Friday, July 31, 2015

It's the Friday video post! Son of a Beach

Warning: potential NSFW video. Viewer discretion advised.

Apart from the slightly unnecessary volleyball scene at the beginning, this is a funny and quirky little short that builds to a dark ending (well, not so dark actually but you will know what I mean after you've seen it).

Sun of a Beach, directed by Alexandre Rey, Arnaud Crillon, Valentin Gasarian et Jinfeng Lin, is a 2013 short animated film from Supinfocom Arles (now MOPA)

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The joy of LEGO sorting...

Number One Son has acquired an insane amount of Lego over the years, thanks to kind friends and relatives buying him sets for Christmas and birthdays. It got to the point where there was so much he felt intimidated about building models from instructions because it was hard to find the pieces.

We thus came up with an obvious solution: sorting all the Lego according to colour. We took a trip to IKEA and purchased a couple of basic drawer units and corresponding trays, then spent over a week separating out all the pieces.

Now, I now we're not the first people to ever do this – and there are plenty of examples out there of Lego being sorted in a far more obsessive way, not just by colour but according to type as well – but it is a very pleasing sight indeed.

Isn't that glorious?

Needless to say, it is now far easier and quicker to locate the relevant pieces for a model than before. The only downside is that we have lost many (mostly small) pieces over the years so a bit of improvisation is needed for some models.

All we have to do now is to find storage space for all those models that are going to be built!

Friday, July 24, 2015

It's the Friday video post! An animation blast from the past

Years ago I made a stop-motion animation film. It involved a banana.

When I was working at Candy Jar, I re-edited it slightly giving it a retro filter makeover and new music.

Um, here it is:

Monday, July 20, 2015

We have now entered an extinction age ... wait? What??!?!?

On 20th June 2015 BBC News carried the following headline: Earth 'entering new extinction phase' - US study

Now, I try to avoid the news as best I can but fail miserably and often end up getting depressed about the state of the world. This headline, in particular though, made me even moreso. Actually, it wasn't the headline itself, or the content contained within the article that make me sad – it's the reaction to it.

Or rather, the lack of reaction.

You'd think when told our entire species is on the brink of extinction, you'd think there would be a sudden rush to do something about it. Almost, like everyone would stop working in the factories and get out in the streets and y'know, take action.


That is what the reaction should be. But it wasn't. A collective 'tut-tut' was repeated around the world and then everyone went back to sipping their lattes and finding out how big Kim Kardashian's backside had become.

Several weeks after this headline, nothing much has changed. We are going about our daily lives as normal. The news rolls on: a crisis in Greece continues, an American comedian faces sexual assault accusations and a probe in deep space is capturing images of the solar system's most distant planet.

No-one seems to have really have grasped how serious this is, but I think I can have a guess at why.

The problem is that this threat we are facing is not immediate. It is gradual. The whole climate change thing is. It's been brewing for decades, slowly but surely – imperceptibly so.

If NASA suddenly spotted an asteroid hurtling toward us at fifteen miles a second, we'd do all we could to intercept it and stop it careering into our precious home, destroying everything we've worked for over the last two thousand years. That kind of immediate threat invokes an immediate response.

But when you are talking about an encroaching threat that will occur over the next century or so, no-one seems bothered. This – our inability to see the long-term and take the necessary action – has been and always be our downfall.

So, make the most of it while you can. Savour that cup of coffee, squeeze your loved ones that little bit tighter, bask in the warm breeze of a summer's day .... because we may not be able to enjoy such things for much longer.

Friday, July 17, 2015

It's the Friday video post! The Black Room

My friend Terry produced and starred in this short film called 'The Black Room', which does an interesting twist on the superhero genre. Looking forward to seeing further episodes...

More info about The Black Room can be found

Monday, July 13, 2015

Tech review: Apple iMac 21"

Apple has been pretty slow to update its iMac line, apart from adding some higher-spec models with 5K screens at the top end of the line which, in my opinion, doesn't really count.

They're probably waiting for the next generation of Intel processors or something, but to a consumer like me I don't care. When I look at their online store and can only afford to buy the November 2013 model (yes, almost two years old), I'm pretty disappointed.

Yeah, I know – poor me.

