Last Saturday’s Saturday Night Takeaway End of the Show Show was the craziest thing I have ever seen and now you are going to see it and think so too

See title. Please come into this without any context. Don’t scroll down. All you need to know are these key facts:

  • There exists a television show called Ant and Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway
  • Ant is currently not involved with the show due to drink-driving misdemeanours.
  • At the end of each show, they perform an elaborate dance number called the End of the Show Show.

So here we go.

OH YOU THOUGHT THIS WAS A BRITISH TV SHOW SET IN LONDON OR SOMEWHERE IN THE UK, HUH. NOPE, THIS SHOW IS COMING TO YOU LIVE FROM FLORIDA BABY.

FLORIDA, BABY!

IN LIKE THE MIDDLE OF THE DAY I GUESS? BECAUSE IT’S A LIVE SHOW AND THEY’RE IN FLORIDA BUT IT GOES OUT AT LIKE 7PM IN THE UK. SO THE DYNAMIC FOR THE WHOLE THING IS SUPER WEIRD BECAUSE ITS AN EVENING SHOW FILMED IN FULL DAYLIGHT. FLORIDA, BABY!

BOOM, OUT COMES JASON DERULO. DIDN’T SEE THAT COMING DID YA? NOBODY EVER EXPECTS JASON DERULO. HE HAS A WHOLE BUNCH OF DANCERS AND THE WHOLE ROUTINE IS VERY SLICK. JUST IGNORE THE ENORMOUS HARD ROCK CAFE IN THE BACKGROUND I GUESS.

JASON DERULO IS PLAYING TO A CROWD OF EXCLUSIVELY BRITISH MIDDLE CLASS FAMILIES (WHO WON A COMPETITION TO BE HERE), ALL OF WHOM ARE SEATED AND CLAPPING IN UNISON – SOMETHING I AM RELIABLY INFORMED NO AMERICANS EVER DO. IT’S APPARENTLY JUST A WEIRD BRITISH THING?

FOR A SHORT BIT THEY ALSO DO A WEIRD THING WHERE THEY ALL POINT AT HIM INSTEAD AND YES IT DOES LOOK LIKE SOME KIND OF AWFUL RALLY.

THERE IS A VERY AWKWARD TRANSITION (FEATURING THE SOUND EFFECT OF BREAKING GLASS?) AND DERULO LEAVES THE STAGE, TO BE INEXPLICABLY REPLACED BY THIS VISAGE. THEY APPEAR TO BE BRAZILIAN CARNIVAL DANCERS, EVEN THOUGH THEY ARE IN ORLANDO, FLORIDA.

CONGA BY GLORIA ESTEFAN BEGINS TO PLAY.

DEC IS DRESSED IN A RUFFLE SHIRT THING THAT APPEARS TO BE A DELIBERATE REFERENCE TO THE CONGA SCENE IN THE MASK WHERE JIM CARREY JIVES AROUND TO THE SONG ‘CUBAN PETE’ IN ORDER TO ELUDE THE DETECTIVES.

THE PAIN OF HAVING TO CARRY THIS BURDEN ALONE IS PLAIN FOR ALL TO SEE.

DERULO IS BACK. HE IS NOT HIMSELF DRESSED ACCORDING TO THE BIZARRE CARNIVAL/CONGA THEME, AND IS ACCOMPANIED BY WHAT SEEM TO BE TANGO DANCERS, YET CONTINUES TO SING THE LYRICS TO ESTEFAN’S CONGA SONG.

TWO MINUTES IN AND HOMER SIMPSON TAKES THE STAGE.

AS DO THE PENGUINS FROM MADAGASCAR, ACCOMPANIED BY STEPHEN MULHERN AND SCARLETT MOFFATT FROM GOGGLEBOX, BOTH DRESSED AS CARMEN MIRANDA WHICH IS PROBLEMATIC FOR AT LEAST TWO REASONS AT THIS POINT.

A REMINDER THAT THIS IS PRIMETIME ITV SATURDAY NIGHT TELEVISION. SIX POINT SEVEN MILLION PEOPLE TUNED IN TO WATCH THIS.

AS MORE DREAMWORKS PROPERTIES CONTINUE TO FLOOD THE STAGE, DEC BEGINS TO PLAY THE HEAD OF A MINION AS A BONGO DRUM.

DEC PLAYS THE HEADS OF TWO MINIONS AS BONGO DRUMS.

DEC PLAYS THE HEADS OF THREE MINIONS AS BONGO DRUMS.

IN A MOMENT OF ACTUALLY QUITE IMPRESSIVE CHOREOGRAPHY, DEC ROLLS DOWN A LINE OF DANCERS…..

…INTO THE ARMS OF SHREK, WHO IS ALSO HERE NOW BY THE WAY.

THE SHREK IS ODDLY LOW QUALITY AND OFF-BRAND CONSIDERING THE SHOW IS BEING FILMED AT UNIVERSAL STUDIOS, WHERE THEY SHOULD BE ABLE TO GET THE HIGHEST SHREK REPLICA COSTUMES ON THE ENTIRE PLANET.

I WILL NEVER GET OVER HOW GOOD THIS IS.

THE CAMERA CAN NO LONGER CONTAIN HOW MUCH IS GOING ON. MARGE SIMPSON DANCING WITH THE CAST OF TROLLS IS SIMPLY BACKGROUND NOISE AT THIS POINT.

THERE ARE APPROXIMATELY SIX HUNDRED PEOPLE ON THE STAGE AT A CONSERVATIVE ESTIMATE.

THERE IS A TINY OPTIMUS PRIME.

HE IS ACCOMPANIED BY ‘THE ONLY WAY IS ESSEX’ STAR MARK WRIGHT, WHO HAS TAKEN OVER SINGING DUTIES FROM JASON DERULO, BECAUSE THOSE TWO PEOPLE ARE DEFINITELY EQUIVALENT IN TERMS OF SINGING TALENT.

FOR A BIT THE SHOW IS LITERALLY STRICTLY COME DANCING.

