Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Mary Anning (21 May 1799 – 9 March 1847)

Today’s Google Doodle is one of my favourites, celebrating the life (or 215th birthday) of Mary Anning, a paleontologist who discovered many fossils along the Lyme Regis coast, including the first complete ichthyosaur skeleton (at age 12 after her brother found the skull) and the first plesiosaur.

Lyme Regis is just down the coast from where we used to live in Southampton and it really has a fantastic shoreline, part of the Jurassic Coast. We paid a visit with a friend in 2011 and although we did not find any ichthyosaurs or plesiosaurs, there were plenty of ammonites to be found in the rocks. It is very humbling to look at something that died tens to hundreds of million years ago and has been sitting in a rock since, waiting to be found.

I think that there was a cast of Mary Anning’s ichthyosaur at the Lyme Regis Museum, which is sited on her birthplace (or it might have been Dinosaurland fossil museum, which is in her old church). Well worth a visit if you find yourself near the Devon coast!

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Celebrate 267 years of controlled trials with some affirmative action

Today is International Clinical Trials Day, apparently. Perhaps the most interesting thing about this is that the date commemorates the first recorded “controlled trial” (i.e. comparing treatment and control groups) by James Lind in 1747. 1747!

Anyway, it’s a good excuse to visit the AllTrials campaign site and watch their “make clinical trials count” video, if you've not heard of the campaign or still need convincing. Either way, sign up if you’ve not already! Without having all clinical trials published, vast sums of money are wasted and lives potentially put at risk.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

May the 4th be with you at the Hayden Orpheum (the right kind of Hayden)

Last Sunday (May the 4th), we went to see the original Star Wars trilogy on the big screen at the Hayden Orhpeum in Cremorne, North Sydney.

It was a lot of fun, as the Orpheum is quite an old cinema and really embraced the whole Star Wars Day thing. The show started with Darth Vader playing music from the Star Wars soundtrack on a Wurlitzer organ and was followed by a competition for the best Star Wars fancy dress before the films themselves.

(The winner was a very cute miniature Boba Fett.)

I must say, it was great watching the old films on the big screen again. They definitely show their age a bit but it was fun watching with an appreciative audience. The good thing about Star Wars fans is that they are perfectly aware that the films are full of cheesy (if charming) moments, and so there was a lot of applause and occasional laughter at some of the hokier lines and innuendo.

Sitting in a classic cinema watching some classic films did make me realise a couple of things, though.

Firstly, modern cinemas are better. They should be, given how much more expensive they are, but seven hours sitting in an old-style cinema seat really made me appreciate modern “stadium style” seating. (Though I’ve never understood why they call it that, given how uncomfortable stadium seats are!)

Secondly, don’t mess with a classic. The most unfortunate thing of the day is that they did not actually screen the original films - instead we got the “Special Edition” versions.

The last time I saw all three films at the cinema was when the Special Editions were released. At that time, the novelty value masked how terrible the changes actually were. This time, it had been quite a few years since I’d last seen the films and the changes - and how bad they were - really stuck out.

At best they were pointless, such as the extra Tatooine CGI sandtroopers on Dewbacks. However, most of the additions actively made the films worse. Slapstick CGI animals and droids in Mos Eisley, during what should have been a tense scene? Bad. CGI addition of “wonderful human being” Jabba the Hutt in Episode IV? Bad. Making Greedo shoot before (or possibly concurrent with) Han Solo? Bad. Bad. Replacing Sebastian Shaw with Hayden Christensen at the end of Return of the Jedi? Bad. Bad. Bad.

In a way, it was actually slightly ironic that we saw the films in the Hayden Orpheum - the Hayden Christensen replacement got the only audience boo of the night. Why, George, why‽‽

The Special Edition nonsense was not a major distraction, though, and I would still recommend the triple bill on a future Star Wars Day. (Although I think I have my fix for a few years!) The final thing it made me realise is that Star Wars is such a cultural phenomenon, enriched by many of the spin-offs (especially those that take the piss), it really is deserving of a day of celebration.

May the Fourth be with you, always.