Category Archives: A to Z Challenge Part II
Posts in or about the 2014 A to Z Challenge (Part II)
Q is for Quests. And for not having all that many Q-ey topics queued (whoa!) up to choose from. Just like the quite clichéd actor asks his director, “What’s my motivation?”, so the typically quirky fantasy hero quizzes his author, “What’s my quest?” If your hero doesn’t ask that question, why not?
(Incidentally, and completely off-topic for this post, I failed to publish anything yesterday, so this is my second post today after the one on Patrick Rothfuss. In my defense, it was a Good Friday family day and I just didn’t get around to it. Sue me. 😛 )
All quips aside, it’s not exactly a quantum leap forward to state that you, as the one in quontrol of your hero’s actions and quotes, should always be aware of what his inner quest is and how it drives him.
I sincerely hope the quantity of Qs in this high-quality post haven’t made you queasy or quiver while you quail in fear. They certainly haven’t quenched my quota of one quarter of a quadrillion quid that I’m aiming for. Sometimes, quantity beats quality (quod erat demonstrandum).
(For the attentive reader: Which above q was used inquorrectly?)
O is for Opera. No, not the music, I mean my favourite little web browser. (Yes, this is my one post in the A to Z Challenge that’s going to stray into the technical a teeny bit.) It’s usually included as one of the “top 5” browsers, but most don’t take it very seriously as it doesn’t have a very large market share in most countries (though it does have over 50% market share in Belarus, and quite high usage in many other eastern European countries).
I first tried it out back when it was “adware” (from version 5), that is, you had to put up with an ad banner across the top of the browser unless you paid to get rid of it. I am usually all for free software (I won’t buy an MS Office license if LibreOffice can do everything I need), but Opera impressed me so much that I actually paid the $30 and bought the ad-free version. I’d been using Netscape before that but got annoyed by its infamous resizing bug and didn’t want to switch to IE because of how it was tied to MS’s operating systems (I used both Windows and Linux at home, Opera was happy on either). From version 8.5 on, it was completely free, and adding amazingly useful features with every major and minor release.
Norwegian company Opera Software ASA pioneered many of the features we take for granted in most other browsers today. It worked great out-of-the-box for normal users, but the customisations and tweaks you could do as a power user were just incredible.
Sadly, in an effort to better compete with other browser makers, Opera in 2013 decided to discontinue development of its “Presto” rendering engine with all its wonderful customisation options at version 12.16, and instead switched to “Blink”, the fork of WebKit from the Chromium project to which Chrome also switched. To do this, all features had to be slowly added back to Opera with each new release, starting at 15 and at version 20 at the time of writing this post (yes, they switched to a pretty much meaningless numbering system like Chrome and Firefox).
I currently use both version 12.16 (Presto) and version 20 (Blink), along with some other browsers for testing (I’m a web developer by day).
Some of my favourite features that Opera (Presto) had:
- Every piece of the layout, every button, every one of its many toolbars was customisable and skinnable. You could make Opera look and work just the way you preferred.
- Opera innovated so much: tabbed browsing (still better in Opera Presto than any other browser), CSS support, standards support, mouse gestures (like finger gestures in your smartphone? Opera had them way earlier), mouse and keyboard customisations, pop-up blocking, deleting private data, smart download management, RSS support, torrent support, speed dial, page zoom, sessions, and many, many more features it would take too long to list.
- Opera’s CIO, Håkon Wium Lie, was one of the inventors and pioneers of CSS, which has made the web so much better in ways not only web developers can understand.
- Back when (download) size mattered (i.e. smaller was better, most people were on dialup speeds), Opera’s power was packed into a tiny package compared to other browsers.
- Opera has always been lightning fast, driving the speed competition and ruling the world speed-wise by an enormous margin… until Chrome began to pull ahead in some areas.
- Opera’s built-in email client had revolutionary features, like storing emails in a database and allowing you to search based on tags that you could apply to emails, rather than using a folder-based system like the other email clients. This feature has now been made common (one could argue standard) by gmail.
- Incredible flexibility across operating systems, mobile platforms from the latest Android to the oldest Java-enabled phone, and other devices from TVs to game consoles (Wii and DS).
- Dragonfly, a very versatile and feature-rich inspector and debugger that I prefer to similar tools like Chrome’s inspector or Firebug.
