Nerds in the World

A Geek Abroad

Mae Govannen, mellyn nin!

You may be wondering where I’ve been for the last month. For once, the answer isn’t “in my house, being lazy and watching copious amounts of TV.” No, this time the answer is much more exciting. I was touring the UK and Ireland on a three-and-a-half-week solo trip. I’d never been to those particular islands before, unbelievably, so it was a wonderful experience. And a nerdy one. Because most of the places I went out of my way to see were somehow related to my favourite books, movies, TV programmes, etc. And if I learned anything from this trip, it’s that the UK is a fabulous place to be a nerd.

Here are some of the geeky highlights of my adventure:

Platform 9 3/4 in King's Cross Station (which looks nothing like it did in the movie, by the way).

Platform 9 3/4 in King’s Cross Station (which looks nothing like it did in the movie, by the way).

The modern London home of a certain famous detective. It's not on Baker Street. I found it completely by accident.

The modern London home of a certain famous detective. It’s not on Baker Street. I found it completely by accident.

And here he is on actual Baker Street.

And here he is on actual Baker Street.

The Globe in its glory.

The Globe in its glory. (Albeit a bit blurry.)

Any other Pink Floyd geeks out there? This is the building that was on the cover of Animals!

Any other Pink Floyd geeks out there? This is the building that was on the cover of Animals!

This is the first floor of the Bodleian Library, the most beautiful building I have ever set foot in. Also known as the room where McGonagall taught dancing in Goblet of Fire.

This is the first floor of the Bodleian Library, the most beautiful building I have ever set foot in. Also known as the room where McGonagall taught dancing in Goblet of Fire.

It's also the Hospital Wing.

It’s also the Hospital Wing. And the upper floor is the Hogwarts Library, but I wasn’t allowed to take pictures there.

The Eagle and Child! Home of the Inklings! SQUEEEEE!!

The Eagle and Child! Home of the Inklings! SQUEEEEE!!

The town of Oxford is, fittingly, home to the hugest bookstore I've ever seen - Blackwell's.

The town of Oxford is, fittingly, home to the hugest bookstore I’ve ever seen – Blackwell’s.

This is the house where Tolkien wrote The Hobbit!

This is the house where Tolkien wrote The Hobbit!

By the way, no words, or pictures, could even begin to capture the utter awesomeness that is Oxford. Even if you’re not as huge a fan of Tolkien and Lewis as I am. It’s like everything good and beautiful about the last thousand years of Western history concentrated into a few square miles of marble and forests. Seriously, if you ever find yourself in England, don’t leave without seeing Oxford.

This is the first thing I saw after getting off the train in Edinburgh. Scottish stormtroopers, it turns out, are friendlier than the usual kind.

This is the first thing I saw after getting off the train in Edinburgh. Scottish stormtroopers, it turns out, are friendlier than the usual kind.

This is the boarding school in Edinburgh that inspired Hogwarts.

This is the boarding school in Edinburgh that inspired Hogwarts.

And this is the grave that inspired the name all wizards fear to speak.

And this is the grave that inspired the name all wizards fear to speak.

And finally, this is the cafe where JK Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter book!

And finally, this is the cafe where JK Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter book!

This is the view from the top of the Sir Walter Scott monument, the tallest memorial ever built to honour a writer.

This is the view from the top of the Sir Walter Scott monument, the tallest memorial ever built to honour a writer. (And believe me, it was a chore climbing up there.)

Trinity College Library in Dublin! I'm pretty sure this is what Heaven looks like. (It's also what the Jedi library looks like, but that's only in the prequels, so no one cares.)

Trinity College Library in Dublin! I’m pretty sure this is what Heaven looks like. (It’s also what the Jedi library looks like, but that’s only in the prequels, so no one cares.)

Here's Oscar Wilde in his native city, looking appropriately drunk.

Here’s Oscar Wilde in his native city, looking appropriately drunk.

And here's my favourite Dublin poet, WB Yeats, looking unexpectedly attractive.

And here’s my favourite Dublin poet, WB Yeats, looking unexpectedly attractive.

Yup. I went there. And it was a truly amazing experience. I think I made a pretty good companion.

Yup. I went there. And it was a truly amazing experience. I think I made a pretty good companion.

You may recognize this restaurant from "The Impossible Astronaut." it's called Eddie's American Diner, and their burgers are good (though the milkshakes are rubbish).

You may recognize this restaurant from “The Impossible Astronaut.” It’s called Eddie’s American Diner, and their burgers are good, but the malts are rubbish.

This street has stood in for several London streets, including the one where the evil Santa robots attacked.

