What’s cool today? 21 June 2019 edition

What’s cool today is:

Later I’m going to the Science Museum with Megan to see a special cut of a new Smithsonian Channel documentary about the Apollo program called APOLLO’S MOON SHOT. It’s being shown on the museum’s IMAX screen (which is I believe the fifth largest in the country), and is being introduced by a veteran pioneer of aviation who also happens to be a lady, and it’s being soundtracked by some sort of psychadelic guitars-and-saxophones-and-effects-pedals outfit called Teeth of the Sea.

The poster is really cool:

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Somewhat related to this (in the sense that one almost trips over references to the first moon landing at the moment as we near the fiftieth anniversary of that immense event) is a cool set of pictures curated by The Atlantic of when NASA tried to make a dusty corner of Arizona look and feel like the moon to test their equipment.

On the one hand it’s a bit ugly in the way they just blew up vast chunks of desert to replicate the moon’s craters. On the other hand it’s astronauts in the desert wearing denim jeans and spacesuits, driving lunar rovers. It’s wild.

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Check out the gallery here.

It ends on a link to the location in Google Maps which stills shows signs of those man-made craters and is a particularly dangerous click if, like me, you often find yourself Streetviewing your way around desolate stretches of highway and sparsely-populated towns in the Arizona desert.

What’s also cool is this guy’s write-up of using a particular piece of journalistic technology called the TRS-80 which was a kind of electronic typewriter-cum-modem which allowed hacks to file copy from the road using acoustic telephone handset couplers.

It has a very specific aesthetic and I kind of love it:

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I particularly enjoyed reading this piece because, as Wayne says in his introduction, “I didn’t write this for clicks, or popularity, or recognition. I wrote it for my own edification,” and that’s an attitude I can absolutely get behind when it comes to detailed, passionate, indulgent, readable recollections and memoirs. I loved it.

I stumbled on Wayne’s TRS-80 story in the Hacker News comments on another more mainstream story in which someone describes using a 30-year-old computer to write a column for The Atlantic.

And finally, in a very and finally sort of way, a mis-Googling of ‘TRS-80’ for ‘TR 80’ turned up results showing cute Asian girls holding a digital camera which looks more like a pocket make-up mirror and led me to the product page for the Casio TR 80 which confirms that it is indeed a digital camera from a few years ago which offers, among other more standard features, the following:

  • Pimple and Mark Removed
  • Lip Effects
  • Cheek Effects
  • Nose Sculpting
  • Eye Translucency Processing

Well, now.

Fortunately (and somewhat inevitably) Sam Byford covered this genre of gadget for The Verge a few years ago:  How Casio is selling $900 selfie cameras in China.

The development of this type of gadget led to the creation of this, which is just so damn cool and I kind of want one:

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This is the title of a blog post

Does a blog post need a title? I mean… technically? Or conceptually? Or an image?

Anyway.

For too long now I’ve avoided writing anything here because… Well because apathy and I guess a small amount of ‘fear’ of the blog. I’ve become so used to either tweeting little blips of nothingness or just writing in my diary app that the prospect of Writing A Blog Post takes on the significance of publishing a book or something.

Which is insane.

Plus, most days I find myself reading posts to blogs from people like Phil Gyford and Giles Turnbull and Anne/3.1 and Dana and Megan Hallinan and Alice Bartlett and others I can’t think of right now which make me happy and nostalgic for the time when the majority of feeds in my feed reader (Newsfire or Google Reader) were those written by pals like Jenna, Troels, Emily, Nell, Jessie, Jessica, Laura, Andrew, Petra, Mark, Matthew… The list goes on. But I definitely remember a time when I had tens of real people writing blog posts most weeks and it was great.

It’s still pretty great – the kinds of people who still keep blogs now are usually pretty dedicated and do a great job of it which makes them a joy to read and follow.

We’re also now (back?) into the age of email newsletters, which I also enjoy, but I guess most of the ones I subscribe to are by people I don’t know, like Craig Mod, Robin Sloan, Sean Bonner, Warren Ellis, Anne Helen Petersen, Ann Friedman and so on. At least John Tucker does a newsletter now, thank fuck.

I tend to ‘triage’ a lot of these blog posts and newsletters on my phone or computer but I try to send the bulk of them to my Kindle for reading at bedtime. I’ve found a nice amount of sources to keep a steady supply without things getting out of control.

Positives of this Kindle reading process include the fact that this is a very calm and relaxing way to read stuff which tends to be written in a calm relaxing – even intimate – tone, and that images rendered in e-ink look almost universally gorgeous.

