Archive for the ‘culture’ category


My first tech post in a while: how I use my social-computing time

09.09.2021

Refreshingly, I’ve noticed that my more recent blog posts haven’t been about Big Tech as often. I haven’t changed my views: the ones I’ve stated earlier still stand, and Google and Facebook in particular continue to be a blight on democracy and even individual mental health.
   A lot of the posts were inspired by real-world usage of those websites, if you look back over the last decade. As I use them irregularly, and wish others were in the same boat, then there’s little to report, unless I come across new revelations that I might have a say about.
   Google is the search of last resort though it has a great translator; now that the news alerts don’t even work, that’s one fewer contact point with the online advertising monopolist. Facebook is good for monitoring who has breached my privacy by uploading my private data to the platform, and to delete off-Facebook activity (Facebook serves these pages at a ridiculously slow speed, you wonder if you’re on dial-up). Beyond that neither site has much utility.
   My Instagram usage is down to once every two months, which means it’s halved since 2020, though I still keep an eye on Lucire’s account, which isn’t automated.
   I stay in touch with some friends on email and there’s much to be said about a long-form composition versus a status update. It’s the difference between a home-cooked meal and a fast food snack. And, of course, I have this blog to record things that might pique my interest.
   Go back far enough—as this blog’s been around 15 years—and I shared my musings on the media and branding. My blog’s roots were an offshoot of the old Beyond Branding blog, but I wanted to branch into my own space. A lot of my views on branding haven’t changed, so I haven’t reblogged about them. Each time someone introduced another platform, be it Vox or Tumblr, I found a use for it, but ultimately came back here. Just last week I realized that the blog gallery, which came into being because NewTumbl’s moderators started believing in the Republic of Gilead, was really my substitute for Pinterest. It might even be my substitute for Instagram, if I can be bothered getting the photos off my phone.
   I must say it’s a relief to have everything on my own domain, and while it’s not “social”, I have to ask myself how much of Instagramming and social media updating ever was. Twitter, yes, to an extent. But oftentimes with Instagram I posted because I got joy from doing so, over trying to please an audience. It’s why I never got that many followers, because it wasn’t a themed account. And if doing what suits me at the time is the motive, then there’s no real detriment to doing so in my own spaces. These posts still get hundreds of viewers each, probably more than what I got on Facebook or Instagram.
   I don’t know if this is a trend, since setting up your own space takes far more time than using someone else’s. Paying for it is another burden others may wish to avoid. Nor do I have the latest stats on Facebook engagement, but when I did track it, it was heading south year on year. I do know that the average reach for an organic post continues to fall there, which is hardly a surprise with all the bots. Instagram just seems full of ads.
   But in my opinion, fewer contact points with Big Tech is a good thing, and may they get fewer still.

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The return of Van der Valk

08.09.2021

I came across an old post of mine on Euston Films remakes, at the time the American version of Widows hit the big screen. My last question, after going through Minder, The Sweeney and Widows reboots, sequels and remakes: ‘Now, who’ll star in a new Van der Valk?’
   Since local TV programmers and I have entirely different tastes, I only happened across the new Van der Valk from 2020 recently thanks to a French reviewer on Twitter. I wish I knew earlier: I rate Marc Warren as an actor, it has a great ensemble cast, and for those of us who are older, the theme tune is based on the original (Jack Trombey still gets a credit in each episode, though it should be noted that it’s a pseudonym for the Dutch composer Jan Stoeckart).
   As far as I know, few (if any?) of the Van der Valk episodes with Barry Foster were based on the Nicolas Freeling stories, so I didn’t really mind the absence of Samson and Arlette. Mentally I treated it as a prequel, pre-Arlette, till I found out that showrunner Chris Murray had killed her off in a flashback sequence in episode 3 (giving stuntwoman Wendy Vrijenhoek the least screen time of the four actresses who have played her in the British versions). Which is, of course, the opposite to how Freeling had it, since he had killed off van der Valk and had Arlette star in two novels.
   I read that one reviewer noted that the stories weren’t particularly Dutch, but then, were they ever? I didn’t really get into Broen or Wallander because of how Scandinavian the storylines were (though it must be said, I enjoyed Zen for its Italianness). I do, however, appreciate the change of scene from London or Los Angeles, which seem to be the home of so many cop shows. I even welcomed Brighton with Grace, starring John Simm, and produced by Kieran Murray-Smith (of the Murray-Smiths), or, for that matter, Sheffield with Doctor Who.
   But a Van der Valk sans Arlette does mean the heart of the old stories is gone, and we have yet another emotionally broken TV detective, a ploy that we’ve all seen before. But the casting is solid, and the very likeable Marc Warren shows he can lead a series ably.
   Of the Euston Films shows I followed as a youngster, it does appear they have all now been revisited in my lifetime, except for one: Special Branch. Bring back Craven!

