Listening to Hot Chip’s latest album Freakout/Release, I spotted that I went to see them at Melkweg in December 2019, but I never did an entry here on the blog about it. Hmm. Must do better. There are a few recent gigs that I need to catch up on.
The things I remember about the gig are:
Alexis Taylor is smaller than I’d expected.
Joe Goddard looked like he didn’t want to be there
Owen Clarke (synth, guitar) reminded me of my therapist. He also has some great little shuffle dances around his keyboard.
The cover of Sabotage they did as part of their encore was flippin’ amazing. It brought the house down.
As for Freakout/Release, I wasn’t sure about the song “Eleanor” at first, but it has really grown on me.
Abi and I enjoy taking weekend breaks at Van Der Valk hotels. They have locations all around the Netherlands, mostly just outside towns and cities, but near main roads. They’re all easily accessible by car, and they’re often close to the countryside walks and cycle routes. Most of them have a large, family-friendly restaurant. The facilities are typically modern, elegant, and very comfortable. And somehow they manage to do this at very decent prices. Especially if you don’t have a specific destination in mind, but rather just want to “go somewhere,” you can usually find a multi-day or last-minute special offer.
Last year, for example, we went to the Valk hotel at Spier-Dwingeloo, which is right on the Dwingelderveld National Park, and we had some wonderful walks. Around Black Friday in November the Valk marketing teams kept bombarding us with special offers. Although we like getting out into the countryside, this time we decided to go for a city break, and Abi booked us a weekend at hotel Rotterdam-Blijdorp in February.
I had taken the day off work. We took a leisurely morning, and set out for Rotterdam mid-afternoonish. (For future note: the hotel only has minimal parking of its own – only a dozen spaces or so – but they have a deal with the Zoo next door, which has hundreds of spaces. We were able to find a space on-street close by, and then we got lucky with an open spot in front of the hotel later.)
After checking in and dropping our bags, we wanted to go our for a walk while there was still a bit of light, and then come back and order room service. We walked to Coolsingel along the Delfshavense Schie, past the old Van Nelle factory. It was cold. We walked back to the hotel through the Heemraadspark and past the Blijdorp Zoo. On the way, we stopped at a Jumbo supermarket for room snacks, and at the Turkish bakery next door to it for some amazing baklava. What we didn’t realize was that room service stopped at 20:00, and we got back to the room about ten minutes too late to order. So we just made do with the (large quantity of) snacks we’d brought back with us.
The next morning we got up and had breakfast in the hotel to set us up for a big day of walking. We reversed the previous evening’s route and walked back south through the Heemraadspark, where I took photos of some odd-looking ducks that I later found were actually Egyptian Geese. They were characteristically aggressive and territorial.
We continued south past the Euromast. We stopped at an Asian supermarket just nearby, where Abi bought some cream of tartar (hard to find in mainstream NL supermarkets) for making snickerdoodles, and some root-beer-adjacent sarsaparilla beverage. A little further south we found that the Maastunnel under the river has a tube dedicated for cyclists and pedestrians, and that it’s accessible by classic wooden escalators. We couldn’t resist.
We continued our walk on the industrial south side of the Maas. We stopped for a rest and a bite to eat at the Foodhallen. Afterwards we crossed the Erasmusbrug and walked past the Maritime Museum and the Cube Houses to the Coolblue shop where Abi had placed an order to collect some new bone conduction headphones. We were coming to the end of the day by this point, and we were getting tired. We headed for the Markthal to get some dinner, but I’d got to the point of tiredness and hunger that nothing really seemed right. (This is, regrettably, a habit.)
I felt like some pizza, but the options were limited. When I finally found a place that would sell me a simple slice they were happy enough to take my order, but then they discovered that they didn’t actually have any margherita. All their other options had meat on them, and their payment terminal didn’t allow them to do refunds. This did not make me any happier. I had seen a New York Pizza shack nearby, but they weren’t selling by the slice, and because it was a busy Saturday it would take them an hour to make a whole pie. Boo. Fortunately Abi was able to find some nice ramen, and in the end I bought some peanuts at the AH in the Markthal to get my energy back up, and resolved to get room service when we got back to the hotel. (We also got more baklava from a stall in the Markthal, although it wasn’t nearly as good as the pieces we’d had from the bakery the previous evening.)
It was getting dark, and we’d seen all the things we wanted to see that day, so we just made a relatively straight line back. We got back in plenty of time to order me a pizza and Abi a glass of wine. We clocked just over 20 meandering kilometers in the course of the day, and we slept well that night.
