A week of too much time spent home alone, and too much going on at work to keep up with.
Good things though, too, like re-watching a couple of old favourite films from a couple of periods of my life:
The Mask, which I absolutely knew word-for-word back in the day and which, re-watching it now, it was wonderful how much I could pre-empt and sound out in real-time. In fact, it wasn’t just dialogue, but Foley effects little audio/musical stings, and other snippets. It was also, as it so often can be, quite surprising how risqué some of the jokes were, at least for my young ears:
And then it felt like time for another re-watch of Almost Famous ( or rather the director’s cut aka Untitled*), a film I’ve loved since my first viewing of it stuffed into the TV lounge of the Wellington YHA some time in late 2003. Since then I’ve watched it so many times and it is just such a comforting film to watch. I realise I am also dangerously into the territory of not now being able to watch it with a critical eye, but I don’t think that matters.
* Jesus, I am so sorry you had to witness that.
I shan’t bother going into too much detail with regard to work woes, but we had a bit of a poorly-timed clusterfuck (is there ever a well-timed clusterfuck?) of some issues with our email hosts which, hey, turned out to be a little bit of the host’s fault, and a little bit of ours. As is often the way with these things. But it was a horrible situation for all involved, and came during a week of unusually high tension.
It is a brand new unit and is working fine, though I can’t help but notice one of the other buttons feels like 1% softer than the others, and so I wonder if there’s an issue with the buttons on these units – or possibly, if the packaging is to be believed, these units are new old stock from 2013 and perhaps there’s a membrane in the buttons that is degrading over time. We’ll see.
At one point this week I probably looked like a one-man scene from Mr Robot, blasting DJ Shadow, stabbing a screwdriver through a spindle-full of CD-Rs and DVD-Rs before throwing them out.
I certainly hadn’t been able to read them (disc rot is a thing: if you have some old burned DVDs and CDs on a shelf somewhere, you’d be well advised to grab the data off them if you are still able to), but I obviously didn’t want anyone else to be able to either.
So: Stab. Stab. Stab.
It was fun seeing how different discs responded to each stab: some all but shattered, while others kind of just split in a neat single crack from the centre to the edge. The more annoying ones sort of absorbed the screwdriver I was using and just pierced a tiny hole, with the tool needing to be extracted with some force and re-punched again. Anyway. That was a satisfying exercise.
And in other data retrieval exercises this week, I grabbed an old hard drive and copied over my iTunes library circa 2012 with a view to copying some high bitrate album rips across to my phone’s memory. Anything 320kbps or above (or 256kbps VBR) is fair game, and I only want the kind of ‘greatest hits’ of special albums that I can’t be without.
This led me to wondering what albums have been released since then that I have streamed to death on Spotify, but not gotten round to purchasing. I don’t think I’m in the minority in saying there will be a lot. So it would be cool to get last.fm to spit out a list of records I’ve spun from Spotify more than a handful of times, with links for where best to ethically purchase my own copy.
This ransacking of my old iTunes library brought some curiosities. I knew that a handful of my album rips had been done at very high bitrate – whether lossless or 320kbps AAC – and that these had been prioritised by the same criteria as above: albums I couldn’t live without.
I was therefore stumped to find that my copy of Radiohead’s In Rainbows was a 160kbps MP3. 😱! I then got to thinking why this would be and, lo and behold, this was the original format I’d purchased it in on release day:
So that was interesting. In more recent years I’ve listened to this either via Spotify or vinyl, so I don’t feel too short changed at having such a low quality rip of the album on my computer as I just wasn’t using it.
I don’t know now (though a trip to the Wayback Machine would probably answer this) if higher bitrate versions were available as well. I’m sure they were, but I expect you had to pay more (this was, remember, one of the first high profile ‘pay what you want’ digital releases), and I was a Radiohead newbie back then.
In fact, having got swept up in the hype of the impending release of In Rainbows, I listened to OK Computer for the first time the evening before IR‘s release.
And finally, this weekend was mostly doing family things, which mostly meant eating and drinking well, but also meant I did Hampstead Heath Parkrun for the first time in a while, and I managed to get a PB for this route. Very pleased with that – as is so often the case I was not feeling it beforehand, but was merely ‘up for it’, and I still managed to achieve something to be be proud of. So that was nice.
Anyway. Take care of each other. Stop bulk buying things you don’t need. See you next week.
Online movie streaming service Mubi is currently showing the final Monty Python film The Meaning of Life (1983). It’s also showing twenty-nine other great films. Those films (including the one I mentioned) change every day – you get a month to watch each one, and when one leaves, another is added.