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Nostalgia: Money for Nothing

06.09.2021


Money for Nothing—image from Amazon Prime, where, as of yesterday, you can watch a presumably cleaner copy than what’s on YouTube.

As a young lad, I enjoyed the Screen One TV movie Money for Nothing (1993), which aired on the BBC in the UK and TV1 here. Not to be confused with the John Cusack movie Money for Nothing (1993).
   As someone who started my career very young, I could identify with the lead character, Gary Worrall (played by Christien Anholt), a teenager who finds himself in the adult world—and in the TV film, well out of his depth in a massive property deal that takes him to New York. It’s one film where Martin Short plays it straight (and is really good), Jayne Ashbourne does a cute Scots accent, Julian Glover is his usual brilliant self, and there’s a fantastic Johnny Dankworth score, with his wife Cleo Laine singing. I had the good fortune to see them both perform in Aotearoa in 1994.
   Because it’s television, of course the deals that Worrall does at the start of the TV movie work out. And he’s audacious. It was a little easier to believe as a 20-something (Anholt and I are about the same age), not so much in middle age!
   I’m still a romantic at heart and the love story that screenwriter Tim Firth added for Anholt and Ashbourne’s characters comes across nicely and innocently.
   There’s a line, however, between actually having made something or being able to do something, then proving to the doubters that you’re capable (which is where real life is, at least for me); and BSing your way forward not having done the hard yards. As it’s fiction, Worrall falls into the latter group. You wouldn’t want to be in the latter in real life—that’s where the Elizabeth Holmeses of this world wind up.
   I hadn’t seen Money for Nothing for over 25 years, but on a whim, I looked it up on July 27, and there it was on YouTube. Enjoy this far more innocent, post-Thatcher time.

PS.: Only today did I realize that Christien is the late Tony Anholt’s (The Protectors) son.

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Baseless threats

27.08.2021

A couple of years ago, friends in Wellington, who own a business—let’s call it X—were approached by a US company with the same name, though in a slightly different industry.
   They wanted my friends to give up their page name facebook.com/x to them, and suggested that they should be facebook.com/xnz.
   No suggestion of payment, just a “you should consider”, and if I recall correctly, something to do with how much bigger they were.
   This was a really strange argument from someone in the US where their culture’s often based around the plucky individual taking on bigger players.
   How many myriads or even millions did Condé Nast pay to get style.com from Express all those years ago? If you’re that much bigger, maybe you could have afforded it? Or maybe you were just being cheeky, thinking you could get something for nothing. Well, not quite nothing. A little bit of bullying.
   Basically, taking away all the legalese and wank designed to make my friends hesitate, the Americans were upset that someone got in there with a Facebook page name years (nine years, if I recall correctly) before they did. How dare these Kiwis!
   ‘How should we respond?’ asked my friends.
   ‘You can either (a) ignore them or (b) tell them to go to hell,’ I advised. I think they chose (a). After all, there’s no point replying to one-sided rudeness.
   I’m reminded of this story because of emails from another US company recently and, again, stripping away the rudeness and implying I was a liar, boils down to them not really liking their First Amendment. Not when someone else exercises it fairly.
   Americans aren’t alone in being dicks about something but these particular two companies sure don’t like other people doing things that they can equally do. They trotted out a level of rudeness from the outset that you seldom see from their country, where regular Americans try their best to be nice.
   A third case was from the UK, where we received a threat from the agent of a fading celebrity whose crowning achievements were probably some soap opera and shooting for FHM in the 1990s. I don’t recall the circumstances in depth but I can tell you that that woman has not had much coverage since, by us or any other publication. Choose the wrong people, and you flush your goodwill down the toilet. Who’d touch you now, when there are plenty more stories that we can pursue with fewer headaches?
   I don’t know where the rudeness comes from, but I presume it’s a superiority complex that hides the fact that their arguments bear little merit. The result is that they damage their brands or their client’s reputations in the process.
   If you encounter it in business, then it’s a cinch that they don’t really have much to stand on. They feel bullying is their only means, because if they argued it rationally or faced the issue honestly they wouldn’t get what they want. It’s worth keeping an eye out for, and not waste your time on.

