Rules of the Screen

Stolen from the Internet

follow a set of (largely unwritten) rules that have been developed over the last ten years. Uniquely, this article takes a look at both the rules and their basis in psychology.

The elements you see in modern user interfaces (windows, menus, icons, etc) were founded on basic, psychological principles – eg, people are better at recognition than recall.

Psychologists spend their time devising deceptively simple experiments using, as their laboratory equipment, people’s heads. Some of their discoveries do not seem earth-shattering (it is, apparently, harder to remember “The man looked at the sign” than “The fat man looked at the sign warning of thin ice.”) Over time, they have built up a model of the mind that is far from the powerful, flexible superbrain we might think humans possess. Rather, it is quirky, fallible, distracted and often downright cantankerous-more Homer Simpson than Side-Show Bob.

One of the earlier findings was that people are considerably better at recognition than recall. Ask me to describe the icon for ‘set foreground colour to match this’ and I’ll have difficulty, but show me a palette of icons and I’ll pick out the pipette. Or, at least, I will if I’ve used it before. This is the fundamental principle behind both icons and menus: having people choose from a list they’ve seen before is far easier than having them type long strings of ill-remembered commands. Information in the world is easier on users than information in the head. Not just easier, but quicker too; measured in microseconds, recognition beats recall hands down.

Research is ongoing-new techniques and interface ‘widgets’ are introduced with each new operating system release. Some are successful and others die out.

Of course, every application now uses menus and icons, but there is more to it than that. Further research shows that it’s easier to find what you’re looking for when items are sorted into meaningful groups. If that seems obvious, watch someone using menus. They will frequently look in two or more menus before finding what they’re looking for, no matter how many times they’ve seen it before. Are the menus grouped in a way that is meaningful for the user or for the developer? Or for a designer in search of elegant simplicity-one set of menus across different applications, achieved by making their names as bland as possible.

What the user sees…
The key to a successful interface is determining the predominant user type-beginner, intermediate or expert-and considering what users are thinking when they use an application.

Diversity of users is a key problem for the visual interface designer.
Typically, users are segmented into three capability levels: beginner, intermediate and expert. These levels can be applied to three domains: computing in general, a specific operating system and a specific application. You can be an expert Windows user but a beginner at Excel, for instance; or you could be an expert user of your company’s order entry system but oblivious to everything outside it (there are users who believe the order entry system is the computer). ‘Expert’ here means ‘thoroughly familiar with’, rather than the usual sense of ‘world’s leading authority’.

A common mistake is to focus too much on the beginner, forgetting that the user will progress to an intermediate level fairly swiftly and will then be held up by features designed for beginners.

Beginners get a lot of attention, but in fact there are not many of them around, simply because they learn. For the custom business applications we are concerned with, users are almost entirely intermediates learning to become experts since they use the software nearly every day. If you design your interface for beginners, it will quickly be viewed as tiresome by most of its users. Instead, your application should quietly introduce itself and aim to make users intermediates as soon as possible.

Before looking at which interface features favour the different user types, consider what users are thinking when they use an application. Broadly, a user will have one of three questions:

What can I do with this application?
How do I achieve this specific task?
If I rummage around, what will I find?

1) and (3) might seem trivial, but they are enormously important in transforming beginners into intermediates and intermediates into experts. That said, you don’t need to build much direct support for them. The crucial question is (2)-to see why, we need a model.

When you want to do something, say read a book after dark, you go through four steps (what follows is a simplified version of a model introduced by interface design guru Don Norman).

First, you determine a goal; in our example it might be “make it lighter, so I can read.” You then translate the goal into one or more actions such as “get out of the chair and turn on the light” or “ask someone else to turn on the light.”

When the action has been carried out you look for feedback, in this case it gets lighter. Finally you evaluate whether the goal has been achieved.
Users apply a four-step sequence when trying to carry out a task on an application-goal, action, feedback and evaluation.

