Tag Archives: quotes

Things August 2015: Movies, books and stand-up comedy

Momo (1973 novel)

Six years before The Neverending Story, Michael Ende wrote Momo, well known in his native Germany but undeservedly less well known here. It takes a fairly common message (to do with how you should spend your time / what is important in life), but rather than using a fantasy setting to metaphorically imply the message, he uses a fantasy setting as a way to state the message as directly and clearly as possible. Some books change how you look at life if you take the time to really think about them; Momo leaves you no choice. I thought it was brilliant.

Also, here’s a a quote from it that I like:

He looked down at the tortoise. ‘Cassiopeia, my dear, I’d like your opinion on something. What’s the best thing to do when you’re under siege?’


‘HAVE BREAKFAST,’ came the reply.


‘Quite so,’ said the professor


Street Fighter (1994 film)

The Street Fighter movie is fascinating. Here’s a few key facts that let you know right away something weird is happening:

  • Written and directed by Steven de Souza (the writer on Die Hard, The Running Man, among others)
  • Budget $35m ($57m in 2015 adjusted for inflation)
  • IMDb rating 3.7
  • Rotten Tomatoes rating 12%
  • Worldwide gross $99m ($161m in 2015 adjusted for inflation)

If nothing else, I highly recommend reading the Polygon article Street Fighter: The Movie – What Went Wrong, which pieces together the extraordinary story of how that movie came about. It sounds as if de Souza had a truly nightmarish experience as director, blocked from making the movie he wanted to at just about every turn (seriously – it’s incredible the movie got finished at all).

Having read the article I just had to see the movie for myself. As it turns out, it’s a rather brilliant B-movie that knows exactly how silly it is, and is tremendously enjoyable as a result! This often seems to be the case when the IMDb rating dips below 4.0 (it’s the 4.0-6.5 region you should avoid). My personal highlight: Guile (Van Damme), leading an assault on the bad guy’s base, in his state-of-the-art stealth speedboat, takes a moment to watch some home movie footage of himself and his good buddy (now captured) on a VHS casette he evidently brought with him, on the CRT monitor built into the stealth-speed-boat control panel, perhaps to remind himself what he’s fighting for. Amazing.

Even more brilliantly, there’s a director’s commentary evidently recorded by de Souza a few weeks after the movie came out (intended for the Laserdisc edition), in which he betrays no bitterness about the process of getting the film made, but rather conveys a genuine warmth for the material and pride in what they managed to achieve. The Street Fighter movie is a great example of someone being given life-lemons and making life-lemonade out of them.

Mitch Hedberg

I originally referenced Mitch Hedberg back in Things 104 in 2011. I finally bought one of his CD’s, Strategic Grill Locations, which is as funny as the many YouTube clips you can find of him would suggest, but instead lasts for almost an hour, which is pretty great.

He has some nice one-liners, such as:

I haven’t slept for ten days, because that would be too long.

But what I didn’t adequately convey in Things 104 is his delivery style. His laid-back demeanor and accent are part of it, but his unusual prosody is what really makes his material work. So I can give you this quote, which is okay, but it’s infinitely better when he’s saying it:

I was at the airport a while back and some guy said “Hey man, I saw you on TV last night.” But he did not say whether or not he thought I was good, he was just confirming that he saw me on television. So I turned my head away for about a minute, and looked back at him and said “Dude! I saw you at the airport… About a minute ago… And you were good.”

Stewart Lee

In some ways the mirror opposite of Mitch Hedberg and his non-sequitur one-liners, Stewart Lee makes long-form stand-up comedy. I didn’t really understand what he was trying to do until I read his book, which I guess makes him hard to recommend.

That said, when I saw him live, I found one particular segment – in which he responds to a silly statement from UKIP with a 12-minute long Reductio ad absurdum argument – to be a brilliant result of the weird territory he has been exploring. So I was glad to find that someone has taken that segment from his TV series and put it online.


