Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Ubuntu and Amazon search

So Ubuntu is getting the ability to search Amazon direct from the home lens. From the reactions I am seeing online you'd think they'd advocating kicking puppies or stealing children's allowance!

Frankly I am really happy to see a Linux distribution innovate and develop their own way of doing things, the thing I'm seeing all over sites is that it's adware. I feel like these people have missed the point, that this is only the first step towards a web enabled desktop, I have no doubt that there will be Facebook, Twitter and maybe even Google results aggregated into your desktop.

Imagine a desktop that didn't require a browser because the search engine is built into system. The web browser itself would become little more than a web viewer, because the desktop and web blend seamlessly into one product. Wasn't that the dream way back when? You know, before Microsoft decided that they didn't want a platform to compete with Windows?

I've said it before in a previous article that I believe the future of desktops will be search focused instead of the more traditional WIMP paradigm. The fact that Canonical are moving to have web results along with local results will be the logical conclusion to a desktop that uses searching to get around.

I will admit to some scepticism about how integrated it will be at first, it's for that reason I tend to only use LTS releases, but I can see the use, I'll probably wait til the next LTS though, just to wait for it to get some extra love and attention (and the other cool features that will no doubt make their way through the pipe line).

So anyway there's some concerns about this and Mark Shuttleworth has addressed most of them. I wont bother to re-hash the issues and answers, but he does have a point, if you don't want experimental new features don't use anything other than the LTS releases. This is what the LTS releases are for!

Really though, it sounds like a cool feature and I congratulate Canonical for continuing to innovate and refresh the desktop. It's hard to remember when I last got really excited about technology.

Even if I don't use it full time I'll at least give 12.10 a good go and I'm sure I'll like it.

Friday, 17 August 2012

My impression of Windows 8

I was always told that If you have nothing good to say, don't say anything at all.
The end.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Why Ubuntu 12.04 is the best desktop experience the free software community has to offer.

Unity, love it or hate it, it's here to stay. I recently gave it a try and had to just stick with it and in this following blog post, I'm going to argue why Ubuntu 12.04 is the best desktop experience that the floss community has to offer!

So what's so significant about it? Well it's not just about flashy graphics, this release is a long term support release, this means that 12.04 is supported longer than the usual 18 months and not just any LTS release, this LTS release is supported for 5 years.

Let's let that sink in a little bit, 5 years, that's a lot of faith in a product. One that comes with an interface that, let's face it has had a lot of bad press over this last year and that's something to bear in mind, it's only been a year!

What really makes Ubuntu 12.04 stand out is how very different it feels to the usual Gnome/KDE/XFCE interfaces. Now each interface appeals to a certain user, this is why such choice exists in our community, but Ubuntu is positioning itself as a direct competitor to Windows and Mac in the desktop space, both of which have been revolutionizing their interpretation of the next generation of graphical interfaces.

This is the important thing to take note of, Unity is a next generation interfaces. With the recent exception of Windows 8, the Microsoft operating system has largely had the same basic interface since 1995, seventeen years of the same graphical interface metaphor.

Which is all a graphical interface is, a metaphor for a desktop.

Desks with their files, folders and staplers etc.

Since starting a career in computing most of that "desk work" is done on my digital desktop and while one could agree the metaphor of files and folders is still useful and helps visualise an electronic based task by using familiar real world concepts, the whole thing starts to break down when you need to stitch two PDF files together.

The point is that in the early days a graphical interface imitated the real world. That way new users would have common conceptual reference points, however with computers so ubiquitous in our day to day lives the metaphor doesn't seem quite as useful as it once was.

This is were Canonical have it right, we should start fresh, study how users use their computers these days and develop an interface based around how we interact with the digital. To that end they have done some user testing (here, here and here) and used that as a means to develop and improve their home grown Unity interface.

