Monday, 29 April 2013

Tech Talk: The ghost of Myspace past

This feature can also be found at the South West Londoner, here.

Every so often, I remember something embarrassing I did as a teenager and feel such intense shame that I am slightly more welcoming to the idea of being struck by lightning. Or a nuclear warhead.

How lucky I am that nearly all of the message boards and social networking I did in high school has since been consigned to the annals of internet history. To that end, I feel just a touch of sympathy (though not much) for the teenagers of the last decade, who aren’t going to have their Facebook and Twitter exploits fade any time soon.

Indeed, Paris Brown, the 17-year-old adviser to the Kent police commissioner had her career grind to a screeching halt, because she forgot (and her detractors chose to not forgive) that teenagers will say some impressively stupid things when left to their own devices.

The racist and homophobic tweets that were plastered all over newspapers last week apparently were dredged from years ago, and Ms Brown had probably forgotten all about them.

That’s not to say that they aren’t awful (my goodness, I never realised casual racism could sound so inane) but it’s a useful parable for all of us. If someone doesn’t like you, it’s the easiest thing for them to put your name into Google and browse through the various terrible thoughts you’ve had.

For most it will be incredibly boring things, but to potential employers who need to whittle down applicants – or dissenters looking to do a little character assassination – they’ll take any excuse.

Even if you’re already comfortably set in a job, you’re not safe. Here’s a story from last year that struck a chord with me personally.

Lauren Wainwright is a games journalist who was called out in October last year over something she had posted on Twitter. She expressed a lot of excitement for the newest Tomb Raider game (which is actually released now). However, it was picked up that Ms Wainwright had worked for the publishers for Tomb Raider in the past – it said as much on her LinkedIn profile.

This lead to suspicion over whether the opinions she was expressing were actually genuine. Articles were written, fingers were pointed, and other journalists were threatened with Libel. Members of the public, looking for journalists (not to mention a woman) to vilify, took to threatening Wainwright personally. It was a huge mess.

I was lucky enough to meet her in person, and was told that her excitement for Tomb Raider was, perhaps obviously, entirely genuine and unrelated to her previous employers.

While I feel there could have been a little more attention paid to what people could infer from the tweets of professional figures, it would be wholly unfair to blame Ms Wainwright for what had happened to her.

The lesson to be learned here is that we could all do with taking a step back and looking at just what we’re posting in public spaces, and how it could affect us professionally.

The simplest solution is to isolate anything that could reflect badly on you to somewhere more private. Either by limiting viewer access, or better yet using a pseudonym. Many people run two Twitter accounts – one for professional discourse, and one for general purpose. The people it will matter to will still know it’s you, but Google won’t.

Speaking of which, it may do you well to search your own name. Especially if you have a distinctive one (like me, I guess). If you had a Myspace in the distant past, now would be a good time to shut it down.

On a closing note, if you have a free afternoon, I strongly recommend you check out dont take it personally, babe, it just aint your story – a visual novel written by Christine Love. The name is ridiculous, but it explores the themes of a future where accessing the messages and profiles of someone online is commonplace. Would your judgements of people be clouded by things you're not meant to know? See for yourself.

A Jazz Interlude: Interview with George Simmonds of The Squintet

This article can also be found at the South West Londoner, here.

It's difficult being 22. For most of us, it's the point where we struggle to balance adulthood with the aftermath of university. But for George Simmonds there's a jazz quintet to lead and a music agency to run. And astoundingly, both things are rapidly gaining momentum.

A Londoner through and through and presently based in Tottenham, George has taken his love of jazz music from a young age and formed his band, The Squintet, with childhood friends and other budding artists.

George himself leads on trombone and vocals, his old high school friend Jamie Hone on saxophone, Mike Cuthbert on keyboard, and Jack Polley on bass guitar.

Rob Hervais is the newest member of the band, on the drums, replacing Bryan Taylor who left.
With them, he's shared his jazz passion all over London (including Soho, Islington and the famous The Rivoli Ballroom in Lewisham) and also abroad in Istanbul and Norway.

Over time their sound has changed - starting out with a strong swing feeling, before moving to a more funk-focused, New Orleans-style sound in recent months. The change was sparked by the drummer Rob, and George says that the band has definitely become more comfortable since.

At the start of performances with The Squintet, George likes to open with 'Honeysuckle Rose' by Fats Wallop, a piece played to him by his grandfather as a child. The version he was familiar with was performed by Acker Bilk, and the memory has always stuck with him. 

His musical influences include J.J. Johnson, Jimmy Knepper (both trombonists), and Charlie Parker. More recently he's been taking on the funk-based influences of James Brown and Fred Wesley.
During a period of taking an interest in composing, Duke Ellington and Charles Mingus' jazz orchestras were a major factor.

For the last two months, George has also plunged into the world of business with the Maxwell Barrett Music Agency. Christened after his middle names, he uses it to both set up his own gigs and those of his steadily increasing client list.

After playing music professionally for three years, he felt that to go into conventional employment and have less time for his music was not an option.

Running a business in your early 20s is a fairly daunting task, so he co-runs it with his father.
New gigs are being planned all the time, and George is definitely looking to perform more in the South West London area.

You can find out about future gigs at or on his Facebook page.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Film Review: Out in the Dark

This review can also be found on Shadowlocked, here.

The BFI London Lesbian & Gay Film Festival is something I truly appreciate. It warms my heart to know that there are actually plenty of films out there that star more than just straight white men as protagonists; and it's a shame that they end up relegated to a single, yearly event.

