Hope You Like Our New Direction

Well, it had to happen sometime.  After many years (many!), the ol’ blog design is getting updated.  My thanks to the Ocadia template (by Beccary) for its many years of steadfast service.

For now I’m just using an out-of-the-box template, but I’ll be making changes in the (hopefully near-) future as time permits.  Please pardon any funky in the meantime.  And who knows…I may actually start blogging for real again.  Hey, it could happen.

Meanwhile, The Sprocket Society has a new 3-month series of Sci-Fi Saturday Secret Matinees starting up in January at the Grand Illusion (every Sat. at 2:00 PM, Jan. 7 – Mar. 24, 2012)…so check that out, why doncha.  Every week, you’ll get a thrilling cliffhanger episode of the original Buck Rogers serial (1939), paired with a secret classic sci-fi feature film — favorites, rarities, and cult classics from 1919-1974.

Over-n-out fer now…

New Browser Windows = Very, Very Bad. Really.

As a professional web developer, it’s shocking to me how many clients (usually but not always marketing droids) still insist that any and all links pointing off-site — or even to other sections of a large site — must open in a new window. More shocking is how many of them actually think it’s a great idea that benefits both them and the user. Nearly 13 years after the advent of HTML frames made opening new windows from a link all too easy, and after fully a decade of ongoing pleas and indoctrination from usability and accessibility gurus, I can’t believe how frequently I have to re-fight this battle and educate misguided clients on the folly of this “strategy.”

For typical users, gratuitous new windows are only slightly less annoying than sites and pages that forcibly resize your browser window. If I wanted a new damn window, I’d have used “open in new tab” or “open in a new window” my own damn self! I know how to use a back button, and I know how to use bookmarks. Forcing new windows on your visitors is amateur hour. It’s arrogant, it’s insulting, and it’s very 1997.

It’s much worse for users relying on assistive technologies, including (but not limited to) screen readers, for whom new windows and pop-ups can severely hamper the ability to navigate your oh-so-self-important site.

Now, what do you do when you encounter a painful stimulus? You avoid it, of course, and probably quietly curse whoever caused your pointless pain. At that moment, your site becomes associated with annoyance. Is that really what you want? I’m guessing not.

In my considered judgment, new windows (or pop-ups if you absolutely must) are only justified — even advisable — when linking to digital media: PDFs, MS Word or RTF files, video, audio, and the like. Other than that, forget it. Don’t insult — or cripple — your users.

Following below, for future reference, are a number of the hundreds of specifications, studies, and articles which hammer home the point.

Do not open new windows – a dire user experience

Rebuts the main reasons people think they need to open new windows, and explains why it is such a terrible idea. (With supporting links from accessibility and usability experts…as early as 1999.)

“Opening new windows creates frustration, anger and leads to users leaving your site and ultimately a loss of business.”

“…Breaking news: users know how to use the back button. …[U]sers are not stupid.”

“There are solid business and technical reasons for not opening new windows. There is little or nothing in the way of an argument in favor of them.”

W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 1.0

Checkpoint 10.1: “Until user agents allow users to turn off spawned windows, do not cause pop-ups or other windows to appear and do not change the current window without informing the user.”

WCAG 2.0 – Success Criterion 3.2.5: Change on Request: Changes of context are initiated only by user request or [if] a mechanism is available to turn off such changes. (Level AAA)

WCAG 2.0 – F22: Failure of Success Criterion 3.2.5 due to opening windows that are not requested by the user

“Beware of opening links in a new window”

“Dive Into Accessibility: 30 days to a more accessible web site. Day 16: Not opening new windows.”

“Avoid forcing to open in a new window”

“Radical changes of focus in a GUI environment are extremely disorienting to blind users who are navigating by screen reader, and thus can be considered discrimination against the visually impaired.”

“Links to New Windows, Pop-ups, Other Frames, or External Web Sites”

Halloween Spook Show at the Grand Illusion

Tomorrow night!  Friday, October 30, 2009 at 8:00 PM — one show only!

The Sprocket Society proudly presents
The Grand Illusion Halloween Spook Show!

Featuring: Movies! A real live seance!  Monsters run amuck! And your host, The Swami!

At the Grand Illusion Cinema, 1403 NE 50th Street (at University Way)
Part of the 2009 All Monsters Attack! series

(Preview trailer by Marc Palm)

Northwest Film Forum Needs Your Help

Northwest Film Forum [logo]The Northwest Film Forum, Seattle’s leading cinematheque, today sent out an urgent fundraising request.

All they’re asking for is a $10 donation (the price of one movie ticket or a six-pack of decent beer) — though of course if you’re so inclined more than that is totally cool, too.  They need to raise $70,000 by August 15, or make significant cuts to their core programs.

