Security question sadness

Not only does United Airlines require a set of security questions — which security experts have literally been advising against for decades now — but they actually manage to weaken the secret question system itself by not letting you choose your own answer. You can only pick from a pre-approved list of answers:

United’s security “enhancements”

I can’t even.

(PS, FYI: document.getElementById('Questions_0__AnswerKey').options[Math.floor(Math.random()*document.getElementById('Questions_0__AnswerKey').length)].text)

Mixed Messages, 28 February 2016

These browser tabs won’t close themselves, you know.

Short film Uncanny Valley on Vimeo:

Bill Wurtz’s History of Japan:

Every Frame a Painting: Joel & Ethan Coen – Shot | Reverse Shot. I love this series.

Mixed Media, Sunday 28 February 2016

I’ve been listening to School of Seven Bells since 2009. Their song “Half Asleep” was one of my favourite tracks of that year. I hadn’t been following them closely, though, and I didn’t realize that co-founder Benjamin Curtis had died in 2013. Their new album SVIIB will be their last. It’s a wrap-up of recordings made in 2012 before Curtis’s death, and polished to perfection in the time since. Alejandra Deheza’s statement on their home page:

Friends, Benjamin and I wrote this record during a tour break in the summer of 2012. I can easily say that it was one of the most creative and inspired summers of our lives. What followed was the most tragic, soul shaking tidal wave that life could deliver, but even that wouldn’t stop the vision for this record from being realized. This is a love letter from start to finish. It’s the story of us starting from that first day we met in 2004, and that’s the story of School of Seven Bells. So much love to all of you. Thank you for being a constant light in our lives. This record is for you.

The album was only released here in the Netherlands on Friday, but they release the opening three tracks, “Ablaze”, “On My Heart”, and “Open Your Eyes” early. I’ve been listening to them for weeks, and they’re stunning. “Ablaze” is a soaring power pop masterpiece. The looped chant that runs through “On My Heart” haunts my waking hours. And I swear that “Open Your Eyes” will be used as the go-to soundtrack for heartbreaking departure and hospital montages in romantic/tragic films and TV shows for years to come.

I haven’t watched any films in the last couple of weeks, which is a rarity. I have, however, raced through season 7 of Criminal Minds, and have just got started on season 8. I’m enjoying it, while at the same time being concerned about how it normalizes the idea that law enforcement can and should have every detail of people’s lives at their fingertips. Phone records, medical histories, sealed criminal records — it’s all available for techno-oracle Penelope Garcia to query and correlate whenever the hunt is on. The show doesn’t question this at all. That’s fine, because it deliberately chooses to address a different set of themes. But every now and then it’s worth taking a step back and realizing that Criminal Minds is actually a dystopian dark fantasy, rather than a present-day police prodecural.

Issue #14 of Sex Criminals was disappointing. The script spun its wheels, and even talked about spinning its wheels in a comedy meta-sequence in the middle of the issue. The punchline didn’t make up for the missing heart of the narrative. Zdarsky’s art felt hurried, with less attention to detail than normal. Hmm.

I got Rise of the Tomb Raider for my birthday last year, and finished it last weekend. It’s a gorgeous game. Towards the end, I found myself torn between wanting to race to the conclusion, and trying to do as many of the side missions and acquire as many of the skill points as possible, because I knew I would never replay it after I finished the main story. Ultimately I favoured getting to the end with only an 84% completion rate. Even so, the last couple of hours felt like a slog: another set piece fight scene? Another jaw-dropping location I have to race through? Overall, still pretty good. It makes me even more excited about the upcoming Uncharted 4.

Halsey at Melkweg The Max, Friday 26 February 2016

I first heard Halsey on Zane Lowe’s show on Beats 1 in September of last year. In the CET time zone, we get the show early in the morning, between 7 and 8. I listen to it while I’m preparing Alex and Fiona’s lunch boxes. I have my iPad mini perched on top of Abi’s red coffee machine while I’m bagging up sandwiches and snacks. “Drive” came on, with the sounds of a car starting and a haunting six-note theme that repeats throughout the song and is never resolved. I was entranced. There are only a few songs that bring back such a strong memory of the time I first heard them: Loneliness Shines by Malcolm Middleton on a late night drive through Dollar in Scotland; Hide and Seek by Imogen Heap on a drive home from work along the Edinburgh bypass from the Gyle to Gilmerton, just past the ski slope. I’m amused by the fact that “Drive” is another one, when those others happened while I was driving.

