Culture Consumed 4

What culture have I consumed since the last list on 25th October?

Human Universe – The latest BBC science series presented by Professor Brian Cox. This one looked at the place of humans in the Universe. It touched on whether we are alone, or if there are other technological civilisations in our Galaxy or beyond. Fabulous stuff, The  monologue at the end of the final episode is magnificent. 

The Time Traveller’s Wife – Film version of Audrey Niffenegger book of the same name. About a man who uncontrollably travels backwards and forwards in time. And his relationship with his wife. Whom he met when time travelling. I’ve seen this a few times now. I really like it.

Forever – Continuing to watch the Forever TV show. Continuing to love it. 

The Hunger Games, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire & The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – In anticipation of the November 20th release of the third film in The Hunger Games series, I bought the previous two on iTunes. Then watched them before going to see the third in the cinema. All three are fabulous. Modern classics in my opinion. I’ve been to see Mockingjay three times so far. There is no guarantee I won’t go see it again before it gets an iTunes release.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay book – After seeing the Mockingjay film three times, I didn’t want to wait until November 2015 to find out what happens. So I bought and read the last book in the trilogy. It’s going to be very interesting to see how they handle the later stages of the story in the final film. No spoilers until this time next year! The films are a better telling of the story than the books I think. I don’t like the first person present tense that the books use. I understand why it’s done that way. But I don’t like it.

Enigma – Caught this film set in Bletchley Park during the second world war. It had a few strange plot twists. But overall I liked it. 

Interstellar – The science fiction film that everyone and their dog had been talking about for the last few months. It was going to be the best, most realistic space film ever. I hated it. It’s not just that I didn’t think it was any good. No, about an hour into it I started to resent the film makers for wasting my time. It’s awful. The visuals are okay. But they don’t redeem the poor story or plot. Also, it’s about a year too long!

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First chapters of Intervention

As promised in a previous post, I’ve made the first release of the serialisation of a story I’m working on. It’s called Intervention, and is a first contact story. An idea that has been mined extensively for centuries now, but I wanted to do my take in it.

It shares a name with one of my favourite authors books on the same subject. Intervention by Julian May. My take on the topic will be quite different, and certainly not as good as hers.

I plan to release more chapters every week. The book is comprised of three sections. It’ll be one book with three sections, not a trilogy ;) At present there are two chapters from Part 1 – The Watchers available. Here are links for iBooks ePub and Kindle Mobi downloads. There is a link in the sidebar to the right that goes to a page with the latest release, and release notes. Check there to see if you have the latest edition in future. Bookmark that page. You know you want to. Subscribe via RSS links to get latest posts as well.

The cover image is temporary. Although it’s growing on me.

Comments on the story, grammar, typos, or anything else welcome. Get me on Twitter or via email using the Contact links in the sidebar.

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Filtering the news

Everyone knows a certain subject reasonably well. It’s a different subject for everyone of course. Someone might know a lot about IT for example. Another person might be well versed on any number of other subjects.

Let’s assume you do know quite a lot about a certain subject. It doesn’t matter what it is. Could be anything. What do you think when you hear the subject discussed in the news media. Either broadcast or print news media. Do you often shake your head at the glaring mistakes, or shallow discussions, that passes for reporting of the subject?

I do.

There are lots of subjects that I don’t know much about. Lots, and lots. When I’m consuming news about subjects that I don’t know much about, I try to remember how they report on subjects I do know about. It’s likely that the reporting on those subjects I’m unfamiliar with is a shallow, or even as wrong, as the reporting on subjects I’m familiar with.

So how do we counter this? I think the only defence against being fed shallow or incorrect news, is to consume a wide swathe of sources. Including sources you don’t agree with, and then come to your own conclusions.

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Further salvos in the Spotify and Taylor Swift war

Taylor Swift albums
From Ars Technica:

Taylor Swift has struck back in her ideological battle with streaming music service Spotify by releasing the amount of money that she’s earned from its customers in the last 12 months: less than $500,000 across hundreds of millions of plays.

Get the popcorn…

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It’s Amazing That The Old Record Industry Existed In The First Place

Another take on making money in the music industry. As an artist.

But here’s the thing.
Those who made a killing from the record business of yesteryear, should count their lucky stars that it ever happened in the first place.

