Tuesday, 31 October 2017

no landline, but a proper dial tone


Since we dispensed with a landline, there are one-or-two aspects we've noticed that we miss.

But first of all, there's the things that we don't miss. The automated offshore incoming call centres trying to tell us that our Windows computer is broken. Or that there's another financial instrument that could be of interest. Or that we should claim for a recent accident (which we haven't had).

We also agree that the real people that dial the landline tend to be family. No-one else generally bothers; they all use mobile numbers or messaging.

What is handy, however, is being able to give a landline number to a delivery vehicle. It needs to have the right prefix, of course. Virtualised private numbers still confuse. Then, having a phone that can ring throughout the house. In the lounge, the kitchen, upstairs, even on the top floor. And the reassurance of an old-school answerphone. With a light that flashes.

I expect the days of this whole technology are numbered, but I've resurrected its use without the necessity of deploying BT. So we now have a proper area code landline number. No actual landline, instead a tiny VOIP gadget that converts the internet signal back to analogue and can then be beamed around the house on a DECT carrier.

It works fine, provides a reassuring standard British dial tone, a clearer voice signal than the old slightly scratchy twisted copper pair and includes a proper E999 service. There's also a few additional features like being able to pickup landline calls from a mobile even when away from home. Our DECT handsets all have speakerphone as well, and there's unlimited UK landline and mobile calling included.

Even with next year's projected reduction in BT landline costs, this capability is still much cheaper. What's not to like?

Monday, 30 October 2017

No links with Yanukovych, Ivankov, Algarov, Veselnitskaya, Magnitsky, Akhmetshin, Bogatin, Mogilevich, Tokhtakhounov, ?


The Halloween edition of the New Yorker may have captured the mood quite well with its front cover illustration.

It's scary stuff, and the woods may be filled with smoke and crazy clowns, but there's still no official smoking gun in the alleged Russian influence of the last US election.

I've written about some of this back in July, including passing mentions of the curious state of some of the floors of Trump Tower, which seemed to have been let to money launderers and even a Russian mob enforcer.

Oh yes, I remember, the enforcer eventually went back to Moscow and was gunned down in a street. The storylines around this are quite convoluted, and could make a great piece of jump-cut movie fiction, except that there's too much that is deniably true.

Of course there would be no direct connection to Trump for any of this. His son-in-law may have been to s Russian meeting seeking dirt on Hilary Clinton, but that situation has almost melted away. These kids. He's only 36, don't ya know. Oh, yes, I remember Manafort was also at that session.

Manafort. Officially he only ran the Trump campaign for about three months, although many would say he took over in all but name much earlier. I'm sure that is as deniable as the current string of indictments.

Now that a version of Yanukovych's Black Ledger has surfaced, we may see more of the laundering and corruption processes, although it will almost certainly only be a subset.

And perhaps Trump is wilier than we all think, putting up all kinds of weird circus sideshows whilst he goes about his conventionally self-interested money making schemes?

But I was forgetting, he's not got a very good track record at those either, at least legally/morally/ethically.

Friday, 27 October 2017

in which one of my accounts became faux Chino-Russian and sent some election noise


Like almost everyone, I have a few dormant accounts sprinkled around the internet. The kind of things that get set up for a one-off purpose, left switched on but never quite get deleted and then are forgotten.

That's what happened to an old Skype account of mine, which someone managed to hack. I first noticed it when I started getting SMS messages in Russian related to a reset. Curious, I thought. I'd better take a look.

Sure enough, the old account had been illegally repurposed. A new userid had been added, similar to mine but with one letter different. The name had been changed to something faux-Chinese and the language had been reset to Russian.

I looked back through the history and realised they'd been looking for accounts with automatic top-up, rather than my otherwise locked-down account.

The account had been one of those pwned accounts in a well-publicised hack created when Microsoft merged Skype and Microsoft accounts but somehow left the Skype accounts as an alternative form of logon. The two-factor Microsoft account verification therefore didn't work for the Skype-based login.

This isn't new information, but illustrates the perils of (my?) lax housekeeping of an old account. It is possible that the renamed userid/email account was used to send out some spam mails before it was locked down by Microsoft. I'm wondering if messages were sent last year for the US elections or perhaps later for the British ones? Also just how many others were affected in a similar way and may still not even realise it has happened?

Fortunately, the recent half-hearted hacker attempt to re-instate the account does show me that the two-factor authentication is now working. And even more interesting is that I now have the hacker's complete profile.

