Category Archives: Comment

I’m Spreadin’ the News… I’m Leavin’ Today…

“I’m going on an adventure!” said the young man to the drinks machine while it dispensed his necessary morning bottle of caffienated sugar syrup.

“Whirrr….Bzzzzzt…..Clatter… Clank” said the drinks machine, spitting out the beverage in question and wondering, in the non-plussed way machines do, why this human was bothering it at 0448 in the morning.

The young man collected the drink, and after saying a polite but cheery “thankyou” to the machine, wandered along the platform towards an uncomfortable looking bench.

Watching him walk away, the machine rolled its eyes – or it would if it had any – and after the regulated couple of minues turned off its lights and went back to sleep.

And so begins my three week adventure to the United States of America, Land of the free, Home of the brave, and still – bewilderingly – the only country in the industrialised world where your medical bills might kill you. However that’s a discussion for another time.

CameraZOOM-20170916053648959[1]

Yes, I confess I had to employ a monopod for this shot (I believe the youth of today call them “selfie-sticks”)

As I write, I find myself whisked through the inky black of a Devonshire autumn morning on a South Western Railways train in a carriage where my only company is a couple of early bird commuters making their way to London for another long working Friday. Although why anyone would commute from the other side of the country for the sake of a single day of work is a little baffling to me. Anywho, the trip upon which I embark this morning is a long one, in fact it’s the longest “holiday” I’ve had since I was 11, when my mother took my brother and me on an eight week epic journey around a sizeable portion of the anglosphere. It’s also going to be one of the busiest, as I am attempting – foolishly perhaps – to take in as much of the contiguous united states as I can given the time and funds I have available. In order to do this I will be enlisting the help of two stalwarts of Americana… AMTRAK (that’s the US’ cross-state rail system) and the Road Trip (kindly driven by my good friend and up-and-coming thespian, Tom, who we shall perhaps meet in later blog posts).

The plan, then, is for a week to be spent in New York, where I’ll be taking in the normal touristy things, and hopefully being introduced to some other non-touristy places by Tom. I’ll also be – perhaps predictably –  visiting some museums; I’m particularly looking forward to the Hayden Planetarium although I doubt very much I’ll get to meet Neil DeGrasse Tyson, as much as it would make my holiday.

After this initial stay in the Big Apple, it’s on a flight out to San Francisco to board the California Zephyr which will take me through the Rockies, the Sierra Nevada, and the Great Plains back to Chicago (the city, not the Musical) where I’ll be changing trains onto the Lake Shore Limited back to New York. I figure this way I can cram as much of the US’ wonderful blend of scenery as I can into my stay. My only real regret is that I won’t get any time actually in San Francisco, other than the eight hours or so overnight between my flight landing and the train leaving, (just an excuse for another trip I suppose).

Then once I’m back on the East Coast, Tom’s once again taking up the baton and the road trip begins… this part of the trip is – as yet – unplanned, but as long as we get back for the first days of NY Comic Con, I’ll be happy.

I’m now passing through Axminster, giving me a last chance for a brief farewell to my childhood neighbourhood before the epic adventure begins! I’ll bring this first post to a close here though, but as I’ve brought enough Camera Equipment to supply a low budget documentary crew… I imagine you may see more of me in the coming days.

Makes a change from the dearth of posts over the last year or so though right!

Ben D Brooks
16 Sept 2017

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Another orbit comes to a close

It’s that time of year again…

Where I subject you all to my Christmas Podcast (as it seems to have become!)

I promise this one’s less depressing than last year, although I also didn’t have much to say, especially as I tried to avoid talking much about this annus horribilis!

But anywho, Merry Christmas one and all.

Ben Brooks
21 Dec 2016

A Gamer’s Call to Arms!

Hey Folks;

I’ve finally got to the point where it’s become clear that my existing gaming group in East Devon are never going to be able to maintain an ongoing RPG campaign of any kind.

So I’m looking to find a group of four or so gamers in the Exeter (UK) area to join me in playing some games; so if you’ve ever played tabletop games or would be interested in giving them a go, I’d love to hear from you.

Unfortunately due to my shift working I’m not able to commit to a specific day every week, but I do get my roster 2 months in advance, so planning sessions shouldn’t be a problem.

I’m willing to set up and run a campaign in Runequest or Call of Cthulhu for others, or act as a player character in pretty much any other games system (Dungeons and Dragons, Vampire; the Masquerade etc).

So… if that’s of interest to anyone, I look forward to hearing from you

Ben Brooks
24 Feb 2016

All Humans are Islands… A slightly sober Christmas message from me

Hello Everyone,

I hope you’re all well. Today I recorded my christmas message for the year, I will also be sending cards this year so don’t worry if you haven’t received one yet!

