Category: Nerdism


Sherlocking London

We just spent four days touring London with a bit of a twist. As many of you might know, I’m a fan, and have been looking forward to exploring the city memorably serving as a backdrop to the famous detective. Even though most of BBC Sherlock was shot in Cardiff, many exterior shots were filmed in London. So we visited most of them and some of the ACD canon locations as well.

As a base, we used this free Sherlock Holmes tour:

If you want to know more about the locations, Sherlockology has a pretty swell list.

Lots of gratuitious selfies ahead, so stop reading now if you’re not into stupidly happy people. Consider yourself warned.

Sunday 

We arrived at Heathrow at an ungodly hour and had to have a kip once we checked into our hotel. In the evening, we started the tour at Picadilly Circus.

picadilly

This location is at the beginning for two reasons: It’s in the opening title of the BBC show as an iconic London landmark. In ‘A study in Scarlet’ Watson meets his friend Stamford at the Criterion. Over dinner he tells him that Sherlock is looking for a roommate. The Criterion is very beautiful:

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We were a bit underdressed but had some kick-ass martinis and ogled the gold ceiling (Thias had Tiramisu and I’m holding a surprisingly delicious Chili and Passionfruit concoction).

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After that, we met up with a friend and went to metal pub in Camden. Talk about contrast.

Monday

On Monday we had a Full English at Speedy’s Café. Best coffee I had in London so far.

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And of course, a gratuitious picture in front of “221b”.

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While scanning for free wifi I found this little gimmick:

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Hilarious!

Then we adjourned to the real 221b Baker Street. Emerging from the tube, you bump into the Sherlock Holmes statue.

sherlock-statue

There is a little QR code you can scan as a part of the talking statues art project. He wishes he was facing the other way because it’s so boring. Also he misses Watson at his side. So sad.

The Sherlock Holmes Museum at 221b Baker Street was expensive (15PS) but nice nonetheless. The first thing you notice when you enter is the intense smell, lemongrass oil. I wonder why they burn it, maybe the whole place reeks? It is rather old.

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Obligatory picture in the study, pipe, hat, the whole shebang.

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Behold the Hound and the mostly Chinese fan mail he boldly protects.

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After that we had stroll around Regent’s park to catch a break from all the belligerent tourists with their stupid selfie sticks. I was too ashamed to be photographed outside the museum wearing a deerstalker. I just couldn’t do it. It’s just an ear hat, anyway.

In the afternoon, we drove out to St. Barts.

barts

Sherlock jumped off the roof here. For the record, I still don’t believe Moriarty is really dead. If Sherlock can fake it, so can he.

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Sherlock left quite the “impact”, there was this where he landed on the pavement.

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If you zoom in closely, you can see the fan grafitti. Seems to be sort of a pilgrimage thing. The pathology wing is not in active use anymore, so tons of people wrote in the dirt on the windows.

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Speaking of fan fiction and various *locks, it might have made me chuckle just a tiny bit what kind of street is located exactly opposite the wing.

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We had a Sherlock-and-Molly-appropriate lunch at Barts (without any corpses).

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Next up was Tower 42, used as the bank in “The Blind Banker”. Exterior shot:

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Interior shot. Managed to sneak a quick picture in the lobby. As if I was going to rob them. Or am I?

tower-42-inside

Mike Stamford and John Watson meet in Russell Square Garden in the new series. They’re still drinking Criterion coffee as a nod toward the original meeting place.

russell-square

After all that walking around we thought “Let’s have dinner!” and went to Angelo’s. Or rather, Tapas Brindisa in Soho. They redecorated a bit since filming ‘A Study in Pink’, but the hanging lights are still there.

brindisa-inside

Need a cab?

brindisa-outside

Tuesday

We started at the South Bank and systematically worked our way to Belgravia.The South Bank is basically all of ‘The Blind Banker’.

OXO Tower Wharf is where they find the murdered museum security guard. Fortunately, it was low tide, so we could descend to the shore.

oxo-wharf

Next up was the skate park where they find the code fragments.

skate-park

Waterloo Bridge (where Sherlock meets a representative of the Homeless network) is also there, but it was a bit dangerous on the other side.

Trafalgar Square.

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The Diogenes Club aka the British Academy.

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St. James Park, on our way to solve the attempted murder at the Wellington Barracks.

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Observing Wellington Barracks.

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For reference: ‘The Sign of Three’

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My Watson is not in the picture because he’s obviously taking it.

New Scotland Yard. Hi, Greg.

scotland-yard

44 Eaton Square. Hi, Irene.

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In the evening, we paid a visit to the Sherlock Holmes Pub near Trafalgar Square.

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I had Mrs Hudson’s Ale Pie and the local Sherlock Holmes brew. Couldn’t move after, so good.

There is a study you can peak into.

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Little details in decoration.

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After dinner, we went for a stroll along the shore again.

Hungerford Bridge by night.

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Wednesday

In the morning we visited the Natural History Museum, which in the late 19th century was still called the British Museum where Sherlock Holmes went for his research occasionally. Lots of dinosaurs and dead things.

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Postcards home! Can you decipher it?

postcard

Flying home in the evening. Bye, London.

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Hey, we finally edited some of the GoPro material we filmed on our festival, Waldeck Freakquenz.

See our retro gaming café, our Kinect sandbox, bands, enthusiastic Tetris chanting and further awesomeness.

 

Same procedure as every year. Our annual 2015 Tetris contest was a bit chaotic this time: Few players, unrecorded games, winners vanishing and so on. But fun nonetheless. And I won 2nd place. Whoo!

Here are the highlights. Enjoy!

“A Shoggoth on the roof. Sounds scrazy, no, certifiably insane, but here in our little village of Arkham, Massaschusetts you might say everyone of us has a Shoggoth on the roof. And I’m not speaking metaphorically.” (opening lines)

“Good heavens, are these human cadavers?” Wait, you didn’t know there is a musical inspired by H.P. Lovecraft? Yes, there is. It’s parody of ‘Fiddler on the roof’ and it’s hilarious. If you are not in a place where you can listen, bookmark it for later. Now.

It was created by the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society. It’s credited to “He Who (for legal reasons) Must Not Be Named”, see this link to excerpt of the script.

Its performance is apparently cursed (no surprise there), not only due to legal issues.

There are some things that man was not meant to adapt to musical theatre, and A Shoggoth on the Roof has long been regarded as a musical that cannot and must not be produced. The original 1979 attempt to stage it ended in mysterious failure. (cthululives.org)

Do I need to mention I would give my firstborn to see it live? Since that is not going to happen soon, you can get the whole starter combo (CD, libretto, DVD of the Shoggoth on the Roof documentary) here. It’s what I want for Christmas. Now sing along with me: Tentacles! Tentacles!

The Imitation Game

Here just some random thoughts I can’t keep to myself about this movie. Contains spoilers.

Just a quick statement: Though I am not a mathematician, I’ve had this odd fascination with Turing and ciphers. E.g. I adore the ‘Cryptonomicon’ by Neal Stephenson, but for the most part I feel about the technicalities like William Gibson once said about computers in an interview: „My ignorance had allowed me to romanticize them.“* So I won’t go into criticizing the romantic depiction of ‘this is how science works’, others have done that.

I wasn’t expecting a scientifically or historically accurate movie at all. While there are tons of things you could say about inaccuracies, I don’t think it matters much because it’s not supposed to be an accurate documentary. It’s a story based on and inspired by Turing’s life which was truly remarkable. But the movie doesn’t really work so well as a story. I want to focus on two things that piqued me in particular: what I will call nerd tropes and the sexuality issue.**

Franchise audience pleasing

Let’s put Tywin Lannister and Sherlock Holmes in a room and see what happens. And yes, that scene is funny, but what does it achieve? Bringing together two actors who are so clearly known for previous roles. There doesn’t have to be a nod in their direction all the time, and in my opinion it damages the integrity for the performance of the characters at hand.

It could have helped if Turing wouldn’t have been portrayed as painfully shy and narcissistic at once – just pick one. I wouldn’t say that Cumberbatch can’t play a different character than Sherlock. He’s clearly too good an actor for that and his interpretation of Turing living somewhere on the scale of autism is at times convincing. But that interference breaks the integrity of the character in several scenes, not just the one with Charles Dance.

Nerd tropes

But why does the script not stick to that particular interpretation, but throws in all other types of ‘this is what we expect someone intelligent to do’-tropes in there? OCD („carrots and peas mustn’t touch“), arrogance („I’m a genius and I know it“), stuttering, isolation, mobbing victim, not eating („I don’t like sandwiches“… hello Sherlock), trying to tell a joke but failing („I don’t get why people never say what they really mean“… hello Sheldon). Another really good example for this is another Cumberbatch performance in ‘The last enemy’: Also a mathematical genius, also highly intelligent, also has quirks. In one of the opening scenes of the series the character, Stephen Ezzard, is seen frantically washing his hands on an airplane. The purpose of the scene is to establish his status as ‘that quirky guy’. OCD is never relevant to the plot, it can be turned off and on again at will (that would be so convenient in real life). It’s a best of nerd tropes without thinking about that many of these traits cancel each other out. It becomes annoying, and it makes all these characters kind of look the same. So, dear script writers, make a choice which quirks your genius has and stick with it, don’t just pile them all on. Next:

The gay thing

How does the movie deal with that? Some reviewers said could imagine two approaches:

There are two ways, I think, that one could go about making a story of Alan Turing and his key role in inventing the computer as a means of cracking a Nazi code during the Second World War. One way would be to go all-in on the psychological aspect, and take it for granted that Turing’s closeted homosexuality was haunting him and driving him in his quest to uncover the secrets of his nation’s enemies, thus making his eventual punishment by the British government for his “gross indecency” even more ironically cruel. The other would be to discard personal matters altogether, and make a purely process-driven story, in which Turing and his colleagues are nothing but the human vessels for acts of research and insight, and the act of breaking the code is itself the protagonist, with all the people reduced to the status of window dressing.

The actual Turing biopic that exists in the world, The Imitation Game, tries to combine these methods in a hybrid that does not work much at all. (http://antagonie.blogspot.de/2014/12/ever-read-cryptonomicon-you-should.html)

Combining these two approaches would have been possible, but I agree that they do not work together very well in this movie. Making the movie without adressing the ‘problem’** would not have been right because they’d get all kinds of shitstorms about that, and rightly so. It wouldn’t have been ok, it would have seemed like they tried to cover it up. Some people say you shouldn’t focus on Turings sexuality because his work was more important. In 2015 that might be a valid opinion, but mid-last-century that was not a option. Though the investigation of his suicide remains shrouded in myth, it was a horrible time to openly be anything but heteronormative and people fucked up his life badly. So it definitely needs to be dealt with in a biography.

But is it just me, or is the movie avoiding this? The flashbacks to the boy love are a bit like bad fan fiction: „Yes, I loved only once and then he died.“ And the romantic Christopher/Bombe naming thing never happened. Bit much, isn’t it? My point is: The movie puts the issue of portrayal of same-sex affection conveniently in the past and the ‘future’. When the issue comes up in the present storyline, it’s focused on marrying Joan and the „hmm I’m afraid I can’t deliver“-speech or on blackmailing (for dramatization and liberties taken with that Cairncross story-line see here). While everyone at Bletchley probably worked a lot and there was no time for office romances, it’s weird that neither of the timelines ever shows anything sexual. In 1951 (it was actually 1952) there is a shot of his unnamed lover sitting in the police station, and we hear the word penis spoken out loud, and that’s it.

Is it just a really clever statement of the implications of being gay in a time where you had to stay in the closet or be prosecuted that you never see anything physical? Or is it so as not to offend any homophobics in the cinema, because noone can be suffered to see men having sex on screen? It’s not supposed to be ‘Brokeback Mountain’, but still, it felt off to me.

In conclusion

Great theme and lots of capable actors not put to very good use.

On the plus side: It was a nice idea to make the main theme the Turing test. While all this constructed heroism around Turing is sort of over the top, it’s good to get a perspective at how crappy people who achieved tons when it mattered can be treated and cast off. Pardons issued decades later can’t make up for past injustice, but it’s a step in the right direction.

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* „On the most basic level, computers in my books are simply a metaphor for human memory: I’m interested in the hows and whys of memory, the ways it defines who and what we are, in how easily memory is subject to revision. When I was writing Neuromancer, it was wonderful to be able to tie a lot of these interests into the computer metaphor. It wasn’t until I could finally afford a computer of my own that I found out there’s a drive mechanism inside — this little thing that spins around. I’d been expecting an exotic crystalline thing, a cyberspace deck or something, and what I got was a little piece of a Victorian engine that made noises like a scratchy old record player. That noise took away some of the mystique for me; it made computers less sexy. My ignorance had allowed me to romanticize them.“

(Interview with Larry McCaffery in Storming the Reality Studio : A Casebook of Cyberpunk and Postmodern Science Fiction, Duke University Press (December 1991) http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/William_Gibson)

** Disclaimer: I use the words ‘problem’ and ‘issue’ not because I think homosexuality is a problem, but it is problematic insofar as some people unfortunately still think it is and the movie industry still has its own problems in dealing with their audience’s problems. Wow, I really used the word problem a lot in that sentence. Anyway, go LGBTOW.

Update: Congratulations to Graham Moore! Stay weird, stay different.

“Ready Player One”

I’ve been reading “Ready Player One” by Ernest Cline and enjoying it immensely. It combines many things I like: It’s a dystopian novel (check), it’s about video games (check), and it’s about a severe case of 80s fetish (check!).

In the not too distant future, fossil fuels are gone, things have gone to shit and humanity is mostly plugged into a virtual world called OASIS. When the creator of this world dies, he instigates a hunt for an easter egg hidden in the OASIS, solving riddles and getting obscure clues will get the lucky winner the legacy of the creator – and all his money. People become obsessed with finding it.

The less you know about the plot, the better (it does have a few nice turns). The creator of this virtual world was a true child of the 80s and consquently all egg hunters (called “gunters”) study the the period meticulously. The allusions and similes are frequent and very funny. I frequently had the same associations the character had. Like for example, he picks up an item and examines it and zooms in on a detail and I think of that scence in “Bladerunner”. And a sentence later he has the thought “It reminded me of that scene in ‘Bladerunner’.” This book is like geeking out with a good friend who has the same choice taste as you.

Here is the soundtrack to get you in the mood.

At the notorious Waldeck Freakquenz Festival  in Germany, a Tetris Contest takes place each year. For the first time we set up a stream on twitch.tv where people could comment games live. It was a blast and we are proud to present this year’s highlights!

 

Sherlock armchairs

You see beneath one of the most chaotic but also charming living rooms. Just noticing small things in this carefully designed set will make for interesting discoveries.

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Among other little things, it’s fascinating to see how the arm chairs represent the characters. John’s chair is to the left: It has soft red colors and is well equipped with a tartan blanket and pillows. Implicitly: Comfort, security, the country (I think at one point I remember a Union Jack pillow being there). Sherlock’s chair is black leather and steel, all business and aloof. It barely touches the floor. Also, it’s expensive (Le Corbusier) and treated rather carelessly. Symbolism, anyone?

I bet you could write a paper about who sits where and what this means. For example, the only time Sherlock sits in John’s chair is when Moriarty visits the flat. After Reichenbach, Sherlock’s chair becomes a placeholder for the missing character. Others noticed this.

For die hard fans, they’re making an LC3 Corbusier for sale now.

(Don’t ask why that particular line of research happened, please. I am very happy with my battered sofa, and not thinking of replacing it, thank you.)

The ‘New’ Nerdism?

I get the feeling that mainstream culture has become more friendly towards nerds lately. What is a nerd? Since when does nerdism make for a ‘good story’? What are the character constellations? And why do you still love them?

What is a nerd?

Wikipedia sez:

Nerd (adjective: nerdy) is a descriptive term, often used pejoratively, indicating that a person is overly intellectual, obsessive, or socially impaired. They may spend inordinate amounts of time on unpopular, obscure, or non-mainstream activities, which are generally either highly technical or relating to topics of fiction or fantasy, to the exclusion of more mainstream activities.“

Urban dictionary sez:

„An ‘individual’, i.e. a person who does not conform to society’s beliefs that all people should follow trends and do what their peers do. Often highly intelligent but socially rejected because of their obesssion with a given subject, usually computers. Unfortunately, nerds seem to have problems breeding, to the detriment of mankind as a whole.“

I guess the term has been thrown around a lot, but whatever the specifics, the common nerdy traits are a) intelligence and/or extraordinary skill/knowledge in one or a few areas and b) social ineptitude.

Previously on … Nerds

In antiquity, in the late Middle ages and early renaissance there are various comedies which explore the world of academia. Of course, at this time, the word nerd didn’t exist, but you see, the topic is not new. I guess the german term I know (Gelehrtenkomödie) translates to „scholar comedy“. One example I read by accident, called „Melancholicus“ by Christian Bachmann.

The main character displays, among others, bad traits such as avarice, jealousy, vanity, (generally not great features to have), paranoia, hypochondria and social phobia. He has poor understanding of the world in general but great knowledge in specific areas (in this case, astronomy). He is contrasted by other, ‘normal’ figures, e.g. his wife. The comedies of this time want to display a bunch of bad character traits and ridicule them. There is a didactic effect: „Listen here, folks, this is how you don’t do it!“

The Shel-lock Syndrome

Zapping to modern times. Some factors have stayed the same. Famous nerds on TV right now are e.g. Sheldon Cooper from the sitcom „The Big Bang Theory“ or Sherlock Holmes („Sherlock“).

by Chelsi Wagner (devianart)

In their respective series, it’s a constant struggle between social norms and science. Again, both characters have poor understanding of the world or society in general but great knowledge in specific areas (physics, detective skills). They too are contrasted by other figures that the audience can identify with. They have no exceptional skills (Penny, John Watson) but are accepted members of society and know how to navigate social norms. This makes for countless situations of comic relief. Nerds have different goals in life: they want to solve problems, they want to be scientifically successful. ‘Normal’ peoples’ goals usually prioritize „having a good time“, which includes being a recognized part of society, being loved by others or one significant other. Thinks the nerd: This is not my priority so I won’t skill it (maybe displaying a bit of nerdism here myself). Although they want acceptance, too, but on a different, not-everyday level; they want their work to be recognized and be admired by the people who can actually understand and value what they are doing. Vanity: check.

The lovable sociopath

What is the difference between a sociopath that you can still deem adorable and laugh about and a sociopath that you hate? The nerd who is only interested in his or her thing doesn’t care about peoples’ feeling because they are irrelevant. But they don’t disregard or hurt people because they want to, but because they simply don’t know how ‘normal’ people deal with other ‘normal’ people. So each time a boundary is overstepped, someone is insulted or someone gets hurt by their inobservance of social conventions, the audience sort of understands. You might say „god, what an utter arsehole“, but what you mean „this person behaves like an arsehole“. You wouldn’t hold it against them because you still think they might learn how to deal with the situation in question appropriately. You respect them for their skills, which might mean nothing to you personally, but dedication and intelligence are generally positive attributes, and you adore them for trying to navigate uncharted territory when they try to ‘fit in’. In short, you forgive them their mistakes because you believe they can do better. It’s a variation on the „Only I can fix him“ trope.

Worth a tale

The pattern is: friends and family try to integrate the nerd into society as they think would be right, but expectations differ, often hilariously. This display does not serve a didactic purpose, but it still sets the dynamics for a story between characters of different worlds, so to speak, and makes for good entertainment. It seems to be extremely popular at the moment. Maybe I’ll write about tv displays of OCD next, because that’s going through the roof, too.

Bletchley Park dismisses volunteers

The new management “fires” long-term volunteers who have taken care of the museum over the years. But now everything’s changing because they got new funding… It’s a shame!

Via Cory.

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