Dec 9, 2013

Man of Steel

IT TOOK me a while to write about Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel (MoS) because I was trying to articulate what it meant to me. And I think I’ve got it: MoS is our generation’s Superman anthem.

Let me explain. The Donner movies* were an anthem of the previous generation: Clark Kent as the Everyman, Superman as the benevolent big Boy Scout. Snyder has reimagined Clark as an outsider trying to find himself, someone who’s a little lost in the world. And a lot of us can relate to that, especially in this post-recession age.

With MoS, Snyder and Zimmer have quite literally given us an anthem for this era: brash, bold, perhaps worlds-spanning. And with it, there’s the wild element of of danger and uncertainty because Clark still doesn’t have full control over his powers, his emotions, and his moral compass yet.

Speaking of moral compass, I honestly don’t have a problem with the way it ended with Zod. There’s precedent for it in the comics, and I felt it was a nod to that. My problem was with the way they used Metropolis as the Kryptonian battleground. And maybe I’m being overly sentimental here, but I would’ve thought that Clark would try his hardest to keep those things happening to densely-populated urban centres, especially Metropolis. But then again, maybe it just goes to show how we’re not in Kansas any more, in terms of who and what this Superman is. It’s a brave new world.

* I count Superman Returns as one of the Donner movies because it explicitly tried to follow that continuity and approach to Superman/CK.

Nov 2, 2013

Notes on The Master and Margarita

‘MANUSCRIPTS don’t burn’.–Woland, The Master and Margarita

Recently I re-read this classic, long my favourite book, and I re-discovered why that is. It always amazes me how Bulgakov changes his tone and phrasing, here switching to an everyday, very Russian dry humour and wit, and there to an almost science-fiction exposition. Some notes:

‘… Let me see it.’ Woland held out his hand, palm up.

‘Unfortunately, I cannot do that,’ replied the master, ‘because I burned it in the stove.’

‘Forgive me, but I don’t believe you,’ Woland replied, ‘that cannot be: manuscripts don’t burn.’

Ideas: the most incredible and indestructible creation of humankind. Once an idea is created, it can never be destroyed.

‘No, because you’ll be afraid of me. It won’t be very easy for you to look me in the face now that you’ve killed him.’

‘Quiet,’ replied Pilate. ‘Take some money.’

Levi shook his head negatively, and the procurator went on:

‘I know you consider yourself a disciple of Yeshua, but I can tell you that you learned nothing of what he taught you. For if you had, you would certainly take something from me. Bear in mind that before he died he said he did not blame anyone.’ Pilate raised a finger significantly, Pilate’s face was twitching. ‘And he himself would surely have taken something. You are cruel, and he was not cruel….’

How incredible it would be to not be cruel and petty in this world.

‘… You uttered your words as if you don’t acknowledge shadows, or evil either. Kindly consider the question: what would your good do if evil did not exist, and what would the earth look like if shadows disappeared from it? Shadows are cast by objects and people. … Do you want to skin the whole earth, tearing all the trees and living things off it, because of your fantasy of enjoying bare light? You’re a fool.’

Ah, how clean-cut good and evil are to the Devil … on a grand scale, you need evil to balance out the good. Of course, this is ignoring the minutiae … maybe the Devil’s not in the details, but rather in the grand scheme of things?

‘… If it is true that cowardice is the most grievous vice, then the dog at least is not guilty of it. Storms were the only thing the brave dog feared. Well, he who loves must share the lot of the one he loves.’

An echo of the master and Margarita?

Sep 13, 2013

Excel Gotcha–Fractional Numbers

TODAY I learned (the hard way) about a subtle bug in Microsoft Excel. It seems that to the VLOOKUP function looking for a matching value in a range, two equal fractional numbers are not always equal.
Fractional numbers, technically known as floating-point numbers because of the way computers store them internally, sometimes give Excel a headache. If you want to see this for yourself, try out the following exercise:
Edit: the formula above should be '=VLOOKUP(3.3, tblLookup, 2, FALSE)'.

You will find yourself with the following error:
Even more nefariously, if you use the range lookup option:
=VLOOKUP(3.3, tblLookup, 2, TRUE)
Excel will give you an actively incorrect result:
So, be extremely wary of using fractional numbers as lookup keys in VLOOKUP functions. If you must, then use the techniques described in Microsoft’s Knowledge Base article on this issue.