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 – everywhere! – 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 – 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…

 

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’d Go Spare & Assorted Odds ‘n’ Ends
  24. A Gap in Time
  25. Peaks & Troughs
  26. Security All The Way Down
  27. Month in Media – 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 – September 2017
  39. Month in Media – 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 – 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.

The Weight of Opportunity [#35]

I’ve started this article three times. The first time it was going to be about how my creativity in writing is declining in large part because my creativity in photography and videography is rising. The problem is, I already wrote that article in July. The second time it was going to be about how finding a comfort zone in creative output is perfectly okay, but does slowly erode that output over time, as desire and drive give way to repetition and complacency. That article was decent and had some valid points but it slowly morphed into a third article about time management and a feeling I get which I’ve dubbed “the weight of opportunity”.

The thing is, right now I’m laser focused on other creative outlets which aren’t this blog, so writing is slipping further down my priorities list. And that issue isn’t getting much better. My mind is full of ideas on stuff to build around the flat (which will never happen), videos to record, ways to streamline my data storage (riveting to no one except me), photos to edit and a myriad other ideas and brain-worms. But none of them really make me want to write.

Which is a real shame, because I do want to write, but the stuff I want to write about feels so heavy. There are a heap of things which I want to record and discuss so much that I simply can’t – the words don’t come out right. Articles I care so much about they have to be too perfect to exist. I never did write up my top 5 lists for 2016 which I had so meticulously planned. Nor did I ever write an article on our incredible trip to the Outer Hebrides, Skye and the Highlands. I even have maps planned out for that one! Even this week I’ve been working every day on an article about our trip last week (cause of no blog post, sorry) to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. I’m forcing myself to put words down but it’s still a cop-out as it’s only part of the article I actually want to make. Plus, it’s taken me a week and I’m still holding on to it rather than publishing. It just isn’t ready yet… perhaps, as with so many others, it never will be.

Time management is definitely a large part of this issue. Right now we’re travelling a lot on the weekends and knackered during the week. There’s been a fair amount of potential, albeit unrealised, upheaval at home (in a good way) which has meant free time has been dominated predominantly by discussion. That isn’t a bad thing. It’s very healthy and absolutely necessary, but it does create a bit of a black hole for personal, creative time. The result is that most week days are spent sorting out big-life-adult stuff after work, eating dinner and. Just. Collapsing…
Weekends then become either a frenetic dash around seeing friends, family, culture or whatever (again, not complaining, just another time sync) or, and this is a big one, they become crushed under the weight of opportunity.

Which is to say that weekends such as this one, when I’m home alone with no plans whatsoever, are just incredibly stressful. I want to pack all of the things I possibly can in to whatever time I have, be it an hour or a day or a weekend. I spend weeks thinking up a huge list of tasks and projects I want to tackle. But then I wake up (late, because lie-ins are bliss) and hit a wall. I feel heavy with the anticipation of infinite possibilities and realise two things: I don’t actually have enough time to do everything on my list and I have absolutely no idea what to pick. Picking any one thing necessarily makes it more important, in my mind, to everything else I could be doing and that’s a decision I find incredibly hard. It’s a very real sensation of weight and it crushes my drive utterly. The result is that I end up watching some Youtube, pottering around and generally doing nothing. I don’t even procrastinate well: I don’t play video games or read books or watch films. I achieve nothing.

And then my free time is gone and I have nothing to show for it. I get a little depressed about that and swear that next time will be different. But it never is. Part of it is just poor time management. I definitely could set aside more time during even the busiest week to sort out stuff. The periods when I actually manage this are incredibly fruitful and make life so much more fun, but then I get ill or especially tired or fail at something and I fall off the wagon. I could also micro-manage my large blocks of free time and set absolute periods of work, creation, life goals etc. On paper that sounds great, in reality is turns the weight of opportunity into the wall of creative block. Every. Single. Time.

