Notes on media, politics & technology, by Adam Wilcox.

On Minimalism

BBC News ran an article on the self storage industry over the weekend:

Thirty years ago Britain did not have a self-storage industry. Now it’s the biggest in Europe… The industry is the product of huge sociological shifts. Danny Dorling, professor of geography at Oxford University, says we have six times more “stuff” than the generation before us.

This despite the fact that we have the smallest homes in Europe - the average room in a newly built home in France is 26.9 square metres, compared with 15.8 square metres in the UK. British new-builds are less than half the size of those in the United States and Australia, but also Italy (81.5 sq m), Japan (92 sq m), and Holland, (115 sq m), all as densely populated.

When I moved into my apartment, I decided to live as minimalist as I could. I will freely admit to have spent too much of my time looking at minimalist home porn for years. I managed to accumulate an awful lot of stuff in the preceding 26 years of living in one small room in my parents’ house. I attempted to sell, or give away as much as I could. DVDs were the first to go, followed by CDs. I bought a Kindle and halved my collection of physical books, but since my girlfriend moved in, our mutual bookish tendencies spawned a still impressive mini-library.

My attempt to have a minimalist life is still a work in progress, but I’ve sold or tossed a ton of stuff I didn’t need, use or wear. I’ve cancelled my magazine subscriptions, unsubscribed from sites and services I no longer use, and closed my Facebook and Google accounts. One of the best tech purchases I’ve made is the Doxie scanner, to go paperless.

I haven’t completely gone minimalist. When my girlfriend first visited my apartment, her assessment was “beige”. The place is less beige now -there are red cushions and more artwork on the walls.

I’m a privileged white male European with income and savings. I am aware the hypocrisy here. I live in a wealthy county, (although one where nearly a million people depend on food banks), and I had an upbringing in which I could accumulate so much “stuff’, whilst many if not most people around the world do not even have the luxury of having access to their basic needs- let alone have too much stuff.

That said, I do believe that our lives are made better when you focus only on what you need. I love how Ronan Berder describes it:

I have no interest in surrounding myself with tons of crap that will help me peacock for a few weeks and will inevitably end up in a drawer or a closet somewhere in my apartment.

Buying and hoarding stuff is easy, and consumerism is the default position in the West. I’m rapidly becoming a proponent of owning less, or at least carefully purchasing only the right items - the best.

On Dancing

I don’t dance.

I have never found any pleasure in it, possibly stemming back to my schooldays where a) English Country Dancing was compulsory, and b) I was forced to dance with the girls who terrified me. (Read - all the girls.)

Now I’m older and wiser (and no longer afraid of girls), I continue to hold this fear of dancing, and indeed made a point of highlighting this in my OkCupid profile:

I have a real phobia about dancing in public…

I did however temper this with a clarification to woo the more soft hearted of prospective mates;

…that said you and me in the kitchen whilst waiting for something to cook? Possibly, I might be tempted.

(I found a mate- she’s awesome.)

I don’t particularly like being in the vicinity of dancing. In fact, unless there is an orchestra pit separating me from the dancing, I get very uncomfortable.

Many years ago, I was forced to go the the Agincourt in Camberley, Surrey. It’s believed to be the longest running rock club in the country, and celebrated its 50th birthday last November. The floors were sticky and the people unclean, my memory of my time there was the lacklustre approach the staff had about checking IDs thoroughly. As a rock club, the ‘dancing’ was somewhat more uncoordinated than I’d expected and mostly seemed to involve holding your arms out as though you were holding heavy bags of shopping, facing your head toward the ground and jumping up and down. One guy had a cape made out of a bin-bag. Even jumping up and down roughly in time with the music was not for me. Neither is ballroom dancing. I can just about manage slow dancing with a partner, which is really just cuddling and wandering around on the spot.

So far this year I’ve attended one wedding, and managed to get away with not dancing because I elected to “work” as the wedding photographer. There is another wedding upcoming, where I will have to summon all the self confidence I can muster to slow dance in public with my girlfriend.