There were a huge number of films showing this year, almost guaranteeing a wide range of experiences on offer - but I only got to watch one in particular. Out in the Dark, filmed in 2012 and directed by Michael Mayer.

The plot is something rather simple. Nimer (Nicholas Jacob) is a Palestinian student who, on a risky night out to an Israeli nightclub meets Roy (Michael Aloni), an Israeli lawyer. Their love blossoms rapidly, but severe social standards (and gun-happy police) get in the way. More on the plot later.

From a technical perspective, the film is incredibly solid. Film production norms differ from country to country, so one of the fun things about foreign film is seeing the different stylistic rules they go by.

The cinematography was nothing to hugely fawn over, but the wide shots of the skyline and city streets did wonders for a loser like me who is obsessively urban. The dialogue style definitely stood out - lengthy chats pierced with succinct one word sentences, in a blend of Hebrew and Arabic that's sadly lost on my monolingual self.

The decision to have the plot heavily focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a harrowing, but well-researched one. It assumes you know the basics of the issue, and although you can understand all of the story without prior knowledge, being aware of the background definitely helps add context.

What it also adds is a marginally fresher angle on what would otherwise be a tired love story. Straight romances in films are rather rote, but gay (male) ones are more so in a slightly different way.

Star crossed lovers, one humble and sexually introverted, the other metropolitan and liberated have their love halted by the grim face of systemic oppression (feel free to imagine those two words in a 72pt font and on fire). It's a valid story, but it's one told a little too often.

As such, the racial conflict adds some flavour to the proceedings; juxtaposing cute intimate moments and longing stares with border crossers getting shot in the head.

It's all a very well-produced reminder of the social injustices in the world, both sexual and racial - but we know this all already. That is, the people who would be inclined to see Out in the Dark in the first place. Dudebro McHomophobe would definitely benefit from watching something so well made (and with such impact, too), but you'd have a better chance of actually ending oppression than getting him into the cinema.

It's all very 'preaching to the choir', really. That's not the end of the world - we all like to have our political opinions re-enforced, but in the end I ended up not enjoying Out in the Dark as much as I could have done – I was holding out for something more experimental.

I continue to wait for the action blockbuster where Jake Gyllenhaal saves Ben Whishaw from an exploding building, and they make out to the sound of helicopter blades and gunfire. Now that would be progressive.

My Big Mouth: Save Our Subcultures

This feature can also be found at the South West Londoner, here.

Violent attacks against subcultures like punks and goths are now being considered as hate crimes by the Greater Manchester Police (GMP).

What was once only the territory of politically-established social minorities (so race, religion, disability, sexuality or transgender identity) is now broadened to alternative music scenes and subcultures – at least by the GMP.

The plan to record attacks in this manner was sparked by the murder of Sophie Lancaster back in 2007. The 20-year-old goth was attacked in a park in Lancashire along with her boyfriend, Robert Maltby, simply because of their style of dress. While the boyfriend managed to survive, Ms Lancaster was not as lucky.

Because this attack was motivated by judgements about the victims’ identities, a pretty strong parallel can be drawn between attacks of this nature and existing hate crimes.

You could replace these goths with queer people or people of colour, and I could most likely find an existing news report to match. Hell, in March last year there were reports of emos in Iraq being murdered by militia, partially because the subculture is heavily associated with homosexuality there.

The crux of attacks like these is ignorant fear of identities that differ from the ‘norm’. Why the scare quotes? Because in Western culture, to be anything other than a straight white man with a taste in Top 40s pop is an ‘other’, someone to be changed or removed. It’s an awful way to think of things, really. That demographic may not be the most prevalent in terms of numbers, but social dominance counts for so much more than manpower.

Society has progressed just enough to cut some minorities some slack. You’re allowed to be, for example, black in a public place in much of the world without pulling much ire (Though sometimes it doesn’t feel that way). 

But often, our identity as minorities is displayed in ways that aren’t physiological. There’s nothing in terms of body type that separates straight men from gay ones, but there’s a laundry list of ‘coded behaviour’ that society decides is indicative of being gay, or religious, or yes – belonging to a subculture.

What raises the hackles of violent bigots is that people who differ from the ‘norm’ have the temerity to express themselves openly, and think that beating them will change that in some way. That seems very much like hate crime to me.

That subcultures are largely tied to musical tastes, rather than biology may cause some to feel that they aren’t appropriately equitable to the other minorities, but I have issues with that.

Most notably, there are some subcultures that are heavily involved in socio-political struggles. Punk as a movement revolves around being non-conformist, and as such features heavy streaks of anti-racist and anti-sexist ideologies. 

The emo scene, while considered rather male dominated, embraces emotional openness (hence the name) and androgynous fashions, making it a social safe haven for many queer teenagers.

The workings and intricacies of subcultures is just as fascinating to me as learning about feminism, racial history and queer theory, and deserves to be respected in a similar manner. For a glimpse of just how vastly different subcultures can be, take a look at Urban Tribes. Hours will fly by.

The official consideration of subcultures as being part of the hate crime demographic is a while off – England’s courts cannot recognise its legitimacy, and the GMP are the only police force that are recording it.

But all is not lost. By bringing the idea up as a point to be seriously considered, the public are also forced to think of those who are part of alternative scenes as people, not targets.

What this news hopefully won’t do is get people arguing over which minority has it worse, and flinging mud at whatever groups might have it easier. These kinds of ‘Oppression Olympics’ aren’t helpful to discussion; those who try to start them require immediate defenestration.

