Top 10 books of 2012
My top 10 books of the year. All audiobooks except for the Psychopath test. (Wow there’s not much between this post and last years top ten, I might just turn this into a book blog and be done with it)
10. Into the Darkest Corner I still want to find a thriller that genuinely thrills me but in general I find them really disappointing, clichéd, full of plot holes, and the biggest flaw in any genre for me: inauthentic. But this was definitely one of the better ones. Authethentic, plausible, and neither cliched nor disappointing.
9. Heft Arthur opp; an obese reclusive professor. Kel Keller: a promising baseball star. And Kel’s mother Charlene; the link between the two men. A small story, finely handled.
8. The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry I’m still baffled by the clumsy start to this book but otherwise a fascinating dissection of what it really means to be a psychopath.
7. The Family Fang considering I’m a sucker for darkly comic dysfunctional families, how’s this for dysfunctional: “Child A” Annie and “Child B” Buster, serve as little more than the main props in their parent’s performance art. Unsurprisingly they have issues by the time they get to adulthood.
6. The Marriage Plot - A bit like One Day, except not shit. Actually it’s nothing like one day except that it pivots around a relationship. Recommended for fans of Franzen. They are quite similar.
5. Tell the Wolves I’m Home The thing about this book is that it’d be a great YA book. Though if it was marketed that way I never would have read it. The Hunger Games was a fun romp – but it had me rolling my eyes in lots of places where it was really dumbed down nonsense. If that’s YA I’m out. Tell the Wolves is mostly about a teenager struggling with loss, love and grief as well as the usual teenage stuff. But unlike The Hunger Games, it’s Rock Solid. No eye rolling.
4. 1Q84 - I’ve had a curious relationship with Murakami books, I wasn’t crazy about the first one but there’s something about his stories that just lure you back for more, and I’ve enjoyed each one more than the previous. But I also think 1Q84 is his most accomplished work, there’s a crazy logic in the alternate universe of 1Q84. It’s bit of a marmite book though, some people seem to hate it. I loved it.
3. People Who Eat Darkness: The Fate of Lucie Blackman True crime doesn’t get much better than this. There are so many fascinating strands to this story; the hostess culture in Japan, the exploration of how grieving parents are expected to act in the eye of the public, and of course the main crime itself involving the disappearance of Lucie Blackman
2. Skagboys Brilliant. As good as Trainspotting, if not better. No one does it better with this kind of stuff. It was like being back with a bunch of old friends. Even scumbags like Begbie… The problem is, he’s a mate n aw. What kin ye dae?
1. Where’d You Go, Bernadette Comedy is a funny thing(!) I usually find any books that are written for the comedy section anything but funny. I really didn’t like the comedy-book-of-the-moment “The 100 year old man who climbed out of the window”. But Where’d You Go, Bernadette was for me genuine laugh out loud funny as fuck.
I wish more books were like this. No long drawn out back story, or plodding character development. Just bam! Straight into it. A few pages in and there’s a whole world of hilarious stuff going on. This is one big passive aggressive note against the type of people who might write passive aggressive notes. Great fun, if a little far fetched in places, but it’s almost in sitcom territory, so we can give it some comedic licence. Highly recommended.
Honourable mention as I just finished it yesterday.
Yellow birds is an American soldier’s semi-autobiographical experience of the Iraq war. That conjures up a book that generally I would have little interest in but this boy sure can write. You can easily see why he’s being compared to the likes of Cormac McCarthy:
“Clouds spread out over the Atlantic like soiled linens on an unmade bed. I knew, watching them, that if any given moment a measurement could be made it would show how tentative was my mind’s mastery over my heart. Such small arrangements make a life, and though it’s hard to get close to saying what the heart is, it must at least be that which rushes to spill out of the parentheses which were the beginning and the end of my war: the old life disappearing into the dust … “
It’s in equal parts about the death of a friend and the death of his own youth, both killed in a senseless war. Brilliantly written.
The truth about tattoo removal
So you’ve been thinking about getting a tattoo removed for a while now. Google has brought you to youtube where you’ve ended up watching lots of cool videos of tattoos getting zapped by laser. Viola! All gone! That looks easy!
Although a picture can speak a thousand words, and a video can speak a million, the thing with words is: they can tell you about the stuff that you don’t see on videos which can be very deceptive. Here are those words.
1. A lot of the tattoo removal videos are done in laser clinics in the US where it’s more prominent to use some form of anaesthetic. But they don’t usually bother with that. Not in Ireland, and not in my experience. You just have to bear the pain like you did when you had the damn thing done. And it’s just as sore, maybe more so. Though it was only after I had a new laser technician that I discovered the first one was a sadist, and it’s not so painful when you a more caring technician who occasionally pauses the LASER THAT’S BURNING YOUR SKIN OFF.
2. These videos make it look like you have one session and that’s it, your tattoo is gone forever. And that is even more deceptive.
- It takes many many sessions to remove, at least a dozen depending on tattoo.
- The first session is the most effective and most noticeable reduction. Subsequent sessions may have ZERO visible effect. I had several in a row where there was no reduction.
