Mmmmmm, relatable.

31 January 2013

Last night, well, yesterday morning I had an extensive conversation with a friend of mine about art. This conversation centred around how little art exists in galleries that is actually worth the trip.

I’ve been to a number of art galleries and can honestly say that I cannot think of more than a couple of things I’ve seen that have stuck in my memory at all, let alone any that got any sort of reaction from me.

Hell, one piece I remember simply because it reminds me of a dream I once had:The Lake of Albano, 1790

It’s The Lake of Albano (1790) by Joseph Wright of Derby, if you’re curious.

Wandering around that art gallery back in 2002 or so that was the only piece that stood out. In more recent years I’ve wandered around places and had even less of a reaction to things.

I’m told that art is supposed to make one feel something but generally the only art I find that does that is online. The things presented in galleries, unless they’re extremely famous old masters, might as well be anonymous.

To give an example of what made me feel I present this:

qujsf

Click through to a page that is wonderful. If you’ve not played the Portal series of games it might not have as much effect, admittedly.

Another piece would be this illustration of Rapture, the city under the waves from BioShock:

1959

Then there’s this work, parodying McNaughton’s “One Nation Under God”. I find this version significantly less horrifying:mcnaughton-fine-art-one-nation-under-god-parody-jesus-cthulhu-blood-monsters

Something a little more physical:octopus

Impossible things and places:

Rahmos9-1200x745

I’m not even sure what to comment on this one:Fantasy_Spirit_of_fire_009610_

The point being that art that speaks to me most definitely exist. It doesn’t need to be from popular culture I recognise, although that’s not a bad thing, but it needs to be relatable in some way.

That’s hardly a new thought in and of itself, of course. This old Corries song springs to mind:

Money is spent on things that have no connection with many of us. Who is it really for?

When I think about it creativity as a whole is not treated in a way I’m particularly comfortable with. Certainly we revere the concept of it but in practice artists are referred to pejoratively for the most part – “artsy fartsy type”, “Starving artist”, and so forth. These terms focus on the lack of tangible value these things have in a culture that measures everything by currency rather than something else.

I’m not suggesting that money should never matter simply that the way the system exists at the moment it’s no wonder it’s not really a viable career path.

What if 3D scanning technology developed further and one was able to have an equivalent of a Steam library devoted to art that could experienced through 3D goggles or similar?

Instead of the experience only being available to those with the ability to get to a gallery anyone, anywhere could virtually walk through and experience things. Generally speaking art work isn’t allowed to be touched and so it’s not as if tangibility is a major stumbling block.

This would even mean any communal space could host an exhibition without needing more than a few bits of techy hardware. How’s that for accessibility?

Taking into account the amount of sales one could make it seems totally viable to me that artists could actually make a living.

Instead we have to put up with endless “art” created primarily for sensationalist media coverage, or at least publicised by the same. I personally have no interest in seeing the latest idiotic piece of pretentious crap that’s being praised and bemoaned in the popular press. I’d rather look at artistic renditions of what post-apocalyptic Russia and America might look like:

Apicalipsys_02-Apicalipsys_04-Apicalipsys_13-Apicalipsys_16-Apicalipsys_19-

I’ve had a pretty long day at work so please excuse me if I get a little ramble-y today.

I think about and write about videogames a lot as I’m sure many of you have noticed and I wonder why. Other think about films or literature yet I focus on this medium.

For me I think it’s because of something else I’ve been thinking about – I’m frequently hesitant to lay out my thoughts about various things, even though I’ve arrived at them in my own way. The reason for this is because they’re usually not new thoughts on a species level. There’s so many other humans thinking every day, someone else has already had these ideas and in all likelihood expressed them better than I can.

I found this piece, for example, and it sums up why I run a business like I do even though I live on less than minimum wage at the moment. It expresses things more eloquently than I can manage.

Similarly there’s no point in me writing about Fight Club because all discussion about it has been exhausted. I think that’s why I like to talk to intelligent people younger than me – some things are still new to them.

Getting back to the point of videogames though – they’re still a very immature medium. We’re starting to seem some clumsy attempts to tackle more in-depth issues with some finesse but ultimately they’re still fumbling around with monochrome film and hand cranks.

For all the negative things being said about videogames they’re still rapidly evolving. There’s still things being discovered in a frontier-like existence. It’s exciting and interesting to see where the journey takes us.

There’s also the fact that much like one used to say that everyone has a novel inside them many of us have games inside us. I’ve got a design floating around in my head that sometimes bubbles to the surface enough to get notes made about it. I keep a book specifically for this purpose. I can’t code for toffee but I can at least design game mechanics, even if I need much more practice.

Hopefully one day I’ll be able to talk to someone else and get it turned into something real. I don’t want it to just be “There’s this guy and then stuff happens, can you code that for me?”
Instead my notebook contains the concepts of how items would be generated, how the game’s economy would work, which statistics would make up the character’s strengths and weaknesses, and so forth.

So, in closing, I feel like film and literature still have plenty to be discovered but a seriously nuanced perspective would be needed to find things. Videogames on the other hand are a total crapshoot at the moment, a warzone of ideas and imagery. It’s nice to be able to comment on things that haven’t been talked to death yet.

At last, resin!

29 January 2013

Today while I slept and dreamt of being in custody with other SoA members (How appealing…) my friend, Jim, dropped off some stock for me.

It’s exciting.

Fox Box as a business does some trade but I’m not exactly putting a down payment on a flat, let alone planning where to install a piano-shaped swimming pool.

It’d say that’s all about to change but I think that might be a bit over-optimistic. It’s going to be a slow journey but that’s okay, if that’s how I have to learn to govern my own work schedule then so be it.

However over the last few months I’ve been sculpting away at a variety of products. Unfortunately getting them cast takes time, particularly when silicone and resin get stuck in the mid-winter post. There’s also the fact that to keep costs down I have them cast as a large batch.

The end result is getting new stock is like freakin’ Christmas!

I’ve got a bag of armoured wheels, ground control goblins, riot shields with arms, truck extension kits, and endless weapons!

goblin-groundcrew-with-headblack-resin

Not bad for a first gobbo!

It also motivates me to polish the site somewhat. Fox Box is now cookie law compliant, for example, although from what I can tell I might not actually be liable anyway. Better safe than sorry though!

I’ve been getting my sculpt on too working on some new things. I don’t really want to reveal them publicly yet given the lead time but progress is being made.

The main reason the new products are exciting is simply because currently I only sell two kinds of torsos. Hardly exciting even if they are rather useful. These new things will drastically increase my range and allow me to build other products.

So for example the goblin weaponry I’ve sculpted should be idea for making new models of various kinds. I’m looking forward to it a great deal.

Anyway, back to work!

I don’t know if I’ve ever bought digital music. Do soundtracks that are bundled with games count?

Usually if I want a track I’ll just download it for free.

Yes, I know, I’m a monster.

However I’ve been listening to a lot of Childish Gambino recently, as in the last year. I’m still not bored of Donald Glover’s music which surprises me as normally I get tired of tracks relatively quickly. I downloaded them from his SoundCloud page, by the way.

Today I visited his site to see whether there was anything new, either free or paid for. It didn’t conveniently go to any music service or similar so I tried the store link which dumped me in something called “Cinder Block”. Erm, okay?

