Recent posts

by Jehuda Saar

Getting Into The Groove

During my high-school years I got pretty obsessed with a type of music that, in the 70s, didn't quite have a name yet. Musicians like Mike Oldfield (who used multi-track recording equipment to play every instrument on his albums himself) and Jean-Michel Jarre (with his analog synths at the time) captured my imagination and fed my fascination at the intersection of technology and art. Other such artists followed and I drank at that fountain, slowly realising not all of it was necessarily good, but also that it slowly became more common, and easy, to produce music alone, in one's bedroom, with some computer equipment and a MIDI-equipped keyboard.

Fast forward to today and it's amazing what one can achieve with a very limited budget and some curiosity. Talent is of course not a given, but that's less important if all you're looking for is scratching an itch rather than getting famous.

My own "gateway drug" into this world (other than many years ago starting to play with the free and very capable Garageband on MacOS and iOS) was Native Instruments' Komplete Kontrol M32 (approx €129/$120). With such a tool and any somewhat up to date computer running Windows or Mac, the sky is the limit....well, your talent is your limit. But as I said, I'm only scratching an itch here, so for now, I'll just enjoy the "scratching" and I promise not to foist (too much of) it on the outside world




Altered States


William Gibson tells a famous story of walking out of a showing of Blade Runner at its original release, as soon as he realized that what Ridley Scott was showing onscreen was a touch too close to what Gibson himself was writing about in what would become the cyberpunk classic Neuromancer. Afraid that these images would influence his writing, he walked out of the theatre and only saw the movie much later. 

Altered Carbon, now showing on Netflix as a ten part first season series and based on a Richard K. Morgan novel of the same name, is probably the first time we get to see such an excellent representation of the world described so meticulously in Gibson's "Sprawl" trilogy, as well as a perfect marriage between the powerful images of Blade Runner and the imagery of Neuromancer. 

A number of attempts have been made at bringing the vision of William Gibson to the big (and small) screen. None have really been very successful, most never saw the light of day. Attempts to turn Neuromancer itself into a movie go back as far as 1986, and the latest rumour dates back to the Summer of 2017. And yet while watching Altered Carbon on Netflix I felt very strongly that we finally got something worthy of these cyberpunk classics on screen. Concepts going from AIs interacting with humans to “jacking in”, to “sleeves”, “stacks” and “casting” are all easily understood, and all that future tech and the effects it has on society and its morals are deftly handled. 

Once again I’m happy something like Netflix exists out there. It’s hard to imagine anyone other than Netflix or maybe Amazon spending multimillion dollars on single episodes of a series. These streaming services make something like Altered Carbon possible. Here’s hoping that series’ success leads to more interesting and far reaching projects of this nature. 



I've Seen Things You People Wouldn't Believe...


I am one of those people who walked out of a screening of the original theatrical release of Blade Runner, back in 1982, knowing I had just witnessed something important without being able to put the finger on what exactly it was that made it so special. There were the visuals, of course. The “neo-noir”, or in this case “neon-noir”, that characterised Ridley Scott’s vision. The philosophical aspect certainly got the mind racing: not so much a study of the meaning of life, but more what it meant to BE alive. We did not realise back then to what extent it was going to influence movie making in particular and culture in general, nor could we have predicted the cult-status it would gain over time. Ten years later I walked out of the “Director’s Cut” release with a much better awareness of the movie’s importance. Over the last two decades I read pretty much anything about Blade Runner I could get my hands on, culminating in “Future Noir”, the “making of” book that left no stone unturned. But the thought that we would one day see a sequel left me somewhat uneasy. There was something about the ambiguity of the ending that I felt would be ruined if we revisited these characters some years down the line. 

And yet, here we are, some 35 years later, with “Blade Runner 2049”, a story that takes place 30 years after the events of the original movie. I won’t spoil the story of this sequel. I will just say that if you were a fan of the original, you should see this one. This time Ridley Scott stayed on as Executive Producer, while the directing honours were handed to Denis Villeneuve, of Sicario and Arrival fame. As it turns out, Villeneuve was an inspired choice. Somehow he manages to create an “homage” to the original movie while giving us a story that stands very well on its own. He carefully uses some images, and even musical bits in key moments, to create a clear link between the two stories, something that crazy fans like myself will be sure to spot, but these never come in the way of the storytelling and, for newbies, won’t be a distraction. 

Accidentally, Villeneuve seems to want to tick all the key cultural highlights of my 18 year old self: his next project will be a remake of Frank Herbert’s Dune, a book I used to carry around at that age and quote as if it were the Bible itself. 

And most importantly, the writers and Villeneuve somehow manage to keep the ambiguity I so cherished in the first movie, about the true nature of some of the key characters, while adding a new dimension to the story of these “people” in search of a soul, or what it means to have one.


