Tyson Adams

Putting the 'ill' back in thriller

Archive for the category “Fun Articles”

Book vs Movie: Casino Royale – What’s the Difference?

In the latest instalment of the What’s the Difference? series, the CineFix team have broken down the Ian Flemming novel and Daniel Craig movie, Casino Royale.

Unfortunately Casino Royale is not one of Bond novels I’ve read. The change between generations is very marked when reading a Bond novel, the little changes like letters and radio to texts and mobile phones (cells to US people) are expected. But the social change that has occurred is the biggest noticeable difference, mostly with the role of women and minorities in society. Felix Leiter being African-American in the movie? Vesper Lynd being the intellectual equal of Bond? These are not things that Flemming would have imagined for his world.

I like Daniel Craig’s Bond and think that Casino Royale was a shot in the arm for the long running series. The gritty take on things was needed after the cheese that was Die Another Day (etc). And you can’t help but love any film that has Eva Green in it. With rumours flying that Craig’s Bond will be no more, it will be interesting to see what the next take on Bond will bring us. Will the producers push back to a suave Connery take on Bond, or a tongue-in-cheek Moore version, or an in-between like Brosnan, or something really lame and poorly written like Dalton and Lazenby’s outings?

Whatever happens with the Bond series it is clear that the social update to the novels will continue.

When Science Fiction Became Science Fact

One of my favourite science blogs, From Quarks to Quasars, had a great post from Isabelle Turner that I needed to share. Take a look at the things from science fiction that became science fact, and wonder whether it was prediction, influence, or just wishful interpretation on our part.


The continued war on e-books

Stupid meme is stupid.

Stupid meme is stupid.

Do you love the smell of books?
Do you prefer the feel of paper?
Do you feel slightly superior to others because you paid for the hardcover?
Do you grasp at any excuse to deride e-books and the people who read them?
Well, I have found the article for you!

Recently on Mental Floss an article entitled “5 Reasons Physical Books Might Be Better Than E-Books” sought to comfort snooty readers who wanted ammunition to fling at e-book readers. In the proud tradition of deriding any new technology as bad (see e-books, e-cars, driverless cars, etc), this article introduces us to some research that is wonderfully out of context for the intent of the article’s argument. Let’s dig in.

Though e-book readers have become a more common sight around town, traditional books still have their evangelists. According to The New York Times, e-book sales have been falling in 2015. Print definitely isn’t dead. In fact, according to some research, it may actually be a better choice for some readers. While scientists are still trying to tease out exactly how digital reading affects us differently, here are five ways e-books might be inferior to their dead-tree cousins.

When deriding things it is always best to reference another article that derides the same thing. In this case the article references the wonderfully misleading NYT piece on e-book sales slipping. Pity that the sales didn’t slip… That’s right, the NYT misrepresented a slowing in e-book sales growth as a drop in sales. And did they mention why readers were stating a preference for paper? Yes. Hidden in the article is a little quote about how publishers had been protecting their paper sales by inflating e-book prices. Now, my economics is a tad rusty, but I’m pretty sure making something more expensive when there are direct substitutes on offer results in a decrease in sales of that item and an increase in the sales of the substitution item. At least, that’s what I’ve heard…

In a study of middle schoolers, West Chester University researchers found that students who read on iPads had lower reading comprehension than when they read traditional printed books. They discovered that the kids sometimes skipped text in favor of interactive features in the e-books, suggesting that certain multimedia in children’s e-books can be detrimental to the practice of reading itself. However, the researchers noted that some interactive features in e-books are designed to enhance comprehension, and that those might be more helpful than game-type interactive graphics.

This is a fantastic study in how multitasking is terrible for concentration and thus impacts reading comprehension. iPads have all sorts of cool stuff on them, including little notifications telling you that your friend just liked your latest picture of your meal. And building those distractions into the book being read: sounds like a great idea! What this study doesn’t do is support the idea that e-books reduce reading comprehension.

Similar results were found by a small study by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center that consisted of 32 kids reading e-books and print books with their parents. It found that “enhanced” e-books might be distracting. Kids who read enhanced e-books—ones with interactive, multimedia experiences—were more engaged with them physically, but in the end they remembered fewer narrative details than those who read print books or basic e-books [PDF].

Don’t read the link. Don’t read the link. You read the link: didn’t you. Leaving aside the tiny study size for a moment (a point the study authors acknowledge), the study itself supports the points I made above about being distracted whilst reading. And if you look through the study you see a great little chart that showed the comparison of reading comprehension – expressed as story details recalled – was actually superior in basic e-books than in print books or enhanced e-books.

Screen Shot 2015-10-04 at 10.13.19 am

The findings of the study were literally stated as:

The enhanced e-book was less effective than the print and basic e-book in supporting the benefits of co-reading because it prompted more non-content related interactions.

Odd that the “e-books are bad” article failed to highlight this finding…

Another study of adults also found that e-books can be hard to absorb. The researchers asked 25 people read a 28-page story on a Kindle and 25 to read the story in paperback, then asked the readers to put 14 events from the story in chronological order. Those who read the story on a Kindle performed worse on the chronology test than the book readers, though they performed about the same as print readers in other tests. Earlier research by the same scholars, from Stavanger University in Norway, found that Norwegian 10th graders also remembered more about texts if they read them in print rather than on a computer screen [PDF].

Finally we come to a study on actual e-books on an actual e-reader versus their dead tree counterparts. Of course I’m again blown away by the sample size of the study, a massive 50 people. That should easily extrapolate to the rest of humankind. The linked article doesn’t give us much information, but I found a better one, and it has this summary:

In most respects, there was no significant difference between the Kindle readers and the paper readers: the emotional measures were roughly the same, and both groups of readers responded almost equally to questions dealing with the setting of the story, the characters and other plot details. But, the Kindle readers scored significantly lower on questions about when events in the story occurred. They also performed almost twice as poorly when asked to arrange 14 plot points in the correct sequence.

I’d link to the original paper, but it is behind a paywall. Suffice to say that the error margins were pretty big (even the paper readers got 34% of the plot points in the wrong order). And this was a short story, something that shouldn’t be that difficult for any reader. So this probably says as much about the story as anything. They’d need far more stories and participants to get a good idea of what is going on. But I will concede that reading on paper vs e-reader vs screen is definitely a different experience and has an influence. What that influence is, positive, negative, or just different, needs more research.

Interestingly the study of reading PDF texts on a screen vs paper texts in high school students showed why scrolling is a terrible way to read anything. Scroll down to read more about PDFs sucking.

While e-book textbooks are often cheaper (and easier to carry) than traditional door-stop textbooks, college students often don’t prefer them. In some surveys of college kids, the majority of students have reported preferring print books. However, a 2012 study from the UK’s National Literacy Trust of kids ages 8 to 16 found that more than 50 percent of children reported preferring screen reading [PDF].

It is odd to start a point and then go on to disprove it. E-book textbooks being cheaper, easier to carry, and in some surveys preferred by the majority of respondents, seems to me to be the opposite of “not great”. The preference for paper textbooks claim comes from a survey of 527 students, yet is immediately refuted by the UK survey of 34,910 students. I wonder which one is more representative of how students feel about textbooks?

In the comments of the Mental Floss article, someone made a good point in regard to the format of textbooks. Oftentimes the textbooks are PDFs, which brings us back to the point about scrolling, and adds the problem with taking notes. Clearly the format of the e-book plays a big part in how people feel about them.

Staring at a lit screen can be tiring for the eyes and the brain. A 2005 study from Sweden found that reading digitally required a higher cognitive workload than reading on paper. Furthermore, staring at LED screens at night can disrupt sleep patterns. A 2014 Harvard study found that people who used e-readers with LED screens at night slept worse and were more tired the next day. So, if you’re going to go for an e-book, go for one without the backlight.

Now let us talk about how bad e-books are for your brain…. Sorry, did I say e-books when I meant LED screens like your iPad and computer? Silly me. Having bright light, especially from white background screens, shining in your eyes at night isn’t a good thing. But that is about as related to e-books as X-Factor is to talented singers. So the message about changing your screen setup for night viewing only really applies to readers if they utilise a backlit screen for reading.

