Saturday, April 30, 2011
Sunday, April 24, 2011
Thursday, April 21, 2011
Wednesday, April 20, 2011
Last week I tried an experiment. Instead of posting bits and pieces on Facebook as I encountered them, I compiled everything into a single daily blog post which appeared first on the Web, and then on Facebook as a note. It was a deliberate attempt to reduce the number of FB posts I make: I know I post a lot, but that’s because I keep stumbling over all sorts of interesting things. The journalist inside me wants to share them with you, but I’m wary of bombarding people with stuff they don’t want to read. I also wanted to try writing slightly longer pieces, but not as long as the short essays I usually put on my blog.
The blog experiment revealed several interesting things.
· The number of comments and likes dropped off almost to nothing. Most of my posts get some reaction. The blog posts, which typically contained 10-15 items, got almost no response. I suspect this is due to the following reasons:
- Most people simply don’t read the longer posts. They’re not good to read on a phone, for example and they demand a lot more commitment than short 240-character posts. It’s also really easy to skim through your Facebook feed and see what looks interesting, whereas this is much harder with a blog. No readers = no reaction. Simple.
- The layout Facebook gives to links is actually very effective: a short summary, an obvious thing to click on to see the item (and you can view videos right in the post without leaving the page, and an easy mechanism to make a comment or like a post, again, without leaving the page. In a blog, it's much less obvious whether you're going to like what you get, and you actually have to look for the link, so people don't click through as much.
- It’s much easier to react to a single post than to a long post. It’s clear what you’re reacting to, rather than having to explain in your comments which bit you mean. If I post about three films I've seen, it's so easy to click "Like" on the one where you agree with my comment, rather than write a comment saying "Yeah, I didn't think much of BLAH movie either."
· Blogging is hard work. It would typically take me an hour at the end of the day to write up one of those posts with all the URLs I’d saved, add in all the links, find images, and so on. Clicking “share this” is so much easier. Click the button, add a quick comment, and get back to what I was doing. It takes less than a minute.
So, in other words, compared to Facebooking, blogging is more work for me, and is less effective at communicating this kind of information to you. Sure, blogs are great for longer pieces like this, where you need to hold someone’s attention for a few minutes, but that’s not what Facebook’s for.
What we seem to have created is a smorgasbord of what I've taken to calling "infosnacks": tiny morsels of assorted information that we can help ourselves to all day long every time we fancy a little nibble. There’s an endless supply of it out there, and we can survive on it quite happily.
You could argue that a non-stop diet of infosnacks is bad for us, and initially, that was how I felt. Surely spending time reading proper, well-written articles has to be somehow “better” than lots of stupid little postings.
On reflection, though, I’d have to disagree. Infosnacks are a fine metaphor, but it’s not the same as subsisting on a diet of chips and chocolate. There's no requirement that our daily information intake has to be limited, or contain certain vitamins. And infosnacks aren't all we consume anyway. We can, on occasion, easily find ourselves drawn to sampling more weighty, nutritious fare: someone posts a small taster, we follow it up, and next thing we know we’re reading an informative article about something quite in depth.
It all depends who your friends are. It’s more like a conversation, where people are quite happy to contribute a few sentences here and there, rather than a debating society where everyone takes turns to hold the floor for half an hour and make a speech. And because it’s so easy to post, you may find that your friends post some quite surprising and interesting things, which actually makes for a pretty damn good conversation.
So, it’s back to Facebook posts for the little things, and blogs for longer, more complex thoughts that won’t fit into 240 characters.
Sunday, April 17, 2011
- OK, movies. Watched two documentaries, Food, Inc and Urban Explorers. Food, Inc didn't really tell me anything I didn't already know, but seeing it on screen really turned me off eating a lot of what's in the supermarkets. Urban Explorers was interesting, but could have done with being half an hour shorter. Still, well worth watching just for the pretty images of abandoned places. I just wanted to know who the hell simply walks away from a fully furnished castle and leaves it to rot?
- Here's one I may or may not see when it reaches Netflix. Atlas Shrugged could be fascinating, or could have me throwing things at the screen. This review intrigues me: A Movie This Demented Should Be Against The Law. I have to admit, I've tried to read it and failed. And Ayn Rand's philosophy pisses me off. But I'm prepared to give the movie a shot.
- Game footage is getting more and more like movies. Check out this latest Unreal demo. And remember, this is real-time in-game footage. This is not a cut-scene. This is not pre-rendered. This is gameplay.
And while your jaw hits the floor, I'll just tell you that this is taking not one, not two, but three top of the range custom nVidia graphics cards to run it. So don't expect it to work on your laptop. Don't even expect it to work on your current generation super-duper video production PC. Figure on getting a whole new machine when this comes out in two years.
