Ten Things You Missed This Week #10

1. In The Shawshank Redemption (spoilers ahead, if you’ve not seen it), Andy Dufresne uses a book to aid his escape from jail. Now, Brazilian prisons are actively encouraging this exact behaviour in their inmates, cutting sentences based on the number of books read by prisoners. If you’ve ever read a bad book and thought “I’ll never get that time back”, now you can*! (*provided you get arrested in Brazil first)

RT @badbanana A watched neighbor never showers.

2. If you don’t think astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson is awesome, then the most likely explanation is that you don’t know who he is. He’s one of those rare people who is able to communicate scientific ideas in an intelligent yet accessible way. He’s recently made this video for Congress to encourage them to re-invest in space exploration, and it’s incredible. It’s a call to arms that is both inspirational and pragmatic, and warns of ‘the absence of ambition that consumes you when you stop having dreams’. Love it.

RT @ItsWillyFerrell Dear Fox News, I have yet to see any news about foxes. Sincerely, Disappointed fox enthusiast.

3. The Oatmeal has a pretty solid idea of how movie theatres should be laid out. It is inspired, and should be adopted immediately. (Although – small note – I’ve discovered that older cinema-goers are as likely to be noisy as not. But I still applaud the thinking behind this approach.)

RT @ovandenberg Pachelbel’s T-Shirt Cannon in D.

4. With the tide clearly changing in favour of gay rights, it might not seem like a big deal that Oreo (yes, the American sweet cookie/biscuit) has come out in support of gay marriage, but it’s actually quite a significant moment. Though it may win over much praise and appreciation, it’s unlikely to win over a significant number of new customers; it is likely to turn off swathes of homophobic customers who will cease their purchases in protest. So kudos to the company for taking an unprovoked, moral stance. (via Scott Weinberg)

RT @EricDSnider Hey, Oreo! It’s Adam and Eve, not high fructose corn syrup and soy lecithin!

5. I don’t like corporate interests mixing with political interests, but if Oreo took over the running of Queensland from Campbell Newman, I’d actually celebrate. The recently-elected Premier is currently overseeing what’s being referred to as the most significant rollback of gay rights in Western culture. Have a look at Crikey’s rundown of what exactly is going on in the state.

RT @MooseAllain Mock Tudor is one of only a handful of satirical architectural styles.

6. Barack Obama’s support of gay marriage, however, is not the issue that will get him re-elected; it’ll be his ability to deal with an alien invasion. The National Geographic Channel contacted 1 114 adults in America to find out who they thought would best defend them against invading extra-terrestrials, and Obama appears to be the clear winner.

RT @EmmaJWestwood “All this talk about orgasms… We didn’t have those in our day.” ~my 92 year-old grandmother

7. In the wake of HBO’s ridiculous overreaction to the George W Bush/Game of Thrones controversy, it raises the question: under what circumstances should artists apologies for what they’ve created? Here are fifteen artists who have done just that. (via Martyn Pedler)

RT @sixthformpoet You had me at “Hello, I’ve been drinking since lunchtime.”

8. There’s a lot of ongoing debate over which object/concept/event can be named The Greatest Thing Ever, but surely this must qualify: a German camera crew has followed directors John Landis and Terry Gilliam as they wander around London. They’ve placed three short clips online in anticipation of the actual program (Durch Die Nacht, which will air on July 7). Whatever the running time of the final product, I can already state with absolute confidence that it will not be long enough. (via Trailers From Hell)

RT @morrbeat Currently writing an “what-if” alternate history novel where Hitler won WWII after hooking up with Eva Braun’s smarter sister Eva Brains.

9. Pixar illustrator Josh Cooley has drawn several scenes from ‘adult’ films in the style of a children’s book. And many of them are pretty inspired. (via Shane Dunlop)

RT @robdelaney Whenever I fart on a first date I tell the woman “That’s just my hug machine warmin’ up.” Then it’s pretty much Fuck City.

10. There is a special joy that comes from online exchanges with someone who doesn’t quite get the joke. Filmmaker James Gunn (Silther, PG Porn, Super) experienced that joy recently when a studio exec suggested that his song ‘That Gay Fucking Cat’ might not be an entirely appropriate name. So Gunn responded with suggestions of his own. And then published the correspondence on his website. (via Badass Digest)

RT @yumyumfish Pitch: “Steamboat” the gritty untold origin of Steamboat Willie. He sets sail only at the very end. All Steamboating is in the sequel. #

If there was any positive outcome from the news of filmmaker Nora Ephron’s passing, it was the outpouring of adoration that was unleashed on Twitter. And rightly so. Ephron was a cracking writer, as evidenced by the New Yorker’s collection of some of her best articles. There have been too many brilliant obituaries to link to, but this one from Tom Hanks and this one from Lena Dunham are both eloquent and personal. But most poignant of all? This list of the things that Ephron will and won’t miss once she’s gone.