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Title design in 1970: big geometric type rules

11.08.2021

There is something quite elegant about title typography from the turn of the decade as the 1960s become the 1970s.
   There is 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever by Maurice Binder, which apparently is one of Steven Spielberg’s favourites, but I’m thinking of slightly humbler fare from the year before.
   I got thinking about it when watching Kevin Billington’s The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer, which has Futura Demi tightly set (it is the 1970s) but arranged in an orderly, modernist fashion, aligned to the left on a grid. Nothing centred here; this is all about a sense of modernity as we entered a new decade.


   Similarly the opening title for Alvin Rakoff’s Hoffman, starring Peter Sellers and Sinéad Cusack. For the most part it’s Kabel Light on our screens, optically aligned either left or right. It’s a shame Matt Monro’s name is spelled wrong, but otherwise it’s nice to see type logically set with a consistent hierarchy and at a size that allows us to appreciate its forms. Monro belts out the lyrics to one of my favourite theme songs, ‘If There Ever Is a Next Time’, by Ron Grainer and Don Black, and the title design fits with them nicely.


   It certainly didn’t stay like this—as the decade wore on I can’t think of type being so prominent in title design on the silver screen. Great title design is also something we seem to lack today in film. I helped out in a minor way on the titles for the documentary Rescued from Hell, also using Futura, though I don’t know how much was retained; given the chance it would be nice to revisit the large geometric type of 1970.

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Rocketman’s most annoying scene

11.08.2021

Originally noted at NewTumbl, this is the sort of stuff that can annoy me in films.
   This is a scene from Rocketman, where Elton John (Taron Egerton) arrives at the Troubador in Los Angeles in 1970. Car people, spot the problems.


   If you’re like me, you’re going: Elton’s in a 1978 Lincoln Continental Town Car, there’s a 1981 Chevrolet Caprice going by, past a parked 1975 Ford Thunderbird and a 1980 Chevrolet Monte Carlo. Not being American, I may be off by one model year, but my point still stands.
   To think they re-created the posters, the extras’ clothes in the ‘I’m Still Standing’ video, even the fur coats, but they couldn’t source a few motors. I really liked this movie, and scenes like this throw you out of its finely constructed world and you realize it’s just a film.

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August 2021 gallery

11.08.2021

Here are August 2021’s images—aides-mémoires, photos of interest, and miscellaneous items. I append to this gallery through the month.

 
Sources
Volkswagen Gol G4—more at Autocade.
   The fake friends of social media being the junk food equivalent of real friendships, from this post by Umair Haque.
   Stay at home, wear a mask—geek humour shared from Twitter.
   Thaikila swimwear—seems to have an interesting history.
   More on the Fiat 124 Sport Spider here at Autocade.
   Jerry Inzerillo, first male on the cover of an issue of Lucire anywhere in the world, in this case the August 2021 issue of Lucire KSA. The story can be found here on our website.

