Marc van Roosmalen: Adventurer Extraordinaire!

Have you ever heard of Marc van Roosmalen? No, I hadn’t either – although that is slightly less surprising for you, unless you also have a degree with a heavy focus on primatology. So who is this mysterious person? Well, he may well be one of the last, great naturalist explorers left in the world. I’ve just been introduced to his work, thanks to the ever informative Tetrapod Zoology blog, but he’s been around for quite some time. Indeed, you’d have to have been to have named 11 new species of mammal, plus have started active investigation/research into over a dozen more (not to count any plants discovered…)!

Honestly, the reality may not be all that it seems, especially if his Wikipedia entry is at all accurate, but regardless I feel Roosmalen may be a person I should keep an eye on. With a tapir, a titi monkey and a tree porcupine under his belt, Marc is definitely contributing to the discovery and knowledge of several of my favourite animal groups, so I’m excited to see what more he uncovers in the future!

Plus, this has reminded me that I really do need to write about Darren Naish’s recent ebook, Hunting Monsters. I feel that Roosmalen is a prime example of a real world cryptozoologist, of the sort that should be held aloft and waved around whilst proponents of the science (such as myself) scream “stop watching In Search of Bigfoot and start looking over here before you lump us all together with the nutjobs!”
But that’s a story for a different time…

Apple vs PC: Lightroom Benchtests

Just stumbled onto a recent analysis of the current generation, top end iMac (2016) and an equivalent cost (~$4,000) custom built PC, pitched head-to-head in a selection of Lightroom tasks such as photo merges, importing files and on-the-fly thumbnail creation. You can read the full break down here, but the general gist probably shouldn’t come as any surprise: the PC won, categorically, across all tests.

To be clear, this was a relatively unscientific, simplistic set of tests that purely focused on the minimum time required to complete a task, but given that time wasted is arguably the greatest commonly felt issue with post processing, I also think it represents a valid and fair test. I would have liked to see basic system usage stats also recorded alongside, however, as it’s one thing to argue that the PC is faster, but if it’s also unusable whilst performing the task, personally, that would be more irritating. It also doesn’t look at multi-threading (another big time saver) or any similar multi-tasking, which I would be intrigued to analyse. I’d still predict that the PC would outperform the iMac on both counts, but I imagine the difference would be less drastic.

I’d also like to see a similar comparison run on more budget friendly models (although I imagine this would fare even worse for the Mac) and on similar laptops, the one category I would assume the Mac(book) to take the prize in. All that said, I’ll still argue that Mac’s are often a more useable tool for a photographer, simply due to the wealth of software available and build quality, however personally this article just highlights that they remain entirely too expensive an investment for the return.

Microsculpture aka Beautiful Bugs

 

So this looks pretty awesome: Microsculpture, a new exhibition on at Oxford University Natural History Museum (27th May until October 2016). Basically take some amazing insects, photograph them using high end, microscopy lenses and combine the literally thousands of resultant images back into one, hugely detailed composite. Then blow it up to a few meters across using high end printing and stick it on display. Yes please!

Micropubawhoozits! Am I right?!

I’d really love to get micropublishing up and running on theAdhocracy. I’ve recently started dabbling in Flickr and it would be great to upload here and automatically have my photo’s fired over there; I’d also definitely get way more out of Twitter if I felt like small “thoughts” thrown up here could just get flung out as a tweet. I love the core concept as well, keeping control of your content and protecting against potential future service outages or (god forbid) full on closures.

So every time I read about the an Indiewebcamp or someone like Jeremy Keith throws up another interesting insight into their own methodologies and progress, I get excited. I want to start trying stuff out, so I start Googling. I pretty much always end up back here, at the main site for Indiewebcamp itself. And then I hit a wall.

Reading through the wiki page regarding Micropub is equivalent to reading through the pilots manual for the Millenium Falcon. I understand that the ultimate end result of my grasping this knowledge can only lead to awesome future adventures, but honestly it may as well be written in Xhosa. I get a headache, I close the tab and I go do something else, defeated once again.

One day I will actually spend a weekend getting my head around this. Much like learning to fly the Falcon (I wish), this is something I will continue to get excited for and, ultimately, that excitement will result in learning actually happening. But I do feel my frustration is warranted, and I feel that’s a great shame. The idea of the indie web is, to use Jeremy Keith’s own words:

about having your own place on the web so that you have control over what you put out in the world.

