Mixed media, Tuesday 19 October 2021

Oh so my last mixed media post was ten months ago? What can I say, it’s been a bit of a year. Sorry Dave.


3 books in 2021? It’s not that I’m not reading much; quite the opposite. It’s just that most of what I ingest these days is academic papers for my course. I’ve bought more books, but they’re kinda languishing on my bedside table.

  • ⭐️ Jason Fagone – The Woman Who Smashed Codes I’d come across the name William Friedman in books about codes and codebreaking before. This is a biography of his wife Elizebeth Smith Friedman, whose brilliant intellect and career would likely have surpassed William’s if it hadn’t been for, you know, patriarchy & shit.
  • ⭐️ Mick Herron – Slough House (UK domestic) spy thriller. Another good entry in the Jackson Lamb/Slough House series. Not sure if this is a great entry point for the series – there’s a lot of history in the characters now.
  • ⭐️ Kim Stanley Robinson – The Ministry For The Future With heat and flooding disasters becoming ever more intense and frequent around the world, this is a harrowing yet hopeful look at how a possible future could play out for us. It’s a very narrow way to thread the needle of the climate emergency, but it’s hard to provoke action without at least some hope.
  • Duncan Jones, Alex de Campi, et al. – MADI: Once Upon a Time in the Future Cyberpunk thriller. Set in the same universe as Duncan Jones’s films Moon and Mute. Unfortunately the story didn’t do anything for me, and I found the contrasting art styles, which changed every few pages, too jarring.
  • 💩 Robert Kirkham & Sean Phillips Marvel Zombies (omnibus edition) If you dig poor characterization, negligible plot, and any excuse to see superheroes punch each other ever-punchier punchiness – and zombies! then fine. But there are so many better (Marvel) comics out there.


  • ⭐️ Wolfwalkers Gorgeous animation.
  • 💩 Wonder Woman 1984 This could have been so much better. I found the CGI surprisingly janky, and the effects overall to be weightless and lacking impact. Character development, they’ve heard of it. The moral implications of Steve taking over that dude’s body? The worldwide implications of all this happening? It just felt like the whole film lacked consequence.
  • ⭐️ Palm Springs There are still fresh new stories to be told in the time loop sub-genre, and this is one of them. Funny, smart, and bittersweet.
  • ⭐️ The Artist And The Thief Beautifully humane story. There were parts that felt (or had to have been?) staged or re-filmed for the camera. But otherwise, just a fascinating documentary.
  • ⭐️ Ready of Not Fun little slasher flick.
  • 💩 Independence Day 2 Good effects, but that’s all.
  • Raya And The Last Dragon I found this fine, but not amazing. The story felt overly simple and the animation felt lacking in detail.
  • The New Mutants Predictable, but okay.
  • ⭐️ Paddington Joyous and sweet.
  • ⭐️ Paddington 2 Same as its predecessor, just lovely, with the right amount of cartoonish villainy.
Hard stare
  • ⭐️ Army Of The Dead Combine a heist movie with zombies? Sign me up! Shortly before seeing this, I’d watched a YouTube video about filming with ultra-fast lenses (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2p5E7iXxeQE) and I recognized some of the effect of that low-light, ultra-shallow depth of field in the cinematography of Army of the Dead. Really cool.
  • ⭐️ Zombieland: Double-TapA fairly straightforward sequel, but I enjoyed it.
  • ⭐️ Luca Pixar does cute fish people
  • ⭐️ Bill And Ted Face The Music This is not a good film, but…it somehow works? It’s like every performer was given the direction to act as over-the-top and cartoonishly as possible. But that fits the aesthetic. Also, it has its heart in the right place, in a completely non-cynical way.
  • ⭐️ Black Widow Not the best recent Marvel movie, but a great action romp nonetheless.
  • ⭐️ Flora & Ulysses Sweet and funny – what if superhero, but squirrel?
  • ⭐️ Boss Level Another take in the time loop subgenre, this time with an action movie twist. It has some videogame restart/continue flavour, but they don’t really lean into it. I also wasn’t expecting it to be as good as it was, but it’s a solid entry in the category! There’s a very weird scene in the middle where Naomi Watts and Mel Gibson bounce some dialogue off each other, but I’m pretty sure they weren’t on set at the same time for filming it. When they’re “together” in the same shot, one of them is always filmed from behind, which is probably a stanb-in. They’re never in the same shot with both their faces to camera at the same time. Once I noticed it, it felt very odd.
  • Jurassic World Big budget, lacklustre.
  • 💩 Monster Hunter Yeah, that wasn’t great.
  • F9 Alex and I decided to do a re-watch of the whole Fast & Furious saga before sitting down to F9. We did that in 2019 as well, but I think that once a decade might be enough. The original still holds up very well, and 2 Fast 2 Furious is always better than I remember it. But the rest is very variable, and I’d have to be in just the right mood. F9 is okay, I thought; Alex liked it better than me. The nod towards the characters being superheroes was funny. But somehow I’m willing to give “real” superhero films more of a pass on their physics than I could handle here. Also, Kea Wilson’s article “I Watched ‘F9’ So Other Bike/Ped Advocates Don’t Have To” is spot-on, and punctures a lot of bubbles. My appetite for more in the series has cooled, for now.
  • 💩 The Snowman Serial-killer detective thriller. Shit detective. Not thrilling.
  • ⭐️ The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf I haven’t read the books or played the videogame, but I enjoyed the first season of the TV show. This is a cool dive back into the past of the world. Good teaser for the next season of the show.
  • ⭐️ Cruella I enjoyed this, but I also enjoyed Fiona’s critique of it, which is that it perpetuates the trope of villainizing people with mental illness. (In this case, NPD.)
  • ⭐️ Free Guy What if the characters in videogames were alive? Not deep, just sufficiently smart and self-aware, funny and fun. Unusually, the addition of Taiki Waititi doesn’t make it any better.
  • 💩 Ode To Joy Clichéd and heavy-handed romcom.
  • Kate Tries to be stylish, slick, and cool, but falls short.
  • ⭐️ Papillon (2017) I haven’t seen the 1973 film with Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman, so I’m not comparing against a baseline, but I can’t help feeling that Rami Malek and Charlie Hunnam were trying to be a bit Hoffmanish and McQueenish? Regardless, I found it absorbing and pretty harrowing.

