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Dolby Gear

An old draft that I found, checking the list of posts…


I bid on, and won, a Dolby CP200 cinema sound processor on eBay. The CP200, for those of you who have no idea what I’m on about, is the best and most versatile cinema sound processor Dolby ever made. It was first introduced in 1980, 36 years ago, but it’s still relevant today if you want to be able to run every sound format in commercial use during the last 50 years, instead of just the more common ones. It’s a brilliant piece of engineering.

So while waiting for the package to arrive, I decided to head over to to read up on the processor. Who better than Dolby to explain how it works, right?


Dolby Laboratories, by all appearances, is now nothing more than an anonymous licensor of digital technology providing endless platitudes about their intellectual property in HTML5 responsive design, equally dreary regardless of device. You might actually like the site if you are five and play Pokemon Go, but those of us who think of Dolby as the only true manufacturer of cinema sound equipment will feel old and lost. I did try the Search box (which was surprisingly hard to spot on the page), typing in “CP200”, hoping against hope that the glossy exterior hid actual substance, but, of course, the single hit returned was irrelevant and wrong.

It was as if the CP200 had been made by someone else.

It could have, actually, and I should have known. I emailed Dolby a few years ago, when trying to locate an extension card to another Dolby processor I own, the CP500. While helpful, the Dolby rep had no idea what I was talking about. He did forward my email to a tech who knew the card but said that they hadn’t had one in years, very few were ever made, and there were no schematics available.

Dolby, it seemed, had forgotten their roots.

Göteborg Film Festival 2024

The Göteborg Film Festival is on its fifth day. While I no longer screen films at the Draken theatre, there are plenty of reminders of my past life this time of year. Local newspapers tend to highlight the opening night and the party that follows. The latter, of course, is where many festival hopefuls mingle with the crowd and hope to score, one way or another. Said media might then publish a few notes during the ten days that follow, especially if there were celebrities attending, but it’s actually all pretty low profile these days.

But I also get pings on Facebook from my friends who still work for the festival. My successor at the Draken, of course. Poor guy; he’s been running digital ever since I left. From the looks of it, though, his schedule is decent and he’s got the time to stop for drinks when the last video of the day is done. Good for him. I don’t miss the video.

But there are also the techs who fix things, before and during the festival, and who then tear everything down after the last curtain call. They post pictures of projectors, electrical installs , newly raised screens, etc, and that’s when I really miss the work. Not the digital stuff, mind, but the 35mm (and sometimes 16, and rarely 70) prints and the work to keep all that running smoothly.

I miss inspecting and assembling prints. I miss the planning of my next few days. I miss the coffee in the early mornings, trying to wake up while checking the newly arrived prints. I even miss the now-and-then work of changing light bulbs in the auditorium.

It was a different world, I know. Who am I to say what the lure of the festival of today is? I know I left in large part because the work was becoming too easy and commonplace for me to care. Assembling, inspecting, and running a film print is very different from uploading content from a portable hard drive to a server and then clicking Play a few times, either to check the format and locating a curtain call or click Play again for the actual show. It’s all ones and zeros, and there is nothing you can do to change the outcome of the next click beyond finding a timestamp where you do your curtain call.

If you can find the motivation to spend ten days uploading files and finding a few clicks, then good for you. I didn’t, which is why I left.

But my current problem is that I still miss what the work used to be.

Mats Kullander Is Gone

Some dreadful news if you are at all familiar with the ever-diminishing group of film projectionists and techs in Sweden: Mats Kullander passed away today.

I’ve known Mats since the 80s when I was a humble projectionist working at SF Bio, the premier Swedish cinema chain, and he headed the chain’s technical department. He had the unfortunate task of having to close down a number of much loved single-screen theatres in Gothenburg, a task that did not at all endear him to us projectionists. We had many a battle but also an increasing number of fruitful and respectful exchanges, and by the time I left in the 90s, Mats had become a much-respected source of information and stories about our shared interests, including a love of 70mm projection and cinema technology.

I lost touch with Mats for a few years until Facebook came along and many old-timers started gathering there; it’s where many, most even, chat these days. Well, unless you still work in the industry, which I don’t. There are groups of like-minded individuals on Facebook discussing film projection, projectors, 70mm, large-screen formats, and classic theatre design, and there was Mats also, always ready for an anecdote or useful information.