It’s just a shame that understanding the how is quite so buried under a whole raft of new terminology, much of which is needlessly obfuscated in its naming (I mean, what exactly is an h-card? What does that actually mean?). Maybe, in the future, once I’ve bent my own understanding around all the h-names, microgizmos and selfdogtreats out there I’ll find the time to right down some plainer, simpler instructions for others in the same situation. Then again, maybe there is some internal logic and once it “clicks” I’ll never think twice about it again. Only time will tell.

Earth Day Octo-Doodle

Stylish neon drawing of octopus with tentacles and coral spelling out Google

Earth Day Octo-Google

It’s Earth Day and what better way to celebrate than with a beautiful Google Doodle of an octopus! I like to think it may be a certain Kiwi octopod enjoying hard won freedom 😀 Either way it’s beautiful.

Monthly Media: Coming Soon

Last month I wrote up a post detailing the films I’d seen in March. When I initially started blogging again last year I had hoped that mini-reviews and similar content would become a mainstay, something I could easily throw together when I was doing the 100×100 challenge, setting a precedent to continue once that was over. Simply put, I wanted to (and still hope to) keep a record of the books, graphic novels, films, music and TV shows that I have watched/read/consumed alongside a (hopefully brief) synopsis of my related thoughts. Too often I’ve had conversations where I knew I’d read or watched a particular piece of media, but couldn’t really remember anything more than a vague outline of the story and a simplistic gut reaction: liked, hated, frustrated me etc.

Obviously, this record has not been a massive success. There are simply dozens of examples of all of the above that haven’t ended up with even one line reviews in the interim (indeed, I couldn’t find a single album/music review, despite swearing I’d written a piece on TwentyOne Pilots), so last month I trialled something a little different. Rather than write an individual review for each film I watched, I just added onto a rolling draft post and published at the end of the month (or slightly after, I might have forgotten for a bit…). As a result, I actually wrote reviews. They were quick, often initial impressions that I fleshed out when I came to actually hit publish, allowing me to jot down the key ideas ASAP; they also made me feel a lot better about not writing very much, just the core details I wanted to remember, as the post grew to a decent length through volume anyway.

As a result I’m going to trial a few more months where I expand the content being recorded. Far from just films, a monthly media mashup (title pending) will hopefully mean that there’s always a handful of reviews and that no one area gets forgotten or ignored. It also means that, in months like this one, when I have an influx of one type of media (in this case, deciding to buy a bunch of graphic novels sat on my watch list for a few months) I can fire them all in as quickly as I consume them. So that’s the plan; let’s see how long it sticks for!

Deadpool Kills the Marvel Universe

Yup. That happened. And it was pretty damn clever about it, to boot. I just finished Deadpool Kills the Marvel Universe, having picked it up recently because I kept on seeing it being referenced in discussions surrounding the recent film, and I have to say that (unlike the silver screen variant) it definitely lived up to expectations. The big ending had, unfortunately, been spoiled for me by the internet about a year ago, so it lacked a little punch – but that is no-ones fault but my own (and that irksome commenter on io9). That said: spoiler warning ahead!

The story is exactly what you would expect: Deadpool kills everyone. However, rather than being just a fan romp where Deadpool goes off the deep end, the writers actually turn this event into a very clever meta-analysis of superhero comic books in general. Honestly, I feel this storyline is the quintessential reason why Deadpool exists, even if it was never really intended from the off; this is the story the character was born to tell. Because ultimately comic books are just a bit… off. We do spend a lot of time revelling in the drama and pain we put these bastions of morality through; we kill them off and resurrect them constantly, making every one around them suffer for our own entertainment. For all the good bits about comics, there are some seriously dark undertones that we, as a society, don’t really pay any attention to. So Deadpool throws them in our face, with blood and gore still attached.

If I was to complain about anything, it does feel a little rushed, although I would argue this is a symptom of the whole “release cycle” that occurs with comics and may even be just another level of meta-analysis (although that’s probably pushing it a little far). A bit more exposition would have been brilliant, the “red box” voice could have used a little more character building (if that term is even appropriate) and they could definitely have spent a little more time playing out (and with) the big reveal, but ultimately it was all well rounded and executed. I think two more issues and it would have been a must read for any comic fan. As it is, it’s definitely a must read for any Deadpool fan and I would say a very good shout if you have the change to pick it up.

March Films – From Deadpool to Walter Mitty.