- When you see a tattoo magically vanishing in a video, what you don’t realize is what you’re really looking at is a skin coloured blister. When your skin calms down, the tattoo re-emerges almost as strong as it was.
I’ve been going every 6 weeks for a year and a half now, and recently my mum pointed at my (slightly faded) tattoo and said “I thought you were going to have that removed?” oblivious to the fact that I have just finished my full course of my tattoo removal. In fact, I had to have many more sessions than I was told would be necessary.
It was maybe 14 or 15 sessions in all. I stopped counting. And the final result is that the outlines are mostly gone. Pretty much failed at removing any of the fill colour. I have to make an appointment for another round of sesssions with a different laser clinic, who have a machine that might do better at removing the fill colour. Which will obviously cost more.
So – the moral of the story is: be prepared for a much longer haul than those videos suggest.
Here’s the most recent one that I’ve seen:
There’s nothing quite like a very bad tattoo to remind you just how stupid you were when you were younger. I wonder just how many stupid acts I’ve been able to forget over the years. But there’s no forgetting this one. Only excuse I can give my self for such a stupid tattoo is that I was way under age (no one in the tattoo shop batted an eyelid though). I didn’t want to just pick a tattoo out of a catalogue, I wanted something different and for some bizarre reason, I somehow thought it would be a good idea to have a tattoo of an Adidas logo with my name instead of Adidas. Would love to go back in a time machine and ask myself what the hell I was thinking.
I’ve wanted to have it removed for years now. I’m forever pulling my t-shirt sleeves over the stupid thing which might as well read “Yes, I am an utter moron”.
So I finally scrape together a few quid and make an appointment and a year and a half later, after a lot of sessions, a lot of which had no effect, I just have a more faded tattoo.
Here are some photos taken just after some of the laser sessions.
Before any treatment
Half hour after first session. Some of the lines are faded:
After third session
After Fourth session
Insert 4 sessions here that had such little effect, that I didn’t bother taking any photos.
Directly after 8th session
After 9th session.
And here it is today. After a total of maybe 14 or 15 sessions:
Here’s before and after
I’ll write an update in a few years when it’s gone altogether!
CABBAGE CONTROLS – some thoughts on Prometheus casting
I went to see Prometheus last night. Absolutely stunning design. I particularly liked the use of yellows. No, seriously!
But it was slightly let down by some other factors which I always find amazing once you compare the different elements.
I mean why spend gazillions on set design and special fx, and get them so stunningly brilliant and perfect, and then cast an archaeologist who’s enough of a douchebag, to really detract from the whole movie’s authenticity? I could all too easily picture this guy being smarmy at Hollywood after-parties, not chiseling away at rocks in the middle of nowhere.
So here’s the thing. WHY pay so little attention to casting and such fine attention to design? They might as well have a cabbage pop up for the flight controls instead of a nicely designed control panel. That’s the design equivalent of some of the casting.
If they had a douche playing Deckard, or a bimbo type playing Ripley, both Bladerunner and Alien would have been completely different movies.
You know that other sci-fi classic The Thing? One of the things I loved about it was the casting of a bunch of old guys, who were quite plausible as weather-beaten arctic scientists. I can remember saying to someone years ago. “I guarantee you if they remade The Thing, they’d cast young pretty things, and it’d be total pants“. And then they fucking well did it! A cast of pretty young things, and by all accounts, it’s pants.
That’s all casting seems to be these days: the gathering young pretty things. “Come to me my pretty, Mwahahahahahahaha“.
The plot, dialogue and script in Prometheus have some issues as well (Ok I’ll say it: the religious guff is a fucking joke, gimme a break) but not quite as distracting as the main casting. Though Fassbender was perfect, as were some of the minor characters. Even less excuses to fuck around with the other casting.
But here’s another one. WHY have Guy Pearce made up to look like and old guy, and looking exactly like Biff from back to the future? There’s good reason to have a young guy made up as an old guy in Back To The Future (tip: he also had to play a young guy) but no good reason in Prometheus. Just cast a fucking old guy!
Anyway, all that aside – it’s still well worth seeing, and worth seeing on a big screen.
p.s. I thought the same about Lord of the Rings. But the issue with that wasn’t the cast, but the utterly dire and sickly twee soundtrack which all but ruined it.
p.p.s. You know this issues with the plot? See this brilliant video asking all the right questions:
p.p.p.s In retrospect I think a much better dialogue may have hidden the bad casting a lot better.
Power’s Short story
I decided to have a bash at the Power’s short story competition recently. Here’s my entry:
They came. One after the one before. Each face old and unfamiliar. Then recognition emerged until they were so familiar, you wonder how you ever forgot them. These faces that once loomed large in your world, like the moon, always there.
There was Davey Boyd, the biggest gurrier ever there was. Kicked out by his own mam at 16, and fishing for more trouble by the day, until that one day I came home from school to find him and his sheepish grin parked at my place at the dinner table. Two months passed before I got that seat back and Davey was back at his own, no doubt causing trouble again from day one.
There were the Byrne Brothers from next door, standing tall in their uniforms, all three guards now. I remember mam passing plates of dinner over the back wall for a month when their own mam was sick. It must have been a winter, trails of steam busy to get away from the gravy, cutting through the air like a Bisto ad.
