1. Real-life Mario Kart on the streets of Tokyo sounds really annoying

    Posted December 14, 2017 in comment, Uncategorized  |  No Comments so far

    I’m a huge fan of Mario Kart and have been since its first incarnation on the SNES back in 1992. In fact it’s fair to say that Mario Kart was a major obsession throughout much of the 1990s.

    I wasn’t ready to move on to the N64’s expanded vision of the Mario Kart universe — to me, it was like trying to breathe life into the game of chess by introducing an array of gimmicky new pieces or growing the board to a 12×12 square — but by the time Mario Kart DS came out I was back on board.

    Despite being such a big Mario Kart fan, though, I found myself cringing when I learnt that foreign tourists cruise the streets of Tokyo attempting to have a “real life Mario Kart” experience:


    It’s one of Japan’s hottest attractions amid a tourism boom—to the frustration of some locals… Indeed, it’s all fun and games until a tourist drives her go-kart onto the sidewalk and crashes into a police station. Or until another one manages to hit a parked car. The Times reported in May that in the span of two months, Tokyo police have recorded a dozen such incidents, 10 of which involved foreign tourists and none of which involved any fatalities.

    I can only imagine how annoying it must be to be trying to get around Tokyo and then come across a mob of tourists bumbling and bumping along the road in bootleg “MariCart” go-karts, dressed as Nintendo characters. Probably even more annoying than the shrieking pedal buses that crawl around here in London sometimes: at least there’s only one pedal bus to deal with instead of ten of them veering all over the place, and I’ve yet to see anybody on one of those things throwing banana skins on to the road.

    And besides, I can’t help thinking that these tourists, as well as being annoying, are missing the point of Mario Kart altogether. If you believe that trundling along in a glorified golf buggy is in any way a replication of the Mario Kart experience, then I’m sorry to say that you don’t understand Mario Kart, and don’t know what it feels like to play it properly. Sorry if that sounds harsh but there you go.

    Thankfully, Nintendo has sued MariCart for copyright infringement and is in the process of building its own real-life Mario Kart experience in its forthcoming Super Nintendo World theme park. That’s something I wouldn’t mind having a go on.

  2. “Falling down these miserable holes”

    Posted December 13, 2017 in social media, twitter  |  No Comments so far

    The following passage from Slate’s “The Year In Push Alerts” touched a nerve with me:

    As a computer programmer, White said, he gets frequent 30-second breaks while the software he’s working on is loading, rendering, and searching—and during those tiny intervals he feels helplessly drawn to the news. “[I’ll see a] tweet about some bizarre behavior… Look at the article. Click through to another article. Post that on Twitter. Get a like. Look at that person’s feed. See another take on how awful Trump is. Click on it. Feel guilty. Try to focus on work. Someone walks into my office and says, ‘Can you believe that Gorsuch says …’ And so on.” During the first few months of the administration, White said, he was losing approximately half of his work time falling down these miserable holes.

    For me, this pattern started to take hold during the immediate aftermath of the Brexit vote and I’ve had to work hard to break out of it. It’s part of the reason why I stopped being a smartphone person and took a step back from Twitter.

    Oh yes, mentioning Twitter reminds me of this thing I saw about Twitter, on Twitter. It’s depressingly accurate and makes me even more keen to run screaming from the noisy blue bird:

    “How a day on British Twitter works”, by @TechnicallyRon. Click for full version

  3. I’ve just finished Infinite Jest

    Posted December 5, 2017 in books  |  No Comments so far

    David Foster Wallace’s “Infinite Jest” is a mammoth of a novel. I started reading it in August and only just finished it last night.

    Spoilers now follow!

    Its conclusion felt abrupt, unexpected, like an ambush. This was mainly caused by the way Infinite Jest is constructed, with a lot of events subsequent to the conclusion having been hinted at in earlier chapters, leaving the actual endpoint serving as more of a midpoint. But the ambush effect was exacerbated by the Kindle: when you aren’t holding the physical substance of the remaining novel between your fingers, it can be hard to know just how close you are to its end.

