I usually take photos of the layouts, as I admire a good model, but I hadn’t taken a 3D camera before. I pointed it at a few layouts but wasn’t expecting great results as it’s pretty point-and-click and I thought it might struggle with scale models. And there were focus problems, and motion blur – but a few came out as the most effective 3D pictures I’ve taken so far, so I thought I’d share the best:
I recently bought a 3D camera second hand from ffutures. Here are a first few shots:
Interesting to see what works and what doesn’t. There seems to be a greater sense of 3D if there’s something distinctive in the foreground, which is why I actually chose pictures with cars in shot when I had examples without. Things further away tend to flatten out a bit, even if there’s something in the foreground to emphasise the difference – but even in the middle distance, a significant difference in depth can make things stand out. I didn’t notice the pedestrian crossing the West Port in the second photograph when I took it, but she becomes an interesting feature when viewed in 3D. As usual, click through for full size – it’s probably worth it for that second one at least, as the figure is a bit lost in the smaller version.
On Friday, I left work a bit early to attend the final date on Florrie’s lightning acoustic tour for Coffee House Sessions, which I mentioned when I discovered it a couple of weeks ago. I’m not a great gig-goer – in fact the sum total of my previous gig attendance is seeing Runrig in 1989 and Big Country round about 1990. On the other hand, if you’re one of the select acts that play St. Andrews Student Union, as they did*, and I like your music, there’s a reasonable chance I’ll turn up…
Call 911 (Fred Falke Remix)
I like Florrie’s music, so I went along. I’m not quite sure when I first discovered her, but I think I heard Call 911 on Last.FM a few years ago and it stood out. When I followed up a bit and realised that there wasn’t a duff track on the whole Introduction EP, I started to pay attention.
The Introduction EP
Having been drumming since the age of 6, Florrie started work as a session drummer in 2008 before quickly starting to establish herself as a solo artist, now describing herself as drummer, singer and songwriter. Having seen her on Friday, she’s actually selling herself a bit short, as she plays the guitar too, with a nice crisp confidence. Her recorded style is light, but intelligent, anthemic pop, with strong rhythm and high production values.
Given the very produced studio sound, it was intriguing to see that the Coffee House Sessions tour was to be acoustic; just Florrie and a guitar. Although it’s become more of a “thing” to perform unplugged over the last 20 years, not everyone can do it.
Florrie can. The session was quite short; I just sat and enjoyed it so I didn’t keep a note of which tracks were played or how many, but it must have something like six or eight. Definitely included were Left Too Late (a favourite of mine), Live A Little and Radioactive (a cover of Imagine Dragons), another cover I didn’t recognise but worked out later (Budapest, George Ezra) and the more current tracks Little White Lies and Galaxies. The delivery was sharp, confident and above all musical, emotionally complex and expressive. The studio production may add to Florrie’s music, but she has impeccable foundations and doesn’t need it – with one small exception.
Coffee House Sessions
The envelope of her vocal range is pushed a bit in Little White Lies just before going into the chorus, and it's the one time she sounds a bit weak; the lyric is "My breathing shallows/I can't pretend", rising at the end to the point where her voice cracks. It's an effective musical portrayal of a rising emotional tension when it works, but it doesn't always work live, which is a shame. It's a great studio track, with the blend of a thundering locomotive drum beat and a touch of melancholy that's a bit of a Florrie signature:
Little White Lies
It’s good though, that she’s trying things that test her, and that she continues to be original. The Sirens EP on which a first version of Little White Lies was included is notably a bit experimental, with something just a bit unusual about each track. An acoustic tour is a bit of variety too. Not everything is a hit with me, but the percentage is really high; the only talent I can think of with a similar success rate for my tastes is Marina and the Diamonds. I’m really looking forward to the release of Florrie’s first album in the first couple of months of next year.
And finally – not that this matters musically, but she’s just a really nice person. At the end of the set, with a little time to spare before I had to be somewhere else, I asked for an autograph on a Florrie beermat and we chatted for a couple of minutes. I said the honest but unimaginative sorts of things people say on these occasions (You’re really good! When’s the album out?), and she, who must hear them all the time, was not only charming but offered me a hug before I left – something I didn’t expect at all, being slightly over twice the age of most other folk in the room and probably looking older than that. Particularly impressive after an intensive ten day tour, and three performances that day (the Universities of Stirling. Strathclyde, and St. Andrews, in that order, all in under 6 hours).
