Tuesday, February 5

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Wednesday, March 16

Book or Movie?

   The internet has spoken: the book is almost always better than the 
   'Vocativ analyzed Goodreads and IMDb ratings for 800 books and their 
   movie adaptations ranging from "Harry Potter" to "Hannibal" and 
   discovered that the book had a higher rating 74 percent of the time. In 
   fact, books are considered "much better" on our scale than their movie 
   adaptations in 51.8 percent of cases.'

   I recently watched "The Martian", and I agree that the book is much 
   better than the movie. While I enjoyed the movie, time constraints meant 
   a lot of the story had to be left out. For me, the major attraction of 
   the book was all the geeking out on chemistry, botany, physics and 
   orbital mechanics. The rescue story was a given. The movie did geek out 
   at times, but I accept that the general public would prefer more visual 
   effects. Another issue with movies is the baggage associated with major 
   stars. Personally, I don't have a problem with Matt Damon playing the 
   lead character. But when reading the book, I would not have had him in 
   mind. So, should you read the book or watch the movie? I'm going to make 
   an exception in this case and only recommend the book to readers who 
   like plenty of scientific details and the process of problem solving. 
   For everyone else, the movie is good enough.

   For another movie, "Star Wars: The Force Awakens", I saw the movie first 
   and read the novelisation later. I would rate the movie much higher than 
   the book. In such cases, where the movie is always intended to be the 
   primary and canonical medium for a story, you would hope that the movie 
   is better. If a novelisation turns out better, then the movie has 
   clearly been botched. This is especially true if the director was also 
   involved in writing the original screenplay. Knowing this, why would 
   anyone bother reading the novelisation? In my case, as a long-time Star 
   Wars tragic, I wanted to get additional background information, which 
   the book successfully delivered.

   Related Links:
   * "6 Reasons The Book Is (Almost Always) Better Than The Movie"
   * Love Reading: "Books Vs Films" infographic

Wednesday, March 9

Adelaide Writers' Week 2016

   Being a keen book reader, I've always been curious about Writers' Week. 
   Unfortunately, work and other commitments have usually prevented me from 
   attending. This year my schedule was clear and I was able to go to six 
   sessions. This post provides a brief overview, with some notes and 
   observations of the sessions I attended last week.

   1. Overview

   Writers' Week 2016 spanned six days, with fourteen hour-long sessions 
   per day. It was held in the Pioneer Women's Memorial Garden, between 
   Government House and Victoria Drive. All sessions were free and open to 
   the public. Most of the sessions covered one or two books, with the 
   authors on stage answering questions from an interviewer/facilitator. 
   Authors gave a brief reading from their book. Some sessions were more 
   general in nature, covering various aspects and styles of writing. 
   Towards the end of each session, audience members were invited to ask 
   questions. After the session, authors were available to sign books 
   brought by attendees or purchased on site.

   Attendance was high for most of the sessions. Despite its name, the vast 
   majority of attendees were not writers at all. Personally, I think 
   "Adelaide Book Week" better reflects the nature of the event.

   Overall, I found all the sessions interesting and worthwhile. Lots of 
   topics were covered, and all the panelists did a good job. I picked up 
   suggestions for at least three books to read, and I reevaluated my 
   opinion of a book I read last year.

   2. Sessions Attended

   Here are some observations and notes from the six sessions I attended. I 
   didn't take any formal notes, so I'm relying on my memory when 
   attributing the notes to the sessions.

   "New Worlds"
   The panel featured two overseas authors whose latest books were about 
   20th Century migrants.
   * Stories are often based on actual events, with one or more elements 
   embellished/tweaked and taken from there.
   * Extensive research can lead to comprehensive backstories, most of 
   which never makes it to the finished novel (in one author's case, he 
   ritualistically destroyed those original drafts).
   * For marketing purposes, publishers want to start promoting a book long 
   before it is finished; experienced writers learn how to manage info flow 
   to hide lack of progress or prevent being locked into specifics too 

   "Fairy Tale"
   The panel featured two overseas authors whose latest books incorporate 
   some elements of fairy tales.
   * Authors don't always start out with a specific theme in mind, and nor 
   do they always set out to preach.
   * Novels can incorporate genre elements to connect characters and to 
   help with storytelling.
   * Can't rely on inspiration alone; in fact, most stories grow 

   "The Making of a Writer"
   The panel covered the general topic of how one becomes a writer.
   * The panelists re-emphasised the point that writers are readers first, 
   and should continue reading as widely as possible to get new 
   perspectives and refine their own writing.
   * Writers can be very superstitious, which is reflected in their work.
   * Even successful authors fill in time by working "day jobs", such as 
   editing or teaching creative writing.