    Infinite Jest sets itself up as a satirical novel. Many aspects of its characters, and of the world it’s set in, are introduced with an air of comedic ridiculousness, from the names of the years in “Subsidised Time” to the physical deformity of Mario Incandenza. But the book very often moves in on these characters or situations and gives them another treatment, slower, honest and human, moving beyond its surface tone of satirical irreverence and adopting one that is often painful or even heartbreaking to read. Many of the passages that deal with drug and alcohol addiction, in particular, have a hyperreal aspect to them.

    I did find myself becoming more and more irritated by James Incandenza’s work as a respected avant-garde filmmaker. I didn’t know if we were meant to be cringing at the pretentiousness of his films or not, or to be more precise, if we were meant to cringe at the idea of a world in which films like his are seen as high art. I found myself cringing at a lot of the described films anyway, regardless of DFW’s intent. They sounded like attempts to make rather basic statements but giving them a spurious profundity by wrapping them up in a few layers of artistic obfuscation. Towards the end of the book those were the passages (descriptions of academics building their careers on interpretations of Incandenza’s films, etc) I felt most tempted to skip through.

    The complex and involuted nature of Infinite Jest invites a second reading but its sheer size makes it unlikely that I’ll do that any time soon. So I’ve been reading a few discussions and analyses online. One thing I found is this website, Infinite Summer, which divides the book up into sections that should be readable in a week  and then provides articles and comment threads for each of those sections. It’s a bit like an asynchronous book club, and I wish I’d been aware of it when I started out.

    I’m a big fan of websites like Infinite Summer. It’s both anachronistic and refreshing to see online discussions taking place away from the Borg cube of Twitter/Facebook, conversations you can discover via a search engine and just read through without having to be logged into anything.

  4. Steering clear of the dumpster fire

    Posted December 1, 2017 in twitter  |  1 Comment so far

    There was a time when most of the posts on this blog were about Twitter.

    It started more than ten years ago with me writing about how I didn’t get Twitter before later posts revealed my growing enthusiasm for the whole thing. I savoured the endearing banality of strangers on buses, smirked at “brands” who were botching their forays on to the platform (as if I knew any better), and eventually I was posting semi-technical instructions about how to extract data from Twitter (Twitter eventually stopped that working) or share your loved tracks from Last.fm (I don’t know if Last.fm still exists). I even designed the service that put a British rail company on Twitter for the first time.

    You might remember that back in the late 2000s and early 2010s many people blithely dismissed Twitter as a tool for nothing more than knowing what Stephen Fry had for breakfast. The harrumphing Twitter sceptics were everywhere with their gruff dismissals of what they saw as lightweight ephemera. I made a point of taking them on and trying to convince them of the platform’s value. If you had told me back then that, within the next decade, the White House would play host to a president who used Twitter as his or her primary mode of communication — that “the first Twitter President” was going to be a thing — I’d have been genuinely excited. “Stick that in your pipe and smoke it!”, I would have said to those sceptics.

    In the end the sceptics lost the debate and they lost it hard. Worse, most of them ended up on Twitter themselves, in time to take part in the eventual death spiral that is now well underway. Because Twitter has become a dumpster fire: a raging, unstoppable inferno, casting toxic fumes and molten plastic blobs in all directions.

    If this was the mid-2000s still, it wouldn’t be a problem. We’d just move on. If a forum’s admin turned out to be a Nazi sympathiser, or stood by while Nazis polluted all the threads with swastikas and frog cartoons, people would just leave. I’ve been involved in online communities for long enough to have seen numerous such mass migrations, where a critical mass of contributors moved off a mailing list or message board, leading to the whole community embarking on an exodus to the new, unblemished territory. Renewal and rejuvenation of the community usually followed.

    Unfortunately it’s hard to imagine this happening today, now that Twitter and Facebook have formed what is essentially a duopoly in online community. Users of Twitter look to its owners to sort out the problems it has, and there’s a lot of anger at the business for its inability or unwillingness to do so. But what is yet to dawn on us, as a group, is that the onus is not on Jack Dorsey to change Twitter; the onus is on us to do what we would have done in the mid-2000s and just leave.