Ugh. I do not enjoy stupid branding conflicts. The page title says “Cinder Block | Cinder Block Store for Childish Gambino” at the time of writing. I have no idea what “Cinder Block” is or why I should care. Then there’s this banner, bold as brass in the middle of the page:header

So which is it? Cinder Block or Childish Gambino?

rapidssl_ssl_certificateThe footer even includes one of these animated GIFs. In 2013.

I trusted it until I saw that. Your animated GIF touting your security undermines my faith in your technical abilities.

Right at the bottom of the catalogue I spotted this:camp-album-download-2011

Camp (Album Download) (2011)
$9.99


Unfortunately the album description included this pic:

childish-gambino-camp-full-album-stream-1

Erk.

“Click on image to zoom” did nothing either. Brilliant.

Anyway the album is $10 (US) and has this written in its description:

Childish Gambino - Camp (Album Download) (2011)

Music downloads from this store are only available in the United States. International fans can visit iTunes. Downloads are quality 256kbps MP3 files compatible with virtually every digital music player including itunes.

So not only does it tell me nothing about the album (Who is featured with Childish Gambino? Is it his third album? Anything?) but also doesn’t actually link to iTunes for anyone outside the US. Brimming over with confidence at this point.

Anyway I’m not paying $10 for the album whether I can download it or not. To me that is too much. Yes, I’m a skinflint.

However as there’s no “pay what you want” option that means that rather than get $6.50 from me they get precisely nothing.

In the world of CDs paying less than the asking price might be too little to pay the costs of production but without that hurdle the marginal cost per download is negligible. Marginal cost.

I specify as there are still costs associated with making an album but whether I download it or not they won’t be affected. Therefore if I download it they lose nothing, effectively, but if I download it and choose to pay anything they’re making some money. Some money is better than no money in the case of goods that have no objective value.

A hammer is always a hammer but an album of music has no value unless someone enjoys the contents.

So it would seem Donald will have to settle for no money from me for now. I’d pay a reasonable sum to see him live though, that’d be fun!

Too soon.

27 January 2013

Before someone put a massive damper on my mood I was going to make this a positive blog post. We shall see if I can, given the subject matter.

Some time ago I was involved in ENTV, or Edinburgh Napier TV (colloquially known as “Napier TV”). I’ve recently seen my alma mater posting videos under the same name (although they don’t appear to be aware that it’s a pre-existing brand) but that project is not the same one.

This took place in Q3 and Q4 2009.

IMG_1491-1

The project failed for human reasons but that wasn’t what I wanted to talk about today. The technical aspect was fairly interesting but it was probably ahead of its time, contributing to the collapse of the project.

The concept was a video podcast, shot by students, comprising numerous segments and a live show to tie it all together.

Each segment had its own remit and was to function relatively independently. These segments were known as “channels” and would sometimes be included in the main show, other times not (but still accessible on their own).

The live show was at the student union and used the projection system to air the segments with some hosting and audience participation elements. It supported both Twitter and texting allowing anyone in the audience to get in touch anonymously should they so wished (the phone didn’t store numbers for that very reason).

In terms of the show’s web presence the following options were available: Youtube, BlipTV, and iTunes.

You may have never heard of BlipTV – at the time it offered some rather impressive services. Whilst it had the standard flash video it also allowed us to upload numerous other variants of the show allowing us to provide HD video. Bear in mind this was before YouTube made 1080p video widely available (and most screens didn’t even support it!). We would also encode a copy of each episode specifically for iTunes so it could be viewed on iOS devices.

Speaking of video – our videos were filmed on Canon HV30/40s allowing some fairly impressive video quality for the time. Audio was only stereo but came through Shure SM58s providing excellent audio quality even in places with ridiculous background audio.

We lacked skills but the equipment had enough promise to not limit our progression, should things have survived.

Right, back to the web stuff – the show had a dedicated website powered by Drupal. I haven’t used the CMS since and such things may have improved but back then posting content was a nightmare for the average user. As such I implemented what I still consider to be an elegant solution (modest, I know!).

Blogs for each channel were provided through Google’s Blogger. They output their content for syndication via Atom (rather than RSS) so I pushed their feeds through another Google product, Feedburner. feedburner_logo_smFrom there I was able to use a feature called BuzzBoost to embed the feeds on each Channel’s page. It’s a clever bit of code that creates a bit of JavaScript embedding the blog’s posts anywhere (with configurable options).

Essentially this meant that any program that could publish to Blogger could be used to update channel content. Alternatively Blogger’s web interface could be used.

Similarly each channel had a dedicated Hashtag. At the time the concept seemed to confuse people, these days they’re used in jokes on How I Met Your Mother. Essentially a tweet could be posted to the channel’s page just by including a hashtag. Back then there wasn’t really support for that and with some help I was able to put together a PHP snippet that did the job.

The general idea behind this cellular structure was to allow students to contribute specifically to an area that interested them rather than forcing them to care about the audio/visual element.

Unfortunately it seems the concept behind it appeared too complex whereas in reality it was fairly simple. Contribute to what you care about and it’ll mostly assemble itself.

Far too few students actually cared or seemed to understand the point of the project though. That was their loss as well as ours though – I had so much fun doing Napier Subculture I had hoped to expand the concept and allow others to appreciate the benefits.

But then again I also have photos documenting my life ever since I was about 14. Otherwise our memories are like dust in the wind. I wonder how many interesting memories they ended up with from their time at university?

I barely read F7U12 any more as frankly it just isn’t as funny as it once was. I do occasionally glance in though and I recently encountered this comic:

H2dt7Yj

Do you see a problem with this?

You probably do but just in case I’m going to over-explain it. Our plucky protagonist works as a graphic designer and when given a job uses images he doesn’t have the right to.

In the comments this was pointed out but the comic’s author chimed in with:

I am surprised.. Remember the whole SOPA, Copyright, Free Internet thing few months ago? Reddit was on the front line, fighting it with all they had. And I loved you guys for it :)

Besides.. When I make a beautiful picture and upload it to the internet without watermarking it.. I know for a fact that it's gonna be used by someone else.. And that's OK. Humanity never could have come this far without wanting to improve everything we see. Imagine we would still have to fly to Hawaii on the plane of the wright brothers.

Others were also puzzled as they seemed to believe that images on the internet are “free”. I’m not trying to take an anti-piracy stance here because that’s not my point here. People are going to infringe copyright for themselves if they can, assuming there isn’t a better deal available.

However there’s a big difference between personal use and for-profit. Both require a license but business use is where it’s a big deal. When setting up Fox Box I had to hunt through a lot of textures before I found some with a compatible license. Images aren’t free just because no one charged you to download them.

The point of this post is not to try to explain the issue, it should be clear enough as it is, but simply to question why so few people understand the difference between price and usage rights. Perhaps the current generation just lack the background to associate worth with intangible goods for some types of products. I don’t know.

It certainly doesn’t help that our copyright laws are a byzantine mess and the only people pushing reform are industry lobbyists wanting to limit everything.

cuf5kCBIn Bleak Expectations there is a governess named Chastity Hardthrasher; the only female member of the Hardthrasher family. Her name is rather apt given the lengths our plucky hero, Pip Bin, must go to woo her charge, the beautiful Ms. Flora Dies-Early.

She is of course named after one of the Seven Virtues of Catholicism. Not to be confused with the English Virtues after which Harry Biscuit names his children:

  • Capability
  • Sobriety
  • Bravery
  • Nobility
  • Punctuality
  • Good Spelling
  • Charm
  • Civility
  • Manners
  • Fightiness
  • Likes Tea
  • Hates French
  • Loves Latin
  • Prays Hard
  • Doesn't Spit in the Street
  • Complains Not
  • Tasty
  • Yummy
  • Delicious
  • Happy
  • Sleepy
  • Grumpy
  • Exploit the Colonies

As hilarious as they are it does make me wonder whether it isn’t time to attempt to define a secular set of virtues. They may well share plenty in common with the old ones but would at least have modern logic behind them rather than mere tradition.