Ten Things You Missed This Week #9

1. In the lead-up to The Dark Knight Rises, we’re seeing an awful lot of press about Batman, from pointless comparisons to The Avengers to idiotic memes. But this website, which allows you to generate your own Batman name based on your real name, is inspired.

RT @incrediblyrich My boss told me “Dress for the job you want, not the job you have” Am now sat in a disciplinary meeting wearing my Batman costume.

2. A Michigan-based graphics company named The Quintek Group decided to create a new animated title sequence for the original Star Trek series. It’s pretty damned nifty, and serves to remind me how badly I need to pick up this show on Blu-ray. (via Badass Digest)

RT @RobertGuyDavis Drinking black coffee out of a mug with kittens on it because I am large, I contain multitudes.

3. I do most of my reading on public transport, which can be difficult when it’s noisy. Most of the time, I put my earbuds in and open the Inception app, which is billed as a “dream inducer”. I’ve never listened to it whilst nodding off so I can’t speak to that, but I do use it to help reduce the outside noise. In addition to producing ethereal sounds based on Hans Zimmer’s Inception score, it also uses the microphone to incorporate sounds from your environment into the music. So, if there’s a loud noise, it gets woven into the soundscape and is less likely to distract. It sounds like it uses a similar method as the one behind DarwinTunes, the key difference here being that the sounds are not being incorporated into a pre-established tune. So, is this the beginning of a new form of music, or simply an interesting curio? (via Thom Holland)

RT @sealfur Lets make everything a priority.

4. Recently, a woman attempting to purchase an iPhone was refused service because an employee overheard her speaking Farsi. This sound pretty bad, but whose fault is it? The employee cited Apple policy of not selling products to Iran. Now, it’s not unusual for countries to have trade embargoes with other countries, so the policy in itself isn’t necessarily a problem. But nobody in the store asked the woman where she was from or where the phone was going; the Iran policy appears to have been extrapolated by the employee to include anyone of vaguely Middle Eastern appearance. So it sounds like about 5% misinterpretation of Apple policy, and 95% of blatant discrimination. But the most frightening part is just how casually it all happened. (via GammaCounter)

RT @_BadLuckBri Googles “Gary Oldman.” Forgets the R

5. I was originally going to post this mockingly, but now I’m reconsidering. See, I get annoyed when people trade off a misunderstanding of science in order to argue against evolution. And if the reason you’re arguing against evolution is to support your religious beliefs, then you may as well stick to the vague and unprovable. Like, say, claiming that evolution has been disproved thanks to the existence and capture of the Loch Ness Monster. No, really. (via Martyn Pedler)

RT @roseneath_rd Church of England issues statement opposing re-definition of marriage. This from an institution created solely to re-define marriage

6. The cringingly-named Syfy Channel in the US has produced such classics as Sharktopus and Piranhaconda, and is clearly on the lookout for exciting new oceanic combinations. May I suggest Rapesquid, based on this story of a woman who – and there’s no nice way to say this – ate a partially-cooked squid which then inseminated her mouth. (via Glen Oliver)

RT @JoshMalina I really enjoy Ron Jeremy’s work. I could watch him fuck the phonebook.

7. Until we finally get a quantum computer up and going, we’ll have to sate our desire for exciting new computing stories with the continual one-upmanship of super-computers. The best part of these stories is the ways in which they attempt to communicate the speed of these computers in layman’s terms. So, picture this: the new Sequoia computer can do a calculation in one hour that would take 6.7 billion people with calculators 320 years (non-stop) to complete. Let’s test it! (via Murray Gold)

RT @mountain_goats people asking all kinds of dumb science questions about my Reanimate Andre the Giant kickstarter

8. Do you like your infographics frighteningly dystopian? Then have a look at the six corporations that control 90% of American media (and, consequently, the majority of ours). (via Nick Hayden)

RT @Boner_Mountain Anyone know how long it takes before Axe Body Spray starts getting you laid? I’ve been drinking this stuff for weeks now.

9. There’s a new Aaron Sorkin show coming this weekend, and I couldn’t be more excited. I love the man beyond all reason, largely (but not exclusively) because of the almost-symphonic way in which he composes music. And I love this piece he wrote for GQ on how to write like him, mostly because it’s fascinating to watch a writer deconstruct their own style. It doesn’t happen often, because even some of the best writers can be discouraged when the microscope is turned back on themselves. Can’t wait for The Newsroom. (via Hugh Lilly)

RT @Lawrence_Miles Oh, that’s embarrassing: the Irish and Italian fans have turned up with the same flag. Should’ve ‘phoned each other before they set off.