Here's where I really commend them, they developed a vision and were uncompromising in their realization of that vision. Sometimes you just gotta knuckle down and take a few beatings for sticking with your visions. Apple have been deciding what they think is the right interface for years now and it's worked for them to the point of being viewed as a leader in the Interface world. So if following an unorthodox (at least in the open source world) methodology will ultimately result in a great open source user interface then I certainly have no problem with them adopting a more rigid development method. I also take care to remember that I have not paid a since penny on this OS and that I am not entitled to anything except what I am given.

Anyway lets look at Unity.

If you have not used Unity before it's a bit different, one can see where the various inspirations came from, it has a menubar at the top of the screen (a la mac), a dock/launcher to the left of the screen, which is the go to location for application management and a rather good looking overlay which allows you to search, run and manage your installed applications and documents.

Here's how my desktop currently looks:

Immediately visible along the left of the screen is a dock type application, there's arrows which indicate which applications are open, an arrow on the left of the icon indicates the application is open, an icon on the right indicates that the application is focused.

These are tiny little additions that contribute to a fantastic user interface.

The overlay thing.
You can see several things here, in the top left you have the window controls, in all full screen applications the window controls are always located there. At the bottom there are five icons, these are known as lenses they one to filter results, additionally there's a means to further refine your search results.

Now, you might be forgiven for thinking that it's not vastly different from say, the LaunchPad feature of OSX, but more functional.

Not a lot of difference is there?

Another big feature is the HUD, a means to perform actions that are in the menu but instead of having to click through the menus, it enables one to search the menu by just typing, like so.

As I'm sure you can see this is something of a break in the desktop metaphor, it seems to be driven towards the concept of text input. For years I have been seeing various users using various bits of software for quick launching things based on entering a search string.

Even care has gone into the preference settings, it's a fantastically complete solution, which again allows you to search inside the preferences.

It's not just the graphics though, Ubuntu 12.04 comes with it's own cloud based file sync application (Ubuntu One) that's also available on your phone so you can use Canonical's offering over all your devices.

Finally the variety of free and paid for applications available in the Ubuntu Software Store is fantastic, I was expecting almost no paid for applications, but almost every search produced some premium results, which was encouraging.

This is stuff both Windows and Mac are pushing hard towards and why should we do something different simply because it's what someone else is doing, arguing that one shouldn't do something similar that's popular sounds very much like not invented here to me.
 A gret 'feature' is that the interface in all it's advanced graphical glory, can be operated entirely without the mouse, something that a short cut junkie can really appreciate, but by the same token one can still do everything using the mouse, should they choose to.

What it boils down to is the fact that Ubuntu isn't just about the interface (which is frankly stunning) it's a complete end to end solution, with an apps store, cloud integration and excellent preferences management all wrapped in a simple yet powerful next generation graphical interface.

And it's only going to get better.

EDIT: I also forgot to mention that there's also a back up and restore method that allows you to perform incremental backups, this is in the style of Apple TimeMachine and again it's integrated into a central preferences application.

There's also the Ubuntu font face, now, I don't think creating one's own type face was strictly necessary, but it looks very good and does create a unique brand, much like Mac had Monaco for years as the default font. There's merit to it, and the mono space variant is great for programming in Vim!

All these little things add up to create a very polished, functional unique branded desktop experience.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Confessions of a Vim geek

Ok, so I tried to stay out of the editor wars, I went so far as to write my own text editor! I was sure I'd never have to touch vi beyond that damn annoying visudo command and in University I had a really bad experience experience with Emacs, and I haven't touched it again since. I saw no need to look into either text editor.

However I started a new job back in March and had to use a 'real' text editor so it was either Emacs or vi.

When the flashbacks were over and I'd stopped twitching, I looked at Vim as my editor of choice, I wont use Emacs if I can avoid it. Period!

It was rather overwhelming at first, I resented the fact I had to use an editor that were so old, ugly looking and confusing.

As I begun to use it in my daily work, I thought I was experiencing Stockholm syndrome or something because I quickly began to notice a change, it was small things at first, I instantly went to "esc:w" to save documents in Word and in Firefox I hit "/" to google anything, it was like a perverted digital infection that was getting inside my head.I found myself doing things the Vim way, almost naturally.

