Shape of things to come

The biggest company you’ve never heard of

The Guardian reports on Serco, a giant global corporation that hoovers up outsourced government contracts from prisons to rail franchises and now has the NHS firmly in its sights. The company stands accused of mismanagement, lying and even charging for non-existent work.

All told, its operations suggest some real-life version of the fantastical mega-corporations that have long been invented by fiction writers; a more benign version of the Tyrell Corporation from Blade Runner, say, or one of those creations from James Bond movies whose name always seems to end with the word “industries”.

The strangest thing, though, is the gap between Serco’s size and how little the public knows about it. Not for nothing does so much coverage of its work include the sentence “the biggest company you’ve never heard of”.

Once I started looking, their logos were everywhere, suggesting a shadow state that has since grown ever-bigger. Their names seemed anonymously stylised, in keeping with the sense that they seemed both omnipresent, and barely known: Interserve, Sodexo, Capita, the Compass Group.

Continue reading on The Guardian →


Crank the volume. This is what going into space and falling back to Earth sounds like.

A movie from the point of view of the Solid Rocket Booster with sound mixing and enhancement done by the folks at Skywalker Sound. The sound is all from the camera microphones and not fake or replaced with foley artist sound. The Skywalker sound folks just helped bring it out and make it more audible.

(via io9)

The woman in the red dress
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Colour and meaning in The Matrix universe

In answer to a fairly simple question on Quora – In Matrix Revolutions, what’s going on when Neo and a sentinel appear to merge? – Chris Peters (citing Philosopher Ken Wilber) wrote this wonderful explanation of what the different colour gradings mean in The Matrix universe:

The Matrix universe is themed around 5 colors, Green, Blue, Yellow, Red and White, which represent different levels of our existence.

Take the red pill →


Tweak Town’s Raspberry Pi Camera Module Review and Tutorial Guide:

The Raspberry Pi Camera Module is a 5MP CMOS camera with a fixed focus lens that is capable of capturing still images as well as high definition video. Stills are captured at a resolution of 2592 x 1944, while video is supported at 1080p at 30 FPS, 720p at 60 FPS and 640×480 at 60 or 90 FPS.

The camera module measures in at just 25mm x 20mm x 9mm and weighs a mere 3 grams. This makes it ideal for projects such as hidden security cameras, high altitude balloon experiments, and even an onboard camera for RC car adventures.

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Raspberry Pi Camera Module

The Raspberry Pi Camera Board has finally landed after many months of anticipation. The module aims to inspire thousands of custom photo and video based projects from makers around the world.

Mako Mori
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Visual intelligence in Pacific Rim

Sam Keeper on the visual intelligence of Pacific Rim:

It’s very easy, if you are confronting the movie with a linguistic bias, to see the film as “dumb,” or, maybe even worse, a movie that’s good because it “knows it’s dumb” and doesn’t aspire to be more. And yes, the dialogue isn’t brilliant. Granted! You can totally watch the film and say “There’s not a lot going on here as far as witty reparte is concerned, and the plot is pretty simple, so on that level, it’s kind of a simplistic movie.” You can take that away with you after watching Pacific Rim.

But that’s not what my girlfriend took away from it.

She took away this:

“I thought it was really cool how Mako dyed her hair to match her jacket that she wore in the flashback scene. It was like she was still thinking about that day and carrying it with her.”

Pacific Rim is not a dumb movie at all. It is a visually intelligent movie.

Humans and other animals

Wanted: Young Creation Scientists

An appeal from the Institute for Creation Research

ICR, together with the rest of the creation science movement, has made great strides in the last 40 years. In many areas, the superiority of the creation worldview has been clearly demonstrated. However, there is much work that still needs to be done, and this work is hindered by a lack of trained scientists.

I’m not entirely convinced that the post isn’t a parody of some kind!



Official Trailer from Comic Con for Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey

More spaceporn. Laughably dramatic in places, but I’m eager to see it. Personally I find Neil deGrasse Tyson to be a poor man’s Carl Sagan though.

