October 12, 2010

Female characters in modern fiction

Filed under: Books, Humour, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 13:13

The Female Character Flowchart looks at “the one- and two-dimensional female characters we see over and over again in modern fiction.”

Click image to see full size flowchart

H/T to Royce McDaniels for the link.

Mitch Miller, drawing upon years of “men are simple/women are complicated” media memes, responded:

Wow! That’s a lot of female characters, considering that there’s only five male characters:

The Good Guy
The Bad Guy
The Good Bad Guy
The Bad Good Guy
The Sidekick

Terry Pratchett’s I Shall Wear Midnight

Filed under: Books, Humour, Media — Tags: — Nicholas @ 12:18

I’m being self-sacrificing, having sent my copy off with Victor when he went back to campus yesterday, so this review by Cory Doctorow just highlights what I’ll get to read in a couple of week’s time:

Terry Pratchett’s newly released I Shall Wear Midnight is the fourth volume in the Tiffany Aching books, about a young girl born to be the witch of a chalky, sheep-farming area called, simply, The Chalk (the other three volumes being Wee Free Men, Hatful of Sky and Wintersmith). Tiffany’s old gran was the “Wise Woman” of the hills, and her gifts came down to Tiffany, who, at the age of 7 or 8, began to need them — first to rescue the Baron’s son when he was kidnapped by the Queen of Faerie (Tiffany hit her with an iron frying pan) and then to learn proper magic while apprenticed to a real witch, and finally to kiss the Wintersmith during a morris dance, and then have to set the seasons to right.

In Midnight, Tiffany returns. Now she’s 16, and she has assumed all the burdens of being The Chalk’s witch — and they are burdensome — delivering the babies, salving the wounds, clipping the neglected old ladies’ toenails, changing the bandages, and using magic to take away the pain of the Baron, who is dying.

As if being thrust into an early maturity wasn’t enough, witchery has fallen into disrepute on The Chalk — and seemingly everywhere. There are old ladies being crushed and drowned by mobs, there are the whispers and the forked fingers to fight the evil eye when Tiffany passes, and then, when the Baron dies while Tiffany eases him into the next world, there is the wildfire rumor that Tiffany killed him.

This series is a wonderful read for both children and adults: Pratchett’s sense of humour and his touch of magical-but-real provide a great read for both audiences. Highly recommended, especially if you haven’t already become a fan of his main Discworld series.

Monty on structural unemployment

Filed under: Economics, Education, Technology, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 12:07

Monty is still too busy with real life to do a daily Financial Briefing, but he’s dropping by a few times a week with his insightful-and-acidic thoughts at Ace of Spades HQ:

Welding jobs may be plentiful, but that’s no help to you if you’re not a welder. This is called “structural unemployment”, and it has no real short-term solution. It results from a disconnect between current worker skills and employer requirements. It’s really a form of malinvestment. Students train in subjects like Postmodernist Literary Theory and The Hermeneutics of Lesbian Cinema, but the job market is asking for engineers and plumbers. Workers in fading industries won’t or can’t retrain. The last time this problem cropped up was during the 1982 recession: the old manufacturing jobs were gone, and the hundreds of thousands of Rust Belt factory workers — many now middle-aged, with high union wages and benefits packages they didn’t want to lose — either could not or would not re-train into other fields. This led to a long cycle of stagnation in which the American upper midwest remains mired to this very day. Pull quote:

Victor Calix Cruz, 51, has been job hunting for two years after being laid off from construction work in Miami. He, his wife and their two teenage children are “surviving” on his wife’s disability and his unemployment payments, he said. While he heard of openings at hotels, he hasn’t applied because the pay and benefits aren’t as good as what he had before.

I don’t imagine that your unemployment check matches what you were making before either, Chief. It’s like the old Rolling Stones song: you can’t always get what you want.

The warplane older than the crew’s parents

Filed under: Military, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 12:05

It’s been an ongoing joke that the venerable B-52 bomber fleet are older than the crews that fly them. With a recent announcement, the US Air Force has ensured that the joke will change — by the time they retire, the planes will be older than the parents of their crews:

Without any fanfare, the U.S. Air Force recently announced that it would spend $11.9 billion to keep its remaining B-52 bombers in service until they are all retired by 2040. At that point, the last ones will have served over 70 years. The new “sustainment program” will cost over $150 million per aircraft, which is about twice what they cost to build (accounting for inflation).

