Why is Apple out to get me?

We used to be so happy.

It all started with an escape from an abusive operating system around eight years ago. The little iBook I bought was the first computer I’d ever really loved since my ZX Spectrum many years before. The combination of the 12” screen, sleek design and hard wearing nature, married to OSX which was a dream to use, amounted to everything I needed for my literary ambitions. A few years later I moved on to a new MacBook, which never quite won the same level of affection in my heart, but served me proudly for many miles. Now I stand at the crossroads. I need a new machine, as the Windows one I had to buy – while serviceable – has me shouting at it again in frustration more often than I’d like. A Mac is the obvious choice, but at the moment the choices on offer are a little baffling.

But wait, I hear the voices of a thousand Mac blogs cry, Apple’s range is the best it’s ever been! Well, no, I think I need to disagree, and here’s why.

apple-12q2-macbook-air-13-front-lg

I don’t think I’m unusual in wanting a decent amount of bang for my buck when it comes to technology. I’m perfectly happy to accept that quality costs, and it should, but I don’t want to pay extra for something I won’t use. Futureproofing is often something of a fallacy in computing terms, as we don’t tend to hold onto our devices for nearly as long as we used to – probably due to the fact that many are now pretty much impossible to repair or upgrade ourselves. So looking for value can be a Sisyphean task.

Here’s what I want – a lightweight, small size, laptop with a good screen, solid keyboard, responsive trackpad, long battery life, and a decent but not crazy amount of power. Oh yes, and a few USB ports wouldn’t go a miss….plus an SD card reader would be cool, but not essential. There, no unicorns or time machines, just pretty standard stuff. Yet, at the moment, I can’t actually get this in Apple form.

For months leading up to the recent Spring Forward Apple event in March, there were rumours of an expected MacBook Air with retina display. This would have been the absolute sweet spot for my needs. An 11” (or even 12”) retina screen would fix the one thing that makes buying a current MacBook Air not that enticing a prospect. I love the little form factor, and its weight makes it easy to throw the device in your backpack and head off into the world without the worry of a shoulder ache a few hours later. Admittedly the small screen gets a little cramped, but I’m not planning on editing any videos on the machine, so I’m sure it would be fine – plus the retina display would make things pin-sharp, mystically creating a sense of space in that small glowing rectangle.

So here I am, money in hand, waiting for the announcement so I can once again shed the shackles of Microsoft and return to the unibody embrace of the mighty fruit. Then it announces the MacBook.

new-macbook-2015

The MacBook?

Yes, it’s light – very light. Yes it has a retina screen. The price…well, that’s a bit high, but I can see how the engineering has pushed that up. The power…wait, a Core M CPU? That’s, well, not powerful…at all…but maybe Apple has tweaked it to boost the performance? There’s a new keyboard design? Ok, but it looks very, very shallow. The Trackpad is a new design too? Oh, and there are no ports except for one USB 3.1 type C – which is also where you plug it in to charge.

What just happened?

Surely this is a new class of machine, the ultra ultra portable, and now Tim Cook will announce the Air Retina? Yes?

No.

Instead there were minor spec bumps for the Air, and the same crappy screens remain. But, but, I have the money…I just want the machine to buy….I can’t go anywhere else…why are you doing this to me?!?!

It brought back memories of the time I had saved up for a new iMac, and eagerly awaited the announcement, only to be presented with the thin new design that could only be upgraded at the point of purchase, thus adding a far slab of cash on top of the price, taking it out of my grasp. In the end I bought a Mac Mini, which has been fine, but the sting is still there.

Schiller iMac

Now it’s happening again.

Yes I could move up the chain and buy a MacBook Pro, but that’s more than I need (I’m never going to use those Thunderbolt ports), and the weight is a fair bit more than the 11” Air. All I wanted was a retina screen in the little Air…hell, a HD screen and IPS panel would have done the trick. Why can’t that be done, especially when sub £300 Chromebooks can manage it?

Yes the new design is pretty, and it comes in black, which is awesome, but I like the existing keyboard and trackpad just fine. All it needed was the screen.

