Hi, I'm Rob, a digital content strategist based in London. This is where I log stuff that interests me and keep track of personal projects.

Consumed the week of 13 February, 2018

Image above taken from this article about a recently discovered treasure trove of 1960s photos of London’s East End. They’re being exhibited at Tower Hamlets Local History Library & Archives until 5 May.

This blog post from iA Writer (the app I’m using to write this very blog post) says an awful lot of things that I’ve been feeling for the past 18 months or so. For example,

…in practice, the Internet is as far from a distributed, diverse network of independent publishers as Radio and in its main streams, as far from intelligent communication as TV. It is possible to do your thing, but it requires muscle. It is possible to find a thinking audience, but it will be small. The Internet has imploded into Facebook, Amazon, Google, some local players and a mirror Web of twin players dominating the Chinese Market. For new stars to be born we need to get ourselves out of these black holes. How? Why? And do we have a chance?

The article that everyone has read this week is Ronan Farrow’s Donald Trump, a Playboy Model, and a System for Concealing Infidelity from The New Yorker.

A short but moving article about one of my favourite albums: Alice Coltrane’s ‘Journey In Satchidananda’.

The tragic story of journalist Kim Wall, who died at the hands of Peter Madsen onboard his submarine, The Nautilus.

Watched this week:

American Made (Tom Cruise and Doug Liman team up again to tell the story of Barry Seal who transported contraband for the CIA and the Medellin cartel in the 1980s).

Thor: Ragnarok (Daft but passable Marvel fair).

Consumed the week of 5 February, 2018

Atlanta season 2!

Articles read this week:

36 Things We Learned from David Lowery’s ‘A Ghost Story’ Commentary’. I haven’t bought a DVD in year, but hopefully I can download the commentary version of my favourite film of last year.

Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation? The answer doesn’t even seem to be in dispute. This article is nothing short of terrifying.

That Quincy Jones interview from Vulture is as amazing as everyone is telling you it is.

Will Self writes a little too much about himself in this article In Praise of Difficult Novels, but it’s still good (“No one ever got smart by reading… Dan Brown”).

As someone who has incredibly fond memories of watching Manhattan as a young teenager, this article from the NY Times on ‘the Woody Allen problem’ makes me sad and angry and confused.

Started reading Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor.

Consumed the week of 29 January, 2018

Read this week:

Send the Barbarian in First is a rather beautifully written tribute to Dungeons and Dragons (and its power to bring generations together) by George Murray. As someone who played D&D through his early teens (normally in a vacant geography classroom, at lunchtimes) it made me very nostalgic indeed.

The rest of the week has been spent reading A Question of Upbringing, the first volume of A Dance to the Music of Time by Anthony Powell. I’ve agreed to try and read one volume a month for the whole year (there are twelve volumes, duh), inspired by Andy Miller of the Backlisted podcast (and my friend John who is a Backlisted devotee and who is embarking on the same challenge).

In the middle of reading that, I devoured Andy Miller’s own book, The Year of Reading Dangerously: How Fifty Great Books (and Two Not-So-Great Ones) Saved My Life. I devoured it over a day and a half. It’s brilliant.

Watched this week:

Went to see The Post and, as predicted, I loved it. It’s definitely flawed, but not very. And the fact that it seems to have been made specifically for me (a self-confessed Ben Bradlee nerd) helps a lot. If you have seen and enjoyed The Post, then you should seek out the HBO documentary The Newspaperman: The Life and Times of Ben Bradlee (that’s the trailer above).

I also watched Professor Marston and the Wonder Women, the story of Dr. William Marston, the Harvard psychologist who helped invent the lie detector test and created Wonder Woman and his polyamorous relationship with his wife and their student. This is more flawed than The Post, mainly because it tries to cram an awful lot in to a 100 minutes and has to skip over a lot to tell the story it wants to tell. But what is there is nicely shot and it’s just great to see a love story like this told in a Hollywood move (and, my god, Rebecca Hall is magnificent).

Consumed the week of 22 January, 2018

Watched this week…

Embedded above is the trailer for Steven Soderbergh’s Mosaic, a six-part miniseries that I’m two episodes into. So far it’s very watchable and just the right side of intriguing.

I haven’t been watching a lot of films recently, mainly because I’m still working my way through the incredible Twin Peaks. But Nina was away with work this week so I sat down and watched something I knew she wasn’t that bothered about: It. I enjoyed it, but it never got close to reaching the heights of the book. I think maybe something like last year’s Gerald’s Game worked better thanks to the concise story and limited setting. It (like The Stand for instance) is just too big for the big sceen, I’ll still watch the sequel though.

Read this week…

Tonya Harding Would Like Her Apology Now from the NY Times is the must-read article after you’ve watched I, Tonya. The portraits are top notch too.

Also fromt he NY Times, a brilliant article about The Hyman Magazine Archive, an incredible project that’s housed in Woolwich. I would kill to spend a day in there.

