Caps win!

Yes, I cut that last post a little short. While I was in the middle of writing it, the Caps finished their come-from-behind series win over the Rangers. I hope this coming back from down isn't too much of a habit, but maybe it's of a piece with them leading the league in third-period scoring (at least for much of the season; I'm not sure if they kept that distinction until the end). But hey, I've been a Caps fan for a very long time; we'll take what we can get.

Bring on the Penguins or Devils!

Update: The Devils give up two goals in the last two minutes of game seven, and are going home. Ouch!


I mentioned in the last post that I was re-reading Pride and Prejudice. While it was my first time re-reading that one, there are several books that I re-read with some regularity.

I'll probably come back to this one in more detail, another time, but Judith Tarr's Hound and the Falcon trilogy was what first got me into historical fiction. Her related Alamut is even better; I'm not sure whether it was the characters or the milieu that drew me in more. But the story of the Assassin(s) never fails to grab, and hold, my attention. Its sequel, The Dagger and the Cross, was also good, but fell well short of the original. Nevertheless, I'd be very happy if she would return to this alternate Earth, whether starring Aidan and Morgiana, or Alfred and Thea, or someone else who hasn't been yet introduced. But given how long it's been since TDATC (around 15 years, IIRC), it seems unlikely. Most unfortunate.

Joel's Rosenberg's Guardians of the Flame series would not surprise anyone who knew that I've been playing RPGs (mostly only table-based ones) for decades. And I discovered this book shortly after starting to play D&D. But I still read it something like once a year. Sometimes only The Sleeping Dragon, and sometimes the first four books of the series (despite my great enjoyment of the series, particularly the characters of Karl and Walter, I never got the fifth. Especially odd, since I do have the sixth. One of these days, I guess, I'll find it in a used book store).

Another series I regularly enjoy is Tad Williams' deconstruction of "epic" (or "quest", if you prefer) fantasy, Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn. I'm really not sure what it is about this series that I enjoy so much, but it does make for a very pleasant, if very long, read. As a side note, Tailchaser's Song and Caliban's Hour are both very good, as well. For unknown reasons, though, I've been unable to get into any of his other books.

Every few years I also take a look back at David Eddings' Belgariad. Eddings might not be all that great at plot (look at how repetetive his series are), but his characters are memorable and entertaining. I wish I had taken notes in my last read, as I noticed several things that hadn't occurred to me before. The two that I remember are finally finding evidence that the series is named after Belgarath (I'd wondered for years whether it was supposed to be Belgarath or Belgarion, as a good case could be made for either), and I was amazed at the lack of knowledge of boats displayed (yes, I realize that much of that could have been plot simplification, so perhaps that is why, for instance, river boats and ocean ships are used interchangably).

I would go back and re-read The Lord of the Rings, but it has actually been several years since I could get any enjoyment out of that. I first read it a bit more than twenty years ago, and enjoyed it so much that I read it a half-dozen times in the space of a year or two. Pretty much every time I've tried to read it since then, I've found myself anticipating lines, and that completely destroyed enjoyment of it. There wasn't any wonder left. And that's a hell of a failing in a fantasy. (And I might get into this in more detail in the future, but I'd like to note that the movies were not good. Visually, and perhaps technically, spectacular, but not good. Alas.)

I will occasionally peruse The Silmarillion, though; I still enjoy the First Age stories, in particular. Narn i hîn Húrin and the Lay of Leithian are my favorites. I'm not sure what it signifies that those are the names by which I remember them, though I should point out that I have no interest in reading them as poetry. The former was recently released as a standalone novel, though, so I really should get that and read it.

