New Year, New Rules

Well, we did it: we made it to 2019!¬†ūüéȬ†ūü•ā

And with the big change of the calendars comes that yearly opportunity to set goals and challenges whilst just generally realigning personal direction. I’m not one to believe that the New Year is necessarily the best time, nor certainly the only time, when you should take a pause to evaluate priorities, but it does have a nice feel to it.

More importantly, after just over six months living relatively consistent lives, I think we’re finally sure enough of our surroundings to begin forcing them into a more rounded shape. Drumming is one clear area we’ve managed to create consistency, but¬†there’s plenty of¬†room to ensure that what we want to do and what we’re doing aligns as closely as possible.

Personally, that means reevaluating my goals. Yes, I absolutely want the experiences to keep on flowing, which is good because we already have a whisky evening booked, two gigs sorted, a climbing experience to work out and the previously discussed Zoo membership to make full use of. But it also means finding ways to refocus on hobbies and make our London life more, well, self-centred.

The Year That Was

Two years ago I gave myself a Big Challenge to write one article a week, minimum, for an entire year. Last year I shied away from making any big, bold, public claims; with an impending move across the country and loss of a job,¬†long term commitments needed to be chosen wisely. Which isn’t to say the New 52 Challenge was frivolous ‚Äď it likely played a significant role in my career change over the course of 2018 ‚Äď but that type of thing would have become a distraction.

That said, I did write down a list of goals that I still wanted to accomplish over the past year, so that became a good place to start thinking about ideas for 2019. I’ll preface this by saying my 2018 To Do list didn’t exactly have a great strike rate, but nevertheless, here it is:

  1. Find a new job¬†‚úĒÔłŹ
  2. Read 12 books¬†‚úĒÔłŹ
  3. Finish all outstanding MiMs¬†‚ĚĆ (hah!)
  4. Migrate CMS¬†‚ĚĆ (though I have at least had a good play with Directus and Grav)
  5. Create better review system¬†‚ĚĆ
  6. Add social streams to theAdhocracy¬†‚ĚĆ
  7. Start making better use of Twitter¬†‚úĒÔłŹ
  8. Upload 4 videos¬†‚≠ē (1/4 definitively, but also a few more ‚Äď not what I’d intended but not awful)
  9. Sort out hard drives¬†‚≠ē (I’m in a much better place but still only about 50% done)
  10. Find a better organisational tool set¬†‚úĒÔłŹ

I think it’s most interesting, when looking back, that photography factored so little in my plans, despite it being a pretty central hobby. That’s more of a shame because I did manage to hit some good milestones in terms of rate of turnaround, uploading and even (finally) printing out/framing some of my shots for the new flat, and it would be nice to have been able to get some more¬†‚úĒÔłŹ in there, but oh well.

Onwards and upwards!

When looking at what the next 12 months could hold, and what it needs to be, there are two main standouts. The first is to find more time for personal projects and creativity; the second is to begin planning for 2020. That might seem a little odd ‚Äď to make the goal of one year to focus on the next right from day one ‚Äď but 2020 is going to be a¬†big one. It’s a new decade, so for fellow children of 1990 that means a new leading number on the age dropdown. Turning 30 really doesn’t bother me, but it does offer a good opportunity and excuse, so it’s fair to say that it would be wise to begin planning ASAP.

Starting a new decade also has an even greater feeling of a changing of the guard, so as 2019 becomes the last year of the… teenies (what do we call this decade?)… it seems like a good excuse to focus inwards and generally get things in order.

With that all said, I’m not planning any big overarching projects or challenges for 2019, but I do want¬†my to do list to be public, hence this article. So without any further ponderings, these are my big goals for 2019:

Photography

  1. Finalise all photos taken in 2018 by the end of March
  2. Upload at least 52 photographs to portfolio channels (500px/Instagram)
  3. Print out and hang more photos
  4. Get my Quiraing shot framed
  5. Go on at least two specifically photography related day trips with friends/solo

General Life

  1. Finally finish sorting out my hard drives
  2. Create a process for organising video files
  3. Finish digitising my magazine backlog
  4. Plan the big 3-0 trip
  5. Visit the zoo at least 6 times

theAdhocracy

  1. Create a personal logotype and logomark
  2. Migrate CMS!!!
  3. Create a better review system
  4. Add social streams/focus on homesteading
  5. Publish at least 12 articles

So those are my goals. Some are “borrowed” from 2018 in the hopes that they may actually happen, some hark back to years long past, whilst others are brand new. The overarching themes are to drill down into photography and flesh out what theAdhocracy should be, which is a digital playground and home base, somewhere that’s just mine. I want to move away from trying to branch out or diversify hobbies and, instead, spend 12 months really getting to grips with what I know I already enjoy.

Obviously I still have other goals, some loftier (it would be great to learn React, for instance) and some less serious (I really wanted to add both “Play archery tag at least once” and “Minimum one full, extended LOTR marathon” to the lists), but those will remain nice-to-haves rather than focused goals.

