So for many years now I’ve been summarizing my year simply as a list of cities visited. It’s a simple, but effective, reminder of what I’ve done and where I’ve been.

I don’t really write a review of the year, but I thought I’d share some reviews of things I’ve enjoyed this year.

Books

I read 54 books this year, all on my Kindle which I continue to love. I’ve come to appreciate not just that I can carry a library with me at all times (and no longer need to have an extra suitcase just for books when going on holiday) but also the lightness of it. My fingers and wrists are dislocating so much these days holding real books would be asking for trouble.

I’m still carrying my trusty Kindle keyboard 3G which has lasted me well, other than a couple of dings to the screen, but I am very very tempted to get myself one of the new Kindle Voyages … not least because the new paperwhite technology looks really interesting.

I claim no highbrow taste in my fiction reading. I mostly read fiction for escape (and most of those 54 books were read in two weeks … my two weeks of holiday), and revel in crime fiction, scifi and fantasy. My favourite discoveries this year were:

  • Scalzi, to my chagrin, is not a writer I’d encountered before. I genuinely enjoyed Old Man’s War, The Ghost Brigades, Last Colony and Zoe’s Tale
  • After reading David McIver’s excellent post recommending fantasy to read I have enthusiastically read pretty much all of the Kate Daniels series that he recommended, starting with Magic Bites. It’s an action-focused romp with plenty of violence, and a very interesting re-imagining of vampires, and some fairly regular werewolves, though with an interesting reinterpretation of how they exist.
  • Not a new discovery, but the final installment of the Skulduggery Pleasant series (as misnomer, since it’s really about Valkyrie Cain), The Dying of the Light came out. I find there’s a look of really good fiction that happens to be YA. I suppose this isn’t surprising; to keep my attention when I was a teen, you needed great pacing & plot 😉
  • My favourite novel I read in 2014 was The Moment by T.C. Anderson. What started out as an AU fanfic grew into a really astounding novel. This is what I find really fascinating about fanfiction … sometimes there are outstanding writers who seem to just need to use characters almost like scaffolding, in order to tell a story. I’d love to see her develop her voice further, and am looking forward to her future work. Please note: this story definitely comes with all manner of trigger warnings; be safe, ping me if you want/need specifics.

Games

Favourite phone game was definitely Hitman Go (iOS, Android). I was very skeptical that Hitman (already one of my favourite games series ever) could translate well from live action over to turn-based, but they’ve done a brilliant job with it. It’s gorgeously designed, infuriatingly hard to get a perfect score (as in all Hitman games) and has retained many of the best features of the Hitman series: suspense, the need to understand guard movements and be stealthy, and the rewards for sometimes being bloodthirsty, and sometimes sneaking by unnoticed.

Console game of the year for me was a series I hadn’t previously played: Mass Effect. I got Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3 for Xmas last year and got hours & hours of enjoyment out of them. Definitely wonderful to see the series come over to Playstation; and even made me actively consider getting an Xbox to not miss games this good in future.

TV & Movies

We have a tendency to binge watch series, to the extent that pretty much all our TV & film consumption is via box set, Netflix, iPlayer or similar now. I still rather love the experience of the cinema though, and particularly enjoy being able to get to the BFI IMAX screen easily now that we’re in London more.

TV I enjoyed this year:

  • Sons of Anarchy — I particularly enjoyed finding out that Charlie Hunnam is from Newcastle and went to school round the corner from where we used to live
  • The Good Wife — we’ve stormed through the first four seasons and are now enjoying the fifth. Seriously good telly
  • Person of Interest — I’d seen the occasional episode and wasn’t at all convinced, but after urging from our housemate Tristan we really got into it. It has an intriguing overarching storyline and a good execution of the “mission of the week” approach
  • White Collar was another light but very entertaining watch
  • I hugely enjoyed two prison dramas this year: Orange is the New Black and Wentworth. The latter was a particular delight, even though I’d never seen the original series that it reimagines, made doubly wonderful by realising that the reason the lead was so familiar was because she played a recurring role in Xena
  • I finally got to watch Breaking Bad and saw what all the (deserved) fuss was about. Another series with an incredibly dark ending that I finally got around to watching was The Shield

My favourite movie-in-cinema I saw this year was definitely Guardians of the Galaxy in all its silliness. Vin Diesel’s wooden performance was even better on a ginormous screen 😉

A few weeks ago I travelled down to Bath from Newcastle. Sitting in the sushi bar in Bristol Temple Meads train station (yes, how times have changed, eh?!) having breakfast, a middle-aged backpacker struck up conversation with me. I evidently have a “ask me about sushi, I’ll explain” aura about me – every time we go NEAR the Yo Sushi! in Newcastle I end up explaining what the food is and how the conveyor belt system works to every 50+ in Fenwicks – but I digress.

