"When faced with a problem you do not understand,
do any part of it you do understand; then look at it again."
~(Robert A. Heinlein - "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress")

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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Sound of Movies ... (Updated 06 Oct 2012)

... is just too damned low when the classics are presented.

Seen ...
1) 23 Aug 2012 - 7:00 PM - Sundance Cinema, Houston
      Jaws (1975)

2) 31 Aug 2012 - Midnight - River Oaks Theater, Houston
      The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)

3) 19 Sep 2012 - 7:00 PM - Edwards 23 & IMAX - Houston
      The Birds (1962)

4) 20 Sep 2012 - 6:45 PM - Sundance Cinema, Houston
      The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)

Coming up ...
5) 27 Sep 2012 - 7:30 PM - Sundance Cinema, Houston
      The African Queen (1951)

6) 05 Oct 2012 - Midnight - River Oaks Theater, Houston
      Casablanca (1942)

What do all of those movies have in common? Every single one of them has monaural sound, and in too many cases the theater people don't seem to have a clue as to how to handle it.

Five of the six movies listed above have been digitally remastered, and are being digitally projected in theaters prior to release on blu-ray.

Of the four I've seen, Jaws, The Birds, and Bridge were beautiful visually, but horrible in sound, being played way too low so you really had to strain to hear anything, totally ruining what should have been a wonderful experience (seeing them once again, on a big screen, with an audience that absolutely loves movies).

The odd man out of the bunch was Creature, which was a film presentation (in two-color 3D) and while I wasn't too thrilled trying to watch it through red and blue cellophane in cardboard 3D "glasses" that wouldn't stay in place (see Marquee (Updated) ), I had no problems hearing it, as the River Oaks Theater people seemed to understand what a volume control was for.

With the others, you don't really have a film at all.  Instead, there is a removable hard-drive (about the size of a large paperback book, of several hundred gigabytes capacity) that's couriered into the theater (for security reasons), plugged into a digital projector (Sony 4k, probably) and is already preset as to volume (and other) levels. I suspect the projectionist is very reluctant to over-ride the preset levels.

As to why they are set so low (for mono), I haven't a clue.

But I'm here to tell you that they are.

I had an argument discussion with a ticket collector at the Edwards, who asked me how I liked The Birds, and when I told him of my problems, tried to tell me it "was always like that, you're dealing with sound technology over 40 years old."

Well, my response (not voiced then) should have been ...


When those movies were first released, you had no problem hearing them, as they were presented by people who knew what the Hell they were doing.

Could this be the whining rant of a 70-year old man whose hearing just ain't what it used to be?

Well, you're free to think that, BUT ...

I absolutely love movies, and go to a Hell of a lot of them. So far, it has only been the examples above that I've had problems with (with the rare exception of the presentation problems mentioned in John Hawkes - Man of Steel, which turned out to be a projectionist either ignoring or failing to notice a tag attached to the film specifying the sound level it should be played at).

While arguing discussing this with that ticket collector I mentioned above, I was waiting to go in to see Dredd (Karl Urban's venture into the world of the British comic book series Judge Dredd). Enjoyed the hell out of it, and being a modern production, had no problem whatever with hearing it.

I talked to the theater manager at the Sundance Cinema about this, expressing concern about the same for the upcoming showing of The African Queen.  He promised to pass it along to his projectionist.  We'll see. And I'll update this and let you know how it turns out.

This time, I'm going to try one of their hearing-assist headphone devices, just in case. But, considering that I have no problem at all with hearing the normal fare for these theaters, it's inexcusable for this to be necessary.

By the time of the upcoming Casablanca showing, the River Oaks Theater will have completed installation of a digital projection system, so that will be the format it will be shown in.  We'll just have to see if they are similarly cursed when they show it.

I have a very specific agenda in listing the time and place of the showings I griped about. I saw others also straining to hear the movies there. When I talk to managers there, they insist that they've never gotten any complaints.

