SlimBlade!

Do you remember the Microsoft Trackball Explorer? Ah the memories! It was a trackball Microsoft offered in the mid-to-late 1990s, if memory serves.

The Microsoft Trackball Explorer

The trackballs available at the time were primarily controlled by placing one’s thumb on the ball and using one’s fingers to click. My experience with these trackballs was a disaster. Such thumb pain from all the required thumb motion! The Trackball Explorer reversed this so one used one’s fingers to move the ball, and one’s thumb to click and scroll. I don’t know why, but this was a heck of a lot more comfortable and greatly reduced my discomfort as compared to a mouse or a thumb-trackball. The two extra buttons, where one’s pinkie and ring finder would naturally rest were a programmable bonus.

Coming back to the current day, I’ve been using my computer more in the new year since my work hours have dropped. I have noted some hand and wrist discomfort from more mouse use. The Trackball Explorer has ceased being an option as it’s been discontinued for a few decades. A few jokers still offer mint specimens for $500 to $1000 but let’s be reasonable. So I researched the current crop of trackballs. Happily there were finger-controlled trackballs that were not wireless. Why do you need a controller than never moves to be wireless? Not having batteries or recharging makes the wire the preferred choice.

I decided on the Kensington SlimBlade trackball. Check it out on my desk:

The Kensington SlimBlade trackball.
Yes my keyboard is hella dusty. You don’t have to touch it. Move along…

It’s bigger than I expected. The ball is 5½ damned centimetres (2 inches) across! There are four buttons, one in each quadrant around the ball. You’ll notice there is no sort of scroll wheel. Must I do without scrolling and limit myself to scrollbars? Hell no! One scrolls by twisting the ball in place. Clockwise is down and counterclockwise is up. It’s very clever and easy to get used to. The only downside is horizontal scrolling requires holding the shift key while twisting the ball. It’s easy but not quite as fluid a motion as your other hand is required.

To use it, the most natural portion is to place one’s three middle fingers on the ball. Do this and the thumb naturally rests on the left-click button and the pinkie on the right-click button. It works very well for me and the discomfort in my hand is much reduced.

A bonus of the symmetrical design is it works equally well for right-handed and left-handed users. If the left-handed user reverses the primary and secondary buttons in his or her login profile, the settings don’t have to be switched back and forth.

It has both advantages and disadvantages over a mouse. Which is better is really a matter of preference, except for gaming … the mouse is better. You certainly use different hand motions to manipulate the mouse so if your hand is hurting from mouse use, the SlimBlade is worth your attention.

Man From Earth

So there I was, earlier today, looking for something to watch. I came across Jerome Bixby’s Man From Earth on Amazon Prime. I don’t know what it was about the film that had me start it, but start it I did.

I’m not going to offer any spoilers at all because I want you to see this film. It has the best part of good science fiction … namely, it makes you think, “Whoa, imagine that!” So much science fiction does not do that, and is less for it. This is the IMDb synopsis:

An impromptu goodbye party for Professor John Oldman becomes a mysterious interrogation after the retiring scholar reveals to his colleagues he has a longer and stranger past than they can imagine.

Jerome Bixby wrote for Star Trek and The Twilight Zone so you know he knows what’s what. Unfortunately though, this screenplay was his last work before he died.

It’s not a high budget production, but it’s riveting and a fine piece of writing.

Consider this a ‘must see’ recommendation.


Marquee poster ©2006 Man From Earth, LLC

Thoughts about 1989

Early last month, I decided to try something new. You see, I have a whole bunch of music I’ve never listen to, so I thought I’d better start exploring.

If you know me, you’ll find my initial selection a bit of a surprise. I started with Taylor Swift’s 1989. I was very curious about her because not only can one not avoid her in the popular press, but I’ve read that she really is very good.

So I listened. My first run though the record was a positive experience. She’s got a lovely voice and the music is inventive. The thing is, I really don’t expect much from pop music, because most of it is lacklustre. Swift’s offering is better than most, but only on subsequent plays did I really ‘get it.’

She is indeed a gifted writer, and her songs are incredibly catchy. This is especially true if you really listen. The record is pop, but even with that limitation, I can’t help but recommend it.

I really appreciate the diversity in the stories related in the songs. They’re not all happy endings, or sad endings. Granted most are about relationships, but even those can be presented in novel ways. She has said that she doesn’t always write about personal experiences, but it’s easy to see that sometimes she does.