Esquire published an oral history of Breaking Bad to mark the ten year anniversary of its TV premiere. Worth the read for this Aaron Paul quote: “I get called ‘bitch’ every single day. I have been called ‘bitch’ more than anyone on the planet, and that is very exciting. I’m very proud of that fact.”

Longreads sums up a spate of recent articles looking at the social media backlash. The bit which resonated most with me was: “Paul Constant, at the Seattle Review of Books, urges readers to stop getting their news (and opinions) from social media feeds and instead populate an RSS reader with the blogs and news sites they value and trust: ‘When we allow someone else to control our media intake, we’re giving up a tremendous amount of power. We’ve got to take that power back.'” Amen to that (my RSS feed has been the first thing I read when I sit down at my desk for over ten years…and it is curated to within an inch of its life).

No books read this week, but I’m about to start Jon McGregor’s new one Reservoir 13, and I’ve agreed to try and read one volume of A Dance to the Music of Time each month for the whole of 2018!

And finally, the best new album of the year so far came out this week: Nils Frahm’s All Melody (Spotify link).

Consumed the week of 15 January, 2018

The Fall of Travis Kalanick Was a Lot Weirder and Darker Than You Thought is a well-written, enlightening long read from Bloomberg.

But after the Silicon Valley orgy article last week, I think I’ve hit my ‘tech bro’ long read limit. Which meant I couldn’t get to the end of The New Yorker’s Sam Altman’s Manifest Destiny about the head of Y Combinator. Maybe I’ll save it for later in the year.

Much more interesting was The Intercept’s interview with Sadiq Khan in which he stops short (just short) of calling Donald Trump a racist.

And this examination of the great and complex actor and playwright Wallace Shawn (you’ll recognise his face even if you don’t know his name) by Longreads.com.

Couple of good awards season editorials floating about as we get closer to the Oscars. I don’t completely agree with the AV Club’s Sometimes the best-directed movie isn’t among the best of the year but there’s some good stuff in there and it does contain the phrase “softcore auteurist”.

There’s also this from Film School Rejects about why Three Billboards… is the new Crash. I nodded through a lot of this.

Books read this week: the beautiful Silence: In the Age of Noise by Erling Kagge. A very quick read but a a book I’ll pick up again and again I imagine.

Consumed the week of 8 January, 2018

And we’re back..

Above, a beautiful compilation of drone photography shot in Romania by Bogdan Teodorescu as part of his Up and Above series.

This Vanity fair article about Elliot Ness’ memoir The Untouchables is a great read, and contains this memorable quote about Ness: “[he] was like Alexander the Great. He ran out of worlds to conquer too early in life.”

Improving Ourselves To Death is an examination from The New Yorker of self-help and anti-self-help literature. TL:DR: “Put away your self-help guides, and read a novel instead”.

Also from Vanity Fair this past week, the icky but essential “Oh My God, This Is So F—ed Up”: Inside Silicon Valley’s Secretive, Orgiastic Dark Side (warning: you may need a shower after reading).

Watched this week: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Nina enjoyed this a little more than I did. What Kermode called the “rejection of clear-cut moral certainties” made me a little queasy. Still an impressive film though.

Finished reading: The hugely enjoyable Sherlock Holmes and the Shadwell Shadows (The Cthulhu Casebooks #1) by James Lovegrove and the equally enjoyable and insightful The Angry Chef: Bad Science and the Truth about Healthy Eating by Anthony Warner.

Consumed in December

Not posted for a while because I went on a much-needed holiday. But I’m back for one more 2017 post. Here we go…

Image above from Dangerous Minds, more information on it over there.

I’ve been trying to decide whether I can justify spending £50 on The Thing boardgame. Gets a great review from AV Club.

Talking of the AV Club, here’s their list of the best TV shows of 2017.

And talking of board games, Matthew Baldwin’s board game gift guide over at The Morning News is always great,

And talking of The Morning News, their Tournament of Books longlist is out.

There’s a new Errol Morris documentary on Netflix about the CIA dosing a man with LSD, who later committed suicide.

In the latest issue of Vogue, Mimi O’Donnell reflects on the death of her husband, Philip Seymour Hoffman, his addiction, and their family.

Here’s the 25 most read New Yorker articles of the year (no prizes for guessing no. 1).

Every Frame a Painting has come to an end, but even the post-mortem is great.

Consumed the week of 6 November, 2017

Something is wrong on the internet – James Bridle doing what he does best and opening everyone’s eyes to some messed up internet shit.

The Story Behind the Chicago Newspaper That Bought a Bar is a great story and needs to be made into a movie (or a David Simon TV series).

Humans Hate Being Spun: How to Practice Radical Honesty — from the Woman Who Defined Netflix’s Culture. Common sense stuff that is incredibly hard to put into practice.

Against Productivity reminds me very much of the best thing I’ve read all year.

John Carpenter’s ‘The Thing’: The Story of an SF Horror Game-Changer just in time for the release of this boardgame.

Joren Cull talks through his animated history of Radiohead for Pitchfork. And here is that animated history:

Consumed the week of 30 October, 2017

Been a busy week this week…

Inside the Mind of Thru-Hiking’s Most Devious Con Man is just one of those con-man articles I’m slightly addicted to.

