Becorns

David M. Bird:

Becorns are woodland creatures crafted from acorns, pine cones, sticks, and other natural materials, then photographed in nature with birds, squirrels, chipmunks, and other wildlife. The photography process usually involves a study of animal behavior, birdseed, and a lot of patience. My work evolved from my years as a designer for Lego, where I learned to build characters and tell stories with bricks. Now I do the same, but with sticks.

Delightful work. Here’s a video about his work process.

[Via MetaFilter]

Insane and Ludicrous

Reading this article about The lost history of the electric car – and what it tells us about the future of transport raises an interesting question:

[Aas more people bought private cars…] electric vehicles took on a new connotation: they were women’s cars. This association arose because they were suitable for short, local trips, did not require hand cranking to start or gear shifting to operate, and were extremely reliable by virtue of their simple design. As an advertisement for Babcock Electric vehicles put it in 1910, “She who drives a Babcock Electric has nothing to fear”. The implication was that women, unable to cope with the complexities of driving and maintaining petrol vehicles, should buy electric vehicles instead. Men, by contrast, were assumed to be more capable mechanics, for whom greater complexity and lower reliability were prices worth paying for powerful, manly petrol vehicles with superior performance and range.

Given that electric vehicles require less maintenance and don’t necessarily have to offer Insane and Ludicrous modes for acceleration, will future generations of car see manufacturers offering electric vehicle models optimised for local, urban journeys?1 Or will that particular marketing opportunity be overtaken by the whole notion of owning a car giving way to subscribing to a transport service, so that the very idea of sinking serious amounts of cash into owning a car will seem as outlandish as the proposition of urban streets piled high with horse shit?

[Via Memex 1.1]


  1. Let’s assume that genuine self-driving vehicles are several generations away yet, whatever Elon Musk’s fans would like to believe. 

Awop…

Nick Parker brings us a story about when Zodiak Entertainment got creative about finding themselves a new corporate slogan:

The slogan shouldn’t just be like Little Richard’s scream. Little Richard’s scream should literally be the slogan.

Zodiak Entertainment: A-wop-bop-a-loo-bop-a-lop-bam-boom!

An instant classic. Totally unforgettable. A pure expression of joy and energy. A slogan with no literal meaning yet one that said everything. It was perfect and they knew it.

[…]

They kept riffing: perhaps every year at Cannes, Zodiak could hold karaoke competitions, where senior leaders would holler their own renditions? In fact, maybe asking people to do a full-throated a-wop-bop-a-loo-bop-a-lop-bam-boom! could even be part of people’s interviews and appraisals?!

"A full-throated a-wop-bop-a-loo-bop-a-lop-bam-boom! could even be part of people’s interviews and appraisals."

I realise that my lack of enthusiasm for this idea marks me out as someone doomed to a career as a dull pencil-pusher, a man with not a creative bone in his body, but I have to ask: are we absolutely certain this isn’t a rejected bit from a script for Succession season four? I can imagine at least two and possibly three of the Roy siblings thinking this was would be a genius idea to inflict on their underlings. A version of "Boar on the Floor" for the next generation of Roys?

[Via Storythings]

Public roads, private risks

Dave Winer’s years of experience writing software has prepared him for life as a newbie Tesla owner:

I found out in the latest update. I had the temperature in the car set to 65 degrees, the same temperature I have my house thermostat set to. When I got into my updated car, the temperature was 72. It said so very clearly on the big display in the middle of the dash. So I did what I did before, touched the temperature, up pops the environment panel, but I couldn’t find any way to change the temp back to 65. I know how to scan a UI from left to right and top to bottom to find the thing that should be big, in the middle the display. A slider that sets the temperature. It wasn’t there. I sat in the car in my garage for a few minutes before I had a brilliant idea. Try doing it on the phone where the UI didn’t change. Voila. Back to comfort. I’m in good shape until they auto-update the phone UI. 😄

A bunch of other things were moved around. Why? Developers have their own insights into what users need, and they’re always wrong. What users want first and foremost is the UI of the fucking cars to not fucking change! I put the f-word in there twice to emphasize the importance of this idea.

I’m way out of practice as a driver – I haven’t driven a car on the public roads in more than 20 years – but I do remember the extent to which muscle memory helps you operate the car’s controls when you’re driving, and the notion of a driver’s attention being drawn to the central screen to on a Tesla to try to find and use a non-tactile control while driving is horrifying. One day, Tesla would say, their cars will have full self-driving capabilities built in and turned on by default so this won’t matter, but that day is not with us just yet.

Sure, logically the driver should know that tweaking the internal temperature is a much lower priority than steering the car and defer fiddling with the touchscreen until a more opportune moment. No doubt there’s small print covering this in the End User Licensing Agreement, but HUMANS ARE JUST NOT ALWAYS THAT LOGICAL.