So we’ve ended up going on a bit of a catchup bender over the weekend (and past week) due to the atrocious weather and intermittent plans. As a result, I’ve caught up a weird mixture of films that had passed on by:

Deadpool

Where the hell to start with Deadpool? I think its best to say that if you loved the trailer and would be happy to watch another hour and a half of that trailer, you’ll enjoy this film. The action sequences are exceptional and the cast (Ryan Reynolds in particular) have definitely spent time getting to know this particularly odd-ball super “hero”, which comes through in both the humour and (constant) easter eggs. Personally, I was hoping for something a little more. Deadpool is anachronistic, immature and eternally comic but ultimately his humour and best writing are when he not just acknowledges his “meta” ness but fully grasps it. Fourth wall breaks are great, but the film was lacking that second beat provided for in the comics by the other voices in his head, that beat that questions why a superhero should behave in that manner or why the writer intended this outcome. That self doubt and narcissism was present, but lacked the nuance that great writers can bring to the character, which was a shame.

And then there was Colossus. I get including the Russian metal-man, he is a big part of the Deadpool comics and a constant friend/foe of the titular character, but turning him into a walking caricature felt cheap. Yes, he is sometimes written that way in Deadpool comics, but that’s because those comics are often written from Deadpool’s perspective and to the mercenary Colossus is a simple, 2-D man or morality and brute strength, lacking complexity or intelligence. However, Petyr Rasputin is exceedingly complex and a very strong character in the X-Men’s roster and, if the film was going for the “Deadpool-eye view” perspective it was not clear at any point.

Ultimately though, I enjoyed Deadpool. It wasn’t everything I had hoped it to be, but it was much better than a Hollywood adaptation of ol’red’n’black’n’shiny has any right to be.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Definitely a weird film and a complete juxtaposition to Deadpool. Where the merc with a mouth’s flick had been perfectly encapsulated in the respective trailer, Walter Mitty‘s marketing team were obviously not reading from the same language, let alone textbook, as the rest of the creative crew surrounding its production. Possibly the studio felt that a feel-good film focusing on the drudgery of modern day life and a single, dull and middle-aged mans “slice of life” journey were not particularly marketable, especially to Ben Stiller’s normal audience, but they really did this wonderful film a major disservice in the outlining of the trailer and posters. I was expecting a Bedtime Stories-esque serious of self contained sequences and homages, taking place in the titular characters mind, with a loosely interweaving subplot taking place in “reality” with some ambiguous or played-out moral at the end. What I got was Wes Anderson film without any of the decade or so of baggage that Anderson has to bring to every film to appease his rabid fans.

There were clear moments of “what the fuck did I just watch” and I still have the feeling that if all of the daydream sequences were cut out the film wouldn’t really lose anything, but ultimately this was a heart warming story with some brilliant and distinctive cinematography throughout. The Benjamin Button parody should have been cut out of the reel and dropped into one of the Icelandic volcanoes the crew visited, but jarring pop-culture references aside I thoroughly enjoyed this film. It was quirky and off-beat but the characters were wonderfully portrayed and had real heart; Ben Stiller was wonderful, with a clear transition from misfit loner through to adventurous and confident leader that never really felt out of character and the surrounding cast slotted in exceedingly well. Particularly moments with Sean Penn’s character were heavily reminiscent of films like The Life Aquatic, but also somehow more relatable. I would definitely recommend giving this film a watch, I imagine I’ll come back to it several times over the years.

Man Up

I have yet to see a film in which Simon Pegg failed to live up to expectations and Man Up has distinctly continued this trend. After initial worries (the first fifteen minutes or so are a little cringe inducing) both Pegg and costar Lake Bell sold me wholeheartedly on their relationships and refreshingly different “rom-com” characters. As with Walter Mitty, the main characters had certain quirks dialed up to 10, however the interactions with the surrounding cast (sometimes caricatured but always fleshed out) sealed their characters as distinctly relatable and believable people, something I think could have gone very wrong in this instance. The script and storyline are definitely atypical for a rom-com and distinctly British in humour and detail, which was frankly wonderful.

Again, there are definitely some parts that could have been toned down or tweaked a little, but overall I enjoyed myself, had a few laughs and got a the requisite amount of warm fuzzies from the conclusion as I would expect from this genre. Plus, Ken Stott being an affable and perpetually slightly merry father figure – enough said.

