Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

The power in central Halifax died around two hours ago.  I had my iphone nearby, and used it to find my flashlight. Then I called a friend to talk about the value of spare batteries, and the nice dark section of the city. I then went for a walk, looking at the newly revealed stars, listening to a podcast, and looking for the light.

When I found it, at the nearest video store, I wandered around a little, then looked for the Hydro website/phone number. I found the first, which had the second. Luckily there was a mobile version of the web page, which I used to suss out the situation. I tried Twitter, which kept me up to date on the situation. I then continued to browse, and then checked again. The Hydro workers had fixed the main situation, so I walked home, but with fewer stars visible. I continued to listen to my podcast, and checked updates on Twitter on the way back. I also checked the local news and online radio through the phone.

On arrival , things looked back to normal, with one power bump, but otherwise fine for now.

I like my iPhone.


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Star Trek: significant writers

This is a list of script writers for the original series that I personally consider to be recognised science fiction writers. I think that most of the scriptwriting since then has been by people who don’t write science fiction for a living, which may argue for the higher level of science fiction in their stories in the original three seasons, especially regarding social issues and cultural change as opposed to action and adventure.

Maybe the serious science fiction writers are concentrating more on movie deals?

  • Robert Bloch, who also wrote the story for psycho. He was a horror, fantasy and science fiction writer, as well as a crime writer. He won the Hugo Award (SF), the World Fantasy Award, and the Bram Stoker Award. He wrote the episodes What are Little Girls Made Of, Catspaw, and Wolf in the Fold. These were entertaining, with a nice flavour of horror mixed into the last two.
  • George Clayton Johnston, who co-wrote Logan’s Run, and a number of Twilight Zone episodes. We wrote The Man Trap. I would not call this a great episode.
  • Richard Matheson, who wrote I am Legend and a number of Twilight Zone episodes, including Nightmare at 20,000 Feet. He wrote The Enemy Within, one of the great episodes. This episode addresses the issue of how essential a person’s darker side has a role in her/his life.
  • Theodore Sturgeon, a highly influential write who won the Hugo and the Nebula Awards. We wrote Shore Leave and Amok Time, the latter of which is one of the great episodes.
  • Harlan Ellison, probably the pre-eminent science fiction short story writer of the twentieth century, and a highly prolific screen writer. He wrote my favourite episode, The City on the Edge of Forever. Although largely modified from the original story, it is a touching tale of duty versus love, on more than one level. According to Wikipedia, he has won 11 Hugos, 4 Nebulas, 6 Bram Stokers, and 18 Locus Awards.
  • Jerome Bixby, who wrote the classic short It’s a Good Life (used in the Twilight Zone and the Twilight Zone movie), co-wrote the story behind the Asimov movie Fanastic Voyage, and wrote the great Star Trek episodes Mirror, Mirror and Day of the Dove. He also did Requiem for Methuselah and By Any Other Name, both of which were good.
  • Norman Spinrad, a well respected writer and two-time president of the Science Fiction Writers Association. He wrote The Doomsday Machine. At the time, this was not a cliche issue.
  • Frederic Brown wrote a classic SF short story called Arena, which was the basis for the Star Trek episode of the same name. The tv episode was okay, but the short story was wonderful. He was a well respected writer from the Golden Age of Science Fiction.
  • Last but not least, David Gerrold, who wrote The Trouble with Tribbles. He also won the Hugo and Nebula Awards for the novelette The Martian Child. Finally, he wrote a wonderful comedic SF novel with Larry Niven called the Flying Sorcerers.

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One of the greatest children;s novels in recent history will come out as a movie in December this year. It is the Golden Compass, first book in the trilogy His Dark Materials, and is the story of Lyra Belacqua and her adventures in an alternate reality. They were written by Philip Pullman, and the characterisation, especially of Lyra and the other children, is superb. The story is compelling and pulls no punches. However I don’t want to give too much away, except to say that in my life I’ve read more Fantasy and Science Fiction than most people, that I am very selective, and that I consider this book in particular, and the series in general, to be exceptional.

