1. The Sonic the Hedgehog movie was better than I thought it was going to be

    Posted February 21, 2020 in media  |  1 Comment so far

    There is a new movie about Sonic the Hedgehog. It’s called “Sonic the Hedgehog”.

    We went to see it today in a place called Malton, in North Yorkshire. The cinema was very unlike the normal multiplex chain type of cinemas we usually go to in London. It’s called the Palace Cinema and is independent and family-run. You can watch this video to learn more about the person who set it up.

    When I saw the trailer for the Sonic the Hedgehog movie, I thought, “bad”. Not because of the main character looking weird and like it had human teeth or whatever. I didn’t even see that trailer. The one I saw came out after they fixed the hedgehog and it still made me think, “bad”. They had made the hedgehog look OK as a hedgehog, but as a person? As a person, the hedgehog just came across as a douchebag.

    Then when the film came out recently a lot of reviews also came out and most of them said, “bad”. Mark Kermode said it was bad and he didn’t say it was bad because Sonic ruined his childhood or anything like that. It’s safe to say that Mark Kermode did not play Sonic the Hedgehog in his childhood. He just said it was bad because it was bad as a film.

    Paul Ford wrote a good tweet about the Sonic the Hedgehog movie.

     

    My wife and I like the phrase “I love that you loved it”. There are many times we’ve been to the cinema with our kids and could have used those words. So when the children today put their foot down and chose the Sonic the Hedgehog movie over Harrison Ford/dog epic “The Call Of The Wild”, we resigned ourselves to leaving the cinema later and saying those words, “I love that you loved it”.

    Given all this buildup of expecting a bad movie I was actually surprised to find that I quite enjoyed it.

    Sonic isn’t as insufferable as he came across in the trailer. He alternates between being touchingly vulnerable and annoyingly brash, but in this he is a lot like the 7-10 year old children who are probably the core audience for the film.

    Jim Carrey’s star turn is a critical part of why I didn’t dislike it. I suspect that, if he hadn’t been in the movie, my views on it would have been along the lines of, “bad”. His character is the villain but, rather than being an underworld criminal boss, he’s actually a military dark-ops type with high-level security clearance. And he’s not gone rogue or anything either, he’s the person the government has brought in to try to catch Sonic. Is this quite a rare thing in children’s films nowadays, for the main baddies to be government representatives? And was it weird that Carrey’s character reminded me a bit of Dominic Cummings?

    Now one thing I have in common with Mark Kermode is that I too didn’t spend my childhood playing Sonic the Hedgehog. I was an Amiga/Nintendo person and didn’t own any Sega consoles prior to the Dreamcast. During the Sonic era I only played Super Mario Kart, so there’s no Gen-X childhood nostalgia for me to be protective here. And for the children in the audience who seemed to enjoy themselves, there wasn’t any Sega nostalgia for the film to exploit either.

    It’s nice when kids choose to like or dislike things themselves, shoving aside the nostalgia-fuelled guidance of their parents’ generation. And if this film does well despite the critical consensus being that it is bad, it’ll probably because children just decided they liked it, which is fair enough.


  2. Robert Henke’s CBM 8032 AV performance at the Barbican

    Posted February 8, 2020 in music  |  No Comments so far

    A couple of weeks ago I went to see Robert Henke’s CBM 8032 AV performance.

    The basic idea is that all audio and video is provided by an array of four Commodore CBM 8032 computers. These are old machines, older than the C64 or Vic 20, and weren’t made with graphics or audio in mind. So, to make these computers generate music and video, they’re running custom software developed by Robert Henke and his team.

    The result is something that might have been technically possible when the machines were released in the early 1980s, but would have been a vast undertaking given the rudimentary nature of available software development tools at the time. (I’m assuming here that Henke & co didn’t actually write their custom software on the 8032s – if they did I’d be even more impressed!)

    I like the idea of a computer or device being unwittingly controlled by technological forces from far beyond the time of its origination. It’s a similar concept to emulation, but in this case the newer technology isn’t playing host to its ancestor – it’s acting as a puppetmaster, holding strings that were always part of the ancestor’s design but moving and manipulating them at alien speeds. Robots that solve the Rubik’s Cube in less than a second are another example I guess.

    There were loads of people at the performance which I was quite surprised by. I had thought it would be a too niche to draw a large crowd, but it seemed to be sold out. As soon as we arrived at the Barbican it was clearly packed. Also, I was probably among the older cohort among the crowd. It wasn’t like when I went to see Cybotron and there were a lot of grey hairs in the audience.