I’ve included quite a number of videos in this post, but couldn’t possibly include everything I like. If you enjoyed any of these, check out the rest of Florrie’s back catalogue while it’s still relatively small! The easiest place to do that is on YouTube as florriemusic. Florrie’s also on Twitter and Facebook. Wikipedia is good for track details, and you can buy on iTunes. Finally, check out the adverts:
* For what it’s worth Runrig were ace, particularly listening to them play their version of The Times They Are A Changin’ a few weeks after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Big Country were OK, but a bit samey to listen to for a whole gig, even after the Peace In Our Time album had marked a change in their sound.
As the final date on her acoustic UK University Coffee House Sessions Tour, Florrie is playing the Rector’s Café at St Andrews University on Friday 17th at 5:30pm. You don't have to be a student, and entry is free.
She's been releasing EPs since 2010, but now apparently an album is in the offing. I think it'll be worth checking out. I like most of what she's released so far (and kudos to anyone who can release a song called "Experimenting with Rugs").
Xmas is the season of food, and a couple of interesting examples have cropped up in St. Andrews recently. In the doorway of the erstwhile Pots and Pans, a 24 Hour Bakery has sprung up:
“24 Hour Bakery” appears to be a posh term for a hot-pie vending machine, where the definition of “hot pie” extends beyond the Scotch pie once favoured by Pie-Face, to include faux (flaky) bridies, fudge doughnuts and bacon rolls. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, when I passed by it was reporting itself as being out of order. Apparently it sells out fast.
Somehow hot food seems wrong though. In Scotland, winter’s the traditional time for ice cream, as shown by the third image in this BBC photo gallery (a bit of a classic). I think rather than ice cream consumption being prompted by hot weather, a bit of a chill reminds Scots of what they could really do with right now. And lo and behold, Luvians has the answer:
This time, the shop wasn’t out of order, so despite having got drookit in heavy rain earlier on I popped in and purchased a cone, with a scoop each of the Christmas Pudding and Gingerbread flavours. The Gingerbread, which wound up as the upper layer, was reminiscent of Starbucks’ gingerbread latte but a bit colder, and was very pleasant. There was a very slight nip of ginger to it, about right for a gingerbread. The Christmas Pudding flavour was less immediately distinctive, but had a brandied overtone and frequent hints of vine fruit or candied peel.
To be honest, it wasn’t really the weather for ice cream, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. It might be more successful at the Christmas table as suggested by the sign!
I went to see this today, because Walking With Dinosaurs. It is both good and awful.
The awful comes first, because it really is important that you know about it before considering watching this movie (I did and took my chances).
Like many wildlife films, Walking With Dinosaurs sets up some of the animals as characters to follow through the movie. The awful bit is, it gives them voices. Actually no, the really awful bit is that the script for those voices is straight out of a bad Saturday morning cartoon. There are two American kid brothers growing up (pachyrhinosaurs). One is stronger but a bit less bright than the other – the underdog’s the hero of course – and there’s a girl pachyrhinosaurus who becomes a love interest. Then there’s a wise-cracking Mexican bird (John Leguizamo – perhaps he’s fed up with being a sloth). There’s no attempt to lip-synch the dialogue – although actually this might be a good point, as I’ll explain below – so there’s a further alienating disconnect between what you’re seeing on screen and what you’re hearing.
Maybe all this will draw in a big junior audience; but I wouldn’t bet on it. I’ve been to some fairly sparsely attended cinema showings, but I don’t think I’ve ever had Cinema 1 at the NPH to myself before (at least the circle – I can’t swear to the stalls being empty but it was awfully quiet). On a Saturday evening just before Christmas. Maybe it clashed with a lot of Christmas parties?
So what are the good bits? The visuals, as you would expect from the Walking With Dinosaurs brand, are really good. Without the physical models that distinguished the earliest Walking With Dinosaurs output, you’re often aware you’re watching CGI, but it’s still pretty good. There are a few places where it’s played for laughs visually, but these are generally not too intrusive. The most gratuitous example is our hero suffering a terrible indignity under the tail of a much larger adult. Other examples are along the lines of dinosaurs slipping on ice and aren’t too overstated. I rather suspect the facial expressions are a bit anthropomorphised, but again it doesn’t seem too heavy-handed.
Given what I said above about the awful script for this movie, it may come as a surprise that I think it actually tells a powerful and effective story. Visually, considering they’re clearly targeting a young audience and have complete control over what happens, few punches are pulled. While it’s not totally nature red in tooth and claw, animals die in this movie when they’re attacked by carnivores, including some we care about. The terrible dialogue detracts from the impact of the scenes, which is perhaps to some extent what it’s supposed to do.
This could actually be a good and quite moving movie, if it had a completely different soundtrack. If you’re an adult, wait until it’s available cheap on DVD, and play it on mute. The lack of lip-synch will help here, as it's not obvious the animals are talking. It would be great if someone could create an alternative score to accompany it.