The animated sequences look very cool too. I’m curious to find out how this shot fits in:


I bought myself a copy of Prison Architect in the Steam summer sale.

Prison Architect

I think I paid £13 instead of £19, or something like that. It still seemed like a lot for game that’s early in alpha, but the reviews seemed very positive.

Thankfully it’s proved to be a great game. Admittedly I think I’ve effectively managed to beat it with only my second stab at a prison (pictured). It’s not an impressive building or anything, but I’ve had no shankings at all, no use has been made of my solitary cells and I’m earning enough money every day to extend things further.

Prison Architect

Like with Minecraft while it was in alpha, the game is mostly potential. It’s actually a lot of fun to play a game in development – each update brings you back to the game to play the new features. Minecraft is still doing that.

I also snapped up the starship strategy game FTL, RollerCoaster Tycoon 3, arty explore-em-up Proteus and wilderness fantasy survival game 2 Don’t Starve, but I haven’t had a chance to play them yet.

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Prison Architect

My haul from the Steam summer sale!


TED-Ed: Myths and misconceptions about evolution

How does evolution really work? Actually, not how some of our common evolutionary metaphors would have us believe. For instance, it’s species, not individual organisms, that adapt to produce evolution, and genes don’t “want” to be passed on — a gene can’t want anything at all!

From ugly to freaky!

My Little Pony evolution

Most recently, Hasbro introduced “Equestria Girls,” dolls that are pony-girl hybrids (think “goth” Barbies with blue or green skin and a colorful ponytail) along with a special DVD to be released in August. Per a press release, the humanized figures are supposed to represent My Little Pony characters as teenage girls in high school.
From Pony To Person: The Disturbing Evolution Of My Little Pony

Humans and other animals

The disturbing evolution of My Little Pony

Despite valiant efforts made by parents, toy creators and even kids themselves to convince brands to produce gender-neutral toys, the divide between “boy” and “girl” products remains vast.

Save The Cat
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Why every Hollywood movie feels the same

Peter Suderman writing for Slate on the 2005 screenwriting book that’s taken over Hollywood—and made every movie feel the same.

It’s not déjà vu. Summer movies are often described as formulaic. But what few people know is that there is actually a formula—one that lays out, on a page-by-page basis, exactly what should happen when in a screenplay.

The Save the Cat! Beat Sheet

  1. Opening image (p. 1): Sets the tone for the story and suggests the protagonist’s primary problem.
  2. Theme is stated (p. 5): A question or statement, usually made to the protagonist, indicating the story’s main thematic idea.
  3. Set-up (p. 1-10): An introduction to the main characters and setting—the background.
  4. Catalyst (p. 12): A major event that changes the protagonist’s world and sets the story in motion.
  5. Debate (p. 12-25): A question is raised about the choice now before the protagonist. Often this section lays out the stakes for the journey ahead.
  6. Break into Act II (p. 25-30): The hero definitively leaves his old world or situation and enters a strange new one.
  7. B-story (p. 30): A secondary plotline that often fleshes out side characters—frequently a mentor or a love interest—who assist the hero on his journey.
  8. Fun and games (p. 30-55): Snyder says this section offers “the promise of the premise.” It’s an exploration of the story’s core concept that gives the story its “trailer-friendly moments.” It’s usually lighter in tone, and it typically builds to a big victory at the midpoint.
  9. Midpoint (p. 55): The A and B stories cross. The story builds to either a false victory or (less often) false defeat. New information is revealed that raises the stakes.
  10. Bad guys close in (p. 55-75): After the victory at the midpoint, things grow steadily worse as the villains regroup and push forward.
  11. All is lost (p. 75): Mirroring the midpoint, it’s usually a false defeat. The hero’s life is in shambles. Often there’s a major death or at least the sense of death—a reference to dying or mortality somehow.
  12. Dark night of the soul (p. 75-85): A moment of contemplation in which the hero considers how far he’s come and all he’s learned. It’s the moment in which the hero asks, “Why is all this happening?”
  13. Break into Act III (p. 85) A “Eureka!” moment that gives the hero the strength to keep going—and provides the key to success in Act III.
  14. Finale (p. 85-110) Relying on all he has learned throughout the story, the hero solves his problems, defeats the villains, and changes the world for the better.
  15. Final image (p. 110). A mirror of the opening image that underlines the lessons learned and illustrates how the world has changed.

