A work post, this – at the end of last year, Dennis bought Bit-Tech, and this year, Custom PC and Bit will be working together on quite a few projects. The plan is to share a lot of what we do behind the scenes to come up with articles suited to print and articles that really work on the web. The new issue of Custom PC, Issue 68, contains a couple of pieces by the Bit guys, and I’ve written a round-up of iPhone headphones for the site. Nice to be back – I previously wrote for Bit on a freelance basis a few years ago (difficult games, politics and technology and unique game controllers).
Warning! Awkward geekery ahead. Here’s me on the BBC website, talking about Windows 7. In short: it looks a lot like Vista, especially at this early stage – much of the stuff previewed by MS (and covered on the PC Pro blog) doesn’t appear to be in the version we had to play with. But it’s fast to install, quick to load and seems a lot less annoying, a lot snappier. So far, so good. Issue 64 went to press yesterday, maybe next week I’ll have some time to run some proper benchmarks, see how it is for gaming…
A list of some of the best posts from The Wired Jester’s two-and-a-half year career, based on popularity and my own personal preference. Like all best ofs, it is weighted towards the later stuff and inexplicably includes some new releases :p
PHOTOS / PHOTOGRAPHY
* Photographs of The Sedlec Ossuary (Bone Church) in the Czech Republic. Easily the most popular post, thanks to Boing Boinging linking to it.
* A trip to the world’s best army surplus store.
* Looking for a digital SLR for £500 or so? Quite a few choices aren’t there?!? I went for a Nikon D40. Here’s why.
* The Inbox of Awesomeness. Five great e-mail newsletters that will improve your disposition towards your inbox.
* The guest list for my ideal New Year’s Eve party.
* Japanese reading. Books and blogs on the land of the rising sun, a favourite topic of mine.
* Would Flickr work as a dictionary? A look at that old phrase “a picture is worth a thousand words”, through the lens of my fave Web2.0site.
* IPTV’s Biggest Problem.
* Why Web 2.0 is a bit like Bauhaus.
Lots of people these days are down on email – my friend (the “internet famous tech writer”) Wil Harris and Stan Schroeder at the nifty Frantic Industries blog are two of its most recent critics, and both have good points: Wil’s bogged under with spam and Frantic Industries complains about email’s slow, relatively inflexible nature compared to instant messenger and clever web 2.0 stuff such as Wikis or Basecamp.
However, I still love email. For a start, it’s easy and low-tech: anyone can use it, and *everyone* has it. I love checking Flickr and seeing my contacts’ new photos, but only a couple of my friends regularly update it, despite all my advocacy. Same with Twitter. Same with blogs. I like all these things, but there’s no doubt they just don’t fit with a lot of people’s lives just yet.
Secondly, just because email isn’t great for co-ordinating projects with co-workers doesn’t mean it’s totally screwed. It’s great for newsletters. Low-tech, pre-filtered, focussed and personal: I know that doesn’t sound terribly sexy, but seriously, try a couple from this list, and if you don’t start feeling better disposed to the moment your inbox says (1 new mail), then I’ll give you your money back and access to this bank account I have where I’m keeping $100 million dollars of diamonds in trust for a guy from Nigeria who died in a plane crash.
These are the e-mail newsletters I’ve never wanted to unsubscribe from. They’re the ones I’ve forwarded to friends, quoted at them in the pub and the ones I read straight away when they ping into my inbox:
5. OTHER MUSIC
This is the most recent one on my list, but I already love it. One of the things the net does really well is music recommendation, and while I use Last.FM, I find not algorithms but people and their very specific POV that I seek out: Pitchfork, my friends (like Hi-ReS’s regularly updated list of ‘insanely catchy tunes caught in our heads’) and the Other Music email newsletter. Other Music is a store in NYC (which I’ve never actually visited) and their weekly email is great: a list of diverse new music accompanied by pint-sized articles that are interesting and passionate without ever tipping over into garbled music geekery:
“Of course this is on Sub Pop. I can’t think of another record that so perfectly captures the winsome vaguely-twee, sugary, acousti-pop energy of Seattle’s finest label, so much as Loney, Dear’s Loney, Noir. One memorable hook after another, even the Shins’ last record doesn’t quite “out-pop” Loney’s hailstorm of glockenspiels and vintage keyboards and saxophones, and blissfully unapologetic nasal vocals. In fact, this little unassuming album so damned perfectly captures the whole “indie” zeitgeist I’m surprised it doesn’t come with a deluxe edition pre-packaged with a cardigan sweater and horn-rimmed glasses.”
The web is awash with games content, so why do you need more emailed directly to you? GI send out a daily list of headlines, but once a week, the email contains their editorial. It’s like the Leader article in a broadsheet newspaper: opinionated but mature, a carefully written argument with a point – the complete antidote to the instant snotty-sneering and fanboyism that’s far too common in games journalism. It’s business orientated sure, but it makes you think:
“2007 [will] be an interesting year for PC gaming. Unlike console developers, PC developers have no transition period to struggle with – they are used to aiming at a moving target in terms of PC specifications, after all – and unlike publishing on a console, PC games are not subject to the whim of a single platform holder who can delay launches or provide insufficient hardware, rendering your product commercially inviable in a single swoop.”