Why I bought an iMac in the first place (or, justification for purchasing an overpriced calculator)

For some time I needed to get a new Mac for my businesses as my laptop (a 2011 model) was starting to show signs of getting old and I didn't want to risk the thing going kaput in the middle of a crucial edit. If there wasn't such an urgency, I would have waited until there was a complete refresh but I had no idea how long Apple would take to do this.

Some would argue that I might as well get a PC, but I'm still very much wary of Windows and its inherent awfulness. OS X is not perfect but I would choose it over Microsoft's offering any day. At least, for now....

So, I decided to bite the bullet and get the machine on finance. I opted for a build-to-order option with a more powerful processor so it took a few weeks to arrive (via Kazakhstan no less). Thankfully my laptop stayed alive until it did (and is still going strong!).

An honest review

Well, it's slim and great looking. iMacs always have been (even the older, fruit-flavoured Macs were pleasing to the eye back when the only option was a CRT monitor). In fact, the thinness is pretty remarkable. Looking at it, you have to marvel at how they pack all the internal gubbins into such a slight frame. Essentially, it's a laptop with a huge screen welded to it.

I'd ordered a wired keyboard because I like the larger form with the arrow keys and side keypad on the right. I much prefer it to the smaller bluetooth keyboards that come as standard, which need their batteries replaced periodically. Plus, I ditched the magic mouse as well. Even though they're pretty nifty with their trackpad thingy on top, they are an ergonomic deathwish. Horrible things to use. Are Apple seriously trying to cripple their users??? 

With most Apple offerings, the great design and appearance is a given. What about using the thing?
Well, overall I am pretty disappointed. We've had iMacs in the home since the early 2000s, and this is the first one where I've been let down by the speed. We have an older, family iMac which is about 5 years old running Snow Leopard and even though it's ancient in computer terms, it's quite responsive. My new iMac has a 3.1Ghz quad-core i7 processor, 8GB of RAM and 1GB of video memory. Not particularly underpowered, it would seem, so why so slow? I think it's actually the OS (Yosemite) which is the problem.

For example, click on the 'About This Mac' from the Apple menu in my old iMac and it comes up almost instantly. Do the same on this new one and you might as well go and make a cup of tea while you wait – and that's for just a simple operation. Imagine what you have to do when you've actually working.

I mainly use this new machine to do video editing in Premiere Pro and After Effects, with a bit of work in Photoshop. While these applications can be a bit slow at times (and occasionally crash, which is infuriating), they work OK. The only time when the raw power of the machine (which is there, somewhere) comes into play is when I'm rendering. At least then, it seems like the computer is actually working hard for me and all that money I'm forking out doesn't seem a complete waste. Rendering is much quicker than on my laptop, and shorter render times are ultimately what's important for my business. Time is, after all, money.

Then there's the fact that there's no DVD drive.

Now, actually I don't mind this. It kind of makes sense. Apple has a reputation for ditching old technology before it's completely disappeared. Disc drives are truly a thing of the noughties, and now that we have high-capacity USB drives, streaming and cloud storage the need for them is becoming less and less. DVD and its newer cousin Blu-Ray aren't completely gone yet but they soon will be, just like the humble cassette tape, so it isn't totally daft that Apple are ahead of the game in this area.

It used to be that I always had to supply videos to clients on DVD or CD but this is becoming less and less common as virtual storage becomes more acceptable. If I need to create a DVD I can always use my laptop (as long as it's still working!), and at some point I'll probably invest in an external disc drive (one that burns Blu-Rays as well) anyway.

One final niggle is the fact that it's not easy to upgrade the machine. Because of its small and slim form-factor, replacing the RAM is a feat only to be accomplished by professional, Apple-certified technicians. It involves removing the screen and other essential parts that only the bold and brave should attempt. Doing it myself would not only void the warranty but probably render the computer inoperable due to my butter-finger bumbling clumsiness. Put simply, I would kill it.

This is OK, I guess, but given that it would cost in the region of an eye-watering £200.00 just to beef up the RAM to 16GB (it won't go higher than that, unbelievably) it seems unfair and mean especially as they've taken away the disc drive. Apple should start with a minimum of 16GB for base models with an option to upgrade it to 32GB if people really wanted. 8GB seems just too little for a modern computer (and a premium one, at that), especially given the clunkiness of Yosemite which clearly needs more oomph to make it run smoothly.