Hopefully in twelve months time I’ll be able to write-up a success story, but even if the hit rate is as low as 2018 (or lower) I think simply putting these plans out there¬†and having somewhere to refer back to will be a useful tool. So here’s to an exciting, progressive, focused, and fun-filled 2019!¬†ūüćĽ

2018: The Year of London

It’s that odd time of year, the bit between Christmas and New Year where time doesn’t really flow like you expect it to. No one knows what day of the week it is and everything seems to be simultaneously coming to an end and sizing up the starting blocks again. For a lot of people, it’s a time without clear purpose that’s bookended by very distinctive cultural markers themed on rebirth, which makes it pretty ideal for reflection.

It’s also the time of year when no one really wants to be working, and end of year lists/reviews/summations become ideal brainless exercises requiring little creative input and almost no resources!

So here we are, on the edge of a new dawn and taking a moment to pause and reflect on the year that was. A lot of people are regarding 2018 as the calendar equivalent of a dumpster fire, but personally it’s been a pretty big and progressive twelve months… albeit ones where a lot of good habits (*cough* blogging *cough*) fell by the wayside.

Which isn’t to say that writing has been completely absent; the first half of the year had a decent number of posts (8 total) spanning a range of topics. In a way, they quite neatly sum up my own interests, covering technology, superheroes, palaeontology, design/futurism, world building/sci-fi, photography, problem solving, and the beauty of nature. It may not be much, but it’s a fine spread, plus there’s probably something¬†I could be arguing about quality over quantity (maybe).

As ever, there are also plenty of drafts that never quite saw the light of day. I’ve put together some musings on the problems that RSS feeds have when their owners don’t let you know they’re moving URLs; some of the influential voices I turn to, both online and off; a few scattered notes on Excel, VBA and the Grav CMS; and about half a dozen MiMs (remember those!).

On which note, it’s worth mentioning that whilst my published presence has been mediocre-to-none-existent over the course of 2018, I have been at least vaguely tracking my thoughts, reviews and ideas via more private channels. Workflowy continues to be a cornerstone of my productivity, as is Lightroom where I’m pleased to report my photo editing has continued relatively consistently. I’ve also been getting increasingly drawn in to Trello¬†as a way to track to-do lists and ideas in general, in no small part to our complete reliance on the app at work.

Work. That’s been a pretty big, overarching theme of 2018 for me. I handed in my notice at Synertec not long into the year and left fully in March; by April we had settled in Fulham, and in early May I started my new role as Copywriter (now Content Manager ‚Äď how time flies!) with Talent Point, which was a pretty big shift from working as a developer. In that sense my actual published work has accelerated, with a full 20 posts appearing on the company website since I started. I didn’t write all of them, but (with one exception) I was heavily involved each week from the start of June ‚Äď so my actual writing output this year hasn’t been too shabby at all!

Writing for a living has definitely been a major part of why this blog has gone almost entirely unloved since July, as I struggle to find time or motivation. Back in Taunton, during the New 52 era, I’d spend most lunch breaks at work writing or editing drafts, but now that’s my job lunchtimes have become a lot less personally productive! On top of which, living in London means much longer commutes and longer hours, so by the time I’m home my focus is on finding food and being brain dead, not personal projects. It’s something both Alison and I need to start getting better at, so hopefully it won’t be quite as quiet in the months to come (though where have we heard that before, before, before…).

London also means an active social life, which is another drain on project/blog time, but not one I’m complaining about! We’ve become members of the V&A, Kew Gardens and (most recently and excitedly) ZSL! Plus, we now actually live somewhere with¬†culture, which for me has meant getting to see/attend (in no particular order and probably incomplete):

  • The Book of Mormon (musical)
  • Goldfish (gig)
  • Harry Potter Experience inc. Behind the Seams (talk/experience/museum)
  • Todd Terje (gig/street party)
  • Swan Lake by Matthew Bourne (ballet)
  • Emancipator Ensemble (gig)
  • An Evening with Dougal Dixon & Darren Naish for the relaunch of After Man (talk)
  • Goldfish (gig ‚Äď yes twice, yes worth it!)
  • Dinosaurs in the Wild (experience… hard to explain but awesome!)
  • Parcels (gig)
  • Biopsy of an App (UX/UI) with RED Academy (talk)

Without mentioning the countless museum exhibitions, listed buildings, parks, or general history. We’ve watched the sun set from the Walkie Talkie¬†Sky Garden, eaten at Lima, gone on a 12 Pubs of Xmas crawl, taken a boat trip around the Thames, learnt how to drum and then performed at Walthamstow Garden Party and as part of a demonstration with over 700,000 people, walked most of Regent’s Canal and a good stretch of the Thames, discovered countless amazing pubs, restaurants or just interesting places, and¬†now live somewhere with both parakeets and close friends in easy walking distance. One of those is very new; the other had been over half a decade!

But of course our life hasn’t been completely lived within the capital (or the moving van before that). We’ve had some excellent outings this year, some just for fun and others to celebrate huge milestones with our friends and family. The annual trip to Polzeath was shifted to coincide with a family commitment ceremony, taking place on the beach in stunning conditions and creating a thoroughly joyous occasion. We’ve also been back up to my home grounds of Cumbria to see one of my oldest friends tie the knot at our secondary school (a real trip down memory lane!) and to Sheffield for the first of the Uni group to exchange rings.