Note: Simon Price’s entry on The Guardian’s Comment is Free gives a great break down on different subcultures, as well as detailing his own experiences of being targeted.

My Big Mouth: Queer up the media

This feature can also be found at the South West Londoner, here.

A thought experiment for you:
Think of three pieces of media (books, film, games, whatever) that meet the following criteria:
  • The main character is straight. 
  • The piece is not of the Romance genre. 
  • The sexuality of the main character and its social impacts are not the main plot point.
You could probably name at least 10 without thinking too hard. Now try to do the same, but with a queer main character. Go on, I'll wait.

If you've managed to think of any, congratulations! No, seriously, it's a pretty difficult challenge; feel free to tell me what you've thought of in the comments.

I suppose it's nothing that you think too much about unless you're actually affected by it, but the presence of characters in fiction that aren't straight and white isn't thrillingly prevalent.

However, queer media definitely exists out there - this month had BFI's 27th London Lesbian & Gay Film Festival. The problem is, all this content is kept away from the mainstream, and only given a chance to shine once a year.

That's great for all the pretentious artsy types who already know how wonderfully liberal and accepting they are, but the people who need to see queer media the most barely know it's around. The teenagers who are questioning their identity and sexuality; people who are jaded with the stereotypes they're spoon-fed; that one old homophobic guy down the pub. You know the one. I hate that guy.

What we do get in the mainstream media isn't making me super-thrilled to be open about my sexuality. I'm not too keen on the idea of having my skull cracked open with a tyre iron (Brokeback Mountain), nor do I want to pursue a career in being a Sassy Gay Best Friend (The Hellish Nightmare that is Glee). Though I'm sure I could make a killing if I did. Maybe with the aforesaid tyre iron.

For sure, I would have been a lot more confident in my identity growing up if there was a role model who was much like me. That's not to say my imagination was so poor I couldn't project myself into a James Bond power fantasy - the assortment of gay villains excepting - but a reminder that queer heroes (or black heroes or female heroes...) are allowed to exist would be nice.

To flip it on its head, only those who are the most literal and devoid of critical thought could argue that an increased number of openly queer protagonists would be alienating to straight audiences. Last time I checked, empathy and sexual expression were two different things, unless you consider How I Met Your Mother the pinnacle of character-driven storytelling.

Speaking of which, I'm finding it a lot harder to watch action films these days. Aside from gunfights and explosions being tired mindless pap; the levels of machismo are so over-emphasised and forced, it's like a high budget blockbuster Shrine to Straightness. Sucker Punch managed to be full to the brim of bubbling testosterone with barely any men on screen. The sight of Vin Diesel flexing has been scientifically proven to instantly impregnate women.

The secret to creating reasonable queer media isn't some kind of well-guarded secret. They're the same as the media we already consume, with the genders of the romances switched around. It doesn't seem like an unreasonable demand to have, say, a crime thriller where the long-suffering detective happens to be a lesbian.

Oh. That actually exists. Well okay then.

That's not to say that good queer media can't or shouldn't explore sexuality as a main theme, it just often feels like that's all that we're given. I want to identify with an escapist fantasy, not systemic oppression so gritty I could use it as sandpaper. Explorations of sex are enjoyable enough in private, but it's not something I could share with others, for obvious reasons.

Then again, maybe some soapboxing and issue awareness is a first step in what we need right now. It recently came to light that the 'Ex-Gay' advertisements produced by the Christian group Core Issues Trust was, although banned in short order, deemed 'not illegal' by the High Court. Regardless of legality technicalities, that the advert exists at all is indicative of a serious need to queer up the media.

Film Review: A Late Quartet

This review can also be found at the South West Londoner, here.

Despite my constant burning need to see pretentious non-mainstream film (if it's in a different language or about socio-politics, even better), my knowledge of the fine arts is actually not so great.

My initial interest in seeing A Late Quartet was, embarrassingly, because Christopher Walken takes a major role in it. He's had a myriad of roles and cameos in films since the 60s, many of which ended up being cult hits. He even starred in some terrible video games in the mid 90s.

A large part of his popularity is his notably stilted speech, and since it tends to work best in comedies, I was interested to see how he would fare in something that looked to be so serious.

As it turns out, A Late Quartet is wonderfully human and moving, and Walken does a great performance by... largely not being there. It's an odd situation.
Pete Mitchell (Walken) is the cellist in an internationally famous string quartet called The Fugue. He shares the spotlight with Daniel Lerner (Mark Ivanir) on Violin I, Robert Gelbart (Philip Seymour Hoffman) on Violin II and Juliette Gelbart (Catherine Keener) on Viola.

Recently Pete's playing has been affected by his shaking hands. After a doctors appointment, he finds out that it's Parkinsons, and bows out from The Fugue, asking the other members to find a replacement.

As it turns out, this upset sparks desires for change in the rest of the quartet, and emotional havoc ensues.

It's all very melodramatic, but the way the script is written makes that not matter. All the narrative points are closely and expertly woven in with the films themes, in a way that you won't need a degree in media studies to get (though a little knowledge about classical music will help).

The ideas are honestly clever, from the way that the amount of time Pete is on screen is related to how badly he's suffering from his condition (though he's arguably the protagonist, Parkinsons is very effective at taking away his agency, both as a disease and in the script), to how the emotional issues of the quartet match up nicely with the musical role they play.

The soundtrack was funnily enough, a mixed bag. There are some elegant and well timed cues of classical string pieces, including the one piece that the film is arguably 'about', that I won't spoil for you. However, it's matched with a general orchestral score that feels very generic. Although the two musical styles share instruments, the feel is very different. It made some scenes feel notably schmaltzy - though that may just be my jaded heart.

