Darren M Winter

Technical Author, Learning Designer, and Quality Assurance professional with skills and experience in many areas.

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I’m an experienced writer, technical author and learning designer and with a passion for collecting, organising and sharing knowledge and putting it to use in Production, Support and Quality Assurance environments.

I’m a graduate of the University of Sheffield who loves language and writing, follows web technology and social/digital media developments closely and enjoys learning new skills.

Away from work, I'm a DJ and photographer; I also enjoy rambling through the Peak District and complaining about the England cricket team.

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On clerihews

On clerihews - short, satirical comedic poems. With very bad examples.

Sir Humphry Davy

Abominated gravy.

He lived in the odium

Of having discovered sodium.

So goes the first recorded clerihew.

For those of you who are uninitiated – which is to say, practically everyone of sound mind and body – a clerihew is a four-line poem with an AABB rhyme scheme. Named for its owner, former Telegraph journalist Edmund Clerihew Bentley, the clerihew is a comic poetic form with…

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Shenanigans XVI - mixtape

Shenanigans XVI – mixtape

The working title for Shenanigans XVI was “From Little Mix to Led Zeppelin”. Unfortunately I couldn’t find anywhere to get some Led Zep in, but it’s safe to say that this mix really does run the gamut of popular music as well as covering a period of over 50 years. The oldest track is Harry Belafonte’s “Jump in the Line” recorded on 1961 (but written in 1946) and which you’ll know from the movie…

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Twin Peaks: The Entire Mystery, a review

In the late 1980s, American TV networks were on the hunt. Advertisers were trying to attract those with disposable income, which in terms of a TV demographic meant the fairly intelligent, fairly affluent middle. What that demographic responded to, they reasoned, were high production values, involved storylines, and lofty concepts; the ingredients that led to conversations over the water cooler in the office for days after. The ABC network in particular had need of a show that generated that sort of buzz, occupying third place in the race of the three main networks. It was this humdrum hunt for viewing figures and advertising dollars that gave rise to a show about incestuous rape, the interpretation of dreams, teenage prostitution, the plight of the Tibetan people, drugs and pornography, coffee and pie - in other words, all the things that auteur David Lynch thought went on behind the respectable facade of small-town America.

It was suggested that Lynch adapt his vision of life behind white picket fences for the small screen, an idea that interested Lynch very quickly. However, asking the man who directed Blue Velvet to reproduce Desperate Housewives’ scurrilous scandalscape was always going to be like handing Michelangelo a can of magnolia and asking him if he wouldn’t mind running a roller around the ceiling. The hook was the murder of homecoming queen Laura Palmer; the 50lb line, the continued shenanigans of the inhabitants of Twin Peaks, a fictional town close to the US/Canada border. Looking through the eyes of Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agent Dale Cooper (a self-introduction as iconic as “Bond, James Bond”) we uncover the dramas and intrigues that Lynch and co-conspirator Mark Frost always intended to be the main course.

Extramarital affairs? Twin Peaks has them in spades. Double, triple and quadruple-crossing business deals? Tick, tick, tick. Murder, drug-running, prostitution, brothels, arson, extortion, kidnapping, even a coma victim that suddenly comes back to life with murderous intent - it’s all there. Lynch’s genius lies in adding the surreal to the mundane, so that the two become intertwined, and in some ways it’s the mundane that starts to stand out whilst the viewer becomes habituated to the supernatural. It’s a gift that Lynch shares with Haruki Murakami, whose novel ‘Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage’ is released in its English translation this week.

Once the surreal aspects are introduced, Twin Peaks really starts to soar; but at the same time, they’re the signs that the show was cancelled too early. For example, we learn that Mike and BOB were spirits that used to kill together, inhabiting other people’s bodies to do so, but we don’t learn enough of their background to understand where they come from or why they were driven to do that. Twin Peaks has many such issues, large and small. Who was Mrs Tremond, really, and what was her purpose? Why does Josie appear to be trapped inside a wooden drawer handle? Were the messages that Major Briggs intercepted really from space? The giant, the Little Man from Another Place, the Black Lodge and the White Lodge - all enduring and to some extent unanswered mysteries.