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New business models for musicians

We live in interesting times. Did you know that the Chinese proverb along those lines is actually a curse? Well, if it was ever said at all. No original Chinese source has ever been found

Anyway, from a music business point of view, we do live in interesting times. After CD sales dropped off a metaphorical cliff a while back, sales have recovered thanks to iTunes. Now it seems that iTunes downloads are on the decline. How are musicians going to make money from their recordings? Lets ignore touring and live revenue streams for the sake of this post.

Common wisdom has it that the reason that iTunes downloads are declining, is due to the rise in popularity of streaming services. The head of Spotify doesn’t agree. In a blog post today he addresses some ideas that are held up as facts by many people when discussing Spotify. Myself included it has to be said. I’ve articulated that Spotify doesn’t pay enough to the artists a lot over the last few years. They have paid out $2 Billion to the rights holders. With half of that in the last year. So the payments are accelerating. If there is a delay in that money getting to the artists, or not getting to them at all, that’s a separate issue and not Spotify’s fault. I have to say the argument in the blog post is compelling. There may be a future where musicians can get a decent revenue return from streaming. Here’s hoping. I won’t be as negative about Spotify in future. 

It’s still the case that the maximum revenue a musician can get is from people buying their music¹. And there are novel ways to get people to pay for your music. I got an email today on the Marina and the Diamonds mailing list about her new album. A quote from the email:

My album is made up of 6 colours, each representing a different “Froot”.
I’ve come up with an idea that I hope you’ll love and want to experience together… It’s called “Froot of the Month”. 
When you pre-order “FROOT”, I will send you a new track every month up until the album release. So, 6 new “FROOTS” will be dropping in to your inbox over the next 6 months.
Each “Froot of the Month” has it’s own colour, visual world and “Scratch ’N Sniff” scents to explore.

That’s a great idea. Get people to pay up front for the album and send them a track each month for half a year. It builds buzz, and lets fans feel as if they are part of something bigger. I’ll be pre-ordering. The title track is fantastic.

There are other ways to get people to pay for music. Kickstarter has been successful for over 1000 UK based musicians. I backed just one. I’ll back more in future. Some musicians are producing packages around their CD or Vinyl² releases. For example, The Anchoress  whose current release comes with selection of other items, like a romance novel, tied into the subject matter of the song. 

I could go on. But I won’t. Bottom line. I hope that musicians can find a way to make money from their art. We all benefit when they do and can focus their efforts on producing more music for us to consume. Pay for your favourite songs. If you don’t you might be cheating your future self out of some great music. And future you might regret it.

1. Unless their music gets a ridiculous number of streams on Spotify.
2. Yes Vinyl. No, it doesn’t sound better. Sort your life out!

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Throwing stuff out into the world

In November 2011 I completed NaNoWriMo for the 2nd time. Ended up with just over 50,000 words of a novel at the end of the month. I’ve added about 5000 more words since then. This year I decided to use November to add another 50,000 words to the story. I added just under 4000 last weekend. During that writing I decided that I needed to take a step back, and do some more detailed timeline planning for the story.

Thinking about that this week I had the idea to serialise the story. As David Gerrold, and many others, have said:

Your first million words are for practice. They don’t count. Remember that.

So why not practice in public? To that end I’m going to start posting segments of the story here as a serial. At least one per month. It’ll be interesting to get feedback on the story, as it progresses and grows. I’ll also get to experiment with Vellum, when creating eBook versions of the story. 

It’s difficult getting something out into the world. Whether it’s a book, a song, an app, or anything else creative. It’s very easy to fail to ship. Serialising a project makes it easier to get something out the door. Once that’s done other creative projects should be easier to finish and deliver. Hopefully.

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Apple in the Enterprise

Today was an interesting one for anyone advocating for the use of Apple devices in business. Two announcements that will make it easier.

First up. Microsoft changed the licensing required to use Microsoft Office apps on iOS. Previously an Office 365 subscription, or an in app purchase, was required to enable the creation of new Office documents, or the editing of existing ones. That requirement was removed today. Now it is possible to create new Office documents, or edit documents on iOS, just by having a free Microsoft account. Dropbox is now available as an intigrated Cloud storage solution too. I like the way the new Microsoft is going. They are back on a path of having their software and services available everywhere. As they say themselves: The world has changed. The Microsoft announcement is on their Blog

Next. Apple and IBM announced the first fruits of their Enterprise partnership. Namely, AppleCare for Enterprise. It seems to have the things that businesses need from a vendor: Named Account Manager, 24/7 coverage with 1-hour response for priority issues, helpdesk offloading for Apple related issues, next business day onsite support, device replacement for 10% of devices in costs. Businesses that use over 100 Apple devices will be very interested in this I think.