And she didn’t only feed the needy. She just seemed to enjoy stuffing people’s cake holes. She’d never let my own friend’s leave the house without having a bit of dinner. I’d bet a bucket of beans they had more dinners in my house than their own. A game of pool in the shed, until Ma shouted DINNER, then we’d all pile in. Polite declinations had long been disputed and lost, no more need for the Mrs Doyle routine.
There was the gang of them now. The state of them in their interview suits, and shiny shoes, each more red-eyed than myself.
Many more came that I didn’t know by name. But I remember their appreciating lips, appearing at our table for days, or weeks on end. I didn’t need to ask where she got them from, their weather-beaten faces said everything.
Sometimes, as neighbour, friend, or stranger, left with a belly of stew, I’d ask her why she did it all. She’d just toss me a wink. “Building an Army Jimmy Boy”.
It was just something she said without much thought, but there they were now, bulging out of the church grounds. An army. The army it would take to replace a great sadness with the warmth I was now surrounded with. And I can’t help wonder if she really was building an army. An army that would be here for me on this day. An army that would celebrate her love and kindness and return it on to me.
I can see why I didn’t even make the long lists. The theme was “valuing the important things in life” and the story I went with seemed to have been done to death, not surprising in retrospect, and thus completely unoriginal. Twee as fuck and all. I always end up writing something twee when I try something like this, even though most books I like are dark and dirty.
This year’s winner is well deserved I think.
Books of the (last) year
My favourite books of 2011. Better late than never, right?
10. Solace (novel / paperback)
Realistic & authentic characters and relationships. I like that.
09. A Monster Calls (novel / audiobook)
Surprisingly good for young adult fiction which I don’t (purposefully) read. It hit all the marks that Skippy Dies failed to. Great artwork in the paperback version (which you don’t get with the audio.)
08. At Home: A Short History of Private Life (Narrative Non-Fiction / audiobook)
Even though it’s not his best, I do love a good dose of Bill Bryson – a hotch potch collection of trivia, loosely connected to the rooms we live in.
07. The Help (novel / audiobook)
I was surprised to enjoy this so much, considering it has the whiff of an Oprah book club all over it. I think the performances of the Audiobook possibly helped, including Octavia Spencer, who won an Oscar for the same role in the Movie.
06. The Good, the Bad and the Multiplex (Narrative Non-Fiction / audiobook)
More Kermodian Rants. Amusingly this is like a collection of rants from the radio show fleshed out and written down. Actually I probably didn’t need to hear the “Sex and the City Rant” and the “3D rant” again, but lot’s more ranting besides.
05. Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything (Narrative Non-Fiction / Kindle)
Joshua Foer’s highly amusing story of memory and mnemonics chronicling his discovery of and training for the World Memory Championship. Full review.
04. Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary (Fables / Kindle)
I loved this. Dark haunting animal fables. Or sometimes plain silly but hilarious animal fables. All in the inimitable style of my favourite essayist David Sedaris.
03. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (Narrative Non-Fiction / audiobook)
Perfect blend of intriguing characters, a history of cell culture, and a fascinating true story. A perfect piece of narrative non-fiction.
02. I, Partridge: We Need To Talk About Alan (Comedy Biog / audiobook)
The perfect audiobook. Could not imagine reading this on paper when I can listen to Steven Coogan in character. Seven hours of comedy gold.
01. When God Was a Rabbit (novel / audiobook)
I fell in love with this book within the first thirty pages, an adorable, slightly quirky story, about a girl called Elly and those she loves. I find it hard to separate the book from the audiobook in this instance. The audiobook was such a perfectly complete piece. It’s read by the author, Sarah Winman, with great warmth and perfect nuance already knowing and loving her characters so well. She has a fantastic voice both as a writer and narrator. I loved the cheeky voices of the children. Adult narrators often really over-do the chirpy voice thing, and ruin audiobooks that feature children.
Though the children are such adorable characters, you miss them when they’ve flown the coop, all too soon for my liking. Its hard not to be a bit disappointed when the book suddenly jumps to their adulthood. I wanted to stay immersed in the wonderful world of childhood that bit longer. But such is life. Like it or not, Adulthood comes knocking and Sarah Winman does her best to hold on to the things we hold dear from our formative years.
“And from that moment, I watched her. Watched her with different coloured eyes, until the raging energy that coursed through my body finally revealed itself and gave itself a name: envy. For I knew already that something had taken me from me, and had replaced itself with a desperate longing for a time before; a time before fear, a time before shame. And now that knowledge had a voice, and it was a voice that rose from the depths of my years and howled into the night sky like a wounded animal longing for home.”
It’s all too easy for novelists to make BIG things happen in their books. It’s too easy to give characters great luck, or bad luck, or great health or wealth or disease, or fame or fortune. I often wince when some authors use these tropes as easy plot devices but Sarah Winman hilariously turns that on it’s head and does it all! You could retitle it to When God Was A Novelist.
Adorable book. Book of the year. Audiobook of the year.
