100 days with Apple Watch

It’s been 100 days since I received my Apple Watch. As I outlined in my previous post I had three main reasons for getting one (beyond being an Apple geek!):

  • Be a good timepiece.
  • Be a good Activity and health tracker.
  • Provide Haptic feedback for directions when walking (as demoed at the Apple launch event).

After 100 days it still fulfils those three functions perfectly. I wear it every day. In fact I feel naked without it. There are other features that I use. These are:

  • Haptic notifications for Messages, incoming calls, and calendar events. My iPhone is now on silent all the time. I never miss calls as I get tapped on the wrist when a call comes in. This is awesome.
  • Apple Remote app. I can control my AppleTV via the Watch from the sofa. No more groping for the remote. 
  • Dark Sky app. Given the vagaries of the weather recently it’s great to be able to look at a Glance on my Watch to see if I’m going to be rained on in the next hour.

I bought a black Sports Band to replace the white one it shipped with. Black was what i wanted, but the silver Aluminium Sport didn’t have a combination that included the black band.

Was my Apple Watch worth £339? For me, yes. I’m glad I bought it. I’m still very impressed with it. Looking forward to the next generation of watchOS 2 apps later in the year. They will be faster as they are native, and do not need to rely on a tethered iPhone to function.

My headphones are like new again

I bought a set of Sennheiser PXC 450 headphones in 2007. Love them. They are noise cancelling. When the noise cancelling is on the ambient noise in environment just disappears. Eight years is a long time and I noticed recently that the leatherette covers on the ear pads was deteriorating and starting to flake. So I ordered a new pair of official replacements. They were expensive but well worth it. Came with the fitting rings that hold them on already fitted. So they just snapped on. Now my eight year old headphones are like new again. You get what you pay for!

Sennheiser PXC 450 headphones with new ear pads

Culture Consumed 10

I’m trying not to let the Culture Consumed posts get as large as the last one! Only two films this time. Which tells me I need to finish reading a few more books!

Inside Out – Pixar does it again. It’s probably not as good as The Incredibles, but Inside Out is a masterpiece. Studios can have multiple masterpieces. I can also have a favourite from them. Others can have their own favourites. It should be said that Inside Out isn’t a documentary on consciousness. It is however a great work of storytelling about changes when moving from childhood to adulthood, and that being sad is part of that transition. And life in general. 9/10

Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation – I haven’t seen the previous four films in the Mission Impossible film franchise. You don’t need to have seen them to enjoy this fifth film. It was fun. Predictable fun, but fun nonetheless. Simon Pegg was great in it. As was Rebecca Ferguson. I liked it a lot. 8/10.

Free Will?

There is a lot of discussion about free will and whether humans have it. I don’t pretend to understand all the arguments. I want to learn a lot more in future. 

One of the arguments that is made by advocates of the position that humans don’t have free will is based on brain scan results from when people are asked to perform a simple task. For example when someone is asked to move their index finger. Brain scan results show that our brains unconsciously decide to make the finger movement several seconds before we have conscious awareness of the decision. Similar results have been shown for other brain processes. I don’t think the fact that our brains make some decisions in our subconscious, before the conscious brain is aware, of them is in doubt.

Some people posit that this means we don’t have free will. If our subconscious brain is making decisions then how are we making informed conscious decisions is the argument. I don’t agree with this position. Our subconscious is still part of our brains. We don’t fully understand how brains work. Even if we didn’t have the option not to perform the action that is decided in our subconscious (we do have that option), then the decision in the subconscious is still ours. 

Culture Consumed 9

It’s been a while since I posted the last Culture Consumed. So this is a long one. What have I read and watched since the previous post on 25th April? As always, hat tip to Galactic Suburbia for the idea. Some mild spoilers contained below.

John Wick – Keanu Reaves kicks some arse. A retired mob hitman gets dragged back into the world he had left behind. Mayhem ensues. I liked it. Gave it 7/10. A sequel has been given the go ahead I hear. Good stuff.

Big Game – A coming of age story set in Scandinavia. A young boy out in the woods to kill a deer as a rite of passage into manhood, gets caught up in a plot to kill the President of The United States. After the President’s Airforce One escape capsule lands in the woods, when the plane is shot down, the boy and The President team up. Above average: 6/10.

The Age of Adaline – I loved this. A woman has an accident and stops ageing. She then has to deal with the relationships with people who age around her, and change identities to avoid the authorities who have an interest in her ‘gift’. I’ll be buying this in iTunes to watch again and again in the future. Blake Lively and Harrison Ford are great in it. 8/10

Limitless – I caught this on Film 4HD. I’ve been watching a lot of Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence and Robert De Niro films recently. This didn’t have Lawrence in it but did have Anna Friel. Win. I really liked this. Man takes experimental drug that vastly increases cognitive ability so he can win in business and politics. Can’t all be upside can it? Can it? Watch and see! 8/10.

