Mister Vimes’d Go Spare & Assorted Odds ‘n’ Ends [#23]

Well, back from trip number two, which was a little more relaxing (though a lot more tiring… I do not understand how bodies work). As a result, I’ve actually been reading a bunch of stuff, including some fascinating finds in my Pocket archive, which I just want to get off my chest.

First up is a pretty recent post from Brynn Metheney, a fantastic artist whose work I’ve followed for years. The post details a recent contribution to an interesting project, the Endangered Species Book. That’s an impressive list of artists to be working on a single project and it seems like a very worthy cause. Definitely one I’ll be keeping my eye on.

Next, are a combination of quite old posts that have taken me far too long to catch up on. Both are written by Richard Thornton, a friend of mine who is currently living/working out in Japan (I say currently, but he’s been out there for years now). The first is a brilliant look at sake culture, which was utterly alien to me but now has leap-frogged up my bucket list for the land of the rising sun. The second is a rather more personal account of shaving-procrastination (I can seriously relate) and snowboarding (I have zero life experience to understand this utter madness). Like everything Richard writes, they are funny, inciteful and make me equal parts jealous of his life and incredibly grateful for my own. Perhaps Japan should be the aim for 2018…

Finally, the oldest of the lot, is a short story I saved to my Pocket account so long ago I have zero recollection where it is from or how I found it. Mister Vimes’d Go Spare is an utterly fantastic piece of Discworld fan fiction; in fact, it’s so good that I was almost convinced it had been written by Pratchett himself. The script, phrasing and language is very witty and the overarching concept is so incredibly correct to the voice of the series that it is definitely part of my head-canon now. I almost added it to this month’s MiM, but I don’t feel fan-fic is something I need to keep track of in that way. If you’re a fan of the main series, you should definitely read this – it provides some clever closure on several key themes and characters.

That suggestion does come with a slight word of warning, however: it may get to you a little bit. Personally, reading Mister Vimes’d Go Spare made me realise I have been avoiding reading Pratchett since he passed away. It hasn’t been an intentional, conscious choice but it is clearly one I’ve stuck to. Reading a story that even mentions, and briefly touches on, several of these characters I love and hold so dearly was, at times, surprisingly hard. Not only that, but the core idea at work was, and remains, incredibly powerful. Vimes has always been one of my favourite characters and, I think, the one that has been most influential on my own personality and life. Part of that reason is the character’s understanding of and relationship with the concept of justice. It’s a very nuanced one, yet contains absolutes which have always appealed to me. Vimes and the Watch storylines shaped my own concepts of morality a great deal.

As a result, Mister Vimes’d Go Spare cut close to the bone. The central concept is that, in the wake of Vimes’ death, his ideals and belief in justice take on a life of their own. That shouldn’t be confused with ‘good’ or ‘right’; Vimes never lived in a ‘good’ world, never had much time for something just because it was ‘right’. But there are standards. Some things have to be done, and they have to be done in a certain way. That’s justice. Not making sure the good guys win and the bad guys lose, but making sure that the result is fair and that everything is equal. It’s a very powerful idea. Talking about why I enjoyed the short so much to my partner, even writing this now, and truly contemplating that idea gets to me. It gets to me because I believe it; because, to me at least, it is true. It also gets to me because it is one of those wonderful Pratchett ideologies that feels important and correct; something that is both worth remembering and striving to obtain in our world. And that gets to me because we won’t be getting any more of those. So be warned: it might get to you, too.

Welcome Home [#22]

Busy, busy, busy. Life is far too busy right now. I only got back from the Hebrides on Monday and we’re already packing for the next trip! Not that I’m complaining about being on the move, it’s definitely my preferred state, but I barely feel like I’ve touched base with the rest of my life.

It also means I haven’t been reading very much. A few articles, here and there, but nothing worth writing about (not quite, anyway). I’m now two months behind on my MiMs (shame!) and don’t foresee that getting fixed any time soon. A have thousands of photographs to process from the last few weeks and another few hundred still queued from before that. On top of which, work is stacked up as well, so lunches have been eaten into as I catch up on various projects. The long and the short of it is that I’ve not got anything to write about and only another 30 minutes to write…

Except, that’s complete nonsense. If anything, I actually have too much to write about! The Hebrides (both Outer and Inner) were stunning, the highlands were fascinating, we met some really interesting people and I’ve had time to try out a bunch of creative techniques and start up several new projects. The problem, really, isn’t lack of content, it’s lack of time to do the content justice. Still, sometimes you just have to put proverbial pen-to-paper and push forward, so here we are.