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It wasn’t until I made this list that I realised just how much more I enjoyed non-fiction over the year. I’ve felt like this before; almost giving up on fiction in favour of non-fiction. I found a lot of novels a little bit… Meh. And there was something more to some of the non-fiction that I couldn’t quite put my finger on – until Jackie at Farm Lane Books drew my attention to a genre called Narrative Non Fiction. They’re non-fiction books but they usually have some kind of story arc, heroes, villians, a plot of sorts, an array of interesting characters and other devices derived from fiction.
Take the Immortal life of Henrietta lacks for example, a standard non-fiction version could be a relatively boring story about the history of cell research. But no, it’s a fascinating story about the Lacks family, and how Henrietta’s cells came to be used in every stem cell lab in the world. And the author is just as much a part of the story, another common Factor in Narrative Non-Fiction. See more examples on http://www.farmlanebooks.co.uk/2012/the-best-narrative-nonfiction/. I’ve created a goodreads shelf here with more additions.
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Most Overated, and ultimately dissapointing books of the Year
Pruning your feeds
I asked on Twitter recently if anyone has completely stopped using RSS readers, and a few people had completely. Others just about keep an eye on it. I don’t check mine half as much as I used to but I do still check in on it often enough. It can get a bit unwieldy after a few days.
Seems a lot of folk have gone through the same route. RSS readers were there main source of information/entertainment at one stage. And they spent years subscribing to more and more feeds. And then Twitter, Facebook etc took over. Or apps like Flipboard and Zite got better at curating our interests.
So now it’s a lot easier to forget about your trusty rss feeds, you blink and you’ve 2000 unread items. Inevitably there are loads of articles that tell you how to prune your feeds.
But they always seem to get it backwards.
The message is always to get rid of the quiet ones. I don’t get that. Unless it’s some kind of self-preservation from the big blogs. The quiet ones are exactly what RSS readers are good for. Some of my favourite blogs only update once a month, and less and less because of all of the above. They’re the ones I don’t want to miss.
I think the important thing to do is to only show unread items, then who cares if you’re subscribed to a feed that’s only updated twice a year?
Here’s a recent post from Lifehacker. There are a few good tips there. But main message is the pointless “kill the quiet ones”. Here’s the pruning that had a major impact on reducing my feeds quite quickly.
Kill the noisy ones
Take your noisy ones; like Lifehacker & likecool.com both great but extremely noisy. And there are many more like that. I got rid of all my noisey ones and the reduction in traffic was instant. They all post to Twitter & Facebook anyway now. So if I want to kill 15 minutes online, the posts are there for me while I’m killing the time and not clogging up an unread count when I’m not. I don’t get to read the ones posted while I’m not killing time, and that’s just fine by me. So just kill anything noisey from your rss and follow them on Twitter.
Separate business from pleasure
I also moved all the professional feeds I subscribed to; web / ux design etc, to a Google work account. That killed off a hell of a lot more traffic. I got a bit sick of opening up Reeder on a Sunday morning and being bombarded with the stuff that I do from 9-5. Lots of web people seem to eat, sleep and breath web tech. I confess, as much as I enjoy it, I need a break from it at weekends & evenings. Truth be told: I don’t read much of these in work either. SO I’ve pretty much killed off all web design feeds for now, bite me bitch.
No more obligation subscriptions
Then I unsubscribed from every blog that I was subscribed to just because they were part of the Irish blogosphere or once left a comment on my blog. Obligatory shit like that. There were just too many that I wasn’t even reading. There are lots of those that I still love and am still subbed to – but any blogs that I subbed to out of obligation: Hi Ho Silver. Got to be honest with yourself here; if you always click ‘next’ after reading the first sentence, unsub straight away. Get rid of your blogroll while you’re at it. Conscience cleared!
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Those 3 simple things really worked for me. Massive reduction in my rss inbox now, it only contains stuff I don’t want to miss, am genuinely interested in seeing, isn’t work, and isn’t something that I’m going to see on Facebook / Twitter anyway.
And I’m probably gone from your feed reader too! Which is why you saw this on Twitter / Google plus. Or not? let me know.
p.s. I find the same on Twitter I have a list for my friends and “The Quiet Ones”. They’re the updates I want to see more than people who post 100 times day.
Long live the quiet ones!
I tried signing up to Netflix yesterday and got an error “We are unable to start your Netflix membership with the information you provided. Please contact Netflix Customer Services 1800 94 86 16.” I rang the number and got a crazy over-friendly robotic american who asked me where I was calling from:
- No, Ireland
- *Slowly* I R E L A N D
- *Slowly* A R L I N G T O N?
- No, I R E L A N D! It’s this little country in Europe right beside the UK, you know, where the leprechauns come from?
- Oh! A I R L A N D? Very good sir, our technicians will definitely look into that straight away. Please check back soon, and sir? YOU MAKE SURE AND HAVE A GREAT DAY NOW!
Still getting the error today.
That other time I went to the States…
I ain’t no high flyer. On exiting San Francisco Airport – the first thing I found myself doing was driving on the wrong side of the road with a huge motherfucking SUV coming straight at me. Now I KNEW I was supposed to drive on the other side of the road – but the other side of which fucking road? There were about 12! And I picked the wrong one.
