Weekend trip

So we had a drive down the new freeway past Bunbury to Dunsborough over the weekend to visit my parents. Not a bad trip, and it was a little quicker than usual. We saved half an hour on the freeway, and managed to not stop on the way at MacDonalds which also saved time. We had planned on leaving on Friday around lunch time, but a spur of the moment thing after dinner saw us leave that night. I am normally a little apprehensive about driving down there at night, but the new road is a lot safer.

We did a few tourist things, and also watched Geelong win the Grand Final. I was backing St Kilda. It was so close for the whole game but Geelong managed to win by two goals. One came after the siren, and one goal they allowed was clearly hit the goal post and should have been a point. A bit of a heartbreak for St Kilda, but they’re well positioned for next year.

We also sold our house last week. Or rather we got an offer for the price we wanted so we accepted it. There’s a small chance it’ll fall through, but not likely. We’ll count our chickens when they hatch. We are looking to move to a suburb called South Yunderup which is near Mandurah, near where Pinjarra Road intersects the new freeway. Rentals down there are cheaper than up here, and now that the train and freeway extend down there it’s not like it’s too far out of town. I do still need to get to work after all.

So on our way back from Dunsborough, we stopped off at the sales office to see what’s left. There’s some decent blocks, and the display homes look nice and affordable too.

Stay tuned for more developments. Something else might come up. <le sigh>

DarthVaderFigures.com

Darth VaderSo after last years disaster of mdwebhosting.com.au losing all my SQL databases, and therefore destroying my existing web sites, I have finally got my replacement up and running. I’ve called it DarthVaderFigures.com, and I’ll be adding two or three items to it every week until it’s all done.

Rather than a gallery, it’s in the form of a blog. You can get the RSS feeds, “Follow” on Twitter and everything! When Google Wave is out of Beta, I’ll see how I can use it because it looks very exciting.

DarthVaderFigures.com is run by an international group of Star Wars collectors who’s focus and passion is Darth Vader action figures. Their collections include regular garden-variety carded figures, as well as foreign carded figures, exclusives, signed figures, prototype and custom figures. If you enjoy collecting Darth Vader action figures and have something to contribute then please let us know.

Why are Americans against universal healthcare?

ObamunismA little something I ran across this morning:

This morning I was awoken by my alarm clock powered by electricity generated by the public power monopoly regulated by the US Department of Energy. I then took a shower in the clean water provided by the municipal water utility. After that, I turned on the TV to one of the Federal Communications Commission regulated channels to see what the National Weather Service of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration determined the weather was going to be like using satellites designed, built, and launched by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. I watched this while eating my breakfast of US Department of Agriculture inspected food and taking the drugs which have been determined as safe by the Food and Drug Administration. At the appropriate time as regulated by the US Congress and kept accurate by the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the US Naval Observatory, I get into my National Highway Traffic Safety Administration approved automobile and set out to work on the roads build by the local, state, and Federal Departments of Transportation, possibly stopping to purchase additional fuel of a quality level determined by the Environmental Protection Agency, using legal tender issued by the Federal Reserve (*) bank. On the way out the door I deposit any mail I have to be sent out via the US Postal Service and drop the kids off at the public school. After spending another day not being maimed or killed at work thanks to the workplace regulations imposed by the Department of Labor and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, enjoying another two meals which again do not kill me because of the USDA, I drive my NHTSA car back home on the DOT roads, to my house which has not burned down in my absence because of the state and local building codes and fire marshal’s inspection, and which has not been plundered of all its valuables thanks to the local police department. I then log on to the internet which was developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Administration and post on freerepublic.com and Fox News forums about how SOCIALISM in medicine is BAD because the government can’t do anything right.

(*) Whoever wrote this might not be aware that the Federal Reserve banking system isn’t really a government operation. It’s private.

Look what the Cat dragged in

Gary Ablett Brownlow MedalSo, Gary Ablett finally won the Brownlow. For my international friends who are not familiar with footy, the Brownlow Medal is the Australian Football League’s highest individual honour, given to the “Fairest and Best” player in the AFL each year. “Fairest and Best? Is it like an MVP?” I hear some of you ask. What it boils down to is the player who receives the most votes for being the Fairest and Best player in games during the Home and Away season wins. Pre-season and finals performances do not count. Any player who receives a suspension for misconduct or for breaking the rules is excluded. This has actually happened twice. In the late nineties, Corey McKernan poled the same number of votes as co-winners James Hird and Michael Voss but didn’t get a medal because of a suspension. The next year, the Bulldog’s Chris Grant was the outright winner but because of a one week suspension lost out to St Kilda’s Robert Harvey.

