Posts from 21st October 2003

Oct 03

Most comedy records are appalling

FT + New York London Paris MunichPost a comment • 294 views

Most comedy records are appalling as music, even if they are funny, which they usually aren’t. That’s why I have to recommend the Reverend Billy C. Wirtz (warning: I suspect he’s not a real Reverend). He’s maybe the funniest lyricist I’ve ever heard, and damn strong musically, in a style closest to the country era of Jerry Lee Lewis, with the occasional rocking out on his piano (he plays very well) or the odd bluesier number. I first heard his rock ‘n’ roll ode to a female midget professional wrestler, Teenie Weenie Meanie, which instantly became my favourite song on that subject, and sought more out, and was astonished to find that pretty much all the rest of his stuff was as good.

His themes are many of the traditional territories of country music, but not quite handled the usual way, in that we don’t normally get aliens, hermaphrodites or lesbians in there with the trucks and bars and heartache. His ‘it was tough growing up’ number is called Daddy Was A Sensitive Man and is about living among rednecks with a liberal veggie father who runs a futon shop. Inbred features his plans to marry his 13 year old sister. His big religious song is Butt For The Grace, where his uncle gets a rash resembling Jesus on his arse. Freeway To Stairbird is one of the great pastiches at first, though it’s mostly about Southern audiences of limited range (when he doesn’t get an encore he shouts “last night your little sister wanted more”). 4th Wife Blues is a brilliant heartbreak song riffing on numbers, with perhaps his best piano playing. You can make up your own accounts for Mennonite Surf Party, Grandma Vs The Crusher and Right Wing Round-Up – they’re at least as good as you can imagine. The live stuff is best, and the only weaker material I’ve heard is the odd thing resembling a children’s story, but these are rare. I can’t imagine anyone listening to him without having fun.

For older readers, BREAK THE SAFE

TMFDPost a comment • 323 views

For older readers, BREAK THE SAFE factors in one further strength, which is that it seems to be a descendent of Waddington’s long-vanished SPY RING: inherited elements include safecracking, “secrets” as tablets you have to seek out and turn over, and the threat of being spotted down a corridor (actually a tree-lined avenue in the ancestor game, which was set in a city-quarter of embassies). SPY RING had a tremendously enticing cover and a handful of good ideas: each piece was shoulders-and-head of a squat and hunched little spy in a trilby; when your spy was using his radio, you placed a length of copper wire in the top of his hat, plus since the cypher-key was “FISH” you learnt what fish is in a variety of languages. Unfortunately it was very extremely boring to play: BREAK THE SAFE’s pieces are duller design-wise, but it’s genuinely fun to play, or even watch.

Adventures in geekdom – harvesting referrals using PERL

Proven By SciencePost a comment • 431 views

It’s all very well getting the recent 100 referrals on SIteMeter but unless you stump up the cash, that’s as much as sitemeter will let you see, and IT’S NOT ENOUGH. I crave referral stats, I want to keep the data FOREVER. So as the FT server can’t be set up to do it either, I contrived a way to let my mac do the equivalent of continually refreshing the above link. 

I have a perl script cron’d to run every 3 or 4 minutes that includes this code:

$_ = `curl -s ""`; while (/default.asp?action=stats&site=ftrig&visit=([^&]*)&report=9/g) {      $session_id=$1;        /size="2">(.*?)

which parses the HTML of the referral page to find all 20 of the listed referral URLs and session_ids (an integer from 1 to 100). When a session_id pops up that wasn’t in the list last time, it is USUALLY a new session, so log the referral. (Perl fans: you could do a list-context “/sg” match to get all the results at once, but you’d still need to loop through the list anyway.) 

There, I hope you enjoyed that – I’m still not entirely sure it’s appropriate. And if this gets our sitemeter accounts shutdown I am sincerely sorry.

I am taking a break from playing

Do You SeePost a comment • 365 views

I am taking a break from playing Wind Waker because I have started L-Targeting my rabbits when I want to pick them up. So instead I will write about it – or rather one particular aspect of its endlessly lovely graphics: the glaringly obvious (and possibly non-factual) Moomin influence! Obviously the link between Moomins and Zelda was obvious from prior games (The Legend Of Snufkin: Mouth-Organ Of Time) but Wind Waker is probably the closest we’ll ever get to how a true-to-source Moomins animated film might look – certainly closer than either of the animated series. Tove Jansson didn’t generally have to draw people, but her humanoid characters certainly look like the sort of rum coves who wander round the cel-shaded Zeldaverse. The most obviously Janssonesque creation is Medli, the bird-girl from Dragon Roost Island, but the quick lines and smooth curves of most of the character design reminds me of her work too. I say the influence is probably my imagination, but the Moomins were ‘big in Japan’, so who knows?

