Cinematically Kubular

Ramblings about cinema and whatever else I'm thinking at the time!

An American Idea

“Don’t ask what you can do for your country, ask what your country can do for you!” The slogan is printed on a banner based on the stars and stripes of the US flag, hung behind the reception desk. Reception is dark, a few small lights hilight the wood and gold decor. The lady behind the desk was young once, but now any spark of youthful energy that may have shone in her eyes has been replaced with an unmistakable weariness. She hands you the key to your room.

You take the key and turn towards the hallway. Opposite the weary receptionist, the desk and the patriotic banner stands a vintage style Coca-Cola machine. It serves bottles! You dig around in your pocket for change. After all, it’s vintage. It doesn’t take contactless.

With a coke in one hand and your bag and key in another you walk toward your room. Beneath each light is a picture. The first your eyes are drawn to is a photograph of Trump’s inauguration. Trump stands on a stage in the distance, you can just about make him out. Beside the photo is a golden plaque, it draws your attention to the size of the crowd, possibly the largest since records began. You pass various other photos; Melania, Ivanka, Jared. They all beam out at you, as if to welcome you to share in their success.

Finally, you’re in your room. For the most part the room is unremarkable. It seems comfortable enough. You’re pleased. You test the shower, it works. You turn the temperature up to high and test it. You can’t complain, the water’s not cold but it’s not hot either. At least you won’t be scalded, you​ muse.

It’s been a long day traveling and nothing is more appealing than sliding into a comfortable bed. You walk toward it and place your phone on the bedside table beside a portrait photo of Donald himself. His grin beams out at you. You reach to turn the photo away from the bed but can’t. It’s attached to the table as if a family member you keep close.

You finally slide into bed, beneath the golden covers you lay your head on a golden pillow and switch off the light. You try to sleep but realise something’s stopping you. It’s not the itching, though that’s not ideal either, you put it down to the fresh cotton. Then you realise what’s stopping you. It’s too bright in here!

You open your eyes and see it. There, on the bedside table, Trump’s grinning portrait glows. He beams out at you. His pinpoint little eyes, his winning grin is lit by the frame you can’t move. He stares at you and you understand. You understand he wants you to understand that at the end of it all he’ll be depositing your hard earned insomniac dollars into his personal, no doubt offshore bank account.

You close your eyes and try to drift off but all you can think of is him.

Donald Trump.

Making hotels great again.


This post was inspired by the below linked article.

Boing Boing – American Idea


Politics and RATM

It’s been ages since I logged into this! I knew it had been a while but I was shocked when I saw my last post was as long ago as 2013. Just goes to show how time flies really. I’m convinced the years are getting shorter.

Oh, well.

I guess in some ways this has ended up representing a bit of a diary for me. I made an attempt at getting into writing on paper (probably the reason I haven’t posted in so long) but there’s a lack of immediacy, though I’m not sure that’s the right word. I think it’s probably fairer to say I’m better and more natural with a keyboard than I am a pen. Though there are definitely some benefits to pen and paper! Firstly, there’s a lovely tactile quality but mainly it’s that you can’t delete and reword. Writing with a pen is constantly pushing you on, making you make the most of what you have. Yes, you can cross out and rewrite but you can’t amend. It’s good if you just want to write and see what comes out.

Anyway, I’m going off track.

So, I’ve always been into Rage Against the Machine. They’re a great band and they made some really great albums. I mean, yes, they’re heavy metal and there’s a genuine sense of rage and agression  to their music but it’s just that – music. I can’t call every album, or even artist musical the way I would Rage. It’s genuinely groovy and, as insinuated, expressive. They’re probably the two most important things to any music, at least for me. Does the music work in it’s own right? Does it carry you? And does the music, regardless of vocals, express something emotional?

I’ve felt the need to play their eponymous album a few times over the last couple of weeks. Playing RATM isn’t that unusual for me to be fair. But usually I’ll gravitate toward their last album – Renegades. Renegades is an album focused much more on the music and the grooves, the anger’s still there but it boils away underneath. It’s a cover album but they’re their covers, it’s their voice.

What’s suprised me though is the way RATM has suddenly started to feel more relevant to me politically. I’ve always felt slightly distanced from the politics in their music – mostly because it focuses on their own politics, the politics of the US. I’ve still taken something from it, it’s made me aware of people such as the Zapatistas, who I may not have even known if had it not been for People of the Sun.

Mostly though it’s songs like Killing in the Name, mostly known for it’s heavy use of prafanity, and Wake Up that are calling out to me now. I can’t help but hear parallels in the references to fascism in those songs and our current political climate. We seem to repeatedly expect people to apologise and take the blame for actions out of their own control. Not because they knew anything of those actions or were ever in a position to stop them but because they share a race or religion with the people who are really to blame.

A family member told me of someone they met shortly after the attack in Manchester. A young man had been beaten for no other reason than that he shared his race with the attacker. Yet, we don’t talk about that. Our own PM’s reaction is to use rhetoric that I can’t help but feel encourages, though not directly, the appropriation of blame to a general group or subculture of people. This is the same PM that refused to protect in any meaningful way our own Supreme Court when it was attacked as undemocratic by national papers. Democracies fail when the people in them fail to stand up to protect them.

Some may read this and laugh. After all, we’re not Nazi Germany, etc. My fear is not one grounded in specifics and my argument as it’s written here doesn’t even quote or reference any political speeches or publications. Instead, it makes generalisations and talks about albums released 20 years ago.