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

TEOTFW binge complete


I've been watching TEOTFW. That's not the full title, although the TV announcer did manage a fill-in-the xxxs reference just before episode one screened yesterday evening.

It's been made like a dark-humoured road trip set in a stylistically dated Britain. James and Alyssa (played by Craig Roberts and Jessica Barden) are teenagers with outlier attitudes.

Based on the Charles Forsman graphic novel, the revised UK storytelling still plays with American-style scenes. James walks along a tree-lined street carrying a skateboard in one of those classic framing shots. They drive along Badlands-straight roads, stopping at faux-American diners for food.

There's a roadhouse bar, even an isolated mobile home that could have been in a dingy trailer park. James wears a Hawaiian shirt that could almost be from True Romance. They visit houses that look like mid-century British attempts to do American decor. Alyssa even says it at one point: “If this was a film, we’d probably be American.” Much of the incidental music has an American twang.

Despite its G rating, it's not a series for a faint-hearted General Audience. More of a 'T for Twisted', if such rating were to exist. Brilliantly cast, including one of Sightseers lead characters playing a Dad which can't just be coincidence.

I won't say more, except I've watched the whole series, currently freely available on All4. Watch the first episode at your peril; it'll probably lead to binge viewing of the rest.

Friday, 20 October 2017

FCPX, Motion, FXFactory and High Sierra all running smoothly together


A spinoff from getting the main computer/disks etc back into use has been the number of updates applied since the system was last used back in early May.

The most notable change was from Sierra to High Sierra, which had the effect of removing a few old versions of Final Cut Pro and Logic Pro from daily use. They just don't work any more on the latest operating system.

When the X versions of these products were introduced, I used to think of them as a dumbing down of prior capabilities and so, like many, I kept the older FCP Studio and Logic Pro Studio version running. In particular the lack of plugins in the early days meant that I couldn't use the new software to edit some of my existing work.

In the interim, I've tinkered with Adobe and Avid again, but now, years later, FCPX seems to have sorted itself out, so I have added back all the plugins and have used it for my latest couple of small projects.

A major help has been the small FXFactory plugin manager, which has reduced that time hunting around in directories and managing multiple copies of the same plugin across different software platforms.

I'm pleased to say my editing on FCPX is now functioning securely, responsively and with most of my day-to-day effects working across both FCPX and Motion. I'll post a small example over the next day or so.

It will probably be pre-marketing for one of next year's shows ;-)

Thursday, 19 October 2017

still no jet pack


Sidewalk Labs have been talking recently about their project targeting the eastern waterfront of Toronto. It's an Alphabet/Google company pushing new ideas about ways to develop the public realm. Wrapped up in mobility and sustainability statements are more thoughts on urban space monitoring and monetisation.

The project seems to be offering a surprisingly conservative future view. I'd have expected more boundaries to be pushed but, at least from the illustrations, it all looks very safe. There's a tree-lined pedestrianised zone, with a cable car and a few bicycles. The architecture is glass-boxy and in the distance is a converted legacy building with a tall chimney. Kind of London South Bank along by the Tate Modern, maybe?

I can also remember in downtown Toronto, walking around a series of underground links between buildings. I think it is called PATH and I was told it was a way to stay cosy during the winter months. It makes it all the more intriguing that the same city should be selected for this other kind of project.

Then there's another Sidewalks illustration, this time of the walkways and tramways. A few Google driverless cars have been pasted on, implying modernity.

Aside from the cable car, it could almost be a central Manchester image, with the tram intersection and a few bicycles.

In some European cities trams can also take outboard bikes, similar to the way that ski-buses operate. Here's a Stuttgart to Degerloch example.

Another example from London would be the Airline cablecar interchange which, on both sides of the Thames, goes into a predominantly pedestrian area, with close and deliberately synchronised adjacent tube, ferry and light railway links. I know this one well, because it was part of my regular commute for a while. The cablecar would work strange hours though. A late morning start and an early evening finish. Miss the last one and it would be necessary to take a whole different route to get back. Same thing in high winds.

I decided to dig out a concept sketch of the cablecar, from 2010, before it had been built.
sketch. The glass building also housed a series of exhibits about modern multi-modal city infrastructures. Maybe the Alphabetters should take a look at some of the output?

Then there's their concept of the underground infrastructure for services. The diagram looks like a Disneyworld cross-section, but I'm thinking of my experiences in la Défense, Paris, where the underground tunnels are huge and fairly confusing.

I used to travel fairly regularly to the area's Sofitel, yet taxi drivers would regularly get lost. Of course, the scale is much bigger than the Sidewalk project, with many tall buildings creating a commensurate demand for services.

