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Tuesday, 31 January 2012

I'm Chinese and I've got the clothes to prove it

Pretty much every job I've worked I've either been the boss, worked from home or clothing hasn't mattered. So I've always been able to wear what I like and very much do so. I wear Chinese clothes a lot and am often asked why. Here's how that conversation goes:

Why are you wearing Chinese clothes?
Because I'm Chinese.
Um... uh... you don't look very Chinese.
What? Do you think we're all yellow?

And surprisingly often, the other person will then accept that I am actually Chinese; sometimes out of confusion, other times for fear of exhibiting racist behaviour and often just because it sounds so stupid it must be true. There are many reasons why I'm obviously not Chinese - I'm white (they are all yellow), I have a British accent and, most damningly of all, I wear Chinese clothes.

This may sound odd, but Chinese people do not wear Chinese clothes. Just think about it for a minute. When is the last time you ever saw any Chinese people wearing non-Western clothing? It's only ever characters in films or perhaps staff at a restaurant. You simply never see normal people wearing traditional clothing. And that's a terrible shame. With at least 5,000 years of history and many dynasties (each tending to have a completely different style of clothes) there are thousands of different styles of Chinese clothes - many of them beautiful and elaborate. I find it simply awful that jeans and t-shirts have supplanted them all. Even on formal occasions or in business situations, Chinese people go with Western suits.

Japan has always been more at ease with its traditional culture which I feel is because they compartmentalise it: the ancient sits alongside the modern, but separate from it. Whereas in China, there is no boundary between the two. So in Japan, there are various formal occasions throughout the year when kimono are worn and that sits happily and easily within Japanese culture. Not so in China.

Recently there has been a movement in China to popularise Hanfu - Han dynasty clothing. In fact, the Japanese kimono is also known as gofuku which means "clothes of Wu" - a Chinese kingdom - as the kimono is modelled after Han dynasty clothing. My pedantic, nationalistic wife is very keen to point out that a lot of what we perceive as traditional Japanese culture is copied from or influenced by the Chinese. Well, whatever the origins, the idea that Chinese people ought to be able to wear their traditional clothing in the same way that the Japanese do is gaining traction in China today. There are a few problems though.

Court ladies wearing qipao
A modern cheongsam [photo by Robbie Sproule]
Many foreigners tend to think of traditional Chinese clothing as being the qipao and cheongsam. Unfortunately, cheonsam are relatively recent and qipao are from the Qing dynasty. The Qing dynasty was when the Manchu (from Manchuria) took over China and was the last of the Chinese imperial dynasties. They were (and still are) widely hated. What less obvious is that the qipao and cheongsam are developments of the same thing - one is just a righter, more tailored form of the other. It gets extremely complicated after that and I could easily fill several pages on the history of them.

Hanfu clothing designs proposed for use during the Beijing Olympics
But if traditional Chinese clothing is to worn, then why Han dynasty and not clothing from another dynasty? And is it still relevant? When one looks at Western cultures, national costumes and formal clothing tend to be a bit more recent. And just when would it be worn? Some advocates of the hanfu revival now wear them to business meetings in place of suits, others keep them for occasions like weddings and festivals. It's a bit of an odd issue with many problems to resolve, but then they are trying to invent a new tradition.

I like Chinese clothes (I like Japanese clothes too, but don't tell the wife) and I think it's a terrible shame that they've been abandoned and so quickly too. When Japan and Korea have managed to retain their own traditional dress it's a pity that China hasn't. So hopefully the hanfu movement will prove successful and we'll see Chinese people actually wearing their own clothes.

Monday, 30 January 2012

Kasou Taishou aka Masquerade aka Kinchan and Katori Shingo's All Japan Costume Grand Prix aka All Japan Kasoh Grand Prix aka 欽ちゃん&香取慎吾の全日本仮装大賞

Kasou Taishou (as it's generally known by Western fans) is Japanese talent show where people dress up, make props and use puppetry and Kabuki techniques to tell little stories or present entertaining vignettes. Yeah, it's kind of hard to describe. Remember the Matrix Ping Pong video? Sure you do.