Hopefully, in the coming weeks, I’ll get some more rounded, fleshed out thoughts written on our latest trip to the Western Isles (maybe even with accompanying imagery – wouldn’t that be a shock!). I definitely want to write up a checklist of the species we saw, places we went and food we ate. But, that can all wait for now, because first of all I want to talk about a minor revelation (or even revolution) that I had whilst on the Isle of Skye. Specifically, a revelation about theAdhocracy and what it has come to mean.

It hasn’t been that long since I last wondered aloud what the purpose of this website is. Then, as with previous times, I slightly dodged the bullet, declaring it:

equal parts scrap book and playground.

Except, that was a bit of a lie. Sure, that’s what I use theAdhocracy for, but it was never the core purpose for its existence. I didn’t mention it then because it’s a little, well, embarrassing. I was ashamed of the actual answer because theAdhocracy is, in some ways, a triumph, but it is also a very large failure.

I have a website because I want to be a website designer. It’s that simple. I’ve always enjoyed mucking around with HTML, CSS and all the other bits and pieces that make up the internet. There was even a time when, with the help of a talented and much more artistic friend, I used to make websites for money. We didn’t make very many, we didn’t make them particularly well (my fault – not his), but it made me realise that the web was something I enjoyed working with.

That was a decade ago (shudder) and I’ve never gone back. I went to university to study computer science specifically to become a web developer, but chose my course poorly and ended up graduating as a geologist (long story). Now, I work in programming, but not with websites. That, truthfully, is why theAdhocracy exists. It was meant to be somewhere for me to relearn how the web works, to play around with new technologies and experiment with developing standards. But more than that, this website was meant to be a jumping off platform for a career.

theAdhocracy was supposed to be my portfolio. It was supposed to be somewhere I could point potential clients to, somewhere to create freelancing opportunities through. The first time I devised a logo (still haven’t made it) and registered the domain was actually before making my first (and only) freelance pitch. It was meant to be a relatively easy, sure-think put together by a friend. It was actually a massively embarrassing failure where I talked excitedly to someone who had no idea who I was, why I was there or what was happening and never contacted me again. It was a grounding experience and threw me a little, so after I graduated and decided to try again I made the decision not to pitch until I had a portfolio. Which is a bit of a paradox. And another failure.

But I’m not writing this to moan or ask for sympathy. I’m writing this because, whilst on the Isle of Skye, I realised I’ve changed my mind. I’m still interested in working on the web, but it’s no longer the only end game. There are a huge number of careers I’d like to try, with web developer still amongst them, but no longer at the top of the stack. Plus, even if I did go down the freelance route, it wouldn’t be as theAdhocracy. The name has a convoluted and personal history; it still makes me smile and I wouldn’t change it if you paid me (well… how much are we talking?). But it isn’t a customer-facing name. It doesn’t make enough sense.

So that’s that. This website isn’t going anywhere, but I’m officially shrugging off this weight of guilt and frustration that has built up over how I’m using (or not using) it. Maybe, some day, I’ll design another website – it may even be to replace this one. But from now on, theAdhocracy has one purpose only: to be a place I keep stuff I want to keep. Reviews, articles, links, photographs, videos… whatever! Somewhere to be creative, without worrying about how it will affect a ‘brand’ that doesn’t exist. This has been my digital home for several years, but I haven’t been able to think of it like that because I wanted it to be my digital storefront. Well, not any more. That ends today. Welcome home.

Hyperfocal Stone Rows [#19]

A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to spend a long weekend in Dartmoor. We ended up visiting Wistman’s Wood for much of the first afternoon, which was so captivating we would have definitely spent the whole day there had the heavens not opened. It was our main reason for going and it definitely did not disappoint; there is genuinely something ethereal about that location!

Before the weather turned, we also managed to get up to a couple of tors and visit some of the wonderful stone rows that Dartmoor is (apparently) famous for. I come from the Lake District, so standing stones and Bronze Age circles are nothing new to me, but I have never seen anything quite like the stone rows of Dartmoor. Combined with their incredibly curated streams, the rows create a fantastical landscape that I really wasn’t expecting. I will definitely be back, during better weather and with more time.