Twenty Trillion Leagues Under The Sea – Adam Roberts. What a strange book. In a good way. An experimental French submarine dives in the Atlantic. And keeps on diving. And diving. Well beyond the floor of the Atlantic basin. And on. And on. Are they even still on Earth at all? Does anyone in the crew know something they are not saying? Its a good bit of storytelling. Deals with the tensions amongst the crew as their predicament unfolds really well. Worth a read.

Mad Max: Fury Road – This left me cold. But then I didn’t like Mad Max 3. This is a competent bit of film making. Really well shot and the stunts and action sequences are great. But the story is lacking. It’s a chase movie set in desert and rocky hills. Fine if that’s what you want. I’ve no issue with Max not really being the focus. The Charlize Theron character is the best thing about the film. 5/10.

Touch – Claire North. Read this after liking The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by the same author so much. This is just as good or maybe even better. Deals with a similar subject. The essence of certain people are able to jump between human hosts just by touch. Using them as vessels for a while. Minutes or years. But some one is hunting them down. A brilliant sci-fi thriller. Read this. Claire North is a real talent.

Tomorrowland: A World Beyond – I was really looking forward to this after seeing the trailers repeatedly in the few weeks running up to release. It was good, if perhaps not as good as I hoped it would be. But your perception and enjoyment of a film is shaped by your mood when you see it. The performances by Britt Robertson and Raffey Cassidy are really good. Rated it 7/10.

The Affinities – Robert Charles Wilson. A science fiction book about social and genetic profiling taken to extreme. People, who pay the commercial company behind the process, are profiled and allocated to a Affinity of like minded individuals. Inevitably there is interest from the authorities and friction between the various affinities. Humans are humans after all. I liked this a lot.

What We Know About Climate Change – Kerry Emanuel. A short book about the current (as off 2012) knowledge that shows that man made climate change is a fact. Good summary if you want to get up to speed.

American Hustle – I had this sitting in my AppleTV wish list for a while. Due to it being from the same director and actors who were in Silver Linings Playbook. Finally got round to buying and watching it. Loved it. Has a definite Goodfellas vibe. But not as violent. People have poo-pooed American Hustle because of the obvious Goodfellas influence. I don’t agree with them. I loved it, possibly even more than Goodfellas. Time will be the judge of that. I rated it 8/10 on IMDB.

The Way Inn – Neil Wiles. If you do a lot of business travel and stay in hotels a lot then you’ll recognise the hotel related stuff in this book. Based around a newly opened Way Inn built beside a new business conference centre. Main character is a professional conference attender. He goes to conferences so business people don’t have to. Love that concept. But turns out, The Way Inn might not be a simple hotel chain… Recommended.

Man Up – Another film caught in my #OnefilmPerWeek project net. A romantic comedy. Nancy (played brilliantly by Lake Bell) ends up an a blind date with Jack (played by Simon Pegg) on which she pretends to be someone else. The woman who Jack was supposed to meet having left Nancy a copy of the self help book that was to allow them to recognise each other in a busy train station in London. Nancy is running to return the book when she is accosted by Jack who thinks she is his blind date. She doesn’t put him right. I liked this a lot. It’s funny. Came out after it with a huge grin on my face and feeling good about the world. Gave it 9/10.

Spy – The 2nd best spy film I’ve seen 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. I’ll be buying this on iTunes. This is one to watch again and again. There have to be sequels! 8/10.

Mr. Holmes – An ageing, forgetful Sherlock Holmes makes an new attempt to solve the case that forced him to retire a few decades earlier. A nice study on the effects of ageing. Good performance by Ian McKellen as the old Sherlock Holmes. 7/10.

The Falling Sky – Pippa Goldschmidt. A book in the Lab Lit phenomenon. The trials and tribulations and life story of a female astronomer. She and a co-worker find an image in their data that looks like it contradicts a central tenet of the big-bang theory. The professional ramifications of this are explored. Media scrutiny, media manipulation to get a good story too. The book also covers the early life of Jeanette, the protagonist. I liked it. This isn’t a science novel, or a science fiction novel. It’s a life story.

Minions – The minions got their own film. Maybe they shouldn’t have. It wasn’t that good. 4/10.

