Saturday, March 04, 2006

Big Ben Strikes Ten

I love a new cartoon series. At least, when it's a good one, which doesn't happen all that often. Ben 10 has finally made its way onto Cartoon Network (it's been going in the USA for a couple of months now, and I've been seeing ads in comics and thinking 'hey, that looks like it might be good'). I like it a lot, and not just because of the name of the title character - it's a kids' action-adventure cartoon in the traditional style, free from the forced irony and self-referential humour that American cartoon makers feel obliged to put into their shows nowadays (it's something that can work if you do it right, but practically nobody does).

The story: Ben Tennyson is looking forward to spending the summer holidays travelling around the country with his grandfather. He's less thrilled when he finds that his cousin Gwen will be sharing the trip with them, but minor things like that and their granddad's tendency to serve bowls of live mealworms for dinner pale into insignificance when a space conflict up above sends a useful trinket crashing by Ben's feet. To cut a long story short, it bonds itself to Ben's arm, and he finds that it gives him the ability to change into any one of ten alien superheroes, all with their own cool appearances and abilities.

Of course, the aliens who were trying to steal the thing want it back, and send killer robots after Ben (and anyone else in the vicinity). The leader of the aliens, incidentally, suffers some horrific injuries during the space battle, and ends up floating in a life-support tank with several limbs and tentacles missing or mutilated. Rather graphic for a cartoon aimed at the younger end of the action-cartoon-watching audience (eight-to-twelve-year-olds seem to be the target market. And no, I don't feel at all strange for not fitting into this range).

The central characters are great - Ben has natural heroic tendencies even before gaining his amazing abilities, so clicks quite comfortably into a life of saving the world, but he also can't resist occasionally using his powers for his own benefit too - he's a normal guy rather than a perfect hero. Gwen serves an interesting dual role, alternating between the screaming heroine for Ben to rescue and someone who's surprisingly capable in a fight and ends up saving the hero half the time. The banter between the two of them is classic, too - they have a great mutual respect but don't like to admit it. And Grandpa Max is the inscrutable authority figure who clearly knows more about the whole situation than he's letting on, assuring Gwen in the first episode that Ben's turned into an alien, not a monster, and in the second (while chasing a giant mutated parrot across the city) musing that it takes him back to his younger days before he retired (Gwen: 'What kind of plumber were you, anyway?'). The voice acting is excellent too, as it very often is in American cartoons. Tara Strong is as brilliant as usual as Ben, and Meagan Smith deserves a mention for some first-rate screaming as Gwen.

The second episode introduces us to Doctor Animo, a bad guy who, refreshingly enough, is completely and utterly insane in the most traditional way. He's a scientist who was so enraged when his experiments on animals failed to win him an award that he's decided to reanimate dinosaurs and demolish Washington DC just so that he can steal the cheap trophy from the scientist who did win it. The episode begins with his landlord coming round to complain that he hasn't paid his rent for the last six months. He justifies this by explaining that all his money goes into his research, and illustrates the point by having a giant mutant frog eat the landlord ("Sorry, I can't hear you. You sound like you've got a frog in your throat. Or is it the other way around?"). I appreciate this kind of villainy in my cartoons.

Another thing I really like is the Kaiser Chiefs album, Employment, which I just bought today. So many great songs - I haven't been so instantly hooked on an album since Keane's Hopes And Fears. I've been singing "What Did I Ever Give You" to myself all afternoon.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Thank Crunchie

And before our regularly scheduled blogging, I think I should point out that I was originally going to call this post 'That Friday Feeling'. After starting to type it, it occurred to me that 'Thank Crunchie' would be a much better title, so I deleted the three letters I'd already written and replaced them with the new heading.

This pretty much sums up the way my mind's been working today. I've been really industrious at work all week, getting well ahead of myself in preparation for my holiday, but I just wasn't with it at all today. I spent an alarming amount of time staring into space and daydreaming, and had to really force myself to look at the computer screen and get something done. So all in all, it's good that it's the weekend. And even better that it's a three-day week for me next week, followed by six days off, several of them in an exciting big city that I haven't properly been to before!

I'm really all excited about this trip (although it'll be more exciting if I remember to get some dollars tomorrow, as I still haven't got round to it yet...). I haven't been to America since last February, and the time before that was in, what, 2002? Something like that, anyway. I need to travel more. I should get a job that involves a lot of world travel and very little doing anything work-like when I get there.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Work in Progress

The builders have just got round to putting doors on the little side offices downstairs, but haven't yet fitted the door handles. Which escaped the notice of a group of people who went into one of the offices for a meeting this afternoon and found that they couldn't get out again. It's fun working in a building site.

In other news, I've just this second noticed that there are two little buttons on this laptop that I'd never paid any attention to before. They're black on a black background, you see. Apparently one of them mutes the sound and the other one is set up to 'select an external display, which is connected to your computer', whatever that means. You can make them do other things if you want, too. I don't, particularly. What's the point of putting things like that on a laptop, and not buttons to change the volume, which would be actually useful?