“Who votes on this?” you ask. Would you believe it’s the game umpires? Yes, those who officiate the game will, at the end of the game, get together and decide who they give 1, 2 or 3 votes to. Add these up over the Home and Away season and you get the Brownlow winner.

It’s these two factors which mean that it’s not necessarily the best or most valuable player who wins the Brownlow. Which is a shame, really, and sometimes there’s some real surprises. There’s different systems to determine which player is best in a given league. For example, the coaches in the National Basketball League cast votes for the best players in each game to determine the NBL MVP. As far as I understand, this is still the case. In the NBA, the award is decided by a panel of sportswriters and broadcasters throughout the United States and Canada some of whom belong to cities with teams, and some without teams. I tend to think that this is a better method to find an MVP, really. The large group of sports writers are as close as you’ll come to a non-biased collection of objective experts. No, I don’t think Umpires are objective in determining performance, nor are they experts. Their job is to blow whistles. Coaches win games. A fan based system is just a popularity contest. No, sports writers are paid to analyse and report on games so I think they are best qualified.

But then again, the Brownlow isn’t the MVP. <shrug>

The Brownlow Medal presentation has to be the single most boring television broadcast ever. Some dude calls out the three votes from every game of every round. That’s more than 500 names and numbers. Riveting stuff. In recent years there’s been more and more emphasis on what the players and their wives and/or girlfriends wear to the ceremony. In 2004 Chris Judd’s girlfriend became a legend by wearing a revealing, but tasteful, red dress. Others have tried and failed since.

Chris Judd and Rebecca Twigley Bryeen Gorden arrives at the Brownlow Medal with her partner, Geoffrey Edelsten

Fiery the angels fell

Anyone who knows me at all knows that I like science fiction. And anybody knows me well knows that I believe Blade Runner to be the best science fiction film ever made and that if you believe otherwise you’re exposing your own mental, moral and genetic shortcomings.

I first saw it at the cinema when I was young, mostly because Harrison Ford was in it. I mean, he was Han Solo in Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back, and he was Indiana Jones. Couldn’t be all that bad, huh?

I was luke warm on it when I first saw it, and I put this down to the fact I was a young immature 13 year old at the time and wasn’t able to fully appreciate the story or the characters. Like any young teen, I liked explosions, car chases and the occasional boobies. But I do distinctly remember at the time thinking to myself that there was probably more to this movie than I understood, and I wanted to know more. Remember, this was in the days before the Interwebs and before the VHS/Beta wars had been fought so the only information around was in dodgy pulp sci-fi fan mags.

It wasn’t until a few years later when I was able to hire and buy a VHS copy of it that I could fully comprehend the depth and the sheer genius of this movie.

Blade Runner explores a number of themes, the foremost being “What does it mean to be human?”. I’m not going to go into the awesome set designs, the brilliant special effects and the soul stirring music. I just want to touch on two things which touched me the most as I watched Blade Runner.

Blade Runner EyeEyes. The eyes are the window to the soul. The first scene past the opening crawl introducing the storyline is a giant, all seeing eye. It is reflecting the hellish scene of 2019 Los Angeles. You can’t escape the gaze of this eye and it makes you feel naked and uneasy. If the eye belongs to Roy Batty, is he observing and even examining humanity? The fiery reflections could be external explosions of fire in the landscape, or an internal conflict Roy feels about returning home. More on Roy later.

Roy and Leon visits Chew’s Eye World. It doesn’t take long for it to dawn on Chew who they actually are, and he takes credit for designing Roy’s eyes. “If only you could see what I’ve seen with your eyes”. This still sends shivers down my spine when I watch it today.

At JF Sebastian’s apartment, Pris and Roy reveal to him their identities. Roy breaks the tension by using some prop eyes on himself, manipulating the simple JF into getting him in to “meet his maker”. Before the fight scene, Pris paints her eyes racoon-style, disguising herself as a toy. Which she actually is, being your ”basic pleasure model”.