I recorded something like ten versions of this before I was happy with it, it’s still not ideal and I still don’t know wholly what I wanted to say. But, here it is, I’m sorry it’s quite sobering for a christmas message, but it covers something that’s been on my mind of late, and felt like I needed to talk about it.

I do hope you’ll all forgive me for it’s dour tone!

Ben

On Dreams Made Real

[SPOILER ALERT – YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED]

When I was four years old a film was released that has since been a wonder for millions all over the globe, it had some of the most innovative special effects in film history, and did more to update the public perception of palaeontology than any museum or university field program could ever hope to achieve.

(if my memory serves me correctly) I first saw Jurassic Park in 1995, when I was six, when it first aired on the TV here in England. Besides knowing that I hid behind our family sofa from the T-Rex when it was gorging on lawyers and smashing up cars on that magically appearing concrete cliff, the one emotion that abides with me even now is one of childlike wonder and excitement at the creatures on the screen. They were so real, so present that I could not believe they were anything but extant, living beings. No longer extinct creatures confined to the rocks in Montana and the Isle of Wight.

My Old Dinosaur VHS tapes

My Old Dinosaur VHS tapes

I’d loved dinosaurs for as long as I could remember at that point, in no small part thanks to the VHS tapes that my parents bought for me (speaking of which, I must convert those to DVD soon). But as I grew older I learned about acting, CGI became so common in movies that you aren’t even sure the actors are real any more, and I watched as science enhanced our knowledge of the dinosauria beyond anything we could have dreamed of in 1993. We now have theropod dinosaurs – incuding some pretty big ones – with fillamentous integument (proto-feathers), we even know what colour archaeopteryx’ feathers would be. We’ve seen palaeoecology take off wildly, and study of the dinosaurs in relation to their environment as well as just their bones. And we’ve even managed to find out the colours of the insects that they shared their world with.

And over time, the magic dulled.

It’s never gone away  of course, I can still feel it whenever I watch the original film, and even to an extent when I watch Jurassic Park; The Lost World (I won’t speak much of JP3). But as I’m sure you may imagine, when I heard about Jurassic World I had some very high hopes… the question is, would it deliver.

Let’s just stop and talk about some of the inaccuracies though, before we get onto whether or not my expectations were met. Darren Naish published a very good (and frankly spot on) criticism of Jurassic World last week on the CNN website which captures my biggest problem with the backpeddalling from feathered raptors in JP3.

What John Hammond and InGen did at Jurassic Park is create genetically engineered theme park monsters – Dr. Alan Grant, JP3

Yes, Yes they did, they’re not “real” dinosaurs so we (presumably the palaeontological community) should shut up about it. This is the line that the film takes when it comes to the accuracy of Jurassic World’s creations, incidentally it’s also the line that TellTale’s Jurassic Park PC game took (don’t play it, the control scheme is awful) which is fair enough, the film-makers may be able to shut the scientists up but they can’t ignore them.

However, for a film series whose legacy to the world was bringing the public’s perceptions of dinosaur science out of the 18th century and into the 20th, it has, through a desire to make money/maintain continuity (or something like that) kept the public’s perception very much in the 1990’s as far as the look of the dinosaurs goes. I suppose we can all be thankful that the BBC’s excellent “Walking with” series’ picked up the baton and ran with it long before JP3 ever entered production, let alone Jurassic World.You might be able to say that they up-played the raptor’s intelligence, or that they got better at the herd behaviour. but that’s not what people will remember, they’ll remember trikes dragging their tails, pterosaurs flying off with people, and a mosasaur that is at least twice the size of any known mosasaur.

Add to all this the attempts the film makes to shoehorn in some “comedy gold” cliche – the cinema did erupt into laughter at it but it was terribly immersion breaking – and the at times strained nature of the militarisation of raptors story line, and it could have ruined the film completely.

So why didn’t it?

In a word; Magic.

I’m probably not going to be able to put this very well, but I spent the first half of the film trying to be cynical and watch the film objectively. But at some time around the half-way point Zach and Gray – this film’s Lex and Tim – are stumbling through the forest after escaping the Indominus rex and they come across an old, overgrown door; Instantly recognisable to anyone who saw the first film.

And suddenly it’s as if I am six years old again, I felt all the same emotions and feelings as I did watching Jurassic Park for the first time. The magic was back, If I hadn’t read somwhere that the original visitors centre from the first film was destroyed by a Hurricane after the first film’s release, I would swear the film crew had just walked in after the forests of Kauaʻi had reclaimed it. Anyway, the inaccuracies didn’t matter so much any more.