Life with Apple used to be so simple. Each machine was great, and you could upgrade it yourself to save a few pounds and extend the working life. Now, well, it’s getting where I’m screaming at the Apple web-store in frustration, rather than my Windows machine. I guess I’ll just have to wait a couple of generations and then get ready to buy the matured MacBook, but of course Apple will be waiting, hands clasped firmly on that rug, ready to pull it hard once more.

Bugger.

Advertisements

The Apple Watch – is this the company’s mid-life crisis?

This week saw the official launch of Apple’s new Watch. It won’t be long now until you’ll be seeing people walking along the street staring at their wrists in consternation, rather than into the rectangular glow of their phones. Wearables are the future, and Apple is about to make it happen.

But I’m a little concerned about this.

apple-watch2

The keynote address from Tim Cook that released the Watch into the world felt somewhat stale and lacking in excitement. Many of the features had already been announced, and it was only the poorly judged decision to show Christie Turlington Burns parading around her shiny new digital timepiece while visiting a poverty stricken part of Africa, that was new. In fairness Ms Burns was training for a marathon that will raise money to alleviate the poverty and help young women safely deliver their babies, but the juxtaposition of a luxury device whose cost could pay for the medicines sorely lacking in the facilities was an odd one.

And in many ways that’s the problem with the Watch. It’s a confusing device.

On one hand it’s an exciting new territory for Apple, where it is not only competing with the Android Wear devices that launched last year, but also with established watch makers that have status and history which even eclipses that of this Californian upstart. Apple’s weight in the technology world and the widespread popularity of the iPhone also means that the Watch could finally usher in the age of wearables that’s been tantalisingly close for a few years now.

But conversely there was something missing from the launch, and the buzz since then in the media has been focussed around the new super-thin MacBook that was also revealed at the event. Apple’s videos were more obsessed with the metals than the actual usefulness of the product, and the heartbeat thing just looks like the kind of daft feature that Samsung usually cram into their products. Now, before I go any further, let me be clear that I like Smartwatches. I’ve used a couple in the past, and am sporting a Sony Smartwatch 3 while I type this. They are, of course, a luxury product (after all they’re merely a remote display for your phone) but the convenience offered by a simple glance at the wrist is a lot of fun, plus actually useful when you’re out and about, cooking, or otherwise dexterously challenged. Up until now though I’ve always enjoyed them as an idea, but spending up to £200 on one just felt like an ostentatious step too far. After all, that’s a fair chunk of the price of a new phone. Now the Apple Watch has entered the fray and it’s prices are, well, a bit silly.

apple-watch-selling-points

Although the base Sports models (which features the exact same technology as the more expensive versions) starts at £299, the normal dress Watch is around £500, and the Edition range starts at £8000 and goes up to a frankly ridiculous £13,500. A solid gold, multi-thousand pound watch, that will be out of date in a couple of years? Is that…cool?

I’ve used Macs for years and loved them. There are two iPads in our house at the moment and I can’t see them being replaced by any rival products in the future. I don’t use an iPhone any more, just because they’re too expensive and I prefer the direction Android is going. In short, I like Apple stuff. It’s a little disconcerting then that the Watch, which is the first new product category that has been developed and introduced under Tim Cook’s tenure, feels, well, a very middle-aged product. By that I don’t mean that it arrives heralded by minstrels and adorned with a leather codpiece. Rather that it’s the slightly tacky but thinks it’s cool kind of device that costs too much.

Apple_Watch

I’m sure it will sell bucket loads, Apple stuff always does, but is this the first chink in the company’s armour to appear in a long time? Is the self-satisfied gloating over it’s cost the sign that Cook and Co have lost touch with the general populace and now only make things for super-models who want to time their jogs? To be fair Apple stuff has always been pricey, but the Macs, iPhones, and even iPads had powerful features that made them useful in their own right. The Watch is a companion device to an iPhone that can pretty much only tell the time when separated from its pocket brain, and only while its battery remains intact.

I really don’t know how to feel about the Watch. Is it innovative or indulgent? A glimpse of the future, or the sign of a company beginning to believe its own hype?

