A Study in “Sherlock” 2: The Blind Banker

This is the second installment in a series comparing BBC’s Sherlock to Arthur Conan Doyle’s original stories. The previous article is about about S1:E1 “A Study in Pink”.

Hi again, Sherlock fans! I had a lot of fun with the close-analysis of A Study in Pink, and I hope you did too. This time around, I’m going to do things a little bit differently. You see, that first episode, which had to introduce the characters, drew closely on the scenes in Conan Doyle’s stories that first brought us Watson and Holmes. Moffat and Co. lifted a lot of dialogue pretty much straight from those few scenes, and I had fun running that dialogue side-by-side.

This second episode, however, plunges us into the world of Sherlock-in-action: introductions are in the past, and it’s time for a story! Story elements are what Steve Thompson, this episode’s author, lifted from the originals, and so story elements are what I’ll focus on. First I’ll look at the sources of the plot writ large, and then the roots of that graffiti-code at the heart of the episode. Continue reading

My Brain is a Hexagon


I’m interrupting my anticipated schedule of posts to rant a moment about this beautiful, amazing game. Super Hexagon is by indie developer Terry Cavanagh. It’s…well, the conceit is very simple but makes very little sense on paper. In Edge Magazine‘s words:

You control a tiny arrow, sliding it along a fixed circular arc while varying arrays of lines glide – or, in the harder stages, careen – toward the hexagonal vortex at the centre of the screen. The aim is to slip through any available gaps to avoid collision. Your arrow rotates clockwise or anti-clockwise depending on which side of the touch-screen you press.

It looks like this, or this. That’s you in the middle, orbiting the central hexagon, dodging the light-coloured bars as they rush you.

superhexagon     super_hexagon_ipad_yellow

I love this game because it is first and foremost a game, and it succeeds utterly as a game. Continue reading

iTunes Top 10: July 2012


Every two to four weeks, I’ll share my thoughts on that day’s iTunes Top 10. This is the first installment! Welcome.

Song titles link to the associated (usually) official music videos.
Songs marked “this one!” are songs I really liked.

#1 Whistle (Flo Rida) –

Seems cute at first, with its whistling hook, but it turns out the ‘whistling’ going on here is, um…well, hear for yourself:

“Can you blow my whistle, baby, whistle, baby? Let me know;
Girl, I’m gonna show you how to do it, and we start real slow:
You just put your lips together, and you come real close,
Can you blow my whistle, baby, whistle, baby? — Here we go”

One verse begins, “It’s like, everywhere I go, my whistle’s ready to blow”. Right. Continue reading

Screen Shot 2012-05-15 at 1.20.51 PM

Afraid to Create

Being arty is terrifying. Although, inside myself, I’m proud of my creativity and happy with my thoughts, I crumble at the thought of sharing them with others. A switch flips. Pride evaporates. I think:

I’m not really that interesting. I don’t have much to add. The world will get on fine without me. Why clutter people’s lives with my ‘insights’? Great. Another mediocre blogger. Another clever kid who thinks he’s got something to say.

And so I don’t post my posts; I don’t sing my songs (“Great. Another clever softie with a guitar.”); I don’t write my writings (“Ooh, another college kid thinks he can write?”). Sometimes I don’t do much of anything (“Another kid trying to self-actualize. Thank god.”).

And you know what? That sucks.

Unfortunately, it’s not even unusual (“Another depressed young artist!”, lol! ). I spoke today with one of my best friends — a brilliant musician and a sparkling soul (a champagne of a person!), who told me of her own struggles with these same fears. More than that — two web artists I admire very much, Ze Frank and Tycho Brahe, recently posted about their own self-doubts.

How do these great creators deal with these fears? These people who are so obviously talented, with so much to offer — how do they explain them? How do they resolve them? Continue reading


A Study in “Sherlock”

A Study In Sherlock

E1/S1: A Study in Pink
E2/S1: The Blind Banker

I’m a little late to the game in my enthusiasm for “Sherlock”, the BBC series transplanting the famous detective and his friend John Watson to contemporary London. Most of you have watched it longer, seen more of it, and maybe even enjoyed it more than I have! I certainly can’t pretend to introduce it to you. But I may able to deepen your appreciation of it.

