2017

So many changes already.

I said no to this year’s Göteborg Film Festival, having worked at film festivals since 1987 (and since 1990 at the Draken).

I didn’t submit a paper to XML Prague this year. I was there, though. Naturally.

Nerves

I’m in Bethesda, MD, just outside of Washington DC, and this year’s Balisage conference starts tomorrow. I’m excited and a bit nervous.

I’ve spent most of today preparing my talk, which is why I’m nervous. It always happens. While planning a paper, I tend to be convinced that it’s the greatest thing ever, or not very far off. While writing it, uneasiness creeps in and while I’m still convinced of the paper’s merits, I am no longer sure I should be the one writing it. I put it off, one day at a time, thinking that I have plenty of time to rediscover the enthusiasm that led me to the subject to begin with and decide I should clean up my computer instead. Or something equally pointless.

This goes on until the last possible moment, that is, a few days before the submission deadline, after which I force myself to write the first draft and submit it, usually minutes before midnight on the final day. A more charitable person might call this “process”, but “terror” is probably closer to the truth.

Completing the second draft, provided that the first is accepted, of course, tends to be similar. If my self-doubt runs sufficiently deep, I will have trouble opening the reviewers’ comments and much more trouble updating the paper itself. Again, a last-minute fix is required and is what usually happens.

Wash, rinse, repeat for the slides.

Which is why I’m writing this instead of finalising the slides.

So, How Was London?

Well, thanks for asking.

XML London was great. There was a lot of focus on XSLT 3.0, with Abel Braaksma discussing the intricacies of processing uninterrupted streams (I really need to get around to playing with streaming transformations soon), and a workshop on XSLT 3.0’s new packaging features with both him and Michael Kay, but also a number of interesting case studies. Special mention should go to Lech Rzedzicki for his brilliant talk on XML, blockchains and regulatory reporting in finance (no, I’m not going to tell you what blockchains are; you should read his paper), but also to John Sheridan and Jim Mangiafico for their presentation of their easier-to-use search language and tools for UK legislation. This latter talk holds a very special interest to me, as I recently wrote something similar if not quite as refined for my client, LexisNexis UK.

Also, my friend Andrew Sales presented a case study on what, on the surface, looked like a migration project but where all the cleverness was actually about making the editing and publishing chains as foolproof as possible. It’s a brilliant solution, one that any fan of meta-programming (code generating code) should appreciate.

And yes, Close Encounters of the Third Kind in 35mm was a treat, even though the sound was poorer than expected.

London This Week

I’m in London one week out of four, and this week is one of them. Usually, my London visits are all about meeting colleagues face to face and working in an actual office rather than in my basement study, grabbing a pint with friends at The Harrow, and buying too many books at Foyle’s and Waterstone’s. This week, though, I’m adding two things to this already solid plan:

One: I will watch Close Encounters of the Third Kind at BFI Southbank. Close Encounters is my favourite film. I’ve watched it dozens of times in cinemas over the years and probably as many times on video, DVD and Blu-ray. I own almost every version of it in existence (if you have the 35mm or 70mm print and wish to part with them, let me know), but also a fair amount of associated paraphernalia, from books to graphic novels to soundtracks. It’s an amazing film. It’s pure magic.

Two: I will attend XML London. It’s my first time there and it’s nice to attend a conference just for fun (meaning that I have no involvement with it, speaking, reviewing or otherwise). Who knows, I might do a paper for them in the future, but this year, I’ll stay in the background and let others do the talking.

I’m excited.

Blogging Is Boring?

Well, it’s either that or that I’m lazy. I have been busy in real life, though, and it’s sometimes hard to prioritise a blog post, even when I have something I actually want to say.

Which I really don’t, right now.

At the Movies, Part 2

This is where I wanted to do a thorough write-up on The Hateful Eight, the new Quentin Tarantino film I watched in 70mm Ultra Panavision at the Imperial in Copenhagen, Denmark. Unfortunately, life got in the way and I’ve had no time to spend on my occasional blog, so here are the highlights:

The film itself is a typical Tarantino film, relying heavily on dialogue and actors doing what the director tells them to do. This, however, means closeups and not much else, wich brings me to my next point.

Ultra Panavision is, well, ultra wide. Among the so-called letterbox formats, it’s ridiculously wide. As it’s a 70mm format, the resolution is, at least theoretically, ridiculously high, bringing me to my third point.

There are very few shots that actually require that resolution. Most of them don’t, and even though I know there are people who will disagree with me, this film would have fared better without the 70mm format. So here’s my fourth point.

The Hateful Eight, also known as H8, would have been a better movie, at least a more enjoyavble one, if filmed in a less extreme format. As things stand, the ultra wide screen is a distraction, and the resolution, while nice, is not needed. The story is there regardless, but the format is, well, abused. Which brings me to my fifth point.

It is in the nature of the format itself that it lends itself better to the kind of film that makes actual use of its grandeur. It is also a format that no-one could run unaided today; the company had to provide cinemas with projectors and lenses and whatnot, or the shows would have been limited at best, even for the cinemas that do have their 70mm equipment intact. See, Ultra Panavision requires a special kind of lense that no-one has today, and very few had in the 60s when the format was last used at all. It’s not your garden variety 70mm, it’s, well, ultra special.

So to my last point: H8 does a disservice to every filmmaker wanting to film in 70mm since it uses the format wrong, in my humble opinion. It happened because Tarantino had the clout to do it, not because it was required. As a result, the presentations, including that at the Imperial, were lacking, sometimes severely, because it’s the one format that no-one can screen without help.

The film itself? Well, typically Tarantino. Think Reservoir Dogs with lots of money and hype.

At The Movies, Part 1

I’ve been at the movies twice in the last two weeks, which is extraordinary for me, these days. There was a time when I watched hundreds of movies every year but then I got kids, work got in the way, and all that. I’m now part of the lost generation, as the cinema owners call it. Before October (hmm, November?) of last year, the last one I watched was in 2008.

Anyway, first I saw the new Star Wars with my wife. I enjoyed every minute of it, to be sure, but when the end credits rolled I was disappointed, nevertheless. First and foremost, in a single stroke, they had undone everything Luke Skywalker stood for in the first three movies in one swift stroke. What took him two and a half movies took Rey the Jedi Savant about one minute. Learn about the Force? Nope, you don’t need a master, just do our Lightning Course. Nope, you don’t need to train, all you need is a first, um, victim. Nope, no need to plan ahead. Build it and they will come. Just do it, as the commercial says.

Second, the script, um, wasn’t. What I saw was rearranged from (mostly) the first three movies, you know, that best kind of flattering. Probably why people approved of the thing, probably why they thought it was what #4 should have been. And probably why I was screaming inside for all of it, in spite of enjoying it.

See, JJ Abrams is talented. Really talented. He knows how to tell a story, he knows what is going to get you. He did it twice with the Star Trek reboot and he did it now. Because a reboot it was, no doubt about it. It was disguised as a sequel but very thinly, and he rewrote the business rules in one efficient stroke.

And third, the coincidences and happy accidents that framed the story, from the stupid robot landing within bargaining sight from Rey the Savant to Han Solo and the wookie to encountering right after lift-off (with the bloody Millennium Falcon!), they were a bit much.

I miss George Lucas’s attention to detail, his sense about what all this means. Sure, I don’t miss Jar-Jar, but c’mon, he was *never* important.

Of course, I will watch #8, and if the director is as good as JJ, I will enjoy it, but the battle was lost in this one.

XML Prague 2016

My XML Prague paper for 2016 was accepted. The subject is Virtual Document Management. It’s based on a Balisage paper of mine, but it’s also the result of what I do, right now. I think it’s kind of cool.

I also joined the XML Prague programme committee, which means that I get to read papers. I’m glad to help out and being a committee member sounds a bit posh.

Quite a few friends and colleagues of mine are attending and, sometimes, contributing. It’s going to be an exciting conference and I am really looking forward to it.