I guess only time will tell.

What do you think about the Apple Watch? Do you want one? Let me know in the comments. 

What’s gone wrong with Doctor Who?

Doctor-Who-Kill-the-Moon-Clara

Now, before we get into it I must declare my allegiances. I never liked Ecclestone’s portrayal of the Doctor. He was too moody, inconsistent, and weirdly clownish for me. He did get a few good stories in his short tenure though, and I always enjoyed his ‘every planet has a North’ line.

Tennant. Now, I’ll get some heat for this. He wasn’t really my favourite either. I should clarify this. He himself was good – engaging, funny, and passionate – but I think the writing often painted him into a corner where he needed to gurn, shout, and use his sonic screwdriver to solve all the world’s ills. That being said, he had many good episodes – Midnight being an excellent example – and was fantastic in the recent Day of the Doctor.

I’d almost given up on the series when I saw it announced that the next incumbent would be the youngest ever. Thoughts of a time travelling curb crawler, picking up women in his magic box, filled me with dread. After all, I’d grown up watching Tom Baker, who was essentially the mad uncle that seemed completely disinterested in a relationship with his companions, and instead preferred the simple pleasures of quantum mathematics and fine knitting products. How else could he have travelled with Lousie Jameson, barely adorned as she was in her skimpy outfit, for so long without causing an interstellar incident?

It came as a remarkable pleasure then when Matt Smith donned his bow-tie and immediately became one of my most favourite TV characters in a very, very long time. It was quite something to see an actor ‘get’ the character so completely. The mischievous fervour of Baker, the cantankerous nature of Troughton, and a sprinkle of wide-eyed with wonder, little boy on top. He was simply marvellous. Match this with the exemplary writing and story arc of season seven (the one with the Astronaut killing the Doctor) and it was a perfect (oncoming) storm of televisual finery.

matt-smith-doctor-who-wallpaper-6-1024x562

There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth in our household then, when he announced shortly after that he’d be hanging up his Fez. Days passed, rumours arose, but finally the truth was revealed.

Peter Capaldi.

And I was fine with that. He’s a good actor, older, and would take things in a new direction. Solid choice.

So, the series started, Capaldi shone, and Clara (after pretty much failing to cope with the wondrous presence that was Matt Smith) finally began to make sense. She didn’t bounce along like she was in a pantomime any more, but instead struck up a good chemistry with Capaldi’s stern and sarcastic character. Things were looking up.

Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman in Doctor Who

But now, with over half the series gone, I’m feeling very disappointed, and even worried where all this is going. The writing has seemed clumsy through most of the adventures, and while some of the ideas have been really interesting and inventive, I’m left feeling unfulfilled by nearly every episode. It’s been hard to boil it down, but I think the last few episodes have made it clearer. It’s Clara. Or more precisely. Her choice of men.

Danny Pink.

Well, he’s a whole bunch of fun isn’t he?

It’s a fairly common trope in New Who that the male companions are somewhat emasculated. Mickey was completely useless, and Rory started off as the hapless nice guy, although did transition very well into an unconventional hero. So I can understand the desire to make the next male figure more powerful, and move away from the bumbling comic relief.

But Danny Pink isn’t it.

Doctor-Who-Danny-Pink-600x337

He’s ex-army, as he tells us with unceasing monotony, but left with a huge chip on his shoulder, one that has grown into a full bodied bag of potatoes since he became a secondary school teacher. He has trouble talking to women, and becomes aggressive when his military past is brought up – even though he mentions it all the time himself. So of course Clara immediately fell for this prime catch. Admittedly, he’s a good looking fella, and they do have some moments together, but from the first date – which is a spiteful, argumentative mess, and actually ends up with Clara visiting him, via the TARDIS, as a boy in a children’s home – the relationship just feels false. And this has real implications for the audience, or at least this singular viewer, in how we perceive Ms Oswald.