You can sign up here – the box is on the left hand-side.
“You just found one damn fine photo newsletter” says the Photojojo website, and they’re not wrong. Once a week, one great tip or piece of creative inspiration (or at least a link to one). If you’re a regular reader (yes, both of you) you’ll know I’ve just bought a fabulous Nikon D40 dSLR, and Photojojo has proved a great companion. Take the advice they found about getting round people blinking in a group photo – simple and practical:
“For groups smaller than 20, divide the number of people by three if there’s good light and two if the light’s bad. That’s how many shots you need to take.”
You can sign up here.
A bit of a cheat this one since it’s not an email newsletter, but an email notification of when Information Architects‘ web notebook is updated. You do get the first few lines of the new post though, so you can tell how good it’s going to be. And yes, it is a question of how good. IA are a firm of advertising/branding creatives in Tokyo, founded with the idea that “usability and branding should be brought together, as for the users they are essentially one.” The very smart Adam Greenfield used to work there, and the site buzzes with a serene, simple creativity. You might have seen their WebTrend 2007 map which did the rounds on Digg a while back: a representation of ideas in the form of a subway map. It’s well worth keeping an ear open for what they have to say.
You can sign up here.
1. J-Box / J-List
Absolutely my favourite email on this list are those from Peter Payne, who runs online retailer J-Box, which sells all many of Japanese stuff – t-shirts, manga, books, iTunes credit for Jpop downloading – over the web. He’s a long term Gaijin resident of Japan, fluent in Japanese and doesn’t live in Tokyo, which makes him a very different type of voice than many of the Japan based foreign bloggers. Although each email is nominally sent out to plug new additions to the J-Box store, they also contain anecdotes on life in Japan, bits of cultural info, and best of all, Japanese language tips. Japanese is a fascinating language, especially in its written form, and the J-List email provides really entertaining insight into it.
“Without a doubt, one of the most famous words of Japanese is “baka,” the all-purpose insult that takes the place of many more anatomically colorful words in English. Meaning “stupid” or “idiot,” the word is used by Japanese of all ages, from three-year-olds to the elderly. Someone nearly hits your car in an intersection? Let fly with a “baka yaro!” (“stupid jerk!”). Your gaijin husband mistakes a mimikaki ear scoop for one of those spoons used in Japanese tea ceremony? The proper response to this would be, “baka ja nai?” (“what are you, stupid?”). The word is also used to describe someone who goes overboard with love of something, like “oya-baka,” parent-fool, the word for mothers and fathers who are absolutely ga-ga over their own kids; and “tsuri-baka,” meaning fishing-fool, someone who likes to fish so much that he does it whenever he can.
The word is also found in Japanese proverbs, like “Baka ni tsukeru kusuri wa nai,” or “there is no cure for stupidity.” The word baka is written with the characters for “horse” and “deer,” and there’s an interesting legend about how this word came to be. It seems that in ancient China there was an Emperor who was not very well liked by his retainers. One day, one of his underlings presented the Emperor with a deer, instead of a horse as was customary back in those days. When the Emperor pointed out that it was a deer, the man insisted that no, it’s a horse. He kept this up until he convinced his lord that the deer was, in fact, a horse, and thus Emperor became famous throughout the land for being so stupid that he couldn’t tell the difference between the two animals.”
Until now, fingerprints have been the most deadly threat the super-shiny PSP has had to face. Now, it is wrath. The frustrated wrath of a player of Ultimate Ghosts n’ Goblins. Man, it’s tough… but strangely compelling, too:
“So why did I keep on playing? Partly it was because I didn’t want to write an article for Bit-Tech having only completed the first two levels. But it certainly wasn’t because of any involvement with narrative or plot, or any sense of satisfaction from solving puzzles, and nor did I give a toss, really, about any of the characters. Initially, I didn’t think I had any emotional involvement with the title, either, until I realised that actually, Ultimate GnG’s difficulty enables it to harness one emotion extremely well: it’s probably best called exasperation. I realise this doesn’t sound good (you can’t imagine it listed on the back of the box, can you?), but exasperation is a key part of the audience’s emotional response to many thrilling scenarios. Exasperation is present – and crucial – in everything from horror movies to romantic novels.”
The full article on Ghosts, Goblins and difficulty in games is here.
Another article of mine is up at Bit-Tech – a top 10 list of ‘unique’ game controllers:
“There’s only so far you can go with a traditional gamepad. A few talented, brave and frankly bonkers designers have managed to convince and cajole their corporate paymasters into creating a special, unique add-on controller, solely for their game.”
You can have a read, here. As a writer, it was nice to do something more light-hearted after the politics piece last time, and it did well on Digg, too, which is great. Top 10s make for quick, fun reads, so I felt like the format suited the idea nicely.