Posted by Jarsto in Books, Media
May 11th, 2011 | No Comments »

I’ve been doing something new (or at least new to me) this year: I’ve been trying to keep track of all the books I read. Actually I only started doing this around the 18th of April, but I’ve managed to reconstruct the list for pretty much all of this year so far. But I do have one problem: I can’t quite define ‘book’ in a way that really satisfies me.

Posted by Jarsto in Media, Radio
September 25th, 2010 | 1 Comment »

I recently managed to get my hands on a lot of old recordings of the BBC Radio 4 show Just a Minute. It’s a fun gameshow where contestants (mainly comedians) are challenged to speak without repetition, deviation or hesitation for one minute on a subject assigned to them by the chairman.

It’s a good listen just for the fun of it, but I particularly like listening to it these days, because I’ve been thinking a lot about ethics for my NaNoWriMo project this year. Now what does ethics have to do with gameshows you may ask?

Posted by Jarsto in Media, Technology
June 24th, 2009 | No Comments »

As those who follow me on twitter will know, I’ve been doing without my PC for a few days now. Not because I want to, but because my motherboard decided to short out on me. Even though this is not a nice experience, there are some positive sides to it. Granted, I’m not sure I’d see any positives if it weren’t for the fact that I’ve been able to re-purpose my file server to serve as a temporary desktop without too much trouble.

But as I do have my re-purposed file server keeping me connected to the essentials I’ve decided to do a little blog post about the surprising positives I’ve noticed in being cut off from my regular PC. Not that I’d recommend anyone get their mboard shorted out just to experience these…

Item One

I no longer have all the links I’d normally take for granted in my bookmarks, toolbar, and history. This may sound like a weird positive, but I find it is. It’s made me realise just how much of a creature of habit I really am. There are sited I visit regularly, sites I know the address off, which I simply can’t be bothered to go to when I have to actually type that address. Not bothering with those sites has left me the time to do a lot more reading than I had been doing for a while.

Item Two

Another positive thing for me is that lacking my PC has forced me to make some decisions. I’d been thinking about a Magnatune streaming membership for quite a while, but I only got around to actually getting one because I’ve been cut off from all the music that’s stored on my desktop. As a result I’ve listened to, and enjoyed, more new music in the last few days than in the previous month or so.

Item Three

Related to the missing links, but a little different, I’ve found that aside from my browsing habits my routine has also changed a little. Most the changes aren’t massive, I’ve made sure my backup desktop is now running pretty much the same software my PC normally uses, but it has made me reconsider other things – like that large number of RSS feeds I’m subscribed to, even though I mostly click “Mark All Read” because I haven’t the time to read them. I’ve already mentally scheduled a thorough RSS cleanup for when the PC is up and running again.

Looking Back

So what do I feel looking back after a few days? Well I’ll still be glad tomorrow when I can pick up my new board and get my regular PC up and running again. But even so these intervening days haven’t been as bad as I’d first thought they might be. And the replacement I’ve ordered – replacing mboard, proc & memory – is also an upgrade that should put off the need to buy a new PC entirely at least a while longer.

And of course when I do get the (upgraded) PC back up and running I can carry some of the changes to my routine made during the last few days back there. That way the crash may actually have a positive effect in the long term.

Posted by Jarsto in Media
January 25th, 2009 | No Comments »

I like what I tend to call “low impact documentaries” as my moving wallpaper when I’m home, both when I’m working on something and when I’m just trying to relax. How much I see of these can differ, which has a positive side-effect of allowing me to watch the same thing more than once, especially if I wait a while between showings.

Recently I’ve managed to get hold of a good number of episodes of the British TV series “Time Team”. It’s not 100% documentary technically, but it falls into the same sort of watching. For those who don’t know it, I’ll give a quick overview of what the show is like.

Each episode of Time Team consists of a team of archaeologists going to a site which has (usually) turned up some indications that there might be something in the past. They then do a 3 day exploratory dig to figure out what’s there. This is always limited to 3 days, which provides part of the entertainment component of the show the “will they or won’t they” excitement.

At the end of the 3 day exploration the team presents its finding to the locals or whoever called them in, and of course to the TV audience. There’s no faking the findings either, so if they find absolutely nothing that’s what they’ll have to present.

Which brings me to the episode that prompted me to blog about this show. In an episode in 2007, a dig taking place near the village of Warburton in Cheshire, the Time Team – in the words of presenter Tony Robinson did “… what we’ve always threatened, after a hundred and sixty programmes we found absolutely nothing.”

The episode had been prompted by people finding artefacts while walking a field, but in the end the field proved not to contain any detectable buildings, in fact the only real conclusion about the field was that it had been farmed since Roman times.