And now that we are at the end of the article, let’s throw in some information for the pretence of balance in the hopes you will ignore the headline and main article points:

However, all this may not mean that reading on a Kindle is really going to melt your brain. For instance, reading an e-book on a computer is a much different experience than reading on a Kindle, which is specifically designed for consuming books. So, too, is playing with an interactive e-book on an iPad, compared to using a simpler e-book device that only presents the text, with no opportunities to click away into digital distractions.

This really does appear to be information that would have been better presented in the context of the “e-books are evil” points above; doesn’t it. Throwing in this sort of context at the end rather than in the discussion of the study findings is a cheap tactic, a ploy that sees important information left until after you have already formed your opinion on a subject, or just plain stopped reading the article. This information has far less chance of being retained than the others points made earlier in the article, thus the article has created the bias they were after (deliberately or otherwise).

And some studies have found that part of the difference between the way people absorb information from e-books versus paper might be due to approaching e-books differently—in one test, participants didn’t regulate their study time with digital books like they did with paper texts, leading to worse performances. It’s possible that our expectations of e-book reading—as well as the different designs of the digital reading experience on a computer or iPad or Kindle—might affect how we approach the text and how much effort we put into studying them. As generations of e-book readers evolve, and people become more accustomed to the idea of sitting down with a digital textbook, these factors could change—for better or for worse.

These are all good points, again made at the end of the article rather than at least being hinted at throughout. And unlike the main points in the article, these are unreferenced. Are these points from the studies already referenced (some are) or some other studies that aren’t worth mentioning? In the former, you would expect these points to have been raised earlier in the article in the proper context, in the latter, this feels like an attempt to downplay the statements as less important than the referenced points above. Either way we are left with the sentiment “change is scary” rather than “change is change”.

Hopefully this breakdown of the Mental Floss article shows just how disingenuous many of these anti-technology articles are, especially the “e-books are evil” articles. I’m not trying to say that e-books are what everyone should be reading, or that our forests are now saved from Dan Brown. There is clear evidence that our changing technology is changing the way we read and absorb information, and this transition period is still a learning phase as to how and if we will change our reading preferences. But negative preconceived ideas about e-books (or technology) don’t help in communicating about the change that is happening.

Book vs Movie: V For Vendetta – What’s the difference?

In this outing for the CineFix team they have covered the classic graphic novel and movie adaptation of Alan Moore’s V For Vendetta.

So, truth be told, I’m not a huge fan of the Alan Moore graphic novel V For Vendetta – yeah, yeah, I know: sacrilege. I actually gave up on it about a third of the way through, as such it is hard for me to compare the book to the movie. Actually, that’s not true, I can compare how entertained I was, since I enjoyed the movie and couldn’t be bothered finishing the book. That should say a lot.

Moore distancing himself from all adaptations of his work is odd, but completely understandable given it is based upon having watched* The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen movie. That was the film that caused Sean Connery to quit acting, which gives you some idea of just how bad that movie was. But you are still left with his admonishments of adaptations, like V For Vendetta or The Watchmen, that were good films (IMHO) and captured the essence of the source material. Like most of the book to movie adaptations discussed in the What’s the Difference? series, when you see the breakdowns of differences you can completely understand why the changes were made. The example in this video was of Evie’s character arc to help the audience empathise with both her and V in a shorter format. The book and movie occupy different spaces, have different constraints, and are often made at different times for society.

Which is why I find Moore’s stance – or is that complaints – on adaptations of his work to be a bit precious. I mean, he was, and I quote, “getting money for old rope” as well as a much wider exposure as an artist. He has managed to influence popular culture (The Killing Joke was the primary reference material for Heath Ledger’s portrayal of The Joker). Not much to complain about. Unless the movie studios paid him in beard trimmers.

*Being a little flippant here as he was also sued over accusations that someone else’s script was plagiarised.

Book vs Movie: Alice in Wonderland – What’s the difference?

Another great instalment from the CineFix team. And don’t worry, they didn’t do the Depp/Burton movie comparison. Dodged a bullet there.

I can’t claim to have read all of Alice in Wonderland. I can’t even claim to be much of a fan of the movie; Disney animation or otherwise. My main reason for not liking either is that this is a classic example, and possibly the progenitor, of the “and then she woke up” ending. My wife dislikes the book because it lacks a point and is boring and waffly. Since it is a “classic children’s book” it could explain why kids used to hate reading: thank FSM for Harry Potter!

One of the annoying things about movies

With the recent spate of superhero movies it is easy to forget that not every movie has a superhero in it. Even the superhero films aren’t always about someone on steroids (Captain America) or weather presenters (Thor) but are instead about your everyday billionaire playboy (Batman, Ironman, Arrow). So it is easy to forget that feats of superhuman strength are not meant to be the norm in films.

Think about the scenes where the everyday hero is clutching the edge of a building by his fingertips whilst the love interest or bad guy is dangling from their other hand. Of course, the hero never loses his grip on the ledge, but the bad guy may slip from his grasp.

We accept that scene as plausible because we have been brainwashed into thinking that the average person can hold their own bodyweight with a single hand for extended periods. Double their bodyweight? They can hold that for the length of a dramatic moment – a period of time that is impossible to measure in real time since dramatic speeches and slow motion really mess with reality.

The problem is that outside of gymnasts, rock climbers, or people who crush rocks with their bare hands for a living, the Average Joe wouldn’t even be able to hold their own weight for more than a few seconds, especially not if they caught themselves from a fall. Elite grip strength can be measured a few ways, but the Captains of Crush grippers are one easy way to distinguish strong hands. The #1 requires 64kg (140lbs) of force to close, while the #3 gripper takes 127kg (280lbs) and is regarded as world class grip strength. Just for shits and giggles they made a #4 gripper that requires 166kg (365lb) of force to close and has been officially closed by 5 people. Ever.

So let’s just assume that our generic action movie has an everyday hero who weighs a buff 80kg and his falling love interest is a sexy 55kg. That’s 135kg hanging from the hero’s fingertips, a weight that even a really strong person wouldn’t have the grip strength to support. Two normal sized adults are not going to be hanging onto that ledge for any length of time.

Which brings us to the next amazing feat of strength in this scenario: lifting that falling love interest back to safety. For a strong person, the 55kg gravity lover isn’t exactly heavy. A buff 80kg hero could probably clean and jerk a dumbbell weighing that much…. assuming they work out, have some chalk on their hands, were able to get some leg drive happening, had decent technique, and that the dumbbell wasn’t particularly unwieldy. But most falling love interests are a tad unwieldy, not designed for easy lifting – no obvious knurled handles – and there isn’t a lot of leg drive happening when you’re dangling from the side of a building by your fingertips. Yet without fail, the hero manages to get them both to safety. Well, unless it is one of those tragic character defining moments, in which case the hero will be in the same situation later and will find the determination to succeed the second time. Sucks to be the first love interest in that scenario.

Interesting to think about just how many amazing feats of strength are passed off as normal in movies.

Book vs Movie: X-Men Days of Future Past – What’s the difference

The latest instalment of Cinefix’s What’s the Difference is out. This time they tackle the ridiculously named X-Men: Days of Future Past.

So this is one book in the book vs movie series that I haven’t read. Although, in my defence, the Marvel Comic Universe is such an overlapping, rebooted, reshaped, alternate-time-lined, mish-mash of ridiculous proportions that it probably wouldn’t matter if I had. Watching the breakdown it becomes obvious that the screenwriters did a good job of streamlining the plot and picking characters who would work for the movie adaptation. Less clear is why the movie got so lazy with the “and then he woke up” ending.

Book vs Movie: 2001 A Space Odyssey – What’s the difference

The Cinefix team are back once again with their series on movies based on books. This instalment is in two parts and is slightly different. 2001: A Space Odyssey wasn’t so much a movie based upon a book as much as it was a collaboration between Kubrick and Clarke.

I think the summary in the second video (from about 9:40 onward) encapsulates the main differences between the book and the movie nicely. Essentially Kubrick dispensed with the pedantic explanations and descriptions in favour of stunning visuals and esoteric story telling. Whereas Clarke made that esoteric story telling understandable with all the motivations and insights. I.e. to understand the film read the book, to experience the book watch the film.

Book vs Movie: Watchmen – What’s the difference

Another great breakdown of the differences between the book and the movie from Cinefix. This time it is Alan Moore’s Watchmen.