On Sunday we got up, had breakfast in the hotel again, checked out, and drove to the water taxi stop at the Marconistraat. The Rotterdam water taxis are very cool. They’re not sedate cruise vehicles, they’re point-to-point speedboats. You do have to book them well in advance, though – you don’t just flag them down. We took one to the stop just outside the Maritime museum, and walked from there to the Kunsthal.
The main exhibit was “In the Black Fantastic” which featured several of Nick Cave’s Soundsuits. We also enjoyed the “Women’s Palette 1900-1950” exhibit, which featured groundbreaking art by women who were overshadowed by male artists at the time (and also since). There were some amazing pieces on display, but overall the Kunsthal felt a bit unwelcoming and clinical to me. I appreciated the art, but the vibe of the place made me want to get back to the Stedelijk here in Amsterdam.
Afterwards we walked across the museum park, which was under heavy construction. The the monstrously mirrored Boijmans Van Beuningen Depot dominated the view, but it was fenced off and the light was drab, so it lost some of its impact. (Although it’s still quite a sight.)
We wandered through the city centre a bit, and had lunch at McDonalds, sitting outdoors despite the chill. The rest of the country has abandoned masking, but we’re still keeping ours on in most indoor spaces, and taking care around crowds. (Just because we take some risks doesn’t mean we take all the risks.) We stopped in at the Bever outdoors shop opposite, and Abi bought some socks. We walked around the centre a bit more, through the Koopgoot, and finally back to the Maritime museum where we got the water taxi back to the car.
On the drive back, we discussed the notion of replacing the build-in car radio on our 2007 Ford Fusion with a screen unit that supports Apple Carplay. This is a thing that one can do! (And we did. I expect this will come up in my future “Nice things 2023” post at the end of this year.)
I want to record my current photography workflow as a reminder to both my future and current self. (It has a lot of steps in it, and sometimes I forget them.)
Take photo in the normal Camera app or
Take photo in the Halide app if I want to grab a RAW as well as a compressed file.
In both cases, the photo goes into the photo roll on my phone, and gets synced to my iCloud/photos account. Photos are 4032 x 3024px (12 MP). This usually clocks in around 1.5-2.5 MB per image for the compressed HEIC/HEIF files, and 12-13MB for the accompanying DNG/RAW file if I take one of those.
Before I even get to going out and taking photos, it starts with memory cards. After some time spent with wiping old cards, I have given up on that, and I treat them as write-only media now, just like rolls of film. My Fuji camera takes SD cards, and they’re very cheap these days: about €15 for a 128GB (gigabyte!) card. I don’t take photos with this camera every day, and often not even every week, so a 128 card lasts me many months. After filling up a card I label it and pop it in a wee storage case I bought for them.
Next comes the GPX Trail Tracker app on my iPhone. This is a simple app that does one thing really well: record my geolocation coordinates while I’m out on a walk. (Free download, €3.99 to get rid of adverts. Worth it!) Not everyone feels the same, but I find it enormously valuable to have geo coordinates on all my photos. My Fuji camera doesn’t have any built-in geolocation capabilities, so I need some way of adding them after the fact. (I tried a few different geotagging workflows before ending up with this one.) If I’m going out with the Fuji camera I try to always fire up this app and start a new “trail” before I go.
Go out and take photos. Shoot in F + RAW (“Fine” JPEG quality). Image size Large 3:2, which is the native aspect ratio for the X-Trans III sensor. Uncompressed RAW, because MacOS can’t handle Fuji’s compressed RAW format. (Or at least, MacOS Big Sur can’t. Maybe later versions can.)
Back at my desk, I unload the photos from the memory card onto SSDs. Hard disks should always be bought in pairs. I have two Samsung T7 Shield 1TB drives connected to my laptop via USB, one called “Photos Import” and the other called “Photos Import Clone”. I copy the photos from the SD card onto the Photos Import drive. I use a scheduled task in the the SuperDuper app to keep the Photos Import Clone backup drive up to date with its primary. 1TB of storage might not be enough for a professional photographer, but it’s quite enough for me for now. Once I fill them up, I’ll buy more.
I’m not 100% happy with my folder structure for imports yet, but I’m working on it. Inside the DCIM folder on the memory card, my Fuji uses folders called NNN_FUJI, where NNN is a 3-digit number, currently standing at 117. Most of the time, I end up with multiple “events” inside a single such folder on the card. When I copy photos to the SSD, I want each event/batch import to go into a separate folder. So I make a new folder on the disk for each import event, named after the original folder on the SD card, with a sequential letter suffix and a short description. The folder structure on disk ends up looking like this:
116_FUJI_a Short event/location description
116_FUJI_b Short event/location description
117_FUJI_a Short event/location description
Next, geotagging. Step one of this is to export the recorded trail from the GPX Trail Tracker app, in “<trk> formatted GPX” format. I export this from the app on my phone to a folder in my iCloud storage, and wait for it to sync over to my Mac. Usually this only takes a few seconds, but sometimes, you know, 🍎🤷♂️.
