Friday, February 29, 2008

Off to Vegas!

In eight hours time I'll be heading off to Vegas. Got a pretty hectic schedule once the MIX08 conference kicks in since I've got a whole bunch of interviews to do for my new video podcast site The Daily.Net Show (which doesn't officially launch until April).

Contacting people for interview requests has been a real revelation. Microsoft get a lot of flack for a lot of things, but I've been amazed at the level of co-operation from people who are 'rocks star's in the Microsoft development world, all of whom have responded quickly and positively to simple email requests. Hard to imagine a Corporate Vice President at another company responding to an email within a few hours, effectively saying 'I'll be happy to do an interview'.

So far Scott Guthrie (Corporate Vice President, .NET Developer Platform), Scott Hanselman (, Jeff Sandquist (, Adam Kinney (Silverlight evangelist), John McLelland (Microsoft Partner Huddle) and Mike Ormond (Microsoft UK Developer Evangelist) have all verbally agreed to take part so it's just a question of trying to co-ordinate things once we're all in Vegas. I suspect this is where things might fall down with so many things going on, but people have happily given out cell-phone numbers so I'm optimistic that most of it will happen. I'm a fan of all these folks so I feel very lucky in having had such a strong, supportive response.

On Sunday I'm having brunch at Bally's with good friends Susan and John Brock from San Diego. They are coming up to Vegas especially to show me around, which is, as the Americans would say, 'totally awesome'. We're going to have a lot to drink on the Sunday, visit The Star Trek Experience on the Monday, and do a quick 15 minute helicopter tour of the Las Vegas Strip at night on Monday evening. This last activity is primarily in the hope that I can get a nice opening shot of the conference venue from the air for the video podcasts, before the Brocks have to make a long drive home back to San Diego later that evening.

The conference itself officially starts on Wednesday but on Tuesday I've got a couple of interviews tentatively arranged, registration for the event itself (which is at same hotel I'm booked into all week - The Venetian, and a pre-conference Silverlight treasure hunt in the evening.

My luggage is an even bigger nightmare than usual. The tripod, all the camera and sound gear, together with my heavy video editing laptop, my ultraportable email and note-taking laptop, my 'self-promotional' wardrobe (t-shirts promoting the new web site which I'll be wearing all week) and business cards mean there's very little room left for anything else in my luggage. Despite taking little in the way of clothing I still have three large pieces of luggage to haul around.

The alarm clock is now set for 5.30am tomorrow morning, and the flight gets into Las Vegas early Saturday afternoon local time. If I get the chance to shoot anything before the event itself kicks off (assuming the equipment still all works when I get to the other end) I'll publish it here, otherwise all video will be the work-related stuff posted at The Daily.Net Show.

And just to round this post off so that it's vaguely 'personal' rather than 'work' related: here's a link to a video that made me laugh out loud. Optimus Prime performs 'Evolution of Dance' Tribute. Worth watching to the end for the pay-off! Enjoy!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Nothing to see here - move along!

This is just a quick test of YouTube workflow in prep for MIX08 in Las Vegas. Please ignore! High definition 1920x1080p recording converted in less than 20 seconds to YouTube format by FXHome VideoWrap!

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Life Update and lots of Shiny Disc mentions

Things have been so hectic, there's been no time to update my blog. Currently work-related stuff seems to be eating up every available minute. It's just two weeks until I head off to Las Vegas for a week, primarily for the MIX08 conference, but also for a few days break - with my friends Susan and John Brock joining me for a few days before the conference kicks off, and I have no idea how I'll be sorted out in time. Even "simple" stuff like getting the laptop into a fit state ready for the conference are taking forever. I knew Windows Vista was bad, but man one year on and it's still a mess. I haven't had a 'blue screen of death' (BSOD) on Windows XP for years, but with Vista I get one every few weeks. Alas, the most recent BSOD occurred during a major software install, and means that the key software (Visual Studio 2008) that I need available to me during MIX08 is now in a "can't be installed, can't be uninstalled" status which is just what I didn't need.

I'm also trying to push on with "The Daily Dot Net Show" project, but time is not on my side. I had hoped to get a pilot ready before MIX08, with what remains of the weekend being used to shoot an initial episode based on this weekend's new releases etc, but this is looking increasingly unlikely as I fight the clock on the wall and my lack of knowledge on editing software and FX. The biggest unforeseen problem is the sheer volume of "daily" updates Microsoft and bloggers are putting out, making it hard to research things properly and keep everything tight in a planned 5-10 minute daily show. Just compiling the information from Friday and Saturday morning has taken several hours, let alone filming the video, editing the graphics and putting the whole thing together in a professional looking format.

