Tuesday, 29 May 2018

TV review: Grimm season 5


This fifth season starts off with the fallout from season 4: new-Hexenbeast Juliette having killed Nick’s mother, tried to kill Nick, then herself been killed by Trubel. Only, in the best way of fantasy tales, Juliette isn’t as dead as she once was, having been taken by Hadrian’s Wall, the covert anti-Wessen organisation Trubel now works for. They have turned Juliette into Eve, a super-powerful emotionless Wessen killer with a strange taste in wigs. Meanwhile, Adelind and her new baby, Nick’s son (from when Adelind was disguised as Juliette), has become part of the good guy team, and Nick seems quite happy to change the target of his affections. And Black Claw, a powerful covert Wessen organisation, is out to take over the world, starting with Portland.

Yes, it’s getting complicated. And a bit of a mess. The overall season arc is the fight against Black Claw, but still with the monster-of-the-week detecting to do. When the stakes are low, fighting monsters one at a time seems fine; when the stakes have risen to world domination by Wessen, I would have thought a more joined-up response would be better. That’s what Hadrian’s Wall is for (although rather sparsely staffed), but Nick can’t just join them, for some reason. In fact, the monster-of-the-week is often the light relief from the darker background tone. And this time it’s Wu’s turn to misguidedly keep secrets from the others. Also, Hank now appears to be about the only normal human on the planet.

Two characters have massive plot-driven changes. Adelind becomes one of the good guys. Even when the humanising potion wears off and she’s got her hexenbiest powers again, despite dire warnings and fears of her turning bad, she stays the same. And Reynard’s change seems rather under-signalled: his flip to the Dark Side needed more motivation, which it would have been easy to provide, given his background. Then the Magic Stick is found, and forgotten for a few episodes, before becoming potentially, but not actually, decisive. Maybe next season?

For all my SF TV reviews, see my main website.

Monday, 28 May 2018

film review: Ready Player One

[Wade in VR headset]
Society has all but collapsed, but everyone is happy playing in the OASIS virtual reality. Wade [Tye Sheridan] has just got a full body suit, not just a headset, so is fully immersed as his avatar Parzival. The creator of the OASIS has left various puzzles and challenges: the first person to solve them and reach the end will inherit the OASIS itself. When Parzival solves the first puzzle, things stop being a game, as he suddenly finds that the sinister Corporation is after him, in VR and in reality. Wade and his VR friends are in a race against time, against the Corporation, who want to take control of the OASIS.

[Aech, Parzival, Art3mis in the OASIS]
This is the film of the book, and is good fast paced imaginative fun. On the technology side that is – provided you have a fair knowledge of 1980s computer games. The “human” plot is the standard boy meets girl, girl shows no interest in boy, girl is hiding a secret she thinks boy won’t like but boy doesn’t care now that he knows her, boy and girl (plus an underwritten team of sidekicks) save the world together.

Unlike some other VR plots, this has answers to some of the “trapped in VR” issues: so here there is a reason why Samantha [Olivia Cooke] can’t escape when trapped by the Corporation. For the most part, there aren’t any eXistenZ-like confusions about reality v. VR, Inception-like scene tricking the Corporation boss. Although people know they are in no real danger in the OASIS, they have a good reason that they don’t want to “die”: they will then lose all the gaming “coin” they have accumulated. Maybe this greater “realism” here is due to the protagonists being teenagers rather than adults; teenagers are presumably more VR-savvy and need such questions addressed.

[Aech, Parzival in VR]
Despite these pleasing aspects of plausibility, however, I remain to be convinced by people at the end walking around outside in the real world whilst fully immersed in their VR experiences. And I am puzzled by the economics of the real world. Even if everyone escapes to VR most of the time, presumably they still have to eat: where do they get the money for food? They all look fit and well-fed.

Worth watching for the visuals and action and semi-coherent plot. But don’t expect a lot of depth.

For all my film reviews, see my main website.

