An alternate ending to Inception

General review of Inception

Warning: Don’t read this post if you haven’t watched Inception or Shutter Island and plan to, and don’t want the movie spoiled for you beforehand. There’s spoilers.

I saw the movie, Inception, this weekend past. I liked it. I don’t know if it’s one of those movies I’d watch again and again, but I’m glad I saw it.

First off, I thought that the special effects were very visually appealing, but not over-done, by which I mean that I didn’t feel like the film was driven by the special effects. The fight scene with Tommy from 3rd Rock from the Sun in zero-gravity was Matrix-esque, but for some reason, it didn’t look completely ridiculous like most of the reality-defying scenes in the Matrix. Not only that, but the zero-gravity scenes weren’t “gratuitous.” By this, I mean that often fancy special effects are added just because they look cool in the movie trailer, and not because they are needed to advance the plot. In this case, the zero-gravity scene, for example, was a part of the story.

The premiss of the film—people entering other people’s dreams—was interesting, although not entirely original, which is okay. I was engaged by it, and able to suspend disbelief throughout. I have to say, though, about halfway, I remarked that there would have to be some sort of unexpected dream-within-a-dream at some point. I felt really vindicated at the end.

I kind of think of this movie as a combination of a number of other ones. It’s 1/2 Paprika (2006) + 1/8 The Matrix  (1999) + 1/4 Shutter Island (2010) + 1/8 Ocean’s Eleven (2001). I was reminded of Ocean’s Eleven because of the way it started—the protagonist putting together this team of super-criminals so that he could pull of a really daring heist.

And of course I’m sure that I’m not the first to notice certain parallels to Shutter Island. Probably because it shared a few relevant details:

  • Leonardo DiCaprio
  • Looks really grungy the whole time
  • Kills his wife
  • Wife, children haunt him from beyond the grave
  • Plot twist at the end

Alternate ending to Inception

So here is the alternate ending to the film that I propose: Just push the “stop” button about 30 seconds before the film actually ends. Et voilà. Totally new movie.

How to “castle” in chess

Red pieces on a chess board
Red pieces on a chess board

Unlike the en passant capture, this is a move in chess that I’ve known since I was a child. However, like the en passant capture, it has also caused me grief while playing against my iPod. I will explain why this move can be frustrating below in the “pro-tip.”

This is how to castle in chess: It is a move for your king and your rook at the same time, and it is a great way to develop your rook conservatively. This is a move that should be done early in the game.

It can only be done if neither the king nor the rook have been moved yet in the game. There can be no pieces on the board on the files between the king and the rook, and you cannot castle out of check. If you are doing a kingside castle, your king moves two files toward the rook, and the rook jumps over to the space just on the opposite side of where the king has moved to. A queenside castle is done exactly the same way (king moves two files toward the rook, rook jumps over king to the file immediately past him), but in the queenside case, the rook moves further.

Thanks again to Wikipedia, the abbreviations for queenside and kingside castling are O-O-O and O-O, respectively.

Pro-tip: If you are trying to castle while playing against a video game, computer or iPod, do not move your rook first and then try to move your king. The iPod will think that you are moving your rook in the normal sort of way that rooks move, and it will not think that you are trying to castle. What you need to do is move your king first, and then the computer will automatically realise that because a king can’t normally move two files, you are attempting to castle, and then it will automatically move your rook for you. Just trust me on this one.

How to do an “en passant” capture in chess

Chess board
Chess board

Every once in a while, I play a game of chess against my computer or iPod. Sometimes I win—sometimes I lose, but the most frustrating thing that happens to me every once in a while is when the iPod does an en passant capture of one of my pawns.

This is frustrating, I think, because I never see it coming. That’s mostly because it’s an obscure move that I never took the time to learn how to do. I learned about it for the first time in elementary school, so I could always identify it when it happened, but I never knew what it was well enough to be able to pull it off myself or anticipate it. So, this week, I finally looked it up.