The devil is in the details right? Although these are not enough to get me to listen to her on their own, they really jump out at me as unusual strengths:

  • Her vocal overdubs are incredibly good. Whether improvised or carefully planned, her harmony and counterpoint further highlight her composing skills.
  • I love that not a single track on the record ends in a fade-out.
  • To compliment her composition, her lyrics are just as strong. Put them together and there’s often a synergy of mood and atmosphere. I don’t really know how to describe it, but it works very well.

All that said, there are a few issues:

  • This record is yet another unfortunate victim of the loudness wars. The album rates a DR6 which is pretty poor.
  • I’ve heard the music’s sub genre labeled electro pop, which explains why there are very few non-electronic instruments. It works, but it can be a little much at times.
  • Related to the last point, there’s a lot of sampling, but some of it is not nearly as polished as I would expect on such a slick production.

tl,dr: Good music, great lyrics, and terrific vocals combine to make a record that you really should hear. Definitely recommended.

Sucker punch

I went to see Sucker Punch with Rustin and Grant this weekend. A few people have asked me how it was and my answer was, “It was exactly what I thought it would be.” You could take this as a sort of “damning by faint praise” but that’s not how I mean it.

20110404_sucker_punchLet me tell you about the film.

We meet a young woman and her sister, and they’re crushed because their mother has died. Their step-father is not very nice. He clearly can’t wait to get his hands on them. Making matters worse is that his deceased wife left him nothing. She left all of her possessions to her daughters.

In trying to protect herself and her little sister, the young woman mistakenly kills her sister and finds herself in a Dickensian asylum for the mentally insane. Her step-father doesn’t want the truth of his indiscretions to come out so he pays off the asylum administrator to shut her up permanently. She learns she’s been scheduled for a lobotomy in just five days.

She’s determined to escape before she’s subjected to the procedure. Then things get weird.

The young woman, whom we now know as Baby Doll, undergoes some sort of psychotic break and through her eyes, we see the asylum has changed. The administrator is now also running the place as a brothel, and she has the ability to put men into a trance by simply dancing for them. While dancing, she’s taken another step away from reality through a series of fantasy ‘missions’ she must undergo to make her escape.

Back in the brothel, she shares her plans with four other inmates and they agree to a plan by which they can all escape. The plan involves collecting four items, each in a separate mission.

Frankly, I’m conflicted about the film. In general, as a film, it’s not very good. Let me break it down into three parts.

The story

The story is merely a means to link the fantasy missions. Further, the more you think about the story, the less sense it makes.

The women

The ads for the film make it pretty clear that you’re going to see plenty of short skirts and stockings. If you enjoy those things, the film certainly delivers…particularly Baby Doll’s combination of a short skirt and stockings.

The action

The fantasy missions are an inventive mixture of genres. One involves the women crossing a WWI no-man’s land, entering the enemy’s trenches to find the command post, and stealing a map. In this world war gone mad, it seems that the war has gone on for decades and there’s nearly nothing left on the landscape. Even soldiers are in short supply so the bulk of the enemy forces are dead soldiers reanimated with clockwork mechanisms powered by steam. How’s that for a twist?

Baby Doll looks out into no-man's land.
Baby Doll looks out into no-man’s land.

Another mission involves an air-drop from a B-25 into a castle where they must kill a baby dragon. Things go awry when the women wake the mother dragon and they have to deal with her and the force of armoured mediaeval warriors are attempting to breach the castle gate. Part of the battle involves the dragon attacking the B-25.

I found the missions a great deal of fun both with the action and the inventive mixing of genres. This alone made the film worth watching.

The downside is the story, as I mentioned, which is nothing but a thinly veiled excuse for the fun. But still, part of me wonders if there might be more hidden in the multiple layers of reality. Probably not, but it holds together just well enough to make you wonder of there’s more to it. That’s perhaps the most amazing accomplishment of the film.

I can’t recommend it without conditions, but if the women, the action, and the mind-bending settings appeal to you, it’s a fun two hours.


Stills and marquee poster © 2011 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and Legendary Pictures

Eragon

I watched Eragon yesterday. I’d recommend you not make the same mistake.

What surprises me the most is the talent in the film. Headlining are John Malkovich, Jeremy Irons, and Rachel Weisz. Why would they ever agree to be in this disaster? Something very significant must have changed between the time they signed on and the film was released.

What I can say in the film’s favour is that the production values are head and shoulders above the sword and sorcery films I watched back in the 1980s. Unfortunately, a bigger budget and slick CGI doesn’t make a film good.

Do yourself a favour and pass on this film.