Episodic video (“TV”)

(You may spot that most of these are ⭐️ ratings. That’s because I tend to bail pretty quickly on the bad ones. I’m willing to sit through a mediocre movie, but I’m not going to sink 6+ hours into a TV show I’m not enjoying.)

  • ⭐️ Star Trek Discovery, season 3 Wasn’t sure where this was going to go after the time travel jump at the end of season 2, but it landed on its feet. Some fine new characters in the mix, new villains, new factions. Michael Burnham is still the worst starfleet officer, though. Captain or GTFO.
  • ⭐️ The Boys, seasons 1 & 2 Sociopath superhero subgenre, done well. Violent & irrevent. Gruesomely funny, but sufficiently serious to show that a world with superheroes would not be a utopia.
  • ⭐️ Wandavision Great conceit, arc, and finale. Some of the early episodes drag, though, and I don’t think I’d have the patience to re-watch it.
  • ⭐️ Lovecraft Country Fabulous blend of the uncanny and horrible, both supernatural and basely human. Pit there won’t be a second season.
  • ⭐️ Ted Lasso, season 1 I’d heard a lot of praise for this from Americans, and I was a bit worried it would be super cringe, but it isn’t. It’s just lovely. Funny and warm, with a lot of heart.
  • ⭐️ Agents of SHIELD, season 7 A wild helter-skelter of time travel to bring the show to a close (and tie it in to Endgame as well, good trick). Trying to remember all the character and plot references and callbacks was hard. But good.
  • ⭐️ Jett I couldn’t make up my mind if this was sex-positive and empowering, or misogynistic and exploitative. Leaning towards the former. The last few minutes of the first season seemed tacked-on to set up a second season that will never come.
  • ⭐️ The Falcon And The Winter Soldier, season 1 I liked them exploring the consequences of the Snap being reversed, and half a world of missing people reappearing after 5 years, but they could have gone deeper on this. I didn’t find the Flag Smashers very compelling as antagonists, but Falcon’s journey on the way to taking up Captain America’s shield was very worthwhile.
  • ⭐️ Sisyphus: The Myth Excellent big-budget Korean time travel thriller drama. Not nearly as mind-bending as Dark, but plenty of twists, and highly engaging characters.
Sisyphus: The Myth
  • 💩 Jupiter’s legacy Dreary and far too long. I appreciate the ageing superheroes theme figuring out how (or if) to hand the torch to the next generation, but it spends waaay too much time on backstory.
  • ⭐️ Love, Death and Robots, season 2 Neat sci-fi anthology.
  • ⭐️ Colony, season 3 I started watching season 3 knowing that the show was cancelled, and there would be no season 4. Even so, I found the world and the characters interesting enough to revisit. So many revelations in this season that set it up for more – a real pity it ended without a conclusion.
  • ⭐️ Mare of Easttown Excellent short-run detective mystery.
  • ⭐️ Loki, season 1 I hadn’t really expected this to set up for a season 2, but I’m here for it. Fun mix of comedy and time travel. Felt quite Doctor Who in parts. (Not necessarily in a complimentary way.)
  • ⭐️ Killing Eve, seasons 1-3 I came to this late, after everyone told me it was very good. It is, indeed, very good. I hadn’t expected it to be so (blackly) comedic, though. I’d thought it was being played more, ahem, straight.
  • ⭐️ War Of The Worlds (2019), seasons 1 & 2 Bleak, but good. The pacing is slow, but that fits the story. There’s no (well, few) kinetic moments, action scenes, or explosions. It’s pretty much all brooding character work and slow-burning horrific realizations set in a deserted, silent world where almost every human was wiped out in an instant. (Very post-pandemic.) I loved that it’s part English, part French – mixing languages made it feel more authentic, and all the more real for it. You’ll never look at those Boston Dynamics robot dogs again as anything other than straight-up murder machines.
  • Marvel’s What If? season 1 I wasn’t too sure about the first episode, but it settled into a groove with some nice one-shots, and the final three episodes make a tidy arc for the finale. A bit take-it-or-leave-it for me.
  • ⭐️ Legion, season 1 This is pretty much the antithesis of Marvel Zombies book. Yes, there is some punching, but it’s mostly about characters coming to terms with their powers, fears, and traumas, and trying to figure out what’s real in a world of telepathy, mind-control, and astral planes. I’ve got seasons 2 & 3 lined up.
Murder machine in a shopping trolley. This is the typical post-apocalyptic vibe for WotW 2019.