    Robert Henke gave a short speech at the start about the project and about the Commodore CBM 8032. He suggested it was part of the final generation of computers to have been humanly comprehensible, or in other words simple enough in its design that a human being could expect to read and fully understand its specification. He got a laugh from the crowd when he popped open the computer – the monitor and keyboard folded back to reveal the internals, like the bonnet of a car.

    Aesthetically, I had certain expectations of the sort of music that would be involved. If you tell me that someone is going to make electronic music with a bank of Commodore CBM computers I will have a clear idea of what it’ll sound like: either a chiptune ode to retro computer game soundtracks or, essentially, a Kraftwerk retread. And the first few tracks in the performance were definitely in the latter category.

    I was captivated enough by the visuals not to mind so much the unsurprising nature of the music. The green pixels were really being stretched to their limit, doing things I haven’t seen on these sorts of displays. There certainly wasn’t anything retro, gamey or nostalgia-driven about the video part of the performance. It was almost sinister or uncanny, to see retro display technology being utilised in this sort of way.

    As the performance went on the music also started to diverge from the Kraftwerk “Metal on Metal” template and took on a more abstract, ominous, challenging character. I wasn’t sure exactly how much external audio processing was needed to get these machines to make sounds like this, but can only assume it was a lot. There were a few points where the visuals and music combined to create genuinely chilling, almost dystopian, moments.

    When the credits were shown at the end, I wasn’t surprised to see that a pretty large team of artists and technologists had been involved in the project. It was a big success with the audience and with me too. It’s a project that could, in different hands, have ended up as an interesting but creatively uninspired proof of concept, using the CBM machines to render the Arkanoid soundtrack and so on. But Robert Henke and his team approached both the creative and technological aspects of this project with full force, and the result was like nothing I’ve ever seen before.


  3. Bad Running Shoes Are Bad (for me at least)

    Posted September 9, 2019 in running  |  No Comments so far

    Here’s some boring stuff about running shoes.

    For a long time I was running in Saucony Guide 10s. The heel wore out in them quite quickly but otherwise they were great. Once I’d made it to around 500km in one pair of them, I’d buy another pair of the same shoes. I ran the London Marathon in Guide 10s. But once my third pair had been exhausted, that was that.

    You see, running shoes are only around for a certain amount of time before they get “upgraded”. Manufacturers tweak the design of a shoe and release a new version, usually every year or two, with similar characteristics and aimed at more or less the same cohort of runner. When the new design comes out, the older form of the shoe stops being made and eventually disappears from the shops. That’s what had happened to the Guide 10 by the time my third pair was done for.

    This didn’t seem like it would be a big problem. There were new versions of the Guides which would presumably be similar to the Guide 10s, so I bought a pair online without trying them, thinking they would be good. These new shoes were called Guide ISO 2 and they are, in fact, bad. For me anyway.

    When I first tried them on with the orthotic insoles I wear, it was clear right away that they were going to be bad. The insoles are a bit thicker than the standard ones that come with running shoes, and while I’d worn them with maybe three or four types of shoe without issues, these Guide ISO 2s were a different story. My heel felt like it was half out of the shoe.

    To stop the heels from actually popping out of the shoes when I run, I need to lace them so tight that my feet are glowing red when I take them off afterwards. Lacing shoes with such severity isn’t good for you really. And even with this extreme lace tightness my heels have still suffered greatly in the 50-odd kilometres I’ve run in these shoes. The issue is that, because the heel of the shoe is so low down, it’s rubbing against a part of my foot that it’s just not designed to be in contact with.

    I posted earlier in the year about having to stop running because I injured myself. I didn’t mention at the time that these shoes, which I’d just bought, were a big part of the reason why. The feeling of the heel popping out of the shoe was so disconcerting that I switched out of my custom insoles and ran in the standard ones. True enough, the heels were much more stable with the standard insole, but that run, without my own insoles, put me out of action for nearly three months. Lesson learned.

    As I’ve returned to running I’ve kept my insoles in the shoes and have hoped that my feet and the Guide ISO 2s would come to some arrangement, with one moulding the other into a shape that wouldn’t cause me severe pain with each step. But I have to accept by now that it’s not going to happen and these shoes are a lost cause, for me at least. With the next shoes I buy I’ll definitely need to try them on first.