Sunday, 27 May 2018

book review: Men Explain Things to Me

Rebecca Solnit.
Men Explain Things to Me and other essays.
Granta. 2014

The first essay in this little book starts with the now-famous anecdote:
[pp2–4] … I began to speak only of the most recent on that summer day in 2003, River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West, my book on the annihilation of time and space and the industrialization of everyday life.
     He cut me off soon after I mentioned Muybridge. “And have you heard about the very important Muybridge book that came out this year?”
     So caught up was I in my assigned role as ingĂ©nue that I was perfectly willing to entertain the possibility that another book on the same subject had come out simultaneously and I’d somehow missed it. He was already telling me about the very important book—with that smug look I know so well in a man holding forth, eyes fixed on the fuzzy far horizon of his own authority.
     Here, let me just say that my life is well-sprinkled with lovely men, […] Still, there are these other men, too. So, Mr. Very Important was going on smugly about this book I should have known when Sallie interrupted him to say, “That’s her book.” Or tried to interrupt him anyway.
     But he just continued on his way. She had to say, “That’s her book” three or four times before he finally took it in. And then, as if in a nineteenth-century novel, he went ashen. That I was indeed the author of the very important book it turned out he hadn’t read, just read about in the New York Times Book Review a few months earlier, so confused the neat categories into which his world was sorted that he was stunned speechless—for a moment, before he began holding forth again.

The term “mansplaining” was subsequently invented by another author, and so we now have a name with which to skewer this kind of behaviour.

After the light-hearted tone used for telling this anecdote (albeit with more than a hint of gritted teeth), the essay rapidly gets darker and more serious. The whole book is a short series of essays covering various aspects of patriarchy: from mansplaining, to rape culture; from why same sex marriage equality does indeed threaten “traditional”, that is, grossly unequal, marriage, to the obliteration of women's voices; from arguing with Susan Sontag arguing with Virginia Woolf, to the history of women's movement.

All this is beautifully written with verve, and passion, and rage, and makes for excellent, but uncomfortable, reading.

For all my book reviews, see my main website.

Thursday, 17 May 2018

tap tap

This cute little guy fluttered onto our windowsill, tapped on the window a few times, then just sat there looking in at us for about five minutes, not even moving as I crept forward with my phone, photographing as I went.

"why is the air all solid in front of me?"

Thursday, 10 May 2018

book review: The Bonobo and the Atheist

Frans de Waal.
The Bonobo and the Atheist: in search of humanism among the primates.
Norton. 2013

Some extremist religious people claim it is impossible to be “good without God”: we are all steeped in original sin, and fear of God’s wrath is the only thing stopping people from murdering each other. Frankly, I don’t know whether to assume they don’t really believe this, or whether to avoid them in case they suffer a crisis of faith and go on a rampage.

de Waal demonstrates a rather more sensible source of our morality: it evolved. To bolster his argument, he provides many examples from the behaviours of chimps and bonobos. These apes have different kinds of social structures, one rather more violent than the other, but both exhibit what can easily be interpreted as moral behaviours, including a desire for fairness, respect for each others’ possessions, and altruism.

de Waal’s observations build up a strong picture of a proto-moral society, with the chimps and bonobos exhibiting a wide range of bottom up moral behaviours, and resorting to some top-down “policing” on the relatively few occasions when individual behaviour is wanting. The multiple descriptions draw a picture of a complex society of caring individual apes, plus the odd grouch.

In summary, we are moral because we evolved as social apes, and the kind of morality we have evolved lets us live together in relative harmony. We too need policing, but only for the outliers, not for everyday behaviours. So no need to worry about atheistic murderous rampages. Or no more than religious ones, anyway.

For all my book reviews, see my main website.

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

The Natural Science of Computation

Just got a complimentary copy of a new CUP book in the post:

Michael E. Cuffaro & Samuel C. Fletcher (eds)  Physical Perspectives on Computation, Computational Perspectives on Physics.  Cambridge University Press, 2018

Why did I get a complimentary copy?  Because:

Dominic Horsman, Viv Kendon, Susan Stepney.  Abstraction/Representation Theory and the Natural Science of Computation.  Chapter 6 in ...