CHEAP FOOD I LOVE #4: Marmite On Toast

Pumpkin PublogPost a comment • 1,283 views

CHEAP FOOD I LOVE #4: Marmite On Toast

Three fairly inexpensive foodstuffs – bread, butter, marmite – come together with superhuman effect when heat is applied, like the kids in G-Force turned into that bird thing except I can remember exactly what is supposed to be good about marmite on toast. Lightly toasted bread, please, enough to melt the butter but not enough to char the toast. Any kind of bread is tasty – currently I’m keen on thick white sliced though. Apply the marmite as heavily as you think fit. Chemical miracles occur on the crucible of the slice as the butter and marmite melt into one another, and into the bread, and when you bite into it – total delight! Particularly as you bend the toast-piece slightly with your tongue and the pressure means the rich marmite juices seep out into your mouth.

Marlin, the fish voiced by Albert Brooks in the BRIGHT Finding Nemo

Do You SeePost a comment • 329 views

Marlin, the fish voiced by Albert Brooks in the BRIGHT Finding Nemo, does not find Nemo. This is pretty much all you need to know about the film. Yeah it is exciting, fun, animated and did I mention BRIGHT. But Nemo is not so much found as located, and then has to do the hard work itself.

Slowly but surely it looks like we can identify a Pixar formula. Huge ensemble casts, a buddy relationship at the heart of the film, pretty simple plot and rather liberal moral. This is far preferable to the Disney formula and generally does not spoil a book for a generation too – eh Hunchy. Nevertheless it is still a formula, and one where the buddy formula in Finding Nemo is absolutely shoehorned in. Allth cute anthropomorphism also seems to confuse what is majestic about the undersea world, to try and fit it into its incredible journey narrative. Pixar’s attempts to rehabilitate lousy American comedians continues apace too, with Ellen DeGeneris taking up the slack in that area. As animation it is fun, compelling and has no songs, but Pixar can probably do better, post Belleville Rendezvous and Spirited Away we really have been spoilt this year.

This used to be easy

Proven By SciencePost a comment • 278 views

The prosecution points out that the gun belongs to the accused, the defence points out that the fingerprints are someone else’s, the jury nods to one another, the accused goes free.

In the case of The Port of Houston vs. Aaron Caffrey, the gun belonged to Caffrey, so his defence was, naturally, that someone else had used it without his knowledge. The prosecution explained that whoever had used it would have left fingerprints and these could not be found. The defence countered that the perpetrators could have wiped their prints immediately after use, and anyway, the investigators could never have checked every part of the gun. The jury believed Caffrey’s explanation. The only problem was that, at the outset, none of them knew how the gun worked, how it was used or how someone else could have picked it up and fired it from another part of the World.

The case highlights the continued problems of trying computer-based crimes before non-technically literate juries. Caffrey was acquitted, not because someone else had fired the gun, but on the possibility that somebody could have done so without leaving a trace of evidence. A more clued-in jury may have changed the outcome of the case but as it was, the explanations of logfiles and fractured hard disk blocks and subsequent counter-arguments proved baffling. Reasonable doubt came all too easily for the jurors, making it almost impossible for prosecutors to refute the Trojan Horse defence in future cases.

My Life Of Crime (Pretend)

TMFDPost a comment • 298 views

My Life Of Crime (Pretend): part of my stag weekend involved a board game called BREAK THE SAFE! Initially sceptical, I ended up having a grand time playing it. My doubts arose from the fact that it is a co-operative boardgame, not a competitive one. I have nothing against co-operative games as a concept – I spent a lot of my teens playing RPGs and some day I will lose all our readers by writing about them – but had yet to see how the turn-based boardgame dynamic could work in an all-for-one situation.