Minutes later – I was in the appropriate lane, a bit flustered, having JUST learned to drive and, you know, having JUST narrowly escaped death. But I somehow made it to California in one piece and collapsed onto a hotel bed. It all seemed a grand adventure. Not sure why anyone trusted me to make such a voyage on my own! I sure didn’t. I’d just got my driving license but not sure I should have been awarded a Fully Functioning Mature Adult License just yet. Somehow there’s no test for that.
The next morning, a completely overdressed weirdo from Dublin arrived at the Palm head office in Sunnyvale. I somehow got it into my head that my never-worn weddings/funerals/interviews suit was the way to go. First guy I met was a cool looking dude in ripped jeans, a punk t-shirt, and some nice tats.
First impressions last. And here was me, looking like a straight-laced office monkey. Self-concious levels multiplied threefold by jetlag and not entirely sure what I was doing here. Or if I was cut out for this new job. Flying Fish out of water! Would you have offered to bring this weirdo out on the town? Me neither – so I ended up on my own every night in a hotel in the middle of nowhere, thinking I would adore the peace and quiet of childless evenings – but just feeling lost and lonely.
Sunnyvale is pretty dead. The local hokey bar across from the hotel was amusing for one night only. There was nothing around for miles. I was going stir crazy by the end of the week, I made it my mission to do something I would NEVER usually do – but suddenly seemed like the best idea ever. I was going to find an Irish bar.
Have I ever mentioned I’ve a sense of direction like a tiger has a sense of humour? Three hours after I left the hotel I was wandering around Sunnyvale with a map, grumbling to myself about the whole place, and then I eventually found this strip of bars and my final destination, Fibbar Magees!
Unfortunately it wasn’t rammed with other out of town Irish lost boys looking to have a bit of banter. It was full of big-jawed american jocks, and one of which was loudly slagging off the Irish as drunks. In a fucking Irish pub! I bit my lip and went to the bar, and with seemingly the only Irish accent in the place, ordered a pint. And the bar girl goes. “Jayziz where’d the fuck have you come from?” – “Phibsborough!”. “Ha deadly, me too!” she goes. “Jimmy, Lorraine, come over here and meet Phibsborough”. At last!
And indeed, one by one, some other lost soldiers sheepishly sauntered in, swung there heads towards the banter and joined the other Aliens on this remote planet.
The next morning I woke to discover someone had written a drunken blog post and then got sick on my laptop, so I removed both, checked out and drove up to San Francisco a day early where there was plenty to eat, drink, and see before heading back home the next day.
And for some reason, four years later, I decide to replace that drunken blog post with this sober one.
Quincy M.E. and Cameron Diaz doing the La Bamba
Pun intended : you may or may not remember that I have a particular interest in memory. If you read this post you can see why my interest would be piqued by a review of a book called “Moonwalking with Einstein – the Art and Science of Memory“, as it’s a very similar story to mine; someone with an average memory (or in my case, a terrible memory) discovers amazingly effective memory techniques, then spends a year memorizing all kinds of obscure things with ease, but ultimately, realises he still can’t remember where he left his car keys, or his car! and also realises that even though these techniques are very handy for some things, it’s still far easier to write down shopping lists and stick people’s numbers in your phone. The one big difference with my story and this is that I didn’t end up entering a national memory competition.
Joshua Foer is a journalist who began writing an article about the U.S Memory Championships, and then a year later gave as good as the other memory masters. “Moonwalking with Einstein” is bookended by those two events; his attendance at the 2005 U.S Memory Championship, and his entry into the 2006 event. What you get between the book ends is a fascinating exploration of the science, art, and history of memory, mnemonics and memory techniques.
When I first heard of the book, I thought it may only be for people like me who have an interest in mnemonics but it’s selling by the truckload and getting great reviews everywhere. The title “Moonwalking with Einstein” is a reference to the kind of mental image that’s all too familiar to anyone who uses these techniques. When the missus asks me for one of my numerous pin numbers, or the WiFi code, or similar, I say something like, “let’s see that’s a bear on a bike trying to eat a cat in a shell…. that’s 94977165.” So I found reading about someone else’s experience with all this stuff a fantastic read. Though everyone else seems to be enjoying it just as much.
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And from a different angle, but wholly related, about a month ago I came across a website called Memrise. I’ve been meaning to write about it for a while, rather than the usual quick tweet when I come across a site I like. Memrise is a really well thought-out site designed to help your learn, or rather, memorize the vocabulary of various languages. I’ve been on beginners Spanish for the last month. I’ve been on/off trying to learn Spanish for years.
Memrise is by far the best tool language tool I’ve ever used. There’s the usual stuff: english / spanish phrases, with audio snippets. But every phrase has a mnemonic suggestion, a mem. It’s crowd sourced too, so you can add your own mem. For example a Fortnight in Spanish is Los quince Dias. My mem for this is: “Picture a fort at night, and on top, Los lobos have Quincy M.E. and Cameron Dias dancing to La Bamba.” How much easier is that to remember than repeating the phrase over and over and hoping it sticks? I’ll never forget that image, another phrase memorised with ease. And at it’s most basic, that’s all the memory champions do, and to some degree Savants too. And Memrise utilises the technique quite well, you don’t even have to come up with your own mental images.