The se/prequel film ‘Fire Walk With Me’ did little to answer such questions, which was one of the reasons it met with little critical acclaim beyond the Twin Peaks fandom. Other supporting material, such as books that represented Laura’s secret diary and Cooper’s tapes, rather add to the mysteries than provide any answers. David Lynch’s refusal to re-enter the Twin Peaks universe - even to allow anyone else to, vetoing a proposed graphic novel that would have accompanied the latest box set - means that answers are unlikely to be provided. It’s this very uncertainty that provides Twin Peaks with its enduring appeal, with fan conventions still being organised and a very engaged fanbase looking forward to the release of this box set.

The parallels with other shows are clear. LOST, most notably, is the most recent show to have provided a similar experience. Just as LOST fails to provide almost any answers, and a fanbase willing to dispute any answers given by the show and propose a myriad of their own, so it is with Twin Peaks. But where LOST was allowed to run to a conclusion (of sorts - it depends whether you like the ending) Twin Peaks was cancelled early, having been forced by the network to reveal Laura’s killer against their will. Whereas the LOST writers always claimed to know the answers and how the show would end, there were no such guarantees with Twin Peaks.

LOST is the Waterfall model, with the start, middle and end known from the outset and only the steps in the journey left to describe. Twin Peaks is Agile development; happy to reconsider and modify its approach on a whim, looking to include and take advantage of any event. Sheryl Lee, who played Laura Palmer, was never intended to have a regular role - Lynch was looking for a local actress to play the corpse, and it was only when they filmed the home movie picnic scene with Donna Heyward (Lara Flynn Boyle) did Lynch realise her onscreen presence. Similarly Frank Silva, a set dresser, accidentally appeared in a shot reflected in a mirror in the Palmer household, and Lynch liked his mysterious and dangerous look and decided he should play BOB from that point on.

While shows such as LOST continue the tradition, it’s not to Twin Peaks that the debt is owed. That honour really goes to the Patrick McGoohan vehicle ‘The Prisoner’, and it’s clear to see the values that run through these three shows - high production values, a great cast, a lot of mystery (that’s never fully explained), and so on. It’s interesting to speculate on shows that have tried to follow the same model and failed - “Flash Forward” and “Jericho” are two that spring to mind. If we take “Jericho” as an example, it’s clear to see that that show failed because it failed to explore the main mystery in the first few shows beyond an occasional mention, leading to plummeting viewing figures. Whilst the show’s central premise had promise - the idea of a massive, coordinated nuclear attack on many of America’s main cities - the show concentrated on living with the aftermath at the expense of solving the main mystery, and clearly viewers were not that interested in two groups of (fairly shallow) characters arguing over limited salt supplies.

This box set represents the pinnacle of Twin Peaks fandom. All the remastered episodes - which look terrific - are there, along with the Log Lady introductions from the original VHS release. It’s the extras that really elevate this offering, from the interviews with crew, cast and characters to the massive amounts of previously unseen material that was shot and never used for Fire Walk With Me. As a present for a Twin Peaks fan, well, they probably had it on pre-order for the last year anyway. But for those new to Twin Peaks, this box set represents around 40 hours of the oddest and most compulsive viewing that the small screen has to offer, and it rewards multiple viewings.

iversity: The Future of Storytelling

I found an interesting thing online the other week: iversity. I guess the easiest way to describe it as a worldwide, free Open University. It’s just starting up, so at the minute there are only about 12 courses in English and 10 in German. Political Philosophy was the first one that caught my eye, because, geek; there are others including Dark Matter in Galaxies, Contemporary Architecture, and DNA From Structure to Therapy.