Capaldi was quite specific when taking on the role, that his Doctor should not have romantic dalliances with his companions. Laudable. After all, I’ve heard people online complain that the women who travel with the Doctor are nothing more than a slightly updated model from the typical 1960 & 1970s sci-fi heroines that screamed a lot and wanted to be saved by the dashing hero that they secretly wanted to marry. Moving away from this would be good. But, well, they already did that with Amy Pond, Rose, and even Donna – although she did shout and cry an awful lot.

The problem with Clara is that she feels like the opposite. She plays at being dependent and tough, but underneath…well, she’s not quite the real deal.

Doctor-Who-Kill-the-Moon

The most recent episode as I write this was Kill The Moon, and at it’s core was about the relationship between Clara (or really humanity at large) and the Doctor. The moon is tearing apart, as it’s actually an egg, and what’s inside it could either destroy the Earth or leave it alone and fly off into space. Clara, one of her school pupils, and the last astronaut from Earth have to decide whether to detonate nuclear bombs they have with them – thus killing the creature and ending the threat to their home planet – or let it hatch and take their chances. To add some pathos the Doctor announces that the creature is possibly the only one of it’s kind in the universe, then promptly leaves in his TARDIS after telling the humans that need to work this one out for themselves, as the future of their species is at stake.

I won’t spoil the ending, but I’m sure you can piece it together for yourselves. Once the adventure is over Clara confronts the Doctor, calling him patronising and essentially mean. She slaps him, tells him he can get lost, them storms out of the TARDIS. I like that she fought back against him, and Jenna Colman played the scene very well, infusing the right amount of frustration, anger, and betrayal into the lines.

The thing is, and it’s an interesting development in the new Doctor’s character arc, that he was right to stand back and let the civilisation choose for itself. Earth wasn’t really in danger as such, not physically, but their actions would determine the future path for the species – be amazed by the beauty in the universe and thus seek to join it, or destroy that which frightens them and hide away. So he was correct to let them work it out for themselves. He didn’t need to save them from an imminent danger that would destroy or enslave them (as he has done many times in the past), instead he trusted that his favourite species in the universe would get it right – after all, that’s why he likes us so much.

This story was about elevating her to more of an equal with the Doctor – giving her a situation she could resolve without his help, but that had tremendous consequences. He even says to her that this is where the training wheels come off. This trust in her is in contrast to Danny Pink’s observations in another recent episode where he told Clara that essentially she would just run into danger, and not be afraid, if the Dr told her to. His underlying criticism being that she stopped thinking when the Dr gave her something to do, and thus didn’t realise the danger he was pushing her in to.

In the end Clara makes the final decision about the Moon, aided by a message from Earth, and she literally gets to be the one who saves the human race, and as such become like the Doctor. It’s sad then that she immediately hates him for it, or rather for being the one who had to choose. It suggests that that she doesn’t want to be on his level. Instead she just wants to run around when told, and be saved at the end – like so many other companions over the years.

I think she could be so much more.

doctor-who-caretaker-danny-saves-clara-adorable

Unlike Amy Pond, who had the rather brilliant Rory at her side, Clara has to turn to Danny Pink as her confidant, and this is where she is let down the most. Pink is a really dull, moody, and over simplistic man. The real difference for me is that after seeing the Doctor for about five minutes he declare that he ‘knows’ men like him. He saw them in the army. It’s ludicrous. He’s equating a thousand year old time lord who has saved numerous entire civilisations across the whole galaxy, with some officer who rubbed him up the wrong way once. As we know so little about his time in the army, and watched his obnoxious and self obsessed behaviour on their first date, how do we know that it isn’t him that’s the problem? In very stark contrast to this, when Rory is on his first adventure with the Doctor and Amy, he confronts Matt Smith with the line (I’m paraphrasing) ‘You make people want to impress you, and that makes you dangerous!’. So instead of pretending that in his short and rather closeted existence he’s managed to work out the Doctor’s complicated character, he instead points out the effect that the Doctor has on people that he does know. This makes him wise rather than angry and pouting. Now, Danny does this too, as I’ve mentioned above, but his insistence that he ‘gets’ the Doctor is too arrogant to be taken seriously, and makes his deductions feel cheapened.