But that didn’t mean there weren’t valuable results. Granted I’m not an archaeologist, or even for that matter any other sort of historian. But even so I think I know enough to know that a negative result doesn’t mean no result. By finding out that all the objects found in the field were – in the words of the show – “the background scatter of history” it managed to show that finds in the topsoil don’t mean there has to be something major underneath.

Which I suppose, or at least hope, is part of the explanation for why I like shows like this. There may be an entertainment component in them. And they don’t, generally, even claim to be the greatest form of discovery in history. But they do deal with real evidence and real science, and I like that in a show.

Posted by Jarsto in Media
January 2nd, 2009 | 4 Comments »

I’ve been looking back at 2008 recently. During my annual wake of course, but also during other moments. And one of the things that I realised is this: I’ve seen almost no TV commercials for a year now. I haven’t watched a lot of TV, and I’ve gotten good at avoiding the commercials when I do (some sort of sixth sense allows me to hit mute at pretty much the right time, and come back without missing too much, having done something else during the actual commercial break).

But the main reason I haven’t seen a lot of commercials isn’t that I’ve gotten so good at avoiding them when I watch TV. The main reason really is that I just don’t watch a lot of TV. What I do watch tends to be BBC a lot, which doesn’t really have commercials, so that’s a further bonus, but the main change, just over a year ago now, was that I re-evaluated what I would and wouldn’t watch on TV.

The basic premise when I sat down to take another good look (if you’ll pardon the pun) at my TV habits was this: would I miss a show enough to record it if I couldn’t be home during an airing, all shows that didn’t meet this basic criterion were immediately axed. Then I decided to go a step further: if my recording failed for some reason, would I mind enough to start trying to download it. Again all shows that garnered a “well if I actually need to spend time looking for it…” got the chop.

I was left with surprisingly little TV too watch once I’d applied those two, and over time I’ve refined it a bit further. I will still watch some shows that don’t make the grade, just as background filler, but about the only place I’ll watch them is the BBC, because there at least I can watch them without commercials. It’s not hard and fast, but it doesn’t need to be to cut out an awful lot of more or less useless time spend in front of the telly. Which gives me more time to find interesting stuff online, or to read (not that I’ll ever have enough time to allow me to read everything I would like to, but at least this allows me to come a little closer than I would otherwise).

Posted by Jarsto in Media
August 31st, 2008 | No Comments »

I’ve been watching Maestro on the BBC recently and I’m in two minds about it. I like the show itself, which revolves around a number of celebrity’s learning to conduct an orchestra. The winner will get to conduct a piece during the BBC’s Proms in the Park. I didn’t watch the first episode, which from what I’ve heard about it later followed a slightly different format, but the two I have seen have followed a pretty simple format:

Each contestant has been given a piece of music the weak before, and a week in which to practice conducting it with the help of their mentor. We get to see some clips from the practice and then get to watch them conduct the BBC Concert Orchestra (and in the second one the BBC Symphony Choir as well) in this piece of music.

Their efforts are then initially judged by a panel of four experts who give point out of ten to each of the candidates. The two candidates with the lowest total scores then go on to the Orchestra Vote where the members of the orchestra (and the choir if present) decide which of them will be leaving and which of them lives to conduct another day.

It’s fun to watch and the music provides a nice background sound. So far so good. Except for one thing. Though the vote here is for the orchestra, rather than the general public and their phone lines, the formula is pretty representative of a lot of reality TV. And I’ve always tried to resist that type of programme in the past.

I’ll be the first to admit there’s probably some snobbery in that. But there’s also some rather more objective criticism. For a start these shows cost a lot less to produce than, say, a science fiction show. This is not, in itself, a crime, but there is a logic to TV production that – from what I’ve heard of it – can boil down to a very basic “cost per viewer” analysis of which programmes to make, and which not to make. What’s more the basic “viewers & phonelines” format of voting generates extra income from those phonelines, on top of any advertising revenue.

As long as there’s a demand for science fiction I’m not overly worried about reality TV killing it off completely. But chances are it will take some hits. Which wouldn’t be too bad if reality TV were a real replacement for it, but in my view it isn’t. Maestro peaked my interest because of two things:

  • The presence of Sue Perkins, someone I’ve liked in everything I’ve seen her in so far.
  • And the fact that I happen to like classical music quite a bit – though I wouldn’t dream of calling myself anything like an expert on it – and enjoy some of the behind the scenes stuff on what exactly it is a conductor adds to the orchestra.

So on the whole I’m not too worried that I’ll be watching the next dumbed down reality show to cross my TV guide with relish. But still, there are moments when I wonder whether Maestro might not be a gateway drug, slowly pulling me into the world of reality TV. Which is the reason I’m still a little bit in two minds about the show.

Posted by Jarsto in Media
August 16th, 2008 | No Comments »

I haven’t blogged about Bonekickers since episode two, but I have continued watching. The final episode is now several days behind me, but I’m just now getting around to blogging about it. Mostly because I haven’t really been able to decide what I think. Even now that I’m sitting down to write this, I’m still in two minds about some of it.