A Facebook board game devised by design student Pat C. Klein.

Pat says:

As a young person living in the digital age, I feel as though the internet is affecting our ability to communicate with one another.

Research done by Stanford University has indicated that social networking sites like Facebook can increase loneliness, depression and insecurity.

Facebook: The Board Game was created as a response to this. The idea is that instead of engaging with Facebook on your computer or phone, you can arrange to meet up with friends, have a few drinks and play in real life.

Facebook board game

Life on the Internet

Facebook board game

A Facebook board game devised by design student Pat C. Klein.

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Everything right and wrong with ‘Skyfall’

Firstly, here is everything wrong with Skyfall, in 4 minutes or less:

Pretty damning, right? What a dumb movie.

Now read these five reasons Skyfall is the best James Bond movie ever:

  1. DIRECTION:Skyfall is not competently directed. Skyfall is beautifully directed. Sam Mendes has serious theatre chops, and it shows. The scene where Bond tracks Patrice through the skyscraper in Shanghai, through a maze of tilting glass and sliding neon, is gorgeous. The tension is impeccably tuned. Mendes lets shots breathe.”
  2. THEMES:Skyfall says something. Actually, it says a bunch of things. It’s a love-letter to London. It’s a film about Britain: about the crisis of British post-Imperial identity and the British realisation that we no longer matter a damn, to anybody; that we spent a hundred years crushing anyone who got in our way, that it gained us a lot of power but very few friends, and that when the power ebbs away the friends don’t come back.”
  3. ACTING: “Craig is perfect in this film. For a two-minute demonstration, watch the ‘psychological examination’ scene. Put aside your doubts about word-association being a kind of clapped-out way of providing a quick shot of character depth, and just watch Craig. To ‘murder’, he drops the three syllables of ‘employment’ with a bitterness that shows he knows damn well he’s being watched. To ‘M’, conversely, he fires off ‘bitch’ so fast it barely registers; it feels genuinely reflexive, and M’s reaction proves she can see that too. To ‘heart’, he grinds out ‘target’ with a kind of horrible relish. I’ve never seen a Bond, even Connery, sound more like a contract killer who may be sitting on some very genuine psychological damage. With Brosnan that scene wouldn’t have been at all believable. ‘Target’ would have been a zinger with an eyebrow-raise attached, not the snarl of something trapped and poked.”
  4. CHARACTERISATION: “I don’t really expect a Bond movie to subject the character of James Bond to any serious examination, any more than I expect the average Doctor Who episode to get really down and dirty with what makes the Doctor tick. But, in both cases, finding one that does is a real treat. The mechanism that makes it possible here is Bardem’s mesmerising turn as Mr Silva.”
  5. STRUCTURE: “Skyfall literally runs backwards. We flip through five decades of history in reverse, five decades of action movies, and then fall through the front cover. Bond goes back to the days before he was Bond, burns his house down, holds his mother as she dies, and is reborn. By the time he gets back to London, we’re moving in the right direction again. M is an older ex-military man in a wood-panelled office. There’s a beautiful secretary licking her lips behind the desk. There’s a nerdy genius down in Q Branch who regards Bond as an unfortunate necessity. There’s a coat-stand just inside the door. James Bond got old, he got tired, he got addicted to booze and pills and failed his marksmanship exam, so he went back and blew up his past with a couple of gas canisters and then turned up to work the next morning with a fresh shirt and hunter’s eyes. He gets to do that. He’s James Bond. When who he was gets too heavy for him, he kills it, and moves on. That’s why we pay to watch him.”