The concept is strange, but when faced with the amount of stuff available on Prime or Netflix or similar, it can often be frustrating knowing what to watch. It’s even possible to spend longer scrolling through the available titles – a few well-known things but really a lot of shite – than time spent actually sitting down and watching something.
Mubi’s offering is different – it’s quality over quantity. You can usually be assured that whatever is currently showing on Mubi is decent. On average there’s often about five films you’ve heard of, a bunch you haven’t, and some oddities like shorts, new films or documentaries that have screened to about forty people at an obscure film festival somewhere.
At the moment we’ve got some classics like The Birds (1963) and Peeping Tom (1960) as well as more recent stuff like Pan’s Labyrinth (2006). There’s then a bunch of stuff I’ve not heard of – and that’s fine – it’s there and it’s available. I might find my new favourite film amongst that list of unknown titles.
The key difference is these films have been carefully chosen – I’ll stop short of saying curated, but that’s not a bad way to describe what Mubi does – and they’re worth your time. I’ve had several periods of time where I’ll just watch a film from Mubi every day or two regardless of what I know about it, and it’s always time well spent. Naturally, not every film will be to your taste, but it’ll be at least worth a shot.
Mubi haven’t asked me to tell you all this, but they did recently send me some swag to say thanks for encouraging new users to check out their service. And I am only too happy to try and encourage a few more of you to do so if you haven’t already.
Time to restart weeknotes, I think. Sorry about the hiatus.
This week I had a film developed and printed for the first time in a few years. I posted some of the pictures here. It was a very pleasant experience, not least because I have a handy branch of Snappy Snaps nearby, and I found an unused scanner at work that has done nothing for three years, but that scans film negatives in at remarkably good quality. It was of such great quality that it’s now got me thinking about films from my past that I only ever digitised from the prints, or where I feel I could make better negative scans.
The quality of the scans is one thing, but what I loved was convenience of scanning two strips of negatives in one go (so, eight shots), and having the built in software not just crop them, but also colour-correct them automatically. I frankly can’t believe that before now I made do with a) scanning prints, b) getting crap neg scans from the photo shop, or c) trying to do my own scans on a too-cheap neg scanner myself.
Finding a good way to digitise physical ephemera is so far in my wheelhouse it’s not even funny.
Elsewhere this week I watched Jurassic Park for the first time in a wee while. By God, does it stand up. It’s so hard, of course, to separate it from the version etched in your brain – the lines, the scenery, the concepts, the score – but it still feels rollicking and vital. Of course it’s dated in place – it’s 25 years old this year, which is insane. But it holds up magnificently.
I also played the start of L.A. Noire again. Years ago when I lived with him I watched John play through most of it and I think we both concluded that it’s gorgeous and nuanced, but ultimately quite boring. With the recent chat surrounding the remaster for Switch et al, it seemed like a good time to pick it up – especially as it was only £1.50 at CEX. Anyway the first few missions went by smoothly – the formulaic searching-the-scene-for-clues only feeling slightly clunky. But I forgot the ratio of mission to open-world, and I feel like that’s where I’ll lose interest in the end. But for now, as a primarily narrative-driven piece of entertainment, I’ll carry on until I don’t want to any more.
I also watched this interesting video about the current world record Super Mario Bros. speedrun. It was pitched to me, variously, as “like watching a Swiss clock maker explain his machine,” and, ” even if you aren’t into video games it’s pretty interesting.” I’d say it was somewhere in-between. At least, between M and I watching it, that’s the impression I got. It definitely had a handful of really interesting bugs and…. not hacks, but exploits, that are vital to shaving off the seconds – and sub-seconds.
For many months now, I’ve been in the habit of reading from a couple of diary compilations – one of London diarists, the other with a rural angle – and around the turn of the month, a few pages from an almanac which talks about natural occurrences.
On top of of that, I always have my Kindle handy, and recently I’ve gotten into the habit of sending a so-called long read or an edition of an email newsletter to it.
The latter works only some of the time – some newsletters are more text-based than others, with some being mostly links (to be ctrl-clicked while browsing) or containing too many images to play nicely with an e-ink device.
But now and then, a well-formatted, single-column newsletter consisting of mostly text works a charm. Two recent examples:
Craig Mod‘s Roden Explorers – the latest issue is here – usually contains tales of walking, meditation, photography, some tech insight, and whatever is bubbling around in Mod’s always-fascinating mind.
close, a monthly newsletter only onto its second issue – here – but this entry made for very interesting/familiar reading as a 30-something member of an extended collective community of folks who found kinship online in the early 2000s.