So where do we go from here?
My experience with this new machine is disappointing, to say the least, and makes me wonder if Apple really does give a monkeys about its computer division. It feels like they are updating computers more infrequently (the Mac Pro, it's high-end supercomputer offering, hasn't had an update for almost two years either), and when they are they don't seem to bother with much of a power-boost or any truly innovative features. Not that I want my iMac to have a touchscreen or fingerprint ID recognition or anything like that – I just want it to power through tasks effortlessly.

While Apple is more of a mobile tech company now than it is a computer company, there is some sense in still maintaining its computer line, purely because – as someone has pointed out – its mobile devices rely so much on developers who use Macintosh computers to create apps for iPhones and iPads. So in that sense, I'd be very surprised if Apple suddenly does away with its computers. They are updating them, just not very often, which I guess is a move away from the olden days when Macs were the primary source of income for the company.

There's also the issue that your average, everyday consumer doesn't need that much power. Most of today's computers can handle HD video quite happily and that will probably be the most processor-intensive task required of it (apart from games, I suppose). If you're doing hyper-realistic 3D graphics or scientific calculations, a top-of-the-range powerhouse will be needed – but then price won't be such an issue to big organisations as it is to the average consumer, so they can shell out for the top-of-the-line models with gobs of RAM.

I'm hoping the OS X issue will be fixed when the new version of OS X (El Capitan) comes along in the autumn. Apple claims that the new version of its operating system has been tweaked to deliver performance enhancements and will run faster than Yosemite, so I wait with eager anticipation.

If things don't improve, there's a real danger this Mac fanboy just might turn to the dark side and consider delving into the world of PCs.

And that would be a shame. A real shame.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Monday, July 6, 2015

Sugar sugar sugar SUGAR!

For some time now I've been contemplating drastically cutting my sugar intake. One friend has recently become diabetic and another has had colon cancer, which has made me think more seriously about my own health and what I eat. I've been pretty lucky so far as I've not had any major scares in that area, and I am thankful for that. The thing is, as I've moaned about before, I'm not getting any older. It feels like turning forty is that threshold where things aren't what they used to be and I have to accept that my body is not that of a twenty-five year old anymore (which it isn't obviously).

I don't think I'm obese, but my waistline has slowly expanded over the years and I don't want to succumb too much to the middle-aged spread if I can help it. I am a sucker for sweet treats and I tend to eat big portions even though I keep telling myself I can't do that anymore.

It's a bit of a struggle, to be honest, but I know I should be doing all I can to look after my future self. I might be relatively healthy at the moment, but my choices now will have an impact further down the line and I owe it to myself when I'm older to be responsible.

There's no mystery formula here: exercise and eat healthily. Even if I don't slim down massively, as long as I'm doing those things that's better than nothing. Exercise is easy enough a concept I think, but eating healthily? What does that mean exactly?

There are so many fads out there: low-carb diets, low-fat diets, paleo diets, 5/2 diets – it's bewildering, but I have concluded that reducing the amount of sugar and processed foods I eat is a good plan. It seems like sugar is becoming our generation's tobacco, as doctors and dieticians warn about the dangers it can post to our health. I don't think fats are the enemy, but invariably most fatty foods (like cake) have lots of refined sugar in them. In fact, what's really shocking is that sugar is in practically everything (even stuff that is marketed as 'healthy'), so it's really hard to avoid it completely.

So, I am trying to get into the mindset of a diabetic – regarding high-sugar snacks like cakes, chocolate and sweets as threats rather than harmless treats (interesting how adding the letter 'h' to 'treats' makes the word 'threats'). What's difficult is the fact that eating a ton of sugary food won't send me into a hyperglycemiac episode. There's no certainty that a high-carb diet will result in me losing my limbs (as would happen with a diabetic). I won't feel any short-term effects, but it's the long-term effects that are the problem. I don't know how continued sugar intake will affect me five, ten or fifteen years downs the line. I may well end up a diabetic anyway, as my chances increase with age and expanding waistline.

Whatever the long-term might be, I'm going to give this a go. I am likely to have the occasional 'extinction burst' along the way but on the whole, I reckon it's worth it.

I will report back on my progress over the coming months.