A Batman’s Review of the Dark Knight

Of all the super heroes, Batman has always been my favourite. Possibly something to do with my name and the obvious nick-name generated from it, but who says there needs to be justification for being a fan (after all I also support Arsenal and for years there was no justification for that). I went to see the first Tim Burton/ Michael Keaton Batman as part of my 21st birthday celebrations and was very impressed with the reboot of the franchise by Christopher Nolan/ Christian Bale. So the Dark Knight was high on the list of ‘must see’ films for the summer.

The short summary is that the film more than lives up to its predecessor- other critics have said it was over-long, but I didn’t notice that. What I really liked, but what also prompted this post, is the way that the villains are far more grounded in realism than any of the previous incarnations of Batman: By this I mean that Two-Face is verging on the horrific, especially when you first see his face. And this is the problem- my kids have been watching the trailer for the Dark Knight for months now and their excitement has been palpable, but there is no way that I can take either of them to see the film. In the UK it is rated as a ’12’ which means that children under 12 can see the film, but only if accompanied by a responsible adult. Now each child that an adult is responsible for is different, and we are all too aware of the loss of innocence in our children, but I am going to take a stand and not allow my kids to see the Dark Knight. Not yet anyway.

As a grown up I can see the Dark Knight and think it is a fantastic film, but just as ‘comic books’ grew up and became ‘graphic novels’, so are the super hero films growing up. There is a complete logic to this- the people now making these films may have read your father’s comics as children, but as they grew up so did the comics: Writers such as Frank Miller rebooted Batman and then went onto write novels such as Sin City, Alan Moore and David Lloyd wrote V for Vendetta and then Alan Moore teamed up with Dave Gibbons for Watchmen; and then Neil Gaiman created the Sandman. None of these are in any way your father’s comics; some have overtly political overtones, all involve copious and gratuitous amounts of violence and a few are clearly verging on what would typically be called horror.

What these graphic novels have in common is that there are often costumed or ‘cartoon’ characters, but unlike the camp Batman of the 1960’s there is no ‘Thwock, Kapow, Crash’ involved. There is real violence, death (sometimes real, sometimes off-screen) and all the other trappings of a grown up world. This would be fine were the films marketed at adults (as Sin City was), but when Burger King is including Dark Knight toys in its Happy Meal kids meal then the marketing department is creating a disconnection between the product (the film) and the audience they are targeting (I don’t know many 12 year olds who still eat Happy Meals).

So here is my take, for what it’s worth: the Dark Knight is a damned good summer film, but if you have children, go see it for yourself first before taking them along. And if you don’t have children, go see it anyway- it is what films based on graphic novels have evolved into- you may not like it and you may wish to head back to the ‘Golden Age’ of comics but that is what your DVD collection is for.

A(nother) cool web 2.0 site

OK, this one might go into the ‘cool but pointless’ category or it could be the greatest thing to hit the computing cloud, I can’t decide which and I guess that only time will tell.

There appears to be 2 ways to move into the true on-line world and I think they differ in their point. The approaches are:

  1. Integrate your desktop with your on-line world (not a desktop machine, but your compute desktop)
  2. Migrate all the functionality on-line

Desktop Integration

The integration approach (taken by Xdrive) allows you to open a Windows Explorer window that looks just like any other- except that the drive you just opened (cunningly called X: ) is nowhere near your local area network. This allows you to run all your local, desktop applications and save documents and files to the on-line storage. The advantage of this approach is that you have pretty damned good integration with your desktop. The disadvantage is that if you use multiple local machines, you have to make sure that they are all set up identically if you wish to duplicate the experience- for example ensuring that all the applications are installed on each machine.

On-line Functionality

On-line functionality takes everything away from the desktop and runs in its own little world. Meebo takes this approach- so all your IM contact details, your chat logs etc are stored remotely. This has the advantage that everything is going to be the same no matter what computer you use to access the functionality. The downside is that (currently) most apps focus on a single piece of functionality e.g. IM or Calendar or file managment

Unfortunately, what all of this means is that many of the apps are simple re-packaging of what you can already do, just not do it on-line. This means that every on-line desktop provider I have tried (Xdrive, GMX, Omnidrive) has a folder for ‘My Music’, ‘My Photos’ etc and I have no way of taking my data from the on-line applications off-line (though you could argue why would I want to- it is just the Generation X insecurity in me)

And then I came across Jooce (www.jooce.com) that gives the whole world a shake upside down: What Jooce does is create a complete desktop, just like your main desktop, but it does it inside a browser. So now you can file your documents away nicely or just leave them on the desktop.

As I said as the start, I have no idea if this is the coolest thing to hit the way we use computers or a total waste of time. In my mind, the key to creating a cool Web 2.0 app is to try to break down what we use a computer for and then either identify something totally cool that you never knew you needed to do or make something that you do already available in a new and interesting way. I don’t see Jooce doing either of these, but I can’t deny that when I saw that I had the ability to rotate a picture on my desktop it made me smile with glee.

Jooce Desktop with a rotated picture

Jooce Desktop with a rotated picture

But then small things always did amuse me… and a good job too.

Ben’s School Photo 2008

Ben’s School Photo 2008

Originally uploaded by maguffyn

Been a while, but he has kept growing in the meantime. And who says you can’t get a decent photo from a school photographer.