The one that stands out to me is chastity though, hence the character choice. I do not grasp why it is relevant any longer, particularly as it tends to be primarily applied to women rather than men. I see no reason why women should be passively berated for conducting themselves like males with regards to sex.

There is one amusing contrast with regards to this though – Ann Summers has made significant progress towards making sex toys aimed at women socially acceptable. The same can not be said of male sex toys. Rabbits are acceptable but fleshlights are considered perverse and creepy.

Amusing double standards aside I am sick of the indoctrination (both active and passive) that says that women need be chaste lest they be described as sluts. We males may be looked down on for discussing sexual conquests with pride but it is still socially acceptable. Why should women not have the same pride in bedding a handsome chap?

Lots of old games receive great praise long after the fact which is then repeated until “everyone” believes it. Unfortunately, at least in my experience, most of the time the games being trumpeted are dross.

So, for example, Final Fantasy VII. I’ve played it and couldn’t get into it. There’s a story that I’m supposed to care about for some reason and some combat mechanics that aren’t fun. It’s hard to look past graphics that sloppy when the other components are too weak to support them.

That said some games do deserve the rosy specs treatment and today I want to talk to you about one of them.

StartopiaThis beautiful game was released in 2001 by Mucky Foot Productions, people who had previously worked for Bullfrog back in the day. Theme Hospital anyone?

Mucky_Foot_ProductionsDeliciously British this sci-fi game managed to be both expansive and charming whilst avoiding hyperbolic epicness. (I don’t generally like epic games, I always struggle to buy the concept of anything being that important.)

Set aboard a toroid space station (doughnut shaped) the player’s task is to refurbish it and meet certain objectives. Sometimes it’s about industrial production, other times it’s about farming or tourism. There’s even a conquest aspect when AI players are running other segments of the station.

Station_startup(One of the stations as seen in the game’s startup screen)

There’s three decks, lots of alien races, a friendly AI with a calm voice, and of course a CMOT Dibbler character – your old pal Arona.

Speaking of the voice it was provided by William Franklyn who replaced Peter Jones as the voice of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy following his death in 2000. Unfortunately Mr. Franklyn popped his clogs in 2006 so a hypothetical Startopia 2 couldn’t benefit from his dulcet tones.

The soundtrack was a delight as well – I actually have it on my phone (my primary music device). It’s that awesome:

Back to the point though – this game still looks good to me. It has a cartoonish art style that has really made the textures survive and of course being a PC game its resolution isn’t some upscaled piece of crap.

It’s a bit low poly but I feel it looks better than a hell of a lot of games these days. It’s twelve years old!

The only thing I can say against this game is that it can be rather crashy. Hopefully that has improved in recent years (it was recently released on Good Old Games) but either way it’s a small price to pay.

Since it came out the only game I can think of that even comes close is Evil Genius but even that isn’t all that good as it lacks a sandbox mode. I hate having story progression forced upon me. It’s a game - let me play!

Thankfully Startopia doesn’t have that problem. Manage all the space stations!

Something that occurred to me about Sisters of Battle is that working on them would mean I’d have good reason to pick up some parts from Anvil Industries.

They do assorted totally-not-Space-Marines-honest-guv of varying quality and style. I’m not that interested in them myself, SMs aren’t really my thing however their armoury on the other hand…

exorcist-carbine-500x500The thing being that their stuff must be 3D printed and as such can be very precise. Not so useful for those of us who work on greenskins but very handy for this sort of thing. They use Picatinny rails!

I’m just going to stop for a moment to calm down because that’s so godsdamned cool.sight-500x500

…a bracket used on some firearms in order to provide a standardized mounting platform…

We’re at the stage where we can print miniature accessory rails. Anvil have a variety of accessories that fit on their standardised rails. Mmmmm tasty standardisation.ex-carbine-grip-sight1-500x500

So whilst I’m normally fairly interested in firearms there’s a reason this is specific to Adepta Sororitas – they’re old models. Not just old, really old. 1997 old. They’re about twice as old as most of the kids you see playing in GW stores these days…

The thing being that in about 1998/1999 the old style of boltgun was retired. Frankly – good. The old one was ugly as all hell so this was definitely a positive, the current Sisters models still use them for the most part though. Of course theirs are late sculpts and so suck considerably less but nevertheless they’re old.

But hey, it’s nice if their weapons look different so I may have to use some of these awesome weapons in future. How hard can power armour covered in fleurs-de-lis be?

When I was a teenager forums were all the rage. I joined the Uplink forum back in February 2002, nearly eleven years ago. From there I was part of other forums to varying extents eventually establishing Wooden Dice in February 2005. There was also the European PSP forum for a while until that was closed down by Sony after a failed merging attempt with their Playstation forums.

With that brief overview of my history you can get the idea that I might know a thing of two about forums and how to build communities with them.

This post isn’t about the slow death of forums as a medium per se but instead is about what community means online as of January 2013.

Recently I wrote about Google Plus and touched on its community features. The core concept was good but the implementation looked too much hassle to administrate, let alone encourage participation from casual users.

So what does one do to establish an online community these days?

Facebook’s ubiquity would be a plus you might think but it my experience it’s practically a walled garden. Some people browse elsewhere and bring it onto FB while others only consume and reshare things.

In terms of setting up a community presence for things I honestly don’t know where to start these days. Some of us on WD used to play Minecraft on our server. It was open to any WD member (rather than anonymous strangers) but ultimately trying to grow that community through forums is virtually pointless. A few of us would talk Minecraft on the forum but ultimately the only way the player count would go is down as there’s no convenient way of bringing new people in.

I would imagine the same is probably true of many online games. They might have their own little forum but unless they’re super popular the community will be at its largest at launch and from then on will dwindle until it finally dies.

Given the accessible nature of the ‘net one might think that reaching critical mass for a community would be easier than in person but I’m finding that these days that’s simply not the case. Meeting people in person creates a stronger bond than online whereas long ago I could get to know someone much better online. These days I feel our attentions are fragmented across social networks of various kinds to the point where there isn’t enough in common on a protocol level for us to share the higher level things we share.

This is what I meant about G+ communities – the barrier to entry is simply too high. What pains me is that I do not know how to fix this, at least at the moment.

I still love forums but I think that they may be too slow for today’s web users. Reddit is excellent in some ways but I find it very difficult to identify people I haven’t conversed with directly; it feels a very lonely place as a result. In /r/Edinburgh I use Reddit Enhancement Suite to tag people I’ve met in person with their real names in an odd reversal of how things used to be. Back in the day one would see usernames, avatars, and a signature and have a mental profile for each person like that. These days I see a small username but it tells me very little about the person, so little as to become essentially anonymous.

I wish I could say whether this is a step forward or back.

sistericonI mostly sculpt greenskins, as you probably know, but I have sculpted humans before. Notably I sculpted two heavies for my all-female Escher gang (of course if you’re familiar with Necromunda you’d know that Escher are always female).

Whilst trying to determine which models are available for Sisters of Battle I came across a rather fun non-GW seraphim sculpt. They’re essentially battle nuns with jetpacks:image_t6

Not bad!