Socially I've met up with a couple of friends that I met a few years ago on my different Lord of the Rings trips to the States. Two weeks ago the wonderful "Mooch" (Susan Brock) was in town for a week of culture in the museums and I managed to hook up with her for an evening and a Sunday, taking great advantage of free access to the Park Lane Hilton Executive Lounge. Would have liked to have spent more time with her, and thankfully I'll be hooking up with her and her husband John in Las Vegas in a fortnight's time. Last Sunday I met "Lulybunny" who was in the UK as part of her job, appraising hotels in the area to see if they were up to standard. She was worn out and tired, but I had a fun meal with her and a colleague. Like me she'd just quit her job so we were able to sympathise with each other's war stories.

Quit my job? Yes, the new contract has turned out to be a big disappointment. My colleagues, all on 3 month contracts which run out in a few weeks time, have all declined to renew although my boss is wavering and may renew at the last minute.

I'd decided my second day in I was in one of those horrific "everyone's got their heads buried in the sand" situations where even if the technology issues and continual 'customer fire fighting' issues could be resolved (far too many obscure, little known technologies when more mainstream, more productive ones are available), the company culture couldn't. I've been in a "hang in there because things might change" situation for a few weeks now but having been in similar situations before where I've felt obliged to hang on to the death so that I've typically been the last contractor out the door - at a personal cost of being permanently stressed, frustrated, and generally miserable - I've decided to move a little quicker this time around and gave my 4 weeks notice on Wednesday.

This is not the best timing given the current state of the market and my financial situation, especially after taking 3 months out to learn new stuff after my last contract in Ireland, but really there are times when you just have to recognise that health and overall happiness have to come first.

Nobody's been surprised at my decision, in fact they've been totally sympathetic, but somehow it still feels like I'm letting people down. I'm going to have to be a lot stronger in future interview situations - all the signs of the problems I was going to encounter were there when I attended my interview, but I skillfully ignored them telling myself I was being overly pessimistic or too picky. Alas, not!

On the movie front I've seen a bunch of great films...

There Will Be Blood at the cinema was almost as good as people are saying it is, with Daniel Day Lewis certainly deserving his 'Best Actor' oscar for his performance, even if I thought the film was a bit too long, slow-moving and downright pretentious in places (a criticsm I'd also make of the director's earlier 'Boogie Nights' film).

On DVD I really enjoyed Control (the Joy Division/Ian Curtis bio-pic) even if it was in black and white. Think 'coffee table book of great black and white photographs bought to life' and you've pretty much got the feel of it.

The Street Season 2 was an outstanding BBC drama series of six one hour (being British that really is one hour not the '40 minute' hours that the Americans have) drama's. I missed this when broadcast on TV at the start of the year but am glad I caught up with it on shiny disc. Brilliant writing from Jimmy McGovern and brilliant acting from a universally excellent cast. It proves we Brits CAN produce great drama (and not endless 'Torchwood' tosh) when we want to. Admittedly this is not the sort of stuff to watch if you're prone to depression or like your drama to be endlessly upbeat and 'feel good', although there are comedic moments. The premise for each episode of the series is someone making a key decision that dramatically alters the course of the life they're living, often for the worse, but occasionally for the better. A very thought-provoking and powerful series that was as strong as the first season of six episodes broadcast last year had been.

HD-DVD is officially dead, with Toshiba apparently about to formally announce they're abandoning the format. Warners Judas-like last-minute betrayal at CES has had faster ramifications than anyone expected. I find it too depressing for words given how many HD-DVD discs I own, and how much more solid it is than the 'still under development beta' Blu-Ray format is. But even when Blu-Ray finally gets out of 'beta' status with its hardware the main disadvantage to the format is that HD-DVD is region free so that we can buy much better discs in a much more timely fashion at a cheaper price from the states, while most Blu-Ray discs are region-locked meaning we have to wait months to pay an overly-inflated price for titles that the Americans got with many more extra's for a much lower price, months earlier - if we get them at all!

