Mel Croucher | Latest Journalism

This page is regularly updated with extracts or full features. A blog it is not. Copyright is held by Mel and by any publications listed below.

The following pieces are from Mel's RANTS AND RAVES column published in the monthly magazine Computer Shopper, recent editions, current edition, next edition, and probably the one after that.

Rants and Raves 341


At the back of the cupboard, in an old cigar box, are letters that my parents sent to one another during their first flush of love in 1946. They are a handful of the eight billion personal letters entrusted to the Royal Mail that year, and I cannot throw them away. I suppose if they were courting today, my parents would lob emoticons at one another and drivel snapchat into oblivion. But of course nobody could read their words seventy years later. As for me, I haven't received a proper letter through the post for a very long time. I mean a letter written by another human being especially for me. And neither have I written one. That's because I, like you, use email.

Compare the eight billion letters posted during the whole of 1946 to the eight billion emails that will be sent winging their way around the world during the next hour. Delivery will be instant, and cost will be negligible. Some of them will even be worth reading. Yes of course I miss the detuned whistle of the postman on his rounds, but thanks to email I can be bombarded day and night by unwanted communications from pedants, crooks, bores and lunatics, and I can send off abuse and indiscretions to the wrong mailing list at the touch of a button. A couple of months ago Ray Tomlinson snuffed it, having invented email and changed the way the world communicates. And all hail to him. He changed it for the better in 1971 when he wrote a simple program that allowed one person with access to a server to send a message to another person with access to a different server. Nonetheless, the death of Ray Tomlinson triggered something in me. I resolved to write a short, hand-crafted love letter to each one of my living relatives while I can still hold a pen, and they can still open an envelope. And just maybe they would want to keep it and put it in an old cigar box at the back of the cupboard, where someone from the twenty-second century might stumble across it and think fondly for a moment about the author and the recipient.

It took me best the part of the week end to write my love letters, mostly because I seem to have forgotten how to do joined up writing, or even sign my own name. Not to mention the time it took to find their sodding postal addresses. But on Monday I popped along to my local Post Office to buy twenty-four stamps. Unfortunately it was now an Oxfam shop. A passing scavenger told me I could buy stamps at the Co-op a few doors down, and sure enough they were willing to sell me two dozen stamps for £15.36. Fifteen quid! That's nine bottles of Fursty Ferret on special offer in the very same Co-op! I bought the beer of course, scanned my letters and sent them by email. I hope they get printed out. I suspect they won't.

Rants and Raves 338

Words get us into all sorts of trouble, because words are often misunderstood. Especially words emailed after a few too many shandies down the pub. Luckily, words will soon be redundant, so the risk of unintended consequences will be greatly reduced. All thanks to emojis. Emojis are those cute little graphic symbols embedded in the Unicode software that runs in all our smart devices, and they provide us with a crystal clear method of communication. They were originally invented for young people to express themselves electronically, and they allow all human thought and expression to be limited to eight simple categories of essential pictograms. This is a wonderful liberation for disadvantaged folk who can't speak perfect English, like the Japanese. And for unfortunates who are unable to communicate coherently at all, like the Americans. The best thing about emojis is that they are standardised, they are cross-platform and they are strictly controlled. That means they are free from the influence of advertisers. When Durex proposed a condom emoji to promote safe sex, it had to be generic, without any branding whatsoever. I am assured that the fact the condom emoji is blue is completely non-political.

This is all a great boon to the electronic generation, freed from the crossed-wires and misinterpretation that social taboos and sexual tension once caused, when silly old words were the fashion. Even seduction by text message was a risky business, mostly caused by predictive text, inviting people to Fukoshima. But with emojis, there can be no doubt whatsoever, and thanks to single-button functionality what once took ages to express can now be achieved in a few clicks. Only last week, a close relative of mine achieved intimate congress thanks to the following simple emojis: (beer) (wine) (wink) (banana) (no-entry) (condom) (thumbs-up) (fish).

The inclusion of facial emojis is also a wonderful way to show our feelings. In the past, we had to invest our time looking at one another and trying to interpret the forty-two muscles of the human face. What misery. Now, any feeling can be expressed in one click and recognised in one second. There are 98 emojis that currently represent faces, which is probably everything that anyone will ever need. All the female emojis are blonde of course, because only blondes can talk. I am also delighted to see nine emojis aimed at cat communication, ten if you include Unicode U+1F4A9 which represents a smiling turd. And obviously there are no official black emoji faces, because black folk are not yet allowed to use smartphones. Unless they are cats, obviously.

I do hope the terrorist community will also adopt emojis as a means to threaten us, instead of making all those tiresome and distasteful videos that rant on for ages. ISIS could get their message across with a simple: (beer) (angryface) (pig) (angryface) (music) (angryface) (man) (kiss) (man) (angryface). Their black flag emoticon U+1F3F4 was approved as part of Unicode 7.0 in 2014, so they did better than Durex on that one. I can hardly wait for all communication to be expressed by emojis, and at last make my own feelings absolutely clear to the people of the world. (pen) (yawn) (middle finger) (dollar sign).

Rants and Raves 336


I believe in using the power of a trade union to get a fair deal for its workers. And when it comes to the creators of video games, I believe in divvying up any profits among the people who actually do the work. And the profits for a tiny number of video games are huge. And the profits for a huge number of video games are tiny. I've been hiring voice actors for video game soundtracks since the early 1980s, and believe me when I tell you that voice actors are nothing more than hirelings. I have hired some of the greatest and most famous voices in the business, and we have shown one another respect. But what it boils down to is this; they are given a script, they read it into a microphone, they get paid, and they bugger off. My favourite was Christopher Lee, who performed on four video games I produced. No session lasted longer than an hour, and included pantomime roars, whispered poetry, singing on demand and session silliness. I paid him the standard rate for the job with no question of royalties, and we were mutually delighted with the results. And this from the greatest voice on the planet.

Now hear this. The Screen Actors Guild, based in America, has voted in favour of strike action against the video games industry, unless their actors get substantial royalties on the games they provide voices for. Their warped reason is that a voice-over session for a computerised entertainment is "vocally stressful, and "can last for over two hours." Well, pardon me while I choke on a mixture of laughter and scorn. Christopher Lee was over 90 last time I worked with him, and he breezed it. A mainstream video game takes a creative team at least a hundred thousand working hours to bring to market. And these puffed-up prima donnas are carping about anything more than a two hour session. Pah! As for the scripts themselves, most of them consist of neanderthal grunts and witless drivel, which any self respecting actor should be too embarrassed to put their name to, let alone ask for royalties.

If a voice actor thinks contributing to a video game is such hard work, then I advise the game producer to thank them politely and get another voice. And if the producer really wants that specific actor, then go get an impersonator. It's only a voice. A few years ago I wanted to hire Julie Andrews to sing some fascist lyrics in the style of The Sound Of Music for a video game, but Julie Andrews had lost her voice. So I hired a Julie Andrews impersonator who sounded better than Julie Andrews, did the job in half an hour, cost me next to nothing, and my adoring public was none the wiser. When voice actors bleat on about their just rewards, I suggest they are being grossly overpaid compared with the real workers who create and produce the video games in which they feature. They should think themselves lucky that their contribution is so easy to deliver.

Rants and Raves 337


I need to raise a lot of money fast, so it's great to discover that social networks are the answer to all my dreams of avarice. I can raise a fortune not by joining a network, you understand, but by setting one up. I have analysed all the money-spinning social networks, and I discover that they have one thing in common when it comes to mass membership and financial success. Their names. If I want money for old rope, then what I need to do is follow the example of their naming protocol, and give my network a two syllable name that ends in "er". But here's the clever bit, after I name my creation I must delete the "e". And that's the secret of how to become an instant millionaire.

Take Flickr, for example. Flickr is a social network where people bore the pants off one another with as many bad photographs as they can upload. There's a 1Tb storage limit, which translates to the equivalent of "a lifetime's worth of crap in exchange for force-fed adverts and surrendered data." Pro photographers are welcome to join in the fun for five hundred bucks, and get the alternative deal of "a lifetime's worth of professional crap without the adverts." More than fifty million crapmongers have already signed up, which is astounding, and it wouldn't work at all if Flickr was named Flicker. Then there's Tumblr, which does for words what Flickr does for pictures, and Tumblr has harnessed over a quarter of a billion willing subscribers. If it had been called something stupid like Tumbler it would never have been valued at a billion dollars and flogged off. So that's where all my money is going to come from, at four American dollars per soul. I need to select a little noun ending in "er", drop the vowel, and rake in the cash. Raptr does it for video gamers. Dopplr does it for people who can walk. Everyone's at it, and revenue generation pulls the same trick every time: I will either get paid by advertising or get paid by subscribers not to view advertising. Brilliant.

The only thing missing from my scheme for instant wealth is to spot a popular activity and do the name thing. I was going for Tossr, but I've been beaten to the erectile gristle market by something called Grindr. Which is a pity, seeing as Grindr has more than six million members. I wanted to include a Satyr joke here, but I don't speak Greek or have a permanent erection. Then I considered catering for the millions of us who regularly pass wind, by setting up Fartr. But it seems the flatulence social network has been running since it was successfully crowdfunded last year. In fact every market sector I've tried to bag has already been exploited. Except one. And it's going to be more popular than Flickr bad photography. Bigger than Tumblr blogs. More universal than sex or even farting. I am going to set up a social network for the dead. Latr.