There are others, but I felt the need to jot down two solid examples while they were fresh in my mind. I tend to use one of two Chrome extensions for sending a newsletter (or any web article) to my Kindle – Send To Kindle by Amazon and Push to Kindle by fivefilters.org. They take a couple of minutes to set up, and your mileage will inevitably vary depending on what you send. But both can provide a preview of the content as it will be sent, so you can quickly see if it’s going to work or not.
It’s mostly been a ‘simple’ WordPress.org installation, but there was quite a lot of content to convert, a fair few design principles to incorporate, and – as always – more technical issues than I had expected, mostly around the hosting.
The client was fantastic throughout, and it was a largely enjoyable experience for me, with experience being the operative word as I was able to learn quite a bit even doing something I felt was very much in my comfort zone.
In weekend-related activities, last Monday was a Bank Holiday, so M and I popped up to St Albans to visit friends and have a little wander. It was the third of three ridiculously pleasant Spring days so much ice cream and iced coffee was consumed, and the cool interior of the cathedral was most welcome.
The previous night we’d spent camping in West Sussex – a glorious little site on the wilder side of things. No showers or buildings, and just a few portaloos or compost loos dotted around with the occasional cold water tap dotted around. And, most importantly, they allow fires, so I was in heaven.
It was a great opportunity to test out some new camping gear ahead of a longer trip in Summer. But mostly it felt remarkable in feeling like a 2-3 night trip away, all completed within 36 hours or so. The nearby village of West Hoathly also has a lovely pub or two. And one nice surprise were views across to the ridgeway of the South Downs. We were able to pick out Chanctonbury hill fort and various other landmarks from our recent walk.
And then this weekend just gone, the good weather continued, so we were able to have a little barbecue on the patio – partly in celebration at having decided to scrub the slabs, tidy up the plants, and to buy some new ones to replace the feeble amongst them that didn’t survive the winter.
Well, then. The snow came! And although it’s sometimes boring to talk about the weather, it’s hard to avoid the fact that this week’s snow changed things up a little bit. It meant a change in footwear, a change in walking style, and just a change in psychology for a lot of people. It’s funny how snow does that.
Workwise, it meant that a bunch of jobs went out of the window as I scrambled to ensure our contractors could grit the relevant bits of land we’re responsible for. And to make things slightly easier for them, I took it upon myself to do the land around the office and the two flats we own. There’s nothing like the ‘blank slate’ of a snowed-in driveway to get me out there sweeping, shovelling and salting until it’s clear. Or clear enough, at least. But still, progress with cyclical maintenance rumbles on, and as usual I realise all too late just how much work is involved in this job or that.
It was nice pottering about in the snow. For one thing, the acoustics are wonderful, as the bed of snow absorbs everything and turns everywhere into a sort of anechoic chamber. For another, I suddenly realised I could do some animal tracking on some of the less trafficked areas nearby. I was able to identify the tracks of a cat, a dog, a fox and – maybe? – a muntjac deer. No badgers, sadly.
Meanwhile, something I loved reading this week was Andy Kelly’s travelogue-esque thing about the inhabitants of a town in the Witcher 3. It really caught my imagination, not least because I often have this kind of reaction to games, where I wish I could ‘report’ on the goings-on therein in a series of diaries or similar. I even had a go at doing that with a version of Harvest Moon once, but it turned out to be a terrible idea. But the way he brings the place and the people to life is subtly very clever, and it was just a very enjoyable read. Naturally some credit must go to the game’s developers for creating a world so rich and alive that it bears this kind of reportage!
It also reminded me that I’ve not yet spent enough time with Skyrim yet to decide how I really feel about it. I had visions of being able to do something similar to the above article by mincing around the game, looking around the various settlements and treating it like a little holiday. I also had in mind the concept of the newest Assassin’s Creed game that has a tourist mode – it’s set in ancient Egypt, and although it initially has the usual cutthroat assassiny goodness, it now has this update that allows the player to simply go about the world observing the ways of its people and not having to do any of the fighting or level grinding the main game requires.
Alas, as I Googled ‘Skyrim combat free’, I realised that such a function was not present here. The nearest I found was this chucklesome column in which the player tried to do just that, only they still had to use spells to at least enable them to outrun danger if not remove combat entirely.