I would imagine that a significant portion of Tesla’s funds is devoted to employing lawyers whose job is to shield Tesla from liability if lawsuits about their software updates to their user interface ever makes it to court. It’d be good to think that state regulation will pre-empt their efforts and Elon Musk will one day find himself having to answer for inflicting this sort of idiocy on road users, whether they’re driving Teslas or just unlucky enough to share the public roads with those who do.

Obsidian

After a few months of starting to get my head around what Obsidian can do, interesting to read a take on what it’s capable of from the viewpoint of someone who doesn’t want to build an outboard brain:

Not sold on the whole Knowledge Management bandwagon either. I use Obsidian to write everything. I am not creating a second brain or anything like that. I am writing in it. Everything. The goal is to write. Use it as the main text editor, and manage my schedule and tasks while I am in the program. It is my one-stop-shop for all my writing. The charm of the graph-view of my notes is lost on me. Not interested in that.

It’s refreshing to read a take on Obsidian that makes zero mentions of Zettelkasten.

My perspective on Obsidian chimes with this. The specifics are different – I value Obsidian because it makes a good successor to Evernote as an Everything Bucket that lets me capture notes from the web, store whatever details I feel a need to hang on to in the medium and long term and tag entries accordingly, and makes it easy for me to quickly search all that text content. Unlike Evernote1 I can extract content from it even after I’ve stopped using it. At heart, the strengths of Obsidian are that,

  1. It’s built on a bunch of Markdown files on my local storage that are not reliant upon anything in the Cloud; and,2
  2. The array of community plugins makes it easy to link and manage those files in ways that encourage linking to atomic notes about people and places I deal with frequently, rather than repeating references to the same person/place/event.

Both those strengths are things I could have made using Drafts or a local wiki3 but the big difference is that Obsidian lets me use plugins like Dataview to include live updates of to-do lists in my Daily Notes and – this is the bit that really appeals to my inner packrat – retain plain text lists of when I checked those items off. I was using Apple’s Reminders app for this sort of thing until an OS upgrade resulted in most of my lists and list items disappearing into the ether. If I’m ever going to lose my folders-full of Markdown files listing tasks I’ve done, it’ll be because I did something stupid with them, not because the OS/iCloud did it to me/for me/on my behalf.

Obsidian, supported by an army of plugin authors, is advancing rapidly and filling in gaps in functionality as the months go by. From my perspective, the biggest pain points of Obsidian are:

  1. Obsidian Mobile under iPadOS is subject to the customary iOS limitations on how long a non-media player app is allowed to stay alive in the background. The app is pretty good at restarting and reloading data from its’ local vault quickly – vastly quicker than the current Evernote client, for sure, if a tad slower than Drafts manages to recover from being automatically force-closed in the background by the OS – when I return to it after a few minutes away, but that’s not the fault of Obsidian.4

  2. Obsidian Mobile is not at all integrated with Apple’s Share menu. Obsidian can accept data copied-and-pasted into it, and some apps (like Drafts) can make use of URL schemas to feed data into Obsidian, but at present Obsidian operates at one remove from the Share menu5 and that does feel quite limiting. It’s amazing how much you can do with plain text if you must, but it’d be better if the Obsidian app for iPadOS wasn’t so reliant of the system clipboard and file system for transferring data.

  3. Obsidian on iPadOS just feels slightly clunky to use, at least compared to a native app like Drafts. It’ll be interesting to see a couple of years from now whether Drafts (another app which is comfortable using Markdown and has quite a user community churning out extensions) has reacted to Obsidian turning up on iOS by implementing the same feature set. In the end, it’s a race between multi-platform Obsidian (way more developers, but not necessarily focussed on dancing to Apple’s tune) and the smaller numbers of developers who focus on the Apple ecosystem and have no strong urge to accommodate other platforms. If we’re lucky, Obsidian’s base of Markdown documents will smooth the path between platforms and future iterations of the iPadOS client will fit in better with their surroundings.

Obsidian is proving to be an interesting journey so far.

I have a sneaky feeling that in a month or two I might give in to the long-standing temptation to compose and publish content for Sore Eyes using Markdown again.


  1. True, when I started with Evernote I was using the MacOS client and was reassured by the possibility of avoiding lock-in by being able to export data in ENEX format, from where it could be imported by other software. Nowadays I only have the Evernote client running on iPadOS and – sad to say – the current version of the Evernote client software doesn’t support ENEX export. Which is odd, given that ostensibly one of the drivers for their introducing version 10 of their client software was to finally solve the problem of the clients they offered on different platforms having historically offered different feature sets. Nowadays the web-based Evernote client does not offer ENEX export and nor does the iPadOS client, so here I am with several years of notes locked away in Evernote where I can’t extract it. 
  2. True, I do subscribe to Obsidian’s Sync service to take advantage of the backups of individual files, but the One True Copy of those files lives on my system, not theirs. An occasional backup of my entire Obsidian Vault to a folder in iCloud is sufficient, but not really necessary. 
  3. Like I did with VoodooPad some years ago. 
  4. It’s a pity that Apple still enforce that background app limitation even now that iPadOS is running on much more capable hardware than the first iPads had. 
  5. Some extensions like ReadItLater can pick up a URL from the iPadOS clipboard and download the web page’s content and then save a Markdown copy of the page to Obsidian, but passing data via the clipboard feels very 2012 and by modern standards Obsidian is not exactly a good iPadOS citizen. That’s a shame. 

Domestic bookrooms

If you have enough physical books, enough money, and enough space in your residence to have a "domestic bookroom", you may well find How Many Books Does It Take to Make a Place Feel Like Home? fascinating:

Mr. Byers1 coined a term — “book-wrapt” — to describe the exhilarating comfort of a well-stocked library. The fusty spelling is no affectation, but an efficient packing of meaning into a tight space (which, when you think of it, also describes many libraries). To be surrounded by books is to be held rapt in an enchanted circle and to experience the rapture of being transported to other worlds.

I can think of people I know who will love this article and might aspire to this, but for all sorts of reasons to do with my finances and my circumstances – and how close technology has brought us to possession of2 a "personal library" I can hold in the palm of my hand – I just don’t aspire to have my very own "domestic bookroom," so this sort of article leaves me slightly cold.

[Via Memex 1.1]


  1. Reid Byers, a computer systems architect who set out to build a private library at his home in Princeton, New Jersey and eventually published a book called The Private Library: The History of the Architecture and Furnishing of the Domestic Bookroom about that project which was the inspiration for this article. 
  2. I nearly wrote “ownership of”, but Amazon and Apple and the majority of book publishers and their legions of lawyers are very clear on the fact that we don’t own our ebooks unless they say so. I could own the room (but don’t) yet I still wouldn’t own the books in my personal library. 

For 2022

On the same principle that lots of us rewatched Soderbergh’s Contagion in the early days of the first lockdown1, HBO stands to do well with an adaptation of Station Eleven:

The show, based on Emily St. John Mandel’s 2014 international bestseller, follows the survivors of a flu pandemic.

Despite the desperate realities of the world at present, it seems there’s a continuing thirst for post-apocalyptic stories. Station Eleven sees a devastating flu pandemic and follows its survivors as they they attempt to rebuild society.

It seems to be getting enough favourable reviews to suggest that it’s going to be worthwhile, and at the end of January 2022 it’s going to be available to UK viewers via STARZplay (which should mean it’ll be viewable through Apple TV+ or Prime Video and so on.)

HBO’s trailer for the US release makes the show look worth watching:

If, like me, you’re utterly unfamiliar with the source material you might find HBO’s Beginners’ Guide promo useful:

Me, I’m seeing Mackenzie Davis and Himesh Patel (both actors who I think did good work in past projects – Halt And Catch Fire and Yesterday respectively – that didn’t bring them the plaudits they were due) in a speculative fiction show that has some interesting ideas and I’m there. The only question is whether I pony up for a STARZplay subscription that I plan upfront to cancel after 1 month or whether I wait until the end of the first season then binge the entire season in the free trial period. I realise the latter option isn’t exactly playing fair with the spirit in which STARZplay offers a free trial, but then Lions Gate Entertainment Corporation have no doubt costed into their projections how many viewers will "abuse our generosity"2 like this.

My worry about Station Eleven would be that it’ll be in danger of starting out as an even-in-an-apocalypse-human-beings-need-the-arts-too story and by season four it’ll turn into a hellish even-good-people-discover-that-they-have-to-harden-themselves-to-defend-what-they’ve-got spectacle. It’d be a shame to see all that behind the scenes production talent devoting itself to ensuring the small arms deployed by the characters are definitely capable of bringing down a human being at twenty paces in the bloodiest and most final way possible so as to head off a social media shitstorm if some gun fetishist on Facebook posts a video proving that this inaccurate small arms detail is yet another sign that Hollywood’s Liberal Communist Elitists are disrespecting Real Americans again.

In fairness, neither the Wikipedia summary of the source novel nor the entry on the novel’s author in the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction suggest that’s the direction a faithful adaptation would go in. Not to mention that HBO are probably not the adapters I’d expect to veer that far from the source material.


