Our Middle-Earth Adventure

It's a month since Mum and I were in New Zealand, and I've finally put together an album of our highlights, see below.

We arrived in Auckland, once the capital of the country and situated in the very north of the North Island, and after a couple of nights there embarked on a journey southwards in our rental car.

We would book a hotel, hostel or camping hut thing the night before using the wifi wherever we were staying that night, and rarely stayed in one place for longer than one night. Every day was filled with Lord of the Rings/Hobbit location hunting, sightseeing, and driving. Mum was very brave and drove us over mountains, on dirt roads, along canyons, through forests, and across a lot of narrow scary bridges. She wasn't quite brave enough to let me drive much though :P

I bought a SIM card with 3GB of data at Auckland airport and, boy, was that useful. We had absolutely no trouble finding our way around, and with the help of my guidebook and various websites combined with Google Maps I navigated us from site to site. I wasn't shy about using the data and I ran out bare hours before we left, 3 weeks after arriving.

Thanks to Matthew for lending me his sweet camera, I hope you enjoy the photos!

Bonus video: I recorded little selfies every day so I could make this silly compilation!

Visiting Middle-Earth

I'm busily planning a New Zealand holiday, with one particular aim being to visit a friend who's been there for over a year now doing her PhD, but while I'm there I thought it would be a shame not to see some Lord of the Rings/Hobbit filming locations!

So I've just finished plotting as many points as I could find to help me plan the itinerary. We're tentatively planning to fly to Auckland, hire a car and drive ourselves down to Dunedin where my friend is living, stopping at locations as we go. However, I'm waiting to hear about my application to the JET programme and can't book flights yet because the timing will coincide with possibly having to do some sort of complicated and possibly time-consuming medical examinations for the JET people - the frustrating thing being that they won't give any useful information about the requirements in advance, only that you should 'be available in April'.

Anyway, here's the map I've generated for LotR locations in New Zealand (click the icon in the top right corner to embiggen):

2013 in film

Just like last year I've got a list of every film I watched this year. They can get up to three golden stars () if I enjoyed them. On the other hand, if I disliked them, they might earn black stars (★) instead...

Bold titles indicate films with some significance (which means either I was highly anticipating it, it's a well-known classic, it was just especially moving, or had some other significance to me personally).

If it wasn't the first time I'd seen the film, that is also indicated after the title.