Introducing /photos

Over the last month, I have been looking for a simple way to display my photography, (in a more attractive form than Flickr), and after looking at the options, I decided to build my own system using Jekyll. Introducing

The most recent addition is my girlfriend’s sister’s wedding last Saturday at Harris Manchester College, Oxford.

I’ll be adding more galleries as I go, and I’m currently writing a guide for building a photo gallery with Jekyll.


Facebook & Oculus Rift

The news that Facebook has acquired the VR company Oculus Rift for $2 billion was met with concern and trepidation in the tech world. Generally the response was negative, and led several game developers to abandon plans to work with Oculus Rift, with the creator of Minecraft saying he doesn’t want to work with Facebook because, “Facebook creeps me out”. He has a point. Facebook creeps me out too, which is why I erased everything and deleted my profile in December 2012.

Startups, with a pimply founder in his early 20s seem to proliferate in Silicon Valley like a rash. They all seem to be designed to make organising the party life of affluent young Westcoast guys easier. Or for sharing photos of their partying with other affluent guys in their 20s.

From New Republic:

The most common advice V.C.s give entrepreneurs is to solve a problem they encounter in their daily lives. Unfortunately, the problems the average 22-year-old male programmer has experienced are all about being an affluent single guy in Northern California. That’s how we’ve ended up with so many games (Angry Birds, Flappy Bird, Crappy Bird) and all those apps for what one start-up founder described to me as cooler ways to hang out with friends on a Saturday night.

That is what makes me uncomfortable about the Facebook - Oculus Rift partnership. I have only had an opportunity to play with an Oculus Rift for a short time. But it felt right. It felt like the future of gaming, and maybe the future of how we should be interacting with technology. It felt like Oculus Rift were sitting on top of a technology that is a guaranteed money tree. Facebook, (possibly unfairly tainted forever with the portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network), feels like a fratboy company for fratboys- totally disconnected from reality. My friends are not Mike Matas. The site for inspirational photos of cats and sharing photos of ugly children shouldn’t have its hands on something that feels genuinely important.

It’s the same reason I get excited by the car company Tesla. I have no interest in cars, I really could not be any less excited about cars at all, but I covet a Tesla Model S. It feels like the future; the right hardware and software and engineering have come together with the right leader and there is a chance that this company might change the world.

I wasn’t partially concerned when Facebook bought Instagram, after all photosharing social networks aren’t really that important. And I wasn’t partially concerned when Facebook bought WhatsApp. Messaging applications aren’t really going to change the world. My concerns about Facebook taking over the Oculus Rift however are not around the company’s creepiness, but one simple fact; the Oculus Rift technology feels like the future.

Short Games

I’ve recently been playing Remember Me, a not completely terrible action adventure game where you kickbox your way through a beautifully-realised Neo-Paris to defeat a corrupt memory controlling corporation.

It looks very pretty, and has the option of playing the game with French dialogue and English subtitles- which added to the overall Frenchness of the game. But the story is pretty bad and the combat is frustratingly repetitive, and 8 hours in I am wondering if it is really worth investing a few more hours of my time to complete it.

Obviously, not every game can be The Last of Us but who really has time to invest in a game that isn’t instantly satisfying?

On the release of the exceptionally impressive indie game Limbo, reviewers complained about the short length.

Jonathan Blow, maker of Braid:

If you spend 20 hours playing a game, but the good parts could have been condensed into 3, then didn’t you just waste 17 hours?

Blow concludes:

… if we lived in a world where all cinema had to be the length of Lost, and films like Inception were criticized by cinema fans, and given lower scores in reviews and such, for being too short… wouldn’t that be perverse?

In a few weeks, Game of Thones Season Four is about to start- a 10 hour investment of my life, (on top of the 30 hours already invested in Seasons 1-3). With a full time job, a girlfriend and family, time is a premium resource, and spending £40-£50 on a game of questionable quality requiring a significant quantity of time invested is no longer an option I am willing to take.