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The pathetic snowflakes of Big Tech

10.08.2021

We all know what will happen. This is one of two fakes who have sent me a Facebook friend request this week. The first was given the all-clear despite having spam links; and no doubt this will be judged to be perfectly acceptable by Facebook. (In the meantime, a post from Lucire that featured the latest PETA ‘would rather go naked’ campaign was instantly removed.)
   What isn’t acceptable, is, of course, criticizing them. Bob Hoffman writes (original emphases):

According to Vice, recently the Cybersecurity for Democracy project “has revealed major flaws in Facebook political ad transparency tools and highlighted how Facebook’s algorithms were amplifying (COVID vaccine) misinformation.” This should come as no surprise to anyone who has been conscious for the past few years …
   This week Facebook, in an act of abject unscrupulousness, suspended the accounts of several of the researchers from NYU who are leading the Cybersecurity for Democracy project and need to access Facebook to do their work. One of the researchers called Facebook’s action “‘disgraceful’ at a time when the disinformation around COVID-19 and vaccines is literally costing lives.”

   This is how weak and pathetic Facebook is. Instead of doing better (which they claim they try to do), they’d rather shut down criticism. A bit like a dictatorship.
   They’re not alone, of course. In the news recently were the snowflakes of Ebay, who also can’t take a bit of criticism.
   Ina and David Steiner publish a news website about ecommerce and were critical of Ebay in its latest incarnation. The CEO wasn’t happy, nor was Ebay’s head of global security, James Baugh, who began a campaign to terrorize the Steiners.
   The Steiners found their fence tagged, then Ebay’s staff began sending ordering items to be sent to them, including a fœtal pig, a mask of a bloody pig face (witnessed by a police officer), a book on surviving the death of a spouse, a package of live spiders and fly larvæ, and a sympathy wreath, among others. Then Ebay’s employees went to Boston, near where the Steiners lived, and planned to plant a tracking device on their car. The Steiners spotted the rental vehicles stalking them. Understandably, they couldn’t sleep properly, and even slept separately fearing they would be physically attacked.
   It was thanks to the Steiners’ own efforts that they managed to get the number plate of one of the vehicles tailing them, which was then referred to police, who finally managed to figure out what was going on.
   One person has been sentenced in all this mess to 18 months in prison, and there have been other arrests, though as this is the US, the CEO gets off scot free with a US$57 million golden handshake.
   This isn’t that out of the ordinary, and entirely predictable for anyone who has followed this blog. Or the news, for that matter.
   A few years ago, I blogged about how Elon Musk and Tesla tried to get one of its whistleblowing employees killed by telling the police that he was planning a mass shooting. According to Bloomberg Businessweek:

Many chief executive officers would try to ignore somebody like Tripp. Instead, as accounts from police, former employees, and documents produced by Tesla’s own internal investigation reveal, Musk set out to destroy him.

   The employee, Martin Tripp, allegedly was hacked and followed before the attempt to have him swatted.
   Former Gigafactory security manager, Sean Gouthro, said Tripp never sabotaged Tesla or hacked anything, and Musk knew this, but still wanted to damage Tripp’s reputation.
   You can read more directly at the source.
   My negative encounters with Big Tech, which I put down more to shoddy programming or incompetence than malice, are pretty tame.
   Put together, the pattern of IP theft, censorship, inciting genocide and misinformation, and targeting individuals, is very obvious. It’s part of their culture these days, since the US keeps letting these companies do what they wish with impunity, and to heck with what anyone would reasonably think the laws actually say. And it’s not just the US: when has our Blairite government or its predecessor moved against Big Tech in any meaningful way, on taxation, or on apportioning some responsibility for their part in COVID-19 misinformation?

Meanwhile, I was amused to see this under Arthur Turnure’s entry in Wikipedia:

   So Turnure starts Vogue but decides to work under an 18-year-old in another city.
   The reference linked doesn’t back this up at all.
   I know Wikipedia is full of crap that we can all go and correct, but as we’ve seen, shit sticks and on the internet, bullshit sticks, including one item that I’ve blogged about before that remained for over a decade.
   What gets me is why someone who doesn’t know a subject would deem themselves sufficiently knowledgeable to write about it. Because I just wouldn’t dare.
   As detailed before, you don’t see as many inaccuracies in the Japanese or German versions of Wikipedia, and you have to conclude, especially now with politicians doing the same thing, that the Anglosphere is increasingly an anti-intellectual place to be. ‘The fundamental problem with the English-speaking world is that ignorance is not considered a vice,’ said the brother of my friend, Prof Catherine Churchman. My earlier post from 2018 stands now more than ever.

