BMW Films

If you have a broadband connection, or if you’re willing to tie up your phone line for a good few hours, head over to In 2001, BMW funded a series of short films, collectively called “The Hire”, as a branding exercise. They pulled in directors like John Frankenheimer, Tony Scott, John Woo, and Ang Lee, and put together a fantastic collection of 8-minute slices of Beemer Lovin’, filled with intrigue, car chases, and Clive Owen. Clive plays “The Driver” in all of the films. Cracking stuff. (Via Tagliners)

Matchbox Twenty Concert, Glasgow SECC, 4 Sep 2003

Scott and I went to see Matchbox Twenty at the Glasgow SECC yesterday evening. The Scotsman critic gave them a panning:

“Well, the 40-somethings who politely took their seats in the half-full venue bopped along obediently, but for non-devotees it was hard to distinguish between pop music and the lame sound of watered-down 1970s-inspired rock disappearing into its own bloated guitar solo. “

Uh, did she go to a different gig? It wasn’t sold out, true, but from where we were sitting, I could only see tiny patches of free seats, and the bulk of the audience seemed to be made up of late-teenage girls and twentysomethings. I can see her point about the crowd “bopping along obediently,” though. Rob Thomas did a practised job of persuading us that we were a good audience, but to the crowd did feel lukewarm and flat.

The sound was indistinct and lacking in separation. I noticed it especially with Paul Doucette’s (funky clear perspex) drums. The bass was deep and loud, resonating in my chest. His two snares were crisp and tight, but the cymbals were dull and vague. I could barely hear his ride unless the rest of the band was going through a quiet patch–and Doucette is quite an energetic hitter.

Nevertheless, I had a great time. Unlike the Scotsman, I like Matchbox Twenty, and they played a set to satisfy any fan. Most of the material was from their latest album, More Than You Think You Are (they played all but one of the songs from the album), but they also played a selection of earlier material, and even a very pretty cover version of Cyndi Lauper’s Time After Time. They mixed up the pace a lot; there wasn’t any section that was consistently up-tempo or downbeat. Because they never built the show up to a proper climax, this may have contributed to the lack of fizz in the audience. But that’s the nature of the band. They’re equally comfortable with energetic rock as they are with slow, moody and melancholy tunes.

And besides, I just get a kick out of watching live music at all.

Set list:

  1. Feel
  2. Real World
  3. All I need
  4. Soul
  5. Disease
  6. Could I Be You
  7. Cold
  8. 3 A.M.
  9. Hand Me Down
  10. If You’re Gone
  11. Bright Lights
  12. Bent
  13. Hang
  14. Unwell
  15. Back 2 Good
  16. Downfall
  17. You’re So Real
  18. encore: Time After Time (Cyndi Lauper)
  19. The Difference, part 2
  20. Long Day
  21. Push

The fashion-conscious geek

I rarely enjoy shopping for clothes. I like having nice clothes, and I enjoy wearing them, but I hate the time it takes to choose them. I was raised in South Limburg, the southernmost tip of the Netherlands, where the people are naturally stylish, and where they add fashion sense to the drinking water instead of fluoride. But I’m also a geek. Geeks (or nerds) have inner “anti-fashion” demons whispering to us whenever we enter a clothing shop. “Does it hide your nipples and gonads? Yes. Does it cut off the blood to your legs? No. Great. Now lay down the cash so we can hit the computing section in the bookshop next door!”

I like Levi’s. I like the cut of Hugo Boss suits (their web site sucks, though). I like a nicely tailored pair or Ralph Lauren trousers, and the crisp feel of a Thomas Pink shirt. But do I want to pay twice or three times the cost of a normal garment just to sport a brand label? Holy crap no.

I’m therefore always delighted to find something that fulfils the four criteria of the fashion-conscious geek:

  • It looks good
  • It looks good on me
  • It doesn’t cost the earth
  • It’s available off-the-peg in the first shop I visit

I found two such items last week: a pair of classic blue Converse All Star sneakers, and a plain demin jacket. I can’t believe I’ve never owned either of these before. The All Stars are comfortable like slippers. They are the timeless sneakers: relaxed footwear that is effortlessly stylish.

As for the denim jacket, I passed by the £70 Levi’s jacket in favour of a £25 off-brand. Cheap! I’m not going to claim that it looks the same as the Levi’s version, because it doesn’t. Any denim jacket connoisseur will instantly see that it doesn’t have a trendy label. But my one doesn’t try to go beyond the archetypal denim jacket by adding excess frills, zips, clever pockets, or decorative seams. It has the same kind of elegant simplicity as the All Stars.