Anyone who does have a distaste for the hippyish ideal of co-operation in gaming should be mollified by the premise of BTS – you are a bunch of crims who have to crack into a safe. Magnus claimed there was some blather in the rules about it being a safe owned by an evil corporation, probably holding vital evidence or a cure for orphans or something, but this can easily be ignored. I have to admit though that these safe-breaking crooks are a non-violent bunch, since they invariably raise their hands in a ‘fair cop’ fashion at the mere tread of a guard or sniff of a dog.

Guard and Dog are your enemies, of course – so too is the clock: one of the best things about BTS is how quick it is – a half hour for a four-player game, 15 minutes for two players. The gameplay involves hunting through a building for four keys to the titular safe – co-operation takes the form of passing helpful gadgets to one another via robot, and letting each other free from the building’s cell.

At first the safe-cracking mission tends to feel quite easy, with one or two keys usually located swiftly – but almost invariably you then find your job complicated, and get pinned down desperately trying to get past the dog’s lair to an almost inaccessible room in which you know the final key lies. The tension rises rapidly as the clock counts down – waking the dog is mortifying, though not as bad as wasting final seconds by dropping a dice on the floor. The only feature lacking in the game is an ability to treat the players as individuals – a crystal-maze style mechanism where players who’ve not found keys could be surrendered to the eager guards for precious extra seconds would add a bit of bite. Generally, though, Break The Safe! is a terrific little game and if you get the chance you should play it.

When you’re listening to Karen Carpenter singing ‘Close To You’

The Brown WedgePost a comment • 237 views

When you’re listening to Karen Carpenter singing ‘Close To You’, do you dream she’s singing to you? Or do you dream you’re her, singing to some object of love? Or do you hear the words like a fiction? I’m not sure about how to answer that question for myself, and I hadn’t really thought about it until I saw Candice Breitz‘s ‘Double Karen’ (currently at the MOMA Oxford) a while back. In ‘Double Karen’, footage is cut and spliced to have Karen Carpenter singing ‘Me’ Me’ Me’.’ from one TV screen and ‘You’ You’ You” from another. It sets up temporary, jerky rhythms and sets me off thinking about who’s me and who’s you for Karen and for me and for you and, oh well, I hope you see what I mean.

The larger Breitz installation at MOMA, which I think is called Re-animations, had me thinking about the same things: walking in, you (I) see a bunch of TV screens, each showing a famous passage from a hit movie, each featuring a female lead talking about love or relationships. The headphones you’re given allow you to hear the monologue from the TV nearest you. Around the back of each TV is another screen showing another film: Candice herself lip-synching in perfect time. Again, I ended up thinking about (self-)identification and gender roles, about acting and not-acting. Away from a narrative context, I’m being asked: when I see this piece of acting craft, hear this speech, am I being the actress for a minute, trying those feelings on for size? It’s brilliant, funny, subtly provocative and slightly confusing.

Over in the Guardian, Adrian Searle doesn’t fancy this stuff at all. He shows an unseemly, condescending distaste for pop cultural references and completely fails to engage with anything that the brilliant Breitz does with the potent pictures she (ab-)uses. Instead he busies himself with laying into easy targets (‘the media studies crowd’ indeed!) and dismissing the critical texts provided, which just aren’t the art.

That’s not to say the show is perfect. In parts it’s disappointingly hung: ‘Double Karen’, for example, loses much of its power by being installed across a stairwell and being at insufficient volume; Jim Lambie‘s large room could have been emptier or fuller. But I like the way it intersects with the Lambie floors, the way that Breitz pushing you to identification with the artists you’re watching fits with the way Lambie makes you feel the art is all around.

If Searle spent half as long wondering about what CB’s work actually does rather than airily dismissing the pop-cultural raw material and the critical chat, he might have had something to say which didn’t read like so many knee-jerks. His review’s barely fit for Private Eye and I couldn’t be more damning than that.

PAT BOONE – “I’ll Be Home”

Popular15 comments • 2,416 views

#47, 15th June 1956

It’s my belief that no pop song with a ‘spoken bit’ can be all bad, though Pat Boone does his best to test my resolve with a lifeless, dreary epistolary ballad, good in 1956 for a grope and a smooch perhaps, but good in 2003 for nothing. Only point of interest – why isn’t Pat home? The army, you’d think – and talk of returning so he can start “serving you” hints he’s serving something else right now. But he also sings how “once more our love can be free” – can clean-livin’ Pat be in prison?! On the evidence of this inert offering, wherever he is it’s somewhere they censor the letters.