This street has stood in for several London streets, particularly the one where the evil Santa robots attacked in “The Christmas Invasion.”

Actually, pretty much every part of Cardiff has appeared on Doctor Who at some point. This is the shop where Rose met the Doctor (right before it blew up).

Actually, pretty much every part of Cardiff has appeared on Doctor Who at some point. This is the shop where Rose met the Doctor (right before it blew up).

And to cap off my trip, I went and saw my first musical on Broadway in NYC. It was The Phantom of the Opera, of course.

And to cap off my trip, I went and saw my first musical on Broadway in NYC. It was The Phantom of the Opera, of course.

Long story short, I shamelessly indulged my inner geek for a whole month, and it was probably the coolest thing I’ve ever done. I highly recommend it as a cure for dullness and everyday American reality. But now I’m excited to get back to inflicting my geeky thoughts on you lot again! Stay tuned!

Namarie,
Aldy

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DIY 221B

I am planning to move in the near future, so the subject of apartments and apartment organization has been rather on my mind. So, during my travels through the interwebs, this article caught my eye.

It gives instructions on how to make your apartment/living room/office look like Sherlock’s flat at 221B Baker Street, complete with links where you can buy some of the essential accents. And yes, you can even get the exact same wallpaper, at a website called “Tangle Tree Interiors.” You might have to add the smiley face yourself, though.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to invest all of my apartment budget into making Sherlock proud.

Namarie,
Aldy

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#1:The Reichenbach Fall

Last one, everybody!

The Reichenbach Fall

Summary: As Sherlock’s fame continues to grow, so do the schemes of his arch-nemesis. As Moriarty starts carrying out his promise to “burn” Sherlock, the detective and John race desperately to stay one step ahead of him.

Why it’s ranked here: I think one of the reasons Series 3 was so disappointing is that this episode was such a hard act to follow. It’s beautiful. It’s mind-bending in the best possible way. And yes, it manages to be heart-breaking, even though practically everyone who has ever heard the name “Sherlock Holmes” knew how it would end.

It was fitting for me to post about “A Study in Pink” right before this one, because in many ways “The Reichenbach Fall” completes that episode. In “Pink,” for example, we see Sherlock risking his life just to prove how brilliant he is. John has to save him at the last second. In “Reichenbach,”  we see Sherlock allowing his reputation as a brilliant detective to be destroyed in order to save John. Look what a good dose of character development can do! On the other hand, “Pink” starts with John alone, dreaming about the war. “Reichenbach” ends with John alone, re-assuming his military posture, psychosomatic limp, and psychiatrist. Oh, and both episodes prove why you should never get into a cab without looking at the driver.

Moriarty is, obviously, a big reason why this episode works. His antics are more subdued during his scenes with Sherlock, which just makes him that much creepier. And it doesn’t help that everything seems to be going exactly his way from the beginning. For me, the most disturbing moment in this entire series is when John and Sherlock encounter Moriarty as “Richard Brook.” He was so convincing that for a split second, I really wondered if this was his true identity.

Although even as a children’s storyteller, he’s still creepy as heck.

 

 

For a story with so many allusions to classic fairy tales, this episode plays on a uniquely modern fear: that paranoia we all sometimes feel about hackers, super-secret spy agencies, and anyone who can use the power of the Internet to steal someone’s identity, twist it into something completely false, or even erase it from existence. Just the fact that the vast majority of people seem to believe everything they read on the Internet, even though the vast majority of people are able to edit the Internet with impunity, makes all the drama in this episode uncomfortably plausible. If somebody can do that to Sherlock Holmes, then why not you? Sweet dreams…

“James Moriarty isn’t a man at all. He’s a spider.”

 

So Moriarty was an awesome villain. But this was also the first time we really got to see Sherlock as a genuine, honest-to-goodness hero. No, he’s made it very clear that he’s not “one of the angels,” and no, of course he didn’t literally sacrifice his life to save his friends, but he did sacrifice his reputation. And for Sherlock, that’s even more impressive. It’s quite heartwarming to see definitive proof that he has, indeed, learned to value a few people more than his own ego.

“Goodbye, John.”

 

But on the heartbreaking side of things, special mention has to go to John Watson, and Martin Freeman’s portrayal of him. John’s monologue at Sherlock’s grave is one of the most tear-jerking moments I’ve ever seen on television, and it’s all down to Martin’s beautifully genuine performance. The way that scene was filmed also helps–I love how, when John finally breaks down, the camera doesn’t look directly at him; we only see him cry in the reflection off the tombstone. And then he straightens up, gives a salute-like nod, and he’s immediately right back where he was at the beginning of the show. Cue the tears.