★   Looper
2012 action sci-fi time travel film starring Bruce Willis.
★★ Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
2011 sequel to the 2009 film, starring Robert Downey Jr.
2012 Judge Dredd film.
   Glorious 39
2009 WWII drama.
★  The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (III)
2012 first instalment of Peter Jackson's trilogy.
★  Lincoln
2012 Steven Spielberg historical drama.
★★ Inglourious Basterds (II)
2009 Quentin Tarantino WWII drama.
★★ Django Unchained
2012 Quentin Tarantino western.
★★Meet Joe Black
1998 fantasy/romance thing with Anthony Hopkins and Brad Pitt.
   I Wish
2011 Japanese sort-of coming-of-age film.
★★ Monsters (II)
2010 sci-fi monster movie, low budget and well-executed.
   True Grit
2010 western, adapted from a book.
★  Grave of the Fireflies
1988 Studio Ghibli anime about WWII.
   Side Effects
2013 psychological thriller with some good actors.
2013 horror type thing.
2006 scifi anime.
★  Safety Not Guaranteed
2012 surreal comedy/drama.
2012 Oscar-winning drama based on real events.
★  The Spirit of '45
2013 Ken Loach pro-socialist documentary/propoganda.
★★ Jurassic Park (many)
1993 dinosaur scifi/thriller!
★  Men in Black 3 (II)
2012 addition to the scifi/comedy franchise.
   Brave (II)
2012 Pixar fantasy movie.
★  Wreck-it-Ralph
2012 Disney film.
★★ Planet of the Apes (II)
1968 famous scifi movie.
★★★Jurassic Park (many)
Watched it in 3D at the IMAX in Universal Studios, Florida!
★★★Rise of the Planet of the Apes (II)
2011 reboot of the franchise.
   The Odd Life of Timothy Green
2013 fantasy/feel-good about a boy with leaves.
★★ The Borrower Arrietty
2010 Studio Ghibli anime based on the classic book.
   The Cat Returns
2002 Studio Ghibli fantasy anime.
★★ The Hangover (II)
2009 comedy.
   The Hangover Part II
2011 sequel to the aforementioned.
★  No Country for Old Men
2007 western thriller.
2013 big-budget scifi (one of several such flops this year...)
★  Iron Man 3
2013 addition to the franchise.
★  Mud
2012 coming-of-age film.
   Man of Steel
2013 reboot of the franchise.
★  Jin-Roh
1999 alternate-history anime set after WWII.
★  Eve no Jikan
2010 scifi anime, about robots and AI.
★★Now You See Me
2013 heist film.
   5 Centimetres Per Second
2007 anime.
★  NausicaƤ of the Valley of the Wind (II)
1984 anime that just preceeded Studio Ghibli.
★  One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
1975 adaptation of a novel, with Jack Nicholson.
2006 adaptation of the novel, which I plan to read.
★  Evolution (II)
2001 scifi/comedy.
   Despicable Me 2
2013 sequel to the 2010 animation, which I did not see.
★★ Casino Royale (V)
2006 Bond 'reboot', I guess.
   Flags of Our Fathers
2006 film set in the WWII, twinned with Letters from Iwo Jima.
★  Letters from Iwo Jima
2006 film set in the WWII, twinned with Letters from Flags of Our Fathers.
★  Silver Linings Playbook
2012 apparently funny quirky romance with Jennifer Lawrence.
   Blue Jasmine
2013 weird drama with Cate Blanchett.
★★ Alien (III)
1979 classic scifi horror.
★  Pacific Rim
2013 CGI scifi action flick (giant mechas vs kaiju).
   The Raid: Redemption
2011 Indonesian martial arts film.
★  Ender's Game
2013 adaptation of the scifi classic.
★  The Thomas Crown Affair
1999 heist film with Pierce Brosnan.
★  The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (IV)
2012 Peter Jackson Hobbit film, first in the trilogy.
★  The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
2013 instalment of the trilogy.
★★ Kill Bill: Volume 1 (IV)
2003 Quentin Tarantino action/martial arts film.
★★ Kill Bill: Volume 2 (IV)
2004 sequel/second part to the above.
★★ Die Hard (III?)
1988 action classic with Bruce Willis.

There were misses (Man of Steel, Pacific Rim) as well as hits (Iron Man 3, Ender's Game, The Desolation of Smaug), a mix of classics and new films, and not a few Japanese animations.

And 60 films is 4 more than last year! I'm already on 5 this year, but may have a change of lifestyle come August... How will it affect things? Tune in to find out!

What I've read over the 2012/13 academic year

So at the beginning of 2012 I started noting every film I watched, but I have been doing the same with books since 2008. I began while I was at university in York and organised it by academic year, and so I have continued.

Last year (2011/12) I had a good look at my to-read list and realised I had about 10 years of stuff already lined up at the rate I was reading. I made a big effort to maximise how much I read and pulled in nearly 14000 pages over the year. I did not do so well this year, I guess it being my last year teacher training probably explains it, although I also got stuck on On the Origin of Species for like a month and a half.

A reminder of the awards:
★   Good!
★★ Very good
★★★ Amazing!
 ★   Bad...
 ★★  Very bad
 ★★★ Awful!
And, again, these are strictly a descriptor of my personal feeling towards the book.

If it wasn't the first time I'd read the book, that is indicated by its title.

