Blogging in bed is definitely the way forward. My silence this month has been more due to lack of a good stretch to write as those keeping an eye on my Twitter feed will have seen from the fairly regular stream of updates to which they have been treated. Its succinct 140-character limit also provides a useful basis for summarising what I’ve been up to in the last few weeks. Let’s have a look at the key tweets…
Let The Right One In: beautiful, bleak and very Swedish. Sarah D and I saw this at the Odeon Covent Garden and both loved it. On the back of its critical reception an American remake is already in the works. Capturing the sense of isolation without the curt Swedish dialogue and permanent blanket of crisp white snow will be a challenge. Despite similarities in its setting with 30 Days of Night, this is no horror film, but rather focuses on the relationship between the young Oskar and the strange girl who enters his life. “That was weird,” commented a girl behind us as the film finished. “It was a Swedish vampire film, what did she expect?” Sarah wondered aloud.
Finally making proper use of toptable.com – Sarah and I will be checking out Bloomsbury Bar & Restaurant at 50% off tomorrow eve. Prior to the film we had a pleasant, unhurried dinner at this posh-looking restaurant with its black leather and subtly aloof staff. The food was great if not particularly inventive — it’s very standard “Modern European” fare. At half price and with a good bottle of wine, however, it’s easy to recommend. I am told the toilets are quite a sight too. I’ve been meaning to use toptable for the past year and a half and now it seems like a good way to realise my current resolution to take better advantage of London’s restauranting scene. If you feel like helping, let me know.
Going to one of the Science Museum Lates events this evening – http://bitly.com/1PVkV – it better not be some swingers party for scientists. I hadn’t even heard of this until Rachel N mentioned it, but it’s a great idea: late evening access for adults to the entire museum, with alcohol, without kids, and could even be a rather social experience. I’m certainly keen to go back.
Finally shifted Casablanca from the pile of shame. In fairness, owned it for a while but was prevented from watching by earlier promise. As a film fan this was undoubtedly the biggest title I should have watched but never did. Alissa and I agreed a while back that we would watch it together and since she and Chris found themselves at our house for a barbeque with the other guests MIA, it seemed like a perfect opportunity. The delay arguably built it up into something even more special, and it certainly lived up to our expectations. And on the subject of great films: Some great new subtle film reference t-shirt designs at Last Exit To Nowhere: http://bitly.com/TDsC.
Many readers now consume these blog entries purely via the RSS feed or through Facebook. It’s certainly great for ease but there are a few benefits lost by not visiting the site itself. The first is just that it’s prettier. The posts are obviously designed to be viewed within the site’s layout and some formatting may be lost depending on your reader’s ability to interpret CSS. And then there are the extras like the Twitter stream in the sidebar with three short bursts of continually changing content, for those who don’t actually use Twitter, not to mention the ability to quickly access other areas of the site. I briefly considered reducing the feed to an excerpt with a link to the full post so that people would be notified of updates but still visit the site. After consideration I am not going to do that and nor will I in future. As a consumer myself I feel it should be up to the user how they choose to access their web content and it should be made available in the widest possible way.
For those who always felt Jane Austen’s novels were missing that one little thing on which you could never quite put your finger, at last you can put your mind to rest. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies rectifies the novel’s surprisingly obvious flaw with panachebrains! As it opens, “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains.” How true. It is available from Amazon.
And those crazy Russians have surpassed themselves once more with a fantastic psychological experiment called Mars 500 that aims to study the feasibility of manned spaceflight to Mars. Locking six volunteers up in a series of cramped, interconnected cylinders for three months, the effects of isolation and confinement in close quarters will be carefully monitored. With current propulsion technology a trip to Mars would actually take closer to two years, but if this experiment is successful, a longer one is planned. Perhaps stranger is that this bizarre “opportunity” attracted 6,000 applicants from 40 countries!
Tomine’s genius is to strip his medium of every possible type of grandiosity or indulgence, and the result is that life itself floods in.
