Advice

Floss at least once every day; buy the nice kind that doesn’t chop your fingers up. If you’re wearing a jacket, you probably need both a pocket square and a tie. You don’t need more than one computer anymore. Build a fire pit in your backyard at all costs. Sync everything. Try to strike up friendly conversations with every driver who calls you a cunt. Splurge on a cell phone with a data plan; if you already have one, splurge on a solid state drive; if you have both, you don’t need anything else.

Nickd gives some great advice about capital-L living. I really want a fire pit now.

Cabin in the Woods

Cabin in the Woods is the best deconstruction of the horror genre since Scream. Actually, fuck that. Cabin in the Woods is much better than Scream. Wes Craven was happy enough to just list out the tropes of slasher movies, leading to a nudging, winking circle-jerk of "You know we know these tropes. And now we know you know we know them."

Cabin in the Woods is better than that. It lists out the cliches -- the things we love about horror movies -- and gives them context. And not in some po-faced way. It's got convictions and goddamn if it doesn't follow through on them. Asked if he had any plans for a sequel, director Drew Goddard answered "Have you seen the ending to my movie?"

You need to see this ending. And the middle. And also the beginning. Multiple times, if possible.

Suspended

Over the weekend, while my wife was away, I came up with a few dumb ideas for things to keep me busy. One was an iPhone app that's maybe a little too PG-13 for this blog - let's just say it involved dicks and iPhone pictures thereof. The other was a twitter bot that would reply whenever someone tweeted one of the main lyrics from Ice Cube's Today was a Good Day. You tweet "Didn't have to use my AK", it would reply and say "@foo didn't have to use his AK. Today was a good day". I spent about an hour writing it and launched it on Monday night.

I guess some people didn't get the joke (although I was amazed at the amount of retweets and favourites it got), because the account was suspended today.

This is my first time seeing the Twitter "account suspended" page and I'm amazed. I'm amazed at how stern it is. I'm amazed that there's nothing you can do about the fact your account has been suspended except tick the two checkboxes which say "I promise I'll be good from now on". I'm amazed there's no contact details if you want to appeal this decision. But mostly, I'm just amazed there's no option to say "Fuck it, this joke isn't worth it - delete this account".

Give me a tab

Lou: You gonna order something, kid?
Marty McFly: Ah, yeah… Give me - Give me a Tab.
Lou: Tab? I can't give you a tab unless you order something.
Marty McFly: All right, give me a Pepsi Free.
Lou: You want a Pepsi, PAL, you're gonna pay for it.

Kids today watching Back to the Future would be just as confused as Lou. What the fuck is a Tab? What the fuck is Pepsi Free?

Full circle.

Heavy Hangs The Bandwidth That Torrents The Crown

Link: Heavy Hangs The Bandwidth That Torrents The Crown

Andy Ihnatko:

You’re not into physical media? I’m with you. It’ll be on iTunes soon. See? The store page lists the release date. March 6. You can circle it on the calendar and everything.

You’re still frowning. What’s wrong, Scrumpkin?

Oh. You want it right now.

But — umm — the release date is only, like, two or three weeks away. Just hang on a bit. You’ll be fine.

Yes, I heard you (please, sir, there’s really no need to shout). I understand that you want it (and I hope I’m not misquoting you) right the ****ity-**** NOWWWWWWWW. But you can’t have it now. You can have it on March 6. It isn’t even as far away as you think. Remember? February is the super-short month?

(Sigh)

You’re already torrenting it, aren’t you?

Annnnd now you’re also calling me a d*** because I expected you to wait two weeks, and you’re claiming that you’re “forced” to torrent it because the video industry is bunch of turds. How charming.

I wish everyone would read Andy Ihnatko's post before banging out their own incoherent, self-entitled posts on how the entertainment industry is leaving them with no choice to but pirate TV shows. Even MG Siegler -- usually a super-smart guy and a great writer -- wrote a post titled "Help! I’m Being Forced To Pirate Game Of Thrones Against My Will!".

Seriously?

These guys should try living in Europe for a while, where HBO is a distant dream, the selection of shows and films on iTunes seems to be a cruel joke and where Netflix only just launched. I pirate my TV shows too, but only because I have issues with delayed gratification. I'm okay with that, and I don't try to blame anyone but myself.

Everyone, just go read Andy Ihnatko's post.

Dear Esther

With no characters to interact with, no enemies to fight, no puzzles to solve, no way to manipulate the environment around you, Dear Esther is guaranteed to spark a thousand hand-wringing debates about what a game actually is. Can a game have none of the elements listed above and still call itself a game? Or is it enough to provide an experience to the player? Come to think of it, if you're not "playing", what do you call it?