The problem is that as Clara chooses this man, she aligns herself with a character who is very hard to like, and makes you question her judgement. Sure, she’s a young lady looking for a chap to share her life with, and certainly the Doctor won’t fill that role. But, after seeing so many amazing things in the universe, tasting of the wonders and width that life has to offer, it’s just baffling that she’d settle down with this grumpy, small minded man who doesn’t even want to sample the adventures the TARDIS presents. How? How?

It’s a distance from Amy Pond, who grew into such an interesting character – just watch the Girl Who Waited to see the depths they explored – and I think her choice of partner was crucial in this development. Jenna Colman has announced her departure from the role at the end of this series and the writers have made her relationship with Pink central to this slow exit. It seems that Ms Clara Oswald is destined to be a missed opportunity, and that’s a real shame.

Such an impossible girl.

Do you agree? Or am I being too hard on Clara, Danny, or the show itself? Let me know in the comments below.

 

 

Are Smartwatches any good? The Samsung Gear 2 Neo makes its case.

When Apple recently announced its imaginatively titled Apple Watch, many commentators said that this now validated the emerging technology. Certainly the fruit giant has been successful in opening up new types of device by taking existing ideas and making them much more comfortable to use. The iPad for example was the first truly user friendly tablet, but it was by no means the originator of the idea – Microsoft had its own tablet PC back in 2002.

With the Watch though it feels more of a risk. For a start it needs an iPhone to work, and if you have an expensive device already in your pocket do you really need another overpriced remote control on your wrist? Also, how functional will it be with only a small screen to work with?

It will be a little while yet before we can see how Apple has addressed these challenges, as the device is not due to be released until next year, but if we skip over to the Android camp there are a few examples already loose in the wild.

20140918_173303

 

The Samsung Gear 2 Neo is one such device, and with an RRP of £169 it should be around half the cost of the impending Apple version. In a sadly similar fashion though you’ll need a Samsung mobile device to make it work. I can understand the principle of tailoring a proprietary system so that it melds seamlessly with its siblings, but this just continues the customer lock-in that music and app stores already promote. That being said, Samsung do sell an awfully large amount of phones, so chances are if you’re considering this device you may well already be in that eco-system.

The watch comes in a rather fetching orange livery (although more sedate options are available), feeling lightweight and comfortable when worn. I don’t have especially large wrists, and never thought of the watch as cumbersome, but this is primarily a man’s watch, and as such it would look slightly ridiculous on the slim wrists of gentle ladies. The screen is bright and clear, retaining just enough contrast to be read in direct sunlight, and automatically turns itself off when you stop interacting with it. This is excellent from a battery conservation point of view, but did mean that when you quickly raised your arm to check the time there was a slight delay as the watch sensed the movement and then turned the screen back on. Not a huge problem, more an idiosyncrasy of the new platform.

Setting up the device is very simple. Download the Samsung Gear app on your phone, turn on the watch, pair the two of them together via Bluetooth, and you’re pretty much done. Then you’re free to explore the various features presented on the tiny 1.6″ screen. Navigating around is actually very easy. You swipe left and right to move through the various home screens, tap on an icon to launch an app, then swipe down from the top to go back a step. It might sound fiddly, but after a couple of minutes it makes complete sense, which is a good thing. If you do manage to get lost then there is always the physical button under the screen which takes you back to the home page.

A decent start.

20140918_173525

Of course for a smartwatch to be smart it needs to do something other than tell the time. The Gear 2 Neo manages this via several built in apps. There is a suite of health related apps, although they really amount to multiple pedometers optimised for different activities such as running, cycling and walking. A heart rate monitor is quite a fun addition, and the ability to link the Neo Gear 2 to fitness tracking apps such as Samsung’s own S-Health, and the likes of Edomondo expand the possibilities.

Communications options are also good, with the watch able to display text messages, emails, and show you who is calling your phone. In fact, thanks to the built in speaker and microphone you can ever answer the call and hold the conversation without your handset ever emerging from your pocket. This is handy for thing like cooking or driving, but if you’re on the bus then you might want to think twice before being that guy.