Last week I was browsing Forbidden Planet’s signed books and came across Adrian Tomine, a graphic novelist with whom I was not familiar. His real world stories revolve around relationships and immediately evoke Daniel Clowes‘ Ghost World, in both visual style and socially awkward characters, although the subject matter is slightly less offbeat. I picked up signed copies of Shortcomings and Summer Blonde and devoured them in quick succession. Particularly interesting is Tomine’s often cinematic style in which the reader feels they are watching a scene through a camera, lingering with identical panels. Scene changes are often abrupt, occuring in the middle of a line, and many conversations are joined mid-flow. From context it is always easy to extract what has been discussed previously, but the precise words are left to the reader. As contemporary fiction that just happens to use a different medium, Tomine is subtle, intelligent, easy to read and highly recommended.
While I still love my current camera lens (a Canon EF 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS) there are certain things it can’t do. The main issue is low-light shooting since I detest flashes. If the subject is stationary there is little problem, particularly with the lens’ image stablisation, but those of the organic variety do have a tendancy to move. The trade off is then blurry shots or dark images. In short: time for a secondary lens. It didn’t take much research to stumble upon Canon’s EF 50mm f/1.4, a prime lens (non-zoom) that is by all accounts beautifully crafted, letting in a huge amount of light and producing incredibly sharp images. Unfortunately I wouldn’t know. Nowhere in London has been able to sell me one. Because they don’t have any. If any photographers out there have a secret supplier please let me know.
A few days ago I mentioned the sudden expansion of Twitter as celebrity bloggers brought it into the mainstream. It becoming mainstream, while it may be less of a “club”, is no bad thing. The celebrities, however, might be. Stephen Fry and Jonathan Ross both have extraordinary numbers of followers but, while both being intelligent and witty people, neither really seems to have that much to say. Rather their feeds are filled with drivel, mostly pandering to people who want to receive that one personal message from their célébrité du jour. I am not saying I have found the perfect balance for my own Twitter feed, but I also know that there is enough background noise in my life without needing to add these kinds of celebrity microblogs.
I do have one on my list though: Neil Gaiman. It’s not that unnecessary minutiae do not appear in his, but the majority are interesting links related to his work and that of his acquaintances. If you must include celebrities, I strongly recommend TweetDeck which lets you organise the feeds of those you are following into multiple columns so you can separate out friends for example. By default it also keeps replies and direct messages separate so you can easily identify and respond to them. TweetDeck requires the Adobe Air platform to be installed.
Apologies for the short downtime this morning due to problems with some behind-the-scenes upgrades. Typically the start of the year features several films that might legitimately be described as Oscar bait, the idea being that they will remain fresh in the Academy’s mind when it comes to that pesky system of actually selecting the winners. This year things have gotten a little ridiculous with virtually nothing of that callibre being released throughout the year as if everything has been saved until now. Is Hollywood’s memory really that short-term? The studios and distributors certainly seem to think so. This has caused a sudden flood of releases I’m keen to see, with the result that I’m quite likely to miss a few. In a vain bid to rectify the problem, this week has almost turned into an Oscar a day, with The Wrestler (last night), Frost/Nixon (tonight) and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (maybe Friday) all down for viewings. The downside is at that rate I almost certainly won’t have time to write reviews for everything I would like to. We shall see.
Mostly today’s post is another catch-up with things I’ve been meaning to mention:
With its rapidly growing popularity, and celebrity users making the service mainstream, c|net gives a Twitter masterclass that discusses the full range of features. I’m endeavouring to make better use of it without it degrading into spam — Goldilocks tweeting: not to much and not too little…
MIR-12 is an ARG advertising campaign that got off to an impressive start with its supposedly leaked footage of a foiled assassination in Russia that many mistook for real (although given the news reporter in the video that’s slightly surprising). It’s getting underway now, and is thought to be for Activision’s upcoming Singularity.
GiantBomb highlighted a brilliant recent Videogame Classics trend of redesigning boxart in the style of classic books (think the abstract artwork of Penguine Classics). And it’s not restricted to gaming either, with classic films getting the treatment too.