Well, here's one now. I'm claiming this is a real problem, and asking,
   "What the Hell's the matter with you?!!!"

If you really don't know how to present a monaural movie properly, then please LEARN! If nothing else try turning up the volume a couple of notches.

Maybe that way, you'll avoid ruining yet another experience.

Thank you. :(

Update 2203 CDT, Thursday, 27 Sep 2012 - 
To the powers that be at Sundance Cinema, Houston:  OUTSTANDING!
Just got back from seeing The African Queen. Unlike the horrible experience with Jaws and The Bridge on the River Kwai, this time the sound volume seemed a couple of notches higher. Made all the difference in the world.

That was fortunate, as I couldn't get the hearing-assist headphones to work (carpal tunnel syndrome leaves me with almost no feeling in my fingertips, and that could have been a factor). But I didn't need them. I just regret not being able to report on their effectiveness.

I would so love to believe that someone actually read this post, and that my pleas made a difference. But, I'll take what I can get. Whether or not I had anything at all to do with the tremendous improvement with the audio, the bottom line is that I had a wonderful experience tonight, and I'm cool with that. :-)

Whatever you guys did this time, that is the way to go.

Update 1355 CDT, Sunday, 30 Sep 2012 - In five days, I'll catch Casablanca at its midnight showing at the River Oaks Theater.

As this will be on their brand new digital projection system, I fear the same problems mentioned above are waiting to happen. I forwarded my previous update to Landmark's customer service department (the River Oaks Theater is part of the Landmark chain), requesting it to be sent to the managers of the River Oaks Theater, desperately hoping to avoid yet another major screw-up in presentation.

I also sent it to FathomEvents (who handled The Birds and have some more restored classics on the way).

Those outfits could do much worse than to discuss this with the manager of Sundance Cinema, Houston. When you talk to him about a problem, he actually listens -- and comprehends.

I'll keep you posted on whether that can be said of the others.

Update 0220 CDT, Saturday, 06 Oct 2102 - 
To the managers of the River Oaks Theater, Houston - You done good!
Just got back from the midnight showing of Casablanca.  My worst fears were unrealized. Even with their new digital projection system, they still know what a volume control is. Absolutely beautiful presentation, with fine sound. So nice to know that there are still people you can count on.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

They're rioting in Africa.

They're rioting in Africa.
They're starving in Spain.
There's hurricanes in Florida
   and Texas needs rain.

The whole world is festering with unhappy souls.
The French hate the Germans. The Germans hate the Poles.
Italians hate Yugoslavs. South Africans hate the Dutch
   and I don't like anybody very much!

But we can be tranquil and thankful and proud
for man's been endowed with a mushroom shaped cloud.
And we know for certain that some lovely day
   someone will set the spark off and we will all be blown away.

They're rioting in Africa.
There's strife in Iran.
What nature doesn't do to us
   will be done by our fellow man.

~"The Merry Minuet" - Performed by The Kingston Trio (1959)
    Copyright 1959, by Sheldon Harnick,.

"The more things change ..."

Sunday, September 16, 2012


- The definition of "Computer Science". :(

This so-called "science" is in fact, a "black art", in which the ritual incantations (aka "programming") are sometimes followed by the Manitous residing within the machines and software doing what you want, and sometimes not.

When I learned, in late 2003, that the entire IT department I was in would be outsourced, I replaced an old Compac computer with a new Hewlett-Packard machine, as I anticipated a very long (and ultimately unsuccessful, because of my age) search for a new position.

For a long while, I just used the Internet Explorer browser that was already on the machine. Over time, the subsequent upgrades only increased the size of the browser, and its insatiable appetite for memory usage, to the point where the browser would almost freeze during use.

Not being able to afford upgrading the machine (still the case today), I eventually downloaded Firefox on the advice of a blogger that found it to be far less of a resource hog. This was back in the days of Version 3.03 (I believe we're up to 15-something now) , and I truly did find it to be a great improvement.