It just so happens that I spent a lot of last summer working through the Complete Sherlock Holmes. It’s still fresh enough in my mind that, as I watched “A Study in Pink”, the first episode of the reboot, I recognized all sorts of wonderful details, names, places, and dialogue lifted word-for-word from Arthur Conan Doyle’s originals.

I thought that, since some of you may not be as familiar with the stories, it might be fun to share with you some of the parallels I found. The full list would be unreadably long — there are that many! — but you’ll get a sense of things from the scenes in which Sherlock “reads” Watson. They’re especially close, and lots of fun in themselves.

Here we go :) Old is bold; new’s askew.

[Note: I’ll be quoting from the first episode of the reboot, “A Study in Pink”, as well as from the beginnings of the first two Holmes novels, “A Study in Scarlet” and “The Sign of Four”. If you can’t stand reading bits of things you haven’t seen or read, turn back now!]

The “high-functioning sociopath” and his sidekick, the everyman.

In both the novel “A Study in Scarlet” and the episode “A Study in Pink“, Watson is introduced to Holmes by a mutual friend who’s heard they’re both looking for apartment-mates. The friend brings Watson to “the chemical laboratory up at the hospital”/ditto, where Holmes is hard at work. Here is their first exchange:

Conan Doyle:
“How are you?” he said cordially, gripping my hand with a strength for which I should hardly have given him credit. “You have been in Afghanistan, I perceive.”
“How on earth did you know that?” I asked in astonishment.
“Never mind,” said he, chuckling to himself.

Sherlock: Afghanistan or Iraq?
John: Sorry?
Sherlock: Which was it, Afghanistan or Iraq?
John: (after a long pause) Afghanistan. Sorry, how did you know—
Sherlock: (cutting him off) Ah, Molly, coffee, thank you.

The next time we meet our heroes, in chapter 2, “The Science of Deduction”/the next day, Watson’s had a chance to read some of Holmes’ writing. It’s a newspaper article called “The Book of Life”/his website called “The Science of Deduction” (sound familiar?), and Watson is skeptical of the powers Holmes claims he has. Watson challenges Holmes, who reminds Watson of his remarkable guess about Afghanistan:

Conan Doyle:
“You appeared to be surprised when I told you, on our first meeting, that you had come from Afghanistan.”
“You were told, no doubt.”
“Nothing of the sort. I knew you came from Afghanistan. From long habit the train of thoughts ran so swiftly through my mind, that I arrived at the conclusion without being conscious of intermediate steps. There were such steps, however. The train of reasoning ran, ‘Here is a gentleman of a medical type, but with the air of a military man. Clearly an army doctor, then. He has just come from the tropics, for his face is dark, and that is not the natural tint of his skin, for his wrists are fair. He has undergone hardship and sickness, as his haggard face says clearly. His left arm has been injured. He holds it in a stiff and unnatural manner. Where in the tropics could an English army doctor have seen much hardship and got his arm wounded? Clearly in Afghanistan.’ The whole train of thought did not occupy a second. I then remarked that you came from Afghanistan, and you were astonished.”

Sherlock: When I met you for the first time yesterday, I said “Afghanistan or Iraq?” You looked surprised.
John: Yes. How did you know?
Sherlock: I didn’t know, I saw. Your haircut, the way you hold yourself, says military. The conversation as you entered the room — said trained at Bart’s, so army doctor. Obvious. Your face is tanned, but no tan above the wrists — you’ve been abroad but not sunbathing. The limp’s really bad when you walk, but you don’t ask for a chair when you stand, like you’ve forgotten about it, so it’s at least partly psychosomatic. That suggests the original circumstances of the injury were probably traumatic — wounded in action, then. Wounded in action, suntan — Afghanistan or Iraq.

The science of deduction, at work! As it happens, the second Sherlock Holmes novel, “The Sign of Four”, opens with a chapter also called “The Science of Deduction”, and Moffat draws heavily on this as well.