THEN FOLLOWS A MONTAGE OF VIEWER-SUBMITTED CONGAS, ALL OF WHICH ARE MORE AWFUL THAN DEATH.

WE THEN CUT BACK TO THIS WHICH I CHOOSE TO BELIEVE WAS NEVER REHEARSED AND SIMPLY JUST HAPPENED.

AN UNNECESSARY AMOUNT OF CONFETTI FLOODS THE STAGE, WHICH THE CAMERA SIMPLY CANNOT COPE WITH SO THE RESULTING STREAM IS JUST SUPER LOW QUALITY.

FINALLY IT IS OVER.

ALSO CRAIG DAVID, DENISE RICHARDS, AND THE REMBRANDTS WERE THERE THE WHOLE TIME BUT DIDN’T FEATURE IN THE FINALE AT ALL FOR SOME REASON. SORRY GUYS I GUESS.


If you still feel the need to watch the whole thing, here it is:

Thank you for coming on this journey with me.

I hope you now agree that Last Saturday’s Saturday Night Takeaway End of the Show Show was the craziest thing you have ever seen.

Which video games have the best lore?

Some people play games for the gameplay. Some play them for the multiplayer experience. Some play them because they’re addicted to them, even though the game is a pretty transparent money trap disguised as a mobile phone app. And some people play them for the story.

And these days, video game stories can be very, very good.

It’s always boggled my mind that video games are written off as a waste of time, when we live in the age of the TV box set and Netflix binge. If a video game can have a story at least as good as a television series, isn’t it necessarily a better form of entertainment given that you can also interact with it?

And recently there’s been a renaissance in so-called ‘narrative games’. These are games that are literally all story! From the neo-text-based-adventures of Inkle Studios to the choose-your-own-adventure games from Telltale there’s a lot to get stuck into. With Telltale especially, the parallel to TV is super obvious; they’ve made games about Batman, Guardians of the Galaxy, Jurassic Park, Game of Thrones, and (most notably) The Walking Dead.

But today I’m not thinking about the difference between TV and video games. I’m interested in video game lore, which I’m defining as the story and mythology a game offers. The ‘lore’ of the Batman comic book series, for instance, is the tale of Bruce Wayne and his efforts to protect the citizens of Gotham City. Batman’s lore covers all of his villains, their origins, places and locations, big events in the storyline, and so on. It’s an extensive lore, worked on by lots of writers over the years, and can be studied in depth.

Likewise, lots of video games have very deep and interesting lore. The Warcraft series for instance, has a whole Tolkien-esque world to explore. Beyond the video games, there are whole books, board games, comics, and even a movie to get stuck into. It’s a rich lore that rewards deep exploration.

Some games, of course, aren’t fussed with lore. The Super Mario Bros series, for example, has never been too bothered with it. There’s established characters, sure, but no real over-arching storyline. The setting seems to change from game to game, and the events of previous games don’t seem to tie into the others. We don’t even know who Waluigi is, he just seems to have turned up to play tennis once, and stuck around since. They’re still great games, but it’s hard to be fanatic about Mario lore.

I’ll now talk about a few of my other favourite examples of games with great lore.

Bloodborne

Bloodborne is just a fantastic game anyway, but it really hooked me in with its lore. In BB, you play as a ‘hunter’ in the town of Yarnham, which is seemingly overrun by werewolf-like beasts. As the game goes on, you learn more about the town and its inhabitants, but without any direct exposition. The story is told through whispers (literally through doors), by scraps of paper you find, and in item descriptions. The picture bigger of what’s going on turns out to be weirder and more fantastic than you expected at the start, with some super amazing Lovecraftian stuff going on I don’t want to spoil.

The fact you have to piece the story together yourself is part of the fun. It’s why you can watch hour-long videos on Youtube trying to piece it together. And you should check out this great Kotaku article where someone is trying to argue for their interpretation.

The Metal Gear Solid Series

Metal Gear? Yes, Metal Gear. A series of ‘tactical espionage action’ games that are so much more than sneaking and shooting.

Metal Gear tells the story of, um, well… it’s more like a bunch of different stuff going on at once. The games take place over a span of about 50 years, and cover themes such as genetics, war, peace, technology, politics, conspiracies, and a man made out of bees who shoots a gun made of bees that shoots bees at you. It’s a super rich lore, and open to lots of interpretation. There are even scenes in later games where other characters attempt to offer their own version of events which are later contradicted by others.

Like, just read the MGS Wiki entry for Ocelot and see if you can give me a straight answer as to who he was working for all along. It’s just not possible. And I love that.

Final Fantasy X

The Final Fantasy games almost always have a great story. And the best thing about them is that they are pretty much entirely self-contained. You don’t need to have played FF1-FF9 to understand FFX. Which is great for me, because X is where I started. And it’s my absolute favourite.

Final Fantasy X tells the story of a Blitzball (a fantasy version of football) player who is transported across time and space to another world and tries to find his way home. There’s a whole bunch of wonderful twists and turns on the way, and the world itself (‘Spira’) is very fleshed out and interesting. FFX is one of the few Final Fantasy games to have a direct sequel, the polarising FFX-2, and I think that’s just because people couldn’t get enough of the world.

The story of Spira, and the cycle of death and destruction it’s stuck in, caused by the eternal return of a massive monster, is really interesting. Every time I play through it, I notice something new or make another connection. Like, did you know that the aeon Anima is meant to be Seymour’s mother? I didn’t!

The Half Life Series

Half Life is strange. There’s only been four ‘main’ games: Half Life 1&2, and then Half Life 2: Episodes One and Two. There’s been spin-offs like Opposing Force, Blue Shift, and Decay, but they’re not crucial to the main narrative. And yet, with just a couple of games under its belt, Half Life is regarded as one the best examples of storytelling in games.

That’s because the story is great. It’s about a scientist, Gordon Freeman, who unwittingly takes part in a science experiment that opens a rift to another universe, bringing through alien creatures and, eventually, an entire army that take over the planet. The series is the story of his battle against those aliens and the occupying army, but it has mysterious elements, such as the enigmatic G-Man who gives Gordon orders from time-to-time.

