Laketowners, Legolas' parents, Dol Guldur and Dain short on detail, the great Professor did better service to Bilbo and Thorin as characters. Here it's almost the reverse.

The extended edition is yet to come, of course. I say Enough! 

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Capes and Capability

In recent weeks the roster of TV superheroes availabe to see here in NZ has shifted. We still have Marvel's Agents of SHIELD on Thursday nights, and Daredevil is accessible to those with a Netflix account. but it's fair to say that terrestrially at least, things have quietened down for the most part. Arrow closed off a reputedly acklustre third season with more pillaging of the Caped Crusader's book of enemies and plotlines (still, if you're going to steal...), while Gotham brought its first year to a bloody close and maybe a reduction in the castlist. The biggest finale for me, though, was Flash's.

Saviour of the universe! In my house at least.
This series started with not a lot and just grew and grew. The Flash comes across to me as a second-tier DC superhero - as any of the roster are behind the Big Three of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. Yet with a carefully-put together season of mainly one-off metahuman-of-the-week stories, slowly building towards recreating the comic strip's Rogue's Gallery, teasing the identity of the mysterious benefactor Harrison Wells, seeding the season with peripheral allies (Firestorm mainly, but let's not miss out those fun Arrow and Atom crossovers) before ending with a genuinely moving and breathtaking finale. You sit there in wonder that what you're viewing is a television budget show, with the requisite rules and limitations of storyline, narrative and location, and then an item of headware pops through a time-space vortex. This is a series that got my derisive wife invested on the strength of a seemingly peripheral man-child support cast member (Cisco Ramon take a bow!) brought in Mark Hamill mid-season, and then a pretty convincing CG gorilla before the curtain went down. I genuinely can't wait for the next run. It looks like anything could be possible right now with this show.

I never got into Arrow, and increasingly Gotham became a grim watch. The future Batman references were a minor addition in the end - I actually took to this series as a procedural with two great characters in Jim Gordon and Harvey Bullock easily, and the lingering complaint that it's not speeding up towards the obvious finish line seem silly to me. With two promotions among the support cast to core cast for next season it looks like not much will change. I hope for the best.

Also hoping for the best: Legends of Tomorrow, which looks rather crazy and as camp as Christmas on the strength of the trailer, Wentworth Miller's ham-tastic Captain Cold and Arthur Darvill sporting a Tenth Doctor wardrobe and not entirely convincing anyone that he's taking his new casting as a time traveller entirely seriously either. I'll stay for Atom shrinking, Dr Martin Stein, Firestorm flying, Hawkgirl in costume and the occasional Flash appearances. I guess I'm in, then.
Proving not all Kryptonians are grim-faced these days

Also from the DC stable and Flash Producer Greg Berlanti is Supergirl, the pilot of which I saw accidntally thinking I was watching the epic-length trailer (sort of). So far it looks fine to me, though nothing astonishing. Comparisons to early Flash are perhaps apposite, so maybe the best is yet to come, and I do think CBS got the lead casting bang on. It hoves very close to established Superman mythology and tropes once more, and I can't decide whether this is a sensible move for a pilot or not; and of course I can't know whether nods to Kara Danvers' famous cousin in Metropolis will be a staple of every episode to come. Unfortunately, Supergirl has a large hill to climb whichever way you look at it - a legacy series based on a succesful movie franchise, a female-centric superhero vehicle, or a newcomer to a busy genre. I wish it well, because I'd love to see something like this do well, especially without the questionable 'support' of a male-centric and over-entitled fanbase.

But here I go, off on one again about comics fans. 

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Winter is y-comen in

Winter has arrived, and with it 2015 is halfway through. Funny old year. Some triumphs, some upsets; by early next week I may well be on the hunt for a new job, my present one quickly running out, but with this turn of fortunes perhaps an opportunity for some reinvention. A change would be nice.

Outside the workplace there's been some quiet shifting of priorities for me: I'm gradually coming around to the quite-settled realisation that I'm robably no longer a fan of Doctor Who. The old series has been in my life for over thirty years,and it's the old series I still love, but the new stuff? Ehhh. Really like Capaldi, Jenna Coleman's good, too. But the rest just doesn't grab me, and that's okay.

Besides, there's still heaps of stuff to get excited about: two of my favourite bands have put out albums this year, and two more are expected to before the year's over. Four albums is nearly three more than I usually buy in twelve months! TV's been pretty decent, and there are some witty, fun, informative and just really interesting podcasts out there forthe listening. Before I got into a regular cycle of CV updating and cover letter writing I was working on a Mirkwood-themed model (yeah - remember those guys?) and I'm thinking of returning to study. Haven't done that for a few years, but I do remember I got a lot better at it the older I got.

So perhaps the second half of the year will be a busy one, and hopefully a productive one. I'll keep the blog up, anyway.