I then fire up the HoudaGeo app (€46, and definitely worth it) on my Mac.
In the “Load” view in the app, I drag the .gpx coordinates file into the “Tracks” pane. I select all the photos from the new import folder on the Photos Import drive, and drag them into the “Images”pane.
In the “Process” view, the app will show the trail on a map, and will use the timestamps in the photos to match them with GPS coordinates from the supplied trail. Here I can tweak the locations if I want to, or, if I forgot to create a trail in the first place (oops) drag and drop the photos onto the map from memory.
In the “Output” pane, I choose which photos I want to finalize. (All of them, generally.) For JPEGs, the export process modifies the source file to add the geolocation information in an EXIF block. It does this without modifying the timestamp on the file, unless you want it to. You can mess around with time zone offsets in the export process as well. This is useful if I take photos in Scotland (or elsewhere) and don’t process them until I get home. For RAW files, the export process generates a sidecar .xmp file with the geolocation metadata.
With all the photos now nicely geotagged, I import only the JPGs into Apple’s Photos app on my Mac. The JPG files from my Fuji are typically 11-12MB in size (6000×4000, 24 MP), while the RAW images are about 50MB. Most of the time I don’t process the photos any further, and there’s no need for me to bloat up my photos library by 500% at this point. The imported photos are automatically synced with my iCloud photos library.
At this point the photos from the Fuji camera eventually exist in eight separate places:
On the original SD card, where they will stay. These files are untouched by any extra processing, and that’s how they’ll stay. This is pure archive now.
On the Photos Import SSD, attached to my laptop. These files have been modified by HoudahGeo to add geolocation information, and they’ve been sorted into import batches per event/occasion/date.
On the Photos Import Clone SSD, also attached to my laptop. This is a bitwise clone of the Photos Import drive, so this also has the geolocation modifications.
On my laptop, in the local Apple Photos photo library. The app renames the photos along the way, and stores them in its own private library location. You can still export “unmodified originals”, but good luck finding where the app stores them in its own internal folder structure.
In my iCloud photos library, on Apple’s servers, from where I can view them on my iPhone and iPad, and share them with others.
Bonus location 6: because hard disks should always come in pairs, I have another external SSD that is the clone of my laptop’s internal SSD. Again, I run a scheduled task with SuperDuper to give me a bootable drive that is a bit-for-bit copy of everything on the laptop itself, which includes the Apple Photos library.
Bonus location 7: because the SSDs are attached directly to my laptop, everything on them gets added to my online backup with Backblaze (US$ 7 per month)
Bonus location 8: likewise, the Apple Photos library on my laptop is also automatically backed up to Backblaze.
I’m not paranoid. I’m protected.
Once the JPEGs photos have been imported, I tend to arrange them into Albums based on the import for the event/occasion/date, named with the date of the event/occasion in them (in YYYYMMDD format) and arrange those albums into folders by year, so:
20221225 Christmas Day
20221226 Walk in Amsterdamse Bos
You’d think that this would make it easier for the app to keep all these albums sorted in a sensible order, but apparently not 🍎🤷♂️. It’s good enough most of the time, though.
For imports from the Fuji, if I’ve been taking photos of birds or people, I’ll generally have a lot of bursts of consecutive photos. I cull these in Apple Photos, actually deleting the JPEGs I don’t want. It’s not so much that I want to save space in my cloud storage (I have 2TB, which is plenty for this workflow, for now) – it’s more that it helps keep the most important photos easily to hand.
This is the library from which Apple selects “memories” to display on my home screen, and where I look back to find my favourite photos of a year, or an individual event. I don’t typically need a dozen burst shots of a magpie taking off – it’s enough for me to just keep the best one. The fact that the originals (and the RAW versions) are still available on the SD card and on the SSDs if I need them is good enough.
Here’s the thing: I don’t generally process my photos very much once I finally get them into Apple Photos. I may make small tweaks to exposure, black levels and contrast, and I’ll often crop images. But I don’t do any extensive editing of the because I don’t know how. Yet.
I’d like to learn how to do more with the RAW files, but there’s a bit of a learning curve. Adobe Lightroom is one fo the standard tools in this space, but I’d like to avoid Adobe software if I can, because I dislike how it leaves behind background tasks and doesn’t clean up after itself. Capture One might be an alternative. I also don’t always appreciate subscription software, so I might give Exposure X7 a try.