To this day, fans debate the meaning of things that happen in the Half Life games, which makes it all the more painful that it’s looking increasingly likely that the much anticipated finale – Half Life 3 – will never be released.

Honourable mentions:

  • The Fallout Series is a great series, set in a post-apocalyptic America where people have survived nuclear war by living in deep underground ‘Vaults’. Each game focuses on a new location and the problems that crop up after people start coming out of the vaults to occupy the nuclear wasteland. Fallout: New Vegas is my personal favourite.
  • The Mass Effect Series is a good bunch of games, telling a pretty epic story about a space commander’s efforts to save the galaxy. The story is a bit deeper than just ‘bald space man fights aliens’, and lots of people love the story.
  • The Elder Scrolls Series also has great lore, although a lot of it is written down in huge epic in-game books. It’s never been my absolute favourite though, as I find it a bit dry in places. Still, it’s worth mentioning for at least making the effort.

And that’s all I’ve got for today. Which other games have great lore? Let me know in the comments! (Sorry for comment-baiting).

Beware the guest blog post invitation

So, this is basically just a heads-up about something that happened a while back. I could only find one or two other posts about this online, so I thought I’d write it up in case it helped anyone else. If you don’t manage a blog or website, this might not be very relevant for you – but you might find it interesting anyway.

Last September I got an email from someone asking if they could do a “guest post” on my blog. Naturally, I was very excited! The idea of someone thinking my blog was interesting enough that they’d want to contribute themselves was really cool. It was the first time someone had been in touch, and it felt like a thrilling opportunity to get some good exposure. But something was amiss.

For starters, they hadn’t used my name in the email. Oh well, that’s understandable. People are pretty busy, and maybe we’ve got past the point of needing to use, like, introductions in emails and things. Straight to business, that’s fine with me.

But then, thinking about this, I also noticed they hadn’t referenced anything to do with me or my blog. Not even like “I saw your post about x“. Also the content they were suggesting didn’t seem a natural fit for my site. I write essays about Shrek and the Simpsons, under the general umbrella of what I call “cultural artifacts”. A blog about identity theft didn’t seem super relevant to my audience.

The author was from a site called culturecoverage.com. Checking out the site, the content there seems harmless enough. Nothing very different or exciting, but it was a real website that had real writers. What was going on?

Suspicious, I checked out the example blog posts in the email. They all seemed above board. Pretty generic filler content you’d get on any entry-level blog about technology. If this was some kind of scam, I couldn’t see the end game.

So instead, I Googled to see where this blogger had already written reviews as a guest on other people’s sites. It turned out quite a few people had taken the blogger up on their invitation, enthusiastically introducing them, seemingly as thrilled as I was to have someone offering to come and provide some content on their site.

And, again, the blogs seemed pretty innocuous. They were things like:

  • Top 6 Anime Cons to Visit Around the World
  • 5 Low-Cost Apps to Make Any Artist’s Life Easier
  • Top 5 Under the Radar Animes to Binge On

So maybe I was wrong to be suspicious? But then I noticed something even weirder. Take a look at these screenshots from the above guest blogs:

They have one thing in common: they all make references to VPN technology. Yes, every single one found some way to tie VPNs into the topic. Very strange!

So I looked up another guest post by the same author: Great Ways to Find Free E-books. And yep, there was yet another reference to VPNs there too.

Not only that, they all shared the same link to the same review site. I’m not going to put the link here (you’ll see why), but it seemed very strange to me. The author was a writer for culturecoverage.com but the linked site was a technology blog, and specifically a page on that site that reviewed VPNs.

Thus the chain looked a bit like this:

VPN Review site > Linked to in a guest post > By a writer for Culture Coverage > On other people’s blogs as a guest

It seems obvious then that the CC writer was trying to put the VPN review link into as many blogs as possible, but camouflaging them within longer content pieces on other topics. Hence the pretty random appearances of VPN mentions in otherwise unrelated guest blog posts.

Obviously this seems pretty ethically dubious. Nothing in the original guest blog post invitation mentioned including links to the VPN review page. It’s essentially an online content trojan horse. Which I think is bad.

Adding links to blog posts is a whole thing too. Last July I got this email:

Adding a link to an article for a “reasonable fee”? That seemed insane. I didn’t take them up on the offer for two reasons: 1) I have a lot of integrity, 2) They linked to a category, rather than an actual article, which indicates to me they just automatically detected the link and somehow sent this email (although they punctuated cookywook wrong, which seems like it could only be a human error to me).

Anyway, back to the links. From what I can gather, the idea behind this… marketing approach (I’m not calling it a scam, although I consider it pretty scammy), is that Google ranks your site based on lots of things, including how many other places link to it. The idea being that if your site is referenced on lots of other sites, it’s likely to be a reasonable authority.

So, if you can stuff your link into as many unrelated sites as possible, it could in theory be possible to ‘trick’ Google into ranking your site more highly than it deserves. That’s why you’ll get people offering to pay you to include a link, or writing these ‘guest’ blog posts. Pretty clever! But also pretty evil.

Clearly then in this case the site wanted to be amongst the top results for a search term like “VPN review” which I would imagine is a very competitive space. They made a deal with this blogger to trojan horse in 3rd-party links via guest content on blogs. The blogger presumably gets some kind of commission, and the poor blog owner gets a pretty low-quality blog post with zero financial recompense. Cheeky!

I emailed the blogger back.

I was impressed to get an actual reply, I wasn’t even 100% the blogger was a real human. I don’t buy their reply though. But at least I didn’t get burned.

In any case, this kind of approach towards gaming SEO is pretty strongly against Google Guidelines. The algorithms aren’t perfect, but they mostly aim to make sure the best content wins, and that’s what blog owners should focus on.

