There are only few Full HD television series or movies I have got so far, and the king of them all currently is the four-disc Blu-Ray box of Planet Earth series by BBC. To a friend of nature documentaries, the selection of ‘spectacular’ animal species and situations (starting with the amazing Emperor Penguins guarding their single egg through the Antarctic winter), but the use of moving, flying cameras and HD video makes the planet really come to you in a way I have not experienced in any other visual media before. It is pity though that the localised version on sale here in Finland does not include the great Finnish language narrations that were prepared when the series was broadcast on the air by YLE, the national broadcast corporation. I really like and respect David Attenborough, but while we watch these with our family, it would be nicer to have Finnish audio, rather than the subtitles over the HD image. Particularly as the subtitles these disks carry have much inferior translations than what YLE used in their broadcast versions. I have wondered even before why BBC/2 entertain does not use the expertise of YLE when putting DVD versions of their series on sale here in Finland, and in this HD version the use of subtitles only is even a worse choice. I also truly miss the making-of documentary and the extra three “Planet Earth: The Future” episodes (those were included in the DVD release but omitted from the Blu-Ray box.) The series itself, nevertheless, is mind-blowing, and will truly fullfil its promise to show us our planet as we have never seen it before.
Santa brought Laura a new mobile, the Nokia “Tube” (ExpressMusic 5800) model. One can be of various minds about touch-screens itself (it is very hard to touch-type sms messages with those, to start with), but the phone itself appears pretty ok. Its strengths and weaknesses are both related to the Series 60 (5th Edition) OS/UI it inherits from other Nokia smart phones. It is flexible and perhaps even logical to a certain degree, and you can freely use whatever operator you prefer, and add Symbian/S60 software to your heart’s content. On the other hand, the OS is only partially customized for touch-UI use: you are required to open menus and select additional commands, rather than just picking from touch-optimized icons or lists. So: it is so-and-so, but still nice to see more competition arriving to the field iPhone has dominated this far.
There has been a curious gap in my reading of the Culture series by Iain M. Banks so far, but this Christmas I did put some of my free time (night times, actually) aside to finally read Excession (1996). This is a highly entertaining and thought-provoking science fiction novel, written about a process where the different factions inside the Special Circumstances (the shadowy super-organisation dealing with external and internal security in the anarchist utopia called the Culture) need to deal with both the potential confrontation of a highly more evolved culture, coming outside of this universe, and at the same time deal with the ethical and moral issues embodied in the Affront, a race whose identity is based on inequality, slavery and systematic sadism. Is it allowed to go to war agaist the Affront to stop their evil, or is evil in the eye of the beholder? There is much good old fashioned interstellar intrigue, space fighting and megamachines marching to the stage, but also an attempt to deal with issues like gender, identity and free will. The novel is perhaps not at its strongest on the human characters, but the real protagonists are the Minds, godly powerful Articifial Intelligences, and the heady entertainment Excession is capable of offering is dealing with the interesting problems very highly powered beings and societies will possibly have to face at some point of their evolution. Allegorical readings of the Culture novels are also possible (interpreting the scienti-fictional framework as a dramatisation of certain ideologies), but not particularly inviting. These books are just so good head-trips.
An example what you might come up with, when you have the Holiday season and you need to invent something (anything) to keep the toddler (and yourself) entertained:
Bluetooth technology is still flaky and connections tend to break up, pairings get lost, etc. I decided to move the Logitech diNovo Edge keyboard to the downstairs ‘media cellar’, primarily due to size issues. The replacement is another diNovo, but the Mini version this time. Both of these keyboards actually run pretty well with Mac Mini, even if they are not formally supported. diNovo Mini did provoke a “keyboard not recognized” dialog, and Mac wanted me to press the key next to right from the left shift (which did nothing). But canceling that, you get a very nice, super-small bluetooth keyboard for the living-room use. The ‘ClickPad’ mouse replacement doubles as a four-directional cursor key, but the most important feature is that the entire pad is a button, so that you can pretty much use the system with one hand, guiding the mouse with your thumb and pressing it achieves mouse clicks with the same finger. Very nice! On the other hand, downstairs, I had much more trouble to get diNovo Edge to keep up its connection with the Vista OS over the bluetooth link.
This will be the last Christmas for the Hypermedia Laboratory in the University of Tampere: our new media research unit is going to fuse together with another department at the end of this year. The new name will be Department of Information Studies and Interactive Media. We will be bigger, stronger, and able to open MA as well as PhD courses in new media and game studies. Otherwise, the location and most of the practical things will remain the same for a while — welcome to visit us in the old premises in Pinni B building of the Tampere Uni campus area. Merry Christmas, everyone!
Nokia released their Symbian-optimised email service, and I wanted to have a look and test-run it in my N95 8GB. The user interface is pretty nice and software integrated well with my Gmail account. But I think they have some issues with this version yet, though. The constant ‘bling’ noise of new email arriving soon got irritating and I could not find any way to switch it off. Then I decided to turn off the application, and it promised to close itself — but the ‘bling-bling’ still continued! I tried restarting the phone. No help: ‘bling!’ It had restarted itself automatically and started to download email again. Stop, please! I tweaked the settings: set the account, all folders to ‘no synchronization’, the software start to ‘manual’. No help: ‘bling, bling, bling!’ Finally I managed to uninstall the damn thing and finally: silence. Nice try Nokia, but: I’d actually prefer to stay in control of my email downloads, from now on. Link: http://email.nokia.com/ (Image courtesy of GISuser.com.)
Finally, late in the evening, I was able to press the power button of my brand new ThinkPad T500 for the first time. First I was greeted by the Vista error menu: Windows was not closed properly … do you want to safe start / start normally etc. That did not look too good. I pressed “Start Windows normally”. Disk clicking. Then an ominous error bling. Then the dialog window (pictured). Could not complete the installation? I thought this was supposed to have a preinstalled OS, straight from the Lenovo factory? I attempted restart. I tried pressing the blue ThinkVantage button. I tried pressing F8. F11. Always the same sequence: I can get either to the bios setup, or start-up the broken Vista, and be faced with the “Install Windows” message. Not even the Rescue and Recovery workspace, so that I could restore the factory default settings of the OS. Damn. Looks like this is not my lucky Friday.
Another excellent example of the expanding field of old-media — new media synergy, and art of storytelling making use of the new opportunities of Internet video: Neil Gaiman putting online his reading of the entire new young readers’ novel (whoever and whatever age we, those readers, indeed are) The Graveyard Book. Go to: http://www.mousecircus.com/videotour.aspx
Edit: this appears to be the note number 600 of my blog, by the way. Cheers!