What other language courses fail to do is give you the tools to learn. It’s a bit like buying a wardrobe from Ikea but they don’t give you the tools to build it. Memrise supply the phrases, and the tools to memorise them. By the way, I swear I have absolutely nothing to do with the site, I’m just very impressed by it. Oh and it’s also free. Completely free, as in no ads either. It also works quite well on an iPad. It’s as good as an app, without having to install an app.
The site also uses gamification pretty well too, something else I have a passing interest in that’s growing in popularity. Memrise gamifies language learning by daily quizzing you on your phrases. You get points for every correct answer, and creep up the league table. It becomes quite addictive, like in any game, always wanting to improve your high score and go higher in the league.
They also employ the metaphor of a memory garden, which works quite well. You have to plant seeds (new words), and harvest plants (add them to the quizzes), tend to your garden (practise new words) and water your wilting plants (practice old words). I guess it’s a bit like Farmville, except, instead of annoying everyone else on Facebook, you learn a new language. I’m just so impressed by the level of thought and execution that has gone into this site, without any profit in mind.
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And the thing that ties in “Moonwalking with Einstein” with Memrise is that over the course of the book, there are a few characters who coach Foer in his memory techniques, members of the K7 memory masters, whose initiation is memorizing a deck of cards in a minute, drinking two beers and kissing the knees of three women. Or variations thereof. And it is these two guys Ed Cooke, and Ben Whately who have setup memrise. So I feel like i’ve been surrounded by these guys for the last few weeks.
So there you go if you’ve any interest in memory or learning new language, there’s a 5 star book and a 5 star web site.
p.s. I was discussing this with a colleague, very recently, who happens to speak Spanish fluently, and he asked me “why don’t you just remember Los quince Dias, instead of dancing on forts and shit?” and I guess some people can, but he’s just reinforcing my idea that a lot of people make the terrible assumption that everyone else learns, and thinks, and remembers exactly like them.
Different folks, different strokes
The response to Facebook updates always reminds me of some topics that I get to thinking about now and then:
- Different people learn new things, and adapt to new things, in very different ways.
- People are as different to each other on the inside as they are on the outside.
In technology upgrades, two types of people always surface; those who embrace change, and those who resist it and want to stay in their comfort zone. Two valid responses. Two different personas.*
Though there’s also a third type that’s easy to miss. People who couldn’t really give a shit one way or the other.
Years ago, part of a job I had, was to try and make everyone else’s job easier. You know, automating tasks and tweaking processes. But when I sent out updates, there was always a few groaners. And I found that really surprising at first. I couldn’t comprehend why anyone would groan about something designed with the sole purpose of making their life much easier.
Again it all came down to learning something new and implementing change. Even though the learning something new was ”Just click this, instead of 5 minutes doing that” and implementing the change took just a moment. Some people are naturally inclined to resist change, regardless of the reward. That’s mother nature fucking with your head. As she does in many ways.
I also discovered, that if I researched various methods of carrying out a task, and found one method infinitely easier than the others, there would still be people who preferred another method entirely.
And therein is my point. And I think it’s a big one. I think it’s the most important lesson I’ve learned in the last decade. People are very different to each other. More different than many people allow for regardless of the well known idiom in the title of this post. That’s the problem.
There’s as much, if not, much more difference between you and me in how we think than how we look. The way you think, learn, work, interact, enjoy, hate, feel about something is quite different to other people. Your brain took a completely different path to arrive at you being you.
Keep that in mind, either with colleagues, family, or friends, and some shit will be easier … either for you or whoever you’re interacting with. Life lesson 101 over and out.
*some updates are just shit, regardless of your persona – because of design by committee, or a lack of basic UI Design principles, aka common sense, or again not recognizing different personas – but that’s a different debate. I’m neither arguing for or against the latest Facebook update
Family cinema design
Why hasn’t someone designed a family cinema like this yet?
- Adult seats facing one way, child seats facing the other.
- Screen at one end showing kids movie, screen at other end showing grown-up movie
- Headphones at every seat.
On second thoughts: All seats the same size but they can be clicked into place one way or the other, to cater for different parent/kid ratios.
I’ve just finished meeting all public transport offices about a new sensor I’ve invented that can be positioned overhead to detect the degree at which your legs are spread apart.
The sensor is only enabled when there are two people on a seat. So here’s how it works; if one passenger has their legs wider than 60 degrees, (thus preventing the person next to them from sitting comfortably) the sensor is triggered and they get a small prod up the arse and an announcement: “Ay up – don’t be such a selfish fucking cock – this seat is for two.“
I wanted to install automatic knee capping but the Bus Eireann solicitors wouldn’t go for it. The DART guys were game for anything though, suggesting everything from stun guns to full-on ejection seats. But we’re just going to go with the prod/announcement for now.
Installations on all window seats start next month, great news!