Individual outings, such as to the blogged about Vyne estate, have been a little less common, largely because we’ve tended to focus on London rather than travelling out, but we’ve still managed a good variety. Particularly memorable outings include a day spent at the Hawk Conservancy Trust with Al’s family and a trip to Oxford for the excellent (and now touring) Making of Middle Earth exhibition, both of which deserve their own full posts (much like most of what’s being covered in this one!).

Oh, and of course, we had a brief outing to South Africa for my Gran’s 90th birthday. It was great to see most of the extended family,¬†and the celebration went down well, but it also provided opportunities to explore some new areas. We spent the first few days actually staying in Cape Town, something I’ve never done before, which meant seeing a whole new side to the city. Then, for our second week, we went on a short but incredibly varied road trip with my parents up through the Cederberg, visiting the stunning wildflower meadows (we got the timing pretty perfect for the first superbloom in years!) and kokerboom trees, before looping back to the Cape down the West Coast. It was a beautiful, relaxing and incredibly fun trip, even if our wallets are still recovering!

All of which is to say that London has been a very good move, our flat has become a real home and our jobs have settled in extremely nicely. For us, at least, 2018 has been a year of big and positive change, and a chance to really begin defining our lives moving forward. It’s been a stressful year at times, but that’s all happily behind us, paving the way for a very exciting 2019 and beyond!

 

Where Are the Dragons?

Rewilding vast landscapes may bring wolves to restore balance to the natural world.

But rewilding the child will bring dragons to help fight for it.

Yesterday, we visited The Vyne, a National Trust location in Hampshire. I’d love to say that we’d gone to dig into the history of the area but, really, we went to¬†catch-up with family¬†and enjoy a mini break away from everything else (Saturday had been hectic for a whole other reason).

It marked the first time in months that I¬†picked up¬†my big camera, expecting to get lost in the treasures, tapestries and architecture of the big house. What actually happened was that, just before our timed entry started, I realised my audio recorder had fallen off my bag and disappeared, lost forever (despite some frantic searching). That left me a little lacking in inspiration, so whilst the house was¬†extremely interesting, I’m afraid that I barely took a single shot before lunch.

Once we’d eaten, we decided to explore the wider grounds and get away from the manicured lawns and beautifully arranged vegetable beds. The grounds at The Vyne are dominated by water, with a series of man made lakes and rivers running down the centre, captured and diverted from naturally occurring wetlands ‘upstream’. Near the main house, the lakeshore is dominated by viewing spots and feels artifical, though pleasant. As you get further away, though, the wild creeps back in and starts to dominate the senses.

Huge banks of rosebay willowherb, thistle and willow rise up to meet deciduous forest.¬†I was immediately struck by the wealth of¬†butterflies surrounding us. The water was alive with movement from the fish beneath and the calm (at times) paddling of mallard, coot, moorhen, swan and tufted duck above. Squirrels chattered through the trees, momentarily disrupting bird song. And everywhere ‚Äď everywhere! ‚Äď that you looked,¬† bright blue damselflies¬†darted through the air, never breaking their restless patrol of the waterways.

It was fantastic! I routinely trailed the group, pausing to watch a hoverfly balance precariously on the breeze or male beautiful demoiselles fighting over a patch of stream. It re-energised me, and whilst I doubt I got a single “keeper” of a shot I had a lot of fun trying. It made me realise how little time I’ve had with¬†nature over the past 12 months.

Since moving to London in March (what?! yes, this has happened but more to come on that later) I haven’t felt disconnected from the wild. We live near both a large park and the Thames, we have parakeets routinely flying overhead and we even have a small roof ‘garden’ which is becoming increasingly green. Comparing day-to-day sightings, I probably see more large mammals and garden birds then we ever did in Taunton or even Devon.

But there is something different about truly wild places. Something that’s hard to pin down, to formalise or describe as a tick list. The areas around The Vyne aren’t necessarily “wild” in the true sense; after all, they form part of a heavily managed and well funded estate and are based on a Tudor-through-Victorian notion of upper class land management, not natural forces. But they reward and, crucially, encourage exploration ‚Äď they have¬† secrets!

The quote at the top of this article is from a post on Rewilding Britain by Gill Lewis, which neatly puts into words some of my instinctive feelings about the nature in London. It’s not that it doesn’t exist, and I am joining hundreds of others in trying to create a fragmented network of wild(er) spaces across the capital, but there’s something that still feels lacking.

Perhaps it’s the never ceasing background hum of traffic and Heathrow, or perhaps it’s that even the least manicured space still feels somehow ‘allowed’ to exist, as if its fate is very much in the hands of the people around it. But something imperceptible was different when I walked around the man-made lakes at The Vyne compared to the man-made gardens at Kew. Somehow, there¬†were just fewer¬†dragons…

 

Autumn Colours at Kew Gardens

Kew Gardens & Science Museum

What’s this, a new article? Containing a new Flickr album? Well, who would have thought!

So yes, I’m back, hopefully with some more frequent updates (at long last) and definitely with quite a bit more photography related posts. Life has gone through some fairly big changes since my last post back in February, big enough to warrant their own post at some point. The brief version is that I’m now unemployed and living in London; exciting times!