I don’t know whether I could manage something quite that good yet but it did lead to a bit more searching. Amazingly at the time of writing three sisters of battle will cost £10.75 from GW’s online store. A squad is 10 – 20 models!

What got further was that the models appear virtually unchanged since when I was a boy. In fact…

*rustling of pages*

My first White Dwarf, September 1998, issue 225 has the very same models in it.m1921160a_99060108013_BattleSisters2_873x627What’s more impressive is that the sculpts have aged well. Other models from that period look fairly awful but the Adepta Sororitas still look rather awesome. Perhaps they’ll finally get plastics this year, as per rumours. I hope so.

Something I didn’t know was why they exist (as in the in-universe explanation). It’s actually delightfully pedantic – the Ecclesiarchy cannot maintain any “men under arms”!

I might have to set a goal for myself to sculpt some of them as they’ve really got a style I like. It’s not quite as sexualised as the Escher models which, whilst cool, are kinda based on trashy fashion from the late 80s and early 90s. They have cone-boobed Madonna as a special character, FFS.

Back to the point though – at the moment there doesn’t appear to be a Sisters of Battle codex. There was, I believe, but right now there isn’t. I popped into my local GW to see if they could be of help. Whilst friendly (and for once not pushy) they didn’t actually prove to be very helpful. Apparently in a couple of White Dwarfs (they didn’t know which issues) there was a new listing published. Fantastic. It’s not as if a PDF could have been created or something, right?

I shall keep digging but hopefully soon I won’t have to – it’d be awesome if they just got their own codex along with some new plastics now that sixth edition has been released. In the meantime have a canoness:1265194905_4a799f17fd56dedd32494096c0d02aab

I just took a look at Google Plus for the first time in, well, I honestly don’t know when I used it last.

It seems to have had a facelift and I must say – ugh.

I do not like Facebook. I stubbornly resisted joining for a long time before eventually doing so after other social networks died. When G+ came along I hoped that it would take off, even if I didn’t think that’d be the case. I hear that G+ is doing fairly well in certain demographics so this post isn't supposed to be a long lament of how it has died, it’s more a second first impression.

The new interface confused me. A lot.

I could see I’d been tagged in a few photos by some random Redditor and went to untag myself. No such luck though as the option for removing it was just missing. Fantastic. Perhaps it exists, perhaps not. After a quick search I found that because multiple people were tagged in the photo the setting wasn’t immediately obvious. Sorted.

The design expands to fill my monitor which makes using the interface like watching a tennis match. Fun! On one side of the screen there’s a chat listing, much like in Gmail, of course here it’s on the opposite side. That makes sense, it’s not like I’ve had literally years to get used to it on the other side.

Photo 20-01-2013 19 58 25(Blurring intentional)

On the left side there’s a load of tabs that seem to do various things. The thing I notice first is the “Explore” tab which sits between “Profile” and “Events”. From what I can tell it shows content from people I don’t know but some sort of algorithm thinks I should care about. Pass! I’m not interested in random bloggers, thank you. It also smacks of desperation to me – assuming correctly that I have few friends that use G+ and as such need some content to keep me interested.

Communities looks interesting but upon closer inspection it looks overly complex and painful. I enjoy community tools but these just look like a mess. It reminds me of using dial-up and feeling like I wasn’t getting access to some sort of nebulous “real” internet. Here that manifests as multiple frames (not iframes, thank gods) surrounding the content.

Also it’s really distracting how badly my screen real estate is being managed – see that big blank bit? That’s what all of G+ looks like to me.

Where was I? Oh yes, the next tab. “Local”. Qype-style reviews of local business. Why do I care enough to have that as a tab? If I wanted reviews I’d look them up as needed.

“Games” – again, not interested. These kinds of casual games seem to appeal to people. I am not one of them sadly.

“Hangouts” I think I tried that a while back. I recall having to install some extra software for it to work but perhaps that’s no longer the case. Either way it’s an interesting enough concept so I can’t fault them for that.

“More” – let’s see, it just shows “Pages”. Why is there even a “More” tab if it only goes to “Pages”? Oh, wait, I see, I can drag things into or out of there to hide them. Right, one moment. That’s the tabs tidied up a bit but I’m still left with this hideous layout.

This blog post rambles really, doesn’t it? No real coherency or point?

That’s basically the best way I can sum up using Google Plus for now. It looks like there’s actually some excellent content in there but it’s just such a mess. The old cliché of usability being lacking due to having been designed by engineers really springs to mind. Facebook is aggravating in many ways but this really takes the biscuit.

How is it with all the data and resources Google have they seem unable to get user interfaces right?

I cannot see myself using G+ in its current state even if my friends were on it simply because it feels like a chore to use. It’s actually a shame though as I have no doubt that the various components that form the whole are in all likelihood very well built. Engineers may suck at interfaces but they know what they’re doing in other areas. That’s just not enough though.

I can feel it approaching – another console war. I do love a good war.

Last time it was Xbox 360 vs. PS3. I am rather glad to see that Sony did not manage to dominate this generation like the previous one – it seems to be paying off. The rumours of their new console, currently codenamed Orbis, actually has sensible hardware in it. I’ve even heard that they might change that godsdawful controller of theirs.

Now the latter might be too much to hope for but the hardware looks to be solid. Multi-core again but built on something more standardised than their much touted Cell processor (which IBM don’t even make any more!). It looks like it’s going to be something from AMD, possibly based on Jaguar (an x86 jobby) at around 1.6GHz for each core. That should do the job, although I’m a bit surprised they’re not going with ARM.

They’re also throwing in 4GB of GDDR5 (plus an extra half gig for the OS). It’s not that much but it’s at least not the laughably small 256MB/256MB of the PS3. It always boggled my mind that they built a console with such an impressive processor and then hobbled it with less RAM than the mid-level PCs I built in my mid teens.

MS on the other hand are only going to be using DDR3 although they’ll be throwing 8GB of the stuff at the problem although 3GB of that may be reserved for the OS. Eurogamer make a valid point with regards to MS’ strategy though – they’ve seen how having the fastest hardware isn’t necessarily the way to win a console war.

It gets me thinking – I would hazard a guess that MS is going to try to position the 360’s successor in a similar way to where they’ve gone with their current offering. Lots of people use them for things like Netflix in addition to gaming. It wouldn’t surprise me if they tried to manoeuvre themselves into a position where they are the one true living room device.

It looks like Sony are more looking to offer a solid gaming platform that won’t haemorrhage money for the first four years of its life. Probably wise! I don’t think they can afford to balls things up this time given the state of their finances. I doubt we’ll see an end to their infuriating arrogance though, some things never change. If I’m wrong about that though, well, I can live with it.

Beans.

18 January 2013

I try to cook as frugally as I can – every pound I save can be spent on frivolous things like the gas bill. Fortunately this doesn’t mean I live on ramen noodles because I don’t suck at cooking.

Cheap noodles are handy, of course, but only for when a dish needs noodley goodness, such as when I cook yellow Thai curry. Nom.

Anyway I enjoy cooking with beans but normally don’t due to the expense. What I speak of is not simply the financial outlay but the hassle and time involved. I would buy kidney beans, pinto beans, black beans, and so forth in tins for 30 – 70p a time. Not too costly, but it adds up. Then there’s transporting it – if a friend drives me to the supermarket to buy them then I can get them, otherwise I have to have them delivered – carrying a big bag of tinned beans along with the rest of the shopping on the bus just isn’t feasible.

So I looked into alternatives and found dry beans are readily and cheaply available at a nearby shop. I don’t know what to call these shops as in my mind they will always be “hippy food shops”. They’re friendly, smell a tad odd, and stock a lot of things for people who don’t eat meat. Bully for them.

On the other hand they also sell rice of various kinds by weight and for a good price. I like to buy brown rice there, for example. Again, nom.

Recently I picked up a few bags of beans, 500g each, £1 – 2 a pop. The prep time is of course much longer but time is something I have as I work from home. I’ve found that 50g of each kind is about right for about three portions. Two for me and one for the freezer.

Weighing them out is a snap and then it’s just a matter of covering them in water for a good few hours – ideally over night. Well, one can use water I’ve read, but that just seems bland. I soak them in stock instead, much nicer.

Yesterday I used a curry stock cube as well as a home made magic cube (condensed chicken stock in this case). Some noodles, onions, left over pork from Christmas, nice.

Today I used vegetable and beef stock and made pyttipanna, a traditional Swedish dish. Diced potatoes, onions, pork, the beans. Tasty!

The general point of this post is that dry beans are amazing and if you haven’t I would definitely encourage you to learn. It’s nice to not have a load of manky tins to dispose of too!

Grasping physicality

17 January 2013

Given my degree it shouldn’t surprise you to learn that I feel that marketing could well have made a difference to the demise of HMV. Admittedly it wouldn’t be that simple and there’s no guarantee it would have worked but they did have a chance.

I’ve been thinking about the high street a lot in the last week or so as you may have noticed. The thing that seems to have gone right over the heads of many retailers is the simple fact that the “walk in and buy one off the shelf” model is dead. Well, it’s not quite dead because it thrives online – except there one can search through a catalogue with ease and have things delivered directly. Getting out and to a shop is hassle, particularly given parking limitations/costs, public transport, and people.

So what do physical shops have on their side?

Physicality.

The problem seems to be that they haven’t bothered to consider what that actually means and more importantly what it could mean if marketed correctly.

HMV are in my mind a record shop.

I think of it that way even though they’ve basically only sold CDs whilst I’ve been an adult.

I also haven’t bought CDs since I was a teenager. The simple reasoning behind this is that CDs are just digital storage media. The data on them can be replicated easily and one recording is indistinguishable from another.

Analogue media such as vinyl records on the other hand are more of an experience. I can’t easily and accurately skip tracks and so must listen to the disc as it comes, so to speak. Their size is also excellent for artwork and prose.

I have my own turntable but I don’t have all that many records simply because I cannot find them. I’d like to own more but I just don’t see it happening any time soon.

What if HMV had positioned itself as a record shop? Marketing vinyl as music one could feel?

Browsing would actually be a sensible option as shipping vinyl isn’t all that easy. It’s also much more visually stimulating!

Then there’s the fact that one cannot currently, at least not easily, create one’s own records. Burning a CD is a doddle, same with making a mix of MP3s or M4As, but vinyl has that experiential quality I mentioned earlier.

What if they’d marketed this heavily and made turntables available, perhaps even funded in-store record creation? (Select some digital tracks and they’d make you a disc then and there)

But it was not to be, apparently. At least not yet.

Reading about all these retail closures lately makes me wonder if we’ll see a shift in what working in retail entails in the future.

At the moment, for example, I wouldn’t want to be caught dead working in retail. In my eyes it is poorly paid grunt work dealing with a bunch of slack-jawed idiots with no real job satisfaction.

The reason I say this is because whenever I’ve asked someone in a shop a question about a product it turns out they know even less than I do about it. That’s not particularly surprising in itself but it makes me wonder what they’re actually contributing to the shopping experience. It seems they’re basically there to physically move objects around and interface between the customer and processing of money/stock control.
I eliminate the latter at supermarkets by using the self-scan checkouts but the former is of course still required.

As such the staff contribute nothing to my shopping experience. They’re an annoyance in most cases. I loathe Games Workshop stores for the staff – I do not want to talk to you and I do not want you to waste your own time and dignity trying to convince me to buy something.

But what if retail work actually paid well as staff were expected to be experts in their fields?
What if the staff working in the music section were musicians and music geeks who were paid for their knowledge and ability to make the experience a positive one?

It’d be nice if retail work could be more than the job of human robots. We’ve got so much knowledge and so many skills but currently big companies don’t seem to recognise that they have any value.
At least the staff at my favourite bookshop/café are lovely but they’re an exception.

Just die already!

15 January 2013

Well Jessops and HMV are now both in administration. I’m honestly not that surprised. However it gets me wondering who is going to be next?

Wandering through Edinburgh the other day got me thinking about how on Earth many places stay afloat. It almost feels like a conspiracy theory given that outwardly the numbers just don’t add up.

Of course some places such as Greggs I can totally see staying afloat. Other places not so much. If it weren’t for airports and train stations I imagine WH Smiths would have gone under long ago, for example.

I used to love going into WH Smiths – they had books, video games, magazines, and awesome stationery. These days I don’t buy most of those things in bricks ‘n’ mortar shops, well, except books, but I barely buy any of those (I’d get them at Pulp Fiction if I did).

I also wonder about GAME. Gamestation were awesome but they’re gone but that wasn’t much of a loss as they’d got rid of the interesting things they sold long before. GAME might scrape through but supermarkets are competing with them rather fiercely so it could go either way.

Boots, maybe? I’m not sure of the state of their finances.

How about Waterstones? They’re not really handling the emergence of eReaders all that well!

It would seem that the BRC’s predictions were right. I wonder just how right?

I just spotted this article on /r/Science:

Hear-Raising: Compound Regenerates Auditory Hair Cells, Offering a Possible Treatment for Deafness

Essentially it looks like there’s hope for those of us with hearing loss. Given that my parents are in their 60s (and only have three functional ears between them) this bodes rather well for their future. Then there’s my two half sisters, one of whom is deaf and another whose hearing isn’t what it once was (due to working in loud gyms for decades).

My hearing is mostly fine for now but it’s nice to know that further down the line if it does get damaged I can get it fixed.

It’d be fantastic if my sister could get to hear again. She’s been deaf since she was about three or four as a side effect of last ditch efforts to cure meningitis, if memory serves. She sounds relatively normal but it’d be fantastic if she could get to hear her daughter’s voice or talk on the phone.

Of course there’s no guarantee this will work but it does seem like hope is emerging at long last. Once research is a bit further progressed maybe I’ll feel more comfortable going to deafening rock concerts?

Poisonous professionalism

13 January 2013

The recent scandal with BetaPunch got me thinking about something I take for granted. When I use social media as Fox Box I try my best to be friendly and personal – when I deal with a company I like them to treat me like a person, not a number.

It seems so blatantly obvious to me but the very idea seems to be alien to most companies. They might be perfectly friendly in person but put them in front of a Twitter client and they turn all “professional”.

I use the term “professional” because it’s what I think of when it comes to the tone of writing. Press releases are often written like this for no reason other than tradition (or if there is a better reason it’s unknown to me). Really though it’s cold, uninteresting, and frankly condescending.

After all, the person writing it is human just like the person reading it. Somewhere along the line though the person/s writing seem to lose sight of the fact that humans are social animals and like to interact. It becomes less about creating an understanding and more about being as impersonal as possible.

The question I find myself asking is “What are they trying to achieve?”

After all when companies post these things they’re trying to communicate and generate a positive impression. They’re not posting because they’re bored, they’re posting because it furthers their goals.