Seriously, whenever I do that, no matter how I come at it, I invariably wake up or get to that period of time and realise I have zero inspiration. It happened yesterday. I had set aside four hours, far more than I needed, to shoot a small segment of video for a project I’m working on. I woke up and conditions were perfect! It was a beautiful day, there wasn’t any wind or irritating building work to make sound an issue. It’s the day I’ve been waiting for to shoot this sequence for over a month. But the sequence never happened. Instead, I got up and realised I needed some dialogue for the video but I had no idea what to say. Two nights ago, struggling to get to sleep, I’d come up with the perfect phrasing but now, poof, it had completely gone. I ended up watching some Youtube videos to get some inspiration. Then I discovered a new game on my phone. Then I put a wash on. Then the clouds rolled in, the wind rose and the sequence has been impossible to shoot ever since.

I’m not really too sure how to get past the weight of opportunity or the creative block it creates. I’ll continue to try different techniques to overcome it and, certainly, some of the ones I’ve tried in the past have helped. Incrementally I feel like I’m beginning to win, but conversely the weight of past opportunities wasted is growing as well. A small part of me hopes that writing about it may help me rationalise and move past it, but a larger part of me knows this to be false hope. It’s just who I am; it both kills my creativity and also fuels it. For now, it feels good enough to be able to take that weight and transfer it into at least one goal achieved this weekend. Unlike last week, at least there will be a blog post.

 

That Anti-Diversity Googler & Self Introspection [#32]

Standard workday, standard work lunch catching up on RSS feeds. Of course, quite a few of them are discussing the leaked “Anti-Diversity” manifesto from the, now infamous, ex-Google employee (name forgotten and ultimately unimportant). It’s been an interesting view into a very specific bubble of the tech sphere, but one which has helped elucidate the issue, if only a little.

Of particular note is the response from Adactio, which is easily understood by the title of the piece: “Intolerable“. I will hold my hand up right now and say that I find the whole issue a lot more complex than Jeremy Keith outlines, but I cannot argue with his conclusion. Nor can I argue with the incredibly diverse and well-written sources he links to, each of which is definitely worth a read.

That becomes particularly true if you’re anything like me: someone whose gut instinct was “this is utterly wrong”, but who found themselves wondering if, beneath the anger, fear and sexism, a valid point was lurking. Having now read through the links (linked below) I feel a little more confident in my gut reaction, which is a nice feeling.

Just to clarify my use of the phrase “valid point”, it is not valid that one gender is in any way better or worse at being involved in the tech sector (or any sector, for that matter). Instead, it’s more of an issue of how we go about addressing the very real disparities between both job prospects and job uptake by any dissuaded minority group (and yes, women are not a literal minority, but they are in tech due to centuries of discrimination, so I feel it a valid term within context). I have a personal distaste for anything that borders on “positive discrimination”. All it creates, long term, is embitterment and injustice, in my opinion. However, having read the links below I feel a lot more at ease that the diversity programmes at Google and similar companies are not going down this route, instead focusing on making the workplace a more attractive environment for everybody. That’s something I can get behind.

If there is one element of Keith’s article that I will find fault with, it’s the blanket tone of dismissal. I understand where he’s coming from and it’s a tricky thing to call out, because it’s an opinion I find myself feeling towards other subjects. I simply don’t feel the world is ever black and white enough to make a statement like:

I refuse to debate this. Does that make me inflexible? Yep, sure does.

But, hypocritically, I also find myself agreeing with the directly following statement:

But, y’know, not everything is worthy of debate. When the very premise of the discussion is harmful, all appeals to impartiality ring hollow.

