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Tue, 21st Aug. 2012, 22:21
How many movies do you think you've watched in your life?

How many movies do you think you've watched in your life?

Me, I'm not sure. In 1997, I started keeping the ticket stubs of all the films I went to see. For the first few years I dutifully entered all the information into a database: the name of the film, when I saw it, what theatre it played at, who I saw it with, the ticket price, and my rating of the movie on a scale of 0 to 10. That wasn't much of a problem when I was seeing one or two films a month, but once I moved to Toronto in 2000 I really ramped up the cinema visits. Toronto was such a wonderful city for watching films, because if you lived downtown, there were easily 15 or 20 movie theatres of all types within walking distance:

  • There were giant multiplexes like the Palladium playing the latest Hollywood blockbusters. The place was so huge and had so many screens that it was easy to slip between the auditoriums unnoticed by the staff. You could buy a ticket in the afternoon, watch your film, and then take your pick of maybe half a dozen more that were just starting as yours was ending. And then you could repeat this all day until the place closed for the night. I'd go there to watch films like the first Harry Potter movie.
  • If you were in the mood for something besides the usual Hollywood fare, lots of theatres were happy to oblige you. The Carleton and a few of the multiplexes would occasionally show the more prominent independent films, foreign films, and documentaries. At these cinemas I saw films like The Grey Zone, Mostly Martha, and Rabbit-proof Fence.
  • There were also a few second-run theatres like the one at the Eaton Centre, where you could watch six-month-old flicks for just $1.50 (and quite often have the entire auditorium to yourself).
  • If you wanted to see something even older than six months, you could visit the Bloor Cinema. This was an independent, membership-only theatre which screened films from every decade from the 1920s to the present. I remember watching Baraka, Manufacturing Consent, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Brazil, and countless other films there.
  • The University of Toronto where I was studying had an active film students' association, and they often screened all sorts of new stuff that nobody had ever heard of but which turned out to be gems. I fondly remember being introduced to American Movie and The Left-hand Side of the Fridge there.
  • If you wanted even more obscure stuff, you went to Cineforum, which was basically just one guy, Reg Hartt, who screened films in the front room of his house on Bathurst Street. Hartt was an avid collector and historian of rare films, and managed to get his hands on the only surviving copies of some of them. He would often show rare and uncensored versions of Looney Tunes and Three Stooges films, nearly forgotten turn-of-the-century silent classics like Gertie the Dinosaur and Voyage to the Moon, and surrealist flicks like Un chien andalou.
  • And of course, every September came the famous Toronto International Film Festival, where all the theatres in the city would play hundreds of new films from all over the world. It wasn't some elitist, high-priced event attended only by film critics and industry people; it was easy for anyone to get a ticket.

As you can see, I was quite spoiled for movies in Toronto, and took full advantage of the situation, often seeing several films a week. I stopped updating my viewing database, but kept saving my ticket stubs anyway, shoving them into a desk drawer with the intention of cataloguing them one day when I had the time.

Things weren't quite the same after I moved away from Toronto. It takes forever to get anywhere in London, and the selection of films is surprisingly thin. Budapest had a thriving film scene, though again transport wasn't great (particularly after late-night showings), and films tended to be dubbed into strange languages. For instance, if you wanted to see The Pianist you had a choice of Hungarian or French; no theatres were playing it in the original English. Kaiserslautern had no English-language theatres, and while Darmstadt has enough theatres, these days I don't have quite as much money or time to spend on them.

Before I moved here, I decided it was time to sort through and get rid of all the junk I'd accumulated up to and including London. This included my movie ticket stub collection, which after over a decade had grown to fill a sizeable chunk of the drawer. I took one look at them, realized I would never get around to entering them into the database, and threw them in the recycling bin. I had no idea how many tickets there were in the pile. Two hundred, I thought? Maybe three?

As events this last weekend have demonstrated, I think I vastly underestimated that number. Nadya is away visiting her family, so I decided I would find a movie to watch. I couldn't think of anything I was in the mood for, so I Googled for movie recommendation websites. Specifically, I was looking for some sort of site where you could enter your opinion on some films you'd seen, and then the system would perform some mathematical calculations on your ratings, comparing them to those of like-minded individuals or whatnot, and spit out some ideas for other films you might enjoy. After some research it seemed as though Criticker was just the sort of tool I was looking for. I signed up for a free account and started browsing for films I'd seen, assigning ratings to them on a scale of 0 to 100. When you first sign up the site tells you that you should rate at least ten films. This didn't take me too long—I entered scores for a set of about two dozen films which represented what I thought was a fairly even sample of the kinds of films I liked and didn't like.

