Product Placement in Avengers Assemble, Book promotion, Virgin Media Tivo

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Product Placement in Avengers Assemble
At last year’s d-Construct conference the keynote speaker Don Norman talked about how Apple has been planning the move to touch screens and gesture controls for many many years. He confidently said they would be the future of interacting with computers and devices.

Like many recent films that show futuristic technology in the not so near future, Avengers Assemble has lots of shots of people interacting with displays through hand and finger gestures. In its own subtle way it reinforced this future and will make the audience desire iPads, Kinect and the like more.

Did anyone else notice the occasional system sound when Iron Man was moving things between screens? Did anyone else notice they were the system sounds from Apple devices?

This wouldn’t be the first time this has happened. Pixar films feature Apple noises. But, this was a brilliantly subtle way to connect this exciting future with Apple.

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Book promotion
Three people I know have recently had their books published. It is very rare for me to buy a book the day it comes out but I have with these and I’ve been quite surprised by how they’ve been publicised – namely the amount of up front reviews and articles.

It felt like a waste to see a great review of a book three weeks before publication. I thought of people reading it, wanting to buy it (or download it), finding they couldn’t and then forgetting about it by the time it came out. I couldn’t understand why the promo wasn’t targeted to the week of release or afterwards.

Films and albums have both moved to a model where there’s a blitz of publicity around the release. The record industry call it the ‘impact date’. Only the well known franchises tend to get anticipation building promo in advance now.

Is this another example of how book publishing needs to catch up with the way people are now consuming media?

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Virgin Media Tivo
I remember when I first got Sky+ I was very impressed with how simple and easy to use it was. There were very few settings and nothing got in the way of the simple press R to record and green for series link. There was just one long list of recorded programmes, which some complained was hard to navigate with a lot of shows, but I never had an issue.

This week I moved over to Virgin Media’s Tivo. As a well developed platform I expected things to be equally straightforward. I knew it had to be a little more complicated as it integrates with catch-up TV over the internet. I was also intrigued by the TV ad where David Tennant searched for programmes via his name.

Now, I’ve not spent that much time using my Tivo box yet but first impressions aren’t good. It is clunky to move around, with a load of menus and screens to get to things. Recording something from the EPG and setting up series link appears simple enough but it defaults to record new episodes and reruns. That meant that, a day after setting it up to series link ‘Big Bang Theory’, five episodes were recorded when I only wanted the brand new one. Changing that took me through three menu screens.

Like the advert taught me, I searched for David Tennant and an impressive list of films and programmes appeared. However none were available to watch. This is how the Tivo experience falls down. The extra programme information and context it gives you gets in the way and adds very little.

It’s a classic case of a product adding too many features that get in the way of the core user need: “I want to watch TV programmes either live or recorded”. Maybe it was the limited technology in the initial Sky+ boxes but they kept to that core need and performed brilliantly.

The Artist, LetterMpress, State of Play

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The Artist

The ArtistSo, everyone is raving about the film The Artist. A modern silent film that is styled like and set in the era of old silent films. I saw it over a week ago and still find myself asking if I thought it was good. Robert Elms didn’t think it was and has blogged his objections:

…I found this was laboured, hammy, uninvolving, clever beyond tolerance and thoroughly pointless…by setting it in the time of silent films and so obviously playing on those techniques, it simply became an exercise in stylised French retro chic.

Seeing Robert’s thoughts made me realise I agreed. Now, I didn’t hate The Artist, in fact I rather enjoyed it, but it didn’t blow me away. I’m wondering if people are getting over excited because it is different and they felt special at seeing something so retro. I did find myself wondering if I would have enjoyed a ‘classic’ silent comedy more.

Further proof that people have been caught in a whirlwind is the number of awards nominations it has. Why is it up for best sound at the BAFTAs? Best score maybe but The Artist’s sound design is nothing special (for obvious reasons).

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LetterMpressLetterMpress is an iPad and Mac application that recreates an old fashioned letter press and lets you make your own prints. It beautifully captures the look and actions of a real large letterpress.

