Dave's Free Press: Reviews

being why I think things suck and/or rock


Recent posts


Recently commented posts


Journals what I read

books sci-fi alcohol electronics fantasy film geeky music thriller crime tv meta kindle theatre horror whisky baen maths comedy pubs beer rum food software literature clothes review-of-reviews rsnapshot foreign magazines transport opera tequila shorts spam electronics ww2 biography gin religion cooking hotel brandy psephology museum
Wed, 8 Jan 2014

The Hobbit, pt 2

for the film,
for the technology,
for the use of technology

So I went to see The Hobbit, part 2, at the Imax. In 3D, despite my misgivings from last time. It is again a jolly fun romp, and worth seeing.

The technology still has problems. Scenes with lots of movement are blurry and juddery. If I didn't know better I'd swear that they'd run out of time on the rendering farm to render all the frames, and so just doubled frames up to drop the effective frame rate from 24 fps to 12 or 18 fps. Apart from this, however, the use of 3D was a lot more effective. It seemed in the previous film that there were only a small number of layers at different distances from the viewer. This time, it looked far more like true 3D. In some sequences it was very effective indeed.

However, there are still problems. People often look like 2D cutouts in a 3D scene. I can only assume that this is because Peter Jackson had an attack of the OMGWTF3DBBQLOLLERSKATE and so made all the CGI components (and they're present in most shots to some degree) have more depth than they should. In some cases he went way too far, and while the 3D was very effective it made me a bit dizzy. Yes, spinning and falling down a shaft would do that to a soul, and he recreates the feeling faithfully. However, it needs to be remembered that his film is a work of entertainment, not a training simulator for astronauts, and so he needs to tone it the fuck down.

Last time, I was decidedly "meh" about the whole 3D thing, giving the technology just two stars. This time, I can say that it definitely helped in some places. Perhaps the technology has moved on, or perhaps the director and his post-production crew, with a bit more 3D experience under their belts, are simply better at their craft. Whatever the reason, I'm reasonably positive about it, and I now think that 3D can add to a film. This one, however, I think I'd still prefer to watch in 2D.

Posted at 01:20 by David Cantrell
keywords: film | geeky
Permalink | 0 Comments
Tue, 1 Jan 2013

The Hobbit, in 3d

for the film, for the technology

I've now seen The Hobbit (part 1) in both 2d at the Hastings Fleapit and 3d at the BFI Imax. In 2d the only real complaints I had were that the font used for the film titles and credits hadn't been rendered well - it was all pixelly - and that the font used for subtitles when characters were muttering in Tolkienish was crap.

Both of those are fixed in the 3d version.

Unfortunately, some other stuff got broken. In those long sweeping shots with lots of movement that Peter Jackson loves so much, everything is just a little bit blurry. Even when there's not much movement, such as in close-ups, it's not quite as crisp as it should be. I believe that this is down to how the 3d system works: the images for the left and right eye are projected slightly offset from each other, and polarised 90° apart. The cheap n nasty plastic glasses you get to wear are polarised so each eye sees the right image. Trouble is, everyone's eyes are slightly different distances apart, and so it's only a very lucky few whose eyes are exactly the right distance apart who will see clearly.

A handful of scenes and shots definitely benefitted from 3d, but only a handful. I'll not go out of my way to see a film in 3d again, and nor should you. You should see The Hobbit, but seeing it in 2d is fine.

Posted at 19:00 by David Cantrell
keywords: film | geeky
Permalink | 2 Comments
Thu, 8 Sep 2011

The Tudors

I know, it's TV. And is therefore crap by default. But I started watching it, under the misapprehension that Henry VIII was played by The Blessèd Brian. I was wrong, he instead appears in Henry 8.0, which, incidentally, is jolly good and you should watch it.

But The Tudors is pretty good too. So far I've only watched the first series, and I do expect it to go downhill in subsequent ones, but overall it was enjoyable, and I recommend it. While there are some "departures from history", it is overall reasonably accurate, in particular in its portrayal of the King and his confidantes Wolsey, Cromwell, and the clever, erudite but nasty "saint" Thomas More. How you can declare someone to be saintly when he imprisoned people merely for their beliefs or who approved of burning people to death is beyond me. I suppose it requires the same sort of perverted mindset that thinks it's OK to hide rapists.

It was only spoilt a teensy bit for me by some glaring anachronisms, all of which could have been avoided without changing the story one iota:

  • there's a shot of St Peter's church in Rome, complete with dome, in episode 2, but it's clearly of the new St Peters. The dome wasn't completed until 80 years later. They've used CGI for lots of views of Whitehall Palace, so there's no reason they couldn't have done the same for St Peters;
  • episode 3 contains some large sheets of flawless glass, made using a process not invented until the 1950s;
  • in episode 9, the King is playing "Greensleeves" on a lute. It is not thought to have been written until the reign of his daughter Elizabeth, and especially not the version he was playing, which was a melody from Vaughan Williams's 1934 "Fantasia on Greensleeves";
  • all church interiors date from, at the earliest, the reign of Henry's son Edward. We know this because they have plain white walls devoid of the colourful murals, decorations, painted statues etc that festooned mediaeval English Catholic churches.

Do I win a gold star for pedantry?

Posted at 21:15 by David Cantrell
keywords: geeky | tv
Permalink | 0 Comments
Wed, 6 Jul 2011

Star ratings re-revisited

I did, very briefly, consider a completely different rating system for my reviews, instead of just awarding 0 to 5 shiny gold stars.

