Archive for January 2011
Hearing Roman Catholic monks doing an actual Gregorian chant in a stone hall before the evening meal was perhaps the most chillingly beautiful experience of my life.
The Franciscan monk we were visiting in Rome apologised for the simplicity of the meal. Only 3 types of egg, 5 types of cheese, 4 types of bread and 6 types of vegetable were on offer.
After the meal, we climbed to the monastary roof and looked over the Vatican City, gleaming in the setting December sun.
It seemed like a normal family Christmas holiday at the time. In hindsight…?
Taxes are a bitch when you’re no longer on the PAYE system. This is one of the things that I did not foresee when I resigned from the NHS.
I freelance. Lots of companies don’t want the hassle of dealing with an individual, so they prefer you to bill as a limited company. I set one up.
I own a bunch of websites, mostly monetised through Google Adsense but partially through affiliate schemes. This is in the vain hope that one day, someone will click on an affiliate link and proceed all the way to purchase with my tracking cookie still enabled, or within my allotted 30 minutes, or whatever the restriction happens to be for that particular program. Unfortunately for me, I only signed up with affiliate program aggregating company SkimLinks this year. What I actually have is 7 separate accounts with 7 separate affiliate schemes, all offering slightly different things in slightly different currencies. I also do the occasional sponsored post through ebuzzing and post sponsored videos from UnrulyMedia.
My websites are hosted with 5 different hosting companies. Some of them are UK based, some are US based – this means I get charged in US dollars. I pay most of my hosting costs monthly but one of them offered a significant discount if I paid 2 years up-front, so I did that.
One of my websites covers food and nutrition advice so I decided that the websites should fall under the umbrella of my limited company, just in case some fool reads something I wrote, gets fat or has an allergic reaction and decides to sue me. I’m still figuring out how to make that transition official given that all the websites pre-date the company.
The tax people tell me that I have to convert all the non-UK payments into their UK equivalents at the time of payment. The bank people tell me that I can’t view an entire years’ worth of statements online. My accountant tells me that there’s no “official” way to transfer ownership of a website from me to my company.
For an information manager, I have managed this shockingly badly. In my defense, this particular system has grown organically around 5 years of blogging and I never thought I’d be doing this full-time.
Morals of the story:
- Don’t quit your day job in the middle of a tax year
- If you really must do 1., earn enough money to hire a damn accountant
I may need to sell my websites to myself. Wonder if I can charge VAT on that…
So, I enjoyed Tron for the most part. Shiny lights means SCIENCE and we certainly got plenty of lights. Also some fabulous costumes, amazing disc battles and very cool multi-dimensional light cycle battles.
Medium-sized spoilers follow. You have only yourself to blame.
On the other hand, the story of an epic struggle across a foreboding landscape was rather marred by a train which took our intrepid heroes straight to their destination. Also, the penultimate battle between the corrupted Tron and Sam Flynn was… well, as far as I was concerned, it was a complete what-the-fuck-just-happened? Tron is pulling off some incredible flying pursuit moves, is on the verge of blowing the crap out of these evil invaders and then suddenly… Oops! My bad. I’ll go kill this other guy instead.
As usual, I asked The Internet what had happened – maybe I blinked and missed something? Had forgotten that one of my old school friends (who has chosen to remain anonymous) spent a year working on the Tron game. Here’s her take on it.
What was unclear in the movie was that unlike Flynn, CLU can only alter existing code, not rewrite it. So, when it came to Tron, CLU couldn’t take full control of him. The idea was supposed to be that Tron was the most resilient and powerful Basic out there, so CLU could only hack a hotfix that was just barely containing him. Hotfixing works well when the Creator is hiding in the Outlands, but have the Creator barking your name at you and stuff starts to unwind. I don’t think that was clear enough in the movie, which is a shame, because it ties into that whole idea of Flynn reuniting with everyone important that was pushed away by his mistakes/ego.
