Featuring a cameo appearance by Charlotte Rampling, channeling Mr Oliver Hardy?

December 7th, 2012

Contemplating the career of Ludivine Sagnier, Xan Brooks came up with a striking comparison:

[In her early 20s…] she gave us a 21st-century riff on the French gamine: at once innocent and perverse, beautiful and bent out of shape. The press promptly touted her as "the new Bardot", although that barely scratches at the surface of her wonky appeal. On screen, Sagnier manages to be at once coolly carnal and haplessly gauche. For me, she's like Stan Laurel as played by Marilyn Monroe, though I'll concede that this description may well not catch on.

Not a parallel that occurred to me when I first watched Swimming Pool.

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50 years on the road

December 6th, 2012

Visualizing 50 years of The Rolling Stones on tour.

It's hard to imagine anyone matching the scale and longevity of their career as a live act.1 Is Jay-Z still going to be embarking on massive world tours 30 years from now? Will Muse? Take That? Metallica? The Pet Shop Boys?

[Via Flowing Data]

  1. I don't doubt all sorts of rock, pop and rap musicians will still be making music in their 70s, but they'll probably not touring on the scale of the Stones' recent tours.

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December 5th, 2012

How tall can a Lego tower get?

I'll admit to being just a tad disappointed that this wasn't discovered by actually building a Lego tower until it collapsed under the weight of 375,000 bricks.

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Standby Mode

December 3rd, 2012

A lovely tale from tech support:

When I was nearing the end of my tenure, I had a particularly awkward customer. He wasn't being particularly rude, just extremely untrusting and uncooperative. His issue was maddeningly simple – his modem was in standby.

I should probably explain, his modem was an old Motorola model (An SB5100 if I recall correctly). The interesting quirk of this modem is that it has a standby button on it that, as you might guess, puts the modem in standby. What's even MORE interesting is if you put the modem in standby, it'll STAY in standby no matter how often you unplug the thing and plug it back in again. The REALLY REALLY interesting thing is that the modem was completely black and the standby button was also black. Most people didn't know it even existed and it was common for someone to accidentally hit it and suddenly have their connection stop working. Switching it off and on didn't fix it, those lights just wouldn't stay on. Anyway, we see this quite a lot and pushing the button fixes it within seconds – easy. However, this guy wasn't having it.

Despite actually having fixed the problem, he was adamant that his modem was broken. No matter how much I tried to explain that it's REALLY easy to accidentally hit that button ("I've done it myself a few times!"), he was determined. "Oh no, the modem isn't in a position where it could be knocked like that, it's BROKEN!". Bull. Shit. So after batting around for a bit, I had an idea. […]

A fiendishly clever, utterly hilarious, moderately evil idea.

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Pinball wizardry

December 1st, 2012

Designer Sam Van Doorn has made a way to render your prowess at pinball in tangible form:

I deconstructed a pinball machine an reconstructed it as a design tool.

A poster is placed on top of the machine, which has a grid printed on it. Based on this grid you can structure your playing field to your desire. By playing the machine the balls create an unpredictable pattern, dependent on the interaction between the user and the machine. The better you are as a player, the better the poster that you create.

Pinball wizardry

[Via Flowing Data]

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No one drew a single vagina

December 1st, 2012

When Nintendo developed a version of the Wii's social network for western users, they encountered a small problem. The thing is, the Miiverse allowed users to send one another drawings as well as textual messages, which presented certain … challenges:

Kurisu: […] We anticipated that some users would […] take to drawing penises.

Everyone: (laughs)

Kurisu: Well, it's true. It seems to be more of a phenomenon found in the west.

Motoyama: Yes, we never had such a problem with our Hatena services. But, when we brought Hatena Flipnote to the West, we were caught off-guard by the amount of penises drawn by people.

Kurisu: So the team and I had to come up with a way to create a system that auto-detects those types of pictures.

Kato: Kurisu-san suggested we study different types of penises in order to create figure out the relative shape and size people would draw. We spent a week doing that before we realized that we should have been looking at drawings of penises rather than real-life pictures. (laughs) We were very embarrassed about that.

Kurisu: My judgement on these types of situations is poor. (laughs)

[Via currybetdotnet]

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Neverwhere on Radio 4

November 28th, 2012

It's possible I should have already known about this: BBC Radio 4 are adapting Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere. Not a bad cast:

Actor Role
James McAvoy Richard
Natalie Dormer Door
David Harewood Marquis
Sophie Okonedo Hunter
Benedict Cumberbatch Islington
Anthony Head Croup
David Schofield Vandemar
Bernard Cribbins Old Bailey
Romola Garai Jessica
Christopher Lee Earl of Earl's Court

It will be broadcast somewhere in the first 4 months of 2013. And you will be able to listen to it wherever you are in the world, using the BBC's iPlayer.