Slow West – A nice take on the western genre. This is actually a road film. Albeit one set at a gentle pace on horseback. Jay Cavendish is the son of a Scottish Laird. He is travelling across America to find the girl he is in love with. She has fled to America with her father who is wanted and now has a price on his head. Quite a large price. This means that a lot of bounty hunters are also looking for the Scots. One of them befriends Jay and travels with him. Of course Jay doesn’t know this. Great film. Looks fantastic (was actually shot in New Zealand). I liked it a lot. Gave it 8/10.

Superintelligence – This book melted my head. Listened to the audiobook version. It’s fantastic. Liked it so much I bought the hardback to read again. Deserves detailed study. Artificial Intelligence is one of the next big things (along with Big Data and Internet of Things).

Terminator Genisys – Arnie’s back! Lots of reviews have said that they shouldn’t have bothered. I couldn’t disagree more with those negative reviews. I liked this a lot. It is a good reboot of the Terminator franchise. Certainly as good as the original and the sequel. Some nice takes on the same motifs that are in those films. The scene where The Terminator asks the punks for their clothes and bike is fabulous. 8/10.

The Higgs Boson and Beyond – Sean Carroll. A great audiobook version of the particle physics lectures from The Great Courses. If you want to get a picture of what modern particle physics and the standard model is, then listen to this audiobook. I’ve started listening to the Time one from the same series. Loving it too.

Knock Knock – Yikes. This was a bit disturbing. Keanu Reaves is working late at night when his wife and kids are away for a few days. There is a storm raging. He hears a knock on his front door and finds two soaked young girls at the door. They worm their way into the house and end up seducing him. They then pretend to be underage. Then they blackmail him and more. Just say no people! Well made and shot. Story good. Rated 7/10.

Humans – TV series about the impact of artificially intelligent synthetic beings on society, and how humanity reacts to them. There have been 6 out of 8 episodes shown so far. Will say more when it’s complete. No spoilers. Suffice to say its possibly my favourite drama TV show ever.

Self/Less – Science fiction story on a well trodden theme. An ageing billionaire businessman, who has a terminal illness, is contacted by an organisation who claim to be able to transfer his consciousness into another body. A body that has been grown in the lab. Not a clone however. Which should raise a few red flags! he agrees to the process. Let’s accept the process to do this at face value and let it through on the nod (read Superintelligence to get an idea of how hard taking a snapshot of a brain will be). The businessman starts leading his new life, with the instruction not to contact anyone he knew previously. All is fine until he starts to get hallucinations and memories that are not his. I liked this a lot. The story is well told and is an entertaining two hours. Well worth watching. Rated it 8/10.

Procedure to follow when a bat infiltrates your house

You may find yourself in a situation in future in which a bat has infiltrated your house. What should you do in such a situation?

The first step is to scream like a schoolgirl as the bat flaps around your head. This seems to be a vital first step in any eviction procedure. This should be closely followed by frantic crouching to avoid getting hit on the head by said bat. Something I now know couldn’t happen thanks to my later efforts to try and catch the bat in flight. That sonar thing seems to work. The bat didn’t fly into anything in the 20 minutes or so I shared a room with it.

Step three; isolate the bat in a single room and open the available windows in the hope that the bat will fly out. A forlorn hope it turns out. The bat simply flies around in a circle. Step four is to find a suitable receptacle to capture the bat in, and a flat piece of card to use as a lid.

Five. Watch the bat fly around the room you have isolated it in. Through a gap between the door and doorframe mind you, not from within the actual room. When the bat fails to take the sensible option and fly out the open window, you should proceed to the next step. Six. Quickly duck into the room and attempt to get the bat to fly into your receptacle. Step seven; fail miserably. Step eight; turn light out in room and wait for the bat to get fed up flying round in circles and land somewhere.

Step nine. Place receptacle on the stationary bat. This step may require several attempts. Be patient. Feel free to repeat step one if the bat takes off and flies at your head again.

Step ten. When you have successfully got the receptacle over the bat slide the cardboard under it to seal the bat inside. Eleven, close the windows opened when hoping the bat would fly out on its own accord. Step twelve; precede with alacrity to the nearest exit and, remembering to close the door behind you, release the bat as high up in the air you can reach.

Step thirteen. Have a stiff drink.

Step fourteen. Never open your windows again.

Two weeks with Apple Watch

I’ve had my Apple Watch for just over two weeks. Is it providing any benefits, now that the novelty has worn off? To answer this question I need to lay out what I wanted from it, and why I ordered one. Over and above the fact that I tend to order some model from all Apple product categories of course!