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Human Universe

Just finished watching the last episode of BBC Human Universe. It was a fabulous advertisement for rationalism, Humanism and Enlightenment values. Professor Brian Cox is a great host for these types of programmes. I’ve seen comments saying that he isn’t as good as predecessors such as Carl Sagan or James Burke. I disagree. I watched both of those presenters back in the day. They were great. So is Brian Cox. He is as good as them. He’s also operating in a world were there are a lot more channels competing for peoples attention. So the presentation has to grab people. It’s well worth watching Human Universe on iPlayer if you missed it. 

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Golden age for Female Vocalists

Was listening to some new music from one of my favourite female vocalists recently and it struck me that we are in a golden age of women vocalists. Maybe it was always the case, but the thought just struck me. I might do a list some time!

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Culture Consumed 3

So what culture have I consumed since the last list?

Twin Peaks Series 1 & 2 – I was completely gobsmacked, and ecstatic to hear that Twin Peaks was coming back for a 3rd series. Set 25 years after the end of series 2. Which if you’ve watched it makes perfect sense. So I had to watch them again. It’s the law. One of the best TV shows ever made. I’m up to episode 24 of 31 on this rewatch.

Storyville: Particle Fever – The Search for the Higgs – Caught this on BBC Storyville. A feature length documentary about the building and operation of the LHC, and the finding of the Higgs Boson. Story told from the point of view of 6 physicists working on the project. Both theorists and experimentalists. It is great. Watched it twice. Should still be on iPlayer, or you can buy it on iTunes or at the link above if in the USA.

The Frood – A new biography of Douglas Adams and how he came to pen The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, and his later works. It’s very good. I’m about half way through.

Froot – A new song from Marina and the Diamonds. I love her voice. Went to london just to see her in concert a few years ago. The only other people I’ve done that for are Queen and Kate Bush. I cant stop listening to Froot. Others too it seems. It’s about to hit 2 million plays on YouTube after just 15 days!

Forever TV Series – A new TV series from the USA. Being shown on Sky in the UK. Just been 4 episodes so far. It’s great. A sort of cross between Highlander and Sherlock. A keeper. Hope it  doesn’t get cancelled!

The Hunger Games – I recorded this from TV broadcast a few months ago. It’s been sitting on my Virgin V+ disk for ages. Finally watched it last weekend. Wow. It’s great. I really enjoyed it. Even though I had said I was done with dystopian Sci-fi for a while. In fact I liked it so much that I…

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire – rented the sequel the next night. It was just as good. Got the books too and have read a bit of them. Very close to the film so far. Like a text description of the film in fact. Looking forward to the 3rd film hitting theatres on 21st November. 

Moon – Watched the film Moon, again. Still good :)

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Podcasts I subscribe to

I was asked on Twitter to do a list of the podcasts I listen to. I’ve set up a Page here on the Soapbox in response. Raw list with some links there now. I’ll update, and curate, the list from now on. It’s at:

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Culture Consumed 2

Following on from the last Culture Consumed post. Again inspired by the similar segment in the Galactic Suburbs podcast.

Queen Live At The Rainbow ’74. In 1974 Queen recorded, and filmed, their March and November concerts at the Rainbow in London. On the Queen II and Sheer Heart Attack album tours. They have just been cleaned up and released. They are fabulous. I bought the Deluxe iTunes album that has the March and November concerts. Plus the November video on iTunes.

Starfall by Saundra Mitchell. A short story published on the Lightspeed Magazine site. I listened to the audiobook version whilst out walking. Both text and audio available for free, but do buy the magazine and support them. 

The Frood. The Authorised and Very Official History of Douglas Adams & The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Jem Roberts. I’m still consuming this one. About 25% into it. Loving it, so wanted to include it in this list. It’s a good autobiography of Douglas Adams and how he came to pen the vairious incarnations of The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy. I find myself likeing biographies and diaries a lot more in the last few years.

Micheal Palin Diaries Volume 3 (1988 to 1998): Travelling to Work. I loved the previous two voloumes of Michael Palin’s diaries. The 3rd volume feels a bit flatter to me. I’ve read to the start of 1991, but have set it to the side, metaphorically as I read most stuff on iPad these days, to read The Frood.