Mats retired some years ago, but they would call him whenever there was a 70mm print to be screened. 70mm projectionists are rare these days so he would run shows at the Rigoletto in Stockholm. He’d introduce new projectionists to the craft, of course, but mostly, I’m sure, he’d be there simply because of he truly loved the work. I believe his last film may have been Oppenheimer, just a few months ago. He’d post pictures, and I’d miss the work terribly.

Today, we mourn.

The Festival, Once Again

The last Göteborg Film Festival I did was in 2016, which is starting to feel like a long time ago. Almost 8, to be precise. It was all good fun, I did it, now I’m over it. Right?


Firstly, I read the news. When it’s happening I follow it. I catch the opening night news, I read about the films being picked, I know about the prize winners. I am aware of it, and I miss it. I also drive past the cinema every now and then and can’t help but look at the big panorama windows hinting at the upper foyer and the view inside, the neon sign, the entrance, all of it. God I miss it. Gets me to think about what the booth looks like today, which I really don’t want to think about.

Secondly, I dream. With the festival getting closer I always have at least one dream about me getting to the cinema booth about to run a show, usually the first one, and things going wrong. A film missing, people bothering me when I’m about to start the show, projectors missing, the booth having been rebuilt with everything in the wrong place.


It’s how I know it’s time. I’ve had these pretty much since I first started working for the festival, which is closer to 40 years now. You can probably guess some of the variations. It’s always something changing and me trying to fix it but other things failing, instantly. It’s a typically reactionary dream, a performance thing, me going in prepared for the festival but something failing.

I had one of these last night. It was an intricate one, with someone having rebuilt the cinema and me trying to cope. Par for the course. I’m not surprised.

I also drove past the theatre recently, noticing that the lamps lighting up the foyer are back. I thought those had been lost; the last year I worked the festival, they had been replaced with embedded lighting in the foyer ceiling, meaning those awful halogen things that may be useful in conference settings but disgrace everything else.

And right now I miss the work and my theatre, and I don’t know what to do about it.

Headhunters and Cold Calls

As an IT professional, I’m reasonably senior in my chosen field and fairly visible at that, so I get quite a few cold calls and emails, asking me to consider this or that position. The best callers have done their homework so at least I get a decent discussion. Sometimes I even get an offer. Most, however, haven’t done their due diligence at all. Am I a Java developer? No. Am I a software architect? Not really. Do I need lists of people using software similar to that of my latest client’s? No, absolutely not.

My pet peeve right now is the laziest of the lot, recruiters emailing me long lists of openings as varied as a 95-yo’s prescription meds list. Would I please have a look and see if something is of interest. In other words, I can’t be bothered to do my homework, so can you please do it for me?

I’m sure some of these people think they’re helping me out, but most aren’t all that interested. They have a job to do but emailing one list to a 1,000 people is so much easier these days than reading said list before splitting it into meaningful groups and then matching profiles with each group. It’s the scammer mentality: if 1% thinks the Nigerian prince and his gold mine are real, then the campaign is a success!

The problem, of course, is that headhunters, recruiters and the like, unlike scammers, do not operate anonymously. LinkedIn is a big place, but not that big, and eventually word gets out. Recruiter A is not serious. Avoid. Sure, it will take time, but ask yourself:

Do you really want to be that guy?


Apparently this blog went down some time in August, and I failed to notice. The universe is probably telling me something here:

  • I should write more often.
  • I should apply some TLC to my server more often.
  • I should stop writing if this is how much I care.

Probably not #1 and #3 at the same time.

Anyway, the reason was a WordPress plugin that was updated to a version requiring a later version of the PHP this server runs. Sorry about that.

Balisage 2023

The Balisage 2023 markup conference is over. I presented, and I think my paper was well received. There was a good discussion afterwards, in any case, and I certainly enjoyed it.

There were a good number of great talks, too. For whatever reason, my favourite as I write this is Amanda Galtman’s clear overview of accumulators in XSLT 3.0 and all the things you can do with them, not to mention how you can test them. Before the conference, there’s no way I could have predicted this; there was any number of other talks I imagined would have taken that spot.