So I started listening to the rest of the album Badlands and pointed it out to Fiona, who listened to it and loved it as well. By the time we were both completely sucked in, and checked to see if she was touring near us, it was too late – her gig at Melkweg (which had already been moved from the Oude Zaal to the larger-capacity The Max) was sold out. So once again I got us after-market tickets. After the fun experience of bringing one of Fiona’s friends with us to see Taylor Swift, I got three tickets for Halsey so that Fiona could bring someone along again.

Fiona’s last few concerts (Imagine Dragons, Dotan, Fall Out Boy, Taylor Swift) have all been at huge venues. The great thing about smaller venues like Melkweg is how close you are to the artists. We were keen to get to the gig early (doors open at 19:00, opening act Børns at 19:30, Halsey at 20:40) so that we could be very close to the front. (Fiona is stretching out as a teenager, but we’re in the land of the Tall People.) We picked up her friend at 18:30 and drove to Amsterdam. I had booked a parking place at Byzantium, just near the Leidseplein.

After parking just after 19:00, the three of us walked to Leidseplein where I stopped at an ATM. I noticed a long line of people stretching past the front of the Stadsschouwburg. I assumed that they were queueing up for the theatre, but no. As we crossed the square in the direction of Melkweg, we noticed people wearing Halsey shirts, and discovered that the line went all the way from Melkweg to the far side of the Stadsschouwburg. I was shocked, because I’m used to places like Melkweg and Paradiso still being half-empty while the opening act is on stage, but Fiona really had the wind knocked out of her. The queue was moving very slowly, and she wasn’t convinced we would even make it inside by the time of the concert, let alone get a place where a non-tall person could get a good view. With that size of a crowd, there was no way we would have been at the front even if we had arrived twenty minutes earlier.

We stood around quietly in the cold for a while, shuffling forward a few meters every few minutes. I was sure we’d get in, but when 19:25 passed and we had only just rounded the corner of the Schouwburg, I didn’t think we’d catch any of Børns’ set. To our great relief, that was when Melkweg crowd control showed up. Turns out that Taylor Davis was playing the Sugar Factory opposite Melkweg that night, and the two queues trying to squeeze down a crowded Lijnbaansgracht had merged into one confused whole. They moved the Taylor Davis crowd to the other side of the street so that the Halsey crowd could get through. It only took us a couple of minutes to get in after that. Judging by the mounds of food and drink debris near the railings outside the Melkweg doors, I think some fans must have been queueing up there all afternoon to get in as soon as the doors opened.

Fiona and her friend brightened with excitement as soon as crowd control cleared our way. We had a tense couple of minutes when we discovered there was no way we’d get a good view from the back of the crowd at ground level. We made our way up to the left balcony, and found a few spaces where the girls could push themselves up high enough to see over the people who had bagged the premium balcony spots, and have a reasonable sight line to the stage. I’m a head taller, so it was easier for me. It still wasn’t great, but it would do.

Børns came on at about 19:50. They played “Seeing Stars” as an opener, which has a solid pop beat and made a good impression. The rest of the set, of which I only recognized “American Money” and “Electric Love” also seemed to go down well. With Børns’ tall, skinny, long-haired looks, I couldn’t get away from the impression that Dr. Spencer Reid had got his groove together and formed a band.

After Børns there was a break for the crew to set up the stage, and for us to visit the super-quiet merch stand. (We didn’t all go at once — we didn’t want to lose our places. Neither did anyone else.) Ten minutes before 21:00, the lights went down to much excitement, but Halsey didn’t come on quite yet. The sound desk played a couple of anthem songs that the crowd sang along to: “Tear in my Heart” by Twenty One Pilots and “Sorry” by Justin Bieber. (Note: I didn’t recognize these songs at all. I had to ask Fiona for advice here!) And finally, shortly after 21:00: Halsey.

Wow. I’ve been to a fair few concerts at Melkweg and Paradiso, but I’ve never seen that level of fan adulation at such a small venue. Almost everyone sang along to almost every lyric. Every song was greeted with rapturous screams. Her songs speak to her fans in a deeply personal way. One of the biggest cheers came between songs, when she told the audience, “I see all of you.” When the gig was over, I saw young women crying as they walked to the exit. On our way out, we saw at least a hundred fans surrounding the tour buses parked on the Lijnbaansgracht, waiting around to catch a glimpse of Halsey on her way to her next gig. I don’t think I’ll see her in a venue of this size again.

She put on a great show. Halsey projects a magnetic, powerful, yet relatable personality in a self-confidend package on stage. She doesn’t have many moves, but she has enormous presence. Her supporting band stuck to the background, with no spotlight or attention. They were almost as much part of the backdrop as the excellent video wall behind the stage. In fact, some of the most memorable visuals were when the band was silhouetted against the hard blue light of the video wall during “Colors II”, which they played as the warm-up to the big finale “Colors”. It was one of the best concerts I’ve been to where I’ve had such a poor view. (The photos are from me holding my arm out as far as I could.)