Personally, I’m thrilled that Mendes has signed up for Bond 24.

Darius McCollum
Humans and other animals

The man who loves the New York subway too much

Darius McCollum (48) loves New York City’s transit system.

“I just love everything about it. I love the atmosphere, I love the lights, I love the signals. I love the fact that it’s moving all the time, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. There’s nothing negative I can say about the transit system.”

Darius McCollum has been arrested 29 times over the past 30 years for a series of transit-related crimes ranging from impersonating subway workers to stealing buses.

Mr. McCollum traces his fascination with trains to when he was stabbed at school at the age of 12. Afraid to return to class, he rode the subways all day and befriended a motorman. He ran errands, played cards and chess, and cleaned the dispatcher’s office and the token booths. Eventually, the motormen allowed him to conduct “yard moves,” driving the trains, alone, from the 179th Street terminal to a nearby MTA yard to be cleaned and serviced.

In 1981, young Darius operated an E train six stops from 34th Street to the World Trade Center without the conductor or passengers reporting anything amiss.

Mr. McCollum said he believed the incident “blackballed” him from employment with the city’s transit system.

His lawyer, Sally Butler, said Mr. McCollum’s well-chronicled acts were a result of uncontrollable impulses attributable to what is commonly referred to as Asperger’s syndrome, which mental-health authorities now call autism-spectrum disorder.

A fascinating but sad story from The Wall Street Journal. In a slightly different world, he might have been the Transit Authority’s top employee. More on Wikipedia.


Make amazing coffee at home, even if you’re cheap and lazy

Slate’s crash course in being a B+ coffee snob.

Here’s the truth: You don’t have to be a champion barista (or aspire to be one) in order to dramatically, and quickly, improve your at-home coffee process, nor do you need to spend $500 on equipment. And the per-cup price is better, too—such that, just a few weeks into your new at-home process, you’ll have recouped the costs of your initial investments.

The only moderately expensive piece of unfamiliar equipment you will need to acquire is a conical burr grinder, which grinds beans finely and evenly (as opposed to a disc grinder, which tends to chop them in half once and call it done). Apart from that, you’ll need to acquire a dripper, a server (a glass carafe with measurement lines on it), and, if you don’t have one already, a digital kitchen scale (preferably one you can “zero-out” after placing a small cup on it, which is what you’ll put the beans in as you measure).

You really do need this stuff, because you won’t get the full benefits of a coffee’s flavor unless you’re exact about the weight of your beans and the volume of your water.
Be a B+ Coffee Snob

I always make my coffee with a dripper when I’m on holiday. It’s a total lifesaver.


A very cool Publicity stunt from blinkbox to promote Game of Thrones season 3.

Dragon skull on Dorset beach

It measures 40ft by 8ft and stands at over 9ft tall – the size of a London bus!

Craft and creativity

Giant dragon skull washes up on Dorset’s Jurassic coast

A spectacular dragon skull the size of a London bus appeared to have been washed up on Charmouth beach on Dorset’s Jurassic coast. The impressive sculpture was installed by movie and TV streaming service blinkbox to celebrate the arrival [on blinkbox] of the third installment of HBO’s Game of Thrones on the service.

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The Pixar Theory

Jon Negroni thinks that every Pixar movie is connected. I’m unconvinced, but it makes for a fun theory!

In Brave, Merida discovers that there is “magic” that can solve her problems but inadvertently turns her mother into a bear. We find out that this magic comes from an odd witch seemingly connected to the mysterious will-of-the-wisps. Not only do we see animals behaving like humans, but we also see brooms (inanimate objects) behaving like people in the witch’s shop.
The Pixar Theory

And so begins a timeline that sees animals (Finding Nemo, Up, Ratatouille) and artificial beings (Toy Story, The Incredibles, Up) become more and more sentient and more in conflict with the humans, who are later forced to leave Earth on the Axiom (ref. Wall-E).