But then, I spotted “The Future of Storytelling” and I went from 0 to enrolled in about eight seconds. Here’s the video trailer:

Here’s what the course covers:


Together with a whole network of media researchers, creators and students we will:

- learn storytelling basics such as antagonist/protagonist relationships, narrative/narrated time, …

- have a look at exciting current media projects- analyze how they are designed and executed based on aforementioned basics- and discuss how (and if) new online tools and formats change the way stories are told and perceived.

There’s also an accompanying Facebook page:

https://www.facebook.com/TheFutureOfStorytellingMooc


I will update after the first lesson.

A story about random encounters

You’re sitting in Starbucks with a friend, just idly chatting about this and that; not anything in particular, just a conversation sparked off by a chance remark. Starbucks is full but that’s okay, you’re just passing the time of day and enjoying the chance to catch up with a friend.

Suddenly, a stranger comes and sits at your table with you.

“Start again,” he says. You look at him, not quite knowing what to make of either his sudden appearance or stange demand.

“From the beginning of your conversation. Start again,” he repeats. Flummoxed, you repeat back the comment that sparked off the not exactly earth-shattering debate that the two of you were having.

“I just said that I thought Glenn was unlucky to get kicked off the Great British Bake Off, and maybe Christine should have been the one to go.”

“Okay. Now, pick up exactly where you left off before I sat down.”

“But the conversation had moved on-”

“Doesn’t matter. Just go back to the last thing that you said.” You shrug, because you know it won’t make sense to him, but do it anyway because the guy seems just a bit, well, weird.

“Well, we’d moved on to talk about tablet computing and my friend here said she thought that the Nexus 7 was better value than the iPad Mini.”

“So you said, ‘Glenn was unlucky to get kicked off the Great British Bake Off and that Christine should have been the one to go’ and then your friend said ‘the Nexus 7 is better value than the iPad Mini’.”

“Well yes, but that doesn’t make sense because you’re only hearing two points in the conversation that aren’t connected and—”

But it’s too late, because at that the strange stranger has already got up and left. It’s a puzzling interlude in your day, and you don’t really understand what the complete stranger picked up from that interaction. After a moment, you pick up the conversation and put the episode out of mind.

Five minutes later, the stranger comes back and sits at your table again, unbidden.

“Start again,” he says. You look at him, because now this is well past a joke and you have no idea what to make.

“From the beginning of your conversation. Start again,” he repeats. Shaking your head and assuming that this is all part of a bigger plan, you say exactly what you said before.

“I just said that I thought Glenn was unlucky to get kicked off the Great British Bake Off, and maybe Christine should have been the one to go.”

“Okay. Now, pick up exactly where you left off before I sat down.”

“But I told you before, the conversation had moved on-”

“Doesn’t matter. Just go back to the last thing that you said.”

You sigh.

“She said to me that the ending of Lost wasn’t as disappointing as everyone made out.”

“So you said, ‘Glenn was unlucky to get kicked off the Great British Bake Off and that Christine should have been the one to go’ and then your friend said that ‘the ending of Lost wasn’t as disappointing as everyone made out’.”

And once again, with no further explanation, the man disappeared.

You think about leaving the shop, but in the end your friend says that she’s peckish, so she orders another round of coffees and a couple of paninis. After the barista has brought over your food, you chat for a few more minutes

Remember the part in Mr. Benn where the narrator would say, “and suddenly, the shopkeeper appeared”? In much the same fashion as that, the stranger appeared at your table again.

“Start again,” he says. Now, this is getting a little annoying.

“From the beginning of your conversation. Start again,” he repeats. You have no idea what anyone is supposed to get out of this palaver.

“I just said that I thought Glenn was unlucky to get kicked off the Great British Bake Off, and maybe Christine should have been the one to go.”

“Okay. Now, pick up exactly where you left off before I sat down.”

“Oh, for crying out loud, you’ve heard the start of this conversation three times, why would you want to see it again? And when you know the last thing that we said, how can you possibly draw any inference between that and the start of the conversation? And frankly, why do you even care about what we were saying?”

