My picks for some of The Golden Globes

The Golden Globe nominations for 2016 are out. The nominees I would pick in the categories in which I’ve seen some of the films nominated are highlighted below in Bold. Items in Italic depict nominees I’ve seen. Not all the categories are reproduced below. Just the ones I vote for in if I could. See the full set of categories and nominees at source.

Best Motion Picture, Drama
Carol
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Revenant
Room
Spotlight

Best Motion Picture, Comedy
The Big Short
Joy
The Martian
Spy
Trainwreck

Best Director – Motion Picture
Todd Haynes, Carol
Alejandro Iñárritu, The Revenant
Tom McCarthy, Spotlight
George Miller, Mad Max
Ridley Scott, The Martian

Best Actress in a Motion Picture, Drama
Cate Blanchett, Carol
Brie Larson, Room
Rooney Mara, Carol
Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn
Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl

Best Actress in a Motion Picture, Comedy
Jennifer Lawrence, Joy
Melissa McCarthy, Spy
Amy Schumer, Trainwreck

Maggie Smith, Lady in the Van
Lily Tomlin, Grandma

Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture
Jane Fonda, Youth
Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight
Helen Mirren, Trumbo
Alicia Vikander, Ex Machina
Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs

Best Actor in a Motion Picture, Drama
Bryan Cranston, Trumbo
Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs
Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl

Will Smith, Concussion

Best Actor in a Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy
Christian Bale, The Big Short
Steve Carell, The Big Short
Matt Damon, The Martian
Al Pacino, Danny Collins

Mark Ruffalo, Infinitely Polar Bear

Best Animated Feature Film
Anomalisa
The Good Dinosaur
Inside Out
The Peanuts Movie
Shaun the Sheep Movie

2015 Freelance Writing Statistics

Only 2 days left of 2015. Here are my stats for freelance technical writing I did this year.

I wrote 48 new articles that added up to 46310 words.

I also rewrote 24 other articles by others. There were 19412 words in total in those.

Writing delivered 19.2% of my income in 2015 before tax. I want to increase it to be at least 25% of my income in 2016. And then 100% at some point in the future a few years from now.

Some examples from 2015:
Building an Application Delivery Platform

DevOps – where software development and operations collaborate

Why Microsoft Lync is a business conversation first and foremost

Thanks to those reading this who commissioned me to do technical writing. I enjoyed it. I know you like the results. Looking forward to doing even more with you next year!

Thoughts on Star Wars: The Force Awakens

In 1982 Queen released the Hot Space album. There was a bit of a flap as Queen fans raised on the No Synthesisers legend found in the credits of every Queen album up until The Game, went nuts at the musical direction of the band¹. During the Milton Keynes concert on the Hot Space tour in 1982 Freddie Mercury responded to the furore with:

Now most of you know that we’ve got some new sounds out in the last week. And for what it’s worth we’re going to do a few songs in the funk, black category. Whatever you want to call it. That doesn’t mean we’ve lost our rock and roll feel. Okay! I mean, it’s only a bloody record. People get so excited about these things.

Emphasis mine. I’m reminded of this flap when I read some of the stuff written about Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Some people are really invested in the Star Wars universe. They are pointing out plot holes in the new film, saying it’s just a rehash of the original, and of course the Gamergate loons are out in force about the two new lead characters. Both of whom are spectacularly good in the film.

To paraphrase Freddie:

It’s only a bloody film. People get so excited about these things!

It’s a film. It’s entertainment. It’s meant to give you fun and spectacle for your £10 ticket in the cinema. And it has to introduce a new younger generation to the Star Wars universe to set up the next five years worth of films. It’s a reboot without being billed as a reboot. It’s not an existential commentary on the state of humanity.

Luckily most people get that and treat the film in the way it’s intended. As entertainment. And what entertainment it is. I rate it as the best of all the seven Star Wars films so far. It doesn’t have anything new in it. It doesn’t have any surprises. The only thing that could have been a surprise is exposed in dialogue about half way through. But what it delivers it does really well. The scenes set on Jakku are stunning. I could have happily watched a whole film set there. Daisy Ridley is spectacular. Rey, the character she plays is great too. It’s obvious she is important and powerful with The Force. Do I care that she can use The Force without all the training malarky that is in other films? I do not. A natural talent in the force I can live with. This is Sci-Fantasy. The Force can be used in anyway the plot needs. The other new main character Finn, played by John Boyega, is also a great addition to the cast. As is Poe, played by Oscar Issac. The film is greatly improved by having these three diverse lead characters. The new BB-8 droid is fantastic too. What about that thumbs up? :)

Anyway, there you are. I liked the film. It’s a fine 2.25 hours of entertainment. The box office returns seem to indicate that people are going to see it multiple times. It does reward repeat viewing. You can just let it all sink in 2nd time round.