Roy takes JF’s code to enter the Tyrell building and confront Tyrell, showing his brilliant analytic and strategic powers by completing the chess game, and check mating Tyrell in more ways than one. After Tyrell explains that he cannot give Roy more life, Roy kisses him. Is this an assertion of power? Or a fond farewell to his creator? He crushes Tyrell’s skull, sticking his thumbs through his eyes taking first his power of sight and ultimately his life.

In the final scene, Roy declares he has “seen things you people wouldn’t believe”, with emphasis on “seen”. His eyes are his power, his link to his humanity, the source of his experience… but ultimately this power, experience and humanity are borrowed and are ending.

Roy BattyRoy Batty. He’s one of my all time favourite characters of any genre. He has superhuman strength, genius-level intellect and is the natural leader of the renegade Nexus 6′s who’ve made their way back to earth. But beyond that, Roy is a most complex character and can be interpreted many ways: hero or villain, mindless killing machine or compassionate humanitarian, perpetrator or victim. Batty is flawed. Right up to the end he is full of surprises, showing compassion and saving the one sent to kill him.

I love Roy because he is perfect. Indeed, JF Sebastian can’t stop staring at he and Pris because they’re “So different. So perfect”. When Roy confronts his maker, Tyrell declares, “You were made as well as we could make you”.

“But not to last”, is Roy’s response. His perfection is flawed. He knows it, and wants more life, as anyone of us would. Nobody wants to die. In a moment of reflection while being comforted by Tyrell, he becomes resigned to the fact that there is no hope for him and confesses to Tyrell, “I’ve done…. questionable things”. He’s at his lowest point. All hope is gone, and he’s returned to his father asking forgiveness.

Indeed, Tyrell’s next lines of comfort are explicitly describing him as the Prodigal Son. “The light that burns twice as bright burns half as long, and you have burned so very very brightly Roy.  Look at you.  You’re the prodigal son.  You’re quite a prize”

It’s at this point that we see that Roy has progressed outside the parameters of the emotional conditions imposed upon him at creation and is learning from his mistakes and forming his own morality. He realises Tyrell is not the loving father he’d hoped for but is instead a greedy mad scientist willing to use any excuse to avoid responsibility for the pain he has inflicted on others. Roy crushes his skull and leaves. In the elevator ride on the way down and out of the building the stars are falling upwards, providing a metaphor for Roy “falling” as the archangel in Paradise Lost.

Roy confronts Deckard, playing a cat and mouse game. He shows his superior physical abilities by dodging bullets, running through walls. He taunts Deckard and corners him on top of the building, dangling precariously above the street hanging only by his fingers. In todays common language, he PWNS him.

But instead of letting Deckard fall to his death, he saves Deckard’s life as the last act of his own. The voiceover explains, “Maybe in those last moments he loved life more than he ever had before. Not just his life. Anybody’s life. My life”. This is a fair, but Hollywood-style analysis. I’d like to think that in his death, Roy had finally become what he’d been designed to be: perfect. He’d overcome his hatred, found fogiveness and compassion, and saved the life of a man sent to kill him when he could have done nothing and let him die. He needed to witness to Deckard that his makers need to not make them at all or deal with them as Human Beings. Finally it’s, “Time to die”.

A lot can be learned from Roy.

Now that I think about it, a lot of my favourite characters are not humans, wanting to attain or regain humanity. I’ll have to reflect on this and find out why:

Darth Vader 6, Gina, Shelley, Natalie Cameron Friday

Another time, perhaps.

 

A big weekend in sports

Monza Italian Grand Prix curcuitI’d love to have the time to sit in front of the TV this weekend, order pizza and do nothing but watch sports. It’s AFL finals time tonight with Bulldogs v Lions in the 2nd Semifinal (AFL has a really idiotic Finals naming system) and Crows v Magpies tomorrow night in the 1st Semi. The winners move on to next week’s Preliminary Finals (these should be the semis)  to see who ultimately moves on to the Grand Final. I’m tipping Bulldogs by 20 points tonight, and Crows by one million points tomorrow. Not because I like them, but because I dislike Collingwood.

Then, after the footy, the qualifying for the Italian Grand Prix at Monza begins, with the race proper on Sunday night in glorious HD. With Webber and Vettel about 20 points behind Button, it is imperative that Red Bull gets a win and that Brawn crashes out on the first turn. Two weeks later is Singapore, the only night race but still timed perfectly so I can watch it live.