However, the combination of rows and stones also offered a great opportunity for creating leading lines in landscape photographs. I’ll admit to spending far too long waiting for specific lighting conditions, wind directions etc. but I also had a lot of fun. The odd part was, I really struggled to get my shots in focus. To try and foreshorten the shots a little bit, hopefully creating a feeling of being ‘pulled’ into the photo, I was shooting landscapes using zoom lenses, which is not a technique I’ve tried before. Part of the reason I’ve steered clear of this setup is that zoom lenses tend to have tighter depths of field, making it harder to get the full shot in focus. Still, with scenes of prehistoric landmarks marching off to distant, cloud-shaded peat fells, I wanted to capture the sense of vastness that seemed to be all around me.

Logically, I know that the next step is to reduce the size of my aperture. But what I found was, on a windy day without a stable tripod, that at the apertures needed for full focus I was losing clarity. I was also struggling to get the foreground and distant background in focus, no matter the exposure I went for. I happened to notice that focusing on a particular stone, about a third of the way into my composition, was giving me much better results. I’ll admit, at the time I just went with it, though it felt counter intuitive. Having come back and done some research, it turns out my intuitions were just wrong.

Hyperfocal distance. It sounds like something out of Star Wars, doesn’t it? In reality, however, it may finally be the answer to one of my biggest ‘errors’ when taking landscape photographs. I won’t go into a huge amount of detail in this article about the whys and hows of hyperfocal distance (though if that’s what you’re after, there’s a reading list at the end) but just coming to understand it a little better has been enlightening.

In brief, the hyperfocal distance of your lens/camera/setup is the point within your frame that allows for the broadest depth-of-field when in focus. That sounds a little odd, so to understand first realise this: it is impossible to get an image completely focused in one shot. No matter how good the lens, how wide the focal range, how small the aperture you will always have some areas out of focus. But, the level of “out of focus” can be completely imperceptible, so a lot of photographs appear to be in focus. These shots are using their hyperfocal distance; the actual, truly focused region will be at the precise point in the frame that enables 99% of what’s left to be only slightly out of focus. Our brains fill in the rest.

Now, that isn’t something I’ve ever come across before and it’s not something I’ve specifically learned, but it does seem completely intuitive to me. My problem is that the solution I’ve been using for years fails to understand the actual cause of the issue. I think I have always assumed that focus works by focusing from me to wherever I set the focal point. Changing the aperture, I believed, then changed the focal grading from that point outwards, so a large aperture has a steep gradient and clear blurring/bokeh, whilst a small aperture produces a very shallow gradient where only the very closest extremes are noticeably fuzzy. In a way, I was right, but the effect is far more centred on the focal point then I had realised. It’s not a line in the image, in front of which everything is focused, but more a circle or ellipse, around which the focus slowly worsens in a semi-linear manner.

What that means is that focusing on the distant horizon, effectively to infinity, which has always been my go-to technique, will result in an out-of-focus foreground. Seems obvious, right? But it will also reduce focus in the mid-ground. Conversely, focus near to the camera and the horizon becomes blurred. The trick, as I had accidentally stumbled upon, is to focus somewhere in between the two, effectively allowing your focal circle the widest diameter possible.

Fantastic, right? I just need to focus at the mid point of the frame and everything will slot into place! Well… no, not exactly. Or at least, not easily. Drawing a line between yourself and the horizon and estimating the mid-point isn’t going to give you the hyperfocal distance. Why? Well, that’s because the camera doesn’t “see” in three dimensions, instead it effectively “sees” in 2-D. Especially with zoom lenses, that foreshortening of the landscape matters, moving the hyperfocal distance towards you. It seems a good rule of thumb is to focus somewhere around the one third mark, but in reality that will be wrong more than it is right. The internet is full of suggested methods to work out your hyperfocal distance, some easier than others, but as of yet I haven’t actually tried any of them out.

But it won’t be too long until I do. We’re heading to the Outer Hebrides in the next few weeks and you can be sure that I will be taking a lot of landscape shots whilst we’re there. Learning about hyperfocal distance (as well as other factors that can result in reduced clarity) has really lit a spark in my mind. I’m itching to get out and try some of this theory in the field; it’s a nice feeling, one I haven’t had for a while (with photography, at least). Hopefully, next time I report back, it will be to say that I’ve finally answered one of my longest standing conundrums with landscape shots: how to focus, well, everywhere.