1. I loved Hot Space from the day I heard it. All of my friends from that time who hated it now say they like it.

Favourite tracks from 2015

Like I did this time last year I’m picking my five favourite new tracks from 2015 rather than an album of the year. I have 301 tracks in my 2015 playlist in iTunes. Here are my picks from that selection. I’m not going to say a lot about them. Just go listen via the links to Apple Music, YouTube or Spotify. I’ve created an Apple Music Playlist for the tracks.

Better Than ThatMarina and The Diamonds. This won’t surprise many people. Marina and The Diamonds are my favourite artist at present. FROOT made the list last year as it was released in 2014. Better Than That came out in March this year I think. It’s stupendous. The vocal in the middle 8 section is the best singing I’ve heard in a long time. It wasn’t part of the live set when I saw them in Belfast. Maybe because that middle 8 section would be too hard on the voice night after night. If you have a chance to see Marina live then take it. [Apple Music link] [YouTube link]

Rey’s ThemeJohn Williams & freelance orchestra. This made a late appearance in the year and went straight on to my favourite tracks. Last years list had two tracks from The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 soundtrack. Just the one soundtrack entry this year. From the new Star Wars: The Force Awakens score. I’ve more or less had this on repeat for a week. Loved the film too. The best of all the Star Wars films in my opinion. More about that in a separate post later. [Apple Music link] [YouTube link]

Northern LightsKate Boy. I can’t recall how I discovered this. It may have been a recommendation from Apple Music based on my love of The Knife. I’m glad I did though. I love the sound of Kate Boy. An electronic trio from Sweden and Australia. Very reminiscent of The Knife while also great in their own right and with their own sound. Northern Lights just reaches into my brain and sets it alight. [Apple Music link] [YouTube link]

The Red and The BlackIron Maiden. Still going strong after all these years. They have a formula and they stick to it. Every now and then that formula conjures up an absolute gem in the rock music pantheon. It happened this year with the track The Red and The Black from their new double album. It’s epic. With harmonised vocals, tempo changes and guitar that will melt your head. And just listen those power chords? Classic. [Apple Music link][Spotify link]

Raw HoneyDu Blonde. I got through 50 weeks of 2015, and my life before that, without ever hearing of Du Blonde. But Twitter saved me when Marina Diamandis tweeted that the Welcome Back to Milk album was her favourite of the year. So I had to listen. She was correct. It is a fabulous album. But Raw Honey is the one that grabbed me the most. It has a Red Hot Chilli Peppers vibe to it in my opinion. And that’s a good thing. Interestingly I discover nearly all new music via Twitter now. From recommendations, musicians following me, and Retweets. [Apple Music link] [YouTube link].

Favourite books I read in 2015

I read 39 books this year. Here are my favourite five. Spoilers below obviously.

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry AugustClaire North. Novel about a man who is reborn again and again after he dies. With all his memories from the lives he has led. Not reincarnated after he dies, but rather reborn at the same time in the past. Same birthday. Same place. He discovers that he’s not the only person like this. The book covers the first fifteen of his lives and his interactions with others like him and normal humanity. It starts slowly, but picks up and is a great idea and is very well executed. Has good plot twists and turns.

 

TouchClaire North. Read this after liking The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August so much. This is just as good or maybe even better. Deals with a similar subject. The essences of certain people are able to transfer between human hosts just by touch. They then take over full control of the human they are inhabiting and use them as vessels for a while. Could be for minutes, or for years. But someone is hunting people with this ability and killing them. A brilliant sci-fi thriller. Claire North is a real talent.

The Silk Roads: A New History of The WorldPeter Frankopan. This came up in recommended titles on Audible when I was looking to spend a monthly audiobook credit. It looked interesting so I got it. Really good decision. This is the best history book I’ve ever read. It presents a view of the world beyond the western European centric one I got taught in school. The book is presented as a series of essays based around the Asian and Near East Silk Road trade routes, and covers a time period from antiquity up to the 21st century. I liked the audiobook so much I bought the hardback as well. It is a beautiful book. Everyone should read this. It should be mandatory reading in all school history curricula in the western world.

