Blog posts

  • Awesome!

    Honestly, 'awesome' is the only word for pretty much all the feats performed in this video.


  • The world's greatest laptop peripheral?

    I like how at one point this retrospective piece about the McLaren F1 as the World's Greatest Car turned into a discussion of the quite old laptops McLaren had been using to do maintenance on the cars since their mid-1990s heyday:

    In the excerpts that follow, Henry Winkworth-Smith is McLaren Special Operations Heritage Manager. John Meyer is Senior technician, BMW of North America. Jay Leno is, well, very, very rich indeed.1

    WINKWORTH-SMITH: Until three months ago, we were using those [original 1990s] laptops [for diagnostics]. Our technicians were being stopped in airports and asked to prove that it was a real laptop, because [security] thought it was a bomb. They were like, "No one uses those laptops anymore."

    MEYER: It runs on a DOS program!

    WINKWORTH-SMITH: There was a Jalopnik post, someone took a picture of a laptop here. First off, our workshop manager was furious, because there was a car up in the background and it didn't look all smart and neat. But that article was hilarious, because I probably got 45 or 50 emails offering me laptops. Ranged from, "I have one of these laptops. I'm not using it. I would like nothing more than the thought of that laptop looking after a McLaren F1. Please give me your address, and I will ship it," to some guy who was like, "Well, if you haven't got them, I've got one. I want $20,000."

    One of the interesting points about McLaren getting into the production of road cars was that, given that they wer dealing with small numbers of high-value models, they really had to think about long-term service and support:

    WINKWORTH-SMITH: We've got very few windscreens left, for instance. They have this special coating between the two laminates, which means you don't have wires in them, which gives you a heated windscreen.

    To be British, they're jolly expensive. And, you know, you could put a cheaper GTR screen in, but the voltage is different, you haven't got your wiring, and it hasn't got the same blue tint. So we said, Okay, the only way we could do it is to invest in [ordering a complete glass set]. It's hundreds of thousands of pounds. But it's important to do it, to keep these cars on the roads.

    LENO: When I first got it to the dealer for service, they said, "Oh, replace the wiper blade." I said, "Well, I don't drive the car in the rain." They said, "It's part of the service." I said, "How much is the wiper blade?" They said, "$1500." I said, "You know what, don't replace the wiper blade! I won't take it out if it rains."

    You're at the point now where anything on the car . . . it's a house.

    I guess they're dealing with a customer base who take pride in the knowledge that their vehicle doesn't share a windscreen wiper design with three or four other models.

    Amusingly, the F1 is very much less laden with in-car electronics than a modern vehicle like a Bugatti Veyron, in order to provide the driver with a purer driving experience rather than use ABS and traction control and suchlike to make it easier to drive at the price of having microelectronics overseeing much of the driving process. The reason for the laptops is that McLaren were keen to be ahead of the game in providing good servicing via clever remote diagnostics, rather than a desire to apply computing power to the driving experience itself.

    [Via MetaFilter]

    1. And, for those of us in the UK, Jay Leno is better known as a petrolhead friend to the Top Gear cast than for his work as an actual late-night TV host-slash-TV comedian, which we mostly haven't seen. Seriously, mass audiences in the UK are barely aware of the whole Leno-Letterman thing.

  • The Queen of Thorns

    [Spoilers for 'Game of Thrones', season 7, episode 3]

    I've just been catching up with yesterday's broadcast: the only proper reaction to Olenna Tyrell's final conversation with Jaime Lannister was a round of applause for a job well done.

    If you have to go out, make sure you do damage on the way. She did.

  • Babes of Suga

    Over on Popular the time has come for Tom Ewing to give his real take on the Sugababes' Freak Like Me. He rose to the occasion:

    Pop as something worth fighting over, worth making wild gestures for: Seth Bingo wasn't the only one who liked that idea. In real-world enclaves on and off the Internet, young critics were taking up cudgels in the name of pop. Sometimes we were as showy and insufferable as Seth Bingo. Sometimes we shouted louder and harder to try and silence the Indie Daves we still glimpsed in mirrors. Most of the time though we were trying to answer honest questions – what was great about pop, and what did it mean to love it? I'm still trying to answer those questions. Let's take another shot.


    From the vantage point of 2017, let alone 2009, 2002 seems like a champagne glass of bubbles: the madness of the credit boom, the New Labour liberal consensus it paid for, but also the CD era itself, and even the sense of the Internet as something whose creative force was essentially benign. The point of a bubble – in the metaphoric sense – is that it's artificial but that its artifice is hard to detect: it feels natural when you're in one, at least until it's just about to burst. Then burst it does, and you see it was never natural at all. Where does that leave the pop music which emerged from that time? […]

    [Via Blue Lines Revisited]

  • Daft Punk medley

    President Trump's state visit to Paris on Bastille Day was greeted by the military band playing a medley of Daft Punk tracks. Trump adopted exactly the facial expression you'd expect of a 71-year old politician attending a public event and encountering unfamiliar music, whereas President Macron felt free to crack a smile.1 2

    I really hope this doesn't give anyone any bright ideas for whenever Trump's state visit to the UK finally happens. Even if they manage to have the Queen accompanied to the event by one of the younger members of the royal family, so as to spare us the spectacle of Prince Charles looking grumpy if the medley somehow fails to feature anything from the Three Degrees, I'm dreading what sort of musical choices the UK government might make, and what sort of music Tory spin doctors might think it appropriate to include3 that the MayBot might conceivably react positively to.


    1. Whether that was a tactical move for the cameras or a genuine reaction of a 39-year old to hearing a familiar track, it's impossible to say. The impression I have of Macron is that he's been concerned to establish himself as a bit more highbrow than Daft Punk, but what do I know?4

    2. Personally, I was a bit disappointed at the choice of a medley of Daft Punk tracks: for my money the single most awe-inspiring music they've ever done is Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger and I'd have just as soon heard that in full. I don't know if it would be as striking when played by a brass band, but for my money it was the standout track the first time I heard Discovery and it still is to this day.

    3. There again, last time we had a government whose leaders professed to be in tune with popular musical taste, we got New Labour. Perhaps it's best that everyone leave the MayBot to be true to her actual musical tastes, with the most up-to-date musical track on her Desert Island Discs being ABBA's Dancing Queen. That's a perfectly legitimate point at which a notably staid career politician who is now approaching the tail end of her fifties might have disengaged from following popular music.

    4. I suspect that if I spoke French I could find all sorts of French newspaper articles on that topic on the web, but over here in the Anglophone media world the focus seems to have mostly been on how Trump reacted.

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