- Back in the days when too many webmasters and web developers still thought they should sniff browsers instead of features (google that if it doesn’t make sense), Opera allowed you to hide or mask as another browser, changing the user agent string on the fly to prevent being treated like a third-class browser.
- It worked amazingly well when you ran it from a USB stick (e.g. at work, where you weren’t always allowed to install programs of your choice).
- … and many more reasons that would take too long to list.
Oh yeah, can’t forget to mention Opera’s Bork edition. Back when the browser wars were raging and Microsoft thought it could get away with anything because it had had over 95% market share and figured it didn’t need to do anything to upgrade or improve its aging browser that was the bane of every web developer’s existence, the MSN website had the gall to feed Opera (and only Opera) a stylesheet that made it look bad, as though it was unable to cleanly render the MSN site. Opera’s complaints went unheard, so Opera responded by creating a special edition of its version 7 browser called the Bork edition, from the Swedish chef in the Muppets who always said, “Bork bork bork bork.” It fixed the display issues on MSN.com, but, more importantly, also turned the text on that site into words that sounded like that Swedish chef were reading the articles. I wish I had a screenshot of that to share, it was absolutely hilarious and made tech news headlines around the world.
Oooh, one more, then I really have to stop. Chrome came out with a fancy film advertising how its incredible speed made Google’s browser faster than a bullet:
Opera’s tongue-in-cheek response? Their browser is faster than a… potato:
Slightly less technical, but way funnier! 😀
N is for The Neverending Story, the timeless fantasy story by Michael Ende. It was first published in the original German in 1979 and later translated into over 30 languages. Part of the story (roughly the first half) was turned into a film; Ende actually sued the filmmakers for using the book’s name without adapting all of it, but lost the lawsuit. Two more films were made, but did not follow the book too closely, only using some of its characters and drastically changing story elements. I won’t go into the films here; as an aspiring writer, the book is of much more interest to me.
One of the things that makes the book unique is the lengths Ende went to in order to have the book published the way he’d imagined it. I mentioned in my A to Z Challenge post on the topic of chapters the fancy artwork (by Roswitha Quadflieg) at the start of each of the 26 chapters, where an entire page is taken up by the drop cap for each letter in the alphabet from A to Z.
But wait, there’s more! This fantasy story is set in both our “real” world and “Fantastica” (the original German name “Phantásien” sounds much better to me, I don’t know why but can only guess that they couldn’t use “Phantasia” for copyright reasons), and, to emphasise when the story switches from one to the other, they are actually in different colours – red for the “normal” world, and blue-green for the world inside the book which the main character reads and into which he is drawn more and more as the story progresses.
There is also fancy scrollwork at the top of each numbered page and there are fancy fonts for chapter titles, including within the chapter body.
At the very beginning of the prologue, there is a mirror image of the inscription of the glass door of the antiquity store in which the story begins.
In short, the book itself, even ignoring the content, is a minor work of art. The story was written with children in mind (although Ende complained that he was being pidgeon-holed as a “children’s book author” while many other books received less attention), but also contains many lessons for adults. Another one I’ve added to my growing “must re-read pile”.
M is for Marvin, the Paranoid Android. If you remember my post on Douglas Adams for the A to Z Challenge on “D”, I mentioned that Marvin was worth a separate blog entry. Marvin is one of the (if not the) best characters created by Douglas Adams. Whether he’s complaining of “this terrible pain” in the diodes down his left-hand side, explaining his view of the universe to a computer (which then goes off to commit suicide), or solving all the major mathematical, physical, chemical, biological, sociological, philosophical, etymological, meteorological and psychological problems of the universe (three times), he’s always ready with a cheerful comment.
Based on a fellow comedy writer, Andrew Marshall, whom Adams met at Cambridge, as well as on himself, Marvin appears in various places throughout the Hitchhiker’s Guide books. In the 2005 film, Alan Rickman voiced the character to perfection.
Here are just a few wonderful comments and snippets of Marvin’s joyful existence:
“It gives me a headache just trying to think down to your level.”
“Here I am, brain the size of a planet, and they ask me to take you down to the bridge. Call that job satisfaction?”
Marvin calculated to ten significant decimal places the precise length of pause most likely to convey a general contempt for all things mattressy.
[After being left in a parking lot for 500 million years due to time travel] “The first ten million years were the worst. And the second ten million years, they were the worst, too. The third ten million years I didn’t enjoy at all. After that, I went into sort of a decline.”