That has meant time to finally sit down and begin working through the backlog of photographs. It has also meant a fiber internet connection! I’d hoped to have started publishing albums again as soon as we were connected, and pretty much had the above ready to go, but then I hit a bump in the road. Flickr has decided that my log-in details are no longer correct and Yahoo has deleted my associated email account. It doesn’t seem to matter that I still have access to the backup email account, the linked mobile phone or that I could provide private information on the account, after a protracted fight with Yahoo customer support I was left with two options: delete the original account or ignore it. The former sounded appealing, but a quirk of the Flickr back-end means that deleting the account doesn’t free up the username or URL, the two elements I most want…

So, whilst theAdhocracy on Flickr will live on, it will have to do so on a new profile, with a new name: theAdhocracyUK. I still hold out some hope that the recent acquisition of Flickr by SmugMug may allow greater flexibility in the future, but until then I invite you to follow the new me. As with my last outing on the platform, any images predominantly features friends/family (you know, memory shots rather than composed “photographs”) will only be visible if you’re following me and have been approved.

I’ve re-uploaded the original three albums, even taking the opportunity to add better captions and tweak a few of the exposures along the way. With that all (finally) complete, I’m back to where I thought I was two months ago and can begin sharing some new photos. So, with that said, up top I’ve uploaded a few shots from our trip to London last October.

We came across to London primarily to visit Kew Gardens with Alison’s parents, which was my first time to the area. To say we enjoyed it would be an understatement; in fact, we recently became members! Despite being mid-autumn, the beds were in full flower and offset beautifully against the turning leaves, plus the Hive sculpture (well pictured above) was fascinating. It was a great day out and a very fun visit.

The rest of the photos were taken at the Science Museum in South Kensington, predominantly in an exhibit they were running at the time on Asia/India. It was both wonderfully put together and extremely informative, plus the general design of the museum really impressed me. Overall then, a very successful weekend and I’m glad to finally be able to share it; expect more to come to Flickr soon (plus 500px¬†and Instagram).

The Parisianer: A (Hopeful) Future of Paris

Fake futuristic magazine cover depicting a man manipulating a hologram display in front a tree which is partially moultingI have to admit, after a particularly awful experience well over a decade ago I have deliberately avoided travelling through the Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris. As a result, I had no idea about the on-going (and absolutely stunning) art installation/project taking place there. I still wouldn’t if it weren’t for Khoi Vinh.

It’s almost enough to make me want to lift my travel ban (almost). It’s certainly a project that is right up my street, producing beautiful illustrations depicting what the future of Paris (and, by extension, the world) might be. There’s a lot of fantastical science fiction on display, from aliens to integrated hydroponic schemes to space elevators and beyond.

The designs alone¬†are stunning but some of the ideas also really caught my imagination. Take for instance the¬†image above:¬†what’s going on here? Is the tree real but the environment completely micromanaged by the person shown? Is the tree fake, perhaps a hologram being manually ‘updated’ to show the changing of the seasons? Is he administering some kind of medication to turn back the tide of a¬†withering disease?¬†It’s a wonderfully simple image but the amount of possibilities it contains is fascinating. I’m quite tempted to buy my own print. Or possibly pick up the final, published work when it is released.

Creodonts & The Absurdity of Extinction

I just fell down a rather wonderful rabbit hole. My tale begins with a book review, written by Ross Barnett, of Sabretooth (Mauricio Anton). Apart from instantly¬†causing me to add the book¬†to my “to buy” list, the article also briefly lists the various mammalian clades which have exhibited sabre teeth in the past. Amongst this list were those I had expected, such as machairodonts (e.g. the famous¬†Smilodon) and the marsupial Thylacosmilus, but it also contained several I had never heard of. Most notably, it mentioned creodonts.

If I’ve ever come across creodonts before I wasn’t paying much attention because these creatures are fascinating. As a group they are an early success story in the mammalian radiation that occurred at the ending of the Cretaceous, yet despite their broad range and varied niche placement they are now utterly gone. Whilst they may look akin to modern hyenas, cats and even bears, the creodonts are not closely related (or basal) to the carnivorans. They are their own unique, and now absent, thing.

I’ve always found the notion of entire clade extinction somewhat absurd. I remember first reading about the K/T event that signalled the extinction of the dinosaurs and, even at an age written in single figures, feeling that there was something inherently wrong with the narrative. I get how large, extinction level events cause biodiversity to crash, but the idea that such a wildly successful and diverse group of creatures would all succumb seemed silly. I must admit, then, that as I’ve aged it has been with increasing smugness that I’ve watched the consensus switch from “dinosaurs are extinct” to “non-bird dinosaurs are extinct”. Frankly, at this point, I feel the old narrative should just be ignored. The K/T event knocked several wonderful animal groups on their respective heads, but the dinosaurs were not amongst them.

Still, though, the plesiosaurs, pliosaurs, ammonites and myriad pterosaur groups were all wiped out, amongst many, many others. Whole families, even genera, do go extinct, often with frightening rapidity when everything is considered. That still feels odd, plus more than a little disappointing, and I can now add creodonts to the list of groups which I would love to have had the chance to meet.

But my journey didn’t stop there. Intrigued and fired up by the beautiful imagery of Sabretooth, I went hunting for palaeoart of creodonts. Unfortunately, I largely came back empty handed, but my wide Googling did lead me to discover a new blog to subscribe to: Into the Wonder. It’s a loose connection to the subject I was after, but it’s always fun to discover someone actively writing about developing fantasy lore and creature creation!