I’ve always worn a watch. About two years ago I swapped my watch for a Nike FuelBand fitness tracking device. This tracked my activity and converted it to a metric known as Nike Fuel points. It was great. It allowed me to monitor how active I was over time. Unfortunately the button on the FuelBand got really hard to press about 6 months ago. Given that the button had to be pressed in order to see the time, and to sync the device with iPhone, this was a problem. It stopped working completely not long after it started to play up. I would have replaced the FuelBand if I didn’t know that Apple Watch was due for release in early 2015. So I went back to my normal watch and did without the activity tracking. I missed that.

When I ordered an Apple Watch all I wanted from it was:

  • Be a good timepiece.
  • Be a good Activity and health tracker.
  • Provide Haptic feedback for directions when walking (as demoed at the Apple launch event).

The Watch delivers on those three requirements very well. It is a very good timepiece. I use a simple analogue watch face, with next calendar event, date, temperature and battery level added. As shown in the picture on the right. The screen displays the watch face whenever my wrist is raised or rotated. I’ve had no issues with this although others have reported it not being consistent for them. The activity and health tracking work well too. My steps and heart rate are counted. The latter every 10 minutes or so throughout the day. I have noticed an issue with heart rate measurements not being recorded in the Apple Health App on iPhone when I use RunKeeper to track walking activities. It doesn’t matter if I have the RunKeeper Watch extension on the Watch or not. I’d like to know what my heart rate is when out walking for exercise. I’m still investigating this issue. The haptic feedback (or Taptic as Apple call it) works a treat too. When using Apple Maps for turn-by-turn directions the Watch will tap the wrist in different ways for turn left and turn right. At different distances from the turn in question depending on the speed of travel. I have just used this for real once. To find the Omniplex Cinema in Lisburn. Worked a treat.

One thing I was adamant about before getting the Watch, was that I would be turning off most notifications. The only notifications I let through from iPhone are meeting reminders from Fantastical and emails from senders who are in a Mail VIP group. I also get notifications from the Watch reminding me when I’ve been inactive too long. I have the sound turned off and only get Taptic feedback. I have to say that Taptic feedback is the best way to get notifications. Getting tapped on the wrist in an unobtrusive way is much, much better than the sounds that usually ring out from phones and computers. I also like the fact that notifications that are delivered via Watch do not also appear on iPhone. I leave my iPhone on silent all the time. When a call comes in I get tapped on the wrist. Brilliant. Notifications on Watch are a killer feature and will be a big part of the usefulness of the device.

Talking about phone calls; You can make and receive calls directly on the Watch. Obviously a paired iPhone is needed to do this. But you can leave the phone in a pocket and talk directly into the Watch. It also has a speaker to hear the person you are talking to.

Most of the third party app extensions available so far are quite simple. As they probably should be. Most were written before developers had Apple Watch devices to test on. The next few months will see a lot of app extensions for Watch revised and redesigned. See this article by Marco Arment on his redesign of the app extension for the Overcast podcast player. I don’t use Overcast myself as I like Downcast better as a podcast player. The Downcast Watch extension isn’t out yet.

One thing I find myself using a lot on the Watch is the Remote app to control my AppleTV. I use AppleTV a lot and being able to fully control it from the watch is fantastic. Big plus point.

So, to answer my question about the benefits of the Watch. Yes, it does provide benefits to me. It delivers what I wanted it to do, and also extra functionality that I never thought off before ordering. Win.

Culture Consumed 8

Here is the culture I have consumed since the last list. As ever these posts totally rip off the segement of the same name in the Galactic Suburbia podcast. Some mild spoilers below.

Insurgent – Part two of the Divergent series. Viewed as part of my #OneFilmPerWeek project that requires me to go see at least one film in the cinema every week. Insurgent was better than the first film, Divergent. It was alright. Nothing special.

The Art Of Being Normal – Lisa Williamson. This came up in the “Readers also bought…” page on the Geek Girl page on Amazon or iBooks. It’s a really good story about teenagers with gender issues. Focuses on David who is a girl in a boy’s body. Has a twist that I didn’t see coming. I enjoyed it. Aimed at Young Adult (YA) audience. But good stories are good stories. Age categories like YA should be ignored by readers.

Still Alice – Film about a relatively young university professor, played brilliantly by Julianne Moore, who gets early onset Alzheimer’s Disease. It’s a very poignant story. I liked it a lot. Julianne Moore won the 2015 Oscar for her performance. Kristen Stewart was great in it too.