That clip is the winning entry from the March 2003 edition of the programme. The programme is aired twice a year and has been going since 1979. It's a huge favourite in Japan, but is barely known outside the country, except amongst a few fans who hunt down poor quality clips on the internet.

Each act is voted on by a panel of judges and a score of fifteen or over wins a medal (presented by a bunny girl - for reasons beyond my comprehension). The overall winner of each show gets... well, I don't know what exactly, but they must get something. Some acts are very simple indeed, whilst others involve a huge amount of effort, but they're all rather imaginative and surprisingly inventive. Sometimes there's an act that I simply have no idea what they're doing, but for the most part the fun comes from realising just what it is they're up to. Having some cute kids as part of the mix is usually a good way to get extra points. Heck, even one of the judges is a child.

Occasionally, there are celebrity entrants (most famously Morning Musume and this year a certain K-pop group), but the contestants are mostly ordinary people which is one of the reasons I like this so much. It's not about some talent for singing with which someone's been randomly born, but about the imagination of normal people - anyone can take part and enjoy success with even a simple idea if it's clever enough or capture's the judge's imagination too.

Most contestants are a part of a team and the most common technique is that of the kuroko from Kabuki or Bunraku theatre. The kuroko (黒子) are stagehands who dress in black (sometimes blue or white) against a dark background in order to be invisible when manipulating stage props. In actual fact they often appear in front of backgrounds that aren't dark, but the convention is that the audience regard them as invisible. Oddly enough, in most Japanese theatre (especially bunraku) ninja characters are usually portrayed as invisible and employ the kuroko outfits accordingly and it's been suggested that this has led to the convention of ninja being shown wearing black outfits. Real ninja might have worn black outfits occasionally, but it was far from commonplace. See? This blog's educational too.

Thanks to the dedication of one chap, there's now a YouTube channel where most of the show's clips can be seen in decent quality. Go there and subscribe. Here are some of the entries from the latest show.

Over the years, I've forced various TV executives to sit down and watch bits of the show in an attempt to get it on British telly, but without any luck so far. NTV have packaged the episodes for sale and are also trying to sell the format too. If you happen to be a British TV exec or know one, hassle them to buy this show so we can all see it and maybe we'll get lucky and it'll kill the awful rubbish that is Britain's got American Pop Idol Talent or whatever that shit's called. I can't believe that someone bought Hole in the Wall (also from NTV, as is Dragons Den) instead of this.

Friday, 27 January 2012

Fukushima is going to kill us all

Did you hear about the radiation cloud that was spreading out from Fukushima and coming to kill us all? I haven't heard too much about that recently, probably because it wasn't true. That map up there was a hoax. But there was a cloud that spread out from Fukushima and it's far more dangerous than one of fallout - it's a cloud of ... dun dun dun... fear! Wah! Sorry, that was just appalling. I do apologise.

Fukushima was a very odd story in our news. Very few facts were reported and the word "could" crept up way more that was healthy. For instance, we heard that hundreds of workers could be killed trying to get the reactor under control. We heard that tens of thousands of people across Japan could die. Or that areas of Japan could be poisoned by radiation forever. Yeah could, could, could. Not blood likely, but vaguely possible. Do you know how many people have died so far? None. Well, one worker at the nuclear plant was killed. But he was killed falling off his crane when the earthquake hit.

But just how many people is Fukushima going to kill? That's an interesting question and a difficult one to answer. The best estimate so far is 1,000. And it's not that it's going to directly kill them; that figure is for early cancer deaths. 1,000 people could die from cancer slightly earlier than they might have done otherwise. It's an increase of 0.1% in the incidence of cancer. In other words... fuck all. Compare that with the 20,000 people who died in the earthquake and tsunami. 160,000 people were evacuated and the disruption to their lives and the stress associated with it is likely to drive more than a thousand of them to an early grave. So a thousand people dying a little bit earlier isn't much to bear at all.