In the category of “noteworthy, but why?” bits:
- The story’s book-ended by scenes with some kids and a palaeontologist played by Karl Urban (Éomer in LOTR, Judge Dredd, and Dr. McCoy in the rebooted Star Trek). He’s totally wasted in this role and I don’t know why they spent money on getting a decent actor for a few insignificant scenes when they don’t even use him in any way to promote the film.
- A herd of migrating Edmontosaurus are accompanied by Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk. Er? OK, it’s a nice track and I guess it’s for the rhythm, but the first thing it made me think was, ah, these must be Iguanodon (because of the thumb spike).
- New dinosaurs were introduced by a brief freeze and text labelling as to what they were. Perfectly fine in a documentary, weird in a film. Given it probably did have to be there, I think I would rather have had more information.
- The 3D is nice but not compelling most of the time; they succumb to gimmickry at one particular point that was effective enough to make me jump, but it’s not part of the main body of the movie. I feel as though I should be a bit offended by that, but ho-hum. Other stuff offended me more – see above!
The Royal Company of Archers, the Queen’s Bodyguard for Scotland marched through St. Andrews today. I have no idea why. It wasn’t the best weather for being an archer in.
Some time later, they marched in the opposite direction and some of them dropped in to the Whey Pat for a swift refreshment.
While I wasn’t rude enough to take any pictures in the pub, I was intrigued by the chance for a closer look at their kit. The bow is a traditional wooden self longbow, probably of yew. Each archer carries three arrows, and while they were also wooden, they were more obviously modern, with a plain brass pile, a transparent red plastic nock. Although the arrows being carried had plainly never been used, each archer’s set seemed to have distinct fletching. Whether this was intention or coincidence, I don’t know. Each also carries a short sword, which so obviously resembled a gladius that I was actually relieved to find it described in Wikipedia as “a short gilt-headed Roman sword”.
Behaviour was interesting too; on entering the bar, arrows went straight on the bar. I guess this was a practical thing, as when worn they’re slung at the right side, protruding downwards in front of the body and upwards to the rear. You can see how this might be awkward in a bar situation. I was slightly surprised when they left to hear “Who’s not got a bow?”. Clearly the Royal Company of Archers don’t buy into a more archaic version of the Rifleman’s Creed! It would be interesting to know to what extent Archers kit themselves out, and to what extent they’re issued with their gear. It seems clear that some order their own bows, as they’re quoted as being patrons of Richard Head Longbows, but “Who’s not got a bow?” suggests that, for some, bow ownership is less of a concern.
After all that, here’s a link for anyone experiencing a sudden inexplicable urge to listen to Barwick Green.
Yesterday I left Stagecoach £42 poorer after paying for my four-weekly pass. That is, it’s Stagecoach that were poorer, not I, which is the right way around. The cost of my pass has dropped from £133 to £91, which I am finding pretty difficult to complain about.
The price of my commute has gone up quite a bit over the last few years, but this hefty reduction – almost a third – is so welcome that I’m prepared to overlook the likelihood that they can afford to do this because they’ve been ripping me off for the last few years!
All I’m losing is “free” trips to Glasgow; as well as my commute to Dundee, the pass will still take me to all sorts of other places I seldom go, like Edinburgh, Stirling, Falkirk and anywhere in Fife, Kinross and Clackmannanshire.
Better say this now, because the opportunity is unlikely to arise again: I ♥ Stagecoach.
If you support the re-establishment of a direct rail link to St. Andrews, now might be a good time to consider a donation to StARLink.
If the money’s collected within the next week or so, an engineering feasibility study that usually costs £20,000 can be undertaken for only £4,000 + VAT. Over half the money has already been raised in the last couple of weeks, but obviously more is needed, and timing matters. If undertaken within this timescale, the consultant can use the study as a demonstration example, which is why the much reduced price.
You can send a cheque made payable to “Starlink” – a suggested sum is £25 – to:
5 Whitehill Terrace
Fife KY16 8RN
If you’re not already a supporter, the StARLink web site provides some reasons why you might wish to be. It’s also worth looking at the site’s news archive to see the support the campaign has received over the years. One impressive example is the survey data taken last year showing that upwards of 70% of car users visiting St. Andrews would have considered coming by rail instead if it were an option.
25 years ago, I came to St. Andrews and joined WARSoc, the Wargaming And Role-playing Society at the University. I fancied giving wargaming a try, but everyone seemed to be involved in role-playing games instead. I was pointed at one particular group who were using miniatures, because that was about as wargamy as it got.