In final summary I’ve watched the series and it wasn’t so terrible I want those six hours of my life back. The series fails the instant you try to take it seriously, but as long as you take it for what it is (action based entertainment) it’s a reasonably enjoyable experience.

But on the other hand, while I did enjoy the series, it always left me with the nagging feeling that, somehow, it just wasn’t there. The writers did follow through on the arc they’d been planting since the start of the series in the final episode, but it turned out to be little more than an empty MacGuffin.1

The bottom line is this: if (and this is a big if) there is a second series, I’m not sure I’d watch it. There was good stuff in the first series, but not really enough to make me anticipate a new series. It may have been a reasonably nice way to kill some time, but I’m not excited enough to be looking forward to a possible continuation.

Posted by Jarsto in Reading
August 4th, 2008 | 4 Comments »

I finished reading a trilogy last night. To be precise the Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant by Stephen R. Donaldson. I read the First Chronicles (technically just called the Chronicles) quite a few years ago, and started looking around for the Second Chronicles shortly after. Unfortunately my local bookstore only ever had parts of the First Chronicles in stock. And for some reason this never made it onto my online purchase lists.

Fast forward now to 2005, suddenly the First Chronicles were no longer the only thing in stock at the bookstore. Now The Runes Of The Earth, part one of the Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, had appeared. Still nothing from the Second Chronicles, and without reading those I wasn’t too interested in the Last Chronicles. Fast forward another 30 months or so to June of this year (or there abouts). Suddenly the Second Chronicles were there. Not piece by piece, but as a complete trilogy in a one volume omnibus.

After hesitating for a few moments (pondering my budget) I decided to go for it. For three books it actually wasn’t expensive, and I’d been looking for it for so long it would felt churlish if I didn’t buy it. Of course I didn’t have time to read it when I bought it, so I put it on the shelf along with the other books waiting for me to get around to them.

Fast forward again, to last Wednesday. I wasn’t feeling too well, and because it was quiet had the chance to come home early from work. On impulse I got the Second Chronicles down from the shelf they were on and started reading. Before the end of Thursday morning I’d finished Book One: The Wounded Land. I was home, not feeling well, again for most of Friday and managed to get through some 75% of Book Two: The One Tree.

Saturday I finished Book Two and started on Book Three: White Gold Wielder. That left me plenty of time on Sunday to finish Book Three. Though I held back for quite a while because the Chronicles, while well written, aren’t what I’d call light reading. Donaldson’s style sucks you along into a world where Despair is the main enemy, and pulls you in so deep it’s almost painful at times.

All of which brings me to my present dilemma: The Runes Of The Earth came out in 2004, and the second book of the Last Chronicles – Fatal Revenant – appeared in 2007. But, if Wikipedia is to be believed, the Last Chronicles are actually going to be a four part series (at least) with the final book not expected before 2013.1

So the old dilemma of any series, particularly series not meant to be read as standalones (which the Chronicles have never been so far) raises it’s head again. On the one hand I’m tempted to jump in, to see where things will go after the end of the Second Chronicles. But at the same time, do I want to start something now I won’t be able to finish until 2013 at the earliest. There’s no way to say for certain what I’ll do over the next few years, but right now chances are I’ll wait, there already too many books I’m waiting for, some from series that are much better standalone reads than I’m expecting here.
1 Here to be exact

Posted by Jarsto in Category 42, Reading
August 3rd, 2008 | 7 Comments »

I intend to order some books today. There’s just one problem. I ended up taking a rather dangerous approach to shopping online. When I found out that my favourite online bookstore had added a “bargain basement” section of books between €2.99 and €5.99 I started clicking through them like a kid clicking through a candy store.

As a result I now have close to twenty books sitting in my checkout list. Amazingly even at that the bill would still be just under €100 but that’s rather more than I’m looking to spend right now. So I’m having to do something I rarely do, I’m taking books I like the look of and kicking them out of the list. I’m not sure yet what the total order will be, but it’s going to be less than it is now.

Posted by Jarsto in Media
July 20th, 2008 | 2 Comments »

Okay so it’s more like 11 days later, but only one episode and, quite frankly, I didn’t really find time to watch the second episode before today. And the amazing thing is, I liked it. There were still some weak spots, but nowhere near as many as there were in the first episode.1

I can’t put my finger very firmly on the differences, but somehow it was easier to suspend disbelieve for this episode, and get drawn into the story. There were a few nagging loose ends (two people suffer weird hallucinations that endanger their lives, but there’s no clue as to who’s behind them), but on the whole the story seemed to run better than last week’s.

There were also some more hints of a continuing storyline starting to emerge. It’s still too early to say whether I’ll like the series as a whole, but I’m definitely going to be sticking around for episode three.
1 See my review here