Tag Archives: review

Things 104: Power of Music, Misleading Impressions, Two Envelopes

The effect of music on the brain is a very interesting thing that varies tremendously by individual. Last year I discovered a track that has an incredibly powerful mood-altering effect on me: Olympians, by a band with a potentially offensive name. It took a couple of initial slightly bemused listens before it properly seeped into my brain, but now as soon as I hear this track, I feel unbelievably positive, and become filled with an absurd confidence.

Unfortunately I suspect the fact that this track is so resonant for me also suggests that it’s very specific, and it will seem really quite boring to most others. But I find it so amazing I just have to share it anyway. So first, here’s a short version with a video to slightly entertain you while you wonder what on earth I’m going on about:

And if you are so inclined, here’s the full length version:

Tim Link
I saw The Lion King in 3D at Edinburgh International Film Festival, and reviewed it here. The short version of my review would essentially be this:

Quote special: Misleading Impressions
Thanks to Last.fm recommendations I discovered Brian Transeau (BT)’s album This Binary Universe, which turns out to be a bit different to his other albums. As I listened to his back-catalogue I thought I detected an incredible sense of optimisim and positivity. When I later found Brian Transeau was on Twitter, I found this impression was entirely correct. Sample tweet:

5am and time for our first ever sunrise, father daughter bike ride. Today is already #WIN Good Morning!

My favourite musician is probably Jon Hopkins who I now listen to instead of any other Chill Out music since for me he somehow trumps pretty much the entire genre. He is behind some of the most relaxing and beautiful tracks I know, so I was curious to see what he was like on Twitter. The answer: actually a bit different. Brilliantly, this was the first Tweet of his that I read:

I wish one of James May’s Big Ideas was to FUCK OFF

Finally, moving away from music, I referenced Mitch Hedberg’s famous escalator line in my Lion King 3D review:

An escalator can never break – it can only become stairs.

Realising I was unfamiliar with his work, I ended up reading through his Wikiquote page, and found much to like, such as:

My belt holds up my pants and my pants have belt loops that hold up the belt. What the fuck’s really goin on down there? Who is the real hero?


When you go to a restaurant on the weekends and it’s busy they start a waiting list. They start calling out names, they say “Dufresne, party of two. Dufresne, party of two.” And if no one answers they’ll say their name again. “Dufresne, party of two, Dufresne, party of two.” But then if no one answers they’ll just go right on to the next name. “Bush, party of three.” Yeah, what happened to the Dufresnes? No one seems to give a shit. Who can eat at a time like this? People are missing! You fuckers are selfish. The Dufresnes are in someone’s trunk right now, with duct tape over their mouths. And they’re hungry. That’s a double whammy. Bush, search party of three, you can eat when you find the Dufresnes.

So after that I naturally looked him up on YouTube, and at that point discovered him to be completely different to what I had imagined:


Gone, try this one:

A lot of infographics annoy me, but I like the idea of bringing together the data that drives this one so much I don’t mind its shortcomings.

Puzzle – The Two Envelopes
I can’t believe I haven’t put this one in Things before.

In a standard abstract setting with no distracting details, you and another person are presented with two envelopes. One envelope contains some money (but you don’t know how much). The other envelope contains twice as much money. You get to select an envelope, and you get to keep however much money is in it. The other person gets the other envelope. There isn’t anything to go on, so you choose one of the envelopes for arbitrary reasons.

Before you get to open it, you are offered the chance to change your mind, with the following reasoning:

You don’t know how much money is in your chosen envelope, but for the sake of argument let’s say it’s £10. That means you either have the envelope with twice as much money (so the other contains £5) or you don’t (so the other must contain £20). So if you decide to swap, there’s a 50% chance you get that £5, and a 50% chance you end up with the £20. Since you currently have £10, that means there’s a 50% chance of effectively losing £5 and a 50% chance of gaining another £10. Imagine if the universe split into two at the moment you made that decision – one of you loses £5, the other gains £10, so on average you gain (£10 + (-£5) )/2 = £2.50. Since the average gain is positive, clearly that’s a gamble worth taking, and you should definitely swap.

This is of course a strange conclusion. You effectively chose an envelope at random, so how does swapping it improve your odds of getting more money? The paradox is even more stark if we consider the fact that the other person could be convinced to swap by exactly the same argument.

Previous Puzzle – Co-operating with yourself
Last time I asked how well you would get on with yourself.

Xuan said:

They say that people you dislike/hate are likely to be people who’s characteristics are most like yours. People are most critical of what they see in the mirror. My clone better not have the same taste in clothes.