Bête – Adam Roberts. A near future novel in which very easily administered brain implants are developed that give animals the ability of rational thought, or the appearance of it. Animals just have to injest the small devices. Once in the animals mouth or throat the device implants itself and inserts filiments into the nervours system. Animal rights activists seize on this and use them on farm animals such as dairy cows. Laws are passed forbidding the killing of these sentient animals. Farming collapses, as do other industries. Bête is like a post apocalypse novel without any major apocalypse happening. Follows the life of a displaced farmer as he travels England eking out a living. I liked it.

Blade Runner: The Final Cut – The British Film Institute released a fresh print of Blade Runner: The Final Cut to cinemas. I’d never seen it on the big screen. So I had to go. It’s still a brilliant film. Looked great up on the big screen to.

Only Ever Yours – Louise O’Neill. Another YA focused dystopian future novel. It was recommend on Twitter by someone. It’s certainly dystopian! No spoilers, but you should read this. It won the Bookseller YA Novel of the year 2015. The end shocked me!

Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 – Another film captured in the #OneFilmPerWeek net. There wasn’t anything else I fancied the weekend I saw this. The trailer was amusing. Pretty standard stuff. Main character is a hard person to like in many situations during the film. Was mildly entertaining on the whole.

Othergirl – Nicole Burnstein. What’s a girl to do if her best friend turns out to be a super hero? There may be a whole canon of books that cover this area. But I don’t know of it. I liked this. Interesting take on the super hero story. Started a #OneBookPerWeek project to accompany the #OneFilmPerWeek project around the time I was reading this. As a vehicle to force me to read more, and to read outside my usual areas.

The Girl With All The Gifts – M. R. Carey. Decided to read this as it was one of the six nominees for the 2015 Arthur C. Clarke Award. As was Station Eleven that I read earlier this year and loved. The Girl With All The Gifts deserves to be on the Clarke list alongside Station Eleven. It’s great. Can’t say much without spoilers. But recommend you read it.

While We’re Young – Film about a couple in their early forties who befriend another couple in their mid-twenties. Seems to be an opportunity to relive their youth. But is all as it seems… I liked this a lot. Has a Woody Allen vibe to it. Which is a good thing.

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August – Claire North. Another Clarke Award nominee. Novel about a man who is reborn again after he dies. With all his memories from the life he’s just led. Not reincarnated after he dies. But reborn at the same time in the past. Same birthday. He discovers that he’s not the only person like this. Book covers the first fifteen of his lives. It starts slowly, but picks up and is a great idea and is very well executed. Has good plot twists and turns. Good writing too. Read it.

Avengers Age of Ultron – Caught in the #OneFilmPerWeek net. Pretty standard fare. Kept thinking of other films as scenes unfolded. It’s well done. Nothing stellar. Cinema was very full. So it, and films of same ilk, have the virtue of making my local Omniplex financially viable! It was maybe a bit long. There will be sequels :)

Apple Watch Try On: Impressions

I went to the Apple Store in Belfast today to have a look at the Apple Watch and to try some on with a few different straps. I was mainly interested in seeing what the non-black Sport finish and the Milanese Loop strap were like.

Each try on occurs at a separate demo station in the store. The try on watches are non functional devices that are running a demo loop. Each demo station in the store also has a functional Apple Watch mounted on a plinth that also has an iPad sized screen embedded. This screen displays info and tips about the particular mode the attached watch is currently in. This is a really good way to walk people through the functions of the watch.

Size – first off, the watch isn’t as big as I’d imagined. This is a good thing. The 38mm model is noticeably smaller than the 42mm one. Surprising what a difference the 4mm actually makes. I like the size of the 42mm model. The thickness of the watch is also less than the impression I’d taken from pictures and videos. I ordered the 42mm Sport yesterday. I’m happy with that choice. 

Fit & Finish – I only looked at the Sport models to check fit & finish. As this is what I’ve ordered, and I like the silver Aluminium finish of my iPad Air 2. The Sport model in Aluminium that was available at my demo station was the 38mm model. I had a good look at the case for this one. It’s gorgeous. Really nice. I also had a look at the 42mm Sport in Black (and tried this one on, see below). It’s got a really nice finish too.  But I like the silver Aluminium models a lot more. I didn’t inspect the stainless steel models. 

Weight – The black 42mm Sport model with the Fluoroelastomer sport band that I tried on was very light on the wrist.  It didn’t feel any different than the Casio Waveceptor watch I currently wear.  So light that I probably wouldn’t be aware of wearing it. Which is what you want. 

Bands – I tried two other bands in addition to the Fluoroelastomer Sports band: a Milanese Loop and a Link Bracelet. The Milanese Loop available at my demo station was a Small/Medium on a 38mm watch. It was a bit of a  squeeze getting it past my knuckles, but once on it felt, and looked great. I will definitely be ordering a Milanese Loop to use most of the time with my Sport. I also tried the Link Bracelet. This looks really nice. But it’s heavy. Noticeably heavy. That’s not what I want from a watch band. I don’t want it to impinge on my consciousness. Never say never, but I won’t be getting a Link Bracelet in near future. I will also get a black Sports Band to complement the white one that will come with my Watch. 

