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Poor Old Newspapers – Technology Vs A Sex Scandal

by on Sep.28, 2014, under The Rest

Today the Sunday Mirror has a strong scoop. A male freelance journalist, posing as a young female Tory activist, managed to hook a Tory MP into sending explicit photographs of himself, and trying to arrange to meet ‘her’. The journalist then gave this story to the Mirror, who contacted the MP – he denied ever having heard of ‘Sophie’. So they contacted Downing Street with the evidence, who promptly released a statement saying the MP was stepping down immediately.

But ho boy, if a story involving technology isn’t a tricky pickle for the UK press to cope with. The conversation between Brooks Newark and ‘Sophie’ began via Twitter, moved on to Facebook, and then eventually to texts. However, the photos they exchanged were sent via WhatsApp. Here’s how that’s been understood by today’s newspapers, trying to hop on the scoop.

Here’s the Mirror’s front page headline:

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How Internet Hate Mobs Work, And Why It’s So Insidious

by on Aug.20, 2014, under The Rest

In the wake of another really horrifying social media attack on a few individuals – some I know, some I don’t – I find myself needing to process the way it works. The awfulness of what is done, and just how frighteningly proficient are the organised attackers.

In this particular story, an angry ex-boyfriend has made public a huge screed of personal information about his former girlfriend, along with a long list of accusations. These accusations crossed my path when they included claims that someone I employed had behaved inappropriately. There was no evidence provided for these claims, and indeed no examples of the suggested corruption have ever existed. I assume much else was untrue or twisted too, but it’s absolutely none of my business. What I was in a position to know about, I knew was entirely false.

Yesterday the woman involved had her Twitter and Tumblr hacked, her personal information including phone numbers, family phone numbers, street addresses and PayPal information made public. She has received unending abuse on all channels, including to her personal phone and address. People close to her have received similar abuse. People who have made it clear they are against the abuse have received small fractions of the abuse too. There is, without question, a huge amount of abuse to go around. The thing is, it’s not from a huge number of people – they’re just exceptionally good at making it look as though there are.

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A Pointless Guide To Armstrongian Hyperbole

by on Aug.16, 2014, under The Rest

On the superb BBC1 quiz show, Pointless, I contend that co-host Alexander Armstrong perhaps a little over-effusively enthuses on the contestants’ competence after their failure. No pair of entrants appearing in the 600 aired episodes has ever fallen short of “great contestants”, no matter how fist-grindingly dreadful they may have been. This is part of what makes Pointless so absolutely lovely, in an age of quizshowing that otherwise focuses on humiliation or treachery. It’s also entirely daft.

Armstrong, who appears an all-round splendid chap, seems peculiarly beholden to a script, from which he appears unwilling to deviate. I do wonder if during his sleep he mumbles that everyone gets two chances to reach the Pointless final, or that for the remaining two pairs things are about to get even more exciting now as they enter the head-to-head. (Of course, the meandering banter between he and the adorable Richard Osman is incessantly delightful, and the primary reason to watch the programme.)

While I have no desire to see Armstrong berating contestants, and absolutely love that failure is met with warmth and cheer, I do fear that his madcap positivity is causing confusion, so have prepared a guide to what his terms practically mean:

“Great Contestants” = Really astonishingly terrible contestants, who likely scored 200 in the first round, two days running, and uttered phrases like, “The 1870s were before my time,” and, “Words ending in ‘EART’ isn’t a good subject for me.” That they found their way to the studio without accidentally strangling themselves with their own arms is of note.

“Brilliant Contestants” = Pretty poor contestants, unlikely to have displayed any knowledge, who most likely only got through to the second round after some “Great Contestants” inadvertently impaled themselves on the podium.

“Really Brilliant Contestants” = Okay-ish contestants, who knew a right answer that scored under 50. It was probably about football, which was, when they were asked what subjects they’d like to see come up, their only response.

“Properly Brilliant Contestants” = At this point the “properly” introduces the notion that there may be some credibility to their performance. These contestants potentially knew the location of a country on the planet, or the name of a film director. Where some Brilliant Contestants had said, “Well I don’t really follow politics” when asked to name a British Prime Minister, a Properly Brilliant Contestant might remember someone other than the present incumbent.

“Really Properly Brilliant Contestants” = Quite good contestants.

(It should be noted that the reason I would never go on a quiz show like Pointless is how it would immediately reveal me to be in the region of a Brilliant Contestant, as the woeful lack of knowledge I possess would be presented to the viewing world.)

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On UKIP, Ignorance, And The Lazy Lie Of “Disillusionment”

by on May.27, 2014, under Rants, The Rest

Disillusionment is so often cited as the reason people vote for extremists, the underpinning reason why X or Y is happening in British politics. And it’s mostly gibberish. It’s a nonsense told both by those who wish to vote for extremes, and by those attempting to justify why others might vote for those extremes. The reality is, it’s barely ever the case.

