The Guardian vs Brian Eno or the interviewer vs the interviewee

I was recently pointed at a Guardian interview with Brian Eno. The piece is perhaps most politely described as confrontational. At one point, Eno apologises for being ratty, but the write-up mostly showcases a writer slamming into a wall on discovering what an artist wants to talk about isn’t what he himself had in mind.

Often, it seems Simon Hattenstone, for whatever reason, has an obsession with Eno’s past. There are questions about Eno’s background, and of his many collaborations. Eno is not interested in discussing such things, at one point noting the journalist can find answers to such questions in countless interviews elsewhere (“But you can do research. That’s your job!”), and so a big chunk of what’s reported seems to paint him as controlling. Relatively little of the piece is about the things Eno’s currently interested in: art; ambient and generative audio; society.

It’s an uncomfortable read, not only as a typical reader, but also as a writer. I’ve interviewed plenty of people myself, and you’d perhaps expect me to side with the writer here, but I don’t. I always prefer interviews where I get out of the way. Once, I interviewed Tetris creator Alexey Pajitnov, but the transcript is closer to a lecture. I just sat and listened as he spoke about the things he wanted to and was interested in. The end result was far better for that.

Additionally, I find the notion of repeatedly revisiting the same old thing curious. If you’re going to get a short time to chat with someone like Brian Eno, why on the day dredge up his dad being a postman? Why waste time grilling him on working with Roxy Music, Bowie and Talking Heads, when he’s talked about that so many times before? Why not instead spend the time finding out something new, talking about ideas, thinking and projects that cement the interview in the present? That’s got to beat unnecessary confrontation, and trying to get someone to reword something they’ve said many times before, on subjects they’ve long had enough of discussing.

February 15, 2017. Read more in: Music, Opinions

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Are you Siri-ous?

Google FTW! Siri is awful! That’s the typical opinion throughout the tech sphere, and one Matt Bircher aims to nix in his video.

Bircher makes plenty of good points, although largely showcases all of these AIs have a long way to go. Mostly, I’ve discovered Siri’s shortcomings while trying to use the thing in the car.

Naturally, I’m not a massive idiot when it comes to driving. I reduce technology usage as much as possible, and avoid touching my iPhone’s display. But maps are pretty important things to have available, not least when you, say, take a wrong turn on the way to the airport and end up zooming towards Gatwick when you should be picking up your wife from Heathrow, thereby very rapidly needing to know the fastest route in the right direction.

Me: Hey, Siri! Get me directions to Heathrow Airport, Terminal 2!
Siri: Which Heathrow airport terminal? Tap the one you want.

Yeah, thanks, Siri. I’m driving. I’m not going to be tapping anything. And your list omits terminal two, which is even better. Apparently, you cannot comprehend that when I asked for directions to Terminal 2, I wanted directions to Terminal 2.

After two more frustrating attempts, I hit upon a cunning plan:

Me: Hey, Siri! Launch Google.
Google launches
Me: OK, Google, get me directions to Heathrow Airport, Terminal 2.

Done. Instantly. Which of course means Google is amazing and Siri isn’t. Apart from during another car journey where it appears the two had got drunk together.

Me: Hey, Siri! Open Google Maps.
Siri: OK, here’s the App Store.

Me: Hey, Siri! Send a message to my wife.
Siri: You have no new messages.

Me: OK, Google! When’s the next train from Gatwick to North Camp?
Google: spews out a load of web searches for The Train Line and carries on drinking gin with Siri
Me: wishes driverless cars would arrive a whole lot sooner

February 15, 2017. Read more in: Apple, Opinions, Technology

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Netflix vs NOWTV vs Amazon Prime Video in the UK – the good, the bad and the maddening

I subscribe to three video streaming services, primarily for access to specific shows. Enough shows exist on each platform to justify continued payment, given alternate legal options (buying series on iTunes, which remains absurdly expensive, or grabbing DVDs).

But what I find interesting about these services is that only one of them appears to heavily care about the user experience – and that’s the one that relies entirely on subscriptions for its survival.

Netflix is, for the most part, great. It’s flexible regarding payment plans, subtitles the majority of its content, and, most importantly, doesn’t bug you about shows or who supplied the content at any point. The user interface is a dog’s dinner at times, but no worse than its rivals.

NOW TV remains an ongoing disappointment, especially for Apple TV users. It appears that Sky has abandoned the platform – the Apple TV app hasn’t been meaningfully updated since launch – although NOW TV’s support staff claim otherwise (despite not offering a timescale for updates).

The service lacks subtitles, and on Apple TV has all kinds of bugs and shortcomings. You get the odd pre-roll ad for other content and, annoyingly, ident stings in the middle of every show. Nothing adds to the atmosphere of the latest Game of Thrones than seeing the HBO logo abruptly appear and animate – sometimes twice in quick succession.