The reason for this investment in half century old aircraft has a lot to do with the fact that the B-52 is very capable, reliable, and cheap to operate. This is especially true compared to the aircraft built to replace it (the B-1B). The U.S. Air Force has been having a hard time keeping its 67 B-1B bombers ready for action. Two years ago, the availability rate (aircraft you can send into action) was about 51 percent. Seven years ago it was 56 percent. Progress is being made, but the B-52 is still more reliable. The B-1Bs are used to drop smart bombs in Iraq and Afghanistan. They are particularly popular in Afghanistan, because you can put one in the air, and it can cover the entire country. While the B-1B is twice as expensive to operate (per hour in the air) than the B-52, the B-1B can more quickly move to a new target over Afghanistan.

B-52s are not only cheaper to maintain, they have a higher availability rate (65 percent.) As a result, the air force wants to keep 76 B-52s in service (despite a Congressional mandate to reduce that number to 56.) With the development of GPS guided bombs (JDAM), heavy bombers have become the most cost-effective way to deliver support to ground forces. The B-52 is the cheapest American heavy bomber to operate, and the oldest.

Toronto’s election gets interesting

Filed under: Cancon, Politics — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 10:05

The race for the post of mayor of Toronto was supposed to be a dignified procession to the installation of George Smitherman, former provincial cabinet minister. The vote was expected to be a mere formality, as the assent of the right-thinking people in the downtown core was assured. Somehow, though, they forgot about having given the vote to the hillbillies and hockey hackers of the uncouth far-distant suburbs. Those unwashed hicks apparently supported some gaffe-prone character with lots of media-friendly damage already on tape and ready to roll.

Unbelievably, the release of the damaging material seemed not only not to cause a drop in support, it seemed to increase his support. At that point, the gloves came off (one assumes), as these signs were put up along University Avenue overnight:

Not my photo, they’d already been taken down before I got to that stretch of University this morning. Photo courtesy of 680 News.

Vikings fall short in 2-minute drill

Filed under: Football — Tags: , , , , , , — Nicholas @ 07:39

After either a thrilling defensive struggle or a boring low-scoring affair (take your pick), the Vikings suddenly became dangerous through the air, with two touchdowns to Percy Harvin and one to Randy Moss. The Favre-to-Moss score was historic, as it was Brett Favre’s 500th TD (and he went over the 70,000 yards of total passing milestone on that series — nearly 40 miles through the air).

Minnesota’s defence kept them in the game, limiting the Jets to only field goals through the first half, but spending far too much time on the field — the Vikings managed just barely more than 50 yards of total offense through 30 minutes. The end of the first half must have seemed more like the end of a regular game for the tired defenders.

In addition to the other records, Favre also passed Warren Moon for the top all time in another category: fumbles. He fumbled the ball twice (both times the Jets came up with the ball), including one that he dropped onto Adrian Peterson’s foot for an unplanned punt.

After the second Harvin TD, it was a two-point game (the Vikings having missed a conversion to tie the game). The Vikings finally appeared to be clicking, with the offensive line keeping the pressure off Favre and the receivers managing to get open for passes.

The Jets gave Minnesota a gift in their second-to-last series, stopping the clock twice and going incomplete on third down to give the Vikings nearly two full minutes to close out the game with a score. Favre then re-gifted the opportunity back to New York with an intercepted pass that was run in for the game-sealing score.

The game, however interesting, may have been less important than the latest scandal to excite the media feeding frenzy:

The Vikings shocked the NFL world by orchestrating a trade that brought Randy Moss back to Minnesota. Who would have guessed it would become a secondary story by the end of the week?

The Moss trade became a sidebar to the evolving scandal involving Brett Favre and alleged inappropriate messages and photos sent to former New York Jets employee Jenn Sterger in 2008.

The story, broken by the website Deadspin.com, gained steam throughout the weekend and serves as a juicy subplot to the Vikings’ Monday night game against … you guessed it, the New York Jets.

The “sexting” story actually broke a while back, but for some reason didn’t catch the media’s attention until this week. The NFL is investigating, which may end up with some disciplinary action against Favre if they determine that the story has validity.

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