Fukushima Daiichi power plant in happier times
We keep hearing that Fukushima was the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl. And we all know Chernobyl was really bad. It exploded and the Soviets initially tried to cover it up. Man, that was bad. So how many people does the UN say have died because of Chernobyl? Sixty four. Shit, but that's probably just directly attributable deaths, isn't it?. You can use epidemiological calculations to work out the rise in cancer deaths and stuff like that. So how many are going to die? Well, the World Health Organisation reckons that the total deaths will be around 4,000 early cancer deaths.

These death tolls sound surprisingly low, don't they? Weren't these massive accidents? The simple truth is that ionising radiation is a surprisingly weak carcinogen. Although newspapers are full of breathless articles about how Fukushim residents may never be able to return to their homes (like this one in the Guardian), that's more to do with the Japanese government playing it safe than any real danger from nuclear contamination. After all, over a million people each year visit the spot where the bomb hit Hiroshima and suffer no ill effects. Among the survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs (known as Hibakusha), the incidence of illness caused by the radiation and subsequent fallout is just 1%.

When it comes to news stories, news programmes always have an agenda. I'm not suggesting the stuff of tin foil hat conspiracy theories, but that the news is slanted in a certain way, mostly for reasons of pragmatism. Firstly, the news programmes select which stories they will cover. They have to decide which stories will be of the greatest importance and/or interest to their audience. Fair enough, you would no doubt think. It gets more difficult when the stories are far away. And Fukushima was pretty far away and in the corner of a country that had just had two disasters smash it about a bit so getting there and getting around were going to be tricky. News programme producers had to decide if they were going to send reporters and how many to send. And to do this, they have to decide how they think the story is going to pan out. There's no use sending just one reporter if it turns out to be a massive story and there's no use sending sixty if it turns out that nothing happens. So the news producers decided that Fukushima was going to be a big story and that there was going to be a big disaster. It had the word "nuclear" after all.

When news programmes decide how they think a story is going to pan out, they have a tendency to look for evidence that backs up their suspicions and to ignore stuff that doesn't. The power station incident was a good story. People had been a little confused about how to react to the earthquake and tsunami. A previous tsunami in the Far East had had the good sense to happen on Boxing Day when there was no other news. The countries that were hit were places like Indonesia, Sir Lanka and Thailand. They were mostly dirt poor and people all over the world responded with money and assistance. But when Japan was hit, people weren't really sure what to do. Sure it seemed like a disaster, but Japan was wealthy - was there any point in sending money? Japan could fix itself, couldn't it? People just didn't know. So the impending nuclear disaster was a great story. It kept the public interested and the best was yet to come; a meltdown would lead to a massive explosion and would be captured live on screen. When it later transpired that there had been a meltdown quite early on and we'd all missed it because nothing really happened, that was disappointing.

Chernobyl had been a great news story (if you were a producer), but it had lacked in visual appeal. There weren't any cameras filming when it went pop, so the subsequent news reports we dedicated to the ruin of the reactor or people's reactions as trying to film invisible radiation was a bit tricky. We were already scared of nuclear stuff, but Chernobyl really helped freak us out properly. Cancer is random killer that is quite a concern, especially as more and more of us are living long enough for it to be almost inevitable for use to get cancer. Combine the randomness of cancer with the insidious creeping invisibility of radiation and you've got an excellent basis for unreasoning fear. Yay! Great news if you're a news producer as the public will just keep staring at your coverage, keeping your ratings nice and high.

Roy Castle the trumpet-playing entertainer was certain that the lung cancer that killed him was as a result of him playing in smoke-filled jazz clubs, but he was the only one who was sure. That's the trouble with cancer - it's so random; there are plenty of lifelong smokers who won't get lung cancer and plenty of non-smokers who will. Millions of people will die of cancer in the years after the Fukushima incident, but how many cancers will demonstrably be caused by it? Uh.... the only way that the death rates can be estimated is by looking at the number of cancer deaths that would have happened anyway and comparing it to the actual rate. No one will die knowing that it was because of the Fukushima accident.

