Meewella | Fragments

The Life of P

Month: June 2008

Techie Tab-Closing

With exams still dominating my life (for another 48 hours or so) I’m just closing some slightly techie tabs in this post:

Firefox colour comparison

Those who use Firefox (which incidentally is now over 60% of you) and also browse a large number of photos on the web may be interested in the “color profile support” feature in Firefox 3 which is switched off by default. Activating it, the result is vibrant colours, more similar to how they appear in Photoshop than the washed out appearance in web browsers. There are drawbacks with its current implementation, including a 10-15% performance hit, but if you have a decent machine and view a lot of photos you may find it worthwhile. Meanwhile the downside for web designers is the issue of colour matching if some images are treated differently from other elements like CSS colours or embedded flash (yuck!).

I previously mentioned the launch of the Adobe AIR platform for web-orientated applications. Although only a limited number were available to begin with, there is now a wide variety and Lifehacker has picked out their grammatically questionable Top 10 apps worth installing Adobe AIR for.

I was already quite keen on Battlefield: Bad Company for its characters and destructible structures, but even so the Snake Eyes trailer would have won me over almost on its own, making light of the fact the game’s release has it going up against the PS3 behemoth Metal Gear Solid 4.

Creature Creation

I am well slept and recovered from the Bird & Bird summer party last night, a perfect way to celebrate a good IP & Commercial exam (though I don’t actually finish until Tuesday). It was held at The Eve Club, resplendent in its Moroccan themed decor although sadly a little too small for the rapidly growing firm, which must make these events harder and harder to arrange each year. The crowded venue meant it did not quite live up to the riverside Boat Club do two years ago, but it was nevertheless good fun with a chance to meet a few more future trainees to fill in most of the missing gaps. This year’s summer students were invited too, so it was odd already not being the “new kids”, though it was pleasant to know everyone was watching them and not us!

DownLow, made with the Spore Creature Creature

A trial version of the Creature Creator for Spore, the forthcoming game from Sims creator Will Wright, has been released and I recommend everyone tries it out. Although limited in terms of body parts, the ability to totally shape the body means the trial still allows massive scope for possibilities and EA have announced that over 300,000 creatures have already been uploaded by people in the last few days. My first creation was the gravitationally challenged DownLow on the right. The real surprise for me was how intuitive the editor feels, something you can only really experience by trying it out rather than watching Robin Williams playing with it.

Spore is essentially a game based around evolution so that you start of as a single-celled organism which you gradually evolve first as an individual then a tribe, and finally a planet-conquering species before heading out into the stars. With the Sims many people spent half their time just in the editor recreating friends and family, so releasing the creature creator for free seems like a bold move. However with Spore it seems much of the fun will be in seeing how they animate and interact within the game world, whether they work well or not. I suspect the DownLow, for example, may have significant balance issues

So download, give it a spin and share what you come up with.

Dancing Doctors

Fast Dial for Firefox

The problem with attempting a world record for software downloads is that when inadequately prepared your servers go out and get trashed for several hours before staggering back in, announcing they are “absholutely frine”, and collapsing in a heap in the corner. Which is precisely (inevitably?) what happened to Mozilla. Nevertheless they managed an undeniably impressive haul with over 8 million downloads in the 24 hours. My build is much the same as before, although I have just added Fast Dial which mimics Opera’s speed dial feature, but with the option to use site logos instead of a thumbnail of the page itself.

Captain Jack

Kirsten and I have reached the first set of Doctor Who episodes that Adam highlighted for us, and I have to concur with his recommendation. The Empty Child and The Doctor Dances form a two part story set in London during the blitz. I was able to work out the ending but it was one of those satisfying experiences rather than feeling cheated, since it still unfolds neatly. The real draw, however, is the introduction of Captain Jack (Harkness, not the infamous pirate — although actually there seems to be a distinct correlation between the moniker and flamboyant scoundrels). Doing things in typically nonsensical fashion, I have watched the first season of Torchwood (the second just looked to have gone too far, a strange sublimation process from bizarrely camp to just plain silly) so it was interesting to see the character’s original introduction in Doctor Who. My feeling was that his personality bounces better off the Doctor than the characters of Torchwood.

The following episode, Boom Town, took a slower pace, revisiting the aftermath of an earlier story and forcing the Doctor to consider the consequences of his actions in returning someone to a planet where they would be executed. The discussion of the issues didn’t have the depth it might, but the change in pace and tone was welcome before the climactic final two episodes. I have seen the first (featuring some fantastic television parodies) which convinces me the series really found its footing about halfway through and is going to close very strongly. Unfortunately Kirsten has jetted of Grenada so it’ll be a week or so before we can finish it off…

“Browser, Browser on the Screen…”

Mozilla apparently have a Guiness World Record in their sights with the Firefox 3 launch tomorrow, specfically most software downloads in a single day. So if you fancy helping them out, tomorrow is the day to grab it. They have also published a handy field guide which details of all the updated features in this release. It’s only fair to also mention the recently released update to the Opera browser. While Firefox’s level of customisation makes it my number one, Opera is a better browser straight out of the box with features like mouse gestures included as standard. Its page rendering is lightning fast and it is certainly a great replacement for Internet Explorer. I try out new releases from time to time but I’ve grown reliant on my Firefox build (particularly since I can take it with me anywhere) so I’ve never stayed with Opera for long. I do, however, highly recommend Opera Mini for mobile phone web browsing.