    This is easier said than done though, because leaving Twitter at the moment feels like leaving the internet itself. It’s like you’ve made yourself invisible. And besides, Twitter remains the best place to go to complain or joke about how bad Twitter has become.

    So I’ve resolved to start avoiding Twitter as much as I can, just for my own personal reasons. I could do without the feelings of anxiety, rage, frustration and depression that come from scrolling through the timeline that has become the moronic inferno made real.

    But can I find a way to step back from Twitter without stepping back from the internet? If I find enough other people who are trying to do the same thing, then perhaps I will.

  5. The Man Who Forgot He Was A Rap Legend

    Posted October 18, 2017 in ephemera, music  |  No Comments so far

    This article about T La Rock (in GQ, natch) is worth a read.

    T La Rock was attacked on the street in 1994, leaving him with a severe brain injury and near-total memory loss. He had to rebuild an identity for himself in a convalescent home in Coney Island, while at the same time finding out about his past.

    I love how the piece interweaves three key periods in T’s life: his involvement in the explosive dawning of hip hop, the time of his assault, and his rebirth in the Coney Island convalescent home.

    [His mother] brought in a boom box so T could listen to records, including his own music. When T first heard those songs again, it felt like a discovery. “You know what?” he thought. “This is pretty good!” But then he had the strange sensation of hearing himself but not knowing the song. It sounded like someone else was using his voice.

    Read it on GQ.com


  6. Run home from work on the day of London’s sandy sky

    Posted October 17, 2017 in running  |  No Comments so far

    (see the run on Strava)

    I’d hoped the weird sky would persist for a bit longer so I could have a dreamlike run home through it, but it cleared up before I left work.

    There was still something unnatural about the evening though. The sky seemed clearer than it usually is, as though the Saharan sand had swept away the smog particles that usually blur London’s skylines. Cranes and tall buildings seemed to sparkle with uncanny clarity against the gently darkening twilight. The effect was most obvious in Victoria Park from which I could see the buildings of Stratford very clearly, and I never normally notice them at all.

    The run did, however, make me worried about injury, and I abandoned my plans to run in the next morning because of that. My right leg has become stiff and sore, with the origin point somewhere in the upper thigh/hip area. Maybe it’s been aggravated by using the old running shoes too much (they were up to about 550km) but I’ll need to rest for a few days and hope it dies down.

  7. The Button Presser

    Posted June 28, 2017 in transport  |  No Comments so far

    You sense the train’s deceleration and get up from your seat.

    You are the first person to get to the door of the train. This is not what you wanted to happen. Because this means that you will be the Button Presser.

    As the train slows further and moves into the station the rest of us gather behind you. Getting the measure of you. Do you know what you’re doing? Do you understand what being a Button Presser involves? Will one of us have to take over?

    You’ve done this before, of course you have, but this is something you can’t just say outright. No words are to be spoken here: your actions will tell us what we need to know. The choreography is subtle but each step has escalatory potential. Moving your hand to the button too soon will come across as naive and unrealistic, but leave it too late and we’ll think you’re oblivious to the meaning and purpose of the Button. One of us may have to intervene.

    And there are more of us now, crowding round the door, waiting for the Moment, the Moment when the Button will become active and you will face your true test. When that light comes on, you will have half a second to respond. Leave it any longer and one of us will lean past you with a exasperated sigh to press it ourselves. You will have been stripped of your ceremonial role as the Button Presser without honour or dignity. No-one wants that. (Secretly, some of us would relish it.)

    The train comes to a halt and the pressure becomes too much to bear. You begin to frantically, repeatedly hammer the Button long before its light will appear. The train is oblivious — the Button isn’t active yet — and we’re surprised too, you didn’t seem like the button-mashing type. It’s panicked and needy. Where’s your sense of timing?

    Finally, the light around the Button illuminates and quickly dims again as it meets your volley of taps. The door is open and we are leaving the train. As Button Presser you did… alright. You avoided our censure, yes. But you did not earn our respect.

