War Horse, a short review nine years in the making

Apropos of nothing in particular. Just before Roy Scheider, playing the green, but somehow simultaneously edgy Chief Brody in Jaws, says his most famous line in, well, just about any movie “You’re gonna need a bigger boat” he says “I can go slow ahead, come on down and chum some of this shit”

The only thing I knew about this movie before I watched it was that it existed. Now at least I know that it is quite the most ridiculous film ever made. I like an implausible plot twist at the best of times, but the entire film is an implausible twist plot. Awful.

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1568911

Parasite – The contrarian I didn’t like it review.

I guess the easy thing would be to go along with the swathes of glowing reviews from experts and take note of the huge array of awards that this movie has won and seems to continue to win. Wait. For. It. … Just a little more…

But.

I really didn’t like this movie. I did want to. I just didn’t. I was searching for a way to describe how I felt, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. It looks lovely, but that, for me is about it. The story is stupid, the characters ugly. It’s a good thirty minutes too long and, well, boring. The best way I could think of to describe how I felt watching Parasite was thus:

Imagine you are sitting in front of a washing machine that has a lovely white cotton towel in it, the really fluffy one you just bought that totes gets you and then you half notice what looks like a flash of red. A rush of adrenaline, but then it abates because it was just a figment of your imagination. You turn to look away, but WOAH just as you glance back, there in the window is a big dark blue sock and it is clinging to the glass taunting you.

THEN BAM. The red sock appears and pushes the blue sock off its perch. You reach of the off button, but know that despite your need for this disaster to be over the off button on a washing machine is more an indication of future intent than a strict instruction and this horror show is going to continue for some time and you’ll just have to deal with it.

You sit, horror-struck in front of the washing machine unable to move, you watch as red follows blue follows white and then it all starts to blend into one indescribable shade of grey. A really crap grey that ruins everything. It ruins the blue sock, it ruins the red sock and worst of all it ruins is the white towel – everything looks awful and all you can do is sit.

THEN BAM, the washing machine inexplicably lurches forwards and falls on you trapping you until help arrives – it never does. As you sit there, trapped, you try to work out why this happened and how on earth the washing machine could have fallen on you, but this story has no need for logic or sense it’s just a collection of things thrown together. Not unlike Parasite.

I didn’t like it.

Who am I to judge? Mobile World Congress cancelled

Mobile World Congress Barcelona has been cancelled and this is sad, I like the cut of some of the gibs of people complaining that it shouldn’t have been cancelled though. Can you imagine the pearl-clutching-sanctimonious- shrieking if they’d gone ahead and a technology journalist caught a cold? However, as with all clouds there is a silver lining, it has provided me with a perfect opportunity to link a current event with something I did years ago and, as they say, repurpose it.

Believe it or not, I was a judge for the GSMA Global Mobile Awards Most Innovative Mobile App at Mobile World Congress a few years back. Which is easier done than said. The panel was made up of some incredible names, Cherie Blair, yes that one – some other famous people, very high-profile technology journalists and, err, me – they CC’d everyone into the first email so I got some good contacts too.

For the small price of judging apps and mobile related stuff across a small number of entries, about 20,000 if I recall correctly, I got a pass to the show and access to the executive lounge.

There was free Wi-Fi in the lounge and free soft drinks – though I spent most of my time in the press lounge where there were no free drinks, I did have the Wi-Fi password though, so was basically treated as a demi-god. This being one of the world’s premier digital shows they’d put the Wi-Fi access code on the back of the Presss Room sign and then on realising they’d put an extra ‘s’ in Press, taken the sign down and along with it the code. I may be misremembering the fact, but the gist is there.

I attended launches by Huawei, Polycom, China Unicorn Unicom, Rovi, Otterbox, Sandisk and Nokia – lolz remember them? The Sandisk PR man had a nightmare as I nonchalantly asked the spokesperson they’d proffered up as a flash-based hard drive expert what he thought of Apple’s flash storage solutions, it was as if I had uncovered the scabby wound of a chip on his shoulder and dabbed it with a salt solution. Sufficed to say, he wasn’t happy I’d asked what their product was like compared to someone else’s. I’d put the shrug emoji in here if I knew how. PR guy winced when I asked and then again at the answer, joke was on them though as I had zero chance of writing anything about flash-based hard drive storage with any of the magazines I was writing for. Well, that’s not strictly true in that it’s not true at all, but it makes me feel better to think that.