- I spent much of yesterday browsing Wonderland, a hugely entertaining blog that talks about games of all sorts. What initially caught my eye was this glorious Lego steampunk TIE Fighter. Neat, huh?
- Also from Wonderland, an excellent post on social mechanisms in games, based on a superb talk by Raph Koster, who I should follow more closely than I do. He "explained how societies work, how humans work, and how we interact as beings with each other, described as social mechanics and how they could be applied (and are sometimes applied) in social games. [Here's] his list of the 40 essential social mechanics that have ever existed, in order that game designers need never have to reinvent them again." Bloody brilliant stuff.
- It's a damn shame I missed the Muppet Art Show last night. Woulda liked to see that, and it looked like people had a lot of fun.
- Damn shame I missed the hillbilly burlesque last night too. Looking forward to the next Kitschy Kittens show.
- The average person on Twitter gets 2700 messages a day. A year ago, it was 400, and I thought that was a lot. Math: if it takes 5 seconds to read a tweet, it would take 3 hrs 45 minutes a day to read your Twitter feed.
- Most people log in once a day, and only read their direct messages, @messages, and whatever's been posted in the last 10-15 minutes. Math: most people only read 1% of their feed. In other words, if you post something on Twitter, there's a 99% chance that a given one of your followers won't see it.
- Click-through rates on Twitter links have dropped from 38% a year ago to 14% now. So given that hardly anyone is going to read your tweet, the number of people who will actually click on a link is near enough non-existent (o.14%). Math: if you have 500 followers, then maybe ONE of them will actually click through.
- Retweet rates have dropped from 25% in 2009 to 17% in 2010 and 11% now. Math: if you have 500 followers, maybe ONE will RT your post. And if he has 500 followers, maybe one will click through and/or RT it.
Friday, April 15, 2011
- Today is a moment I've been waiting for for about six years. My friend Damien Valentine, announced that his new feature film, Chronicles of Humanity, will be released on April 26, and will have its theatrical debut at the Little Theatre Cinema in Bath. It's a sci-fi epic featuring several of my friends, and also Felicia Day, who you may recognise from The Guild, Dollhouse, Dr Horrible, and so on. That's pretty damn cool. What's even cooler is that he funded and made the whole film himself.
And coolest of all, from my point of view, he did it with Moviestorm. When we started creating it, we said that one day, we wanted to see a Moviestorm movie in the cinema, and now it's finally happening. Damien - thanks, and congratulations!
If you can't make it to the cinema, don't worry, you can watch Chronicles of Humanity online as a Web series.
- One of the films I'm most looking forward to is Luc Besson's The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec. Described as Indiana Jones crossed with The Mummy and Amelie, this looks right up my street. I love the close of this review: "I wouldn’t hesitate in recommending this film, I’m just not sure who to." Me, that's who! Looks like a perfect date movie for us.
- I stumbled across this book today after seeing a tweet about it. Oh My God What Happened And What Should I Do? It's a neat book about digital marketing, well-written, concise, and informative - well worth picking up. What's really clever is that you can buy it for money from Amazon, or buy it for free if you tweet about it. Err, no-brainer. I'll have it for nothing, thanks. And because I'm lazy, I'll leave their default tweet "This Book helps you to move into the Digital era of awesomeness. Download it for free: http://bit.ly/4R9rth" instead of writing "I haven't actually read this book yet but it looks cool and it's free if I write this tweet." Cunning, huh? And they've shifted 150,000 copies that way. Made no money, true, but they've built an audience very, very fast.
- Now this is something I like. Your Taxpayer Receipt, courtesy of the White House. Punch in some data on how much tax you paid, and it'll tell you where all the money is going; how much on defence, hospitals, schools, etc. More governments should do that.
- Did you know Newfoundland has its own time zone? They're an hour and a half ahead of Florida.
- Got writer's block? Deal with it.
Wednesday, April 13, 2011
- Film news: it looks like there's finally going to be a film version of Anne McCaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern. I'm not sure how I feel about that, but mostly I'm thinking that's good, because I wanted to like the books, but found them totally unreadable. My dad loved them, and tried to get me to read them, but I just couldn't get through them.
Mind you, he also had a complete collection of Gor books. I did read those. Several times. I preferred them to Anne McCaffrey.
Errr, moving swiftly on...
- Ah, Dita von Teese in a Wonderbra. Much better.
Now click on through to watch the new Wonderbra TV advert for their strapless bras. It's a great advert. And, as one commenter said, if this really works on my DDs, then I want two in every colour they do. So, whether you're a lady or a gentleman, click on through and enjoy.
