Friday, April 18, 2008

5 Thoughts inspired by the movie "I Am Legend"

I should put this on my movie blog but this isn't really a review of the movie. The movie is eh.

Thought 1: Yay, someone used 'Scope for a movie again.

Anamorphic photography--aka Panavision, 'Scope, or Anamorphic 2.35. Anamorphic lenses squeeze the picture horizontally so you can still use the full frame of film. You know how on VHS everyone used to get skinny during the credits? That was usually an anamorphic film transferred directly to TV. Of course, we don't have that "skinny people" problem any more because of DVD's letterbox acceptance.

The benefit of 'Scope is that it squeezes that picture into the whole frame of film. This means less grain and a vastly better picture. As someone who has looked at this stuff pixel by pixel, I assure you, it's a meaningful improvement.

On the flip side, the format du jour is Super 35, which wastes a TON of the film frame (about 30%) and then has to be re-squeezed into anamorphic for distribution anyway. It ends up with a very grainy image, one that's hard to manipulate and looks crappier. However, cinematographers love Super 35 because they can use spherical lenses, rather than anamorphic ones that give artifacts like weird rack focuses.

As long as we use film -- which won't be very much longer, I guess -- it would be nice to see people shoot in Panavision some more. Having grown up in the heyday of Panavision, the artifacts it has are something I like, not something I hate. I assume this director felt the same way, although he did shoot some of this movie in Super 35. In fact, some back-to-back shots were done in Panavision then in Super 35. It was a little weird.

Thought 2: We like movies about viruses because the audience has a complex that makes them believe they'll be the one who's immune.

Not much more to say than that. When I watch movies like this, I always start thinking "wow, this could happen, and I could be the only one alive, that would be freaky." The next thought is, "No it won't. There would be a 95% chance I'd be one who dies."

Thought 3: Why does every virus movie mutate into a fucking zombie monster movie?

Here's a riddle for you.... how many killer viruses do you know of that also make people into super strong, nearly invincible night-stalkers? Even among viruses that don't kill, how many have you heard of that do that?

Right. Every virus I know of, including the common cold, turns people into a blubbering mess. Yet in every virus movie made lately, the virus inevitably mutates so that it creates super strong zombies vampire/monster people. WTF.

Thought 4: Production value sells.

A co-worker of mine thinks the future of video gaming is casual gaming. I say it's not. The reason is the same reason the future of movies isn't all small budget indy films: production value sells.

High production value movies sell, just like high production value video games sell, because they're easy to sell. When something has a very high level of appearance which you've spent tens or hundreds of millions developing, it's easier to do what I like to call "engineer a hit." Marketing can take very cool looking imagery and get people to buy it. They can't do that for something that looks like Tetris.

Bottom line, people won't line up overnight to shell out $150 million on launch day of Puzzle Quest, but they will for Halo 3. Now why is that? Production value sells. If you don't have it, you require luck to be successful and luck sucks.

Thought 5: Stop making movies where man's "meddling with nature" is the entire problem.

If Hollywood ran science, we wouldn't have polio or smallpox vaccines, computers, trains, cars, airplanes, nuclear power, a moon landing or any technology with potential downside. After all, wouldn't the polio vaccine seem unreasonably dangerous in the mind of one of these screenwriters, since it uses actual dead polio virus to immunize people? OMG, it could mutate and make zombies!

So chalk up this movie as yet another "god has to fix the mistakes of man" empty vessel. I really had high hopes for this movie, but it was especially weak in trying to make a message that god does the right thing or something like that. In contrast, Terminator is one of my favorite movie series of all time, and it too is a Luddite theme, fearing computers and AI. However, at least it's not trying to point to god while saying "man + technology... bad...bad!!!"

BTW, in "I am Legend", why'd the blow up the Brooklyn Bridge, to keep people from going from Manhattan to Long Island? Yeah, that makes sense. I wouldn't want to go to Syosset anyway.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008


Best thing in Vista

The new ClearType fonts: Calibri, Consolas, Cambria, etc. Not that I'd pay $400 for these, but they are a great new feature that comes with Vista and Office 2007.

Of course, you can get them for XP right here, with the 2007 Powerpoint Viewer, or Office Compatibility Pack, but they are still a nice feature that comes with Vista.

In honor of Vista's best feature, I've included these fonts in the template for this blog.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Lost, pointless, Sun now getting into codec business

Hey everyone, Sun has a new business strategy... create royalty-free video codecs that no one will use!