Still, I spent some time in Skyrim this week and, although I felt a familiar reluctance wash over me as the loading screens spoke of dragons and spells and orcs, I have to admit I love the world design. Solitude looks stunning – from the architecture of individual buildings, to how it is all laid out in a very organic way. It’s a very believable settlement, and the scale is overwhelming in the number of buildings one can enter.
There are a good number of other characters milling about – guards with snarky one-liners just biding their time in the cold night air, traders plying their wares, and drunkards loitering outside taverns telling tall stories of past adventures.
The lighting complements it all beautifully, whether in daylight or at night when the stars come out, a vast moon looms overhead, and occasionally a spellbinding aurora fades into view. As you’ll note from the slight pixellation above, I was dying for the Xbox 360 to have a screenshot function, but alas it doesn’t. Maybe that’s for the best; I’d spend far too long taking snaps as I went about the place. (I started to do this in GTA:V, but the process for uploading them was ever-so-slightly clunky, so I soon stopped bothering.)
I set myself the task of doing a task or two in Skyrim, to spend half an hour or so in the world, playing the actual game. And I did okay, although it just feels like there’s too much. Too much to learn, too much to know, too much to remember. And although I’m sure I could ignore certain things, it feels like I have a fundamental understanding of how the game plays.
For one thing, I kept accidentally unlocking/starting quests. I get that this is an open-ended game without a linear progression. But it gets a bit confusing not knowing which path I should be on. It’s fairly clear that ‘frightened woman’ and ‘drunkard outside tavern’ are side quests that are just there to fill your time, but I was stuck not knowing whether to storm a bandit-filled fortress or to go and retrieve an unknown object from an unknown place.
And then I fell foul of the world itself: it’s bloody gigantic, and the fact that it’s so organic and well designed means it’s actually quite easy to get lost.
Many of these problems are my own fault. I want to ‘get into’ the game. I want to play it. I want to progress. But I also realise that wayfinding and exploring and making personal decisions about which quest to follow are the game. Right? Just don’t get me started on having to learn spells or keep up to date with my inventory and so on.
This throwaway line in a Nintendo Switch round-up resonated with me, particularly as I had similar issues with Fallout: New Vegas:
That moment when playing Skyrim, scaling a mountain and seeing all that heady scale unfurl before you on a handheld. Followed by the moment, shortly afterwards, when you realise you don’t really like Bethesda games all that much and you just spunked away £49.99 to play a game you didn’t particularly enjoy five years ago.
Anyway. I’ll give it another whirl when I’ve got an hour spare.
Another game I decided to try out for the first time this week was Chrono Trigger (don’t worry – not the mobile or new PC version). But my current summary can be whittled down to “I just basically don’t like RPGs, no matter how beautiful they look.”
This weekend was nice and wholesome. Some cooking and baking, which included assembly of some smørrebrød on Saturday morning, and trying, and failing, trying again, failing again, and then finally succeeding in making some cinnamon rolls.
We haven’t baked much in this flat. Megan has loads of great equipment and is by all accounts a pretty decent baker. But it’s rare that we get the rolling pin out and do what I would describe as ‘proper’ baking. But this weekend on a flip through a Nigella recipe book, we alighted on her Norwegian cinnamon rolls. We were aware that it was quite a longwinded recipe (‘proper’ baking, remember), but also that we had a Saturday afternoon spare to roll up our sleeves and dig out the Kenwood.
Anyway, somewhere between that casual flip through a recipe book, and us stuffing our faces in front of a film on Saturday night, something truly uncanny happened. I’ll save the 900-page epic for another day, but the short version is this: digital scales can be off. I don’t just mean not correctly calibrated. I mean not calibrated properly from being powered on. How likely this is, I do not know. I only know it took us two lots of dough to realise something was amiss.
Reader, putting something with a known weight on a digital scale and it reading out the incorrect weight is an absolutely headfuck. I weighed about five more things. I started to try and work out how long it had been giving the wrong weights. How many other recipes it had subtly ruined. How I had been deceived for so long. I wondered if I could trust the glowing LED clock on the oven underneath.
It was all very unsettling.
But the good news is that we persevered, and we made some of the best cinnamon rolls I’ve ever eaten.
Ironic, then, that the movie we scoffed them to was one of sheer human endurance in the face of a seemingly impossible task. Yes, we watched The Barkley Marathons: The Race That Eats Its Young. And what a story it tells. As a documentary, it works pretty well given the tricky filming conditions. It’s supported by a strong cast of oddballs, visionaries, competitors and other misfits.