“Doesn’t matter. Just go back to the last thing that you said.”

You sigh again, a long drawn-out exhalation.

“My friend said, isn’t the conversation view in twitter just like having some random guy come up to you in a coffee shop, listen to the first thing you said, listen to the last thing you said, then disappear; only to keep doing the same thing over and over and over; and how could anyone hope to enjoy or profit from that experience?”

You haven’t listened to Spotify in a while… would you like to listen to Spotify?

No. No I wouldn’t.

 
I’ll tell you why (you knew this was coming).
 
A while back, I forget when and can’t be arsed to look it up, Spotify introduced “social features”. For some reason, probably because we’re in an age similar to the initial dot.com bubble, apparently everything and its bloody dog has to have some form of social sharing feature.
 
"Geoff, that’s a really great design for a spork. It costs no money to make and the manufacturing process heals the ozone layer. It’s biodegradable and not only does it make all food taste better, but calories you consume using the spork are subtracted from your body mass. But, Geoff, we can’t use your design."
 
"We can’t, Mike?"
 
"No Geoff, we can’t."
 
"Why’s that, Mike?"
 
"No social sharing features, Geoff."
 
"No social sharing features, Mike?"
 
"That’s right, Geoff. How is anyone going to know what you had for lunch if the spork has no social sharing features?"
 
"Maybe not everyone wants to share what they had for lunch, Mike."
 
"Of course they do, Geoff. This is the Web 2.0, it’s made up of social sharing, user generated content, shit like that."
 
"Maybe other people don’t want to know what I had for lunch, Mike."
 
"You’re a goddamn redneck communist hippy sonofabitch, Geoff. You have three seconds before I call Security and have them shoot you where you stand."
 
That’s how I imagine most meetings go these days, in any field involving anything even vaguely tech-related. That’s certainly what happened at Spotify when they got in bed with Facebook. Suddenly, it was no longer enough to listen to music. I had to share it. I had to see what other people were sharing. I couldn’t listen to a playlist on Spotify without it automatically following the person who created it, attending the birth of their firstborn and having their face tattooed on my left buttock. You could turn it “off”, if by “off” you mean “we’ll still do most of this following stuff automatically and you’ll have to undo each and every single action individually until you give in, mewling and crying on the floor like some dumbass kid who got dumped on the day of the prom.”
 
I tried it. I tried to allow myself to be assimilated.
 
It sucked, big time.
 
But that wasn’t the worst bit. I haven’t told you the worst bit yet.
 
The “What’s New” screen disappeared.
 
Instead of being able to find out what was new by going to the “What’s New” tab and seeing a list of the things that were in fact new, we had the “Discover” tab.
 
I will now attempt to explain the usefulness of the “Discover” tab by means of a metaphor.
 
Imagine, if you will, that it’s a bright, sunny day. You slept well, woke up feeling good having had a rather saucy dream, and you found out that the office had suffered an inexplicable cockroach infestation so you were given the whole week off on full pay. You go to buy a coffee and a fruit salad, and it’s that hot barista that you’ve been eyeing up and they flirt with you in that harmless way that gives you a little buzz. You sit at your table and sip your coffee - it’s amazing. It’s the most amazing coffee ever (that was Spotify).
 
You open your fruit salad and there’s a dead rat in it. You catch bubonic plague from the dead rat, which you then pass on to your family. You watch in horror as your family decompose into bloodied, pus-filled wretches with violent, weeping open sores which not only burst as strangers walk past, showering them in tepid, sticky, virulent ooze, but also look in a truly disheartening way somehow like the members of One Direction. Pretty soon you wipe out the whole of civilisation and you’re the only one left on the planet. You have to wade in something knee-deep, something that’s a bit like snot, but is actually the pus that seeped out of six billion maggot infested slimy corpses that used to look like people you know but now look like mouldy crepe pancakes.
 
That bit is the “Discover” tab.
 
Now, instead of seeing the new releases, I get all these fantastic recommendations courtesy of Spotify’s wondrous ”Discover” tab.
 
"You recently listened to The Housemartins. Would you like to listen to Petula Clark?"
 
Seriously - I tweeted a picture of that one. What on earth have The Housemartins and Petula Clark got in common?
 
"You’ve been listening to a lot of Pulp lately. Play some more now?"
 
Let me see if I have this right. Your idea of “discover” is to tell me the name of a band I’ve been listening to a lot lately - which I already know, being the one who listened to them a lot lately - and ask me if I want to listen to them some more? That’s not really discovery as such, is it?
 
"Ben Collett has been listening to The Killers lately. Play The Killers now?"
 
That was the one that tipped me over the edge this morning. Ben Collett is a complete stranger. He isn’t a “friend” on Spotify (I have none), or a “follower” (ditto). He’s just an entirely random chap. I don’t care who he is, which is to say that I don’t wish any particular harm to befall him. If he’s been listening to The Killers lately, we’re unlikely to have a lot in common though.
 
You should see the feedback on the Spotify forums. Pages and pages of people decrying it, saying that it’s shit, asking how to turn it off, and lamenting the loss of a button that you could click on to find out what was new. And always the same reply from Spotify: yes, we hear your feedback, we acknowledge that you hate it, but we’re not going to get rid of it or let you turn it off:


While we don’t plan to bring back the “What’s New” page, we’ve heard a lot of the feedback regarding the Discover page. We hope to improve the type of content displayed in Discover to provide handpicked recommendations that we think you’ll love. Discover should also give an explanation regarding “why” the content is displayed. For example, if you’ve listened to Drake, Spotify will explain that you’ve listened to Lloyd. Alternatively, if you’ve been recommended a track, it may be because you’re following someone who also listened to that track. The goal is to recommend tracks the way a friend would. Formerly, the “What’s New” page recommended just that: What’s New. If the content in the “What’s New” page wasn’t relevant to you, you were out of luck. However, with Discover, you’ll be recommended content based on who you “follow”, what you’ve added to your Collection, and new releases from artists you “follow”.  For now, we’re going to mark this idea as “case closed” as we don’t have plans to bring back the “What’s New” page. However, if you feel you’d like content which already appears in your Collection to not appear in Discover, please head over here and create a new topic. We’re eagerly awaiting feedback on this topic.”
So, sorry Ben Collett, but you’re the one that Spotify can blame. Within seconds of finding out you were a fan of The Killers, I’d cancelled my Spotify subscription. I signed up for the awesomely well-named* Google Play Music Access All Areas Live Music Thingummy On Your Phone And Desktop. 
 
Google Play Music All Access FFS is not without its faults. The interface is somewhat spartan. The experience is very different between the website and Android version. The autoplaylist feature is somewhat idiosyncratic, which is a bit like saying space is quite big.
 
But - and here’s the bit I like - there’s a button that says “New Releases” and when I click on it, I see all the new releases. 

 * Yes, definitely sarcasm.

On coming into large amounts of money

Earlier this week I had one of those letters that we all dream about getting. Unfortunately, not the one that says we’ve been accepted into the Incom Corporation T-65 (X-Wing) Fighter Alliance Training Academy; but a letter from the Halifax building society to say that I had an account which had been dormant for 14 years. Probably more than double that, actually.

Money, that I had completely forgotten about!

I had no recollection of actually opening the account, but it didn’t surprise me. Eight year old me was that sort of kid.

"Daz! Are you coming out to play? We’re going to play footy against that lot on Danby Avenue and then go and play hidey in the woods!"

"Nah. I’ve been researching high-yield building society accounts and I want to invest this 50p that my Nanna gave me last week."

"God, you’re such a nerd. You’re going to be, like, 56 before you get a girlfriend."

And to be fair they were almost right. Whilst growing up through my teens my experience was that girls actually did like nerds, as long as they looked like Tom Hardy in Inception and had the body of Tom Hardy in The Dark Knight Rises. I was more like Laurel and Hardy in Way Out West.

So today I poddled along to the Halifax in Sheffield. I wasn’t expecting to be able to pay off the mortgage or anything, but upgrading the car might have been nice. In fact I’d have settled for upgrading the car stereo.

I approached the cashier and handed over the letter.

"Oh, another one!" she said. "I must have done a dozen of these this morning."

"Really?" I asked.

"Oh yes, lots of people coming in hoping to get a windfall they weren’t expecting. The most was one lady who had £14,500 in an account she’d forgotten all about!" She scribbled the balance on my letter and pushed it back to me. "But you’ve got £1.65. Next!"

International friendly result: England meh-meh Scotland

In a shock to scientists the world over, England and Scotland proved that Newton’s First Law was wrong and that energy actually can be destroyed as 80,485 hardy souls had their will to live utterly crushed at Wembley tonight.

In a match which ended in a meh-meh stalemate, England took the opportunity to blood some up and coming young players in what might be considered an early indication of Roy Hodgson’s squad for the world cup in Brazil, some twelve months away.

At age 33 and with just 102 caps behind him, some might have been surprised that Hodgson elected to start with Liverpool youngster Steven Gerrard as captain. Gerrard, who is the world record holder for the longest pass from the right-back position going directly into touch on the opposite side of the pitch, merited twelve mentions on the Guardian website’s minute-by-minute report and probably therefore won the man of the match award. This, despite a disastrous misplaced kick into touch in the 53rd minute which failed to win a line out and instead struck Kid ‘n Play centre-forward Danny Welbeck on the flat top before nestling into the back of the net.

As anyone familiar with Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle can testify, it certainly applies to Manchester United novice Wayne Rooney. The Uncertainty Principle states that the more precisely the amount of Rooney’s confusion and anger is determined by the media, the less precisely the team he’ll start the season with can be known. As a young man starting out on his international career with just 83 caps behind him, it’s important that he makes the right decision about where to play his football - he won’t want to look back at this moment when he’s a fat old pie eater with no hair and regret that he made the wrong decision. The United youngster was the subject of a controversial offside decision in the 43rd minute, with the linesman judging that although part of him was onside, over 60% of Rooney’s body mass (his bottom lip) was in fact flapping away in an offside position four yards beyond the last man.

The second half was full of interruptions, as is usual in friendly games where teams are allowed up to 600 substitutions (as long as each sub hasn’t appeared in more than 50 full internationals for at least four other countries, as per UEFA’s rules). One notable moment came at the start of the second half as Chelsea’s Frank Lampard made his first appearance for England if you don’t count the previous 98 appearances, as anyone unlucky enough to see them certainly wouldn’t. Lampard, who will be 36 stones by the time that next World Cup in Brazil comes around, failed to convince at least this pundit that he was worth any further lame gags.

The downside to Hodgson’s bold experimentation was the failure of professional male model Joe Hart in England’s goal. Hart, who has made 32 appearances in Head and Shoulders commercials, frequently looked more out of depth in goal than Eric Pickles in an Royal Shakespeare Company production of MacBeth performed entirely in the ancient Aboriginal Alawa language, was at fault not only for both of Scotland’s goals, but also all six conceded by Iraq in their friendly away at Chile. 

Hodgson’s blushes were saved by professional beetroot picker Rickie Lambert, long after the Wembley crowd had ceased to be an event in space-time and become 80,485 separate non-event masses with a quantum probability of zero. I’d stopped watching by this point though and gone to load the dishwasher. The crowd was enthralled as it looked for a brief period as though I wouldn’t be able to get all the dirty wine glasses on the top rack, but after a reshuffle which involved moving the Pyrex dish from last night’s Mexican a bit to one side, all the glasses were safely stored away.

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