 

Station ElevenEmily St. John Mandel. I can’t remember how I discovered this book. But I’m so glad I did. It is set around the Great Lakes region of a post apocalyptic North America after 99% of humanity has been wiped out by a very fast acting variant of the influenza virus. In a few weeks nearly everyone is dead. It tells the story of a few bands of survivors eking out a living after the collapse of the modern world we all rely on. There are also retrospective storylines based around the life of an author who wrote, and self published, a comic book series called Station Eleven. All the stories about the survivors are in some way intertwined with this comic book, its author or her acquaintances. The writing is sublime. The way the threads all come together at the end is superb. This is a stunning novel. Everyone should read it.

 

Dreaming in Code: Two Dozen Programmers, Three Years, 4,732 Bugs, and One Quest for Transcendent SoftwareScott Rosenberg. A really enjoyable book about the failed development process for the Chandler Personal Information Manager. Probably my favourite book that is about the technology industry. Everyone involved in software and technology should read this book. I especially liked Rosenberg’s Law.

Favourite films from 2015

I saw 52 new films at the cinema this year. Here are my five favourites. I could easily have made this a top 10 list. But 5 is the tradition. See the full list and my Culture Consumed posts for ratings and mini reviews of the others. Spoilers below obviously.

Ex Machina – The first film that I saw in the cinema this year. It was so good it didn’t get knocked out of the top 5 by releases that came later. It is a smart story about artificial intelligence. The resolution of AVA’s story is both shocking and satisfying. I was rooting for AVA all along. Alicia Vikander is fantastic. The special effects work on AVA’s manikin is spectacular. This New Scientist review is largely spooler free and worth a read.

 

Kingsman: The Secret Service – This was a surprise. The trailers looked good. And they did it justice. A tongue in cheek secret agent story. With a suitable over the top villain, brilliantly played by Samuel L. Jackson who has an outlandish plan for the world. And a secret lair in a mountain. What more could you ask for. The story is good. The actors are good. Plus the plot twists in surprising ways. Cartoon violent. With lots of Matrix like bullet time action.

 

The Age of Adaline – I loved this. A woman has an accident and stops ageing. She then has to handle relationships with people who age around her, and change identities to avoid the authorities who have an interest in her ‘gift’. Blake Lively and Harrison Ford are great in it.

 

 

 

Spy – The 2nd best spy film I saw this year. Kingsman takes top slot. But Spy is fantastic too. It’s very funny. It has the best swearing that I’ve seen in a film in a long time. Possibly ever. This is one to watch again and again. There have to be sequels.

 

 

 

Irrational Man – This years Woody Allen film. He wrote and directed but it stars Joaquin Phoenix, Emma Stone, Parker Posey and Jamie Blackley. I love Woody Allen’s work, especially the early funny stuff :) So I’m predisposed to like his films. Even taking that bias into account I have to say that this was a magical film. It doesn’t tread any new ground for Allen. Other films like Match Point (which is also brilliant) deal with much the same ideas. But so what. Good stories are good stories. And this is a good story. Plus no one writes existential angst dialogue like Woody Allen. This has a good script that was well interpreted and acted by the cast. The locations are beautiful, and the cinematography, lighting and colour hue of the sets is great. As usual with Woody Allen films the jazz, piano and orchestral soundtrack is great too. I came very close to giving this a maximum 10/10 score on IMDB!

Mission Complete

In January I decided to force myself to go to the cinema once a week to see a newly released film. I had my 52nd visit last night to see Christmas with the Coopers. So mission complete. The full list is here.

Doing same thing again in 2016. Its a great way to see films I would not normally see. As I’m forced to pick something new to watch every week. First up on 1st January will be Joy.

Multi-format Reading

I recently re-read Dune. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve read it. It still inspires me thirty-five years after the first time I encountered it. Interestingly the recent re-read was a mutli-format experience spread over three different formats, depending on where I was and my mood. I have the fabulous Folio Society 50th Anniversary hardback edition, the SF Masterworks iBook, and the partially dramatised Dune audiobook.

Dipping into the various formats was a surprisingly pleasurable way to re-read the book. The audiobook I listened to in the car when driving, and sometimes when at home doing some other task. Other times at home I read the Folio Society hardback. Mostly at my desk. The iBook edition was mostly read on iPad when in bed.