Incidentally, the whole Tron-falling-into-the-sea-of-simulation thing at the end, which hints that it revives his energy, is a huge deal because the Sea of Simulation was supposed to be poisoned (presumably by CLU). If it’s working again, that could mean that more ISOs can be born, which changes everything. (Of course, the whole importance of the ISOs thing — and the horror of the purge — was skimmed over in the movie as well. Sigh.)
…There are a lot of subtleties in the timeline/history that the movie didn’t dive deeply enough into, in my opinion… I was shocked that people thought the movie storyline was thin until I realized that I was filling in a ton of gaps from my head. :P (The Zuse scene, in particular, is far more powerful after dealing with him in the game. Also, the two ISOs that are shown emerging from the Sea in the flashback are two very important characters in the game/comics.)
… the Sea of Simulation working again thing is just a theory…one that I hope is correct. ;)
Yeah, CLU barely containing him with a hotfix? Code being repaired just by shouting a name? Not communicated in the film so much.
Does this help shed some light on your understanding of the Tron universe?
About twice a year, usually during one of my fool television DVD marathons, I get struck with yet another existential crisis. I start worrying about what I’m doing with my life, why I’m not more successful, what I should be doing instead of playing games, reading books and watching TV.
This happened to me again today. I’ve been tweeting about Babylon 5, games and alcohol a lot lately and had a sudden attack of “omg, I am turning into a complete one-dimensional nerd.” So, rather than thinking this out for myself I tweeted out a question.
I think I need a non-nerd interest. Any suggestions? Preferably something that requires neither skills nor talent.
Great responses came flying in:
Laser Quest – done it. Fun with a good crowd.
Whiskey connoisseur – good suggestion but I don’t like whiskey/whisky enough to want to learn
Origami – mastered the paper crane and the ball. Everything else requires too much precision and just pisses me off when I screw it up
Knitting – tried it. Knitted a beige scarf that was 3 inches wide and about 4 feet long. No use to man nor beast
Baking – I do bake. Victoria sponge, cupcakes and choc chip cookies are my favourites :)
Running – tried it. I hate running. Also, it aggravates my sciatica :P
Sneaking up behind small children and scaring them – Um… no thanks. Angry parents are scary.
Hill walking – done a bit around Bournemouth in the past. Boooring.
Just walking – That’s not even a hobby!
Crochet – Tried a bit with my mom. It’s okay, I guess. A possibility for the future.
Learn bass guitar – done it. I played bass guitar in a high school band for 3 years :) Mostly Metallica covers.
Train weevils to gurn – lolwhut?
So, yeah. Got me thinking and you know what? I have done a LOT of stuff. In addition to the above, I’ve tried…
Playing keyboards, playing the recorder, violin lessons, choir singing, cross-stitching, basketball, netball, ball juggling, diablo (not the game), devil stick, unicycle, jewellery-making, fishing, swinging through trees, motorcycling, tarot-card reading, amateur dramatics, mountain climbing, Pilates, power-lifting, rock climbing, canopy walking (not my pics), sailing, kayaking, pool, snooker, table-tennis, faith healing (receiving, not performing), smallbore target rifle, fullbore target rifle, live stage photography (burlesque show, NSFW), clay pigeon shooting, paintballing, first-aid, snorkelling, jet-skiing, water skiing, bodyboarding, snowboarding, mountain biking (and the scars to prove why I shouldn’t do it), studio photography, Irish soft-shoe dancing, locking (dance), ceroc (dance), watercolour painting, pottery, video presenting, and podcasting.
And that’s not even covering work-related qualifications (too boring to list here) or sexual experimentation (none of your damn business).
I don’t need to try new things. I need to focus on what I’m already doing. Expect a whole bunch of posts over the next week while I catch up on One A Day.
Here’s a series of tweets from earlier in the week that I’m sure you’ve all heard about.
@deanbmmv Please remove those images or we’ll seek legal action.