I feel like we’re in a pretty scary place. When it comes to politics, there’s obviously a tendency for hyperbole, exaggerating one’s claims to suit one’s political agenda. But for someone with left-wing beliefs, their understanding of how to treat others best represented by socialism, the United Kingdom is currently a frightening political landscape.

People are voting UKIP/BNP/English Democracts, etc, etc, we’re told, because they’re disillusioned with the main parties and want to see things shaken up. This is plain, absolute rubbish. It doesn’t make sense in any way, and the media’s frequent declaration that this is the case is both intellectual snobbery, and woeful naivety.

The obvious reality is, a large contingent of people voting for extremes, for racist and homophobic parties like UKIP, BNP, etc, do so because they are racist and homophobic. Pretending this isn’t the case is endemic in the reporting of our politics, perhaps from a fear of appearing “biased”, perhaps from a fear of alienating the racist and homophobic contingent of their audience. Very few people tend to wear the mantle of “racist” with pride, hence that most oxymoronic of aphorisms, “I’m not racist, but…” The inevitable continuation of something either grotesquely or insidiously racist rather confirms the contrary, but for some reason our press has opted to acculturate itself to the opening gambit. Essentially, the coverage of UKIP in the recent elections has been, “UKIP isn’t racist, but…” The reality of course being: UKIP is racist, and lots of people who agree with their racist views have voted for them accordingly.

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You & Yours And Its Gloriously Failed Attempt To Promote Audiophile Woo

by on Mar.06, 2014, under Rants, The Rest

Oh glorious day!

One of my favourite worst things is BBC Radio 4’s You & Yours. On when I get my lunch, each weekday I get to hear a portion of this most daft of consumer shows, as they spread fear and concern about whatever was in yesterday’s Daily Mail. That’s not to say they don’t sometimes do some good – I believe they were pivotal in ending the banking scam over taking five days to process cheques, and they often do a good job of airing scams to make people aware of what to avoid. But this is always scattered with main host Winifred Robinson’s scaremongering and personal vendettas, as she ceaselessly attempts to campaign against things she’s been proven wrong about, most recently her deranged fury about DAB radio.

Today though, something wonderful happened. The end of the episode featured a segment in which two music engineers came on to explain about the wonders of “high resolution music”. This, we were told by straight faces, was the same as increasing the pixel count of a picture, enabling more detail to be heard. Incredibly at one point one of them acknowledges that previous recording qualities already matched what the human ear could detect, but no no! Despite this, the “harmonics” were more clear if there was a new way to have to buy lots more expensive equipment!

I’m not a sound engineer, and I’ve no idea if there’s genuinely any measurable improvement in the quality of the recording, but I certainly do know that no human would be able to tell.

As they were given air time on this national radio station to make their ridiculous claims entirely unchallenged, unquestioned, and only excitedly enthused about, they played in clips of recordings in “low res” and “high res”, so these experts could explain the difference. And it was pure woo bullshit from start to finish. Brilliantly they made it clear that no one listening would be able to tell any difference between the two because radio waves would take the magics away. But then played them anyway. They would be able to tell, in the studio, listening on a “high definition Sony Walkman” through their £90 billion headphones. They played Ella Fitzgerald twice, explaining which was low and which was high. Winifred declared she could “almost” hear Ella’s breathing on the second, opening the door for some wonderfully silly explanations about the guests’ surprise at how noticeable it was, how it was a “mellower, warmer sound” and “more dynamic”. “It actually started off slightly quieter,” the second expert explains, “and that’s one of the great things of higher resolution, whereas a CD if you like levels it out a bit just by the nature of the delivery, so you’re right, I think it was more noticeable than I thought, and I think we are losing dynamics on a lot of CDs.”

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Dexter Is Missing, And So, So Stupid

by on Dec.05, 2013, under The Rest

One of the oddest and best jobs I have is writing a column for a magazine called The Cat. The quarterly magazine has been going for over 80 years, published by the charity Cats Protection. My column has appeared in the last four years’ worth or so, and until the current issue (which you’ll likely find in that pile on the windowsill in your local vet surgery) has been about Dexter. The latest features Lucy too. If you can find a copy, I really recommend taking a look, because the illustrations they put on my column (called “Walker On The Wild Side, and NO, I didn’t pick that) are just fantastic. We’ve had a couple of them printed on canvas, and they hang on our walls.

Dexter has been missing for three nights now, which he’s never done before. Obviously we’re very worried, and extremely upset, but we’ve done absolutely everything we can, from posters, flyering the neighbourhood, searches, alerting the microchip firm, and contacting local vets and cat homes. I’ve also added his details to the superb Animal Search UK, who use volunteers to look for missing cats in their area. Amazing. You can be one of those volunteers if you want – you just sign up for emails of alerts near where you live.