You can use this secure online donation form (there’s an “Other Amount” box at the bottom of the membership options), send in a check via snail mail, or drop by the place personally and hand someone a Hamilton.

In a message sent to 10,000 email subscribers and posted online (here, here, and here), NWFF Executive Director Lyall Bush said that income for the year was down by 30%.  “While we remain scrappy and imaginative in tough spots, this time is different,” he wrote.  “We are looking at real changes…”

The programs that Bush said could be “put on hold, shelved, or stopped altogether” are among their most important ones:

  • classes
  • filmmaker support
  • equipment rental
  • special screenings
  • film series

Readers and friends know that I’m fond of the Northwest Film Forum, which was founded in 1995.  It’s a remarkable and really pretty uniquely robust cinematheque.  In a huge, 8,000 square foot space it’s a combination art house movie theater, film university, post-production facility, rental house, distributor, producer, lending library, creative cauldron, and host for creative house guests.

As a volunteer there for five years or so, I’ve gotten a sense of just how much the Northwest Film Forum offers to the community.  The movie theaters alone are a huge asset to Seattle, but behind the screen there’s a constant flow of filmmakers, collaborators, instructors, students, people of all ages, all working on making and doing stuff.  Meanwhile, there’s working relationships with the other film organizations in town, the city government, numerous embassies and consulates, PBS, colleges and universities, and film institutions around the world.

Just get a load of this:

  • Two fully equipped theaters, both running (and hosting) shows most of the time
  • Constantly hosting screenings with directors and filmmakers
  • Production and funding support for local and regional filmmakers — for everything from shorts to features
  • Distribution support for original shorts and features
  • Film festivals, including the Seattle Children’s Film Festival and Local Sightings, devoted to northwest filmmakers
  • Special series, both bringing in traveling roadshows and producing their own
  • Commissioning and supporting new scores for historic silent films
  • Meeting space
  • Office rentals for local film groups and festivals
  • Really cheap equipment rentals for everything you need to light and shoot video, 16mm, or Super 8 film
  • Digital, 16mm, and Super 8 editing facilities, also incredibly cheap
  • Constant workshops of every description — production, writing, editing, animation, equipment training, digital media training, filmmaking workshops for kids…
  • Member discounts at local labs and rental houses
  • Doing stuff like bringing in director Gus Van Sant to work with local crews
  • A really pretty excellent private lending library of books, scripts, VHS, and film
  • One of the only places left where you can rent actual film projectors — and for cheap
  • A telecine for transferring 16mm or Super 8 film to video
  • Providing a very accommodating film venue and locus for groups like STIFF (Seattle’s True Independent Film Festival), Third Eye Cinema, The Sprocket Society, Three Dollar Bill Cinema, and many others.

Any city in the world would be lucky to have a film arts organization like that, and some do.  But I’m tellin’ ya, it’s really not that many.

I encourage you to please consider taking three minutes and 10 bucks to help support this important Seattle arts institution.

We now return you to the regularly scheduled interweb, already in progress.

Alexandre Alexeieff DVD Forthcoming from Facets

The Animation of Alexeieff - cover of the Facets DVDI’m thrilled to serendipitously learn that July 28 late November, 2009 will see the US release of The Animation of Alexeieff, a new DVD from the good folks at Facets Video in Chicago (who also recently brought us the phenomenal and long-overdue Lawrence Jordan Album four-DVD set).

Update: release of this Facets edition was delayed for four months, for reasons I’ve not been able to learn.  Back in July, Scarecrow Video even had it on their “Coming Next Week” white board…and the following week they listed it as “delayed,” and no one there seemed to know why.  This happened again earlier in November.  At this writing (Nov. 28, 2009), the Facets web site actually lists it as “in stock,” so let’s hope they’re actually shipping, too. I’m also disappointed to see that, now that it’s finally coming out, the single-disc release has a whopping $40 price tag.

This is a North American-market re-release of the stunning (and out-of-print) 2005 French release, Alexeïeff: Le Cinéma Epinglé, issued by Cinédoc in Paris.  It brings together five theatrical shorts and 18 commercials made by Alexandre Alexeieff and his partner Claire Parker, using their remarkable invention, the pinscreen.  Also included are a couple documentaries, notably the excellent workshop film The Pinscreen, made by Norman McLaren when he brought Alexeieff and Parker to the National Film Board of Canada to do master classes and create some new work there.  (That film can also be found in the mammoth but essential DVD box set, Norman McLaren: The Masters Edition.)