I liked this multi-format reading experience. I’ll probably do it again for other books that I plan to re-read. I’ve just started listening to The Silk Roads audiobook. I’m enjoying it so much I’m going to order the hardback edition as well. The iBook might be a step too far this time though.

It’d be great if you could buy a hardback edition of a book, at full publishers price, and get the ebook and audiobook versions included as well. If that was the case then I’d probably buy a lot more hardback books.

Culture Consumed 14

Books and films consumed since the previous post on 13th September.

A Walk in the Woods – A film based on the mid-life crisis book by Bill Bryson. Alarmed by attending funerals of his peers, Bryson decides to hike the Appalachian Trail to prove to himself he isn’t past it. His wife, who thinks the idea is mad, reads up on the route and upon discovering how many people get injured or die on the trail, tells him he isn’t doing it alone. Bryson tries to enlist his closest friends to walk the trail with him. With no success but much derision. Finally a friend from decades past calls and volunteers to go. When he turns up he isn’t in the best shape. They head out on the trail anyway. It then becomes a film about their reminiscences, tribulations on the trail, and their interactions with who they meet. I liked it. A bit like Wild, but with old men! The performance by Kristen Schaal as a manic hiker they run into is brilliant. Nike Nolte is great too. I rated it 6/10.

Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials – There was nothing else I wanted to see for my OneFilmPerWeek pick the last week in September. So I selected the 2nd Maze Runner film. I hadn’t seen the original when it was in cinemas (missing films like this is why I started the OneFilmPerWeek project) so I watched the first one on AppleTV the night before seeing The Scorch Trials in the cinema. I liked them both. It’s a good dystopian Sci-fi story with a back story that is slowly being revealed. Looking forward to the next instalment in the franchise. Gave it 7/10. Same for the original.

Dreaming in Code: Two Dozen Programmers, Three Years, 4,732 Bugs, and One Quest for Transcendent Software – Scott Rosenberg. A really enjoyable audiobook about the failed development process for the Chandler Personal Information Manager. Probably my favourite book that is about technology industry. Everyone involved in software and technology should read this book. I liked Rosenberg’s Law.

The Martian – The much anticipated film adaptation of the self published book of the same name. The book is very nerdy. Science porn in places. A lot of that info was rightly chopped from the film. This is a good film in it’s own right. A bit compressed towards the end on the trek to Schiaparelli Crater. The only thing I would have liked done better was to depict lighter gravity on Mars. But hard to simulate that, and probably not worth the effort. Well worth seeing. I rated it 8/10.

The Intern – Story of a retiree, played by Robert De Niro, who having exhausted all the activities you would expect to keep busy during the day, gets a position as a senior Intern in an Internet fashion startup near his home. Great story about how his years of experience in business, and life, help many people employed at the company. Including the founder played by Anne Hathaway. Loved it. Oscar material IMHO. Rated it 8/10.

Doughnut – Tom Holt. Comedic science fiction novel. The main character is a brilliant physicist who makes a mistake that causes the Very, Very Large Hadron Collider to explode. He is ostracised for this. Then he loses his inheritance in a bad business deal and has to take odd jobs to survive. Until he gets bequeathed some intriguing items in a safety deposit box. Story unfolds slowly at start but is great in the 2nd half. Well worth sticking with as the final quarter might even explain the Universe.

Macbeth – I might have mild post-traumatic stress syndrome after watching the new Macbeth film adaptation. Not unlike Macbeth it turns out. What a nutter. It’s violent and stylised, with some quite disturbing scenes. The first half was poor. A couple walked out off the cinema. A mistake. Second half was very good. I even dreamt about it last night. I gave it 6/10.

 

Advice I just gave someone thinking about job move

Someone asked my advice about whether to take a new job they have been offered. I told them:

You need to decide what you want to do for the next 5 years, 10 years. Will other thing allow you to do that better than current job? Don’t wait for people to give you work. Find out what needs done and do it. People will notice and you will get more responsibility, authority and reward. 

That’s worked for me for 30 years.

Culture Consumed 13

Culture consumed since the last list on 23rd August.

Trainwreck – I’d never seen Amy Schumer in her Comedy Central TV show. So I went in to this not knowing what she was like. Both she and the film as a whole were really good. Funny, poignant, mostly well written and acted. Maybe a bit too much monologuing in places. I rated it 8/10.

