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Arrival, 2016 - ★★★★ (contains spoilers)

This review may contain spoilers.

This is glorious. I’d give it five stars if it wasn’t for the fact that I don’t think they had to have Hannah die. They could have misdirected us at the start a different way.

Plus, that first few minutes means we start off feeling sad. It’s a serious film, but it doesn’t have to be sad.

Not that there’s anything automatically wrong with sadness (“Happiness for deep people.” — Sally Sparrow). Still, I think effectively fridging a little girl — or not, but that’s how it appears at first — weakens the whole piece.

Great to see a complex problem resolved with communication and compromise though.

And! Sequel, please: I want to see what the heptapods need from humanity on 3000 years.

See in Letterboxd

My Contributions to Nikola

A few months ago I wrote that I had switched the way my blog was handled. Not just the blog, the entire site, of which the blog has always been only a part. From being a WordPress blog, with a simple static front page, I moved to the whole site being statically generated: written in Markdown and converted into HTML using a tool called Nikola.

One of my reasons for doing that was to have control over the tools I use. If I chose one that was written in a language that I know, namely Python, then at the same time as changing my tools, I would have the chance to improve my knowledge of the language.

As you might expect, then, I’ve made some contributions to the Nikola project. First I fixed a few minor bugs. And now I’ve created both a new theme and a new plugin.

Blogging Inspirations

There are a couple of styles of blogging that have inspired both elements of my own networked writing, and the things I’ve contributed. Those are:

  • The ‘link posts’ used by John Gruber of Daring Fireball (and others, but I feel Gruber popularised them). In these, the post title becomes the link to the item the blogger is writing about. The blog post’s own permalink is also present, but indicated by another element, such as the timestamp. On daring fireball it’s the star after the title.
  • Titleless microblog posts, as popularised by Dave Winer at Scripting News. Again, lots of other people do these too — not least many on — but Winer was an early and is a continuing advocate.

I wanted to be able to use both of these techniques myself, and with only a small fix and some tweaks to template files, I could. But I also wanted to make them first-class citizens of my site, and to make them easily accessible for anyone else who use Nikola. So a theme that handled them well, and a plugin to ease their creation (well, creation of titleless posts) seemed like the way to go.

The GruberWine Theme

Given the inspirations, I named my theme ‘GruberWine’. It’s available in the Nikola theme repository. The details are here. It’s based visually on another theme, called zen-jinja, but I made a lot of changes to the CSS.

The Nikola Micro Plugin

Nikola provides a command-line tool for creating posts: nikola new_post. But that makes you enter a title. You can tweak things afterwards to remove the title, but if you know up front that your post won’t have one, you can now use my ‘Micro’ plugin, by running nikola micro. The details are here in the plugin repository.

Robin Rendle’s ‘An Astronomical Clunk‘ is a great celebration of what the web is, and can be.

It’s these moments when the web holds up to its original promise; the web standards, the infrastructure, the open web. With eyes wide open I watch as this beige suite of specifications link together until they’re like constellations out of stars in the sky. It all begin to makes sense. But it’s not just the technologies that fit together in these moments, it’s the skills, too. When I’m excited about design, and writing, and coding all at the same time, and when each of them can be seen as the same thing, just from different angles.

I played Dungeons and Dragons for the first time last night, with the family. My grown-up son plays, and he was our DM. It was more fun than I expected, but it takes a lot of work to set up. Mostly by my son, of course.

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark (Books 2020, 21)

This short novel feels surprisingly modern. Indeed, maybe it’s modernist. It was written in the fifties, and is set in the thirties. The modern part is mainly the way it plays with time. Starting at a point and then flashing back is simple enough, but then we get various flashforwards and explanations of what’s going to happen to the various characters. It’s all very elegantly done, with the changes smoothly integrated, so they don’t feel like jumps at all.

Jean Brodie is a teacher, and kind of an educational reformer, in that she thinks her students should be taught a broad array of things, and should learn about the world, rather than just follow a narrow, fixed curriculum. She would never “teach to the test” — which phrase is never used, but Brodie would be strongly against that modern malaise.

But she very much plays favourites. Her “set” get all her attention (outside of school as well as in it), and all the other pupils — those who have no chance of becoming “la crème de la crème” — are ignored. She is, ultimately, exceedingly self-centred.

Notoriously, she also has exceedingly dogy — or maybe just deeply naive — political views. Here is Sandy, the main viewpoint character, when Brodie has shown the class a picture of Mussolini and his fascisti:

They were dark as anything and all marching in the straightest of files, with their hands raised at the same angle, while Mussolini stood on a platform like a gym teacher or a Guides mistress and watched them. Mussolini had put an end to unemployment with his fascisti and there was no litter in the streets. It occurred to Sandy, there at the end of the Middle Meadow Walk, that the Brodie set was Miss Brodie’s fascisti, not to the naked eye, marching along, but all knit together for her need and in another way, marching along. That was all right, but it seemed, too, that Miss Brodie’s disapproval of the Girl Guides had jealousy in it, there was an inconsistency, a fault. Perhaps the Guides were too much a rival fascisti, and Miss Brodie could not bear it.

It gets worse, though, when she:

was going abroad, not to Italy this year but to Germany, where Hitler was become Chancellor, a prophet-figure like Thomas Carlyle, and more reliable than Mussolini; the German brownshirts, she said, were exactly the same as the Italian black, only more reliable.

She sees the error of her ways, though, after a fashion:

After the war Miss Brodie admitted to Sandy, as they sat in the Braid Hills Hotel, “Hitler was rather naughty.”

She has some more positive views, though:

We of Edinburgh owe a lot to the French. We are Europeans.”


But my favourite quotes involve religion:

The Lloyds were Catholics and so were made to have a lot of children by force.

And getting back to those Fascisti:

By now she had entered the Catholic Church, in whose ranks she had found quite a number of Fascists much less agreeable than Miss Brodie.

It’s a sad story, in the end. Worth reading, though.

Ad Subtract

Amused by Dave Winer’s comment: “can’t stand podcasts with advertising.” I’m far from a lover of advertising, but podcast advertising is, to me the best kind. Or the least-bad kind, anyway. I use Linode, and TextExpander, and 1Password, and Hover… all because I first heard about them on podcasts (and/or because I got discounts on them from podcast ads).

But maybe that’s a particular kind of podcast, or a particular kind of ad. They tend to be independents or small companies like Relay FM; ads that are read by the presenter, in their own voice — sometimes, though not always, in their own words. (Sometimes not their words, but weirded up.)

Dave goes on to say:

What’s even worse is podcasts with advertising with the proceeds going to charity. WTF goes through their minds. Why do they even bother.

Not sure what he’s talking about there.

What I don’t like is adverts that are injected separately from the body of the podcast. Another voice cuts in (or precedes, or concludes), talking about something irrelevant. Those ones are comparable with TV advertising, and I always skip them.