Inbox Zero for Life →

I've been following this routine for a couple of weeks now and, so far, it seems to be working. I process my inbox a couple of times a day and then spend the rest of my time in the 'starred' section, clearing out anything that needs some attention. One thing I've noticed about this is that I'm much more likely to reply to an email now, even if it's just a two-word response. I'm usually prone to procrastinating about replying to people, especially if the answer is in the negative. Strange that this email strategy seems to have broken me of this.

Unfortunately, Sparrow seems to be the only desktop Mac mail client to support Gmail keyboard shortcuts. Mail client developers: support Gmail keyboard shortcuts!

Idea: Peanut Gallery

Peanut Gallery: A script that takes a start time and an end time and generates a subtitle file for your twitter stream (or a given hash tag), so you can watch a show or other live event with (time-shifted) real-time twitter commentary.

I woke up this morning to a twitter stream full of amazing Oscar commentary. For example, from the ever-reliable Zodiac Motherfucker:

@ZODIAC_MF GET MRS POTATO HEAD THE FUCK OUT OF HERE

By itself, this is a hilarious sentence, but who is he talking about? Without context, I'm missing something. Actually, for most of my twitter stream last night, I don't know what people are referring to. I'd say the same thing happened for anyone who wasn't watching the Sony PlayStation announcement. For certain shows and events, a snarky running commentary makes that show infinitely more entertaining.

I'll probably watch the Oscars tonight -- time-shifting a live event -- and I'd love to be able to time-shift my twitter stream as well. I think a subtitle track for my media file would be the best way of doing this.

Unfortunately, I think this is the kind of thing Anil Dash was referring to in his essay The Web We Lost: I don't think Twitter's API allows this kind of usage. Shame.

Kitbashed →

Michael Heilemann's site is to Star Wars what Lee Unkrich's The Overlook Hotel is to The Shining. Exhaustive and written by a true obsessive. Beautiful.

Depression Quest →

Even if you're not suffering from depression (or if you think you're not suffering from depression), you should play this. Touching and extremely well-done.

How Netflix is turning viewers into puppets →

This is interesting. Netflix analysed its data and concluded that a lot of people liked political thrillers, a lot of people liked Kevin Spacey and a lot of people liked films directed by David Fincher. And so the first show they've bankrolled is a political thriller starring Kevin Spacey and directed by David Fincher. And rather than some lowest-common-denominator, design-by-committee bullshit, it actually turned out pretty good.

Gamers are the ultimate trolls →

I am guilty of this myself, of course. When Half Life started and the creators were showing me the living, breathing world outside of the rail car, I was too busy to notice, trying to jump out of the car through the window. In Half Life 2, when Alyx was telling me something important, I couldn’t hear it over the explosions of the grenades I kept throwing at her.

This week's This American Life has a story about how babies are like scientists, and by doing things like, say, dropping their forks on the ground, they're actually working out the logic of the world. Because each game is different, with different rules and different logic, players have to do their own experiments. It's just a bonus that these experiments so often lead to hilarious, ridiculous situations.

Little Printer: A portrait in the nude →

I think that Berg's Little Printer is a great idea. It's right in the middle of the junction between magical technology and tactile physicality (I also think its £199 price-point is insane). This is a really nice insight into the design process behind it.

Tegan and Sara - Closer

Tegan and Sara have spent years putting out what I can only assume are perfectly fine indie records. I wouldn't really know, because they never really appeared on my radar (I listened to Sainthood a bit, but it didn't grab me). Now, they put out an album of amazing pop and I can't get enough.

Bullshit indie bands: more amazing pop, please.

Far Cry 3

far-cry-3

I'm finding it impossible to deal with Far Cry 3 in its own terms. It's much easier for me to talk about it in terms of games it's not.

It's not Far Cry 2, for example. Oh my God, Far Cry 2 hates the player. Never mind the respawning enemies making sure that every square inch of that game's sprawling African savannah was actively hostile towards the player. And this was the least of your worries. More than once when I was playing that game, I found myself in the middle of a firefight when my gun would suddenly just fall apart in my hands (weapons 'wear out' in Far Cry 2), I'd panic and run away to consider my next move and that's when my character would suffer a malaria attack (your character is infected with malaria at the start of Far Cry 2 and spends the rest of the game dealing with this). And then I'd die.

Far Cry 3 is not this. It's much more forgiving. More hand-holding. Almost to a fault. Straying too far off the prescribed path (even during the tutorial) will result in a 'mission failed' screen. It's not messing around. It doesn't want you actually exploring the huge, open island without making sure you fully understand the mechanics and the context. As helpful and friendly as this is, I can't help but feel like this is a step back. It takes fewer risks. It's less dangerous. Much as I disliked the random bullshit in the previous Far Cry game, it was at least remarkable.

Speaking of exploring, Far Cry 3 is not Proteus or Misasmata. It's not even Dear Esther. These are all island-based games that are very much about exploration. Proteus and Dear Esther are nothing but exploration. You get from it what you get. Miasmata has a story and a history for you to peel back, layer after layer. Your exploration is rewarded with a deeper understanding of the narrative. It's like the designers took a look at Lost and thought "there's a game there."

Far Cry 3 is not that either. The game is set on a couple of huge, open islands with a long, varied history, but there's actually very little to explore. Every hut on the island is the same. Every cave is the same. There are WWII-era gun emplacements. There are downed aircrafts. There are beached tankers. But these are all just eye-candy, not actually things that affect your game in any way. They don't reveal anything about the story of Far Cry 3 or the history of the Rook Islands. I found one cabin with a body in a noose, but without any context for who this guy was or why he hung himself, it's just a meaningless non-sequitur.

And this is the problem with Far Cry 3 - it's an enjoyable romp, but it doesn't have any aspirations to be anything new or original or even different. The entire plot is built on a series of tired Alice in Wonderland parallels (with a healthy dose of references to The Beach thrown in for good measure). And it could easily have been so much more. As well as his arsenal of heavy weapons, your character is also armed with a camera -- a tool for exploration, for documenting things -- and this could have been used in interesting ways; integrated into the gameplay somehow, but instead it's only ever used to identify enemies before you kill them.

As much as I'm enjoying Far Cry 3, I can't help thinking of it in terms of games it's not because it's just a very bland game done very well. And it could have been so much more, if it tried.

Old school →

Middlemojo interview Frank Black

Q: Wait a minute. Didn’t you just buy a house in Northampton?

A: Yeah. We’re already moving. It’s a little more in the country. They want to have chickens and grow flowers and stuff. We got rid of TV, there’s no computers, no electronics. It’s old school. And the kids haven’t said peep about it.

Q: How old are the kids?

A: Three, five, six, eleven, and thirteen. It’s so loud. It’s crazy.

Q: You do loud and crazy.

A: Yeah, yeah. Everybody’s loud. Let me show you some pictures [on his iPhone].

Do you see what happened there? "No computers, no electronics. It's old school". But he still has an iPhone. Everyone has a smartphone now, but they're so ubiquitous that no-one even thinks of them as being a "computer". Warren Ellis was totally right. People don't even think about or recognise the magic around them.

(Incidentally, Middlemojo.com is just wonderful. A blog about creative people approaching middle age. Why hasn't this been done before?)

Paperman

Storyboard - Read the TV and Movies you don't want to watch →

Storyboard was born of my insane desire to consume videos without actually having to watch them. Normally that would involve putting the TV on in the background and ignoring the video while listening to the audio, but what about the reverse? All visual without the audio. On my kindle.

This reminds me of the line in Douglas Coupland's Microserfs about people turning on subtitles and watching films in fast-forward because it's more time-efficient.