10. Ever received a late-night text from Emily Dickinson? Or a booty call from Dan Brown? The Paris Review has just published Drunk Texts From Authors, and my only problem with it is that there aren’t more. Follow-up! Follow-up! (via Angela Meyer)

RT @DomsWildThings In other news I just watched “Pretty Woman” whilst eating Ratatouille. Wish it had been the other way around. #sad

That’s it! I hope you enjoy your weekend. If you’re going out to the movies, I highly recommend avoiding the painful Rock of Ages. I’m not totally against the idea of the film, mind, just the execution. In fact, I’d totally be in favour of it if it had been directed by, say, David Lynch. (via Jo Warrener)

Ten Things You Missed This Week #8

1. I’ve long held a theory that there is no difference between intelligence and communication, which is why I place such a high premium on idea-words good. This piece looks at four ways in which writing has rewired our brains, and though it doesn’t touch on my theory, it does present fascinating ideas on how we now process individualism, objectivity, abstraction and linear thinking. (via Chas Licciardello)

RT @LisaDib1 Dear Dolly Doctor, when I straighten my hair, it smells like bacon. Am I pregnant? Curious, Melbourne

2. I don’t know about you, but I’ve been dying to find out what will happen next to Astrid Soulblighter. Or learn about the importance of Cumin in Western culture. Or discover the thrilling secrets of the Balthazar Tablet. Thanks to this not-at-all-made-up New York Times Best Seller list, I finally can. (via Richard Watts)

RT @abeforsythe Cant wait to see what Michael Bay does with the new transformers movie.

3. Chris Eigeman is a fantastic actor, and it turns out he’s a pretty great father too. Read what happens when his four-year-old son decides that the great Beatles album Abbey Road is the greatest thing ever. (via Guy Davis)

RT @Renesonse Asked 5yo if she was listening: “I’m always listening but sometimes I imagine you say different words.”

4. I’m not the biggest fan of Super 8. I love elements of it, but I found it thematically confused, particularly towards the end. But did I miss something? This blog has a theory on the meaning of Super 8, and it’s brilliant. A little too brilliant. The blog appears to have been set up solely to promote this theory, and a Twitter account has appeared to promote it. There is no hint of the author, which is strange, because when most people come up with something as inspired as this, they tend to put their name to it. Why would you want to be anonymous? Well, imagine this: you’re JJ Abrams and you’ve taken great care to weave in a lot of clever subtext to your film, only nobody picked up on it and it’s got you really frustrated. How do you get it out there? That’s just about the only time I could imagine someone not wanting to put their name to it. But hey, just my theory.

RT @battsignal “It would take as many human bodies to make up the sun as there are atoms in each of us.” – Martin Rees, Astronomer

5. The first time I ever heard of Watergate was when I was a kid was reading Doonesbury comics (other kids were into Batman and Spider-man; I was immersed in jokes about the Iran-Contra affair). In this particular comic (4 April 1978) TV reporter Roland Hedley is talking to Washington Post writer Rick Redfern. ‘What have you people been up to since you overthrew the Government, anyway?’ Roland asks. ‘Not sure,’ Rick says. ‘Sports, I think.’ It’s forty years since Watergate happened, and Bob Woodward & Carl Bernstein have recently written a follow-up piece for the Post. Here, they make the compelling point about people remembering the cover-up over the crime. (via Greg Jericho)

RT @booneleila I bet the Presidential Seal gets to eat all the fish he wants.

6. One of the most remarkable things about the brilliant US sitcom Community is the character of Abed, a half-Persian pop-culture obsessed guy with Asperger’s Syndrome. So what happens when an autistic woman named Julia sees the show and is captivated by a character who ‘moves like me’? (via Martyn Pedler)

RT @badbanana Hey, courtroom artists. If you think the guy sounds guilty, draw an eye patch or scar. This isn’t photography.

7. I’ve always found it interesting the way we refer to ‘The Ukraine’ and ‘The Bahamas’ and ‘The Netherlands’ instead of ‘Ukraine’ and ‘Bahamas’ and ‘That Place Where Holland Is’. Now the BBC looks at which countries actually use the definite article and which don’t. (via Superlinguo)

RT @JoshMalina Fun Fact: Born Dave Smith, Chiwetel Ejiofor struggled to make it as an actor for years before changing his name.

8. Letters of Note is a brilliant, brilliant website, posting the correspondence of key historical figures. In these recently-published letters, Gene Wilder sends some notes to Mel Stuart, director of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, containing suggestions on how Wonka should behave and look. The ideas are both inspired and presented with humility. If you thought you couldn’t love Gene Wilder any more, prepare yourself. (via Daley Pearson)

RT @danguterman Whoever used to own this parrot sure had some elaborate theories about 9/11.

9. The US National Republican Congressional Committee asked the public to sign a petition to repeal ‘Obamacare’, and featured the live-streaming video of a printer as it produced the personalised messages from protestors. But the RCC didn’t count on one thing: Weedlord Bonerhitler. Here’s what happened. And here is a pic of some of the best messages. And here’s a video of the printer before it was shut down. (via Graham Linehan)

RT @FreeRangeCookie Siri, why are those men mad?