★★ A Game of Thrones
    A Song of Ice and Fire #1, gritty fantasy and popular TV series.
★  What Do You Care What Other People Think?
    Several biographical stories by Richard Feynman.
★   Brutal Harry
    A somewhat dark Harry Potter fanfic. Link.
★   The Magician's Apprentice (attempted)
    Prequel novel to The Black Magician Trilogy, which I love.
   A Study in Magic
    A Harry Potter/Sherlock Holmes crossover fanfic. Link.
★  Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde
    The 1886 classic.
★★ On the Origin of Species
    Darwin's treaty on evolution by natural selection.
★  The Illuminatus! Trilogy (attempted)
    A quirky trilogy with the subject of conspiracy theories.
★  The Dark Lord's Equal
    Harry Potter fanfic, a mature Harry goes back in time. Link.
★  The Ego Trick
    A for-the-masses philosophy book about 'identity'.
★★ Harry Potter and the Natural 20 (first 25 chapters)
    Harry Potter/Dungeons and Dragons crossover fanfic. Link.
★  The Colour of Magic (II)
    The first of Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels.
★  Big Bang
    Popsci book about the Big Bang theory.
★★ The Silmarillion
    Tolkien's prequel epic to The Lord of the Rings.
    An oft-recommended scifi novel.
★  Misspent Youth
    A sort of very early prequel to The Commonwealth Saga.
★★★Pride & Prejudice (III)
    200 years since its publication, Jane Austen's best known novel.
★  How to Lie with Statistics
    A short '50s book about the ways statistics can mislead.
★  River Out of Eden
    One of Dawkins' books on evolution, the next one I hadn't read.
   Permutation City
    Hard scifi. May cause headaches and existential nihilism.
   Kil'n People
    A fun scifi book on an interesting theme.
★★ Interview with the Vampire (II or III)
    The book that began Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles.
★★ The Vampire Lestat (II)
    First part of the sequel duology to Interview.
★★ The Queen of the Damned (II)
    The conclusion to the sequel duology to Interview.
★★ Harry Potter and the Natural 20
    As mentioned above, HP/DnD crossover, this time completed.
★  Harry Potter and the Confirmed Critical (first 6 chapters)
    Ongoing sequel to HPN20. Link.
★  Ender's Game
    Another oft-recommended scifi novel, and soon to be a film.
★★ Speaker for the Dead
    Sequel to Ender's Game (and the reason he expanded it).
★  The Lifecycle of Software Objects
    Scifi novella taking AI from a different angle. Link.
   Science Fiction Hall of Fame (first 17 stories)
    A highly recommended compilation of pre-1964 scifi short stories.
★  Hikaru no Go (first 6 volumes)
    A coming-of-age manga centered on a boy who learns to play Go.
★  Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality (chapters 86-89)
    Harry Potter fanfic, where Harry is smart. Link.

As for films: although I feel like I haven't watched many for ages (I've been busy with anime and, recently, Breaking Bad) I'm on 47 so far in 2013 which is more than I'd have guessed!

A Space Oddity performed by Chris Hadfield... in space

This man has been an absolute legend on the spacestation, producing fascinating videos, answering questions, and demonstrating all sorts of random things in space.

He recently returned to Earth, and this was his final production on the ISS.

Properly awesome.

2012 in film

This year I tried noting down every film I watched with a rating. I got 56 altogether, but I might have missed some towards the beginning of the year! They are presented below in chronological order.

Possible awards:
★   Good!
★★ Very good
★★★ Amazing!
 ★   Bad...
 ★★  Very bad
 ★★★ Awful!
These measure my subjective experience of the film, not my objective critique! If I enjoyed a movie, it got some gold stars, without deep analysis of whether it deserved it. And vice versa.

Also I've bolded some titles, to highlight significant films (one I was highly anticipating, is a well-known classic, was just really good, or has some sort of significance to me personally).

If it wasn't the first time I'd seen the film, that is also indicated.

