It’s the list-makingest time of the year

It’s that time of the year where everyone comes together on the Internet to argue about what everyone liked over the year and why they’re wrong. So it’s time for my contribution…

Music

Here is a Spotify playlist I’ve made of some of my favourite stuff this year:

This playlist is actually incomplete: for the sake of track-to-track flow it’s missing anything from Floating Points’ Elaenia, Laura Marling’s Short Movie, Errors’ Lease of Life, Hot Chip’s Why Make Sense? and Purity Ring’s Another Eternity, all of which are very much worth your time. Purity Ring provided the best live show I’ve seen this year (at Metropolis in Montréal).

Best comeback of the year is of course New Order (but then I’m biased), and best collaboration of the year is F.F.S. (managing to be better than both the last Franz Ferdinand and Sparks records – there has to be a future for it.)

Addendum 22.12.2015: Forgot to mention or include in the playlist The Race for Space by Public Service Broadcasting, which is a pretty big omission; or No Cities to Love by Sleater-Kinney.

Movies

Best biopic so far this year is the exceptional Love & Mercy. Only just behind that is Straight Outta Compton, which did well to try to get a consistent narrative line into the complicated and multifaceted N.W.A. story with nicely kinetic direction from F. Gary Gray and the year’s best producer credit (Ice Cube p.g.a., because of course he’s in the union.)

It’s actually been quite a good year for spy and spy related stuff. Kingsman is by turns nasty, compelling, outrageous and very, very funny (even if Vaughan and Goldman didn’t quite manage to downplay the bad bits of Millar’s writing as much as they did with Kick-Ass.) The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is massively uneven but its 60s atmosphere is spot on and when it sparks, it really works (the scene where Napoleon Solo finds safety while a massive action scene goes on in the background is utterly unique).

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation is the most consistent narratively since the first one and is brilliantly directed and constructed, even if there’s not a single overall sequence as good as the Dubai sequence in Ghost Protocol. Spectre is the third best Daniel Craig Bond film, but  I’d still be happy if Mendes came back on the condition that he brings back Roger Deakins and Stuart Baird and finds some better writers.

Out of the two Marvel films this year, Ant-Man is better (completely in inverse to my expectations): off the wall and willing to try new things, it is also the rare Marvel film that gets better and better as it goes on, although it’s a shame we didn’t get to see Edgar Wright’s version. It’s effectively a low-stakes version of Iron Man and all the better for it. Age of Ultron drags a bit and feels overly breezy and fluffy, although it’s still pretty and Elizabeth Olsen is great in it.

Since I haven’t seen Star Wars yet I can’t quite classify that. The Revenant should be interesting too: the trailers give an utterly unique feel.

Addendum 22.12.2015: The Force Awakens is very much worth watching. I missed The Martian, which was a lot of fun and Ridley Scott’s best film in years. And of course, how could I forget Fury Road, by far the best sequel of the year? (That piece is unblocked and I’m working on it again, by the way.)

Games

I haven’t played that much this year – I have time constraints, I don’t play MMOs and I hate military FPS with the force of a thousand suns, so the only big budget games I’ve played through this year are the hilarious Saints Row IV (finally giving up any pretence of being a serious game and going for all out comedy) and the PC version of Arkham Knight. Because I have a 4790K, 16GB of RAM and a GTX970 I was just about able to run it acceptably, which continues to show that if the PC is not dead as a gaming platform, it’s at least in the resus room.

For the record, it played OK after the first patch and some of what it does is brilliant (and unfortunately its best element is a spoiler), but it is the least of Rocksteady’s Batman games. Still better than Arkham Origins and most other games though, and it still handles its No Man’s Land inspiration better than Dark Knight Rises. So I would recommend giving it a go if you have a machine that it it will work on, or one of the current-gen consoles.

I do not own any of the current consoles, so Rise of the Tomb Raider will be 2016 for me. Let’s hope Crystal don’t screw that port up.

The distinguished competition

At the point when I am writing this in 2015, the world is heading towards Peak Superhero. Both Marvel and DC, both owned by major media conglomerates, are developing movie universes to match the ones they have built on paper. Both plan to release many comic book films over the next few years; Marvel of course having had a considerable head start. But, considering history and the upcoming slate, is this going to work out for either of them?