Because I admire the story and the characters so much, I have serious misgivings about how well the movie will capture the essence of both. However, some of the actors have given subtle and strong performances during their careers, including Daniel Craig as Lord Asriel, Sam Elliot as the Texan Lee Scoresby, and Nicole Kidman as Mrs. Coulter. I’m also interested in seeing Eva Green again in the role of Serafina Pekkala; she was great in The Dreamers, as well as the latest Bond film, and Kingdom of Heaven. The most critical character is Lyra herself, and she’ll be played by Dakota Blue Richards. This will be her first performance, but the director thinks she is wonderful, and Philip Pullman said

“I’m delighted with the casting of Dakota Blue Richards as Lyra. As soon as I saw Dakota’s screen test, I realized that the search was over. Dakota has just the combination of qualities that make up the complicated character of this girl, and I very much look forward to seeing the film take shape, with Dakota’s Lyra at the heart of it.”

Given the above, and the really interesting previews of Lyra’s world, I have hope that it will be worth watching. It had better be, because I’m watching it!

One aspect of Lyra’s world is dæmons, which are external expressions of the soul of an individual, and are intelligent counterparts to the person. While one is a child the dæmon changes form almost at will, but when one matures sufficiently it takes a final form for the rest of ones life. They are usually of the opposite sex and cannot be separated far from their human without great pain. In our world the dæmon is hidden within the body.

My dæmon is Pelagia. With a name like that I thought she would be some aquatic life form, which may explain why I really despise being away from the ocean (pelagic refers to that part of the ocean not affects by the coast or the ocean bottom, or in short the open ocean). However she turns out to be a tiger. Try finding yours.

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A good friend mentioned DST and the possible impacts of it both on her and on people in general. In my profession it has several impacts, and because of my background there are other impacts that may be of interest. For a number of years I have worked as a weather forecaster, and it affects our job significantly for a number of reasons. First, we maintain a 24/7 work schedule. This means that some of us will get our shift reduced or increased by an hour during the changeover dates.

Second, and of more importance is how it affects how much time we have to make our forecast products. The computer guidance, and some of the most important guidance, are sent to us at 0000 and 1200 UTC (basically Greenwich Mean Time), and this occurs at the same real time every day of the year. This means that when DST pushes local time ahead one hour, we have one less hour to absorb and use the new guidance to produce our forecasts. Since DST is mainly in the summer, this usually isn’t so bad because the weather isn’t usually calmer than winter weather, but the spring and fall are very hectic, because the weather is still very active. We really look forward to the extra hour to consider the data and model guidance which we get during standard time in the winter. The new schedule effectively makes the spring and fall periods when the weather is still dangerous ,and when we have less time to consider conditions because of DST, longer by about three weeks

The third factor is the length of our shifts. It works out that we get up before dawn and go home after dark for all the the winter and much of the spring and fall. This can get fairly depressing, and in the spring I personally like being able to get up after dawn and not having to live like a vampire outside work hours. Also, the amount of sunlight experienced affects circadian rhythms significantly, especially in the mornings. Most people wake up much more naturally and with less stress when the sun is up, and kicking back sunrise in the spring after a winter of darkness is not a pleasant prospect.

Finally, during the time change some computer-assisted products may screw up their time stamps and header data. Usually the CS people fix them within a couple of days, but because the DST changeover occurs on between 1-2 am Sunday morning, we have to monitor all our product outputs to make sure the time stamps are correct until at least Monday morning, and this during the first few shifts were we have less time to forecast. It’s an unnecessary annoyance and potential cause of confusion and trouble.

For this job in particular DST has many more disadvantages than advantages. Other professions were public services are time dependent, and where shift work is involved, should have some of the same problems (except possibly for the partially automated computer products).