My fear is grounded in tone. The tone of the political climate and not the statements but the language I read or hear repeatedly reinforces it. Though, I did read the idea of interring people in camps based on their religion was raised on Fox News today.

The more we allow the rhetoric of our time to be fueled by fear, anger and allow the balanced discussion of facts to be substituted with sweeping generalisations the more we make ourselves vulnerable to fascism. The more we alienate and divide the people of our nation into races, religions or simply ‘us’ and ‘them’, the more we encourage the left behind to seek a place to belong with those we seek to protect ourselves from.

Strength lies in unity. We have to stay strong to protect our freedoms, not just from those that would seek to take them with violence but from those in power that would seek to take them with pen and paper.

Simple Batch Renaming or Renaming a Large Number of Similarily Named Files Very Easily

Off topic a bit, not that I’ve gone off films – I just haven’t watched any that have inspired me to write anything worth uploading in a while. Anyway, this one’s on batch renaming in Linux – specifically Fedora 18.

So, I know I’m not alone in occasionally finding myself with a directory of full of files that have a lot of similar names that for one reason or another are a hassle when being used in a specific way. For me this happens most with videos I watch via my TV. But it could just as easily relate to chat logs, music files or photo archives.

Maybe you have a lot of mp3s named Artist – Title – #.mp3 and for some reason you need to remove all the spaces for compatibility with a specific application or device. It’s a hassle to go through hundreds of tracks manually deleting every space.

Fortunately, util-linux has a utility for that! For some this is preinstalled, if not, the util-linux package should be available in your distribution’s standard repositories. If you’re unsure, it’s easy enough to find out, open a terminal session and type the following command:-

$ rename -V

I receive the following output:-

rename from util-linux 2.22.2

-V (uppercase V) is the option to return the version number of the program, -v (lowercase V) tells the program to run in ‘verbose’ mode, meaning it’ll print to the terminal anything it does – this is useful if you want to make sure you know what a program’s actually done. So my installed version of rename is from the util-linux package version 2.22.2

My first instinct when using any terminal application for the first time (and tbh, most gui apps) is to check for a man page. Manpages is one of the most useful Linux applications available, is run from the command line and usually (I believe) installed by default by most distros. The syntax to check if a program has a man page or not just type

$ man <program name>

into a free terminal session, if it does, this’ll bring the page straight up and most follow a quite logical and standard format that lists the various options available when executing a program and how to use them.

Unfortunately, rename’s manpage is a little unclear – especially if you’ve already googled and found various bash scripts to rename large numbers of files. If you have rename installed, writing a whole bash script is likely unnecessary. However, be warned, rename is both extremely powerful and also without any safeguards, it will not ask you before it starts overwriting or deleting files. Also, the manpage does not cover the full capabilities of the program, as I accidently discovered! So be careful about using wildcards (such as *) or other special characters in your arguments.

If you are intending to use any utility to automate the renaming of a large number of files, I would always encourage anyone to test it first on some ‘fake’ or unimportant data. It’s worth creating a test directory with some empty files in and mucking about with those before you start renaming files you actually care about. Chances are it’ll save you time in the long run.

So where was I? Oh yes, we have a bunch of files to rename. Let’s pretend we’re an avid photographer who’s been storing our photos on a shared computer and we’ve been using the following convention for our files:

ourname.filedescription<number of photo in series>.cameramodel.raw

So a typical photo directory might be full of files looking like this:


all the way up to


Now, we’ve moved the files onto our own home computer, we know we were the photographer, so we no longer require the prefix and the camera model is held in the metadata anyway, so that’s also redundant. The only part of the file name we’re interested in is the Party999 section and the file extension. If we were to rename all 999 files it’d take us an hour, probably and we’d end up with very sore wrists. This is where rename comes in handy.

Rename uses the following syntax:-

rename [options] string to be changed replacement string string to select files to act on

I’ve tried to explain the command in plain english, which for me seems really confusing, the man page however, describes it like this:

rename [options] expression replacement file...

So how do we rename our photos? Well, I’d do it in 2 steps, like this:-

$ rename JohnSmith.Party Party *.raw
$ rename OlympusBlah.raw raw *.raw

The first step above tells rename to select any files that end in .raw and change any instances of JohnSmith.Party to Party. Effectively removing the JohnSmith prefix.

The second step does the same thing. Selects all files that end in .raw, removes any instance of OlympusBlah.raw and replaces it with raw. Because we’ve left the 001. part untouched, the raw extension will just be appended to that and our filenames will appear as expected:-


and so forth.

This way we ignore the part of the filename that contains the unique identifier, such as 001, 002, etc and only operate on the parts of the strings we know are constant. This is important because it removes the need to use special characters such as * and occidentally tell rename to do something unexpected. Which was a trap I fell into, and started renaming files with the filename next in the list. I don’t fully understand why rename did this, or how the command was working, so I won’t go into it here. It’s just good practice to try and operate only on known constants, where possible. Unless of course you really know what you’re doing. 😉

So anyway, with just two terminal commands we’ve renamed 999 files, there’s no way we could have done that manually without a lot of effort and time.

There are GUI applications out there that I’ve heard of that are supposed to be very powerful, while reading up I read that there’s a KDE application called Krename available. However, I can’t imagine a GUI interface being more efficient, especially when the rename utility is that simple to use.

Happy renaming!

Pan’s Labyrinth & The Woman in Black

Well, hi there!