That said, the experience as a whole was touching. It manages to pull you along on an emotionally manipulative ride so well you'd think it was a Hollywood production, if it wasn't for the quietly middle class subject matter.

Watch It: If you know your way around a string section, If you want to see a cult actor happily make peace with his age on film, if you want a talking point for your film discussion club.

Skip It: If the phrase 'human drama' makes you dry heave, if you're not ready to make peace with your age, if you want something that doesn't feature the American Middle Class.

Want more? Go and check out some live classical quartets! I promise, it's a moving experience the first time. If you want to see Walken in something cheerier, he has a great supporting role in Catch Me If You Can.

Film Review: Stoker

This review can also be found at the South West Londoner, here.

I do love a bit of Gothic Horror. Not because I'm a fan of the macabre (not entirely, anyway), but because it has a wonderful precedent of being understated. And in the current Hollywood climate, bombast and explosions are king - so Stoker is a refreshing presence.

Director Park Chan-wook had a worldwide cult hit with Oldboy in 2003, but Stoker is his first film with English actors. India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska, Alice in Wonderland) is a troubled girl living in opulent American Suburbia. Her father sadly deceased, she's quietly withdrawn but comfortable - until her Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode, Watchmen) comes to stay, and gets a little too close to her mother Evelyn (Nicole Kidman).

Things soon escalate, but carefully and quietly. The first act is very much a slow burner, but when the spark of intrigue shows itself, you begin to reach the state of mind that the film demands - a focus on the finer details. This is helped in no small part by the cinematography director Chung-hoon Chung, who sets up shot after shot filled with detail. There's a scene where a close-up of long hair pans and fades into swaying long grass. It's perfectly done, and pretentious as all get out.

The acting definitely reflects that - while no one is under acting, the script is filled with hushed fear, quiet lusting and silent anger. Nicole Kidman pulls off hateful, piercing stares that I never knew she was capable of.While there's a heavy focus of suspenseful horror; there's also a core of human drama, as India grows into herself. She could be best described as Wednesday Adams reaching adolescence; and it works wonderfully.

When the instances of violence occur (and they definitely do occur, though not as intensely as in Oldboy) it's a huge snapping of tension, and I appreciated the film's low-key nature for it. It takes skilled direction to have violence that will get a reaction from its audience (since we're generally desensitised to watching mild violence in films these days) without it going into fetishistic territory. Likewise, discussions and display of sexuality are toyed with here, often feeling unsettling but never gratuitous or disturbing.

It's what, in my opinion, separates it from the standard Hollywood fare. In a traditional suspense horror film, the violence and feelings of entrapment come on hard and heavy, and after a while the impact is lost. More so with the standard of action films. Some manage to go beyond the basic requirement of  'all spectacle, no substance' (I don't know anyone who didn't love Django Unchained, and would rather not meet them), but that kind of film making is both easy and lucrative, so there may not be a change on that front for some time.

Watch It: If you want to watch something different from the current releases, if you're a fan of cinematography, if you fondly remember The Addams Family or Daria.

Skip It: If you want more laid-back cinema, if you're wary of sexuality without romance, if you picked on 'the quiet kid' in high school.

Want more? Why not look at Shadow of a Doubt, a Hitchcock work which heavily inspires Stoker's plot. Definitely watch more of Park Chan-wook’s films if you haven’t already – if Oldboy is too extreme for you, I’m a Cyborg, But That’s Okay is a more comical affair.

Tech Talk: Remove U

This feature can also be found on the South West Londoner, here.

Nick D'Aloisio is both a pretty cool guy and entirely frustrating.

On one hand, I entirely support independent developers. With app stores on mobile phones and game download services like Steam, Average Joes being able to make and share creative endeavours is a glimpse into a marginally less corporate future.

On another, he's a 17-year-old kid who's more financially successful than me. What a little punk.
The actual app itself, Summly, is honestly pretty useful. With Google's news feed aggregator dying a death, my main method of pumping raw information directly into my veins will be cut off in a few months, leaving me with a hole in my life that Summly would fill – if I had an iPhone.

That someone so young made it big isn't surprising. Newspapers were stunned to see a teenager making so much money, but we forget that we're all old, and already outstripped by the next generation. I say this as a 22-year-old.

Schools are teaching programming a lot more these days, and the software for making your own programs is more accessible than it’s ever been. That's especially true for games production – there have been some pretty good books written about it.

Hell, I'm sure I could make my own hyper-successful app – it's not like I lack ideas. I'm sure there's a hole in the market for misanthropic technology users like me.

Are you having problems with people in your life? Family? Co-Workers? Frenemies? Don't you just sometimes wish that you could make annoying people disappear?

Well, you need the latest product from BladesTech; Remove U. Available for only £9.99!
Remove U is the killer app for your smartphone, computer, GPS and Google Glass headset that offers a clean and efficient solution for clearing up your social problems.

Remove U works with all social software, from Facebook to World of Warcraft to the dregs of society who still use Bebo. When installed, it will linger unobtrusively in the background of your computer systems waiting for activation.

Got into an argument with someone? Say or type the magic words "Why don't you just vanish!" and Remove U kicks into gear.

Remove U doesn't just block your target; it's closely engineered to remove all sights and references to your now ex-acquaintance.

Photographs with the target tagged will be automatically photoshopped to remove them from the picture - and top of the range facial recognition software will insure you won't accidentally see them in photos elsewhere, either. There's a chance it might accidentally remove faces of unrelated people, but if they're as hideous as That Guy You Don't Like, it won't be a big deal.