When I asked for recommendations, though, I was disappointed: I had already seen every single film in the list of recommendations. So I rated all those, and asked for more recommendations. Again, I had seen everything in the list! So I rated again, and requested again, and rated again, and so on, until I had rated nearly 700 films. At this point the website is now giving me recommendations for films I haven't seen, which is good. But I'm more than a little surprised about the number of films I've apparently seen (and remembered well enough to assign a rating to). I think a good chunk of these 700 are films I saw in Toronto, but I'm sure that not all the films I saw there are in the list; doubtless there are dozens more I've forgotten, at least until Criticker decides to recommend them to me. Maybe I should have kept my collection of ticket stubs after all.

At the end of the day, I still don't know how many films I've watched, but I'm sure it's got to be more than 700. Is that too many for one person to have watched in 15 years? Have I wasted some 1400 hours of my life? Or is this about par for what most people spend watching TV?

How many movies do you think you've watched in your life?

Sun, 19th Aug. 2012, 21:09
为什么我永远也不会找到女朋友

A few days I received a message from Zhao Rongrong, who describes herself as "a Chinese girl who happened to read [my] article 'Why I Will Never Have A Girlfriend'". She's provided a complete translation into Chinese, an excerpt of which I reproduce here:

为什么我没有女朋友?

这是广大男同胞们时不时会问自己的一个问题。很遗憾,这个问题不是一时半会儿能说清的。许多男士尝试着扪心自问以摆脱此困境,却不断妄自菲薄,找出些令人啼笑皆非的原因:是因为我太害羞、不够主动吗?难道我的搭讪开场白太蹩脚?还是我这个人真的够无趣?我太胖?或者我太瘦?还是我就是很丑对女性毫无吸引力?当其他一切貌似合理的解释依然于事无补之时,大多数人还是会认定那个亘古不变的结论“我自己一定是有什么问题”,不然不会轻易认了自己一世将永保贞洁的命。

Fri, 10th Aug. 2012, 20:22
How Þjófur is seen

Apparently this meme is so six months ago but after seeing a recent Wikipedia picture of the day I couldn't resist making one for our ferret Þjófur.



[An image titled 'Þjófur' with sixsubimages, each with captions: 1. A photo of a rat, captioned 'Howsociety sees me'.  2. A photo of a punching bag, captioned 'How mysister sees me'.  3. A photo of a teddy bear, captioned 'How Nadyasees me'.  4. A photo of a great white shark baring its teeth,captioned 'How Tristan sees me'.  5. A photo of a regal-lookingTasmanian devil, captioned 'How I see myself'.  6. A photo of Þjófurthe ferret, captioned 'How I actuall look'.]

Fri, 10th Aug. 2012, 20:13
In which my image is hijacked to promote street theatre

Darmstadt's street theatre festival is on this week! Here's a promotional video with footage from last year's festival. Nadya and I can be seen in the front row of the crowd at about 2:24.

Tue, 24th Jul. 2012, 09:51
LastGraph

LastGraph is a cool web application that produces a stream graph of your last.fm music listening history. Just enter your last.fm user name and within moments you've got a colourful, flowing graph. The graphs are provided as vector images so they're even suitable for making posters!

Below is an excerpt of my LastGraph from the past year. Follow the link for the full PDF version.

Thu, 28th Jun. 2012, 21:51
Our photos from the Isle of Man


Welcome to the photo album of our trip to the Isle of Man!

The Manx flag is often found flying alongside the flags of its neighbouring islands, Ireland (centre) and Britain (left). The triskelion (a motif of three interlocking legs) is unique to the Isle of Man.

Castle Rushen, a medieval castle located in the island's historical capital of Erice.

A fish market in Douglas. Due to the large numbers of Irish tourists, shop prices are often marked in euros instead of pounds.

The highest mountain of the Isle of Man is Snaefell. The train station, cafe, and communication masts were destroyed in a volcanic eruption in the 1980s.

Man was unseasonably warm during our June 2012 visit. Near Douglas, tourists cheerfly ignored the "No Swimming" signs and enjoyed themselves on the beach.

Standing in front of the ruins of a pagan temple—an excellent example of ancient Celtic architecture.