10. Did you watch the Mad Men season five finale last week? If not, then don’t worry, I’ll flag spoilery links with an asterisk (*) lest you click on them, but make sure you do get to it soon: it is possibly the finest season of television ever produced. You can tell by the theories and essays that it has inspired. (I personally resisted the urge to write massive essays on its themes and subtext after every episode! Oh, the glorious density!) My favourite is Jim Emerson’s brilliant essay on memories and recurrence*. There’s also a magnificent essay by Owen Gleiberman on how he thinks the series itself will end* when it finally wraps up at the conclusion of its (purported) seventh season (via Louise Hesteline). (That link, by the way, is totally different from the fake ‘last page of the last episode’ written by comedian Jason Woliner that I posted about in Ten Things #4.) Oh, and did you know that you can pre-order Sterling Gold by Roger Sterling, the autobiography he wrote during the fourth season? For real. But the link I really want to send you? An article predicting the events of season five, written by Devin Faraci (formerly of CHUD, currently of Badass Digest), back in 2010 at the conclusion of the show’s fourth season. It’s fascinating in retrospect, not just for how much he got right, but how the things he got wrong are eerily close to what eventually happened. It’s an astonishing piece.

RT @real_kaplan Look. If you “Re-Tweet” me without asking, I will take down your name and you will face possible legal action for copyright infringement.

What are you doing tomorrow? (That’s midday on Saturday, June 16.) Correct! You are going to be attending the Save the Astor rally at the Astor Theatre in Melbourne. I’ll be in Sydney during the event and unable to attend, so I need at least seven hundred of you to act as my proxy. Here are the details, and here’s why you’re going!

An Open Letter To St Michael’s Grammar School

Dear St Michael’s,

We’ve never met before, possibly due to the fact that I’m a human and you’re an educational institution, and such a meeting would be logistically and anthropomorphically difficult for the both of us. Nevertheless, I feel compelled to write to you, because you are on the verge of making a decision that will affect the both of us.

If you don’t know – and I’m guessing you do, but this is an open letter, so we have to assume ignorance on the part of interlopers – a few years ago, you bought the building on the corner of Chapel Street and Dandenong Road. A magnificent art-deco palace that has, for the past 76 years, been the home of The Astor Theatre, an extraordinary single-screen theatre that plays everything from vintage cinema to the latest blockbusters. And yet, it’s so much more than that: it’s an institution. It’s one of the few places you could justifiably call “the heart of Melbourne”. (Although it’s not really situated where the heart would be. Maybe it’s the pancreas of Melbourne. Not as romantic an image, but still a vital organ you really would not want to do without.)

I won’t lie to you. When you bought the building, some of us were a bit nervous. What would that mean for the place that has been so integral to the childhoods, teenagehoods, unnecessarily-awkward twentyhoods, and adulthoods of vast swathes of Melburnians and a surprising number of interstate and international visitors? The last few years have taught me that the formative Astor experiences I thought were so unique are actually universal. There are few people who don’t have at least one important story of life-changing experience that took place within that cinematic cathedral.

Despite our concerns back in 2007, The Astor appeared continued on its journey, and we breathed a collective sigh of relief. This continuation was, it turned out, due to a legally-binding contract and not any form of altruistic charity, but that was of no concern to us. We still had our beloved theatre.

That was five years ago. Now, in 2012, the lease is approaching its expiration, and you guys are moving in. And that frightening sound you heard that followed this revelation was an explosion of community outrage and shock. There were newspaper articles. A massive petition. Somewhat-provocative blogs. There is a forthcoming rally.

You must be wondering what the hell just happened.

I once bought a second-hand car from a guy, and I can tell you that I’d have been quite incensed if, upon conclusion of the transaction, he’d launched a public campaign so he could still drive it around when he wanted. That, by any measure, would have been insane.

So, as you face down a deluge of public negativity the likes of which you have surely never before encountered, I want you to know that I totally understand where you’re coming from.

I totally get that you have a responsibility to your students, teachers, alumni, etc, and that Melbourne Cinephiles With No Actual Connection To St Michael’s is probably further down the list than those of us in that group would like to believe. And you bought that building for a reason; it just makes sense for you to repurpose it.

But you shouldn’t.

In fact, maintaining The Astor in its current form is in your best interest.

As you yourself well know, any educational institution worth its salt is not exclusively concerned with preparing its students for the workforce. Sure, forging a successful career and making money are vitally important skills, but on their own they don’t make for a rounded education or rounded humans. Your own website shows students singing in a choir, experiencing the Transit of Venus, putting on a production of West Side Story, fundraising for children in Uganda… nothing that’s going to get them the CEO job at BP, but incredibly important tools for maintaining their humanity and soul when they find themselves in the dubious position of being CEO at BP.

So how does The Astor figure into this?

You may not know this, but all around the world, cinema is undergoing a massive, unprecedented change. Film is being swapped out for digital in photography, projection and storage. For all the benefits this change offers up – and there are many – there are many, many problems with this, most of which won’t become apparent until it is too late.

The primary one is of preservation.

Digital storage – fast becoming the primary and exclusive method for storing films – is not only more expensive than the storage of physical canisters: it is far more likely to be obsolete. This may seem antithetical, but it is true. (It may also seem hyperbolic. If so, you should read about how close we came to having no footage of the original moon landing.)