But new HD-DVD titles will dry up very soon so buying more titles is throwing good money after bad. However, pre-ordering titles months in advance mean I've seen The Heartbreak Kid which was better than I expected. It stars Ben Stiller which is usually a good indication of a terrible American brat 'comedy' movie that has zero laughs in it unless you come from the 'Wasn't Norman Wisdom endlessly gurning utterly brilliant' school of thinking. To my surprise this one had me guffawing out loud more than a couple of times, although it's not exactly a 'must see' or 'must rewatch' film by any means.

White Noise 2 featuring "that bloke off 'Serenity'" was slightly disappointing, but probably better than the first film in the franchise, which actually has nothing in common with this one other than the title. The film was let down by a silly ending, but worth seeing if you're a fan of the actress who plays 'Starbuck' in the new 'Battlestar Galactaca' series. She is always fun to watch and gets to play 'sweet girl' instead of 'aggressive tom boy' this time around.

The Invasion, a planned 'intelligent' character-driven remake of 'Invasion of the Body Snatchers', starring Nicole Kidman and Craig Daniels, is a movie that is totally ruined by last-minute 'action' reshoot insertions that send the whole thing off the rails. It's not hard to see why this has been held up for a couple of years and the end result is a real hatchet job of a film with obvious signs of too many different directors being called in to stitch the mess together. The film studio should have left the film with the original director and hoped it found its audience instead of trying to turn it into a film with endless 'Matrix'- like stunts and car chases between all the talky bits!

The region-locked, over-priced Blu-Ray format has won the high definition shiny disc wars so I've switched to buying that format given that it's the one likely to stick around before the dreaded 'pay for downloads' exclusivity kicks in. I enjoyed Ratatouille much more than 'Cars' but not as much as 'Toy Story' or 'Finding Nemo'. I certainly wouldn't class it as 'the film of the year', as some are claiming, because it's too slow and half an hour longer than it needs to be. It has its moments but lacks the charm of earlier Pixar efforts. That being said, it's definitely worth seeing, and Peter O' Toole is brilliant as the voice of a pompous food critic. On Blu-Ray disc it's as beautifully presented and a great advert for the high definition format.

I thought Rent was a mess of a film musical (but then I think it's outrageous that 'Chicaco' won the 'Film of the year' oscar, when the vastly superior 'Moulin Rouge' got nothing), but the accompanying documentary (which runs longer than the main film) was gripping and tells a much more emotional 'true life' story about the musical's creator (who struggled for four years writing the thing, dying very young and suddenly from a genetic heart condition the night before the show was due to open).

Across The Universe is another musical - this time artificially constructed around overly-familiar Beatles songs - that just didn't work for me. There are some wonderful directorial showcase scenes here, with great iconic imagery that reminded me of Ken Russel's "Tommy" in places, but like "Tommy" the whole thing comes across as a series of unrelated pop videos and 'moments' that just don't work as a filmic whole. "Tommy" had a much better basic through-line and unfortunately "Across the Universe" comes seriously unstuck about half way in. Dick Clement and Ian Le Frenais are very experienced writers but what they've done here is a complete mess. After the disappointing "Goal" movie I can't help wondering if the pair are well past their 'Sell by' date as writers.

The Brave One (on Blu-Ray) received luke warm reviews as a 'Death Wish' remake, albeit this time with a female protagonist in the form of Jodie Foster. I actually disagree with the critics who dismissed this film on theatrical release as just another 'Death Wish' rip-off. I think that Neil Jordan's film has a much more moral centre at its core, and while they never believed the 'transition' Foster's character goes through, I found it totally compelling. Foster is always worth watching, and does a good job here, although I'd agree that the moral ambiguities, especially in the ending, fail to really convince. And the annoying 'green desaturated' look is starting to get REALLY annoying now.

Run Fat Boy Run on Blu-Ray was much better than I was expecting, given how totally self-indulgent and unfunny I found "Hot Fuzz". David Schwimmer of 'Friends' fame did a good directorial job I thought and Simon Pegg more than delivered on the rather silly premise of a boy who leaves his pregnant girlfriend at the altar only to try and win her back five years later by running a marathon. The trailer had looked very weak and the title is completely ridicilous (Pegg is very thin and yet we're being asked to pretend he's fat?!!), but once you get past that this is a fun hour and 40 minutes of 'safe' British rom-com comedy with some genuine laugh-out-loud moments. It's not hard to see why, despite the critical mauling it received, it over-performed at the box office. Well worth a rental in my view.

Right, that's the catch up out the way. Back to work....