“There’s just one more thing–one more miracle, Sherlock, for me. Don’t. Be. Dead. Would you do that? Just stop it. Stop this.”

 

And then…look who came to his own funeral! Cue “Stayin’ Alive” chorus.

I love this show.

 

Namarie,
Aldy

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#2: A Study in Pink

“The name is Sherlock Holmes. The address is 221B Baker Street.” *epic wink*

A Study in Pink

Summary: This episode introduces us to Dr. John Watson, an army medic recently returned from combat in Afghanistan. He’s having trouble re-adjusting to civilian life in London, has a psychosomatic limp that resulted from a war injury, and is feeling bored and depressed…until he decides to rent a flat with brilliant consulting detective Sherlock Holmes. Next thing he knows, he’s running around the city investigating serial suicides, and it only gets crazier from there.

Why it’s ranked here: I remember watching this episode for the first time back in 2011, when Netflix was a new and exciting thing. The words “21st-century Sherlock Holmes” drew me to the show, but did not prepare me for how awesome it was going to be. From the moment Sherlock first appeared on screen, to the part when Mycroft says “Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson” over the epic theme music, I was squealing internally with pure nerdy joy. There’s nothing quite like one’s first experience with a brilliant bit of telly.

But this episode is, in its own right, one of the best episodes of any show that I’ve ever seen. It’s the perfect blend of funny and intense, and the dialogue is so fast and so dense that it improves upon multiple viewings. Both Sherlock and John are immediately set up to be fascinating characters, as is the rest of the cast.

Some highlights: First, all the lines that were ripped from the original Sherlock Holmes stories. I didn’t read most of the stories until after I watched this episode, but the writers clearly did. Sherlock’s deduction of John at the beginning came straight from “The Sign of Four,” except with a cell phone instead of a watch (Afghanistan was still the country in question, though! Not much has changed, apparently…). And Sherlock’s immediate dismissal of Anderson’s suggestion that the word at the crime scene was meant to be German for “revenge” becomes much funnier when you realize that in the book, A Study in Scarlet, that’s exactly what it was. (Also in said book, Lestrade proposed that the killer might have been writing “Rachel,” and Holmes immediately shot him down.) I like television writers who read.

Speaking of that crime scene, I love how Sherlock’s deductions appear on the screen while he’s examining the Pink Lady. It’s a bit of an unusual move, and it may not have worked in another show, but here it was another great depiction of how the Great Detective’s mind works, without him having to explain every step.

Then there’s Mycroft’s introduction. I’m sure I wasn’t alone in thinking that the mysterious, omniscient person who kidnapped John and introduced himself as Sherlock’s arch-enemy was Moriarty. Turns out, he’s just Sherlock’s brother, who shares his ego and love of the theatrical. John’s reaction on finding this out at the end was priceless.

Despite the abandoned warehouse, the remote-controlled telephones and security cameras, and the ominous umbrella…it really is just a childish feud.

 

Then there’s the whole ending scene, with the “battle of wits” (sorry, I can’t help comparing it to the scene in The Princess Bride). It was so intense, from beginning to end, and it revealed so much about Sherlock, not to mention introducing his real arch-nemesis for the first time. The last fifteen minutes or so of the episode set up Sherlock’s entire moral dilemma for the rest of the show: “What’s the point of being clever if you can’t prove it?…You’ll do anything, anything at all, to stop being bored.”

 

That scene also firmly established that John Watson is not the bumbling pushover he is in many Sherlock Holmes adaptations. He’s every bit as much of an adrenaline junkie as Sherlock, and he clearly didn’t spend all that time in the army stitching up wounds. Please don’t threaten his friends in front of him.

Oh, and the Cabbie? Possibly the creepiest villain on this show, and yes, I’m including Moriarty in that assessment. He’s so normal at first glance, and yet, the more you look at him, the more you realize there’s something very, very wrong with the mind behind those glasses. Thanks to this episode, I’ll always be sure to get a good look at the driver any time I take a cab anywhere. Pity Sherlock didn’t learn the same lesson…

Of course, since he used to be an evil Roman soothsayer, perhaps we should have suspected him earlier.

 

Anyway, by the time the credits rolled on this episode, I was completely in love with Sherlock and the BBC (this was my first proper introduction to the channel). I haven’t looked back since.

And neither have they. Best Friends Forever.

 

Namarie,
Aldy

 

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#4: A Scandal in Belgravia

It’s not a Sherlock Holmes series without Irene Adler.