   "Undermajordomo Minor"
   A Canadian author was interviewed about his third and latest book.
   * A book can have multiple editors, in different regions or for 
   different publishers.
   * Editors of the featured book asked for ending to be rewritten, and the 
   author agreed.
   * The author finished writing, but didn't have a title; one of the 
   editors ended up suggesting the title.
   * Writing is often a very isolating endeavour.
   * One audience question was about a controversial scene in the book, 
   which the author knew could be divisive but he ultimately decided to 
   leave it in.

   "Telling Tales"
   The panel featured two female Aussie authors discussing their recent 
   collections of short stories.
   * Authors can tire of their own characters; some characters can sustain 
   author's interest for a short story, but not an entire novel.
   * Some promising stories hit the wall, while others may start appear 
   unpromising, but can grow steadily to novel-length.
   * Reiterated that stories are not usually meticulously pre-planned in 
   * Some creative writing courses, particularly in the US, churn out 
   writers having the same unoriginal and formulaic styles.

   "Under Cover"
   A veteran editor provides some behind-the-scenes anecdotes about 
   writers' festivals, authors and publishing.
   * Publishers can be sloppy, with the interviewee describing how a whole 
   chapter was left out of a novel by a popular author (Peter Carey) and 
   nobody noticed until months after the book was published.
   * Patience is required, as it can take many years to get a book written 
   and published.
   * Even experienced editors need to have their books and chapters 

Monday, March 7

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

   "'Last Week Tonight with John Oliver' is a half-hour satirical look at 
   the week in news, politics and current events."

   The show is hosted by a UK expat comedian/actor, now living in the US. 
   HBO posts the shows to a YouTube channel after they're broadcast:

   A recent show applied a blowtorch to Donald Drumpf/Trump. Unfortunately, 
   for viewers outside the US, there is a delay before shows become 
   available. You might be able to find unofficial uploads if you search 
   for it on YouTube ;)

   Here's a selection of videos from last year...

   * Daylight Saving Time - How Is This Still A Thing?
   I agree, it should be abolished.

   * Nuclear Weapons
   Cold War kids may have thought the collapse of Communism in the USSR and 
   its satellite states made the world safer. Perhaps not so much. This 
   piece is both funny and scary at the same time.

   * Drones

   * Miss America Pageant

Wednesday, March 2

Piano Illuminato + Qatsi Trilogy

   1. Piano Illuminato

   Last week I went to see and hear "Piano Illuminato", an audio-visual 
   concert featuring Adelaide-based pianist and composer, Rich Batsford:
   "... a unique fusion of live music and dynamic, visual art exploring 
   themes of peace, love, truth and beauty with take the stage on Thursday 
   25 February. In collaboration with Zero, one of Illuminart's animators & 
   visual artists 'Piano Illuminato' is a one off audio/visual experience 
   featuring performances of original music along with selections of the 
   wonderfully melodic music of perhaps the world's most famous pianist 
   composer, Ludovico Einaudi."

   The obvious attraction for me was the opportunity to listen to Einaudi's 
   music, albeit performed by someone else. As it turned out, only three of 
   the fifteen pieces played were Einaudi compositions, with the rest being 
   original instrumental pieces written by the performer. Fortunately, I 
   enjoyed those minimalist and jazz pieces as well. After the show I 
   bought a copy of one of Batsford's CDs, "Valentine Court".

   The other drawcard was the visual component. Images were projected 
   behind the pianist onto the back wall of the room, pre-programmed by a 
   member of Illuminart. This is the team responsible for lighting up the 
   faces of various buildings on North Terrace during the Adelaide Fringe:

   The imagery and lighting complemented the music quite well. This 
   included kaleidoscopic elements, oversaturated photography, plus other 
   pictures and effects in keeping with the themes and mood of the music.

   2. Qatsi Trilogy

   The combination of images with the minimalist style of the music in 
   "Piano Illuminato" reminded me at times of the experimental documentary 
   films of Godfrey Reggio, in particular, the "Qatsi" trilogy, which all 
   featured soundtracks composed by Philip Glass.