You create prints by dragging individual letters or graphics on to the press. This is where you first realise how much effort goes into letter pressing. It isn’t just a case of dropping the letter where you want it because they don’t stick the press, they slide around as you knock other letters into it. To keep things fixed and straight you have to add magnets. Then you need to set up each colour separately and print them on top of each other. And you have to do everything reversed like looking in a mirror. Suddenly getting the multi-coloured print you want takes time and practice.

It is a fun challenge and the app will let you cheat (for example showing you the letters the correct way around). Graphic blocks are limited so you can only really produce text prints but it is a cool way to make cards and posters.

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State of Play

State of PlayThis is actually one from last month. In fact State of Play was the best thing I watched on TV last year — not bad for a series made in 2003.

It is a six-part conspiracy thriller written by Paul Abbott and staring David Morrissey, John Simm, Bill Nighy, Kelly MacDonald and James McAvoy. Starting with a young man being shot by a hit-man, and then quickly introducing the death of an aide to a high-profile MP, it shows a world where the press, government and the police interact.

It was particularly interesting to watch in light of the phone-hacking revelations of 2011. The story is driven by a bunch of broadsheet journalists who use all sorts of nefarious methods to get information. Their relationship with the police is particularly interesting – they don’t pay but they trade information and withhold facts to protect their story.

It feels strange to say this but if one of your TV highlights of last year was The Killing with its mix of investigation, politics and human consequences then this early 2000s series is for you. And you can get it second hand on for a few quid.

Foursquare, ifttt, Ghostbusters

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This week marked two years of me checking in on Foursquare. In that time I’ve checked in over 1,500 times, collected 22 badges and I’m mayor of 15 places. The thing is I still cannot say why I use it.

I guess the main reason is I like recording the places I go to and I like the feeling of checking into lots of places when I’m on a fun day out. I also take some pleasure from being at the top of the points chart among my friends.

One personal quirk is I actually don’t like people ‘following me’ because I feel guilty about bombarding people with my checkins. I admit that on the rare occasion I am somewhere cool I like to show off a bit, and I do use it to say when I’m going on a trip. But my arrival at yet another pub cannot be interesting to anyone. However I do like seeing where my close friends are.

I guess the truth is I’ve got a bit of an addiction. And I suppose it is harmless.

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If you haven’t heard of ifttt then you will not know it stands for ‘if this then that’. You also will not know is it is a webapp where you can set up actions based on what happens on other webapps. For example if someone tweets you can get ifttt to send you an email.

I signed up early for ifttt when it was still in beta. Back then it didn’t connect with many apps. At the time all I could think to use it for was said twitter>email. But recently I noticed it had come out of beta, connects with 13 apps and has a new thing called recipes.

Recipes are actions created by other people which anyone can use — and there’s some useful ones there. I now use ifttt to:
1. Copy my Instagram photos to my Dropbox
2. Copy any Facebook photos I’m tagged in to my Dropbox
3. Copy my shared items on Google Reader to Read It Later
4. Tweet when I share items on Google Reader
5. Save all my Foursquare checkins to a private Google Calendar

It is the last one I like most. I can now look back through a calendar of my checkins and remind myself where I went. ifttt has given me another reason to use Foursquare.

(Update: 3 and 4 will not work now Google Reader has changed sharing to Google+)

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I went to see Ghostbusters on the big screen at the weekend. I loved the film as a kid but hadn’t seen it for ages. The surprising thing was how simple the story was. GB see a ghost in library, female lead introduced, GB bust a ghost in a hotel, NYC gets overrun with ghosts, female lead gets possessed by big bad, annoying government man causes problems, GB get put in jail, hell breaks out, GB get out of jail and go to take on big bad, GB kill big bad and rescue the girl.

Now maybe they still make films this simple and I don’t see them. But having watched both parts of the final Harry Potter film/book I wonder if Hollywood has got too complicated.

Hotel reviews, The Story of Film and Commonwealth Institute

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Hotel reviews

The view from the Redcar HotelI stayed in an awful hotel at the weekend.  It was The Redcar in Bath which my brother booked through  The hallway carpets where threadbare and walls had large holes in.  The rooms were knackered and shabby.  Although ours worked another room had to flush their toilet with a bucket of water.

