Mixed Media, Monday 26 October 2015

In Edinburgh again. Ho hum.

I bought the first two issues of Bitch Planet separately when they first came out, but then I missed #3. Yesterday on my way from Waverley to my B&B, I popped in to Forbidden Planet and bought the volume 1 collected edition.

Later in the afternoon I walked out to Fort Kinnaird, and was helped at the snacks counter of the Odeon by a young woman with a Non-Compliant tattoo on her bicep. I complimented her on it, and she was pleased that I knew what it was.

The film I went to see was The Last Witch Hunter, which isn’t nearly as bad as the critics’ consensus suggests. It’s not great, and Michael Caine in particular gives one of the least inspired performances of his career, but for a couple of hours of save-the-world urban fantasy? You could do a lot worse. I like Vin Diesel, and I’m inclined to give him a pass on minor missteps.

Other recent watchings:

  • Spy: A fine addition to the unlikely-secret-agent-saves-the-day action comedy sub-genre. Melissa McCarthy is great as the agent; Jason Statham and Peter Serafinowicz both put in gloriously over-the-top performances as her comedic foils.
  • The Martian: I loved the book, and a the film is an excellent adaptation. I’m not sure if it’s an essential companion work. Its depiction of Mars and space is good, but not groundbreaking. Which is fine, because it’s all about the characters anyway.
  • Solaris: Finally found a Steven Soderbergh film I don’t like.
  • Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials: I liked this better than the first film. Considering it’s the middle film in a trilogy, I was pleasantly surprised.
  • Under the Skin: What the fuck?
  • Enemy: What the fuck?? Don’t watch these two films back-to-back. Seriously. Don’t.
  • Ex Machina: Very smart film exploring the some of the uncomfortable edges of AI in a classically hard science fictional way.
  • Side Effects: Classy, tense thriller with excellent twists.
  • Battle: Los Angeles: Why did I watch this? Why did I finish watching this?
  • Harold & Kumar go to White Castle: I was expecting this to be silly and crude, but it also manages to be smart and subtle at the same time. I liked it a lot.
  • Suits (seasons 1-3): A good show about some awful people.
  • Gravity Falls (season 1): Brilliant.



My hotel room tried to kill me last night.

It’s Edinburgh in October, so it’s cold. There was an extra blanket in the wardrobe, and I put it over the bed before I went to sleep. I woke up an hour later wheezing and sneezing, with puffy eyes, and a furiously scratchy throat. The blanket felt like wool, but I reacted to it like it was horse hair. Fortunately I travel with a good supply of antihistamines. I opened the window wide and spent an hour flushing my lungs before I could breathe cleanly enough to get back to sleep. The blanket stays in its cave tonight, and I just sleep with my socks and sweater on.

Mixed media, Sunday 23 August 2015

I’ve surprised myself by actually having read a few books over the last couple of weeks:

  • High Crimes by Christopher Sebela and Ibrahim Moustafa. Intense thriller. I knew from reputation that it was dark, but it was even darker than I had anticipated. Genuinely classic noir.
  • The Martian by Andy Weir. Great story, well told. Classic “scientist as hero” science fiction that runs at a super fast pace. It’s all action (survival action rather than fight scenes), with no filler.
  • Field of Prey by John Sandford. An excellent episode in the series.
  • Not strictly a book, but Tim Urban’s latest post on WaitButWhy.com, “How (and Why) SpaceX Will Colonize Mars” is a fun read. It’s essentially SpaceX propaganda / Elon Musk fanfic, but I’m happy buying in to the whole space exploration thing, so I’m okay with that. I would love to personally see the earth from space some day. As far as I’m concerned, Go Elon Go!


  • Maleficent: Slightly sub-meh.
  • Magic Mike: Until recently I hadn’t spotted that this was directed by Steven Soderbergh. It was only when I read a couple of reviews that compared the sequel to the original that I caught on to the fact that – aside from the raucous stripping scenes – this is a melancholy film, reflecting on how easy it is to accidentally give up on your dreams, while you think you’re busy pursuing them. Very good.
  • Fast & Furious 7: Bonkers, but in a good way. Runs too long, though, especially the final sequence in LA.


Limetown is a new 7-part podcast that starts off as investigative recent-historical reportage, but quickly moves into the realm of science-fiction suspense. (It’s fiction, cleverly disguised as reality.) The first episode is very good. Next one due in September.


As well as 99% Invisible, I’ve added the Accidental Tech Podcast to my weekly listening. It’s soothingly geeky.


I’m going to see TV On The Radio at Paradiso tomorrow. They had to cancel the European leg of their tour earlier this year, including a date at Paradiso. For some reason I didn’t get a ticket for that show anyway, but I’m excited to be catching them this time round. I’ve been listening to their latest album Seeds a lot again over the last week, and it really is splendid.

I also remembered that I still have an eMusic subscription, so I plundered that for some new music: Working Girl by Little Boots, The Beyond/Where The Giants Roam by Thundercat, and Rips by Ex Hex — all excellent.

I’ve given up on Apple Music. I still listen to Beats One, but I’ve turned off auto-renewal for the trial subscription, and I’ve turned off iCloud integration to get rid of the tracks I’d “added to My Music” during the short time I was actively trying to use it. My main reason for ditching it is the way that Apple Music tries to blur the line between my music and their music. If I want to download a Apple Music track for offline listening (I spend a lot of time on airplanes and away from wifi and cellular signals; this is a key use case for me), its appearance in iTunes is identical to a track I have bought and own.