– @Andrew_Reiner, 5th Jan
@Andrew_Reiner I just linked some great RPS humour
– @deanbmmv, 5th Jan
@deanbmmv Oh sorry. I thought you posted that. :)
– @Andrew_Reiner, 5th Jan
@botherer GI figure out that I’m not you? Got a tweet off their EiC threatenong legal action. Humorous for me. I’d imagine not for you.
– @deanbmmv, 5th Jan
.@Andrew_Reiner just threatened a random twitter user with “LEGAL ACTION” for linking to Rock Paper Shotgun. Classy move, man. Nice one.
– @MikeWehner, 5th Jan
@MikeWehner Mistakes happen. We hugged it out. Class partially restored.
– @Andrew_Reiner, 5th Jan
And how does it get reported?
The cropped Tomb Raider images illustrating this article – which was essentially a long-winded link to Game Informer’s site – have been removed. This is because Game Informer – after threatening our readers on Twitter – sent us a legal threat of our very own.
– John Walker, Rock Paper Shotgun, 5th Jan
Very responsible there, Walker. Technically, yes, the facts are accurate. I guess the rapid apology and admission of mistake was too boring to mention. Cue rabid foaming at the mouth from journalists and gamers on both sides (see the comments section).
God, I hope I never make a mistake on the Internet.
So, it’s day 6 of one a day and I’ve already run out of inspiration. Well, not exactly. But my previous few posts have been all SUPER SERIOUS STUFF and I want to do something frivolous.
I shall describe the cute stuff on my desk, which – thanks to my ever-increasing Twitter obsession – is more and more resembling a collection of… well… shit. Hang on, I started this project to improve my writing skills so really that sentence calls for a metaphor of some kind, doesn’t it?
…on my desk, which is groaning under the detritus from an autumn’s worth of promotional tat.
It’s not a metaphor, but I guess it’s marginally better than saying a collection of shit. Both are true. However, interspersed among the conference-going tat, unfiled bank statements, redundant stationery (does anyone need 11 pens and 2 rolls of sticky tape on their PC desk? Really?) and things-I-should-be-dealing-with-but-am-not, are some lovely little gems.
My square-headed robot clock, pictured above. He was a leaving present from my last permanent position – the one I was at for two years. Proper solid metal with 5 points of articulation, no less. I love him to bits.
I also have a little pink bear, whom I have named Little Pink Bear. I have a string voodoo pirate with a drawing pin peg leg, whom I have named Pirate Dude* and then I have this.
What is he? My bf picked him up from MCM. Some kind of Japanese yeti, perhaps? Answers below, please. I can’t name him without knowing what he is.
*I also have a polar bear named Frank.
Another one-a-day blogger, Evrim Ersoy, wrote a great response to my post on selling out.
If you want people to take you seriously, take what you write seriously then it’s your journalistic obligation to prove to them that what they’re reading is not just another form of paid for advertisement.
Evirm Ersoy – The Art of Selling Out
Go and read it so you can follow my points below.
The major part I don’t understand is the distinction between a restaurant giving you a free meal and your paying for a meal and then claiming it back on expenses. Either way, the source of the payment isn’t you. The meal tastes just the same, the service is just as good and the wine is just as overpriced.
The other option is for you to pay for the meal yourself. Surely the only way that can go is towards demands for higher writing wages? How is payment coming from your own bank balance any different, except in the writer’s mind? This brings us back to the point in my last post about choice. Subconscious positive feelings through gratitude are a fact of humanity but all critics are well aware of what they’re writing and why. Restaurant reviews include the cost of a meal for 2 plus wine and of course the reviewer considers the opportunity costs for the reader, yes?
Evrim has a great quote from Ebert about gifts. In case anyone missed my sarcasm about mugs and diaries and lunch in the last post, I agree. Gifts bad. Alcohol particularly so. Granted, in the UK’s social culture it’s harder to build professional relationships without it but anything more than accepting a few rounds in a pub is pretty fucking dodgy in my book. Especially if you (the writer) never reciprocate.