One of the most marked effects of Fukushima was the desire of people to react to it, especially politicians. "This must never happen again" and phrases like that spilled from the lips of politicians all around the globe, even though it had bugger all to do with them. But it's easy to score a few political points when you say that something bad is, well... bad. There's no chance of being wrong and that's a hell of a luxury in the ever-shifting political world. The trouble has come with just how far they've gone. A lot of people got a bit carried away and have made decisions that will kill a lot more than a thousand people.

In the wake of the Fukushima accident, Germany announced that it wouldn't be building any more nuclear power stations and that it would decommission its existing ones by 2022. In the UK, various energy companies had been awaiting government approval to build new nuclear power stations, but that permission has not come and now maybe never will. Lots of countries have now decided that their future electricity needs will not be met with nuclear power.

For politicians, it's easy to promise not to do something - you're not required to actually do anything. So promising not to build nuclear power stations gets a good boost of popular support without having to spend any money, raise any taxes or piss anyone off. And that's where the trouble comes in.

Our energy needs are continuing to rise every year requiring more and more power stations. There are a few different choices of generation method: oil, coal, gas, nuclear, hydro, geothermal, biomass, solar, wind and wave. Although the recent rise in alternative generation methods has been jolly nice, it's not terribly useful. The electrical grid relies on generating the same amount of power as is needed at the same time as it's needed - there aren't any giant batteries ready to store an excess or make up any shortfall. Solar, wind and wave are all too intermittent to be able to supply more than a third of our power at best as they rely on other generation methods to back them up. Burning oil isn't a great method thanks to the increasing scarcity of oil and its concomitant high price. Geothermal is terrific, but there are very few places (Iceland mostly) where it can be used. Hydro-electric suffers from location problems as well and that just leaves us with coal, gas and nuclear. And if our political leaders are all too scared to build nuclear power stations, it's all down to burning coal and gas. And gas is a bit pricey too, so coal it is.

There are technologies out there to try to reduce the levels of air pollution caused by installations like coal power stations, but there's only so much that filters can snatch from chimneys. Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) is talked of a lot, but doesn't work yet and only deals with CO2 - it's aimed at tackling greenhouse gases rather than the particulate matter that will kill us all a lot sooner.

Coal comes in various grades and is rated according to the amount of sulphur it contains. Obviously, coal with a higher sulphur content will cause more pollution. Guess what level of sulphur content there is the cheap, plentiful type of coal used in power stations? We never get lucky on these things, do we?

Air pollution is an oddly acceptable killer. London had been famous for its thick fogs which turned out to be smog. It killed thousands of people in the capital every year and no one seemed to mind terribly much. In 1952, a change in weather led to the worst smog yet and over 10,000 people died in just a couple of weeks. Parliament passed the Clean Air Act and efforts were finally made to clean up the air.

So how much air pollution does it take to kill someone and just how much of that pollution is contributed by power stations? In the UK over 50,000 people every year die prematurely because of air pollution. Really? Yes, really. To be fair, a lot of that pollution is caused by traffic, but how much is caused by power stations? A 2007 study published in The Lancet worked out that for every terawatt-hour of power generated in European coal power stations, twenty five people die. And Europe generates 1,000 terawatt-hours of electricity from coal every year.

This oil refinery fire caused by the earthquake will kill more people than Fukushima Daiichi

So that's 25,000 people dying from the pollution caused by coal-powered power stations in Europe every year - and that's just with existing power stations. Compare that to the 5,000 people killed by nuclear power over thirty years. And remember that these coal figures are for Europe only (I can't find reliable figures for other continents).

So because people are terrified of the random killing power of radiation-induced cancer and because so many of our political leaders are cowards that are desperate for public approval, we're going to end up with a new generation of coal-fired power stations which will kill tens of thousands of people every year. And all because of our unreasoning fear of the word "nuclear". And that's the very real fallout from the Fukushima accident.