Negatives are mostly limited to me not being able to click through to the stuff they inevitably link to, or that sometimes a subject will inspire me to jot down my own thoughts on it. But that process of turning stuff over in my head also helps me sleep, so we’ll call it evens.

Look at me – much as Phil mentioned recently* – I am equal parts boring myself typing this and feeling like oh maybe I won’t post this actually because never mind.

Well never mind, never mind. I’m posting it.

* actually, that post was so much my cup of tea that it has stuck with me for several days. Remember when the web was exciting? I do. Phil, does too. I guess maybe blogs where people reminisce about the early days of the web (this is a subjective and relative period of time based on when one got online, in my opinion) and RSS feeds and blog rolls and so on will be this generation’s amateur radio clubs or something similar. And I’m okay being part of that club. Sign me up. Oh. I’m already a member.

 

Rip it up and start again (online)

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More than ten years ago (*shudder*) I went to the National Library of New Zealand specifically to check out some articles from Rip It Up and a few other publications whilst researching some stuff on NZ indie from the early to mid 1980s. Plus ça change…

I can’t remember exactly but I know I was helped by a kind staff member who was able to direct me to the issues I was after, and when they understood that I was in the middle of a trip and didn’t want to carry reams of photocopy paper around, a space was found for me ‘behind the scenes’ so that I could instead use a scanner and email myself the stuff I was looking at. It was a really enjoyable delve into the archives.

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Well, actually, things have changed a little in the last ten years, and I was very happy to see this morning that the archives of Rip It Up have started finding their way onto NLNZ’s excellent Papers Past website.

(I’ve used Papers Past for years, mostly to scratch itches around the early European settlement of New Zealand, and to see what life must have been like for some of the country’s earliest Pākehā settlers. Those early issues talking about the arrival of exciting new stock from the old country, or the establishment of a new business breathe life into those times in a very direct way. Not to mention reports of crimes and unusual events such as earthquakes or fires.)

Anyway, it’s particularly cool to see Rip It Up entered into this database as it is a very recent publication. And it benefits from all the great tools and interface that Papers Past has built up over the years of refinement. So now I can just go to the search box, type in ‘the Chills’ and start reading. Magic.

And a lot easier than visiting Wellington and thumbing through the physical copies. Although that’s fun too…

There’s an interesting write-up here which goes into the history of Rip It Up and some of the obstacles it has faced over the years, and the current status with regard to Papers Past. And the first available issues are browseable and searchable here.

This all comes hot on the heels of the latest update on the Flying Nun archive, too, which you can read about in tons of detail also over at the NLNZ blog.

Screenplays, and plays on screen

Over the weekend, I enjoyed two quite different things which had more in common than I first noticed. I mean, saying that, they were both fictional things being performed by actors, and they were both loosely based on actual events. Murders, even.


The first was The Christchurch Murder, an Allegra-produced Radio 4 drama which tells the story of the notorious Parker/Hulme murder in 1954 in New Zealand. The murder of a mother by her daughter and a friend, both in their teens, also formed the plot of Peter Jackson’s 1994 weird and hypnotic Heavenly Creatures.

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Heavenly Creatures, 1994 (dir. Peter Jackson)

This version, though, was written back in 1988 by Angela Carter, and apparently inspired some of Jackson’s own adaptation. Carter died in 1992 aged 51. Until this past Saturday, the Carter screenplay had never been produced. And so it was fascinating to hear it played out on Radio 4 twenty years after it was written.

But what was almost as fascinating as the story itself was that this was a screenplay on the radio. I’ve listened to a fair amount of drama on Radio 4 but this is the first time I can recall listening to a screenplay, complete with directions. It was a bit like watching a film with audio description on.

It made for a very multi-layered experience: we had the directions (such as “She enters the room, noticing all the pictures on the mantelpiece. There is no picture of the wedding.”), then Carter’s narration, and then well-acted dialogue and Foley effects playing out alongside. The murderous teenagers are played terrifically by Dolores Carbonari and Erin Wallace in a giggly, chilling fashion.

It was interesting to hear the subtle differences between Carter’s and Jackson’s adaptations. And the less subtle: name changes, and a complete lack of the fantasy elements that make Jackson’s film so unusual.


The second was Hitchcock’s 1948 film Rope, which I had seen before many years ago, but had all-but forgotten. It was a gripping watch. The dialogue is rich and fast and funny and unsettling. In fact, the whole film is very unsettling, and it has that great vibe of just waiting for someone to get caught out.