Super Fly Guy
A friend from college who I did the final year project with just sent me the link to the video of the game we made together. Looks pretty cool! I posted a video of it before but this looks a lot better. We made the motion controllers using accelerometers just before the Wii came out, we could have been billionaires!
Doctor Heiter’s Connections
Any while I was looking up the details of The Human Centipede to do that image, I discovered that the director Tom Six, is my Doppleganger!
Maybe it’s just me but this occurred to me this morning when I needed a long pointy thing:
Please don’t say you drive a Morris Minor
On census day PLEASE don’t say you drive a Morris Minor unless you really do. Because then you’re forcing the rest of us into Morris Minors whether we like it or not. And a lot of us really don’t want to be forced into buying a Morris Minor just because most of the country SAY that’s what they drive. In reality most of them don’t drive at all any more, and really only take the odd lift in a Morris Minor at weddings, and funerals.
“On the question of religion the enumerators have been instructed to guide people to fill in the form to reflect their background rather than their current position. How does this help us plan for Ireland’s future?”
“I’ll use an analogy: imagine a survey on car ownership. The question “Do you have a car?” is not asked; the survey goes straight to “What type of car do you have?” And then, someone who has no car is encouraged to say they have a Morris Minor because, way back, it was the traditional family car. What use would this information be?”
BRIAN WHITESIDE – Think carefully before answering census question on religion
Take me out
I feel like I’m supposed to be equally guilty about both of the following for different reasons as they’re both hated by many for different reasons, but some of my favourite TV shows at the moment are either wanky cultural discussion shows or bottom of the barrel trash TV. It’s all that middle brow stuff that I hate.
My guiltiest pleasure of all right now is Take Me Out. Of all the people who usually have Twitter and TV on the go, no one dares admit to watching Take me out, even though the same people are all over X Factor when it’s warbling season. I wonder if they’re afraid of the TTP*.
And then, on the (usually wonderful) Anti Room this morning I start to read the scathing words “Take Me Out is probably one of the most horrendously sexist shows ever dreamed up by a bunch of TV executives. ‘Scraping the barrel’ doesn’t even come close.” and I think “here we go“, all the while agreeing but still thinking “Yes but I can’t stop watching it!“. And then I get to the following line. “But here’s the rub: I. Cannot. Stop. Watching. It.” and I laughed so loud, the cat woke up with a jerk and fell off my desk.
That’s it in a nutshell. It’s the cheesiest shclock in years yet I can’t stop watching. I’m as intrigued as I would be were I watching a documentary about the mating habits of an alien species. To me, people who happily take part in a live cattle market, albeit tongue-in-cheek, are about as alien as they come. Cannot. Stop. Watching. Indeed.
So there we go. The Take Me Out fan club starts here, or rather there. And the TTP* can fuck right off.
*Two big groups you get on Twitter are
1. People watching shit TV but having fun on Twitter giving out about it.
2. The TTP (Twitter Taste Police). People giving out about people watching shit TV but having fun on Twitter giving out about it.
There’s a fine line between the two really but you have to wonder about the latter’s quality time if they spend their night on Twitter giving out about the former’s quality time. No Likey, no lighty!
Homeless Negro Adoption
Did I ever tell you about my perfect welcome to New York?
We’d got the train up from a small town in New Jersey, and as we emerged from the subway, coming up the last few steps and waiting to be greeted by the skyscrapers, we were met instead by this huge disheveled black guy with a big grin on his face. He was similar to that golden-voiced homeless dude in many ways, and the words he bellowed have stayed with me since:
LADIES AND GENTLEMEN
BOYS AND GIRLS
YOU HAVE BEEN ELECTED
YOUR VERY OWN
He trailed along behind us for a good few minutes, wittering away and I was advised to ignore him. But he was quite the character and hard to ignore, and ultimately the most memorable part of the trip. And that, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls was my introduction New York City.
I was reminded of this by Andrews recent trip to NY.
Flickr set: US trip 2002.
I’m openly looking for a new job now. Which means I can post about my job-hunting, should I feel like it. I just got turned down for a job today. I usually do grand in interviews but this one was just a bit off from the start. What sucks is I’m pretty sure I blew it with one (or two) really basic questions. “List 5 factors that make a website accessible” and I completely blanked and ended up giving a long waffley answer rather than the requested list.
The ridiculous thing is that I’ve been building accessible websites for years now, the items I were to list are so ingrained in what I do every single day that I couldn’t manage to dredge them up from the bottom of my brain. When it came at me in the context of an interview question, it was like the word accessible lost all meaning, like when you say a word too many times. Building accessible web sites is my bread and butter. It’s all I do every day. It’s a bit nut’s that I screwed that question up so badly, negating all everything else. God, I could give lectures on building accessible sites, yet there and then I couldn’t list 5 simple practices of accessibility.
It’d be like asking an experienced builder to list all the ingredients he mixes into his foundation and he says “Jaysus I couldn’t tell you Paddy!” and then doesn’t get a building job despite the fact that he’s been building solid looking houses for years, and you can go and have a look at a whole street of them. Damn, chalk it up Johnny Boy and be ready to answer the basics next time.
