People I supposedly look like

Jamie Oliver. Resemblance: 0%.
Jamie Oliver. Resemblance: 0%.
Brian Thompson. Resemblance: 25%.
Brian Thompson. Resemblance: 25%.
Hugo Weaving. Resemblance: 90%.
Hugo Weaving. Resemblance: 90%.

I have, over the years, been accused of looking like various people. I'm not sure if I do, but hey. Here are some of the more accurate ones:

Jamie Oliver I was once told I look "a bit" like Jamie Oliver. By "a bit", I assume the person meant "not in any conceivable way", as I do not, in fact, resemble Jamie Oliver in the slightest. I also cannot cook.

Nick Cave I'm not entirely sure that I can agree with my alleged resemblance to The Bad Seeds frontman Nick Cave. I can't entirely disagree, though. When I was younger, I had a similar hairline. (Now, I cling to the belief I have a hairline at all.)

Brian Thompson Mr. Thompson is probably best known for the role of the alien bounty hunter in The X-Files, but he's had a few other recognisable parts, including roles in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer series, and the Mortal Kombat movies. I look a bit like him, but only when he was younger. He's…changed.

Nicholas Hope British character actor well known for his appearance as Bubby in Bad Boy Bubby. Yeah, I look a bit like him. But I look like Nicholas Hope, not Bubby. It's splitting hairs. I know. You would, too.

Hugo Weaving You probably know Hugo from The Matrix, the Lord of the Rings series and Captain America. I know him as "that guy I kinda look like". This is not news to me. I've been told this for decades, now. (Boy, how I love being able to measure time in decades. Screw you, getting old.)

Trevor Phillips I also bear a passing resemblance, apparently, to a fictional nutjob in a violent video game. At least it's a popular violent video game.

And it's not Pokemon.

Could be worse.

Nick Cave. Resemblance: 10%.
Nick Cave. Resemblance: 10%.
Nicholas Hope. Resemblance: 50%.
Nicholas Hope. Resemblance: 50%.
100% match.

100% match.

Buses, vans and subway trains

speedJan de Bont's Speed (1994) is a pretty stock-standard action movie. It has a pretty clever plot. It involves Keanu Reeves and a bus. You've probably seen it. What you may not have noticed, however, is the worst throwaway line in movie history.

(And that's saying something, considering Speed contains such dialogue gems as "It's cans, it's okay, it's cans".)

There's a moment toward the finale of the film where an extra spouts a line of dialogue. There's no real reason he has to say anything, but he does anyway. I can picture the editing room: the scene is cut, the audio is laid in, and the director and editor are arguing over whether a soundbite needs to be overlaid as the extra does his thing. The correct answer is "no". The answer they chose to go with is "sure, lets see if we can dig up something that seems relevant enough", followed with the addendum "but really isn't".

They've clearly rifled through all of their available chunks of pre-recorded dialogue, hoping to find a sound clip that fit. And when I say "fit", I mean "with a shoehorn and vaseline".

Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock ride the remains of half a subway carriage as it roosts through the pavement of an unfinished railway station and skids down three or four blocks of a Los Angeles street -- on its side -- before coming to rest against a blue minivan. The driver of the van climbs out, bewildered, staring at the bizarre sight of an upturned and halved railway train on the roadway. And he says:

"I can't believe he hit my van."

No one would say this. A more appropriate outburst would be "HOLY SHIT, A RAILWAY TRAIN", or "JESUS, THAT WAS LUCKY, I'M STILL ALIVE".

This may be the worst line since "You're the man now, dog", and I think Speed is all the better for it.

Bad automotive marketing decisions

There are a squillion possible things you can name a car. Generally, you take something that sounds vaguely foreign, and slap an "a" on the end. Cecil at The Straight Dope did a column a while ago (and by 'a while', I mean 'when I was one year old') on the subject. I do not understand the marketing logic behind the decision, then, to bring out a new vehicle with the same name as an older one. This is particularly puzzling when the new vehicle shares zero design lineage with the old one. It's not a two-thousand-and-whatever model of the same car, it's a whole 'nother car entirely.