Whilst researching the topic I came across a whole lot of really informative and interesting articles around the web. Some are specifically about hyperfocal distance, but some are more focused on lens sharpness or landscape techniques. Hopefully, combined, they will form a good bed of information to start practicing with.

Hyperfocal Distance ExplainedPhotographyLife

How to Choose the Sharpest AperturePhotographyLife

What is the Sharpest Aperture on a LensImprove Photography

Panoramic Photography TutorialPhotographyLife

How to Calculate the Sharpest Aperture of Any LensEnvatotuts

Finding the Time [#17]

Life is busy right now. My partner’s birthday is this weekend, which also happens to be a bank holiday, so I’ve spent a lot of the last week organising, planning and generally prepping for a short break we’re taking to celebrate.

At the same time, my car has decided the oil dipstick is too long. We’ve also come to the end of a month long process failure with BT, trying to upgrade our internet. Oh, and then there’s the other two trips we’re taking later this year, an on-going dispute with Hermes over where a parcel is, the slowly dying iPad, broken spotlight and, of course, all the usual bills, chores and ‘adult’ stuff.

I feel like my time is entirely spent sleeping, working or trying to keep various balls aloft. I’m tired, frustrated and a little bit stressed. All I want to do is spend some time writing, working on some photographs or, better still, reading! Honestly, society seems to be designed around a never-ending treadmill of requirements, research and time sinks.

And yet…

And yet, last night I spent an hour just chatting with my partner. It was both relaxing and helped remove a bunch of juggling balls.

And yet, I’ve managed to put 8 hours into the story mode of Super Smash Bros. Brawl since picking it up two weeks ago. It’s surprisingly fun.

And yet, my RSS feed is all-but-empty for the first time in nearly two years.

And yet, I’ve just finished a book that’s been sat on my night stand for months.

And yet, last weekend I had the car finally taken in to have the recalled airbag replaced.

And yet, that’s the thing. And. Yet.

Despite feeling like everything is crashing down around my shoulders, I’m still able to achieve an awful lot. Sure, I have a huge (literal) stack of books that I need to read before I can even start on the ones on the book shelf, but I am getting through them. It may have been a lot of time and work, but we now have a whole year of incredibly exciting adventures ahead, not least of all a trip we’re going on tomorrow! And when we do go on them, the car will be a lot safer then it was before.

Sometimes it’s nice to just take a step back, cover up the To-Do list and review your Done one. I live a life of immense privilege and luck. Sometimes, that gets forgotten, and yet when you remember it all the little things somehow become just that: little. It’s not so much finding the time as realising how much you already have.

The Weak Link

I enjoyed reading this article, written by Ethan Marcotte. It makes some interesting points, aligns with my own cognitive bubble and provides some deeper insight into areas of stuff that I find interesting. Taken together, these parameters create a piece of writing that generally makes for a ‘good read’. Food for thought. Worth remembering.

Except, I won’t remember it. Perhaps I’ll find it inspiring or important enough to cross-post it, save it to Pocket, blog about it, highlight it in Evernote or employ one of the other myriad ways I’ve setup to somehow archive information. But will I ever look at it again? If not, what’s the point?

In a sense, these are all systems intended to enhance or expand my own limited storage space, to break the barriers biology has created. Archived information, though, is effectively forgotten if the archive lacks an easy and intuitive means of recovering it again. If a year passes and I suddenly find myself wanting information on pattern libraries, will I be able to cross reference my archive and pull back Ethan’s article? Will it even be relevant for the questions I’m asking at that time, or will it be discarded as white noise. What if I forgot to add that particular reference point or search the wrong archive?

Some of these systems are ones I’ve personally constructed, such as this website or my old Tumblr. These systems were designed by me, specifically so that I could find information quickly and intuitively. The problem is, they don’t really work. They just shift the required memory space away from the contents of the article, or video, or whatever else I’m trying to store and replace it with the keywords, tags or categorisation I’ve stored it under. If I’m lucky, future me will remember enough of these to pull back the right information at a later date, but the sticky issue is that if I don’t, the system breaks down and I will never know about it.

Honestly, I’m not sure a system can exist that does what I’m hoping to find. I want a means of quickly and easily adding to, maintaining and cross-referencing a database of information. I don’t mind a little upkeep, but preferably adding content would be near instantaneous and filtering it highly flexible. At this point I have nearly a dozen such systems, from online resources like Evernote to application specific solutions like bookmarks folders; even offline, meat-space concepts like notebooks. The reason I have so many is that none of them have worked. They are all either too personal, too restrictive in their access or have become too burdensome.