(This is true of organisations too, not just companies, but I don’t feel like digging up some examples of those right now.)

A few companies are getting it though but change is slow. I don’t actually like O2 but even I thaw reading how they handled a bit of a crisis six months ago.

Customer (@24vend_Ltd): "@O2 had to travel to Italy to get signal -- desperate times!!!"

O2 response: "You can come back now. We're back in business :)"

I would imagine that by the time companies start to understand that the digital world changes things they’ll be playing catch up on something else.

My only problem with social media is that I don’t post enough. I was hoping my colleague would be able to pick up the slack on that but I think she’s going to be moving on to bigger and better things soon. Anyone want to handle social media stuff for me? The pay isn’t good but the work is hard!

Following my post the other day about BetaPunch it seems there’s actually been quite a lot of drama. Thankfully I’ve not been in the centre of this kerfuffle but it does seem I’m not the only one who has had issues with BetaPunch.

Danielle Morrill had some trouble with them (well, him) in the past that seemed to have been resolved. However just recently she posted this:

Why I Won’t Be Using BetaPunch for User Testing

8365285625_8bb9955e9f_oWow.

An apology of sorts has been posted but honestly I feel one of the commenters hit the nail on the head:

You're conflating failure of execution with failure of character. You behaved like a petulant child, which is a character flaw, not a professional failure.

-Ancorwin

There’s some more commentary here if you’d like to read more. In general though it’s a mess and it makes me ashamed to be associated with the BetaPunch brand.

The strength it was building up was through the efforts of people such as myself. It sounds boastful, I know, but it’s true. I was one of the two testers who reviewed Eli The Computer Guy in what turned out to actually be a review of BetaPunch.

The first tester checked out my site and said that in fact he could figure out what my site was about in 10 seconds.  Thankfully he then went on to give approx. 10 minutes of thoughts about my site as he wandered through it.  He did an exceptional job, and it goes to show the quality of the testers that he did not in fact stop testing my site in less then a minute.

I guess Ross saw my name come up as a new user, and so I was given a second test automatically.  The second tester was great and again did far more then I had asked.

Overall the testers, and the resulting test video were Great, AWESOME, truly a cool thing..!

[source]

I was paid $5 for that review. Did BetaPunch receive more than $5 of value from me? Of course, as is to be expected.

However in this case it seems they/he received considerably more given the publicity and traffic generated. Well, good for them, it’s nice to be associated with something positive.

Conversely this recent drama has put me in a position where I don’t want to touch BetaPunch with a barge pole. My personal feelings towards the chap were just that; I grumble a bit on my personal blog but I do my best to do a good job and to try to make them look good.

So it would seem I’m not just being a delicate flower when it comes to this stuff – there really is a lot of ego flying around and it’s damaging what had been becoming a good brand.

I’ve cashed out of BetaPunch to be safe and will be applying to UserTesting.com instead. The pay is better and hopefully I won’t end up being tied to a toxic brand if I work for them.

I was at a party tonight, a flatwarming as it happens, when I noticed something that blew my mind a little.

The two people who had moved in had setup a long, low bookcase full of DVDs.

They’d transported this vast collection, bought some specific furniture for it, and then unpacked it onto it.

I lay those things out like that because for me that much content is simply a matter of plugging in a hard disk’s power supply and USB cord. It fits in a handbag. Any time I want something from it I just hit a few keys and the content is there.

The idea of putting that much effort into a media collection blows my mind. If I was them (and I took issue with piracy) I’d have ripped the discs individually (now legal) and dumped the files on a hard disk. Once done I’d either box up the DVDs or put the discs on a spindle and recycle the casings.

Sure, one can’t browse a shelf like that but scrolling through properly indexed content in XBMC is actually a very pleasant experience (and there’s better info available too!).

I don’t think I understand normal folks.

Pants on fire

10 January 2013

Amongst other economic doom and gloom I could be writing about today I just wanted to take a moment to rant about the rampant dishonesty in corporate communications.

HMV aren’t doing all that well, for example. Here, have a pretty picture from the BBC:

So this month they’re trying out a 25% off sale instead of multibuys.

HMV said the sole reason for the sale was to provide customer value.

Except it’s not, is it? It’s to attempt to generate a boost in sales amidst falling profits. I’ve got no problem with them doing it for the money, they’re not a charity after all, but who on Earth is going to read that and be fooled?

The people stupid enough to take them at face value, if they exist, wouldn’t have read this and everyone else knows for a fact that it’s bullshit.

During my degree marketing was taught as a way of trying to inform people of products that suit their needs. Except of course it was clear that such things were frivolous nonsense. The point was to generate wants and desires in order to drive sale.

Amusingly though I’ve been spoiled by Steam sales – I see 25% off and think “That’s all?”. It’s really not very much. If I wouldn’t buy something for £20 I’m not shelling out £15 either.

On the other hand FTL: Faster Than Light will currently only cost you £3.49 as it’s 50% off until the 14th.

That’s not even a particularly steep discount by Steam standards. Spec Ops: The Line was only a fiver yesterday, 75% off. There’s not even a big sale on! 25% off by contrast is kinda pitiful. The thing being that if high street retailers did slash prices like Steam did on occasion then a 25% off sale could actually be construed as a way to provide customer value – the purchases you were going to make anyway won’t cost you quite as much now, as it were.

They could have spun it as “We’d love to give you 80% off but we can’t afford to, we hope 25% will help a little though”. Sure, it’s not entirely honest but it at least covers why the sale is so comparatively meagre.

Maybe I’ll pop in to take a look at all the things I can’t afford…

I was struggling to find something to talk about today as I’ve not been overly inspired – then I saw this article.

The gist of it is that Harris and Hoole are owned by Tesco, well, 49% owned. They’re a coffee shop that seems to be independent but really isn’t.

I’m sure many of you will dismiss this as hipster bullshit that doesn’t really matter but in doing so you’d be missing an important point. Independent businesses and startups really struggle to get financing from banks these days. Who has the cash then? Multinationals.

They want to buy up little brands to be able to sell goods to people who do not like corporate supergiants. Innocent are owned by Coca Cola, for example.

I remember my old flatmate, Chris, loved Innocent. Personally I found the idea idiotic (because I’m mean like that) – they’re a company and to them you’re just a number. I can remember my customers by name because I’m a small entity but once we’re talking about anything large it just becomes unfeasible.

When I think about it I don’t know precisely how one would justify legislation to tear apart the ever-expanding behemoths that are the big chains but it does feel like there needs to be some legislated upper limit on how big a corporation can become. We seem to be sleepwalking towards a future in which something like the Umbrella Corporation could exist. I don’t mean the bioweapons research aspects I just mean the ubiquity of the company – fingers in every pie.

Eventually they’re going to essentially control our economies to the point where they control voters through their jobs and need for affordable necessities. One could argue we’re nearly there already, frankly. I find it horrifying.

Smaller companies can die due to changes in the market environment but once a multinational has enough clout it can just buy its way into new market segments, dispensing with its old, dying components. Its buying power makes it impossible to compete with and that reality prevents independents from being viable in the eyes of bankers.

I wish I could propose a solution right now but at the moment it does seem to be a case of asking the right questions – how big is too big?

A bit of negativity

08 January 2013

I’ve been doing user testing for a while now – recording my experiences using a website to provide feedback for the owner. The places I currently offer my services through are WhatUsersDo and BetaPunch but I’m looking to expand to some other places too. The reasoning behind that is because I’m pretty good at what I do.