So, this week I finally got around to watching two films I’ve been wanting to for a while (one, a while longer than the other). Pan’s Labyrinth (2006, Spain/Mexico/US, Guillermo del Torro) and The Woman in Black (2012, UK/Canada/Sweden, James Watkins).

Quite refreshing really, after Cannibal Holocaust (1980, Italy, Ruggero Deodato) and Dredd (2012, UK/US/India, Pete Travis). I don’t mind violence – if I did I certainly wouldn’t be watching Cannibal Holocaust and Dredd – but I like the ‘poetry’ and expressionism of a good horror/thriller.

Anyone who appreciates the Hammer films of old will probably enjoy the tone and flavour of The Woman in Black and it has a refreshing subtlety in comparison to the modern horrors I’ve seen. It reminds me of Ring (1998, Japan, Hideo Nakata), a film I remember as quite gothic and I think was about some journalists uncovering a hidden mystery/secret rooted in the traditional values of recent history that was eating away at modern Japan (in the form of a cursed VHS). I may be misremembering all that though, it’s been a long time since I watched it.

Pan’s Labyrinth did something I feel other films (especially Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds) sometimes fail to do – it expressed what fascism really means to Europe. As a Brit I can sometimes partake in a certain amount of national pride because “we beat the Nazis”, but really underneath that lies a sadness and an irony. We may have ‘beat’ the Nazis, but not before they marched across a significant chunk of Europe and killed many people with a horribly warped and corrupt modern/industrial sensibility. In visual media we often take a degree of pleasure in ‘Nazi Bashing’ but in films like Where Eagles Dare (1968, UK/Germany, Brian Hutton) and games such as Return to Castle Wolfenstein (2001, id Software) we take pleasure in violence against the (more or less) ultimate symbol of Fascism – Nazi soldiers. While at the same time the core principal of fascism is a belief in the rejuvinating/purifying force of violence to destroy the old and stale and replace it with the new and fresh. In politics this always seems to end up wrapped in Nationalism – a desire to return to the good ol’ days when our nations ran significant empires around the globe,

I’ve always feared that Britain is not immune to the same thinking – in some ways we’ve been ‘lucky’. The Great War hurt us badly enough – and brought enough people close enough to the reality of war that culturally we’ve probably been relatively disinterested. Not to mention that really, our own empire has only just been breaking up quite recently. I remember the coverage of Hong Kong’s handover to the chinese in 1997. However, over the last 12 months I’ve watched us celebrate our ‘Britishness’ and exercise our patriotism and I’ve reacted with distaste.

It’s difficult to watch the news, or take an interest in politics without encountering friction between groups of different ethnicities. Only last week was a significant chunk of Question Time taken up by the fear of more foreigners from eastern europe wanting to live here. I understand that there are valid reasons for those fears – our government/public services are limited in resources after all, and our budget is struggling to cope with the people already here.

On the other hand, there are stories of ethnic communities within cities – where the people within those communities want to live according to their own rules instead of those of the land. It doesn’t help that we separate ourselves out, though I can understand why it might appear easier that way, it encourages us to think that people from other countries or parts of the world are actually different from ourselves. After all, they live differently, with their own values, so why shouldn’t they be treat differently?

It’s those kidns of thought processes that in a difficult political and economic climate can bring us to a place I don’t think anyone of us really want to be. I dont’ think we’re quite there yet – I hope that we have a decade or two at least before we need seriously worry about the rise of Fascism in the United Kingdom but I would much rather rule it out entirely.

I seem to remember reading/hearing/being told once that in the middle ages, we had a very fluid concept of identity/nationalism on this island. I hope we can find our way back there – sooner rather than later.

Death does not purify.

Death is just the end of our future.

Project Management (and why Privatisation of Public Services is Appealing)

I want to begin by saying that I have always been a firm believer in a a core set of public services. I believe transport, communication, health and energy should all be managed and owned by the state. By this I do not mean that they should be free – I mean that we should all pay for them communally through appropriate tax channels. These are all services that are necessary to each and every one of us. Even those of us that don’t travel require others to be able to – even if it’s simply to bring us company or supplies. We all need to communicate, and we all like to have a doctor or hospital we can use when we’re ill. Wether it be gas or electrical power, energy drives all of these services.

As a teenager I found it disappointing that the bulk of all these services were more or less privatised. Energy is, transport is, telecommunications is.. and yes, aspects of the NHS have been for a long time. It seems that the most important services we have were the first to be sold off by the state. People complain that the younger generation is ‘politically illiterate’ or disinterested in politics. Is it such a surprise when the services that most matter are run by private companies? What can your MP really achieve for you when your primary concern is paying your gas and water bills?

Yet, even with all this privatisation – our government is still falling short of cash to fund the remainder of the public sector. One of the key services that the government still runs is Housing. I know this because I’m resident in a council block. And before anyone tries to correct me – no it’s not run by the city council directly, it’s run by a not for profit organisation that just happens to be a subsidiary of (can you guess who?) the city council.

Those readers who spend their time in the UK may be aware of the current ‘cutbacks’ and language used to describe state benefits – what is being referred to as the ‘welfare’ bill. And yet we constantly reminded about figures that illustrate just how small a part of state expenditure this ‘welfare’ actually is. If I remember correctly (and honestly, I don’t feel this will be read by enough people to warrant me looking it up) the figure is around (or less than) 7%. of the total budget. Quite frankly, that’s miniscule. Especially when you consider that this pays rent, council tax and JSA for people. Where does the other 93% go?