    EDIT: a couple of people on Twitter have pointed out an even worse situation: where you have to lean out of the window on a big cross-country train to get the door open, an act that demands a combination of expertise and strength. It reminded me of a time in Cornwall a few months ago when I failed to do this and had to be rescued from the train by someone on the platform. My memory of the incident is a blur but I think I tried to pretend the door was faulty.

  8. From the archives: my post from 7th July 2005

    Posted July 7, 2016 in Diary  |  No Comments so far

    This is a blog post I wrote (on Livejournal) at lunchtime on 7th July 2005, the day 52 people were killed in terrorist attacks on the London transport network. This was written not long after midday and, as the final sentence shows, before the full horror of the attacks had come to be known.

    I’ve just got back home from Yorkshire via central London, and thought I’d write an account of the morning’s events while my memories are still fresh…

    I arrived at Kings Cross from York at 9.30 and was initially annoyed that the staircase down to the tube platforms was sealed off. That annoyance turned to genuine bafflement when it turned out that the whole station was sealed off, and the police weren’t letting anyone out.

    The exit to York Road was still open, though, so I came out and turned right, expecting to have to walk along to Euston Square. That turned out to be a daft idea when I saw the chaos outside the station – the roads were gridlocked, and people were swarming everywhere. I decided to head down to Russell Square and either get a bus or hop on the Piccadilly line (if it was running).

    Loads of people had the same idea as me, so I weaved through the confused commuters and was eventually coming down Marchmont Street towards Russell Square station when I heard a loud explosion. That was the bus on Tavistock Square, but I didn’t know it was a bus at the time.

    I kept walking until a wave of panicking people shouting “go back!” swept past me in the other direction. A policewoman walking behind them confirmed that it was indeed an explosion and that the whole area was being sealed off. At this point I thought I’d phone the office to tell them I wouldn’t be able to make it in.

    As I made my way eastwards, there were still huge waves of commuters coming down towards Russell Square who were unaware of Tavistock explosion. It was impossible to get them all to turn back, so those of us heading away just talked to who we could and pushed against the tide.

    Eventually I made it back to Angel, via quite a roundabout station-avoiding route. What I’d heard at this point, through text message exchanges with Guy and brief phone conversations with Fiona at work, was that there had supposedly been a series of power surges on the tube network, that it had been shut down, and that people with blackened faces had been emerging from tube stations. I knew that power surges weren’t to blame at Tavistock Square, having heard the explosion, and the general semi-militarisation that had gripped central London – helicopters circling overhead, police everywhere, entire areas roped off.

    The bus I boarded at Angel had just been prevented from going south of City Road, so it had kicked out the passengers turned round to go back towards Hackney. Within seconds of sitting down we new passengers were all talking about the “situation”.

    Everyone was quite surprised to hear about the Russell Square explosion, but a few minutes into the journey we all got a bit of a shock when we found out that it had been a bus. I got a text from my flatmate saying “stay off the buses!” just as an American, on the phone to his net-surfing wife, got the same piece of news. The conductor wasn’t happy to hear this at all, and spoke of resigning, while we all laughed nervously and seriously considered leaping off at the next set of lights.

    So eventually I made it back home and wrote this blog entry. Looking back at the events of the last few hours, a few things come to mind: for example, the speed at which the police had sealed off the Russell Square area was surprising. They were roping off the bottom of Marchmont Street within two minutes of me hearing the explosion, which goes how to show how serious the situation was being taken by them even then, fairly early on.

    Also, the initial story about power surges would seem to have been intended to enable a mass evacuation of the tube network without an accompanying mass outbreak of panic. It’s strange to imagine what the atmosphere would have been like at Kings Cross at 9.30am if it was common knowledge that bombs had been going off; most of us were in the state of agitated determination that commuters enter when tube lines are shut down and routes need to be recomputed. If panic had swept through the crowd, it would have been a shitstorm.

    At the time of writing it looks as though the fatality rate is low – two dead at Aldgate – so let’s hope that that remains the case.

  9. Brexit update, 5th July: Brexit for grown-ups

    Posted July 6, 2016 in politics  |  No Comments so far

    It’s been a few days since my last Brexit post.

    Things seemed to calm down a bit on Friday, the day after the Gove power move. The weather was nice. A double rainbow appeared here in London. We think.