One, rather huge, caveat on the communications front is that you need to use Samsung’s own apps if you want to receive and respond to text and email. This is pretty poor, as one of the best things about Android is that you can replace stock apps with ones you prefer. So the Gmail app can’t be running on your phone (unless you want two notifications for every email) and if you prefer Google Hangouts or Textra for your SMS, that will have to go too. Presumably the reason for this is that the Gear 2 Neo isn’t actually running on Android, but instead Samsung has used its own version of Tizen for the OS. No doubt there are advantages on the programming side, but certainly not on the users’.

20140918_173615

Apps choices aside, I have to say that having notifications on your wrist, ones that you can respond to with voice commands, is actually incredibly useful. If you suffer from phantom vibrations that cause you to constantly pull your handset out to see who sent you a message, only to be faced with disappointment, then being able to quickly flick your wrist instead is a wonderfully simple solution. Calls are also harder to miss, and there is nothing quite like seeing a text come in, tapping your wrist and voicing a response, then carrying on with your day. It’s a very James Bond moment. Voice searching is also cool, albeit slightly frustrating on the Gear 2 Neo, as Samsung’s default engine seemed to struggle to return results consistently.

20140918_173630

There are a few other issues too; functions are limited by the small screen size, so reading anything longer than a very brief email isn’t much fun, many of the options to change settings are still on the handset rather than the watch, and you do have to add something else to your daily charging routine.

But, well, it’s a lot of fun.

Wearable technology is certainly being promoted as the next big thing, and with the largest technology companies in the world all jockeying for position, this seems to be an inevitable truth. Whether they are quite ready for prime time yet is still debatable. For £170 you could buy plenty of useful things, or indeed a very nice watch. Then there’s the usual caution of never hurling yourself on the hand grenade of first generation products. With all that in mind, it’s not easy to recommend the Gear 2 Neo unless you already have a newer Samsung phone, and are willing to surrender yourself to the default Samsung apps. If you fit that criteria though, and have the money, then it must be said that you would no doubt get a lot of pleasure using a device that makes each day feel a little closer to being on Star Trek.

I was quite sceptical about the first-world nature of wearables. Now…I think I’m convinced. Better start another savings jar. Man, the future is going to be expensive.

Netropolitan – Facebook without the peasants.

The Riot Club

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a private space online? One where you could meet with friends, share photographs, trivial and important news, vintage wine tips, and yacht parking secrets, all the while knowing that you were safe from the inane ramblings of the lower classes? Well, today is your lucky day.

Meet Netropolitan the new social network for, and I quote, people who have ‘more money than time’, and quite possibly sense.

For a miserly $6000 joining fee you can enjoy the exclusive surroundings of a web browser, while rubbing shoulders with others from your social standing. That’s of course if they can find a moment in their busy schedules. An additional $3000 is also required to polish the fonts and ensure that no interlopers make it past the outer courtyards. Figgis! Release the hounds!

Ok, I’m making fun. Rich people with exclusive websites does feel like a fairly easy point of derision…but, actually, there is some sense in this idea.

Of course my non-richness riles against any such creation, but for a while now I’ve wondered how much better Facebook would be if it offered a paid membership? For many things the social network behemoth is fine – keeping up with friends, being distracted by stupid questionnaires, solving world problems by signing an online petition, etc… –  but due to the fact that it’s free, Facebook has no reservations in buggering up the user experience in order to rake in some heavy cash. This is achieved through constant adverts or recommendations in your stream, which is already ruined by the never ending desire it has to show you stuff from two or three months ago.

If we paid, then maybe we could get the old, simpler Facebook back? You remember. The one where chronology was respected and the only threat to your sanity was Farmville. The question is what kind of price do you put on privacy and an ad free life? £5 a month? £15? Android apps often come in two versions, one with ads, and a paid version without, so the concept works in principle.

The real problem with this scenario is that we’re actually worth more to Facebook than our money. Advertisers will pay more than most of us would fork out, as our data is far more valuable to them. When we like things our friends post, it tells them our preferences. When we list things we want, or places we want to visit, more intelligent data gets added to the pile of who were are as individuals. Essentially we’re selling ourselves off, one click at a time.