The DRM-free track I can back up and do whatever I like with. The Apple Music track is DRM-protected, and will be useless if and when I decide to abandon Apple Music, or when Apple Music decides to abandon me (by locking me out of my account for some reason, or by ceasing to exist). If you don’t download a track, but keep it as streaming-only, you can use the “iCloud download” status to distinguish see that it exists only in the cloud. But once you download it, short of doing a “get info” on the track and looking at its file extension, iTunes offers literally no way of selecting and filtering rented tracks in its UI.

Maybe if they did something about that, I’d give it a second try. Maybe. But for now, I’m getting comfortable with Spotify Premium for music discovery, collaborative playlists (also a key feature I use), and casual listening. iTunes is for the collection of music I own and can do with what I like (software licensing terms notwithstanding). I think that Apple Music is probably fine for many people. It’s just not for built for me. My next concern is that Apple keeps making iTunes worse and worse for the purposes I do care about.

Mixed Media, Sunday 5 October 2014

(Disclaimer: I received a promotional copy of Exo from Tor Books.)

I love Steven Gould’s Jumper series. Jumper itself is a classic “what if?” story about Davy Rice, who discovers that he can teleport himself to places he can see, or has been to before. Reflex takes Davy and his wife Millie into much darker territory when a shadowy organization kidnaps Davy and tortures him into working for them. In Impulse the story follows Davy and Millie’s daughter Cent as she comes to terms with her own abilities while trying to fit into a new school.

All of the books take a classic science-fictional exploratory approach to teleportation: they take the fact of it as given and explore the consequences, reactions, and workarounds using smart, likeable protagonists who are propelled into unexpected adventures. They’re brilliant. To say I was excited about Exo is an understatement.

It doesn’t disappoint. In Impulse Cent figured out that teleportation implies control over her velocity, and she learned how to fly using ballistic speed boosts. In Exo she takes the next logical step: can she reach space if she boosts upwards fast enough? How can she survive in a vacuum? And what will she do when she gets there?

The four classical types of narrative conflict are “man against man”, “man against society”, “man against nature”, and “man against self.” Exo introduces a fifth: woman against expectations. (I suppose it’s a variant of man against society, but it sounds better.)

Cent, as a young woman, spends the first half of the book butting up against, and systematically battering down, all the misapprehensions, underestimations, and objections the world throws at her in her quest to build her own space programme. It’s glorious. The second half gets a bit engineer-y with a lot of technical details, and the action sub-plot involving the mysterious Daarkon Group feels rushed. It still left me with goosebumps, and a burning desire to find out where the series will go next.


In the last few weeks I’ve been mostly listening to the new Aphex Twin album Syro, and A New House by Deacon Blue.

Deacon Blue - A New House

Deacon Blue’s last two albums didn’t move me very much, but A New House is a fantastic return to form – their best since Fellow Hoodlums. It’s fresh and upbeat, full of catchy hooks and big choruses: a great pop album. Unfortunately all of their UK gigs I could conceivably get to for the rest of the year seem to be sold out. I’d love to see them live.

Finally, in last week’s New Music Monday at work, one of m’colleagues dropped Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” into the playlist, and I’ve been kinda obsessed by that as well. I downloaded her album Red yesterday, which has been gaining me approving nods from Fiona. We listened to it this afternoon as we were making some stuffed felt Minecraft plush heads together.

Taylor Swift - Red

Mixed media, 16 July 2014

At some point during my last trip to Edinburgh I watched The Machine after seeing JWZ mention it on his blog. It’s mostly forgettable. The scientist protagonist is unlikeable, and the “accidental hive-minding” turned out to be peripheral to the plot.

Here in France, I finished reading Hugh Howey’s Wool trilogy, which I found compelling all the way through.

I’m pretty sure that Julian recommended Signal To Noise by Eric S. Nylund to me years ago. We had a copy of it, and we must have brought it to France with us at some point in the past, because it was on the bookshelves here. I picked it up after finishing Dust, and read it on our mini-break to Montpellier over the weekend. Last summer I saw a copy of its sequel, A Signal Shattered in a bookstore in California, but didn’t buy it because I couldn’t remember if we had a copy of the first book. I’m regretting that now, because it isn’t available in any kind of ebook format for me to download and dig into straight away. (Not that I would have known to bring it with me on this trip anyway.)

Instead, I’m now about 200 pages into Nemesis by Jo Nesbo. As dark thrillers about alcoholic Scandinavian police detectives go, it’s pretty lightweight so far.

One of the things we do on holiday here is scarf down TV show box sets in the evenings after sunset. In previous years we’ve been through Merlin, Leverage, Burn Notice, and Fringe. This year, we’re on Elementary. We’re big fans of Sherlock, but Elementary has a whole different flavour, and is fun in a completely different way. Painting Holmes as a recovering drug addict is an excellent narrative hook; I hope that the fact it’s an American prime-time TV show won’t impose a set of excessively puritanical storylines. It shows promise with its playful attitude towards Holmes’ sexual needs, and the episode “A giant gun, filled with drugs” wasn’t nearly as self-righteous as it could have been.