  • ⭐️ Control Loved this.
  • Forza Horizon 4 I played this last year when I was feeling nostalgic for Edinburgh at one point. The Edinburgh in the game is…odd. It’s Edinburgh-like, as if the developers had fed a bunch of photographs to an AI, and asked it to recreate the city based on the pictures. It warps and bends with just enough verisimilitude to make it mind-bendingly disorientating. Quite glad I didn’t buy this outright, but played it on a 1-month sub of Game Pass.
  • Gato Roboto another game I played on Game Pass. Amusing little black & white 2D Metroidvania kind of thing.
  • Destiny 2 Played a little bit of multiplayer with actual friends last year on the PS4, and then played a little more solo when I got my PS5 in April. I enjoy it for a while, but I haven’t had the patience to put the dozens of hours into it to to it justice. (Perhaps it just feels too endless to me — I like my games with a story that comes to a conclusion.)
  • ⭐️ Spider-Man: Miles Morales Okay, this is what I’m talking about. Story with a conclusion to it. Missions, collectibles, stealth, no shooting (I can pretend that I’m not killing all those goons), upgrades, and tons free-roaming swinging around a model of Manhattan that still isn’t quite the real thing, but comes closer than the warped Edinburgh of Forza. 100%, all trophies, etc. My kind of game.
  • ⭐️ Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart See above. 100% + all trophies again. Cartoonish action fun.


Haven’t been to any concerts in 2021, obviously, but I’ve still managed to tuck a few new artists under my belt. In particular, I’ve been listening to a heck of a lot of young Dutch artist Froukje recently. A few months ago there were posters up around the village advertising a music festival (online?) featuring lots of Dutch bands, and Froukje was heavily featured as one of the headliners. Her EP “Licht en Donker” is fantastic, and her latest single, “Niets Tussen” is a heartfelt bop.

Also getting quite into Eefje De Visser in the last week or so as well.

This is not a weight loss blog…

…but it’s a theme that comes up from time to time.

It’s perhaps not surprising that it comes to the fore when I have occasion to be dealing with photos. Back in 2006 I joked about the “Flickr Diet“. (Remember Flickr? It still exists. No longer owned by Yahoo. Somehow I still have a “pro” account there.) In 2016 I hit the same feeling as I was trying to consolidate my various photo repositories. In 2018 I got our APS photos digitised (easy), and a couple of weeks ago I got Trigger in Amsterdam to scan 30 envelopes of 35mm negatives from the 80s and 90s. (These are not all our 35mm negatives — just some of the easy ones. We’ve still got a box of mixed prints and negatives. Back in the day, when you ordered reprints, it was very easy for the film strips to get separated from their origins.)

It would have been easy enough to just file away those old photos and not look at them again, if only I hadn’t bought myself a new iPad last month. The iPad I’d been using before was Abi’s old original iPad Air from 2013 or 2014, which was no longer getting software updates and had stopped being able to run certain apps. I got myself a new low-end “basic” iPad. That’s all I need, but of course it comes with all the new OS features like widgets. I put the Photos widget on my home screen, and now I find myself looking at old photos and “memories” slideshows almost every time I pick it up.

Here’s the problem: in those old photos, I look a) happier, b) younger, c) thinner.

Do I look happy here?

The happier element is, in part, an illusion. “Don’t compare your backstage to someone else’s on-stage” This applies to one’s self across time just as well. Past Martin is a different person, with different desires, needs and priorities than present Martin. And photos of him are snapshots in time, when he was putting on a smile for the camera regardless of what was going on in his life at the time. Like the Cheshire Cat, the smile sticks around long after the rest of its self has disappeared.