What struck me the most, though, was the feedback session afterwards. We all agreed it was a great conference. We all lamented the demise of the physical meetup in Rockville, and we all discussed ways to mitigate the fact that we are now meeting online only. There was, in fact, a push for meeting more than once a year. Maybe shorter talks without a peer review? A Slack channel at leading to those, or maybe some more impromptu meetings? A hybrid conference was mentioned, and people reminisced on the past and briefly wondered about what the logistics of a hybrid conference might look like. Brief thought was given to specifics, including where and how to ask questions, but there was no consensus or will to say “yes, let’s meet in person again.” Which is fair enough, in a way. Getting to Rockville was never an easy task.

Only afterwards did it occur to me that no space was given to thinking about how we might want to bring in new blood. Young people. Fresh minds still thinking clearly, with strong views unaffected by decades of compromise. We are all getting older, and this was not a discussion about anyone below 50. I am by no means an SGML old-timer, I but was there using it before there was XML, which means I am actually getting old, too.

I am in a position now where I can bring in young people to work with markup, so that’s what I try to do. It makes perfect sense; younger people will have more ambition, more will to achieve things, and if I can guide them in a certain direction, then I will.

See, when you get older, you will no longer be the bright new talent and that will feel very much like a loss, but you can possibly, maybe, be that experienced old hand and be able to guide the younger ones, influence them in one direction or another.

What does that mean?

Well, for one thing, you can demonstrate the value of semantic markup and declarative languages. You can highlight the benefits of XML technologies and get them interested, inspire them to use those technologies to solve a problem. And then, when they succeed or at least get interested enough, you can point them at markup conferences. You can encourage them to present, talk about a project that went well or an idea they had to make a difference.

And that was never even mentioned at the feedback talk, and now I find it remarkable.

Balisage 2022, Closing Notes

Balisage 2022 is over, and I had a great time.

I’ve said it before (I think) but the real power of Balisage is that it invigorates me because it reminds me of what I love about my chosen field.

Most years, following the closing of the conference I go back to work, straight away. Yup. Could be a particularly tricky problem, or maybe an alternative to something I have been pondering, but most years it’s just been sheer inspiration. I like what I do, and I like talking to, and listening to, people in my field. They provide inspiration, and they make me want to do more.

It’s a wonderful thing when a conference can remind me of all this, and it’s what Balisage does.

Balisage 2022 Is Upon Us

It’s the first day of Balisage 2022 (online only), and I’ve been enjoying every minute.

Now, my holiday ended yesterday. I’m still in holiday mode. Lots of golf, relaxing, BBQs, meeting friends and family. Stuff. And I have not been particularly interested in markup, beyond some initial XProc and XQuery (and a few bugs I needed to sort out) during week #1. I was not super happy to start working again, and let’s not talk about this morning.

Luckily Balisage is online and a six-hour time zone difference away, so I worked the day and then logged on to Balisage for today’s talks. There’s been a few interesting ones. My favourite so far was a talk on Invisible XML or iXML, as they call it. It wasn’t as much a talk as it was an overview of where the standard (yes; I do consider Community Group specs standards) is now. I specifically liked the demos, with every single implementation astonishingly good. Did I already use “super”?

I can’t find fault with the other talks today, but you do get favourites. Mine was this, but also a chat session afterwards.

See, following the last talk for the day, I logged on to a “birds of a feather” session about conversions from and to MS Office and Open Office formats. It was a bunch of people talking about MS Office (etc) conversions and their approaches, tools, etc for doing the job. Right then and there I rediscovered my love for what I do for a living.

We all share an understanding about markup and the use of angle brackets, and the session was all about that. Tricks, tips, libraries, tools, shared experiences. Enough to make me remember what it is that made me choose this path in the first place. For a first day back at work, I could not be happier, and it’s what Balisage is all about.

Audio and Lossless Formats

Recently got fed up with Spotify. Not the Rogan thing, mind. I think that one is an overreaction – cancel him just because he invites contrarians and uses the N-word? Or that -god forbid – you disagree with him? Seriously? But I digress.