In all of these cases I would probably benefit from a computer refresh. My current laptop is a 2013 MacBook Pro, which means it’s coming up on 10 years old. It was top-of-the line when I bought it, and it still works fine for most of my daily use, but it is starting to struggle with my photo library. On the occasions when I do open up a RAW file, it’s noticeably slow. I’ve replaced the battery pack in it once already, and I can tell from the slightly bulbous bottom plate (spicy pillows) and mere 2-hour battery life that it’s due for another. I’m trying to hold out as long as I can, though, because these things are expensive…
Will there ever be a year that I look back on and go, “wow, that was an amazing year”? It would be nice. 2022 was miserable at work for the first eight months, but I turned things around by changing roles in September. In the first half of the year we were working hard to get Fiona ready to leave the house, move to Scotland and start college. This was a great achievement for her, but it was hard work for all of us. The kitchen renovation is wonderful now that it’s finished, but we were living in a construction site for the whole of October and November, and the actual process of buying the kitchen from Ikea and arranging everything was far from easy.
Actually, those were three things that were hard, but with a good outcome at the end of them. I guess we enjoy things more when we have to work hard for them?
Photography: I continue to enjoy the FujiFilm X-T20 I bought last year. This year I added two more (second-hand) lenses to my setup: an XC 50-230mm f4.5-6.7 and an XF 16-80mm F4. It took me a while to get used to both of them, and to figure out their strengths and weaknesses. I still don’t think I’m all the way there, but I’ve had some nice bird shots with the 50-230, and some great portraits with the 16-80. At the 16mm end it’s nice and wide for landscape, architecture, and group shots, while at 80mm it gets in close for faces. I took it with me as my do-everything lens on my work trip to New York and New Jersey in September. One evening our team took a trip out to the Meadowlands Racetrack in New Jersey. There were no races that day, but we wandered out of the stadium towards the track just around sunset, and the golden hour gave me some of the best portraits I’ve ever taken.
In March Abi and I took a trip to Drenthe. We stayed at the Van Der Valk Hotel Spier-Dwingeloo and spent a couple of days walking around the national park Dwingelerveld. I had rented a couple of nice lenses from BudgetCam for the weekend, Fuji’s super-sharp XF 16-55 F2.8, and the ultra-wide XF 10-24 F4. I’ve never played with a lens that wide before, and whenever I attached it I would just kind of giggle a lot and exclaim about how much I could get in frame. The 10-24 is expensive, and it wouldn’t be my typical everyday lens, but I could see myself getting an ultra-wide prime at some point to add to my kit.
Photography as a hobby just continues to give me a lot of enjoyment. Obsessing over the gear, the mental focus I get when I’m concentrating on taking pictures, and going over the pictures afterwards to curate (and sometimes process) them. I’d be surprised if I didn’t talk myself into picking up another lens or two in 2023, but I’m not sure what they would be. An ultra-wide prime, if I can get one cheaply. Given my interest in portraits, the XF 56mm f1.2 R WR looks amazing, but also expensive. The older version of the lens, which doesn’t have weather sealing also has a great reputation, and is available second-hand for much less. (But do I want to be future-proof, and only choose lenses can resolve the full 40MP of Fuji’s new sensors in the X-T5 and X-H2, in case I want to upgrade at some point…?) The XF 150-600mm f5.6-8 would be spectacular for birds and wildlife, but at €2000 also way too spendy. Renting it for a weekend, now, that’s a different matter…
Something else I want to spend time on in 2023 is learning how to process my photos better. I’m going to write something soon about my current photo workflow, which I’m happy enough with for now, but which I know can be improved.
Plug-in electricity meter: Energy prices have been on quite a journey this year. To keep an eye on my personal electricity usage I bought a couple of plug-in pass-through electricity meters, and used them at my desk for a while to see how much all my devices were using. I found the results eye-opening. With electricity prices here hitting almost a Euro per kWh in the autumn, even a Mac Mini acting as a media server, idling along at about 25W most of the time runs at €0.60 a day, or about €18 a month. Those kind of numbers add up pretty quickly.
Even though we’ve got a ton of solar panels and our net electricity consumption is low, using these meters has made me a lot more conscious about turning off devices completely, or putting them into proper sleep mode rather than just letting them idle. (Another example: our old subwoofer was sipping about 10W in idle mode. The “off” switch was inaccessible. The new “temporary” subwoofer idles around 9W, but it has an “off” switch on the front, and I use it.)
Kühl Konfidant Air Hiking trousers: Bought these at Tiso in Aviemore when we were there in the summer. They’re lightweight, comfortable, fold up very small for limited-luggage situations, don’t restrict movement, have lots of pockets, and they look good on me. I have a Kühl sweater my parents bought for me over ten years ago, and it’s still one of my favourite items. If these trousers last even half as long (and if I can keep my weight to a level where I can still fit into them) I’ll be delighted. I’ wore them a lot on holiday, and since then’ve work them a lot.