- So you want to make a movie. How hard can it be? Check out this wonderful flowchart from Canal+. It's pretty much spot on, and very funny. And click around to find a bunch of similar ones from the same designer.
- And more silly infographics (who the hell invented that word anyway?). How men and women perceive colour. Guilty as charged, m'lud.
- Tonight's cooking has turned into something of an extravaganza. Singaporean fish curry for tonight, then I'm starting a tapas frenzy ready for lunch tomorrow. Chorizo & chickpea salad, red peppers with capers, chorizo in red wine, aubergine dip, mixed bean dip, and tuna, egg & potato salad. At least I won't have to cook for the next two days, apart from the bread. Well, that's the theory, anyway.
Tuesday, April 12, 2011
- 50 years of space today. The Russians still regard it as a priority, unlike the West. And check out how they boasted about it back then. Meanwhile, our space program is more concerned with prog rock - Jethro Tull frontman Ian Anderson will be doing a live duet with an astronaut. That's cool, and all, but hardly earth-shattering.
- So why aren't we doing anything in space? Because we're spending abso-bloody-lutely everything we've got on the military. Check out this little chart. Don't need schools, hospitals, roads, scientific research, or any of that Commie crap - we need MORE WEAPONS!
The military accounts for 20% of the American budget, and it's going up year on year. That's about 1.4 trillion dollars. (I can't even say that out loud without doing a Dr Evil face, it's such an absurd number.) Coincidentally, the US budget deficit increased by 1.4 trillion dollars last year...
To put that in perspective, the US accounts for over 40% of the entire world's military spending. That's six times more than China. Eleven times more than the UK. Twelve times more than Russia. Over one thousand times more than Libya.
I honestly can't conceive of a situation where anyone would need that much military power, unless they seriously expected to take on the whole of the rest of the world in a slam-bang knock-down fight to the finish. And if that happened, it would go nuclear anyway, and it wouldn't matter who won.
If you want to reduce government spending, then the tea partiers should start here. And here's The Economist agreeing with me.
(P.S. Note to the UK. Why the hell do we need to be spending that much on our military? We are the third biggest spender. Do we really need to be outspending Russia, for crying out loud? Get rid of the war toys, and fix the damn country's real problems. We're not the Empire any more.)
- Okay, enough of that. Let's get weird. You're probably aware of angler fish, possibly the ugliest creatures on the planet. But did you have any idea how totally weird the male angler fish is? He kisses the female, his lips turn to glue, his face melts, and... no, I'm not going to spoil the surprise with what happens next. You'll have to click through, but believe me, it is possibly the grossest thing in the entire animal kingdom.
- Writers - you'll love this. The Periodic Table of Storytelling. All the cliches, beautifully categorised. Print it out, and put it by your desk.
- Book time. Cory Doctorow's Eastern Standard Tribe. If you click that, you can get it for free. Whee! Best bit of the book for me was this:
"It's all about being an advocate for the user. I observe what users do, and how they do it, figure out what they're trying to to, and then boss the engineers around, trying to get them to remove the barriers they've erected because engineers are all high-functioning autistics who have no idea how normal people do stuff."
That's what I used to do, before some bastard turned me into a sales and marketing guy. (That means you still observe the users, but the engineers tell you to fuck off, because it's only marketing, and nobody likes marketing.)
- And how's about this for a book? If it's the way comics are going, I like it. Nemesis, the Motion Comic.
- And lastly, wtf has happened to Facebook? You now can't like, share or comment anything which didn't originate from Facebook itself. Check out the screenshot - there's no way to interact with that post!
So if you're posting from Twitter or su.pr or some other feed system, or using a "share on Facebook" link on a site, nobody can respond to what you write. I'm really hoping that's a glitch, because that seriously reduces the number of potential conversations, which seems to be totally against the spirit of social media.
Monday, April 11, 2011
- Tomorrow (or maybe today by the time you read this) is the 50th anniversary of Gagarin going into space. Here's a few things you may not have known about Gagarin's flight.
Returning to a theme from yesterday, it's actually quite depressing in some ways. Half a century in space, and we're still amazed by space shuttle launches. It was designed about 40 years ago. I think we've lost the plot somewhere. Weren't we supposed to have space stations, space hotels, space elevators, and be mining the asteroid belts on our way to our first colonies by now?
And why isn't the day being marked with some huge fanfare? It's one of the biggest milestones in human achievement. Yes, I know he was a Russian. So what? This is bigger than politics. The man was a true hero of the world, not just of the Soviet Union.