  1. I thinktwenty years from now the consensus will be that audiences mostly just wanted to see Gwyneth Paltrow’s corpse with the top of her head peeled off during her character’s autopsy. If they couldn’t have it for real, they’d take it in fiction even if it was embedded in such an unsettling story given the circumstances. 
  2. As they’d no doubt put it, if they thought that adopting the tone of a stuffy British TV executive who felt he or she was entitled to some of our money even where audiences were following the rules the producers laid down when making the free trial period offer in the first place would convince such miscreants to mend their ways. 

New On Netflix

Although I dropped my Netflix subscription three months ago I never did remove my RSS subscription to UK New On Netflix, so every once in a while I have the option of reminding myself of what I’m missing out on.1

Among the recent items that New On Netflix UK lists, I find this:

Please Hold The Line
Date Added: 23rd December 2021 […]

Description: This atmospheric documentary follows cable technicians in Eastern Europe as they visit customers’ homes and forge both technical and human connections.

Certificate: Suitable for ages 15 and up
Year: 2020
Duration: 1hr 26m
Audio: Romanian [Original]
Subtitles: English, French, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian

In fairness, for all I know this was the talk of the Romanian film and TV business a couple of years back, a bit of social observation with a commentary courtesy of a Romanian counterpart of Jonathan Meades that would be worth a place on BBC Four if the Romanian producers could just talk to the right people at the BBC and the description (which I’m guessing was provided by Netflix2) simply just doesn’t do it justice.3

Doubtless, Netflix would say I should resubscribe and watch it and find out for myself. But then they would, wouldn’t they?


  1. Yes, I do need to be very bored to resort to this. I do occasionally contemplate going back to Netflix and re subscribing for a month and bingeing their higher-profile stuff that seems to intersect with my interests, but then I remind myself of how much material was on Netflix and looked promising after I first subscribed to them but which I never got round to watching – the Gilmore Girls sequel, The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs, Stranger Things – and I realise that the issue is more that I just don’t want to be that big a slave to my TV screen. Much better to be a slave to the computer screen, obviously. Hence my spending time drafting footnote-heavy blogposts like this. 
  2. For the record, here’s how the plot description in the IMDB describes it: “Cable technicians in Eastern Europe navigate a modern-day Tower of Babel. With unflappable humour and a dose of philosophy, the technicians hold the line in a dissonant world.” Well, someone put a bit more effort into that. No guarantee it’s any more accurate than the presumably-Netflix-sourced version above. 
  3. No English-language reviews on IMDB, though the one working Critics Review there leads to this review in Italian or German. A quick visit to Google Translate takes care of the rest. 

Ack! Ack! AckAckAck!

By the time Tim Burton came to making Mars Attacks he was (rightly) pretty darned famous, which explains the cast he could get at the height of his powers:

Between 1988 and 1993, Burton made a string of classics: Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, Batman, and The Nightmare Before Christmas. So it was no surprise that some of the era’s biggest celebrities had lined up to make what is arguably the director’s weirdest and most divisive movie:****Mars Attacks!

“It was a strange and fun movie to make,” Burton tells Inverse.

_Mars Attacks!_stars Jack Nicholson and Glenn Close as the President and First Lady. The disaster-film pastiche also features Natalie Portman, Jack Black, Annette Bening, Pierce Brosnan, Michael J. Fox, Sarah Jessica Parker, Lukas Haas, Martin Short, Danny DeVito, and Tom Jones dancing in a desert with a bird of prey on his wrist.

Do not forget Tom Jones. None of us who watched it could. And the above list of successes omits Batman Returns, which may have been messy but it was the sort of mess that modern superhero films aren’t permitted to be. Also, it gave the world Michelle Pfeiffer’s take on Catwoman, which was vastly better than what Halle Berry brought us a decade or so later.

For my money the good bits in Mars Attacks! were well up to the mark – the dogs with human heads attached, apparently just because the invading Martians could do that; the ineptitude of Jack Black’s GI trying to respond to the Martians opening fire; the Martians carefully toying with major US landmarks before knocking them over – and even the jokes that didn’t quite come off were quickly overtaken by the next visual joke that did work. That was one very fun film, even if US audiences didn’t quite see the joke.

Even after his remake of Planet Of The Apes five years later – a woeful mismatch of director and material, for my money – we still see the odd flash of the old Tim Burton in projects like Big Fish and Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. Unfortunately, all we can rely on Tim Burton for nowadays is his unreliable touch when it comes to choosing projects. (That, and we can rely on Burton trying to employ Johnny Depp as an actor long after that was a good bet.)

It’d be great to have the old Tim Burton back again someday. We’ve missed him.

[Via MetaFilter]