It came to a turning point when I needed to remove the Windows end of line character on a Linux machine (when the hell will we have this fixed?), I can't remember the specifics, it was in the days before I believed, as many of you do, before my eyes were opened.

It was insane, but it was a varient on the ":%s/\^M//gc" or something like that, it was like magic, dark, secret, arcane magic and it was mine.

The power of Vim comes from it's complext command system, oh that and scripts...

Scripts are the beginning of the downward spiral for me, give me infinate ways to customize something and I will be unable to make it perfect, close to, but not absolutely perfect, but this is where I reveal my perfectionist nature. There is a script for basically anything one might want to do, you can download them all from here. Some work well, others don't, your millage will vary.

It's definately not a friendly text editor, I'm still learning the basics, the hjkl navigation thing is the hard thing to keep my hands in the right place. Twenty odd years of muscle memory of using the arrow keys or wasd will make a transition hard, but ultimately worth it. There is a certain amount of determination and work that has to go into learning Vi(m), like any skill you get back what you put in. I don't know that I would have taken to it so quickly, had I not had someone in the office on hand to help me learn Vim.

There was certinly a lot of customizing work I had to do to the editor to get myself comfortable with it. It was like getting a new chair and having to work that you sized groove into it, I'm still working the groove in because there's some scripts I installed and need to remove and likewise I've found some nice themes, but I will need to adjust them a bit, but it'll get there.

If you haven't used Vim before it's worth giving it a shot if you have need of a text editor, however the text editor is an unusual piece of software largely relegated to hardcore programmers, however I would argue that this recent trend for distraction free writing environments could do worse than use Vim as a base.

All in all my journey so far has been fun and I am still learning and truthfully I wish I'd learned it earlier.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Gnome 3

So this post is later than I wanted and has changed a lot from what I intended to write about. It's also largely opinion and speculation based on what I have seen from kicking around the floss world. I make no claims of accuracy or authority, just humble observation and conclusion.

Originally I was going to discuss XFCE and Gtk+3, but the linux news world seems to have gotten a bit excited about a blog post about the impending death of Gnome 3.

To be honest I think rumours of its death are greatly exaggerated. I remember the KDE 4 thing, now I am not a KDE lover by any degree, but I got the memo that 4.0 was not to be considered stable. So I don't understand why users flocked away from KDE as a brand, I totally get distributions bundling unstable code though, but plenty of distributions did stick with KDE3 for quite some time.

I bring this up because I remember similar stories about how KDE wouldn't recover and its fading into insignificance, but its still here and even though I personally don't like it, it does look like the best KDE yet.

I believe Gnome as a piece of software will weather this storm, its free software with a lot of external investment into its technologies and platform. It's unlikely to be going anywhere soon and even if its parent foundation goes away there are other companies and projects that depend on Gnome in whole or in part that someone, somewhere will adopt it again.

Off the top of my head I can think of xfce, cinnamon, unity etc which all depend on all or in part on Gnome and or its underlying technologies, I don't believe for a second that even if the Gnome foundation was to go under some other foundation wouldn't form and take over or that it would get passed to an existing foundation.

Take LiberOffice vs OpenOffice for example, even though LiberOffice seems to be the more dominent suite these days, old OpenOffice is still kicking around. Gnome replaced Pidgin with Empathy, yet Pidgin is still used by some users. Those who want Gnome to survive will ensure Gnome will survive, in some form or another.

There are plenty of examples of other open source projects that have survived despite the belief that they are not long for this world, however evidence of other projects surviving is not assurance that Gnome will, but I would doubt Gnome disappearing anytime soon.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Ubuntu App Showdown 4

So, five day's of development time left am really feeling the pressure, I have had to defer some features for the time being. I'd like to implement some more, but I have to judge carefully how long it will take to get them done and I just don't think I will manage it.

What I want to get done is Undo and Redo, I wish the Gtk text buffers had the can_undo(), undo(), can_redo() and redo() functions, I know GtkSourceViews have them, but I don't see that text buffers have them. I have all day Friday to get something workable, after that I shall just have to disable the buttons and submit as is.