Plus, who knows? It took over a century for someone to realise the creodonts were not just another branch of Carnivora, which is a large enough group for some individuals to have only undergone cursory examination, so perhaps they actually aren’t all gone. Maybe, just possibly, one day in the future,¬†some slightly odd mustelid or squash-faced felid will turn out to be a creodont in hiding. Maybe that discovery will even answer questions about an unsolved riddle of folklore? It’s possible… though it’s probably also asking far too much…

The Marvel-ous Collection: A Beginning

I’m a pretty big fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, so it felt a bit ridiculous¬†when I was given¬†Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2¬†for Christmas. To be clear, the gift wasn’t ridiculous; it’s a fantastic film and one I’ve been excited to rewatch since seeing it in the cinema. The ridiculous part was that this officially marked the start of my Marvel Bluray collection. That’s right, I might be a huge fan of the franchise and own a fairly sizeable solid-media movie collection, but I’m almost entirely absent the MCU!

I say almost, because in truth I do own both¬†Guardians of the Galaxy (now¬†Volume 1, I guess) and¬†Captain America: The Winter Soldier on DVD, but for a 17 film franchise¬†(at time of writing) that’s pretty meagre. Part of that reason is the Bluray dilemma: ultimately, I don’t care that much about the increased resolution for most films, but I definitely care about the extra features. As Bluray has become the¬†de facto release location for collector’s editions and special features, I was increasingly left behind, waiting for both an excuse to buy a Bluray player and then, later, for prices to drop back to the realms of sanity.

Luckily, 2017 saw both goals achieved. Whilst Blurays remain expensive (Marvel’s particularly so), they’re now at an acceptable premium above the respective DVD release, so with bonus featurettes, content and a better picture quality they¬†feel somehow more worthwhile. At the same time, Marvel finally released a collected set for both Phase One and Phase Two, something I find bizarre has taken half a decade. I mean, what other purpose does the marking of “phases” serve then to artificially create film sets? At any rate, the result was a sudden galvanisation to fill in the blanks and finally own¬†some of my favourite superhero films.

Unfortunately, a quick look at the contents of the collected sets left me a little cold. Yes, there are new bonus scenes, animatics and fun Agent Coulson introductions for each of the films, but they also lack a number of key special features from previous releases, especially the big documentaries. As a result, I’ve thrown in the towel! If Marvel/Disney can’t get their act together and release a definitive edition of the MCU then I’ll just create one myself.

The first hurdle was finding out what variations existed, what the actual differences were and then weighing up the pros and cons. Luckily, Reddit came to my aid (after Google summarily failed) with a raft of suggestions for comparison websites geared towards just this kind of task.

Since then, I’ve been slowly going through the films, one by one, narrowing down my options until I’ve found the exact version that most intrigues me. So far, the few I have settled on have been “out of print”, but luckily a robust second hand market appears to exist, keeping resell prices low. It’s slow going, but honestly I’m finding it quite fun. I’m also tracking my decisions and aim to release a full list, and break down of why I chose each film’s specific version, once I’m done.

For now, I figured it would be worth a quick round-up of the websites I’ve found most useful, so without further ado, and in no particular order, here are my top five film hunting locations:

1. DVD Double Dip
Not the prettiest site, nor the most complete in terms of information, but what it does have is extremely easy to read, compare and review. Probably the best starting point I’ve found but take the accuracy with a pinch of salt.

2. DVD Compare
Very accurate, particularly when it comes to extra features, and great for comparing regional differences in films. Take particular note of the “Cuts” and “Overall” sections at the bottom of a search page¬†to see if the film is actively censored anywhere in the world. I wish you could compare films side-by-side, but still easily my favourite comparison site.

3. Blu-Ray.com
Probably the most complete database of film releases on this list but a bit of a pig to search accurately. There’s no way to easily compare film versions without opening multiple tabs, but you can filter by country directly on the search bar and the user reviews are solid, often clearing up any confusion over oddly phrased features.

4. Filmogs
Another very complete database without easy comparison methods. Easier to navigate than Blu-Ray.com but the search¬†is less intelligent (e.g. “Avengers”¬†fails to pull back any¬†collected sets). Again, useful for getting more information, plus acts as a competitively priced marketplace.

5. /r/DVDCollection
If all else fails, ask here and someone will probably either know the answer or own the film and be able to tell you. Really helpful bunch!

Of course, once you’ve narrowed down your options and decided which version is¬†just right, you still need to buy the darn thing. Obviously if you’re looking at buying¬†new then all the normal locations apply, but for second hand movies I’m having most success at the following:

1. Music Magpie – though be wary, several times I’ve spent a while looking at a film, come back later and found the price has shot up. Leave it a few days and it seems to drop back down again.
2. eBay
3. CEX
4. Amazon Marketplace

Happy hunting!

The New 52: A Summary [#52]

So the end is nigh. Fifty-two weeks, fifty-nine articles, two failures and the most complete challenge I’ve ever set myself.¬†Sure, I may not have managed to write once a week, every week, during 2017 but I have managed to write a whole lot more than I would have done otherwise. I’ve documented my plan to record more of my media in 2017 than ever before, only to have innovative new technology create a road block. I’ve shared my ever increasing love and interest in photography, including some very big personal milestones. I’ve received my first genuine comment, not just from an anonymous stranger on the internet but from a creator and individual¬†whom I have followed for years. I’ve discussed my own life, my travels, worries, annoyances and ideas; I’ve had a space to comment on wider industry trends, disturbing news stories and things which I’ve¬†just found interesting.