Best launch of all though was the Nokia one – I can’t remember exactly why, but they launched a phone not intended for the European market and then got flustered by the first question from the assembled journalists which was something along the lines of “why are you showing us this?” Then they launched something I feel sure with the Symbian OS. I think there was whooping from the crowd at that point, I may have been hallucinating because of the Symbian bit, but feel sure there was. I also got invited to Nokia-World or whatever it was called, that took place in Finland so I was excited about that at least. Sadly, this was just about the same time they discovered the platform fire and they never did quite put it out so Finland got filleted.

Anyway, the award for which I was a judge went to SwiftKey one of those Swyping keyboard things that were all the rage on smartphones before they all got Sherlocked (look it up kids). There was a lavish awards ceremony followed by a party, but I got lost, ended up at the wrong event and never did get to celebrate with Cherie Blair or Tim Minchin. However, this personal mishap did lead me to partake in what I can only describe as one of my finest culinary achievements as a freelance journalist.

The glitz and glamour of a press trip can never be adequated illustrated, but here is my evening meal of crisps, warm beer and a tin of olives.

Hopefully, MWC will return, I mean, I don’t really mind either way now that I’m not likely to return to the hard life of fulltime tech journalism, but it was a fun one in a beautiful city where tins of olives and warm beer are readily available and pickpockets and price gouging taxi drivers do it with a smile on their face.

Chris Brennan and I’m quoting here, “Important”

Here, writ large is another example of the problem* with digital – an interview I did with Twitter Tech Numbers Celebrity and Raconteur with a cool name Horace Dediu. Of course, I’m only referencing this because it is a good example of digital publishing problems and not because of the sub-head he gave this post. The sub-head, just in case you were wondering, is:

Chris Brennan asked a few important questions regarding potential saturation of the iPhone market.

Horace Dediu

It was for a piece in MacUser magazine, a feature on the future of Apple as I recall, Now, both the magazine and the website for MacUser are gone and therefore so is the interview**. For the avoidance of any doubt, I’m talking of the UK-based MacUser magazine and not that imposter and ne’er-do-well MacUser magazine from the United States that Felix Dennis sold to the Yanks for $1 BILLION*** and a bag of chips.

Both the US and proper UK version of MacUser are now Dodo-like, the only people who can read the interview are those who still have access to the printed magazine and, well, those with access to Deidu’s website. Which is emblematic of digital content. Once it’s out there it’s not yours anymore, not only is the author dead so is their intellectual property value. The dead tree version isn’t bringing in any revenue at all any more though so at least on that there’s some equality.

A short diversion. Funny story, I emailed HD (that’s what all his close good buddies call him, I guess) and asked him if he’d be willing to do an interview and given that I am a very polite young man, or was at least, young that is, I’m still polite, he agreed. I was delighted, he gave some good answers. Then, just before the magazine went to print he published it on his website. Fair enough I guess given that they were his words, but then it felt a bit weird as that didn’t normally happen, more traditional for the journalist to publish the piece before the interviewee does.

Turns out, it was good for me that he did break with tradition and publish the interview as it is now pretty much the only place you can read it. However, I guess my wider point is that aside from being able to flex my ego by quoting the sub-head he chose, is that the thing only exists because he chooses to keep it there and not because the original publisher wants it. Once his site goes, so does the interview. Digital is dead quick and dead, quick.

I do love the comments on this piece, naturally, as the comments are open to the great unwashed they are of the highest quality. I especially like the guy who on reading an article titled, and I’m paraphrasing here a touch ‘greatest questions I’ve ever been asked’ both criticise me for my choice of questions and praised HD for his answers as if the two are wholly unrelated.

*Not sure ‘problem’ is the right word, but then neither are any others so I stuck with it, you may sue me later.