  4. I fell off my bike like an idiot but at least I can run again

    Posted July 23, 2019 in ephemera, running  |  2 Comments so far

    Yesterday I was cycling home. I’ve been doing a lot of cycling since a bad injury stopped me from running nearly two months ago.

    It’s been a curious experience to become faster at cycling. I ride my bike quite often but, with running out of the question, it’s only in these last couple of months that I’ve approached cycling as a primary form of exercise rather than just a way to get from A to B. Previously undeveloped muscle groups have become developed and I’ve become able to maintain speed for longer distances or while going up hills that would, in the past, have slowed me down a lot.

    Anyway all this progress was rendered meaningless yesterday when I had the very humbling experience of falling off my bike. It wasn’t a crash or anything and nobody else can be blamed for it. I was going through a gate when leaving Victoria Park but my positioning was off and one of my handlebars clipped it as I went past. The handlebars immediately turned 90 degrees to the right, the bike decelerated rapidly and I think I went flying over the front wheel.

    When I say “I think” it’s not because I was concussed or unconscious – the whole theme of this incident is closer to farce than drama – but just because it happened so quickly I don’t really remember exactly how I left my bike or how I landed. But land I did, and as I hit the ground I was already blushing with embarrassment.

    My phone (a new smartphone!) had flown out of my backpack and hit the concrete, but was completely unscathed. I had a cut on my hand on on my knee but nothing too serious. The bike was OK, just a bit flustered. I looked around; did anyone see?? Thankfully not. I stood up and dusted myself down, while a few other people came past, and soon rode off after them. This was probably the first time I’ve fallen off a bike since I was a child and it didn’t hurt that much but was a very humbling experience nonetheless.

    In other news, I was finally able this morning to go for a short run. This is the first time I’ve ran (away from a treadmill) since my inexcusable jaunt in Cornwall in late May wrecked my lower back. The many small rituals of running – where to put keys, how to warm up, what kind of speed to go initially, what to do with the GPS watch to get it to show the right information – didn’t flow instinctually in the way they do when I’m running regularly, so I had to make an effort to remember what to do. But it was a great feeling to be running again, even if it was for only 1.8 miles on fairly flat ground.


  5. I badly injured myself running and I rode one of the Uber “Jump” bikes

    Posted June 5, 2019 in ephemera  |  No Comments so far

    At the moment I’ve got a bad injury from running. I made a number of stupid mistakes which included transitioning to new running shoes too quickly, ramping up my speed and mileage at the same time, and then — the pièce de résistance — the decision to run 10k around Fowey in Cornwall, which is just a ridiculously hilly place. In a typical 14k run in London I might have an elevation of around 20 metres, but this Cornish run involved an elevation of over 10 times that much. At the end of the run I could tell I’d done some damage to myself and now, nine days later, I’m still limping around and can’t even imagine myself running. 

    Because I’m worried about this enforced running hiatus reducing my general fitness levels, I’ve tried to cycle a bit more. It’s not very painful to cycle although I’m not sure if it’s really helping the injury get any better. This morning I used one of Uber’s new Jump bikes for the first time, to ride from Walthamstow to Clapton, as my regular bike was at my office.

    I really dislike Uber but wanted to give this a go as I’ve never ridden an e-assist bike before. It’s such a weird experience, good in some ways but bad in others. Going from stationary to a normal riding speed is so quick as the e-assistance kicks in – as the bike accelerates it’s almost a little scary, feeling the bike rocketing forward at a pace that’s very disproportionate to the level of effort being put into pedalling. But for safety reasons the bike has a maximum speed limit, and that’s what can make it a bit frustrating when going downhill. It’s just not possible to go all that fast, and I found myself wasting energy trying to overcome this limitation before finally accepting that I couldn’t beat the system.

    The main benefit of the e-assist thing is felt when going uphill, where you don’t really feel like you’re making an effort but are still sailing past “normal” bikes with ease. It’s also useful to be able to cycle long distances without breaking a sweat. The Walthamstow/Clapton route I rode this morning is probably one I could do on my usual bike in the same sort of time as I did it this morning, but I would be a lot more tired when I got there and would certainly need to have a shower before work.

    Would I buy an e-assist bike? Probably not, because I don’t just cycle for convenience reasons: I want to get a bit of a workout too. I can really see the appeal for people who don’t care as much about fitness, though, or who work at places that don’t have any shower facilities so can’t turn up at the office dripping in sweat.