Good site owners don’t lie about the content on their site or others, which is why I only recommend TunnelBear for all your VPN needs. It’s fast, easy to setup, and works every time. Try TunnelBear today!

I tried Twitter’s Promote Mode for a month and all I got were these lousy 26 followers

Twitter, in a desperate attempt to start making some money, has launched a new feature called Promote Mode. Well, I think it’s still in Beta – but you can access it anyway by clicking on your profile picture and selecting Promote Mode.

The gist of Promote Mode is that you give Twitter money and then just tweet as normal. Twitter then takes your tweets and shows them to new people that don’t follow you. So it’s as if you were paying to manually promote your own tweets, except you don’t pick them yourself.

With me so far? In a nutshell it’s ‘give Twitter money for greater reach and gain followers.’ At least, in theory.

The cost, by the way, is meant to be £79 per month. Somehow I ended up paying £95 but oh well. It’s all for science.

When you set it up, you pick up to five categories for targeting. It’s not clear if there’s any additional targeting, which would be helpful as the categories themselves are quite wide-ranging. Here’s what I went with:

Sounds about right, based on what I can tell about my followers from Twitter Analytics and this blog.

How did I do? Let’s look at the results!

Ok, so first up my tweets reached more people. Only 41% more than usual though, which doesn’t actually seem like a lot. Moreover, I didn’t really have much control over who these people were. I got the occasional RT or reply from someone who didn’t follow me, but it didn’t feel like I was suddenly reaching some new audience. So this was a bit disappointing.

I did get the odd reply from someone being like GET THIS PROMOTED RUBBISH OUT OF MY TIMELINE from people who are extremely angry that promoted tweets appear in the feed of the free online service they use every day. So I guess you’re kinda opening yourself up to that kind of criticism, if you care about that.

Followers gained: 26. That doesn’t seem very impressive. £95 for 26 followers. About a £3.60 cost per follow. Maybe my tweets just weren’t good enough (in a normal month my net follower gain is minus forty lol). But it feels like if I’m paying Twitter to promote my tweets, they should be finding people really eager to follow me. And I’ve seen similar results from other reviews.

So maybe it’s not a ‘buying followers’ tool, which is fine. They say that follower count is just a vanity metric anyway. I just happen to be extremely vain. It looks like a bunch of folks visited my profile, but I’m not sure how that’s really useful to me in any way.

Further thoughts

This doesn’t feel like a product meant for your everyday normal Twitter user. The best way for them to get views and follows is just to tweet out great content and finally go viral with something extremely stupid. This feels like something more for brands to use, a kind of ‘set it and forget it’ to make sure you’re not just screaming out your content into the void. At the very least, with Promote Mode, you know that someone will see it.

It’s a shame then that the targeting options are so limited. Like, am I really going to find my most engaged followers by targeting people just on the basis that they’re interested in ‘society?’ What does that even mean? (Also lmao at ‘Hobbies and Interests’ being an interest).

I’d like to see a more powerful version of this with some more granular options. (Don’t think that Twitter doesn’t have loads of data on you, just like FB). Then it’d feel more like a bona fide marketing product, rather than the weird little gamble it is currently.

Other problems

You can’t pick the tweets to get promoted. This is a problem, imo. I tweet a lot of stuff that’s context dependent. A random tweet plucked out of a series of other tweets wouldn’t make much sense in isolation. This can lead to some strange results.

I also kept getting this weird tweet promoted to me –

Yeah, I don’t know either.

Not having control over your own promoted tweets is a pretty major liability. If there was, say, a horrible train accident, I wouldn’t want my tweet about my train being late from three days ago to get promoted. You have the option to stop promoting all tweets whenever you want, but having more control would be appreciated. And frankly, it’s kind of vital.

So in conclusion, I don’t rate Promote Mode. It’s super expensive for the casual Twitter user, not worth it for the bigger Twitter users, and not a good fit for brands to use. There’s better options out there if you want to start promoting your tweets, and you’ll have more control over targeting. This is a blunt tool that doesn’t seem right for any particular job.

Who would win in an all-out battle royale between the Letterland characters?

The Battle Royale format is so hot right now. PUBG, Fortnite, The White House Cabinet – everybody’s at it!

And so, in the interests of relevancy (and GREAT SEO results) here is my contribution. I’ll be ranking the characters of Letterland, according to how likely I think they’d be able to survive in a battle royale situation (aka a fight to the death).

But first up, what’s ‘Letterland’? I don’t know if it was common to lots of schools, but it was definitely a thing where I grew up. It’s like a series of books, videos, and teaching resources to help kids learn the alphabet. It’s a phonics-based approach, teaching children the particular sounds they need to make up words.

In Letterland, each letter of the alphabet is anthropomorphised as a character, roughly based on something to do with how the letter looks or sounds. The names are also alliterative, so you end up with things like “Robber Red” or “Oscar Orange.”

Got it? Ok, let’s make them fight to the death.

Rules:

  • Letterland characters have two distinct ‘forms’ – their upper and lower case versions (this creates some weird situations like the capital H guy just constantly doing this janky handstand) – we’ll just be thinking about the lower case characters, which is how they typically appear.
  • In the case of a conflict between classic and modern Letterland characters (some of them have changed over time), I’ll just pick the more interesting one.
  • The Vowel Men do not get involved. These are human characters that associate with the letters A,E,I,O, and U. I don’t think outside help is allowed, so they are not taking part in this battle royale.
  • No weapons are provided. The characters can only use fighting methods naturally available to them, or equipment already associated with their character.
  • The fighting arena is a typical outdoor ‘Hunger Games’ environment. So natural features only, nothing urban.
  • Characters are eliminated by death. And there can only be one winner.

Let’s begin. I’ll take each character in turn, discuss their strengths and weakness, and predict how I think they’ll do.

1. Annie Apple

Annie Apple is literally just an apple. I can’t see her having any real offensive capabilities.

Likely outcome: Poor. Eaten within the first five minutes.