Yes Minister Series 1, 2 & 3. The classic 1980’s political sitcom about the Minister of Administrative Affairs and his Civil Service team. And their sparring. Brilliant stuff.

Weather by Susan Palwick. A short story published by Clarkesworld Magazine. Available on the site to read or as an audiobook via their podcast.  Buy the Magazine to support them. I buy the iPad version.

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Culture Consumed

Inspired by the segment on the Galactic Suburbs podcast.

A Fistful OF Dollars  – The first in what many consider the archetypical spaghetti western series, directed by Sergio Leone and staring Clint Eastwood. A wandering drifter finds himself in a town with two feuding families. He sees an opportunity to play them off against each other. It doesnt end well for most. A great film. I have to watch the next 2 in the series soon.

Dr Who – I haven’t been a fan of the modern Doctor Who series. Haven’t watched many of them. Decided to give the new series a go. It is Peter Capaldi after all. I liked the opening episode. Although I did have to ask Twitter who some of the alien characters where. Given I hadn’t watched the recent series where they were introduced. I though the 2nd episode was a bit weak and predictable. But maybe they are still setting up for later in the series. The ‘heaven’ bit is interesting. Wondering how that’ll play out. Hopefully by not actually being heaven!

All Quiet on the Western Front (1979) – Caught this by accident when it was on TV. It’s a 1979 colour film adaption of the famous book about life on the German lines on western front in World War 1. I liked it a lot. Very graphic, for the time, and the depiction of the horror or trench warfare was very good. Several parts of it were like Band of Brothers. Not really surprising I expect. War is war, and horrible.

Five stages of Grief After the Alien Invasion – A short story from the latest Clarkesworld Magazine. A story of the aftermath of an (accidental?) alien seeding of Earth. Who claim they didn’t know it was inhabited. Read online at the link above or listen to the audiobook version via their Podcast.

The Lady Astronaut of Mars – A really great short story from Mary Robinette Kowal. It won the Hugo Award for Best Novelette this year. Deservadly so. It’s crisp, focused, evocative and thought provoking. Read it at the link above.

Before The Dawn – I now live in a world where I can say that I have seen Kate Bush live in concert. I never thought it would happen. I had high hopes for the concert. They were surpassed. The venue, the lighting, the staging and theatrics were all brilliant. But what topped it all was that voice. Kate Bush truly has one of the best voices ever. 

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Why SocialChess or Chess24 is better than playing a computer

In a SocialChess game I was playing earlier, I left my Queen hanging after one of my moves. I played 17. e5 to attack the black bishop, and open the diagonal for my white square bishop to put pressure on the exposed black king. Here is the position after my move.

Yikes. Queen hanging and open to the Bishop on b7. If I was playing a computer then this would be game over. The computer would not miss that move and would take the Queen off immediately. As it should! But I was playing a real human on SocialChess. And he didnt see the hanging Queen. He was more focused on protecting his attacked Bishop, and played 17…Be7. When I got a notification on my iPhone that it was my move I spotted 18.Qxb7 as soon as I opened the app. I did not see it after playing 17. e5. My opponent resigned shortly after. Game details :

[Event “SocialChess”]
[Site “Internet”]
[Date “2014.08.17”]
[White “IanRobinson (1413)”]
[Black “REDACTED (1276)”]
[Result “1-0″]
[ECO “D00″]

1.d4 d5 2.Nc3 e6 3.Nf3 h6 4.e4 dxe4 5.Nxe4 Nf6 6.Bd3 Bb4+ 7.c3 Be7 8.O-O O-O 9.b4 a6 10.Bb2 b5 11.Ne5 Bb7 12.f3 Nxe4 13.fxe4 Bd6 14.Nxf7 Rxf7 15.Rxf7 Kxf7 16.Qf3+ Kg8 17.e5 Be7 18.Qxb7 Nd7 19.Qe4 Nf8 20.Rf1 Qd5 21.Qg4 Qxa2 22.Bc1 a5 23.Bxh6 1-0

Computers are great for analysing your games after the fact, but playing against a real human is a much more enjoyable experience. Especially when learning and your skill level is low to moderate. Even if your skill level is high I expect playing a human is more enjoyable. Hopefully one day I’ll be good enough to answer that question!

So, play humans. There are lots of places to do it on the Internet. I like SocialChess and Chess24.

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