Look at la Défense from surface level and it's impressively car free. It even has some of those autonomous shuttle buses.

Okay, maybe there are only three of them. Hardly enough to support a daily footfall of 500,000. But it's the edges of the zone that also tell a story.

'It always works in the PowerPoint', as the expression goes.

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Eggers - The Circle

I've been reading extracts from Dave Eggers 55 short short stories for something that I'm doing on Thursday.

They are all roughly one-pagers and are written in a compressed and non-paragraphed style which isn't that easy on the eye.

I can see what he's doing with some of them, with a thought-bomb wrapped up in homely or comical descriptions, and I've found some of the characters and voices particularly exasperating.

But that is part of his point and reminds me of reading Egger's technical futures novel called 'The Circle' a few years ago.

The novel included a few extrapolations about where technology was headed and the kind of things that could occur as by-products. I suppose many people who read these kind of novels will generally be tech-savvy and so the experience is more one of confirmation of thoughts rather than genuinely zinging ideas.

In the The Circle, the main protagonist (Mae) joined a hi-tech company (The Circle) and we see the enthusiastic, jovial, well-sounding company people building ever more intrusive gadgets to keep an eye on things.

"Yay, claps, awesome!"

It does remind me somehow of that new google camera thingy (Clips) that I mentioned recently to help spy on friends record lifestyle.

The novel plays with ideas around being liked, participation "Secrets are Lies" and the all-embracing nature of some modern tech companies. It doesn't directly mention the FANG factor (Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, Google), which I suppose should really be the FAAA Factor (Facebook, Amazon, Alphabet, Apple). However, it is all about what they represent.

And then late yesterday evening, I noticed the 2017 movie of The Circle was up on Netflix, so I took a look at its somewhat condensed version of the idea. Netflix have thrown some serious money at the production, made in collaboration with Abu Dhabi, and with Emily Watson playing Mae and Tom Hanks as the 'Steve Jobs' style company evangelist.

The movie reminded me of my time working for American organisations, with sleek campuses, the passive aggressive lifestyle immersion and the big shindigs where everyone on deadlines would still be seen to be having fun. I can honestly say that the company events were quite true to life based upon my own experiences.

It probably turned this somehow mis-firing movie into something that I could watch, despite a kind of fairy-tale startup, superficial handling of life off-campus and some crowbarred in third act moments.

Don't tell anyone, but I might watch it again.

Sunday, 15 October 2017

smile for the robot camera


Now a decent amount of the rashbre central technology is back up and running, it seems like time for a technology post.

Something that caught my eye recently is Google Clips, which could have been like a camera for the selfie generation if only it had pointed the other way.

Google Clips recognizes faces and pets and records them automatically. What could possibly be creepy about that? It's wearable and compact, and although it lights up when recording, it's a bit like having someone permanently collecting evidence.

It reminds me of the Jesse Armstrong Black Mirror episode 'Entire History of You', where Jesse's Peep Show-style recording was made of everything and could be replayed to cross check detail. In Black Mirror the grains captured everything, but these Google Clips only capture shortish bursts of 15 frame per second pseudo-video without sound. At least that's all they do for the moment.

Google is also at pains to say it doesn't put the resultant footage into the cloud, and the user must select which sections get further use. Probably via one of those lengthy usage agreements that have to be accepted the first time the device is used.

The original design didn't include a push button to take a photo; the system didn't need it, being entirely autonomous. They've added a button now as a kind of psychological human factors thing a bit like many unwired office heating controls.

I'm not sure what impact this kind of device will have on photography. Smartphones can already replace smaller pocket cameras for many purposes. The innovation of this device is that it doesn't require any action on the part of the user. Clip it on and it uses artificial intelligence to look for the shot and then snaps pictures it thinks could be of interest. 'Family and pets' says the oh-so-wholesome literature - although it does show a picture of the device tucked away on a shelf.

It's another twist on the Google Glass designs, this time with a more overt camera visible. The pictures it takes are well below current smartphone quality. The wide 130 degree angle of view and unframed picture gives a totally random look to the resultant picture. It reminds me of a security camera photograph.

Then there's the three hour battery life. Hardly deigned for life-streaming. But it is the first generation, and Google probably wants to use it to track other demographic information for helpful marketing purposes.

It's also not directly supporting the selfie generation. The wearer can't take a photo of themselves. Just of other people. Or cats to share on the internet.

Friday, 13 October 2017

hidden heights


We were by that sign on Oxford Street, next to the almost hidden alley that leads into St Christopher's Place.