So far I’ve done over fifty tests through BetaPunch and scored an average of about 4.77 out of 5. That is to say 80% of clients gave me a perfect score.

The problem I’m mainly having is that as BetaPunch expands my skills aren’t being appreciated. I can be relied on to give consistently good data with a balanced background of marketing and design (but not so much as to lose the common touch, so to speak). More than that though I’ve found that I get criticised for issues with their site. I’ve been quiet about this so far but despite my efforts to cut them some slack I’m now sick of being treated this way.

When testing a site it is temporarily unavailable to other testers – reserved for about 40 minutes or so. The test itself takes 10 – 20 minutes, sometimes longer. It really depends on whether the site being tested has to send out confirmation emails and so forth. Once the recording is done some Java-based software encodes the recording in h264 and uploads it to a server somewhere. The encoding takes a while due to the high framerate utilised (compared to the 2 FPS or so WUD records at – it’s a static screen, more is needless) and the resolution. I run a quad-core rig with plenty of RAM – encoding takes a 10 minutes, sometimes 20 using their encoder. WUD does the same work in a fraction of that time. I’m not sure what’s up with their servers but my 3.3 Mbit upstream connection still takes 5 – 10 minutes to upload. There’s nothing I can do about that either, it’s their end.

Looking at the numbers that means that sometimes a test will overrun its slot. I have no control over that – I can’t be any quicker.

Afterwards I find myself on the receiving end of critical emails from the chap that runs BetaPunch. Apparently issues with his infrastructure are something I should be worried about and that I’m some how not being fast enough. I was even asked in a rather confrontational way to give ways to solve this problem, as if I was the cause of them.

When I explained the technical details behind it I essentially got told that he doesn’t know how the technical stuff behind it works. I do though and so I did my best to explain, hoping to get some positive feedback. I didn’t get a response after that. This seems to happen a lot when it comes to writing to them.

Then there’s the fact that when I cash out I am expected to pay the fees. I did not agree to that. It means that it costs me several user tests worth of pay just to get my money out. If I had known that would be the case I would have expected to get 5 points per review by default with anything lower needing a justification by the client.

A satisfied customer has contacted me in the past to ask if future iterative tests could be done by me. I decided to be loyal and refer them back to BetaPunch rather than negotiating something more favourable for myself. That initiative seemed to go completely unappreciated by BetaPunch. I’m sure you can imagine how motivated I am to help them in similar situations in future.

Communication with them, by which I mean the one person running the site, generally gets a terse and unfriendly response, sometimes bordering on downright confrontational, as previously mentioned.

Given the amount of tests I’ve done it seems unlikely that there’s more than a couple of other testers that have helped the site as much as I have. I don’t expect exclusive access to tests, although having a premium level of testing where the pay is a bit better would be nice.

Ultimately it comes down to one thing - I expect at least a friendly tone of voice when communicating with them. I don’t cause you problems, I actively help your business thrive and have referred people back to you when I could have just helped myself. Could you at least, please, use my name when you write to me? I’m not just a cog.

Two and a cow, please.

07 January 2013

It seems some Americans do not believe that there is a surge in demand for power at the end of Eastenders (a popular and long running soap opera here in the UK). Now whilst some of it is from the many, many pumps refilling water tanks after people have flushed the toilet another big chunk of it is from people putting on the kettle.

I was also surprised to find that lots of them only know the word “kettle” in conjunction with “tea” as in “tea kettle”. Seeing the word “kettle” on its own made them think we Brits were talking about some archaic unit of measurement.

As it turns out kettles aren’t popular in the US which confuses me. Even if I didn’t want tea quickly and easily I’d still own one. Whenever I cook pasta, boil vegetables, steam rice, or poach eggs, I use hot water. Am I really going to fill up a little pot with cold water and wait however many minutes it’ll take to heat up?2013-01-08 02.12.36

Hell no! Think of the wasted energy!

Instead I fill up a kettle – a contained vessel with a hotplate/heating element at the bottom – transferring heat directly to the water, not through air, then metal, then water.

Another Redditor asked why y’all like tea so much (no, really, he said “y’all”). Perhaps you’ll like my explanation:

Partly it's a familiar thing no matter where in the country one finds oneself, partly it's ritualistic.

So for example if something is stressful one can take a moment to drink a cup of tea. The mug acts as something comforting to hold and look over, distancing the drinker from the world psychologically. Taking a mental step back and getting some perspective whilst also drinking something that has always been there since childhood. Then there's some caffeine, usually some sugar, so it's got some useful stuff to perk up the person's mood too.

It's also a useful icebreaker, even if one already knows someone - "Fancy a cuppa?" It's not got the associations of offering coffee to someone (often part of courting) but it also has that personal friendly touch if one remembers to make it to the person's preferences without asking specifics. It always cheers me up a little when someone brings me a cup of tea just the way I like it, even if I didn't feel like a cup beforehand.

I’ll pop the kettle on.

Rumours and murmurings about a Steam-based games console, currently referred to as the Steambox, have rather piqued my interest lately. Back when Steam was new and I was doing my A-levels it, well, it sucked. These days though it’s a fantastic service that rarely gets any complaints from me. If anything I wish other content providers would learn from it.

I’ve not used the recently introduced Big Picture mode particularly (I’ve launched it but that’s about it) but it goes a long way to making a PC a replacement for a console. In my next flat I may well hook up a HDMI cable to my 32” 720P TV and use it for gaming using Big Picture mode.

Back to the Steambox – it’s supposedly going to be Linux-based which isn’t all that surprising given Gabe Newell’s recent negative comments regarding Windows 8. I’ve also not tried the Linux version of Steam but I will do eventually. Some of you may recall that I used to run Linux as my primary OS – this changed when I got a PC that could run the latest games without overheating immediately. However I miss the operating system and find Windows to be clunky as all hell.

I also miss how straightforward it was to rip video footage. I’ve got various video ideas I’d like to play around with but at the moment editing them is a nightmare. I’m hoping in the next year or so that’ll change but it may take another three.

However the concept of a Steambox running Linux entices me and also makes me think that the ancient cliché of The Year Of The Linux Desktop might actually one day come to pass. We’ve now got Android on mobiles worldwide, servers running it, supercomputers, and soon some additional hardware like games consoles. Perhaps we won’t see it in the way that was once expected but it seems we’re getting ever closer. I’m now not surprised when I see games offering Linux support – especially on Kickstarter. The Humble Bundles have helped on that front too.

Now if we factor in games being ported to a Steambox console then it’s quite feasible that normal Linux versions would be just around the corner. It seems a bit hopeful but it seems the gap between optimism and realism is closing at long last.

I’ve been listening to You and Yours, well, specifically Call You and Yours from New Years Eve. Here’s the episode.

I felt I had to write about due to the sheer maddening ignorance of most of the callers. It’s tragic because there’s some excellent debate to be had on the costs and benefits of social media, its effect on development, social change, and so forth. Instead this episode is mostly HARP DARP YOUNG PPL.

Mothers who don’t seem to grasp that multiplayer gaming services are precisely that – multiplayer! They’re a way to talk to people and play with them. What, you input your credit card details and your children bought things? What did you think was going to happen?!

A college lecturer who seems to fear that young people can’t talk to each other any more. As it happens it seems that actually they’re just chatting via social media and deeper conversations take place in person. I was at school once and I opted out of that chatter. Knowing I could do that now without having to physically isolate myself warms my heart!