It’s been a fantastic, frustrating and, at times, not particularly well executed fifty-two weeks. On the whole, though, I’m extremely proud of, and pleased with, the fifty official “New 52” posts that were¬†published (see full list below – now numbered correctly). I’m also a little astonished that only six of them are MiM posts, with most being self contained articles I would likely never have written if it weren’t for this challenge. Sure, I’m annoyed that I missed two weeks, just like I’m annoyed that there are several MiMs and other articles still sat in my drafts folder, but that doesn’t take away from the accomplishments I have made.

So then, the next question is: fifty-two more? Well, put simply, no. I still plan to post, particularly with media reviews, but 2017 was about finally finding the courage to put my writing out into the world, and forcing myself to do so. That has now been achieved and I’m very happy with the end result. The next step is to focus that energy into new challenges and new skills. I will not be starting 2018 with any specific challenge or checklist of goals; instead, I’m going to forge forward with several ideas. The first step will be to clear out/complete as many incomplete projects as possible, beginning with that drafts folder. It’s ridiculous that I have drafted movie reviews from October 2016 that have never seen the light of day. It’s equally ridiculous that I have spent over a year talking about migrating theAdhocracy; changing the article format; implementing home-brew backed cross posting; and getting some of the travel videos I’ve shot edited, uploaded and accessible. The last year has been about learning new skills, proving that I can balance commitments with creative endeavours and working out where I enjoy putting my energy. I’ve now got a pretty good idea of how that will all work, so the next step is to begin applying it. I’m excited to see what my year-in-review will look like in another twelve months time, but the aim is for it to be even more diverse!

New 52 Challenge Posts:

  1. The New 52: A Challenge
  2. Scrobbling Movies
  3. Rating my Opinion
  4. A New Mozilla
  5. Month in Media: January 2017
  6. Martian Mirrors
  7. Interneting is (Apparently) Hard
  8. The Existential Crisis Question
  9. Awesome Azhdarchids
  10. TV vs Film: The Great Debate
  11. Willow, Wetlands & Nostell Priory
  12. Empathy Just Makes Sense
  13. Thoughts from Around the Web
  14. Month in Media: March 2017
  15. April Foolery 2017
  16. Duping the Genie
  17. Finding the Time
  18. Echoing Frustration
  19. Hyperfocal Stone Rows
  20. Vinyl Scratchings
  21. Factual Distrust
  22. Welcome Home
  23. Mister Vimes‚Äôd Go Spare & Assorted Odds ‚Äėn‚Äô Ends
  24. A Gap in Time
  25. Peaks & Troughs
  26. Security All The Way Down
  27. Month in Media ‚Äď June 2017
  28. Marrs Green
  29. The Poetry of Spam
  30. Untapped Market
  31. That Anti-Diversity Googler & Self Introspection
  32. Where is Superwoman?
  33. The Weight of Opportunity
  34. Stickers, Eclipses and Lighthouses
  35. Life Between the Worlds
  36. When is a Cat a Mongoose?
  37. Sunrise on the Quiraing
  38. Month in Media ‚Äď September 2017
  39. Month in Media ‚Äď July 2017
  40. Forgotten & Surreal Instruments
  41. Welcome to the Grid
  42. Asking the Right Answers
  43. Insta Inspiration
  44. Fair Phones & Mobile Woes
  45. Dark Booking Patterns
  46. Month in Media ‚Äď November 2017
  47. Spiders, Dinosaurs and CVs
  48. Death of the Internet
  49. Remember: Anger Leads to the Dark Side
  50. The New 52: A Summary

Remember: Anger Leads to the Dark Side [#51]

It is Christmas Eve and the penultimate week of the New 52 challenge! There’s a nice symmetry to that, which, of course, is why I picked today to write a post… and nothing to do with it being the run-up to Christmas as well as¬†the approach to a fairly major shift in life direction (more on that at a later date, I’m sure), leading to a distinct lack of down time.

But that’s not what this post is about. I’ll likely cover the whole 52 project next week (and sort out the numbering), but right now I want to discuss a recent holiday tradition: the annual return to a galaxy far, far away. Keeping to their promise of one a year until people stop watching them, Disney have just released the latest episode of¬†Star Wars, and boy has it been an interesting response. Oh, and just as a heads up there may be spoilers ahead!

I want to state straight away that yes, I’ve seen¬†The Last Jedi, and no, this isn’t going to be my review. I’ll leave that for the December MiM as is the norm, but a quick summary would be that I thought it was enjoyable but a little odd.¬†I think at it’s core there is a good film, backed by some great performances, and even the slightly odder thematic choices have the possibility to pay off in the next episode. I didn’t leave the cinema leaping for joy but I definitely didn’t leave feeling like my childhood had been trampled all over*. Nor did I feel the strong urge to petition for the film’s complete erasure from history.

