Holland vs the Netherlands

December 24th, 2012

It turns out that differentiating between Holland and the Netherlands is a lot more complicated than I'd appreciated:

[Via iamcal.com]

Comments Off on Holland vs the Netherlands

'Brains of Braga,' mused Wendy, 'what a mind-twister!'

December 22nd, 2012

Javier Grillo-Marxuach brings us The Middleman and Wendy in …THE PARADOXICALLY FESTIVE MORTALITY:


STARDATE 1212.23



Wendy disliked it when the people targeted by the many villains she and The Middleman were tasked with neutralizing blew their Huggies in the face of danger, but even she had to cut this kid some slack: not only had he been put in the crosshairs by a time-traveling superbeing from three hundred years in an alternate future, he had also seen his first day volunteering at the Higbee's Department Store Christmas Parade turn into a Grand Guignol of mayhem at the hands of a hundred foot long inflatable ferret. Also, he'd grown up with the incredibly misguided name "Tiberius Davis." Poor kid, his parents really should have shown him mercy. […]

The only fault I can find with this epic crossover is that our heroes don't get to interact with the direct descendant of Tiberius Davis whose 5 Year Mission inadvertently caused such mayhem.

By contrast, last year's instalment – THE WIBBLY-WOBBLY, TIMEY-WIMEY JIGGERY-POKERY – spent quite a bit of time showing us how Wendy reacted to Eleven and letting us know which regenerations The Middleman and Ida had already worked with.

[Via MetaFilter]

Comments Off on 'Brains of Braga,' mused Wendy, 'what a mind-twister!'

On Not Believing In Canada

December 21st, 2012

Daniel Davies On Not Believing In Canada:

Over time, all sorts of supporting myths and rationalizations grew up to support the "Canadian" faith. Apparently they fought a war against America in 1812, although not one with any noticeable or measurable political consequences. They don't have a football team because they play "hockey on ice" (really!), a sport at which they are world champions (naturally, because it is a fictitious sport). They have all the nice characteristics of America, but have a healthcare system rather suspiciously similar to the British one, and so forth, and so on.

As anyone can see, this isn't a country – it's far too perfect to be convincing. It's a fantasy roleplaying character invented by a kid who goes to mock United Nations camps instead of playing Dungeons & Dragons. Occasionally this is recognized in little cultural hints – a "girlfriend in Canada" is American slang for "an imaginary girlfriend". But in general, people humour them – these days, if you want to make it in Hollywood, you've got to be either a Canadian or a Scientologist. Then the concept was discovered by that sizeable contingent of French people who always want to pretend to be Americans, and the Canadian faith had to pick up yet another massive and glaring inconsistency in the shape of a massive linguistic minority who lived in a state of peace and friendship with the rest of the country. Do I have to mention that they struck oil and invented the Blackberry?

Comments Off on On Not Believing In Canada

'I find it more helpful to think of Father Christmas as a total brand concept.'

December 20th, 2012

A visit to Father Christmas, or When Little Johnny's address was omitted from the Service Specification. Not a pretty sight.

Comments Off on 'I find it more helpful to think of Father Christmas as a total brand concept.'

The Future

December 19th, 2012

The Future:

Fun as it is to play spot-the-film, I can't help but notice that over the last decade or so the standard of SFX work has become so routinely high that it's almost boring to see yet another beautifully rendered spaceship or futuristic city or giant robot.1

Even last week's first trailer for Pacific Rim didn't wow me: my main thought wasn't about the quality of the special effects work, but rather that "This is how the Transformers franchise would look if someone had taught Michael Bay that it's no crime to hold a shot for more than three seconds, to give the audience time to grasp the relative sizes and positions of the two robots punching one another out so that the fights are actually exciting rather than just dazzling and confusing."

Obviously the trailer isn't the film, and I have faith in Guillermo del Toro's ability to wow me with a good story and some fantastic monsters, but I miss the days when it seemed as if every SF blockbuster was putting things on screen that I hadn't seen before, things I had imagined as I worked my way through the written works that made up the Golden Age of SF.2

[Via Extenuating Circumstances]

  1. Also, it's been far too long since I watched Blade Runner and 2001: A Space Odyssey.
  2. For anyone who doesn't know, that's "13".


'Truckload of mimes just pulled up and they ain't talking.'

December 18th, 2012

A nice little Xmas present from the schedulers at ITV: the second and final season of Bryan Fuller's glorious quirkfest Pushing Daisies has just started a repeat run on ITV1.1

Although I enjoyed the first season quite a bit, for some reason I never caught up with season 2 the first time round, so it was lovely to get reacquainted with the show's highly stylised world. It shouldn't work, but somehow it just does. Having a particularly able (and adorable) cast2 all of whom can keep it all just the right side of too sweet for words probably helps quite a bit.

Is it escapist, romantic fluff? Yes, in the best possible way.

As I did when I first saw the show, I can but endorse Gary Farber's thoughts after he'd seen the first episode:

IJWTS that Pushing Daisies is very strange, very different, and not particularly like any other American tv show ever done.

If I compared it to, say, Twin Peaks, you'd be misled into thinking it was different in a way similar to David Lynch, which it isn't; the only similarity is in that each was fairly different from any other American dramatic network tv fare.

As such, it's definitely not for everyone, and maybe not for you, but you might want to check it out.