Remove U doesn't just stop at aesthetic removal, the target of your ire will be professionally invisible to you too! Looking through LinkedIn and public address books, Remove U can find and block addresses, phone numbers and public domain documents that reference the target. Trying to access web pages that are blocked in this manner will redirect you to our website of cute kittens in sweaters. Adorable!

Those who need to drive past the target’s home on the way to work will have their GPS map subtly altered so the building is replaced with a relaxing rural scene of your choosing An open field, a serene lake or unspoilt woodland are all at your fingertips.

Google Glass users will also have access to the 'Passive-Aggressive Camouflage' feature! By projecting subtle patterns of light into your eye, it will blur the image of anyone the Glasses pick up as looking like the target. They're a real faceless nobody now!

Customers who want additional functionality can purchase downloadable content from our online store. For a nominal fee you can have access to the Deluxe Remove U Pack, that not only gives you 3 gift codes for your friends, it will also remove your internet presence from the people that you block!

Notes and Disclaimers:
Cancellations to the Remove U service can only be processed by calling our premium-rate customer service number in Siberia, and paying the cancellation fee. The ability to restore Removed targets is available at £30 per restoration. Passive-Aggressive Camouflage may cause blindness in 5% of users. We are not responsible for any lasting social, physical or mental injury Remove U may cause. You probably deserve it, anyway.

Tech Talk: This personality has 5,000 Likes

This feature can also be found on the South West Londoner, here.

Social Networking is both the glory and the bane of the modern age. It connects us to our friends and family in a way that would be impossible 20 years ago, but there are very few that use it who don't feel at least a little... exposed.

There's a bit of a mental disconnect where we are all aware that what we put on the internet is publically accessible, but we’re still willing to share our interests in great detail.

You may think that what you post on Facebook doesn't reveal too much about yourself, but a recent study by the University of Cambridge discusses a system of working out a person's personality and background from as little as a single Facebook like.

To quickly explain how, they took a sample of 58,466 American volunteers, who gave their Facebook profiles, a list of their Likes, and took a standardised personality test. Matching the test results to the pages they liked, those correlations were used to work out the personalities of other Facebook users.

The range of categories discerned is pretty mind blowing, if I'm honest. Things like age and gender are obvious, but the ability to predict things like race, sexuality, political leanings and drug use is a lot more shocking. In fact, male homosexuality was predicted with 85% accuracy and determining race (either Caucasian or African American) was predicted with a whopping 95%.

There are also results for personality traits like intelligence, emotional stability and satisfaction with life, but the accuracy of these was a lot more variable. The levels of IQ determined from Likes only matched up with personality tests 39% of the time. However, to guess something as nebulous as intelligence correctly more than a third of the time is nothing to sniff at.

Of course, the more Likes a person has, the easier it is to determine their personality. For age and gender, you only need to have Liked 10 things for this system to guess right with at least 50% accuracy. The curve of prediction accuracy peters out eventually, so those of you out there with 700 Likes, you don't need to worry - the system could figure you out with 300.

The types of Liked items that indicated personality traits are a mixed bag. It wouldn't take much lateral thinking to decide if someone who Liked the "No H8 Campaign"  page is gay or not, but "Curly Fries" don't seem to have an obvious relation to high IQ. I definitely agree with "Being Confused After Waking Up From Naps" being an indicator of Male Heterosexuality.

The study is understandably scary news to anyone who has concerns for internet privacy, but although we humans can't help but use social trends to express ourselves, we have far more than just one personality.
How you identify yourself changes all the time, depending on where you are and who you're talking to. Your personality online is most likely a good deal different from how you are in real life, and I’m sure the way you use Facebook is different to your Twitter social life.

It's sadly quite hard to break social stereotyping and mask your gender, race or sexuality online (even if you don't overtly post about it, correlations can still be made), but your emotional stability or your tastes in entertainment change all the time. There's no need to feel indignant just because Liking Lady Antebellum is linked to low IQ.
I hope the researchers of this study move on to other social networks in later research. A personality breakdown on Tumblr would be a sight to see.

Want to learn more?
  • You can take the test yourself at You Are What You Like.
  • Zadie Smith feels a bit left behind by the ‘Facebook Generation’ in a post on NY Books
  • The study has a supplement that lists the biggest indicators of personality types.

Tech Talk: Though the Google glass

This feature can also be found on the South West Londoner, here.

The world of cyberpunk novels is close at hand. A few years ago, having a computer screen overlay your vision felt like a flight of fancy - but now is the time of Google Glass, headgear produced by the technology giant that can shoot video, give directions and do video calls.

It's being advertised as a new wave in content sharing, and that's not off-base. In the same way that the advent of smartphones have made it easier to take a picture and email it or upload to Facebook, Google Glass reduces it to simple verbal commands. Recording drunken exploits has never been so effort-free. From the experiences of those who've tested the device, it works startlingly well.

Project leaders Steve Lee and Isabelle Olsson see Google Glass as removing the barrier between using technology and living your life. They find that looking at a screen or through a camera lens shifts your attention away from the real world. With the old joke of people walking into trees and lamp posts because they're so absorbed in their phone, it's not entirely far-fetched.

However, the more cynical out there (myself included) find this all a bit voyeuristic. Consumers recording anything and everything for Google's perusal would both give me a vague feeling of being watched, and make me wary of what Google would do with all this footage.