Another favorite is Feist's excellent Magician books (the first two of the Riftwar). I love both Pug and Tomas, so most of those two books are very enjoyable. But I never really got into (the far more popular, from what I can tell) Arutha, so the rest of the series didn't do much for me. It didn't help that what was there of the other two left me pretty flat. I guess they became too powerful to be interesting. I'm not sure that I'll keep reading these, however; nothing I can put my finger on, but after most recently finishing, I just had a feeling that there was nothing more to be gleaned. (As an unrelated side note, I read Talon of the Silver Hawk fairly recently, and that was terrible. I just never felt like I had any reason to care about the main character. It just felt like, "Ho hum, he's mastered another skill". No emotional involvement, I guess.)

Finally, I should mention Herbert's meisterwerk, Dune. This is the only 500-page book I've ever read that I really felt needed to be that large. Really, it would be hard to cut five pages out of it without it detracting. It deals with so many levels of issues (politics, military, crime & punishment, personal, education, technology, etc) that it's difficult to describe with any degree of precision. I suspect that's a significant part of why the two movie adaptations both failed pretty seriously. The first one was just entirely too short. On my first viewing, I thought it wasn't too bad, but that was largely due to having someone there to fill in the gaps. My biggest problems with the second were largely in casting. William Hurt is a fine actor, but he doesn't have anywhere near the presence and authority described of Leto Atreides (frankly, the only two actors I can think of with that kind of screen presence are Cary Grant and Peter O'Toole). Mr Newman also was unconvincing as Paul. The only plus, I thought, was Julie Cox as Princess Irulan. But really, there's no need for that role to be more than a bit part (which I guess means that they liked her quite a bit, because she was there a whole lot more than necessary).

One other book that I enjoyed a great deal, but strangely do not read with any regularity is Lawrence Watt-Evans' Misenchanted Sword. I ran into this one in college, and loved it. It was a very interesting story about magic gone somewhat wrong, and had a heck of a punchline. And yet, I've still only read it twice. And now that I think about it, several of LW-E's other books I've greatly enjoyed in a first read, but not gone back to. Not sure what it is about them.

I really need to find more new authors, though. Or maybe just spend more time going through the shelves at bookstores. I used to spend a lot more time at that. Of course, I think there also used to be more variety. The amount of space taken up by Star Wars, Star Trek, and various other tie-in novels is quite absurd. And it really cuts into the creativity of the whole section.

One thing that I did find interesting, the last time I really spend some time digging through the section. It seemed like most of the newer authors were women, far more so than in the past. I don't know what that means, but it was quite a surprise for me.

reviewing pride & prejudice

I find myself coming back to this story quite a bit, it seems. While I like it a lot, I'm still surprised. I decided, though, after my earlier comments on the various screen versions, to re-read the book. It had been several years since my last perusal, and I had only read it once before.

Unsurprisingly, since I rarely remember too many details of a book on first viewing, it almost felt like a first reading. Since I had so recently re-watched the mini-series, though, it made for an interesting amount of immediate comparison.

I remember when the Keira Knightley P&P movie came out, how people were enthusing about how great the book is, and hearing Austen's name spoken in the same sentence with Shakespeare. While I was rather pleased to hear that at the time, I can't say as I gave it a whole lot of thought. After re-reading P&P, though, I have to say that that's significantly overblown.

It's a fantastic book, and I enjoyed it a great deal (especially the last several chapters, which kept me, literally, laughing out loud). However, it is certainly not without its flaws. The most significant of these was a strong tendency to summarize conversations, without giving them verbatim. I'll admit, this can be very difficult to do, but it does add a great deal. That is, the reader can see the speaker's personality, without requiring the author to explicitly tell them what that personality is. As the saying goes, "Show it, don't tell it." The mini-series, in fact, actually improved on the original, in this respect, as that necessitated spelling out many of the exchanges. It also required moving some phrases from words from the author to actual dialogue, which is to the good.

Another thing that significantly separates her (and, so far as I'm aware, everyone else) from Shakespeare was his extraordinary inventiveness with language. I read once that he created 1700 words and phrases that have become common koine. I can't personally vouch for the number, but that there were a lot of them is incontestable.

