Sunday, May 20, 2018

Happy birthday Sam Selvon

He's today's google doodle, because it's his 95th birthday, apparently (though he died in 1994). We had to read a book of his short stories for GCSE English, back in the ancient times when he was still alive, so he has my undying gratitude for actually being quite a good writer, unlike some of the people poor GCSE students were forced to read the works of.

The thing is, though, having clicked on the doodle and seen google's array of photos of him... he looks absolutely nothing at all like I thought he did. I must have seen a picture of somebody else at some point, and thought it was Sam Selvon, because my instant reaction is "hang on, why did I think he looked completely different?"

I wonder who I've been thinking is Sam Selvon all these years?

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Behold... the universe!

In many ways, I am Groot. By which I mean, I'm somebody who refrained from watching Marvel movies, on the grounds that superhero movies generally aren't very good. I might just have been mistaken about that, but be fair, I'm old now, and I stand by that opinion as it relates to all superhero movies made before 2008.

Even so, it took a combination of circumstances to persuade me to give them a try. For one thing, I really loved Infinity Gauntlet and its many sequels when the comics first came out. I was hugely into Warlock and the Infinity Watch for a while, even if with hindsight it was pretty rubbish. Possibly you just had to be there. Possibly I hadn't read enough GOOD comics at that time. After reading Thunderbolts in 1997, Warlock definitely lost his (orange) lustre. But to a teenager with a limited experience of good superhero comics, it was pretty awesome, so I'll always have a soft spot for it.

And then I saw someone share a hand-drawn flow-chart on Facebook showing how the 19 Marvel Cinematic Universe movies connect together, and it stimulated my nerdy impulses. With all appropriate credit to "Geek Out Huntsville" and whoever doodled this thing... here's a shining example of how to persuade me to do something:

Seriously, how could anyone resist something like that? So I bought seventeen DVDs, and every evening for the past three weeks, I've watched a superhero movie. Except last Saturday, when I was doing something else. And I capped it off today by going to the cinema for the first time in years and watching Avengers: Infinity War.

[Yes, Black Panther isn't available on DVD in this country yet. Yes, I illegally downloaded it. Sue me. I'll buy the DVD as soon as it comes out, in a couple of weeks. I feel entirely morally justified in this.]

And, in summary.... wow. Big letters. WOW. In fact, WOW!

Yes, I really really love the Marvel Cinematic Universe! Even despite occasional clunkers (Thor: Ragnarok), the whole wonderful system of interconnecting adventures totally blew me away. It's genius, pure and simple, and I can't get enough of it. Every new movie from now on, I'm first in the queue, probably having watched all the previous DVDs again to refresh my memory for it. Heck, possibly even buying new copies of the DVD and/or sending any spare cash I find lying around the place in an envelope to Hollywood, because I don't feel like I'm rewarding the awesome people who make these films enough by just paying for them the once!

It's a good thing, really, that I wasn't watching them from the start. Iron Man is okay, Hulk is pretty good, Captain America is fun, but it was a sort of slow and uncertain start for the interlinked universe - it really only came together properly with Avengers Assemble [note to foreigners - that's what it was called in this country, so as not to offend John Steed and his partners. They're easily offended.]. That's where we really start to get the sense that not just the world, but the whole universe is one big picture, and we can get to see a little bit of it at a time with every new movie. That's the point where at least two movies started coming out every year, too, because who could bear waiting a whole year or more before the next one?

The universe really moves from good to great with Guardians of the Galaxy in 2014 - hilarious, brilliant and thrilling and exciting too! And a fine example of how the whole thing can move away from adapting old comics - just pick a bunch of forgotten space-themed characters from Marvel's long history, put them together and do something fun with them!

And then we get Avengers: Age of Ultron, which might still be the best movie of any kind I've ever seen, ever. But then, I've always been a sucker for Joss Whedon. And the MCU kept up the pace with Ant-Man, and then Captain America: Civil War, which was especially gratifying, because it was so very good when the Civil War comics were pretty atrocious. But this treatment of the same basic idea really made sense, and produced a masterpiece!

Doctor Strange didn't really capture my imagination very much, but Guardians 2 was that rare thing, a sequel just as good in every way as the first, if not better. And Spider-Man: Homecoming was nothing short of awesome! Never yet has anyone managed to capture the essential feel of the early-sixties Spidey comics that made the character so popular in the first place, until this film finally gets it right! I love it. An inspiration to teenage heroes everywhere.

As I said before, Thor: Ragnarok is the one that really didn't work - you just can't help wishing for the serious drama it was obviously originally conceived as, buried beneath some laboured attempts at comedy. Still, we all make mistakes, and Black Panther (deadly serious, that one, maybe even a little bit too much so) gets things right back on track again, all building up to Avengers: Infinity War.

And (slight spoilers coming, by the way - now that I've seen it, everybody else has no excuse for not having watched it yet), this is the whole universe in one film. I'm pretty sure nothing so epic has ever been attempted before. Despite my aforementioned nerdishness and compulsive desires to count things, I can't even enumerate how many established characters show up in this one, all contributing something significant and playing their own part in a galaxy-spanning adventure! The way it cuts between different conflicts going on at the same time, all part of the same whole, is breathtaking. Few people will get the reference, but it's Space Thunder Kids, only a real movie that makes sense!

And the ending is genuinely awesome. What's going to happen next? I'm a fan now, anyway. Without the extensive baggage that the comics have, and the ability to apparently do absolutely anything with special effects nowadays, it's official - superhero movies are better.