For the next five years, until he drew it to a close, I played in flybynightpress's historical fantasy game, New Jerusalem. NJ was a town on the border between eastern Germany and Færie, probably somewhere in what is now modern Poland. The inhabitants were godly puritans who stood fast against the encroachments of witches, Papists and particularly the abominations in the wilderness that surrounded the town (i.e. creatures of the Devil such as goblins, hobgoblins, trolls, giants, etc.).
It was a fantastic introduction to role-playing. The town of New Jerusalem was a classic Base Under Siege, and player characters had to deal with paranoia (their own and that of other citizens, PC and NPC) and issues of faith. Whether your character really believed or not, the appearance of belief was not optional. There was an ever-present threat of being burnt at the stake if you were found to be ungodly. Characters who did believe had to deal with shades of grey; when you went out into the wilderness you tended to discover that while the “abominations” might sometimes have interests that were inimical to yours, they were sometimes nicer people than the adventurers… Definite anti-hero territory.( Review the film, already! )
Watching this movie reminded me a bit of my reaction to Sky Captain And The World Of Tomorrow, five years ago. I’ve just seen a movie that is OK, rather than great, but I hope and expect that I’ve seen the future of genre movie making.
What should you not go for? Well, despite the fact that it runs for closer to three hours than two, don’t go for the plot. There’s nothing wrong with it, but it’s pretty straightforward. Despite the fact the film-makers apparently put a lot of effort into concocting a language for them, don’t go for a daringly-imagined alien culture. The Na’vi are quite human-like, both visually and behaviourally. Perhaps this is inevitable, since we have to sympathise with them, but I still felt a little disappointed. Don’t go for an incisive allegorical critique of modern culture; it’s eco-friendly and there are a few sledge-hammer references to the war on terror that might have been better left implicit. Don’t go for challenging sci-fi concepts – this is short-story-stuff, not door-step novel. And don’t go expecting real science or hard sci-fi at all.
That may sound quite negative, but it’s not really meant to. Although the time and money spent might reasonably raise expectations in any of these areas, none of them is completely indispensable in an enjoyable movie.
So what should you go for? It’s a decent action movie; but the main thing that makes it worth seeing is simply the spectacle. Go to see this if you like dramatic sci-fi or fantasy art and want to see it come alive, in a way that isn’t cartoony. The alien setting is both believable and gorgeous, and it’s on screen for most of the movie. In 3D, it’s more immersive; not quite “as though you were really there”, but enough to make a difference.
The wildlife is intriguing, though clearly earth derived. The most obvious are the “horses”, but there are also “dogs”, “rhinos” and some sort of “big cat”. Don’t take those descriptions too literally. The beasts are well imagined and tend to have six legs rather than four (I wonder what proportion of the audience thinks “Barsoom” on noticing that?), but the parallels are not hard to spot. Also watch out for the pterodactyls.
The vegetation is very much part of the spectacle, though perhaps pushed a little far in one particular area: the hometree is a bit excessive. The floating mountains, though pretty, also strain credibility a little; and some of the rock arches seem a little too geometrically perfect. One minor – or maybe not so minor – triumph is the inclusion, almost as a background detail, of believable mech-armour from early in the movie. There’s a lot of good, detailed naturalistic CGI work all round. I hope the film makes its money, because it’s obvious this is where it went, and I would like to see more.
Speaking of which, assuming the film does turn out to be profitable, there are fairly definite plans for a sequel and a more tentative idea for a third. These would presumably be a bit cheaper, as a lot of the data for the world has now already been created. I hope they spend a bit more time on plotting for those ones, as spectacle alone won’t get us through another two. It's not necessarily more of this setting I want see, just more of this sort of visual imagination (or more!).
On a note not solely related to the film, this is the first movie I’ve seen entirely in 3D, the recent Harry Potter movies being only partially in 3D, and it was pleasing that I was able to do so in the NPH. I don’t know a huge amount about the rival 3D technologies, but for those who may be interested, according to the labelling on the glasses the NPH is using RealD. It was pretty effective, but I managed to figure out one of the things that bothers me a little about 3D.
In a run-of-the-mill 2D movie, we accept without much question the director’s choice of what will be in or out of focus. Perhaps it’s a sign of how successful the 3D effect really is that when something isn’t in focus in a 3D movie, it bothers me that I can’t bring it into focus myself…
A couple of photos from earlier yesterday evening, walking along South Street in St. Andrews around 5 o’clock, just as it was getting dark. They’re not the world’s most technically accomplished photos – this is me, after all – but I like what they show, and hopefully my incompetence doesn’t mess it up too much: