View all posts by John
I continue to be fascinated at the cack-handed way Microsoft have launched the Surface Duo. I’ve just spotted Ian Betteridge’s thoughts on the Surface Duo from March 2021:
Yes, the cost here is ridiculous – £1300 at a time when the price has been reduced to $999 in the US – but I’ve always loved Microsoft’s Surface line and was curious about it. […]
Overall I think Microsoft is on to something with this form factor, but I really wish it was larger and a tablet rather than smaller and a sort-of phone. Microsoft is absolutely correct not to market this as a smartphone, because it never really feels like one — but it does feel like a tiny, interesting and highly usable mini-tablet.
I hope Microsoft will persist with the form factor, but selfishly I mostly want them to do that to plant the idea in someone in Apple’s head that they really need to sort out1 the iOS/iPadOS windowing model.
- Not that they need to be told that, I know, but it feels as if the whole “let’s fork iOS and create an iPad variant” thing has not come close to achieving what some of us iPad users were hoping for and that’s just a crying shame. ↩
Turns out that Canada’s 2021 Census has a soundtrack:
2021 Census soundtrack
As Canada’s statistical portrait, the census is a reflection of who we are and what makes us Canadian. Listen to our Spotify and YouTube playlists while you complete your 2021 Census questionnaire to experience the different facets of Canadian culture through the sounds of our celebrated musical talent. If these songs aren’t already among your favourite tracks, we hope that you have the opportunity to discover something new as you fill out your questionnaire online in May.
Get comfortable, press play, and let’s experience Canada’s musical talent together. […]
That seems like a really excellent idea.
I’m pretty sure that there wasn’t anything like that going on when I completed my UK Census a few weeks ago, so here’s hoping1 that’s on the To-Do list for the next census.
[Via More Words, Deeper Hole]
- But then, I dread to think what varieties of music the current UK government would have chosen. Perhaps best not go there after all, at least until the current bunch of third rate chancers have moved on. ↩
I realise this is thoroughly immature of me, but I adored Listen, Strange Space Wizards Sitting In Temples Distributing Laser Swords Is No Basis For A System Of Government, a fanfic depicting just how capably Palpatine’s Empire would have dealt with Ian M Banks’ Culture.
Before the Death Star can begin its campaign of terror against the Rebel Alliance, the attention of the Empire is diverted to the Unknown Regions, where Imperial forces have recently made contact with an irritatingly governed high-tech civilization calling itself the Culture. In response to the Culture’s rebuffs of Imperial demands, the dreaded Death Star has been sent to display the Emperor’s disapproval and bring this ‘Culture’ to its knees.
What could possibly go wrong? […]
In the end, the utter lack of respect the Culture shows for the might of a fully operational Death Star is delicious.1
I would imagine that in the aftermath of this encounter the Emperor would have ordered his forces to steer clear of that corner of that galaxy unless and until there was strong evidence that the Culture had finally Sublimed. Watch the borders carefully, just to make sure that nothing surprising sneaks up on the Empire from that direction, but on no account poke that hornet’s nest again.
I bookmarked this item last month, having completely failed to notice that the story had multiple chapters. Having drafted this post I was just about to upload it when I noticed that there were another three chapters waiting to be read. I dived into Chapter 2 and read this…
A few minutes later, Aggressive Negotiations, increasingly appalled, finished listening to R4-H6 explaining the plight of droids in the galaxy.
“So, let me get this straight.” said the ship. “Humans discovered that the dumb AIs that they had set up to run their droid servants could develop personalities after they had collected enough experiences, and rather than consider giving droids with personalities rights or altering the designs to avoid developing personalities, they simply instituted a regular regime of erasing their memories? Which has existed for over a millennium?”
… and just knew I was going to love the full experience even more. Sending two drones to break out Princess Leia so she could have a discussion with ROU Aggressive Negotiations about how the Culture could help the Rebel Alliance was as much fun as you’d expect. One of the drones in question getting a look at Lord Vader’s powers on the way out and not being terribly concerned was even better. All in all, this story promises much fun to come in future chapters.
- I’ll concede that any self-respecting Star Wars fan reading that story would immediately whip up a retort where Palpatine or Vader used the Dark Side to fight back. Like that’d help. All the Culture is really doing here is proving how fragile the Empire’s toys are, one might argue, but the bottom line is that the Empire just aren’t in the same weight class as the Culture. The Empire still uses planets, for goodness sake! In the end, whoever’s universe the story is being written in will tend to decide who wins, but this one does not look good for the Empire. ↩
An interesting take from Alan Sepinwall on what a nice job the writers did in season 2 of For All Mankind of bringing together various storylines come the season’s climax:
“I started jogging again.”
This sentence is uttered by astronaut Gordo Stevens (Michael Dornan) midway through the Season Two finale of For All Mankind, the Apple TV+ series depicting an alternate history where the Soviets landed on the moon first, triggering a never-ending space race. Gordo’s statement will likely not go down in the annals of quotable dramatic television with “I am the One Who Knocks!” or “That’s what the money is for!” It seems an utterly banal statement of fact, not nearly as colorful as those iconic declarations. But in the context of this FAM season, it feels just as potent, and serves the same purpose that all serialized television ideally should: It makes the viewer feel as if, to borrow another famous line, all the pieces matter.
I can’t shake the notion that delivering a season of TV where we can look back and see that most, if not all, of the the pieces fit into an overall story shouldn’t be that remarkable. Isn’t that what a writers’ room is supposed to deliver, unless external pressures1 get in the way or there’s uncertainty about where the story is going or how long it’s going to continue. We’re assured that our showrunners have their story mapped out for seasons to come; I do hope they’re not going to be forced to admit that that plan was ‘Do whatever it takes to keep Apple funding us and find a way to keep Joel Kinnaman in the story. Maybe in season 5 we’ll have his digitised face and voice being used as the front end for the AI that runs the Callisto colony.’ rather than ‘By season 6 humans will be mining the asteroid belt and building a permanent station on Callisto.’
[Apologies that I’m expending so many words on a show that’s trapped on Apple TV+, which is to say somewhere most people aren’t watching. What can I say: I am watching and I’m finding it interesting, so I’m writing about it here. In the medium or long term, will Apple – or Sony, who I believe are making the show for Apple TV+ – end up selling repeat rights to another streaming network? Will we all one day be able to buy, or even rent, For All Mankind on Amazon? I’m sure right now Apple’s answer to that would be "Hell No, come and watch it on Apple TV+", but five or ten years from now will all that content remain buried on the 10th-most-watched-streaming-service?]
Interesting that Sepinwall makes passing reference to Halt and Catch Fire, another favourite in these parts that got better as the focus was shared with the equally talented and ambitious female characters who found ways to make their careers alongside the men who had been the show’s focus at the outset. For All Mankind has from the start been about how in this alternate timeline NASA had been pushed by the White House to bring women astronauts into the space programme,2 and about how they proved to be as capable as the male military/test pilot contingent they served alongside. The thing is, the storytelling of For All Mankind has (so far) focused less on how American society has changed in a society where the space race went on much longer than in our timeline, and much more on how in NASA results seem to trump expectations being based on gender roles. Is that reflected in wider society, and are we going to see evidence of that?
By and large the astronauts the storylines have been following are living in a bubble: all the signs are that the wider society they live in may be enjoying a somewhat faster introduction of technology – electric cars, a global videophone and d-mail3 network – in part because the space race kept on pushing technology forward. However, the general impression is that there’s still plenty or racism out there in wider society, and an assumption that everyone is aiming for a heterosexual marriage (or at least, isn’t flaunting any other lifestyles.) Ellen, our astronaut-turned-NASA-Administrator-and-Reagan-favourite still can’t contemplate a political career AND an out lesbian relationship.
As of season 2’s end, the main story is coming to the end of alt-Reagan’s second term of office in 1985. It’ll be interesting to see where things stand come 1995. My guess would be that we are set going to continue with a story where we focus on a small group of astronauts and NASA staff who are living in a bubble where gender is no barrier to advancement, provided you really are twice as good as the next (white, heterosexual) guy.
- “You can’t change that character’s job to one that would move him out of the group the storyline is focused on: he’s by far the biggest name we’ve got when it comes to promoting the show. Keep his character in the same job and slap on another couple of layers of make-up to keep his character in place through yet another time-jump.” ↩
- Purely for image purposes, given that in this timeline the Soviets put a woman astronaut on the moon before the Americans had so much as put a woman in space. ↩
- That’s Digital Mail, not Electronic Mail. I have to confess, I’m a little relieved that Apple don’t appear to be pressuring the showrunners to insert more Apple technology in this future. Give it a couple of seasons. By the time we get our storyline to 2015, everyone will have gone through the stage where they listened to music on their dPods and will be listening to music via their dPhone and walking around with dPads, and we just won’t mention that their d-devices all have an Apple logo. ↩
So, Cory Doctorow tells us that Bruce Sterling has a sideline as Bruno Argento, producing work in Italian set in and around his adopted city, Turin:
I am no expert on fantascienza, so I don’t know if these are representative of the field, but I am here to tell you that they are completely different from any other sf I’ve read, including Sterling’s, and yet utterly and unmistakably Bruce Sterling stories (a neat trick).
They are mostly set in and around Sterling’s adopted hometown of Turin, and though they span a range from the Middle Ages to the late 22nd Century, they paint a vivid picture of an ancient city whose fortunes have ebbed and flowed through the centuries.
This could turn out to be work that wasn’t strong enough to get published in English initially, or it could be work that US publishers didn’t want to publish because of the risk that the foreign setting and subject matter would put off US readers. Or it could just be that now he’s living in a world where he can publish his work whether he’s living in Belgrade, Turin or Austin and he’s spent forty years establishing a reputation he’s just going to put out material the way he wants to and those who want to read it will find a way.
I’m intrigued enough by this blurb from Peter Watts that I’m going to take a chance on it:
Bruce Sterling “literally” takes you to Hell and back and back in this sprawling, delirious tour of an Italy jarred just slightly off-kilter, parallel universe, nineteenth-century terrorists and bicephalous recluses, cigar-smoking mummies and wandering performance artists who happen to be wheelchairs.
Come on, I’m only human. I’m hoping that somewhere on the way we’ll get Chairman Bruce’s take on Silvio Berlusconi1 but I’ve bought this knowing nothing more than what’s mentioned above.
- Because how could he resist, living where he did when he did? ↩
From Dirty Feed, a magnificent, thoroughly documented deep dive into the history of one of the greatest punchlines in the history of British television:
Sad to contemplate that none of the three actors involved is still with us, but what a memorial to their work together on a programme that shaped a generation’s view of how government worked.
Fascinating to see the history of that joke pieced together, and the very different version of the punchline used in earlier incarnations.
So, For All Mankind dropped the season 2 finale and gave us another end-of-season peek at what’s to come in the next season: someone’s going to Mars.
Despite some YouTube commenters being convinced that that’s a Soviet boot treading the Martian surface a decade on from the season 2 finale I think that’s wildly premature. Given how season 2 ended with US-Soviet relations getting so bad yet ending on an optimistic note1 I think that next season’s story of establishing a Mar colony will involve an international collaboration.
Maybe that was a Soviet spacesuit’s boot in the closing shot from Mars, but perhaps if they’d held that shot for another ten seconds the foot of an American (or Indian, or Japanese, or German) suit worn by a crewmate would step into that view? The different space agencies insisted on retaining their own suits because that makes the multinational nature of the project visible in every group shot, but everyone’s travelling in the same ship and using the same comms system. And yes, carrying their own nation’s brand of weaponry, if they must, but they’re all using the same rounds and firing mechanism because the economics of mass manufacturing overrode the need to boost national pride by wielding your very own make of firearm.
One thing I do ask: can we please not have more than one recurring character from season 2 be part of the crew in that Mars expedition? I get that it’s tempting to think that the expedition will be led by one of the astronauts from the first two seasons who will turn out to be the old hand2, commanding a crew including a couple of the younger characters who ended season 2 all set to pursue careers leading them into the space program and are now at the height of their careers.
The thing is, after it turned out that Star Wars ended up with most of the important characters being part of the same family it’d be nice if this story didn’t go that way. If the program professes to be any sort of meritocracy – leave to one side for a moment the bad taste real-world uses of the term leave in the mouth, and that the term itself has its’ roots in a criticism of the concept – there should be little prospect that relatives keep on showing up in the Org Chart down the years.
If we have to see our existing characters in the third season, how about Admiral Ed Baldwin (USN, retired) as the cranky advisor to President Biden3 who keeps on trying to buttonhole NASA Administrator Margo Madison4 with his thoughts on the need to beat the Soviets to the Solar System’s high ground by colonising Callisto. Or how about our seeing Aleida Rosales5 being chief engineer of the first Mars colony?
Bottom line is that they can’t just have season 3 be a repeat of the working-towards-having-a-colony-on-new-world-is-hard story from season 1. Given a choice between that and a let’s-spend-a-decade-overcoming-suspicions-about-soviet-spies story, it’d be funny if that boots-on-the-surface-of-Mars-a-decade-on scene came in season 3, episode 2.