This is how it works: On its first move, a pawn can advance one rank or two. (Don’t worry—I already knew that.) If a pawn has been advanced two ranks in its first turn, an opposing pawn can capture it by moving diagonally into the space where the first pawn would have been, had it only moved ahead one rank.

Note that this can only be done in the turn immediately following the two-rank move of the first pawn.

According to Wikipedia, this “prevents a pawn from using the two-square move to pass another pawn without the risk of being captured”

This time, I’ll be ready for you, iPod!

Other stuff I saw in Québec City

A church in downtown Québec
A church in downtown Québec

While I mainly went to see the Carnaval, I also went for a walk around the Old Québec a bit while I was in town. It’s a very beautiful city.

There are all sorts of wonderful old buildings, churches and historical-type things going on.

Not only that, but they have excellent lighting at night, so it makes for some good photos!

You just have to be willing to wait for an opportune moment, when there isn’t a car going past, who will leave streaks of light all through your exposure. Thank goodness for digital cameras.

Celtic cross at night
Celtic cross at night

I think I must have spent about fifteen minutes trying to get this photo of the celtic-looking cross. I’ve got a whole bunch of photos of it with streaks across it, thanks to cars.

After three or four tries, I was almost prepared to set the self-timer and go stand in the middle of the road, just out of the frame of the camera, so that I would prevent any cars from passing through it. I only wanted a twenty-second exposure, and there was only one car every minute or so.

Oh well.

I like the details on the cross, and I think it was worth the wait.

An angel with a globe
An angel with a globe

Next is an angel with a globe. I’m not sure what his deal is. I guess he’s like a busker, except that he doesn’t really perform a musical instrument.

Not a bad job, I guess.

Unless you don’t like the cold. It wasn’t too bad while I was there, anyway. It was consistently around -1ºC or -2ºC, and in the sunlight, during the day, that’s not too bad.

He seems happy, anyway.

Important people I saw at Québec City

Bonhomme de Neige
Bonhomme de Neige

While I was in Québec City, my path crossed two important people. The first and most important was of course Bonhomme de Neige himself. I nearly missed him, but I happened to arrive just as he was leaving, so that I could snap about a dozen shots of him, paparazzi-style.

Later that day, while I was walking along a road between the Plains of Abraham and the Carnaval, I saw a big SUV drive past me, and I noticed that it had a blue flag with a royal symbol on it.

I remarked that I thought that it was a royal standard on the car that passed, but my friend told me that we would have heard if the Queen was coming. After the first car came a couple other RCMP cars.

The Governor General of Canada, David Johnston
The Governor General of Canada, David Johnston

When the car stopped, out jumped David Johnston, the Governor General of Canada. Apparently he had come to visit Québec City. And he passed within two metres of me!

So, I ran up and took a half dozen photos of him, paparazzi-style, since that seemed to be the thing to do that day.

Carnaval d’Hiver!

Rainbow ice carousel
Rainbow ice carousel

This weekend, I went to Québec City to see the Carnaval d’Hiver, starring Bonhomme. I have a lot of photos and things to talk about, so I’m spacing it out over the next few days. To start off with, I’m going to post a bunch of photos of sculptures and things I saw.

The lights in the carousel tent changed all the time, so it was very difficult to get any good photos, but I’m reasonably happy with the way this one turned out. The whole tent was full of ice sculptures of different games—chess, monopoly, etc. I wonder if it’s harder to sculpt in snow or in ice. I imagine that it would be easier to make a silly mistake in the snow, but that ice is less forgiving.

By the way, carousels are creepy.

Creepy snow spider
Creepy snow spider

These are just a few of my favourite things that I saw at the Carnaval d’Hiver. There were lots of other really good ones, but these turned out to be the most photogenic.

The creepy spider is wonderful. I love the eyes on the front, and the way that the light comes from behind it.

