Recently in Media Category

By the second day of Ebertfest a theme is usually beginning to emerge. Two years ago, there were a lot of movies about death (I wasn't at the 2010 festival, but in the course of last year watched the full program at home). Last year, there was something about the triumph of the human spirit. This year, it seems to be the way people with very tightly constrained lives still may manage to carve out happiness and follow their passions. This year's schedule.

Even before Joe (Tom Hanks) in JOE VERSUS THE VOLCANO gets his death-sentence wake-up call and embarks on the wild ride that is the rest of the movie, he has his lamp. Working in the grimmest, most dismal office imaginable, every day he bangs off the fluorescent light and plugs in a lamp with a South Sea island shade and a touch of music.

In the documentary PHUNNY BUSINESS, Ray Lambert creates a space for black comedians, then relegated to a half-life in designated off-nights at Chicago's main comedy clubs, to develop audiences and professional lives that soon led them to national stages. (Asked at this morning's panel, for the curious, he says he and his father are solvent again; he went back into corporate work for a while before doing the documentary and now wants to more documentaries. He'd like to start a cable channel - and then found out how much that costs and how hard it really is.)

In BIG FAN, Paul (Patton Oswald) is the schlubby guy who lives with his mother, works in a box (literally: he's the guy in the parking lot who takes your money as you leave), and dates only his right hand. And yet: he loves his life because includes the Giants. He watches the games on a TV in the stadium parking lot, and expresses his love through painstakingly scripted phone calls to a local sports radio show. That's the life - or it is until the disaster of actually meeting his hero.

Even the Rwandans whose many stories make up the mosaic of KINYARWANDA carve out small slices of happiness despite the horror of their surroundings.

Finally, in TERRI a misfit seems more at ease with himself than anyone around him - he seems to have crafted mental space for himself despite his surroundings.

Today may prove me entirely wrong. To be continued.


Roger Ebert has often written negatively about 3D - he believes it's basically a mistake and audiences don't care about it.

But this is interesting: apparently the advent of 3D projectors is severely cutting the amount of light that reaches the screen because projectionists are not changing out the 3D lenses for 2D screenings as they should. (There are also, as Ebert writes in his blog entry on the subject other reasons: theaters deliberately reduce the wattage to projectors thinking the bulbs will last longer). The result is dim, murky images, reducing still further the reasons to choose to go to theaters to see movies rather than stay home and wait to see them on DVD in a setting you can control. Either that, or you go to Roger Ebert's Film Festival because the screenings there are the best in the world.

But this bit from that entry, quoted from Ty Burr in the Boston Globe struck me as a great example of the issues we frequently talk about in security and usability.

Ty Burr writes: "So why aren't theater personnel simply removing the 3-D lenses? The answer is that it takes time, it costs money, and it requires technical know-how above the level of the average multiplex employee. James Bond, a Chicago-based projection guru who serves as technical expert for Roger Ebert's Ebertfest, said issues with the Sonys are more than mechanical. Opening the projector alone involves security clearances and Internet passwords, 'and if you don't do it right, the machine will shut down on you.' The result, in his view, is that 'often the lens change isn't made and audiences are getting shortchanged'."

Hollywood is making a trade-off here: believing that 3D and digital are the new technologies that will get people back into theaters BUT believing that anything not locked down will be copied and redistributed without payment, the studios et al have opted to secure the projectors. Understandable. But in doing so, they've made it difficult for the people running the projectors to do their jobs properly. So they don't, and the long-term consequence will be the alienation of customers and loss of revenues. I'm sure there were better solutions to how to design projectors securely, but, as so often, when the designers developed the projector's security, they failed to consider who would be using it, their level of technical capabilities, and their own internal risk model ("If I do this complicated and difficult thing and make a mistake the projector will lock up and the screening will have to be canceled and I'll probably get fired.") The upshot is poor design that defeats the purpose. We see this all the time in security systems, where by imposing security requirements that make it harder for people to do their jobs they come up with workarounds. Normally the consequence is poorer security - the guy who props the access-coded door open because otherwise he has to keep getting up to open it, or the post-it notes with passwords written on them pasted to doors and computer screens. In this case, the consequence is unhappy customers and, likely, eventually, loss of business. (For which they will blame file-sharing.)

So in this case, Hollywood's threat model of losing revenues through unauthorized copying and redistribution overpowered its *other* threat model of losing business to home entertainment systems and Blu-Ray. At the projector level, I'd have thought the latter was the worse threat.

I found this Guardian piece on David Cope's efforts to use a computer to compose classical music rather fascinating. So much more effective than...I think her name was Rosemary Brown, who claimed to channel dead composers and create new works.

But I am baffled why no one mentions or even, apparently, talked to performers, who are best placed to judge whether a particular piece of music has - or can have - "soul" or "heart" - that is, whether it can be used to communicate emotion. Asking a music critic seems to me only half the game, since the critic is judging the performance as well as the music.


I have been visiting Ithaca - or, as I like to say it, Ithacating - over the last few days (and apologies to everyone I *didn't* call and *didn't* see - and perhaps to those I did), and today paid a visit to the Cornell Campus Store. Where I noted the following large subsections of goods: Cornell-branded merchandise; Gifts; Technology and stationery supplies; Central cafe; General books.

Do you notice what's missing? TEXTBOOKS.

When I was a student here in the 1970s, there were two large textbook stores: Triangle Bookshop in Collegetown, and the Campus Store. Most of the clued-up went to Triangle first, because it tended to have a better supply of cheaper used books. Triangle died about 10-20 years ago when it made the mistake of moving (after decades in its old location, which was stuffed to the rafters) to newer, larger, more expensive premises and found it hard to cope as various other social and technological changes took hold. (My version of the story is garbled because I wasn't here then; my chief memory of Triangle was a lovely woman named, I think, Mary, who sent me stuff overseas and was extraordinarily helpful.) Last time I was here, about two years ago, the Campus Store still had textbooks and, more important, was much more full of merchandise. The fact that it has *room* for a cafe is in itself astonishing.

What happened? Do students now only buy their textbooks online? Do professors just issue course packs? My friend here doesn't know; he does point out that it's mid-semester, so most textbooks should have been sold, and maybe the space is taken up with something else. I don't know, but there always used to be an entire floor of books no matter what the time of year, and now there's just 1/3 of a floor and it's all stuff like general fiction. In my memory, the Campus Store had a huge array of stacks, all labeled by department and course number. Most people I knew went out and bought the full list for each course at the beginning of the year, but those who couldn't afford it would buy the first few and add to them later, or take some out of the library. It might mean scrambling to find your copy, of course.

No matter how you slice it, the change is striking.


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