I had fun writing the chapter with my co-authors.  And from the look of the table of contents, I'm going to have fun reading the other chapters.

Monday, 7 May 2018

three, no wait four!, cans of similar spam

The spam dentistry journal requests are continuing to arrive thick and fast.

Just this afternoon I received:
Dear Dr. S Stepney,

Good Morning…..!

Can we have your article for successful release of Volume 1 Issue 5 in our Journal?

In fact, we are in need of one article to accomplish the Issue prior 15th of May; we hope that the single manuscript should be yours. If this is a short notice please do send 2 page opinion/mini review/case report, we hope 2 page article isn’t time taken for eminent people like you.

We appreciate your attention to this request.

Best Regards,
Alexia Cornish
Significances of Bioengineering & Biosciences (SBB)

whereas earlier this morning, from a different bot with a now surprising lack of boldface and a weaker grasp of my name (presumably their web scraper is a little less intelligent than the others):
Dear Dr. S Stepneydf,

Hearty Greetings from AS Dental Sciences

We would like to take the pleasure to represent AS Dental Sciences journal, that is publishing various articles on Dentistry and Oral Sciences, after performing a double blinded peer review by potential Editors.

Current Issue: www.actascientific.com/ASDS-2-5.php

We have also gone through your research work, and we heartily appreciate your expertise in the related field. So, with a desire to publish your descriptive article in Volume 2 Issue 7 of AS Dental Sciences, we cordially welcome your manuscript submission by May 26, 2018 through the below link.

We hope to publish your valuable paper in AS Dental Sciences!

With Kind Regards,
Ms. Sadhana Singh
Managing Editor at AS Dental Sciences
Acta Scientific Publications Private Limited
Contact: +91-9182824667
So they've "gone through" my research work, and "heartily appreciate" my "expertise in the related field".  Really?  Not really.

On 2 May, I got another one with the standard boldface template bot, again claiming that I am an eminent manuscript:
Dear Dr. S Stepney,

Good Morning…!

Can we have your article for successful release of Volume 5 Issue 1 in our Journal?

In fact, we are in need of one article to accomplish the Issue prior 10th of May; we hope that the single manuscript should be yours. If this is a short notice please do send 2 page opinion/mini review/case report, we hope 2 page article isn’t time taken for eminent people like you.

Or else drop your CV to edit or review articles in our journal.

Your trust in my efforts is the highest form of our motivation, I believe in you that you are eminent manuscript brings out the best citation to our Journal.

Anticipate for your promising response..

Best Regards,
Britney Sampson
Anatomy Physiology & Biochemistry International Journal (APBIJ)
Ooh!  I can become an editor, too!  Oooh!  No.

Update:  I idn't remember this one, until I started clearing out my email inbox.  On 25 April, I got one written in considerably better English:
Dear Dr. S Stepney, 

Greetings from our journal!

I wonder if you could write a manuscript (or any type of article) for Journal of Otolaryngology and Rhinology.

JOR is an international, open access, peer reviewed journal that publishes articles on causes, symptoms and diagnosis of various otology, rhinology, laryngology and many more within the scope of journal.

The main objective of the journal is to disseminate the scientific work, publication, education, and exchange of ideas globally. The Journal provides authors with a platform to contribute their findings and help raise awareness among readers on Otolaryngology and Rhinology.

Submit your manuscript on or before May 25, 2018 for publication in the upcoming issue.

Submission process: Online submission system [link omitted]

You can find the list of other journals hosted by ClinMed International Library here. [link omitted]

For any further information contact us by replying to this mail.

Awaiting your submission.

With thanks,

Catharine Paul
Editorial office
Journal of Otolaryngology and Rhinology | ISSN: 2572-4193
ClinMed International Library
3511 Silverside Road, Suite 105
Wilmington, DE 19810, USA)

Just how many of these spam journals are there?  Are they just using a bot to generate journal names along with the request emails?

And my "promising response" is still a promise to name and shame.  For the record, here’s a (growing) list of the spam-so-far: