Phone Feature Request

Wired has a story about an Android app called ‘No Text While Driving’, which is designed to automatically reply to incoming texts when you’re driving. According to the inventor, the reason people text when they drive is because texting is such an immediate medium of communication, and people don’t want to be seen as being rude by ignoring texts. An automatic text to say “Driving. Can’t text” is better than no text at all. Great idea – in theory. The major downside that I can see is that you have to remember to launch the app before you start driving. To me, this seems like a step in the wrong direction. If you’re the kind of person who has enough discipline to remember to launch an application before getting into the car, then you’re also the kind of person who probably knows not to text while driving. In other words, you’re not the audience for this application.

Back in 2004 or so, when I was a happy little sysadmin filling my days with all sorts of nerdy things to keep myself amused, I hacked together something to make my life a little easier. Using Bluetooth, I was able to have work computer detect when my crappy Sony Ericsson phone came into range and automatically start a bunch of processes for me. Some of these were work-related, such as launching my Nagios dashboard and pulling up my to-do list for the day. Others were just for show. Like automatically playing ‘Back in Black’ by AC/DC, essentially giving myself a soundtrack as I walked into the officeThis didn’t last very long - awesome as it is to have your own soundtrack, it’s also incredibly annoying for people working around you. This seemed like the kind of thing we’d be seeing of a lot more, the idea of using your phone as a sort of electronic passport to the computers and gadgets around us.

For example, my car has Bluetooth and is paired with my phone. So wouldn’t it be great if I could hook it into ‘No Text While Driving’ and automatically activate it for me? But wait a second, Bluetooth is, like, sooooooooo 20th century. Let’s go all 2010 on this: GPS. What I’d really love is complete location awareness using my phone’s built-in GPS. By this, I mean being able to define certain GPS coordinates as ‘home’. When the phone realises it’s within this area, it automatically switches on wifi, turns off 3G etc. Likewise, there could be a ‘work’ location, where it automatically switches to ‘silent’ and ‘vibrate’.

I think this would be terrific. Imagine the possibilities! We could mark cinemas as sections where our phones are automatically switched to silent! Our phones could automatically pull up our shopping lists!OmniFocus sort of does this - you can define a location as significant and have it pull up a particular to-do context for that location. So a shop would pull up your “errands” context. It’s genius Then again, when we can’t even be bothered to make the effort to switch our phones manually, then we’re just one step closer to the future predicted in Wall-E.

Medal of Honour

Medal of Honour reminds of the joke at the start of Annie Hall. You know, the one about the two women eating dinner at a resort, where one turns to the other and says “Boy, the food here is really terrible” and the other says “Yeah, I know, and such small portions”. Medal of Honour – EA’s entry into the ‘modern warfare’ arena – is like five hours of absolutely nothing. A ‘nothing’ with a multi-million dollar budget, so it’s a really flashy-looking nothing. Still, it’s hard not to come out of it underwhelmed.

Actually, that’s not entirely fair. There is one stand-out, genuinely memorable moment in the short single-player campaign. At one point, you find yourself completely overwhelmed by enemy forces who swarm around you, gradually whittling down your supplies of ammunition. No help is coming and there doesn’t seem to be any end to the number of enemies, so your entire squad resigns itself to the fact that this is the end. It’s sort of like the incinerator scene in Toy Story 3. Game over, man. It’s a pretty powerful sequence and one which is executed perfectlyCompared, say, to the epilogue of Halo: Reach, which is mechanically inconsistent with the rest of the game. You spend the first 99% of the game playing a super-powered super-soldier with recharging shields that enables him to be a sort of bullet shield. Suddenly, your super-powered super-soldier breaks down if he stubs his toe. I got that shit over and done iwth soon as I could by just throwing a grenade at my feet..

Unfortunately, the rest of the game is just a string of disappointments and missed opportunities. You jump from character to character fighting the brain-dead enemies and the brain-dead game engine which they inhabit. This is 2010. We are 10% of the way through the twenty-first century and we still have enemies that do nothing but follow their scripted path, dutifully duck in and out of cover the same way regardless of what is going on around them. Bad enough, but… do you guys know what a ‘monster closet’ is? They’re fairly common in videogames, the places where enemies appear from until the player reaches a certain point or performs a certain actionThey get their name from the fact that you’ll see thousands enemies come pouring out of a particular door, you get there and it’s barely bigger than a cupboard. Hence ‘monster closet’. The more you know.. For example, in the scene I just described, there were probably a few of these ‘monster closets’ hidden in the rocks, where the player couldn’t see the enemies spawning from, and in this section, the monster closets worked fine. If only the rest of the game had been so smooth. On more than one occasion in Medal of Honour, I apparently went off on a path that the game hadn’t anticipated, so I was greeted with the sight of watching enemies spawning out of thin air in front of me. Which would have been an amusing and completely forgivable glitch except because I hadn’t gone the direction that would otherwise ‘turn off’ the monster closet, the magically-appearing enemies never stopped coming. This didn’t stop the game auto-saving right on top of their spawn point, so that when I died, I was instantly surrounded by eight enemies firing directly at me whenever I restarted.

Frustrating bugs in a videogame are one thing, and it’s easy to pick on them and write a blog post like this that says “WAH. This bug that hardly half the players will run into has completely ruined the game for me". I mean, Mass Effect had some of the worst bugs of any game I’ve played, but I loved that game in spite of themtowards the end, almost because of them - ah, the geometry stretching bug where something went screwy in the maths and my character’s face slowly started to explode over the course of a five-minute cut-scene. This image will forever haunt my nightmares.. Why can’t I give Medal of Honour the same freedom?

Three words: Call of Duty.

Medal of Honour has virtually no identity of its own. Almost every moment in the game is a direct copy of something that happened in one of the two Call of Duty: Modern WarfaresWhich makes me wonder how you can copy so furiously from two 10+ hour games and still only end up with a 5-hour campaign. A vehicle level? Check. A sniper level? Check. A level where you’re sneaking around a snowy mountain while guards search for you? Check. If the developers are trying to win players away from the Call of Duty camp, it’s probably not a good idea to present them with third-rate knockoffs of the game you’re so slavishly trying to imitate. It’s like an artist trying to show his talent by giving us a paint-by-numbers version of the Mona Lisa. It just doesn’t work. Unless you’re deliberately trying to present some post-modern commentary on the nature of art. I’m fairly sure that’s not what the developers of Medal of Honour were trying to do. As a player, I just find it frustrating to play a game that was aiming so low and so clearly could have been much better, had the developers been given a little more time. But, thanks to Call of Duty, that’s one thing they didn’t have. In essence, Medal of Honour‘s release date was set not by how complete or how polished it was, but by the release of Call of Duty: Black Ops. EA had to release the game before then. And in a way, they were probably right. See how quickly Medal of Honour has been dropped from the conversation since Call of Duty: Black Ops came out.

I’ve no doubt that the game has done enough business to warrant a sequel, and maybe then we’ll see some real innovation and it will be something actually worth talking about. Until then, we’re left with a piss-poor jump-start of a franchise that has no idea who it’s trying to appeal to.

Just the facts, ma'am

Use Stylish?

Read The Irish Independent?

Hate that site’s article page design?

Me too. So I wrote a simple (11 lines of actual CSS) user style for the article page which, to my eyes anyway, improves the experience of using that site. I changed the font family and size, changed the line height, italicised the first line of the article to make it more of a lede. Oh, and I also yanked the google adverts. I guess this is slightly rude, since, y’know – global economic crisis and all, they probably need the advertising cash – but seriously, there’s more advertising space than article space. That’s just bullshit.

I didn’t touch any of the main landing pages because I hardly ever go to the site directly, I just go to the articles from my RSS reader.

Before:

Independent - Before

After:

Independent - After

You can grab the userstyle here.

Wherein I just don't get Girl Talk

I agree with almost everything Mat Honan says in this article on the new Girl Talk album. The way the twitterverse went nuts for the album all at the same time is almost unprecedented now, in our time-shifted universe, where we all watch the Lost finale at different times.

Even live media events are fractured, splintered through the lens of FoxNews or MSNBC or Autotune the News. It takes something huge to crash through the filters and clutter of modern life to get us to all experience the same thing simultaneously.

The new Girl Talk, released on Monday, did that.

Except one thing. I just don’t ‘get’ Girl TalkDoes this mean I have to hand in my oversized hipster glasses now?.

Like everyone else on the internet, I downloaded the new album to give it a whirl. I put it on my iPod and listened to it when I went for a run the other day. Halfway through the third song, I’d had enough. I deleted it from the iPod when I got home.

My problem is that in any given Girl Talk track, there are flashes of brilliance that then gets lost under a deluge of novelty. “Oh No”, the opening track on All Day is the perfect example of this. It starts off well. I mean… shit, Black Sabbath, 2pac, Jay-Z and Ludacris all working in perfect harmony? Then, before we have a chance to really enjoy this mix and for no apparent reason, it segues abruptly into Jane’s Addiction and Cali Swag District. And since we’ve already gone down an evolutionary dead end in this musical menagerie, why not throw in a bit of “Swagga Like Us”. It’s like putting makeup on this dead horse you’re flogging.

So yeah, I think Mat Honan is right about the ‘event’ nature of the new Girl Talk album, and I can admire that. But I also think it says a lot that the twitter hash-tag people are using is #favoritegirltalkspots and not #favoritegirltalktracks.

Wherein I just don't get Girl Talk

I agree with almost everything Mat Honan says in this article on the new Girl Talk album. The way the twitterverse went nuts for the album all at the same time is almost unprecedented now, in our time-shifted universe, where we all watch the Lost finale at different times.

Even live media events are fractured, splintered through the lens of FoxNews or MSNBC or Autotune the News. It takes something huge to crash through the filters and clutter of modern life to get us to all experience the same thing simultaneously.

The new Girl Talk, released on Monday, did that.

Except one thing. I just don’t ‘get’ Girl TalkDoes this mean I have to hand in my oversized hipster glasses now?.

Like everyone else on the internet, I downloaded the new album to give it a whirl. I put it on my iPod and listened to it when I went for a run the other day. Halfway through the third song, I’d had enough. I deleted it from the iPod when I got home.

My problem is that in any given Girl Talk track, there are flashes of brilliance that then gets lost under a deluge of novelty. “Oh No”, the opening track on All Day is the perfect example of this. It starts off well. I mean… shit, Black Sabbath, 2pac, Jay-Z and Ludacris all working in perfect harmony? Then, before we have a chance to really enjoy this mix and for no apparent reason, it segues abruptly into Jane’s Addiction and Cali Swag District. And since we’ve already gone down an evolutionary dead end in this musical menagerie, why not throw in a bit of “Swagga Like Us”. It’s like putting makeup on this dead horse you’re flogging.

So yeah, I think Mat Honan is right about the ‘event’ nature of the new Girl Talk album, and I can admire that. But I also think it says a lot that the twitter hash-tag people are using is #favoritegirltalkspots and not #favoritegirltalktracks.

Airport Security

John Gruber points to an article about the “‘Israelification’ of Airports", talking about how Tel Aviv airport managed to increase its security without turning it into a major inconvenience for the 99.9999% of us who are flying and who aren’t terrorists.

Here’s something that stood out for me:

The first layer of actual security that greets travellers at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion International Airport is a roadside check. All drivers are stopped and asked two questions: How are you? Where are you coming from?

“Two benign questions. The questions aren’t important. The way people act when they answer them is,” Sela said.

“This is to see that you don’t have heavy metals on you or something that looks suspicious,” said Sela.