So let's check in on Sun's wheel of corporate strategies (original wheel lifted from FSJ):

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Regarding the demographics of my C++ post

I had to turn on comment moderation after my C++ Desktop Applications post hit reddit and got a few thousand visitors and many anonymous comments.

In any case, I started looking into the demographics of who viewed that post.
  • 48.48% Windows
  • 27.41% Linux
  • 22.47% Mac
  • 0.42% iPhone
  • 0.28% FreeBSD
Compare that to the regular inter-nets:
  • 91.51% Windows
  • 4.91% Mac
  • 2.02% Linux
  • iPhone/BSD, too low to count
I also find it interesting because most of my other posts are about Windows-oriented stuff, even though about 80% of the time I spend coding (which is about 15% of the time), I do it in Python.

Furthermore, check out the browser stat:
  • 67.82% Firefox
  • 13.92% Safari
  • 6.16% Opera
  • 5.11% Internet Explorer
  • 5.00% Mozilla
  • 1.05% Konquerer
  • 0.59% Camino
  • 0.03% Galeon
Wow, only 5% using Internet Explorer to view my post, versus 75%+ of mortal inter-webs users who use IE.

Also, of that Firefox demographic: a whole 23.52% are on 3.0 (I am too).

I had to look up Galeon. It's a Gnome project that uses Gecko for rendering. I wonder what inspired that one guy to pick up that browser and start using it.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Non C++ Desktop Applications

I'm sitting here trying to use an awful application supplied by one of our vendors that's written in wxPython. It got me thinking, are there any desktop applications not written in C/C++ that you use? Are there any not written in C/C++ that you'd pay for?

I think Windows Live Writer is all in C#, and that's not bad. I wouldn't pay for it, of course. Paint.NET... but again, would you pay for it?

Can't think of many in the .NET or Java worlds. Even Eclipse and Azureus require a C++ UI component, the SWT, to be acceptably usable Java applications.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Kelsey's Road House

One gem in my hometown is a restaurant called The Kelsey Road House, which can be found over on... well... Kelsey Road.

It's referred to as Kelsey's Road House by everyone I know, either because it was once called that or because nearly all restaurants in Chicagoland end with 's. Therefore it's automatic that we append it to all restaurant names as a result. Even today I've been known to refer to fancy restaurants with 's, like "Michael Mina's".

Kelsey's is an underground road house, so there's no real facade to feature, but here are some pictures anyway.

Here's the old-timey looking sign out front.

Here's a picture of their pizza

Above the stairs there's a stained glass picture of the "kelsey girl". This is the outfit the waitresses used to wear there. Of course, this outfit has presumably has earned Kelsey's a number of lawsuits, and this outfit is long gone, but now you know why this restaurant had a lasting impression on prepubescent boys in the early 80s.

Anyway, the point of this post is to note how strange it is when music triggers memories. Today I was listening to a playlist that should just be called the Kelsey's Mix, because it was all of the songs that were on the radio when I was there as a kid.

  • Steely Dan - especially "Peg" and "Hey Nineteen"
  • Chicago
  • Fleetwood Mac
  • Genesis
  • And, of course, Gerry Rafferty's legendary tune "Baker Street". This song must have been on "loop" for a couple years.
So if you're ever looking at my Facebook or Zune profile and are wondering how I could possibly be listening to Steely Dan -- which my wife calls "elevator music with no soul" -- now you know. It all comes back to Kelsey's.

ps - their menu looks like it is completely random, however one of the things I used to love there when I was about 8 were their tacos. Not sure if their pizza is as good as it was when that picture was taken about 7 years ago.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Hard hitting commentary about globalization

Looks like the guys at Imageworks had some fun making this video

Friday, April 04, 2008

Why ASP.NET is a rip-off.

Every so often, I consider setting up one of my home/toy websites in ASP.NET. Right now, most are using Ruby on Rails and I'm actually running one of them on ASP.NET on Mono on Linux. So I've been known to buy some Windows hosting here and there for some experimentation with ASP.NET.

Why do I never follow through with it? Because ASP.NET is a rip-off.

I've written a bunch of ASP.NET sites at work (mostly web services). At work it made sense to choose ASP.NET because C# is our main tools language, we have a lot of expertise with it and our main platform is Windows. But after a few years of this, I've concluded ASP.NET not made for any kind of sensible web development without those requirements.