It’s borderline ironic that the web hasn’t magically answered this need, given that the entire technology is built on the concept of linking and cross-referencing information. In a way, I guess it could be argued that the web solved the reference issue but forgot about the index. Services like Google and Bing have attempted to fill that void but they can only do so much and will never be able to create the personalised experience I require.

Perhaps the future holds some answers or perhaps I have to just learn to accept that forgetting is, well, okay.

Duping the Genie [#16]

You find yourself in a magical cave, holding an old oil lamp, spilling out of which is a magical Genie. You know the drill: you have three wishes and you cannot request more.

Okay, but those wishes are still pretty open ended. Sure, everyone inherently knows what is being inferred here, how the story is meant to be played out. The Genie is likely expecting some combination of the big three, normally health, wealth and happiness. But if you can ask for something as complex as happiness, then that means each wish can include a plethora of logical operators. That leaves this rules open to abuse.

So there you are, lamp in hand and an idea that, just maybe, you can beat the system. Here’s an idea where to start.

Wish 1: Ask for a means to instantaneously record and recall an infinite amount of knowledge, infallibly, all in a handy portable format.

Wish 2: Ask to know every possible wish you could ever want or would ever desire, in the optimum format for success.

Before we get onto Wish 3, use your first two wishes in combination: record all those perfect wishes, all of your hearts desires, everything you’ve ever thought of or ever could think of into the magic recording device. Then it’s time for the final wish!

Wish 3: Ask for the Genie to grant you everything contained within the recording device’s memory.

It probably isn’t fool-proof logic, the Genie might deny your final wish, but it’s a pretty good attempt at bending the seemingly incontrovertible rules to your own will. And ultimately, isn’t that far more fun then simply being another Aladdin?

Willow, Wetlands & Nostell Priory [#11]

Nostell Estate & Wetlands Centre

Edit (21/05/18): Due to an issue with Yahoo, I no longer have access to the Flickr account linked below. If you’re interested in my photography, check me out at theAdhocracyUK instead.


Well, despite my best intentions, it has been almost a year since I last finished and uploaded a Flickr album. There are many, many albums at 90% complete or over, but I tend to find that I lose interest right at the final hurdle. It’s something I’m working on, much like my writing (speaking of, we’re at #10 and counting!), so hopefully there will be plenty more posts like this in 2017.

The first half of the pictures were taken in the grounds of Nostell Priory, a National Trust property located near Doncaster which we dropped into on our way back from visiting friends in Durham. It was a flying visit, really just allowing us to break the trip and stretch our legs, so I’d say Nostell has a lot more to offer than what we experienced, but what we did see was rather charming. I’m not sure if it was the Spring flowers coming into bloom or the rarely nice weather, but the grounds had a slightly enchanted feel to them. The various follies, Medieval quarry and distinctly Victorian concept of the Menagerie Garden combined to imbue certain areas with a quality reminiscent of Bethesda’s Elder Scrolls series. It felt like the house and grounds had been built on top of a more fantastical, ancient and much more secretive estate. I imagine it would have been an amazing place to grow up in and would definitely recommend it, whether for a full day out with the whole family or just an idle wander.

The second half of the album is comprised of a small number of shots from another brief outing, this time to the Willows & Wetlands Visitor Centre. Run by Coates English Willow, the centre is really just a shop and small (but very pleasant) café that allows access down onto a part of the Somerset Levels. There is a small museum and plenty of information displays, but we didn’t spend too much time with either. Instead, we spent our time exploring the various trails through the surrounding farmland, woods and down onto the flats themselves. Various willow animals have been scattered amongst the paths, all of which were wonderfully well set (I was particularly fond of the swooping eagle). Again, we didn’t spend a huge amount of time at the centre but I would definitely say it was worthwhile. Seeing an area of Somerset which still actively pumps the fens and plants up the willow beds was really interesting and, in its own way, quite beautiful.

CSV Albums: A Database

For the most part, using the Universal Scrobbler is as simple as searching for the artist/album you want and hitting Scrobble. There are a couple of albums I have, however, which don’t seem to be searchable on the relevant databases. Luckily there is a CSV entry option which makes scrobbling whole albums super easy. I figured I might as well leave the converted CSV files online, just in case they come in handy for anyone else (plus, it acts as a backup/easy access for me as well). I’ll add to/update this post whenever I find some new ones.