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

It never snows

At least not in Derby, it doesn't. For some reason, whenever the rest of the country is buried under six feet of snow, we get sunshine and the occasional drop of rain. It's not that I particularly like snow (it annoys me that I can't go out and play in it on account of my bad knees), but I just feel left out when I see the reports of blizzards in the news.

In other news, I've got another email today from someone wanting to make a documentary. I'll turn them down, I've got more than enough of that kind of thing going on already, but it's nice to be popular.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Yes it's pa-pa-pa-pa-pancake day

However, I have no idea how to go about making pancakes, and haven't got the time to learn, so I haven't had any. In fact, I've been unusually busy tonight - not only was the train 40 minutes late due to a medical emergency on the train at Tamworth (the third time in the last couple of months that this has happened on that particular train at that particular station - what's going on there?), but I've been deluged with emails to reply to about that memory competition I've been organising. I barely have time for my usual fun evening activities, like practising memory things and producing an in-depth critical analysis of preschool cartoons. And I'm going to be busy at work for the next week or so, getting everything done before I go jetting off to New York. Woo, that's next Thursday!

It's only just occurred to me to check the weather forecast before I go - I've just been assuming that the weather there will be either pleasantly warm or baking hot, because that's what it's always been like when I've been to America before, but now I come to think of it, March in New York is actually quite likely to be fairly cold, I would think. Maybe I'll take a jumper after all.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Many Happy Returns

Sam is wishing his mum a happy birthday via the modern miracle of bloggery today, which makes me feel guilty about not doing the same for mine two days ago. So thanks a bunch, Sam, and happy birthday mum.

And that's had the side-effect of blanking out of my mind whatever the heck I was originally planning to talk about, but never mind. It can't have been all that important. I've just been watching the last episode of Life On Mars, which I enthused about a few weeks ago, and it was great. I still have no idea why such a weird idea would work, but it somehow does. Roll on the second series!

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Busy busy

Lots of things to sort out for this memory competition in May, not least recruiting people to help out with it (taking up people on vague offers of assistance in the distant past and cajoling friends to lend a hand in return for drinks), plus advertising in non-memory circles to attract beginners, and come to think of it emailing the organisers of the Cambridge MSO with the details, which I haven't done yet, but I can't be bothered with any more of that tonight.

Other things weighing on my mind today include Tooty Frooties. They come in purple, red, pink, yellow and orange, and while it's not difficult to tell what flavour most of these are, according to the ingredients list the red and pink ones are strawberry and apple in some combinations, and I have no idea which is which. Neither of them taste particularly appley.



DATE - Sunday 7 May 2006 9:00am - 6:00pm

Part of the Cambridge Mind Sports Olympiad (website updated soon -, which takes place on Saturday 6 May and
Sunday 7 May. There are many other board games and mental skills
competitions to take part in on the Saturday, so please do come for the
whole weekend if you can!

LOCATION - Netherhall Upper School, Queen Edith's Way, Cambridge, UK CB1 8NN


Or see details on the Cambridge MSO website

FORMAT - This competition will follow the all-new 'National Standard', with
ten short disciplines as follows:

Discipline Memorisation time Recall time Millennium

Words 5 min 10 min
Binary 5 min 10 min
Names & Faces 5 min 10 min
Numbers 15 min 30 min
Cards 10 min 15 min
Speed Numbers 5 min 15 min
Abstract Images* 15 min 30 min
Historic Dates 5 min 15 min
Spoken Numbers 100 x 1 sec 5 min
200 x 1 sec 10 min
Speed Cards <5 min 5 min [2 trials]
30 sec

* Abstract Images is the new discipline, replacing the Poem/Text in this
year's World Championships. The attached file gives details, an official
standard will be announced soon.

PRIZES - For the winner and the highest-scoring beginner, plane tickets,
hotel accommodation and entry fee for the World Memory Championship 2006 in
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia! Plus other cash prizes!

(If you win and you're rich enough to pay for your own trip to Malaysia,
perhaps you could consider passing the prize on to a poorer runner-up? I
hate to think of people not being able to go.)

ENTRY FEE - £5, free for beginners (a beginner is somebody who has never
competed in ANY memory championship before)

TRANSLATIONS - Spoken numbers will be in English only (sorry - the
technology to run the discipline in multiple languages isn't available).
Words and dates can be provided in any language requested in advance.

CARDS - If you wish to use your own playing cards, it would be a help if you
could bring them on the Saturday so that they can be shuffled in advance.
But if that's not possible, it's okay.

RECALL PAPERS - You may use your own recall papers for all disciplines if
you wish, with the usual rules (they must be handed in at the start of the

HOW TO ENTER - Email me! [edited so as not to stick my email address on the internet for evil machines to grab - post a comment if you don't know it] As soon as possible,
please, so that I know how many people are coming.

HELP! - If you would like to help as an arbiter/card
shuffler/paper-hand-out-and-collector/recall checker/stopwatch holder
instead of competing, it would be appreciated. I don't know how many we'll
need just yet, but it's better to have too many than too few!

Hope to see you there!