The channel most appropriate for completing a task varies with the user type: menus cater well for beginners, keyboard short cuts are for experts and the still controversial toolbar is aimed at the largest user group-the intermediates.
That might seem like an awful lot of thinking just to turn on a light, but of course for such simple actions it’s all subconscious. The same goal-action-feedback-evaluation sequence applies to users trying to carry out tasks with your application. Typically, two problem areas arise: my goal is to send a mail message, but how do I do it (the ‘gulf of execution’); and I think I just sent one, but how can I be sure (the ‘gulf of evaluation’)? The first of these is our old friend (2) from the discussion above and is by far the most common, and most serious, interface problem.

When you want to offer your users a way of completing a task, you have four main channels to choose from: menus, the keyboard, a toolbar or direct manipulation with the mouse. For some tasks, such as resizing a window or typing a letter, the choice is obvious (though ibm’s ageing CUA guidelines still insist that everything should be possible from the keyboard—have you ever tried resizing a window from the keyboard?). For commands, though, the choice is menu, keyboard and/or toolbar. Interface gurus agree that menus cater well for beginners and keyboard shortcuts are for experts, but this leaves our main target group, the intermediates. It was for this group that the toolbar was invented.
However, it doesn’t boil down to building an interface exclusively for one user type-it’s more a question of getting the right mix. Inter-mediates will quickly get accustomed to toolbars and accompanying tooltips. This frees menus up to teach beginners.

The argument against toolbars runs like this: they waste screen real estate, the icons are too small to be recognizable and, since users can’t figure out how to customise them, they usually feature the wrong set of commands. The argument in favour is more practical: once people start using a toolbar, they can’t live without them. Microsoft neatly solved the recognisability problem with ‘tooltips’-the label that appears if you hold the mouse over a toolbar icon for a couple of seconds. In fact, if you put the most commonly used commands on a toolbar (preferably customisable, though this can be hard work for developers and users alike) as well as giving them keyboard shortcuts, you have freed your menu bar to do what it does best: teach beginners. Faced with a tight budget, custom software developers often drop niceties like toolbars and right mouse-button shortcuts (the fifth channel). This is a mistake.

There are a number of further aspects to consider when examining command channels-affordance, the way in which an object’s appearance hints at what you can do with it, and pliancy, the way an object highlights itself or produces an entire menu when the pointer moves near it.

Before leaving the important topic of command channels, let’s look at two other aspects, one very old and one new. Direct manipulation (mousing an object) usually involves drag-and-drop. Though drag-and-drop has been around as long as guis, users have trouble with it. The problem seems to be with affordance, the way in which an object’s appearance hints at what you can do with it. In the real world, for instance, handles afford pulling. This makes handles on doors that need pushing pretty annoying (the designer probably thought this was a small price to pay to avoid the ugliness of a metal plate for pushing). Icons of files, just like real world files, do afford ‘physical’ drag-and-drop between folders or into the wastebasket. But chunks of text do not afford dragging to somewhere else in a document—so this should be an optional feature, aimed at experts. The rule is, except where drag-and-drop is clearly an ideal solution (such as rescheduling events in a diary application), avoid making your users do it.

Affordance is also behind a much more recent development: pliancy, or having an object highlight itself when the pointer is moved near it. The buttons in Internet Explorer are a good example of this—they change from subtle monotone to 3D colour whenever the pointer is within clicking distance.

Some objects go further than this, producing whole menus without being clicked (see Microsoft Encarta, for instance). This can be somewhat unnerving at first, but offers both ease-of-use to beginners and speed-of-use to everyone.

For speed users, Apple’s single menu bar is faster than menus mounted on windows. The keyboard, of course, beats both and ones with a Dvorak layout are faster than QWERTY, but only by 10%.

On the subject of speed, here are a couple of other research findings that will be of interest in situations where every microsecond counts (high volume data entry, for example). First, mouse usage.