[Disclosure: In December Shopping.com gave me a bunch of cocktails, a shared bottle of champagne and a bottle of Prosecco. They were sponsoring a Christmas quiz, I was a +1 with a friend and my site isn't about shopping portals. Relevant or red herring?]
Bringing this to a more personal level – I get the occasional free game. I buy other games. Giving me a free game means I feel obligated to write SOMETHING about your game in particular – I was going to write something about some game anyway, so is it unethical to choose the thing right in front of me over the one still in the shop? Is it morally “better” to choose the one I paid for because I thought it looked fun? Why? My choice to buy for myself was influenced by marketing budgets, after all.
Of course publishing only-positive reviews is doing a disservice to your readers. From what I’ve learned over the past few months (through anecdotes not personal experience, I feel the need to add ;), it will also earn you a reputation as a hack and lose you respect from readers, colleagues and PR people. It’s your choice.
Here, I went to Namco a few months back to preview Enslaved: Odyssey To The West:
The game itself is quite fun. As Monkey, you run around the landscape beating up mechs with the occasional boss thrown in for good measure…
…Combat is… okay. I played on Normal mode and found it fairly pleasant, which probably means that fans of melee action games will find it shocking.
Debbie Timmins (Me!) – Preview – Enslaved: Odyssey to the West
I made a conscious effort to ensure the piece reflected the good and bad of my experience. Is it not sufficient to judge a writer on the correlation of their work to the subject matter? How does the adding the knowledge that Namco bought me a pizza and a couple of cans of Coke change the quality of my review? How about the knowledge that it was a horrible gooey sweet chilli pizza that I didn’t enjoy very much?
Personally, I think it’s more important to disclose the fact that I’m not an expert on melee action games – the sort of information that many reviews don’t include, in the name of “objectivity”. Requiring full disclosure on the entire PR experiences sounds to me like a demand to open yourself to circumstantial ad hominem accusations.
Rounding off to Evrim’s statement above: Does the proof that “what I’m writing is not just another form of paid for advertising” not lie in the accuracy of my report as compared to yours and your friends experiences? I cannot be exceptional in choosing to trust reviewers based on how well their opinion of films I’ve already seen meshes with my own, can I?
The questions in this post are not rhetorical. I genuinely want to see more opinions on this. Leave them in the comments or drop me a link to your own post on the subject, please.
How bloody brilliant is this week’s Stargazing Live show on the BBC? When I first heard about it, I thought it would be one of those terribly dull documentaries with endless shots of constellations drawn on a night sky and some bollocks about the history of their names. It’s not that at all.
Presented by Prof Brian Cox and Dara O’Briain, it’s a lovely mix of piss-taking, real science, woo-debunking and pissing about with props. Yesterday we were warned about the dangers of being in hotels during 2012 (O’Briain says that the planets will align and all the hotels will collapse. Cox says he’s talking crap). Today we had a serious scientific question about the frequencies of stars. Of course, I have no idea what the question, nor the answer was because I was too busy giggling at O’Briain asking it through a helium squeak but I was entertained and it does make science much more appealing.
This the crux of it, really. When one of the UK’s leading entertainers has to ask how long it takes light to reach us from a galaxy 2.5 million light years away… clearly there’s a need for more emphasis on science in this country. Blending comedy with proper education on prime time television with a presenter who is clearly passionate about his subject (Cox) is a great help.
- Start with Stargazing Live Episode 1 on iPlayer. Episode 2 should be up soon as well.
- Watch Episode 3 live tomorrow night on BBC 2 from 8pm. Keep an eye on the hashtag as well, #bbcstargazing.
- Then move on to more pop science – I linked to an article on pharmaceutical company ethics yesterday. I know those articles can be a bit dense: Ben Goldacre’s sciencey videos on YouTube are much more accessible
And finally, get yourself and all your friends a ticket to next May’s national science tour, Uncaged Monkeys around the UK. Featuring… Ben Goldacre, Prof Brian Cox, Simon Singh and Robin Ince. Should be a great show.