If I haven't bored you to tears already, PBS (the American public broadcaster) has a very good programme examining this issue. Click here to view it.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

The odd truth about quicksand

It doesn't really exist. Well that was an easy blog post.

Oh, you want more? Okay well quicksand does exist, but it's not quite how it's normally portrayed. There are two types: wet and dry.

Wet quicksand is the type we've sort of heard of. It's made of particles of sand or mud suspended in water. Normally when sand becomes wet, water seeps into the gaps between grains, but with quicksand the water flows around the grains encasing them in a layer of water. It happens because of a nearby water source pushing water up through the sand and causing each grain to be suspended in water.

In the films, as soon as you step into quicksand it sucks you in and you're dragged under to die. In real life, quicksand isn't very deep and it won't suck you under. As it's mainly water, you can float in it without any problem. But as soon as you step onto quicksand, it will just part beneath you and you'll sink down quickly. It won't suck you down per se, but there is suction all around you which makes it more difficult to extract yourself, especially if you're wearing shoes. The flat surface that is the sole of your shoe will cause a vacuum to attempt to form under it when you lift it and then you're fighting against the suction of that vacuum.

It's rarely more than chest-deep so you won't necessarily die from the quicksand itself, but it can be rather hard to get out and that's what really kills you. There are regular reports of lone hikers getting stuck in a patch and not being able to get out. Then exposure to the elements, dehydration, etc will kill them.

In the video, note that guy is smart enough to remove his shoes before stepping into it. He'd have a lot harder of a time getting out if he didn't. Now the quicksand in the video is relatively easy to spot because of the wet surface, but often the surface will be covered with leaves or even a dried layer of sand so it can be very hard to spot.

That's wet quicksand and that's the kind we've sort-of heard of. But there's another kind which has long been a rumour, but has only recently been confirmed to exist: dry quicksand.

Dry quicksand is really scary. Instead of water flowing through it, it has had air. The airflow moving through the sand causes it to become more loosely packed. Ordinarily sand has a packing fraction of around 60% - that's the ratio of sand to air in the mixture. Because of sand's rounded shape, it can't be packed tightly. Consider a ball-pit at a kids playground; that's how sand is packed. In dry quicksand, the airflow through the sand has flowed around each grain separating it from the others. As the sand has fallen back, the packing fraction has been reduced making for a much looser sand mixture. In a recent experiment published in Nature, Dutch scientist Detlef Lohse and his mates built a box with a perforated base, filled it with fine-grain sand  and passed air through it. When the air was turned off, the packing fraction of the sand had been reduced to 40%.

Now reducing the packing fraction from 60 to 40% doesn't seem like a big difference, but look what happened when they dropped a ping pong ball onto the sand.

It sank down to a depth equal to five times its diameter before the sand underneath became compacted enough to support its weight. So if you were unlucky enough to find some of this stuff and step onto it, within a second or so, you'd be 10 metres down trying to discover a new method of breathing.

There had long been rumours of desert caravans vanishing into dry quicksand, but it was generally assumed to be bullshit. It wasn't until Dr Lohse's experiments that the existence of dry quicksand was confirmed.

During the Apollo lunar missions, there was a very real fear of something like dry quicksand. Previous lunar probes had confirmed a rocky, dusty surface on the Moon and there was concern about the packing fraction of the lunar dust. The Apollo sites were particularly chosen for being hard and rocky to reduce the risk of the Lunar Lander just vanishing below the surface into a pit of dust. The bottoms of the Lander legs were fitted with dish-like pads to help prevent this. Even though the Lander made it down okay, nobody knew for sure if it would be okay for the astronauts to step onto it. There was a chance the Neil Armstrong might have stepped off the Lander and disappeared into the dust.

Oh, Princess Bride, is there nothing you can't teach us?
Of course, NASA and  Dr Lohse could have saved themselves a lot of trouble if they'd just watched The Princess Bride. Look, there's the Lightning Sand (called Snow Sand in the book), the second trial of the Fire Swamp. That reminds me: I really must write an article about Cary Elwes and his odd connection with the Lord Lucan mystery.