Creative Image Adore 112 Indigo Blue hair dye: Back in the early 2000s I used to bleach my hair, but I haven’t done anything else with it until this year. Then I dyed my hair blue just ahead of seeing Set It Off in Utrecht in November. Doing something off-beat like this is fun because I like the way it looks, but also because I like the way people react. All the way from “I didn’t think you were the kind of person who would…” to “wow, that looks great”. I’ve never had complete strangers comment on my hair before. I could take the wind out of my own sails and figure that it’s only because blue hair is extraordinary for “men of my age”. Or I could figure that I just look plain fabulous.
Abi trimmed my hair yesterday, and I re-dyed it today, six weeks after the first time. The original colour had faded significantly over time, going from a super vibrant blue in the first week to a lighter and shade after a week or two, but as new (greyish brown) hair growth came through and the blue discoloured even more, yesterday’s trimmings had a slightly greenish-yellow undertone. So going six weeks without a refresh is probably pushing it.
Today I didn’t go to the effort of re-bleaching it beforehand. The colour effect is very different. It’s much darker, and it looks, well, like I applied colour on top of existing colour. If I want to keep up the ultra-vibrant look, it seems that I’ll have to trim, bleach, and colour once a month. That seems like a lot of work! Before I grew out my beard in 2020 I could barely be bothered to shave even once a week. We’ll see how this balance works out over time.
Sonos One SL speaker: In the old kitchen we didn’t have a lot of work surface space to lay things down. We also didn’t have very many power sockets on the walls. But in the new kitchen we do. Because I like listening to music or podcasts if I’m cooking, I wanted to get a speaker that would be an improvement over playing audio through my phone’s old and tinny speakers. The Sonos One SL is connected via wifi, but it doesn’t have a voice assistant built in. Our household prefers not to have our devices listening in on our conversations all the time. I waited for Black Friday deals at the end of November, and got a unit for just over €100. It works with Spotify Connect, so I can just push any Spotify music straight to it, and it works seamlessly with Apple’s Airplay as well. Alex commented on its heavy V-shaped sound signature, but I’m not too concerned about an audiophile hi-fi experience in the kitchen. I think it sounds just fine.
Airpods Pro 2: Abi got me these for Christmas. I’ve had a pair of the original Airpods Pro since early 2020. I use them for hours of video calls at work every day, and also for listening to music and podcasts, so I’m very familiar with their performance and sound profile. The Airpods Pro 2 are significantly better, and the difference was noticeable from the moment I first popped them in my ears. The noise cancellation is far better. Transparency mode, where it passes through sound from the outside world is amazingly better – it sounds almost like I’m not wearing earbuds at all. Turning off the active noice cancellation features entirely illustrates how much sound is cut out by the physical plugs. Toggling between that and transparency mode is just mind-boggling. The increased battery life (6 hours?) is also welcome because my old ones were only giving me about 2 hours on a full charge.
Highland Holiday Cottages just off the A9 near Kingussie: We rented one of their cottages for a week in August, and it was delightful. The house was comfortable for all of us (although the showers were weak), and the location was hard to beat. Close enough to the A9 for easy access, but out of the way enough for peace and quiet. Decent internet access. Lovely walks nearby right from the doorstep. Kingussie only ten minutes away for shopping, and Aviemore about half an hour away for the cinema, more extensive shopping, and even Escape Rooms.
LogSeq: I mentioned in my mixed media post in October that I’d started using LogSeq for note-taking at work. I feel slightly surprised that I’m actually still using it. I’m not generally big on “productivity tools.” Over the years I’ve tried a variety of tools for taking notes and keeping track of todo items, and none of them have stuck. LogSeq, on the other hand, seems to have found a niche for me – at least for now.
The way I’m using it is heavily skewed towards its journalling feature. I try to scribble down bullet-points of events and thoughts throughout the day: notable conversations, interesting findings and links, screenshots of the talking heads on Zoom calls to quickly track who was present. (Being able to paste an image straight from the clipboard — cmd + ctrl + shift + 4 on the Mac — into a note is essential.)
I also use it to keep track of my to-do list. I start each daily journal with a bullet-pointed list of my active to-do items, indicated with a finger-pointing emoji 👉🏻. If I start to work on one, I’ll change that to a walker/runner 🏃♂️, and when it’s done I mark it with a tick ✅. If an item becomes obsolete, I use a cross ❌. If I add an item, it starts with a “+” in front of the 👉🏻.