UPDATE: (06/04/17) I’ve converted all of the CSV lists to use quote-mark column delimiters. By doing so, I can have track titles that contain commas without worrying about odd results – hooray!

The Atrocity Exhibition – Lazy Habits

“Lazy Habits”,”Kicking The Clouds”,”The Atrocity Exhibition”
“Lazy Habits”,”Feed the Brass”,”The Atrocity Exhibition”
“Lazy Habits”,”Left 2 (Ruins)”,”The Atrocity Exhibition”
“Lazy Habits”,”Crossing”,”The Atrocity Exhibition”
“Lazy Habits”,”The Breach”,”The Atrocity Exhibition”
“Lazy Habits”,”Answer With Quiestions”,”The Atrocity Exhibition”
“Lazy Habits”,”Hindsight Bias”,”The Atrocity Exhibition”
“Lazy Habits”,”Cold Shoulder Freestyle”,”The Atrocity Exhibition”
“Lazy Habits”,”The Terminal Beach”,”The Atrocity Exhibition”
“Lazy Habits”,”Give It Up”,”The Atrocity Exhibition”
“Lazy Habits”,”Sanity For Sanctuary”,”The Atrocity Exhibition”
“Lazy Habits”,”Never Did”,”The Atrocity Exhibition”
“Lazy Habits”,”Waiting Around – Bonus Track”,”The Atrocity Exhibition”

Lazy Habits – Lazy Habits

“Lazy Habits”,”Processional”,”Lazy Habits”
“Lazy Habits”,”Ashes”,”Lazy Habits”
“Lazy Habits”,”Surface Dirt”,”Lazy Habits”
“Lazy Habits”,”Even Out”,”Lazy Habits”
“Lazy Habits”,””Perfect Sentence””,”Lazy Habits”
“Lazy Habits”,”Ghosts (Fallen)”,”Lazy Habits”
“Lazy Habits”,”Memory Banks (feat. Baby Sol)”,”Lazy Habits”
“Lazy Habits”,”Starting Fires”,”Lazy Habits”
“Lazy Habits”,”Fades”,”Lazy Habits”
“Lazy Habits”,”The Road”,”Lazy Habits”
“Lazy Habits”,”An Interlude”,”Lazy Habits”
“Lazy Habits”,”Bulletin”,”Lazy Habits”
“Lazy Habits”,”The Drowned World”,”Lazy Habits”
“Lazy Habits”,”Please People”,”Lazy Habits”
“Lazy Habits”,”Recessional”,”Lazy Habits”
“Lazy Habits”,”Ghosts (Screen and Fallen)”,”Lazy Habits”

Sun – Cat Power

“Cat Power”,”Cherokee”,”Sun”
“Cat Power”,”Sun”,”Sun”
“Cat Power”,”Ruin”,”Sun”
“Cat Power”,”3,6,9″,”Sun”
“Cat Power”,”Always on My Own”,”Sun”
“Cat Power”,”Real Life”,”Sun”
“Cat Power”,”Human Being”,”Sun”
“Cat Power”,”Manhattan”,”Sun”
“Cat Power”,”Silent Machine”,”Sun”
“Cat Power”,”Nothin’ But Time”,”Sun”
“Cat Power”,”Peace and Love”,”Sun”

Cold Fact – Rodriguez

“Rodriguez”,”Sugar Man”,”Cold Fact”
“Rodriguez”,”Only Good for Conversation”,”Cold Fact”
“Rodriguez”,”Crucify Your Mind”,”Cold Fact”
“Rodriguez”,”This Is Not a Song, It’s an Outburst: Or, the Establishment Blues”,”Cold Fact”
“Rodriguez”,”Hate Street Dialogue”,”Cold Fact”
“Rodriguez”,”Forget It”,”Cold Fact”
“Rodriguez”,”Inner City Blues”,”Cold Fact”
“Rodriguez”,”I Wonder”,”Cold Fact”
“Rodriguez”,”Like Janis”,”Cold Fact”
“Rodriguez”,”Gommorah (A Nursery Rhyme)”,”Cold Fact”
“Rodriguez”,”Rich Folks Hoax”,”Cold Fact”
“Rodriguez”,”Jane S. Piddy”,”Cold Fact”

