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Sunday, 29 March 2020

And The Ninja Is A Theoretical Physicist

I can't remember how long ago it was that someone introduced me to Ninja Sex Party, but it was a fairly long time ago. I had just started playing my favourite Pathfinder character ever so I think, about, nine years ago.

There's this band called Ninja Sex Party, right. And there's two people in the band - and one of them is called Ninja Brian, and he's a theoretical physicist, and the other guy is called Danny Sexbang, and this is one of their songs, it's called Dinosaur Laser Fight.

Okay, I say, and watch and listen.


Puerile? Yes. Nonsense? Yes. Infectious. Funny. Suspiciously packed with actual musicality, despite it clearly being a joke.

I must learn more.

I do learn more.

This is them.


Okay so their style is kind of poppy sexy funny haha whatever - but as I mentioned before. There's some genuine talent in here. Like Danny Sexbang (right, obviously) isn't just some guy laughing at his inability to last more than 180 seconds in sexual intimacy. He's an accomplished vocalist. He has a great voice, you KNOW I like great voices.

I only find out later that he's Daniel Avidan, of Game Grumps. But that's another story.

More and more, as their career as musicians progress, the music side of things comes to the fore. They fall in with a band named Tupperware Remix Party, who are futuristic superheroes from the planet funk (obviously). TWRP became NSP's backing band in 2015. They release cover albums - three of them so far - and those cover albums contain a wide selection of genuinely good stuff. Like, here's the NSP cover of Photograph by Def Leppard.


They don't work in isolation, either - Danny does vocal spots in a bunch of other songs. Ninja Sex Party plus Arin Hanson (internet shouter and animator) form a band called Starbomb that do a lot of video game parody stuff; Arin appeared as a vocalist on a TWRP track which also featured The Protomen (ALSO awesome), called Phantom Racer.

Danny gave vocals to this song by a band called Night Runner, called Magnum Bullets, which I have listened to once a day since this video came out.

Which...well where is this all leading me?

To my favourite Ninja Sex Party song, which is called, First Date.

Now if you go back and listen to the very FIRST NSP song I linked at the beginning here - you listen to that, and then... come and listen to this.

Just the sheer improvement between the two - the sheer development and evolution of the sound - you can't ignore it. Dinosaur Laser Fight is a fun bouncy rock-pop song about dinosaurs. First Date sounds like it could actually be a full-blown 80s style single release.

So the content of the song is still fun and jokey but it's less about penis jokes and the strange creature that stalks the band and tries to kill them. It's not the lyrics that matter so much. It's the melody, it's the instrumentation. It soars. It uplifts. It feels like driving with the top down. It feels like being Young And Alive, just like the song says.

It's great. It's feel-good. Danny gets to stretch his legs, vocally...

...and there is one part that I absolutely adore, that is probably not worth getting as worked up over as I do. But you all know I love a key change right?

"Let's kill five guys tonight! We'll share a cherry cola while we blast a savage drive-by!"

...key changes UP to the natural escalation of...

"Let's kill ten guys tonight! know what, first date, let's pump the brakes on the murders..."

...then key changes back DOWN to...

"Let's kill five guys tonight! I'll take you back to your place and we'll craft a perfect alibi!"

And you don't get just how happy that makes me, how much that made me laugh the first time I heard it.

I have an entire playlist of songs on Spotify that makes me smile like an idiot, here it is.

This is one of them.

Just an excuse for me to prattle about some music I like, because, why not?

I know that right now everyone is getting hit pretty hard by the lockdown, and the pandemic causing it. We're all hurting. Look after each other.

If you'd care to share my blog with your friends, I'd appreciate that! If you'd like to thank me in a fiscal form for entertaining you a little bit, I do have a Patreon right here, but please - no pressure. Thank you for reading, and check my social media to the right to keep in touch.

Sunday, 22 March 2020

Taking A Minute

I don't think I need to elucidate the ways in which we are currently experiencing... let's call it stress, as a people as a whole.

And what a year it has been, right? Like this whole virus has been simmering away while all sorts of other shit happens and then - well, then came the spikes. And now it's all that we have going on, because it has swept a hand across our expectations and our plans.

Which is odd for people like me who had problems with plans and expectations in the first place, but I digress.

A significant proportion of people have been told to stay home - either no-access or encouraged to stay there as much as is practical. Of course there's certain sectors where people still have to go out, and I have huge respect for them. And there's certain areas wherein people are just going out and doing whatever they want anyway, because there always is, but the less said about that...