To be honest, it's one of my favourite things about Oxford Street, the ability to dive down a seemingly obscure route, with the object of trying to get some tourists into the slipstream.

It usually works and this time we had a few Americans in tow, intrigued by the seemingly tight space that we'd disappeared into.

At the end of the alley, and uplifted from prior incarnations, there's an entirely wholesome grouping of cafes and restaurants, together with a few high-end shops. The kind that don't bother to put prices on their window displays.

Our mission was ever so slightly further afield. Across Wardour Street and into Marylebone Lane. We were visiting 100 Marylebone Lane.

It used to be a well-known dance school, but now part of its property has been transformed into a rather delicious variant of The Ivy.

Fortunately we had a table ready and waiting.

Thursday, 12 October 2017

magic car boot packing and the disappearing bed


Yes, we've retrieved most of the rest of the gear that was stored during the move, so a few more pieces of rashbre central can spring back to life.

The main computer, servers and so on have been dormant since the 8th of May and have just, for the first time, been fired up.

I'll admit it is a somewhat temporary configuration, but should allow video editing and sound mixing to start again, along with other duties. Right now I'm offloading photos from a couple of cameras into Lightroom.

I am still sleeping on the floor whilst we wait for the third attempt to get the bed delivered. It's a whole other story which means I can honestly say I haven't slept in my own bed since May.

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

#FANS 2018


Just sayin'.

A kind of Wordless Wednesday post, but with built-in marketing.

It's way too early to fire up the twitter accounts for this, but lookout for FANS on the road again in 2018.

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

sierra clone


Inevitably, the big computer wanted to update itself to the latest version of everything. I let it adjust for High Sierra, which has taken over from - er - Sierra.

Before the update, I made a sneaky clone of the Sierra image. It's just in case I need to do some editing with the old version of the Apple Pro apps.

Final Cut Pro and Logic Pro are now defunct on the latest operating system. It's actually some seven years since FCP was updated. Those swirly Pixel Magic transitions will finally have to go as I will now only be able to use the X versions.



Monday, 9 October 2017

Jasper Johns: 'Something resembling truth' ?


This time we were at the Jaspar Johns exhibition.

It's a flagship exhibition at the Royal Academy and features many of Jaspar Johns well-known works around his recurring themes of flags, targets, numbers and maps.

A while ago I read The Sellout by Paul Beatty, which I found peculiarly American in its wit and expression. I'm also pretty sure that as Brit I got less from it than an American reader would.

There's something of that feeling with this Jaspar Johns exhibition. It covers several main themes, sometimes revisited after 20 or 30 years across the expanse of his ongoing career.

Johns doesn't often explain his work, leaving it to the viewer to work out a meaning. And in some cases this can be quite a journey.

The RA's own external flag highlights one of his well-known works. It's the Fool's House, which I'm sure was itself chosen as a wry quip for the show.

Best described as a deconstruction of the way a painter works, we get a partially painted Sorcerer's Apprentice style broom, plus a towel, paint stretcher and cup. We have to decide for ourselves whether the canvas has been included, or are we looking at the discards from a painting session? And is the picture supposed to be a cylinder?

Other concepts include pictures where the canvas has been folded, such that the work is hidden inside, before being painted over, usually with grey or black paints.

At the time (1960s-1970s) it was 'ground breaking' and set some new directions, although I'm probably someone who prefers the variety in Warhol or Rauschenberg's breadth of ideas.

Sure they all appropriate contemporary objects, but I can't help feeling that Johns was the one that spent more time alone with dark thoughts.

It would be remiss not to mention the flags he produced. Almost exclusively American, with variations of the star patterns and sometimes hidden details. He also produced similarly blended maps of the USA, with controversial labels. Should a painting need to explain itself with writing (debate)?

But the flags do lead to my favourite sequence of his work, which was unremarked upon in the exhibition.

Not the conventional stars and stripes that he produced, instead a smaller series of orange, green and black flags.

There's the original large format one, which is part of a series called Moratorium. Notice the single white spot in the middle? It serves a couple of purposes. The first is to represent bullet hole, a signifier for the Vietnam war.

The construction was used again in another picture, "Ventriloquist", which was the only part of this sequence on show.

The tag line for the exhibition is 'something resembling truth' although examples in the exhibition are largely unsignposted. My example from the green flag is perhaps a more obvious one. Stare at the bullet hole and then look at the sky. Yes, the stars and stripes appears in its original colours.

Do the same with the two flags shown on Ventriloquist and the same mind's eye illusion occurs. I'm wondering how much more is hidden?