There's a faint hint of Addams Family, as filtered through the Coens and Tim Burton, with a touch of Robert Altman's version of Raymond Chandler, and a dash of Princess Bride. Or something.

If you're in the UK, set your DVR and give it a try.

  1. In the wee small hours of the morning, on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. This week's episodes have been starting at 3am, whereas next week's start shortly before 2am. That's what DVRs were invented for.
  2. Led by Lee Pace, Anna Friel and Chi McBride, with Kristin Chenoweth, Ellen Greene and Swoosie Kurtz in support, plus Jim Dale as the narrator of the story.

Comments Off on 'Truckload of mimes just pulled up and they ain't talking.'


December 15th, 2012

Pinokio is smarter than your average anglepoise lamp.1

[Via jwz]

  1. Not to mention creepier. I was feeling a certain amount of sympathy for the poor thing being teased and tricked, with up until the moment it started flipping that power switch back on.

Comments Off on Pinokio

Seizing the Commanding Heights of the New Economy, one idea at a time

December 15th, 2012

The Pinboard Investment Co-Prosperity Cloud:

Can you explain it in PR-speak?

In 2012, Internet thought leader Maciej Cegłowski rocked the startup community with his provocative slogan 'Barely Succeed', challenging prospective entrepreneurs to reject the lottery culture of Silicon Valley in favor of small, sustainable projects that could give them a more realistic shot at financial independence.

Today he has unleashed the second part of his business philosophy, 'Barely Invest', which shatters the myth that financing is the main obstacle to creating a small technology business. In a world where social capital has become the bottleneck to success, Cegłowski intends to seize the commanding heights of the New Economy as the Internet's premier social capitalist.

[Via marco.org]

Comments Off on Seizing the Commanding Heights of the New Economy, one idea at a time

What has he achieved?

December 12th, 2012

Back in April 1976, ARPANET staged the fourth in a series of online dialogues between significant cultural figures. This one featured Yoko Ono, Ayn Rand, Sidney Nolan and Jim Henson. It's fair to say that Henson and Rand didn't see eye to eye:


I think Ms. Rand and my character Oscar the Grouch would have a lot to talk about actually. I am laughing out loud at this idea.


Why would I want to talk to him. What has he achieved or trying to achieve.


He has achieved what I think is the ultimate goal of your way of thinking.



Isolation. Contempt for others. A hard heart. Yet even he can muster a bit of empathy every now and then.



I am not isolated. I have no contempt for others. Millions of people read my books and find my thoughts inspirational. I hardly spend my time on the sidelines in a trash can grumping.


Not yet anyway.

[Via The Null Device]

Comments Off on What has he achieved?

Glitch out

December 11th, 2012

Massively Multiplayer online games that close down tend to do so in a highly unsatisfactory manner, with a date being announced for the servers to be turned off and little fanfare beyond that created by the players themselves. Tiny Speck, the company behind Glitch (official site | Wikipedia article) took a much classier approach:

Tiny Speck resurrected favorite rare in-game items, such as the Stoot Barfield Pullstring Doll and the 2010 Glitchmas Yeti, as rewards for participation in the last feats. The company also continued to release new content, from feats to recipes to new areas, until a few days before the closure. Players raced to earn new achievement badges and take screenshots in the just-opened areas. […]

Players enjoyed the fresh content, and developers enjoyed creating it. [Glitch designer Stewart Butterfield…] said that much of that content was almost completed when the staff was notified of the game shutdown – and the jobs that would go with it. Letting staffers complete their own pet projects was a way to recognize their work.

[Via rc3.org]

Comments Off on Glitch out


December 9th, 2012

There are times when authors should just let criticism slide, and then there are times when you've just got to let 'em have it:

Author Scott Lynch responds to a critic of the character Zamira Drakasha, a black woman pirate in his fantasy book Red Seas Under Red Skies the second novel of the Gentleman Bastard series.

The bolded sections represent quotes from the criticism he received. […]

Your characters are unrealistic stereotpyes of political correctness. Is it really necessary for the sake of popular sensibilities to have in a fantasy what we have in the real world? I read fantasy to get away from politically correct cliches.

God, yes! If there's one thing fantasy is just crawling with these days it's widowed black middle-aged pirate moms.

Real sea pirates could not be controlled by women, they were vicous rapits and murderers and I am sorry to say it was a man's world. It is unrealistic wish fulfilment for you and your readers to have so many female pirates, especially if you want to be politically correct about it!

First, I will pretend that your last sentence makes sense because it will save us all time. Second, now you're pissing me off.

You know what? Yeah, Zamira Drakasha, middle-aged pirate mother of two, is a wish-fulfillment fantasy. I realized this as she was evolving on the page, and you know what? I fucking embrace it.

Why shouldn't middle-aged mothers get a wish-fulfillment character, you sad little bigot? […]

[Via Electrolite (Sidelights)]

Comments Off on Wish-fulfilment

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.

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

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.

Comments Off on 50 years on the road


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.

Comments Off on 375,000

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.

Comments Off on Standby Mode

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]

Comments Off on Pinball wizardry

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]

Comments Off on No one drew a single vagina

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.

Comments Off on Neverwhere on Radio 4


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]

Comments Off on Dynamo

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.

Comments Off on Subcompact Publishing

Page 30 of 366« First...1020...2829303132...405060...Last »