(Warning: This piece is quite long, has a few minor spoilers which you probably know anyway, but does contains ranting about The Dark Knight Rises. So read it at your own risk…)

Continue reading “The distinguished competition”

Reading the bills, because no-one else does

The Alcohol Bill appears to be being discussed by the Scottish media simply in terms of minimum pricing, which is exactly what the Government wants you to do. That there is other stuff in the bill that people might find objectionable (or not, of course) is simply not being mentioned anywhere other than in the last paragraph of every fifth BBC News Online article.

The good thing about the Scottish Parliament is that all new bills are uploaded online as PDFs (the bad thing is that the website is very poorly designed), so you can read it for yourself, with a full explanation also available. For those who don’t really want to because it’s written in jargon, here’s a summary interspersed with occasional ranting:

  • Minimum pricing for alcohol

The minimum price-per-unit is specified by ministers, and is calculated as a measure of (minimum price*(ABV percentage/100)*volume in litres*100). The explanatory document specifies that the minimum price could be 40p/unit, but of course it doesn’t have to be. Nevertheless, this won’t affect spirits or pub prices very much; taking a bottle of 12-year old Highland Park, this works out as 0.4*0.42*0.7*100 = £11.76. Highland Park usually sells for ~£20 in supermarkets.

The killer is that a multipack price must be at least (n items*minimum price), which means no more BOGOF/3-for-2 wine offers as well. So for a  12-pack of 440ml 5% Stella Artois, this would be (0.4*0.05*0.44*100)*12=(0.88)*12=£10.56, which is a bit more than this usually sells for.

What the bill does is make multipacks, for the most part, uneconomical.I find this somewhat annoying because I buy a large pack of beer, put a few cans in the fridge at a time and tend to drink even a 12-pack over a couple of months – it harms reasonable drinkers more than it harms those who are abusing it – but it’s not lethal.

  • Explicitly banning BOGOF/3 for 2 in off-sales

Just in case you didn’t notice the bit above.

  • Banning alcohol advertising outside designated areas

Almost certainly means that off-licenses will have to cover their windows (just after we finally admitted it didn’t help for bookies) and means that supermarkets won’t be able to promote in windows. The current alcohol laws mean that all alcohol offers must be in the designated area anyway, so all this’ll do is mean that offers can’t be promoted outside Row X. This doesn’t apply to non-alcoholic beer-branded merchandise, so supermarkets can sell you a Guinness glass in the glassware area.How thoughtful.

  • Requirement for age verification

Scottish licensees already do far too much age verification as it is; I was refused alcohol at an open-air Radiohead gig in Glasgow because I didn’t have any ID they found acceptable (despite being 23 at the time).

As I don’t drive and don’t carry my passport around with me, this is a perennial problem; I do carry quite a lot of identification, but no-one cares about my photo bus pass, credit cards (over 18 only, verified by your bank) or so on; it’s just passport, driving license, the national ID card that isn’t going to happen or the Portman Group give-us-your-personal-details blackmail card. The bill requires Challenge 21. As it’s already a crime to sell to someone under 18, quite harshly punishable, there is absolutely no need for this.

  • Allows ministers to add to and remove from the law at will

So they don’t have to shove any changes through the Parliament again. This is by far the sneakiest segment of the bill, a very New Labour-style measure fron the SNP. This will allow them to bring back the over-21s stupidity again…

  • Licensing boards can ban under-21s in their own area

…oh. Apparently this involves a “detrimental impact statement”, but section 9 gives them the power to do it unilaterally.

A thoroughly infantilising measure. Most of the worst thugs I’ve seen in pubs are Begbie types who are far older than 21, although that is of course a personal opinion rather than purest fact. Students can be annoying, but generally not too vicious; and in any case, a good proportion will be over 21 anyway. And how are you going to tell the difference between 21 and 18? It’s harder than 18/non-18.

See Challenge 21 for details. Grr.

  • “Social responsibility levy”

Licensing-board imposed fines for “bad” publicans, which could just be being in a “bad” area, or the Western Isles. A fine piece of spin from the Alistair Campbell Big Book Of Machiavellian Delights.

So there you go. Surprisingly, there isn’t a big Q&A article on the BBC News website with this information in it linked off every article about the Bill, without the ranting, as there is with most controversial Westminster issues. There’s certainly no excuse for the Herald or Scotsman, past the fact that Johnston Press don’t care about anything other than cash (most certainly not their website). I guess  that’s the Scottish media for you: media by press release, complacent and incompetent all.