Zathura (2005 film)

Let’s have another breakdown:

  • Written by David Koepp (Jurassic Park, Mission Impossible, Indiana Jones… 4) and directed by Jon Favreau (Iron Man, Cowboys and Aliens)
  • Budget $65m
  • IMDb rating 6.1
  • Rotten Tomatoes rating 75%
  • Worldwide gross $64m

… ouch. So what went wrong there?

One problem was the release timing: they went out against Disney’s Chicken Little (which people went to in droves, assuming Disney’s first foray into 3D would be as good as Pixar – Chicken Little made more money than Disney’s Lilo & Stitch, conclusively disproving money as a measure of movie merit), and in the second week when people realised Chicken Little wasn’t that good, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire came out.

The other problem was the perception that Zathura was just “Jumanji in space, without Robin Williams”… which is actually a very accurate description.

But while it is that, it’s also brilliant, partly because space is cooler than jungle, and partly because Robin Williams isn’t the best thing about Jumanji anyway. Jon Favreau makes use of practical effects wherever possible (for example in the trailer below, that robot smashing through the doorway is literally doing that; even the jet-flames on the ships are practical), and this is particularly effective for the ever-increasing destruction of the house. Also featuring before-they-were-famous starring roles for Josh Hutcherson and Kristen Stewart, it’s just a really lovely film that is unjustly overshadowed by its precursor.

Okay, one caveat: there’s some stuff that’s almost cool sci-fi but then is instead just fantasy, which some of you might find a bit disappointing. As is so often the case, keep in mind it’s a fantasy film rather than a sci-fi one, and it’s all good.

- Transmission ends

Things 112: Eyes, Guessing Cat, Amigara Fault

This week Things has a very slight Hallowe’en theme.

This is one where you should gather some people around the monitor and see who can do best: guess the cartoon (or CG) character from their eyes (mouse over the eyes to see the character outline that should tell you if you’re right).

And yes, it is pretty difficult – I only got 6, and I watch a lot of animation!

Here’s a video that begs the question: is the cat playing the game, or just acting out of blind instinct?

To which the answer is to have a big argument about the definitions being used before concluding that you can’t tell.

In the wonderfully stylised animation The Secret of Kells, I heard the line “One beetle recognises another” and wondered if it was some kind of proverb. It turns out that it is, and actually – obviously – there are a whole bunch of Irish Proverbs, which in translated form become alternately profound, banal or hilarious, just as I imagine English proverbs must seem if you haven’t grown up with them. Here’s a list of them on Wikiquote, and here are a few of my favourites, for unstated reasons:

“Every beginning is weak.”

“Time is a good story teller.”

“A lamb becomes a sheep with distance…”

“The quiet are guilty”

The Enigma of Amigara Fault is a horror comic that impressed me with its unconventional approach. It’s 32 pages, and originally in Japanese so you have to read the panels right to left. But if you want a comic that will freak you out for Hallowe’en, it’s worth it. Unless you’re particularly claustrophobic, in which case you should probably steer clear of it entirely.

Answer – Malady X
In Things 111 I asked what the probability of having Malady X is if a randomly administered 99%-accurate test for it comes back positive. As Phil and Thomas noted, you can’t actually answer from this information alone: you also have to know what the probability of a random person actually having Malady X is. A lot of people don’t have an intuition for this fact. I’m going to attempt to explain ways to apprehend that hand-wavingly, mathematically, and visually.

Argument from hand waving and examples:
Imagine the probability of having Malady X is 0% – nobody has it. In this case, it’s certain that getting a positive result means you were simply in the 1% of cases where the test comes back incorrect.
Conversely if the probability of having it is 100% – everybody has it – then you must be in the 99% of cases where it is accurate. In this way, it’s clear the underlying probability influences the chances that the test is correct!

