Wednesday, 21 May 2014

I never think of the future. It comes soon enough

Today's blog title comes from the immortal words of one of the 20th Century's most renowned physicists, Albert Einstein. It is oddly fitting in two ways - one, there is an event close at hand that I am trying my damndest not to think about but might tell you all about one day and two, tomorrow is the release day for X-Men: Days of Future Past, which I intend to squeal about along with a couple of other things in this wonderful blog post.

Firstly and on the subject of science (good I brought Einstein, eh?), the weekly (or at this point, fortnightly as I failed to conduct experiments last week) update of the entirely scientific progress of my caffeine experiments. As stated in previous posts, today's experiment was Test 3: 2xCaffeinated Beverages, 1xSleep Deprived Achilleus. The replication of thee events of April 28th, 2014, when Sonic sadly left me and our fine bromance behind. And the results...


No incidents of caffeination hysteria. Even though at one point, in such a rush to help my barista, Cougar, make drinks I nearly put the ticket for a cappuccino under the coffee machine instead of the small glass it was supposed to be poured into (stopped myself and rectified my mistake in time though!) and then burst into giggles about this, that was the closest I came. So, at the end of Test 3, the events of April 28th can be considered indicative of things to come, not a fluke. Next up, the final test - Test 4. The gamma radiation experiment. 2xCaffeinated Beverages, 1xNon-Sleep Deprived Achilleus. You might want to pray to whichever gods aren't listening, this could be the big one.

That said, I'm fairly confident the entire scene will pass without incident. But we'll find out next week.

Now, on to other matters. First all, time to squeal about some impending Marvel movies. Starting with tomorrow's release, X-Men: Days of Future Past. Before I go any further, it's unlikely to be an issue but I'm going to discuss X-Men: First Class and events at the end. If you haven't seen it and want to avoid spoilers, just flip ahead a little. Only going to be one paragraph...

I'll admit now, I'm not as hugely into the X-Men universe as I am with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. That said, I do thoroughly enjoy them. X-Men: First Class was absolutely fantastic. James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender nailed Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr, though I admit that I wish they hadn't become nemeses already. It would have been nice to see their friendship develop over the course of a movie or two, then see their paths diverge wildly. That said, it was still awesome and they do a fantastic job.

With all that said, I am immensely looking forward to Days of Future Past. In part to see McAvoy and Fassbender once again, especially now that Fassbender has gone fully Magneto. But mostly, I'm waiting to squeal about how awesome Peter Dinklage is going to be as Bolivar Trask.

Now anyone who has watched Game of Thrones (especially the last couple of episodes of season four) - or in fact anyone who has seen Peter Dinklage acting in absolutely anything - will know how spectacularly brilliant he is. His portrayal of Tyrion Lannister is spot on and he makes us love him even more than we loved him in the books. Which is a hell of a lot. So with him set to be one of Days of Future Past's central villains, I'm incredibly excited.

Also under the Marvel umbrella, but this time firmly in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is the movie due at the end of July/start of August, Guardians of the Galaxy. At first, I was sceptical. I had only seen Chris Pratt in Parks and Recreation. I wasn't 100% convinced he would carry it off. Not that I've even read Guardians of the Galaxy or have any prior knowledge of it at all. I mistakenly thought Chris Pratt might be part of the school of actors who coast by on comedic skills alone. Now while the jury is still mostly out until the summer, from the trailers, I think it - and Chris Pratt - are going to be frakkin' excellent. Plus, the song they use in the trailers ("Hooked on a Feeling" - Blue Swede) is extremely catchy and jaunty. I love it. It's one of my happy songs. Keep listening to it on a loop, probably going to incur the wrath of my housemates.

With movies dispensed of, I'm going to take a moment to talk about some television. Namely, a series I have just finished watching called Alphas. Tragically cut short after two seasons and ending on that most tedious of things to cancel a whole series on, a frakkin' CLIFFHANGER, it was a SyFy TV show revolving a group of people with, essentially, superpowers. These people are called "Alphas" and apparently, according to some characters in the show, represent the next evolution of humanity.

My feelings on Alphas aren't necessarily mixed as they are subdued. I did really enjoy it, with an absolute stand-out performance from Ryan Cartwright (apparently known for the role of Vincent Nigel Murray in Bones) as autistic Alpha Gary Bell, who can perceive and manipulate electromagnetic wavelengths. Also, Firefly alumnus Summer Glau pops up in a couple of episodes. This time not playing someone who is drastically crazy, as she seems to do from time to time. Slash most of the time. Anyway, this show is definitely worth watching and is tenuously established as being in the same universe as Warehouse 13, which in turn is in the same universe as A Town Called Eureka. One big, happy, SyFy family. It's a shame Alphas hasn't been granted a decent, cliffhanger-resolving farewell.