   Here's a selection of iconic clips from those documentaries:
   * Koyaanisqatsi: The Grid (Part 3)
   * Koyaanisqatsi: Finale
   * Powaqqatsi: Video Dream
   * Naqoyqatsi: Opening
   * Naqoyqatsi: New World

Thursday, February 25

PSA - Google knows my phone number (and probably know yours as well)

TLDR: If you log into any Google service, but don't want Google to know 
   your phone number, you're so out of luck.

   I recently logged into my Google account and was presented with a web 
   page showing my mobile phone number. I was being asked if I wanted to 
   enable login verification using that number. The problem is, I don't 
   ever remember giving Google my phone number. Initially I was puzzled and 
   shocked: did I voluntarily give Google my phone number? I doubt it, 
   given my general mistrust of Google. Then I got angry. How was it 
   possible for Google get my phone number?

   Turns out, there's a clause in Google's so-called "privacy" policy which 
   boasts about the right to collect user information, without explicit 
   consent. See:

   Specifically, under "Device information":
   "We collect device-specific information (such as your hardware model, 
   operating system version, unique device identifiers, and mobile network 
   information including phone number). Google may associate your device 
   identifiers or phone number with your Google Account."

   So, if you use a mobile phone to log into any Google service (including 
   YouTube), Google has the ability to get your phone number and other 
   identifying data from the mobile network. Maybe I should also thank 
   Telstra for this breach of privacy? Then Google obviously did link this 
   data with my Google Account, again without my permission.

   Google makes its money from advertising, so its goals are aligned more 
   closely with the advertising industry than with the users of its 
   services. Free comes at a price. One of the reasons I've never 
   considered using an Android phone is specifically to limit my exposure 
   to the advertising industry. Here's a very recent article which confirms 
   my concerns about Google, Android and advertisers:

   "Georgia Tech Discovers How Mobile Ads Leak Personal Data"
   "The personal information of millions of smartphone users is at risk due 
   to in-app advertising that can leak potentially sensitive user 
   information between ad networks and mobile app developers, according to 
   a new study by the School of Computer Science at the Georgia Institute 
   of Technology."

   That's Android, but, given Google's vast reach, even using an iPhone 
   cannot stop it from gathering private data from users. My trust in 
   Google has reached a new all-time low.

Tuesday, February 23

Huw Parkinson's "Winter is Trumping"

Huw Parkinson creates amusing video mashups combining current politics
   with pop culture references. His work can be seen on the ABC (Insiders
   and replayed elsewhere). 2016 kicks off with Donald Trump's quest to win
   the Game of Thrones, in "Winter is Trumping":

   Selected highlights from last year:
   * Star Wars : Fixed (with Christopher Pyne)
   * Star Wars : Episode II : Return of the Fixer (with Christopher Pyne)
   * Indiana Abbott and the Last Crusade
   * Seinfeld in Parliament

Thursday, February 11

Pick of Podcasts Listened to in 2015

   I enjoy listening to people talk about interesting stuff. In the old
   days, I often had to rely on luck or timing to catch intelligent
   discussions on radio or television. Nowadays, there are podcasts:
     "Podcasts are episodes of a program available on the Internet.
   Podcasts are usually original audio or video recordings, but can also be
   recorded broadcasts of a television or radio program, a lecture, a
   performance, or other event. ... For podcast listeners, podcasts are a
   way to enjoy great content from around the world for free. For podcast
   publishers, podcasts are a great way to reach a wide audience."

   Podcasts can be professional, broadcast-quality content like radio
   programs, from established sources such as the BBC, the ABC (Aus) and
   NPR. At the other end of the spectrum are more informal discussions
   produced by amateurs and fans, bringing passion and enthusiasm.

   I usually listen to podcasts as a background activity, e.g. when I'm
   getting ready in the morning, doing housework, walking and eating.

   Most podcasts publish episodes weekly or fortnightly. I use iTunes to
   manage subscriptions, and the stock Apple podcast apps to play the
   latest episodes on various devices. Podcasts can of course be played on
   other platforms, or directly in a browser.

   Here are some of my favourite podcasts, grouped by category.

   1. Tech News and Analysis

   * The Critical Path
   "The Critical Path is a talk show contemplating the causality of success
   and failure in the evolving story of mobile computing and related
   industries. Using Apple as a lens to look at existing and emerging tech
   markets, we try to understand what it means to be great."
   Horace Dediu obsesses over the details, and always has interesting
   analysis, ideas and opinions.