Working full time and doing a lot of travelling these past couple of weeks has left me very limited time to get done what I want to, but I know I have pushed myself to get done what I have managed to do thus far, so whatever happens I am happy with what I have done.

Since I have been really busy with actually coding, I have not shown a single screenshot since my mock ups. So with nothing more ado, here is the state of LiberEdit as it stands, with the exception of undo/redo, everything works! I hope it's not just me, but I think it looks really nice. Obviously with the way that Ubuntu has the global menu it's not shown in this screen shot but there is a menu bar.

I should probably aim to have most things done by Friday evening as I have a busy weekend, I need to set up the PPA so that the app can be installed but it's getting late and I have been running on lack of sleep for some time now.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Ubuntu app showdown 3

So I have installed the Android blogger client onto my phone to see if blogging on the go is easy enough, so please forgive typos or other horrific mistakes.

So its the end of week 2 of the Ubuntu App showdown and my project is almost finished, I have identified 5 things that would be awesome to have finished, that's not to say it is perfect but it is usable.

My one concern is that I will not have had many testers, so I can't say how well it performs with its intended audience despite my efforts to make it as easy to use as possible.
The following 6 features are much for my reference as they are a news update for readers.
1) Implement a nice easy way to add files to a project.
2) Have a file unsaved notification on each tab so the user can see at a glance that files need saving.
3) Create a warning dialog when closing the application if there are unsaved files.
4) Have the application remember which files were open the last time the application was closed and reopen them.
5) Have a standard example project open up with a welcome screen on first run.
6) Only allow one instance of a file open at a time, this is to prevent files clobbering each other.
As you can see these are really quite minor at this point and should take no time at all.
If I get these features done in time I shall even begin working on a bona fide user manual as a bonus and hopefully my friend will have an application logo ready to go by Wednesday.
Good luck to all the others involved in the project!

Saturday, 30 June 2012

Will the real Neil Munro please stand up?

Dear Internet, most importantly America.

I am not American, I am not a reporter and I do not live in Washington DC. I understand that there is a lot of talk about my namesake at the moment, but please do some homework before blasting a tweet my way. It took me all of twenty seconds to find who I presume is the intended recipient.

This is what I was greeted to when I went to tweet about my Ubuntu App Showdown project. I have been told I should sue for libel, tempting though that is, I have decided to not actually be an 'asshole', and simply accept an apology from the offending posters instead.

That is all.

Friday, 29 June 2012

My major reason for starting a blog

Hi folks, I hinted in my first blog that I would like to do more technology stuff and I finally have a means to start. I should explain, this morning I read a blog over on darkduck's blog, it appears to be a guest post, however it angered me in such a way I just felt I had to make some sort of response.

||| Link to original post

Why Can’t Linux Crack The Desktop?

Many computer geeks have always held Linux in high regard. 

What about all the non-geeks that use it? Ken Stark's and the Helios Project is dedicated to getting computers into the hands of kids who need them for school, these machines run Linux, from what I understand these kids cope fine and are not geeks, just regular kids. 

What about your Android phone? That's Linux, I have friends that loved the Android phones that don't know the difference between grep and sed and that's ok, on Android you don't need to, but it is still Linux.

They endlessly talk about its stability and security features. 

Do I? I am one of these such Linux wielding 'geeks' and I can't remember the last time I really spoke to anyone about Linux security who didn't first ask. I do remember boring the legs off people about the last movie I saw or the last album I bought (yes, I really should have had that one long before now). 

For many years people talked about how Linux may eventually take over in the future, but the OS is yet to take off as the leading operating systems. 

I'm sorry is this the future yet? So Linux isn't the default operating system on most consumer bought PC's, but again Android, Watson or indeed most Super Computers run Linux in some form or another. I would suggest that it's leading in the mobile market, AI research and high performance computer. It hasn't made it onto your PC but it's still all over the place it various forms.

There has been a lot of debate as to why this OS has never really taken off. There are many things that programmers, computer experts, users and geeks in general have failed to agree on. However, there are a number of things that have affected its success.