Palookaville – Fatboy Slim

“Fatboy Slim”,”Don’t Let the Man Get You Down”,”Palookaville”
“Fatboy Slim”,”Slash Dot Dash”,”Palookaville”
“Fatboy Slim”,”Wonderful Night”,”Palookaville”
“Fatboy Slim”,”Long Way from Home”,”Palookaville”
“Fatboy Slim”,”Put It Back Together”,”Palookaville”
“Fatboy Slim”,”Mi Bebé Masoquista”,”Palookaville”
“Fatboy Slim”,”Push & Shove”,”Palookaville”
“Fatboy Slim”,”North West Three”,”Palookaville”
“Fatboy Slim”,”The Journey”,”Palookaville”
“Fatboy Slim”,”Jin Go Lo Ba”,”Palookaville”
“Fatboy Slim”,”Song for Chesh”,”Palookaville”
“Fatboy Slim”,”The Joker”,”Palookaville”

Rating my Opinion [#3]

How do you determine quantitative worth for a de facto subjective experience? Is there even any point? Can you make related “values” actually relatable if those “values” are arguably arbitrary?

I’ve toyed with somehow ‘rating’ the films, books etc. that I keep track of in my Month in Media posts since I started that series. It initially appears like a logical framework to include; after all, each piece of media is just a single node in a much larger and, crucially, definable category such as “Film” or “TV”. Each month I state my opinions on a selection of these data points, but why do I bother? Collectively, reviews alone don’t allow for any insight into viewing habits or present any meaningful conclusions. I can look over the lists that I’ve effectively generated and work out whether I watch more science fiction than animation, or vice versa, but it can only offer broad strokes without any real depth.

However, the moment you start attempting to quantise reviews, which are by their nature highly personal and often adapt over time, you hit on some pretty big issues – see opening enquiries. The first hurdle is that your own thoughts and opinions can vary depending on your emotions, your current location or the setting in which the media is consumed. A decent movie, when watched with a group of good friends, can become a brilliant movie simply due to the associations that are created. The second hurdle is that, even if you can overcome external influences, you still have to apply the ratings consistently. In the basest form, this implies a need for a checklist, a system of simple requirements for a piece of media to rank within a preset bounding range. But that checklist must, therefore, be utterly fair; it cannot weight one element above another, nor arbitrarily inhibit the progression of positive or negative elements. If you were to dissect a film rating, for example, would you expect the soundtrack to receive equal weighting to the direction? What then happens when a film is considered a ‘must-watch’ because of the direction but the score is utterly laughable? This highlights the third and final issue with rating content: once something is quantised, it is able to be ranked. Now every review no longer sits independently of the others, instead they become utterly connected. It may be simple to decide that a film is a good film, but is it better than that other good film you saw last week? Should it get the same score, a higher one or a lower one? Once ranked, the collective now have an intertwined meaning, a meaning that is (circularly) only as strong as the methodology behind it. That means, once you’ve put everything in place and gone through all that effort, if at any time you realise that some element is incorrectly weighted, missing or false, the entire dataset is corrupted.

Years ago I “wrote” video game reviews for a friends website, with the aim of getting them pushed out to several big gaming forums at the time. The ambitions never paid off (I was consistently too young) but the experience was my first time attempting to fit subjective experiences within rating systems. Different websites ranked video games differently. Places like IGN used an x/10 system, Nintendo Official Magazine rated out of 100%, Ctrl+Alt+Del based worth on five stars. My reviews tried to fit all these systems (and more) by heavily compartmentalising my scoring system. The soundtrack was x/5, the animation x/10, the story x/10 and so on until I had a final score, hopefully weighted in a balanced manner, resulting in a total that was divided into parts, each of which I could then convert into one part of a star, percentage point etc. The whole system took me days to come up with and refine so, when it was ‘done’, I wanted to test it. I wrote a couple of reviews of popular games at the time (Twilight Princess is the only one I can remember) and used my checklist to score them. I converted the scores into the various ratings systems and then compared my given rank with that of the actual website. Needless to say, most were quite different but I was expecting that. My opinion would not necessarily gel with the other reviewers. What I was surprised by was how differently my review scores ranked within each organisations charts. Sometimes, a game was right up near the top of the pile on one website but in the middle somewhere else. Between services, a single review score could dramatically alter the perceived worth of a game from being a GOTY contender to an average, barely notable experience. Internally, my reviews were consistent (I made sure of that) but when placed in the context of another persons ranking system… they fell apart.