There has been some talk about each Watch having two straps in the box. A Samll/Medium and a Medium/Large one. I was told that this is not the case. Each Watch comes with three band parts which, when used in different configurations, give you the various band size options.

Faces – The faces look great. The normal watch faces with hour, minute and second hands are my favourites and what I’ll likely use.

Digital Crown – The digital Crown works as advertised. Press it and you get taken to previous app you were using. Spin it with a finger to scroll or zoom. It’s intuitive. Talking about scrolling, it’s fluid and fast in the built in apps. Photos app is like butter! You can also flick between photos on the screen. 

Force Touch – This works really well to. Press and hold on the screen and you get different UI response appropriate for the App you are currently in. This’ll be great when it transitions to iPhone in future.

I can’t wait to get mine now. We are at the start of another journey. This first version of the Watch will be a good first step on the path to make computing ubiquitous. 

Culture Consumed 7

More culture that I’ve consumed since the previous list was posted. Warning, mild spoilers in some of the items below.

Big Hero 6 – Went to see this as it was the only film showing that appealed to me one weekend in early February. I’m going to at least one new film every week. Big Hero 6 was the pick on the second week of February. It was good fun. Sort of Anime meets Pixar. 

Project Almanac – Another film that was caught in my one film per week net. It was okay. Geek flick. Weird Science, meets Groundhog Day, meets The Invisible Man. Addresses the consequences of messing with science. I enjoyed it. Laughed out loud three times. Forgot I was in the cinema. Fully immersed.

Geek Girl books – Geek Girl – Model Misfit (Geek Girl 2) – Picture Perfect (Geek Girl 3) – Geek Drama (Geek Girl Novelette) – All That Glitters (Geek Girl 4) by Holly Smale. Apple promoted the latest Geek Girl novel, All that Glitters, on the iBooks store. I’d never heard of the books before. I followed the link, saw there were previous books in the series. Downloaded a sample for the first one, Geek Girl. I was hooked! I’m so not in the target demographic for these books. But target demographics can look after themselves. Really fun reads. I laughed out loud a lot. Also learned facts. I love Harriet, Wilbur and Toby characters. Highly recommended. Great quote: 

You may be the only supermodel in the world who repeats the entire periodic table when stressed.

The Theory Of Everything – Went to see this after Eddie Redmayne won the Oscar for Best Actor. Holy cow. What a performance. It’s stunning. But the best thing is that it’s a good film. I forgot that it was Eddie Redmayne playing the roll. Felicity Jones is great a Jane too. Some people have complained about how the film portrays science, same with The Imitation Game that i’ve yet to watch, but this misses the point. It’s a film to entertain people. Not a documentary. Lots of people praise the science in Interstellar (though I don’t agree they should), and it was a poor film for entertainment. The Theory Of Everything succeeds as entertainment.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. I can’t remember how I found this book. But I’m so glad I did. Set in the Great Lakes region of a post apocalyptic North America. Over 99% of humanity has been killed by a very fast acting variant of influenza. In a few weeks nearly everyone is gone. Tells the story of a few bands of survivors. Also has retrospective storylines based about the life of an author who wrote, and self published, a comic book series called Station Eleven. All the life stories of 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. 

Chappie – Story about a sentient AI robot. That falls into the clutches of some unsavoury characters just at the time when it is learning. Like a child learns, but greatly accelerated. I didn’t like this at all. Story was weak, the underworld stuff was grim, and some of the things done to the robot actually made me uncomfortable (not by the underworld characters it turns out). Ending was incredulous twaddle.

RED – Caught this film on TV. Film about a group of retired secret agents who get flagged for termination. Serious comedic violence ensues. It’s all good fun. Great cast. 

Predestination – Watched this on TV as a rental. I’ll be buying it. This is a film to watch again and again over the years. It’s one of the best films I’ve ever seen. Sarah Snook’s performance is brilliant. She should have won all the awards. It’s a time travel movie about a government agency that solves crimes. That’s the backdrop. But its not really about that. That’s just the framework to tell the story of Sarah Snook’s character. And what a story it is. Wow. Brilliant film.

X + YA film about a socially shy teenager who is really good at mathematics. He learns about the Mathematical Olympiad and makes it his goal to get picked for the UK team. Along the way he has to learn to overcome his shyness. I liked it. The end was a bit rushed, but overall a good film. 