Personally I think the deal IBM made with Microsoft to supply a cheap OS on their personal computers back in the '81 and the subsequent 10 years of sales before Linux was first created might have something to do with it... 


There are many versions of Linux from UbuntuFedora and many others.

So? There's at least nine version's of Windows 7 listed on wikipedia.

All these versions have a different system as well as configuration. 

Care to back this up with any proof? Windows 7 has a vastly different security model than Windows XP, with a very different configuration, change happens, it's the cost of progress.

This doesn’t seem to be a problem to many computer geeks, but it is clearly a problem with many users. Users prefer using a system that is predictable. 

Ok, so you just complained about 'geeks' talking about the stability and security of Linux and now say it's unpredictable, these seems almost mutually exclusive, which is it? 

They don’t want to spend a lot of time reconfiguring the computer just because there were changes with the OS they were using. Even though Linux is free, this problem may be an extra expense to the organization due to investments in expertise.

Again see above, every time we get a new PC at work we have to configure a crap load of environmental variables and now have to re-write lots of internal software to work around the change in the user model in Windows 7.

This paragraph was titled 'Standards' yet I heard nothing about any form of standard... How about something as fundamental as Line endings, Windows is the ONLY mainstream OS that handles Line Ending's differently and UNIX pre-dates Windows. How about Open Documnt Standards? Or even it's standard API?


Linux has always been poor when it comes to usability. 

*sigh* Proof?

Even though the Graphic User Interface has improved over the years, it still has a long way to go for the ordinary user to feel totally at ease when using this system. 

What exactly is wrong with the interface? I mean there's plenty of choices, did you try others, were you aware you had a choice? Are you also aware that there is not such thing as an 'ordinary user'?

Currently, one of its biggest is the software it offers as an alternative to popular windows and other commercial software.

Biggest what? Usability issue? Software issue?

OpenOffice does not have as many features as MS Office. 

Many features does not a good computer program make, see here. Personally despite being around for 5 years now, I STILL hate the ribbon 'feature', anyone still lamenting the loss of this feature?

GIMP which is open source and free, is still not good enough to replace Photoshop, which is quite expensive in the market.

Well, it IS free, you want PhotoShop then buy photoshop and run it in a Virtual Machine. Can't afford photoshop? Then use the GIMP, it's simple really. The article is also a brief list of possible alternatives not a user study of why the GIMP is worse than photoshop.

You can still use these tools on a Linux machine but you need to install an emulator which doesn’t always work as you would  expect.

I think you will find that Wine Is Not an Emulator...

Training and additional costs:

Because Linux is not easy to use, it is not the best Operating System to introduce a beginner with to computers. 

Ok seriously I am starting to twitch now, where is your proof? In addition that article also doesn't even support your point! My evidence? The last sentence in that linked article: "Windows is by far the most used operating system, and for many people it works just fine. However, it is not necessarily the best, and you may find that you benefit from going to another operating system."

The Windows OS is more user friendly and easier to manage. 

For who? The mythic 'ordinary user'? My dad repeated asked me for months how things worked in Win 7 because it was such a paradigm shift from XP. Can't be that easy if users couldn't easily manage an OS upgrade.

If you are to migrate to Linux, then you need to train your employees because they probably have never used a Linux system before. 

Depends on what you classify as a Linux system, if they had an Android phone then yes, they have.

Depending on the size of the organization the additional costs of training, may exceed the amount saved by using Linux. If an organization is trying to adopt the Linux OS to be used by its employees, then they need to try and weigh the options to see if it really is a cost cutting measure.

Ah total cost of ownership that old gold nugget I searched Google briefly for some examples and got 771,000 results with no conclusive proof that Windows is any cheaper than Linux in the long run. Sure Linux requires re-training, then Windows requires anti-virus solutions and Linux requires X and Windows wants Y, it goes on forever. If there was an answer then the discussion would be long over.

It's articles such as this that make me feel like that tech news articles are being reduced to people stating their opinion around as established fact. If you make a claim, back it up with evidence, were you never taught to cite references or evidence?

