Archive for August, 2004

The Village: Movie Review

Posted by Arlo on Aug 3, 2004 under Movie Reviews

The Village Movie PosterTrying to write a spoiler-free review of an M. Night Shyamalan movie is as difficult as trying to explain the difference between red and yellow to a blind person. There’s not enough I can tell you that will give you a clear picture.

Overall, I enjoyed his new movie, The Village. That’s impressive, considering that the surprise – there’s always a “surprise” in a Shyamalan movie – was inadvertently spoiled for me by my barely-literate Russian niece. She saw it on opening night and despite my body language communication to the contrary (I covered my ears and said “nyahnyahnyah!”) she still let slip three words. Three. Words. If you don’t think that’s enough to spoil a movie’s crucial plot twist, just think back to the Sixth Sense. How easy would it be to give that whole movie away?

Anyway, as I was saying. Good movie, despite what I consider to be some weaknesses in the script. M. Night Shyamalan is a great writer/director and he deserves every penny he makes off these movies, but I’ve noticed a disturbing trend. I think of it as a lack of faith in the audience. Whenever he divulges the big revelation, he almost always uses flashbacks, voiceovers, or some other crutch to guide the audience to their conclusion. Personally, I’d like to be given a little more credit than that; it’s only a two-hour movie, after all. My short term memory can take it, trust me.

In The Village, I thought there were some problems with the story telling that could have been worked out. For instance, there’s a short section of the movie where sequences are told out of chronological order. It was obvious that he chose to do it that way so that certain… things… would be hidden until he chose to reveal them at a suitably shocking point, but to me that indicates a weakness in the script. I believe that, try as he might, he just couldn’t manipulate the events of the story to uncover themselves chronologically without sacrificing the dramatic tension. I’m not saying I could do any better, but I still think it’s a weakness.

Bah! Without citing specific examples, it’s too hard to explain exactly what I mean. Tell you what: Go out and watch the movie and we’ll discuss it later. I can’t say any more without giving away the plot points whose names we do not speak.

Trivial Thought: While I thought the movie was good, I’m surprised that it wasn’t “FATASTINOMICAL!!1″ like the Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, and Signs. Oh, well. I guess that if M. Night Shyamalan can hold out for four movies before his sophomore slump, he can still be my hero.
What did I find worthwhile about the movie? The background story. It was obviously well thought-out. Also, the acting was top notch all around.
Would I recommend the movie? Yes.
Will I buy it on DVD? Yes.

Overall Summer Movie Ranking
Spider-man 2
Shrek 2
The Village
I, Robot
The Day After Tomorrow
The Terminal
The Chronicles of Riddick
Fahrenheit 9/11
Van Helsing
The Stepford Wives

Photoblog — Stats for July '04

Posted by Arlo on Aug 2, 2004 under Website

July '04 Photoblog web statsIt’s early August and time to check out those Photoblog stats again. If you remember from last time, I opted not to do anything for the month of July that might increase the number of visits. As I suspected, I earned slightly fewer unique hits than the previous month, but the results were still educational.

Here’s the quick breakdown:

June = 83 unique visitors with 162 visits
July = 76 unique visitors with 174 visits

What’s interesting here is that the ‘blog indices in which I registered my Photoblog are still generating hits. Last month, I signed up in 20 or so indices. I’d say 15 hits on my site were from those same indices sending a ‘bot to check if the URL was valid. Since I didn’t submit to any new sites throughout the month of July, it’s arguable that I actually gained a few new visitors instead of losing 7 as the statistics indicate.

Looking over my list of referrers, I see a sprinkling of “globeofblogs,” “blogwise,” “linkexchange,” and “eatonweb portal.” Not a whole ton of hits, but at least they’re pointing some people my way.

I’m also noticing a few more keyword searches resulting in hits on the site. I¡¦ve got two each for “isabela de sagua” and “mendenhall glacier poster,” and one apiece for “nags head photo sunrise,” “isabela de sagua cuba,” “open-shutter photography,” and “pictures of el sano banano.” I know exactly which photos each of these point to — still no sales, but I hope they found what they were looking for. A couple people bookmarked my site this month, too — that’s a good omen for repeat visitors.

For the month of August, I’ve already implemented the next step — an XML syndication feed. The only change to the site will be a tiny little orange XML button at the end of each page. Getting this up and running was actually pretty easy since I had already sweated out the hard work on the ‘blog you’re now reading. What does it do? Glad you asked.