After all, telecoms, energy, transport and police services are all (or significant proportions of them are) privatised. Now, there will be readers here who will no doubt be shouting (perhaps mentally) “well, THAT’S where all the money goes!” But is it? Is it really?

I’m going to take a small detour here and mention that I’m registered at a private dental clinic. This costs me more in terms of the fee I pay for a checkup or an appointment with the hygienist but I get a much better service from it. I get more regular checkups – something that, until a few years ago, was standard under the NHS. This means that problems with my teeth can be spotted and corrected much earlier and avoid much more complicated (and to be honest, expensive) remedial work later on.

Those of us that are old enough to have watched (even repeats) of the BBC’s Yes, Minister, will no doubt have noticed how our government still seems to live up the jokes. You’ll have also no doubt heard many derisory comments about the civil service from your peers or the older generation. Perhaps the phrase “gifted amateur” in particular. Incase you haven’t, this refers to the fact that people in the civil service are continually moved around from one job to another – particularly decision makers and particularly when they’re competent at their role. This is also true of councillors – a friend of mine (who takes his position very seriously) is continually moved about from one places to another, meaning many of the changes he tries to make for his area never really get through or are ‘reassessed’ by whoever replaces him.

Four paragraphs ago I mentioned that I reside in a block managed by a public sector company. And it bears all the clichéd hallmarks of one – nonsensical bureaucracy and ‘red tape’. Serious, the forms I have to fill in! The vague (and rather last minute) communications when they charge you a vast sum to be rendered within 14 days. Also the strikes. But there’s one key attribute or theme that seems to permeate all stories about public sector organisations – Bad Project Management and ‘decision’ making.

The management company that manages my block is currently running a pilot in the southern end of the city in preparation for an ‘upgrade’ to the concierge service they provide. Just for emphasis I’ll repeat three words: “pilot”, “currently” and “running”. It’s important these words are emphasised, oh hell, I’ll add two more “recently” and “started” because the concierge upgrades have already been set underway at least 2 years ago. Several of my services (such as the intercom) have already been replaced. The camera systems are already being replaced. The concierge team themselves have already been put at risk of redundancy. Also, I’ve also been given notice that my concierge charge is going to increase.

The intercom upgrades that were performed (supposedly in preparation for the new concierge service) have already been made redundant and rendered incompatible with the new service. It’s also worth noting that I will be paying (approximately) £14 extra per month for the new service. On top of the ~£800pa charge I already pay. That’s nearly £200 extra per year. And the new service won’t actually be as good. My block currently has a concierge 24/7, they provide a ‘good neighbour’ role, which includes accepting parcels for residents, keeping a spare door key for residents, checking on flats when people are away and supporting residents with odd jobs that they aren’t able to do themselves (with prior organisation). The new service looks to be 9-5 and primarily run from a call centre (hence why the intercoms are now incompatible). They’ll have to be contacted by phone.

It’s also worth mentioned the most important (but often overlooked) function of the 24/7 concierge service – security. The whole point of having a concierge around is so that, hopefully, he doesn’t have to do anything. He can sit quietly and just be there. Especially during the dark, inner city nights. That’s not saying the concierge service is perfect, but at least people feel safer.

Now, bearing in mind that I’ll have a concierge service for less than half the time I currently do – and potentially on less days of the week, why is it my fees are going up? Because of constant changes to the project. This is a management company that opened a call centre just to have to lay off all it’s staff because it implemented an alternative service which made them redundant by the time it was opened. Constantly changing the goals and implementation of a project (once it’s already started) is extremely expensive, not only because you have to pay the cost of making the changes you started but you’re also lumbered with the cost of having to change/replace them.

This is not unusual in stories about the civil service/public sector. Only last week was a comment made on Question Time regarding labour’s management of the DWP. The constant need for retraining and new systems to handle changes to benefits and taxation and so on – systems that couldn’t work together so would have to replaced… and replaced… This is not just a labour problem, it’s a public sector problem.

It’s for these reasons ministers end up looking to the private sector for management of our services. Because a private sector company has to manage it’s projects well, otherwise it goes bankrupt. Good management is necessary in the private sector, as opposed to the necessity for continual reinvention and upgrading of services just to prove one’s usefulness – or rather, to make sure there are jobs for the boys.

I’d still much rather my services were state run – but I want those services to be run well and unfortunately, these two things seem to be mutually exclusive.

Watching Nuns Go Mad (Black Narcissus)

Black Narcissus (1947, Powell, UK) is one of those really refreshing films you only see once every couple of years or so. And it’s not a horror.

Well, not really.

Black Narcissus is a drama/thriller about some nuns that set up a convent somewhere very high in India. They subsequently find themselves with the time to reflect on their own past and end up torturing themselves with their own weaknesses and anxieties.

I don’t want to say too much about it, partly because I don’t want to give it away. But I also don’t feel I could do it justice. The main reason I’m writing this is because I really feel that it’s a film worth watching and worth encouraging as many other people to watch as possible.

Employee Relations, the Mac Community and Free & Open Source Software

Yeah I know – this blog is supposed to journal my adventures in cinema (or rather, lovefilm). I haven’t posted for a few weeks now – mostly because I haven’t really been watching all that much. I was, for better or for worse, also made redundant. The upside to that was that I recieved a small redundancy payment and spent a few weeks researching and purchasing parts to upgrade my main PC. I also thought this would be a good opportunity to format my drives and perform a clean install of both Windows and Ubuntu (which were then my main Operating Systems).

