29 July 2007

How To Cook Your Life

A documentary about a (presumably well known) Zen chef from California. It turned out to mainly be about him and his take on Buddhism, relating mostly to food. But not much about actually cooking things, in the sense of recipes.

He was a humane guy and had a good take on Buddhism. I'm basically sympathetic to Buddhism as long as you leave out the supernatural/superstitious bits, and that is how it was presented in this documentary.

Thought-provoking, and left me with a firm desire to just care a little more about cooking (and, by extension, doing all the everyday things).

The Children of the Company by Kage Baker

Another interesting Company novel.

This one raises some issues of causality that really made the series stand out. The rules of the world are set up for this, which is that time travel is possible but only backwards. So the Company's operatives know the history of the world up to 2350 or so, when they were sent back. The Company, to preserve causality, has set in stone the rule that nothing can be done that contradicts the historical record. In this novel, we see the operatives begin making things happen (often terrible things, e.g. engineered viruses) just to fit the observed facts. This provokes some thought about historical determinism (or not) which I found pretty good.

28 July 2007


Another documentary, this one about the Helvetica typeface and it's role in design and society. Comprised mainly of interviews with designers (especially type designers), interspersed with constant shots of things set in Helvetica.

The opinions on why it is ubiquitous and the good and bad points of the font were really interesting. The basic idea seems to be that it was seen in the sixties as the quintessential modern(ist) typeface, and it's rejection in more recent times being due to a rejection of many of the modernist ideas of those times (and a preference for messier, more emotionally charged styles).

All the people they interviewed were really fascinating too. All smart, with good reasons for their like, dislike, or indifference to Helvetica. And a lot of interesting speculation about why and how it became such a success.

All In This Tea

A Les Blank (and collaborators) documentary about tea, telling its story by following around a Californian boutique tea importer (mainly as he searches the Chinese hinterlands for the best teas).

The history and facts about tea were interesting, although that wasn't really a focus of the documentary.

The guy they were following was an absolutely fascinating character, and the film ended up being about him as much as tea.

The Jennifer Morgue by Charles Stross

The second novel in Stross' Lovecraft/spy/computer hacking series. Where The Atrocity Archives was his take on Len Deighton, this one goes after Ian Fleming and James Bond.

It's a better novel than the first one, too. Really funny and fairly exciting stuff. It also has a high amount of geek-stuff, references to this or that bit of pop culture, Lovecraftian lore, and so forth.

It comes with an extra short story at the end (about the dangers of online gaming and also HR departments) and a fun little essay about Fleming and Bond.

23 July 2007

Down and Out in the Far Future (preview/playtest run)

I played a test run of my FATE 3.0 old school Traveller adventure tonight. I went perfectly. The system ran very smoothly, although I had set the lethality very low (this will be adjusted for the ConFusion version next week).

The lack of stunts made the characters easier to get a handle on for the players, and we went crazy with compels for some awesome moments in play (including an intra-party gunfight at a very bad moment). In fact, the bulk of the game was spent in combat, but it never got to be boring. The use of compels and aspects kept things fresh all the time - one fight had three separate compels cause three characters to flee, leaving their comrade to the six bad guys left in there.

I was pleased to find that I had written more scene ideas than I required, and that all the enemies from characters' pasts could be fit into the time given.

Overall, my respect for the FATE 3.0 system (and, of course, its authors) has been increased... it really works very well indeed, especially for people too busy (or lazy) to do exhaustive preparation (which definitely includes me).

22 July 2007

Black Projects, White Knights by Kage Baker

Another volume of Baker's stories about the immortal agents of The Company. Some very good ones in here.

21 July 2007

Pan's Labyrinth

This modern, brutal fairy tale from Guillermo del Toro is really good. The magical parts are have captured something normally missing from fantasy films - a sense of meaning that you can't fathom, a reluctance to just use the same old tropes. The story mixes real-world and fantasy elements - the protagonist is a girl with a cruel (fascist officer) stepfather, who is given tasks to do that will reunite her with her true father, the king of the underworld. She carries these out against the background of a fascist camp hunting down a troop of rebels in a forest.

The special effects are good, too. There are some wonderful transformation effects, and the fairies are pretty cool (although they in particular have that 'obvious cg' look).

Great film, although not for the faint-hearted... there are some nasty scenes when the fascists are hunting down rebels, and the rebels are much the same in return.

18 July 2007

A Watery Grave by Joan Druett

A good naval-themed mystery novel. The protagonist is Wiki Coffin, a half-Maori, half-American taking part in the big 1838 US Navy scientific expedition. This first novel has him investigating a murder that happens just as the ships set off, and some events that occur on the ships in the aftermath of that crime.

The book starts a little slow, with a bunch of exposition about where Wiki came from and so forth, but once the story gets going it's compelling.

15 July 2007

Life On Mars (series one)

Just watched this over the weekend. Good show.

It's about a Manchester cop who gets hit by a car, and wakes up to find himself in 1973. He has a detective's job there too (apparently he just transferred there). Basically we have a cop show about the guy who doesn't fit in, as he tries to cope with the sexist, violent, corrupt cops he has to work with there. There's also the question of what is going on, told via moments when he seems to hear things going on around him (if he's in a coma or something).

There's great acting all round, good scripts, and generally a good cop-show feel. The cases aren't always very convincing - they seem tailored to be more about our hero's issues than anything else.

The Fortune of War by Patrick O'Brian

This continues directly on from Desolation Island, and covers further misfortunes on that mission - a ship fire, capture by enemies and a time in Boston as prisoners of war for Aubrey and Maturin. Although the story overall feels like a epilogue to the previous novel, there are some very strong individual scenes in there.

14 July 2007

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (film)

This was one of the better films in the series so far, and notably more focused than I remember the book being. The actors are very good all round, and the magic was significantly more magical than the other films.

12 July 2007

10 July 2007

Attn: Wellington Gamers - Fright Night Horror Convention

If you will be in Wellington in late October, Dale Elvy is running a small, one evening horror convention the Saturday before Halloween. Link.

I'll be running a game of The Infected there, and the others all look good. All round great GMs running these games, so if you are at all into horror gaming, you should go.

The Mauritius Command by Patrick O'Brian

Another good re-read. I had regarded this as one of the weaker novels in the series, but appreciated it more this time around. Perhaps the focus on Aubrey dealing with other captains and Maturin's activities as a provocateur are more interesting after knowing their characters better?

The Anvil of the World by Kage Baker

A good comic fantasy novel. Fairly subtle in general, but some extremely funny elements. My favorite is probably that the traditional fantasy dark evil lord has married the avatar of goodness, and she has been steadily influencing him to be a better person. This comes into the novel when some of their children get involved in the main story. Their family has some issues.

04 July 2007

Post Captain by Patrick O'Brian

Still very good indeed.


This film delivered exactly what I hoped and expected: lots of really cool scenes of giant robots fighting (sometimes each other, sometimes people). The effects were fantastic and the fights awesome.

The plot and human bits of the story mostly served as a pacing mechanism, and could be largely ignored (except for another attempt at the dumbest movie treatment of hacking and computer security). A lot of the jokes were unexpectedly good too.

01 July 2007

Gods and Pawns by Kage Baker

A collection of stories from Baker's "Company" series. I haven't read any of these books before but the basic gist seems to be that the Company has a kind of time travel that allows them to send agents into the past, but not much else. The stories concern agents engineered to be immortal super guys, who are expected to help arrange things so that the Company can make profits in the future.

This is an interesting idea, but the characterization of the agents is what brings the stories to life. The stories feel like they're exploring aspects of favorite characters. Good stuff.