Logitech Z4 Speakers and The Weird-Ass Problem

So I’ve owned a set of Logitech z4 2.1 desk speakers for about five years now, ever since a good friend of mine effectively gave them to me because they couldn’t fit in his car. They remain one of the best speaker sets I’ve ever had the pleasure to own or use. The sound clarity is exceptional, especially considering how thin and tiny the actual uprights are; the bass can be a little dull, but fits my music tastes pretty damn well and can fill a room. Basically, I’ve been very lucky and I couldn’t imagine how I would ever replace them. So when, just after Christmas, it seemed the connector for the right upright suddenly blew, it was at a loss. I couldn’t quite pin down what was wrong, but basically no (or very little) sound would come out the right speaker; swap over the outputs and it would be the left that wasn’t working. Seems like a connection issue, right?

Since then I’ve “made do”. Even one speaker down, the sound quality remained better than most other options in my house, albeit a little flat. Listening to new music, however, was becoming increasingly frustrating. Highs felt dampened, lows never quite hit and no matter how I positioned the one “good” speaker the end result remained painfully mono. In exasperation I had started looking for either a replacement or, as it became increasingly apparent that the Z4’s were even more special for their price range than I had realised, a means of repair.

So I was clutching at straws last night when I came across this archived forum conversation which appeared to show that I wasn’t alone in my troubles and presented a highly dubious solution. What possible logic could infer that turning off the volume controller, rotating its various knobs and dials a few times and (I quote) “tap[ping] the knob” after each full revolution would result in fixing a connection issue? But still, a handful of people had stated that it worked for them so why not? A couple of twiddles and taps later, everything plugged back in and, somehow, I’m now the proud owner of two fully functioning speakers! I still have no idea what I did (indeed, I don’t think the person who originally shared this piece of arcane knowledge understood it either) but it worked, so I guess if you’re having similar issues then give it a shot – it might just work for you too.

The Night Manager

Spoiler Warning: Spoilers for the ending of the BBC series “The Night Manager”. You have been warned!

The Night Manager was a fantastic bit of TV. The acting was sublime, helped in no small part by having both a stellar cast and a group of people I am personally a bit fan-girlish towards, whilst directing and cinematography were both top of the line. The opening sequence (a clear Bond homage) was one of the tightest I’ve seen in a while, probably since Game of Thrones first aired! Scripting? Superb! Music? Tonally spot on. Set design? Astonishing, especially for a TV show.

In other words, I really can’t fault the series in any meaningful way. So why can’t I shake a vague, niggling feeling of disappointment when I think of how it ended? I’ve been trying to work this out since watching the finale on Monday evening, to no avail. Could it be that, after six episodes of being 100% righteous, Angela Burr’s (Olivia Colman) actions at the very end don’t quite sit right? Is it the lack of ultimate justice, a feeling that although Roper (Hugh Laurie) may have “got what was coming to him” this somehow drags our heroes down to his level; that he should have been tried by a court, his duplicitousness dragged out via the media and into the history books?

Maybe its that Jonathan Pine’s (Tom Hiddleston) strategic tour dé force in the final episode wasn’t quite given enough of the limelight/payoff it deserved (or, arguably, the setup either). I mean, that was damned clever, even for him, but it did feel a little deus ex machinima, which I feel is unfair. But I still don’t feel, even given these (minor) points, that they fully sum up my actual thoughts.

Perhaps I was actually too won-over by Laurie; a case of viewer-actor Stockholm syndrome. I am a huge fan and his performance throughout the series was faultless, but perhaps no moment was quite so impactful as the moment of animal terror that accompanies his final scene. The dawning realisation that something is wrong, that the situation is completely out of his control, that his own bigotry – in a rare moment of public emotion – is coming back to haunt him, all followed by the resultant break down and all occurring in just a couple of seconds of film! This is the imagery that dominates my thoughts when I remembering that final episode. And in those moments, I felt sorry for Roper. Let down at the lack of justice, annoyed that our heroes credit would be stifled, that the full monstrousness of who Dickie really was would never be truly uncovered, all compounded by a sense of empathy for the very person we are meant to hate. No man deserves the fate that almost certainly occurred later, off camera and after the credits have rolled.

I feel I am largely alone in this conclusion, but I’m beginning to think that maybe I shouldn’t be and that, perhaps, this concept embodies the whole point of the entire series. That I can know everything about Roper that I do and still come away feeling sorry for his character shows either excellent or misjudged craftwork by everyone involved. Either way, it remains a damned enjoyable ride.

Note: This was intended to be published several weeks ago. I’m still not too sure why it didn’t, but now here it is, potentially in need of an edit or two but oh well!