This chapter is where Watson sees Holmes shooting up cocaine/wearing three nicotine patches, which Holmes claims is “transcendently stimulating and clarifying to the mind”/“helps [him] think”. In the original, Watson decides to put this claim to the test, and hands Holmes a pocket-watch, saying, “Now, I have here a watch which has recently come into my possession. Would you have the kindness to let me have an opinion upon the character or habits of the late owner?” In Moffat’s adaptation, Sherlock borrows John’s cellphone when they first meet in the lab.

Holmes examines the watch/phone and eventually declares,

Conan Doyle:
I should judge that the watch belonged to your elder brother, who inherited it from your father. […] He was a man of untidy habits — very untidy and careless. He was left with good prospects, but he threw away his chances, lived for some time in poverty with occasional short intervals of prosperity, and finally, taking to drink, he died. That is all I can gather.”

Sherlock: I know you’ve got a brother who’s worried about you but you won’t go to him for help ’cause you don’t approve of him, possibly because he’s an alcoholic…more likely because he recently walked out on his wife […]

And here’s how Holmes explains his deductions in each version. I’m going to switch it up here and start with the Moffat conversation, showing the sources of each line. (Whee! It gets really fun here.)

Sherlock: Your phone — it’s expensive, email enabled, MP3 player. But you’re looking for a flat-share, you wouldn’t waste money on this. It’s a gift, then. Scratches — not one, many over time. It’s been in the same pocket as keys and coins. The man sitting next to me wouldn’t treat his one luxury item like this, so it’s had a previous owner.

Conan Doyle:
“I began by stating that your brother was careless. When you observe the lower part of that watch-case you notice that it is not only dinted in two places but it is cut and marked all over from the habit of keeping other hard objects, such as coins or keys, in the same pocket. Surely it is no great feat to assume that a man who treats a fifty-guinea watch so cavalierly must be a careless man. Neither is it a very far-fetched inference that a man who inherits one article of such value is pretty well provided for in other respects.”

Sherlock: The next bit’s easy, you know it already. (video cuts to a close-up of the back of the phone, which has been engraved “Harry Watson — from Clara xxx”.)
John: The engraving?
Sherlock: Harry Watson — clearly a family member who’s given you his old phone. Not your father — this is a young man’s gadget. Could be a cousin, but you’re a war hero who can’t find a place to live. Unlikely you’ve got an extended family, certainly not one you’re close to, so brother it is.

Conan Doyle:
“I should judge that the watch belonged to your elder brother, who inherited it from your father.”
“That you gather, no doubt, from the H. W. upon the back?”
“Quite so. The W. suggests your own name. The date of the watch is nearly fifty years back, and the initials are as old as the watch: so it was made for the last generation. Jewellery usually descends to the eldest son, and he is most likely to have the same name as the father. Your father has, if I remember right, been dead many years. It has, therefore, been in the hands of your eldest brother.”

Sherlock: Now, Clara — who’s Clara? Three kisses says romantic attachment. Expensive phone says wife, not girlfriend. Must’ve given it to him recently — this model’s only six months old. Marriage in trouble, then — six months on, and already he’s giving it away? If she’d left him, he would’ve kept it. People do, sentiment. But no, he wanted rid of it — he left her. He gave the phone to you, that says he wants you to stay in touch. You’re looking for cheap accommodation and you’re not going to your brother for help? That says you’ve got problems with him. Maybe you liked his wife, maybe you don’t like his drinking.

Conan Doyle:
“He was a man of untidy habits — very untidy and careless. He was left with good prospects, but he threw away his chances, lived for some time in poverty with occasional short intervals of prosperity, and finally, taking to drink, he died. That is all I can gather.” […]

Here Watson freaks out a bit; in the original, he leaps out of his chair and accuses Holmes of doing research on him. In the adaptation, he just exclaims, “How could you possibly know about the drinking?”

The detail Sherlock offers as explanation is, I think, my favourite parallel in the whole episode:

Sherlock: Power connection — tiny little scuff marks around the edge. Every night he goes to plug it in and charge but his hands are shaky. You never see those marks on a sober man’s phone, never see a drunk’s without them.

Conan Doyle:
“I ask you to look at the inner plate, which contains the keyhole. Look at the thousands of scratches all round the hole — marks where the key has slipped. What sober man’s key could have scored those grooves? But you will never see a drunkard’s watch without them. He winds it at night, and he leaves these traces of his unsteady hand.”