You are now in the terminal. As you approach your airline check-in desk, a trained interviewer takes your passport and ticket. They ask a series of questions: Who packed your luggage? Has it left your side?

“The whole time, they are looking into your eyes — which is very embarrassing. But this is one of the ways they figure out if you are suspicious or not. It takes 20, 25 seconds,”

First, it’s fast — there’s almost no line. That’s because they’re not looking for liquids, they’re not looking at your shoes. They’re not looking for everything they look for in North America. They just look at you,” said Sela. “Even today with the heightened security in North America, they will check your items to death. But they will never look at you, at how you behave. They will never look into your eyes … and that’s how you figure out the bad guys from the good guys.”

What I find most interesting is that while the security checkpoint to get into the gates at Dublin airport has gotten more convoluted – hey, buy a little bag to put your liquids in; take your shoes off; take your belt off; take your laptop out of your bag; bend over and cough please – the actual physical interaction with people before then has been reduced. Traveling with Aer Lingus or Ryanair, the question “Who packed your luggage” has been reduced down to a check-box on a computer screen. It’s a ridiculous carry-over from when we used to be checked in by people instead of computers. Isn’t the point of the question to have a real person gauge your response?

Airport Security

John Gruber points to an article about the “‘Israelification’ of Airports", talking about how Tel Aviv airport managed to increase its security without turning it into a major inconvenience for the 99.9999% of us who are flying and who aren’t terrorists.

Here’s something that stood out for me:

The first layer of actual security that greets travellers at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion International Airport is a roadside check. All drivers are stopped and asked two questions: How are you? Where are you coming from?

“Two benign questions. The questions aren’t important. The way people act when they answer them is,” Sela said.

“This is to see that you don’t have heavy metals on you or something that looks suspicious,” said Sela.

You are now in the terminal. As you approach your airline check-in desk, a trained interviewer takes your passport and ticket. They ask a series of questions: Who packed your luggage? Has it left your side?

“The whole time, they are looking into your eyes — which is very embarrassing. But this is one of the ways they figure out if you are suspicious or not. It takes 20, 25 seconds,”

First, it’s fast — there’s almost no line. That’s because they’re not looking for liquids, they’re not looking at your shoes. They’re not looking for everything they look for in North America. They just look at you,” said Sela. “Even today with the heightened security in North America, they will check your items to death. But they will never look at you, at how you behave. They will never look into your eyes … and that’s how you figure out the bad guys from the good guys.”

What I find most interesting is that while the security checkpoint to get into the gates at Dublin airport has gotten more convoluted – hey, buy a little bag to put your liquids in; take your shoes off; take your belt off; take your laptop out of your bag; bend over and cough please – the actual physical interaction with people before then has been reduced. Traveling with Aer Lingus or Ryanair, the question “Who packed your luggage” has been reduced down to a check-box on a computer screen. It’s a ridiculous carry-over from when we used to be checked in by people instead of computers. Isn’t the point of the question to have a real person gauge your response?

A Better Use for Free Cheese

If you’re wondering why your twitter/facebook feed has been exploding with cheese jokes, it’s because the Irish economy is so completely boned and the Irish government so completely bone-headed that they’ve decided that the best way to ease the burden is to distribute free cheese to the poorI’ve been saying for a while now about how much the economic and political background of Ireland in 2010 resembles the economic and political background of France in 1789, and I’ve been wondering if we aren’t going to see a similar bloody, violent revolution. But let’s just get this straight, once and for all: Marie Antoinette never said “let them eat cake”. Clear?.

53 tonnes of cheddar, to be exact.

This is a dreadful, badly thought-out plan. Worse, it’s just so unimaginative. The poor people in Ireland don’t want cheddar, they want jobs.

Know who wants cheddar? Expats.

Every time I go back to Dublin, someone in Rome asks me to bring back some cheddar. And tea. Because it’s impossible to get any kind of cheddar in this city. It’s like unicorn tears. And on those strange occasions when it can be found, it’s not strange to be charged more than €25 per kilo. And people pay it, because it’s cheddar. Even if you don’t eat it yourself, you can use it to barter favours from other people, like prison currency.