I wonder where these people get their ideas for what they will make out of their chunk of snow, and by what means the chunk of snow is delivered there.

An apple with a mouth
An apple with a mouth

The apple with the mouth won the prize for everything, I think. Seriously. There were about a half dozen awards at that one.

It’s really quite well done. I wonder if it’s supposed to represent anything besides just an apple with a mouth. I have no idea how a person would sculpt the inside of the mouth like that. Maybe they did the top of the mouth first so that they could sit on what would become the tongue, and then later went back to fix it. The snow must be very well-packed for it to allow for this sort of thing.

Girl in hood with dragon
Girl in hood with dragon

I also liked the hooded girl with dragon. Good details on the dragon. Unfortunately, the very night that I took these photos, it snowed, and many of the finer details were covered up forever.

This sculpture in particular did not fare very well through the loss of all the fine details. Look at all the scales along the tail, the teeth and eyes. The little girl in a hood is delightful as well.

I overheard a bunch of French-speakers refer to the girl as “Little Red Riding Hood,” I thought, but I don’t remember a dragon in the English version of that story, at least.

Korean with fish
Korean with fish

Apparently, there were teams of snow-sculptors from all over the world who came to participate. I’ve attached the South Korean contribution. It’s a person with a fish.

I also have photos of the Koreans working on this one the whole previous night. They put a lot of effort into it.

There was also a team from Morocco. I didn’t care for their sculpture as much. But then, they probably don’t get too much snow there, so I guess we can cut them some slack.

Plan for snow sharks
Plan for snow sharks
Sharks hiding in snow
Sharks hiding in snow

Another favourite of mine is the sharks hiding in snow. I have both a photograph and a video of that one.

As best I can make out, these are actual living sharks that were imported and then covered in snow. They’re just waiting for the right moment before they start eating the unprepared visitors to the Carnaval d’Hiver.

Gingerbread Tardis

"Hello, I'm the Doctor."

In light of some difficult family circumstances, I decided to take a night and do something silly. I had a friend over, one with whom I am in the habit of watching Doctor Who. While the result wasn’t quite as good as some other gingerbread Tardises on the internet, I am very happy to present photographs from last night’s project.

Usually, when I make something creative with gingerbread, I use a lot of red food colouring. You know, for the blood.

This time, however, the carnage was only an afterthought. I didn’t mean for there to be such a high death toll. Honest! And further, I think that the massacre was relatively tasteful for me.

The only cookie cutters I own
The only cookie cutters I own

The real reason why there was so many dead people is not because of the (very adorable) gingerbread Daleks. It’s mostly because I only own cookie cutters that have pieces missing from them. (Thanks for the present, Steph!)

You’ll note that even the gingerbread man who I assume is supposed to be the Doctor (the one who is halfway inside the Tardis) is missing his hand. My interpretation of this is that this is a scene from the few seconds during which the Doctor had his hand cut off by the Sycorax before it regenerated. This makes sense, because that happened during the “Christmas Invasion Special,” and it’s a gingerbread Tardis, so it should be on a Christmas theme, after all.

Tardis and bodies

The Quidditch World Cup 2010

The team gathering around our coach
The team gathering around our coach

This weekend past, as you may recall from seeing on various news stations, was the 2010 Quidditch World Cup in New York City. I was on the McGill team that competed, and I had a fantastic time. We played well, won more games than we lost, and beat the team from Harvard University. :)

For me, the highlight from the World Cup was watching the brilliant performances of the Golden Snitches. These were some amazing athletes. I can think of no other sport where there is a position that combines long distance running, wrestling and acrobatic showmanship.

I'm number 25
I'm number 25

There are few rules for the conduct of a snitch in a game. This means that the snitch can pull a seeker off his broom, interfere with players from another game, or wrestle a seeker to the ground, in an attempt to prevent the seekers from catching him or her.

People attending the Cup who were unfamiliar with the snitch were especially fun to listen to. I overheard a person behind me, at the beginning of a game ask her friend in a very confused voice, “Wait. He just ran off the field. Is he supposed to do that?”

This is why we won the spirit award
This is why we won the spirit award

Or later in the day, I heard someone else declare, “I don’t know. I just think something’s not right when you see a snitch hailing a cab.”

I have compiled a short list of some of the most entertaining things that I personally watched a snitch do in the course of a game.

  • Climb up a fence
  • Climb on top of a nearby building
  • Run onto the field of another game and interfere with the gameplay by bludgeoning one of the seekers
  • Return to the field riding a unicycle that he got somehow
  • Taunt one team’s seeker by pulling off his cape and holding it in front of him in the manner of a Spanish bull-fighter
  • Pick up the quaffle and offer it to a spectator on one knee, as if it were a token of his affection
  • Pull off two team members headbands and exchange them (coloured headbands are used to designate positions)
  • Pull a hoop off its stand and pass himself through it three times, before declaring to the crowd, “I have thirty points now!”
Playing against Carleton
Playing against Carleton

But my favourite moment was in the final game between Middlebury and the Tufflepuffs (the team from Tufts). For starters, the snitch for that game was brilliant. He could run faster backward than the seekers could run forward. He could flip a seeker on his back without losing his own momentum. It was amazing to watch.

Toward the end, the snitch returned to the field, and with him came all the other snitches who had snitched the other games for the Cup. They arranged themselves around the real snitch, like a Roman Phalanx, so the seekers couldn’t catch him, and after a few seconds, they all ran around the field in a big blur of yellow, so it was impossible to tell from the sides where the real snitch was, and I’m sure it was equally confusing for the seekers, who were just returning to the field from chasing the snitch. Eventually, the false snitches left the field, and the snitch was caught by the Tufts team, but the playfulness and the athleticism of the snitches were really remarkable.

I think that I want to work on my distance running this year and maybe next year I’ll be good enough to be a Golden Snitch at the World Cup. :)

Memories of French class

Téléfrançais - Bonjour, allô, salut!
Téléfrançais – Bonjour, allô, salut!

Does anyone else remember Téléfrançais? It was a children’s programme meant for French-language instruction made in the 1980’s by TVOntario, starring the crime against nature that you see in the picture attached to this post.

I take it as a sign that my French is still at an immature level, that sometimes, after conducting a conversation entirely in French, I walk away feeling very satisfied with myself and humming the Téléfrançais theme song.

The very last Téléfrançais émission that I remember seeing in elementary school ended with a puppet flying an airplane for some reason, and Ananas (the pineapple puppet) and the children were passengers. Les Squelettes were on the wings of the aircraft too, as I recall. At the last moment, the puppet lost control of the airplane and they were about to crash, when the closing credits started to roll over the screen. I never saw the next émission, so as far as I know, that’s how the television programme ended—with the death of all the characters in a fiery airplane disaster. Actually, that wouldn’t be so hard to believe.

There’s an obvious life-lesson to be learned here: Don’t fly in an aircraft where the pilot is a puppet.

I just remembered

District 9
District 9

I just remembered why it is that I posted my review of District 9 under bioethics.

[There is a medium-grade spoiler in this post, so if you want to know nothing about the film before you see it, stop reading.]

I realised while watching the movie that my bioethical training has been having an effect on me. There is a scene toward the beginning of the film, where the main character is about to be cut up and his organs harvested for scientific experiments, against his will, while he is still conscious. When I saw that, I was struck with the horror of the idea of that happening to someone, but in my mind, all my objections were couched in the language of academic bioethics:

“He has not given informed consent for this research!”

“They are breaking the Dead Donor Rule!”

“That action is contrary to all four of Beauchamp and Childress’s principles of medical ethics!”

If you can name all four of Beauchamp and Childress’s principles, then you get 8 points. Two for each one.