TV Review - Sense8: Season 1


Weirdly enough, there is a connection between my last entry here, the review of David Mitchell's The Bone Clocks, and Netflix' latest extravaganza, Sense8. Leaving aside the fact that some of the new show's creators, The Wachovskis (yes, them of Matrix fame) also directed the movie adaptation of Mitchell's Cloud Atlas, both works deal with the apparent connections between total strangers who seem to either live at different times or in different geographical locations, and while they don't know each other, appear to actually be part of something bigger that binds them together.

In Sense8 we are following eight individuals, in eight (actually, in total, nine) different locations, who over the span of a number of episodes discover that despite the distances, language barriers, time zones and cultural differences, they actually belong together and share a common bond. I will dispense with spoilers and will not engage in analysing each character and what their storyline entails, but suffice it to say that every person's story is told in a different style, with scenes shot on location, and that before long one realises that the logistical nightmare of organising shoots across the planet with eight actors whose storylines tend to "bleed" into each other (meaning at some stage the Chicago character had to have been in Seoul for his footage there whereas the Mumbai actress had to plan her takes in Berlin and vice versa) was handled with jaw-dropping precision and accuracy. Joining the Wachovskis in creating this gem of a show is none other than Babylon 5 show-runner J. Michael Straczynski. The writing is tight, the character development is handled deftly, and besides the metaphysical aspects of the project, what you have here is a story about people and what they do with their lives when they discover they are part of something unusual and, to them, new.

As is true with a great number of shows that are part of the recent renaissance of quality television series, the point with Sense8 is to take one's time. There's no need to rush things and it's best to let the story unfold itself slowly. Some reviewers who relied either on the first episode or, as in many cases, the first three they received for that purpose, and who didn't bother to take the time to finish the whole series before rendering their verdict, misjudged this little masterpiece and their reviews prove it. Personally I found this show to be captivating, making me care for these characters, and most of the high points hit their mark extremely well. I found it to be original and exciting and perfectly suited for Netflix-style binge-watching.

The series trailer should give you a "sense" of what it is you are about to embark on should you decide to take the plunge.


Book Review - The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

Mr Mitchell's "Cloud Atlas" is a book that made quite an impression on me a few years back. Framed in an unusual structure, it is in essence six novellas that form a very satisfying whole. Prior to reading "The Bone Clocks", "Atlas" had been the only other Mitchell book I had read. With "Bone Clocks" Mitchell once again uses a structure of six interconnected stories, each written in a different style, with one recurring character, and two of the stories told in that character's voice.
Without spoiling much, the book revolves around two groups of "immortals" waging a centuries old battle, with at least one side moving through the ages by having their souls inhabit different people as they progress. The author uses that format to express some opinions about world politics, specifically different aspects of Middle-East flash-points such as the American presence in Iraq or the Israeli Palestinian conflict among others.
Mitchell also made the unusual decision to take a character from his previous novel, 2010's historical novel "The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet" and make him/her a central figure in "Clocks". Reading "Thousand Autumns" before "Clocks" is not necessarily a pre-requisite, the book stands perfectly on its own, but I'll probably be joining the numerous readers who will now have to discover that connection in the wrong order. To some extent it is similar to Neal Stephenson's use of recurring named characters in his "Cryptonomicon" and "The Baroque Cycle". Not reading one should not affect enjoying the other.
Personally I didn't enjoy "Clocks" as much as I had "Atlas". The satisfaction in "Atlas" comes from the completeness of that work, the way everything ties together so perfectly. The joy in reading "The Bone Clocks" lies more in the parts, the individual novellas, than in the whole: appreciating the individual styles, the humour in one, the drama and metaphysical aspects in the next. Mitchell is a skilful writer and seems to have a good time trying out different story-telling forms, sometimes to the detriment of the book as a self-contained novel.


TV Review - The Leftovers: Season 1


This HBO show is difficult to pin down. Part magic realism, part commentary on modern society,  a study of painful loss and existentialism, it is all these things and so much more. Based on a novel by Tom Perrotta (which I have not read) and counting among its show-runners Damon Lindelof, one hopes the creators won't leave us "Lost" when all is said and done (like they've been known to do). This show aims for "big moments" and actually manages to hit them more often than not. HBO definitely took a chance on this one, all to the benefit of us viewers. 

On one fateful October 14, 140 million people, two percent of the earth's population, simultaneously disappear from the planet. Why they were chosen, where they went, what it all means, those are some of the questions their loved ones are left to deal with. As the series kicks off, we are three years after the "departure". The story focuses on events taking place in a fictional town, Mapleton NY. One of the main plot twists revolves around a nihilistic cult, the Guilty Remnants, whose members smoke incessantly and have adopted some sort of vow of silence. Their motives are not clear, and yet they seem to be well funded and have a strong sense of purpose (despite said nihilism). 

Personally I found this show to be exceptional and compelling. The cast is phenomenal, the music unsettling. It does not make for easy viewing and yet I can't wait for season two to begin. Season one seems to have pretty much covered the story of the novel, and the next season will be entirely original material written for HBO. One more well earned feather in their cap.


Benefiting From Banks

Talk about a symbiotic relationship: Apple benefits from banks getting in on the Apple Pay game which in return benefits those same banks. Now that sort of relationship might just create its own momentum and spin things up to an even higher level. 

Here is Bank Of America's contribution, though others including Wells Fargo, Citibank and Chase have their own campaigns going. Hopefully we'll see the service pretty soon outside the U.S. as well. 


The Watch Maven's Dilemma

Hard core mechanical watch aficionados are facing quite a choice with the advent of "smart watches" or "wearables": on the one hand they would want to keep up with the latest trends in "smart anything", and with the Apple Watch due out soon chances are the next big thing in "smart" will be worn on one's wrist, yet at the same time they wouldn't want to give up on their love and fascination of all things mechanical. What is one to do ? The first answer for what may be a new trend comes to us from luxury good makers Montblanc. Rather than give up on the mechanical time piece, this one gets complemented by a smart band attached to the watch and said band would communicate with a smartphone pretty much the way other such products by Jawbone or Fitbit do.


Looking at this example I have to imagine that there will be quite a lot of trial and error before luxury goods makers find the right solution (this one requires wearers to twist their wrists to get to the data) but we might see some creative ideas spring up from luxury good makers over the coming months and this is definitely a space worth watching.


CarPlay Diem


Wherever you turn these days people are talking about "the internet of things" and "wearable computing". Typically what people are on about is either Google Glass or the much whispered about but totally unknown entity referred to as the "iWatch". Of course most people are wondering why one would want to bother with another piece of computing equipment, like a smart-watch, that you would have to charge constantly, synchronize and otherwise take care of incessantly, as if our smartphone didn't require enough attention already.

To me some of the answer came a few days ago when Apple introduced CarPlay. The idea behind CarPlay is to provide you an in-car user experience that is consistent with what you have come to expect from your iPhone. But make no mistake: the brains of this system remains your iPhone. CarPlay itself is not an independent computer system in your car. It simply projects iPhone controls onto your car dashboard system. 

And that is how I imagine Apple's next step into wearable computing will be as well. Assuming it is a watch, it could very well be something like this extremely well thought out concept by Mr Gabor Balogh of Budapest, Hungary. All the watch needs to be is a window into some of your iPhone's functionality, and preferably with an elegant interface (as in this concept). 

But somehow I have a feeling that Apple will go much further. As described in this piece in The Economist, the possibilities for true wearable computing are endless, and focusing only on glasses or watches is showing a lack of imagination. 


C-ing Ahead

Two concept videos of next generation iPhones: the iPhone Air and the iPhone 6C. Can't say the 6C concept excites me too much, but I really like the Air-concept. See for yourselves.


App World

Squarespace came out with a line of apps that are just too cool for words. I am testing the Blog app right now while writing these words. The idea is that I should be able to contribute to my site from an iOS device without giving it a second's thought. And you know what ? IT WORKS !!! Amazingly well. I am bound to use this app more often going forward. 

I also recently discovered that anyone can finally have a blog. So far I only ran a simple test and found that web app to be elegant, simple and fascinating all at once. Blogging is definitely alive and well, and digital reading probably only just in its infancy. Exciting times ahead.  



It has been a long time since I posted on this site. The move to Geneva and getting back to corporate life will have that effect. But from a tech perspective the move has also been quite interesting, forcing me to get reacquainted with the "wonderful" life of Wintel, and I will no doubt find fresh material to mine on that front. More to come soon. 



Quite some speculation out there about iOS7. Did Jony Ive have enough time to make dramatic changes to the look of the new operating system ? ​How "Flat" will the new user interface be ? We'll know in a few weeks, no doubt. But for now we can let our imagination wander. Some have gone as far as creating a concept video of what it might look like. Until WWDC, let's dream.


Taking the complexity out of "Search"

Here is another exciting Kickstarter project that is clearly a harbinger of things to come. As you can see in this little video, CamFind's concept is "mobile visual search". Google already introduced this concept with Google Goggles, but the people behind CamFind say their technology is at least 4 times more accurate.

It is however easy to imagine what would happen if you combined this sort of tech with something like Google Glass. In essence the entire process you see here taking place on an iPhone would actually happen right in your field of vision. People around you wouldn't even be aware of the fact that you are busy researching them or checking out how much they paid for their furniture or new outfit. 

Just as exciting as it is creepy, no ?



A little over a week ago Apple came out with a cute little ad for Christmas. A young girl plays "I'll Be Home for Christmas" to her granddad using FaceTime. 

The makers of the app Futulele have seemingly one-upped Apple with their own version of that song. Very cool, especially since you consider that Apple's ad aired on December 22 and that Futulele's version was uploaded on December 23. The kind of quick turnaround video production I like to be involved with myself.