But, it too was cursed with upgrades that grew more and more bloated. Having been warned by others, I stayed with Version 3.03, until Blogger.com (the service I use for my blog) no longer supported it, making it impossible for me to edit posts while using it.

This forced me to give Google's Chrome browser a try (Google being the parent of Blogger.com). This worked extremely well, after I got used to its different layout and I was quite cool with it. But, you gotta admire their respect for tradition; it too grew and grew and grew.

A while back, I downloaded Opera, having heard great things about its low-resource performance, and it's been my browser of choice for most things (I find most of my credit card and payroll accounts appear to be optimized for Internet Explorer, so I use it for them, and Chrome is best for editing my blog).

On Sunday, 09 Sep 2012, I visited my site meter (StatCounter) and found the display had gone to Hell ...
This is the Summary page, at which I've set to open this site.

Scrolling down, I approach what I came here for.

Now, I've gotten there. BUT, all that blue crap preceding shouldn't be there.

Having clicked on "Recent Visitor Activity" (at lower left of screen above), the new page opens with the same blue mess before arriving at this ...
Ok, we've gotten there, but it's in the wrong format, only displaying 
in two columns.  Worse, some of the page links no longer work.

This screen, from the Chrome browser, is what it should look like ...

I emailed StatCounter support about that, attaching the screenprints above, wondering, "WHAT have you DONE?  WHAT has Changed?", and expressed that wonder.

They responded ...

Hi Paul,

Sorry to hear this.

May I suggest updating your opera to most updated version if any and also
deleting browser cookies once, rebooting your machine and then re-logging
at statcounter.com

Let me know how this goes.

Ok. My reply to that ...

  I have done this
  Updated to Opera 12.02
  Deleted all browser cookies.
  Logged back onto Statcounter.

Same result, Summary page and Recent Visitor Activity page beginning with that dark blue area shown in the pictures I attached to the initial complaint, seeming to say "We need your feedback" (I think; black text on dark blue background not easy to read.

Visitor page shows in two columns (see pictures), instead of the four displayed on other browsers..

About the links that don't work: this begins about halfway through the fifth visitor entry. From there on down, no response to cursor moving over the links.

There used to be a couple of tabs or something along the right edge of the page; one a toggle to revert to the older version of statcounter, the other I don't remember. They're gone now, and it seems the problem started around then.

As far as I can tell, it is only on Opera that this occurs; IE, Firefox, Chrome doing just fine.

As you've not said otherwise, shall I assume you've tested on Opera, and have been unable to duplicate this?

Their reply ...

Hi Paul,

Yes - StatCounter is working perfectly for me in Opera.
No - not able to duplicate the problem which makes things difficult!

Have you tried a full refresh? (press CTRL and the F5 key simultaneously)
One possible explanation would be that you have an out of date CSS file
stored in your browser.

May I ask - are you using extensions or add ons in Opera?
Are you using anti-virus software?
Updates in either of the above cases could cause an issue.
Let us know what(if any) you're using.

Have you tried Opera on a different machine? If it works on another machine
for you then we have narrowed the potential causes down a bit.

I'm sorry about the open-ended questions - but they are necessary to try to
diagnose the problem.

Note: we have lots of Opera users actively using StatCounter as I type so
this would appear to be something of a local issue rather than a widespread

Please let us know you comments on all the above. Thanks!

At that point, my first reaction was "Life's too short!!!"

I experimented with some other browsers, seeking low-resource alternatives.

I tried Ace Explorer and Avant, which are both stripped versions of Internet Explorer. While there were some things I liked in each of them, they both had problems (not with StatCounter's site) that made me decide to not stay with them.

Last night, I removed them. A bit later, I pulled up Opera and went to StatCounter.

It's now working just the way it's supposed to.

I suppose it's quite possible the Un-install processes I ran may have cleared out something that was causing the problem (without even attempting to explain how it got there in the first place).