If I’m honest I’d have to say I prefer the movie over the book in this instance. I liked both, but I thought the changes they made for the movie made for better spectacle and entertainment. Obviously that wasn’t Moore’s original intention, so it is unsurprising that fans were annoyed with these changes. I felt that Snyder’s adaptation remained relatively faithful to the source material whilst also creating a film that cinema goers would enjoy. This is the hard path to tread in any adaptation: making sure the film works but remains true to the source.

Of course Snyder managed to make a film that people didn’t watch in the cinema and that fans of the book complained about. Guess there is just no pleasing some people.

One (of the many) problems of arguing with science deniers

In a recent post I discussed some points about how to spot anti-science nonsense. Pick a subject, any subject, and there will be someone – probably Alex Jones – making an outrageous claim about it. But don’t worry, they’ll solve the problem with items available from their reasonably priced store: $1440 per litre is a bargain price for something you don’t need and doesn’t do as claimed.

Credit: Jason Hymes

Credit: Jared Hyames

Obviously scammers are gonna scam, and anti-scientists are going to not-science. The thing is once you understand that something is wrong you have some responsibility to make sure the misinformation doesn’t spread like a leaky diaper. With great power knowledge comes great responsibility. Which means you have to start discussing science with science deniers. Don’t forget to place a cushion on your desk and wear padded gloves.

Despite having the advantage of science/facts in the argument against science deniers, you have the decided disadvantage that you can’t just make stuff up (despite how tempting and financially rewarding it is). In fact you have to be better informed about not only your side of the argument but also about the science denier’s arguments.

Sounds odd, doesn’t it? You have to learn nonsense to talk about science. That makes as much sense as being pro-life and pro-death penalty. Bear with me here. Take this example of climate change denier Bret Stephens arguing against Bill Maher on Real Time:

Bret sounds convincing, doesn’t he? Bret sure thinks so. He makes some vague references to headlines from the 1930s and 1970s as dismissals of current concerns about oceans. Then he references an economic study on environmental policy priorities, all whilst looking very smug and sure of himself. These statements leave Bill at a stumbling point because he has to admit he doesn’t know what the hell Bret is talking about. The video edited out the pant-less victory lap Bret did of the studio, complete with crotch gyrations in Bill’s face, as he screamed “Take that liberal media!”

Now it isn’t a bad thing to admit you don’t know stuff. Nobody knows everything, it is arrogant to act like you do. Arrogance is of course the result of being surrounded by Knowitalls, an invisible mythical creature that looks like a cross between a unicorn and Bill O’Reilly. Anyway, I’m glad Bill Maher admitted he didn’t know about the study; if only he would do the same with his position on vaccination and GM/GMOs. But the admission did make him appear less convincing as he couldn’t directly rebut the points made.

And here is why you need to know what the anti-science people “know”. Take the first points Bret makes about the oceans dying. His two dates mentioned are actually making reference to points unrelated to the issue of climate change causing ocean acidification. The first date was reference to the Overfishing Conference in 1936 about whaling and fishery management (as far as I can ascertain), issues that were addressed by introducing catch sizes, fishing licenses, and the phasing out of whaling. So Bret is trying to justify inaction on climate change to save ocean damage by referencing an environmental concern that was acted upon. What a great argument!

His second date was the 1975 Newsweek and New York Times (and others) article about global cooling. This is a well worn climate change denier talking point/myth that has been thoroughly debunked yet has evolved beyond a PRATT point and become a zombie point. Some myths just won’t die and are constantly in search of brains to infect/affect.

We then hear Bret reference a Bjorn Lomborg study on best use of resources and where climate change ranked. Very convincing, aside from the fact that it was complete and utter nonsense. See, Bjorn doesn’t accept the actual risks and actual current changes that have occurred due to climate change. So his entire analysis and argument started off from a completely flawed position and was thus doomed to fail to draw any worthwhile conclusions. Actual experts have torn apart his work, particularly his “conference”, here, here and here. But Bill didn’t know this, thus the points made stand unchallenged and as a sort of “valid” evidence.

And this is why it is important to know your enemy. If you know the arguments they are likely to raise, then you can have rebuttals ready. In the case of citing Lomborg’s work you can point out the failings before people have a chance to take it seriously. In the case of old magazine articles, you can point out you only read them for the pictures. But it means you don’t just have to know the science, you have to know the anti-science.

It is also worth noting that Bret reeled off a string of statements that were essentially nonsense dressed up as facts. That is a tried and trusted debating tactic known as the Gish Gallop, and it is very hard to argue against. It takes a lot more energy to redress the nonsense than they take stating it, not to mention time wasted not making your own points. Also helps that science has to have facts on its side, anti-science can make it all up on the spot.

Of course the obvious thing to say here is that the anti-science movement often don’t see themselves as anti-science and will use similar tactics. They will familiarise themselves with the science in order to dismiss it. This is possibly the most annoying part of science communication, those imbedded in anti-science positions aren’t ignorant of the facts, they are wilfully ignorant of their fact-ness.

Surviving animal attacks

Being an Aussie people kindly send me advice on how to not be killed by animals. Yes, we do have some decidedly deadly animals in Australia, some of the deadliest are not what you would think. But as much as I appreciate the advice, I think it is time that an Aussie set the record straight on how to deal with deadly animals. Let’s start with the most recent piece of advice I received.
How to survive various animal attacks
Clearly this meme was written by someone from North America, what with the unexotic list of animals (although the meme comes from a UK site). I mean, I know that bears and wolves are scary to some people who have never been to Australia, but we have to remember that the bar is raised when talking to Aussies.

You can’t roll toward a bear in Australia as they live in trees and attack from above. The best rule is to use the one borrowed from chemistry, and that is to have a sacrificial (anode) friend with you. This friend should preferably smell delicious; possibly have them carry bacon in their pockets. If someone suggests you carry some bacon then you know exactly how much to spend on presents at Xmas time.

The true nemesis of sharks is dry land, of which we have plenty in Australia. But obviously being so dry we like to crowd down to the coast and chance our hands at being shark food. There are many strategies you can employ on sharks, swimming between the flags being the most popular, as everyone knows flags terrify sharks. Another strategy is having American friends, because sharks love the deep fried marinade of their flesh. In a pinch, there are also plenty of Aussies who could be mistaken for Americans, so just swim with one of them.

These aren’t particularly common in Australia. Instead we have the Dingo. These are actually pretty safe to be around as long as you are over the age of two. Unless we’re talking about Hugh Jackman, in which case just play a samba beat.

Jackman dancing

When you are attacked by a goose you just have to accept that you’re going to get bitten. Repeatedly. Geese aren’t apex predators without good reason, but they prefer to eat their prey live and running. As long as you can stay mobile and find a fortified position, such as a bank vault or a KFC, you should survive. Remember to clean and dress your gaping wounds, sepsis is a common cause of death. If there is more than one goose you’re done for, just try to throw your final letter clear of the carnage.*

The only reason people have geese is because they are the only thing terrifying enough to take on wasps. So if you have a bank vault or run a KFC you should be able to avoid wasps. If you don’t then buy a shotgun and practice.

Unlike many other countries who measure snakebites in terms of whether you need to visit a hospital, Australia measures snakebites in terms of minutes until death. The main piece of advice for people thinking of visiting Australia is to not get bitten. Actually, that’s good advice for every Australian animal, since they are all poisonous, or big enough not to need poison. Actually, it’s also good advice for plants, since those are poisonous too. Most Australians prefer to run over snakes with their car, then drop a boulder on them.

The humble spider is a much misunderstood animal. Yes, they are deadly, but in a country like Australia that is par for the course. The fact is that spiders are actually quite cuddly, once you get past the poisonous pincers. They are also easy to train, much easier to train than combat troops. As a result Australia doesn’t have a tank division of the army, but instead has a spider division. Think twice before invading.

Yes you should be afraid of crocodiles. Deep down I’m afraid of any apex predator that lived through the K-T extinction. Physically unchanged for a hundred million years, because it’s the perfect killing machine. A half ton of cold-blooded fury, the bite force of 20,000 Newtons, and stomach acid so strong it can dissolve bones and hoofs. But the trick is to keep the animal around that does this to crocodiles:

crocodile head


Which animal is that, I hear you ask. Which is odd given this is a written article. The answer is the Australian Budgerigar. Don’t let its small size and cuteness fool you, they form large deadly flocks of ravenous skyborne killers.