As an example, earlier this week the BBC came under fire for featuring Lord Lawson on a program about climate science. The argument for his presence is that it provides “the other side of the debate” and that the BBC have a mandate to be as impartial as possible. The issue with their reasoning is that it implies there is a debate to be had. In terms of scientific consensus, the degree to which man-made climate change is refuted is utterly negligible. The debate has been settled for decades and continuing to present it in any other way is directly harmful. It is akin, though less instantly vitriolic, to claiming that the BBC needs to include a Holocaust denier in documentaries on WWII. Yes, there are some people out there who believe that the vast majority of historians are wrong, but no organisation in their right-mind would claim that there is an actual debate soliciting both sides being heard.

Perhaps, then, it is I who is wrong on the Anti-Diversity Manifesto. Perhaps Keith is right and any discussion of non-diversity is, by its nature, only destructive and harmful because that debate, too, has been settled. Still, I can’t help but feel that claiming so and shouting it so loudly only serves to reinforce the opinions of dissenters. It’s hypocritical of me, but I don’t feel that shutting down people with these opinions is the right course of action. Perhaps, in time, that will change. For now, I’m just happy to see that the discussion being had is largely positive.

Reading List:

A Brief History of Women in Computing – Faruk Ates

So About This Googlers Manifesto – Yonatan Zunger

Dissecting the Google Employees Anti-Diversity Manifesto – Ether Alali

Untapped Market [#31]

I’ve recently been spending a lot of time researching, and ultimately buying, a new camera. From an outsider perspective it might seem a little odd, as I already have a very good DSLR that, whilst by no means top of the line, still serves me very well. I love that camera and actively enjoy using it, but it does have a couple of issues.

First and foremost is the size. I can’t take a DSLR to a music concert, or on a night out, or even around to a friend’s house for a dinner party (well, I could take it to all of those occasions, but it would always be impractical or obnoxious or both). They aren’t the most practical cameras and they’re definitely conspicuous, so I also struggle to take photographs of people. That means we return from holidays to various locations with some pretty great shots of our food, the scenery we visited and any wildlife that stuck around long enough, but rarely anything of the culture or people we met. A large part of that is just me and what I feel comfortable with, but there’s also a practical side to having to carry so much gear.

There are a couple of other issues, too. Whilst my DSLR can be great in low light, it will never be able to get truly sharp, fast low light images without investing in some seriously expensive lenses. It’s also not the best camera in the world for shooting video. The 600D can shoot 1080p well enough, but has no image stabilisation and only manages a maximum 50fps. Whilst it can shoot in 24fps, making it perfect for fixed camera filming, as a travel video camera it isn’t ideal.

So that’s why I’ve bought a new camera. In the end I’ve stuck with Canon and plumped for the G7x Mark II. It’s an impressive camera, with some clever features, but it certainly isn’t cheap. Still, it solves several of my issues: it’s small enough to go everywhere, robust enough to travel well, has enough zoom range to be flexible, shoots well in low light and has in-built multi-axis image stabilisation. It also has a couple of other nice video features, such as an internal ND filter and a time lapse mode. So far, I’m very impressed by the image quality and happy enough with the video (though haven’t given this a huge amount of testing). It has a couple of issues, such as lacking a viewfinder (which I’m struggling to get used to), a poorly designed battery release, partial incompatibilty with my Joby tripod and an insanely stiff mode wheel. Still, so far it hasn’t done anything awfully.