Getting back to quicksand... It ain't like in the movies, but it's real enough. Wet quicksand can be dangerous, but dry quicksand is downright terrifying. I read a statistic somewhere that 3% of all movies made in the 1950s and 1960s featured quicksand as a plot element, but it's now sadly missing from modern films as too much of a cliché. Well, apart from The Princess Bride and the Chinese film Kekexili: Mountain Patrol (which is on my list of films I need to watch).

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

People I hate: Shappi Khorsandi

Shappi Khorsandi - picture by Henry Cooksey
I have an unreasonable hatred for a number of people I've never met. Today: Shappi Khorsandi.

Shappi Khorsandi is a bit of a favourite of Radio 4 and the BBC in general. As an Iranian-born standup comedian, she ticks a lot of boxes. But note the "Iranian-born" - the mainstay of her act is the fact that she's Iranian, but she left Iran at a very young age and has lived in Britain for pretty much her entire life. Almost  every article's biographic detail states that she and her family were forced to flee Iran after the Islamic Revolution. But Shappi and her family were already in London prior to the revolution. Her father (Hadi Khorsandi) had been the editor of the satirical journal Asghar Agha and had been very critical of the Shah's regime which led to their self-imposed exile. After the Islamic Revolution he returned to Iran, but soon found himself in trouble with the new authorities and fled to London. Subsequently, he was subject to several death threats.

I'm not belittling the very serious threats to her father; he's a very courageous man who uses satire to fight totalitarianism in circumstances where we would all look the other way. Shappi happily hijacks his status and either through dis-ingenuity or allowing incorrect details to circulate, she very much uses the "fled from the Islamic revolution" card to lend credence to her otherwise sub-par comedy. In the clip below, she expresses disbelief at people who ask if she's really Iranian sarcastically saying "I just say that to be more popular," but the sad thing is that it's true. If she wasn't Iranian, then she doesn't have an act. Like Jo Brand about being fat or people in the TA about being in the TA, Shappi can't shut up about being Iranian. Her entire act is predicated on this and once you've heard her for five minutes, you've heard all the material she's got. It's jolly difficult to criticise or even make jokes about Muslims these days, so the main attraction of Shappi for the Beeb is that she can do so with impunity. But she's not a Muslim herself and was raised in a secular family. The other half of her act used to be about her husband and child, but now she's divorced, she just makes snide remarks about his lower level of success.

Lee and Herring used to do some excellent material about lazy comedians. Have a look at the clip below and see how it applies to the tiny bits of Shappi comedy that isn't about being Iranian or being divorced.

I love that Shappi makes a comment about being mistaken for Omid Djalili - she fucking wishes. Djalili was born in London and his family are Iranian Bahá'ís - a much persecuted group in Iran. But Djalili happily embraces his Iranian heritage and plays with it, often making audience preconceptions the butt of the joke. He'll be here long after we've got bored of Shappi's same five minutes of material.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Films I've watched: Samurai Commando Mission 1549

Do I have to say anything at all?
A bit like with Snakes on a Plane, the title alone pretty much guaranteed I'd watch this, but once I saw the poster I knew I had to own it. Can you guess what the plot is?

There's some unit of the Japanese Defence Force (what they're forced to call their army since they were the runners-up in WWII) that's out doing some military stuff and then some experimental equipment causes them to go back in time to samurai days. There's two warring samurai clans and the modern soldiers are caught right in the middle of them. And then they resolve their problems through the art of violence. Yay!

You don't get great odds betting on the guys with the swords
This is actually a remake of an old 1979 Sonny Chiba film called GI Samurai or Time Slip(well, in the West anyway). Actually I think technically it's a sequel, but that doesn't matter. Okay, so the original is pretty much the same story but with less sophisticated effects, but it has a certain lazy charm that entertains. There are lots of fun mistakes too like the time travel process stopping wristwatches, but leaving tanks fully functional. It's also got a surprisingly high score on iMDb.