Here's why, in a nutshell, that it sucks: ASP.NET was originally designed to try make everything stateful. Just about every problem I have with it is related to design decisions that try to shoehorn that mantra into place. Trying to configure gridviews to sort properly and connect those up to the proper place, etc. Spend about 5 minutes playing with ASP.NET and you'll see what I mean.

The other day at work I was trying to do this, very, VERY simple thing:
  • Query database on page load
  • Set a protected variable on the page to display the image or not
  • In the ASPX code, if my variable is set to true then show an image
That's all. But after mucking around with trying to figure out which Page Event to put the database query, how to structure the <% %> code, and whether I could use <%# Eval() %> in CSS, etc., etc. I finally gave up and used and set the visibility flag directly on that control in Page_Load.

Why is this a colossal failure of ASP.NET, you might ask? Because it required throwing out a trivial chunk of HTML templating that I've been doing for years with the likes of Clearsilver and replacing it with a deep C# class that probably added far more overhead than possibly required for this task.... and introduced a silly controller dependency on the view code to boot!

Another case in point, has anyone ever been able to use Sql/ObjectDataSource for anything beyond trivial queries? It looks like some of this stuff has stellar caching mechanisms... if you're doing the most trivial SELECT statement ever seen. After buying books on ASP.NET, reading all over the web and such, I've concluded that if you want to use ObjectDataSource seriously, the only way to do so is to subclass it.

Don't even get me started on viewstate, by the way. Viewstate is evil and ridiculous.

So frankly, I have no idea how sites like MySpace or Microsoft themselves do it -- how do they actually manage to run a site that large on ASP.NET? It's a mystery to me. The only way I can imagine making those sites work is writing custom HttpHandlers and doing all of the processing in my code, completely throwing out WebControls, DataSets, etc..

At which point I'll have replaced everything about ASP.NET except for writing it in C#.

Although, MySpace has Viewstate turned on for their front page, so I guess they've figured how to make some of this stuff fast... for now. Performance wise, it appears things are getting worse with every .NET Framework release. Google around for "linq performance" and you'll see some reports that the future of data binding in ASP.NET takes upwards of 500% longer than plain old DataReader.

All I've heard is how spectacular Linq is -- and I agree it's great for XML queries -- but it isn't at all straightforward to use and certainly 5x longer queries is unacceptable. But you never hear about that. You see, Microsoft's got a new Visual Studio and a bunch of books to sell you and "MVPs" on the MSDN forums are busy trying to get their "answered your question" votes rather than give critical feedback on deep problems with this stuff.

Jeff Atwood had a very good point about a year ago where he said that choosing a language often means choosing a platform. C# is pretty solid and a fast language, plus Visual Studio is a very nice IDE for editing this stuff. 2008 has great Javascript editing, probably some of the best I've seen.

However, choosing C# means you're choosing ASP.NET as your platform. And let's see what you're into once you do that. You've got development tools at $700 a pop, plus $350 upgrades every other year. Every host you want to set up requires at least a $350 Windows Server Web license. You'll probably run your database on Windows, so that's a couple thousand in licenses, easily.

All that cash for something that, at least in my experience, doesn't make anything easier.
Unless I've got a bunch of C# I need to use, did all of that money spent make development faster or better? No, it won't. And that's why ASP.NET is a rip-off.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

R.E.M. lied to us all

They were supposed to have retired by now.

If you weren't aware of the R.E.M. countdown, my understanding of it was that it was supposed to count down their albums until retirement. I started wondering about it when I saw the liner notes from Life's Rich Pageant.

Here's how it went:

Murmur: 9-9
Reckoning: 7 Chinese Bros. (yes, this is out of order)
Fables of the Reconstruction: Driver 8
Life's Rich Pageant had the word "six" written in the liner notes.
Document: Obviously the cover
Green: The track number for "Stand" was supposed to be a 4, but was replaced by an R.
Out of Time: Low, Low, Low ... three letters, three times, third track

Then it stopped. And they started making really crappy music. And now in 2008 we have like the 5th album from R.E.M. after they're supposed to have gone away, WTF?

This new album does seem to suck less than everything they ever did in the 90s, but still, shouldn't these guys have gone away quietly by now according to their countdown? I hate liars. Plus, the muddled awesomeness of albums like Reckoning and Life's Rich Pageant just make new albums by these guys seem depressing.