/uses page

This is my rifle. There are many like it, but this one is mine.

I’m a real sucker for a good /uses page. Because they’re real people taking their time to document the things they’re passionate about, hey can be a great way of discovering new tools that you might not have come across before.

Anyway, after weeks of procrastination, I’ve added my own /uses page. I hope someone will find something useful on it.

Physical Media 2024


We were in Harvey Norman yesterday buying a new fridge. Have you ever been fridge-shopping with two small children? Hoooly shit is it hard work. After myself and my wife finally managed to snag 10 seconds of peace and quiet to discuss the options to ourselves, I took the kids off to distract them with the demo-mode TVs while my wife talked to a salesperson.

While the kids were hypnotised by the crisp images of crystal glasses melting like ice, I used the opportunity to ask a salesperson if they happened to have any 4K Blu-Ray players because I’m doubling down on physical media. “I’ll have to check the system” he says. So we walk across the shop to their DOS-based(!) inventory system. Along the way we pass an entire row of record players. About 20 of them. Everything from cheapo all-in-ones to top-of-the-range Pro-ject ones. They were even selling a few vinyl records. “No, we don’t have any 4K Blu-Ray players,” says the salesman, “we could order one in if you’d like?”

Apparently in 2024, a 150-year-old technology is better catered for in a shop like Harvey Norman than a 20-year old one.

(Incidentally, DID Electrical, Curry’s and Power City also did not have any Blu-Ray players for sale, but they did have DVD players for sale.)

See also:

Universal “Working To Replenish” Sold-Out Stock Of ‘Oppenheimer’ 4K Discs In Time For Holidays
Best Buy to End DVD, Blu-ray Disc Sales

Hugo to Wordpress. And Back Again

In the middle of 2022, my tech restlessness took over and I felt like I needed a change. It had been years since I looked at Wordpress in any serious way and I was curious to see what had changed under the hood there (answer: probably a lot if you’re using it as a CMS for a complicated site but as a lowly single blogger using it for personal writing, not a lot!). Plus, there has been a bit of movement in terms of using sqlite as a WP backend which feels like a pretty great step forward to me? So over the course of an evening, I moved my blog from Hugo back to Wordpress. I stayed on there for about 14 months, switching back last week. Let’s talk about the experience.

The WP ecosystem is great. Apps like MarsEdit make it so easy to interact with your blog - uploading images and dropping them into a blog post is very straightforward. Having a client on my phone meant that I could write and publish blog posts from anywhere. And the organisation of posts inside of Wordpress is incredibly simple. And the search! Oh my goodness, so great. Loved all that.

But the spam is unreal. Wordpress is basically unusable without an Askimet account to scan every comment. And even using sqlite as the backend and not running an entire MySQL server for my extremely low-traffic blog felt a good bit safer, every interaction is still run through PHP which is still way more of an attack vector than I’m comfortable with (if you want to spike your anxiety, try Vladimir Smitka’s WordPress installer attack race where he documents a Wordpress blog being compromised during installation 😬).

Writing and publishing on Hugo, on the other hand, is much slower and more convoluted. Let’s be generous and say it’s “deliberate”. There’s no phone client that lets me publish blog posts from wherever (not that I ever actually did that, but it was a nice option to have). Publishing can only really be done on a computer1. Want to embed an image in your blog post? You need to handle the resizing yourself, upload it to a static folder, then figure out the magical markdown incantation for referencing the image, but remember to remove the static part from the URL you put in because that gets stripped when the files get published. The whole thing is actively user-unfriendly.

But what you get in return is content that is truly yours. It’s not stored off in a service on another computer somewhere, where you pray you have a decent backup system. The files that make up this website are on my computer, and my computer is automatically backed up on my NAS. And I keep everything in a private GitHub repo as well for triple redundancy. And because everything is just markdown files, it’s dead simple to just display this image differently if you want. For example, my reading/ section is just markdown files, same as the main part of my blog. It’s just rendered differently there because Hugo makes that so simple.

And let’s be honest, the stuff I’m publishing on this website isn’t exactly breaking news, so maybe I can afford for the process of getting things written and published to be more deliberate. In fact, it’s something I’d like to aim for. Something that struck me while copying across the blog posts I’d made in Wordpress back into Hugo was how not-deliberate my writing was. I’d bang something out without a second thought and maybe, maybe go back and fix any typos I spotted (but mostly I did not).

Anyway, my point here is that Hugo isn’t perfect but it’s pretty great for my needs. Are you reading this, future-John who is currently thinking about moving off to something else? Say it with me: Hugo is pretty great for my needs.

  1. Obviously this is a giant generalisation - for example, prior to moving to Wordpress, I was running a build pipeline in a locally-hosted Jenkins that would detect any changes to my blog’s GitHub repo and automatically build and deploy the Hugo site. So it can be done, but this is a whole step beyond what most people expect from software in 2024. ↩︎

My Year in Films 2022

Letterboxd have released their 2022 year in review. I love these roundups because they’re usually pretty great at bubbling up some gems. It’s not any one person or publication’s opinion of the top films of the year, it’s aggregate opinions across the kinds of people who like to track their film-watching across the year. Well, I’m one of those kinds of people, so it’s probably a good time to look at my own stats for 2022. I logged 115 films in 2022. The second-highest number of films in a year since I started tracking this a decade ago. Although technically I watched more because I don’t count the films that I watch (and rewatch, and rewatch) with my kids because that feels like I’d just be cheating my numbers.

Here are my highest-rated films that I watched in 2022 that were released 2022:

Highest-rated films from 2022

And here are my highest-rated films that I watched in 2022 from earlier:

Highest-rated films from earlier

Most of these were first-watches for me, trying to close out some obvious blindspots (I’m in my 40s and had never seen Once Upon a Time in the West). Penda’s Fen was a real standout. I watched this as part of Severin Films’ incredible box set of folk horror because it’s got some great extras, but you can just check it out for free on YouTube right now (and you should). Apparently my most-watched actor in 2022 was Scott Adkins, the best stunt-actor working today. But my most-watched director is George Pollock, a man mostly known for directing cozy Agatha Christie adaptations.

Most-watched actor: Scott Adkins. Most-watched director: George Pollock.

I contain multitudes, I guess.

Anyway, you should follow me on Letterboxd.

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny Trailer

The trailer for Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny was released last week, and of course I went through it frame-by-frame. And since I was already going through each frame, what about putting together a collage of frames from each shot? So that’s what this is – one frame from each shot in the trailer.

Click through for a larger version (19400(!)x6576, 6.5MB).

Kindle Lock Screen can now display book covers

The Verge:

Amazon Kindle owners can now set the lockscreen image to the cover of the book they’re reading. The long overdue Display Cover feature, first spotted by Engadget, was previously only available after jailbreaking your device (and a popular motivator to do so). Amazon says that it works with “most books, magazines, comics, and Manga.”

I’m not sure what the hold-up was – some kind of competitor’s patent or just laziness or whatever – but as someone who has been waiting for this feature for over 10 years now, I’d just like to say: fuckin FINALLY.

I’ve been reading a lot more books over the last couple of months. Physical books, I mean. I think this is partly A) coming out of baby/pandemic brain-fog and B) I’d forgotten how lovely it is to hold a physical book. Every time you see your book, every time you open it, every time you turn a page with it, you increase your connection to it. A well-beaten book is a well-loved book that’s been with you for a while.

Opening the Kindle and seeing a generic screen saver gives you absolutely nothing. It’s not cementing my relationship to the form or the content. This isn’t helped by the fact that the Kindle turns on immediately drops you where you left off with no indication of whether you’re near the end of the book or just getting started. Like getting dropped in an unfamiliar place with no map. You just have to keep going forward and eventually you’ll reach somewhere. It’s a handy feature, for sure, but my dumb lizard-brain gets something from the physicality of being able to feel where I am in a book. The Kindle’s attempt to address this – putting the % completed in the corner just fills me with anxiety. Kind of like the inverse of watching a phone battery percentage trickling down, why amn’t I making progress in this goddamn book?!

Spotify completely changed my connection to music (I could probably tell you the name of every song on every album I’ve physically owned - these days I couldn’t even describe the cover of albums I love that I’ve only listened to on Spotify), the Kindle changed my connection to the books I read. It’s not unusual for me to finish a book and not be able to tell you the name of the author. Hopefully for the sake of my already-overflowing bookshelves, this will draw me back to the Kindle as a device for reading again and my physical to-read pile (here’s a photo from last month - yikes) won’t grow any more.


In December, the hardest working man on YouTube, KillianM2 uploaded a copy of the Late Late Toy Show from 1985. The entire thing1. For a little context, I’m a 41 year old man with two children and a mortgage. The toys and gadgets I currently have in my house are so fantastically beyond anything 1985 could even imagine that they even go beyond science fiction for them. In my phone, I have something with more computing power than basically all the computers in 1985, and with it I can access any information I want, read any book I want, watch any film I want, listen to any music I want.

Even still, as I was watching this flashback where Gay Byrne in his slightly snarky, slightly soused manner demonstrated the year’s popular toys to the mammies and daddies of Ireland in 1985, I found myself with this deep, deep pain and sadness bubbling up inside me. Because I would love to have – I dunno take your pick of all the crappy toys – some shitty remote control Nissan outlander. I would give up my iPhone to have one. In a fucking heartbeat, I would.

As they say, nostalgia is a hell of a drug.

Of course it’s not about the actual toys on the show. I don’t actually want a remote control Nissan Outlander. Looking at the toys with grown-up eyes, the logical part of my brain can see that they’re all cheap Chinese garbage and the ones that aren’t changing hands for obscene amounts of money on eBay are all piled up in a landfill now. It’s everything around the toys that got to me. It’s the design of the toys, the boxy shape of the cars, the vibe of the thing, the hairstyles, the clothes (the audience are dressed like normal people, not an ironically awful Christmas jumper to be seen). These are the thing that remind me of home. They remind me of my childhood. Of that special feeling of safety I was fortunate enough to experience as a child. Of feeling looked after. Too right that’s a powerful thing. At one point, the show covered some toys I actually owned back then and I swear to god right then I could smell the room in my house where I used to play with those toys, I could feel the carpet.

Create a weapon that can trigger that sensation and you’ll end all wars forever.

But I don’t think nostalgia is necessarily a bad thing. Especially now, what with one thing and another. It’s easy to dismiss nostalgia as something to be avoided, like some pithy aphorism embroidered on a tea towel: “you never move forward when you’re living in the past”. But at the same time, this kind of nostalgia can be a reliable way of recreating a feeling of safety. It’s a way of self-soothing.

As I said, I’m a 41 year old man with two kids and a mortgage and, to top it all off, we’re in the middle of a global pandemic. This is my reality and I can’t escape it. Wait, no. This is our reality and we can’t escape it. I’ve found myself struggling to engage with things. I’m sure you’re the same. I start a new book and I can’t focus on the words because my brain goes elsewhere. I start watching a film and I end up checking the latest infection figures. And so I’ve found myself going back to familiar things – rewatching Parks and Recreation, for example – because they make me feel safe and looked after.

And this, in turn, lets me try to make my kids feel safe and looked after so that when they’re in their 40s and they watch a video of the Late Late Toy Show from 2020 (assuming it even happens, of course), they won’t have any memory of feeling fear or anxiety about the state of the world., they’ll just have the same warm, comforting feelings I’m talking about here.

So whatever it takes for you to get through this, whatever media you need to consume to make you feel all right, don’t feel ashamed, just do it.

Stay safe.

  1. Since then, he’s taken it down, I’m guessing for Copyright reasons? ↩︎

Best Games I Played in 2019

Previously: 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018

I realise we’re more than a third of the way through 2020 already but what with one thing and another, now seems like an ideal time to sit in and bang outa couple hundred words on something that no-one cares about. As with previous years, normal caveats apply: I have two small children and limited free time (which is why this post is being written in April), so I missed a lot of big-budget games that, had I played them probably would have appeared on here. 1

What the Golf?

I thought this was going to be just a good golf game. Now, let me make it clear that there’s nothing wrong with being just a good golf game. Last year’s Golf Story was a good golf game and ended up being one of my favourite games of the year. But What the Golf is so much more than just a golf game. The first level is straightforward, you pull down and release to knock a ball to the flag. The second level, you pull down and release and the golf club flies forward, and you have to make the club hit the flag. And the game continues in this manner, getting more and more wild and creative and wildly creative on each level. At one point, about halfway through, it starts making golf versions of other popular games, so you’ll get Super Meatboy with golf. Or Portal with golf. This was the most fun I’ve had with a game all year. (It’s also the most frustrated I got with a game, but that’s another post).

The Outer Wilds

I guess this is best described as a science fiction archaeology game? You launch your spaceship, visit different planets, and I guess that could describe the entire game, if you wanted it? I mean, there’s nothing driving you forward in the game except your own curiosity. But it rewards that curiosity better than any other game I can think of. And I loved it so much because of that. More games like this, please.

Heaven’s Vault

Typical. You wait your whole life for a science fiction archaeology game and two come along at once. This one is done by the people who made 80 Days, so as you’d expect, it has much more straightforward narrative than Outer Wilds (i.e. it acts and feels like a choose-your-own-adventure game). But the puzzles in this one are so cleverly constructed. You start uncovering alien artefacts and, through them, you start learning an entirely new language, creating meaning via logic and context, just like learning a real language. When the pieces started falling into place, I felt like a genius. Again, more games like this, please?

Death Stranding

I found the last few Metal Gear Solid games a little too much for me to handle, but I really liked Death Stranding so I want to say that Death Stranding is like a Hideo Kojima game with most of the Kojima-ness washed off. But even that’s not entirely true because this is an incredibly Kojima game. I think it’s because it’s got all his heart and his creativity but none of the dark cynicism? Despite the bleak setting, Death Stranding is a game about hope and I can’t think of anything we need more in 2019.

Tetris Effect

Technically this came out in 2018 but I played it for the first time in VR in 2019 and I’m usually pretty strict about such things but honestly, this was the closest I came to having a religious experience all year.

Legend of Zelda Cadence of Hyrule

I hadn’t played the original Crypt of the NecroDancer so the mechanic of this took me a while to get used to. Basically, it’s a rhythm-based Zelda game, where you need to move and fight on the beat. But once you settle into it, it works really well as a Zelda game and the art style is gorgeous. I just wish there was more of it.

Dragon Quest Builders 2

I’m probably in the minority here, but I’m not a fan of Minecraft’s story mode. It feels unnaturally bolted on to what is, essentially, just a Lego sandbox. Dragon Quest Builders 2 has the opposite problem: it has a wonderful story mode (I hadn’t played DQB1 or many of the DQ games before 8 so I’m not big into the lore and I still enjoyed it), to the point where every time it presented me with its creative mode, I wasn’t that interested. “Hey did you know you can build up a town for these people with all sorts of different buildings like bedrooms and saloons and showers and toilets?” “IDGAF give me the next bit of story”. I haven’t been pulled through a game like this in a while.

Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order

The best Star Wars game since Knights of the Old Republic? I loved how it didn’t shy away from its Star Wars-ness and didn’t just wear it like a coat of paint over a generic sci-fi game. I’m not sure the Dark Souls influence really works in this game: the controls aren’t as good or reliable as they need to be to hang with the Souls games, but that’s a minor complaint for what is an otherwise great game.

Luigi’s Mansion

This was a lovely little palate cleanser of a game. It’s so light and delicious and every time I felt myself losing interest because it’s too light, the game would do something delightful and draw me back in again.

Ori and the Blind Forest

Again maybe another cheat because this is an old game, but it only came out on Switch in 2019 and that’s the first time I played it. And I feel weird about putting it on here because technically I hate-played it. Remember I mentioned above about how Fallen Order’s controls weren’t as precise as they needed to be? Ori’s controls are exactly as precise as they need to be. It’s a beautiful game from that point of view. And after a few hours, when you’ve unlocked most of your abilities and can chain together some beautiful moves, it’s a wonderful flow game. That is then completely ruined by some of the worst set-pieces I’ve ever seen that rely almost entirely on failure and memorisation. I loved this game. I hated this game.