In their absence the era of the Cars begins. But they throw the balance off even more, wiping out animal life on Earth.

Then comes the events of Wall-E, then A Bug’s Life (which is placed here in the timeline for interesting reasons), and then – even further in the future – Monsters Inc.

In a final twist Negroni connects the Monsters Inc. time to the distant past of Brave in a very interesting way that I won’t spoil here.


Like I say, I’m far from convinced. I just don’t think movies are written this way. For example, I know that the plot of Ratatouille was rewritten very late into production. These kinds of story considerations come before grand ideas that most people will never notice. Most of the other references (BnL batteries in Toy Story 3 for example) are nothing more than in-jokes for the fans to spot.

New York Citi Bike Venn diagram
Humans and other animals

Why Do People Hate Citi Bike?

New York magazine’s Dan Amira summarized it all wonderfully with a Venn diagram.

“In a way, the depth of conservative animosity for a bike-share program makes perfect sense. Because, as the Venn diagram above indicates, Citi Bike finds itself at the very nexus of five different things that conservatives hate.”
CrazyBike — The Morning News


Scarfolk is a town in North West England that did not progress beyond 1979. Instead, the entire decade of the 1970s loops ad infinitum.

(via Laughing Squid)

Craft and creativity

Scarfolk Council

Here in Scarfolk, pagan rituals blend seamlessly with science; hauntology is a compulsory subject at school, and everyone must be in bed by 8pm because they are perpetually running a slight fever. “Visit Scarfolk today. Our number one priority is keeping rabies at bay.” For more information please reread.

Less Wrong
Humans and other animals

Mysterious Answers to Mysterious Questions: Essential readings for skeptics

Mysterious Answers to Mysterious Questions are a ‘core sequence’ of essays by Eliezer Yudkowsky from Less Wrong, a skeptic community blog, discussion board and general resource site.

I haven’t read all of these yet, but I thoroughly recommend all the ones I have. The posts are each an easily digestible mini-essay with a single point made very well. I’ve cut and pasted a few sound-bites below from some of the posts that grabbed my attention.

“It is a great strength of Homo sapiens that we can, better than any other species in the world, learn to model the unseen. It is also one of our great weak points. Humans often believe in things that are not only unseen but unreal.”
Making Beliefs Pay Rent (in Anticipated Experiences)

“Where it is difficult to believe a thing, it is often much easier to believe that you ought to believe it.”
Belief in Belief

“Your strength as a rationalist is your ability to be more confused by fiction than by reality.”
Your Strength as a Rationalist

More Mysterious Answers to Mysterious Questions →


David Chen produced this video critique for /Film.

Hans Zimmer and John Williams are probably my two favorite film composers of all time, so I was very keen to see how Zimmer would tackle the job of crafting a score for the new Superman film, Man of Steel. The soundtrack for the latter was suitably epic, and I actually think the way it’s structured says a lot about the themes of the film.


The three levels of Climate Science Denial

Writing for Climate Progress, Joe Romm identifies three levels of Climate Science Denier:

  • CSD1: A climate science denier of the first kind simply denies basic climate science, that, say the Earth is warming or that CO2 is a greenhouse gas.
  • CSD2: Climate science deniers of the second kind say that they accept basic climate science — so they aren’t ignored by the media — but then just assert that it isn’t going to be a big deal. They usually latch on to some tiny subset of the recent literature to make this argument.
  • CSD3: A CSD3 says that they accept basic climate science but then starts making arguments that effectively deny that science. Indeed a CSD3 who is rhetorically clever often says he or she used to believe in climate science, but then supposedly looked into the matter closely and were shocked, shocked to learn that they had been misled.

I don’t know that Romm created these distinctions himself, but this is the first place I’ve seen them laid out.