I almost jumped out of my chair. What a brilliant substitution — phone charger for pocket-watch key. I’m blown away.

And, delightfully, the whole episode’s like that. Believe me when I say that from the very beginning of the show —

Conan Doyle:
(Stamford, the mutual friend:) “[Holmes] appears to have a passion for definite and exact knowledge.”
(Watson:) “Very right too.”
“Yes, but it may be pushed to excess. When it comes to beating the subjects in the dissecting-rooms with a stick, it is certainly taking rather a bizarre shape.”
“Beating the subjects!”
“Yes, to verify how far bruises may be produced after death. I saw him at it with my own eyes.”


— to smack in the middle —

Conan Doyle:
(Holmes:) “I crave for mental exaltation. That is why I have chosen my own particular profession, or rather created it, for I am the only one in the world.”
“The only unofficial detective?” I said, raising my eyebrows.
“The only unofficial consulting detective,” he answered. “I am the last and highest court of appeal in detection. When Gregson, or Lestrade, or Athelney Jones are out of their depths — which, by the way, is their normal state — the matter is laid before me.”

Sherlock: I’m a consulting detective. The only one in the world. I invented the job.
John: What does that mean?
Sherlock: It means whenever the police are out of their depth — which is always — they consult me.

— to the very end —

Conan Doyle:
Watson: “But it was not mere guesswork?”
Holmes: “No, no: I never guess. It is a shocking habit — destructive to the logical faculty.”

John: Lucky guess.
Sherlock: I never guess.

— it’s just packed with lines, scenes, and situations from the books.

It’s a wonderful feat on Moffat’s part to have created an adaptation both so believably contemporary and so faithful to the original text. Check the stories out if you love the show, or watch the show if you enjoy the stories; each will enrich your pleasure in the other.

Want more? Here’s the next episode — The Blind Banker.

(Script of “Sherlock” adapted from the transcriptions at Wikiquote. The original novels can be found at Project Gutenberg.)

dearface censored

[This blog has been found in violation of H.R. 3261, S.O.P.A]

I’m sure you know about this by now, but in case you don’t, here’s the deal.

Yeah. You saw that line at the end of the video? “And ordinary users could go to jail for up to five years for posting any copyrighted work — even just singing a pop song”?

Welp. So much for “Oh, Something Arty.” That post with my Beatles and Beach Boys covers? Bam!

And of course Twitter and Facebook would have to follow up on each of my links to this blog to make sure everything I’m doing is okay.

If you want a more in-depth analysis of the bills, I suggest you check out the articles at Gizmodo and especially Techdirt. They’re very thorough and a great explanation of why this is such a terrible idea. As well, this piece from Good, an active-citizenship website, lays out the “what if” scenario very clearly.

Fortunately, Handel’s safe. But he wouldn’t have been if he’d been posting today. And that sounds silly, but…it’s not!

Now, I’m not for piracy. I’m not against copyright (though I think current copyright laws are a liiittle too generous in their statutes of expiration…)


But I do think this:

The media companies backing this legislation would be better served finding new methods of distribution that work WITH the internet than struggling against it. Netflix and Spotify are both fantastic services that give us amazing access to movies and music while making piracy or copying files impossible.
There’s a way to do this that doesn’t involve blacklisting websites,
or forcing Google & co. to police the web,
or letting a site be taken down on the basis of a “letter in good faith” and THEN actually looking into the details.

You’ll hear people saying that Wikipedia, Youtube, Facebook and so on will be shut down by this legislation. They probably won’t; they’ve got a lot of money and a lot of lawyers, and they’ll work out a way to stay up. But the easiest way for them to do that is just kill any links that might be dangerous — like, say, any link you ever post to a video or a picture or a recording. And of course, websites like mine, without that sort of backing? They won’t — I won’t — stand a chance.

Piracy is a problem, but this isn’t the way to solve it. Please sign a petition like those hosted by Google and Reddit — heck, here’s one specially aimed at video gamers — and give your senators and representatives a call. I did! It was actually very pleasant. They have nice interns.

For all of our sakes, please take action. Every call makes a difference!

Thank you :)


Whole Lotta Sturm & Drang Goin’ On

He's not the cheeriest protagonist.