For the most part everything went swimmingly. I can testify that yes, Solid State Drives really are that fast. It’s amazing how much of a bottleneck Hard Disk Drives really are in modern systems. I used to dual boot Windows and Ubuntu mainly because Windows was so slow that I couldn’t be bothered to use it for normal everyday tasks such as web browsing, blog posting and the odd bit of network maintenance. 

Now, those that know me will probably be aware that I use a MacBook – which I’ve owned since 2007. I love my MacBook and for a few years it was the go-to machine for ‘lightweight’ general tasks. Windows was purely for playing games – and that was only because I had no other real choice. Unfortunately, over the years my MacBook has gotten very slow… mainly because I had over 75GB of data on an 80GB HDD and because OSX releases have gotten gradually more demanding on the system specs. 

This meant that, like Winblows, OSX was becoming a bit of a frustration. It was taking just as long to load the OS and I was having to spend time waiting for programs like Firefox to actually be read from the HDD before I could use them. The upside was that, as a laptop, I could sit with it in the living room and browse the net while still listening to music or enjoying the sunshine.

My experience on the PC was leading me to feel that Linux was much more efficient and much better suited to my needs. However, I was also wary of the more powerful processor and significantly larger amount of RAM that I had in there, so I still wasn’t quite ready to leave OSX and try replacing it with Ubuntu.

I bought my MacBook for several reasons – firstly, I was sick of Windows and wanted something as useful as Linux but that actually worked. The second was that the MacBooks had much better key spacing than the keyboards on Dell, HP and Samsung portables available at the time. The third was that actually, from what I’d seen, OSX had a really nice User Interface. It still does.

I was put off by the Apple logo on the top cover though, after all, I didn’t really want to advertise myself as an Apple fanboy or one of those types of people with the white earphones. I wanted an Apple computer because they’re good computers. I decided that this was a small price to pay though, and now quite happily enjoy sitting in my darkened living room typing out rants for publishing on the internet.

In the last few years Apple have been extremely successful with the iPhone and iPad products. They’re not really my cup of tea, but I can appreciate why other people like them. And as expensive as Apple products may be they are very well built. The iPad may be heavy but it is solid and that counts for a lot. And to push the point a little further… I’ve had my MacBook for 5 years, I’m still using it and the only things I’ve had to do to it (other than software updates) have been to replace the battery and swap the 80GB HDD for a 256GB SSD. The battery I was extremely lucky with – the Apple Store replaced that for free (and even they didn’t know why I wasn’t being charged for it).

Replacing the HDD with a SSD was a huge upgrade, I now have little to no waiting time when launching applications and the OS is actually usable even while it’s loading my various startup apps. It’s given my MacBook the extension of life it needed. However, it’s brought back a frustration that has been with me for a few years now – the lack of focus follows mouse support, specifically auto focus.

I remember years ago (I think while I was still at uni) I read one of Linus Torvalds’ open letters (or was it a forum post?) regarding user interface design with gnome… or something. In it was a reference to focus follows mouse, and how it was the only way to use the mouse that he felt made sense. I’d never heard of focus follows mouse at the time – and even thought it sounded kinda weird but the sentiment stuck with me, and sure enough I found myself thinking back to it a few years later.

I’d reached a stage where the act of clicking was beginning to frustrate me – why was it necessary? I was finding myself just looking at windows and trying to type into them, forgetting that I actually needed to express which task I was trying to accomplish to the computer. Sure enough, with a little help from google I found a way to configure Ubuntu to use ‘sloppy’ focus. That is, to automatically raise a window when the mouse hovered over it. To many this is possibly the worst mouse interface paradigm possible, to me, not so much. After all, I’d already made the move to dual monitors and had plenty of screen real estate, overlapping/stacking windows wasn’t really the issue for me, it was just to get away from that awful clicking action. I very quickly got used to it, I was suprised by just how right focus follows mouse felt – even with the automatically raising windows. Since the computer doesn’t know how to track where your eyes are looking – then it seems logical that tracking the mouse pointer is the next best thing.

Over time my tastes refined, and I found myself moving away from auto raise to auto focus.. it’s a much more elegant setup and allows for typing into/interacting with windows without actually bringing them to the front. This is helpful when you’re keeping an eye on a terminal output, or chatting to a friend while you’re browsing the web. Or, particularly, when you’re researching how to perform a command line task (such as batch file renaming) and you want to interact with the terminal at the same time as reading your browser.

But I can’t possibly emphasise enough how it’s the mere act of clicking that is the real problem. I swap between application windows quite frequently, I often have an IRC client, an Instant Messaging client, a web browser, an e-mail reader and a terminal session running whenever I’m on either OSX or Linux. That encourages a lot of clicking about – a lot of energy expended and a lot of hearing that awful noise.




So, today I googled how to get focus follows mouse working on OSX. Guess what? You can’t. I was suprised by that, partly because even Windows now supports focus follows mouse – in Windblows 7 it’s actually available in the accessibility options. Admittedly, the GUI menu only allows for autoraise functionality but it is possible to configure further in the registry (though I’ve not bothered trying yet – two monitors).

In OSX, the function simply isnt there. Now, I don’t know if the situation has changed since Leopard, but it used to be impossible even to code. Supposedly because of the way OSX is designed. What really gets to me though, is the attitude of other users when reading about it in blogs or forums. Whenever anyone makes a post about focus follows mouse and how much they miss it/want to get it working, there’s a bunch of Mac fan boys that jump in trying to tell the poster that they don’t really want that feature.. OSX has many alternative ways of switching focus between applications… and so forth. I’ve even seen it referred to as a feature that it isn’t included. How is the lack of a more efficient mouse interaction model a feature? Oh, wait… Apple made OSX, therefore it must be right.