Let’s be clear: cat’s are m@#$er-f@#$ing dangerous. They are sneaky, silent, killing machines with the world renowned ability for invulnerability and regeneration. How can you possibly take on this harbinger of death that will survive dying repeatedly? Attack it ten times.

This is just a taste of Aussie animal survival techniques. There are obviously many more deadly animals (read: all of them) with advice varying from the examples above to emigrating to a safe country, preferably one that allows the importation of Vegemite.

*A final letter is an Australian government required document that all Australians must carry upon their person at all times. In the event of likely untimely death it acts as the final thoughts and wishes for the deceased, usually just short goodbyes to loved ones and reminders to take the bins out.

Beware the meme!

Memes fly around the internet like quantum accelerated particles. Some are fun, some are informative, others are utterly ridiculously wrong. Unfortunately people get caught up in pretty pictures with inspiring – or is that insipid – quotes printed on them, so they start following someone on social media, someone who spreads as much nonsense as inspirational quotes.

Take for example this quote from Mark Twain:
Mark Twain on nonsense background
At face value there is a great message from Twain about not storing up emotional baggage. Let’s just ignore the scientific inaccuracy of how acids work and how the materials of the respective containers and the Ka (acid dissociation constant) of the acid are going to be the deciding factors in how much damage the acid does. But once you move past the quote and pretty picture you start to notice certain things about the picture, namely that there is some weird design stuff going on it. There’s some spacey looking stuff in the background, there’s a person with no skin, and some sort of lattice work design: what the hell is this stuff? That’s called the Flower of Life, something that has been incorporated into Sacred Geometry, a load of nonsense that would have Mark Twain penning scathing insults toward; Twain loved science.

Let’s take a look at another meme:

Chakra nonsenseAgain we have a bit of text that implies that good relationships are much deeper than the shallow, fleeting, physical attraction. This one is, however, more obvious in its ridiculousness. In amongst the rainbows and pretty city the two outlines of people are hovering above, there are glowing lights in the bodies of the people. Take a guess at what they are meant to be. Chakras. That’s right, we’ve gone all new-agey nonsense right out in the open. So once you spot the new-age nonsense you realise the word “soul” isn’t being used in the allegorical sense but in the “I believe all sorts of rubbish” sense.

And now we descend into health nuttery:
Milk nonsense

This is a typical health meme that these sorts of social media pages post: half truths, misconceptions, lies and nonsense.

Let’s start at the top: there are no pus cells in milk. The meme seems to be referring to the somatic cell count of milk, which is not the same thing, and just part of the biology fail on display here. The 135 million figure is from the detection levels for mastitis in cows, which says that uninfected cows will have less than 150,000 cells/mL (they’ve clearly scaled up to a litre of milk in that glass, which doesn’t look like a litre glass to me).

Growth hormones: misleading at best. Food has hormones in it, produced by the food, be that plants or animals. Remember how soy is meant to be good for menopausal women? Yep: plant hormones. So milk will have naturally occurring hormones in it. Some countries have limited/banned the use of growth hormones in animal production, others have allowed it. And this brings us to one of the many reasons pasteurisation is used in milk production, as it breaks down most of the hormones.

Antibiotics: nope, they test every truck of milk as it leaves the farm gate to make sure there is no antibiotic contamination.

Feces: again this is misleading, and also one of the main reasons for pasteurisation. You aren’t so much going to end up with feces in the milk as the bacteria associated. So it is important to kill the nasties and why raw milk is considered dangerous.

Cholesterol: I’m not sure where they got the figures from but they seem to be assuming 200 mL of full fat milk. Odd considering they were assuming 1,000 mL for the pus/somatic cells. Yes, milk has 24 mg of cholesterol per 100 mL. And that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Calories: I’m not sure why food having calories in it is bad…… Figures are roughly correct for 200 mL of full fat cows milk though.

Fat: Again, I’m not sure why food having fat in it is bad.

Acidic protein: This one is quite funny because there are a lot of acidic proteins. And obviously these acidic proteins leaching calcium from bones is one of those things that “mainstream medicine is ignoring” – aka the rallying cry made by purveyors of nonsense. Pity that dietary protein (which can include dairy) has actually been shown to be good for bones. The issue here is actually a couple of health myths. The first is the acid/alkaline diet that is utter nonsense. The second is the overstating of health benefits of milk, specifically as they relate to bone health and osteoporosis development.

Now I’m not saying that milk is bad for you, but it also isn’t the most awesome drink ever made – that would be whiskey. Milk should be like whiskey: consumed in moderation.

The point about memes is that they are only as good as their creator. The intention of the above memes is clearly to help people, inspire them to lead better lives, even if it is by showing them some pretty pictures with brain droppings written on them. But sadly it is obvious that these memes were created by someone who is not in touch with reality, which makes their health advice something to be avoided. Beware the meme: it could be nonsense!

Book vs Movie: Fight Club – What’s the Difference?

Another great instalment from the Cinefix team.

A point I’d make about the final chapter of the novel is that I thought the implication was that the narrator was so drugged up in the mental hospital that he wasn’t sure what was going on. And I also thought that the people with the tell-tale bruising were the Project Mayhem members implying they were waiting for him to escape so they could try again.

Also one plot point I really liked in the book was the bit about the type of explosive used, the Narrator preferring one, Tyler the other. This explained why the explosives failed and also implied that the Narrator had been able to sabotage the plan.

How to spot anti-science nonsense

Just recently I was asked a question on one of my climate change posts. The question, whilst not about climate change nor climate science, was about similar anti-science nonsense that acts to confuse and befuddle those who aren’t familiar with the field. The comment in full:

I like your writing, I wish more would understand your logic when they spout facts and relationships. If you have time please, an article (though imperfect) comments,

“Bacteria…and plants use a seven-step metabolic route known as the shikimate pathway for the biosynthesis of aromatic amino acids; glyphosate inhibits this pathway, causing the plant to die…. Monsanto says humans don’t have this shikimate pathway, so it’s… safe……however, that our gut bacteria has this pathway, and these bacteria supply our body with crucial amino acids. Roundup …kills bacteria, allowing pathogens to grow; interferes with the synthesis of amino acids including methionine, which leads to shortages in critical neurotransmitters and folate; chelates (removes) important minerals like iron, cobalt…”

I would love to know your take on that possible cause and affect.
Thank You for your Time !
Dennis Buchanan

Reference : http://healthimpactnews.com/2014/mit-researcher-glyphosate-herbicide-will-cause-half-of-all-children-to-have-autism-by-2025/

Dennis has asked how likely it is that this sciency sounding article is correct. The short answer is that you are more likely to get this week’s lottery numbers from one of these articles than any reliable facts. How can I be so dismissive? Well the thing is I’m not being dismissive, it just sounds like that because my skeptical science eye has spotted many holes in the quote and article. So let us go through them like a rugby player at an all you can eat buffet.

The source.

The first thing to note is the source of the article and the “expert” cited within. There are some tell-tale signs that a webpage may be unreliable, such as when they use terms such as “truth”, “natural”, “alt” as a prefix to any word, and “health” as their names. Health Impact News isn’t the giveaway here, it could be a legitimate source of information. In this case the giveaway is the byline “News that impacts your health, that other media sources may censor.” See: it’s a conspiracy!!! (Font = sarcasm) And conspiracy claims are always reliable (/sarcasm).

If you check out Web of Trust you can see that Health Impact News perpetuates a number of dubious and fraudulent claims, such as vaccine myths from the anti-vaxxer nutters. Which means that the slant the website is running is one that doesn’t respect scientific evidence. Not that this alone is enough to dismiss the claims.

The other source is the “expert” cited, one Stephanie Seneff. To say that this computer scientist is out of her depth in the field of health, genetics and chemistry is like suggesting Justin Bieber’s music is appealing to people with taste. She makes all sorts of wacky and unfounded claims about herbicides, GMOs and Monsanto, so calling her an expert or citing her work should get you laughed out of any room you are standing in.

The claim.