But even the supporters of digital-over-film must admit that the change has not been as gradual as it perhaps should have been. The major studios, distributors and exhibitors have backed an almost-overnight switch to the new format, turning traditional film into an historical curio.

Film prints are being digitised and then destroyed. Not sold or given away: destroyed. The ideology that informs such a decision is a frightening one, and comparing it to its obvious historical correlation is probably too incendiary for me to get away with. These prints, once destroyed, can never be recovered. If the importance of this is not hitting you, imagine what would happen if the Louvre announced it would save money on storage by destroying the Mona Lisa and Caravaggio’s Death of the Virgin because they’d now scanned them into a computer. The canvas of these pieces is no less vital than the canvasses of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey or Leone’s Once Upon a Time In The West or Antonioni’s The Passenger. History is quite literally being demolished by corporations with little sense of an item’s worth beyond the bottom line. And I know using the term ‘corporations’ in this context is often an incendiary pejorative, but it’s an important term because, by its very nature, a corporation tends not to have concerns beyond its own immediate growth. Preserving history and art does not factor into that. Or rather, it will, but by the time this is apparent to them, it will be too late.

Sadly, the number of people within the industry who acknowledge and care about this is too small to have the impact that is needed. And those who do understand the importance do not, on the whole, have an infrastructure available to them to contribute to its preservation. What they have is The Astor.

The Astor has, in fact, managed to upgrade to digital projection – and I say this with my hand on my heart, its 4K digital projection is vastly superior to anything I have seen at any multiplex – whilst still maintaining both 35mm and 70mm projection capabilities. It is the very model of how to embrace the new whilst preserving the old. The Astor takes great care to store film prints that its owners are unable to, and on more than one occasion it has fought tirelessly yet successfully to preserve the last remaining prints of classic movies.

It may seem on the outside as if The Astor is merely one small cinema in a city consumed with wonderful artistic venues, but it is far, far more important than that. It is one of the last remaining outposts in a time of cataclysmic upheaval that has far more dire consequences than most people yet realise.

On Christmas Eve of last year, I went to The Astor to watch a double (projected beautifully on 35mm film) of The Shop Around the Corner (1940) and It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), two glorious films starring the incomparable Jimmy Stewart. Behind me sat a row of teenagers, and I must confess to a moment of dread when the entered. Would they talk throughout the film? Would their phones come out? Would they be bored?

They were nothing of the sort. They were appreciative, respectful, and – most importantly – engaged. These were kids who had grown up in the age of the internet and smartphones, of frenetically-paced media and attention-destroying pop-culture the like of which we have never seen, collectively enjoying two black-and-white films from the 1940s. Were it not for the legal issues that would have no doubt arisen, I’d have jumped up and hugged them at the end. They gave me a glimmer of hope for the future. And now I wonder if they were, perhaps, students at St Michael’s. It’s not out of the question: they were the right age and they were in the right area. I hope they were.

As a respected and long-standing educational institution, you understand the importance of imbuing your students with essential values. Values that include a respect of the past, an appreciation of long-term worth. And I’m glad you do, because we need more people who recognise the significance of our culture and heritage.

These lessons have, until now, been academic. Now is the time for a practical lesson. Demonstrate how committed St Michael’s is to history, to community, to the arts, to the past and the future.

Your students will receive no greater education.



Ten Things You Missed This Week #7

1. I’m at loathe to (a) make light of anything that resulted in people dying, and (b) link to the Courier Mail, but coming so soon on the heels of last week’s zombie apocalypse news, it’s hard to look at this spider attack in the Indian town of Sadiya and not think of a 1950s horror b-movie. As someone with a pretty intense fear of spiders, the most terrifying part of this story to me is how easily their behaviour was referred to as ‘highly aggressive’. (via Chris Bartlett)

RT @TheTweetOfGod Most homophobes are secretly gay. However, most arachnophobes are not secretly spiders.

2. It’s not like we don’t know that too much sun can damage your skin, but no study has been as instantly and clearly demonstrable as the extraoardinary face of this 69-year-old trucker. (via Chas Licciardello)

RT @davidehrlich as an Alien prequel, Rock of Ages just raises *way* more questions than it answers.

3. Seinfeld’s Jason Alexander went on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson last week and referred to cricket as a ‘gay sport’, making effeminate gestures to demonstrate how un-manly it was. So why is he now being praised by gay rights advocates? Because of this. (via David Chen)

RT @PunxsutawnyPhil My slack officemate has taken off early. He runs out the door yelling something about ‘wife’ and ‘labour’. Why do I care who she votes for?

4. I have to admit, there’s a big part of me that wants genetic scientists to go nuts. Let’s totally play god and just see what we can do, pushing science to its very limits as we laugh in the face of evolution and nature itself. Cloning a woolly mammoth is a very exciting step in that direction. (via Chas Licciardello)

RT @meganamram “I” before “e” except after “Old MacDonald had a farm”

5. I know we as a species have a tendency of anthropomorphising inanimate objects, but that doesn’t make this building any less surprised. (via Joe Lidster)

RT @ConanOBrien None of the new interns are ticklish, so that was awkward.