Today Christianity is the dominant religious tradition on the Isle of Man. Shown here is Peel Cathedral, the island's oldest Christian place of worship.

Potatoes and herring, or Spuds and Herrin, is the Manx national dish. Here is Giusi picking wild Manx potatoes from a tree.

A Manx-language sign. Manx is an endangered Celtic language spoken by about 2.2% of the island's population, though the government encourages its use on road and traffic signs. This particular one reads, "Max headroom 1.86 metres".

Positioned midway between Britain and Ireland, base Isle of Man makes an excellent base for day trips to either one. Here is Nadya at the Giant's Causeway in nearby Northern Ireland. Unfortunately, it was high tide when we visited, so most of the basalt columns were submerged.

England's White Cliffs of Dover are only a three-hour ferry ride away.
Of course, no visit to the Isle of Man would be complete without a chance to observe the famous Manx cats. Here are three of them which we found basking in the sun!


Fri, 8th Jun. 2012, 14:40
Copyright violations by Springer

This week several researchers reported that Springer has been falsely asserting copyright on free images from open-access publications, and trying to sell the rights to this material under restrictive copyright licences.

The problem is with Springer Images, an online photo and image databank operated by Springer. Springer asserts copyright over the images in the databank and offers commercial republication rights to them for a fee. However, in many cases Springer took these images from its own open-access journals (which allow authors to retain the copyright to their articles, and/or which are released under permissive licenses which permit commercial redistribution without a fee), from other publishers' journals, or from public repositories of freely licensed and public-domain media such as Wikipedia and Wikimedia Commons.

Springer have responded to these reports by claiming that the mass copyright infringement was unintentional and that they are "addressing the problems" as quickly as possible. Commentators have argued that the statement is vague and shows that Springer is failing to exercise due diligence. (The problem was first reported in 2009 but is only now beginning to be widely publicized.)

If any of the following applies to you, you may wish to check Springer Images to make sure they are not selling your illustrations under false pretences:

  • You have published anything with Springer to which you have retained copyright.
  • You have transferred copyright of anything to Springer on the understanding that they would release it under a free content licence such as CC-BY or CC-BY-ND.
  • You have published a freely licensed illustration elsewhere (such as on the Web or in an open-access journal) and have reason to believe that a third party has used it in an article published by Springer.

Further information can be found in the following blog posts:

Mon, 30th Apr. 2012, 19:10
Learn Icelandic online!

My former teacher, Svava Skúladóttir, is now offering Icelandic lessons online at her site Online Icelandic Lessons. I took evening courses from her for several years at University College London, and I can personally attest to the quality of her instruction. This latest undertaking of hers is a fantastic opportunity for those who aren't lucky enough to live near a school that offers Icelandic courses (which is probably most of the world).

Mon, 12th Mar. 2012, 12:36
Chowder

Dinner last night: smoked mackerel and Nordseekrabben chowder, salad with garlic–chili yogurt dressing, and raspberry–elderflower smoothie.

[photo of last night's dinner]

Fri, 9th Mar. 2012, 16:23
Grízsmarni

In January I posted about the Kaiserschmarrn we often have for breakfast on weekends. My grandfather saw the post and suggested that we try my grandmother's recipe for grízsmarni, the Hungarian version.

grízsmarni

As you can see above, it turned out pretty good, but was a bit drier than the Bavarian recipe we had been using. The Hungarian version distinguishes itself by the use of semolina, which I think gave the dish a less fluffy texture. If anyone's interested in comparing for themselves, here's my grandmother's recipe:

Grízsmarni

Ingredients

  • 125 g flour
  • 125 g semolina, farina, or Cream of Wheat
  • 250 mL milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 25 g sugar
  • 3–4 tbsp cooking oil
  • pinch of salt
  • 50 g ground almonds or ground walnuts
  • 50 g icing sugar
  • jam

Directions

Mix the flour and semolina, stir in the milk, and let stand for one hour. Beat the egg yolks with the sugar and salt, and in a separate bowl beat the egg whites until firm. Stir the egg yolk mixture into the batter, then fold in the egg whites. Heat the cooking oil in a large frying pan and pour in the batter. When the bottom becomes light golden brown, turn the pancake over, cut it into pieces, and continue to cook until golden brown all over. Serve with jam, ground almonds or walnuts, and icing sugar.

Serves two.

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