What the article claims is really the crux of the dismissal. If someone claimed to have seen bigfoot doing lines of blow with someone other than Charlie Sheen, we’d be immediately suspicious since we know that greater than 90% of all cocaine is snorted in the company of Sheen. Similarly when someone claims that the most extensively tested herbicide of all time, the safest agrichemical ever made, the most widely used agrichemical on the market, is responsible for [insert health consequence here, in this case autism] then you should be a tad suspicious.

Let’s ignore the fact about the extensive safety testing. Let’s also ignore the fact that autism seems to be the disease de jour of the alt-health fear-mongers, linked to everything from GMOs to vaccines. Let’s also ignore the fact that agrichemical safety and efficacy have virtually nothing to do with the safety and efficacy of individual GMOs (GM and GE being another kettle of fish entirely), despite what the article tries to imply. Let’s also ignore that glyphosate binds tightly to organic matter and is rapidly broken down in the environment so actual levels consumed will be negligible, and those amounts won’t be doing anything in the digestive tract. Let’s just assume that glyphosate is getting into our bodies and causing damage at huge levels: what evidence is there to suggest it is glyphosate and not any other agrichemical or environmental toxin that has increased during the same time period (e.g. coal pollution)? What evidence is there to suggest there has actually been any rise in maladies that aren’t as a result of something else (because everyone knows that fat people got fat whilst only eating celery sticks)?

The reference material or evidence.

Big claims require even bigger evidence. Solid evidence. One thing I hate about news sites is that they so often make oblique references to a study that may or may not have been published in a reputable journal, rather than just link straight to the journal and paper in question. In this case there is no link to a journal, reputable or not, just links to other unreliable sites such as The Mind Unleashed and The Alliance of Natural Health USA webpage, as well as a Youtube video. So far I’m underwhelmed.

Remember, this article is reporting on Seneff’s claim that half of all people will be autistic by 2025 thanks to herbicides. Half!! This is a condition that has a median occurrence of 62 cases per 10,000 people. The spectacular rise in autism that we should expect in the next decade for a herbicide that has been in wide use for many decades already would require a bit more evidence than “well, we reckon.” Seneff claimed a correlation between glyphosate use and a rise in autism. She clearly didn’t compare the rise in autism to organic food.

Damned organic food giving kids autism!!

Well, if you dig further into the reference of the reference (seriously, how hard is it to cite your sources properly!?!) you will find an actual journal paper by Seneff and Samsel in a journal called Entropy. Have you heard of Entropy and is it recognised as a go-to journal for science on the topic of, well, anything? Nope. And what about the study itself which claims that just about every malady you can think of is linked to glyphosate, what evidence does it present? Well pretty much none. To quote this article:

The evidence for these mechanisms, and their impact on human health, is all but nonexistent. The authors base their claim about CYP enzymes on two studies, one of liver cells and one of placental cells, which report endocrine disruptions when those cells are exposed to glyphosate. Neither study is CYP-specific (The effect of pesticides on CYP enzymes, by contrast, has been studied specifically.) As for the gut bacteria, there appears to be no research at all on glyphosate’s effect on them.

Samsel and Seneff didn’t conduct any studies. They don’t seem interested in the levels at which humans are actually exposed to glyphosate. They simply speculated that, if anyone, anywhere, found that glyphosate could do anything in any organism, that thing must also be happening in humans everywhere. I’d like to meet the “peers” who “reviewed” this.

Yep. That is a rebuttal from a Huffington Post article. Let that sink in for a moment. Even Huff Post don’t want to touch Seneff’s claims with a ten foot pole.

So far we have found that the suspicions about this article are well founded. The site is not reliable, the “expert” cited is not reliable, the sources cited are not reliable, the evidence cited is essentially non-existent, the claims made are not particularly plausible, and there is no evidence to support the claims. But this leaves us with a problem: short of hours of research on each point made, how do I confirm that these people are lying to me on the internet? Because you should be able to trust the internet, right?

The rebuttal.

The average person can’t be expected to be an expert in all topics, nor be expected to have the time to track down and read every piece of science to confirm an article is accurate. But there are people on the internet who have their favourite topics that they will write (or make videos) about. This means you just have to search for rebuttals to articles. Google can be handy for this if you are familiar with how to weed out the rubbish results. Joining forums or following experts in various fields can help as well (e.g. Skeptics Stack Exchange, Science Based Medicine). There are also webtools available to help find good information. I’ve already mentioned Web of Trust above, but there are many others.

rbutr is one such tool that can help with finding rebuttal articles (disclaimer: I am involved with rbutr on social media). In the case of the Health Impact News article there were two linked rebuttals (I’ll be adding this one as well), here and here. This really helps to figure out whether the arguments presented are valid (although in this case a basic application of logic should suffice). But there were more rebuttals linked to the Seneff journal article, 7 of them: here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. These links allow people to easily see the arguments laid bare.

Thus we can now see that the article can be dismissed as rubbish. A fair bit of work to get there, but in the end we did it (~25 references and 1600 words later). Makes installing rbutr and Web of Trust in your web browser look like a great option, doesn’t it!

In the information age ignorance is a choice. But informing yourself isn’t as easy as just reading articles on subjects. Using a critical eye, applying logic, and accessing quality information has to be done to avoid being misinformed. When all said and done, evidence wins. And cat videos. And dog videos. In fact any video featuring a cute animal wins.

Recycling Jokes

I realised today that I’ve become guilty of recycling my own material. It is one thing to steal someone else’s jokes (Dane Cook, Dennis Leary), it is another thing to retell the same jokes hoping to have a new audience to the material. But it is really sad when you trot out the same joke again and again.

What was this joke, you may well ask. Well, voice in my head, it was a little satirical one-liner poking fun at pro-gun advocates. The first time I used the joke in question, it was after a recent shooting.

Police in Idaho say a two-year-old boy shot and killed his 29-year-old mother in a Walmart store after finding the weapon in her purse. http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2014/dec/30/idaho-toddler-shoots-kills-mother-walmart

To which I responded: If only there had been a good toddler with a gun to stop the bad toddler with a gun. This went down a treat with the other news commenters.

And then I used it again, less than a month later when this happened:

A 46-year-old man in Davidson County, North Carolina was shot in the neck on Thursday when his 3-year-old grandson found and fired an unsecured weapon. http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2015/01/north-carolina-man-steps-out-of-shower-and-gets-shot-by-3-year-old-grandson/

This is just terrible. My joke that – as highly original as it is – plays on the famous quote from NRA president Wayne Compassionate LaPierre, is going to wear thin very quickly. Despite how appropriate the joke is, capturing the ridiculousness of the pro-gun response to senseless and preventable tragedies, I’m going to have to write new material.

At least these things aren’t regular occurrences happening with surprising frequency:

Federal data from the Centers for Disease Control indicate that between 2007 and 2011, an average of 62 children age 14 and under died each year in unintentional shootings. By this measure, American children are sixteen times more likely to be killed in unintentional shootings than their peers in other high-income countries. http://everytown.org/documents/2014/10/innocents-lost.pdf

A tragic young army mother was shot dead by her three-year-old son as she changed her 10-month-old daughter’s nappy. http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/world-news/mummy-shot-words-toddler-who-4697433

NEW YORK: In yet another shooting incident in the US involving a toddler, a 2-year-old boy accidentally shot and killed his 11-year-old sister while playing with a handgun. http://www.ndtv.com/article/world/2-year-old-boy-shoots-and-kills-11-year-old-sister-in-us-505473

Boy, 2, accidentally shot and killed by his 3-year-old sister in fourth death in the U.S. this month caused by a firearm finding its way into the hands of a child.
The 3-year-old Utah girl accidentally shot her brother with a rifle that had been left in the living room of their parents’ home.
In South Carolina, a 6-year-old boy accidentally shot a 22-year-old woman with a gun he found in the back of his mother’s car.
Also in South Carolina, a 7-year-old girl was fatally shot by a 5-year-old boy who thought the gun he was holding was fake.
11-year-old Jamara Stevens was killed in Philadelphia when her 2-year-old brother accidentally fired a gun the kids’ mother’s boyfriend had left in the home. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2609758/Boy-2-fatally-shoots-3-year-old-sister-fourth-death-U-S-month-caused-firearm-finding-way-hands-child.html

A Kentucky mother stepped outside of her home just for a few minutes, but it was long enough for her 5-year-old son to accidentally shoot and kill his 2-year-old sister with the .22-caliber rifle he got for his birthday, state officials said. http://edition.cnn.com/2013/05/01/us/kentucky-accidential-shooting/


My New Year’s Resolutions


I’m looking forward to 2015. With each New Year there is a chance to change ourselves and the world around us, to make it better, to lay plans to bring about a better Australia. It is always best to make these plans at the beginning of the year, not at any other times throughout the year, because the earlier we make the plans, the easier it will be to forget them when it comes time to follow through.