Though, I’m being unfair, and this is the main reason I felt motivated to write this blog post. This is not a behaviour specific to Apple fanboys, rather the opposite, it’s a behaviour specific to people (see what I did there?). People always find ways of justifying or defending flaws in something that they feel somehow attatched to. When someone spots a weakness or problem in a system/process and tries to bring to the attention of someone else, often the first response is often one of defence. In some ways it’s natural, after all, we have to challenge an idea to test it’s strength. But there’s a limit to that, and often the idea of actually having to go to some effort to impliment a change, or see a change take place to something that you regard as perfect can outweigh the desire to listen to and respect other people’s needs, desires and expectations of a system. We tend to call people that don’t behave in this way free thinkers.

The use of the word ‘free’ in the term ‘free thinker’ matches the usage in the Free & Open Source Software (FOSS) movement. It’s that aspect of freedom that makes FOSS so attractive, wether it be Free BSD, Linux, Gnome or KDE. Whenver I’ve had a problem with a Linux distro, wether it be Ubuntu or Fedora, I’ve always been able to request help on a forum, or google for solutions. And there’s always a group of people eager to help. Granted, they don’t always understand the problem right away, and there’s often a sense of dissapointment (and almost resentment) from someone who’s invested time in trying to explain how to solve a problem, just to find out it’s not actually the problem you have. But there’s almost always a way to get things to work the way you want, or to request they be changed so that they can in future. What I’m trying to say is, there’s a real sense of community in the Linux/FOSS world. People really want to help, where possible.

I’ve always been a believer that most people feel like this anyway, that they do want to help, they just can’t – wether it be their own fear or failure to understand that’s blocking them. Well, I used to be. Now I’m not so sure that’s true. I still believe that most people want to help, at least, good people do. That’s the difference between a good person and a bad person – do they want to help?

The same can be said about employers. The difference between a good employer (or manager) and a bad one is their willingness to listen to and support their staff. It’s possible to try and do the ‘right’ thing and be ‘fair’ to your employees, but without a good channel of communication, or a willingness to listen, it doesn’t mean anything. It’s for this reason that I’m a strong believer in Trade Unions. Because a good union works with the employer, to communicate the wishes and needs of the staff, while ensuring a fair deal for both sides. It makes no sense for a union to attack or be aggressive towards the employer… after all, if the business can’t make money it can’t be successful, and then there won’t be any jobs to keep staff in. A good union doesn’t strike every time terms and conditions change. A good union looks at ways to make sure those terms and conditions change only as much as they have to and in the best and fairest way possible – with reaistic consultation of the staff.

It’s in this way that Unions are a bit like the open source community, they listen to the desires/ideas of the users and look for ways that they can be implemented. If a feature is to be dropped/not taken forward, there’s always someone willing to explain why not – and if you’re willing to listen, it usually makes sense. Sometimes things are just out of scope at the time they’re suggested, and a few years have to go by before the direction of the project matches that of the suggestion. This happens a lot in the workplace too.

I went to a job interview not long before being made redundant, during which I was repeatedly told that they weren’t a “communist company”. I still have no idea what that means. I mean, they were a profitable software developer/financial services company… I wasn’t expecting all their profits to go to cancer research or anything. The only way I have ever managed to interpret that phrase is that “we/the owners/partners are greedy bastards who just want to make as much money as possible while exploiting as many others as necessary to do all the work for us”. That’s a very old philosophy/approach to business, and it’s what brought about the birth of Trade Unions in the first place. I’m exagerating slightly, because the representative of the company I was being interviewed for also seemed to have his head on straight, and acknowledged that he does try to do the best by his staff “if you do right by us, we’ll do right by you.” I can’t complain at that kind of attitude.. as long as they’re willing to listen to what right is. And that’s where we come back to OSX.

All these Apple fanboys (and probably apple themselves) believe that because they’ve designed OSX to behave a particularly way that it should behave in that particular way. Now, I’m sure they do plenty market research, with focus groups and all sorts. But that won’t necessarily bring about new ideas. After all, I’ve never seen focus follows mouse as a default option, even in the various Linux distros I’ve tried. It’s always required me to go hunting for it. And KDE is the only desktop environment I’ve ever found a graphical menu item to actually configure it properly. Bearing in mind how sensible focus follows mouse seems once you start using it, I’d be suprised if a new computer user wouldn’t pick it up right away. If it was then switched off would they find it an improvement to have to start clicking windows to give them focus? I doubt it. I never have. Yet all those Apple fanboys rant and rave about how OSX is designed not  to support it. It probably seems perfectly sensible to them to find workarounds, and suggest keyboard ‘shortcuts’ or alternatives, but alternatives aren’t what we want. As long as mouse cursors are the standard in graphical interface design, focus follows mouse is what we really want and we want it because it’s a good idea.

Anyway, I have no idea what the word count is on this but it’s probably enormous, so I’m going to stop there. I might come back and stick in some pics of Tux later if I can find some good ones. 😉

I hope you’ve all had a merry christmas and that you have a happy new year tomorrow too. 🙂




Ian Fleming's image of James Bond; commissione...