“You watch this door. It’s about to open again. I can tell by the intolerable air of smugness it suddenly generates.”
“Do you want me to sit in a corner and rust, or just fall apart where I’m standing?”
“Wearily I sit here, pain and misery my only companions. Why stop now just when I’m hating it?”
“I am at a rough estimate thirty billion times more intelligent than you. Let me give you an example. Think of a number, any number.” [Zem replies, “Er, five.”] “Wrong. You see?”
In a fit of boredom (after solving the universe’s problems several times over), he decides to compose a lullaby:
Now the world has gone to bed,
Darkness won’t engulf my head,
I can see in infrared,
How I hate the night.
Now I lay me down to sleep,
Try to count electric sheep,
Sweet dream wishes you can keep,
How I hate the night.
Another one of my favourites is from The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, where Marvin is left behind (while the humans escape a tall building) to stop a “gigantic black tank”, heavily armoured and with weapons of enormous destructive power. When told that Marvin is there to stop it, the tank becomes suspicious and tries to figure out what mighty weapon Marvin is equipped with to make humans think he could stop the tank. After several wrong guesses, Marvin finally decides to tell the tank.
“You’re thinking along the wrong lines,” said Marvin. “You’re failing to take into account something fairly basic in the relationship between men and robots. […] Just think,” urged Marvin, “they left me, an ordinary, menial robot, to stop you, a gigantic heavy-duty battle machine, whilst they ran off to save themselves. What do you think they would leave me with? […] I’ll tell you what they gave me to protect myself with, shall I?”
“Yes, all right,” said the battle machine, bracing itself.
“Nothing,” said Marvin.
“Nothing?” roared the battle machine.
“Nothing at all,” intoned Marvin dismally, “not an electronic sausage.”
The machine heaved about with fury.”
“Well, doesn’t that just take the biscuit!” it roared. “Nothing, eh? Just don’t think, do they?”
“And me,” said Marvin in a soft low voice, “with this terrible pain in all the diodes down my left side.”
“Hell that makes me angry,” bellowed the machine, “think I’ll smash that wall down!”
The electron ram stabbed out another searing blaze of light and took out the wall next to the machine.
“How do you think I feel?” said Marvin bitterly.
“Just ran off and left you, did they?” the machine thundered.
“Yes,” said Marvin.
“I think I’ll shoot down their bloody ceiling as well!” raged the tank.
It took out the ceiling of the bridge.
“That’s very impressive,” murmured Marvin.
“You ain’t seen nothing yet,” promised the machine, “I can take out this floor too, no trouble!”
It took out the floor, too.
“Hell’s bells!” the machine roared as it plummeted fifteen storeys and smashed itself to bits on the ground below.
“What a depressingly stupid machine,” said Marvin and trudged away.
Due to several cases of time travel, Marvin finally dies in So Long and Thanks for all the Fish at approximately 37 times the age of the universe. His last words are, “I think I feel good about it.”
R.I.P. (Rust In Pieces) Marvin.
In the original radio series, the character was meant to be a “minor joke”, but since they’d hired a voice actor for it, he “had to” write some occasional script for him. Another wonderful case of a writer’s characters taking on a life of their own.
L is for Lord of the Rings. Or for the Lighter Side of LotR. Since most readers would be well aware of what LotR is, and would have read the Tolkien books and/or watched the films (if not, why not?), you don’t need me to regurgitate that for you as part of the A to Z Challenge. Hence this post is more about fun stuff in and around LotR that you may or may not have come across somewhere on the web. If you’re such a die-hard fan that you can’t stand LotR being made fun of… don’t continue reading 😉
MTV Awards 2003
In case you didn’t catch the link in my earlier not-so-serious post on Hobbits (possibly due to Gollum interfering when I was trying to write the post… he’s good at that), here’s a hilarious video of Andy Serkis (Gollum’s voice) trying to accept the MTV Award for Best Virtual Performance in 2003, except… Gollum interferes and starts to mouth off at everyone, including Peter Jackson. This was one of the hidden easter eggs on the extended editions of the DVDs.
Council of Elrond, Jack Black style
Remember the scene where the Fellowship is first formed (“you have my bow”, “and my axe”, etc.)? Here’s a different version, another easter egg from the extended DVDs, also from the MTV awards. Contains, uhm, adult humour, and is also hilarious.
The Secret Diaries of LotR
These secret diaries must have been… uhm… cut out of the movies. Here’s a taste:
Ringwraiths killed: 4. V. good.