The jacket and shoes also look great together, combined with a T-shirt and a pair of chinos or cargoes. As soon as I bought them, I knew they weren’t going to be part of my wardrobe–they were going to be part of me.

The true test for the clothes came as we were passing through Schiphol airport over the weekend. Anyone who spends a lot of time in European international airports knows the game of Nationality Spotting: trying to figure out what country a passing stranger comes from. After a while you develop a sense for the way people from different countries look. You start to recognize the characteristic genotypes, the way they dress, and the way they style their hair. It’s generally pretty easy to tell the British from the Dutch, the French from the German, and the Americans from everyone else. It gets more difficult when you have to distinguish between the Dutch and the Germans, or the Spanish and the Italians, but a talented Nationality Spotter can get pretty good over time.

The staff at Schiphol airport are all professional players. If you look like you’re Dutch, they will start speaking to you in Dutch. Otherwise, they will start speaking in English. (Unless they happen to tag your origins and also speak your native language. Not uncommon.) Even if you then turn around and reply in Dutch, they may continue to speak in English, just in case you have learned some stock replies (like “dankuwel” for “thank you”, etc.) and don’t have any further depth.

I usually get addressed in English. Being genetically Scottish through and through, and living and shopping and getting my hair cut in Scotland, it’s pretty hard to avoid looking like anything other than a Brit. But this time round, I managed to get spoken to in Dutch every time! Yay!

I understand that this may sound like an absurdly small victory, in a non-existant contest of surpassing pettiness, but it matters to me. I lived in The Netherlands from 1978 to 1989. Since then, I have been back only rarely. My Dutch skills are very rusty. My knowledge of Dutch current affairs is virtually nonexistent. I have neglected a large part of my upbringing–a large part of myself.

It’s only in the last few months that I have come to realize that I really miss the Netherlands, and the side of me that is Dutch. So what has changed?

I’ve got my High School reunion coming up at the beginning of October.

I’ll be writing more about this soon.

Related Links

Hugo Awards 2003

Around this time each year, the World Science Fiction Convention (“Worldcon”) takes place. It touches down in a different city each year. The last one we attended was Bucconneer, in Baltimore in 1998. Before then, we went to Intersection in Glasgow in 1995, and I attended ConFiction in Den Haag in 1990. This year, the event was called Torcon 3, and it took place in Toronto. (We didn’t go. We were visting friends and food in the South of The Netherlands instead.)

Worldcon is also where the Hugo Awards are announced. The Hugos are the “audience awards” of the science fiction world. Publishers like to tout their Hugo-winning authors. People who have not heard of an author might pick up a book that has “winner of the Hugo award” splattered over its cover. For people who didn’t attend the conference itself, the awards are one of the biggest pieces of news to emerge from it. You’d think that they’d maybe put the results up on the front page of their web site, wouldn’t you?

Okay, say they didn’t put up the results on the front page. Say the results are stuck on a page somewhere deeper in the site. Surely they’d have a link to it right on the home page! Surely?

Hello–2003 calling Torcon! Anyone home? Anyone heard of content management systems? Blogs? Personal publishing tools?

The SF community has embraced fanzines and mini-publishing totally. SF fans love getting together for cons. We love hanging out on the Internet in chat rooms, on Usenet, IRC and bulletin boards. Given the sheer volume of geeks and netheads involved in SF fandom, how is it possible for Worldcon web sites to be so uniformly rubbish?

I complained about this last year as well, and nothing has changed in the intervening period:

  • 2002: ConJosé. (Okay, so they did eventually put a link to the Hugos on their front page.)
  • 2003: Torcon 3. (Framesets…argh.)
  • 2004: Noreascon 4.
  • 2005: Interaction. (Ooh, pebble texture background…very 1997!)

At least Noreascon 4 has a blog. But do you notice any difference between the main site and the blog? Something to do with clarity of design, readability, timeliness of information? Is there some kind of WSFS rule that says you’re not allowed to use a graphic designer to put together a set of page templates? Some bizarre bylaw that makes information architecture and user testing a punishable offense?

The simple, old-fashioned HTML isn’t about accessibility, either, as the frameset design for Torcon 3 does a great job of preventing useful navigation for anyone without a frames-capable browser.

Yet it’s perfectly possible for sites to be accessible, well-structured, and good-looking–all at the same time! Good visual design isn’t child’s play, but it’s not rocket science. Usability testing can be done simply and quickly. Simplicity of design can be combined with depth and breadth of information and interaction.

It’s not too much to ask, is it?

(Oh, and about the actual results for the 2003 Hugos: Robert J. Sawyer’s Hominids won the award for best novel. I haven’t read it yet, but some of the comments about it make me ambivalent about starting.)