Ian Fleming’s image of James Bond; commissioned to aid the Daily Express comic strip artists. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Just got back from watching Skyfall (Sam Mendes, UK/US, 2012) and I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised. I worked my way through the ‘official’ James Bond series a few months ago (or was it last year?) and was left wondering how the follow up to Quantum of Solace (Marc Forster, UK/US, 2008) would actually take shape.

If you want to quickly read my response to the film, scroll down to the paragraph in bold and start from there. Otherwise, feel free to read on. But don’t complain if it’s too long. 😉

Since GoldenEye (Martin Campbell, UK/US. 1995) the franchise has been trying to ‘reboot’ or ‘reinvent’ itself. I believe Eon Productions (the production company behind the ‘official’ film franchise) have struggled to identify 007’s relevance in the modern world. They reacted by building ever more elaborate action sequences, filming beautiful women, sets and locales but forgetting the things that made James Bond such an appealing and successful character to begin with.

Ian Fleming‘s novels were published following the second world war and were influenced by the noir fiction output of America and Arthur Conan Doyle‘s Sherlock Holmes. They were about a fairly ‘modern’ gentleman, well to do, who was an assassin on Her Majesty’s Secret Service. James Bond’s job would take him around the world, to many exotic locations and to meet many exotic individuals. James Bond made no pretence of being morally perfect, I believe the statement ‘James Bond detested killing’ is quote from one of Flemings’ novels (I don’t feel like hunting around to find out which one, so apologies for any inaccuracy). To 007 murder was a waste of life, something that could be taken far too easily.

In the films James Bond has had a very successful love life. In (probably) every entry to the series 007 has had a tryst with someone or other. In the novels, 007’s love life is far more complex, in one (I won’t say which) he’s actually turned down by ‘the bond girl’. Fleming’s From Russia with Love actually with 007 down after being dumped for an American sailor (if I recall correctly) and he actually turns down Honeychile Rider‘s advances in Fleming’s Dr No. The films have treat 007 as something of a misogynist dinosaur.. something actually expressed verbally quite early in GoldenEye. A true modernisation of the character wouldn’t feel the need to take that direction, although there are certainly misogynist aspects to the character (and writing) of the novels, they belong to a time long gone, and are not especially central.

When reading the novels, it’s quite clear to sense that Fleming got bored of writing them early on, in fact he went so far as to plot 007’s death in From Russia with Love and ironically, is probably why the novel was such a success (requiring a sequel in the form of Dr No). Off the top of my head, Fleming attempted to end Bond’s career at least twice, the first with his assassination at the hands of SMERSH in the aforementioned From Russia with Love, and the second in the conclusion of You Only Live Twice.

The same kinds of tensions can be found in the Bond films since the 1990’s. Die Another Day (Lee Tamahori, UK/US, 2002) sees James Bond tortured and broken in the first section of the film, before  being taken on a self referential and dream-like journey for revenge against a character modelled on himself. A film that may have been intended to celebrate and challenge the franchise became a sickly mash up and deconstruction of previous successes already made (and handled better) by films such as Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (Jay Roach, US/Germany, 1997).

The rather stale and desperate feel of Die Another Day left the franchise requiring a fresh start – a way to escape continuity conflicts with the previous entries to the series while also refreshing its tone and direction. Casino Royale (Martin Campbell, UK, Czech Rep, US, Germany, Bahamas, 2006) saw one of Ian Fleming’s novels dramatised for the screen for the first time since (arguably) Live and Let Die (Guy Hamilton, UK, 1973). The second half of the film (the part actually based on the novel) follows the novel surprisingly closely, however, overall the tone, character and pace of the film is ruined by a string of unnecessary and over long chase sequences.  Although refreshing to see a James Bond film with some genuine tension and interesting characters it was a film that left much to be desired and that doesn’t stand up to repeat viewing particularly well.

Quantum of Solace continued the same gritty, noir take on 007 but lacked all the things that made Casino Royale interesting (and successful). All Quantum of Solace had going for it was some pretty photography, nice set design and a generally dark atmosphere. Having said all that, it also progresses James Bond, himself, through an interesting development arc. Where Casino Royale tells the story of 007’s first mission and provides background to his hatred of SMERSH – sorry, SPECTRE – sorry Elipses? (Do we even know what they’re called in the new series?) Quantum of Solace sees him honing his craft and ‘repairing’ his broken heart.

This brings us nicely back to Skyfall. Skyfall is almost exactly the film it needed to be. It follows James Bond, now a whole man; over the death and betrayal of Vespa and back on assignment, fighting a larger than life megalomaniac. Javier Bardem plays the psychotic Silva wonderfully and gives voice to the films real achievement. Skyfall returns beautifully to Fleming’s original success through wonderfully developed (and twisted) characters it draws strength from a dark and twisted psychology. The action is allowed to be driven by the story for once and the story is actually worth following. Skyfall shows a strong influence from The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan, US/UK, 2008) but retains it’s identity as a Bond film.

Yes, Skyfall still includes some fantastic pyrotechnics and opens with a hugely dynamic chase scene, but with the exception of the pretitle sequence, none of these really slow it down. Skyfall allows its characters to set the pace and tension of the film and they’re wondefully developed enough to do so. What is perhaps most impressive about the film is that Skyfall never allows its violence to become too ‘rote’. Death and chaos maintain a sense of shock and brutality for the duration and that only adds to the overall tension.

