Towel Day

Today is Towel Day, a day to commemorate the life and works of the late great Douglas Adams (1952-2001). On this day, fans are supposed to openly carry a towel with them all day, on account of what “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” says about the importance of towels:

A towel, it says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have. Partly it has great practical value. You can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the brilliant marble-sanded beaches of Santraginus V, inhaling the heady sea vapours; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to sail a miniraft down the slow heavy River Moth; wet it for use in hand-to-hand-combat; wrap it round your head to ward off noxious fumes or avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (such a mind-bogglingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can’t see it, it can’t see you — daft as a brush, but very very ravenous); you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough.

More importantly, a towel has immense psychological value. For some reason, if a strag (strag: non-hitch hiker) discovers that a hitchhiker has his towel with him, he will automatically assume that he is also in possession of a toothbrush, face flannel, soap, tin of biscuits, flask, compass, map, ball of string, gnat spray, wet weather gear, space suit etc., etc. Furthermore, the strag will then happily lend the hitch hiker any of these or a dozen other items that the hitch hiker might accidentally have “lost.” What the strag will think is that any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still knows where his towel is, is clearly a man to be reckoned with.

Hence a phrase that has passed into hitchhiking slang, as in “Hey, you sass that hoopy Ford Prefect? There’s a frood who really knows where his towel is.” (Sass: know, be aware of, meet, have sex with; hoopy: really together guy; frood: really amazingly together guy.)

I read the initial three volumes of these books in 1988, and to say they shaped my life is barely hyperbolic. Since then I believe I have read all Douglas Adams’ books, even including his non-fiction title “Last Chance to See”. Now I cannot let an everyday occurrence of the number 42 go by unheeded. The Atari ST scene gathering “ST NEWS International Christmas Coding Convention” had a 10th and 25th anniversary, and will next convene on its 42nd anniversary. I use the words “skoonsproot” and “affpuddle” in active conversation (though they are from his “The Meaning of Liff”). I regularly re-read the Hitchhiker’s series as well as the Dirk Gently books. And yesterday I finished binge-watching the second season of BBC America’s rather entertaining “Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency” (which are very very very loosely, in fact hardly, based on the books) with my wife. I set up the most insulting website ever at www.wowbagger.com. When I attempted to write funny stuff, I wore Adams’ influences on my sleeve (well, and a bit of Pterry). Douglas has really touched my life in a way otherwise only achieved by Tolkien and Orwell.

So here’s to the life and legacy of Douglas Adams. Have a great Towel Day!

The Good Side to Trump

When I still used Facebook, I used to get a lot of posts involving US president Donald Trump. I constantly saw memes, videos and Tweets that ranged from embarrassing to disgraceful. I lived through the 2016 elections as if I were an American, as if the outcome would affect my life. I rooted for Hillary – a flawed and unsympathetic person but anything is better than Trump – though I would have preferred to root for Bernie Sanders. My mind reeled at everything that became known about Trump (the pussy grabbing thing, the countless boasts and lies) even before the election. These are things that would have disqualified any presidential candidate…but not Trump, because “he says it like it is”. The entire sub-college-education electorate voted for him because this megalomaniacal turd who literally takes a shit on a gold toilet was going to “stick it to da man”. Add to that the countless lies and revelations after he had utterly unexpectedly won the election (Stormy Daniels, the inaugural speech attendance crowd size, his crazy-lying press secretaries, the list goes on and on). All the racist insects are crawling out from under the stones, scum comes to the surface. They feel emboldened now their bigot president is, like his followers, more in touch with the reptilian part of his brain. Breeding fear. Sowing dissent. Flaunting bigotry.

As a result, though, I have become more interested in politics. I have read my first non-linguistic non-fiction in the past year. Michael Wolff’s “Fire & Fury” and James Comey’s “A Higher Loyalty” are fascinating page-turners that showcase the ins and outs of American politics and, of course, this cluster-fuck of a current presidential situation. I say it is fascinating but it is also somehow dirty, kindof like wanting to know everything about the oddball eccentricities of Michael Jackson. The desire to know stuff about celebrities is, I guess, a human character trait that I don’t understand, don’t like, but am also somewhat  helpless to resist. And these books have an unmistakable message: With Trump at the helm, it’s only a matter of time until we (the US, maybe the world) hit some rocks. It’s not a question when it’ll happen, but how big the rocks will be.

I follow Trump on Twitter. At the moment he has nearly 52 million followers, who get a constant barrage of pro-Trump talk, tweets about how America is being made great again, and how For God’s Sakes Nothing Happened With Russia No Collusion! I have learned to treat those tweets as if generated by a lie machine. I don’t know why I read them – probably the same human character trait I mentioned above. If you want to know whether UFOs have ever landed on planet earth, all you need to do is wait until Trump tweets they never have. Then you know they did.

So why “The Good Side to Trump”, then? I guess, on a very small scale, it has caused me to become more interested in world politics. That might be a good side. Not that I really benefit from that, because world politics usually just fill me with a lurking feeling of dread. But Trump is also doing something good on a bigger scale. Like Comey writes in his epilogue, something better will come to replace this. Maybe this is something that needs to happen before big reforms and improvements can happen (I am paraphrasing him). It is always darkest before the dawn, right?

I am hoping for dawn to come as soon as possible. But while it’s still night, pick up those two books I mentioned, or at least Comey’s.