Fitt’s Law says that the time it takes to click an object is proportional to the distance the pointer has to move and the size of the target. This explains the surprising fact that Apple’s single menu bar is more efficient than Microsoft’s one-per-window paradigm. Apple users need much less accuracy to hit the target: they simply wham the pointer off the top of the screen. In effect, their target is several times larger. (Windows 95 uses the same trick for its Task bar.)

Second, keyboard layout: isn’t it about time we did away with those silly QWERTY keyboards? In fact, an Alpha layout would be no quicker to learn (you might know the alphabet, but that doesn’t help significantly when the sequence is broken into three rows) and actually slower for experts.

The Dvorak layout, based on statistical analysis of key usage, would be fastest, but only 10% better than QWERTY.

The problem with overlapping windows
Overlapping windows were developed during the backlash against character-based terminals. In fact, it is rare that a user needs to view more than one window at once. This fact is exploited by browser-centric applications.

Ever since we had GUIs, we had overlapping windows. There is, of late, a growing feeling that this was a wrong turn in the history of visual interfaces. People are most effective when they are in a state of ‘flow’—ie, focused on a single task without interruption. Having to find a window somewhere behind the front one is an interruption. So is a dialog box or an error message (more of these later).

If you have three sets of papers on your desk, each relating to a different task, you do not put them on top of each other, you arrange them in separate piles and shift your focus from one to the other only when changing tasks. Nor do sequences in movies appear from behind each other and then drop into the background. This just isn’t how your mind works: attention is serial. Tellingly, the most successful application ever, the web browser, uses a serial, single-window idiom.

There are situations where you focus on more than one thing at once: when comparing, say, or copying from one place to another. Which is why overlapping windows work best where they were first applied: file managers like Apple’s Finder.

In those days you could run only one application, so it was difficult to get confused. As PCs became able to run several applications, a slew of interface innovations were thrown at the problem of managing them: Apple’s application menu with Hide and Show, Microsoft’s ALT-TAB and, more recently and most successfully, the Task bar.

For designers of custom applications, the task is somewhat simpler as they can assume that the user concentrates on a single application.

Forcing a user to move between windows and dialogs in the course of completing a single task is at first confusing and then annoying-the activity is surplus to the task.
If you are designing a custom application (other than a small utility), you can make the simplifying assumption that, if a user is working with your application, they are not doing anything else. So use the whole screen. Some gurus go further than this. Alan Cooper (creator of Visual Basic) suggests the following way of thinking about dialog boxes: imagine each window is a different room. If I visited your home and you demanded we move to a different room to shake hands, I would consider that eccentric at first and, pretty soon, downright annoying.

Of course, if we decided to start a new task, such as eating dinner, I would think nothing of moving to the dining room (not that I want to suggest that eating at your place would be a ‘task’).

If your user wants to do something they consider part of the same task, such as change font or view more detail, don’t give them a dialog box, let them do it right there in the window they already have. Reserve dialogs for new goals, such as starting a new search, not new functions. Some applications make you fight through several layers of nested dialogs, which is like finding yourself in the room under the stairs in the cellar just because you asked the time. Still others lure you into a false sense of security with commands like “New Table” which produces, not a table, but a dialog asking you about that table you requested.

There are still a number of common pitfalls designers tend to fall into-boundaries between new tasks, default settings, undo options and poor error messages.

Users will come up with a myriad of task variances which will drive the requirement analyst mad, but in practice users will take the default option 95% of the time. Toolbars are recently starting to get this right.
While many dialogs can be replaced with objects in the main window (on a toolbar, for instance), many more aren’t needed at all. Software designers do not distinguish between the occasional and the frequent: if something happens at all, the application has to cope with it. If you want to wind up a requirements analyst, neglect to tell them something and, when they find out about it, say “well it doesn’t happen very often so I didn’t think it was worth mentioning.” Yet this is how users really think, so when they choose Print, asking them stupid questions such as “where?” and “how many copies?” is annoying. They take the defaults 95% of the time. Print buttons on toolbars have recently started getting this right—they just print. If you really want multiple copies, you go and find the menu entry. A famous dialog in an early version of Excel would appear every time you tried to clear a cell and ask what, exactly, you wanted to get rid of—the contents? or maybe just the formatting? Getting just a little cleverer with defaults (remembering what the user told you last time, for instance) can make a big difference.