So. A lot of people's social interactions and leisure time, significantly cut down. Folks stuck indoors.

And into this perfect storm of the UK going from "it will be fine" to "rationing is probable..."

...steps this little crew of goombas.

What timing.

Games. I talk about gaming a lot. How it can be a help, or a hindrance. In times like this, though - in times where people feel like they are cut off, need something to focus on that isn't the news or what is going on outside - what better time?

Especially something that rewards social play like Animal Crossing New Horizons does.

I haven't seen such an outpouring of people getting together, exchanging details, playing together, just generally having fun since the Summer of Pokemon Go. It's that, but inverted, but also kind of not. Because we're playing this - we're all doing this - and we're enjoying it, and we want everyone else to enjoy it too. For once we aren't yelling at each other about bad games or shitty takes. We're just having a nice time, which is what we all need.

It's a way to stay in touch, too. A way to be doing something other than staring at our navels and swapping text messages. I mean that's good, we should be messaging - but isn't it more fun if you can also send your friends a squid or a fruit they don't already have?

I mean, if you really need something to help handle stress that isn't so sunny or social... maybe you are more interested in what this chap has to say.

What a weekend.

Even more than that, though, we're seeing people pull together in online communities. People forming and joining groups, en masse. People livestreaming things. Bands streaming concerts - the Dropkick Murphys streamed an entire gig on St Patrick's Day. I was invited to a group called Concellation, which is where all the folks who regularly attend a bunch of conventions that are now cancelled hang out.

My RPG gamers are taking to online services like Roll20 and Discord, because we still want to roll the dice. We have so many means by which we can take the things we enjoy and move them online that we are almost spoiled for choice, and all we need is the will to do it.

Which is, in its way, really wholesome.

It's a time of uncertainty. That's the worst thing. The uncertainty. All of a sudden, people that don't usually struggle with anxiety or depression are almost being forced to experience the symptoms. All of a sudden, people that don't have conditions that would force them to be housebound are indeed housebound.

We're finding our way, though - and I admit to feeling a certain amount of relief... and maybe hope? ...that the solutions to a lot of the problems we face as nations rather than as individuals seem to lean heavily to the left of the spectrum.

Maybe some lessons will be learned. Maybe there will be the political drive and push to provide a safety net for people, despite it being an affront to conservative tendencies. Maybe people will remember that the solutions to these problems didn't come from letting people die en mass because they couldn't afford private care but by doing the best we could to provide for everyone.

Maybe I can hang onto that optimism, for a little while.

In the meantime: I have cherries to pick.

If you'd care to share my blog with your friends, I'd appreciate that! If you'd like to thank me in a fiscal form for entertaining you a little bit, I do have a Patreon right here, but please - no pressure. Thank you for reading, and check my social media to the right to keep in touch.

Sunday, 15 March 2020

The Ones That Make It

A lot of you may be familiar with this particular graphic, but if you aren't, let me walk you through it.

World War II was - as with many other wars - fought by numbers. Statistical analysis was very important in the planning phases of most operations over a specific scale, and in the provision of weaponry and equipment. It was a war won as much by the production line and the numbers game there, as it was the actual combat.

As strategic bombing became more and more important, and the wave method of bombing in particular, many studies were done into this particularly high-attrition method of conducting warfare.

The graphic above is based on hypothetical data, and is the bullet spread observed on returning bombers.

It was theorised by those who made the decisions that - if that is where the bullets are hitting the plane, then we up-armour those bits of the plane, yes? I mean that's a good conclusion, given the data available. 

Enter Abraham Wald.

Wald was from Cluj in Transylvania - that's Austria-Hungary, now Romania to you. He was a mathematical genius who was prevented from gaining any position in a university due to Austria's institutional antisemitism - and when Hitler's Germany came calling in 1938 he and his family fled to America.

Wald took a look at the data and stated that the proposed action was bullshit, and when asked why, he pointed out the data that had been acquired.

Where were the hits to the cockpit? The engines? The leading edges of the wings? How is it possible that the (at the time) highly trained and competent Luftwaffe pilots weren't hitting those? The answer is simple, and if you haven't got it by this point, you'll want to kick yourself:

The data was taken only from the planes that made it back.

In an alternate timeline, Wald never made it out of Austria - either he didn't make it out before the Nazis showed up or he was refused entry into the US for whatever stupid reason. So nobody noticed this particular point, planes were built differently, they got shot down more, and the war slowly, steadily shifted toward a potentially different result.