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November 28th, 2012

Dynamo, Episode 1: BIT 313-A [Alternative YouTube link]:

In which the Amazingly Bearded Man (ABM) wards off the Flesh Bats, and Ava makes bad decisions.

An ambitious, distinctly offbeat web-based science fiction series. It looks amazingly polished for something produced on a budget that probably wouldn't pay for a single day's catering service on Michael Bay's next Transformers movie.

It feels a bit like a cross between Max Headroom, Terry Gilliam and Twin Peaks. All of which are good things, to my mind. Four episodes in and I'm hooked.

[Via MetaFilter]

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Subcompact Publishing

November 27th, 2012

Craig Mod is excited by the possibilities of Subcompact Publishing:

In 1967 Honda unveiled the N360.

The N360 was a kei, or light style car; a subcompact.

I like to imagine the engineers at Honda huddled together, dumping the sum total of all car design and production technology on our worn, wooden table. Around they gathered and together they asked, "What's the simplest thing we can build with this?"


The N360 was something an American car company would never dream of producing. You can't blame them though: they had no incentive by which to dream such dreams. Unlike the American automotive industry, the Japanese automotive industry wasn't beholden to industry momentum or legacy. And when you're not beholden to legacy, you can be excessively brazen.

In the software industry we talk about MVPs, or Minimum Viable Products. The N360 was a Minimum Viable Car.

The N360 didn't make it to the States, but the followup – and near equally cute – N600 did. Next came the Honda Civic, then soon after, the oil crisis. We all know how the story goes from there.


Honda was a nobody in the car industry. But they gained foothold and marketshare by building a car that was more appropriate for many consumers. They had built a subcompact.

So I ask: where are our digital publishing subcompacts?

Mod spends a fair bit of time extolling the virtues of Marco Arment's The Magazine, which I wrote about back when it launched. I've maintained my subscription through the first four issues, but I have to admit that I'm wavering over whether to retain it. The application's virtues remain – it's a beautifully polished application, even if I'd like more control over the presentation of the content that it permits,1 but the content isn't that interesting to me.

In principle, an article extolling the virtues of a wet shave, or the proper way to make a cup of tea could be engaging and fun to read, even to a hirsute guy like me who would quench his thirst with a Diet Coke rather than brew a cup of tea every time; in practice I haven't found them to be so. I'm finding that on average there's one article per issue that I find moderately engaging. It doesn't help that some of the writers, whose work I've read on their own weblogs, are covering very familiar ground. Marco did say early on that he hoped to expand the pool of writers after the first few issues, so I'll probably give it another couple of issues to see if things improve.

Having said all that (and to get back to the ostensible topic of this post), there's no doubt in my mind that the basic model of Subcompact Publishing could well develop in all sorts of interesting ways, freeing up writers to write instead of having to code an application and submit it to someone's app store. It's just a shame that whatever tools people come up with will most likely end up being tied to a specific operating system/hardware type/payment mechanism.

Isn't this a problem the web was supposed to have solved by now?

[Via Marco.org]

  1. In particular, I like pagination in my reading apps, dammit! Marco has explained in one of his podcasts that flexible, high-quality pagination is really complicated to do well so for now he's going with a scrolling view.

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How Oceanic 815 went down

November 26th, 2012

TV critic Alan Sepinwall on the origins of Lost:

The story of Lost makes no sense.

And by that I don't mean the story on the show – though this is the point where you can feel free to insert jokes about the numbers, the outrigger shootout, or the reasons why Walt was "special" – but the story of how Lost itself got made.

The creation of Lost defies nearly everything we know about how successful television shows – or great ones – are made. The idea for Lost came not from a writer, but a network executive. The first writer on the project got fired. The replacement creative team had a fraction of the usual time to write, cast, and produce a pilot episode. The executive who had championed the show was himself fired before it ever aired. One of the two creators all but quit the moment the pilot was finished. Nearly every creative decision at the start of the show was made under the assumption that it would never succeed. Everyone believed it was too weird, too dense, too unusual to work. And it may have been. But it worked, anyway. […]

This behind the scenes stuff is quite interesting, but in the end what counts is what ended up on screen. The procession of shows that have tried and failed to catch a little of Lost's magic over the last few years serves as a testament to just how right Messrs Abrams, Lindelof, Cuse and their cast got it. It might be best if everyone laid off trying to imitate Lost for a decade or so.

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November 25th, 2012

Earlier this month Maciej Cegłowski took a trip to Queensland, Australia to see the total eclipse of the Sun:

Tuesday, November 13

I get up early to watch the sunrise, partly because jet lag makes it easy, partly because I want to see what conditions might be like tomorrow, and mostly from my irrational fear that every one of us has done the date math wrong. The eclipse is marked on November 13 in my date book, and while I believe in the International Date Line, I don't believe in it enough to sleep in.

