Watching 24

The following events took place between 10pm and 10am of the day of the eighth episode of 24… [beep boop beep boop]

9:55pm – Walk to nearby college TV room to see people watching the wrong channel. Become worried, and discover that they are watching ‘The Long Kiss Goodnight’ on Channel 5.

9:56pm – Check watch. Decide that I can cycle to the other TV room in a short enough time to only miss the first few minutes of the episode.

10:02pm – Run up several flights of stairs to get to other TV room after ditching the bike. Become highly distressed to find that they are watching ‘Inspector Morse.’

10:04pm – Wander around Cambridge, trying to think of additional TV locations.

10:15pm – Get back to room. Load up Mirc and Kazaa, start searching for the correct episode.

9:00am – Now have not one but two copies of the correct episode.

9:45am – Finish watching episode. Feel very pleased with self.

Google Answers

Google Answers – pay to have a question answered. As I commented in Metafilter, “I predict that within but a few months, the vast majority of Google Researchers will be high school students or people from countries where the average level of pay is much lower than the western world’s…” (read more of my comment)

Brad DeLong

Just as I’m in the process of writing a new article for Massive on degrees of freedom within games, Brad DeLong goes and posts this site’s URL to the Culture list which currently only has an intro article. Oh well.

The new article is proving to be particularly interesting to think about though, dealing with the issue of storylines and environments within games and how they define the amount of work game designers have to put in to increase the ‘proportion of freedom’ (and how game designers can get around this by creating the illusion of freedom and altering players’ expectations).

The Years of Rice and Salt

Finished The Years of Rice and Salt. As usual, it’s up to Kim Stanley Robinson’s high standards. I’m not going to review the book here, as Salon has already got an excellent review. What I want to do is to talk about my impressions of the book.

Firstly, it’s not for everyone, and it is something of a departure from KSR’s usual SF-ish novels, at least from a superficial viewpoint. There are parts of the novel which seem a little neglected or even unbelievable (e.g. it really would not have been possible for the black death to have wiped out 99% of Europe, anthrax or no anthrax). And KSR still has his usual vice of utopianism (though we do love him for it) which shows itself in the last few chapters and bogs the novel down in long, dense political discussions which can get frankly boring.

Now that I’ve summarised pretty much everything that I didn’t like about the book, I hope you realise that if that’s all that was wrong, the rest must be pretty damn good. It is. KSR is at his best writing short stories and looking at the development of characters in changing circumstances, and this is what the novel is all about. Some readers will find the concept of reincarnating main characters to be unacceptably foreign, but I put this down to an lack of familiarity with non-western literature. I read one review which said, “This is nothing like a Turtledove novel!” (another alternate history writer). Well, of course not! If it was, what would be the point of writing it?

KSR makes his books very accessible; while he doesn’t shy away from using whatever language he wants to express himself, he doesn’t use long words just to show off his vocabulary. This is a typical KSR trait, and readers of his work will spot a whole load of his other (good) characteristics.

Anyway, I recommend that you read the Salon review to find out what the novel is about, and if you find it even mildly intriguing, go and buy the book. You’ll learn a hell of a lot about Islamic, Indian and Chinese culture, and you’ll have a great time reading it.

Rice and Salt

No updates today – still reading The Years of Rice and Salt by Kim Stanley Robinson. It’s one of those books that catches you off your guard every so often with a wonderful phrase that makes you beam in complete delight, with characters that you can really understand.

I was having a conversation with my friend Alex about reading novels. He prefers having read a good book – I prefer the act of reading a good book. I don’t want to finish reading this book.


Went to the nearby college TV room to get my weekly fix of 24. Got there five minutes early, so I could hijack the remote control if anyone wanted to watch something else, but there were already three other people there watching the golf before 24. As 24 started, yet more people trickled in.

This is the first time I’ve ever seen multiple people, who don’t know each other, actually make the effort to find out when a programme starts (it wasn’t at its usual time) and get to the TV room. I don’t think 24 is that popular in the UK, but clearly it engenders a fanatical loyalty. There should be at least twice as many people next week as well, since more people will be back in college. Maybe I should bring along some popcorn…


Extreme Ironing – ‘the latest danger sport that combines the thrills of an extreme outdoor activity with the satisfaction of a well pressed shirt.’