Reviewers on Tripadvisor don’t hold back with their disgust.  However‘s reviews are a bit different.  Its average is 5.7 and, while people point out failings, there’s not the hatred of Tripadvisor and most people still find something nice to say. sells its reviews as only being written by people who have booked through them and stayed at the hotels – a response the problems Tripadvisor has with made-up reviews.  However there’s problems here. put the positive thoughts first which forces people to think of some.  And secondly I think there’s some Britishness going on of not wanting to complain on the site people booked through. is still my trusted hotel site but hotels are going to have to get the highest scores for me to book in future.

  • Strangly the Redcar‘s official site has just gone offline

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The Story of Film: An Odyssey

FilmIf I ever did a night class it would be in film studies.  The way films play homage to each other through special scenes has always interested me.  More 4’s The Story of Film: An Odyssey is a long journey of how movies have developed and how they learn from each other.

I almost didn’t plan watch it.  15x90min is a challenge for my almost full Sky+ box but I’m glad I did.  I find I have to watch the episodes closely to pick up all the references and connections with it.  It feels different to most modern documentaries which have a strong story arch and powerful voice over/script.  On the face of it the story meanders but it is taking its time and fully enjoying itself.  It is written and directed by Mark Cousins who’s Northern Irish voiceover feels a million miles away from Hollywood, yet it works.

Mark has explained how the movie makers learnt to make cuts, built extravagant sets and how they made movie stars.  It already feels like 15 parts may not be enough.

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Commonwealth Institute/Design Museum

Commonwealth Institute

My trip to Bath cut into London Open House weekend so I only had time to see a few places.  I was really pleased one of them was the Commonwealth Institute as it is a prime example of the mid-20th century architecture I love.

The building has been empty for over ten years since its mission to teach school children about the Commonwealth fell out of fashion.  I presume its listed roof has saved it from being demolished and replaced by shops and flats.  The Design Museum are moving there in 2014 and this was a one-off chance to see it before they remodel it.

It was designed to be a non-hierarchical open space with floors and staircases flowing into each other around a central circle platform.  The Design Museum are going to change this to accommodate offices, meeting rooms, a restaurant, shop and temporary exhibition space.  I really hope they can keep its open feeling though.

iTunes Festival, Patents, Beginners

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iTunes Festival

iTunes Festival

I only got to go to one iTunes gig at the Roundhouse this year, Kasabian. As expected they put on a good show but it was a different crowd to normal. There wasn’t the usual Essex crowd of beer-swilling men chanting. The reason is probably connected to the massive guest list queue I had to join to get in. The proportion of actual competition winners (fans) must have been small.

My problem with the iTunes Festival is it is just another promotional gig. Yes you get some big bands (Coldplay) in the small (by comparison to arenas) venue. And yes it is free for the competition winners.

But it doesn’t need to be free. How about everyone pays £20? And I mean everyone – no free guest list. The Roundhouse’s capacity is over 3,000. Take off taxes and stuff there’s about £45k raised. Give this to the artist and tell them they have to spend it on making the show special. Get them to raise their game, create some competition between them to do the best.

The result would be uniquely special gigs that people really want to experience. As before, only 3,000 can be there. The rest would have to watch/listen/BUY through iTunes.

iTunes festival website

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This American Life: When Patents Attack

Reading the news does depress me. Bankers have ruined the economy, venture capitalists are ruining businesses. And now lawyers are ruining innovation and invention.

The whole of this episode of TAL was dedicated to the story of companies buying up patents and then using them to sue other companies. The central story was around one patent that covered most the basics of using the web.

They say any half-decent start-up will get a patent claim made against them now. The costs of fighting are high and often the claims are tenuous.


Listen online at the This American Life website

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I went to see this film last week at Stratford Picturehouse on one of their Bargain Mondays (£3 screenings for members). The trailer looked good but also exposed one of the central storylines – man looks after his dying father – which I wouldn’t have fancied if the reviews had promised it wasn’t overly emotional.

It might be because I was alone but did find myself checking my watch quite often (and was very surprised the first check was after only a half hour) so it did drag a bit. However in there was a lovely shot movie skirting nicely around the tale of love and loss.

Beginners on