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Is the sun setting on Alarm für Cobra 11: die Autobahnpolizei?

03.08.2021

It does seem the sun is setting, after 25 years, on Alarm für Cobra 11: die Autobahnpolizei on RTL.
   Last week, the network released three episodes from 8.15 p.m., and to heck with the low ratings of the last episode which would be far too late for younger viewers. They’re doing the same this week, and finishing up the season next week with the two last ones made.
   It’s no secret that the viewer numbers have been falling year after year, especially after the departure of Tom Beck, and the long-running actioner costs a lot to make—too much for a show that now nets around the 2 million mark each week, with increased competition from other networks and forms of entertainment.
   Last year, the show was revamped again, but unlike previous efforts, this was a very bumpy and massive reset. Shows don’t always do well after this, especially a revamp that was bigger than Martial Law abandoning most of its original cast in season 2 as well as not resolving the season 1 cliffhanger. Or each of the incarnations of Blackadder.
   Cobra 11 survived most earlier revamps, such as the seasons with Vinzenz Kiefer, because it maintained some continuity. We didn’t mind the anachronisms and the inconsistencies as long as the heart of the show was there. Over the first two decades, there was a humanity to the show, regardless of how much haters think it was a shallow actioner, and by that I refer to the home life of the main character, Semir Gerkhan, portrayed by Erdoğan Atalay.
   Viewers invested a lot into Semir and Andrea, and even with the 2014–15 seasons, we could count on that behind the emotional core of the series. It didn’t matter that the bright, cheerful years of Beck had become a sombre-keyed drama, with the happy couple’s marriage on the rocks, Semir sporting a full beard and not his goatee, and a major story arc.
   It was a return to the action–comedy tradition in 2016 with Daniel Roesner taking over from Kiefer, who I was surprised to see later in Bulletproof.



Semir and Andrea: the emotional heart of Alarm für Cobra 11.

   With Roesner’s departure, producers sought to get rid of everyone else on the show, wrapping up their storylines, so that 2020 would begin with only Atalay and Gizem Emre, who joined the cast in 2014, reprising their roles. We can deal with Semir pairing up with a female partner for the first time in 24 years (Vicky Reisinger, played by Pia Stutzenstein), having a new boss (a disabled character played by an able-bodied actor, Patrick Kalupa; and since we never had an episode about how the character became disabled, it seems a slap in the face to not cast a disabled actor), and an irritatingly dark set. But Andrea and the kids have been written out, not mentioned again; enter Semir’s estranged mother, who only became estranged a couple of seasons ago, since the character said previously that he called her every Christmas. To all intents and purposes, this was a new show with little connection to the old. And I think they may have gone one step too far in their efforts to present something new to viewers.
   There is a slight return to the structures of the older scripts in this second block of season 25, with an emphasis on the stories over the action (as there had been at the start). There are moments where you even recognize the show. But if the first half of the season had put you off, you never would have found out, especially since RTL hasn’t even bothered to show the action scenes in many of the press photos.
   The scheduling is exactly what you’d expect a network to do in order to kill a show, to say that the average viewer numbers had dropped again, too far to be viable. It’s the sort of show that might have a TV movie or two later on, but for now, I’m not that surprised there are statements that this 25th season (28th, if you believe the network) is the last ‘sein wird’ (for now). Another retooling for the 26th so it could return? Or time to wrap it all up?
   I don’t think it bodes well for us fans, unless they can tap into the Zeitgeist again for something that modern viewers are going to love.

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Nostalgia in Grenoble

08.07.2021


Andrea Berlese

If you’re around my age with a similar interest in model cars, this mural, Re-collection, by Leon Keer on a block of flats in Grenoble, France, will appeal.
   Leon has Tweets with the before and after, and one about the process.

   It’s sad that Lesney (Matchbox) went down the fantasy route to compete with Hot Wheels, whereas the 1970s Corgi and Majorette castings that are represented here are so much better, in my opinion. I had a good childhood; I certainly couldn’t complain about the model collection that my parents and grandparents indulged. And what great work from Leon to bring back this sense of nostalgia.

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