So, out of sentimentality, while he’s gone I thought I’d post a few of my old columns from The Cat (these are the unedited versions, so expect mistakes). The first couple were based on articles I first wrote here, so I’ve skipped those, and appropriately gone for the third: a piece about how stupid he is. Because wow, is he stupid.

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The 10 Conservative Election Promises They Don’t Want You To Remember!

by on Nov.15, 2013, under The Rest

Scrabbling about Tory HQ, while disguised as an unpaid intern Polish trouser-presser, I found the ten Tory election promises they REALLY want you to forget:

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Keep Up To Date With Polygon’s SimCity Score

by on Mar.06, 2013, under The Rest

Stay up to date with Polygon’s score for SimCity with our live tracker.

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Dreamfall Chapters: Declaration Of Interesting Interests

by on Feb.08, 2013, under The Rest

Here’s a thing. There’s a Kickstarter for Dreamfall Chapters. I’m very excited about it, and have never made a secret of my love for The Longest Journey and Dreamfall. A new TLJ!

A few people have commented that it’s odd that I’ve not written anything about it on RPS, with TLJ/The Secret World expert Adam Smith doing all the Funcom and Red Thread coverage of late. The reason is, TLJ creator Ragnar Tørnquist and I have been discussing the possibility of my contributing toward the new project. As soon as this discussion began I recused myself from writing about Tørnquist’s games. I’m fiercely proud of my games reporting, and I’m not willing to be compromised, even if no one would know. With discussions ongoing, it was entirely inappropriate that I recommend his projects on RPS.

(I should mention here, as I did when writing about Doritosgate last year, that I covered Charles Cecil’s Broken Sword 5 Kickstarter, when I’d contributed to the Broken Sword: Director’s Cut a few years previously. I wasn’t involved in the new game at all, and have no ongoing working relationship with Revolution, but had done some freelance work years previously. But I concluded after that even though I declared it in the posts, it wasn’t ideal, and that I’d not cover his projects in future.)

Exactly what I might be contributing to Dreamfall Chapters is still not decided. But with the Kickstarter launched, I’m not willing to speak/tweet/squee about it without declaring my interests. (I wrote a tweet earlier today, with a joking hashtag about my interest, but deleted it a moment later deciding that it wasn’t okay.) So this is that. I will never write about Ragnar Tørnquist or Red Thread Games’ games ever again, because it would obviously be utterly inappropriate.

Of course, there will be some who believe that contributing to a game while being a games journalist is inappropriate anyway. It’s not unusual, certainly in the UK, for games journalists to contribute to gaming projects. At RPS we have a policy of declaring any such interests, and do so. Some people don’t like it, most people don’t care. I’m aware it’s an ongoing discussion, and one some people feel very passionately about. My position is, rather obviously, that it’s okay so long as a writer is absolutely transparent about it. For instance, RPS has always gone overboard in pointing out that Jim’s Sir You Are Being Hunted is being developed by Jim’s own team.

So I shall hopefully be contributing in some capacity to Dreamfall Chapters. It’s a game series about which I am already far too much of a fanboy to have covered usefully anyway, and I’m thrilled that I may get to be a part of that story.

Going forward, Adam is the main man for covering that project, although I’m sure anyone at RPS will chip in when they have thoughts or news emerges. I’m completely uninvolved. And to answer the question that some may have – how can RPS fairly review it if one of their colleagues was involved? I’ve not discussed this with the others, but my suggestion would be giving that job to a freelancer who doesn’t know me at all, so the result would be completely fair.

I love The Longest Journey. Over the years it’s the game I’ve written about the most, and I’m actually rather sad that I won’t get to do so any more. But that I might get to write into it is utterly thrilling.

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Snowman Tragedy 2013

by on Jan.18, 2013, under The Rest

Snow snow snow! It actually snowed! It does this in Bath once in every never. Almost. In fact, it snowed in 2009 and 2010, and after a three year hiatus, it’s back! This makes me very happy. Firstly, because everything looks better covered in snow. And secondly, because it means I get to build a snowman!

I remember when it would snow when I was a kid, before that weird eighteen year gap we had from proper snowfall in the South of England, and it was obviously brilliant. But then it wasn’t until the drought began that I discovered the true majesty of Calvin & Hobbes, and was filled with mad desire to emulate Calvin’s snowman building achievements. It was a long wait. But then in 2009 it fell, and I was able to live my dreams. You can see the result here.

Then the next year it snowed again, which was almost too much excitement to live with. So once again I created my art.

It’s been three long, painful years since I have been able to express myself through my chosen medium, but at last my creativity has been unchained. The new one’s below.

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