2. Bouncing Ben

Now Ben I like. He’s characterised by his bounciness, making him an extremely agile opponent. I can’t say the extent to which he’d be able to inflict damage (I guess he could claw and bite people?), but he’d definitely last a while before going out.

Likely outcome: Dies within the second half of the game

3. Clever Cat

Clever Cat always freaked me out. Something ‘Chesire Cat’ about this character. And cats can be extremely viscous. Not someone you want actively trying to kill you.

Likely outcome: Makes it through to the top 5 through cunning and guile.

4. Dippy Duck

Dippy Duck is just a no-hoper. She’s all neck.

Likely outcome: Strangled to death by literally anyone with hands.

5. Eddy Elephant

The elephant in the room! Now, elephants can be deadly. Eddy is definitely gonna be stamping around and crushing smaller opponents (sorry, Annie Apple!). He can also take a lot of damage before falling. One of the bookies’ favourites, for sure.

Likely outcome: Survives to the top 5.

6. Fireman Fred

Nice hose, mate. Lots of fires in Letterland are there? I guess Fireman Fred could spray people with the hose, getting them a bit wet maybe? But it seems like more of a liability to me.

Likely outcome: Strangled to death by his own hose.

7. Golden Girl

This is depressing. Golden Girl is literally a child. She has no place in the theatre of war.

Likely outcome: Just dead.

8. Hairy Hat Man

I don’t trust this guy one bit. Hairy Hat Man (aka TRIPLE H) has definitely done prison time. Look at him! He’s not even wearing shoes, so you know he’s not gonna fight by the rules.

Likely outcome: Goes down fighting, taking at least two others with him.

9. Impy Ink

Lol. What a fun basis for a character. Kids love ink, right? Unfortunately the most Impy can hope for is to stain someone’s fingers or an important document.

Likely outcome: Just tipped over, dying a slow painful death.

10. Jumping Jim

A natural nemesis to Bouncing Ben, Jim has all the hop and more! In Letterland canon he can jump so high that his head becomes obscured by cloud (hence the cap on the capital J!). Not only that, he’s also a mean juggler. Taking this to mean he has Hawkeye levels of skill and accuracy, he’s one of the few characters naturally equipped for combat. A strong contender.

Likely outcome: Top 5 material for sure.

11. Kicking King

A man whose entire existence is defined by his ability to kick? That makes him one to watch.

Likely outcome: Kung-fu’ing his way into the top 5.

12. Lucy Lamp Light

Lucy’s mutant ability is that she can shine light out of her head. In other words, she is more lamp than human. I guess this would be handy in a defensive capacity. But probably not that handy otherwise.

Likely outcome: Savagely beaten to death.

13. Munching Mike

Ok, so Mike is literally a KILLING MACHINE. He’s a mechanical monster with wheels, designed for death. By any estimation, he’s the most fearsome Letterland character. But he has one weakness: uneven terrain. We stated that the skirmish is taking place in a outdoor environment, meaning he’d struggle with things like, I don’t know, TWIGS. Sorry, Mike.

Likely outcome: Pushed onto his back and can’t get back up.

14. Naughty Nick

Look at this cheeky little boy. Nick is a sort of Dennis the Menace kind of character, going around putting nails into things. Of course, he’s allowed to bring his nails to the fight. Watch out for Nick.

Likely outcome: Takes down a few opponents. Eventually just killed by a larger, stronger foe.

15. Oscar Orange

I can see why the vowels needed special men to help them out, they’re all incredible weak. Oscar Orange, happy though he may be, is not a fighter.

Likely outcome: Swallowed whole.

16. Poor Peter

Aw, just look at those puppy dog eyes! That might slow down a weaker-willed opponent, but I don’t think it’ll stop anyone with a genuine bloodlust. Poor Peter…

Likely outcome: Stabbed, possibly by Naughty Nick.

17. Quarrelsome Queen

Quarreling is not an effective fighting technique, unfortunately. So QQ would probably make a lot of noise, but not actually physically injure anyone. And this is a death-fight, not a debate.

Likely outcome: Taken out quite quickly.

18. Robber Red

Now we’ve got an actual criminal in the mix. Robber Red has a record of burglary, so it’s not too much of a stretch to assume he’s comfortable with violence. Plus he’s got a bag of swag, which could include weaponry. I think he could go far.

Likely outcome: Dies just short of making it into the top 5.

19. Sammy Snake

Snakes are famously untrustworthy creatures, and regarded as dangerous by many. I have no intel on whether Letterland’s Sammy Snake is venomous or not, but he’s definitely a slippery character. Nonetheless, he’s at a definite size disadvantage – so in my head he doesn’t having winning potential.

Likely outcome: Trampled to death by Eddy Elephant.

20. Ticking Tess

Another character that relies on the lazy “head in the clouds” explanation for the capital letter version. But that aside, Tess is all about… telecommunications? I seem to recall her being about clocks and things, but in all the pics I can find atm, she’s just got lots of phones for some reason. Oh well, I can’t see anything that’d give her a particular advantage. Though she’d be a strong partnerships in any temporary alliances that formed.

Likely outcome: Unexpectedly betrayed by an ally

21. Uppy Umbrella

Everyone hates umbrellas, right? They’re pointy and annoying and the spokes are always directly at eye-level. However, when an umbrella is actually being wielded by anyone, it’s much less dangerous. So I’d question the amount of damage that Uppy could do by herself.

Likely outcome: Turned inside-out and left for dead.

22. Vase of Violets

What is it with Letterland and extremely weak characters that are vulnerable to tipping? Sorry, VoV, but literally every single other character is stronger than you. RIP

Likely outcome: Destroyed within the first millisecond of the game.

23. Wicked Water Witch

This is an interesting case. According to official Letterland lore, WWW at some point got turned into an animal by a spell and is now known as Walter Walrus. Yup, it’s super weird. But she’s always been a witch to me, and has some kind of hydrological powers to manipulate water. Could be handy if she’s by a river or lake?

Likely outcome: Her strong magic sees her through to the second half of the match, but no further..