To understand my concern, you'll want to be aware of a concept called 'Business intelligence'. Put simply, it's when companies process the information you leave out on the 'net. If you have a Google Mail account, and then search the internet or browse YouTube while logged in, Google remembers.

What do they do with this information? It's all pretty innocuous, really. Most noticeably, the recommendations you get on YouTube are based on your browsing history. But it's also used to give advertisers a little more information about you.

Nothing highly confidential is ever taken through Business Intelligence - your credit card details are safe - but information that you're shopping for suede shoes, or you like watching urban dance videos on YouTube is going to be useful to someone - and they'll pay for it, too.

The impacts that Google Glass could have on data research is absolutely huge. Your information, both online and offline would be at the fingertips of Google. Whether they actually do anything with it is down to the terms and conditions that you'll (inevitably) agree to upon purchasing the hardware.

The biggest hurdle for the development of the Google Glass (and the audience's reception) is how the general public can maintain their own privacy. Sure, Google can't stop a consumer from using the Glass to peep on the neighbours, but because it's an item of wireless technology, it can do all kinds of things, if the software's there. Facial recognition is always just on the cusp of being a reality; and while it would make tagging your photos for Facebook a lot more straightforward, there are plenty of people who would rather remain unseen.

Are there prevention methods? Google developers are hoping that the community of Glass users will form their own ethics around not recording people who want to remain unobserved, and give indications of when they aren't filming. For those who fear facial recognition technology, there's the fashionably avant-garde concept of make-up and hairstyle designs to fool computers, which look suitably cyberpunk. Detecting the wireless signals of Google Glass headsets would be a simple hack.

But I'm getting a little speculative here. While Google Glass is definitely first chapter in a story of technology becoming more integrated into our bodies, we can only guess at Google using any recordings for truly nefarious plots, as plausible as they may be.
I would still totally buy a pair.

Interested in finding out more?
  • Google Glass' website has promotional material and demonstration videos.
  • Charlie Brooker's Black Mirror had a great episode on the woes of integrated technology: 'The Entire History of You' 
  • Rainbow's End by Vernor Vinge is a classic cyberpunk tale that explores the roads technology like Google Glass could eventually go down.

Popular Wandsworth pub reopens its doors after extensive refurbishment

This restaurant review can also be found at the South West Londoner, here.

The riverside Wandsworth restaurant The Ship reopened on Friday after a refurbishment starting in January.

The venue, which has been around since 1786 under the name Thameside Waterman's Inn, has expanded to included a larger courtyard with a new view of the river, bigger toilets and a new menu.

As the opening fell on  a miserably overcast day, the large outside seating area went unused, something which made the inside feel even more warm and welcoming. The bar area is inside a conservatory, letting the room fill up with light, even on such a grey day.

The view into the dining area  from the bar made it appear rather small, but upon entering, it had a large expansion off to the side. The kitchen is in full view of the diners, so those who are paranoid about food preparation need not break a sweat. The décor was rather 'antique rustic', with wood panelling everywhere, and intentionally mismatched chairs. It all felt rather relaxed and home-made.

The full dinner menu started at 6pm (before that, there's a small pub menu available, though the prices are similar to the dinner menu), and was rather diverse - I was expecting seafood as a speciality, given the restaurant name.

The courgette and sage soup was decently big and ideal for the weather, but I found it overly salty. Not enough to ruin it, but it drowned out the flavour of a sage a bit too much.

For the main course I had the monkfish, clam and tomato tart. The portion was sizeable, and the mix of seafood tasted great with the saffron cream sauce they used. The monkfish itself had a nice, slightly chewy texture - a must-try for those who haven't had that type of fish before.

I was looking forward to trying one of their rich-sounding desserts, the treacle tart in particular, but the monkfish tart was so filling I had to call it quits.

While I visited on a Friday, The Ship has a history of live music on Sundays and a dedicated Irish traditional music night on Tuesdays. Most notably, Tad Sargent and George Stains perform regularly.

"The primary aim is to look after customers through the summer," said Oisin Rodgers, manager of the establishment since 2006.

I entirely agree. Though The Ship had a successful opening (especially in the pub area), I think that come summer, The Ship will come into its own. The food is definitely at 'special occasions' prices for the post-university set like me, but I'm still looking forward to having an outdoors barbecue in the sunshine.

Information about The Ship, including menus and bookings can be found on their website

Urgent need for more primary school places in Croydon, new figures reveal

This news piece can also be found at the South West Londoner, here.

Croydon is projected to be in severe need of primary school placements by 2014, according to an England-wide study.

The National Audit Office (NAO) warned on Friday that due to one in five primary schools in England being at capacity, there could be a deficit of 250,000 places by 2014. Croydon's projected shortfall of 15.8% is the one of the highest figures released.

The shortage of school placements in the borough has been acknowledged for some time. In February, residents campaigned against plans to expand a primary school in South Norwood, fearing it would put strain on nearby roads.

There is an ongoing consultation in progress on building a new primary school on Haling Road in South Croydon, offering 60 places a year. If the proposal is accepted, the school would take students from September 2014.
John Bownas, a spokesperson for Croydon Council’s Education Department, said that each student place matters when helping placement deficit issues in the area.

Annual Wandsworth festival boosted thanks to Arts Council funds

This news piece can also be found at the South West Londoner, here.

Arts Council England will provide £40,000 to fund Wandsworth Arts Festival, helping to claim back run-down public areas by the river.

The event will run from May 3 - 19, with the official launch taking place on the opening day.
This year, over 40 events are set to feature including a new event called the Festival Fringe - a volunteer organised collection of community-based events as a testing ground for new work.
The festival will close on a large-scale outdoor event called The Shimmy. Lasting all day and free to attend, the public are invited to walk along the riverside between Putney Wharf and Wandsworth Park, filled with art installations, performances and spoken word recitals.