I considered rating books out of ten on several axes - for example, entertainment, literary merit, imagination, consistency. I would then combine them by treating those scores as the co-ordinates of a point in an N-dimensional space, the overall rating being the distance of that point from the origin, or equivalently, they are components of a velocity vector in an N-dimensional space. Let me give a couple of examples:

The Quantum Thief might score 8/10 for entertainment, 10/10 for literary merit, 9/10 for imagination, and 10/10 for consistency. The score, then, is sqrt(82+102+92+102) = 18.6. A perfect score on those axes would be sqrt(4*102) = 20. So to normalise to a score out of ten we divide by 2, giving 9.3/10. I actually gave it 5/5.

A Mighty Fortress, on the other hand, might get 5/10 for entertainment, 2/10 for literary merit, 2/10 for imagination, and 8/10 for consistency, for a score of 9.8, which normalises to 4.9/10. I actually gave it 2/5.

There are at least three obvious reasons why I didn't go with this.

  1. Maximum marks on one axis gets you half way to perfection with four axes, even closer with fewer. I don't want to give undue weight to good marks in any one axis. We could perhaps solve this by making it harder to attain maximum velocity in any direction the closer you get to the maximum. The physicists in the audience may now run away screaming;
  2. different type of book require different axes. eg fiction vs textbook vs biography;
  3. it over-complicates things, and is just a poor attempt to hide how subjective reviews are. Note that in the numbers above, I fudged the individual axis scores for both books so they'd mostly agree with the scores I actually gave :-)
Posted at 00:55 by David Cantrell
keywords: geeky | maths | meta
Permalink | 0 Comments
Mon, 20 Jun 2011

Star ratings revisited

Just over a year ago I started awarding books and things that I reviewed shiny gold stars. I also retrospectively scattered stars on some of my older reviews.

I thought it would be a good idea to see how many of each I'm awarding, and so how well I'm sticking to my rating system. I'm expecting a normal distribution, with the mean somewhat above 3 stars to reflect the fact that I deliberately don't read shite, and that lots of what I read is because other people have raved about it. Well, the results are in ...


I think this is good. It's roughly what I'd expect given my reviewing criteria and the small number of options available. If I had a larger scale to work with - if, say, I was awarding marks out of 20 - I'd expect a smoother drop-off, and at both ends instead of just at the bottom end.

Posted at 12:26 by David Cantrell
keywords: geeky | meta
Permalink | 2 Comments
Sun, 16 Aug 2009


The nice people at AntibodyMX said they'd de-spamify my email for me for free provided I wrote a review. They didn't say it had to be a good review :-) so I took them up on it.

I've previously been rather sceptical about such services. There are obvious concerns about privacy from having all your mail go through someone elses systems instead of going - as far as is possible - straight from the sender to you. If you use TLS (and you should) then even if your mail transits someone elses network, they won't be able to read it. With an outsourced service like AntibodyMX's, they can, because mail is sent to them and they then forward it on to me. That they can see the plain-text of my email is, however, necessary for the filtering to work. And in practice, it's not a significant concern at least for individuals, because my mail just isn't that interesting.

My other source for scepticism was that they probably couldn't do a better job than I could. Indeed, because their service has to work for everyone there are ways in which they can only possibly do a worse job at filtering mail than I can. For example, I can throw away all mail in Chinese, Russian, Japanese and Hebrew, because all mail in those languages is unreadable so even if it's not spam (yeah right) I still don't lose out by ignoring it. They can't do that, because I'm sure they have some customers who get some legitimate mail in weird languages that aren't written right. Without tools like that, then surely they can't do a better job than me - after all, the software they use is the same that's availabe to me, and I've been successfully de-spammifying my email for years.

So why did I switch? Simply because I got fed up maintaining my anti-spam systems. They eat valuable memory and CPU - and eat more by the day as I have to keep adding more filters to combat spammers' evil imaginations. Maintaining all that takes time. Due to having more interesting things to do, I was beginning to fall behind on keeping my filters up to date, and more spam was sneaking through. When I got the offer to use their services for free, I decided to take them up on it. After all, there's no real downside. If it doesn't work as well as advertised, I can trivially switch back to doing the job myself.

But I won't be switching back to doing the job myself. The AntibodyMX service Just Works.

That, however, is with the service being free. It's a different matter entirely if you have to pay for it. According to their website, prices start at £115 a year. When you think about how much time your company's sysadmins put in to spam control, it's a no-brainer and is easily worth paying. It's only really worth thinking about if privacy is particularly important to you. I wouldn't want, for example, my doctor or solicitor or MP to use any such service. Not because they can't trust the service providers, but because they shouldn't trust anybody. Doubly so if using a service provider in another country.

For personal use I think £115 would be a bit steep. It is worth paying for, I'm just not sure how much I'd shell out.

Posted at 16:44 by David Cantrell
keywords: geeky | spam
Permalink | 1 Comment
Thu, 7 Jun 2007

Book review: Backup and Recovery

Author: Curtis Preston

ISBN: 0-596-10246-1

Publisher: O'Reilly

I contributed part of a chapter to this book, and so I got a free copy. I was expecting to take it home, put it on the shelf, and never use it. Today, less than 48 hours after getting the book in the post, I had to use it. The thoughtful comments and excellent description of how dump / restore work prevented me from looking like a complete tit on a public mailing list. I therefore recommend this book.

More seriously, it does look jolly good, covering just about all the backupish stuff that I've heard of and lots that I haven't. But more importantly, it devotes lots of space to restoring your backups - complete with step-by-step instructions for "bare metal" recovery - and talks about things to do when your backups are broken.

And it covers things that lots of admins don't like to think about, like Exchange and MySQL (and other databases; judging from a quick skim of the Oracle section I expect the coverage to be good).

Buy a copy of this book for your friendly local sysadmin. He will love you for ever.

Posted at 20:12 by David Cantrell
keywords: books | geeky | rsnapshot
Permalink | 0 Comments