To say, then, that¬†The Last Jedi has been divisive is a bit of an understatement. It’s fairly rare for a film with a 92% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a critics metascore of¬†86 on IMDB¬†to receive this kind of backlash. That disconnect, where critics are lavishing praise but viewers are voicing scorn, is generally a bit weird but especially when the film is a main-stream blockbuster, not some hyper arthouse concept. I’d honestly expect people to be doing a reverse¬†BvS and claiming that Disney are just buying good reviews, but can’t find any such claims.

To be fair, the user score on IMDB seems to have settled somewhere around the 7.7 mark, but even that doesn’t tell the whole story. Take a look at the breakdown of those user scores (see graph below) and you’ll notice more oddities in the data. Most people are rating the film at 8 stars or higher; combined with a solid grouping of 7 star reviews and 75% of people think this is a 7+ star film. If you look at its direct predecessor,¬†The Force Awakens, you see a similar trend,¬†with the majority rating 8 or higher and a strong minority favouring 7 stars. In fact,¬†TFA shows a stronger tail-off towards 10 star reviews, which (again, weirdly) are more common than 9 star reviews for¬†TLJ. But despite the similar trends,¬†TFA sits with an average score of 8.1, still lower than its 93% on Rotten Tomatoes but sitting spot on the 81 metacritic score and more inline with general industry trends. So why is¬†TLJ so low? That would be the 6% of people giving this film a 1 star rating, a huge and very uncommon spike. The other low reviews all tail off in a normal trend line, then you hit 1 star and it jumps right back up.

It’s important to note here as well that the¬†initial reaction was much,¬†much more negative. Early aggregate scores placed¬†TLJ at a meagre 5.6 from user reviews, which is even more fascinating. That implies that those who rushed out to see the film, people you can expect are big fans of the franchise, were the least impressed with what they saw.

Graph of user ratings from IMDB for The Last Jedi showing that the vast majority of people rated it 8 or higher but a very large minority is pulling that score down with disproportionate 1 star scores.

Which is a long winded way of saying: this film isn’t just a film some people aren’t getting – it’s a film which some people¬†hate. You only get that kind of anomalous trend when emotions are involved and it’s fairly clear from reading any of the actual user reviews that these are running high. It’s something I find fascinating, as it suggests the kind of emotional response and cognitive shut down normally associated with tribal defensiveness. Its the kind of reaction you get in the US when gun control or abortion is brought up; in the UK when you mention Brexit or class. It’s a hardwired defense of an idea that you see as integral to your in-group, your tribe. It’s not normally something you see on this scale with popular culture.

Sure, there are plenty of instances of fandom infighting and tribalism. Heck,¬†Star Wars vs¬†Star Trek has been raging for nearly half a century and don’t even begin to prod the circle-jerk that is PC vs console, but whilst these ideas evoke strongly worded arguments and never-ending debate they rarely result in the kind of knee-jerk anger and frustration¬†The Last Jedi has kicked up. And yes, some of that is likely misplaced political idealism reacting to a film which glorifies female and ethnic minority characters whilst demonising classic white male figures, but I struggle to believe that’s even close to the majority of the story.¬†As the author of that now infamous Change.org petition himself has stated, most are just fans of¬†Star Wars that feel that¬†The Last Jedi has hurt the franchise.

The biggest arguments and most grief seem to centre on the aspect of¬†The Last Jedi that I, and seemingly a large, silent majority of people, particularly liked.¬†TLJ is not a standard¬†Star Wars film. Yes, there are plenty of call-backs to the original trilogy, fan service is still here and the major themes are all still caught up with concepts like the Force and rebels and evil empires, but it also goes out of its way to flip as many of those tropes as it can. There are times this does feel forced, but ultimately it works more than it fails and creates a film which actually forces the audience to question themselves. It is flawed, but it definitely isn’t mindless. I mean this is a¬†Star Wars film which actually tries to argue that bravado and pure heroics are sometimes the worst course of action possible. That’s a bold move for a franchise built on death-defying acts of heroism and concepts of fate, destiny and prophecy.

What we’re left with is a film that delivers on the promise not to repeat the main criticism of¬†The Force Awakens and be just another carbon-copy of stories already told. In doing so, it takes the franchise far outside of its well worn comfort zone and casts it, quite literally at times, out into unknown, unmapped territory (do you see what I did there?). It massively expands or completely obliterates canon and fan theories, elements that the¬†Star Wars universe is particularly heavily associated with, and¬†actually dares to develop¬†several of the main characters from the original trilogy, often in ways that casts past actions in new lights. Most importantly, it ensures that the¬†Star Wars story is about more than just the Skywalker lineage. I can understand why that would piss a whole lot of people off, but frankly it also needed to happen. Personally, what I’m most fascinated by is what the legacy of the film becomes¬†next. Will people grow to love it over time? Will it age poorly, as with the prequels? Will it force Disney to do an about turn and mix up episode IX to be more fan friendly or will they double down on their new, now truly expanded universe? I’m honestly not sure, but I’m excited to see where¬†Star Wars will now boldly go**.

*I’m using that article here in a slightly misleading way. Despite the title, the author does an extremely fair job of both outlining why¬†TLJ was painful for him to watch on a personal level and objectively analysing that feeling. His conclusions are pretty solid and well reasoned, and mostly fall on the positive side regarding the film. I could have linked to any one of a number of genuinely hate filled rants complaining about the loss of precious memories, but honestly most are incoherent and I feel the linked article is a genuinely worthwhile read on the subject. Just wanted that to be clear.