This year I plan to make a few small changes, and if others follow my lead, we may have a better country by 2016.

Join a gym.
Last year I tried to lose weight using the Paleo Diet, which was based on the diet that someone who failed history and biology thought our ancestors ate. This year I’m going to join a gym for the year and then stop attending sometime in the second week of January. Regular gym members appreciate it if New Year’s Resolutioners leave before the end of January so that they have forty-eight to fifty weeks of the year they can work out unhindered. Gyms appreciate the extra memberships to keep their business running without having to invest in more equipment and space.

Do something about climate change.
I know I’ve been putting this one off since the 1980s, but this year for sure. Look, I know that coal is good for humanity and that climate change is crap, but I have all of these scientist friends who work for all of these science organisations who have been pestering me. I think at this stage it would be easier to stop using fossil fuels just to shut these experts up.

Stop reading the fantasy fiction genre.
There has been a lot of fantasy fiction released this past year. Regular series were back again with tales from Fox News, The Australian, in fact just about everything published by News Corporation. Until these fantasy authors start producing more realistic stories, such as Matthew Reilly’s story about a zoo filled with dragons, then I will have to stop reading them.

End my expectation of entitlement and join team Australia.
Australians have been far too entitled for far too long. Living in a first world economy that survived the 2008 Global Financial Crisis relatively unscathed has made us complacent. We have to stop expecting welfare, job security, privacy, and a fair go, unless we are rich, white, coal miners.

Start saving for my kids’ education.
Part of being entitled was the idea that we could expect an education that would give Aussies a good start at the fair go. Now it is up to me to make sure that my kids can afford an education. Our leaders know that it isn’t realistic for Aussies to expect a free education like they had, it is much more realistic to saddle young Australians with huge education debts, or have rich parents. Not being rich I’ll have to save money now for my kids’ education, they’ll just have to do without clothes, shoes and food in the meantime.

Write more letters of support for politicians.
Our nation’s elected leaders had a tough time in 2014 with experts from science, economics and ethics disagreeing with their policies and statements. Whether it be scientists pointing out that climate change was real, economists disagreeing with the budget measures and pointing out that the carbon tax was working, or the Human Rights Commission condemning the asylum seeker policies, it is clear that our politicians need more support for their uninformed policies. So I will be writing letters of support in 2015 encouraging them to stay the course, no matter how many uppity experts, with their facts and logic, disagree with them.

TV that entertained me in 2014


The small screen has continued to gain ground on the big screen in 2014, producing entertainment that is better written, produced, acted and engaging. Sorry, is it still a small screen at 50 inches?

Living hours away from the nearest cinema, TV, or at least the streaming version via my internet, is my go to pass time outside of reading. And like my lists of movies and music that have entertained me this year, TV has had a stella year.

24: Live Another Day
It is easy to forget how cool 24 was, especially with later seasons feeling a bit too recycled. But this shorter season was a return to form for Jack Bauer, reminding people why this show was such a success. Plus, I don’t think we have enough people being tortured on TV these days.

Almost Human
Suffered from the Firefly syndrome. Another sci-fi show on Fox that had episodes shown out of order, wasn’t given a proper time slot, and was cancelled before really finding its footing. I’ve written before about Almost Human and what it could have been. Pity.

There aren’t too many successful cartoon shows for adults that haven’t tried to be a Simpsons clone. Archer blasted into the world with a different style, especially in the humour department. So it was a pity that the Archer Vice season wasn’t up to the normal standard. There was plenty of humour, but not own it on Blu-Ray like the previous 4 seasons.

After following this show for the first two seasons I was looking forward to more action-drama from Arrow. Oh, and abs, CW is the abs network after all. Two episodes into season 3 and I’ve decided to not bother anymore.

The second season of Banshee had a high bar to jump over after such a fantastic first season. Things have only become more complicated, more violent and more naked. Awesome. Season 2 did have a slower pace, but the payoff was there every time. Can’t wait for season 3 in a few weeks.

Meh. Actually I’ll elaborate: David S Goyer should be kept away from comic book adaptations (still love Blade 1-3).

I have enjoyed this series as it managed to steer clear of a number of sci-fi and time travel pitfalls. The third season continued to entertain but started to make leaps in the story that seemed too convenient. With a fourth and final season announced, whilst the creators were planning 7 to 10 seasons, it is clear that they curtailed a few arcs.

Sometimes when a series is cancelled after one season you have committed an atrocity against television, such as Firefly. Other times you can see why it happened. Crisis was interesting enough a premise, had good enough performances, but too much of the show felt bland and lifeless. Also, much like Legends, there were too many lazy film-making moments, such as the exposition scenes that are only there for the audience and completely unnatural for the characters. Still, kept me entertained when my toddler refused to let me hold a book in front of my face that wasn’t Hairy Maclary.

By any measure this show should suck. Aliens on Earth, post-apocalypse civilisation, CGI that doesn’t rival some of the stuff on YouTube, and a home on SyFy. Yet Grant Bowler, Tony Curren, Jamie Murray and Julie “Darla” Benz head up a cast that make this show work. The writers keep a nice balance of wit, action, intrigue and drama flowing, without letting things become cheesy. All in all, an enjoyable show.

This show is a sequel to the terrible movie Legion. But it stars Anthony Stewart “Giles” Head and received a lot of promos during Defiance, so I gave it a go. Dominion has a more interesting premise than Defiance, but has less interesting characters, less impressive performances – bordering on wooden at times – and a plot that creates pointless conflicts. SyFy fans will probably love this one.

I have to admit that I DVR’d Fargo and only really watched the first few episodes. That speaks more to my time spent watching recorded or live TV as opposed to streaming shows than it does about Fargo. At some point I will be bothered enough to flick through all of those menus to retrieve the recorded shows and watch what struck me as a cool show. In the meantime, streaming is awesome.

Immortals, zombies, biological warfare, remote Arctic location, and scientists with really terrible autopipette technique: this show has it all.

Jack Irish: Dead Point
The third in the Peter Temple series of TV movies starring Guy Pierce was another winner. Peter Temple is one of Australia’s finest authors, so it is no surprise that his books are being turned into movies. I really enjoyed this series.

There are few shows that can claim to have impressed their audience so much that the author of the source material decides he needs to join the writing team. Justified is filled with great writing, great performances, and witty banter, enough to make Elmore Leonard proud. The new and final season arrives in January and I will be watching.

Last Week Tonight
John Oliver made the successful transition from The Daily Show to swearing friendly HBO. You’d have to have been living under a rock (in internet terms) to have missed seeing one of John’s fantastic segments this year. There was no subject too hard nor too grim for the Last Week Tonight team to cover. As a result another comedy show has handed out a lesson in how journalism can and should be done (hint: it starts with doing some bloody research!!).

Sean Bean doesn’t die in this show. Which is a shame. Legends is an annoying show as it flits between moments of greatness, such as Sean’s performance as an undercover operative who takes on different personalities for investigations, and then moments of sheer inept laziness. This could have been so much better.

Mad As Hell
Shaun Micallef is as close to Jon Stewart as we have in Australia. Mad As Hell is his ongoing satire of the week in news and 2014 has probably been his best yet. Off the wall and often forgoing the obvious jokes, this show deserves a bigger audience.

Old School
An offbeat Aussie crime drama, Old School didn’t quite wow me. Sam Neill and Bryan Brown work well together, the premise is good, if unoriginal, and the producers didn’t try to drag it out for too many episodes in the season. But it really didn’t rise above average entertainment.