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November 24th, 2012

Entering a massively reinforced shelter built for the president and his entourage in the North Carolina mountains, Eisenhower remarked to an aide, "My God, until now, I didn't realize how scared we are."

From The Brilliant Prudence of Dwight Eisenhower by Evan Thomas.

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November 24th, 2012

Daniel Kalder has a very particular idea about his perfect dwelling place: it absolutely must have a balcony

On a recent visit to Istanbul I stayed in an apartment looking out on the Bosphorus. Every morning I'd get up and see the sun sparkling on the surface of the water as birds circled languidly overhead. At night it was even better, as the thumping techno from the pleasure boats and the call of the Muezzin intermingled. It was very different from my usual mode of accommodation when I travel: cheap hotels, dirt, and the lingering possibility of sudden, violent death.

In many ways it was the culmination of a quest that began years ago in my hometown of Dunfermline in Scotland. Over there, you don't see too many balconies. It's too windy and wet. Yet I remember one house that had a huge balcony on the second floor. I used to walk past, wishing I lived there. I didn't care that it was useless, that if I sat up there the wind would probably pick me up and drop me in the North Sea. I only saw the ideal of open living, close to the sky. […]

[Via The Browser]

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It shouldn't be allowed

November 23rd, 2012

I think my favourite part of the newspaper report about a Pervert caught pleasuring himself in slurry for third time (From This is The West Country)

A man found naked in a field amongst cow dung and mud had been sexually pleasuring himself, a court has heard.

It was the same farm he had returned to over a period of seven years.


When police officers arrived soon after, they found him covered in a large amount of slurry and mud, in a quagmire, surrounded by tissues.

This is the third time that he has appeared in court for this kind of behaviour. […]

… is that the first comment on the article is from a reader objecting to the fact that the newspaper's web site filed this story under 'Devon'1 when the incident took place in Cornwall and the offender was from Cornwall. After all:

Readers unfamiliar with the geography of Britain may inappropriately be led to believe that this sort of thing could possibly be allowed to happen in Devon.

[Via Blood & Treasure]

  1. I don't currently have a cornwall tag on the site: I suppose in the circumstances I should create one.

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Mad. Not Mad.

November 23rd, 2012

Roy Greenslade has fond memories of time spent at London's Speakers' Corner:

By far the most memorable of the speakers was Donald Soper, the Methodist preacher, because he didn't rant and he dealt so equably with the hecklers. Even those who disagreed with his message seemed to respect him.

Some time later I heard him tell an anecdote about the time a heckler defeated him.

A gesticulating, anxious man kept screaming: "You're mad". After a dozen such interruptions, Soper finally addressed him: "Look friend, this is getting you nowhere. It seems to me as if you might be mad yourself."

The man replied: "No I'm not, and I can prove it." He ran forward to the soap box and, with a cackling laugh, handed Soper a piece of paper.

After reading it, Soper smilingly handed it back and told the crowd: "I can confirm that this man is not mad. That letter, dated yesterday, is his official discharge from a mental institution."

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Ring and Shadow Bands

November 21st, 2012

APOD: 2012 November 21 – Diamond Ring and Shadow Bands.

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November 21st, 2012

I'd never heard of a 'stepwell' before reading about the one at Chand Baori in India.

Chand Baori is the oldest stepwell in Rajasthan, having been constructed in the 8th-9th centuries A.D. It is 19.5 meters, or roughly 64 feet, deep. The overwhelming majority of its surface area consists of steps – thousands of steps – all of which lead down to the water table, turning weekly water-gathering trips by local families into a communal spectacle, a social event framed by this extraordinary act of excavation and architecture.

'Extraordinary' is absolutely the word for it:

Chand Baori

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Smiles are contagious

November 20th, 2012

My favourite part of Patton Oswalt's Random Roles interview has to be his account of the off-screen drama involved in working with Wesley Snipes on the set of Blade: Trinity

A lot of the lines that Ryan Reynolds has were just a result of Wesley not being there. We would all just think of things for him to say and then cut to Wesley's face not doing anything because that's all we could get from him. It was kind of funny. We were like, "What are the worst jokes and puns that we can say to this guy?" And then it would just be his face going, "Mmm." "Smiles are contagious." It's so, so dumb. [Laughs.] That was an example of a very troubled shoot that we made fun. You have to find a way to make it fun.

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Fluffy white clouds, with fluffy white volcanoes

November 19th, 2012

Central Kamchatka Volcanoes, Russian Federation.

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Windows 95 Tips, Tricks, and Tweaks

November 17th, 2012

Windows 95 Tips, Tricks, and Tweaks.

Didn't we all, deep down, know the awful truth all along.

My favourite:

The Backup is almost complete...

[Via MetaFilter]

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