Forever – Yay! Forever TV show is back this week. After the Christmas mission break. When did a few months gap over Christmas and New Year become a thing for TV series? Bizarre. 

Queen music is all over TV these days

Have you noticed? The Queen songs in loads of UK TV advertisements. Almost to the point where you notice advertisements that don’t have a Queen song in them!

I’m sure some people think this is selling out. And that the current Queen & Adam Lambert tour is as well. I don’t. These songs need to be heard. Having them on TV via advertisements keeps the songs in people’s thoughts, and introduces new listeners to the great tracks.

Similarly, the Queen & Adam Lambert tour gives people a chance to hear the songs live. And Queen songs deserve to be heard live by all.

 

Culture Consumed 6

Films, books and other media consumed since the last list on 25th January. As ever, hat tip to the Galactic Suburbia podcast for the idea. BTW: they are back from their Christmas holidays hiatus. A new episode was posted on 4th February. Go listen :)

Dimension of Miracles  – Robert Sheckley. I read this as it was mentioned in Jem Roberts excellent Douglas Adams biography and account of the production of the HHGTTG and Dirk Gently books. Dimension of Miracles started off well. But ultimately I found it a bit unsatisfying. Seemed to be a series of unconnected vignettes rather than a coherent novel. Entertaining, and contains some good philosophising on the nature of things. But not as good as HHGTTG.

X-Men: Days of Future Past – Continuing my recent Jennifer Lawrence movie trend. This was okay. Standard fare blockbuster stuff. Entertaining, but not a film I’d watch multiple times.

Kingsman: The Secret Service – This was a surprise. The trailers looked good. They don’t do it justice. A tongue in cheek spy 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. I loved it.

Winter’s Bone – Dark. Bleak. Harrowing. And that’s just the backdrop upon which this story is told. Set in a poor white American mountain community. Starring Jennifer Lawrence as Ree, it tells of her searching for her missing father in and around the community. He is a minor criminal who is out on bail. His bail bond was the house and land that Ree, her mother and two younger siblings live in. If the father doesn’t turn up for a court hearing, they lose the land and house. To say I enjoyed this would be to use the wrong verb. It’s harrowing in places, and certainly not a light film. Jennifer Lawrence was Oscar nominated for her role as Ree. She is literally in every scene of the film. I think this performance is a better one than the one she won the Oscar for in Silver Linings Playbook.

Jupiter Ascending – I managed to avoid all the early release reviews of Jupiter Ascending. I couldn’t avoid the general sense that leaked out, from those who had seen it, that it was not very good. So as I sat in the cinema I wondering what I was in for. I’ve only ever considered walking out early from two films. The Constant Gardener and Interstellar. Would Jupiter Ascending join that list? No. The film is fine. It’s bombastic, wide, space opera. With homages to lots of other films. Only one bit I’d cut out. A very Brazil or HHGTTG like section. Also I’d shorten fight and action scenes. The music is fabulous. I’ll be buying the soundtrack album. The acting is good. The visuals are stunning. Story as good as many other big Sci-fi films. I enjoyed it. I felt good after watching it. Can’t ask for more that that from a film. It’s getting very mixed reviews. And indeed some heavy handed slating. To paraphrase Freddie Mercury from the 1982 Milton Keynes Bowl concert (I was there!) talking about the Hot Space album: ‘It’s only a bloody film. People get so excited about these things’. Go see Jupiter Ascending. Let it wash over you. Enjoy :)

Zombieland – I’ve never really been into the whole Zombie thing. Obviously I like Shaun of the Dead. Who doesn’t! But the wider Zombie thing has passed me by. Mostly by choice. Zombieland was on Film 4 in UK last week and  I recorded it. Watched it on Saturday. It was fun. Basically a road trip movie with killing zombies as a backdrop. I liked it. Bill Murray’s cameo was good.

Culture Consumed 5

Culture consumed since the last list on 11th December.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies – The final film in The Hobbit trilogy. Too long. Cartoon battle scenes. Didn’t like it. I was going to write more, but Adam Roberts has put it better than I could. Read his review here.

Guardians of the Galaxy – Missed this when it was in cinemas. Everyone said it was brilliant. So watched it on AppleTV over the holidays. It was good. Escapist fun. Not as good as everyone was saying in my opinion, but certainly fun for a few hours. 

Get Started In: Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy – new how-to book on writing Science Fiction & Fantasy. Contains good advice for anyone writing in any genre. Should be in your library of writing books. If you have such a thing. Which you should!