Anyway I shall get back to working on LiberEdit for the Ubuntu App Showdown now.

Thanks for reading, though I wonder how many will continue to after this...


Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Ubuntu App Showdown 2

Ok folks it's been a while since I last posted, or at least it feels like a while, work, gym then more work tends to cause the days to blur together. How has this blog already had over 750 views? The internet has indeed changed since the days everyone used... was it called LiveJournal? I think it was. It's been a long time since I blogged properly and with code on the mind please forgive a moment of technological forgetfulness.

Anyway, so I have been working on LiberEdit non-stop since my last post. Most of the rudimentary elements are present, you can create a new project, import an existing project, export a project and delete a project. Now I have some minor user interface fixes I want to do before dedicating the rest of the available time to working on the editing system. I was to get the design just so because I expect to be maintaining it after the competition and I don't want to have to re-write massive chunks of the project just because I cut corners.

The part I expected to be the hardest was the treeview, however that is done and dusted now, so that was a pleasant surprise! The only thing left to do on that is in fact part of the edit system, that is to say when you click on a file in the tree view it opens the file for editing. In the same graphical area, I have put the treeview itself into a notebook with the project tree in one page and the selected project table of contents in the second page, this I imagine will be another area of work I will start tonight. This is when the real work starts, most of what I have been doing has been small bite-sized tasks, but parsing the xml file and generating a table of contents while not difficult is something I have not done in some time, so with any luck it will be obvious, if not, well I will set aside a non-gym night or even a Sunday afternoon to tackle that one.

Implemented in the project creation aspect of the code, is a template system. I figured instead of writing new code every time a new standard or file format comes out, simple provide basic templates that the user can select from (or even add to!) and copy the template under the new project name and thus we have a new project and all anyone need to is write the smallest possible template and the code doesn't need to be altered.

The agenda for tonight is:

1) A confirmation dialog for project deletion. Easy, 10 min.
2) A reliable way to close notebook tabs (I know there's a good way to do it, I even remember implementing it in C once and can't for the life of me remember how it was done).
3) Check that when a project is deleted the project and all it's files are removed from the project tree. I am pretty sure this is how it behaves but I don't want to miss that.
4) Create a complete blank epub2 template, another small task.

This means most of the rest of the night will be spent ensuring that the note book tabs close the correct tab and all that jazz, it's a problem that has a defined solution I just need to find it!

So all in all it's coming along nicely and with a lot better direction and drive than I was expecting. The whole thing has slotted together in my brain nice and neatly prior to any work having begun, but then again, on my lunch break at work I tend to visualize what I need to do next and how I need to do it. Otherwise I doubt I would really be getting very far at all!

So, thanks for reading, I shall post again soon.


Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Ubuntu App Showdown 1

Ok so last night I got a chance to talk with my friends about the specifics of the application and how it should work, I have digested the basic construction of an epub file and I have been fighting with Quickly.

Quickly is the suggested application development framework for use in the project, it's by no means mandatory, but it makes packaging up the code a hell of a lot easier once you do get round to that. Having got a backlogged autotools clear up to do another another project I am in no hurry to dive into another build system.

Anyway, today I shall be importing and exporting existing epub books and hopefully creating a epub project creation wizard, with that I can easily create the open project code too. This is all easy do do code that builds the basic user interaction with the software. I am tackling this first so I can have all the basic actions done and out the way so I can focus on the harder elements such as managing and switching between projects. I have previously left things such as this til the last moment and had to rush around at three in the morning to have basic's done, so I dont' want that to happen again, my attitude on this project is that if the complicated bits are not done, then it's not done. 

My big concern is the HTML editor/viewer that would be a part of the finished application and having something useful done within the time limits of the competition, however I am keeping positive and working away as quick as I can. 

And with that I shall leave you with some screenshots! These were thrown together on a non-ubuntu system as you can see, but it should give you enough of an idea until I can get something functional and pretty on my ubuntu system.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Ubuntu App Showdown 0

As some of you may know Canonical has a competition starting tomorrow to develop from scratch a new application for Ubuntu Linux, first prize is a System 76 laptop and a phone, second prize is more or less the same but with a slightly lower spec laptop and third prize is a phone, however all entries get a free Ubuntu t-shirt.