One of the NFBC filmmakers inspired by those sessions was Jacques Drouin, who went on to create a number of films using the pinscreen.  His 1976 film, Mindscreen (Le Paysagiste), is also included on this DVD.

Additional enticements and goodies are a photo gallery of Alexeieff’s gorgeous engravings and illustrations, as well as an illustrated booklet.

My discovery of the pending Facets release couldn’t have been timelier — I was just about to convince myself to drop a 100 bucks (!) on a second-hand copy of the original French edition, which had just surfaced on eBay.  Alexeieff and Parker’s films are almost completely unique in film history, and I’ve been a huge fan since I first saw Le Nez as part of a “surrealism in film” program of shorts in Chicago during the late 1980s. Beautiful, otherworldly and, yes, rather surreal.

Needless to say, I recommend this DVD very highly.  (I’ve watched the original French edition, which can be rented from Scarecrow Video here in Seattle.) The only disappointment is that more of their theatrical shorts aren’t represented, and that their masterful prologue to Orson Welles’ The Trial (1962) is also omitted.

Here’s some additional stills to whet your appetite:

A still from Alexeieff and Claire's 'En Passant' (1943)

This still from En Passant (1943) shows the incredible amount of detail possible with the pinscreen, not to mention the breathtaking skill Alexeieff and Parker brought to bear.  Now imagine animating the above image, shifting one metal pin at a time…24 times per second.  Astonishing.

A still from Alexeieff and Claire's 'A Night on Bald Mountain' (1933)

One of the many darkly evocative images from their first pinscreen film, Nuit sur le mont Chauve (Night on Bald Mountain) (1933), set to the composition by Mussorgsky.

A still from Alexeieff and Claire's 'Le Nez' (1963)

From Le Nez (The Nose) (1963), an interpretation of the short story by Gogol. The wavy horizontal pattern is part of the original image and was itself animated during portions of the film.

From the pinscreen prologue to Welles' 'The Trial' (1962)

Alexeieff and Parker’s pinscreen prologue to Orson Welles’ The Trial (1962), above, is not included on the forthcoming Facets DVD, but makes that film even more worth renting that it would be on its own considerable merits.

Silent Movie Mondays Return to the Paramount, June 8-22

The always worthwhile Silent Movie Mondays series returns to the glorious 1920s-era former movie palace The Paramount here in Seattle.  The new series runs every Monday at 7:00 PM from June 8 through June 29, 2009.

As always, the films will be accompanied on the restored Mighty Wurlitzer theater organ by the incomparable Dennis James.  If you’ve never seen a silent film, this is absolutely the way you should start.  Very few cities ever get this kind of authentic experience, and if they do it’s usually one-off screenings or a festival.  Seattle is incredibly lucky to get what amounts to a mini-festival a couple-three times a year.

Of especial note is that admission to the first show in the series is FREE courtesy of longtime series sponsor, Trader Joe’s. Damn, thanks Trader Joe’s!

The entire line-up is excellent, as usual. I highly recommend catching the June 22 show, The Godless Girl (Cecil B. DeMille, 1929), which is great stuff (the heavy Christian moralizing notwithstanding).  I had the privilege of watching Dennis accompany it at the Silent Film Festival in San Francisco a couple years back, and it was possibly the best I’ve ever seen him play.  During the climactic scenes, he dang near brought down the house.  Also very highly recommended is the concluding film on June 29, Seventh Heaven (1927) directed by Frank Borzage.

Here’s the full schedule, with links to details (and in turn to online ticket purchase):

June 8: Flesh and the Devil (Clarence Brown, 1926) — FREE ADMISSION!  Come early for decent seating.
June 15: Romola (Henry King, 1924)
June 22: The Godless Girl (Cecil B. DeMille, 1929)
June 29: Seventh Heaven (Frank Borzage, 1927)

Bush’s Farewell: “I Followed My Conscience.”

Detainee being tortured by US personnel at Abu Ghraib prison, Iraq.

“I have followed my conscience and done what I thought was right.
…This is a nation where citizens show calm in times of danger,
and compassion in the face of suffering.”

– President George W. Bush, Farewell Address, Jan. 15, 2009.

Agonized detainee during a bloody beating by US personnel at Abu Ghraib prison, Iraq.

“We must continue to engage the world with confidence and clear purpose.
In the face of threats from abroad, it can be tempting to seek comfort by turning inward.”

– President George W. Bush, Farewell Address, Jan. 15, 2009.

Detainees hooded and bound inside a plane, US flag hanging behind.

“We must keep our resolve. And we must never let down our guard.”

– President George W. Bush, Farewell Address, Jan. 15, 2009.

Unspeakable horrors being performed by US personnel at Au Ghraib prison, in Iraq.