So, Irish government, here’s what I’m suggesting. Take the 53 tonnes of cheddar, divide it up and ship it out to your embassies around the world. Charge, say, €20 for a kilo. This will probably rake in about a million or so - a small chunk out of the €6 billion that needs to be saved in the next budget, but is now really a time to be turning your nose up to an easy million bucks?

Also, I’ll get some cheddar. It’s a win-win situation.

A Better Use for Free Cheese

If you’re wondering why your twitter/facebook feed has been exploding with cheese jokes, it’s because the Irish economy is so completely boned and the Irish government so completely bone-headed that they’ve decided that the best way to ease the burden is to distribute free cheese to the poorI’ve been saying for a while now about how much the economic and political background of Ireland in 2010 resembles the economic and political background of France in 1789, and I’ve been wondering if we aren’t going to see a similar bloody, violent revolution. But let’s just get this straight, once and for all: Marie Antoinette never said “let them eat cake”. Clear?.

53 tonnes of cheddar, to be exact.

This is a dreadful, badly thought-out plan. Worse, it’s just so unimaginative. The poor people in Ireland don’t want cheddar, they want jobs.

Know who wants cheddar? Expats.

Every time I go back to Dublin, someone in Rome asks me to bring back some cheddar. And tea. Because it’s impossible to get any kind of cheddar in this city. It’s like unicorn tears. And on those strange occasions when it can be found, it’s not strange to be charged more than €25 per kilo. And people pay it, because it’s cheddar. Even if you don’t eat it yourself, you can use it to barter favours from other people, like prison currency.

So, Irish government, here’s what I’m suggesting. Take the 53 tonnes of cheddar, divide it up and ship it out to your embassies around the world. Charge, say, €20 for a kilo. This will probably rake in about a million or so - a small chunk out of the €6 billion that needs to be saved in the next budget, but is now really a time to be turning your nose up to an easy million bucks?

Also, I’ll get some cheddar. It’s a win-win situation.

Nowhere Boy

Nowhere Boy is like a case-study in how not to make a biopic.

Granted, it’s a tough genre to pull off well. Rather than just presenting a straight documentary, with a litany of facts, you’ve decided to dramatise events, to make things more entertaining. Biopics are documentaries with jazz-hands. Except there’s a huge temptation to allow your film to become little more than a series of narrative checkboxes and what Mark KermodeVia Jon Ronson calls “chubby? Hmm…” moments. These are the sequences where the filmmakers use the viewers’ knowledge of the subject to sprinkle delightful moments of irony over a scene. It gets its name from a mis-remembered scene in The Karen Carpenter Story where Karen reads a review of one of their singles which says “and the chubby drummer kept time”, to which she says “chubby? Hmm…”

If you were to take the John Lennon element from Nowhere Boy, what would you be left with? A trite and badly-told Dennis the Menace story with some terrific actors doing their best with some dreadful material. Essentially, it’s “rebellious child with troubled family background escapes through music”, a story you’ve seen a thousand times already. Try pitching that story without John Lennon’s name attached and see how far you get.

The only thing Nowhere Boy has going for it is the John Lennon aspect. The first meeting of John and Paul! The first gig by the Quarrymen! And so on. All of which feel like 50-year old, heavily embellished anecdotes filtered through a Beatles fan’s fever-dream. At times, it feels like director Sam Taylor-Wood is so keen to tick these narrative checkboxes that he completely ignores their effect on the larger story. Worse still, the best things about the movie – Ann-Marie Duff and Kirstin Scott-Thomas’s heavyweight performances – completely put the rest of the cast to shame. Aaron Johnson really does his best in the lead role, but next to these two, he just comes across as a third-rate Lennon impersonator.

Skip this movie and just check out the Beatles Anthology instead.