6. It’s going to be a generation or two until we’ve fully adjusted to how our lives are affected by social media. When a guy named Brian tried to pick up a girl he was seated next to on a flight, he probably didn’t realise what was about to happen. He didn’t know she was a model. Or that she’d be live-tweeting his futile attempts to her many followers. Or that, upon boasting that he was an actor, it would be easy for her followers to uncover his identity. Or that they’d also be able to find out he was married. Or that Buzzfeed would then publish it for all to see. (via Chas Licciardello)

RT @tracymorse2010 When Batman retires, out of all his villains, I think he’ll miss The Scarecrow most of all.

7. If you’re like me, you desperately wished you could play the video game featured in the brilliant season three Community episode Digital Estate Planning. And now we can, at very least, play an astonishingly-accurate demo recreation of that game.

RT @johnfreiler jesus just once i’d like to get a haircut and not have the barber ask “is this a wig” every 5 min WHY DON’T YOU JUST TELL EVERYBODY, JERK

8. This piece is from January, but it’s been picking up traction this past week, and in light of the second season finale of Game of Thrones, it’s definitely a timely read. I desperately want to quote the best bits of this ‘12 Reasons to Boycott Game of Thrones in 2012’ article by ChristWire, but there are just too many. Find and quote your favourite one! (via Tony Morris) (UPDATE: Apparently ChristWire is a parody website. And a damned good one too! Although, it says a lot about the crazy extremists when you can’t tell the parody from the genuine.)

RT @leducviolet when you end up fucking your shrink it’s called a psychiatrist

9. This week we heard of the tragic death of a man who inspired millions of minds with his artistic genius. I’m speaking, of course, of the creative pioneer Mr Trololo. (via Cerise Howard)

RT @LukeWMcGregor If I ever met the Queen I would say ‘Well if it isn’t my arch nemesis!’ and see if she runs with it. #diamondjubilee

10. But second to the death of Mr Trololo was the news that science fiction writing genius Ray Bradbury had passed on. As sad as it is when a great artist dies, it is nice to see everyone debating the artist’s greatest work, in the process pointing others to works they may not yet have seen. And how often do you get the President of the United States talking up a science fiction writer? (For the record, my personal favourite Bradbury is the short story A Scent of Sarsaparilla, which I will be digging out for a re-read as possible.)

RT @LadytronMusic “You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.” ― Ray Bradbury

If you’re going to read something to pay tribute to Bradbury, why not track down his seminal 1954 short story All Summer In A Day, about schoolkids living on Venus who only get to see the sun once every seven years? Given we just got to see Venus pass in front of the sun for the first time in eight years (and the last time for 105 years), it seems doubly apt. And impossibly beautiful.

Prometheus, Can You Hear Me?

In the opening moments of Prometheus, a strange, monk-like alien – looking more like a human than the xenomorphs we’re used to from 1979’s Alien, the film with which Prometheus shares a universe – disintegrates himself into a river. It’s a ritual, and it appears to be one of excruciating agony, but he’s inflicted this upon himself on purpose: we don’t know it yet, but he’s creating life.

Prometheus is perhaps the most frustrating film of the year. Not because it does anything particularly bad to the Alien legacy – this is, after all, a franchise that has survived Alien3, Alien Resurrection, and some gigantically-misjudged attempts to combine it with the Predator franchise – but because the great film it could have been is so infuriatingly apparent, you want to take to the thing with a hatchet. Or, rather, the Final Cut Pro equivalent.

One of the many, many great things about the original Alien film is how the crew is made up largely of engineers and miners. These are not scientists with lofty ambition; they’re easily-relatable working stiffs a long way out of their depth. Now, I like films about scientists with lofty ambition, but Hollywood so often fumbles this concept that most of the time I prefer they tried something different. Which is what I was thinking during Prometheus.

Gone is the effortless banter of Alien and characters revealed through action, replaced with some pretty forced characterisation. ‘I ain’t here to make friends!’ proclaims one character for some unknown reason. ‘I just love rocks!’ says another, because his world begins and ends with the fact that he is a geologist. Short of a flashing sign proclaiming such scenes to be CHARACTER MOMENTS, this is pretty excruciating stuff.

Our main protagonists are, in fact, scientists, trying to locate what they believe to be the source of life on Earth. And when Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) – no doubt an alt-universe version of Doctor Who’s scientist Liz Shaw – announces that this multi-year, ultra-expensive expedition is based on her ‘faith’, warning claxons should begin to sound.

‘Faith’ is an interesting topic to explore, but only if you actually take the time to explore it. Simply saying the word ‘faith’ every so often, showing a close-up of a cross from time to time, and waving lazily at what is generally understood to be a conflict between faith and science, is forced and boring, and adds nothing to the story. In fact, it’s so poorly handled that it often detracts.

Additionally, having scientists act in the most unscientific way possible at every turn does not help to paint some faith-based conflict: it just frustrates those of us with even the mildest passing knowledge of how scientists operate.