Peaky Blinders
A friend introduced me to this fabulous show late this year. I cannot say enough good things about it. Cillian Murphy and Sam Neill are fantastic actors, but unlike some shows, the entire cast are great as well. Cillian may well establish himself with this role, not to mention Tom Hardy’s performance in the second season. I’m a fan of Cillian Murphy’s work, even going so far as to watch the terrible In Time. I could cite The Wind That Shakes the Barley as an obvious display of his acting chops, but instead I’m going to say that it was the film Red Eye with Rachel McAdams that won me over. Red Eye shouldn’t have been more than a B-grade thriller, but Cillian and Rachel make the material rise way beyond potential. Now imagine what he’s doing with excellent material and more than one amazing co-star.

Penny Dreadful
I mentioned in my 2014 in Movies article that I could watch Eva Green stare at the camera and find it entertaining. Well, she grabs the script and the scenery and chews them to pieces in this show. Much like Peaky Blinders, this is another well acted period drama, with no bad performances. But I want to like this show more. It suffers from a very slow pace of story telling, so much so that you almost thinking you are watching a soapie. Oh, and it has vampires in it. And they don’t sparkle. Boo-ya!

Person of Interest
Despite the modern setting, this is one of those classic TV shows. We’ve seen this “help someone each week” formula in show after show, but it never becomes boring. Whether it be The Littlest Hobo or MacGyver, shows about helping people in need always have a soft spot for me. Especially if they shoot people regularly like Jim Caviezel.

Rake – the Aussie version
Ignore the US version and check out Richard Roxburgh as a smarmy lawyer who defends any and everyone, whilst corruption and politics surround him. A classic show that doesn’t seem to have translated in the US version.

The third season of Sherlock was a bit of a let down. A few people described the season as suffering from a severe case of smug. Definitely not as good as the first two seasons.

South Park
I’ve drifted in and out of South Park. Much like The Family Guy, I still enjoy watching South Park, but don’t find myself compelled to watch every week/episode. That said, Trey and Matt have continued to skewer every topic with bravado.

The Blacklist
This show has grown on me. At first I didn’t think much of it, too forced and episodic. But then James Spader won me over with his charm. I’m sure there are other people on the show as well, possibly even writers and directors.

The Colbert Report
With Stephen Colbert leaving The Report to take over from David Letterman, it feels like we are losing a satirical show that has been without equal. Whilst I’m actually more of a fan of The Daily Show and the new Last Week Tonight, The Report has held up a mirror to those blowhards in the media and screamed at them to take a good hard look at themselves.

The Daily Show
With the rise of Last Week Tonight and the end of The Colbert Report, it is easy to forget the show that launched them. Still the original and the best US news comedy show.

The Flash
Watched the first two episodes and can sum the show up as: meh.

The Librarians
As a huge fan of Leverage I was excited to hear about the new Dean Devlin series, The Librarians. But then I realised that The Librarians sounded similar to a movie that made me want to cut myself. I was torn, watch a new show with Christian Kane in it and try to forget the horror that was The Librarian movies, or ignore potential awesome from the team that made Leverage. Well, a few episodes in and The Librarians looks like a lot of fun, much like Leverage was. Admittedly, the cheesiness that made The Librarian movies suck so badly is still present, but the fun factor is amped up. Did I mention Bruce Campbell makes a guest appearance? Oh, and Aussie actor John Kim is in the cast, and he keeps his accent, unlike many other Aussies and New Zealanders (e.g. the star of Banshee) cast in US shows.

The Roast
One of the common complaints about Aussie TV is the lack of an equivalent to The Daily Show or Colbert Report. The problem with this complaint was that we did have one: The Roast. Unfortunately it didn’t garner the attention it richly deserved and with ABC budget cuts no-one was going to support a show that took a (satirical) razor to politics and media. I think the 10 minute format was ideal for a daily comedy show, roughly matching the amount of original content their US counterparts produce daily, sans interviews. Vale.

See Also:

Movies that entertained me in 2014


Following on from my last post about my favourite music from this year, today I present the movies I watched that were released in 2014. Unlike my music list, this list is a review for the movies I watched, not just the ones I really enjoyed. As such I get the chance to highlight a couple of films that everyone should avoid watching, if they haven’t as yet been sullied.

There were a lot of good films released in 2014, especially in the action genre. But I will note that more films are suffering from the dreaded PG13 rating, whereby horrific violence is glossed over to save us from harm. All this really does is mean that we have violence without consequences portrayed in film. And no nudity. At least the DVD versions often have a more mature cut of the film available. Still no nudity. FSM forbid there be nudity. Won’t somebody think of the children!

By release date:

Technically released last year but only made it to Australia (US, etc) this year, as it was a South Korean production. I have been very impressed with the films coming out of Korea, with visuals and camera work that belie the production costs. Snowpiercer is no exception to this and managed to attract an international cast. Unlike many Hollywood films, Snowpiercer, and other Korean films I have seen, are not afraid of going for the hard ending to the film. Expect to see more from the Korean film-makers and their influence spread.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit
Inspired by, or based upon, or royalty check paid to, Tom Clancy for his Jack Ryan series of novels; Shadow Recruit is the latest take on the character. Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford (who killed Sean Bean) and Ben Affleck have all brought Ryan to the big screen, with adaptations of a series of books I gave up on back in my teens. There was nothing particularly wrong with this movie, it was entertaining enough, but there was also nothing that was going to see this franchise have another instalment soon.

The Raid 2: More Arse Kicking
You could be forgiven for thinking that there wasn’t further story to be had from The Raid. Given that the first film was pretty much one long fight scene that the hero won, what more was there to do? Aside from visit the hospital and spend months recuperating. But when a film that awesome is made there is always going to be a sequel, no matter how tenuous the narrative link is (although apparently the sequel is based upon a discarded script used in early development by the director). Where The Raid was flat out action, The Raid 2 has more suspense and plot, and plenty more awesome action. Can’t wait for the next Judge Dredd film to be based on it.

Non Stop: Taken on a Plane
Liam Neeson beats up bad guys on a plane. This time he’s an alcoholic and not really sure who he should be beating up. Not a patch on Taken but has a better plot than Taken 2.

It is hard to remake a classic film, especially in Hollywood, which generally requires writers and directors to gather up copies of the old classic to burn in a fire pit and then piss on the ashes in order to develop a script. When judged as a brand-new movie with no baggage from Verhoeven or the 80s (not one bad 80s suit or haircut appeared in this film), then Robocop is actually worth watching. In fact, I’d go as far to say that it is worth watching the film just to see Samuel L Jackson’s performance as a loud-mouth, arrogant, douchebag cable news anchor (you know, Bill O’Reilly). But we can’t ignore the baggage, so this comes off as a pale imitation. Still superior to the other Verhoeven remake, Total Recall.

The Lego Movie
Honey, where are my paaaants? The Lego Movie has grabbed a lot of attention and it is well deserved. The movie isn’t without its faults, but it is a kids film that doesn’t silently make parents wish they had decided to be ‘just good friends’ a decade ago.

3 Days to Kill
There were a lot of ingredients in this film that suggested it would taste fantastic. Instead it was a bit bland and made you feel guilty about eating all those calories for no reward.

300: Rise of an Empire
I am an unashamed Eva Green fan. I could happily spend 2 hours watching her stare at the camera, she is that good an actor (more on that in my 2014 in TV). All the ingredients that made 300 awesome are back (except Gerard Butler) with a more expansive stage. The director was clearly going for epic and almost made an action flick that got there. Unfortunately the cool visuals have been copied by too many other movies since the original, so much of the impact is lost.

Need for Speed
I played a lot of Need for Speed when I was younger, so it was awesome to watch the game being brought to life in the movies… Is that an oxymoron? Aaron Paul holds this film together, since the material is paper thin, and NFS wasn’t exactly weighed down with plot as a game. Enjoyable whilst being nothing amazing.

Captain America: Winter Soldier
This was just such an awesome film. The script was inspired by the classic run of comics by Ed Brubaker, with the writers and director managing to capture so much of what a good superhero comic is all about. Without much doubt, Captain America: Winter Soldier, was my favourite film of the year.

Just awful. There is virtually nothing to like about this film. All the characters are unlikable, the script doesn’t make sense, the ending feels like a let down, and not even Arnie’s charisma can stop this steaming pile of elephant crap from being one of the worst films I’ve ever watched.