That is an example of what we call Survivorship Bias.

If ten people go into a situation, they all try the same method to get out, and only one of them makes it - to that person, this method worked. Because this is the person that came back to tell the story of how their method did the job and saved their life in the situation in question.

When people talk about how something was tough, but they made it through okay - well, great, but how many people made it with them? When someone brings up the Blitz Spirit, and carrying on with a stiff upper lip - well the Blitz Spirit didn't work out for the 40,000 people that died and the hundreds of thousands that lost their homes and livelihoods in London alone. Just shutting up and putting up gets people killed, in a lot of situations. Just those that aren't affected tend to shrug their shoulders and say: well, not ME.

If you take a thousand people, at birth; and you provide one of those thousand people with the privileges and good fortunes of a stable part of a country, supportive parents with a significant income that will let them take risks and push them into better academic and professional circles; then they will almost certainly, at some point, talk at length about how they started with nothing and how with some hard work and some graft, ANYONE could do it.

There's a statistic that claims that as you age, you become more conservative. There's another statistic that claims that people who own horses live longer than people who don't. Both of these are probably true, but miss out on two key points: that the greater your income or wealth, the more conservative you lean - and the greater your income, the better healthcare you can afford, leading directly to an extended lifespan.

Whenever presented with statistics, always query where they are from, how they were gathered, what might have been missed. Query what they are being used to prove and how that proof could be reinforced by - for example - asking a smaller sample size, or asking customers of a specific site or store. You might not want to believe a publication if they claim that 80% of people on earth believe the Earth is flat, if the magazine is Flat Earth Monthly, and they asked 200 of their own readers.

Oh yeah, and - if the xenophobes and the antisemites had their way - there'd have been a lot more downed bombers.

If you'd care to share my blog with your friends, I'd appreciate that! If you'd like to thank me in a fiscal form for entertaining you a little bit, I do have a Patreon right here, but please - no pressure. Thank you for reading, and check my social media to the right to keep in touch.

Sunday, 8 March 2020

Microscopes And High Hopes

Today is International Women's Day 2020; an international holiday that began back in 1917 in the Soviet Union, but was adopted by the world in general in the 60s and 70s.

Because of the way the world works, many people will be aware of it for two main reasons.

1) Manbabies crying "But What About International Men's Day", while being unaware of its existence on 19th November, because they don't care about it on any other day of the year.

2) The joke in Deadpool.

So given that a significant proportion of the world is currently dealing with the effects (some of them very secondary or tertiary) of COVID-19, I thought I would take a look at some women of science.

For example, Ada Lovelace.

The only legitimate child of Lord and Lady Byron - like she literally came along a month before the two of them went their separate ways - she is pretty much the reason I can do the thing I am doing right now, typing letters into a computer to have them appear on the internet for all my lovely readers to see later. She took the work of Charles Babbage, and turned it into something entirely different. She took the difference engine, a mechanism for calculating nothing but numbers, and posited that those numbers could mean something else entirely. I mean it helps that she was a literal mathematical genius - Babbage himself called her The Enchantress Of Number.

While we are on the topic of mathematics and technology, this is Katherine Johnson.

Yeah, if you've seen Hidden Figures, you KNOW who this is. If you haven't, go fix that immediately. Katherine Johnson ran numbers on most space missions between 1961 and 1970. She made the Moon Landing happen - she got Apollo 13 home. She did so in an environment which was hostile to her for two reasons: she was a woman, and she was black, in Hampton Virginia in the 60s. Despite having to deal with her overwhelmingly white male colleagues being generally shit at her, she still did her damn job, and because of her contribution, we have walked on the moon.

You want your science more down to earth? Here's Mary Anning.

You like dinosaurs? Who doesn't like dinosaurs? Mary Anning is part of why we understand the prehistoric world at all, let alone in as much detail as we currently do. She was so competent in the field of geology and paleontology that she was consulted constantly by others within the same field, but she - of course - couldn't join the Geological Society of London, because girls have cooties. They also constantly tried to make sure that there was a man somewhere nearby that could take credit for her finds. Not uncommon. Not uncommon at all. She discovered and categorised plesiosaurs, and often got her name dropped from the reporting on the same.

Moving on - this is Rosalind Franklin.