(As a side note, this is actually why I think the Oxfordians are full of it, in attributing Shakespeare's works to the Earl of Oxford. A better educated person would be less likely to be so creative in phrase, as they would likely have a larger lexicon from which to work. For what it's worth, I do think it quite likely, though, that the actors with whom Shakespeare worked probably contributed materially to the finished product.)

In any event, getting back to the original comparison, Ms Austen, while occasionally showing great turns of phrase (her dialog varies between quite good and outstanding), does not even approach the Bard, in that respect.

Getting back to the story itself, it is also interesting to compare life in that time period. Though the story is confined to the rich (even the Bennets, described as being less than rich, can hardly be seen to be so, having live-in servants and such), it is easy to see many things that are possible now, even for the very poor, that were not possible for them. And the social engagements are difficult to comprehend, for me. Sitting around, waiting for the mail is just unimaginable in this day of phone and email. And the amount of chaperonage; ridiculous!

I suppose I might change my mind about the necessity when my daughter is a bit older, but that amount of supervision would have driven me quickly nuts. How does one actually grow up, in such an environment. One can see how that might lead to the "nanny state" in which the UK currently finds itself. What is harder to understand is how the Brits would have accomplished so much in the meanwhile. Yes, yes, I can hear someone with a thick brogue saying, "With Scottish leadership". Be that as it may, it's an odd set of circumstances.


"All of Them!"

I was sorting through my movie collection over the weekend (it hadn't been organized in months; it was quite a mess), and ran across an old favorite, The Professional. This was the first Besson movie I ever saw, and it made quite an impression.

It was, by turns, lyrical, playful, and serious, and yet it was all about a hitman. Portman and Reno gave fantastic performances, as a girl finding herself an orphan and as the hitman. Reno's last line, "This is... for... Matilda", especially with its concommitant punctuation mark should be a classic.

What got me thinking about it was finding my japanese laserdisc of Leon - Version Integral, which had 23 minutes of additional footage. The added footage was mostly (all? I'm not sure) of Leon training Matilda, and made her claim at the end, "I can clean!" much more believable.

But I really wanted to talk more about Besson, in general. As I said, The Professional was my first exposure to his work. When I saw The Fifth Element, I was hooked. As a friend of mine pointed out, that was about as close as you could get to a comic book in live-action. Well, I guess with current improvements to CGI, that might not be quite so true anymore, but it certainly had the same élan. And it was certainly closer than anything done previously. It was not without its flaws, but it is hard to beat for sheer artistry, especially visually.

I next watched La Femme Nikita (the original french movie; my exposure to the TV show was limited to a couple of fragments of a few episodes. And even that was only because a friend liked it very much). This one was in a very different style from Element, though with definite similarities to Professional. I think I need to watch it again, though, as I don't remember a whole lot, outside of her first mission.

I bought The Messenger (like Element, featuring Jovovich), but haven't watched that one at all, yet. It's been sitting for a long time.

More recently, I've seen several others that he only (co)wrote. This includes the largely unknown, but excellent Wasabi (also very comic-book-ish, and bringing back Reno), the solid Transporter 1&2, and the fairly laughable Transporter 3. Sequel-itis had set in on that latter, I suppose.

I'm now looking back to see what I've missed; Angel-A rings a bell. I think I tried to find it a couple of years ago, but it wasn't available at the time, maybe? Hmm... maybe it was not yet out. In any event, I will need to correct that omission. And I should probably try to dig up a few more of his french releases, I suppose.

I suppose all of this spewage hasn't really led to why I like Besson so much. And honestly, I'm not sure what it is about most of his movies. Maybe it's just that they're so far over the top. (Nikita is probably the least so, of the ones I've mentioned; Element and Wasabi are certainly the most. Leon had some very poignant and serious moments, but also went pretty far over in a few places.)

So, I guess, if understated is not your thing, it's hard to go wrong with Besson.


problems with contemporary music

This post was kind of inspired by a post I read quite a while ago about why today's music is no good. While I was familiar with dynamic range being an issue, due to listening to musicals, I hadn't realized how bad the problem had gotten. I also wasn't aware that the problem had been getting worse and worse for a while.