** I am 52% certain the interview was also on the MacUser website, but I could be wrong.

***May not have been a billion.

A decade is a long time in digital, bricks and mortar…

To help stretch my current blogging interest in the longevity of digital, specifically publishing, but in reality anything, to its limit… I was invited by Amazon Photos this morning to remember where I was exactly a decade ago today.

Infinite Loop

I mean, it’s not there anymore either.

A passing thought about the changing nature of human memory when paired with digital devices entered my brain for a second, but the complexity of how that might manifest itself meant that my brain deleted it almost immediately.

But, as Phil Collins might say, seriously… What if digital, with its impression of permanence begins to affect the actual permanence of physical memory. You start to rely on Amazon photos to remind you where you were a decade ago, even sub-consciously, and then your actual memory starts to discard memory it would have normally kept. The digital memory turns up and woo great. Amazon fails to remind you and poof, memory gone. I guess that’s not really all that different to a physical photography, but with so much more of our day to day being digital and the increased reliance on that digital content store are we putting more of our memory at risk? A bit like the humans in the movie WALL-E but not a physical deterioration a mental one too.

I bet there’s some proper academic research along these lines too, but I’m far too busy and important to search that out so this unsourced stream of consciousness attached to a weak sauce excuse to remind myself I once went to Apple HQ will have to do.

Digital Decomposition

In my last post I mentioned that digital just disappears and that got me thinking about how I might be able to keep some of the digital things that I’d done. It’s weird that even at the first step of my own digital footprint, the stuff that I alone control the assets for, some of it is already gone.

I started to sift through the digital-only stuff I had created over the years and one of the first I came to was a presentation I gave at a ‘future of digital magazines’ event, website gone, ironically, at UAL: London College of Communications.

Basically, I have the slides for the Petchu-Kutcha and you can see them in that incredibly very annoying animated gif (hard G) that is cycling below. What’s gone though are my notes and though I memorise all my presentations before I give them, inevitably, the detail disappears from my memory and, sans notes, I’m afraid I couldn’t be 100% sure of what I said for, let’s say, the slide with ‘Distraction’.

I do know what I said for the Guttenberg slide as that got a nice laugh and I’m an absolute sucker for the pleasure of making a large group of people chuckle. I was saying that Guttenberg made the press to make money, not to please God or the church which is basically the same notion behind the Police Academy franchise.

However, other than a few emails back and forth between myself and the other contributors about subject choice and this keynote, that’s all that’s left. I think it may have been recorded, but I don’t think it ever made the light of day.

I do wonder if there’s any use in even attempting to understand what a realistically safe public digital archive with longevity might actually look like. Can anything that isn’t a huge, globally uniform, globally funded site work? And for what and who curates and who pays for that?

I do like the word disenthrall though. Still.

Some things I learnt when launching a doomed digital magazine for the iPad in 2011 but that do not necessarily apply only to that specific scenario or this would be a really weird post for what is basically a generalist site about anything that comes to mind and that does not always pay full attention to high-quality SEO targeting headlines. Mostly.

First. Failure leaves you if you let it. Success is nice and warm, like a favourite jumper, you can always put it on and make yourself feel better. It keeps you warm no matter the weather and even when the jumper has made that trip to the charity bag of middle-class guilt you can always reminisce about the warm fuzzy feeling it once gave. Failure is a bit like that goop you find at the bottom of the bin, that stuff you inevitably stick your hand in. Or, that baby nappy you’ve lifted the leg cuff of to check for content and, well, hot fire sewage comes to mind. It gets stuck under your nails, makes you retch, leaves you looking wistfully into the middle distance cursing the things that might have been. However, once you’ve washed your body in bleach, clipped your nails until they are bleeding from the tips and had an optician fix your middle-distance antimetropia then all of that stink and stink eye is but a middle-distance mirage.