Case in point, the Holden Cruze. Holden is an Australian car manfacturer. Half of the Australian population support them. The other half support Ford. I'll get to them in a moment.

hold_cruzThis is a Holden Cruze from 2002. It's a kind of beach buggy thing. It's pretty hideous. The rear of the thing has ghastly round tail lights. It's about as intimidating as a boiled potato. You might sometimes see re-branded Cruze(s) getting around as Suzuki Ignis(es).

hold_cruz_09This is the Holden Cruze from 2009. It's an economical small car that boasts the looks and spaciousness of a larger car. It's actually kinda sexy, all things considered. It's a completely different vehicle, targeted at a completely different audience in a completely different market sector, and for a completely different purpose. It's clear that someone just kinda thought "Cruze" was a cool name, and it's a shame it was wasted on that Tupperware container on wheels they made in 2002 -- but wait, maybe no-one will remember that piece of junk. Yeah, lets use the name again.

The '09-onwards Cruze is also marketed as the Daewoo Lacetti, in a badge-and-name-change that gives it that ring of class it was initially lacking. The only thing cool about the Daewoo Lacetti is its occasional appearance on Top Gear as the "reasonably priced car", but unfortunately for the '09 Cruze/Lacetti, the car featured on Top Gear is an earlier model that bears no resemblance to the vehicle pictured above. It was also retired from the show and replaced by a Kia. That's just..........rude.

Case in point part deux: The Ford Kuga.

ford_kuga_13This is the 2013 Ford Kuga. It's a cool looking car. Mechanically, it's a four-wheel-drive (ish) thing constructed over the chassis of a Ford Focus. It's marketed in Australia as the smaller brother of the Ford Territory, and aimed at the 'soccer mom' demographic (ironic, perhaps, for the purposes of this article that it circles back around to the market sector the original Holden Cruze was potentially aimed toward).

This is great, except: In the non-rhotic Australian accent, "Kuga" is a homonym with --

ford_cougar-- the Ford Cougar. This horrid thing is a mid-life-crisis-on-wheels from the late '90s to early '00s that was marketed in Australia in thankfully limited numbers.

I do not understand why the choice would not be made to use a more unique name for a car model. There are now undoubtedly loads of Ford Kuga drivers who, upon announcing the name of their new ride, are greeted with the looks of stunned incredulity well due to someone who's just announced they've bought a curved-up ludicrous looking skateboard with two doors and a hernia, until they realise the error of their pronunciation and start inflecting the "ah" in "Kug-aaaahh" like Hermione Grainger.

As an aside, Wikipedia has informed me that "kuga" is the Serb-Croatian word for "plague", and that Ford didn't opt to alter the name for its launch in those countries. Dunno about you, but I want to move to Zagreb and buy a black one.

Educational arcs

I have a new annoyance. It's another one of those pieces of English that no one seems to know how to use. It's deeply misunderstood. It's the term "learning curve". I'm continually, it seems, encountering people who believe that because something involves learning, that the entire project can be described as a "learning curve". "It's a learning curve." "This is difficult. It's a learning curve."

This is not correct.

It may have a learning curve. In fact, I guarantee it has one.

A learning curve is not the mere existance of learning. A learning curve is a way of describing the increasing (or decreasing) difficulty in the learning process for a given activity. A steep learning curve exists when a task is difficult to master, a more gentle curve when the job is easier.

You can read about learning curves in far more detail than I care to go into over at Wikipedia, the bastion of opinion-disguised-as-fact and the bane of high school paper graders world-wide.

If you have a new skill to learn, remember that it has a learning curve, and if you want to complain about it, it's probably a steep one.

Bill Bryson: What the hell?