Ready Player One

 “Ready Player One” just has to be the best movie of the year (though I predict it might be second-best after “Jurassic World – Fallen Kingdom” as of June, despite that movie’s alleged narrative shortcomings). A cool story, convincing special effects, one of the most awesome car chases every imagined, a none-too-obtrusive love angle, and oodles of pop culture references. Even a good and positive message for today’s gamer generation. It’s a bit like “Pixels” for a more mature audience. And the 3D aspect of the film was quite convincing and engaging.
Steven Spielberg hasn’t lost his touch!

 Up next, I hope someone is going to do a film adaptation of Tad Williams’ “Otherworld” books!

Avengers Infinity War (4DX version)

 Now before you continue to read, I should add two disclaimers: a) I am biased against ‘new’ film technology, and b) There are going to be spoilers.

  Yesterday I experienced my first 4DX movie. This is, basically, where you can watch a movie with augmented environmental effects such as scent, rain, fog, seat movement and wind. After having witnessed this nearly two decades ago in “Honey I shrunk the audience” in Disneyland Paris (back then I think it was still called Euro Disney) I thought it was enjoyable but a gimmick, really, nothing more than a gimmick. So when the cinema my wife and I most often frequent built a 4DX hall, I was not all that keen on trying it out. My non-keenness had probably been caused by my overall disappointment when it comes to another ‘new’ movie technology: 3D. Although a few movies did have an added sense of realism in 3D (computer-animated Pixar flicks, “Avatar”, “Gravity” and “Life of Pi”), most of them were souped-up versions of 2D movies (“Alice in Wonderland”, anyone?). When I have the choice to see 2D or 3D, I always opt for 2D. This is partly caused by cinema tickets being expensive enough as it is, and 3D movies being even more so.

 So I had eyed that 4DX hall with scepsis ever since it was finished about half a year ago. But yesterday my 4DX cherry was popped. The movie I wanted to see, “Avengers Infinity War”, was only being shown in 4DX at the time when it was most opportune for me. So I considered my hand somewhat forced. And, to be honest, I was a bit curious.
I love superhero movies, though I used to be one of those people who thinks you should have one superhero per movie. Granted, “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Avengers Unite” were good examples of the current trend to have as many heroes in a movie as possible. It’s like superhero porn, really, and I’ll be damned if it isn’t becoming my guilty pleasure. It must be quite a challenge for filmmakers to have someone like Captain America in a movie also featuring The Hulk and Iron Man, and actually make Captain America appear like a genuine superhero. Or Hawkeye, or Black Widow for that matter (if you forget she is played by an apparently ever more breast-augmented Scarlett Johansson, you might forget all about her).
“Infinity War” has the regular Iron Man, the Hulk, Thor, the Guardians of the Galaxy, Dr Strange, Black Panther, Spiderman and a bunch of lesser known heroes (but thankfully not Deadpool, who should only be in his own movies) fighting the apparently not-even-beatable-by-The-Hulk bad guy Thanos and his also pretty unbeatable sidekicks. They are on the lookout for the six Infinity Stones which, when combined, will allow him to provide mercy to the entire galaxy by allowing there to be more resources per person. His way of attaining this is decimating the entire galaxy’s inhabitants by half. Needless to say, the Avengers and their friends rather don’t appreciate this intended genocide of billions or perhaps trillions of citizens.
The movie is a long thrill ride of various well-orchestrated battles which definitely capture the imagination. Slowly but surely the viewer can but realise that Thanos is winning. The odds against the good guys are tremendous. And by the time all the stones have been collected and half the inhabitants of the galaxy turn to dramatic dust in the wind you have seen Groot die, and Dr Strange, Spiderman, Starlord, and too many other good superheroes to even want to remember (also because the pain is still too near).
And then the end credits roll.
The whole movie thus leaves me with a bit of a hangover. It’s not even an open ending, it is simply no ending at all – like “Titanic” ending when it hit the iceberg, or “Alien” at the moment the thing bursts out of John Hurt’s chest. I’ll just have to go and see the next one – which is probably what the Marvel people want.
And Black Widow as a blonde? Preferably not. I don’t even remember if her character survived or not.

 But the 4DX, now.
I could be nice and capture the whole experience in a positive word. That word would be “interesting”. But I could, and perhaps should, also describe it as “distracting”. I didn’t really realise there were going to be scents and at a certain pretty random moment in the movie I smelled something that was the nasal equivalent of one of those bad-tasting Beanboozled Jelly Beans. And the wind, oh, the wind. Whenever something ran or flew there was wind. I was slightly overdressed with a pretty warm hoody and T-shirt but it was quite chilly. Noisy, too! And unless there was pretty static dialog (this happened only a few times in this particular movie, which was to be expected) the seat was constantly shaking and throbbing. With loud noise the bottom of the back vibrated, and when someone got stabbed there was a sort of stab in the collective audience’s backs as well. It made me think of one of those automated massage chairs, and I have not done one of those anymore after my first trial. Thankfully I could disable the water/fog effects because these would not be too convenient for wearers of glasses (as this was a 3D movie, everyone wore glasses).
I found myself trying to determine when certain effects were being used, looking at it perhaps like the programmers of such devices might, and sometimes came up empty. The lightning effects happened quite randomly, really, and, like I said before, the scents were pretty unrelated to the movie. The chairs were also much less comfortable, as you kinda have to continuously sit upright in a certain way to prevent yourself from gently being slither-shaken out of it. About halfway through the movie I had a seriously sore bum.
So, all in all, I hope 4DX is not here to stay. Wikipedia says it’s been around for over a decade already. I was hoping 3D was not here to stay, either, but I guess I will just have to consign myself to being disappointed there.