BUT, having spent a generation in IT (as programmer and trouble-shooter - favoring a .45), I can attest that ...
   "When the moon is in the Seventh House
    And Jupiter aligns with Mars"
       ~The 5th Dimension, "Age of Aquarius"

and ...
   "The phase of the moon"

are equally plausible as explanations for the random and capricious behavior of software.

I let them know, giving the opinion on "computer science" I voiced at the top of this post and added ...

I suspect we differ mostly in which entities we pray to; mine sometimes being Native-American to appease the Manitou's within the computer, and yours perhaps being Celtic*. :-)

Bottom line: We're good!

(* - StatCounter is based in Dublin, Ireland)

Friday, September 14, 2012

Inferiority Complex

There's nothing more dangerous in a culture acquiring nukes.

We're speaking now of a people who, many by choice, are a millennium out of date, can never catch up and compete with the West, and probably know it to the depths of their souls.

In such a situation, would they question their beliefs (under which they have been raised for generations) and alter them?

Not bloody likely;  that's just contrary to human nature.

What's much more likely is to feel that others are holding them down and, when their only talents seem to be destruction, try to level the playing field by bringing those others down with them.

From Michelle Malkin's If it’s Friday in the Muslim world, it’s time for another Islamic Rage Boy riot!!!! ...

The dhimmi media continues to insist that the latest anti-infidel conflagration is about the stupid Internet film that none of the brigades of Islamic Rage Boys care about or have seen. Tools.

For years, we’ve chronicled the wholly manufactured “Friday is jihad riot day” phenomenon in the Muslim world.

 Teddy bear named Mohamed? Time to riot!

 Salman Rushdie knighted? Time to riot!

 Mohammed cartoons? Time to riot!

 Documentary critical of the Koran? Time to riot!

Problem is, while absolutely ridiculous, there's nothing remotely funny about lunatics with deadly weapons.

Stating the problem clearly is an essential step towards finding a solution. I hope I've done a decent (and accurate) job of so stating it. Unfortunately, I have no solution (unless I'm just refusing to face it -- also quite in keeping with human nature).

Commentor DesertLover, on Malkin's post above, provided a link to this ...
from www.desertlover.com

DesertLover claims no credit for it;  someone sent it to him on his facebook page and he posted it as is.  Being linked on Malkin's site, I wouldn't be at all surprised if it goes viral. I'd like that.

Is that the solution? Most likely only a part of it (but, an essential part). It bought time (25 years; that ain't chopped liver), and sometimes that's the best one can hope for.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

I've updated my 9/11 post.

A year ago I posted ...

  CALL it "The Freedom Tower" ...
  ... Not that mind-numbing bureaucratese of "One World Trade Center".

I've updated it and added a few new pictures.

But, those of you who only follow me on Google Reader and other RSS readers would never know it, because the updated version doesn't appear at the top of the RSS feed and I've yet to find any way of changing that (short of republishing the post under a different URL).

So, until I manage to suss that out, I'll just have to point you there with the link above.

If you know of how to re-position a post within an RSS feed, I'd love to hear from you.

Thanks, in advance.

Addendum - 1848 CDT, Tuesday, 11 Sep 2012 - Some of my attempts to move its location in the RSS feed resulted in temporarily messing up the URL of the post, so some people got a Page Not Found error. That should be fixed now.  If that's what you got, give it another try with the link above.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Marquee (Updated)

(Originally posted Thursday, 30 Aug 2012 - Updated below)

This pretty well mandates where I will be late this Friday evening (Aug 31) and past midnight. ...
Taken Thursday afternoon, 30 Aug 2012

That is the River Oaks theater, of which I've written before in The Zen of Firefly and Serenity ... and "You keep using that word.

It is our Mecca for art films. The listing at the right is for the normal daily schedule, and is pretty representative of what they schedule.  The panel on the left is usually for whatever they schedule for their weekend (Friday and Saturday) midnight specials.