I’ve just finished reading Bill Bryson’s “Mother Tongue”, a reasonably amusing edutainment book exploring the history, complexity and potential future of the English language. All in all, it’s a suitably entertaining read, but I find it’s somewhat flawed by the small issue that factually, it’s probably wildly innacurate. I base this assumption on the various passages devoted to the Australian dialect of the English language, most of which are fundamentally, well, wrong. While I’d like nothing less than to simply reproduce these passages verbatim for your own edification, I have a moral aversion to plagiarism, and shall instead address the various “examples” of Australian speech/grammar/spelling, and then we’ll discuss whether or not anyone ever actually uses them.

Another temptation I shall avoid is the urge to address Mr. Bryson’s quoting from “Lets Talk Strine”, a comedic parody of a book written in 1965 by this bloke, and not representing anything realistic whatsoever about the way anyone did, does, or likely ever will speak.

Anyhow, the actual examples that annoy me:

“Tucker”. This word means “food”. It’s commonly used as part of the term “bush tucker”, and by Australia’s version of rednecks. It’s very quickly disappearing from the language. (And good riddance, say I.)

“Slygrogging.” I have never ever heard this word spoken, nor have I read it prior to seeing it in this book. Apparently (and somewhat evidently, I admit), it defines the act of sneaking out to have a drink. Where I come from, we call that “sneaking out to have a drink”.

“Nong.” A nong is an idiot. No one has used this word since 1987.

“Don’t come the raw prawn with me.” Oh, god. How I both love and loathe this phrase. This alleged common element of Australian parlance, along with various others (”technicolour yawn” for vomit, as cited in this very book is another) survive thrivingly on tea towels and in useless Australian language phrase books. No one ever says them.

Furthermore, the next paragraph in the book proposes a few additional facts that are entirely debatable:

“In Australia, people eat cookies, not biscuits.” No, we don’t. We eat biscuits. Americans eat cookies. If you want to be thoroughly pedantic, we eat cookies when we buy them from Subway.

“They spell many words the American way - labor rather than labour, for instance.” To hell we do. If I’d have spelled the word “labor” in school, I’d have been sorely reprimanded for it, and rightly so. The Australian Labor Party is a vestige of some idiot’s idea of modernising the image of the political party (well, as modernised as it could get in 1912), and is the only time we spell the word without the “u”. As a rule, we follow British spelling conventions, not American conventions. No “-ize” endings, no “-or” endings. And no nukular.

It’s inconsistencies like these that make me doubt the other “facts” presented in the book, particularly when I’m unable to verify them myself and am forced to take them at face value.

I also dislike the easy-to-digest approach when it’s used to present incorrect information, because, frankly, people are more likely to remember rubbish when it’s presented in an amusing format.

I’ve had my whinge. You can all go home now.

How not to review video games.

I’ve been reading a lot of reviews for Super Nintendo games, recently. Mostly because I have an annoying desire to force myself to like playing RPGs, and it’s not working very well. I hate leveling characters up. I hate fighting in role-playing games. I want to beat you up, not do math. Anyway. Having read many reviews, I’ve come up with some pointers for anyone who plans to write their own and doesn’t want to come off sounding like a mentally retarded eleven-year-old.

1. Don’t pad your review out with twelve paragraphs about the game’s story. If you can’t summarise the plot of a video game in one paragraph, that’s a strike against the game, and you shouldn’t be dwelling on it. Or even worse, you shouldn’t be counting on it to increase your word count.

2. Don’t list things. It’s great that the game has thirty different weapons in it, but please don’t tell me about all of them individually.

3. Do not use any of the following phrases:

“Why are you still reading this review and not buying/playing the game?” “Buy it! Buy it! Buy it!” “BEST GAME EVAR” 4. Learn to spell.

5. Please actually play the game you’re reviewing before you review it. If I had a dollar for every review I’ve read that focused on the first two levels of a game and nothing past that, I’d be wealthy. If you can’t play it past level two, tell us why. Don’t try to make up a review about parts of the game you haven’t seen.

6. Same thing goes for your screenshots. Don’t just include the title screen and the first level. Show us you played the game. Comment on the screenshots. Sell what you’re trying to tell us.

If you can take those six pieces of advice, maybe the internet will become a less embarassing place.

Also, upgraded to Wordpress 2.5. It seems pretty.