   * Exponent
   "Exponent is a podcast about tech and society hosted by Ben Thompson and
   James Allworth"
   Similar approach and subject matter to The Critical Path, sometimes
   reaching different conclusions.

   * Clockwise
   "Clockwise is a rapid-fire discussion of current technology issues
   hosted by Jason Snell and Dan Moren and featuring two special guests
   each week. Four people, four topics--and because we're always watching
   the clock, no episode is longer than 30 minutes."
   This effectively replaces a handful of discussion shows, thanks to
   having a variety of panelists and its brevity.

   * EasyApple
   "Non accontentarti di ci=C3=B2 che sai gi=C3=A0 fare con il tuo iPhone,
   iPad o Mac: c=E2=80=99=C3=A8 tanto altro da scoprire. Noi siamo qui per
   I mostly listen to this because it's in Italian, which helps expand my
   vocabulary. The hosts have some fun, and unlike many other tech-related
   podcasts, they don't ramble on too much.

   2. Popular Culture

   * The Incomparable
   "A collection of pop culture podcasts full of smart, funny people who
   love talking about TV, movies, books, comics, games, and much more."
   Started out as a small group of friends talking about geeky topics, has
   now grown into a whole network of shows. Too many shows to listen to
   them all, so I usually stick to book, movie and TV discussions, as well
   as episodes of "The Incomparable Radio Theater", "Game Show", and "Robot
   or Not?".

   * TV Talk Machine
   "Tim Goodman, chief television critic for The Hollywood Reporter, talks
   regularly with Jason Snell about what=E2=80=99s going on in television,
   what shows to watch, and what shows to skip."
   This show has lived up to its description. Goodman also teaches about
   the writing and structure of TV shows.

   * Good Job, Brain!
   "Good Job, Brain! is a free weekly clean* audio podcast that's part quiz
   show & part offbeat news. It's the ultimate nutrition for your brain. So
   eat up!"
   Fun quiz and trivia show, and I don't mind their quirky ad reads.

   3. Engineering and Science

   * Debug
   "Debug is a conversational interview show about developing software and
   services, primarily for iPhone, iPad, Mac, and gaming."
   This one will appeal mostly to programmers. The guests are almost always
   excellent, many providing anecdotes about what it's like working at
   Apple and other tech companies.

   * Pragmatic
   "Pragmatic is a discussion show contemplating the practical application
   of technology. Exploring the real world trade offs we look at how great
   ideas are transformed into products and services that can change our
   lives. Nothing is as simple as it seems."
   An Aussie engineer talks with guests about tech-related topics.
   Thoroughly researched and very informative.

   * Dr Karl on triplej
   "Dr Karl's famous triplej mission is to bring science to the peeps! Join
   host Zan Rowe, her guests, and a bunch of curious triplej listeners for
   a weekly injection of science, myth-bashing and answers!"
   I used to listen to Dr Karl's show on the radio in the 90s, but had to
   give it up when I started working in an office. Recently I got back into
   it thanks to episodes being available on demand.

   * Radiolab
   "Radiolab is a show about curiosity. Where sound illuminates ideas, and
   the boundaries blur between science, philosophy, and human experience."
   Long-running and popular show covering a wide range of topics.

   4. Psychology

   * You Are Not So Smart
   "You Are Not So Smart is a celebration of self delusion that explores
   topics related to cognitive biases, heuristics, and logical fallacies.
   David McRaney interviews scientists about their research into how the
   mind works, and then he eats a cookie."
   The host is the author of a couple of good intro books on thinking. The
   show features some interesting guests.

   * Invisibilia
   "Invisibilia (Latin for all the invisible things) is about the invisible
   forces that control human behavior =E2=80=93 ideas, beliefs, assumptions
   and emotions. Co-hosted by Lulu Miller and Alix Spiegel, Invisibilia
   interweaves narrative storytelling with scientific research that will
   ultimately make you see your own life differently."
   Had a short initial run, but I enjoyed each episode.

   5. Economics

   * Freakonomics Radio
   "Freakonomics Radio is a top-rated weekly podcast with more than 7
   million monthly downloads and a public radio program that airs
   nationally. Each week host Stephen Dubner has surprising conversations
   that explore the riddles of everyday life and the weird wrinkles of
   human nature=E2=80=94from cheating and crime to parenting and sports.
   Dubner talks with Nobel laureates and provocateurs, social scientists
   and entrepreneurs =E2=80=94 and his Freakonomics co-author Steve
   I liked the books, and the podcast covers some interesting issues as

   * Planet Money
   "Money makes the world go around, faster and faster every day. On NPR's
   Planet Money, you'll meet high rollers, brainy economists and regular
   folks =E2=80=94 all trying to make sense of our rapidly changing global
   Short and informative episodes about current topics in the world of
   business and finance.