Having had me explain that sushi is really rather nice, Mike (the backpacker) started telling me about his life. He’d given up his house, his work and (I presume, though he shied away from the subject) his family a few years before and started travelling around the UK, camping as he went. That day he was on his way down to Weston Super Mare to see a friend. He talked about long evenings spent alone in his tent and how he was thinking about getting a dog, perhaps a Jack Russell, to keep him company.

Then I noticed his t-shirt, yellow with “Better to burn out than it is to rust” emblazoned across the chest in bright red letters. For those of you who perhaps didn’t have the same 70s protest song upbringing as me, that particular line is from Neil Young’s iconic song Hey Hey, My My. An enthusiastic conversation about the great man followed, right down to naming our favourite song. We both picked Powderfinger, which was spooky to start with. The fact that we both had the same reason — a belief that “And my face splashed in the sky” is one of the most beautifully disturbing and visually evocative lines of poetry ever written — was downright weird.

Sitting there, mid business trip, about to go back to my old university to represent the multinational corporation I work for at a Careers Fair, I realised what an odd pair we must look sat there in the station. You’d never guess that our commonality ran so deep.

An interesting project request came to me today — we need to build an interactive booth. Just one (a “show piece” if you will) for the time being. Now, much as I did a lot of design for these types of systems back when I was studying HCI, I haven’t ever actually built one.

So, friends and colleagues out there in the blogosphere, I need your help! Any ideas on good software, operating system, technical config and so on for interactive booths?

Notes: I’m willing to consider anything, but of course open source is always a winner. The ability to design kickass user interaction is a must, but I’m not particularly beholden to touchscreen vs mouse-driven, for instance. Any ideas, please share in the comments, whether it’s something to go for or something to shy away from!

CSI Miami has just started. The voiceover introduction was the BEST INTRO EVER…….

“It’s time to put on … the sunglasses of justice”

Some days you just have to love Channel 5.

My week off has largely consisted of sitting on the sofa watching daytime telly. Sad I know, but Elly is back at university now, doing her Part 2.

Today’s Midsomer Murders featured a very young-looking Orlando Bloom. That was scary enough, but in one of the rare moments when I was actually paying attention, the big boss and Troy appeared to be talking about Tolkien/Lord of the Rings! Not sure whether that was sychronicity or a specific dig, but it made me do a complete double-take!

You know how TV ads always seem to be louder than the programmes they intersperse? I’m sure that the advertisers believe that this will draw our attention to them, but I think the real impact is really not as good for them.

If you were watching your show at the right volume, the ads are then too loud. So you immediately grab the remote and quiet it down … whilst it’s in your hand you might as well flick channels, right? Net, you’re not too likely to watch those ads.

Even if you don’t change channel and decide instead to go make a cup of tea or something, you can rely on the ads to be louder than the programme. So, when you hear the telly go quiet from the kitchen, you know to come back. Net, the “make the ads louder” strategy just makes it more likely that the viewers won’t watch at all.

I think this is what’s called emergent behaviour by game theorists…




Elly Leaning Back Against the Pull of the Kites

Originally uploaded by meriwilliams.

Back at the beginning of July, Elly’s company had a corporate fun day, where a bunch of beach activities were organised by Northern Freestyle at Beadnell beach.

Although I was initially apprehensive (not least at being confronted with an entire group of designers & architects!), the whole day turned out to be absolutely fabulous. There was great food, including a sizzling pig, and good company.

The really amazing part was taking part in the activities though. There were sandkarts and buggies and things, but the real fun was the powerkiting. There were instructors on hand who showed us how to work them and we were soon doing loop-de-loops and figures of eight and things. It was so much fun that we’re seriously considering joining the Northumberland Power Kite Club … just as soon as the wedding is paid for and we can buy ourselves some kit 😉