So first, let's sum up one of the ways that dynamic range makes a difference. Let's say that you want to listen to something at a pretty low volume. If there's little dynamic range, you can turn it down, and won't really notice any difference, other than it being quieter. If there's a wide range, however, then you'll find yourself wanting to turn the volume up and down a lot.

For instance, if you listen to the musical Chess, and you get to "Mountain Duet", you might want to turn it up a bit. But the very next song is significantly louder, and you might want to turn it down. Certainly, by the time you get to the one hit from it, "One Night in Bangkok", you'll want it a bit quieter.

My main reason for writing this, though, was that I wanted to show this visually. So, I'm going to show the visualizations from Audacity, to show how little range there is in today's stuff.

But first, for comparison, we need to look at some old stuff. Just because I mentioned it earlier, here's "Mountain Duet".

The key thing to note here is how small the blue bars are. And also note the difference between the smallest and largest bars. This is where much of the emotion in the song comes from. This is what gives it feeling.

Now, for comparison, here's "One Night in Bangkok". This one doesn't have as much emotion in it. As I mentioned, it's a bit louder. Now that I look at it, though, it isn't as much so as I thought. In any event, though, you can see that there's still a lot more range to be used.

Now, to stay with Andersson and Ulvaeus, here's some of the pop music they did previously. This is their breakout song, "Waterloo".

As you can see, it has a lot less dynamic range than the songs out of Chess. But there's still quite a bit of space around the music, so they still have range to show emotion. Now let's look at some fairly current pop. This is Ricky Martin's "Cup of Life".

Just to see if I could find anything with even less range, I took a look at Lou Bega's "Mambo No 5". It is a bit more extreme. And other people could probably find music with even less range. I doubt I can find anything in my collection, though.

Anyway, hopefully this will help people see the difference, and part of why much of today's music has no impact, no emotion. You just can't get much emotion when you're staying at the same volume all the time.

Yes, there are other reasons, such as overuse of a few chords, verses too short to really say much, songs too short to explore a musical idea, no ideas that span multiple songs (like 70's album rock did); but I hope this really shows how current production values really undermine the music that they're supposed to be showing off.


other versions

I obliquely promised to talk about the other versions of Pride & Prejudice in my last post. Warning: this will have spoilers.

Starting with the Olivier release, there were a couple of interesting points. One thing I found interesting, from an historical perspective, was how short the credits are. Yes, typical for the time, but that was the first movie I watched where that really caught my notice. Compare the three or four screen-fuls of credits to the crawls on modern movies that go on long enough to play two complete songs. Also note that, IIRC (I haven't watched this version in a number of years), all of the credits were at the beginning.

Anyway, I mentioned a major story change. Very near the end of the story (chapter fifty-six of the book, out of sixty-one), lady Catherine de Bourgh drops in, unannounced, on the Bennets. Her goal was to talk to Elizabeth, and have confirmed that Elizabeth wasn't, and wouldn't be, engaged to Mr Darcy. In the original, Elizabeth affirmed the first, denied the second, and lady Catherine left in a huff, after heavily insulting Miss Bennet and family.

In this version, lady Catherine was amused, and affirmed that Miss Bennet would be a good match for Mr Darcy. I believe, in fact, that he was in the cart with lady Catherine, and proposed forthwith.

As I alluded, a pretty major change, but one that worked quite well, and made lady Catherine much more human. So I still rather like the change.

To keep in chronological order, another "version" of the story (sort of) was in Bridget Jones' Diary. Well, ok, this was a modern take, and the liberties taken are huge. Still, a very entertaining movie, if at times silly.

I can't say as much for the sequel. Thank goodness I saw this on DVD, rather than in the theater. The best part of it was the bonus feature that had Rene Zellweger, in character as Bridget Jones, interviewing Colin Firth (as Colin Firth). That was hilarious; the movie itself was pretty lame, unfortunately.