I sold out today. I guess. That’s how some would describe it.
I know more than a few people who refuse to accept advertising or payment for websites because it would dilute the integrity of their art, or some shit. I don’t know what they really believe but I honestly, truly and with all my heart simply CANNOT understand how taking money for doing something you were going to do anyway is selling out. Even better, taking money for something you love to do. Reviewers are paid for their opinions, are they not?
[Questioning aside: Is it possible to write a review without expressing your personal opinion? If all you do is describe features, well... that's not a review. It's marketing copy.]
Of course there are plenty of ways that you can sell out. In the NHS we have strict policies on this. Obviously you can’t have doctors in the pay of pharmaceutical companies. Big pharma… how we put this delicately? Doesn’t always have the best interests of patients in mind.
Doctors and other employees are perfectly entitled to invest in pharmaceutical and medical technology companies; they just need to declare those interests and are thereby excluded from purchasing decisions. They’re also perfectly free to evangelise about the latest, greatest Guidant pacemaker or extol the virtues of Medtronic new equine heart valve and how it could lead to the lowest comorbidity rates in the hospital’s history. They’re medical consultants after all – they know what’s best for our patients.
When it comes to gifts – well, any gift to an individual that’s worth over £25 must be declared to the Trust. Around Christmas time you’ll see a plethora of calendars, mugs, pens, letter organisers, all lovingly embossed with Spiriva, Crestor, Viagra, Procoralan. All perfectly reasonable, m’ludd. We’re just popping off to lunch now, would you like to come along? You don’t have a clinic scheduled this afternoon, do you?
But let’s face it – I’m running a games review site. One of my must-preserve-my-artistic-integrity friends was running a site that showed you live indie band gigs according to the nearest Tube station. We’re not exactly dealing with life-or-death here, nor spending millions of pounds of public money.
[Fun taxpayers' aside - Did you know that an NHS coronary artery bypass graft (heart bypass) costs between to £8,000 and 12,000 per patient? God I loved it when those patients came down in the lift after being discharged and went straight to the vending machine for a king-sized Mars bar >.< ]
This is the thing about games review sites. We all appear to be funded by games companies. I've seen some objections to free review copies of games but the reality is that if we had to buy games at retail prices, we'd all be bankrupt. Return on investment would mean that indie games don't have a snowball's chance in hell of getting coverage and the games press would be even more biased towards those with a large marketing budget. How about accepting payment for impressions? Sponsored posts – accepting money to write about a specific game? It's entirely my decision as to whether or not I give an unwarranted positive review – money changing hands does not equate to a loss of "artistic" integrity.
Rather more nebulous are things like the COD:BlOps helicopter holiday. I must admit, I find it strange that they praise Joystiq for choosing to pay for a smaller hotel room. How the heck is having your company pay for a small hotel room any different from having Activision pay for a large hotel room? A free holiday is a free holiday. At the end of it all, it still comes down to one person playing part of a game and making a choice as to whether or not it is worth £40, does it not? Isn’t that why we read reviews?
What I really don’t understand is why the tech/family/ethnic minority marketers aren’t working in the independent games blogger space. This is where the damage is done, of course – games sites being pressured to pull negative articles under the threat of losing funding. Looking at Quantcast (and how they get their numbers is a mystery to me) the US segment of my games site has a clear market appeal towards parents, people who earn under US$30k, Asians and Hispanics and people who have no college education. Surely somewhere in those segments is an interest that goes beyond gaming? Are we all so conditioned by Google AdSense that we compartmentalise our browsing habits to the extent that there’s no value in running non-games ads on a games site?
[edit: Good lord, Rock Paper Shotgun has an Intel advertisement running. More of this, please]
However you feel about journalist ethics and advertising, I ran my first site takeover advertisements today. And BioWare fangirl that I am, I’m glad that I popped my cherry with Dragon Age 2.