Each morning I copy the previous day’s list, and paste it as the first item on the new day’s journal. I remove any completed items, and I remove any “+” signs from items that were added the previous day. And the cycle begins again. I tend to think of a “good” day as one where I finish more items than I added, but I’m not sure if that’s a healthy mindset, or if it’s leading to me feeling frustrated about the days where I add more than I cross off. What I do know is that for the first time in a long while I feel “sufficiently organized”, and don’t find myself falling back to sticky notes pasted all over my desk and my notebook. And although I do still keep a notebook next to my keyboard at all times, I find myself using it less than I used to. I find the change interesting, and I’m curious to see if I keep up the habit in the new year.
Although I’ve started using it on my home laptop for taking academic notes, it feels cumbersome in that arena. Several classmates swear by Zotero, and I might give that a try instead.
Making the decision to defer my research project by a year: nice (I’m getting an inside view of how my classmates are tackling it, without actually doing it myself. This will help me be better prepared next year.) 👍🏻 📚📑
My parents moving to North Berwick: nice 👍🏻 🏴
Travelling in to Edinburgh on the train from North Berwick: nice 👍🏻 🏴 🚆
Legion season 2 || Did not finish. The novelty of the first season was gone; the characters were scattered; I wasn’t invested in the grand story arc. Got bored after a couple of episodes.
Mr Inbetween || Did not finish. Australian low-key character-based dark comedy about a hit man and how he integrated his job with his life. I liked it, but it didn’t draw me in enough to keep coming back for the next episode.
The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina season 1 || Watched three episodes, but did not finish. I had hoped to enjoy this, but it felt too affected, and the plot didn’t move quickly enough. Was watching this while sick with Covid, so missing half my brain might have played a part as well. Don’t feel inclined to go back to it, though.
Bosch season 1 || Won’t finish. I’ve read and enjoyed several of Michael Connelly’sbooks about Harry Bosch, and I find Titus Welliver compelling on screen, but episode 1 of this was outright copaganda and super hard to watch.
The Boys season 3 || Keeps on digging deeper into how horrible these superheroes are.
⭐️She-Hulk season 1 || Fun. I like the version of Jennifer Walters Marvel has out together for the TV show. It’s bright and quirky and the season was short without feeling (too) awkward. Although it wasn’t entirely out of place, I thoroughly disliked the finale. Breaking the fourth wall, yes, super-self-referential in-jokes, maybe not.
⭐️The Old Man season 1 || Good. I enjoyed Jeff Bridges as a grizzled, long-retired spy, and John Lithgow as his handler. Great pair of actors they found for the younger selves as well. I enjoy this kind of low-key spy drama, with occasional action, to giant big-budget slug-fests. I think I would have preferred it if they’d wrapped up the story in a single mini-series with an actual ending, though.
⭐️The House of the Dragon season 1 || Yeah, good. Happy to keep watching this to see where it goes.
⭐️The Peripheral season 1 || Based on William Gibson’s book, which I loved. I enjoyed seeing some of the very vivid characters brought to life on screen. This is a great adaptation, but just like The Old Man, I wish they’d wrapped it up with an actual ending.
⭐️ The Lazarus Project season 1 || Time loops + secret agents? Sign me up. I adored this. Episode 3 is thoroughly harrowing, though – content warning for all parents. Just like The Old Man and The Peripheral, I regret the choice to end the season on a cliffhanger, but this one feels more like a natural jumping-off point to a new chapter of the story, whereas those other two shows just failed to end.
⭐️The Undeclared War season 1 || Near-future thriller that isn’t so much a spy thriller as a surveillance and intelligence thriller. But that’s what makes it feel very realistic. These are the trenches of information warfare.
War of the Worlds season 3 || This third season criss-crosses two parallel timelines that were created by the time-travel device at the end of season 2. It’s fine, but compared to the first two seasons this felt perfunctory and tacked-on.
⭐️Dead to Me season 3 || This third season wrapped up all the threads from the first two seasons in a satisfying and gentle way, but with a sense of inevitable sadness that it could never have a truly happy ending.
⭐️Andor || Amazing. It feels grounded in a way that other Star Wars properties completely don’t. This is helped by the fact that they used very visible real-world locations with (retro-)futuristic appearances for some of their sets (e.g. the Barbican in London, the Cruachan Dam near Loch Awe in Scotland), and seamlessly enhanced them with digital effects. But the story is low-powered (no Jedi), and it skims the borderlines of grimy and shiny, rich and poor, corrupt and principled in a way that no Star Wars show or film has done before. It was a bit like Captain America: The Winter Soldier in that sense. After watching two seasons ot The Mandalorian I was bored with the setting. After one season of Andor I want more of it.
Archer season 11 || I keep watching this. By this point it’s neither good nor bad, it just kind of exists?