Samurai frigging love machine guns - but check out the unenthusiastic voiceover

Spot the difference

Samurai Commando Mission 1549 isn't exactly a film that will challenge your intellect, but it's fantastically silly fun and there's nothing wrong with that. And seeing as it's in foreign, that makes it all the more culturally valid.

And what is this thing you hu-mans call love? Oh, wait.. wrong film
I'm actually massively disappointed that they didn't get Sonny Chiba to do this film. He'd have been great as the samurai warlord. But I guess you can't have everything. The acting is better than you'd expect from a film like this, especially in the second half of the film when emotions start to run high. The fight scenes are visually engaging despite somehow being unspectacular. Yeah, it's a solid enough film and way better than it has any right to be.

I told you; once them samurai get their hands on a machine gun...

I tell you what. I'll read the map and you frigging well fly this thing
You don't have to be drunk to enjoy Samurai Commando Mission 1549, but I do recommend that you've at least taken some of those drugs that are so popular with the kids these days. The acting isn't bad, the plot isn't terrible, but it is a bit lacking, especially when you compare it to the original. If you haven't seen the Sonny Chiba version, then you'll probably enjoy this just fine. If you have seen it, then you might be unhappy with this one as it's somehow just not as good. All the elements are there and there's nothing wrong with it, but it just doesn't surpass itself in the way that the 1979 flick did.

MJE rating system
Aliens 0
Time Travel X
Car chases 0
Twin guns X
Lesbian Nazi vampires 0
Lasers 0
Explosions X
Spaceships 0
Robots 0
Lights behind fans X
Total 4

Back in the day, my friends and I came up with a system to rate bad films that were worth watching. Anything that scores more than 3 out of 10 pretty much guarantees a fun film. Some of the items on the list seem unlikely, but you just have to start looking for backlit fans to realise how prevalent they are in the less cultural end of film-making. So 4 out of 10 for Samurai Commando Mission 1549 makes it very much worth watching.

Friday, 20 January 2012

How to get rid of the "Press Esc to exit full screen mode" thing in Flash video

You know that annoying message that comes up every time you try to play an online video in fullscreen? Press Esc to exit full screen mode. Oh, that annoys me, especially when watching a short clip where I've got to either pause it until the message fades or jump backwards to see the bit it obscured.

I had long thought this pretty difficult to remove and I sat down with a hex editor trying to find the message in the Flash files. I had trouble locating it and I looked around online to see if anyone else had tried this. They had and they'd gone one better and made an automatic patcher.

I tested it on Chrome, IE, Firefox and Opera and it did the trick. I note that the author wrote it for Flash 10.1, but I just patched all my Flash 11 files with it and it worked just fine. Click this link to go get a copy for yourself. Obviously you'll need to do it again when Flash gets updated.

More from Guido Daniele

Just the one design this time, but I really like it.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

The body (hand) art of Guido Daniele

Guido Daniele worked as a hyper-realist illustrator in the advertising industry as well as completing a number of trompe l'oeil murals on buildings. In 1990, he developed a method of body painting which has led to his work being featured in adverts, fashion shows and exhibitions.

It's pretty good stuff and I've included a bunch of pictures down below, but just hands as I reckon those are his best work. What do you think?

Monday, 16 January 2012

A discourse in Chinese culture: Black Cat Detective

Ah, Chinese culture. We like to think the the French are foreign, but our peculiar relationship with our European cousins seems more marred by our similarities than our differences. A superficial glance at Chinese culture promotes a sense of marked divergence in our histories. When one observes modern Chinese urban life, it's easy to imagine that their societal paradigm is patterned after ours in the manner of the Demiurge in Plato's Timaeus. Whilst conjecture suggests that oriental societies may be predicated on a non-Aristotelian logic, especially in the realm of the Melpomenean muse, it's not until one watches their kids' cartoons that one realises just how fucking mental they are.