On a less personal note, over the years I’ve found out a few bits of trivia and useful information about DST. Here goes:

  • Newfoundland was the first in North America to institute DST with the Daylight Savings Act of 1917. The main idea was to use the extra dayight in the morning, and to use the extended evening hours for recreation, etc.
  • A major proponent of DST are various retail and recreational interests (Golf, fast food, etc).
  • A major economic drawback are due to effects of changes in sleep patterns twice a year. In the U.S. the impact is estimated to be at least in the tens of billions of dollars, not counting health effects.
  • Traffic fatalities in the U.S. during the period DST decrease, but during the changeover periods increase slightly. The net effect is a decrease of about 0.7%, which translate to about 280 fewer people dying every year. For Canada, the same 0.7% would translate to about 20 fewer people dying each year.

Personally I would prefer that there be no time change during the year. Either use Standard Time or Daylight Savings Time year-round, or maybe some compromise time scewed towards dawn being a little later on the clock. This may make more sense than you think, since Standard Time has been reduced by about 4 weeks to 127 days per year. Many of the advantages of DST are controversial, especially the energy benefits, and I think the health effects for a large part of the population may be a deciding factor for me. Also, I have an aesthetic appreciation for solar noon occurring at something near 12 o’clock, 😉

Regardless, this whole discussion is the traditional seasonal signal for spring and the equinox, which will occur March 21 at 0007 UTC(GMT), which means March 20 at 9:37 pm in Newfoundland and Eastern Labrador, and 9:07 pm in the Maritimes. Here comes the Sun! 🙂

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Apologies in advance.

New Word: Callipygous

If you don’t get it from the cartoon, here’s the definition.

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Sorry to bother you again. I’m in numerology-geek mode.

I realised while writing the original post about Bond and money (interesting how these two go together, isn’t it) that to correctly compare the Bonds over time I’d have to account for the change in purchasing power of the dollar. This isn’t as easy to solve as it sounds.

You see, first you have to decide what is a good measure of purchasing price. After a bit of reading, I went with the traditional Consumer Price Index (CPI). It’s been fairly well agonised over, and the other measures I found were more related to corporate or government buying power. Then there is the problem of which country or countries you pick, and in particular how this matches up with the pattern of movie watching. Given that I don’t have an easy way of figuring this out, and I don’t want to merge the results of dozens of countries, I wimped out and used the Canadian CPI.

The Canadian CPI is easy to find, it is hopefully some weighted average of the US, Europe, and Asia, and it happened to match pretty closely the ticket price I calculated in the previous post. I found that last to be an interesting coincidence, and maybe it is like the correlation between the stock market and skirt heights?

When I applied it to the Jame Bond movies and the results for each major actor, the CPI changed the overall sales and budgets significantly, and changed some of the conclusions of the first post. However, it had no effect on profitability ratios, since for each year both the sales and the budget were in the dollar value of that year, so inflation effects cancelled. It is very important to note that all the results below have been corrected to 1992 dollar values, and that we are talking US dollars.

Okay, get that glazed look again.

Figure 1: First Twenty Movies


The new information here is that the Bond movies made more money in “real” (1992) dollars during the period of Sean Connery through Roger Moore.

Figure 2: Admissions and Ticket Value


Here I added a little information to make the tenure of the different actors clear. Also, the top graph of Figure 1 showing sales is much more in line with audience attendance as shown by the top graph of Figure 2. This is also consistent with the fact that ticket prices were highly correlated with inflation, as indicated in the lower graph. So you could say that the most popular actors (as estimated by attendance at the movies) made the most money (at least in ticket sales) for the franchise.

Figure 3: Sean Connery


The new thing here is that Connery had the two movie with highest sales, and that he did the best overall. He averaged $500 million per movie in 1992 dollars.

Figure 4: Roger Moore


Moore did second best in sales, but gradually weakened as time went on. Moore averaged $375 million per movie (1992 dollars).

Figure 5: Timothy Dalton


Dalton didn’t improve on Roger Moore’s worst movies. Dalton averaged $205 million.

Figure 6: Pierce Brosnan


Brosnan improved sales over Dalton, and was mid-range for Moore. He averaged $350 million per movie.

If using the Canadian CPI is somewhat plausible, these new results show that Connery was both the most popular and the most profitable in absolute terms. If you also assume they invested with even average success, what I have shown here would be exaggerated a lot. Roger Moore did pretty well, Dalton was the worst on both counts, and Brosnan started bringing it back.