And what does that panel promise this weekend? ...

I first saw Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) (but not in 3D) as a kid in San Antonio, in the mid '50s, at a 16mm showing in an elementary school.  I recall watching it with my hands over my eyes, peeking through fingers. (Not at all sure how that kid would have handled the "chest burster" scene from "Alien" 25 years later.)

So, YES, I'm going. But, I've had several instances of seeing again something I fondly remembered from years ago only to discover that I was remembering it as better than it actually was.

I'll try and keep my expectations within reason and hope for the best. :-)

For those in Houston, here's the latest Midnight Movie schedule ...
Right-click on it and Open in New Tab for easier reading.

Update - Tuesday 04 Sep 2012 - I went to see it that Friday night.

As I feared above, I remembered it as better than it actually was. Not bad, but the movie a twelve year old kid watched peeking through his fingers might now be considered as "quaint".

The worst part of the experience was watching it through cardboard 3D "glasses" with red and blue plastic filters to see through. Just trying to keep them in place was a serious detraction.

To give the movie a fair shake, I got the DVD (not 3D, so much clearer and less headache inducing). From one of the bonus extras on the DVD, I learned that the original 3D process they used in the '50s used two separate projectors for the left eye and right eye images, through polarizing filters and had polarized lenses in the glasses to make for a better viewing experience.

I knew about polarizing, but did not know about the separate projectors (assuming they had put the double images on a single film as they do with the two-color process - which was the version shown at the River Oaks).

The use of two simultaneous projectors made for a much brighter picture, but was a nightmare for the theaters, as they had to be in perfect synchronization for it to work. Get out of sync by just a few frames and the image went to Hell when any motion was involved (as did the viewer trying to watch it).

I saw one of those polarized 3D movies when it first came out (a western called The Charge at Feather River (1953), which of course had things coming at you in 3D, including a rattlesnake strike) and it was a thing of beauty.

But very few theaters could afford projectionists professional enough to handle the complexities of properly showing the films. I'm pretty sure that's a major reason for 3D dying out for such a long time. Modern day digital equipment makes it possible for a minimum wage projectionist to manage it without screwing up (although one should never underestimate the possibilities in that regard).

Bottom line on "Creature":  An underwater version of King Kong (1933), with one of the most iconic monster suits in movie history ...

(Screencaps from DVD)

Pleasant dreams. :-)

Sunday, September 02, 2012

To Friends & Followers of Blogger Wolf Howling ...

Early last December, after one of his occasional absences, I posted Wolf Howling is BACK ... in which I noted:
After a seven and a half month absence (since May 22), one of my favorite bloggers ( Wolf Howling ) has put up five new posts in the last two days.

In a comment to one of those posts, I wondered "What happened?", and suggested that that was worthy of a post of its own.

If he picks up on that, I suspect that a quote from John Lennon would likely cover it:

"Life is what happens while we're making other plans."

He answered me in a comment to my post noting that the Lennon quote covered a goodly portion of it, along with Blogger.com ceasing to work for him with the introduction of their new user interface. He finally got back into action after switching to Chrome as his browser of choice. (By the purest of coincidences, Chrome is a product of Google, which also runs Blogger.com. Go figure.)

Well this time, after a four+ month absence (since Apr 22 -- is there something about the 22nd which makes him decide, "Ok! I'm outta here!" ?!!! :-), once again he has put up five new posts in the last two days.

Beginning to see a pattern here?

Maybe something similar has occurred this time, or maybe something else. If he wanted to talk about it, he probably would have posted something by now.

"I suspect it's one of those great universal mysteries which will either never be explained, or which would drive you mad if you ever learned the truth."
  ~Narn Ambassador G'Kar in "Babylon 5"

At the moment, mine is the only new comment on his blog, so many who have followed him may not be aware that he's back. So, some of you might want to pass this news along. Ok?


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