In other words, I’ve overthought this to an extreme level and been burnt in the past, so when it came to writing my MiMs I just didn’t bother. But now it’s the end of the year and I would like a way to do a “Year in Review” type set of articles. I need to be able to rank the films, books etc. I’ve consumed in 2016 but I don’t want to do it from memory; that adds a secondary level of subjectivity to proceedings. No, I want to see what I thought of them when I wrote their reviews, not what I think of them now that months have been and gone. So I’m going to give some thought to a simple, yet fair, set of criteria that I can use to quantise my enjoyment of a product. I’ll begin with movies and TV only, as books are too different a beast to be mixed in. I’m already keeping track of my initial gut reaction over on Trakt for the films I’ve watched so far in January. Hopefully I can use that to backfill once I’ve sussed a system I’m content with. In the meantime, I guess its time to start trying out some systems!

Trakting My Media

I am an idiot.

Yesterday I wrote about my frustration that no Last.fm style service existed for TV and film. Last night I went home and found two such web apps in less than ten minutes. It turns out, I was Googling wrong.

There may actually be more than two out there, but it was Trakt and Simkl that caught be eye. Idiotic names aside, both appear to be healthy and robust options with exactly the functionality I was after. Simkl is clearly the baby of the two, with less interactivity with third party services and no current mobile applications on offer. Trakt, on the other hand, appears to have undertaken the Spotify model and launched with a robust API, resulting in adoption by dozens of third-party services. Only time will tell if they complete that model, eventually buying out the few they like and pulling the rug out from beneath the others…

Trakt also wins out in the aesthetics department, with a much more modern and refined style, layout and UI. Conversely, Simkl feels like a leftover remnant of the Web 2.0 era. Trakt does lose points for hiding some relatively key features behind a pay wall, such as in depth analytics and IFTTT integration, but all the features you absolutely need only cost your login credentials, so it isn’t a major roadblock.

I conducted some (very) informal testing last night to see which I might prefer long term. Both were pretty easy to setup, search and navigate though though I found Trakt simpler to retroactively scrobble a show to (a pattern begins to emerge). Trakt’s functionality enabling you to set when you watched a show, going back months, means that the hurdle of cinemas/analogue TV becomes fairly manageable. Simkl likely has these features hidden within its less intuitive UI, but I never found them.

Whilst watching a film in the evening, I tried to test out the mobile options. Simkl simply doesn’t have any at the moment, which is a fairly major black mark. Trakt, as mentioned, has a huge variety but none are actually that great. Most of the Android apps only cater for TV, whereas I need a service that does film as well. The remaining options were a mixture of poor design, buggy features and bad reviews. Even when I did work out the best way to search their archives I found all but one (Cathode) failed to actually return the film I was watching, despite it being present in the Trakt database. Even then, once found, I couldn’t retroactively scrobble the film, instead being forced to choose ‘just watched’ or ‘currently watching’.

To be clear, this is definitely not Trakt’s fault. It would be nice if they launched their own mobile app with a focus on their core features, such as scrobbling, but I can understand why they’ve gone this route. For me, it will mean I can use Cathode when I’m at a friend’s house or the cinema to scrobble as I watch; if I forget, I can add it in later from the Trakt interface itself. That’s a fair compromise and offers a level of flexibility I’m surprised isn’t also behind the pay wall.

For now, then, Trakt has won my support. I signed up to both with test accounts to try them out and both get top marks for making it easy and fairly clear how to permanently delete those accounts. I’ve since signed up to Trakt ‘properly’ and back-filled my viewing habits for 2017 so far. You can follow along here, if you’re at all interested.

It also turns out that my “New 52” challenge has already become more taxing than I had anticipated. Allowing myself a whole week should have removed any stress, but come Tuesday morning on week #2 and I was panicking. I didn’t have any ideas and realised that I’m away at the weekend. I felt like I was running out of free time and it’s amazing how that was sufficient to freeze out my rational mind entirely. The result was a rushed out, imperfect article on a non-existent issue. I felt a little stupid when I realised. I was tempted to remove the #2 from the title and stick it on this post instead, but I’m not going to. I’m going to leave that flag there as a reminder to chill out a bit more in the future. Hopefully it helps.