⭐️Star Trek Picard season 2 || Even though they abandoned far-off planets in favour of exploring the strange new world of present-day Los Angeles, I found this compelling. The story felt more cohesive than season 1, although building up the character of Kore only to have her whisked away in the finale felt like a bit of a cheat. Maybe this means she’ll be back in season 3?
⭐️ Govert Schilling – De Olifant In Het Universum (The Elephant in the Universe) || I came across this book on Tim Bray’s blog. It’s a history of the scientists and scientific theories of dark matter. Because Govert Schilling is a Dutch science writer, I figured I might as well read the book in Dutch rather than in an English translation. However, when I actually got the book I discovered in the afterword that he’d written the book in English originally, and the Dutch version is the translation. Oh well, nice try. It’s a good book, although perhaps a little unsatisfying in the sense that we still don’t know what dark matter actually is. It’s the first whole book I’ve read in Dutch in a long time.
⭐️ Richard Osman – The Bullet That Missed || Third in the Thursday Murder Club series. Lightweight and fun, intricately plotted.
Mick Herron – Bad Actors|| Another in the Slough House series. I remember enjoying this when I read it, but looking at it now I can hardly remember anything at all about it. I’m not sure if that’s a good sign or a bad one. On the one hand, enjoyment is good, and I’m happy to encourage myself to read books that I can go through super quickly, because it reinforces the long-form reading habit, which I fear I’m in danger of losing. On the other hand, “not very memorable” isn’t exactly high praise, is it?
Oliver Darkshire – Once Upon A Tome: The Misadventures of a Rare Bookseller || A collection of quirky little autobiographical stories about the author getting a job at Sotheran’s in London, and learning the ins and outs of the trade. Reads like a collection of blog articles, or Twitter threads. A few good laughs, but I’d hoped for a bit more depth.
⭐️ Harry Connolly – The Flood Circle || This follows on immediately from The Iron Gate. With this book Harry is rolling towards the endgame for the Twenty Palaces series. I don’t think I’m giving much away if I say this book ends on a cliffhanger, which is normally a big no-no for me unless I’ve got the next one lined up. But I’m invested in the series, and I really want to see how he lands this. In The Flood Circle we learn a lot more about Ray and Annalise, and get clues about the original spellbooks: how they might not be what they seem, and how the Twenty Palaces society might not be as knowledgeable as they seem. (Tangentially, I ordered this book and its predecessor in paperback, through Amazon, where they were fulfilled as print-on-demand books. I was impressed by how quickly it was generated and arrived on my doorstep. The interior printing and binding were fine, but the card stock used for the cover is very prone to curling. After handling it for just a little while, the covers just seem to peel open like a banana.)
Day Shift || Forgettable vampire hunt. Only slightly enlivened by the presence of Snoop Dogg as a bad-ass cowboy vampire hunter. Pity he’s just a minor supporting character.
Werewolf By Night || Fun little black-and-white Halloween snack.
💩💩 Moonfall || Bad. Very bad. There’s a cool idea behind the film (moon’s haunted), and I’m sure there was a shooting script, and that they took a lot of footage… but then they reassembled it in a random order? Like a lego kit dropped on the floor and then rebuilt without the original instructions. While drunk. In darkened room. Wearing gloves.
⭐️Prey || Predator movie set in 1719, on the North American plains, with native American protagonists. Simple but effective – a classic cat-and-mouse thriller, fantastically executed.
⭐️Thirteen Lives || Ron Howard’s adaptation of the story a group of boys who got trapped by flooding inside the Tham Luang cave system in Thailand in 2018. This is an incredibly tense film. It does an amazing job of portraying the scale and difficulty of the rescue effort. Filming this must have been an enormous technical challenge, but the film never tries to be a show-off. Howard keeps the focus on the individuals, the danger they’re in, and the risks they were taking. (Similar to Apollo 13, in that sense.)
Margin Call || I hadn’t seen this before, but in the wake of the crypto collapse and the spectacular demise of FTX, it felt appropriate to track it down. Just like The Big Short, Margin Call is set in the heart of the Global Financial Crisis of 2007-2008. The Big Short tries to tell a bigger story, and explores just how big a hole the crisis created, while Margin Call focuses on just a handful of people in a single firm, watching disaster strike them personally in the course of a single day. It carefully selects which characters are worthy of a small amount of empathy, and which ones get painted as ruthlessly detached monsters. It feels very real, but also horribly dispassionate and bloodless, and free of the cosequences we know played out in the real world.
💩Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special || Take human trafficking and make it fun. Take Mantis and Drax and make them even more cringe. Not the worst addition to the MCU, but … actually it might be.