I’ve grown accustomed to the Spotify ecosystem and their playlists, their ever-so-subtle big brother watching me to generate new playlists based upon flawed metadata on the songs themselves, because every now and then they do offer something new that’s genuinely good. Well, not new, just something I missed. That part isn’t perfect but I like it.

The problem is their abysmal sound quality.

They’re running Ogg Vorbis files on a maximum of 320 kbps, which they label as “very high”. A true 320 kbps source losslessly reproduced could be a decent start, but I think that’s never happening. I think their audio is a compromise directed at people who don’t care.

They announced a “Spotify HiFi” about a year ago, though, and there were whispers about hi-res before that, so I’ve been patient. The music I cared about I bought on CD or better, and I sort of made do on that “very high” setting. But 2021 went by and morphed into 2022, and a few days ago or so, I had enough. I’m not exactly sure why; I simply had enough.

I’ve been fed with Tidal ads the last year or two on all of my social media. Big Brother does know me. So I did a couple of Google searches. Tidal was certainly one, but so was Qobuz. The other day I installed them both on my Android phone with one-month trials.

My Android phone, a Pixel 6 Pro, produces decent sound on my wireless Bluetooth Sennheiser cans, so both sounded good enough on a first listen. The Qobuz Windows app on my work laptop sounded even better – a dedicated DAC and a decent set of speakers powered by a Denon pre-amp goes a long way – so I was suitably impressed, especially when playing hi-res FLAC tracks. Classical music, to me, is a necessity, much of the time, and now I found myself discovering music again. Vivaldi, Mozart, Wagner… so many recordings to choose from, and all of them sounded better than Spotify ever could.

And no – I don’t like laptop soundcards. They’re all inferior and noisy and low-res. I bought a FiiO DAC last year to avoid them. My trusty PC sound system – Cambridge Audio, 25 or so years old – gave up the ghost early last year and after an eternity of procrastination (three weeks), I bought a set of Dali speakers and revived a Denon pre-amp I had kept because I knew I’d need it some day. Call it an awakening, but soon after I realised I’ll need a proper DAC to bypass the laptop soundcard. Enter the FiiO DAC, and enter the winter of discontent with Spotify while writing XSLT.

My personal laptop is a Linux box. The Qobuz install on Windows was fabulous, so how would it fare on Linux?

There was no Linux app. The web player was unreliable at best – it would keep the lower-res settings if running mixed-resolution lists, so I had to do a lot of tweaking, every time. No fun if you want to listen to a playlist while working. Adding it to Strawberry, my media player of choice, was no fun either. The bitrates would be correct but finding songs… just no.

Tidal was no better. There most certainly isn’t a Linux solution, and their desktop is limited to “HiFi”, which is not the hi-res option but the one below.

And here’s where this story took a dark turn familiar to anyone as invested in open source as I am. See, Tidal reserves its highest-quality settings and subscription fees to something usually appearing as “MASTER” or just “M” next to their listings. I tested some of them, and sure enough, I thought I did hear a difference. There was no bitrate given, though, nothing that actually gave the stream settings away, which I thought was a bit weird.

So I did another Google search while listening to Tidal versions of the Qobuz recordings I already had compared to Spotify. This is where I found out that MQA, the audio format behind Tidal’s master quality, is proprietary. You cannot independently verify any of its claims because you cannot access the format itself. That is to say, you cannot access the digital, bit-by-bit, output. You cannot read the specification. You just have to trust them.

Now, I don’t like closed source. I’m not opposed to people making money on their inventions, but I also don’t like unverifiable claims. The MQA format is unverifiable. You cannot read the spec, and you cannot access an output MQA digital stream to compare it to the source of that same stream. You just have to trust the people who sell you the licenses.

This was not OK, so I did some additionsl research. Long story short, here’s what you should watch next:

I’m not a bit-by-bit audiophile, I just listen very carefully because I have perfect pitch. I also care about open source, a lot. The former is because  have no choice; the latter is all about conscious decisions the last 27 years or so. Open source is what allows me to write this in the first place, and this is where I’m now. Tidal is out, Qobuz is in, and at least my music sounds better.