B. It is possible to get everything right and to still have a negative outcome, but much more likely is getting about 50% right and the rest is just dumb chance and circumstance. Like, for a random example I’m pulling from thin air… you could have decided that a good day to launch your paid for issue is the same day that Apple decides to increase pricing tiers and that screws everything up and even so it is YEARS before you realise that actually the price increase had absolutely zero to do with download numbers really and it turns out people won’t pay for a digital magazine so you were worrying about completely the wrong thing. A complete lack of interest in iPad based digital magazines wasn’t an option in the ‘threats’ column. Lesson learned.

iii. Communicating your intention is much, much, much harder than you might think. Saying the same thing over and over and over again, might and I mean might help about 7% of people get on the same page as you, but honestly, the other 94% are just not interested or listening or that good at maths so detail that should, you’d think, stand out like a sore thumb goes unnoticed. And here I mean on your own team, not the generally interested passers-by, I mean the people in the car with you, some of whom may be driving or at least changing gears or tuning the radio. The very people who have bought in are on payroll are super enthusiastic. It’s not that they aren’t on the journey with you, it’s more they’ve all got the same Google maps location, but to a slightly different postcode. Some of them might even be using Apple maps so are completely, utterly, irredeemably lost.

Further: Picking the ‘right tools’ is about 1/10th of 1% of the process. Any good salesperson will tell you that it’s 99% of the thing, but honestly spending time worrying about how to get something done just gets in the way of getting something done. Pick a tool you like and use that. When Geoff, the guy who’s never publishing done anything original says “see, this is why you should have gone with a container app build on HTML5” tell Geoff to go fuck off to the far side of Fuck and when he’s found the mayor of Fuck Off town to keep going to Fuck Off street until it meets Keep Going Geoff Avenue and then turn left. But what if Geoff is experienced and knowledgable I hear you whisper, well, if Geoff truly is knowledgable and experienced he’ll give you better advice before not after and it will be based on options, not opinions. Even then, Geoff doesn’t have to be a dick about it is all I’m saying.

  • Digital is so brittle that the thing I created only 9 years ago is completely gone. One Google search for the title of the doomed digital magazine I made will bring back a legacy page on the publisher’s website that one day will too be gone – publisher and legacy page both. Honestly, the only thing left that I have are some emails and, I shit you not, some print outs of the first issue. Actual physical copies on A3 paper – the digital containers are unopenable. I don’t even have the drafts of the copy I wrote. This is not to say that my copy was worthy of remembrance, but rather that digital doesn’t decay it just dies and disappears. Gone. Go to the Halifax library, well, any library really, but the Halifax one is attached to the Piece Hall which is lovely, so go there. Ask the librarian for the microfilm copies of all the digital content they have and that librarian will look at you like you have lost your mind, then tell you to take a nice walk around the Piece Hall, it IS lovely after all. Seriously, I’m trying to labour the point even more heavily than is strictly necessary, but it’ll be easier for you to find the news from 1911 than 2011 in the Halifax library archive -everything digital is gone.

In conclusion

Failure stinks, but the smell goes away. The reasons something doesn’t work are very likely not the reasons you think are the reasons why something fails and only about a decade of reflection will help. Your vision isn’t as clear as you think it is and you need to bang on and on and on and on and on and on about it, then when you think people get the message you need to reiterate it over and over and over and over and over again. Tools are tools and you should pick one and use it. Digital is permanently temporary.

The Personal History of David Copperfield

It cost me forty-five quid to watch this movie. And, at the end, as the credits rolled, it wasn’t something I was obsessing over, so I guess all-in-all that must mean it’s a good movie. It is.

However, I can’t help thinking that this would have made a much better 6-part mini-series on BBC4 than a two-hour movie. There are so many lovely scenes, but it felt to me there could have been a lot more lovely scenes and the movie format couldn’t allow for them even at £45.

All the cast are great, the way the story flows through the scenery never gets messy or weird or jarring. Though I did want Malcolm Tucker Mr. Micawber to swear at the bailiffs a bit. Well, quite a lot really.

I do wonder if it might be of its time as a movie though – in a way that you watch it 3 times now and rave over it and then in five years watch it again and don’t maintain the same sense of joy or excitement. Even though you remember that feeling it’s like there’s something missing, somehow. I felt that way a bit after The Madness of King George. Watched it three times when it came out, loved it. Saw it again a few years later, didn’t like it half as much. What what!

So, it’s a fun escape – if you like Armarretto Averivaderci movies, TV shows or comedy output, you’ll like it too, all the punchlines are in all the right places and all the actors are acting at the right time. Jolly good show!