Buttery my a…

So I’ve just flicked across onto MTV R and, as usual for an MTV channel, it’s running adverts. The one that got my attention was an ad for the spreadable margarine Flora Buttery fronted by Gary Rhodes, who must really need the money – at least Jamie Oliver and that berk doing the Aldi ads are fronting for decentish food products, not hydrogenated vegetable fats.

The main trick it does is the good old Pepsi Challenge format – Flora Buttery versus Lurpak Lighter Spreadable (not named in the voiceover but printed in an ultra-light Helvetica along the bottom) on crumpets. Lurpak Lighter Spreadable is, of course, the tasteless version. The ad then tries to make it look like most people preferred Flora Buttery in their taste test.

However, the best bit of the ad is where along the bottom of the screen (this must be an Ofcom mandate or something) it prints the true results:

Out of 200 people tested. 48% preferred Flora Buttery Taste, 45% Lurpak Lighter Spreaable, 7% had no preferences.

In other words, 96 people liked Flora Buttery better than Lurpak, but 90 people liked Lurpak better than Flora Buttery while 14 people couldn’t give a damn. Not only is the difference within the margin of error but it shows that in their own taste test, a very large number of people preferred the other brand anyway, and more people either did that or didn’t care than gave some preference, no matter how small, for Flora’s own product.

I believe the phrase is ‘epic fail’.

Why remake Day Of The Triffids?

I mean, it was already remade quite recently, and successfully; the only reason the BBC possibly thinks this is a good idea is that they don’t know about it. See, the people who remade it changed the title. To 28 Days Later.

28 Days Later is effectively Triffids with fast zombies instead of plants – from eye operation, to deserted London, right down to the villainous military guys. And because it’s really a very good movie, and since the 70s Triffids adaptation (minus good-enough-at-the-time plant SFX) is really very well done, why remake? Because of 28 Days nicking all the best imagery that hadn’t already been taken by the 70s adaptation, you’ll just be repeating the idea rather than providing anything new.

Still, I don’t know exactly what they’re thinking, so I hope that in the future this doubt will sound like someone complaining about the rumours about the new Doctor Who or Battlestar Galactica before we actually got to see them. That’s my hope, anyway.

First Google Chrome impressions

It’s BSD licensed. It seems to be fairly fast. It imported my current Firefox 3.0 profile without a hitch. The tabs support middle-click close and are very fast to do so. It even fits into Vista’s Glass style properly, which the screenshots previously shown didn’t make obvious:

Google Chrome on Vista with tabs open
Google Chrome on Vista with tabs open

In fact, I’ve already run into an annoying issue with it – if you delete all the text from the WordPress text field, it deselects the field – but it’s not exactly lethal.

Chrome’s multiprocessing isn’t a joke either. Right now, I have seven tabs open – with nine processes showing in Task Manager. Close one and it goes down to eight. Total memory usage appears to be about 150% that of Firefox, but process size appears to depend on how complex the page is – a new Firefox 3.0 on my desktop machine with the same tabs open as Chrome uses 63MB while Chrome uses a total of 98MB, with some of the page process sizes being as low as 1MB and the biggest appearing to be the main application (36MB). HQ Youtube videos play absolutely fine in the background. It doesn’t experience the same slowdown as Firefox when opening multiple pages at the same time either and trying to work with another. It’s a very competent beta.

It even has a rather nice object inspection window that reminds me of Firebug:

The inspector in Google Chrome - looking at my WordPress page.
The inspector in Google Chrome - looking at my WordPress page.

This includes a time/size graphing facility too, and you can edit those CSS properties in-line. They have been thorough.

Remember when Safari came out for the Mac and was a step ahead of almost everything else? Chrome is like that for Windows and it’ll be like that for any platform it comes out on. It’s quick, slim-looking and uses animation sparingly and well. It’s obviously had a whole lot of thought put into it and, being open source, it should hopefully have so much more.

(Poking around in its install directory – incredibly, it installs direct to your local profile on Vista, which is probably a violation of something – reveals a “Themes” directory with a single .dll in it, a “Resources” directory with the JavaScript-based inspector in it, Google Gears as a .dll plugin and an updater. No doubt there’s more goodies deep in there.)

But in short, what it needs is Adblock Plus (or equivalent) and a Mac version for my laptop and it’ll be my main browser. Come on, Google, do your best.