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The set of Rope, 1948 (dir. Alfred Hitchcock)

But, inevitably – because my brain cannot sit still for five minutes – what really fascinates me is the production. Those long, unbroken takes. The wide, linear set. The view out of the vast window – as artificial as it seems, but as carefully as it is made to show the passing of time. The way how, on the one hand, we are shown a whole scene as if it were a play, and on the other the camera trundles along behind two characters having a private conversation which we are privy to.

It’s all very clever, and it makes for a gripping narrative.

The film also looks pretty glorious, in a sort of muted, early-colour-film way. I believe it was Hitchcock’s first colour film, and the idea of him using such a film to experiment with long, uncut takes – including one over ten minutes, which I believe was about the limit of the film reel at the time – all brings to mind Christopher Nolan chucking gigantic IMAX cameras into scenes that were otherwise deemed impossible, and getting stunning results.

It’s always interesting to see a play that’s been turned into a film but, in the case of Rope, it seems like Hitchcock actually went to more effort to keep it feeling like a stage play than he would have if he’d filmed it as a more ‘traditional’ film with A/B shots (or do I mean reverse angles?) and so on.


Rope is currently showing on Mubi, a fantastic movie streaming service which values quality over quantity.

Every day they add a film of note and keep it online for a month. This means you always have thirty films to choose from, and they’re generally really great. There’s a scattering of films you know and love, a few you know you need to see but haven’t yet, and a decent amount that you’d probably never come across any other way. Pro-tip: the app works really nicely on the Amazon Fire stick, but it’s available on loads of platforms.

Mubi is a subscription service but you can grab a free month with my Mubi referral code:

https://mubi.com/t/web/global/fpiivi3

Weeknote? Week 37

Alright, let’s try and have a whip round:

Work was pleasant last week, although somewhat chaotic: we were running job interviews, we had a staff day out, and we rescued a feral kitten from the garden. It was not a little amusing for us to be literally herding a cat for the last hour of a week that I think kept us all on our toes.

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Not this cat.

The staff training day was a tour of Strawberry Hill House, the history and recent restoration of which would take many times the half day we had to understand it. Beyond that, the other highlight was that it was being set up for use as a location in a major new film called Come Away, with distinctive parts of the building being used to great effect in what promises to be an epic Disney fantasy. (The premise – I shit thee not – is that Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan are brother and sister.)

At home, I recovered my desktop computer from yet another SSD-related crash. This error throws itself up every now and again, and recovering from it is always tedious. Fortunately I run daily full backups of the whole SSD, but in lieu of finding out the root cause of the drive failure, I have had to stop using the SSD. It’s quite old now, and has served well in two different machines, so maybe it’s time I replaced it. They’re rather cheap now.

This hard drive juggling led to me replacing a 120GB SSD with a quite snappy 640GB laptop drive (what a strange size), and that is working well enough for now. I’ve been spoiled by having my boot drive on an SSD for so long, though.

It also led to me rationalising some of my hoarded hard drives. I managed to squeeze off a bunch of Humax Freesat recordings that lived on a 1TB USB3 drive and put them on an old 320GB drive and caddy, meaning I can use the very-capable 1TB drive for more useful things.

I find this sort of activity extremely comforting. When it goes well.

Speaking of… I also played a bunch more Firewatch this week. Not loads, actually – I still don’t know how long (or short) the game is. But it continues to hold me completely fascinated and I don’t want it to end. And yet I can’t shake the feeling that it is just about to.

Still, I bide my time taking tens of screenshots per session – of the scenery and of the copious amounts of in-game ephemera like letters, typewritten diary entries and other printed materials. The attention to detail on some of them is exquisite. I love that game so much.

Worth noting here, too, that I have gotten back into playing Animal Crossing lately, probably because it is such a seasonal game. I’m glad I’ve found a few new things to do because I mainly stopped out of a lack of such novelties.

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This weekend M and I went to Milton Keynes with our bicycles. We had a great time (well, I certainly did) buzzing around a variety of country lanes, the car-free ‘redway’ cycle routes that criss-cross the city, and streets I still remember pretty clearly. It was particularly pleasant to do most of my old 20km circular ride that occupied so many long sunny evenings and bright, crisp mornings in spring and summer 2014.

We also watched two quite different films – The Death of Stalin and The Bling Ring – and both held our interest and made us chuckle and comment. I’ve no idea if either of them were good, but we enjoyed them. I will say that we particularly enjoyed the dialogue of and comedy timing of the former and the bombastic soundtrack and self-assuredness of the latter.

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And finally, much like the protagonist in Animal Crossing, I caught (and then released) a moth, before spending some time trying to identify as what I believe to be a Box tree moth, which the Internet tells me I should report to the Royal Horticultural Society, so I duly did. It might be that they care more about the caterpillar than the moth, but data is data. Or are.