The film’s biggest problem is this mishandled theme, and it’s even more baffling considering what an inspired triumph its other theme is.

Prometheus is about fatherhood.

Many people have cited Alien as being the ultimate film about childbirth (and, consequently, motherhood). Prometheus – which, again, is set in the same universe as Alien – does not try to directly replicate this idea, but finds an absolutely inspired alternate spin on it.

From that opening scene in which a deliberately-male alien creates life, through to the daddy issues felt by both Elizabeth and another character, the man’s role in the creation of life is the topic du jour.

However, unlike the hand-waving tepidness of the faith undertones, the fatherhood theme has a very well thought-out spin: the father is perpetually absent.

Elizabeth’s father, who died when she was young, is physically absent. The other character’s father – and I’m obviously playing awkward pronoun games pains to avoid this minor spoiler – is emotionally absent. And the entire central plot is predicated on the idea of the human race’s father. Where did he go? Why did he create us and then leave? The human race has reached maturity, left home, and is now ready to find out.

As the film played on and I realised where it was going, I became annoyed with a scene that I initially perceived to be a sharp departure from this idea. (A big spoiler is to come, to stop reading now if you haven’t seen it.) When Elizabeth realises something is growing in side of her, she goes to great pains to – let’s not beat around the bush – get an abortion. At first, I imagined this terrifically-tense scene to be a somewhat-clumsy lurch back to the well-trodden theme of motherhood, but this pregnancy is unwanted. Yes, all of the ‘pregnancies’ in the Alien films are unwanted, but none has been so immediately and declaratively rejected as this one. Elizabeth has been violated against her will by a father who has left to pursue his own interests, and must take care of the resulting spawn herself. At first glance, this seems not unlike anything else within the franchise, but the subtext plays completely differently within the context of this film.

And none of this is can be in doubt when the characters overtly refer to the original legend of Prometheus, Greek mythology’s father of mankind.

Much of the rest of the film is in as much conflict with itself as the two jostling themes of faith and fatherhood. There may be poorly-depicted characters who react to everything within the stringent prism of their one-sentence outline, but there is also Michael Fassbender’s show-stealing robot David, who manages to be the most interesting and (intentionally) funny character in the entire film. There may be clanging, awkward dialogue, but those battle against some genuinely exciting moments of life. And then there is that ending, which basically encompasses the idea that something good and something bad can merge to create something entirely confusing. It’s easy to appreciate what they were going for, but I’m not convinced the result truly works.

Prometheus is the perfect analogy for the Alien franchise. After an incredible, genre-redefining opening instalment, its father – Ridley Scott – disappeared, and the franchise lost its way. Now they’ve located him again, and, as with the fathers in the film, found him to be extraordinary and disappointing at the same time.

Travelling Light 2: Travelling Hard

As a totally clichéd Melbourne coffee snob, I got pretty pissed off when, during Oprah Winfrey’s visit to Australia in 2010, TV presenter Carrie Bickmore, in a thoroughly-shameless display, announced to Oprah and the world that when hip Australians want to meet up for coffee, they pop down to McDonald’s.

This proclamation was made in Sydney. Had she said it in Melbourne, she’d have been met with a pretty violent round of scoffing and under-the-breath muttering as we tightened our black free-trade scarves and resumed reading our Nietzsche biography. Ah, Melbourne. The city that, according to a study from a few years ago that I vaguely remember but can’t be bothered researching for verification, was found to be the best place to get a coffee outside of Italy. (Thanks, in no small part, to our large Italian population. Grazie, guys!)

If there’s one thing we in Melbourne do, much to the eternal chagrin of the rest of the country thanks to the unerring sense of superiority with which we do it, it’s proper coffee. No McDonald’s drinkers are we.

This was one of the things that was going through my head as I drove away from my beloved Melbourne this Saturday past, recalling futile attempts during previous Sydney trips to find a good coffee in what will, for the next six months, be my home town. The trek I’d taken with two friends to find a decent café in Sydney’s CBD the year previous was now taught in schools alongside the Burke and Wills expedition for students who thought the Burke and Wills story ‘wasn’t depressing enough’.

If you saw my pre-trip post the other day, you’ll know I comically predicted my car would break down at the Victoria-New South Wales border. If only I’d made it that far. No, after my car repeatedly stalled, shut down, then started back up again, I realised I was in trouble.

I pulled off the Highway and into the town of Wangaratta. For those of you who don’t know much about Wangaratta, I am one of you, so don’t expect any illumination here. I drove down the main strip, searching for a mechanics. I spotted a car dealership, and began weighing the impracticalities of buying a new car and ditching the one I was in against joy I would experience as I dined out on the story for years to come.

Finding the only open-on-a-Saturday mechanic, I pulled in and explained the problem. My battery had run flat weeks earlier, and despite being advised to replace it outright, I’d chosen to charge it right back up again, which was clearly the stupid thing to do. ‘So yeah,’ I said, ‘I think it must be the battery.’ ‘Doesn’t sound like the battery,’ he said. ‘Oh. Are you sure?’ ‘Don’t know,’ he said, ‘I’ll take a look.’ ‘Check the battery first,’ I suggested.