“I have confidence in the promise of America because I know the character of our people.”

– President George W. Bush, Farewell Address, Jan. 15, 2009.

George W. Bush giving the finger, during the 2000 presidential campaign,

“I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute
the office of President of the United States,
and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and
defend the Constitution of the United States.
So help me God”

– George W. Bush, Jan. 20, 2001 and Jan. 20, 2005,
Presidential Oath of Office,
United States Constitution, Article II, Section I.

Listen to President George W. Bush’s
Farewell Address to the nation.

Thursday, January 15, 2009
(MP3, 13 min. – via WhiteHouse.gov)

Pakistan Shifts More Troops to India Border on Intel of Incursion Within Days

Map: Pakistan - red dots show troop redeployments, Dec. 2008In a frightening move that is raising already precarious tensions, Pakistan has begun transferring troops and artillery away from the Afghanistan / northwestern Pakistan front to key points on its border with India, near Kashmir. According to at least some unnamed sources in Pakistan’s military and intelligence services, the move comes in response to new intelligence that India is preparing to launch a raid or attack as soon as early next week.

At this writing, the scale of Pakistan’s troop movements remains unclear, but the emerging news suggests it is significant. Reports from late Friday said “there was little to indicate that the troop movements constituted a major redeployment,” and in its Saturday edition the NY Times reported that “Several senior American officials said they had not seen evidence of major troop movements.”  Yet.

However, the Associated Press on Sunday quoted two anonymous Pakistani intelligence sources as saying “a total of 20,000 soldiers — about one-fifth of the deployment in the tribal areas” were to be redeployed from Waziristan.  While the sources gave no timeframe for how fast or slow the redeployment would be, the AP report said residents in that area are seeing massive and immediate movement.  Mushtaq Bokhari, a resident near the Punjabi border with the North West Frontier Province, reported a “a big, big convoy.  It took about three hours to pass through our city.”

Pakistani and international news reports indicate troops are being redeployed to Kasur and Sialkot (strategic points near hyper-sensitive Kashmir), and Lahore, the second-largest city in Pakistan, just 20 miles from the Indian border.  This area of the country is the stronghold of Lashkar-e-Taiba and related groups which were responsible for the deadly Mumbai raid in which 163 were killed.  It is also perilously close to the national capital of Islamabad.
The Kashmir-Lahore corridor is also the very same area where two weeks ago Indian warplanes crossed into Pakistani airspace, in two separate incidents occurring almost simultaneously.  At the time, both governments made a public show of saying it was understood the incursions were “accidental,” but everyone understood the true message.  At the very same time, there were eyewitness reports that “Long convoys of military trucks” comprised of “hundreds of medium and heavy artillery vehicles” were on the move in the area.  The Times of India summarized Pakistani news reports that quoted travelers, motorists, and residents who had seen the large-scale artillery movements.

Regarding the current troop redeployment, in an article by Richard A. Oppel Jr. and Salman Masood, “Pakistan Moves Troops Amid Tension With India” (New York Times, Dec. 26, 2008), only a few Pakistani officials would speak and all insisted on anonymity.  Somewhat conflicting versions emerged from those who did talk.

One senior Pakistani military official said the decision to move forces and restrict furloughs was made “in view of the prevailing environment,” namely deteriorating relations with India since the terrorist attacks. He added that the air force was “vigilant” and “alert” for the same reason.

…[But] Some of the Pakistani officials who spoke of the redeployment said it was partly a response to new intelligence that suggested India could launch an attack inside Pakistan by early next week. All of them spoke on the condition of anonymity.

One senior Pakistani military official who said troops were being redeployed from the areas where government forces were engaging the Taliban, added that the soldiers who were leaving were “being pulled out of areas where no operations are being conducted,” or where winter weather had limited their ability to maneuver. He called the number of soldiers being moved “limited.”

He and another senior Pakistani military official interviewed Friday about the troop movements chose their words very carefully and offered few details. They said nothing harsh about India, even though they were speaking anonymously.

But two Pakistani intelligence officials — one from military intelligence and one from the country’s premier agency, Inter-Services Intelligence — described the situation in graver terms, and said troops along the border with India were on the highest state of alert.

Another Pakistani official said the air force had been in a “point defense” posture for one week, prepared to defend specific key defense installations and cities — including Islamabad, Rawalpindi and Lahore — as well as the Kahuta nuclear weapons laboratory. Pilots are sleeping in uniform with their boots on, the official said.

Meanwhile, at least some Pakistani officials are trying to keep a poker face.  In the AP’s Sunday, Dec. 28, 2008 article, “a senior Pakistani security official denied that the troops were being deployed to the Indian border.”