I wonder how many billions of dollars have been made over the last 40 years, if you could account for everything? They made $7.86 billion in ticket sales, which translate to about $11 billion in today’s dollars. The movie budgets added to $972 million, which is about $1.35 billion. So just in ticket sales they have averaged a profit of 810%.

No wonder they can afford Astin-Martins (probably for their dish-washers).

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Recently, a friend gave a nice review of the latest Bond movie, Casino Royale. It seems to be closer to the feel and style of the books. Yesterday I was talking to a friend about his opinion, and as usually happens the talk turned to the best Bond and the best movie. Now this is a purely subjective topic, and to date there are 20 Bond movies, not counting Casino Royale. So to facilitate our “discussion we went to the Wikipedia listing. It had some nice information, and mentioned that many critics thought From Russia with Love or Goldfinger was the best movie (I’m not going to discuss the latest picture, since I didn’t see it). Being fairly intelligent, the article didn’t even bother to mention which was the best Bond actor!

Anyway, today I noticed some numbers on the page, and I thought about how this franchise has been around long enough to look at trends. So I dumped the data into my data analysis package and played with them. I came to some interesting conclusions, which I am prepared to share with you. I already see some eyes glazing over.

Figure 1: First Twenty Movies
First 20 Movies

There’s just a few things to notice about the performance of the movies. First, the sales versus the budgets are wonderful until the Brosnan era (movies 17 to 20); but even then they were grossing 3-4 times the budget. The ratio was best during the Connery era, when Dr. No grossed $60 million for a budget of $1 million. Also, the total sales basically doubled because of Brosnan. Second, the US only accounts for a third or less of the sales; the Bond movies do much better around the world than in the US. Third, from the bottom graph of figure 1, you could get the impression that the US makes the movie break even, while the rest of the world is pure profit.

Figure 2: Sean Connery


From an investment and profit ratio standpoint, Connery is by far the best. He never goes below 11-1 and his best ratio is 60-1, with Dr. No. He made the most money with Thunderball, second with Goldfinger, and the least with Dr. No. From a capitalistic standpoint, he was the biggest bang for the buck.

Figure 3: Roger Moore


Moore’s profit ratio started at 23-1 went down to 5-1, but they were still raking in the coin. Ignoring the change in the dollar’s purchasing value, his movies netted about 50% percent more than Connery; including the change would make Connery more profitable than Moore. However, as time went on they were spending more per movie and not doing as well as before, and the Box Office sales were diminishing. The lowest box office was for The Man with the Golden Gun, and the best box office was for Moonraker.

Figure 4: Timothy Dalton


Monetarily, Dalton held the line but didn’t improve on Moore’s worst. His profit ratios varied from 4.8 to 3.7, and his net sales were $114-151 million. I have to admit I thought he was closer to the Bond in the books than Moore, but he was not as charismatic as Connery.

Figure 5: Pierce Brosnan


Basically, Brosnan doubled the gross sales at the expense of higher budget costs, but still made more than any of the others. His profit ratios varied from 5.9 to 2.9, but the net sales have varied between $236 and $314 million US. Ever since he was in Remington Steele, people have been talking about him as a possible Bond. In the series he didn’t have the intensity that came out when he matured and got the Goldeneye role.

Bottom line: it’s amazing how well the franchise has done. Even with the worst of the Bonds there is always a solid profit, and with the best it was phenomenal. And for 40 years they’ve been pushing them out at an average of one every second year.

Now for the audience.

Figure 6: Audience and money.


This is probably the one I found most interesting. If you go by popularity, Connery wins by a landslide, Moore at his best is close to Brosnan, but Brosnan is more consistent. When you factor in population increase, it argues even more for the popularity of Connery, especially the earlier movies which were fairly close to the books. Connery’s popularity went down when they started diverging and adding too many gadgets (i.e after Thunderball).

And finally, since the year I was born the approximate price of a ticket has gone up 7 times (actually if you use the American consumer price index calculator it has only gone up 17%)!

Anyway, enough statistics.

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