We might worry that these extremes somehow break the puzzle, so let’s imagine less extreme alternatives. Imagine 1,000 people are tested. If 50% (500) really have Malady X, on average we expect the test to come back positive for 99% of them (495) and also for 1% of the 500 that don’t have it (5). In this situation, 495 out of the 500 people for whom the test was positive actually have the disease – 99%.

Alternatively, if 1 person (or 0.1%) out of the 1,000 has the disease, they’re very likely to be correctly diagnosed, and we expect roughly 10 of the other 999 to get a positive result. In this case 1 out of 11 people with a positive result actually have Malady X – fewer than 10%. So clearly the underlying incidence level matters.

Argument from maths:
There are two probabilities at work: the chance the test is correct (99%) and the chance of anyone having Malady X (unknown – let’s call it X%). When you combine probabilities you multiply them, so for example the chance of anyone actually having Malady X AND getting a postive result is 99% times X%.

If someone gets a positive result and that’s all we know, we reason as follows:
A = Probability someone has Malady X and tests positive = X% times 99% times
B = Probability someone does not have Malady X but still tests positive = (100% – X%) times 1%
If you test positive, the chance you actually have it is C = A / (A+B). But if you haven’t studied probability carefully, I’m not sure you could infer this, which is why I like to come up with other ways of getting a feel for the correct answer.

Argument from visualisation:
Since there are two probabilities in question, and we combine probabilities by multiplying, this naturally suggests a visualisation where probability is represented by rectangular area (since area is calculated by multiplying height by breadth).

For example, if we imagine the actual incidence rate of Malady X is 50%, the picture would look like this (click for big):

If the test result is positive, you either have it and the result is correct (big yellow area) or you don’t have it but the test was incorrect (small dark blue area). The chance of you actually having Malady X is equal to the proportion of those combined areas that is yellow. In this case:
Yellow = 99% x 50% = 49.5%
Dark blue = 1% * 50% = 0.5%
Probability you have it = Proportion that is yellow = 49.5% / (49.5% + 0.5%) = 99%.

Alternatively if the incidence rate is, say, 2%, it looks like this:

Here we see the yellow and dark blue areas are very similar, so the chance of you being one or the other is much more even. In fact, it’s:
Yellow = 99% x 2% = 1.98%
Dark blue = 1% x 98% = 0.98%
Probability you have it = Proportion that is yellow = 1.98% / (1.98% + 0.98%) = 67% (ish).

As Peter Donnelly shows in this TED talk, this actually has some severe ramifications, because when the probability of the thing being tested for is extremely low, it becomes overwhelmingly likely that a positive result is false, but people intuitively feel that a 99% accurate test should be correct 99% of the time.

Thomas also noted:

If anyone is interested in playing around with the probabilities (even if you’re not familiar with the maths), I recommend GeNIe:
It lets you create networks of dependencies, set evidence and work out probabilities in problems just like these.

-Transmission finally ends

Things 53: Sita Sings the Blues, FFFFound Quotes

(Originally sent July 2009)

A slightly different format for Things this week, as I have two things to heavily recommend and also realised I had gathered a nice set of quotes from ffffound.

The Hide&Seek pervasive games festival takes place from Friday 31st July to Sunday 2nd August [2009] in and around the Royal Festival Hall, and is free. See the games they plan to run across the three days here.

I definitely plan to attend, so let me know if you are interested. It’s like a more polished version of the Sandpit event that I went to a few weeks ago. To get an idea of what it’s like, see my blog post.

[Do note that this is a re-posted blog version of an old email. At the time of posting, the next Hide&Seek Sandpit event will happen on Thursday 4th August 2011 – T.M. 24/07/11]

I saw Evil Dead 2, which like Evil Dead is less like a horror film and more like a nightmare you have after watching a horror film.

I saw Coraline, which was very beautifully made, but somehow not quite as neat and satisfying as the novel.