Amazon Prime Video is the worst offender for me right now, though, for one key reason. Before I get to that, this is a pity sad because Amazon gets most things right. Subtitling exists (although, for some reason, needs activating for each individual item watched on my Fire TV), and although Amazon and Apple seem to be having a ridiculous spat that means there’s no Apple TV app, the impact to users is minimal since Amazon’s iOS app has full AirPlay support.

But Amazon’s tendency to shove pre-roll adverts for its original series in front of everything you fancy watching is annoying. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen the Grand Tour one. I didn’t want to watch that show anyway; now, I’d like to see it eradicated with fire. But, worse, it turns out Amazon’s trailers team don’t seem to care whether they ruin your enjoyment of original series that are being advertised.

Yesterday, I watched a film on Amazon Prime. Naturally, I got to watch the Grand Tour trailer for the billionth time first. The film finished and I wanted to watch a trailer for another movie.

  • Amazon: “Hey, this would be a GREAT opportunity to advertise The Man in the High Castle!”
  • Trailer: “Hello! Here is a MASSIVE SPOILER regarding one of the main characters.”
  • Me: “For CRYING OUT LOUD. I’m already watching this series, but hadn’t got to that bit yet, you bafflingly stupid buffoons.”

Yes, this is only a small niggle in the scheme of things, but I write about tech and media, and in the scheme of those specific things, it’s astonishing to see a company blind about users to the point of ruining their enjoyment of the very thing they’re being encouraged to watch. Worse, why can’t Amazon spot the fact I’m halfway through season one and therefore not show me spoilers for a show I’m already watching?

Mind you, this is the company that after I bought an electric toothbrush kept suggesting I buy more for the following six months.

January 16, 2017. Read more in: Opinions, Television

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Alt history: what happened after Remain won the 2016 European Union membership referendum

Friday 23 June, 2016. The votes all counted, the UK has decided to remain part of the EU. 17,410,742 – 51.89 per cent – ticked that particular box, with 16,141,241 (48.11 per cent) against.

Prime Minster David Cameron’s cabinet reshuffle promotes heavily pro-EU Conservatives into senior positions. Pro-Brexit ministers resign before they are pushed. Over coming weeks, the new position of the UK becomes clear. The government announces immediate plans to join the Euro, thereby dropping Sterling. Immense pressure is placed on the EU by the British to instigate a federal system, akin to the United States of Europe. The UK also immediately barges its way into the Schengen Area, eliminating border controls with the rest of the EEA.

Of course, this is all bollocks, because this would never have happened. It’s the most extreme flavour of Remain, rather than the status quo, or, more likely, the UK using a narrow victory as a means to extract further concessions from the EU. And yet extreme Leave is now what the British seem to be heading for. This makes no more sense than extreme Remain, and yet we’re increasingly told that’s what we all voted for. Presumably all the ballots had an extra page no-one thought to attach.

November 22, 2016. Read more in: Politics

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Super Mario Run will cost ten whole dollars. Entitled idiots assemble!

As reported by the entire internet, the upcoming Mario game for iOS, Super Mario Run, now has an official price tag: $9.99/£7.99. Predictably, people have immediately split into three camps (with crossover between the first two): those happy to see Nintendo value its mobile product appropriately (thereby also hoping that means it’s good); developers hoping it’ll impact on iOS pricing as a whole; and entitled furious idiots throwing toys out of their prams at the prospect of a company having the audacity to charge money for an iPhone game.

My inkling is the first of those suggests a game that, at the very least, won’t be shit. Nintendo’s perhaps smartly not bringing existing classics to iOS, nor even a ‘full’ Mario experience, but there’s no reason it cannot create a really great touchscreen-optimised game. After all, two of the four Rayman titles work really well on iOS; of the two that don’t, one is a direct port of an ancient Rayman game, and the other had hope beaten out of it by a baseball bat with ‘freemium’ scrawled across it in pen. By contrast, Super Mario Run has precisely one IAP, to unlock the full game.

I also suspect the second of those things won’t come to pass. Developers might hope a ten-buck game would lead to people’s entitlement and expectation on mobile shifting, but that ship has long sailed. Instead, it will simply prove that Nintendo can charge ten bucks for a game. Unless your IP is similarly famous (the Codemasters F1 title also has the same price), you’ll still be scrapping it out at the low end, or hoping for the best in the $2.99–$4.99 pricing arena that’s laughably referred to as ‘premium’ on mobile.

As for the idiots? They’ll continue being idiots. There are no guarantees about the quality of Nintendo’s game, nor how well it will perform. There’s not even any guarantee that it won’t bump up the average price of iOS games, even though that is extremely unlikely. No, the one certainly is this the free-to-download game will get a slew of shitty App Store reviews from people horribly angry they can’t play yet another game for free.

November 15, 2016. Read more in: Apple, Gaming, iOS gaming, Opinions


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