  6. Quitting Facebook

    Posted February 7, 2019 in social media  |  2 Comments so far

    Quitting Facebook wasn’t that hard.

    It started almost by accident, in November last year, with a busy period at work leaving me no time to see what was happening on the blue forum. Once the busy period ended, I realised that it had been around two weeks since my last login. So I decided not to look at Facebook for a little while longer and instead spent all my time in growing my DIY Youtube channel. At first, I went through the usual channels of getting likes which is by contacting friends and family, and asking them to like it, but very soon realised that not all youtube likes are as good as those from TheMarketingHeaven.com and got in collaboration with them to grow my channel and get all my videos more likes.

    Christmas came and went, and still no Facebook. New Year also passed without Facebook.

    You have to bear in mind that this wasn’t like quitting cigarettes where abstention is an act of conscious will. When I write about it here it might give the impression that I was sitting in a cold sweat, rocking back and forth in the twilight, gritting my teeth and staring at the clock as hour after after Facebook-free hour dragged past. It wasn’t like that. Life was just going on.

    January also came and went. By the end of January I was beginning to get a bit anxious, not because I missed the blue forum, but because I thought people who knew me might be drawing the wrong inferences from my inactivity: that I was ignoring them, that I had died. That’s what made me decide it would be better to delete my account rather than leave it there, present but mute.

    To delete my account I had to log in. 57-odd notifications were waiting for me. I had a quick look at them. Maybe something in there could have changed my mind. But all I learned from my quick glance at the notifications was that Facebook was doing OK in my absence. People had liked other people’s posts, some people had posted some things, yet others had shared content from the wider world: the wheel in the sky was still turning.

    So I went through the deletion process, which I had expected to be a showcase of just how clingy and dark-pattern-y UI design can be when the best-paid minds in Silicon Valley really don’t want you to do something. In reality, though, it was quite clean and straightforward, other than the slightly sneaky way that Facebook tried to guide me towards deactivation rather than deletion.

    As part of the process I also downloaded my data. There wasn’t too much as I only started going to Mark Zuckerberg’s website in 2013 and was never its heaviest user. If you’re a heavy user, of course, your download will be much bigger than my paltry 157Mb ZIP file. And even if you don’t plan on deleting your account I recommend you download and read through the data – it’s certainly an interesting experience, diverting and nostalgic on one hand, mildly paranoia-inducing on the other. The files you end up with on your hard drive are a lot easier to read than you might expect.

    And that’s that, no more Facebook. I partly feel like being able to delete Facebook is down to privilege, something that’s easier for me to do than it would be for various others, so I’m not going to nag you or disapprove of you for not deleting Facebook yourself. But if you want to join me in the world beyond the blue forum, you’re more than welcome.


  7. I managed to find the skate park in Victoria Park but it was too wet to skate, plus my left knee is done for

    Posted September 5, 2018 in ephemera  |  No Comments so far

    Yesterday at lunch I went to get out from behind our table and my left knee smashed into the table leg. A mundane event. But as the pain from the impact exploded within me I realised that I would probably be remembering it for some time.

    Fast forward to this morning and I had a plan to cycle into work via Victoria Park with my skateboard and do some skating on the skate park there. I’ve never been to that skate park, I’ve only seen photos of it. But the injury in my left knee, which had stayed with me through the night, left me doubtful that I could either cycle or skate.

    When I left the house I saw a bit of dampness on the ground which gave me pause for thought. I just don’t want to skateboard on damp ground, and certainly not on smooth, wet concrete. But maybe it was just morning dew? I set off with the skateboard on my back, hopeful that the skate park would be dry.

    Immediately my left knee had something to say. It didn’t like this bending and unbending business that cycling seemed to involve and it let me know its thoughts on this matter at some length. I considered going home and just walking to the train station instead, but the more I rode the less painful my knee became (although it was still pretty painful).

    Got to Victoria Park and by then it had become clear from the overall dampness of the ground that the skate park was going to be a write-off. But I still wanted to actually see it.

    It turned out that I was completely wrong about where the skate park was so I had to stop and look at my iPad to find out. It’s right in the middle of the park, and when I run or ride through there I’m always going around the main perimeter path. So I cycled to the skate park and, as expected, it was very damp, with puddles at the bottom. No way would anyone want to skate on that. But at least now I know where it is and what it looks like (not as big as I’d been expecting from the photos, to be honest).

    Then I rode into work along CS2 which is always fun, in its way.


  8. Having the courage to admit that you’re wrong (about notebooks)

    Posted July 13, 2018 in Diary, work  |  1 Comment so far

    In 2013 I wrote a blog post about how I was only going to buy cheap notebooks.

    My rationale at the time was that a high-quality notebook repelled low-quality content; in other words, that my reluctance to scribble half-formed thoughts and sketches on such a pristine medium undermines the very purpose of having a notebook in the first place. A cheap notebook, on the other hand, would offer a less judgemental home for incoherent scrawls, and so I would be encouraged to write and draw in it all the time without fear of my contributions being put to shame by the paper on which they were borne.

    I can now look back and say that I was categorically wrong about all of this and, what’s more, that my flirtation with cheap notebooks didn’t last. In around 2015 I ditched them and before long I found myself drawing and sketching far more than I’d ever done before. Moleskines (which I was in the habit of buying when I wrote the abovementioned blog post) were replaced by Leuchtturm notebooks and since then I haven’t looked back. I now always have an A4 and an A5 Leuchtturm1917, both dotted: the latter to carry around and take notes, the former for more serious in-depth sketching.

    Pokémon and diagrams

    And it’s not even more expensive either. The Leuchtturm paper is extremely thin so a single notebook lasts for a long time. The A5 one I’ve got with me now was first used in January 2017 (I know because I write the date on every page) and it’s only now in July 2018 that it’s running out of space. And I’ve used it a lot.

    So that’s it, I just wanted to make it known that I recant the blog post of 2013 and am back on the side of decent notebooks.


  9. I Watched Some People Get Owned By Seagulls And Didn’t Envy Them At All

    Posted June 5, 2018 in Diary  |  No Comments so far

    We were on Brighton beach, in the most touristy area right next to the pier. This must be the part of the beach that seagulls particularly like.

    A man and woman came and sat down not far from us. They had bought some fish and chips from Harry Ramsdens and when they unwrapped it I could smell the salty, vinegary, fishy food. Seagulls must love eating this stuff.

    One seagull was curious about the fish and chips so it walked over to take a closer look and have a quick peck at the man’s chips. The man flapped his hand at the seagull and it hopped off. I suppose seagulls are accustomed to being brushed off in this way.

    The seagull came back but this time it didn’t walk but flew instead, landing beak-first in the man’s chips.

    “F-ck off!” the man shouted, flailing. “You f-cking c-nt!” The seagull flew a short distance away.

    At this point I find it hard to explain what happened. Maybe the seagull squawked in a certain way, or sent a coded signal with an artful flap of its wings. Maybe it communicated via telepathy.

    But whatever it did was successful: in less than a second, around thirty seagulls descended from the sky and, undeterred by profanity, took control of the situation. Their victory was decisive, total and near-instant. The couple who now found themselves at the centre of this shrieking yellow-beaked maelstrom leapt to their feet and bolted, propelled by entirely understandable terror. I don’t think they stopped running until they were well clear of the beach.

    With the humans out of the way, the thirty frantic seagulls made quick work of the Harry Ramsden’s fish and chips. After twenty seconds there seemed to be no edible substances remaining. The party was over. The seagulls lost their motivation and stood around dumbly, like NPCs in a computer game that have reverted back from some mission-specific subroutine into their default wandering behaviour. All humans in the immediate vicinity regarded the aftermath in horror.

    At that point my wife arrived with a brown paper bag that contained our own takeaway lunch.


  10. Train in the rain, run in the sun

    Posted April 18, 2018 in running  |  No Comments so far

    After several months of training for the London Marathon (for which you still sponsor me here!) we’re now close enough to the day of the event that the weather forecast is worth looking at.

    So let’s take a look…

    Aargh!

    Yes it’s lovely weather if you’re going to spectate, but for me and most of the other runners it’s pretty bad news. The majority of my long training runs took place while the UK was in the grip of Arctic-style wintry conditions, so I’m completely unprepared for running a serious distance in the blazing sun.

    The last couple of times I did the Hackney Half Marathon were similarly hot and the image of so many people collapsed by the roadside receiving medical attention in the last couple of miles is still fresh in my mind. I just hope I finish Sunday’s race on my feet rather than on my back.