Councillor Jonathan Cook, Wandsworth's culture spokesman said that the 'generous' funding would help the festival to be even better than before.

"For the past two years, the arts festival has given residents and visitors from all over London the chance to discover the enormous wealth of culture and creativity Wandsworth has to offer," he said.
Details on the acts and events will be released by the Arts Team from April.

To find out more about the festival, event information can be found at, on Facebook as 'WandsworthArtsTeam' and on Twitter @wandsworth_arts.

South West London high streets feel the impact of shop closures

This news item can also be read on the South West Londoner, here.

Wimbledon is feeling the impact of high street closures, reflecting national figures released last week.

Unlike other towns in the area, Wimbledon's HMV store has so far escaped closure, but elsewhere the high street has succumbed to financial pressures. 

PWC and the Local Data Company stated that last year, an average of 20 shops a day closed down, with further figures from December 2012 to February 2013 predicting this will increase to 28 per day.
Among the hardest-hit retailers across the researched town centres have been video games (-45%), health food (-24.7%) and clothing (-15.9%); while payday loan establishments, pawnbrokers and charity shops have increased in number (20%, 13.2% and 2.7% respectively).

Around Wimbledon town centre, owners of high street shops have been affected by recent closures. A GAME and a Jessops, long closed and abandoned since those businesses faced bankruptcy last year, linger unclaimed.

Millets, which also closed last year, had since been turned into a pop-up laptop repair shop, before finally becoming an Oxfam only three weeks ago. The Deputy Online Manager of the branch, 21-year-old Ellen Melhuish, said that many unemployed locals came to volunteer at the shop, including ex-employees from the nearby Jessops.

Mark Newbury, 28, deputy manager of the FARA charity shop, said that the opening of the new Oxfam branch had not affected the number of customers in his own store. He added that high street shop closures had affected him personally in the past, having taken up charity volunteering as a result of being made redundant during the recession.

Some sales assistants are seeing the closure of bigger businesses in a more positive light.
“It’s nice to see smaller, privately opened businesses," said Erin Luke, manager of the Cancer Research shop.
"Independently-run stores foster a better sense of community, so closures are not always a bad thing.”

Imagine This: A Medium Divided

This article can also be found on One Hit Pixel, here.

I want you to imagine something for a moment. Picture a film industry where each film company had their own brand of DVD player, that would only play discs produced under their own publishing label. To be able to watch, say, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World or The Dark Knight Rises at home, you would have to purchase separate Universal and Warner Bros. brand players.

This, of course, sounds abjectly ridiculous. Yet it’s more or less how the games console industry operates. To the consumer it’s an annoyance – to experience more of the medium, you’re expected to pay a lot of money in extra hardware. However, Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony absolutely crave brand loyalty; it’s what brings in the largest revenue. To ensure that customers pick their hardware over competitors, these guys will try all sorts of tactics.

Means for the Market Share

Nintendo is very committed to selling hardware designed exclusively for gaming, and little else. This gives them a lot of creative freedom with hardware designs that can’t be easily transplanted to other hardware (we’re used to it now, but the design of the DS was really out there back in 2004). Of all possible tactics to fight for exclusivity, I don’t mind this one. A prompt for developers to design games of worth with new and interesting hardware encourages interesting results. They also have an illustrious history of iconic franchises on their side, requiring very little maintenance. The Pokémon franchise alone will have me putting money into their wallets for a long time to come.

Sony invests a whole lot of money in developers producing exclusive content just for their hardware. The occasional big titles that they have all to themselves are quite the customer draw. Because of Sony’s long and established  connection with the Japanese game development scene, a lot of titles developed in the country end up being Sony exclusives. But in terms of hardware functions, there’s nothing, currently, that requires it to be exclusive to one kind of hardware. If those new IPs don’t gain traction with the consumers, all is lost.

These days, Microsoft is generally blasé about software exclusivity; realising that in terms of hardware, the Xbox 360 wasn’t really outstanding from the PS3, and definitely not from the ever-improving standards of the PC. Instead the draw is unique utility options, like the Kinect and Xbox SmartGlass technology – both of which can be considered underwhelming to date. I can respect the movement away from focusing on exclusives, but the push towards more peripheral hardware doesn’t help make gaming more affordable or accessible.

It’s The Same, But Different

So bearing in mind the present standards for how our three console giants handle themselves, how will this impact the new generation of consoles? We already have the Wii U following Nintendo’s Modus Operandi to the letter, but it’s the approach of the new Sony and Microsoft machines that have people speculating. Though honestly, it’s hard to think that their business practices will significantly change.

Sony, while they remain stony silent about the technical specs on their new games console (which everyone is calling the Playstation 4 for convenience’s sake) until February 20, we do know that many of Sony’s game development studios are also suspiciously quiet. What this most likely means is a line-up of Sony’s exclusive IPs – Uncharted, God of War, Killzone, LittleBigPlanet, Gran Turismo and some new from MotorStorm developers Evolution Studios all potentially in the pipeline. Studios are already making playful references to new titles on the horizon. It would be nice to take the presence of characters in Playstation All Stars as hints for releases, but I sadly doubt that game’s marketing ploys extend beyond DmC and Metal Gear Rising.