Set list:

  1. Gasoline
  2. Hold me Down
  3. Castle
  4. Strange Love
  5. Haunting
  6. Roman Holiday
  7. Control
  8. Drive
  9. Ghost
  10. Is There Somewhere
  11. Hurricane
  12. New Americana
  13. Colors pt II
  14. Colors
  1. Young God

Mixed Media, Saturday 13 February 2016

At some point over the Christmas holiday I binge-watched the science fiction series Helix on Netflix (both seasons) and then promptly forgot about it until I read Charlie Jane Anders’ article “16 Great Unsung TV Shows of the Past Few Years That Everybody Should Watch” on io9 the other day. No, Helix isn’t one of the unsung shows — I just happened to remember that I’d watched it. I enjoyed the first season a lot more than the second. It’s completely bonkers. The second season tries to recapture the feeling of isolation, paranoia, and layer upon layer of secrets, lies, and mysteries. I would have liked it better if it had tried a different formula.

The article mentioned Person of Interest, which I last sampled back in March of last year. io9 helpfully published a guide to which episodes of the first season you should skip. I think I got stuck on the early episodes. Knowing that other people dismiss those episodes as not characteristic of the rest of the show makes me feel better about giving it another try.

Another series I stalled on was Luther. I watched the first episode last year, and enjoyed it, but the second episode didn’t grab me. I felt like some more police procedural in my life last month, so I picked it up again from the start. Damn, it’s good. I can see why the second episode of season one didn’t grab me, but the further you get into it, the better it gets. Last year Anthony Horowitz caused a controversy by calling Idris Elba “too street” to be James Bond. But now I can’t get an Idris Elba Bond out of my head. I think he would be amazing.

Having finished Luther, I wanted even more crime drama, so I picked up Criminal Minds again. I had got stuck about half-way through season 6 last year. Last week I resumed at “What Happens At Home…” and “25 to Life”, and enjoyed them a lot. The whole Ian Doyle storyline kicks off a few episodes later, and it’s a ridiculous roller-coaster again. Ridiculous, but very entertaining, and I love the characters.

Ian Rankin’s latest book, Even Dogs in the Wild is excellent. I like the crossover blend of his characters Rebus and Malcolm Fox.

Injection by Warren Ellis, Declan Shalvey, and Jordie Bellaire is satisfyingly weird. Last time I was in Edinburgh I also picked up issues 4 and 5 of Paper Girls, which finishes the first story arc. Love the artwork, but the story feels thinner than I’m used to from Brian K. Vaughan. I think I’ll wait until the collection edition of volume 2 arrives rather than picking it up every month.


  • American Ultra was bad. It should have been a comedy action film, but it tries to address serious themes as well. Oops. It ends up as a confused muddle that is neither funny nor insightful.
  • A Most Violent Year: wow. The trailer makes it look like a stylish and thoughtful mafia/gangster period piece. And it is, kind of. The characters appear superficially familiar from countless organized crime dramas, but the hard choices they make in desperate circumstances defy cinematic stereotypes. Big thumbs up from me.

Wolf Alice at Paradiso, Thursday 11 February 2016

wolf alice at paradiso

The last couple of gigs I’ve been to were both at the Ziggo Dome (Dotan and Imagine Dragons). Being back at Paradiso was like coming home. I love that place. And what a gig to come home to. Wolf Alice have built a reputation as an exciting live band, and they certainly lived up to it. “Your Loves Whore” was epic, “Moaning Lisa Smile” brought down the house, and everything inbetween was amazing. (Except maybe “Swallowtail” I could have skipped that one.)

  1. Your Loves Whore
  2. Freazy
  3. Bros
  4. Lisbon
  5. 90 Mile Beach
  6. Silk
  7. The Wonderwhy
  8. Storms
  9. You’re a Germ
  10. Swallowtail
  11. Fluffy
  12. She
  13. Moaning Lisa Smile


  1. Turn to Dust
  2. Blush
  3. Giant Peach

Just like Imagine Dragons, I first came across Wolf Alice in 2013 — specifically their song “Bros”. But it was a different version of the song than the version that ended up on My Love Is Cool. You can’t find that early version in places like Spotify or iTunes, now, either — you have to go hunting for it on other download sites. When I first heard the album version, I thought it sounded too polished, and I preferred the single. Now that the album version is the one I play all the time, the original sounds unfinished, and I prefer the album cut. Curious.