Next up was Chadha's modern Bollywood take, Bride & Prejudice. I generally enjoy Bollywood's extremely over-the-top style, and Aishwarya Rai is a nice addition to nearly any movie. And making it a musical is rarely a bad thing, IMHO. Lots of fun.

Wright's version, the year after, was a huge disappointment for me. I'm generally a fan of Keira Knightley (I thought she was great in Chadha's Bend It Like Beckham, and did as much as possible in Love, Actually and the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy), but I can't for the life of me understand how she got an Oscar nomination for P&P. I had a long rant I wrote about this right after I first saw the movie, but now I can't find it. The only part I can remember is complaining about her having a smirk on her face after delivering devastating lines. It just really didn't work.

Update: I found the rant to which I referred. It actually wasn't nearly as long as I remembered. And the complaint about the smirks was the only part that referred to Ms Knightley. The other things that bothered me were the near removal of the father (my favorite character), and the mother's character being vastly changed by two scenes (unfortunately, I didn't note what the incidents were, nor do I remember) to make her less annoying, as well as the inevitable compression of the story.

In fact, the only good thing I can remember about the movie was that the original of my favorite statue from the Louvre showed up in the background at Pemberley. That statue is Dirce:

A short movie review (of sorts)

Sort of. I've long been a fan of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. I first encountered it a decade or so back, catching most of the 1940 Olivier movie on cable. I later discovered that that version made some major changes to the storyline, but it was still a very satisfying telling. In fact, I sometimes debate whether the biggest change there was a good one; certainly, it made one of the major characters must less of an ogre (that would be lady Catherine de Bourgh, for those keeping score at home).

Still, it was not until I encountered the BBC's mini-series retelling, starring Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth, that I fully came to appreciate the story. The several additional hours of depth to the story certainly added a great deal. As does, my wife tells me, the scene of Colin Firth bathing. I've since read the book a couple of times, and seen a couple of newer versions ("Bride and Prejudice" is excellent, the Keira Knightley "Pride & Prejudice" not so much. More commentary on one or both of those, later), but none come close to matching this one for the quality of acting and faithfulness to the story.

I held off on buying the laserdisc release when it came out, mostly because it was so expensive, but when it was released on DVD, I got it almost immediately. And when a 10th anniversary edition came out, I didn't mind getting that one as well. I had second thoughts about getting the Blu-ray release that came out recently, but decided that I might as well, since it wasn't too expensive.

I wasn't really expecting a big change in quality, especially given the type of story; you don't expect the additional resolution to make that big of a difference in a character-driven tale. However, they were able to remaster it from the original negatives (according to a bonus video, this wasn't possible until some time last year because of frame misalignments around editing splices. Previous cuts were created from prints), which resulted in noticeably greater detail and much greater color fidelity. Really, the difference in colors was enough to make me feel like I was seeing it for the first time again.

What was very odd, to me, was that the greatest change wasn't in the distant, panorama shots. I expected that those would be where almost all of the improvement was. However, there was almost no improvement there; something in the process brought out a stippling in those shots that cancelled out whatever improvement would have been there. But the foreground (and close background) material? Oh, that was amazing. Seeing clearly through windows, seeing the edges of flames in torches and fireplaces, making out the jewelry that people wore? The detail, combined with the added color depth, was truly astounding.

So if you like the story, and are wondering whether it is worth buying in Blu, the answer is resoundingly yes.

As a side note, though, I do wonder about why remastering via negative wasn't feasible previously. The misalignment issue seems like a fairly trivial one, if you've already got something for scanning the film; just overscan by a significant amount, and remove the extra crap (and rotate, one would presume). I'm sure there's something there I'm missing, but I have no idea what.



I don't have any particular plan on what's going to be in this blog. Some likely topics are books, music, movies, sports, politics, and religion. Software development is also likely to come up from time to time, since that's what I do, professionally. What's the balance among those? I have no idea.