Next up on my TV agenda is Defiance. So far, I've only watched three episodes, but I'm thoroughly enjoying it. Visually stunning, pretty good writing, great performances thus far, intriguing characters and world. But most of all, epic Bear McCreary-composed score. If I haven't already, I will one day go into length about my affinity for Bear McCreary's music. For now, I will say Defiance is shaping up nicely and I hope to report more good things about the show in the future.

For now, I leave with the song in my head.

(Song of the Mind: Hooked on a Feeling - Blue Swede).

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Sanguine. Hopeful. Plus, point of interest, it also means bloody

So I decided against reusing Rupert Giles's awesome line about tea and went with the wit and wisdom of one Zoe Washburne, because today it is time to ramble about the results of Test 2: 1xCaffeinated Beverage, 1xNon-Sleep Deprived Achilleus. Given that I don't have a huge amount of context to go into, I may use the rest of this post to talk about my feelings on The Wire, which me and my housemate finally finished watching. But first of all, the results of Test 2.

Which are pretty much the same results as last week. No significant change in behaviour. Slightly more alert and buzzy, but that's to be expected from drinking coffee. In order to preserve some semblance of scientific process I had yet another flat white using our medium roast coffee. No incidences of caffeination hysteria, thus seeming to prove that the Tiredness Equilibrium Theory is invalid. Or maybe invalid is too harsh. It's not entirely improbable that Tiredness Equilibrium is a factor, but since there was no tiredness to equalise today, it appears my caffeine tolerance is increasing. Final decision on that to made upon the completion of testing.

There it is then, folks. Test 2 completed. Test 3 to follow in at least a week I should think. Hmmmm...pre-meditated sleep deprivation. This could prove interesting...

Anyway, as I like my blog posts to contain more substance than just a couple of random paragraphs, it's time to babble about my experience with one of HBO's most fabulous (though now off the air) shows, The Wire.

Set in the city of Baltimore, Maryland (once home to none other than Edgar Allan Poe), The Wire focuses on a group of police officers and the drug organisation that they target with a series of wiretaps (hence the title). The show isn't a straight-up police procedural by any stretch of the imagination. It deals with the office politics of both the Baltimore Police Department and the office politics (or so much as one has an office) of the drug trade. Each series of The Wire focuses on a different case, but many of the characters stay the same and invariably it all comes back to drugs and Baltimore's seemingly futile war on the drug trade.

The Wire is populated by some truly incredible characters on both sides of the war, as well as those hapless people caught in the middle, with some of the most fantastic and entertaining dialogue I've heard from a TV show in a LONG time. To the point where, one day, I will go back through The Wire in a "quote-watch", which likely require either one page per season or a page for each character (though given that even incidental characters have fantastic lines, a page - or two - per season will be the most logical option).

Now I don't want to go into too much detail about the plot, as it is quite extensive and is so much better when watching it. But I will do some special mentions of some of my favourite characters. So, all ye reading this, be thou warned - there be spoilers ahead. Potentially.

First up, on the side of the "angels" (or as angelic as these cops can be with their vices), we have Baltimore's finest detectives and none come finer than Lester Freamon (Clarke Peters). Introduced as a quiet, seeming "hump" detective chosen by Baltimore PD higher-ups in order to stymie a case they had been forced to pursue by a politically connected judge, Lester emerges as one of the best and brightest detectives on the detail. Although perceived as an old-timer past his prime and relegated to BPD's Pawn Shop Unit, it turns out he is what you call "natural police", someone who just has that near otherworldly knack for the work. As the seasons go on, Lester is often intrinsic in make the logical leaps that help break the cases the detail finds themselves assigned to. He possesses a fearsome intelligence and one hell of a knack for running circles around his superiors.

At one point in the show, Lester is teamed up with another fine, upstanding (at least when he's sober), Homicide detective, William "Bunk" Moreland (Wendell Pierce). Bunk is never officially part of the detail, though his murder cases oft overlap with the details and he is a constant presence in the series, chomping on a cigar as he surveys yet another dead body in a city that is full of them. A serial womaniser, he and his original partner, Detective Jimmy McNulty (Dominic West), are often teaming up in bars to help the other seduce an attractive lady. In spite of both of them being married. Definitely not their most redeeming qualities. But in a strange way, you don't watch them because they're redeeming characters. You watch them because they're broken, frail humans. With a sarcastic wit and an enduring dedication to his work, Bunk may not be a shining example of what a police officer should be, but he is damn fun to watch.

