A tale of Two Towers

December 25th, 2002

Well, yesterday I saw the second film in the Lord of The Rings series and it was, if anything, better than the first; quite an achievement. Making the middle film in any trilogy must be hard, and especially following the spectacular success of the first.

At a time when Hollywood is turning out an even higher percentage of complete rubbish than usual (as amply demonstrated by the trailers which preceded the Two Towers last night) it is encouraging that a few movies are still being made with love, care and very great skill.

If the Return of The King turns out to be as good as the first two, and there’s no reason why it shouldn’t, then I think one could make a good argument for this being the greatest cinematic achievement of all time. It certainly puts to shame all of the recent special-effects-only ‘blockbusters’ (Titanic & the Star Wars sequels, for example), and while other films have had more subtlety or art, I can’t think of anything that has combined them with a production of this scale.

The best way to appreciate the scale, by the way, is by watching some of the commentaries and documentaries on the extended-edition DVD of the first film, which in turn is probably the best use of that medium that I’ve yet come across.

Reading the above, by the way, might make you think that I’m something of a Tolkien fanatic. I’m not, but I’m in danger of becoming a Peter Jackson fanatic. Thank God it didn’t go to Disney or Spielberg.

Creative Commons

December 24th, 2002

[Original Link] About a week ago, Creative Commons launched the first version of their licensing project.

It’s a well-designed site. They explain the licences clearly in non-legal jargon and have a form where you can say what you want to do with your work and they suggest the appropriate licence. And all of this is just pretty icing on the exceedingly important underlying work.

I’ll be adopting one of their licences for everything on this site in the near future.

Still Life

December 12th, 2002

[Original Link] …and another great OS X utility. They’re coming thick and fast at the moment. Still Life is a cool and easy way to create slideshows, including that nice Mac thing of zoooming and fading from frame to frame.

Mac OS X utility of the week – hfspax

December 10th, 2002

[Original Link] This one is strictly for command-line hackers only…

Mac OS X comes with a variety of standard Unix tools that can be used for creating backups, mirroring directories etc, but most of them know nothing about the historical ‘features’ of the HFS+ filesystem, in particular the ‘resource forks’ traditionally associated with Mac files.

This means that backups created with tar, rsync, cpio etc will not necessarily restore all Mac files to a fully-working version. Some of the other included tools and some of the commercial alternatives also have limitations. The ditto command can handle resource forks but is pretty unsophisticated other than that.

Howard Oakley’s hfspax utility is a version of the standard pax command which knows about HFS and will back up files including their resource forks into standard cpio, tar etc archives, or into another directory. It also allows you to rename or exclude files based on regular expressions. I don’t want to back up onto my iPod anything containing ‘.Trash’ or ‘Cache’ in the filename, for example. It allows you to copy only updated files, only those on the same device, and so on. You can end up with some pretty complex command lines, but it will work, can be run from cron or anacron, and is free.

Howard doesn’t blow his own trumpet; there’s no documentation on the web site. Download the archive and look at the included docs.

Buying technology down under…

December 8th, 2002

[Original Link] The story of a chap in Australia who wanted his hardware and software to work as advertised, and wanted the store to sign an agreement to that effect.

What is ‘best’ for higher education?

December 6th, 2002

[Original Link] Splendid (and brave) letter in today’s Times from J.F.James.

Software picks of the week

December 1st, 2002

Every now and then I come across a bit of Mac OS X software which does just what I want and is reasonably priced. Keyboard Maestro was one I wrote about in September. A plug for some recent finds:

  • ImageCaster is a $20 bit of software which captures images, typically from a USB or Firewire-connected camera, and saves or uploads them to create a webcam. Many cameras come with such software, but if yours doesn’t, or if it doesn’t support OS X, or if it isn’t any good, this is worth a try.
  • Audio Hijack captures audio from apps which may not support saving. I use it for saving RealAudio streams to hard disk or to my iPod. (I do wish the BBC wouldn’t try to do such complex stuff on their web pages though. They don’t work on the Mac, and I have to view the source of the web pages to find the URL to type into RealPlayer.)
  • It took me a while to discover that my Powerbook has a built-in microphone. Almost nothing in the bundled software advertises this fact. But using SoundStudio I’ve been able to get some reasonable-quality recordings from it. SoundStudio is a general-purpose audio editor which is fully-functional for 14 days, after which it costs $50. Recommended.

Models and monocultures: a fascinating exchange

December 1st, 2002

[Original Link] From Memex 1.1:

Paul Strassman did a lovely,
polemical piece
for PBS about the
risks implicit in a software monoculture (i.e. a world where
everybody uses Microsoft software) in which he used analogies like
the Irish potato famine to illustrate the point. Microsoft then

replied
with a thoughtful piece. Both arguments are flawed, but
the exchange is instructive and would make excellent material for
class discussion.