A Scandal in Belgravia

Summary: After escaping his first showdown with Moriarty, Sherlock’s fame grows, until he gains a client from inside the Royal Family itself. The anonymous client wants Sherlock to retrieve some compromising photos from a dominatrix named Irene Adler, a.k.a. “The Woman.” Seems like a simple task, except that “The Woman” turns out to be a clever and ruthlessly ambitious blackmailer who baffles even Sherlock’s powers of deduction.

Why it’s ranked here: Do I think changing Irene Adler from a popular American singer to a British dominatrix was a bit…extreme? Yes. Does she stick annoyingly close to Moffat’s usual (slightly misogynistic) formula for female characters? Oh, yes. But while the character’s premise may have flaws, this episode itself does not. It’s a taut, complex thriller with more twists than a stadium pretzel, and it delves deeper into Sherlock and Mycroft’s characters than the show had yet gone without sacrificing any of the story’s intensity.

And yes…I did kind of like Irene Adler. At first, I, like John, just wished she would put some clothes on, but as she got more involved in the story, it was hard not to be impressed at her knack for manipulating even a genius like Sherlock. And when her password was finally revealed at the end, it was hard not to feel sorry for her. I have to give full credit to Lara Pulver and Benedict Cumberbatch for making Sherlock and Irene’s…relationship…believable. I still hope to one day see an onscreen version of Irene Adler who resembles the brilliant, good-natured master of disguise she was in the original stories, but if one must turn her into a love interest for Sherlock, this is the way to do it.

Irene aside, though, there are tons of awesome moments in this episode. There’s the infamous “sheet” scene in Buckingham Palace (“Are you wearing any pants?” “Nope.” “Okay.”)…

There’s the part where Sherlock beats the crap out of an American secret agent for daring to lay a hand on Mrs. Hudson (“And exactly how many times did he fall out the window?” “I lost count.”)…

When he makes this face, you’re in big trouble.

 

And then there’s the triumphant, final plot twist in which Sherlock fakes a death for the first time. (“When I say run, you run.”)

There are some sad moments, too. I felt so bad for Molly during the Christmas party scene. I suspect Sherlock did, too, deep down, because he’s much nicer to her after this episode. And Sherlock’s grief over Irene when she “died” the first time was surprisingly touching, because it was so understated, and you could tell it was rather a new feeling for him. I’ll say it again: brilliant performance by Benedict.

Oh, and the violin theme he writes for her is lovely. Yes, there were a lot of great things about this episode. I, too, am SHERlocked.

Namarie,
Aldy

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How to Build Your Own Mind Palace

“Get out. I need to go to my mind palace.”

Part of the reason Sherlock solves cases so well is that he can remember everything he’s ever seen or heard about (well, everything he deems important, which does not include basic astronomy). As revealed in “The Hounds of Baskerville,” where the above quote comes from, he does this by creating a “mind palace,” an imaginary place where he stores all the relevant images.

Apparently, this is based on a real memory technique that some people use. Here is a handy step-by-step guide to the process. I have not tried this myself, so I don’t know how well it works for the average person, but it sounds rather clever. We can’t all be as observant as the Great Detective, but perhaps this is one way we can bring our retentive powers a little closer to his.

And here is another article in which some university students describe how they use this technique to help with their school work. Cool, yes?

Namarie,
Aldy

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Best Quotes: Sherlock Holmes

As I’ve said before, the dialogue is one of my favourite things about Sherlock. It’s fantastic and endlessly quotable. So I’m going to spend a few posts quoting it. Let’s start with the fastest-talking, snarkiest character on the show: Sherlock himself.

I love the brilliant ones–they’re always so desperate to get caught…That’s the frailty of genius, John. It needs an audience.

I’m not a psychopath, I’m a high-functioning sociopath. Do your research.

Oh, what now? I’m in shock! Look, I’ve got a blanket!

It’s one possible explanation of some of the facts. You’ve got a solution that you like, but you’re choosing to ignore anything that doesn’t comply with it.

Don’t make people into heroes, John. Heroes don’t exist, and if they did, I wouldn’t be one of them.

Mrs. Hudson, leave Baker Street? England would fall!

Once you rule out the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be true.

How do you stalk a deer with a hat? What are you going to do, throw it? Some sort of death frisbee? It’s got flaps. Ear flaps. It’s an ear hat, John!

I may be on the side of the angels, but don’t think for one second that I am one of them.

Short version: not dead.

I will solve your murder, but John Watson will save your life.

It’s a story my brother told me when we were kids. The east wind. This terrifying force that lays waste to all in its path. Seeks out the unworthy and plucks them from the earth. That was generally me…He was a rubbish big brother.

More to follow!