While I’m at it – despite what everyone says I’m not convinced wearing a full suit is the best idea either – It’s just a hunch but I can’t help thinking I have less of a chance of *clicking* with the interviewer, who in my field tend to wear the same uniform I do every day – Jeans, Hoody and T-shirt. Not that I’d wear a hoody to an interview obviously but you can be shirty without being stiff. And if there’s no click, no rapport, you can forget about everything else. Doesn’t matter what you know or don’t know. I’m dropping the suit next time, unless entirely appropriate. Wotcha think?
- – - – –
UPDATE: I was so glad this interview was a fail. Much happier with the job that I since got.
Is it ready yet missus? It’s 10 O’Clock!
Talbot street tack-o-meter
I had to walk up Talbot street during the week and I was glancing into all the shops as I walked up… and charting this graph as I walked.
Tell me it’s not just me. Are your dreams just a grey hazy fog of blurry sensation lacking in clarity and continuity? Or are they perfectly clear full-colour glossy images full of detail, like say… Inception. I need to watch that movie again. I just don’t get it. I had the exact same experience with Dark Knight. Found them both to be completely over-hyped action movies with people speaking about them as if they were so much more.
Indeed Inception is an extremely well made, much-better-than-your-average action movie but still. It wasn’t the only thing that jarred with but the dream thing often annoys me. Why don’t they ever make an effort to make dreams even slightly dreamlike? Yes I know in nearly every single movie you’re not supposed to know what’s a dream and what isn’t – but what a fucking cop out. It’s like shooting in the daytime and calling it night. It’s like setting a Vietnam movie in New York. It’s like casting Leonardo Di Caprio as a grown man…. oh, right. Point is: showing someone waking up in a sweat does not turn the previous scene into a dream.
Mark Kermode put Inception at number one in his top five of the year. But if you listen to his reasons they’re more political. It’s because it’s a big blockbuster that isn’t stupid or completely dumbed down. Like say any Michael Bay movie. And indeed those really dumb movies need to be discouraged but that doesn’t make Inception the best movie of the year.
I didn’t hate it – but definitely didn’t love it. Maybe it’s Decaprio. I just never buy the baby face in an adult role. The quality of the plot is debatable. But I think it’s more the setting and mood. It just feels like any other action packed blockbuster.
And I don’t just hate action packed blockbusters. Some of my best friends are black:
Alien or Bladerunner. They’re not particularly intelligent (Kermode’s defining factor for Inception) but they’re toned, dark, moody. Aesthetic masterpieces. Inception and Dark Knight just lacked that final sheen for me. They still spoke the same Hollywood accent as every other action block buster. Astounding special effects. But special isn’t beautiful. And and an intelligent plot isn’t enough. Not for film of the year.
Keep the wolf away from the door.
Keep the wolf from the door at election time with this friendly message. Large version here.
Getting very lazy around here lately. I changed the theme on my site a few weeks ago and then still didn’t do any new blog posts. I promised myself I’d never write a blog post that starts like this, who wants to read it? But then there’s so much I said I wouldn’t post that there’s little else to post. Specially as most of my thoughts etc find themselves on Facebook or Twitter these days. And all my book “reviews” are now going on Goodreads. Might just lax the rules a bit, and start posting more often, even if it is random stuff.
I think at the very start this was going to be a web design blog. Got bored with that pretty quickly! I do post new designs now and then though. Actually – I’ve just updated my web design portfolio. But wanted to give a special mention. I always seem to be doing sites for the Missus! Here’s the latest Pomegranate is a charity that “raises money and hope for infertility”. Basically they raise money for couples who can’t have children naturally but can’t afford infertility treatment.
I meant to post about this at the time. It took off really quickly though. In no time at all there were 500 likes on the Facebook page. And the donations started coming in very quickly. And just this week news came in that the first couple to receive help from Pomegranate have a confirmed pregnancy. How fantastic!!!
Build your own ghost estate
A new toy that should be on tonight’s Late Late Toy Show.
Some Stuff, Wotsits and Thingy’s from Zefrank
I’m subscribed to the Ted Talks podcast, so every couple of nights I watch one of the talks in bed. And as much as I love them in general, I have to be honest, I’m getting really bored with the environmental ones lately. There’s only so many you can listen to. I scrolled past ten of them last night and then saw the name Zefrank which made me smile and I didn’t stop smiling until it was over, you gotta love a bit of Zefrank.
If the video doesn’t appear in your feed, you can watch it here: http://www.ted.com/talks/ze_frank_s_web_playroom.html
Movie remakes starring the Invisible Man
This was just going to be a Photoshop Friday blog post but I’ve entered it into a competition instead. Most clicks wins lots of cool stuff. So feel free to share!
Current leader has 53,000 hits though. So there’s slim chance.
- Top 10 books of 2012
- The truth about tattoo removal
- CABBAGE CONTROLS – some thoughts on Prometheus casting
- Power’s Short story
- Books of the (last) year
- Pruning your feeds
- That other time I went to the States…
- Quincy M.E. and Cameron Diaz doing the La Bamba
- Different folks, different strokes
- Family cinema design
- Seat hogs
- Super Fly Guy
- Doctor Heiter’s Connections