You could try Twitter, Tumbler, Google+, or some young upstart, but they all cater to different markets, or have nobody on them. The thing is, Facebook built a bloody good service, and that’s why we’re there. So now, due to the critical mass of friends and family that make it their daily hangout, we’re kind of stuck. Facebook has the people, they don’t want our money, and we all spend lots of time on the site regardless of whatever insane user interface obstacle course they devise to test our resolve.

Well, that just sucks.

I feel the stirring of a revolution in my loins. That, or I need a more comfortable chair. No, revolution it is. So, what say you all? Shall we create a new utopia, free from the oppressive forces of billion dollar corporations? Where your life belongs to you, and you’re free to post as many cat pictures as you want without fear of it being attached to your permanent record. A holy sanctuary of free speech and expression. And no bloody invites to ever, ever, play stupid agricultural-based games that will slowly put you in the poor house.

Then come with me, my merry band of digital adventurers, as we forge a new frontier here on the Living with the Future social space. Sign up now….only £100!

Wait….no, it’s a bargain.

Seriously.

Bugger.

Hmmm, I wonder what’s on Facebook?

Alone With Friends – Guest Post by Martyn Casserly

I was recently asked by my good friend Scott Roche to write a guest post for his blog. This was the result of my labours, which coincided with the sudden sickness of another good friend, P.G.Holyfield.

Scott Roche

In addition to this blog being about my writing and ramblings, I also want this to be a space where friends and colleagues can share their opinions and gifts. As a result, I’m soliciting guest posts. I got this one from my friend Martyn a couple of weeks ago. As a result it’s a hair out of date, but it’s poignant and still relevant. On a day where we are remembering other tragic events I hope this will serve as both an encouragement and that it pertains even to this, a national tragedy.

ProfileMCA friend of mine is sick. Now by this I don’t mean that he is cool and funky, as the more youthful among you might surmise, although he is definitely both of these. Neither do I mean to imply that the person in question has highly dubious taste in entertainment and extracurricular activities. No, my friend is…

View original post 1,169 more words

New Podcast Show

While Living with the Future is obviously fond of looking forward, it’s a well known wisdom that we need to learn from the past. In this vein, but mainly because I wanted to have some fun with an old friend of mine, I’m proud to announce a new podcast show I’m co-producing that reviews films that first hit the screens a long time ago.

The idea is to see whether those old movies that we’re sure are underrated classics, really are as good as our memories tell us.

The show is called I Saw That Years Ago, and will be a weekly release clocking in at around the twenty minute mark. So if you fancy a wander down dodgy memory lane, and a few laughs along the way, then please add us to your podcast playlist, drop a review on iTunes, or pop along to our (rather basic at the moment) website – http://www.isawthatyearsago.com

To whet your appetite for fine aural pleasure here’s the first episode. Enjoy.

I Saw That Years Ago (Pilot Episode) – Altered States

Best Free Films on Youtube

Youtube may well be the home of the most cat videos in the history of mankind, but if you look deeper then you’ll find that there are actually a few free movies buried in the digital depths.

Here are a few worth your attention – well, if you’re something of a Sci-Fi fan.

Chrysalis – Futuristic cop thriller in a future where humankind is on the brink of extinction.

 

Saturn 3 – Huge robot goes crazy thanks to Harvey Keitel oggling Farah Fawcett in the shower.

 

Outland – Sean Connery remakes High Noon in space.

 

Split Second – Rutger Hauer and Kim Cattrall fight a killer creature in a sunken London.

 

The Running Man – Arnie does The Hunger Games back in the 80s.

 

The Lawnmower Man – Pierce Brosnan in this computer thriller that had great graphics at the time, but hasn’t aged particularly well. Fahey’s hair is wonderful though.

 

Well, that’s just a few to whet your appetite. Are there any others you’ve found that you think should be on the list? Let me know in the comments below.

The House of the Future in 1957

With technology now a ubiquitous part of everyday life, it’s not difficult to think too much about the house of the future. Basically it’s a bit like our current ones, but with more robots. Well, that’s how I think of it anyway.