I Forgot my PIN: An epic tale of losing $30,000 in Bitcoin is Mark ‘Boing Boing’ Frauenfelder’s cautionary tale of not writing down you PIN and your recovery words on the same bit of paper.

Constable-Frozen, the Internet’s Most Famous Frozen Fan, Denies That His Frozen Tumblr Is Secretly a Fetish Blog. As bonkers as it sounds.

The Art of the Dinner Party is a beautiful and better-than-it sounds interactive feature from the NY Times.

When Artists Turn to Craigslist, the Results Are Intimate, Disquieting, and Surprisingly Profound. Yes, yes they are.

The Strange History of Design Legend Cipe Pineles’ Illustrated Cookbook is a brilliant story of turning an extraordinary find into a one-of-a-kind cookbook.

Watched this week: The Florida Project (incredible):

And Jungle (decent Saturday-night-on-the-sofa movie):

Consumed the week of 23 October, 2017

I spent most of this week at the Impakt festival in Utrecht listening to some brilliant people discuss the festival’s themes of Haunted Machines & Wicked Problems. Highlights included…

Warren Ellis’ keynote:

The Post Truth & Soft Power panel (especially Navine G. Khan-Dossos work):

Royce Ng’s amazing Kishi The Vampire (you won’t get the whole effect on YouTube but it’s better than nothing):

The Smart Objects panel (especially Peter Moosgaard’s stuff):

Consumed the week of 16 October, 2017

“Petscop,” the Creepy YouTube Series That Confounded Gamers on Reddit (a trip down the kind of murky internet rabbit hole I cannot resist).

Farewell to Halt and Catch Fire, the best show that nobody watched (yes, it’s over, and it finished incredibly well).

The War To Sell You A Mattress Is An Internet Nightmare (who knew the mattress review world was so interesting).

The world of Black Hammer expands in this Sherlock Frankenstein #1 exclusive (This, from the AV club, put me on to the Black Hammer comics which I devoured in one Saturday afternoon sitting).

The LA Metro has the best etiquette videos…

Read the week of 25 September, 2017

Michelle Dean Uncovers Some Truths About Snopes

Stephen King on Movies Gerald’s Game, 1922, It, The Stand

Kevin Smith’s Second Act

Saying goodbye to white collar thinking

A Novel on the Rise: Robin Sloan and Kevin Nguyen Talk “Sourdough”

I read Robin Sloan’s brilliant, charming and slightly bonkers Sourdough this weekend. Highly recommended. Here’s his EYOE talk from earlier this year if you’re interested:

Eyeo 2017 – Robin Sloan from Eyeo Festival // INSTINT on Vimeo.

The web of beige

I wrote a work thing for Venture Beat. It’s about our efforts to personalise digital experiences and how that might be having the opposite effect. 

“In our attempt to engage everyone individually we are unwittingly creating a beige web, a homogenous echo chamber that is aesthetically and tonally normalized. And so we have to ask ourselves the question: when did personalization become so important? Who asked us for an individual experience? When did this become our mission?”

“Without memories we kind of disappear”

There were some absolutely fantastic talks at yesterday’s Interesting conference (I hesitate to call it a conference really, but I can’t think of a suitable synonym), but the one that really resonated with me for all sorts of reasons was Kim Plowright’s, called “try and explain what it feels like to preserve memories and talk about dementia and death on social media, whilst still occasionally making people laugh (and how her Mum would’ve had her guts for garters if she’d realised what she was up to)”.

One thing that Kim said during the five or ten minutes she was on stage was “Without memories we kind of disappear”. As much as she was talking about how dementia robs us of so much of what we call our ‘real selves’, she was also talking about why she felt the need to record the last few years of her parents’ lives in a series of very candid photos.

I’ve always struggled a bit with my motives for doing what I’m doing right now: writing down tiny chunks of my life, and yet I’ve found myself doing it again and again for about a decade and a half. Even with the opportunity that social media gives us to ‘over share’ today, I still want something that is somehow mine, something that’s not part of a larger network and feels cohesive and has some meat to it.

I want to have a bit of control over my memories.

(Strangely as I’m writing this I’m listening to Adam Buxton interview Michael Palin about his diaries, proving there is nothing new in the world.)

What’s scarier than real ghosts?

An article from (shiver) the Telegraph’s property section about London’s ‘ghost signs’ and Sam Roberts, the man who ‘hunts for them’:

With a background in advertising, working at big firms and on accounts such as Tesco, Roberts became interested in the history of advertising outdoors, and the ethical issues it raises. Big billboards, he says, “trespass on people’s field of vision… Now takes on commissions from advertising agencies and interior designers, many of whom ask him to recreate the weathered, old designs and create “faux” ghost signs, using the illusion of historical authenticity for marketing purposes.

Fair enough, it sounds like Sam himself discourages the creation of artificial ghost signs, but the very fact that there’s agencies out there who think this that ‘the illusion of historical authenticity’ is a good thing, is a little terrifying.