The NFL also starts this weekend and I’ll be doggedly defending my third placing in the last three seasons against the guys at potf2.com in the NFL Fantasy League. Not bad for an aussie who doesn’t know his Line Backers from his Tight Ends. American football isn’t my cup of tea, but I have fun in the Fantasy League. I might even try and watch a game this year.

Worlds without end

Omega CentauriPictures have been released from the newly refurbished Hubble Space Telescope, and they are glorious. NASA gave Hubble one more roll of the dice when it sent STS-125 on a servicing and calibration mission to get a few more years out of the old girl.

To be honest, I thought it’d be more economical to make a new space telescope since each Shuttle mission costs about half a billion dollars. There’s been five servicing missions (named Missions 1, 2, 3A, 3B and 4), so a goodly sum has been spent. Hubble is a few months short of 20 years old and was built using late 70s and 80s technology. Surely a new platform designed from the ground up with 21st century technology would be cheaper and yeild even better results? At any rate, the pictures are in and will continue for at least another 4 or 5 years.

It’s funny. You live in the universe, but you never do these things until someone comes to visit.

From the press release:

Hubble now enters a phase of full science observations. The demand for
observing time will be intense. Observations will range from studying
the population of Kuiper Belt objects at the fringe of our solar
system to surveying the birth of planets around other stars and
probing the composition and structure of extrasolar planet
atmospheres. There are ambitious plans to take the deepest-ever
near-infrared portrait of the universe to reveal never-before-seen
infant galaxies that existed when the universe was less than 500
million years old. Other planned observations will attempt to shed
light on the behavior of dark energy, a repulsive force that is
pushing the universe apart at an ever-faster rate.

See some of the latest images here.

See a comparison of a previous shot at the same location to the new shot in the above thumbnail here.

I always get the shakes before a drop.

Starship TroopersStarship Troopers by Robert A Heinlein is my favourite all time novel. I bought my copy in high school probably because it had the word “Troopers” on the cover, so it had to be something like Star Wars Stormtroopers, right? Ahem. Anyhow, I’ve read it at least once a year since 1984 which makes it my most well-loved and most dog-eared novel on the shelf.

Starship Troopers isn’t an action story, though there’s plenty of technology and explosions. It isn’t the story of a great hero, though there are plenty of heroics. It isn’t a book about tedious daily routine of military life, but parts of it would make a great documentary.  It isn’t the inspiring story of someone who overcomes and achieves all, though the central character does have his share of failures, tragedies and achievements. It isn’t a book about the government, the military, or even being a soldier though the story uses these as a framework. It’s a book about civic virtue, and what it means to be a citizen. In the book, the rights of a full Citizen (to vote, and hold public office) must be earned through voluntary Federal service and are given only to these who are honourably discharged from Federal service. I’m not going to pigeon-hole myself or paint myself into a corner by saying that I fully agree with this philosophy, but I can’t say that it’s a bad idea. Those who are willing to put their society ahead of themselves, who are willing to risk their lives for their fellow citizens have proved themselves and should be rewarded ahead of those that are not willing.

The central character of the story isn’t a mighty hero. Juan Rico is just an ordinary guy who, almost on a whim, decides to enlist in the service right out of high school. His story is told mostly as a collection of flashbacks to different parts of his life including childhood, high school, basic training, and OCS school up to the point where he gets command of his own group of warriors.

The book suffers (rightly or wrongly) from allegations of militarism, racism, sexism and fascism but I think most if not all of these allegations can be refuted when you look at it in this context: it was written in the 60s when the United States military was largely conscript, when there were still white and coloured drinking fountains and when female cadets were not allowed at the service academies. Indeed, the lead character is Filipino, the Navy not only has female officers but is dominated by female officers, and the government is explicitly described as a representative democracy where the only difference between those with full citizenship and those without is the right to vote and hold public office.

I waited for the day this would be made into a movie. I always thought Brandon Lee would make a good Johnny Rico, but alas he died young. I always thought it’d make a fantastic movie if narrated in the first person and told from the single point of view in much the same way Full Metal Jacket was done, but with more voiceovers. I was so excited when I heard this movie was coming out in 1997 and I just hoped it would be done right.

Instead, we got an abortion of a movie which made little to no sense and wasn’t a shadow of the book. I can only live in hope that this crime against cinema will be corrected by having the movie redone at a later date, and that it will hold true to the themes and characters of the book. May God have mercy on Paul Verhoevens soul.