Forest Gump – I didn’t really get this film when it came out in the 1990’s. But the more I see it, the more I like. Caught it on Film 4 over the holidays. 

Divergent – Post apocalypse story set in a partially ruined Chicago. Weak characters. Weak plot. No real back story. It’s not a patch on The Hunger Games. 

The Hunger Games 1,2 & 3 – Again. Read the 3 books from start to finish. Finally got past the first person present style. Watched the three films again too. Looking forward to Mockinjay film hitting iTunes Store in March. I still think the films are the best format to tell this story.

Beyond – British science fiction story about a couple trying to find their son. He was with his grandparents when aliens invaded the Earth. Not in a good way. Turns out this is a relationship story, rather than a story about the aliens. Which would be fine if it went to a conclusion. But it doesn’t. Did they run out of money?

Ex Machina – Now this is good. Just opened so no spoilers. Suffice to say that this is a smart story about artificial intelligence. Go see it.  New Scientist review is largely spooler free and worth a read.

Ascension – New 3-part sci-fi series being shown in the UK on Sky 1. Have seen parts 1 & 2 so far. Have to admin that I nearly stopped watching this during the first hour of part 1. To much telling between characters to explain backstory. And some dubious acting. Mad Men in space I dubbed it on Twitter. However it picks up in the last 30 minutes of Part 1. Guessed the twist in the plot about 5 minutes before it was revealed. Not going to be a classic of the genre, but worth a watch. Just get past the first hour without bailing.

My Cousin Vinny – Love this film. Bought it on iTunes a few years go. Story about a Brooklyn based lawyer and his fiancee coming to the aide of his young cousin and friend when they are falsely accused of murder in the deep south. It’s a comedy. A subtle one. Marisa Tomei won an Oscar for here performance in this film. Rightly so. She’s wonderful in it.

Silver Linings Playbook – I’ve decided to watch the other films that Jennifer Lawrence is in. Based on her performances in The Hunger Games films. May as well start with the one she won an Oscar for. Story is a romantic comedy about a man (Pat) who has bipolar condition, who loses it when he finds his wife in the shower with a work colleague. After 8 months in a psychiatric hospital as part of a plea bargain when he beat up the man he found with his wife, he gets out and meets up with police widow (Tiffany) played by Jennifer Lawrence. She has her own issues as a result of the death of her husband. Pat wants to get back with his wife, and Tiffany agrees to help him in return for him becoming her partner in the annual christmas holiday dance competition. It tells of the changing relationship between than and how it affects those around them. I really like this. Great story played well by all the characters. 

Favourite tracks from 2014

I usually do an album of the year post around this time. Decided to do favourite tracks this year instead. Just to shake things up a bit. So here are the five favourite music tracks from those I’ve bought this year. Not in any order. With links to Spotify and iTunes.

The Hanging Tree – Jennifer Lawrence. This pick won’t be a surprise if you follow me on Twitter. Sung by Jennifer Lawrence within “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1″ film. Apparently she doesn’t think she can sing, and cried on set before the filming of the scene the song is in. Tried to get the director to allow her to lip sync to Lorde singing the song. Thankfully he refused. She can sing. [Spotify Link – iTunes Link].

Froot – Marina and The Diamonds  Another one that won’t surprise many. I love Marina Diamandis’s voice. She is in a group of three artists that I’ve specifically gone to England to see live. The other two being Queen and Kate Bush. Good company! The new song Froot is the eponymous track from her forthcoming album. It’s being released a track per month from now until April 2015. With the full album getting a release then. [Spotify Link – iTunes Link].

Long Year – The Anchoress. Self styled as revenge pop, The Anchoress is the new project from Catherine Anne Davies. There have been 2 EP’s this year and an album due in 2015. This years releases have been great, but Long Year is the standout track for me. I love the discordant chaos it builds to. The vocal and guitar are define. I met Catherine at a Kate Bush concert in September. She’s awesome, and going to be huge.  [Spotify Link – iTunes Link].

All Dark Places – CMG & Nina Kinert. There a few musicians from whom I buy new releases unheard. Nina Kinert is one of those musicians. She’s been doing a lot of collaborations recently. Has a new solo album in the works. Earlier this year she collaborated with Carl Malmgren on a six track EP. The eponymous track is my favourite. But the whole EP is good. [Spotify Link – iTunes Link].

Air Raid Drill – James Newton Howard. I love lots of orchestral music. All of the modern music of this type that I get exposed to is from film scores. From the original Star Wars score and onwards. The music for “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1″ is fantastic. It’s great as a stand alone piece of music in its own right. The Air Raid Drill track is a joy.  [Spotify Link – iTunes Link].

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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