Only truth will tell.

Saturday, 7 October 2017

previewing the excellent #GoldfishBowl


A Gloucester Road pizza at Da Mario's (that's the one that Lady Di used to take the boys), then along a few tube stops to the lovely Canada Water Theatre to see a preview show.

It's the already excellent Goldfish Bowl, written by Young People’s Laureate for London, Caleb Femi.

Playing to a sold-out house, this is a part improv, part poetry, part grime piece about moving from Nigeria, living in a Peckham high-rise estate and the bittersweet experiences around an often tough and quite poor area. In case it sounds like a troubled viewing, the show is vibrant and full of life. There's a sparky humour driven by the writing of Caleb Femi combined with the realistic acting and friendship between Caleb and fellow actor/DJ/singer Lex Amor. Stunning artwork crackled across the set by Olivia Twist adding to the overall effect.

Despite the preview nature, this is a show that is already well-formed for a serious tour and I just hope they can find the programmers to put this on more widely.

In Canada Water, the diverse audience were fully engaged and the two actors pulled down the fourth wall almost from the start, with much friendly encouragement whooped from the audience. For me, this entire PaperBirds directed show was excellent theatre, with a simple staging yet dazzling in terms of effects and images portrayed. A clever example of 'less is more'.

I loved it and already want to see it again.

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

waiter, this series is corked #DoctorFoster


Watching some broadcast telly. The one about the revengeful doctor and her ex-husband.

It's difficult to know where to start, with the show having every single decision made contrary to common sense. Along the lines of "don't go there, don't see him or her again, don't respond to the warped note, why stay in Parminster at all?" etc. Not to mention the coincidental arrivals and departures, open dangerous gates, open fridge doors, and so on.

No doubt it was written to be deliberately infuriating, although it is so far beyond melodrama as to need its own category. I can imagine the writers asking one another, "What else can we throw in?" It made the script a little like a rushed last minute homework submission.

With that other TV show about unreliable narrative (Liar) also running at the moment, I found myself watching the Doctor Foster champagne cork sequence too carefully. The cork was made of cork, then in the flashback it looked like a cheap plastic cork from a bottle of prosecco.

It flew right across the garden. Then it was in his hands again. And made of cork.

But back to the plot...Worryingly it had an ending which could set the scene for yet another series. Please don't.

Update: After I wrote this, I decided to check that cork thing and yes. Even OK is on to it.

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

dire statistics


Another tragic example of America's second amendment's frequent dire consequences.

The so-called President auto-cued his way, with faux piety, through a subsequent statement.

Back in April he was telling the NRA how much he'd unfetter them further. Heck, they could have silencers and concealed carry too, like gangsters.

Now he's offering "warmest" (sic) condolences and bits of Psalm 34:18 as if he means it.

And we all know that if the gunman had a different kind of name this would all run very differently.

That old George Burns sincerity quote doesn't apply. Trump can't even fake it.

Instead we again see him relying upon diversion whilst serving self-interest.

USA Statistics

I quickly tabulated the incidents that have happened since the Las Vegas one, highlighted in yellow, two days ago. Around 50 more incidents, 30 more injuries and a further 23 fatalities.

Sunday, 1 October 2017

picking rondo at pebblebed near #topsham


We joined in the community grape harvest at the lovely and hospitable local vineyard today.

It turns out that the Romans dabbled in grape growing around this area and then more is recorded in the middle ages, creating a local Devonshire "Terroir".

On this occasion we were harvesting red grapes - the rondo variety, which get used in the local Pebblebed red and rose wines.

The original vineyards were planted out as part of a community project in the late 1990s and have grown into today's commercial enterprise.

We crossed one field of vines and into another, where we were welcomed to the morning's activity. Gloves, secateurs, ready for action.

The line of vines stretched into the distance, with lively volunteers in each row.

We found it quite addictive finding the grapes and harvesting them into the crates which would subsequently be taken to the nearby winery. Each new crate seemed to have its own gang of miniature resident spiders, which scattered as the first grapes were dropped in. There were abundant red admiral butterflies, in keeping with the stories that this butterfly is once again thriving.

At the end of each line we could see healthy red roses. Traditionally used as an early indicator of mildew, although possibly there's a more sophisticated approach nowadays. These roses looked both pretty and healthy and would have given olden day horses a bright clue about when to turn around.

Altogether good fun and with sociable long tables welcoming at the end of the session. A bite to eat and a natter with new neighbours. Pebblebed have a few more of the community sessions over the next couple of weeks. Well worth a visit and, of course, a glass of their wine.