“He said a ‘limited number’ of soldiers were being shifted from areas ‘where they were not engaged in any operations on the western border or from areas which were snowbound.’

“He declined further comment and asked that his name not be used, also citing the sensitivity of the situation.”

For it’s part, India — for the moment at least — is projecting a calm front even as there are reports that it too is moving troops to the border. On Saturday (Dec. 27), a spokesperson for India’s ministry of defense dismissed the reports as “baseless and speculative,” yet acknowledged there were maneuvers underway. According to a news item on the Indian Sify.com web portal:

“The Army headquarters has termed all such reports as baseless and speculative in nature,” Defence Ministry spokesperson Sitanshu Kar said.

He said the movements that had been reported were “normal” and “routine.” The Army units were currently training at a winter exercise in Rajasthan and Punjab, which they carry out every year, he added.Some other units were moving to Jammu and Kashmir as part of the regular turn over of troops in the state, he said.”Taking into consideration the climatic conditions of Rajasthan throughout the year, winter months are the best months for troops to practice manoeuvres and hence these annual training exercises,” Kar said.

Yyyeah, if you say so.

More here in this AP video news piece via YouTube — including press announcement footage of India External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee addressing Pakistan’s redeployment.

Obama’s Intelligence Gap

This week’s issue of Newsweek has a couple interesting pieces in it.  Most obvious is the long cover story about the Bush Admin’s level 4 shitstorm raining down on the whistleblower who revealed the warrantless wiretap program (the patently illegal one).  But there is also this brief report on the difficulty Obama and his transition team have been having finding people to helm the intelligence agencies.  There doesn’t seem to have been much progress since I mentioned the problem three weeks ago, except perhaps that John Brennan is now handling the intelligence dossier for the Obama transition, after pulling himself from consideration for head of CIA the day before Thanksgiving.

Barriers To Intelligence
By Mark Hosenball
Newsweek, 12/22/2008 (12/13/2008 online)

The Bush Administration’s rough treatment of captured terror suspects has bedeviled President-elect Barack Obama’s efforts to fill key posts on his intelligence team, as nearly every qualified candidate is linked, however remotely, to the practices. But according to multiple sources close to his transition team, Obama is circling nearer on some picks.

The head of Obama’s intel transition team, John Brennan, was the leading candidate for CIA chief until he was slammed by liberal bloggers for not doing enough while serving as a top CIA and anti-terror official to oppose Bush. Current CIA chief Michael Hayden is keen to stay on for a while in an Obama administration, and intel officials say that would be good for agency morale. But Obama voted against Hayden’s confirmation in 2006 — and other Democrats believe he defended Bush policies too zealously. Several people close to the Obama transition, who asked for anonymity when discussing sensitive deliberations, say the leading candidate to replace Hayden is his deputy, Stephen Kappes, who was No. 2 in the CIA’s covert-ops division from 2002 to 2004, which means he was almost surely involved in interrogation policy. But Kappes’s backers say he was working on counterintel issues — uncovering moles — when the CIA set up its “secret prison” network. If Kappes’s star falls, other CIA candidates are said to include another former senior spy, Mary Margaret Graham, and former congressman Tim Roemer, an intel-reform advocate.

The sources say the top candidate for National Intelligence director — a post established by Congress after 9/11, but whose powers are still being debated — is retired Admiral Dennis Blair. A former chief of U.S. Pacific forces, Blair has broad military command experience — a plus for Obama—and he also has no obvious connection to controversial Bush policies. Obama could please his base with another possible pick: Maureen Baginski, an Obama intel-team member who spent years at NSA and joined the FBI after 9/11, is being mentioned as a candidate to become the first civilian and first female director of NSA. A spokeswoman for Obama declined to comment on personnel deliberations.


Restored Godfather Parts 1 and 2 at SIFF Cinema for One (More) Week

A still from 'The Godfather: Part II' (1974)

New 35mm prints of the beautifully restored Coppola films The Godfather (1972) and The Godfather: Part II (1974) start a one two week run at the SIFF Cinema this Friday, Dec. 19, closing on New Years Day.

Full schedule and advance ticket sales for all shows can be found at the SIFF web site.  There are some marathon days, but most are one film a night.

The restorations, recently released to home video, were supervised by Coppola with the close involvement of the original cinematographer, Gordon Willis.  The result is spectacular, bringing new richness to the film, including the justly famous low-light sequences.

Needless to say, attendance is mandatory.

Here’s a recent article about the restoration:

“Post Focus: Paramount Restores The Godfather” by Stephanie Argy
American Cinematographer, May 2008