Monthly Archives: Apr 2018

All of which makes me anxious, at times unbearably so.

I don’t like meeting new people.
I don’t like large groups.
I don’t like loud places.
I don’t like crowds.
I don’t like joining a conversation that’s already started.
I don’t like getting a seat before i’ve ordered my coffee.
I don’t like taking up space.
I don’t like sitting in front of people at the cinema.
I don’t like eating loudly at the cinema.
I don’t like being late.
I don’t like breaking any rules.
I don’t like going into shops where i’m not going to buy anything.
I don’t like confrontation.
I don’t like introducing people that are only going to be meeting for a few seconds.
I don’t like being misunderstood.
I don’t like walking with groups of people but being too many people to walk in a line, so having to fall back and walk alone.
I don’t like being near policemen.
I don’t like answering the phone.
I don’t like making phone calls.
I don’t like being a tourist.
I don’t like waiting at a road crossing for the sign when everyone else is crossing anyway.
I don’t like swimming in a pool with a lifeguard.
I don’t like waiting on my own at a pub for people to turn up.
I don’t like bothering people.
I don’t like sitting in priority seats on buses/trains.
I don’t like people knocking on my door.
I don’t like stag dos.
I don’t like queuing at busy bars.
I don’t like being in a car in a situation where other drivers are angry at us (like we’re holding them up).
I don’t like trying to navigate complicated systems in a country where i don’t speak the language.
I don’t like setting off shop alarms by accident.
I don’t like walking behind people walking slowly.


This list is non-exhaustive. But it is exhausting.

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!