So my friend is on a publishing course and has to work a lot with the epub file format and wanted a much easier to use bit of software, so one time in a pub a promised to write it for him, and this has given me the excuse I need to really sit down and have a bit of a hack-a-thon.

In the interest of fairness I informed him about the competition and since I have just bought a brand new laptop and got it just so I decided to let him have the laptop should we actually win.

Now you can infer from the fact I mention my friend asked me to write it that he is not a programmer, however, I will be allowing him as much creative control over the user interface as possible (on account of him being the primary user/tester of the application at this time) and since he knows the format of the epub files much better than I do it shall be a collaboration.

Also, I did I mention the free t-shirt just for entering? Cos I would do it for the t-shirt alone.

Anyway this application which is called LiberEdit(from the Latin "Liber" meaning book and "Edito" meaning publish, so I am told), will be to import, edit and export epub books. It will do this graphically and not having to break open the epub files manually, everything from changing the author information to the actual chapter content should be handled inside the application. I have first draft screen shots, but once they have been approved I shall publish them.

All the best to anyone else taking part, enjoy yourselves.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Thoughts On Soylent Green

Having just watched Soylent Green for the very first time I figured I could use this as a means to get started with this blog. I have been meaning to start a blog for some time now, however could never find a suitable starting topic. I originally intended to write about my secret love affair with Vim but felt that starting a flame war over text editors would not be a good idea for a first topic...

So with nothing more ado here is my humble review of Soylent Green.

Now, almost everyone knows the twist by now, for those that do not I shall try to keep this as spoiler free as possible, however since there are numerous references littered throughout pop culture, you may have heard about this before having seen the movie. In fact that is how I first learned of Soylent Green, it's like knowing that Malcolm Crowe is dead after the opening act in the 6th sense, some of the magic is lost.

Charton Heston plays the role of Thorn, a police detective investigating the murder of a high profile individual as the events begin to unfold. The plot is simple, cop investigates murder, cop suspects something greater, cop get's caught up in conspiracy, uncovers a dark secret and tries to expose it. Do not let the deceptively simple formula deter you from watching it, Soylent Green probably helped to define the formula that so many plots employ these days.

The audio quality was fantastic considering it's age, or perhaps that's a testament to some sound engineer working for Warner Brothers converting the film to digital format, either way it was great.

Overall the special effects are impressive for the time, the opening sequence especially had something different about it, the montage of small town USA with huge open space descending into images of massive over population, global food shortages and ecological disaster juxtaposed with a cheery jazzy number left me feeling like despite all the issues the movie addresses it was simply business as usual for the human race.

That's not to say I didn't enjoy the opening, on the contrary I thought it was a rather enjoyable piece of cinema, I just am not sure if I was feeling what the director intended. I would say I enjoyed the euthanasia scene, were it not for the fact that I would be saying 'I enjoyed the euthanasia scene' there's something almost wrong with a statement like that, even if it does refer to general things such as acting, effects etc. It was a very beautiful and deeply saddening moment on screen, not at least for the fact that it was the last role the actor would play.

For all my praise of Soylent Green it does seem to run longer than it needs to, although I should give it the benefit of the doubt, my DVD player broke half way through and I had to continue watching it the next day after I had bought a new player. If I had to make one criticism though it would be the usual cliché suffering action hero (which in all honesty probably wasn't so cliché back then), by my count at the conclusion the hero had been shot three times, shin, shoulder and abdomen, I just found it just a little hard to believe that the hero might have been able to run in that state. It would, however be a very poor movie if the hero couldn't overcome his wounds and unravel the conspiracy.

In conclusion it's a landmark movie, a must see for anyone seriously into film or just wanting to get the pop culture references. I feel however that it's age and dark subject matter might alienate younger viewers or those of a nervous disposition.

Anyway who would like some crackers?