DNA and RNA are things that we understand because of the work that she did. She was cautious and fastidious, and opposed the creation of theoretical models without being sure that they were accurate and all possible biases had been removed. She was driven, passionate, and very, very thorough. She used X-Ray diffraction to image DNA itself. When she left King's College in the 50s her work on DNA had to remain behind, so she promptly went off and studied RNA instead. She also contributed significantly to the study of Polio and other viruses, only forced to stop that work due to ill health; I am as old today when she was when she died of ovarian cancer.

And that's just four. Not even touching on the works of Hertha Ayrton, Rachel Carson, Grace Hopper, Dorothy Hodgkin, Jocelyn Bell Burnell, Marie Curie, Vera Rubin, the list is endless. The contribution of women to the sciences alone is utterly huge - to a society and community that is often male-dominated and considered a hostile environment to women.

Not to mention the entire rest of society.

Women: THANK YOU, and I'm SORRY.

Men: Let's do better.

Thank you.

If you'd care to share my blog with your friends, I'd appreciate that! If you'd like to thank me in a fiscal form for entertaining you a little bit, I do have a Patreon right here, but please - no pressure. Thank you for reading, and check my social media to the right to keep in touch.

Sunday, 1 March 2020

Darkness On The Edge Of Town

Recently I saw Blinded By The Light, and really enjoyed it.

What's it about?

Well it's about a lot of things, but I guess the plot is about a young Pakistani man surviving the late 80s in Thatcherite Luton, trying to pick his way through life in between familial expectation, the National Front, and society in general - and almost accidentally finding a muse in The Boss himself, Bruce Springsteen.

Yes, Blinded By The Light is more famously a Manfred Mann Earth Band song from 1977. Yes, it is a cover of the Bruce Springsteen song from 1973, the first track on his debut album. It didn't do anywhere near as well as the cover. No big. I prefer the Springsteen version, honestly.

(It's either "Revved up like a deuce" or "Cut loose like a deuce", by the way. A deuce being a deuce coupe, a 1932 Ford hot rod.Yeah, like the Beach Boys song, Little Deuce Coupe. No, it's not an anal cleansing product.)

What did I like so much about the movie?

I mean the obvious thing is that I really like the Boss, right? Which I do. Also there's not a bad performance in this movie, like, anywhere. Really.

I LIKE it, though, because I FEEL it.

That's me.

Like okay. I know that we are meant to raise our eyebrow when someone points at a character and says "that's literally me", especially if that person is fucking Rick Sanchez or something - but at the same time - I have been in the places that Javed has been.

Or at least a lot of them. Like it wasn't as extreme, but my parents did have a specific set of expectations that I wasn't sure I could meet, or even wanted to. Sure, I didn't have to deal with the National Front, but there were plenty of arseholes to bob and weave around in life. And I did, so desperately, want to write. I wanted the writing to be the thing I did. I didn't want to have to slot myself into something else and be that and shelve the writing.

There's the urge to run away from the stupid town that you are stuck in, as well. Like that is prevalent. A big thing. Including the Born To Run section, which literally involves Javed and his friends... running. Away. Just anywhere.

The other way in which we're alike is musical salvation.

So - no spoilers but there's this one scene wherein Javed is listening to music while working at a market stand, and Thunder Road starts playing in his earphones. And his eyes land on the girl he's falling for real hard, and everything clicks into place. Just for a moment. Everything makes sense.

Thunder Road, by the way, is my favourite Boss song. (And I had never heard it before a friend of mine introduced it to me like twenty years ago. You know who you are.)

Sure, in the scene in question, there's some dancing and some singing and this is where you realise this probably qualifies as a musical rather than just a movie with music in it. That's not the only scene, though. There's the moments of total loss and confusion and anger and sadness and there's this one constant thread of music that guides him through all of it, and when I say Literally Me, that's what I am talking about.

It wasn't just one artist, sure. It was a few. It's real, though. It's absolutely real.

So it's a story that just speaks to me. Speaks to me intimately in a setting I am familiar with and surrounded by cultural tropes that I am also thoroughly familiar with. How am I meant to not love it?

It might not be for you. The plot isn't exactly groundbreaking - that isn't the point - and if you don't like Springsteen then you will hate it.

Me, though?

I had a blast.

What a movie.

If you'd care to share my blog with your friends, I'd appreciate that! If you'd like to thank me in a fiscal form for entertaining you a little bit, I do have a Patreon right here, but please - no pressure. Thank you for reading, and check my social media to the right to keep in touch.