Which reminded me of a problem the sci-fi stories don’t tend to go into – if there’s suddenly two of you, you’re going to need some more clothes, and one of you will probably have to find another job, and probably somewhere else to live. Marriages get complicated. Phil suggested David Gerrold’s time-travel sci fi story The Man Who Folded Himself for an in-depth dissection of this kind of problem.

Richard observed that he tends to like people with whom he shares attractive personality traits, and dislike those that share his negative personality traits, suggesting that the latter may be because they serve as a reminder of these aspects of himself. This potentially makes the question even harder to answer, although one might guess that a negative would trump a positive and ultimately lead to the kind of confrontations that usually crop up in sci-fi versions of this problem (and endorsing Xuan’s observation).

I think the question raised by The Man Who Folded Himself of co-operating with a version of yourself in the future is a clue to how we can actually ask this question of ourselves. In a very real sense, we really do choose how much to co-operate with our future selves every day: will you do a chore now, or will you force your future self to do it instead? Will you eat all of the cake, or will you save some for your future self? If you know how you generally answer those questions, I suggest this gives you an idea of how well you would get on with yourself.

In practical terms, just thinking of these kinds of questions in this framework makes me more likely to co-operate with my future self, which is probably a good thing. Well, I’m glad that my past self thinks that way, anyway.

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 44: Celebrations Results, Cat vs Squirrel, Procrastination Flowchart

(Originally sent April 2009)

This week I chose to see a film with Nicolas Cage in it instead of Slumdog Millionaire at the cinema, and I did not regret it. Insane big-budget B-movies like Knowing are the best thing to see on a big screen.

My review:


A rare event – I updated my blog, with the results from my Celebrations experiment.

A reference for April Fool’s websites in 2009.

As referenced by my flatmate in the review of Knowing – Donald Rumsfeld, 2003, making a good point badly:

“Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”

Followed up by:

“I believe what I said yesterday. I don’t know what I said, but I know what I think… and I assume it’s what I said.”

Last Week’s Puzzle
Last week I asked about the 3rd most abundant element in the universe – it turns out to be Oxygen.

This week: a puzzle I don’t think I am quite able to set with sufficient precision, but will try anyway. You can buy some things in packets/tins/boxes and they list the number of items they contain, such as 6 eggs, 12 spoons, 52 playing cards. With a budget of £5, what would you buy to get the largest possible value for this number?

Squirrel vs cat:


A procrastination flow chart (click for big):

Things 33: Fast Zombies, Eyeballing, Hallowe’en Pets

(Originally sent November 2008)

I’ve cancelled my Cineworld card because there’s a lot of stuff I need to do in the next couple of months.

I did see Quantum of Solace, which I found to be surprisingly poorly scripted, directed and edited. Mark Kermode expressed my thoughts precisely, and also has some insight as to why it ended up this way:


Puzzle Answers
I forgot to answer the car light mystery from Things 31. It turned out that the back lights were not actually on, and only came on when braking (which is why they were on when I parked to check) – I proved this by nudging the brakes and looking at the cats-eyes on the motorway light up in my rear view mirror. After fixing this by finding out that the light-controlling dial also had to be ‘popped out’ to engage the rear lights (crazy design idea), cars continued to flash at me, which I eventually discovered was in fact due to me using fog-lights, which was because instead of being controlled by the dial that did everything else to do with lights, these were controlled from another, unlabelled part of the dashboard.

As for the Busaba Toilets, I went into the other room marked with the curving lines, only to be confronted by some unimpressed women. I went back to the room with the kinked line and it was only on closer inspection that I realised there were cubicles, but they were designed so their doors blended completely into the wall. So watch out for that.

This week’s puzzle
Simon Pegg has written an insightful article about why the modern trend for fast rather than shambling zombies completely misses the point.

I think he’s missed something himself though, as the question that naturally arises is this:

If shambling zombies represent our fear of the inevitable slow approach of death, what do fast screaming attacking zombies represent?

A quote
I used to do parkour/free-running with a small gang of similarly mad individuals on my university’s campus. Being the most cautious of the group, I never sustained an injury, whereas at one time or another everyone else did. The least cautious was a crazy second-year called Andy. One particular February night had left our playground icy and treacherous, but Andy was still ready to go ahead.

He reassured us by explaining:

“There’s more grip, because of the ice.”

A video
If you’re familiar with Pinky and the Brain, then you’ll be happy to know that it was dubbed into several different languages, including the excellent intro music, in German:


A link
Last week, Bex reported an unbeatable score of 0 for the colour-matching game. Here is your next challenge: eyeballing.

A picture
An amazing collection of pet Hallowe’en costume photos.