It was going to be half an hour until he could take a look at it, so he suggested I wander around. ‘Not much to see around here, though,’ he said ruefully. ‘If you feel like a coffee, you could always pop over to the McDonald’s.’

I looked in the direction he’d nodded in, and saw the unmistakable monolith in the centre of the strip, surrounded by buildings that were steadfastly refusing to be Other Cafés.

‘Maybe,’ I said through gritted teeth. I was actually quite desperate for a coffee, and as the other local attractions – a K-Mart, a bridge, some grass – were closed, I steeled myself against my own instincts and headed towards it.

I took a seat from which I could see my car, and ordered the thing on the café menu that looked like it would come closest to tasting like coffee. I sent a few mournful texts, checked Twitter, and was eventually served with a beverage the colour of a Dickensian city planner’s favourite swatch.

I won’t dwell on the coffee, other than to say that it was neither as bad I was expecting, nor as good as their ads and Carrie Bickmore’s bank account would have me believe. It was hot, it was caffeine, and it had been four hours since my last one.

Work hadn’t begun on my car, so I trekked around to look at the sites. Other fast food restaurants. Traffic lights. Some bitumen. A real estate agency. That might be good. I browsed the window, trying to ascertain what property prices were like in Wangaratta so I would have a better frame of reference for the shock I was apparently supposed to display whenever someone told me how much the house across the road from theirs went for.

The door opened, and the realtor instantly spotted me gazing with more interest than I’d intended at the ads. ‘Can I help you with anything?’ he asked. ‘My car broke down,’ I explained. ‘If they can’t fix it, I was thinking I might have to settle down.’ He laughed the laugh of someone who hadn’t really followed any of that, and I wandered away.

When I returned to the mechanic, he was peering into engine. ‘How is it?’ I asked. ‘The battery is fine,’ he said, and I silently applauded my own battery-charging skills. This was, after all, my most significant mechanical achievement since extracting an old Meccano piece from my foot twenty-three years previous.

The actual problem was twofold. Fold one: the carburettor was playing up and not letting enough petrol get through to the engine when I was running it at high speeds. Fold two: he was unable to fix it himself.

‘Is there any chance I’m getting to Sydney today?’ I asked. ‘Maybe. You can’t go above 70kmph, though, or the thing will stall again.’ ‘Then I’d better get going.’

I set off once again, and the stupidity of my decision to drive the whole way slowly dawned. Why had I thought this was a good idea? I should have flown! Who needs a car in Sydney? Had I seriously being considering buying a car and a house in Wangaratta? As I ambled along at an excruciating 70kmph, I realised that, at the rate I was going, it would be about 10:30pm before I got into Sydney. If I made it there at all.

After calling up my partner Kate and talking the situation over with her, we both decided that the best course of risk mitigation was for me to turn around and come home and then catch a flight up. After all, I was 252km from Melbourne and 624km from Sydney. It was simple, frustrating maths.

As I ambled back at a leisurely 70kmph, waving to all the cheerful motorists who were happily passing me at the 110kmph that the Hume Highway permitted, nay, insisted upon, I considered what my day had been aid of. My only plan for Saturday had been ‘get to Sydney’, and having wasted half the day, I was now driving in the opposite direction of it. I needed to find a point to it all.

Halfway back, I stopped on the Highway to save what turned out to be a blind rabbit that had wandered into the path of traffic. After ushering him back into the brush, I wondered if maybe this was a Quantum Leap situation, and Sam Beckett had leaped into my body to save the rabbit’s life because it would one day write Yellow Submarine and assassinate Robert Kennedy.

Even with my reasoning, that was a stretch.

There was no avoiding it. I’d driven the 262km from my front door to Wangaratta for one thing and one thing only: a coffee. From McDonald’s. The furthest I had ever travelled for a single beverage.

They had won.

Nevertheless, I eventually made it home, repacked my things, and, thanks to the combined efforts of Kate, my brother Ben and my friend Kirk (who greeted me at Sydney airport) , I made it my final destination. At 10:30pm.

And hey, it wasn’t all bad. The eventual flight was pretty great: I got an emergency exit row with excessive leg room, nobody was sitting next to me, and everyone in the vicinity was quiet enough for me to concentrate on my book. And the first coffee I had since arriving in Sydney was both damned good and not from any fast food restaurant, so I call that – when all is said and done – a win.

To Wangaratta and Back Again – Lee’s Podcast Playlist (in order): On the Media (25/5/2012), The Science Show (26/5/2012), Radiolab (21/5/2012), Boxcutters (#307), This American Life (#465), Download This Show (25/5/2012 and 1/6/2012), The Writer’s Almanac (30/5/20121/6/2012), Onion Radio News (22/5/20121/6/2012), Desert Island Discs (Spike Milligan, 1978 and Arthur C Clarke, 1977).