Things weren’t always so simple. I recently found this video from 1957 which showcased ideas for a home that blended technology and functionality. As you might expect the aspirations are a little different to those of today, and involve lots more plastic, motorised shelves, irradiated food and uncomfortable looking chairs.

Still, the dishwasher is cool.

What would you want from the house of the future? Let me know in the comments below.

Classic Computer Games, and why we should let them rest in peace

I love computer games. In fact I’ve been an avid gamer now for over thirty years. You can probably tell this by the way I referred to them as ‘computer’ games rather than the more up to date epithet Video games.

Eeeeeeeeeee *shakes his stick at the young kids of today*

It occurred to me recently, when I was knee deep in the virtual blood of my fallen foes, that things used to be simpler when I was young. Video games (dammit! They got to me) today seem entirely reliant on tremendous amounts of violence to carry a story along. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m completely fine with murdering thousands of fictional guards with little common sense or regard for the dangers that bullets represent, but I wonder if I’m just beginning to get a bit jaded by the predictability of games?

the-lords-of-midnightWhen I first started back in the early eighties, there was bugger all chance that my little ZX Spectrum would be able to render any kind of realistic graphics at all. This ensured a definite disconnect between the things on the screen and real life. Because of this limitation creators wrote far weirder games, often involving llamas, pigeons, and occasionally Paul McCartney as principal characters. You also had plot lines that involved drunken lords having to collect flashing items from his peculiarly designed house before his maid would let him sleep. Of course today the wealthy gentleman would probably set himself up with a sniper rifle and double tap the unruly servant from a few hundred yards away. Ah, progress.

It was a more innocent time, a golden age, an oasis of innovation set against the depressingly cruel stage of an eighties England slowly tearing itself apart in street violence and trade disputes.

Hmmmmm, or was it?

Knight_Lore_ZX_Spectrum

I came across a link to the Internet Archive the other day which allows you to replay classic games. With joyful tears in my eyes I clicked at great haste to travel back to my childhood. What did they have? Aaah! The Hobbit! I loved that game. Wait… Karateka? Let the melee begin again. No……Knight Lore!!!! Wow, this was going to be great. I loaded up the game, watched the classic splash screens appear, replete with 8-bit art, smiled, rolled up my sleeves and got to work.

Bloody hell…these games are awful!

The-Hobbit-Spectrum-loading-screen

Karateka requires a thousand keystrokes to execute a kick, Knight Lore boasts the most ridiculous navigational control idea ever devised by man, and The Hobbit seems intent on denying any knowledge of the English language whenever I asked it to do anything. How did I survive these torments, and then come repeatedly back for more?

It was a sad moment. Like meeting your favourite uncle after many years, the one you thought was cool and funny when you were a kid, and realising that he’s a slightly boring old man.

I suppose it shouldn’t come as a surprise. After all, we don’t pine for many earlier iterations of computers or software in general.

‘No, I don’t want these modern fangled Google Docs! Give me Wordstar instead, and a dot matrix printer while you’re at it!’

But it’s odd when you confront such a different experience to the one your memory curated for you. I remember playing Flight Simulator by Psion for hours when I was ten years old. The forty year old version of me might last a couple of minutes before falling asleep, or whipping out the iPad to check Amazon for books on travel, while the badly drawn plane edged slowly towards its destination.

Psion_Flight_Simulation_on_ZX_Spectrum

Just like the faithful old bike that you first ventured out on as a kid, these games served their purpose well. The laughable graphics and crazy control systems played their role of training wheels, until the day when I could balance myself and leave their restrictions behind. And just like real life, you don’t really want to ride on that bike again once you get the chance to sit in your first car.

Games may be hitting a wall creatively at the moment, but in the past two years I’ve played Mass Effect 2, Skyrim, Bioshock Infinite, and the Walking Dead – titles which would have dropped my younger self’s jaw to the floor. So things aren’t too bad at all.

It’s good to remember where you came from (in all walks of life), because sometimes it helps us to see that the best really could be yet to come.

Gandalf, carry me East.

game over screen