As for Microsoft, a little bit more of the Xbox 360 successor’s (referred to as the Xbox 720 in a few circles but we’re just calling in the next Xbox for now) technical specs available. There are a lot of words regarding the types of processors that may be used, but I struggle to find that especially interesting. That the use of a Kinect might be mandatory falls in line with Microsoft’s focus on peripherals, at the least. What raised my eyebrows was a mention of a patent by Microsoft being filed regarding ’3D projection’ back in September 2012, turning the entire room into a game screen – which was then demoed as IllumiRoom last month. It feels ridiculous, but that step towards virtual reality is a tantalising prospect for a new direction of game development, moreso than graphical fidelity.

For both of these, there’s a personal concern of backwards compatibility. Neither the PS3 or the 360 made much of playing old works; but allowing previous software to be played will let the companies wring the last few dollars out of the previous generation, and allow the consumers to keep their collection without having two consoles hooked up.

The Coming of the Uber Console?

If you’ll allow me one more thought experiment, could you actually imagine an industry where there’s only a single brand of household console? From a development perspective, it would be a godsend. While at present it’s generally desirable to have a game released on multiple platforms, it requires a lot of work for developers to create such ports, generally due to differences in hardware specifications, but sometimes it’s just a matter of politics.

As such, development for a single platform allows maximum running optimisation. An industry with only the one home console would seriously cut down on development times, since development tools like physics or particle effect engines would be useful to everyone.

In a way you could say that the Ouya is trying to be this Uber Console, as the barrier to entry for developing it is intentionally very low. But it will never have the kind of major software development support our resident Big Three do – nor does it help that, on Android, there’s already a fractured install base. There would have to be a near collapse of the games industry as we know it before such a unified movement could be feasible…

So who wants to cause an industry collapse with me?

Review: Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate

This review can also be found on One Hit Pixel, here.

I had fallen out of love with action RPGs. Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance played well, but is obsessed with its own terrible plot, and the less said about what I think of Dark Souls, the better. It was a genre that didn’t feel fun any more; then I played Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate. It managed to do something I hadn’t seen in the genre for a few years – not take itself seriously, but remain in top form mechanically. If you’re a Monster Hunter veteran, you already know this – but this review isn’t so much for you (reinforcing your opinions aside). Those of you who are cautious newcomers, please read on.

Plot is very light; the tropical settlement of Moga Village has been ravaged by earthquakes and lightning-spewing leviathans. You, a Hunter, are tasked with showing such beasts the business, and reviving the community while you’re at it. As such, Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is two games: A more fluid version of Phantasy Star 0 and a menu-based Harvest Moon. Both are compelling, but are even better combined.

As you set out to smack overgrown lizards silly, you’ll find that almost everything gives you items and resources; carved from your kills and foraged from the surroundings. Upon returning to base, you use those items to farm, fish, or best of all make new equipment.

Every weapon and armour piece is made from the skulls you’ve just caved in. It’s a kind of ridiculous joy to come back with a fresh corpse and see what you can turn it into. Giant butterfly-beetles? Now a sweet top hat. Armour-plated bear? Now some giant cymbals. The game is kind enough to give you the base versions of the 12 weapon types, and experimenting with them to find your favourite will push you to explore upgrade paths. The moment I found I could commit monster genocide using a huge metal bagpipe, I was sold.

That’s not to say the combat is easy. God, no. Each weapon type has its own quirks, generally in terms of attack ranges and animation length. Every move will leave you vulnerable in some way, and looking for openings and not committing to risky attacks is key to survival. Once you start fighting boss monsters, you’ll become an instant strategist, calculating but desperate. For those who can no longer get it up unless you’re putting bullet to brain-pan, there’s a set of ranged weapons (Bows and Light and Heavy Bowguns) that work in their own special way, along with armour sets that can only be worn by gunners.

However, despite the daunting nature of larger hunts, death is not swift, nor is it time-consuming. While success takes skill, early on it takes a few solid hits before your health starts getting low. This is a nice way to ease new players in – there’s a whole lot to learn, but the basics are fully explained and you’re given a lot of breathing room to figure things out. Blind and sudden failure is enjoyable only to masochists and those with too much free time.

The hunting locations are wonderfully diverse; forests, deserts, swamps, tundra, and implausibly safe volcanoes. Each comes with a pleasant musical sting upon entry, and then you’re left to the sounds of the wilderness – until you come across larger monsters, at which point satisfyingly tribal beats kick in. This sound design makes Moga Village’s non-stop jaunty tunes a touch grating.

Multiplayer is a major aspect of the experience. Some are happy to hunt on their lonesome (with AI buddies if need be), but after a while, repeating hunts to grind materials became less exciting when I could clear them consistently. However, with other people playing with you, nearly every mission becomes a thrill. Coordinating a hunt with each player taking on a different role (my Hunting Horn is great for this, the music the weapon type plays gives party-wide buffs) is incredibly satisfying.
A warning, though. The 3DS version of Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate only allows for local multiplayer. If you want online, the Wii U version is required. The games are cross-compatible – as are the save files – but if you don’t have other like-minded hunters near you, bear this in mind.

The Monster Hunter experience isn’t for everyone, as cult series tend to be. Some resent resource management. Some see repeating missions as grinding (and the main story goes quickly if you only play required missions). Some prefer a more forgiving combat system. And that’s entirely okay – the long-time Monster Hunter players will fondly remember the moment the game ‘clicked’ for them, but no one is going to blame you for being hesitant to roll with the die-hards.

As for me, outstripping any concerns over grinding and resources, I got to be a sartorial king. A skirt made from sea monsters, a top made from shrieking tropical birds, and a cello made from creepy crawlies. Fabulous.