Then there’s the grumpy old man. Seriously. He even complained about music these days. His points were what infuriated me enough to write this

“How they can formulate any ideas and philosophies, especially when they’ve got those wires hanging out of their ears listening to…”

Well, you get the idea. It annoys me intensely to be told that I can’t have had any good ideas or have seen the beauty of the countryside because I was listening to music at the same time, or gods forbid an audiobook. If I didn’t have earphones in I would hear the clunking of the train’s machinery, the air conditioning, the occasional passenger talking, and..?

Speaking of talking to others, the caller laments the demise of conversation on board trains. This seems to be a case of short-sightedness to me. Was it not his generation who built the society in which strangers are viewed with suspicion? Who got paranoid about paedophiles and rapists?

The host, Julian Worricker, even points out that these days as people do not expect to be conversed with it can result in a “difficult social situation”. Perhaps the old man does not realise that whilst plenty of people are perfectly friendly others are actively hostile. Finding out which someone is generally isn’t worth the risk just to pass the time!

He also rejects the notion that someone could be reading something of any value on their portable device. Apparently if it’s not printed on a dead tree it has no intellectual value. Charming.

Wait a minute… Maybe he’s got a point…

Fuck flying cars.

04 January 2013

There was a question on AskReddit today dealing with the idea of explaining the modern world to a man from the 1950s. To be honest it’s not all that much of an interesting question in terms of the answers given but the things people seemed to realise about themselves surprised me. Well, surprised in this case refers to how much people seem to take for granted and how oblivious of it they are.

Those of you who know me might be well aware of this already but – I live in the future.

We’re not talking about flying cars, we’re talking about two way video conversations with people on an island on the other side of the planet. Small devices that fit in pockets that can take high quality photographs and push them seamlessly to a hard disk in a computer thousands of miles away without any intervention on the user’s part.

Meals can be prepared, portioned, stored, and the reheated safely to the point where hunger as a societal problem is as much of a concern as polio. Wait, there’s another one – even the most dangerous health maladies are increasingly mere inconveniences with progress being made daily.

Then there’s entertainment and the colossal amounts of it that exist cheaply and conveniently.

The one concern that might blow his mind the most though? How few of us can find work and how little we’re paid. We work just as much as in his time, if not longer, for less.

In a world of such plenty and ease humans still manage to find a serious problem.

Please excuse me whilst I go look at some cute animals on Reddit.

Any permitted route

03 January 2013

Hooray! A new year means it’s time for train fares to increase!

To be honest it annoys me considerably less than the total anarchy that is train pricing. We can’t even decide on a nationwide definition of “off peak” apparently so trying to determine the value of an off peak return ticket requires extensive research.

More importantly than that though it is often cheaper to buy a ticket for a longer journey and then get off at the stop you’d like, long before the final destination for the ticket is reached. Apparently this is actually against the rules and can result in a fine.

A single ticket and a return often only have a few pounds between them. Sometimes buying multiple singles is cheaper. Alternatively sometimes buying multiple singles for a single train (i.e. without changes) can work out cheaper.

Does that seem sensible?

Creating a standardised pricing structure would be a good step forward, I feel. I shouldn’t need to use an automated service that tries every combination for me to get an affordable price.

I’ve no problem with booking in advance vs. buying a ticket on the train itself being cheaper (as long as the difference isn’t extortionate). That at least has some reasoning behind it (i.e. being able to anticipate demand).

I’m not quite sure what the first step for such a campaign should be but I would certainly back something like it.

It’s a little difficult to take the British music industry’s lobbying seriously when their digital sales are up by about 15% since 2011 (depending on which source one looks at).

This works out as £383m. Bear in mind that that’s just digital sales, traditional albums on pressed plastic are still being sold, or at least that’s what I’ve read… A mere 69.4 million albums were sold last year in the UK. That’s more than one unit for every man, woman, and child in the UK. So the year before that over 80m units flew off the shelves, if 20% decline is to be believed.

So paid for digital downloads are actively growing at a respectable rate yet this is not enough. Resources are constantly being thrown at politicians to enact stricter censorship of the internet as apparently musicians are starving. I’m not suggesting they’re all relaxing in Jacuzzis full of brandy but to me it seems that their industry is doing considerably better than many others despite the abysmal state of the economy.

Interestingly though digital video game sales dwarf music sales. Wow, systems that go out of their way to make it easy for the customer to get something they actually want get results?

Colour me not very fucking surprised.

Brian Eno had some rather interesting comments on the matter:

I think the music industry initially was very slow to understand what was going on and very slow to realise that it had to change dramatically or else people would just take what they wanted for free. That’s really the issue – whether the music industry some how manages to retain some kind of control of what’s done or whether they make everybody so angry that they take everything for nothing. There are so many different solutions going on at the moment; it’s like an evolutionary struggle to see which ones are actually going to prove to be worthwhile.

The music industry will think I’m being very disloyal by saying this but what you see happening is that as soon as it turns out that there’s no money in one area people develop another one. For instance the astonishing thing about the last few years is that the number of live performances has multiplied by a huge factor. I don’t know what it is but there are so many more performances now because there’s so much more money in performing than in making records. So from the point of view of people who like hearing music it’s quite a blessing actually – there’s suddenly a live scene like there hasn’t been for years and years. I must say that of all the musicians I know I don’t really-, I don’t hear anyone either saying, “God I’m out of a job now because of the internet,” (I haven’t heard anybody say that, ever) and I haven’t heard anybody saying, “I wish those young people would stop listening to my music if they’re not prepared to pay for it.”

A little food for thought whenever the BPI or some other lobby group tries to tug at your heartstrings about piracy.

Tantsnusk

01 January 2013

These days hardcore pornography is but a few keystrokes away at any one time and it seems this worries people, concerned that it distorts viewers in a negative way. That may well be the case, although I would imagine it would very much depend on what one considers negative.

However the abundance of sexual images doesn’t bother me instead I find myself increasingly disturbed by what is sometimes called “romance porn”. Disney Princess Syndrome (or just Princess Syndrome) seems to be fairly common, I’ve seen it in my own niece and it’s rather creepy.disneyprincesses-2

This issues is more complex than that though. There’s the feminist aspect where these sorts of behaviours should be discouraged in order to prevent the child growing into an entitled adult. I’ve seen it in so many adults – they just expect things to be given to them and are fixated on vanity.

Further down the line it seems this translates into expecting some sort of unattainable perfection from any potential partners, often rejecting them or attempting to clumsily change them. The entitlement aspect rears its ugly head here – they feel they deserve someone perfect.

For most intents and purposes that perfection is a ridiculous ideal that cannot exist in humans. The issue here seems to be taking some sort of romanticised ideal of what a partner should be, rather than finding out what works for the individual.

I personally have no end of flaws but I also have many positive traits. I also have a mental list of flaws I cannot tolerate in a partner, unsurprisingly. Beyond that list though there are countless things that do not bother me in the slightest which infuriate others!

The point I’m vaguely working towards is the rather toxic view of what love is, how relationships work, and similar concepts in modern Western society. I specify modern as these concepts aren’t new but never before have we been as exposed to media as we are now.

How many rom-coms are there? Books? Magazines? TV shows?

Jules’ behaviour on Cougar Town with regards to Grayson is downright disturbing at times (which of course is intentional). The fact that we’re joking about it does suggest it is a very real issue for many people though, otherwise the humour wouldn’t be relatable.

This really is an area that needs more prominent research done into it as the way things stand our society grooms us for misery. Which is fine as we also consider “retail therapy” to be an acceptable way to feel better – great for the economy!