- Got a problem with wind power? Don't like those ugly windmills? Well, here's what the Union of Concerned Scientists has to say to you. And so do I. I would have loved for someone to put a windmill on the ridge behind my house when I lived in Somerset. And here, too, if they could make them hurricane-resistant.
- Some days, you realize life really is a joke. Here's a great selection from Cracked - one of my favorite sites these days - of absurd jokes that came true. Stupid things like, err, Ronald Reagan becoming President. Like that would ever happen!
- Speaking of absurdity, check out these fashions from the NY fashion week. Really? People get paid to design, make and wear this crap? Click through and be aghast.
- On a more serious note, this should give pro-democracy activists cause for concern. The Egyptians recently got rid of their corrupt dictator who wouldn't tolerate dissent, and replaced him with an interim ruling council made up of the Armed Forces. A 26-year old pacifist blogger dared to criticize them, and their immediate response was to jail him for three years. So, that's an improvement then, is it?
And staying on the subject of Egypt's corrupt dictator, I was amused, in a not very amused way, to read that Mubarak has threatened to sue anyone who accuses him of corruption. He'd like it known that all his money - all $30 billion of it - was legitimately earned during his time in office, and he did not use his political office to aid him. You have to admire a man who can make $30bn in 30 years as a hobby, don't you?
- Last night, I read an L. Ron Hubbard book. No, don't laugh. I'm not turning into a Scientologist. Fear is a horror novel from his early writing career, and it's actually quite good, in a sort of Ray Bradbury / Robert Bloch way. I'm tempted to find some more of his earlier works.
- On the playlist today, Bob Dylan's Desire popped up. I've never liked Dylan, apart from that one album, but I haven't heard it since my school days. I was pleased to find that I still enjoyed it, and ended up singing - well, humming, since I couldn't remember the words - along to One More Cup of Coffee. I couldn't get into any of his other stuff, though. I then spent the rest of the morning listening to the Rolling Stones, who, believe it or not I barely know other than the classics.
- I'm really pleased that finally my series of blog posts on using Moviestorm in schools has started. It was a lot of fun to write, and I enjoyed thinking up ways to use Moviestorm. I've got the first few in the queue, and there's about another 30 half-written. I'm now hoping to get round to the other series I'm working on, which is a series of exercises aimed at film students who want to practice their techniques. The first few of those are part written, just waiting for me to shoot the videos that accompany them.
- Okay, here comes the food section. For dinner last night we ended up at Smokey Bones. They've redone the menu: a few new items, and a lot of things no longer available, but the food's still good. However, we discovered that in the same plaza there's a Colombian and a Peruvian restaurant. I know next to nothing about South American food, so I'm quite intrigued by both of these places. (And no, they don't have guinea pig on the menu. Damn.)
We've allotted the whole of tomorrow to Draco Felis paperwork, and we've promised ourselves that as a reward for getting everything filed, we'll treat ourselves to dinner at the Colombian place, Los Portales. Just the two of us. We need it.
Tonight, we ate at a Polish place, Polonia, on 17/92 up near us. Well recommended - tasty food, good portions, classic Polish dishes. The kiszka (blood pudding) was surprisingly good, and the wazanki (noodles, bacon, kielbasa & cabbage) was absolutely delicious. Good selection of Polish beer too.
- And still on the subject of food, here's a great article about expiration dates. You know when it says Best Before or Use By? That does not mean the food is bad after that date. Food producers and retailers are making you throw away perfectly good food by making you think it's no longer edible. And different states and countries have different regulations, which confuses things still further. Obviously, don't eat food that has spoiled, but don't just go by the date on the packet.
Frankly, I think windmills look a lot prettier than power stations, they don't fill the air with smoke, and they don't explode or dump vast amounts of radiation into the environment when things go wrong. If I were running the show, I'd have windmills and solar panels in everyone's back yard. Seriously. On every roof and every hillside.
- Friend won't speak to Parent about this proposed visit. Child will arrive unexpectedly, and Parent will wonder what the hell is going on. The situation will be exacerbated when it transpires that Friend invited Child to stay for a meal, sleep over or join them on a family outing, without Parent's knowledge. Parent will freak out, and Self (or Spouse) will have to go and fetch Child, probably at most inconvenient time, leading to tears all round.
- Child will not relay vital information back to Self. Either child will arrive without necessary item for family outing (cash for ticket, bathing suit, etc), or Self will fail to arrive at the agreed collection time, due to not knowing about it.
- Child and Friend will agree a time and place to meet up that doesn't work for Self or Parent. One family will end up hanging around waiting for the other, get irritated, and day will be ruined. Alternatively, Child and Friend will make arrangements without consulting Self or Parent, and then get hugely disappointed when told it's not possible.