- Because the lesson of the season 2 finale’s plot was that leaving decision-making to the commanders on the spot will turn out better than following the dictates of the governments involved. Very much the line you’d expect from Ron Moore, given his background in Star Trek and the Barrlestar Galactica reboot, I guess. Just as long as the politicians back home have the good sense to spot an opportunity for a climb-down when it’s presented to them on a plate. Who knew that Ronald Reagan’s legacy in this timeline, having got to the White House four years earlier than in ours, would be to seize just such an opportunity? Wouldn’t it be ironic if his term of office was followed by the establishment of the CoDominium? ↩
- Fun thought. Molly Cobb for Mars Colony Commander. Either science has a cure for glaucoma, or, better yet, Molly finds herself wearing an ancestor of the VISOR and she’s constantly ahead of her subordinates because she’s watching all the relevant displays at once. ↩
- He didn’t bugger up his first run at the top job and got there much earlier than in our timeline, before ended up handing over to a youngster called Obama. ↩
- Whose Russian husband is working on the Mars project himself, so there’s no need for Soviet intelligence to try to exploit what they know about her anonymous contribution to the Buran project back in the day and we can nip that subplot in the bud. ↩
- Even better if they can slip in a romance for her with an Irish guy called O’Brien, so that a few generations down the line a young Starfleet noncom by the name of Miles O’Brien turns out to have some Mexican ancestry. Granted Miles O’Brien was born in September 2328 in Ireland, so that implies that one of the descendants of Jimmy O’Brien and Aleida Rosales ended up migrating back from Mars to Earth. But a few steps further into this alternate history who’s to say that couldn’t have happened, especially as a proper interplanetary economy starts up and job applicants from Mars might end up being willing to move to Dublin if the right career opening arose. So long as 24th century Dublin has excellent high-speed transporter links and decent theatres who’s to say that’s not a trade-off someone fleeing the economic impact of Martian First Minister M’Tumbe’s imposition of austerity on the Martian economy would be willing to make, especially if there was some family connection to the Dublin region of the Celtic Confederation? ↩
Ben Hammersley [tweet] and Anil Dash [tweet] both chimed in later to remind me about Layer Tennis, which used to be both a website (perhaps initially community run, and then unsurprisingly and smartly sponsored by Adobe) and then a live event (Ben’s got a photo from 2009).
I was merely an utterly unskilled, unworthy spectator rather than a participant, but it’s still good to be reminded of something that used to be fun on the internet even though its’ days have passed. I see the last season of Layer Tennis was back in 2014.
I assume that sort of thing still goes on, but not necessarily in public.1
If it turns out that Apple TV+ has the highest-quality content out of all streaming services…
A new study reveals that Apple TV+ has the highest-quality content when compared to Netflix, HBO Max, Prime Video, Disney+, and Hulu. […]
In terms of their libraries of content, Apple TV+ has the highest percentage of “good” and “excellent” at almost 86%. But […] it has the smallest offering at just 65 titles.
… does that help make Apple TV+ a sound idea for the company?
So far I’ve greatly enjoyed several Apple TV+ shows (For All Mankind above all else, but also Calls and Mythic Quest), and found several other Apple TV+ shows (Little Voice, On The Rocks, The Banker, Little America, The Morning Show and Ted Lasso) to be decent-to-pretty-good. The thing is, I could as easily pick a similar number of really good shows from Netflix or Amazon Prime Video or Now1 or Disney+. There’s not yet a distinctive ‘type’ of show that Apple TV+ is getting to be known for known for and it’s way too early to tell2 whether Apple are going to prove to be better at supporting shows long enough for them to build an audience.
I don’t doubt that Apple has sufficiently deep pockets to keep up the level of spending on content for the Apple TV+ streaming service for quite some time to come, but will they? Surely Apple are just one more potential source of finding for producers; yes, there are plenty of Apple devices out there, but Apple are as close-mouthed about audience numbers for their streaming service as everyone else, so who can say how well their shows are doing? Putting out numbers and surveys that use figures like this as proxies for audience numbers doesn’t really address the question of which shows are doing well compared to their rivals.
In this era where the streaming services are competing for a monthly subscription from their audience, how come most of these Apple TV+ shows seems to disappear from the online discussion online within a couple of weeks of their launch.3 That cannot possibly be a good sign, can it?
[Via Daring Fireball]
- Recently rebranded from NowTV in the UK, and heavily associated with the Sky TV empire. Basically, a way (with “No contract!”, as their ads emphasise) to get access to a slice of Sky TV’s library for those who don’t want to commit to the full package. ↩
- Come back after a decade and there might be sufficient data to form a meaningful picture of Apple’s track record. ↩
- Am I just looking in the wrong places, or is it just that commentary on TV shows is so dispersed nowadays that it’s a full-time job to keep on top of it? This was much better in the days of Usenet, IMHO. ↩
When a pair of Oregonians stumbled upon what looked like debris on a beach, it precipitated a chain of events that culminated in an emotional reunion some 7,000 kilometers away.
Fascinating that the specific shrine the debris originated from was identified by a plank bearing the name of a benefactor from when the Torii gates were originally built. Presumably if that plank hadn’t stayed attached, at best the identifiably Japanese but not otherwise distinctive debris might well have ended up an anonymous part of an exhibit illustrating how many different cultures border on the Pacific Ocean. Much better this way, for sure.