   6. Humour

   * Welcome to Night Vale
   "Welcome to Night Vale is a twice-monthly podcast in the style of
   community updates for the small desert town of Night Vale, featuring
   local weather, news, announcements from the Sheriff's Secret Police,
   mysterious lights in the night sky, dark hooded figures with unknowable
   powers, and cultural events."
   This is an amusing radio serial chronicling a fictitious community. I'm
   keen to check out the recent novelisation.

   * Judge John Hodgman
   "Have your pressing issues decided by Famous Minor Television
   Personality John Hodgman, Certified Judge."
   Not an actual judge, but in fact a wry comedian. Amusing "cases" and
   "rulings" get me in a good mood.

   * The Flop House
   "Elliott Kalan, Dan McCoy, and Stuart Wellington are friends who=E2=80=99v=
   e decided to express that friendship not by doing productive or
   enjoyable things, but instead by watching critical or commercial flops,
   and then discussing those terrible movies for you to enjoy in your
   ear-holes. Although, honestly, most of the time they just talk about
   random bull$!t."
   The hosts are professional comedy writers, and they apply the blowtorch
   to mostly bad movies they've watched. Only caveat is that sometimes they
   talk a little blue.

   That's a lot of podcasts. I haven't even included those that I only
   listen to occasionally, depending on the topic. But many of these
   podcasts' episodes are around 30 to 45 minutes long. Over the past year
   I've actually increased the diversity of subjects by abandoning some
   shows I used to like. Common problems with these podcasts:
   * Too long - e.g. "The Talk Show with John Gruber" may have a
   semi-famous host and impressive guests, but 2+ hours per episode!?
   * Straying too far off-topic - I'm not interested in what comic book the
   hosts are reading.
   * Too much speculation - I don't want to hear people ramble on about
   * Tedious testimonial-style ad reads, often for things not even
   available outside the US.

Tuesday, February 9

Pick of Television Shows Watched in 2015

   I have a confession. I watch a fair bit of TV, two to three hours per
   night. In my defence, most of this is planned viewing, not just whatever
   happens to be on. I also avoid ads, thanks to DVDs, streaming services
   and a PVR.

   Why do I prefer TV shows over movies these days? A quality TV series has
   pacing and complexity similar to a good novel. And just like reading a
   novel, watching a series over days or weeks provides the opportunity to
   reflect and develop some perspective. Movies, which are really like
   short stories in visual form, can be unduly influenced by the viewer's
   mood or state of mind for a specific block of time. The declining
   quality of Hollywood movies doesn't help.

   The recent trend of TV shows having self-contained, season-long arcs has
   helped give viewers confidence to invest time. This is an improvement
   over the old practice of open-ended shows spanning multiple seasons,
   running the risk of cancellation before reaching any satisfactory
   conclusion. The reduced importance of ratings and the emergence of
   on-demand services have helped usher in a "platinum age of television":

   1. Current 2015 Shows

   Here are some shows which had strong seasons last year.

   * Fargo
   "Various chronicles of deception, intrigue and murder in and around
   frozen Minnesota."
   Fans of the original movie from 1996 will probably enjoy this TV series.
   Quirkiness and dark humour help take the edge off the crime-based
   storylines. The characters are compelling, and the scenery is bleak.
   Like many people, I was a bit hesitant when I first heard about the
   show, but season one was consistently good, and season two was arguably
   even better. Each season is self-contained with a mostly new cast, which
   keeps things fresh.

   * Mr. Robot
   "Follows a young computer programmer who suffers from social anxiety
   disorder and forms connections through hacking. He's recruited by a
   mysterious anarchist, who calls himself Mr. Robot."
   I'm clearly in the target market for this show. Technology and hacking
   are portrayed plausibly, and the show works both at the personal and
   society level. I'm looking forward to see where the show goes in its
   second season.