Though you may want to avoid the Vue at Leicester Square if you want to pay less than a king’s ransom to watch a movie and have some popcorn and a drink or you’ll end up as destitute as a third-act character in a loose movie adaptation of the fourth most popular Dickens novel.

1917

Of course, you’re supposed to like this film. Our brave boys, heroes led by donkeys, the misery of the trenches, The Battle of the Somme and all those other things. This is those and a long walk rolled into one two hour movie.

However, here’s the thing – this movie and the way it has been received, sits for me on the pre-built foundations and emotional labour of a fair few GCSE history teachers and other war movies when you strip that away you’re not left with much.

The story, true it may be, feels like a lazy Saving Private Ryan prequel. But then, the ‘tragedy’ that might unfold should they not reach their goal seems at odds with the wide narrative of this war. 1600 men might die, well, I guess, but 57,000 died on the first day of The Battle of the Somme so 1600, even if one of those is a brother of one of your men seems, well, forgive me, not a lot.

It’s not a bad film, by any stretch and there are some good action sequences, but then there are scenes that seemed so at odds with the overall that they brought me fully out of France and back to the slightly worn non-VIP seat at the Halifax Vue. The baby scene, for example, WTFBBQ? as the youth might say, the youth in the cinema were texting at this point in the movie so they could well have been asking this very question. What an utterly unnecessary and pointless waste of five minutes. Not a clue why any of that needed to be done – maybe it was truly what happened, but like an aside in a long story about your holiday to Greece that includes an uncle who once also visited the same place as you completely by coincidence, it had no bearing on the story. I also didn’t much care for the next scene where seemingly every Gemman with a rifle is the world’s worst shot. I mean, yeah, the drunk guy, but all the others missed? Hmm.

The circus end piece with our hero breaking in to deliver his orders was very Blackadder Goes Forth, but I’m not sure it was supposed to be. I think it was to be taken seriously. When Eggs Benedict delivers his “ahh well, we’ll all be dead tomorrow or the day after” speech, it feels glib and not at all like the actual truth of the matter. Yes, Colin Firth has decided to do the right thing, but we all know that those fellas coming back down into the trenches face certain death anyway. Life wasn’t saved death was merely postponed.

Film looks marvellous, sounds lovely, is a story about which one can draw no new conclusions – these were heroes lead by donkeys politicians, 1917 receives an inoffensively bland rating from me. Make of that what you wish.

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt8579674/

Shook – Between a rock and a light place

’For a writer, you held your nerve well.’

This is lovely. A love story more than a history. Can there be any greater vicarious feeling than the passion of others writ large? Tom Nancollas tells the story of the remaining rock lighthouses of the British Isles, like many of these types of ‘History of a thing’ books there’s facts and fiction interwoven with the unmistakable joy of an author able to realise the physical manifestation of a passion.

Like all good rom-coms about a man in love with a lighthouse, or, more accurately, several lighthouses, you’re kept waiting for the payoff. There’s an early foray, of course, all good romances need a misfire. A disused lighthouse near Liverpool is the author’s first journey inside a granite tower, but somehow, because the lighthouse isn’t active perhaps, it’s a relationship bound to disappoint, it looks right but feels wrong.

It was while he was being sort of disappointed in Liverpool that I thought to myself that were this book about a man retracing the last surviving members of a football team that won a cup or the lost stadia of football teams no longer in business it’d be quite famous, but as it’s about lighthouses you can sense a sniffiness in the air about the subject.

The payoff arrives eventually though and the final house is where our leading man finally sees the light at close quarters. I won’t ruin it for you, but if you’re the type of person who made it all the way through Notting Hill or Love Actually or Four Weddings and a Funeral then this book will have a familiar feel. That’s not specifically accurate, well, it’s not accurate at all really, but it fits in with the narrative I was so tortuously trying to shoehorn in.

Anyway, at the end, he gets to turn the theory and research into actual experience and that’s a joy because you see that jump off the page. I zipped through it and enjoyed every tidbit. You should buy a copy for the old man who has everything in your life.