    Brexit was beginning to feel like a lived-in reality rather than the energy source for an ongoing panic attack. Friday was probably the first day since the referendum result that didn’t feel like this for me:

    I struggled to find something to write about among the news stories. The best I could come up with was this article about Liam Fox saying Britain needs “Brexit for grown-ups”

    Conservative leadership contender Liam Fox today demanded “Brexit for grown-ups” as he blasted colleagues Boris Johnson and Michael Gove for their “Oxford Union politics”.

    For a while this made me imagine Brexit as a modular kids’ toy system like Lego or Sticklebrix or Mega Blox. Up until now we had only been mucking around with the clunky Duplo version of Brexit, trying in vain to use its bulky, garish bricks to build a functioning economy and political system. In Liam Fox’s mind the problem wasn’t that we had Brexit at all: it was that we had the wrong type of Brexit and had to swap it for Brexit Technics or, even better, Brexit Mindstorms.

    "Let's get the economy moving again"

    “Let’s get the economy moving again”

    No-one cares what Liam Fox thinks now, though. He’s since withdrawn from the Tory leadership race after coming last in the vote among Conservative MPs. I guess we didn’t need Brexit for grown-ups after all—we’re having more than enough trouble with the baby version.

    For example, Stephen Coltrane wrote a numbered series of tweets (a now-notorious trait of Brexit Britain) that outlined what might happen if Britain has to trade with the EU under WTO rules. Click the date below to read the whole thing.

    Another thing that happened on Friday was that the era of austerity came to an end. If that had happened two weeks or a year ago it would have dominated the news cycle for weeks, but in the context of Brexit hardly anyone noticed.

    On Saturday I went to the anti-Brexit march although I wasn’t there for long. My son, who’s four, feigned interest in the whole thing but was impatient to move on to the London Aquarium, the next item on our itinerary. It’s obligatory whenever you go on some march or demonstration in the UK to speak about it cynically – “well I doubt it’ll change anything” – but the value of the whole thing for me wasn’t based on the vain hope that Nigel Farage was going to walk by, experience a Damascene conversion upon seeing the assembled crowds, take to the podium, renounce his Euroscepticism and begin the reversal of Brexit.  Instead, it was the visceral experience of seeing and being among such a large group of people who reject the insane logic and increasingly overt racism of Brexit Britain.

    Speaking of Nigel Farage, on Monday he resigned as leader of UKIP.

    Loads of people were angry at him about that—“you made this mess, you help clear it up” was the consensus view—but it struck me as a little disingenuous coming from anyone other than a UKIP member. Would I have been happier to hear he’d taken a peerage and was going to be representing the UK in trade negotiations with Europe? Of course not. The further away from public life he gets, the better.

    Not everyone was minded to celebrate Farage’s resignation:

    Douglas Carswell, the only UKIP representative in the House of Commons, provided us with perhaps the most succinct tweet ever to be posted by a politician.

    I wonder if Hansard has emoji support?

    There was a lot of scepticism about whether Farage’s resignation could be taken at face value.

    The key quote from this passage is “you cannot undo globalisation and multiculturalism – not peacefully anyway.”

    The world of economics continued to act in accordance with the projections set out by much-derided experts ahead of the referendum. If only more people had listened to those experts.

    The pound plunged to 31-year lows against the dollar.

    Incidentally, it did take out $1.3055. In the small hours of July 6th it went below $1.30 and is now as low as it has been since The Crowd topped the charts with “You’ll Never Walk Alone”.

    (Liverpool voted Remain btw)

  10. Brexit daily update, 30th June: At least Cheddar Bob has friends

    Posted July 1, 2016 in politics  |  No Comments so far

    What’s your favourite analogy for Brexit? Mine is based on the Eminem movie 8 Mile.

    There’s a scene where Eminem’s mates get into a fist fight with some rivals. It’s all kicking off when suddenly Cheddar Bob, the most ramshackle and haphazard of Eminem’s friends, surprises everyone by pulling out a gun and waving it round. The fighting immediately stops and everyone’s terrified, even Cheddar Bob’s friends are terrified, because the way he’s holding it makes it absolutely clear that he doesn’t have a clue what he’s doing.