I saw Tokyo, which was a collection of 3 very strange short films about Tokyo, and is the kind of thing I would like to see a lot more of even though I only really liked two of them.

But more importantly, I saw Sita Sings the Blues, a feature-length animation by Nina Paley, which is a) good and b) free to download.

It covers a certain episode from the Hindu epic Ramayana, uses a range of animation styles, some songs from the 1920s, and includes debate between storytellers about different versions of the story, which I particularly liked. You can see some of this in the trailer:

Different ways to watch it can be found here, including just watching it on YouTube:

The story of how the film interacts with copyright law is also interesting.

FFFFound!” is an invitation-only site where select graphic design types post up images they like (warning: NSFW about 5% of the time). Sometimes the images simply depict a quote. Here’s some of my favourites, alongside some other quotes:

1) “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” – Einstein



I think the fact that the source of this quote is unknown strengthens it. As soon as you attach a name to it, the question of that person’s own mortality suddenly clouds the quote’s otherwise clear, zen-like nature.

4) (Actually this one is not from ffffound, or particularly a quote). In a discussion about the technological singularity (advances in technology accelerate, we invent self-improving AI which improves itself at an accelerated rate, until a day comes in which so many advances are made it is impossible to predict what might happen after), Vernor Vinge suggested that the super AI would not consider humans to be worthless and wipe us out, since it should see us as a useful backup.

When Steward Brand of the Long Now asked how long a dangerous intermediary period might be during which AI’s would be “smart enough to exterminate us but not yet wise enough to keep us around”, Vinge answered:

About 4 hours.

So watch out for that.


6) Georges Perec:

For the full quote go here. [You may notice that many questions/puzzles that appear on Things are in this spirit. – T.M. 24/7/11]

Last week’s puzzle – CC list issues
Given the lack of response on this issue and no fully satisfactory solution being evident, I’m going to go with the least bad solution as I see it: one CC list for people at RAPP, one for everyone else. We’ll see how that goes.

Things 91: Dresden Codak, i.e., Paths of Flight

In Things 48 (not yet blogged) I linked to an Aaron Diaz’s Dresden Codak update featuring 42 sharply observed 3rd-act plot twists, but recently realised that this may have misrepresented his work, which instead usually consists of astonishingly deft single-page stories revolving around simple but brilliant ideas.

Here’s 3 of my favourites to give you a much better idea of Diaz’s oeuvre:

Lantern Season:

Fabulous Prizes:

Girl vs Bear:

His blog on comic art theory is also well worth checking out if you are remotely interested in the art form.

During a characteristically interesting and varied conversation with Adam a few days ago, he suddenly revealed the following:

That reminds me of a really interesting thing I read in the Metro today – something like: 30,000 people… something. I can’t remember what it was, but it was really amazing.

Sometimes I want to ask things in Things that are even more obviously not what people might call Puzzles than usual, so in these cases I’m going to be more direct and call a question a Question. So here is a Question.

When it comes to arguments about the English Language I tend to side with the people saying “most people say it this way so that’s now correct” against those saying “this is the way some Victorian guy wrote in a book that it should be said so everyone doing otherwise is wrong”, but I do admit that some distinctions are worth holding against a tide of misuse, one example being that I would correct instances of “i.e.” and “e.g.” being used in one another’s stead where polite and possible.

Fortunately, this didn’t come up very often.

Then in 2010 something terrible happened. About 95% of all instances of “i.e.” that I read were incorrect and should have been “e.g.”, which is particularly silly as it reads as if the author believes a set of many elements (e.g. social networks) consists of only one (e.g. “i.e. Facebook”).

So my question is this: have you also noticed such a sudden rise in “i.e.” misuse, or have I just been unlucky and/or suffered from confirmation bias?

A while ago I realised you could collage time lapse photography of a flight path to obtain an image of a string of planes; I then realised you could do the same thing with video, but recognised that this was beyond my means to produce. Conveniently, GE have now done this: