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.

2016

As 2015 draws to a close, I’m thinking of 2016 and specifically these highlights:

  • The Hateful Eight in 70mm. I haven’t bothered booking Star Wars yet, but there’s no way I’m not going to see Tarantino’s 70mm epic the way it was meant to, in 70mm at the Imperial in Copenhagen. Yes, I know, the roadshow is coming to Stockholm, too, but the Danes still know how to run 70mm shows while the Swedes don’t. Sorry.
  • Göteborg Film Festival. Yes, I’m going to spend another 11 days in a dark projection booth, hitting Play at three-hour intervals.
  • XML Prague. I’ve submitted a paper, but I’m also peer-reviewing other people’s papers as I’m now part of the Program Committee. The conference is in February, starting on a Thursday (the 13th) rather than a Friday and ending on a Saturday rather than a Sunday, allowing you and your better half to enjoy Prague on Valentine’s Day. Get your festival passes now, folks.
  • Balisage is between August 1-5. I’m definitely going; a year without Balisage would just be too weird.

Ubuntu and Nvidia Mysteries

Having tried to install the proprietary Nvidia drivers several times and always ending up with a black screen and various difficulties trying to return the X server and Unity to a functional state, I was somewhat surprised when I clicked on the nvidia-352 radio button in the Proprietary Drivers (or whatever it is called now) tab in the Repositories window in Synaptic Package Manager, and rebooted right into a functional Nvidia session.

I’ve been struggling with this ever since I upgraded to 15.10. Everything I’ve read amounted to basically the same fix: purge any leftover Nvidia drivers, reinstall and reconfigure X. There’s been no mention of this, anywhere. Can somebody please explain to me what happened?

4k Screen and Other Linux Woes

I’ve had my gorgeous 4k screen replaced twice since August, both times because of dead pixels. It’s what they call a premium screen, so apparently one dead pixel is enough. Still, that sort of thing will happen and I’m not terribly upset.

Far worse is the mediocre support for 4k screens in Linux. The new Ubuntu version, 15.10, is a prime example. For example, there’s a Unity bug where the display scaling setting is not respected when drawing the mouse pointer over Unity components, shrinking it to its original, unscaled HiDPI size. Forcing the scaling of the pointer had to be done in 15.04, too, by adding Xcursor*size: 48 last in /etc/X11/Xresources/x11common, but in 15.10, it’s no longer enough. Unity has to be reloaded before the pointer size is on par with the rest of the desktop.

There are also GUI components and other software that still ignore the scaling altogether: the scroll bars are ridiculously thin, and, of course, most Java components, from toolbars to radio buttons and menus, remain tiny. I’m not a software developer so I don’t know what is required to handle something like that properly, but what I do know is that it all works in Windows 10 and it all works in OS X.

To make matters worse, Ubuntu 15.10 upgrades the kernel to 4.2. This would normally be a good thing, but apparently there has been some small change in the kernel that breaks the Nvidia Optimus support: the Nvidia DKMS build fails, stating that the kernel is not supported.

So here I am, making do with the Nouveau drivers while waiting for updates, and reloading Unity after every reboot. I much prefer Linux to the alternatives, but I am a bit disappointed. I went from being a dist-upgrade junkie running Debian Unstable to a vanilla Ubuntu user because the bleeding edge sometimes bleeds a bit too much and I simply wanted to run Linux as my production environment using recent hardware.

I’m not giving up, though; a Windows session is enough to remind me why.

The Downsides of a 4k Screen

Having spent time using my shiny new Dell in a professional setting, I am now discovering the downsides of the fabulous 4k screen when running Ubuntu.

  • Ubuntu 15.04 is sort of ready for HiDpi, but there are some glaring problems that require attention, from the incredible shrinking popups to minuscule mouse pointers in some contexts.
  • Worth a special mention are the scroll bars and some of the LibreOffice controls, both of which are tiny by default. The former is fixable by reverting to “classic” mode but I have not been able to solve the latter yet.
  • Checkboxes are no fun either. They remain tiny, despite my best efforts.
  • Most Java apps have issues with UI scaling. The toolbars in particular are a pain.
  • Hooking up a projector for a presentation will mess things up after disconnecting it. See any of the above, plus some additional problems having to do with drastically resized app windows.

Don’t get me wrong; I don’t regret buying the Dell. I just wish Linux would catch up more quickly.