Namarie,
Aldy

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Fandom of the Month: Sherlock

Once upon a time, there was an innocent young blogger who had never indulged in Netflix binge-watching and knew the BBC only as a British news channel. Then, one day, this blogger heard about a show that recreated the adventures of Sherlock Holmes in the 21st century. The blogger, intrigued, watched the first episode of Sherlock – “A Study in Pink.”

Five years later, the BBC owns a disproportionate parcel of my life, I have read every Sherlock Holmes story written by Arthur Conan Doyle, I watch movies just to see Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, and I have completely lost any innocence I once possessed regarding the world of fandoms. And I blame it all on this shot right here:

Sherlock is one of the best-written, best-acted shows on television today, as I think I’ve mentioned before. Every line of dialogue sparks with wit, humour and drama. The main actors have become Hollywood stars for a reason. And, yes, it’s very faithful to Doyle’s original characters, even if the stories have been updated to include smartphones and the Internet. It sucked me in from the moment Sherlock appeared onscreen, accompanied by his epic theme music.

Pros to being a Sherlockian: It’s pretty easy to explain your show to non-nerdy friends and relatives. They’ll probably even like it, if you show it to them. No dragons or weird aliens here–just a genius, anti-social detective and his exasperated, sweater-clad best friend. The show, its stars and its writers are all critically acclaimed. And you’ll always be able to say that you liked Benedict Cumberbatch before he was cool.

Cons to being a Sherlockian: It’s been five years. There are nine episodes. NINE. Add to this the fact that Steven Moffat runs the series, and you can see why the Sherlock fandom is just a little crazy.

They like to make gifs like this.

But it’s amazing how much a show with nine episodes can impact one’s life. To be fair, they are long episodes–about an hour and a half each. And I love every minute of Sherlock. It’s a lovely show in and of itself, and as a gateway drug to every other BBC fandom…it’s priceless. You can probably blame Sherlock for this blog.

So get ready for lots of posts about everyone’s favourite high-functioning sociopath! We’ll be spending the remainder of January with him.

Namarie,
Aldy

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Goodbye Sherlock, Hello…

Well, it’s time to say farewell to our favourite consulting detective. For this year, anyway. Next month we’ll be moving on to something a little more varied, and frankly, a little less logical. But let me leave you with one more quote from Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, because  I love it.

“To a great mind, nothing is little.”

Here’s a good Chinese New Year resolution: notice everything. And remember that, as Sherlock likes to remind us, the most important things to notice are not crime scene details, but the kindness, intelligence, and other good qualities of the friends around us.

I’ll be back tomorrow with February’s fandom! Namarie!

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His Last Bow

The third and last Sherlock episode airs on Sunday. I’m so excited, but also a little sad because it’s the last one we’ll get for who-knows-how-long. 😦 Still, it’s something to look forward to this weekend. Wasn’t there something else on TV this Sunday too? I forget. I’m sure it wasn’t as cool as Sherlock anyway. 🙂

Since I won’t be posting about that episode, as it will be February and time to move on to other things, I’ll do a little lead-up post now. The episode is called “His Last Vow.” This is a rather ominous reference to the vow he made to Dr. and Mrs. Watson in the last episode, but it’s also a reference to the Conan Doyle story, “His Last Bow: An Epilogue of Sherlock Holmes.” It is a very simple story about Holmes using his talent for disguise to catch a German spy. Here are some facts about the original story, in preparation for the BBC version:

1) It was yet another attempt to finish off the detective, this time not by death but by retirement. Just like “The Final Problem” and a later story called “The Adventure of the Second Stain,” it failed.

2) However, it may be one of the last Sherlock Holmes stories actually written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. There is some doubt whether the last collection of stories, The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes, is completely genuine.

3) It’s one of only three stories in the canon that are told by a third-person narrator rather than Watson.

4) Holmes impersonates an American in this story (and his use of American slang is terribly overdone). I wonder if they’ll use that detail in the Sherlock episode…

5) Watson returns to the army in “His Last Bow” – this time to fight in World War I.

6) While explaining the situation to his German captive, Holmes alludes to all his most well-known foes from the early stories, including Moriarty, Irene Adler, and Colonel Sebastian Moran.

I almost wish “His Last Bow” had been the last story. It has a feeling of completeness to it–Watson going off to war again, Holmes returning to his bee-keeping retirement. Their friendship and teamwork are also highlighted particularly well in this story. It’s bittersweet, but leaves both characters in a good place. Still, I suppose it’s better not to have a final end to Sherlock Holmes’ adventures–that way they can go on forever.

We know for certain that “His Last Vow” will not be the last Sherlock episode. In fact, we can be pretty confident it’ll end on a cliffhanger at least as bad as the last one. But it may resemble “His Last Bow” in other ways. We shall see.

Namarie!

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