RSS, RDF, and XML feeds all do pretty much the same thing: They’ll let you know as soon as a webpage is updated. In order to do that, though, you’re going to need a new piece of software. Don’t panic! I’ll point you to one that’s free and easy to use.

What you need is a “news aggregator.” An aggregator is a program that probably looks a lot like what you use to read your e-mail, but instead of checking your e-mail, an aggregator will check all the RSS feeds you’ve signed up for. That’s where that orange XML button on my Photoblog (and the blue RSS button on my ‘blog) comes in — those are my feeds.

RSS feeds have changed the way I surf the web. Instead of roaming across the same sites every day to check to see if there’s anything new posted, I now let those same sites come to me. Every hour my aggregator goes out and checks for new content from sites like Slashdot, Wired, C|net, and the SciFi channel. If there’s something new, I’ll see a popup appear (much like an MSN Messenger message) near my taskbar. When I have a spare moment, I can open up my aggregator — it stays active 24/7 in my system tray — and read the newest news.

Okay, let’s talk specifics. I’m using an aggregator called Feedreader. You can head on over to their site and download a free copy right now. Once you’ve got the downloaded file on your computer, you can double-click-install it just like any other program. After that, fire it up and take a look around.

(By the way, this is simply the aggregator I’m using. There are plenty of others out there: Feeddemon seems to be one of the best, but it’s $30 after a 20-day free trial. A friend of mine is using Pluck – an aggregator that works as a plug-in for Internet Explorer. There are also plug-ins for Outlook, as well, and even web-based aggregators like Bloglines. If you really want to get into RSS, Google is a great place to start!)

Now that you’ve got Feedreader (or some other aggregator) running, you’ll have to supply it with an RSS, RDF, or XML feed. Don’t be alarmed — all it’s really asking for is a URL. Take my ‘blog for example. See the blue RSS button on the front page? That little button has a link to the RSS feed that Feedreader needs. There are a lot of ways to get that information into your aggregator, but because each person’s setup can be different, I’ll give you the only sure-fire way I know of:

* Place your mouse cursor over the button, but don’t click.
* Look down in the status bar at the bottom of your browser — the URL to the feed will be displayed
* Open up Feedreader and click the “New Feed” button.
* Type in the URL and click Next, then Finish

That’s it! Do the same thing with the XML button on any of my Photoblog pages and you’ll already have two sites that will notify you whenever they are updated (as long as you keep Feedreader running in the system tray, that is!)

What other sites have RSS feeds? You’d be surprised! Many, many sites that have dynamically changing content already use RSS feeds. How can you tell? Easy. Surf on over to the site in question and search the page for either “RSS,” “RDF,” or “XML.” If that doesn’t turn up anything, scan the pages for a button much like the ones I’ve used. If you still find nothing… well, not everyone is as cool as I am.

Just to get you going, here are a few of the feeds I most enjoy:

Wil Wheaton dot Net – The journal of an actor turned writer (My hero!)
Neil Gaiman’s Journal – The journal of a fantasy and comic book writer
A Midgett Blog (‘natch!) — The most important journal in the world… to me.
A Midgett Photoblog (double ‘natch!) — See the world through my viewfinder

Wired News — Breaking Technology news
Slashdot — News for Nerds, Stuff that Matters
Dan’s Data – This guy really knows his stuff
Gizmodo — News and reviews of tech gadgets, delivered in an irreverent style
Engadget — MORE news and reviews of tech gadgets, less irreverent
PhotographyBLOG — What’s new in the world of Photography
Digital Photography Review — Very detailed reviews of digital cameras
Dynamic Artwork — There are some great Photoshop tutorials here

Boing Boing — Interesting links around the Internet
Sci-fi Wire — Science Fiction news
Slashdot: Games — Computer games
Penny Arcade — Online web comic and discussion about video games

That should do it. I’m really impressed with this new way of getting information — so much so that I’ll be starting up whole new ‘blog soon (stay tuned!) In the meantime, if you have any trouble getting started with RSS — either in using an aggregator or in modifying Greymatter – please don’t hesitate to ask me for some help.

Oh, and one more thing. I want to apologize in advance for the extremely ugly subject lines in my Photoblog’s RSS feeds. When I originally set up the site, I wasn’t expecting anyone would be reading the raw HTML code. Asi es la vida… at least you should be able to see a nice little thumbnail of each week’s photos.