How To Write Everything – David Quantick. A short, funny book from a writer who has lots of experience of writing. Having written in most areas professionally, including for The Thick Of It and Veep television shows. The book contains good advice, and some great anecdotes. I liked the one about how long it can be when a TV script is sent to producers until the time the writers hear anything back. In one case a writing pair waited a year and then sent a one year birthday card to the script, care off the producers. Brilliant.

The Long Mars – Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter. I liked this more than The Long War. But it still seemed to be an exercise in world building at times. It all went a bit Midwich Cuckoos alike in later parts of the book. Knowing that won’t detract from the book. Now I’ve read The Long Utopia (see below) that story line makes more sense.

Paper Towns – I really enjoyed this. It’s a good Young Adult story. It has good music, comedy, a road trip, lots of coming of age within the group, pathos, and a believable real world ending. Rated it 8/10.

Irrational Man – New Woody Allen film. He wrote and directed and it stars Joaquin Phoenix, Emma Stone, Parker Posey and Jamie Blackley. I love Woody Allen’s work, especially the early funny stuff 😉 So I’m predisposed to like his films. Even taking that bias into account I have to say that this was a magical film. It doesn’t tread any new ground for Allen. Other films like Match Point (which is also brilliant) deal with much the same ideas. But so what. Good stories are good stories. And this is a good story. Plus no one writes existential angst dialogue like Woody Allen. This was a good script that was well interpreted and acted by the cast. The locations were beautiful, and the cinematography, lighting and colour hue of the sets was great. As usual with Woody Allen films the jazz, piano and orchestral soundtrack was great too. Definitely a 9/10 rating. Came close to giving it the maximum!

The Long Utopia – Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter. The fourth book in The Long Earth Series. I enjoyed this one the most from the four published so far. It has less world building and more story and character interaction. Plus some threads woven in the previous books come together here in a nice, fulfilling tapestry in the last few chapters. With some surprises and a few outcomes that made my eyes smart a little. Looking forward to the conclusion of the series in June next year when The Long Cosmos is published.

Culture Consumed 12

Culture consumed this week. See previous post for more.

Absolutely Anything – This was a bit erratic. The acting was good but the script was weak in places. Editing was weird. Liked the music though. I was pleasantly surprised to hear Roger Taylor singing the opening song. Rated 6/10.

Pixels – The reviews for this were poor. I decided to go anyway. I don’t know what the people giving it poor reviews were expecting. I liked it. It’s a fun, brash, tongue-in-cheek, sci-fi comedy film. If you are a certain age and remember the games from the early 1980’s then that will add some extra bits into your enjoyment. But it’s still good fun without having lived through that decade. I rated it 8/10.

The Long War – Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter. The second book in the Long Earth series. Rereading this and the eponymous one before reading The Long Mars and the just published The Long Utopia. The Long War dragged a bit in the middle I thought. Perhaps too much world building. But given the point of the series is the huge number of Earths available, that might be a stupid criticism. Still, I enjoyed the first and last thirds of the book. Endured the middle. Sets up some interesting ideas to be explored in the next books. Reading the The Long Mars now. The final book in the series is due next year I think.

Culture Consumed 11

Another short culture consumed. As promised trying to avoid another monster post like the ninth one. Again, as stated in the last post, I need to get more reading done.

Mysteries of Modern Physics: Time – Sean Carroll. Brilliant series of lectures on Time and how it’s interwoven into theories of modern physics and is crucial to our understanding of how the Universe works. If you want an overview of current thinking about entropy, the arrow of time and physics then listen to these.

Hot Pursuit – This was okay. Funny in bits. Outtakes in credits funniest bit. You could see worse in cinemas any week of the year. Rated it 7/10.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E – Okay as a secret agent film. Had all the tropes, but nothing outstanding and new. Kingsman, Spy & Mission Impossible all better films in the same genre from this year. Alicia Vikander was great. She looked good in the 1960’s garb. 6/10

HDCP Errors with iTunes content on External screens

If you buy or rent films from Apple iTunes in HD format, and then try to play them from a Mac on an external screen, you might get this error:

The selected film won’t play on one of your connected displays.
This film can only be played on displays that support HDCP (High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection).

HDCP error alert on external screen

This is a copyright thing and there doesn’t seem to be a way round it if the Mac thinks your connected display isn’t HDCP compliant.

You can however watch the non-HD version of the film or TV show if you want. Right-click on the film or TV episode in iTunes, and select Video Quality-Standard Definition (SD) from the pop-up menu:

Choosing SD video option in iTunes

May not be in HD, but useful if you want to watch something from iTunes on an external display.

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