I guess you could call it exploration. Dear Esther is great at exploration. You explore an uninhabited island, with its beautifully rendered landscapes and scattered clues to the people who once lived there. You explore the story (or stories) being told by the disembodied narrator. You explore the nature of gameplay.

More than anything, though, Dear Esther is about atmosphere. The story being told, the tone of the narration, the haunting soundtrack, the gorgeous visuals. These all add up to a singular atmosphere of loneliness and desolation. The creators have said they were influenced by Tarkovsky's Stalker -- a film that is more about creating an atmosphere than telling a compelling story.

But, although it tries, it can't escape its game roots. Dear Esther is built with "Source" engine, the same one that powers Half Life 2, and so it's necessarily constrained in the scope of its ability to tell a story and build the atmosphere it is going for, in much the same way as a book is bound by the constraints of having to tell its story through the medium of static print. As a result, its game-like artifacts are completely out of place in such an anti-game. To prevent you going too far off the prescribed path, Dear Esther uses conventions like invisible walls and insta-death points. Arbitrary rules that people often expect and that sometimes even make sense in a traditional 'game'. In something like this, though, they shatter the illusion and the atmosphere.

As a game (if that's what you decide to call it), Dear Esther a failure. As a story, it falls similarly flat, drip-feeding the brunt of the story through the same kind of cack-handed, painfully oblique passages as we saw in Braid.

As an experience, there's nothing like it.

Crowdsourcing

One of the unfortunate effects of living in another country for almost five years is that you have to almost completely rebuild your knowledge of your home city. Specifically, I find that I need to find out where the best bars and restaurants are (because, honestly, there's only so much Crackbird a man can handle).

In theory, this is where things like Yelp and Menupages are supposed to come in. The internet hive-mind is supposed to work its magic. I should be able to shout "Yelp! What is best in life?" and it will tell me "To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women.". Instead, it says "Paulie's Pizza, Kilmainham Gaol and Croke Park."

Wrong, Yelp.

I guess it's just a fundamental problem with crowdsourcing. Rather than helping the cream rise to the top, the noise generated by these sites actively drowns out useful information, making them useless. Even large sites like Amazon suffer from the same problem. I recently tried to buy a wireless access point for work. I checked out a few tech blogs and read reviews of some products. I finally settled on a Cisco product and went to Amazon to order it. Despite the almost entirely favorable reviews I'd read, the access point had only two and a half stars on Amazon. Turns out this was based on two reviews, the first of which was a one-star review with the person saying he'd had a problem with the technical support for another Cisco product. The other review was from Cisco themselves, giving the product five stars. The text of their 'review' was "if you have an issue with a product, please email us at $blah". Both reviews were useless and, if I'd been basing my purchase on the overall score of the product, I would have walked away.

More useful than the hours I've spent trawling Yelp and Menupages has been the one post I put up on Facebook, asking my friends where they'd recommend for places to eat. This way, I've immediately got context for each one of the places that have been recommended - this friend has impeccable taste, so I'll try their recommendation first etc. It's a similar reason why I trust Brian Lam's The Wire Cutter over the countless aggregation sites, or anything that relies on the average score of a large group of people to recommend technology. A sufficiently well-curated site run by a single person can still trump the wider internet.

The Rules

I've been cycling in and out of town almost every day since July. A half-hour in, against the wind. A half hour back, uphill almost the whole way. My entire attitude towards cycling has changed. It's not just simple transport any more. It's war. War against myself. War against taxi drivers. War against Dublin weather.

Which is why I love Velominati's Rules of cycling etiquette. Okay, some are a little fetishistic about the bike itself, which is a little creepy. But this one in particular caught my eye.

Rule #9 / If you are out riding in bad weather, it means you are a badass. Period.

Fair-weather riding is a luxury reserved for Sunday afternoons and wide boulevards. Those who ride in foul weather – be it cold, wet, or inordinately hot – are members of a special club of riders who, on the morning of a big ride, pull back the curtain to check the weather and, upon seeing rain falling from the skies, allow a wry smile to spread across their face. This is a rider who loves the work.

I cycled through 'monster rain', down a road where a previously-underground river suddenly became an overground river. Cycling in rain doesn't bother me any more. With a change of clothes and a radiator, you can cycle through anything.

I also love Rule 12 - "The correct number of bikes to own is n+1."

While the minimum number of bikes one should own is three, the correct number is n+1, where n is the number of bikes currently owned. This equation may also be re-written as s-1, where s is the number of bikes owned that would result in separation from your partner.

Although, in my case, you could replace the word "bikes" in the previous paragraph with "board games".