★★ Predators
    2010 sequel to the 1987 classic
★★ The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
    2011 American adaptation of the book
★★ Agora (II)
    2009 historical drama starring Rachel Weisz
★  Requiem for a Dream
    2000 trippy film about drugs with a score by Clint Mansell
★  Chronicle
    2012 sci-fi film
★  Dogma
    1999 satirical film starring Matt Damon and Ben Affleck
★★★The Adjustment Bureau (II)
    2011 sci-fi film, starring Matt Damon and Emily Blunt
★★★The Shawkshank Redemption (II)
    1994 drama film
    2010 Dreamworks animation
★★ Scent of a Woman
    1992 Al Pacino film
★  The Cabin in the Woods
    2012 horror/satire film
★★★The Fellowship of the Ring (many)
    2001 Peter Jackson adaptation of the book
★  Prometheus
    2012 prequel to the classic Alien franchise
    Dark City
    Bizarre 1998 sci-fi 'film noir' homage or something
★  Cowboys and Aliens
    2011 western adventure
★  Men in Black 3
    2012 addition to the franchise
★  The Amazing Spider-Man
    2012 reboot
★  Brave
    2012 Pixar film
★  The Lost Boys
    1987 teen horror film
★  Iron Man (II?)
    2008 superhero film
★  American Psycho (II)
    2000 psychological thriller
★★ Batman Begins (III?)
    2005 first part of Christopher Nolan's trilogy
★★ The Dark Knight (II?)
    2008 second part of Christopher Nolan's trilogy
★  The Dark Knight Rises
    2012 final part of Christopher Nolan's trilogy
★  360
    2011 drama starring Hopkins, Weisz and Law
★★  Blade Runner
    1982 sci-fi classic
★★ The Avengers
    2012 superhero film
★  The Secret of Kells
    2009 animation
★★ My Neighbour Totoro
    1988 Hayao Miyazaki film
★  Stand By Me
    1986 coming-of-age film, starring Wil Wheaton
★  The Grey
    2012 Liam Neeson survival drama
★  Bridge to Terabithia (II)
    2007 children's fantasy-ish drama
★★ Sherlock Holmes (II)
    2009 film starring Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law
★★ The Thing
    1982 horror film
★   The Thing
    2011 prequel to the 1982 film
★★ Road to Perdition
    2002 gangster film starring Tom Hanks
★  Brokeback Mountain
    2005 romantic drama
★★ Casino Royale (IV?)
    2006 Bond film, the first of the Daniel Craig reboot
★★ Quantum of Solace (II)
    2008 Bond film, the second of the Daniel Craig reboot
★★ The Fly (II)
    1986 sci-fi horror film, starring Jeff Goldblum
    2012 Bond film
★★ NausicaƤ of the Valley of the Wind
    1984 Hayao Miyazaki film
★★ Laputa: Castle in the Sky
    1986 Hayao Miyazaki film
★  Porco Rosso
    1992 Hayao Miyazaki film
★  Kiki's Delivery Service
    1989 Hayao Miyazaki film
★★ Princess Mononoke (II)
    1997 Hayao Miyazaki film
    Spirited Away (II)
    2001 Hayao Miyazaki film
★★★Road to Perdition (II)
    2002 gangster film starring Tom Hanks
★★ Howl's Moving Castle (II)
    2004 Hayao Miyazaki film
★  Ponyo
    2008 Hayao Miyazaki film
★★ The Two Towers (II or III)
    2002 Peter Jackson adaptation of the book
★  Hook (many)
    1991 children's film
★  The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
    2012, first part of Peter Jackson's adaptation of the book
★★ The Return of the King (II)
    2003 Peter Jackson adaptation of the book
★  Life of Pi
    2012 adaptation of the 2001 adventure book
★  27 Dresses
    2008 romcom

Bring on 2013!

Science is a process

Science is a process, not the accumulated knowledge we have thus far.

It's like building a map - the map might change over time and mistakes might even be made that later get retracted and altered, and there might be disagreements about some regions of the map, but that doesn't alter the fact that the territory exists and that, in fact, we have managed to map out much of it and that there is a process by which it makes sense to continue to do so (the scientific method). We are building a map of reality, our universe, Nature, what is true and what is not. There's no a priori reason to believe this territory actually exists, but it definitely seems to, and we've had great success with our map-making so far (see literally all technology).

Saying science is about making up theories at random (something I heard honestly asserted by a fellow trainee teacher this year), or pointing out how scientists now believe different things (have a different map) than scientists in the past as if that invalidates the whole thing, is a misunderstanding of this fact. Science is the answer to the question 'how do we build a conceptual map of reality'? Or, in simpler terms, how do we find out about the world.