You may have noticed on my “And More!” page that I’m planning to publish a translation of Goethe’s Die Leiden des jungen Werther (“The Sufferings of Young Werther”). Don’t worry if you’d forgotten about that — honestly, so had I! But my friend Joel told me a few days ago that he’s begun reading it, and that started the wheels turning in my head again.  I’ll say a bit here about why I want to do this, and (most importantly!) how you can help me with it!

When I read Werther a few years ago, I was amazed at how…contemporary the whole thing felt. I mean, hey. There’s this guy; he meets this girl, who’s engaged to this other guy; but he decides, “hey, that’s cool — we can just be friends, right?” And of course that doesn’t work at all. He goes crazy about her; eventually, he meets her fiancé, who (of course, unbearably) is the nicest guy in the world; and he decides, “hey, well, all three of us can be friends!” And of course that’s just the worst.

That’s basically the story. And when you put it like that, it sounds veeery familiar. Heck, I put myself through that three or four times in the last five years. And what makes Werther so special is that it’s told with such attention to emotional detail and so much realistic care that it’s not hard to recognize yourself in it. It’s the little things —
The time he watches her drive off in her carriage, and she’s saying goodbye to everyone but him, and then just as she’s leaving the courtyard she turns back — was it to look for him?!!?
Or the time he’s writing back to his best friend, saying, “So, you’re saying that either I have a chance and I should go for it, or I don’t and I should move on. Well…I think it’s more complicated than that!”
Or the time, when he’s at his most depressed and messed up, that he writes “I happened to pick up one of my old diaries, and I see now that I walked right into this…”


Yeah. It’s so real. Goethe himself had just lived through it twice before writing the book, so I guess he knew what it was like. And it moved me to learn that our experiences had been so close. It turns out young-men-in-love in 1774 were desperate and confused and longing in just the same way as they were in 2010. That seems to me like an important insight. I’ve always thought it was important to realize that people from the past weren’t that different from people today, and Werther is a powerful reminder of that — of our shared humanity through time.

But that’ll only click for people if they’re reading a translation that’s fresh enough that they can recognize themselves in it. I was lucky enough to read it in the original German, and originals don’t date; they’re eternally fresh off the presses of their time! But translations do, because translations make a bridge between the text and and the present, and when the present shifts…it’s like one bank of the river moving further away. The bridge collapses. Or at least it doesn’t reach.

Now, Werther is an epistolary novel; it’s all (well, almost all – spoilers!) letters from Werther to his friend Wilhelm. (We only see Werther’s side of the correspondence, but we can infer things about what Wilhelm’s been writing him.) At some point it occurred to me that one fun way to reinvigorate Werther would be to release a new translation as a blog, and have each letter be a blog post. Even better: each post would appear on the same date as the original letter in the book, with the year adapted for the present day! So, for example, the first letter of the book, dated May 4, 1774, would appear in a post on May 4, 2012. That means that, if you chose to follow me in this, you’d see Werther’s story unfold in real-time over the year or so that it took him to live it. What do you think? Does that sound fun?

Now, in the last week since Joel started me thinking about this again, I’ve been considering creating as vivid a “virtual Werther” as I can. He’ll have his own Gmail, Twitter, and WordPress accounts; I want the blog to say “…posted by werther“, as if it were really his blog that he’s keeping up. And maybe he can tweet in the dead days between posts. My ideal would be that someone who doesn’t know the story would stumble across this and think it was a real kid’s blog. Maybe I should call him ‘Will’, or something, so the name’s more contemporary.

Actually, I’ve been wondering how far to go in making this an adaptation instead of just a translation. Maybe I’ll make him move to…Brooklyn, instead of the random small town he stumbles across. Brooklyn is kind of like a small town. Hmm. What do you think?

I’d love your thoughts. If I go ahead with this, I’ll be committing myself to a lot of work and over a year of virtual Werthering! I’d like to make sure I benefit maximally from your feedback before I plunge into things. How much do you think I should change things?

And keep your eyes peeled — I’ll be looking for your advice in the coming months as I work to find a voice that’s both contemporary and rich enough to balance modern cool with 18th-century rhapsodizing.

Here’s to an amazing ride! Let’s do this :)