Monday, May 07, 2018

The answer to the ultimate question

That most famous of (former) British othello players, Aubrey, has apparently published a paper proving that the answer to the Hadwiger-Nelson Problem is not 4. Since I don't understand the question, let alone the answer, I'll have to take his word for it, but I do rather like the idea of there being a mathematical problem to which it was previously thought the answer might be 4, but is now known not to be. It's either 5, 6 or 7, the clever mathematicians now agree.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Memory League May!

May is the coolest month, if you like playing on Memory League! If you play at least three games (against an opponent or in training) on at least 28 days of the month of May, you get a free three months' subscription!

The way it works is that you can play for free, three times a day, but if you have a subscription you can play unlimited games. It's a good thing to have, because three matches or training sessions is really just enough to whet your appetite - they only last a minute, after all.

I'd advise everybody to do "MLM", as the cool kids are probably calling it, unless that already means something else, which I have a feeling it does - because at the start of June, we're going to kick off with the next season of the Online Memory League, and it helps if you have a) a full subscription and b) plenty of practice if you want to compete in that!

 The Online Memory League Championship is a competition open to everybody. Competitors are divided into divisions of around twelve players - new players this season are put into divisions based on their leaderboard position, so you will be playing against people at the same kind of level as you.
 In a season, each competitor will play each of the others in the division once, with one match per week, on a schedule drawn randomly at the start of the season. Players can be flexible about when they play their matches, depending on availability and circumstances, but should try to stick to the schedule as much as possible. You will need to communicate with your opponents - leave messages on the Memory League website, or the Art of Memory forum, or the Facebook group "World Memory Championships". We can help you get in touch with people - just send me a message if you need help!
 Matches will consist of six games - each player chooses three different disciplines, with the choice alternating. The first player on the scheduled match list chooses the first discipline; the schedule will be arranged so that each player gets a roughly equal distribution of 'home' and 'away' matches. Draws are possible, both in individual disciplines and in the match as a whole.
 If the match is a 3:3 draw, the players can (if they both agree to it) play a one-game 'decider', which can be any discipline they choose. If they don't both agree to play the decider, then the match is a draw.
 The league table gives two points for a match won, one for a match drawn. Players on the same number of points are ranked by number of disciplines won.
 At the end of the season, the bottom two in each division are related to the division below, and the top two in each division are promoted to the division above. There are play-offs between the 10th-place in the upper division versus 3rd-place in the lower, and 9th-place in the upper versus 4th-place in the lower to determine promotion and relegation.
 The top four in the first division go into play-offs for the grand title. 1st versus 4th and 2nd versus 3rd, followed by a grand final to determine the League Champion!
 Seasons last three months. We hope to get everything completed after 11 weeks, but it's okay if there are some minor delays. :-)

Friday, April 27, 2018

Wow, that was good

It's been nothing but memory-talk here on the blog for the last couple of weeks, so let's move to the physical side of things - WWE offered former subscribers like myself three months of the WWE Network for 99p with no commitment, so I availed myself of it to watch the Greatest Royal Rumble. It's their big showpiece to sell the whole wrestling thing in the Middle East, I assume (live from Saudi Arabia), but as a sideline, a good way to entice European viewers too, with a five-hour spectacular starting at 5pm on a Friday night, British time.

78 "superstars", by my count, if you include not-really-wrestling-but-participating people like Paul Heyman, were all shipped over to Jeddah along with Mr McMahon and the usual crowd of commentators, referees and so forth. No women, obviously - the WWE's idea of presenting women is sort of diametrically opposed to Saudi Arabia's, but perhaps one day they'll both find some kind of mythical middle ground between the two and join the halfway-sane parts of the world. In the meantime, without the traditional abysmal women's match, it was non-stop action from start to finish! And I was very impressed by how much character the many wrestlers managed to put across in a show with a minimum of talking!

You can forgive the occasional bad bits, like the hopelessly confused ending to Roman Reigns and Brock Lesnar, because for the most part it was enough to keep me entertained all the way through, which is saying something for a five-hour marathon. It's enough to get me back into watching WWE, or at least it would be if the WWE Network allowed you to watch Raw and Smackdown replays in this country - Sky TV keep a jealous hold on them. So I guess I'll have to wait until I start paying for normal-TV again before I become a full-time wrestling fan. Great 50-man Royal Rumble, though! If you didn't watch it tonight, at least check out that part, if you can.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

No, good sir, I'm on the level

While watching the action from Gothenburg on Sunday, I entertained myself by creating a spreadsheet to quickly calculate IAM levels when you copy the scores from the stats website. Having added everyone to the list, I think there are 15 illustrious people who have reached level 20:

Memory legends, one and all! It'll be interesting to see who else gets up that high or higher over the next few years...

Sunday, April 22, 2018

All hail to the champion

Finishing off with a perfect 50 words in 52.70 seconds, Simon wins the Scandinavian Open! Followed by a great second place performance from Sylvain, with Jan-Hendrik winning a thrilling third-place match against Marcin!

All in all, it sounds like an amazing event, in the unusual surroundings of a shopping centre in Gothenburg! Count me in, next time!

Record collection

One thing I forgot to mention yesterday (I'm really not good at remembering things about memory competitions) is the new world records and amazingly great results at Memory League disciplines - Simon blew people away with 17.77 seconds in cards and 16.85 in numbers; Jan-Hendrik did an astonishing 45.09 seconds in names; Marcin topped the charts with 16.81 in images, and though we didn't have any perfect 50s in words (it's very difficult to do), those three each did a 46 in the course of the first day.

They're currently at lunch on day 2 - when they resume, the semi-finals will Simon against Jan-Hendrik (could be epic - if J-H is the names/words master then Simon is at least the vice-master, if there is such a thing, and definitely the master at cards and numbers), and Marcin against Sylvain (also epic, because Sylvain's definitely got the beyond-expectations-underdog vibe going now)! Stay tuned!