(Only in part, though. The last few years haven’t exactly been a wellspring of delight, but, you know, we’re working on it.)

The younger element is to be expected, I suppose. And the thinner part, well. I guess we’re back here again.

One recipe for successful goal achievement is to combine sufficient motivation with a sense of self-efficacy to make the project feel achievable. It’s a push-pull kind of thing. Even so, environment and circumstances play a significant part as well — not everything is within our control. (The classic “means, motive, opportunity” triangle.)

Last year I reflected on the fact that my weight has gone up and down in the past, and it will likely go up and down in the future. I feel comfortable with the idea that I’ve lost weight before, and I can do it again. However, I haven’t felt much motivation to do so recently, and the circumstances of the pandemic, as well as work and family factors, have had me prioritizing other aspects of my physical and mental health.

There have been other lifestyle/diet changes that I’ve been able to make successfully and (I think) easily make since 2018, specifically: eating a vegetarian diet and not drinking alcohol. I think that motivation and short-term feedback are the differences between these two changes, and losing weight. In giving up meat, I felt (and feel) a strong motivation to not have animals killed for my food. (Give me time to deal with eggs and cheese.) Giving up alcohol was motivated by the short-term feedback loop of feeling physically poisoned the next day after even a single glass of wine or whisky the previous evening.

In both cases, these changes felt like examples of “changing my relationship with food” in a qualitative sense rather than a quantitative sense. Past successful diets for me have mostly been calorie-counting affairs, which, perhaps, have mentally felt like things I would do for a while and then go back to some kind of normal, rather than permanent “I will never do this again” changes. The Atkins/low-carb diet was an interesting outlier: it was successful in terms of bringing about weight loss, but not successful as a long-term change because I have no intention of giving up bread for life.

Right now, spurred by confronting my younger, thinner self on a regular basis (he has a jawline rather than a jawsmudge, the bastard) I’m toying with the idea of trying a 5:2 or another intermittent fasting diet. Not because I think it holds a magical answer; Seimon et al.’s (2015) systematic review suggests that it works, but it’s not substantially more or less effective than other weight loss methods. However, psychologically, I might find it easier to follow an unambiguous “it’s Tuesday, I don’t eat on Tuesdays” schema than to persist with an “only so much but not more” pattern.

It might work, I don’t know! It’s 16:00 so far and I’m feeling hungry, but I’ve managed to avoid making myself a sandwich or grabbing one of the rowies I bought in Stonehaven yesterday. We’ll see.

Long projects and mastery experiences

Marcin Wichary wrote a terrific article a couple of months ago about getting rid of Moiré patterns from scanned photographs (via Andy Baio). It’s a great visual exploration of the intersection between art and mathematics. But the point that Marcin gets to at the end of the article, and which has stuck with me, is about the nature of mastery experiences:

I’ve always had this theory that any long-term project requires two ingredients: things you’re good at, and things you want to learn. The first group gives you a feeling of accomplishment and mastery. The other one? It keeps things interesting.

When coming to a large project without some things you’ve already mastered, the entire endeavour can feel overwhelming. But without anything new to look forward to, it can become stale and repetitive.

Or here’s another lens: When you’re facing one of the many hard moments, something you’re good at can help you feel awesome. But when you’re bored, something new to learn can remind you how there’s more to life than feeling awesome all the time.

Marcin Wichary, “Moiré no more”

This ties directly to Albert Bandura’s concept of self-efficacy. Simply put, self-efficacy is the belief that you are able to take control of a situation or project, and achieve a certain goal. Perhaps you don’t have the skills to do it right now, but your past experiences, your emotional state, and the social support available to you lead to you think that you will be able to get there. Satisfying mastery experiences like the one Marcin describes here are essential to reinforcing your sense of self-efficacy. (And in the opposite case, a diminished sense of personal efficacy is a hallmark of multiple models of burnout.)

(Note that self-efficacy is not the same as self-confidence. One way to describe the difference is that self-efficacy is the belief in yourself, while self-confidence is the strength of that belief, and an indication of your ability to project that belief to yourself and others. Whether the belief and the projection are justified, and how they’re perceived, are different matters…)

This resonates with me a lot right now. As a manager, one of my responsibilities is to ensure that my team get the opportunities to gain mastery experiences, and to help them reflect on those experiences to increase their sense of self-efficacy.

But…as of a couple of weeks ago I’m not a manager any more. The engineer/manager pendulum has swung the other way for me. It’s been a couple of years since I spent full days embedded in code, and my skills are rusty. I’m bumping up against exactly what Marcin described in his article: things that I’ve done in the past (efficacy), and things I’d like to learn about for the future (motivation). My sense of efficacy feels reasonably solid; my motivation is…complicated, but I don’t think that’s unusual. On balance it feels like this is the right thing for me at this time. Which is just fine.