There were other redeeming features to this film as well, the eccentric CEO, Simon Masrani, brings many of the endearing characteristics of Richard Attenborough’s John Hammond to mind, while obviously having a similar vision for the park, and his own foibles… Who else would fly a helicopter into a combat situation without being able to autorotate? The fact that the man dies due to the actions of his creations was a lovely nod to the books and the people who actually read them as well (wherin Hammond is killed by the compsognathus’).

The character of Lowery also harkens back to characters from the previous movies, Ray Arnold and Ian Malcolm, and his workstation reminded me of the character Wash from Firefly… He’s probably my favourite of the film’s main characters, in no small part for the way he’s clearly a convert to Hammond’s initial vision.

So yes, the film has more than it’s fair share of errors in the science department, and it’s quite possible that my fanboy-ism and nostalgia are holding more sway than four years of a geology degree and three and a half as a “professional” palaeontologist. But you know what. I don’t care; nobody in palaeontology ever took me seriously anyway.

“What they did, it was real…” – Lowery, Jurassic World

If only it were.

“Have yourself a very Merry Christmas”

Hey everyone!

I hope you are all well and looking forward to a great holiday, in lieu of a Christmas card this year, I have recorded you all a little christmas update; I hope you enjoy it…

From your friendly neighbourhood scrooge 🙂

Ben

21st  December 2014

Some Thoughts on the Scottish Referendum

“So the United Kingdom is safe it seems, for now. However the notion of a British identity is forever tarnished.”

Those were my words at five o’clock this morning when the majority of votes had been counted and the Better Together campaign (finally) looked to have carried the day.

At the end of the process however, nobody should be celebrating this result.
Understandably the Yes campaigners and voters will be disappointed with their failure to convince enough people that Alex Salmond’s vision was anything more than a vision.

On the part of my fellow Unionists north of Hadrian’s Wall, and of the MP’s in Westminster it must be understood that the United Kingdom has dodged a bullet, and we’re talking a high velocity .50 cal bullet. This referendum has been the single biggest challenge to UK’s sovereignty and legitimacy, and the Establishment, and unionists all over the UK were caught napping in the closing weeks of this campaign.

As for British Identity, I consider myself to be British before English, and never before has a political event scared me as much as this referendum. After all, while nobody can argue that this decision could have been taken any other way, it guiles me that 4.4 million people can suddenly decide to pull the rug out from underneath the other ~60 million Britons in terms of their nationality.
However, it hasn’t happenned and so that identity is safe for now, but after the animosity of the last few weeks, especially with Alex Salmond’s constant demonisation of England and the English, there are going to need to be a lot of bridges built that had been burnt down.

Are there any positives to talk about today? Certainly there are, firstly there has been a massive turnout in this election, and with a General Election guaranteed to happen next year, I am hopeful that the rest of the United Kingdom will step up to the plate and turn up to vote when the day comes along.

Secondly, given how close we have come to the effective dissolution of the union, there is now an opportunity for the UK Government to fundamentally change the way our great nation is run. This is especially so given some of the noises coming out of Wales, Northern Ireland and some English Regions regarding the possible adjustment of the Barnet Formula and the ‘West Lothian Question’. For my part I think it is high time that the UK took a long, hard look at federalism.

Summary of Results:

Here’s the collated list of results, more or less in chronological of their declaration.
Clackmannanshire votes No – 54%
The Orkney Is. vote No – 67%
The Shetland Is. vote No – 64%
The Western Is. vote No – 53%
Inverclyde votes No – 50.08%
Renfrewshire votes No – 53%
Dundee City votes Yes – 57%
West Dunbartonshire votes Yes – 54%
Midlothian votes No – 56%
East Lothian votes No – 62%
Stirling votes No – 60%
Falkirk votes No – 53%
Angus votes No 56%
Aberdeen City votes No 59%
Dumfries and Gallowa votes No 66%
East Renfrewshire votes No 63%
East Dunbartonshire votes No 61%
North Lanarkshire votes Yes 51%
South Lanarkshire votes No 55%
Perth and Kinross votes No 60%
Glasgow votes Yes 53%
Scottish Borders vote No 67%
North Ayrshire votes No – 51%
South Ayrshire votes No – 58%
East Ayrshire votes No – 53%
Aberdeenshire votes No – 60%
Edinburgh votes No – 61%
Argyll and Bute votes No – 59%
Fife votes No – 55% (Referendum Mathematically Over at this Declaration)
Moray votes No – 58%
Highlands vote No – 53%
TL;DR:
National Result
NO 55.42% – 44.58% YES