Not many people liked this film, yet it wasn’t as bad as most claimed. The hate is probably a hangover from the last Johnny Depp vehicle, The Lone Ranger, which will haunt him to his deathbed. That doesn’t make Transcendence a good film, as it is slow, predictable, and crammed with undeveloped characters. But it has Cillian Murphy in it and Paul Bettany does his Paul Bettany thing, so the movie is watchable.

Brick Mansions
Brick Mansions is a remake of the French film District 13. They even got the original star, parkour legend David Belle, to play the same role again. There is nothing to like about this film, they even managed to ruin the parkour scenes with terrible camera work and editing. Watch the original, this was pitiful.

X-Men Days of Future Past
The problem with watching an X-Men movie is that we have seen The Avengers, Iron Man, and the previously mentioned Captain America. There is nothing particularly bad about this movie, but we have just had a slew of excellent comic book movies (which is a rarity), so this pales in comparison. X-Men suffers from being far too serious, lacking humour and interesting dialogue. Also, Hugh Jackman is a tad too lean and veiny in this film.

Edge of Tomorrow
I don’t know that I’ll ever forgive Tom Cruise for making Jack Reacher a foot shorter than he should be. But Edge of Tomorrow goes some way toward making amends. This was an excellent movie and was not the usual Cruise fare. The only thing that annoyed me about the film was the ending, which was the typical Hollywood rubbish. If they had stuck with the ending from the book then they would have had something remarkable.

A Million Ways To Die In The West
Family Guy is one of my favourite TV shows, despite having gone off the boil in recent seasons. Seth MacFarlane made a successful transition to movies with Ted, but some people aren’t enamoured with his brand of humour. I am and this was the funniest film I’ve watched since Ted. It isn’t as good, however, as A Million Ways To Die In The West suffers from being about 20 minutes too long. It seems all recent films are clocking in at 2 hours long, which is 30 minutes too long for a comedy, in my opinion. And A Million Ways could have retained most of the material and come in shorter, just by utilising tighter editing.

Guardians of the Galaxy
Of all the comics to become a blockbuster movie, Guardians is not an obvious choice. But everything about this film is done just right. Everything about Guardians says that it has to walk such a fine line that it should fail miserably. Instead the humour hits its marks, the acting stops the characters falling into Batman & Robin territory, the action is awesome but not overdone, and there is a sentimental note to the film that could have easily become soppy. My second favourite film of the year.

It is hard to get past the ridiculous premise of this movie when it is a well known brain myth. But even if you dismiss that, Lucy is a rubbish film, so the use of the 10% Myth is the least of its problems. The main thing I hated was the problem that many of these “I’ve just become super smart” themed movies have (Transcendence had this as well to an extent), and that is the idea that the smarter you become, the more inhumane you become. Smart people = jerks, apparently.

The November Man
This was a solid action movie starring Pierce Brosnan (who killed Sean Bean) showing that he hasn’t lost his action chops. Nothing amazing about this spy-action-thriller, which means Brosnan carries the film. One thing I did hate was the ending, which seemed really odd. I’m sure there is a director’s cut that will be released that will make more sense, as clearly there was a scene missing.

The Equalizer
Denzel Washington is a Man On Fire…. Wait, different movie. Denzel Washington is a man with a particular skill set… Sorry, that’s Liam Neeson. Denzel Washington kills some Russian mobsters using hardware supplies and Sony product placement. The Equalizer is a pretty standard vigilante action movie. What sets it apart, or makes it worth watching, is Denzel, because when is he not worth watching, and the understated story-telling. A lot of films like this go out of their way to beat their audience over the head with various plot points, The Equalizer just pokes their audience in the face.

A Walk Among the Tombstones
Liam Neeson doesn’t beat up nearly enough people in this film.

Christmas Gift Ideas For Senator Leyonhjelm And Your Other Libertarian Friends

In the wake of the shocking Sydney Lindt Hostage situation our brave libertarian Senator Leyonhjelm struck straight to the heart of the real cause of the events and hinted at a foolproof solution. He pointed out that we are a ‘nation of victims’ and need to have access to guns to solve our problems, because it has worked so well in the USA.

His nuanced dissection of the events is a breath of fresh air. This was definitely not an issue of a man with a violent criminal history, nor his lack of treatment for mental health issues, nor about issues surrounding bail in our justice system, nor about racial and religious tensions in Australia. Nope, this was all about not being able to shoot people you have a problem with.

We should be thanking Senator Leyonhjelm and his fellow libertarians with gifts, which is appropriate timing leading into the Festive Season and our desperate need to stimulate the free market. So make Joe Hockey proud and buy some libertarian gifts.

Gift Idea: Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, with foreword written by Rand whilst on welfare.
Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged is a must have for all libertarians. The all-new edition has a foreword written by Rand in the 1970s explaining her principles and complaints about how small her welfare checks were.

Gift Idea: Smoker’s lungs desk ornament, with bonus lungs of their children who rode in the car with them while they smoked.
This is a great gift for libertarians as it acts as a conversation piece to allow them to discuss how over-taxed smokers are.

Gift Idea: Bushmaster AR15 semi-automatic rifle chambered in .223-caliber.
The Bushmaster is the freedom weapon of choice and a must have for defending your rights. Comes as a box set of the rifle, one thousand rounds of ammunition, and paper targets of school children.

Gift Idea: Environmental Goggles that immediately darken and block the sight of disasters.
You can’t have the environment get in the way of the economy, so these goggles help libertarians conveniently fail to see the degradation and destruction of climate change, pollution, and the future.

This article also appeared on The Sauce.

Music that entertained me in 2014

In the lead up to the end of 2014 and my announcement of The Awesomes of the year, I thought I’d cover things other than books that entertained me this year. To start with I thought I’d list some of the music I’ve bought and listened to this year. As always, I’m hoping that sharing the stuff I’ve enjoyed will promote artists and media so that maybe you’ll find something new to enjoy.

Devin Townsend
For me 2014 was all about Devin Townsend, with his new album Z2 and his back catalog on high rotation. Whilst Epicloud and Addicted remain my favourites, there is little Devin has done that isn’t worth listening to.

Whilst I’ve liked most of Epica’s work, their more recent album, Requiem for the Indifferent, had more pop-inspired vocals than Simone Simmons usual range. This lost my interest quickly. Fortunately The Quantum Enigma was a return to form for the band and Simone’s vocals. They also released one of the few lyric videos that didn’t suck, so there is that as well.

Arch Enemy
With singer Angela Gossow stepping down to manage the band, the new album, War Eternal, could have gone pear shaped. Instead Alissa White-Gluz stepped up and the band continued to kick arse.

With the second closest thing to pop on my list, Delain’s new album, The Human Contradiction, was a brighter, more rock, release than previous albums.

Diabolicus in Musica
Not to be confused with the classic Slayer album, Diabolicus in Musica share many of the elements I like in music (see if you can spot the similarities). Argia was their second album and released this year. Their studio production is improved over their first album, which makes them sound bigger and more epic.

Nothing new from them this year, but I did see them live so I’m counting that. With Floor Jansen stepping in as lead vocalist I was like an excited puppy to see them perform. Floor previously fronted After Forever, another band I love, not to mention her other projects.

This is cheating slightly because as I write this I haven’t bought the new album. But I did discover Kontrust this year and their music has also been on high rotation, particularly Secondhand Wonderland.

This is another cheat since Metalocalypse: The Doomstar Requiem A Klok Opera was released last year, but I’m justifying it on the basis that Australia has to rely on illegal downloads to get content in a timely manner. So I was only able to buy this Klok Opera recently, and what a cool piece of work it is.

I was watching a parkour video last year that had a song from Amaranthe as the soundtrack. I subsequently bought their first two albums and love their mix of crushing guitars and pop-inspired vocals. Definitely the most pop-styled music on this list, the new album, Massive Addictive, is more good-fun music.

Within Temptation
Given the list so far it is no surprise that Within Temptation are included here. With the release of the first single from Hydra, which included guest vocals from Tarja Turunen (formerly of Nightwish) I was excited, to say the least. But I found the album to be too inconsistent and a little disappointing. Still some great moments on it, however, such as this track:

Nicki Minaj
Kidding, just kidding. I honestly have no idea who Nicki Minaj is, except that she was one of the musicians satirised on the South Park episode I watched last night. Just wanted some clickbait. #NickiMinajNaked

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