On the other side of Baltimore's drug war, you have occasional police ally and all-round badass, Omar Little (Michael Kenneth Williams). Regarded by many - including incumbent US President Barack Obama - as the finest character on the show, Omar is a stick-up man. Not part of the drug trade per se, he tracks the drug dealers, finds the source of their drugs ("the stash"/"stash house"), then steals the drugs from them by holding them at the end of his trademark shotgun. Whistling all the while. No hero by any stretch of the imagination, Omar is nonetheless an incredibly charismatic character that you are compelled to root for. Credit goes not just to the fantastic writing of Omar's character, but Michael Kenneth Williams' utterly sterling performance. Every second of his screen time is an absolute delight.

I'm going to round things off soon, but it would hardly do to mention just one of The Wire's other side characters after mentioning two cops. To that end, the other compelling character from the wrong side of Baltimore's war on drugs is the oft tragic character of Bubbles (Andre Royo). A heroin addict and occasional police informant, Bubbles (or "Bubs") is not a man having the best time of life, but he soldiers on regardless. At first just chasing the next hit, either being paid by the police for information or scavenging copper pipes (and other useful materials) and selling them on to (mostly) construction sites, Bubbles eventually strives to kick the habit, falling off the wagon a couple of times. Andre Royo brings incredible depth to Bubbles, taking him from a cheeky-chappy addict to a truly tormented soul on a long, painful path to recovery.

This is where I leave it, as I could probably write an entire dissertation on The Wire, how awesome it is and how fantastic the characters are. I realise the "D" would previously mentioned might be a bit sore and a delicate subject for some at this time of year but...well, yeah, whatever really.

So there it is. The results of Test 2 and just some of my feelings on the amazing series that was The Wire. Go forth and watch it. Seriously. You will not find yourself regretting it.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Tea is soothing, I wish to be tense

Okay, let's be brutally honest. I have completely and utterly frakkin' failed to keep my head of the bargain and actually write any blog entries. I mean, frak me. The last blog post in January? At least between September and December of 2013 I had the excuse that I was busy writing a one hundred and ten thousand word novel (yes, I'm probably going to brag about that one A LOT) but I haven't had such a good excuse since January. Nope, chalk this one up to being plain frakkin' lazy. Though in some statement of defence, I have been working on a short story to my novel and scheming for the possible sequel.

However, I did give a lot of time over to being addicted to XCOM: Enemy Within and finally getting around to sitting down with my housemate and watching The Wire. We're entering the home stretch with series five, with any good fortune I might get off my ass and blog about it when we finally finish it all.

Anyway, this is not at all the purpose of today's blog entry. No, the purpose of today's and hopefully some future instalments (possibly with the same post title but "Part 2" etc. put on them) is a series of controlled, scientific experiments I am conducting. On myself. With coffee.


I should probably give you all the time honoured context...

Some of my dearest readers may be somewhat entirely aware of my reaction to mythical substance of coffee, in particular its addictive drug lord, caffeine. To the uninitiated, I go completely off-the-rails hyper. To the point where I will collapse on the floor in fits of uncontrollable hysterics for no earthly reason whatsoever. I will admit, I found this feeling to be utterly glorious.

There is, of course, a note of delicious irony to this story. Once upon a many Moon ago (click on obligatory flashback link to ancient blog post here) I talked about my journey through the weird and mystical world of tea. I mentioned that I work for a company called Boston Tea Party, an independent chain (yes, a definite contradiction in terms but it kind of fits) of - currently - fourteen coffee shops, mostly in the south-west of England, slowly encroaching northwards. ANYWAY. The irony here is that I work in a coffee shop and rarely ever drink coffee for the simple reason that it can turn me into a completely gibbering, useless wreck almost as effectively as a certain beautiful American girl's intense blue eyes, the cold blue like glistening ice and so help me Dionysus if I continue along this road we'll never get home.

So you kind of see the logic behind the following equation: Achilleus + Caffeine = Hysterical Wreck. Admittedly, Dynamite's eyes don't make me hysterical, just poetical. Which is just as dangerous.

Moving swiftly on, the point here, the point of quoting the wise, wonderful and witty Rupert Giles in his exchange with Xander from Buffy the Vampire Slayer 3x22 "Graduation Day, Part Two" is that on Monday, 28th April 2014, the unthinkable happened. On an early morning shift, the last with my great friend and wingman Sonic who is abandoning me for Oxford, I was so tired and uninspired by the idea of a morning cup of tea (or perhaps it was that little Devil inside me saying, "It's your last shift with Sonic, have some fun") I decided I wanted a coffee.