No Content Found

In a recent interview with The Nerdist podcast, J.J. Abrams (who, incidentally, comes across as an incredibly friendly and yet completely joyless person) suggested that cinemas wouldn't suffer the same level of decline as traditional book and record shops. His reasoning? He reckons the experience of going to the cinema can't be properly reproduced, even by the most tricked-out and elaborate TV and surround-sound setups. For him, the collective experience of watching a film in the dark with a group of strangers is so singular that it will always have a place in our lives.

I'm not sure I buy it. This year alone, I had two wildly differing experiences at the cinema that make me question what he's saying.

First, there was Rise of the Planet of the Apes. At the dramatic high-point point of the movie, the moment at which -- spoiler alert! -- an ape speaks for the first time, the audience started tittering. This is supposed to be a powerful scene, but let's face it: it's a fucking ape talking, so it's also a little silly. I don't really blame the audience for laughing. At the same time, this didn't stop it from completely breaking the illusion and tearing me out of the film. It made me feel stupid for having been so caught up in the movie that I was fully buying it before the laughter made me realise I was invested in a fucking ape talking. If I'm honest, I still resent that audience for doing that to me. If I had been watching it at home, I'd probably have fonder memories of that film.

A few weeks later, I went along to Melancholia, an incredibly powerful movie that I still haven't fully processed, even months after seeing it. For the most part, this is a small, personal film. It's a glimpse at someone suffering from depression. The film feels so voyeuristic that projecting it twenty feet tall seems sort of wrong. Maybe that's also part of the 'message' of that film (haven't worked this out yet - like I said, still processing it). But the film is book-ended by beautiful shots that completely justify being shown on a huge screen, and where the soundtrack deserves an amazing sound-system. The bombastic final shot deserves to be experienced as part of an audience, as people start looking around at each other, slightly dazed and giving each other a full-on Keanu "Whoa". For me, the ending makes me incredibly happy, almost boastful, that I saw that film in the cinema. No matter what way you cut it, it just wouldn't have been the same at home. In fact, I think the whole film will be less powerful outside of the cinema.

These are the outliers, though; the most extreme examples of my recent experiences of watching a film with an audience. But for most people, the average cinema-going experience -- and I'd question how 'average' J.J. Abrams' cinema-going experiences are these days -- ranges from 'dreadful' to 'OH MY FUCKING CHRIST, ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!'. Talking, rustling, texting, irresponsible parenting: all of these things appear to be accepted, almost expected parts of a trip to the cinema. As much a cost of entry as the extortionate ticket price. I'd argue that this is one of the main reasons cinema attendance is down 20% compared to last year. People are staying home to watch their movies.

Let's face facts. Part of the reason for the decline of high-street book and music shops, particularly the larger franchise-type shops, is that the experience of using these shops became so impersonal and unfriendly -- in some cases, downright hostile -- towards the customers, that people were willing to trade the tangible benefits of the traditional shopping experience for one they can control. Online shopping is often impersonal and unfriendly (although rarely hostile), but it at least has the added benefit of being convenient. What it lacks in humanity, it makes up for in choice. And price. With cinema, we're seeing the same thing - people are willing to sacrifice the singular experience of seeing a film with an audience for a slightly more mundane experience they control.

And, you know what? I don't blame them.

Less Human Than Human: The Design Philosophy of Apple | The Awl

Link: Less Human Than Human: The Design Philosophy of Apple | The Awl

Two things here.

First, this is just awful. The Awl usually has a fairly high standard for its articles, but this is a hot mess. When it isn't rambling to the point of incoherency, it's just plain wrong. For example, the first line of the second paragraph, where the author launches into the actual thesis:

The widespread admiration for Apple’s design ethos is in two parts: one functional, the other aesthetic.

Wrong already. Stephen Fry put it eloquently

Only dullards crippled into cretinism by a fear of being thought pretentious could be so dumb as to believe that there is a distinction between design and use, between form and function, between style and substance

(Although I don't think anyone who feels like dropping a bit of irrelevant trivia about John Ruskin into an article about Apple's design philosophy can legitimately invoke the 'fear of being thought pretentious' defence.)

Secondly, I don't know if this is happening to anyone else, but I'm getting this thing where a flash ad for the Chevy Volt is actually hijacking my entire browser session, reloading the entire article in an iframe on the Chevy site. This completely breaks Instapaper and means you can't send someone the URL without giving the Chevy site an extra hit. Earlier this week, Brent Simmons wrote a terrific article about how certain publications have become almost hostile towards their readers with the amount of intrusive ads on their pages. It's genuinely disappointing to see The Awl going down the same road.