Without giving too much away – just find it and watch it, it’s a hoot – it tells the story of a unique sporting event (and in particular the 2012 event) in which forty entrants compete to complete five loops of a forest/mountain/wilderness course something like 20 miles in length. It involves navigating, climbing, descending, running, hiking, traversing a storm drain under a prison (I shit you not), and just enduring all this, up to five times in a row, over the course of sixty hours with as much sleep and recovery as your previous attempt allows before you must set out again. The event draws competitors from around the world, who all go through a bizarre application process before assembling and waiting for the unspecified start signal to strike.
It’s a great film. Gripping. And you watch through your fingers wondering, ridiculously, how much of it you could comfortably tackle.
This was the second of two films we watched this weekend, after Wild. Megan had recently read the memoir the film is based on, but I came to the film cold, and I loved it. It tells the story very capably of what it’s like to go on a long, solitary walk, and the mindset of the walker embarking upon it, and the vast amounts of baggage – both literal and figurative – that she took along the way.
I am quite fascinated by films like Wild that try to tell a true story, and that have been produced by, or with the cooperation of, the people involved. I’m thinking of films such as Almost Famous or Apollo 13 – from both ends of the spectrum of ‘personal’ versus ‘global’ story. It can just make for a much more interesting story-behind-the-story, especially if paired with a good documentary or director’s commentary.
On Sunday, not that Wild or The Barkley Marathons had inspired us at all, we set out on the London LOOP again. This time we tackled two sections in one day. It was a fairly tall order, but we’re planning on walking the South Downs Way in a couple of month’s time, so it seemed like a good opportunity to stretch the legs and get an 18-mile day in and see where any problems may lie. It also helped that the snow was quickly disappearing and the air felt positively mild after a week of sub-zero temperatures and a sharp windchill.
Section three of the LOOP goes from Petts Wood to Hayes, and section four continues on to Croydon. Two very enjoyable sections, with the latter consisting of a surprising amount of woodland and rural settings.
I’m sure I wouldn’t be alone in saying that when I think of Croydon I don’t think of ‘farmland’, ‘golf courses’ and ‘pockets of ancient woodland’. Sorry Croydon. That’s all changed now. Well, almost. Your weird Emerald City skyline still looms in the distance and – yay, trams! But – boo, no service!
The panoramic views back to London including Wembley stadium, the Shard, and transmitter towers was also pretty ace even on a grey day.
In general, something I found endlessly surprising about the Capital Ring, and that I continue to love about the London LOOP, is how you can emerge through a thick hedgerow, having stomped through miles of mud until you find yourself at a TfL bus stop and good transport links back to the centre of town.
Fortunately this was true for the end of section four – well, a kilometre or so short of the end, at least. Unfortunately even though the days continue to get longer, we were caught out by the quickly darkening skies and we had to cut our walk short. We had to choose between a busy, unlit road followed by fields, or to double back along a known, sheltered bridleway to the nearest buses – a pretty easy decision in the end. A smattering of photographs from the two sections is below. One of the last sights of interest before the daylight completely faded was the distinctive movement and white tail of a deer in Selsdon Wood.
But what a day. Long, varied, surprising, satisfying – and very encouraging, as it reminded us both that with even better prep and much longer days, we will be able to tackle 20+ mile days on the South Downs Way without too much trouble.
Over the festive period, M and I watched Bambi and Pinocchio. Have you ever seen those films? Jesus, they’re brutal.
Forgive me if this is common knowledge to all sentient beings other than me, but I was not expecting such darkness on a cosy winter’s morning.
I’d picked up Bambi as it went hand-in-hand with another gift for M of cute Bambi-brand pyjamas. There’s Bambi, all cute with a butterfly on his nose. But God, nothing had prepared me for the onslaught of terror and crushingly dark imagery that Bambi contains. I think I’d remembered that Bambi had a weirdly dark twist, but I didn’t actually know the nature of it until the other day.
And Pinocchio! That cute fairy tale about a wooden boy coming to life? Who remembered the bit where he’s carted off to a grotesque funfair full of naughty boys smoking cigars and shooting pool before being turned into donkeys? I had no idea Spirited Away had taken such inspiration from this film. Admittedly, I found the images of little boys smoking hilarious, but also completely at odds with what I’d expected from these classic, early Disney films.
We were both so shaken from these viewings – the gunshots from Bambi still ring in my ears – that we watched Silver Linings Playbook to cheer ourselves up afterwards.