⭐️Glass Onion || Rian Johnson takes aim squarely at Elon Musk in this follow-up to Knives Out, and given that this film was in the making long before Musk’s catastrophic 2022, this looks wonderfully insightful and prescient. (The new insights into Benoit Blanc’s character are wonderful, and I can’t wait to see more of him. My main issue with the film is that every piece of it goes on for too long. It takes too long to get to the island, it takes too long for the murder to happen, the flashback sequence is more of a film-within-a-film than a peek behind the scenes while the detective does the big reveal, the comeuppance sequence takes forever and ultimately feels like a soft landing for the villain, although that’s perhaps part of the overall critique of the ultra-rich. I eagerly await more Benoit Blanc, but I hope future iterations will be a little more tightly constructed (like the original Knives Out).
Wakanda Forever || Still digesting this. Just like Glass Onion, I thought it was slow, and went on for too long. I’m ambivalent about setting the kingdoms of Wakanda and Talokan at each others’ throats. Given that we see UN members being willing to violate Wakanda’s generosity and attempting to steal vibranium, and that there seems to be a developing narrative setting up Director de Fontaine as a new subversive Hydra-like authoritarian force, it feels our heroes are being fooled into losing sight of who the real enemy is. Maybe that’s the point? But I found the big battle between Wakanda and Talokan to be more distressing that thrilling. Beautiful production design, though.
⭐️Horizon Forbidden West || I re-played Horizon Zero Dawn before tackling the new game, and I didn’t play it as soon as it was released (18 February) because I didn’t want it to get in the way of my last exam. But once everything was wrapped up, I played the heck out of this. I didn’t quite 100% it. After getting Covid in July, followed by going away on holiday in August, I hadn’t played for about a month, and found it a bit hard to go back to. But according to the PlayStation clock I had logged 103h and 15m by the time I finished it. Good game, good value. I’m looking forward to the DLC next year, but I don’t think I’ll play through the whole game again in the run-up to its launch. (I’m curious to see where the DLC will be positioned in the game’s timeline as well – I hope it comes after the endgame.)
⭐️ Stray || Cat game! Short (about 5-6 hours) exploration and puzzle-solving game in a post-apocalyptic world filled with robots with video screens for faces.
⭐️Hades || Haven’t finished this yet, but I’m still enjoying it. I find it holds my attention for a run or two, and then I’ve had enough for the day. But the structure of the game means that I still make a little bit of progress each time, and then come back the next day. Lovely graphics.
I’ve been enjoying the band Meute for some time, and I got the chance to see them live at Paradiso a few weeks ago. It was great to be back at Paradiso again. It has an amazing atmosphere, and it’s probably my favourite live music venue. (“Probably”… Can I think of any others I enjoy more? King Tut’s in Glasgow is good, but I’ve only been there once.)
There wasn’t a warm-up act for the gig. It was a busy day at work and I couldn’t leave the house as early as I’d liked but I got there about 19:45 anyway, for a start at 20:30. Just like Hedon in Zwolle, Paradiso has replaced its cloakroom and bag storage with automated lockers. You scan a QR code, pay a small fee for the size of the locker you want (€3.50 or €5.50) and then you get a personal page to a numbered locker that you can open whenever you want throughout the evening. And NO NEED TO DOWNLOAD AN APP. It’s a bit more expensive than when I used to hand my coat to a human (con), and obviously the venue doesn’t have to pay those humans a wage to operate the clockroom (con). But the venues have had a hard time during the pandemic and lockdowns, and I don’t begrudge them trying to optimize to keep things going. There was still at least one human on hand to help out with locker issues.
Even though I arrived at a time I felt was quite “late” I was still able to secure myself a spot right up at the stage, where was able to snap a photo of the set list (and peel it off to take home with me at the end of the night… :shiftyeyes:). I’ve made a habit of memorizing gig sets as they’re played so I can add them to setlist.fm afterwards, but I often rely on cues from the lyrics of the songs being played to help me position them in a memory palace. Because most of Meute’s repertoire is instrumental, I was glad to have this to fall back on.
The gig itself was good. The band didn’t spend much energy on chatting to the audience between songs, but the crowd didn’t need them to whip up excitement. The vibe was already there. Everyone was having a great time. I was really glad to have ear protection with me, because I was standing right in front of the enormous speaker stacks, and the bass was booming in my chest the whole night. The band’s regular bass drummer, Marco Möller, wasn’t there there night, but the guy who replaced him was equally impressive: he maintained a steady 124 BPM on the marching band bass drum the whole night long. Dude was a machine.
Standing right up close to the stage allowed me to get some nice photos even with my old iPhone X. I was using the Halide app most of the time, so I was able to tweak the pictures a bit more than usual afterwards. Kinda made me wish for something like a Ricoh GR III, though.