   * Mad Men
   "A drama about one of New York's most prestigious ad agencies at the
   beginning of the 1960s, focusing on one of the firm's most mysterious
   but extremely talented ad executives, Donald Draper."
   The seventh and final season brings to a satisfactory close this
   decade-long examination of the golden era of advertising. The show
   captured many of the key moments and trends of the 1960s, highlighting
   the excesses, preoccupations and inequality of the times. Complex and
   relatable characters face difficult choices in their professional
   careers and personal lives.

   * Better Call Saul
   "The trials and tribulations of criminal lawyer, Saul Goodman, in the
   time leading up to establishing his strip-mall law office in
   Albuquerque, New Mexico."
   A prequel to the critically-acclaimed "Breaking Bad", this show examines
   the gradual transformation of Jimmy McGill, the wild but reformed kid
   brother of a respected lawyer, into Saul Goodman, counsel for petty and
   mid-level criminals. Another show I had misplaced hesitation about. The
   main and supporting characters were interesting, and the storyline was
   solid. My only complaint is that the pace was a little slow.

   * Humans
   "In a parallel present where the latest must-have gadget for any busy
   family is a 'Synth' - a highly-developed robotic servant that's so
   similar to a real human it's transforming the way we live."
   This show examines how we might interact with humanoid robots which were
   initially meant to be servants. What happens if they become self-aware?
   Would we treat them like equals or as slaves? Should they have "human"
   rights? Or will we feel threatened by them?

   * Broadchurch
   "The murder of a young boy in a small coastal town brings a media
   frenzy, which threatens to tear the community apart."
   Realistic characters, with solid acting and great scenery. There's the
   standard misdirection and plot twists until the case is solved. Season
   one focusses on the investigation, and worked better than season two,
   which covers the trial and its consequences.

   * Rectify
   "Daniel Holden must put his life back together after serving 19 years on
   Georgia's Death Row before DNA evidence calls his conviction into
   Simple but enjoyable drama, set in a small community rife with suspicion
   and ulterior motives. Authorities seemingly more concerned with
   protecting their pride or advancing their careers than finding out what
   really happened all those years ago.

   * Doctor Who
   "The further adventures of the time traveling alien adventurer and his
   This rebooted show hit a higher gear in 2015. I watched several episodes
   twice to catch all the little details. Peter Capaldi again proves his
   great range as an actor. The penultimate episode, "Heaven Sent", was a

   * Justified
   "Old-school U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens is reassigned from Miami to his
   childhood home in the poor, rural coal-mining towns in Eastern
   The opening scene of the pilot made it clear how close to the line the
   main character will go to in the name of justice. He seems obsessed with
   getting out of the dark shadow of his father, a small-time criminal. His
   old friend, Boyd Crowder, has become a white supremacist and wannabe
   criminal kingpin. When the Dixie Mafia wants to exact revenge on Raylan
   for what he did in Miami, the frenemies Raylan and Boyd have to
   sometimes swallow their pride and work together.

   * Orange is the New Black
   "The story of Piper Chapman, a woman in her thirties who is sentenced to
   fifteen months in prison after being convicted of a decade-old crime of
   transporting money to her drug-dealing girlfriend."
   Set in a womens' prison, this show manages to get you to empathise with
   the characters, notwithstanding their past crimes and misbehaviour.
   Interestingly, little attempt is made to glorify the central character.

   * Brooklyn Nine-Nine
   "Jake Peralta, an immature but talented NYPD detective in Brooklyn's
   99th Precinct, comes into immediate conflict with his new commanding
   officer, the serious and stern Captain Ray Holt."
   Surprisingly amusing comedy with a great ensemble cast.

   Honourable mentions:
   * Orphan Black: Latest season was ok, but needs to start resolving
   * New Girl: Fun time-filler.
   * unREAL: What producing reality TV is really like?

   Current shows not caught up on yet:
   * The Americans (season 3)
   * Silicon Valley (season 2)
   * True Detective (season 2)
   * Parks and Recreation (final season)

   * House of Cards (US): The UK version was better and more focussed. West
   Wing covered US politics more realistically. Veep is more fun.
   * Game of Thrones: Feels like a brutal soap opera/reality elimination
   contest at times. I recently started watching Vikings, which is more
   respectful of its viewers and is at least based on historical events.

   2. Classic Shows from Past Years

   Limited time and availability mean I sometimes don't get to complete
   watching shows until years after they end. Here are some classic shows
   that I caught up with last year.