To round out the browser discussion (no, I’m not mentioning Safari because on Windows it’s just rubbish — there’s simply no reason to use it), Microsoft has actually been urging web designers to start testing their sites in early builds of IE8, warning that its stronger standards compliance may cause issues. They are clearly tweaking the rendering engine substantially and if it results in greater standards compliance that is to be commended. Let’s just hope that is the cause for their concern…

Meanwhile I’m just closing some tabs with things I’ve been meaning to mention:

  • c-net have compiled the 20 greatest slow-motion videos.
  • Big Buck Bunny is an “open movie” released under creative commons, so you can download the whole animated flick, in HD, for free. You can stream it on YouTube or Vimeo but I think the achievement becomes far less impressive.
  • BMW have debuted their GINA concept car which uses a smooth, skin-like covering that allows the car to change shape as the metal structure beneath moves.

Obsoletion is the Answer

It was galling to see the 42-day detention Bill pass a Commons vote despite significant opposition. I remain hopeful that the Lords will stall its progress and that it will fail any further attempts. Nevertheless the fact it could pass at all highlights that the worrying trend we have seen in poorly conceived “anti-terror” legislation is not stopping. Unless of course the government’s cunning plan is to make terrorists obsolete by doing their job for them.

Many bemused Americans are actually taking an opportunity to throw stones, apparently heedless of their glass house. 42 days is, after all, still better than 6+ years and counting. Admittedly that’s in a Cuban holiday resort or however it is they refer to Guantanamo these days. The truth is, of course, that this is simply another Act in the security theatre engulfing both our countries — not merely the erosion of civil liberties, but rather the erosion for high profile ideas that bear no ostensible benefits at all. If those additional days save a single life, I think everyone — including those who drafted the Bill — would be very, very surprised.

Firefox 3 has been dated for a June 17th release. I’ve been using the stable Release Candidates for a while now, and I can thoroughly recommend the new version. Improvements are less dramatic than earlier milestone releases but the focus here is under the hood like memory management, combined with a focus on smaller details. Drawing attention in the address bar to the identity information of the site you are browsing is a good example of a simple security measure that will greatly increase use. Meanwhile Firefox is also venturing into the mobile arena with a concept video of the user interface for a new mobile version of the browser, designed specifically for small touch screen devices. This is only a concept with a real product still some way off.

Should Reviewers Pay?

A few years ago I was quite a highly rated reviewer over at Amazon, since I reproduced a lot of my film reviews for DVDs on the site. Late last year Amazon contacted me with an offer to join their Vine programme. Essentially they supply free copies of books, CDs or DVDs to be reviewed. The system works via a regular newsletter with the items that need reviews, and the reviewers can pick any in which they are interested. Recently I’ve reviewed Extraordinary Rendition and The Banquet (do feel free to rate them up!) in this way.

While writing the review for Extraordinary Rendition I realised the inherent flaw in providing such review copies for free. An extreme view, propounded by some, is that reviewers should pay for things like everyone else. The free model is common in most industries on the basis it would be far too expensive to purchase every product in order to provide reviews for each. However, the money one parts with is a fundamental aspect of one’s evaluation of a product’s worth. When an item is free we are far more likely to forgive flaws.

I am happy with the eventual review that resulted, but it required a significant amount of rewriting. The issue is that the film contains an incredibly important scene that I think everyone ought to see — the CIA approved “waterboarding” interrogation technique is transformed from a conceptual notion in the press to a brutal on-screen reality. So the experience of having watched it was good. However had I paid for the DVD I would have been rather unimpressed with the overeall package, because as a film it has major issues (largely structural) which permeate and deflate the effect of the entirety. Nor am I likely to rewatch it.

Reviewing a product, particularly for a store, has to be seen as a purchase recommendation, not merely an abstract analysis. I still worry that, had I initially been writing the review here I would have go so far as to say “rent this but do not buy it”, something I may have been unwilling to do when the product was freely provided via a web store. I think, however, that armed with the knowledge that not paying was inevitably informing my view, I was able to factor that in and produce a review I can stand by.

In Bruges (In Leicester Square)

In Bruges

It’s always a great feeling to stumble across a cinema showing a film you thought you had missed. In this case, after an exam on Monday, that film was In Bruges. My opinion of Colin Farrell fluctuates with every role he plays, but his charisma is undeniable and that is largely what sells this dark comedy about two Irish hit men hiding out in the picturesque medieval Belgian town of Bruges. Farrell’s character naturally hates it while Brendan Gleeson is equally wonderful as his more reserved, experienced partner, while Ralph Fiennes is suitably dislikeable as their principled but otherwise deplorable boss. In some ways this may prove to be this year’s Kiss Kiss Bang Bang for me, the vibe being similar and the charisma of its amiable and slightly inept lead being what carries the production. If you can’t catch it in the cinema, do keep an eye out for the DVD release — it is excellent.

I would also mention that if you have half an hour to kill in London (say, while waiting for a film to start) there are plenty of worse ways than stopping in at the nearest Bella Italia, ignoring the menu and ordering the calamari and a glass of red wine, while reading a book. If it has outdoor seating, so much better.

"Civilization now depends on self-deception. Perhaps it always has."

(CC) BY-NC 2004-2023 Priyan Meewella

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