Apple has made noises about the new Palm Pre and their intention to defend their IP rights, no doubt referring specifically to their recently acquired multitouch patent. However interesting articles from BNET and RCRWireless muse on whether this would be a wise move, and whether Apple’s patent will really stand up to close scrutiny. In particular they note Apple failed to mention prior art published by University of Delaware academics (now employed by Apple) which may invalidate their claims. This is not to mention the fact Palm has been in the mopile industry far longer, building up its own stack of patents, several of which the iPhone itself may infringe.
With February 14 rapidly approaching, nothing says “love” like a stylish Left4Dead Valentine’s Day card (scroll halfway down) for that special zombie/survivor in your life.
Adobe has launched the first official version of their new Air platform. Its goal is to bridge the divide between online and offline applications, something Google experimented with in Google Gears, though Air is on a larger, more open, scale. Installation was a breeze, with a small file to download and completing in moments. Anyone can develop applications that run on the Air platform and a couple of dozen are available now. Cream of the crop are undoubtedly eBay desktop, Google Analytics Reporting Suite and Spaz (for twittering).
The advantage to this method is that only the data is pulled from the web, meaning snazzy user interfaces can be implemented without causing any speed issues. In addition, data is cached so that when offline I can, say, browse through the last 100 eBay items I have viewed. Usability is key and each application appears just as any other software installed on your machine and is run in the same way and in its own window, not through a browser. In some cases the functionality of these apps is superior to their online counterparts, such as Analytics’ use of a fully scaleable map interface. I have noticed a few bugs with the foreign shipping in the eBay application, but otherwise it provides a fantastic mechanism for searching and sorting auctions, as well as running in the background to provide alerts. Obviously any changes you make when using these applications are stored online and accessible as normal from anywhere.
The idea is not revolutionary and I was unsure what Adobe expected to achieve with this project. The result is really impressive, with even the early crop of applications featuring some gems that have a really professional polish. I have long been sceptical of the online-only applications that claim to replace traditional office suites. However this compromise — online service with offline application and access to data — seems ideal. Whether Air takes off as a platform depends on the applications, of course, but Adobe seem confident with their SDK. The early releases bode well so I’m keen to see what else emerges.
Twitter is one of those things that sounded quite interesting but didn’t really serve any purpose in my digital life. This three consecutive days stretch notwithstanding, I am aware that my posts have become somewhat erratic and your clamour for more regular updates has not gone unnoticed. Here twitter provides a compromise. In the sidebar you will now see a twitter section which allows for short and sweet updates with whatever I happen to be doing. It’s pretty self-explanatory and I will endeavour to keep that updated even when full posts are not possible. That way you can still read what I’m up to, and the eagle eyed will probably find it offers some insight as to what future posts may be about.
Google Reader has been my chosen feed reader for some time now, and they have recently added a new feature to share items with friends which show up separately in the interface. Currently I don’t really share many posts as you’ll see if you take a look at the P-2006 Shared News feed on our Feeds page. However if anyone else uses Google Reader and would like to make better use of this new feature to share interesting stuff, give me a shout.
Having been uncharacteristically positive about the iPod Touch (I wouldn’t buy one, but I would say it’s genuinely one of the best portable media players on the market), I do need to weigh in on the MacBook Air, the latest must-have for Apple fans, if only to redress the balance. It is stunningly thin, there is no question. Yet despite its high price this is the least powerful MacBook on the market. Now it’s certainly true that if you’re looking at an “ultraportable” power is presumably a lesser concern, but I would strongly question its portability in practice. You see, to make it so slim they had to remove the optical disc drive, replacing it with an external unit. So this lovely sleek machine cannot use CDs or DVDs unless you lug around an entire extra drive unit with you. For portability that surely must be a deal breaker. The end result is a laptop that resembles a size zero model: incredibly thin and there is a prettiness there, but somehow you can’t escape the fact it’s utterly useless.