Met up with Hobbits. Walked forty miles. Skinned a squirrel and ate it.
Still not King.
Stuck on mountain with Hobbits. Boromir really annoying.
Not King yet.
Orcs killed: none. Disappointing. Stubble update: I look rugged and manly. Yes!
Keep wanting to drop-kick Gimli. Holding myself back.
Still not King.
Sorry no entries lately. V. dark in Mines of Moria. Big Balrog.
Not King today either.
Orcs killed: 7. V. good. Stubble update: Looking mangy.
Legolas may be hotter than me.
I wonder if he would like me if I was King?
Continue reading the full transcript, it gets more intricate as more characters are introduced and you realise how they’re all cleverly interlinked. (Actually, I just noticed that link doesn’t have the full transcript, but I forgot where the “original” was….)
LotR as a Badly-run D&D Bame
Now I have to admit I’ve never played pen-and-paper Dungeons & Dragons (a friend of mine used to play, apart from that most of what I know about it is from Big Bang Theory), but reading this fictitious script, I can imagine the scene perfectly. 😀
DM: Failed your climb check, huh? You slip and plummet.
PC2: Cool? Dude, you’re falling to your death! Now we have to finish this stupid quest without your mage.
PC1 (ignoring PC2): Can I see my sword?
DM: Err… sure!
PC1: Okay, I want to fall down and grab my sword from mid-air.
PC2: What the hell? You dropped that like two rounds ago when you failed your balance check, then you wasted another round calling me a “fool” in character.
PC2: You know how far something falls in three rounds?
PC1: Okay, I cast a Stilled Silent mage hand to bring it to me, and grab it.
PC2: A whated whated what? No frikkin’ wonder you didn’t have any damned knock spells prepared!
DM (ignoring PC2): Okay, you’ve got it! Glamdring slides into your hand. You see the balrog falling below you, twisting in mid-air, wings slowing his fall.
PC1: HAH! I knew he’d be coming back. Now I got ‘im right where I want him.
PC2: Dude, you’re crazy, you can’t fight a balrog all by yourself!
PC1: I got it covered. My dice are hot tonight, unlike Mr. Critically Fail Every Damned Stealth Roll over there.
PC3 (playing a certain hobbit): Hey!
PC1: Anyways, the balrog is toast. And the XP will be all mine! (rolls dice) Bwah-ha-ha-ha! Natural 20 to start the grapple!
PC3: Frik-dang-blasted high level wizards. “No, you start at 1st level.” What a crock . . .
PC1: A critical! I hang on to him and keep hitting him on the way down. Whack! (to PC2) This is going to be MY kill, baby. All those lovely, glorious XPs for a balrog, mine alone.
DM: (rolls a critical for the balrog that would kill PC1, panics, ignores dice) It missed you! Roll to hit again.
PC1: YEAH! You’re going down, servant of Melkor!
PC2: This is stupid. I’m going to go get some Mountain Dew.
PC2: Is this debacle over yet?
PC1: Almost, man. It’s really wounded, but I’m down to my last few hit points. We beat each other up swimming for a while, then climbed a bunch of stairs, and now we’re on the top of the mountain.
PC2: Oh, brother.
DM: It hit you again for… (roll dice, cheat on result) 5 points of damage.
PC2: 5 points! It’s supposed to be a balrog!
PC1: Shut up. I’m at negative 1. Can I take one last swing?
DM: Umm, sure.
PC1: Hit! And 8 points of damage! Hoody hoo!
DM: Wow – you killed it! It falls off the cliff – 7d6 points of falling damage.
PC2, sotto voce: winnnnggggsss…. it has wings!
DM: – and collapses on the mountain below you.
PC1: Yeah! In your face, balrog! I collapse back into the snow.
DM: Roll some stabilization checks.
DM: You failed them ALL?
PC1 (miserable): Yeah.
DM: Hey, I know! You get all the balrog’s experience points, right? So that puts you up a level, giving you more hitpoints, and you don’t die!
PC1: YES! Hahaha.. I’m unstoppable. Mage with a sword, baby! Balrog-bane!
PC2: You guys suck. I’m going home.
PC1: I’m putting all my new skill points in animal empathy, ride, and disguise (evil wizard).
There’s more where that came from.
Know of any more spoofs or fun things about LotR or similar books/movies? Let me know in the comments, you can never laugh enough.