** Couldn’t help myself.

Fair Phones & Mobile Woes [#46]

I’ve had my current Sony Xperia for nearly three years, which is a good run, but it’s definitely starting to show its age. First of all the headphone jack broke; it still works, it just doesn’t know when you plug something in. The first time this happened I had it fixed, the second was just out of warranty so instead I’ve been using a software override (an app called Soundabout) for the last two years whenever I want to use headphones. Irritating, sure, but manageable. The next thing to die was the camera. It has become quite scratched (which is my fault for not using a case) and has now fogged up on the inside lens and crystallised, leaving photos looking like they’re taken through a piece of cling film. Still manageable but I wouldn’t want to use it as an actual camera any more. The battery has been slowly dying for the last year, possibly because of an increase in general usage, but it’s at the point where the charge can suddenly disappear over a matter of hours. Finally, the memory is full. Despite having an expandable SD with 64GB of space, mostly unused, the core phone memory of 16GB has hit maximum. I’ve moved everything I can to the SD card, uninstalled a lot of apps but still I’m hovering around the 15GB mark and the phone behaves like it, lagging and generally crawling through tasks.

The problem is, I hate upgrading my phone. Part of that is just how used to the Xperia I am. I know all of its quirks and special features, I can navigate the menus with only the slightest of glances and have it setup just so for my particular tastes. The other part is that it feels so wasteful. Yes, the phone has seen better days, but it still ostensibly works. What’s more, the environmental impact of smart phones is pretty scary. Taken together, no matter how much I love new toys, I try to make my mobiles last as long as possible.

Which brings up another issue: what to replace it with. Because I want my phone to last several years and don’t plan on upgrading constantly it needs to be future-proof, durable and also something I will enjoy using. That means it needs to have all the functions I want, stuff like NFC and a good camera, whilst also being comfortable in the pocket and hand, easy to use with good software, and also look good. The last point feels shallow but if you think something is well designed I believe it makes using the device feel that much more fun. Unfortunately, the mobile phone market appears to have become incredibly stale over the past few years. With the exception of biometrics, which I’m completely nonplussed by, there really haven’t been any exciting new innovations in the field and, from a design point of view, your options are iPhone rip-off (square, thick bar top and bottom, black and mild bevel) or Samsung rip-off (curved, all screen, no bevel). I was hoping the release of the iPhone X would shake the market up a little, but instead the only talking point is more biometrics and whilst the design is no longer classic Apple, ironically, it now looks like a Samsung rip-off instead. Repetitive and boring design coupled with an increasing trend to get rid of core requirements for daily use, like headphone jacks and expandable memory, and honestly I haven’t been this unexcited by the phone market in almost a decade.

Part of that lack of excitement is knowing where I had hoped the industry would be by this point. When I picked up the Xperia it was with a mindset that this would be the last ‘fixed’ smartphone I would ever own. At the time, the web was buzzing with news about projects like Project Ara and Puzzle Phone. The future of mobile was modular, focused on handsets that could be tweaked and customised to meet an individual’s requirements. Phones would be easier to upgrade, modify and fix, leading to much less e-waste and, hopefully, lower upfront costs. That lower barrier of entry could have even created a large third-party landscape of modular accessories. We might even have phones with removable batteries again! Unfortunately that utopian vision has somewhat faltered and, with a couple of lacklustre exceptions, the modular ecosystem has utterly failed to reach consumers.

It was therefore with some excitement that I saw an advert for a fairly different kind of phone (hehe). The “FairPhone”, on paper, is a perfect fit for me. It’s ecologically sensitive, designed with environmental principles at the core of the process and actually has a modular design. They are selling genuinely interesting ‘upgrade’ modules, like better cameras, proving that the concept works. Had I picked up the FairPhone 2 at launch I would now be looking at an upgrade cost of only about ¬£70 to get the latest specs, rather than around ¬£400 to upgrade the whole device. Core specifications weren’t bad either. The FairPhone is designed to be maintained by anyone and last several years, so the chassis is deliberately aimed at durability. The screen seemed decent, it has a replaceable battery, headphone jack, duel SIM and large expandable SD slot. Even screenshots of the custom rolled Android OS looked solid.

But then I read some reviews and the dream screeched to a halt. First of all, whilst the specs are by no means awful they’re also far from top-end. The CPU and OS are already a generation or two behind, RAM is comparable to what I currently have and the camera has pretty awful output. The latter can be upgraded, as mentioned, but the base phone itself is already sitting in the price range of top-end competitors. It’s not quite as inflated as an iPhone, but it’s pretty far from good value for money. I realise eco-friendly resources and the R&D required for a modular layout will mean a higher price, but it’s a shame the price is top-end when the result is distinctly mid-tier. On top of which, it’s incredibly ugly, even if you go for a non-see-through case, and the battery is getting some pretty shoddy scores. There’s a lot to love about the FairPhone and I truly hope they continue forging ahead. Perhaps, with a couple more iterations under their belt, the price will drop or the quality will improve to match it. It’s definitely the most exciting phone on the market right now, but as tends to be the way with eco-tech the actual tech part leaves something to be desired. Maybe the Xperia has a few more months left after all.