All too often designers use error messages as a get out for poor design. With a well designed application, a user sees an error message so rarely that, when they do, they really sit up and take notice.

Some confirmation dialogs and error messages are even worse. Users who have made what psychologists call a slip—deleting the wrong thing, say—will simply confirm the slip when asked. What they need is a way to undo, though this is a notoriously difficult thing to implement. A classic confirmation dialog in an early database application (we couldn’t find a screen shot) said “Continuing may corrupt the database” at which point the user could choose between two buttons, one labelled “Yes” and the other “No.” Kafka-esque error messages like this, many of which are simply unnecessary, seem deliberately worded to offend.

Don Norman’s Six Slips (from The Design of Everyday Things)
Capture errors A frequently performed activity takes over from (captures) the one you intended. For example, driving your car to the supermarket and finding yourself at the office.
Description errors You perform the correct action but on the wrong object due to their similarities. For example, putting your dirty washing into the tumble drier rather than the washing machine.
Data-driven errors The arrival of sensory data triggers an automatic action, and this disrupts an ongoing action sequence. For example, you spill your drink when someone asks you the time.
Associative activation errors Internal events (thoughts) can also trigger automatic actions— eg, you think of something you ought not say, then say it (the classic Freudian slip).
Loss-of-activation errors You are half-way through an action sequence and realise you have no idea why you started. For example, you find yourself walking into the kitchen but have no idea why you are there.
Mode errors A device, say your video recorder, has more than one mode of operation and the same action has different results in different modes. This is probably the most common slip caused by poor visual interface design.

Trying to be helpful

A common problem faced by beginners on their way to intermediate status is information or ‘button’ overload.

A number of UI features have been designed specially for beginners such as help, wizards and tips. For custom business applications our objective with beginners is to make them intermediates. Training courses, whilst efficient, are quickly forgotten. What is needed is ‘Just In Time’ training.

Keeping in line with a person’s natural learning process-declarative then procedural knowledge phases-a ‘Just in Time’ training method supports the user’s progression from beginner to intermediate far more effectively.

When faced with a new environment, people perceive its complexity to be higher the more buttons there are to press. This is why the ‘simplest’ telephones have just the digits 0-9, *, # and ‘R’. They are, of course, almost impossible to use. The easiest interface, which would ironically be perceived as horribly complex, would be one button per function. On screen, the designer is able to hide functions until they are needed (depending on the user’s current task, for example) so there is no excuse for overloading buttons with several functions.

After overcoming their initial impression, people first pick up declarative knowledge—a real world example would be what a bicycle is and the parts it is made of. Only later does their knowledge become procedural—how to ride a bike ‘without thinking’. Beginners have to plod through each step; experts rely on subconscious (and much faster) procedural knowledge.
Help has also evolved from being a mere reference tool to a more active task orientated search function.

Help, which has been around for ever, has only recently become helpful. This is a result of a move away from pure reference help (mainly declarative) and a new focus on how to achieve specific tasks (much easier to make procedural). Some help is now ‘active’ in the sense that it will take actions for you, such as opening a control panel, if asked. Since this makes for a fast payoff, users who previously thought help was for dummies will now make the investment when they are stuck.

Tips (shortcuts suggested by the software, often as a result of watching what you are doing) and tool tips are further examples of the blurring boundary between functionality and help. The trend is towards help that is ‘in your face’-a trend that is being accelerated by the World Wide Web for two reasons: the search idiom is becoming ingrained (so searching for help is too) and applications are decomposing into applets so users will need guidance to fit them back together.