    I know, it’s already sounding a lot like Brexit isn’t it? At this point in the story it’s probably like Brexit around six months ago, where the squabbling Detroiters are European countries, Cheddar Bob is Cameron, and the gun is the plan to hold the Brexit referendum.

    "I'm gong to hold a referendum!"

    “Stand back, I’m gong to hold a referendum”

    Wait, though, it gets even more like Brexit. Cheddar Bob is shouted at by his own terrified friends and ordered to put the gun away. “OK, OK,” he says and, with everyone staring at him, puts the gun back into his trousers. But he’s forgotten to put the safety on, so the gun goes off and he shoots himself in the groin.

    Oops... I lost the referendum


    Panic descends as Bob passes out from shock. The other gang runs away while Cheddar Bob’s friends bundle him into a car and off to hospital.

    This is where the Brexit analogy breaks down, of course—because, unlike Cheddar Bob, we have no friends.


    B R E X I T



    This morning, on the way into work, I was wondering about doing these every other day. The pace of events is surely going to slow down, I thought. Yesterday evening I met a neighbour on the street and we were talking about all of this: “it’s going to be a marathon, not a sprint”, I’d said. “It has to slow down sooner or later.”

    I hadn’t been in the office for long when this happened.

    This tweet actually looks quite innocuous in retrospect. But it set in train the events of the rest of the day, a backstabby Game of Thrones-esque saga of treachery and betrayal in which the Conservatives put the recent Labour infighting in the shade.

    It was interesting at this point because Gove and Boris Johnson had been allies during the “successful” Leave campaign (I put “successful” in scare quotes because it’s turned out to be a pyrrhic victory) and Gove had been putting it about that he was going to support Johnson. So this announcement that he was actually standing and that Boris Johnson, what’s more, “cannot provide the leadership or build the team for the task ahead”, was tantamount to sliding a knife into your best friend’s back. The leaked email from yesterday now made sense.

    A couple of hours later Johnson gave a press conference at which he was expected to launch his own campaign for the Tory leadership. That isn’t what happened.

    All this had happened so quickly that much of the Tory press had already been mobilised in support of Boris Johnson. These newspapers had hit the shops only hours before and were now completely out of date.

    The reaction was almost universally hostile. Michael Heseltine was particularly brutal:

    He has ripped the Tory party apart, he has created the greatest constitutional crisis in peacetime in my life. He has knocked billions off the value of the savings of the British people.
    [He’s like] “a general who marches his army to the sound of the guns and the moment he sees the battleground he abandons it… The pain of it will be felt by all of us and, if it doesn’t get resolved shortly, by a generation to come yet.

    For a while Johnson’s withdrawal seemed to cheer the financial markets, but not for long:

    You might remember that yesterday I tried to debunk the “FTSE is doing well” talking point. Today I was going to debunk the “pound is rallying!” talking point, but reality ended up doing that for me when the Bank of England governor, Mark Carney, did a live TV broadcast at 4pm. I was watching it at work with some currency charts on screen at the same time and saw this happen as he literally walked up to the podium:


    This doesn’t mean that Carney messed up, of course. Pushing the exchange rate downwards can be a sensible thing to do as it helps exporters and reduces the risk of calamitous plunges later on. But it is still a sign that the economy is headed for recession.

    Some final points from the day. It’s becoming depressingly clear that racism is indeed on the rise in Brexit Britain:

    Incidents of racism in the wake of the EU referendum result have increased dramatically, according to the latest figures.
    Complaints filed to police online hate-crime reporting site True Vision have increased fivefold since last Thursday, the National Police Chiefs Council said, with 331 hate crime incidents reported to the site compared with a weekly average of 63.

    And, again, London isn’t immune:

    Theresa May, another candidate for the Tory leadership, has indicated that expelling EU nationals from the country is going to be a point for discussion in the forthcoming negotiations. Just think for a moment of what that would entail, how that would work logistically.

    So yes, it’s still fun here in the land of Brexit. See you tomorrow!