However, Skyfall isn’t devoid of corny moments. At one point at the end I unconsciously face palmed myself pre emptively (by which I mean I didn’t even realise I’d done it until I heard the smack of my palm against my head). I won’t say what this moment is, but it’ll be clear enough to anyone who’s seen it, I expect. There are plenty of other things I’d love to say about this film, but I’d be giving too much away to anyone considering going to see it.

Skyfall is definitely worth a watch, I managed to sit through it and I haven’t sat through a full James Bond at the cinema since The World is Not Enough (Michael Apted, UK/US, 1999).

Recipe for Good Bread


  • 1lb 2oz flour (50% Strong White Bread Flour, 50% Gilchesters’ Organic Stoneground 100% Wheat Strong Flour).
  • 1.5oz butter.
  • 1 tsp salt.
  • 1 tsp sugar.
  • 1.5tbsp dried active yeast.
  • warm water (50% boiling, 50% cold – should be warm but not hot when you hold fingers in).
  • 1tbsp olive oil.


  1. Dissolve sugar into warm water.
  2. Add yeast to sugar solution and mix well. Leave to ‘activate’ for 15 mins or until surface is covered with froth.
  3. Add butter, flour and salt to bowl, rub in butter and mix in salt.
  4. Gradually add yeast water into the flour and mix.
  5. Make up more warm water and gradually (about 1tbsp at a time) add and mix into flour (ensuring the sides are cleaned of flour in the process) until dough reaches the right consistency.
  6. Spread oil on work surface.
  7. Use quarter turns and gently knead the dough until it’s covered with oil.
  8. Knead the dough until smooth and elastic.
  9. Return the dough to the mixing bowl (which mixing should have cleaned) and cover with damp teatowel.
  10. Leave in a warm place to rise to 1.5-2x it’s size (30mins-1hour).
  11. Punch down dough and shape into a sausage.
  12. Place dough into 2lb loaf tin, recover with damp teatowel and prove until rerisen (30mins-1hour). Preheat oven to 200 degrees (not fan assisted).
  13. Once rerisen, remove tea towel and cut across the top of the dough (not deeply) and place into centre of oven. Add a tray of water to the bottom of the oven to stop the loaf from drying out. Bake for approximately 30mins or until top is golden brown and loaf sounds hollow when tapped.
  14. Leave on wire rack to cool (stops bottom from going soggy).

Last House on the Left of the Bay of Blood

Growing up I was never a great fan of Horror cinema. With the exception of Scream (Wes Craven, 1996, US) and Evil Dead II (Sam Raimi, 1987, US) the Horror films I’d seen had come across as cheap and childish – even those that weren’t really that cheap. Even then, Scream is not a film I’ve ever really felt comfortable with categorising in my idea of the Horror genre and Evil Dead II, while conforming to my preconceptions of Horror, is a comedy.

On attending University all of this changed – I discovered the early Hammer films and Halloween (John Carpenter, 1978, US). However, even with the beginnings of an interest in horror beginning to stir, I still wasn’t getting overly excited about the genre. I was much more interested in the melodramas of John Woo (to the extent I focused my dissertation upon them). If there is one thing I can thank Northumbria University for it was a course on the European Thriller during which Peter Hutchings screened Deep Red (Dario Argento, 1975, Italy) and gave a seminar giving a brief introduction to Argento’s other films. Roll on a few years and the imagery and curiosity about those films had stuck with me.

2012 arrived and I found myself a fan of the ‘Italian Hitchock’ Dario Argento and delving deeper into the genre that I’d mostly ignored for the longest time. This lead me, naturally, to Bay of Blood (Mario Bava, 1971, Italy) which both shocked and bored me. It revived those early attitudes to Horror – it seemed to focus on the exploitation of violence and sex yet was nihilistic enough in it’s attitude (and particularly it’s conclusion) that I couldn’t bring myself to feel it had been a waste of time. There were aspects of Bay of Blood that clearly signalled a departure from the giallo films I’d fallen in love with but also a connection with the disappointing Halloween. Bay of Blood confused and excited me – confused because I wasn’t sure how to feel or what to think about it, excited me because I felt I’d found something new.

Today I reaffirmed that sensation and realised that there’s a whole side to Horror that I’m yet to explore and a psychology to it I may have to reassess. Today I watched The Last House on the Left (Wes Craven, 1972, US). For those readers that may not already know The Last House on the Left is about a teenager called Mari and her friend who are abducted and subsequently raped, leading to the murder of the rapists by Mari’s parents. The story outline, more or less, says it all; it is not only one of the grimmest and most troubling films I’ve seen but it’s also one of the most inspired.

The Last House on the Left and Bay of Blood share some common themes – there’s no clear sense of heroism or good and evil here. Only innocence and it’s corruption. It’s this corruption of innocence that sits at the heart of both films. In Bay of Blood it’s represented by a close-knit community which is threatened, along with nature, by a large commercial development. This commercial development sows the seed of corruption amongst the community and eventually leads to a series of gruesome murders. Innocence is then corrupted succinctly in its closing, and perhaps most disturbing, scene. The Last House on the Left corrupts the almost sickly innocence of Mari and the idyllic setting of Mari’s home through the acts of a group of criminals. Again, it’s the final scene of The Last House on the Left that questions the nature of these ‘idyllic’ characters. Here, the blood spattered parents of Mari are subjected to the shocked and accusatory gaze of the police.

Perhaps, the most troubling statement made by both films is that no one is perfect and even the most idyllic of paradises can be torn apart by the darker, more corrupt side of our own humanity.
There’s darkness in everyone.