This is a Chinese cartoon from the early 1980s called "Inspector Black Cat" or "Black Cat Detective" and you can pretty much guess what it's about from the cover of the DVD - there's this cat, he's a policeman, it's his job to keep the animals safe from crime. You can imagine that he'll be dealing with complex woodland crimes like missing bicycles or kids that get lost, right? Nah, this is China.

I probably need to have a word with the police tailor about
these frigging epaulettes

This pretty much sums up Inspector Black Cat's approach to
crime-solving: cruise around on a motorbike (which can fly in
later episodes) and blast the shit out of anything that looks
like it might be illegal.

Aw, yeah! We're totally moles and there's nothing we like
better than digging up worms and eating them. Yeah!

Oh no! It's night-time and some criminal mice are breaking into
the moles' crib with giant drills. That's what mice do.

Apart from digging up worms, moles apparently love to
stockpile vast quantities of alcohol. Damn these criminal mice -
they're so cocky they're not just stealing the alcohol,
they're actually getting pissed during the robbery.

Every house in cartoon China has an alarm system that's
directly connected to all feline police


Inspector Black Cat's on the way! Although there must
be a motorcycle lightbulb shortage in cartoon China

Mice ain't to keen on mole grasses

They do seem oddly cheerful don't they?

Right, who wants shooting first?

Oh no, criminal mice; you really shouldn't throw knives at
Inspector Black Cat. He really doesn't like that.


Kill everything!

Fuck me, they really don't shrink from the violence do they?
Gotta love the red hot glowing bullets of justice flying
through the night sky


Hey am I the only one doing the mouse murdering around here?
Shouldn't you cats be beating up a suspect or something?

Doh! Sorry guv

I thought Mao purged all you intellectuals during the Cultural
Revolution. Cuff him and get the truncheons out.

Stop that, you cats. There'll be plenty of time to torture
the victims later. There's loads of mice to shoot first.

Bang! Bang, bang, bang, bang, bang! Shoot them till they
explode with blood!

Damn. I'm getting a little short on henchmen.

Note that Inspector Black Cat has donned a helmet with a
full-face visor. He doesn't need one to ride his motorbike -
he just doesn't like getting mouse blood on his whiskers.

We must conserve ammunition for the glory of the
People's Republic of China! Crush them under the wheels
of the eternal communist revolution!

I am pleased with the carnage.

These frigging mice have got a surprisingly well-stocked
and furnished headquarters. I guess that stuff about
the best laid plans of mice or whatever might have
something to it after all.

Oh no, we've been caught in a surprisingly sophisticated
trap (ironically somewhat reminiscent of the one from
the board-game Mousetrap). Whatever can we do?

All problems can be solved by gunfire

Some people might have shot at the control panel, but
they are weak.



Kung fu?
Kung fuck you

There's police brutality...

...and there's Chinese cartoon police brutality

You've got me! I give up. I surrender!

Surrender is for the weak!

This flour will obscure your vision and permit our escape!
(And this can apparently be said in just one Chinese character)

Hey, I'm Inspector Black Cat. Note the "Black"!
Piss off with the flour.

Hmm, I need a plan. Perhaps something involving gunfire?

Get the hose! Flour and water combine to form glue

"Argh! You see the death and yet you don't intervene" - literal
translation of the subtitle. No idea what it means.

Chain them! They'll be easier to shoot then.

Don't be gentle, lads. There's only one language they
understand. Mandarin, presumably.

They really have dished out a surprising amount of
crippling injuries in such a short time.

Oh no! One of the mice is escaping!

Going somewhere?

 I know what you're thinking. "Did he fire six hundred and
fifty two shots or only six hundred and fifty one?"

Ouch! Ooh, the remains of my head

The smiling, unblinking face of justice

Tune in next time... when Inspector Black Cat will shoot an
elephant in the face (and I'm not kidding about that)

The Chinese government are often seen as controlling and censorious, yet it's clear from the cartoon we're going to look at that whilst they might seek to restrict widespread political dissent, they don't give a toss when it comes to graphic violence for the kiddywinks. Oddly enough, I'm pretty certain nothing like this could be shown to children here. Freedom's a funny thing isn't it?