Also classified as ‘active help’ are wizards and, although they take the user through the whole task quite simply, they do little to teach him how to complete the task himself.

Wizards are another example of active help, though these bring problems. Using a wizard, you quickly complete a task but you learn little about how. If anything, you are left more impressed by the mystery of it all. This makes wizards good for situations where learning is not the objective: infrequent tasks, say, or infrequent users. Over-reliance on wizards has resulted in some lazy design.

The processes by which these rules of the screen are reached are not laid out or even chronological for that matter. They are, more often than not, found by trial and error, with the outcome confirmed or refuted once the user gets his hands on the application.

In case you think that any of this is obvious, you should bear in mind that grown adults have spent days arguing over such things as whether there should even be a right mouse-button, let alone when to use it. The argument is now irrelevant, of course, since 95% of users have one. This is typical of how user interface progresses: gurus pontificate, academics research (into technology on which they get educational discount rather than technology everyone else is using) and try to prove ideas that are already out of date, developers try their best to follow the written guidelines and a vendor, usually Microsoft or Apple, makes the whole lot irrelevant by introducing an innovation which users, voting with their fingers, make or break overnight. Someone then quietly rewrites the guidelines to fit. This is the context in which designers work. If you have a serious yearning to invent UI rather than apply it well, you should move to the West coast.

The Cloud Minders

(Episode of Star Trek)

This troubled planet is a place of the most violent contrasts. Those that receive the rewards are totally separated from those who shoulder the burdens. It is not a wise leadership.

Spock – “The Cloud Minders” Star Trek first broadcast 28/2/1969

Is this just a coincidence ?
The very weekend I am reading the book “When Corporation rule the World” by David Korten this star trek episode is aired on TV4. I thought I had seen them all. Korten uses this future morality tale to highlight the problems he sees with the world today.

This book chronicles the economic history of the last 50 years, since the Bretton Woods conference and the creation of the IMF and World Bank.

Korten tell how large corporations have influenced the economic world and ensured a system that is to their advantage.
Some of the accusations are a bit to simplistic for my liking, the impression gained is that all the evils of the 20th century can be laid at the feet of big business. He fails to take into account other trends of our modern world, especially the influence of technology.

Most of the trends and influences he outlines ring true, anyone who has read similar books will recognize the themes –
* reduction of environmental standards
* the error of growth based economics
* undermining of democratic process

Indeed, some of the work he quotes I read in previous books in similar subjects. All those interested in economics should read the Cobb/Daly book “For the common good”, as this must be the most quoted book on “new” economics.

Some notable quotes from the book –
According to Joe Kurtzman, editor of Harvard Business Review –
* For every $1 circulating in the productive world economy, $20-$50 circulates in the world of pure finance.
* In international currency markets alone, $800billion to $1 trillion changes hands each day. Far in excess of the $20-$25 billion required to cover trade in goods and services.

Production accounts for only 25% of the selling price of a typical product.

Overall a good read. The prose is good, and not too technical.
Most of the book concentrates on the problems, with the solutions being kept until the last few chapters. Korten doesn’t propose solutions, he simply states the strategies that others have started to enact.

I sympathize, therefore, with those who would minimize, rather than those who would maximize, economic entanglements between nations.

Ideas, knowledge, art, hospitality, travel – these are the things which should of their nature be international. But lets goods be homespun whenever it is reasonably and conveniently possible, and above all, let finance be primarily national.
– John Maynard Keynes

(c) Nigel Baker 29/3/98

New Zealand Sea Shore Shanty

(to the tune of ” What should we do with a drunken sailor)

What should we do with New Zealand seashore
What should we do with New Zealand seashore
What should we do with New Zealand seashore
Early in this century

Hey, man Iwi should own it
Hey, man Iwi should own it
Hey, man Iwi should own it
Then sell it off to Seaworld

What should we do with New Zealand seashore
What should we do with New Zealand seashore
What should we do with New Zealand seashore
Early in this century

Hey, dude the government should own it
Hey, dude the government should own it
Hey, dude the government should own it
And run it like a railway

What should we do with New Zealand seashore
What should we do with New Zealand seashore
What should we do with New Zealand seashore
Early in this century

(repeat until 2004)

(written in 2003!)

A Strange Story

We were exploring a strange world when we came to the edge of the land.

On the beach we found two strange partners. There was a large walrus, and a tall skinny chap with a stack of tools.

We sat on a rock to watch what they were doing. Then we noticed that along the beach strolled a line of oysters. “That’s strange” said Roger, “must be that caterpillar I ate”.

The oysters cried, “But wait a bit, before we have our chat, for some of us are out of breath, and all of us are fat”.

As we watched the walrus was devouring each oyster as it approached him. He ate until he was stuffed full. Then he lay down on the beach for a snooze.

The walrus lay between the sea and the rocks, blocking the way along the beach.

But the oysters just kept coming, they crawled over the sleeping walrus to the carpenter. Each oyster he carefully picked up and opened with a special tool. After eating the oyster, he examined the inside of the shell, them put it on one of the several piles behind him. As he worked, we could just hear him as he sung a tune.

Instruction, Division, Divide
Without my cocaine, I’ll never get high

Instruction, Division, Divide
This bit’s not high, so why am I

Instruction, Division, Divide
I’ll never get by, without my multiply

The walrus just belched. After some time he rolled over, stood up and resumed eating the oysters.

The carpenter became very agitated. “I’m late, I’m late. I must keep these in order for that little MIS. Get out of my way, I’ve work to do”.

But the walrus just ignored him. He was much bigger than the carpenter, and could use his size to block him from the row of oysters. The carpenter tried to push the walrus out of the way, he tried to get around him, but he didn’t want to get his feet wet. After some time he got tired any lay down for a sleep.

When the walrus finished the carpenter woke and resumed taking the oysters.

We went up to the pair and asked why they fought over the oysters. The walrus said “I need them to keep me alive, it’s all I can eat”. The carpenter said “I’ve work to do, a contract to fill, I’m paid by the shells that I keep.”

So we laid down on the beach and thought of many things , of bits and fats and things. Most of us just went to sleep.

Suddenly Steve jumped up “I KNOW” he shouted.

He asked the walrus, “why can’t you lie in the surf, you could get a suntan, keep cool in the water and eat”.

The walrus grumbled “But the carpenter will get all the oysters. And besides, the sea is boiling hot”. “It’s not hot, not java boiling hot” Steve splashed in the sea, to the amazement of the carpenter and the walrus. “And the carpenter won’t get your lot, he’s got no bleedin’ pot”.

So the walrus reluctantly lumbered into the surf and waited for the oysters. The line of oysters moved towards the walrus, he was big and black and all they could see.

At first the surf washed the oysters up onto the beach to the carpenter. But as the sea retreated, the line of oysters came up the walrus and he could continue eating them. They came infrequently, so he didn’t need to stuff himself, then have a sleep.

The carpenter could open the oysters, examine their contents and keep up with his work.

We stood and watched until the carpenter became engrossed in his work. He continued singing his songs..

Overflow, Carry, Extend
My flip flop friends are zero in the end

Link and Alocate
More registers, I just ate

Move here and Move here
Swap there and Swap there

“Hmm” wondered Steve as we left, “I wonder what would happen if they each had a line of oysters”.

Lexx 3.01 & 3.02


The third season comprises 13 episodes in which the Lexx is trapped in orbit around the warring planets Fire and Water, and the crew encounters an enigmatic and cheerful evil being known as Prince, who may be the Devil. The two planets orbit each other at extremely close distance, and share one atmosphere, allowing the inhabitants to pass freely between them. Fire is the afterlife for all evil souls, the inhabitants of which are continually engaged in attacks on Planet Water, which is the afterlife of all good souls. Fire is filmed between the dunes of Namibia and the Gothic architecture of Berlin. The rulers of Fire are Prince and Duke, who both reincarnate whenever it suits them. Water appears to have no ruler, and contains a small population of hedonists on floating islands.

Lexx 3.01 – Fie and Water (6 Feb 2000)
After being adrift for 4332 years, Lexx comes into orbit of the planets Fire and Water. The leader of Fire, Prince, heads an expedition in a balloon to intercept the Lexx. He brings back Stan and Xev to Fire, discarding Stan as of little use, and setting him to torture. He tries to woo Xev, and she nearly falls in love with the romantic ruler of a dramatic planet. Kai wakes up, repairs 790, who becomes fixated upon him, and then (having no moth) he decides to long-jump down to planet Water, to find the crew.

Lexx 3.02 – May (13 Feb 2000)
After jumping down to planet Water, Kai finds the beautiful May; the lone survivor of an attack on a Water city. He requisitions an attacking gondola, and sails over to planet Fire. After realising Stanley is the key to the Lexx, Prince brings Stanley back into the picture; dismissing his torture and near execution, as merely “a test”. After all being rescued by Kai, May begins to convince Stanley to destroy Fire. Lexx is starving, and they become aware of how stuck they are. As May lapses into death from a small wound on her shoulder, Prince comes to Stanley as a ghost, and tells him that he can have May forever, if he destroys planet Water.

An interesting premise and a good setup for some interesting science fiction. The problem is that the directing is so lethargic and the script so predictable that there is no tension or excitement to be had.  (3/5)


American Hustle

American Hustle is a 2013 American black comedy crime film directed by David O. Russell.
It stars Christian Bale and Amy Adams as two con artists who are forced by an FBI agent (Bradley Cooper) to set up an elaborate sting operation on corrupt politicians, including the mayor of Camden, New Jersey (Jeremy Renner). Jennifer Lawrence plays the unpredictable wife of Bale’s character.


Great film about American politics, con artists and the lengths everyone will go to to get what they want. Based on actual operations undertaken by the FBI starting in 1978. (5/5)


Matilda (Film 1996)

Matilda is a sweet and smart six year old with the worst of parents. Dany DeVito and Rhea Perlman ham it up to the max as her parents and are clearly having fun. Danny DeVito directs, and successfully keeps Raol Dahl’s dark humour. Children get tortured, thrown and abused in way only Dahl can do.

It’s a funny, sweet and very entertaining film (5/5)

Mara Elizabeth Wilson, (Matilda) now 28 has been in ‘Gilmore Girls’.

Embeth Davidtz, who plays Matilda’s teacher was in Mad Men (2009-2012).

Pam Ferris plays the Agatha Trunchbull, the tyrannical principal. She starred on television as Ma Larkin in The Darling Buds of May and Aunt Marge in ‘Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban’.

1990 Movies

Best films of the year 1990

Here, in the order I saw them are my films of the year.

Best combination of music and film since Bruno Bozzello’s film
“Allegro Non Troppo”.

Since Aliens 2 I have waited for the next James Cameron film.
Although not as good as Aliens 2, still one of the best this year. I
think that the film could have been just as good without the alien
involvement at the end. As for the ending, a real let down. However if it is re-released in it’s uncut form I will see it again. For me, this film shows Cameron as currently the best director at the suspense-action genre.

Earth Girls are easy
Best comedy (American). Even if it is directed by a pom (Julien Temple I think).

High Hopes
Best Comedy (British). At least I think I’m supposed to laugh at
the English class system being ripped into.

A Dry White Season
Best drama. A success in that it doesn’t give a rose-coloured end.
Sobering viewing.

Hunt for Red October
Best war film. Almost believable, suspense film.

Total Recall
Science Fiction film of the year. The boys at industrial light &
magic really pulled finger for the effects in this film. Probably cost
more to make than our national deficit.

Robocop 2 & Die Hard 2
Great cardboard cut-out characters fighting against all odds.
Die Hard wins the award for the most imaginative way to destroy an
aircraft. The end of Robocop has the best stop-motion animation work done since Linda Hamilton survived the metal monster in Terminator.

Dick Tracy
If I was pressed for a film of the year it would be this one. Much better than the over-rated Batman, the cinematography and design of this film is flawless. This film is a statement of the art of the film maker.

Turkey of the year :
Navy Seals
Nothing but a vehicle for Tom Cruise. The action scenes contain
zilch in the way of suspense. By the half way mark I was bored and
had already guessed the end.

And while I am on the subject, I can still not see what anyone saw
in “sex, lies and videotape”. This was the most boring american “art”
film I have ever seen. Very self indulgent, the characters appear to come out of a psychology text.



Deponia (2012)
Rufus, ill-tempered and entirely too convinced of his own greatness, lives in the most remote sector of the garbage-covered planet Deponia. He dreams of a better life in the floating cities of wealth and beauty high above the planet surface. When a lovely young woman falls from these privileged spheres down into a neighboring trash heap, Rufus sees his chance to escort her back home. However, getting her there safe and sound will involve a wild chase across Deponia full of twists, turns and mystifying mix-ups…

Chaos on Deponia (2012)
Some time has passed since the last game, but Rufus is still attempting to escape the trash-filled Deponia to the skybound Elysium. The lovely Goal returns to the planet’s surface, and her damaged brain implant continues to spell trouble for itts inhabitants, this time in a literal split-personality kind of way that greatly impacts puzzle solutions and her relationship with Rufus as well.

Goodbly Deponia (2013)
Reaching Elysium and saving Deponia seem to be just within arm’s reach for Rufus and Goal. But Rufus’s innate talent for chaos and mayhem also seems to have reached a whole new level. And so, instead of his great triumph, a crippling setback awaits. For the first time, Rufus is ridden by self-doubt. Of course, he wouldn’t be Rufus if he let that get the best of him. To tackle this new heap of problems, however, one Rufus just isn’t enough…



The first game was OK, the main character, Rufus being a tolerable jerk. The great cartoon styled graphics and the other characters balanced the nature of Rufus. He seemed to be at least apparent of his own flaws.

In the second shorter game he had become repulsive and starting to get really annoying. However in the third game, he continues in the same vein, his unrelenting revolting attitude brings the tone of the game down from being a comedy, to borderline racist and offensive.

As adventure games, there is are faults in all of them. One solved puzzle does not lead naturally to a clue for the next. So when you finally stumble on the solution for a situation, there’s never a sense of progression, of having achieved – instead the game either bends the plot to have your success be a failure, or it just ticks a mystery box and then leaves you equally lost.

The game’s penultimate chapter – an absolutely enormous section – has you playing as three different characters, each in their own sprawling location, with an inventory that’s shared to ensure maximum confusion and dead-ends. Figuring out what to do next is a needle in a haystack, and so very often those needles are entirely nonsensical.  So many puzzles require you gather a bunch items without being given any clue why you’re after them .

It’s such a huge failure of adventure design.

If it wasn’t for the walk-through to get through the narrative, I would have abandoned the series after the first game.



John Abercrombie
Timeless (1975)

This is one of the first artist’s I came across in the 1980’s during my ECM explorations. It was purchased in Christchurch’s ‘Radar Records’ in vinyl, probably the best record store in the city at the time.

It was Abercrombie’s debut album as leader, recorded in 1974 with Jan Hammer (keyboards) and Jack DeJohnette (drums). There is a bit of ‘conventional’ jazz guitar, but with Jan Hammer on early synthesizers it moves to a more European feel, closer to Schulze and the Berlin School of electronics.

The best track is the title track.