  1. Just wanted to mention that I did, however, finish Diablo 3 because the switch is the perfect platform for this game because it meant I could chip away at this game in five-minute doses. ↩︎

Internet via Email

Knowing there’s a real risk of this blog turning into “old man yells at cloud1”, here are few thoughts, sort of connected.

First there was Dan Frommer talking about his first year of running a subscription newsletter:

Social media continues to strengthen direct relationships between readers and writers. The internet has made discovery easier for quality, niche publications. (Though that is probably the biggest hurdle.) Email remains an amazing delivery and distribution method for timely written content.

Here’s John Gruber’s take on this:

And readers love newsletters. Websites are getting harder and harder to read. Paywalls forget who you are on a seemingly weekly basis. Websites put interstitial popovers directly over the content you’re trying to read. Videos are set to autoplay. How many times are you supposed to tell the same goddamn website whether you’ll accept their fucking cookies? It’s like they’re purposefully making it hard to read. Newsletters have none of that. They’re just easy and fun to read. The web can and should be that way too, but all too often it’s not.

It’s a fair point - websites are, for the most part, terrible content delivery mechanisms. Which makes me think that maybe RMS, as shitty as he could be, might have hit on something when he talked about the way he consumes the internet

I generally do not connect to web sites from my own machine, aside from a few sites I have some special relationship with. I usually fetch web pages from other sites by sending mail to a program (see https://git.savannah.gnu.org/git/womb/hacks.git) that fetches them, much like wget, and then mails them back to me. Then I look at them using a web browser, unless it is easy to see the text in the HTML page directly. I usually try lynx first, then a graphical browser if the page needs it (using konqueror, which won’t fetch from other sites in such a situation).

Incidentally, I’ve recently moved my RSS from Inoreader to Feedbin and one of the features that drew me away was the newsletter-to-rss gateway - you get a unique email address with which you can sign up for newsletters and they automatically get created as RSS feeds for you. Which means you can read the content in RSS2. So I’ve spent my day unsubscribing with my email address and re-subscribing with my Feedbin address and my email inbox feels so much lighter and fresher and how an email inbox should feel3.

  1. :goodjoke: ↩︎

  2. which is how the internet was going until Google Reader killed RSS ↩︎

  3. I have a strict policy regarding notifications on my phone - no notifications unless they came from a human being directly to me. I don’t see why my email should have a different policy. ↩︎


tl;dr this site now has a /now page where you can keep track of what I’m up to right now.

Back in the old days – I mean the old old days – there was this wonderful command called finger where you could look up information about users on a UNIX system1. It would tell you some personal information about the user, like their name and their phone number. But my favourite part about this command was that it would also return the contents of the user’s plan file.

.plan was supposed to be to tell people what you were working on that day, but people eventually turned started using it for other forms of expression. I guess it was an early form of microblogging2.

Looking at the blogs I still read in 2019, there’s a lot of “here are a list of curated links to cool things on the internet” and there’s a lot of “here is an article I have written so I can include it as a ‘publication’ on my linkedin profile”. But there’s not much in terms of personal writing. I never get a real sense of what the person writing the blog is doing, what they’re working on, what they’re reading, what’s bothering them (And before you say “isn’t that what Twitter is for?” I’d ask have you actually seen Twitter these days?) (And don’t get me started on Facebook).

The idea behind a ’now’ page is to bring back some of that same .plan feeling. From Derek Sivers’s nownownow.com:

Besides answering the common question, “What are you up to these days?”, those who have a now page say it’s a good reminder of their priorities. By publicly showing what you are focused on now, it helps you say no to other requests.

So if you want to see what I’m up to now, you can just go to lowbrowculture.com/now.

  1. I realise the command wasn’t limited to just UNIX systems, but let’s just keep it simple, shall we? ↩︎

  2. For a great example of someone using the .plan file and watching its use morph over time, check out the John Carmack .plan Archive ↩︎