24. Max and Maxine

AKA Letterland’s ‘kissing cousins’ (really, look it up). Max and Maxine are unique in that there’s two of them. so they can team up and do things, etc. I wonder if this could be a liability, though?

Likely outcome: Max is injured, Maxine stops to help him. Letting her guard down for a second, she is taken out. Max has to watch her die.

25. Yo Yo Man

Absolutely a stone-cold killer.

Likely outcome: Cruises into the top 5 without a scratch.

26. Zig Zag Zebra

The camouflage of a zebra is well suited to the wavy grass of the African savanna, but not so much the Letterland death forest aka the bone yard. RIP.

Likely outcome: Killed, skinned, and made into a designer hat by the Hairy Hat Man.

So, our Top 5 Letterland Battle Royale characters are:
  1. Clever Cat
  2. Eddy Elephant
  3. Jumping Jim
  4. Kicking King
  5. Yo Yo Man

But who is the ultimate champion? Here’s how I think it goes down:

The top five characters are in an empty clearing. They are each covered in the blood and guts of the other twenty-one dead characters, who up until just now had all been close friends. They’ve come so far, but each of the five knows that the battle isn’t over, and the hardest part is yet to come. 

Eddy Elephant moves first. He charges in, heading right for Clever Cat. The cat performs a deft feint, dodging out of the way of the charging beast at the last minute. Eddy crashes headfirst into a tree, knocking himself unconscious. Clever Cat tears his eyes out, and gets to work on his vital organs.

Jumping Jim and Kicking King both leap fifty feet into the air. They battle as they fly, throwing punches that tear muscles and break bones. Jim reaches for his ammunition but he’s out. The last thing to cross his mind is utter panic, as Kicking King delivers a killing blow, kicking Jim’s brain directly out the back of his head.

Yo Yo Man advances on Clever Cat, still tearing through the body of Eddy. A well-placed yo-yo hits Clever Cat in the rib cage, rupturing an internal organ. Speed beats intellect every time.

Kicking King gently comes to a rest in a pile of a moss behind the Yo Yo Man. “Let’s finish this”, he says. Yo Yos fly like lightning, but the king dodges them all. Finally, Yo Yo Man reaches for his special weapon, a Yo Yo he’s nicknamed ‘The Finisher’ – a reinforced yo yo with steel spikes, long since banned by the yo yo battling league.

He throws The Finisher. It cuts the air as it flies. Kicking King takes in a deep breath, draws a leg back, and exhales into the kick of his life. His foot meets the yo yo in the air. And for a moment time seems to stand still. Neither man knows which way this will go, but they each know it’ll decide the outcome of the match – the winner of the first and last Letterland battle royale.

An eternity later, the yo yo gives way, and begins to fly back towards its sender. His eyes widen, just moments before it tears into his torso. With a furious momentum, it tears through him without resistance, leaving a clean hole at least a foot wide. Yo Yo Man crumples over.

Kicking King sheds a single tear and offers a prayer to the heavens. There’s a reason he’s the king, after all. “But not like this,” he whispers. “Not like this”.

WINNER: KICKING KING

Hope you enjoyed, kids!

What’s the deal with industry conferences (and their ticket prices)?

Ok, a real niche complaint today. But it’s one that really annoys me.

If you work in any kind of ‘industry’, you know about conferences. They’re these things where people go to do vague things like ‘learn’ and ‘network’. And broadly speaking, they’re a waste of everybody’s time.

The few that I’ve been to seem to mostly involve a mix of the following:

  • Companies bragging about how good they are and spending lots of money to produce presentations demonstrating this.
  • Software vendors talking generally about a business problem that their product just happens to be the perfection solution to.
  • Bald white guys with glasses who call themselves ‘thought leaders’ making extremely obvious observations about the industry.

Like I went to one about Social Media Customer Service (woo!). There were presentations on things like “Listening to your customer” as if that wasn’t incredibly obvious. I got to watch Zappos explain why they’re so good at customer service, as if it’s not incredibly easy to innovate in CS when you’re an online shoe company. And I was hassled by vendors trying to flog me platforms when they couldn’t actually answer questions about it because they were just sales people, not developers.

But maybe, just maybe, some people find them useful. If you like answering questions like this, then maybe they’re for you –

WOAHH WHAT AN INSIGHT. MAYBE ENGAGEMENT ON SOCIAL MEDIA IS IMPORTANT. MY MIND IS SO BLOWN. WOOOOAHHHHOHOHOHOHOHOHAAAAAAHHHHHHH.

These conferences are also incredibly expensive.

These are the ticket prices for some event back in 2016 that I was looking at. General admission is £300. For contrast, tickets to Glastonbury 2017 were £238. In other words, the above conference thought it was more valuable than the world’s largest and greatest music festival. They thought their conference was literally bigger than Glastonbury, and a more valuable use of your time.

Why £300? Who in their right minds would pay that?

or is it just because they know everyone attending will be expensing the hell out of these tickets so they can charge whatever they want and this whole thing is just a racket

But imagine your company WASN’T paying you to attend this? Would you voluntarily decide to pay this amount to go and be bored in a hotel conference space for two days? Could you even afford it? And what a barrier to entry for young enterprise.

Of course, you have to pay the speakers at these things. Those folks who are being flown around the world to talk about why their email CRM resulted in a conversion rate blah blah who cares. But it’s still mad.

And the Early Bird bit really gets me angry. Save money by booking early. If the transparency of it all wasn’t clear enough already, this is the bit that really shines a lot on the whole practice. In the above example, the ‘super early bird’ is basically 2/3 of the price of the main ticket. This suggests to me that £200 is a fairer price for the conference than £300. They are willing to accept you paying £200 to attend, but they’d rather you paid £300. Those hotel conference rooms don’t pay for themselves!

“Early bird” is such a horrible, dripping sales-y term. You’re still not getting a good deal, even if you book early. Although the implication that a discounted ticket for this conference is a “worm” is an interesting one to consider.

IN CONCLUSION, this has been another angry rant from me. I leave you with this fascinating insight that will definitely enrich your life –

Review: Google Cardboard / Daydream

The future of reality is here! And it’s… virtual?

For a while now, everyone has been saying that VR is the next big thing. Or maybe AR is the next big thing. Or maybe AI is the next big thing. Or maybe AI AR VR is the next big thing. Who knows?

The latest Gartner Hype Cycle put VR in the Slope of Enlightenment, meaning it’s past the initial hype stage and is slowly becoming an established technology. That sounds about right to me.

The problem with VR is that to do it properly is super expensive. An HTC Vive will currently set you back a solid £600, and – worse still – you probably don’t have enough space in your rabbit hutch of a flat to actually set the thing up properly.

So when I decided to check out Virtual Reality, I didn’t go for the Vive, or the Oculus Rift, or the Playstation VR thing. I was interested in a product that Google were offering. A £15 VR headset made out of cardboard.

This is the Google Cardboard, and it’s like the cutest thing ever. Basically just two lenses in a cardboard case, it’s an entry-level solution to getting a foot onto the VR ladder. The actual VR magic is all done on your phone, hence the price point, and it actually works surprisingly well.

Using your phone, rather than a high-spec PC or console, does come with certain limitations though. You can’t do much in the way of shooting zombies in VR or playing that fun looking Rick and Morty VR game. The cardboard is much more about virtual experiences, so it’s great for VR Street View, 360 degree YouTube videos, and Paul McCartney.

It’s a great way to sample what all the fuss about VR is. And it’s incredible that you can check it out for as low as four or five pounds. All you need is a supported phone to run the thing, and off you go.

Which brings me to the other VR headset from Google: the Daydream.

I wasn’t going to get a Daydream initially, as I already had the Google Cardboard. But then I bought the original Google Pixel, which was marketed as a VR-ready phone and even came with a free Google Daydream (RRP £99). So yeah, of course I got one.

And it’s basically a more comfortable version of the Google Cardboard. It doesn’t do anything more really, other than a few quality of life tweaks. The headstrap is super useful to stop the damn thing falling off your head, the build quality is much better and prevents light from seeping in, and it’s generally more comfortable to wear for extended periods of time.

It also comes with a little controller accessory. This connects to your phone via Bluetooth and is used to point at things, select options on-screen, and so on. It’s a huge help and just makes navigating the menus so much easier. But feature-wise, it’s pretty much the same as the Cardboard. It still uses your phone for the actual VR, which by the way is a massive massive battery drainer and will make your phone feel hotter than the sun.

I don’t find myself using the Daydream that much at the moment. When I first got it, I often got it out to experience the novelty of VR. And if people come round, it’s a good talking point. There are also some good games you can play on it like the bomb defusing party game Keep Talking & Nobody Explodes. But there’s no must-have killer app. Yet.

SO, if you’re interested in VR but don’t wanna drop the big money, check out a Google Cardboard. The Daydream probably isn’t worth it at the £99 mark for what you get. Or if you’re ready to take the full plunge maybe go and buy a Vive or something and invite me round to come play it!

Review: Withings Activité Pop

Yup, it’s another wearable review! But this one’s actually a good one, I promise.

After not getting on very well with shocking wristbands and posture correctors, I may have finally found something good – the Withings Activité watch.

What is it? Well, it’s basically just a normal watch.

OK THANKS FOR READING THE REVIEW EVERYONE GOODBYE

Nah, it’s a little bit more than just a watch. Not so much more that it falls into another category though. It’s not a Jawbone or Fitbit – one of those so-called ‘activity trackers’. But it’s also not so advanced that you could call it a smart watch either. It’s just an activity tracking watch, a watch that does activity tracking. And it’s this simplicity that I find really refreshing.

Years ago I had a Jawbone Up. A horrible orange thing on my wrist that I had to charge every day and ended up breaking. But the list of things it could do was endless! It could track your movements, track your sleep, track your heart rate, track your eating (if you told it), track your mood (if you told it), just track your whole goddam life. It was kind of overwhelming, and ultimately… kind of useless. Worse still, even with all that you still had to wear a watch anyway if you wanted to know the time. So yeah, it was kind of dumb.

I don’t know what kind of wizardry is going on inside the Withings Activité, but here’s what it can do:

  • Activity/step tracking (visualised on the watch as a separate dial)
  • Sleep tracking
  • ‘Silent’ alarm (it vibrates on your wrist)
  • Bluetooth syncing to an app
  • 8 months of battery life

Yes, 8 months. To me, that’s the most incredible thing ever. I’m wearing a thing on my watch that’s counting my steps all day long AND telling my phone how many I’m doing, AND it’s also monitoring my sleep AND waking me up at the right time AND YET somehow it can just tick along for months and months without giving up. How is that even possible? My phone can play like half an episode of Game of Thrones before it starts getting thirsty. So yeah, massive props to the engineers behind this device.

Oh yes, another thing to mention:

  • IT TELLS THE TIME

In other words, it functions as a watch. You know, hours and minutes and all that. It automatically resets itself in line with daylight savings or if you go abroad (so basically whatever time your phone is telling the watch it is), which is neat! You can also triple tap the watch face at any time to check when you have your alarm set for. The hands magically whirl around to that time, which is one of the coolest things to just show off to people.

It really helps that it looks like a normal watch too, unlike the Jawbone (bright orange silicone was such a poor design choice). I know activity tracker design is becoming more fashionable anyway, but it makes SO MUCH SENSE for this wrist-held activity tracker to just be a watch that I can’t imagine having it any other way.

I opted for the black ‘Activité Pop’ version of the watch. The ‘Pop’ range is just a cheaper set of price and colour options, but they don’t feel especially ‘budget’ or anything like that. Also, I think ‘Withings’ as a company either no longer exists or has been entirely consumed by Nokia, so you’ll find that as the product name in most places.

Nokia are pushing the ‘Steel’ range in place of Pop. The Steel watches are functionally the same as the Pop ones, as far as I can tell (although the Steel HR also monitors your heart rate), but are made from sturdier materials. I mean, sure go for that if you want a metal watch that looks REALLY good. But I think the plastic ones are fine.

And good news, you can still buy the old Activité Pop watches on Amazon. For just £50 too. That’s a good deal. (Don’t worry I’m not getting paid for this, and I don’t know how to set up affiliate links lol).

Downsides? Not many. Replacing the battery is a little bit fiddly and I’ve had to replace the strap, but that’s all fine. Oh, did I mention that the watch is WATERPROOF too? Lol this thing is just too perfect.

Treat yourself this Christmas. Or don’t. What do I care what you do?

This water bottle flip video is a work of art

I wanted to write about something today. But I didn’t want to write about Shrek again. So I thought to myself ‘what can I write about instead?’ What else do I know? Then I rewatched a particular video for like the ten thousandth time and realised…. THIS. This is what I know.

This:

It’s thirty seconds, but very good. Go ahead, watch it a few more times. Really soak it in.

REMEMBER BOTTLE FLIPPING? The hottest craze of 2016? The bane of parents and schoolteachers world wide? Remember the viral talent show clip that started it all?

It’s weird how even a year later this can seem like ancient history. Bottle flipping videos are now cultural relics of historical importance. And the video I shared at the top of this post is just such a relic.

The clip itself is from a longer piece taken from kingvader‘s Instagram page –

But I think the cut-down video in the tweet works better. It feels tighter, cutting right to the chase, and eliminating what you might describe as the unnecessary world-building at the start. I much prefer the bottle flipper as an anonymous stranger, just busting a door down and doing his thing.

Here are my favourite bits of the video:

  1. Just slamming that door right down, or at least trying to. I’m guessing they filmed this in a school or something so didn’t want to damage anything. So his foot doesn’t quite connect with the door fully, but it’s a high kick that looks really badass anyway.
  2. The way the interviewers immediately look shocked and intimidated.
  3. “Do you have any special talents?” just right off the bat, just like in a real interview.
  4. How he goes straight into the bottle flip, as if he was gonna be doing that regardless of what they asked him.
  5. The way they kinda sit up as the bottle is in the air.
  6. Obviously, the bit when the bottle lands and the drop comes in. And how heavy and horrible the bass is there.
  7. The commitment each of the actors puts into their performance for the rest of the video. There’s the guy who just throws himself back in his chair, the guy just chucking his notes, the chap with the keyboard, and of course…
  8. Mr Milkshake Shaker. The true hero. Absolutely drenching himself in the stuff. Immersing himself in the role like some kind of Daniel Day Lewis method actor, with no regard for the mess he’s making.

Just look at the concentration:

I wish I could be that committed to literally anything. The man is an inspiration to us all.

It’s also just really funny and stupid and fun. Basically, it’s a perfect 30 second internet video and I’m glad that it exists.

Aaaand, I think that’s all I had to say about this one.

Let’s look at some incredibly awful Simpsons bouncy castles

I love really bad knock-off art. The kind you get on fairground rides. Or every ice cream van ever. But today I want to focus on a really specific sub-genre of copyright-infringing art: Simpsons bouncy castles.

I know what you’re thinking. How many can there be? QUITE A LOT IT TURNS OUT. So, as we’ve done before with Shrek and Minion cakes, here are a bunch of them unfairly deposited and criticised for your enjoyment.

LOL. A strong start for sure. Some weird superhero versions of Bart and Homer that I really like. But the crown achievement (pun intended *wink*) is the INFINITELY STARING BART HEAD on top. Why is that there?! It’d be a perfectly fine Simpsons bouncy castle without a weird disembodied head on top. And it means Bart is over-represented on the castle. Very strange.

At first, I thought this was just another angle of the first bouncy castle. But it’s not! The Homer and Bart designs on the side are reversed and different, there’s a side-slide attachment, and the Bart head is different. But again, WHY IS THERE A (now bandito-masked) BART HEAD ON THE TOP? Nobody needs that.

Ok this is more like it. A pretty decent Bart, and a real niche Homer representation of Homer from S03E01 ‘Stark Raving Dad’ where he wears a pink shirt to work and ends up sent to a psychiatric hospital. Notice the lack of a weird Bart head.

Ok. In addition to Homer and Bart, we’re now bringing Maggie and Santa’s Little Helper into the mix. It’s a real chubby Bart though. And there’s a lot of pollution for a fun piece of bouncy castle art. The whole thing just feels a bit grim. I wouldn’t like to bounce on this castle.

OK LET’S GET WEIRD AGAIN. Once more Bart and Homer make up the supporting pillars, but there’s a whole smorgasbord of other characters in the arch. There’s Smithers and Burns, Grandpa and the laziest drawing of Krusty I’ve ever seen. There’s a lovely family mural along the back (hello Marge and Lisa!) and then…. Moe and Mr Burns? Ok, I guess!

IT IS ANOTHER BART HEAD.

Now this is just very cool indeed. Lisa looking Sassy as hell, and Bart rocking a Union Jack skateboard with the coolest looking expression I’ve ever seen. A great, solid castle.

Ok this isn’t a Simpsons one but it was so good I had to include it anyway.

This one has a Bart head so enormous that you can sit inside it. Come on, kids! Come and sit inside Bart Simpson’s mouth! Touch his enormous teeth!

How hard is it to draw an accurate Homer Simpson? When you’re making bouncy castle art, you don’t HAVE to do it from memory. You’re allowed to have a picture to hand while you do it. Mate, you can even blow up a picture and trace it!

Is this some deliberate attempt to avoid copyright infringement? Is that why all knockoff art is so bad? No, I think the people that do it are just lazy and/or unskilled.

Ok, I’m done. I can’t look any more massive weird Bart heads. I’ve got enough nightmare fuel for a solid month.

SO WHAT HAVE WE LEARNT?

Nothing. You’ve just spent a few minutes looking at bad Simpsons bouncy castles. There’s no possible lesson you can take from this. Goodbye.