And yet, I can’t help but feel slightly disappointed. Not with my camera, not exactly at least, but with the market in general. With the rise and rise of Youtube, Snapchat, Instagram and similar platforms, it baffles me that there remains no decent all rounder compact system for film and photography. Every major player has a couple of models seemingly aimed at that market, but none of them quite manage to tick all the boxes. The Canon lacks a viewfinder (ignoring the G5, which desperately needs an upgrade to match the specs of the G7x) and only has basic video modes; there’s no slow motion filming, no 4K and you still lose have to crop the sensor to achieve 1080p. The main rival from Panasonic, the LX15, appears to be a clear market leader on paper, boasting 4K, 100fps slow motion, time lapse videos, a larger maximum aperture, smaller crop factor and 5-axis stabilisation. Unfortunately, it performs far worse. Despite having a wider max aperture, the low light performance is better on the Canon and it may have a more advanced stabilisation system, but the Canon routinely out performs in tests. Plus, that crop factor is still not insignificant, the zoom range is only just sufficient and there’s no inbuilt ND or ability to add an external one (clever third party solutions aside). Nikon barely factored in my research, despite their Coolpix line being one of the longest running on the market. They achieve some of the features, such as 4K, but rarely manage to get the right sets of specs together to make much sense. Then there are the Sony rx100 series cameras. These have certainly dominated the market for several years, but they each have two major down sides: the price and the overheating. Sure, they can shoot 4K, ultra slow motion and have great glass which works well at low light (though not as well as the Canon), but they also cost twice as much and can only film in those settings for a seriously limited amount of time. These same problems persist even when jumping to 4/3 sensor mirrorless cameras.

So I’m left baffled. I want a good point and shoot that gives me the best specs across the board and is aimed at the Youtube generation. That means full RAW control, in both photo and video modes, so that I can tweak my output as much as needed. That means the basic level of video features that the likes of Casey Niestat and Peter McKinnon have made the entry level for Youtube, such as 100fps @ 1080p, 24fps all of the time and a decent wide angle crop. It means good image stabilisation, the ability to hook up tripods and external mics, a decent battery life and no overheating issues. It means a viewfinder, touchscreen, selfie rotation and NFC connectivity. But, for some reason, that camera doesn’t exist. I guarantee it would sell insanely well, but for some reason no one is making it. Perhaps, as the LX10 has shown, the tech just isn’t quite there yet? Or perhaps the big manufacturers are scared that making a camera too good will mean less people taking up the 4/3, APS-C or full frame alternatives? Whatever the reason, I really hope at some point in the future they manage to move past it and release the camera I want. Just not too soon – I just spent a whole lot of money and something that isn’t perfect. I don’t want to have to do that again any time soon.

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.

Factual Distrust [#21]

 

Text reading
Interested much?

I’m currently in the Outer Hebrides (actually, I’m currently somewhere on my way back from them, but that’s where I have been for the last two weeks). As a result, I’m dipping into my archive of forgotten almost-posts to make sure that whole New 52 thing keeps on a-rolling.

But I do expect you to believe that part. That’s not really what the image above is about. No, the image above is a link to a comic by the ever-brilliant Oatmeal, attempting to explain why it’s so damned hard to convince somebody they are wrong. Present all the evidence in the world, be reasonable and clear, provide a bullet-proof argument… and that still won’t be enough. There are a bunch of reasons why that is the case, but the big two are these: the backfire effect and the energy-cost conflict. The comic details the backfire effect much better than I ever could, so if you’re unaware of it (or even if you know everything about it, to be honest) go and give it a read. You won’t regret it.

The energy-cost conflict is a term I invented, so it’s unlikely that you know anything about it. Stuart Vyse created a pretty clever illustration to explain why superstitions are a thing for Ted Ed, which sums it up nicely and is also definitely worth your time. In brief, it takes a certain amount of energy to learn something and a second amount of energy to unlearn it (not to forget it, that’s free, but to take what you know and alter it). Our brains are designed to reduce energy expenditure as much as possible, for the simple reason that it helps keep us alive longer. As a result, we’re naturally resistant to facts that would cause us to alter what we’ve learnt.

Combined, these two phenomena create a pretty large obstacle for reasoned debate and progressive change. Once someone, or a group of people, have accepted a certain belief as fact it becomes pretty hard to get them to accept that it isn’t; once that belief has become the basis for multiple other beliefs and ideas, it becomes incredibly hard. There isn’t much that can be done about this problem, as it effects everyone in the world. The most effective method is to educate people, which is what both of the links above are attempting to do. Personally, as I come to understand the way my own brain attempts to helpfully undermine me, I’ve found it a lot easier to have productive discussions with people. I’ve also found that the world is a lot more gray than black-and-white, but that’s actually a lot more interesting.

TV vs Film: The Great Debate [#10]

When I first started writing my Month in Media series it appears I neglected to give proper credit to the inspiration (at least if I did, I can’t find it any more, which is effectively the same issue). To remedy that, then, I’d like to formally recognise that it was Khoi Vinh’s series of “Movies Watched” that sparked my interest. To be clear, I wasn’t lying when I said hosting reviews was always a goal of theAdhocracy, but the monthly amalgamated format, the concept of logging my media consumption, that was really inspired by Khoi Vinh.

It shouldn’t be a surprise, then, that I find Khoi’s monthly updates really interesting. Unlike my own endeavours, his don’t contain full reviews but are more of a personal log, with the occasional brief comment and nothing more. Still, I find it weirdly compelling to compare a strangers viewing habits to my own, so a part of me always looks forward to reading his updates.

I’ve also been continually interested in the impact of a decision Khoi made over a year ago: to focus on consuming Film over TV. He certainly manages a good monthly average, last month scoring 19 full films or almost five a week! I also find myself agreeing with the reasoning Khoi gave:

In spite of how good television has become, I still find it’s rare to find a show where every episode is a truly worthwhile chunk of time spent

That’s a fair acknowledgement, as is his follow up comments on the comparative time requirements to watching a TV show and a film. An average season consists of 22 episodes, with each episode falling somewhere between 15 and 45 minutes in length (what I call the Adventure Time to Game of Thrones scale). So it’s a fair assumption that deciding to watch a new TV show will be at least an 11 hour commitment. If it runs for multiple seasons, that number only increases and, for a singular story, that is kind of crazy, especially when there’s often little guarantee that your time will be well rewarded. A film will normally take no more than two hours, contain an entire plotline and have easily searchable and reliable vetting. By foregoing TV, people like Khoi can therefore slot in 5-6 great movies within the same time commitment as 1 potentially average, soon-to-be-cancelled TV show. With both markets increasingly bursting at the seams with new content advertised as ‘worth our time’ I can fully understand the decision to focus on film.

So I’m writing this to say that, moving forward, I’m adopting Khoi’s approach wholesale, ignoring TV shows in the coming months and aiming to binge my way through Hollywood’s finest moments, right? Well… no, not really. February’s MiM is substantially reduced compared to January and the primary reason has been TV. We ‘accidentally’ became sucked into the world of How I Met Your Mother and have watched almost nothing else since, finishing three seasons in as many weeks. We could have spent that time (a quick calculation suggests somewhere in the region of 26 hours) watching thirteen films, which does feel more respectable somehow. But, had we done so, we wouldn’t have experienced the hilarious, emotional rollercoaster that HiMYM is/was.

The day after watching a film I’m often inspired, excited, ponderous or drained. Films can and routinely do pack an emotional punch, leaving you to contemplate philosophy or provide a genuinely thrilling experience; it’s a great medium with a huge amount to offer. But I can’t remember the last film that left me feeling the way a good TV show does. The night after watching the final finale of HiMYM I struggled to think of what to do. I just wanted to know what these characters were up to and how they were doing. I’ve heard this feeling of loss, when the story is finally done, compared to watching a friend move to another country. Sure, you know there’s the possibility you might see them in the future and you can always revisit the past, but at the same time a door has closed and a spark is starting to dwindle. It’s a feeling that hits me quite often when finishing a book but rarely when watching the end credits roll on a film. Movies are too self-contained for that, they’re too focused on telling the story they have, and doing so as succinctly as possible. They’re restricted.

TV, books, video games: these are the media that have the ability to immerse you, not just for a few hours, but utterly and inescapably. For me that’s worth it. That’s worth the time commitment, worth the duds. Sure, it sucks when they end, especially when it is final, but the fact you feel that way surely validates the experience. I think it’s fair to say that you can watch a movie, but you can befriend a TV show.

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!