   * Breaking Bad
   "A chemistry teacher diagnosed with terminal lung cancer teams up with
   his former student to cook and sell crystal meth."
   Anti-heroes are all the rage nowadays, and this show really tested my
   ability to keep watching as I grew to despise Walter White. I almost
   gave up at the end of season two, but I'm glad I stuck with it.

   * The Wire
   "Baltimore drug scene, seen through the eyes of drug dealers and law
   Not what I'm usually interested in, but it's critically acclaimed, so I
   gave it a go. I found the warts and all, quasi-documentary depiction of
   the lesser-seen America very compelling and informative.

   * Deadwood
   "A show set in the late 1800s, revolving around the characters of
   Deadwood, South Dakota; a town of deep corruption and crime."
   The colourful language always makes me smile. It's loosely based on
   historical events, so there's that.

   * Luther
   "A crime drama series starring Idris Elba as a near-genius murder
   detective whose brilliant mind can't always save him from the dangerous
   violence of his passions."
   Flawed cop who gets results. A bit like Sherlock from the wrong side of
   the tracks.

   * Boardwalk Empire
   "An Atlantic City politician plays both sides of the law, conspiring
   with gangsters during the Prohibition era."
   I initially gave up on this series after the first season due to the
   violence, but returned to it. Overall, pretty solid.

   * Derek
   "Derek is a loyal nursing home care assistant who sees only the good in
   his quirky co-workers as they struggle against prejudice and shrinking
   budgets to care for their elderly residents."
   Ricky Gervais is not everyone's cup of tea, but this shows is both
   touching and amusing. Features music by Ludovico Einaudi, which is a

   * Freaks and Geeks
   "A high school mathlete starts hanging out with a group of burnouts
   while her younger brother navigates his freshman year."
   Great comedy series that only ran one season. Launched the careers of
   several name actors.

Thursday, February 4

Pick of Games Played in 2015

Playing games is still considered a guilty pleasure. This is a shame,
   because research seems to show some games are actually good for our
   mental health and general well-being:
   * "7 health benefits of playing video games"
   * "Your brain on video games"

   1. Games Played in 2015

   I didn't have much time for games last year, but I did enjoy playing a
   handful of "casual" games.

   * Alto's Adventure
   "Above the placid ivory snow lies a sleepy mountain village, brimming
   with the promise of adventure."
   An endless runner (in this case, you play a snowboarder), which is not
   the type of game I usually like. It won me over with its simple yet
   well-done graphics, and the ability to do backflips, grinds and other
   thrilling tricks and combos.

   * The Bridge
   "The Bridge is a 2D logic puzzle game that forces the player to
   reevaluate their preconceptions of physics and perspective."
   This game should appeal to fans of Escher-like impossible architecture.

   * Prune
   "With a swipe of a finger, grow and shape your tree into the sunlight
   while avoiding the dangers of a hostile world. Bring life to a forgotten
   landscape, and uncover a story hidden deep beneath the soil."
   Simple and almost meditative casual game.

   * Bonza
   Developed by an Australian company, this is a pleasing little word
   puzzle game. The free daily puzzles are great for filling five minutes
   or so of idle time. Puzzle packs can be earned or bought in-game.

   2. Playing Soon

   Here are some recent releases I'm hoping to tackle this year.

   * StarCraft II: Legacy of the Void
   "StarCraft II continues the epic saga of the Protoss, Terran, and Zerg.
   These three distinct and powerful races clash once again in the
   fast-paced real-time strategy sequel to the legendary original,

   * The Stanley Parable
   "It is a first person exploration game. You will play as Stanley, and
   you will not play as Stanley. You will follow a story, you will not
   follow a story. You will have a choice, you will have no choice. The
   game will end, the game will never end."

   * The Room Three
   "Welcome to The Room Three, a physical puzzle game within a beautifully
   tactile world."

   3. Other Recommendations

   Here are some of my favourite games played in prior years.

   * Monument Valley
   "In Monument Valley you will manipulate impossible architecture and
   guide a silent princess through a beautiful world. Monument Valley is a
   surreal exploration through fantastical architecture and impossible
   geometry. Guide the silent princess Ida through mysterious monuments,
   uncovering hidden paths, unfolding optical illusions and outsmarting the
   enigmatic Crow People."

   * Fez
   "In Fez, you play as Gomez, a 2D creature living in what he believes is
   a 2D world. Until a strange and powerful artifact reveals to him the
   existence of a mysterious third dimension!"

   * The Room and The Room Two