Sonic, in his infinite wisdom and slight tendency towards sadism, dutifully made me a flat white (a drink which is the source of much debate in coffee circles as to its precise definition and coffee/milk ratio, a subject for another day though). Now usually, signs of caffeination hysteria are noticeable within ten-fifteen minutes of the first sip of coffee. But by the time I had finished the delightful mixture of smooth, textured milk and medium roast coffee (yes, I am turning into a corporate tool who's hoping to shove this blog post on the Boston Tea Party Facebook just to...well, to just do something) no signs of CH had occurred. I did at one point stop and hold my hand in front of me and notice some signs of shaking, but the (what I thought was) inevitable hysteria failed to materialise. So later in the afternoon, I decided to push the boat right out. I had a second coffee.

No incidents of caffeination hysteria were recorded on Monday, 28th April 2014.

This has led to much thought and debate upon what precisely happened. Potential factors include:

-->Work was busy enough to provide a focus for energy produced by caffeine infusion
-->Tiredness and caffeination combined to create an equilibrious point neatly in the middle
-->I'm developing a tolerance to caffeine

The first two are quite obvious and workable theories. The third is far more intriguing. While I have not had an entire caffeinated beverage start to finish, I have on occasion tasted the espresso at work as a means of divining flavour notes, whether it tastes good or bad. On certain, what I call "Disaster", days I have had to calibrate the coffee machine first thing in the morning to ensure that, at the very least, the café is able to serve coffee, even if some of the subtle nuances like jugs of tap water and cake displays have not been entirely attended to. Rare, extremely rare. But it's happened and I have the vague training to know what I'm doing, get it tasting good and serving good coffee. At least, I'm pretty sure I've not had many complaints.

Anyway, humility and hedging one's bets aside, it is theoretically possible that small levels of exposure have led to an increased tolerance. Caffeine receptors in my brain no longer go completely outright ballistic as soon as the wonder-drug is introduced into my cerebellum. Of course, coffee takes the bloodstream route, the direct highway to the brain. Tea, my usual beverage of choice, takes the nervous system route. A little slower, but lasts a little longer and is somewhat subtler. It is also, though tenuously, theoretically possible that it has also primed my system for caffeinated beverages.

Another plausible theory is that I have had so many non-caffeine induced attacks of hysteria that my brain didn't really care that it was being flooded with the stuff on Monday.

So with all these theories in mind, a decision was made. I would have to drink more coffee. All in the name of SCIENCE (we're talking Portal-style, throwing SCIENCE - it has be in capital letters for this - at the wall to see what sticks, paraphrased courtesy of Cave Johnson, CEO of Aperture Laboratories). So, in the glorious pursuit of SCIENCE, today saw the first of a what might be a series of controlled tests.

Last night, I went out to the pub to have farewell drinks for Sonic before his inevitable departure to Oxford. I returned home around one o'clock in the morning and then dragged myself out of bed at five o'clock that same morning. Immediately noticed that I was dreadfully tired. The stage was set for Test 1.

-->Test 1: 1xCaffeinated Beverage, 1xSleep Deprived Achilleus. Add two together, observe results.

The results being that within minutes I noticed that I was more focused and alert. I fear I may have gone down the slippery slope towards caffeine dependency, but we'll see what my body has to say after the test cycle has been completed. To wit, the proposed cycle of testing:

-->Test 2: 1xCaffeinated Beverage, 1xNon-Sleep Deprived Achilleus. This test will serve to prove or disprove the Tiredness Equilibrium Theory
-->Test 3: 2xCaffeinated Beverage, 1xSleep Deprived Achilleus. This test will attempt to recreate the circumstances of Monday, 28th April 2014 in order to duplicate results, to ascertain that it wasn't just a fluke
-->Test 4: 2xCaffeinated Beverage 1xNon-Sleep Deprived Achilleus. This test will be the gamma radiation experiment. It could result in The Hulk, it could fizzle to nothing, but it is likely to produce the final proof of whether or not I have become caffeine tolerant to the point I will not suffer caffeination hysteria

So there you have it. The path of my scientific journey to discover if I'm resistant to the hysterical effects of caffeine. I intend to at the very least update this blog over the course of these experiments, if not update the blog more often from now on. Who knows, eh? Until, it's time to drink some more coffee. FOR SCIENCE!