Or maybe I am just biased towards my kid

And for anyone interested there are various other updates to the photo gallery- both kids are still being snapped and now I have a new camera (well, not that new, but better than I had before) they are trapped until I get a decent shot

Dating, appearances and boys & girls

I don’t consider myself to be particularly good looking- which is not a subtle fish for compliments, but simply a statement of my belief system (see, I do believe in some things). And now that I am divorced I am facing the prospect of diving back into the heady world of dating, which is more than an little scary. Fortunately, since I last had to venture into this shark infested water there has been a radical change in the whole process, and one that is becoming more and more socially acceptable: internet dating. Not the actual dating via the internet- even to me that seems a step too far, but the process of meeting someone has been dragged kicking and screaming out of the nearest pub and into the dark and murky world of the interweb.

There are many sites that allow you to post your personal details and who you would like to meet, and after a little while searching it seems that there are enough George Clooney lookalikes to fill a small stadium. This is the downside to writing your own profile (you can lie) and has led to sites such as My Single Friend where someone else fills in the details and describes you.

This seems to me to be a better approach- someone else might be a little more objective and at least you have a brother in arms as you throw your hat into the ring. But in the interests of making sure I was going to get a fair deal I thought I’d have a search first to see ‘what was out there’: I fired up My Single Friend and entered in my location (Gloucestershire for those playing along at home) and my preferred age range (36-42) and the fact that I am a boy looking for a girl. A couple of clicks later I had 89 possible dates. Many of them very good looking, most had fun personalities etc etc And almost all of them had posted a photo, many of the looking like they had been taken by a professional (or at least talented amateur) photographer.
This is all great, but remember the first sentence of this post? What would any of these 89 women want to do with me? (Answers on a comment please- I promise to read them all but will only post anything suitable for a family audience!) As I looked at the photos there were glamourous women, dressed up and looking wonderful. Me? I have skinny legs, no chin to talk off, an odd taste in TV shows and have apartments in 3 countries on 2 continents- surely there is better on offer than that? Right then, time to check out the competition…

Back to the search page: Same location, same preferred age range, now say that I am girl looking for a boy (oh the wonders of internet anonimity): This time I only got 31 hits; maybe Sex and the City had it correct after all about all these single women out there. But for the guys, only half the profiles had photographs- hmm, maybe all the “George Clooney’s” didn’t actually match up in the flesh. And those that did have photos were far from the professional shots that the women had. These were snapshots of guys ‘doing things’ like sailing, drinking or catching some rays between runs on the ski hill. Furthermore, feeling confident in my sexuality, I think I can objectively rate the guys compared with the women and say that we, as men, really aren’t as good looking as the ladies. So maybe there is hope for me after all: the slightly fuzzy photo of me taken by my 4 year-old son will be OK and I can advertise my prehensile tongue and take it from there.

And yet… there is a bigger question here. And that bastion on all things non-PC Jeremy Clarkson may have put his finger on it on Top Gear last week: He pointed out that there was a recent survey to find the ‘Sexiest Racing Driver’ (well it had to be somewhat about cars, didn’t it). I am pretty sure that Danica Patrick came top of the survey, but that is not the point that Clarkson was making: There are cases of male sportsmen being lauded for their looks and fashion sense (David Beckham springs to mind and Freddie Ljunberg is more well in the US for advertising Calvin Klein underwear than kicking a football for Arsenal, West Ham or Sweden) but these are isolated incidents: Wander past a magazine store and you can see photos of Maria Sharapova or Ana Ivanovic in a bikini, Danica Patrick smouldering as she leans on a car or Natalie Gulbis trying to sell you the latest ‘Big Boy Driver’. And this doesn’t even include the sportswomen who have taken everything off to appear in Playboy.
I have no answer to this difference- the guys are judged, even by their friends, on what they do and if they look good then that is a bonus. The women seem to make far more of an effort on the appearance- and in some cases (Anna Kournikova) the look far outweighs the performance. Maybe there is still hope for me after all. Once again: Answers on a comment 🙂

Building the complete solution

Sometimes it takes a person with a bit of perspective and distance from a problem to identify the solution. Sometimes it takes someone else to read your ramblings on a blog and ask a question to make you realise the point that you have been trying to make. I received some feedback about my recent post on hardware profile that made me realise that the combination of the posts on what I use, data portability and hardware profile were all pointing to a common solution. And as with so many solutions I think that the key to it all is the information.

What Marinko made me realise is that I own, use and define a set of information; some of the information is created or edited by me, some is delivered to me from other sources and may or may not be read-only; some of the information has its own security profile (for example, I can’t copy the file away from my work laptop) and some is available to anyone, such as a public web site like BBC Sport. But, at the end of the data, the sum of the documents, e-mails, pictures, music web sites and RSS feeds etc make up my information entity (sorry to the data modellers for using that word, but I can’t think of a better one).

So, what I need is a number of mechanisms to access my information- depending on the source of the data (public, private), the action I wish to do (edit/ read) and my location (on-line/ off-line) I will access my information using different tools (the Permanent Presence, Portable Solution or Base Station as described in the Hardware Profile).

Everything else, the file format, the internet protocol, new capabilities of a smart phone etc are all steps to move towards this goal.

Which brings me to a bit of a conclusion- there does not need to be one single format to solve all the problems of the world, but there needs to be a fairly small number and the information format must be open for all to read and all to implement. By this I mean, that though it may be tempting to say that all data, documents images etc be stored as XML because that can be parsed, transformed and displayed in different ways on different machines, this is the typical IT situation of an evangelical war over one technology or another. Sure, it would be nice for the application developer to know that all e-mail is in the same XML format, but it is not going to happen- and we already seem to have a fine working model of e-mail formats that can be accessed wherever you want. Same applies for images (JPEG/ PNG), drawings (SVG) and music (MP3).

What the alert amongst you will have noted is that I haven’t included a set of Office document formats- so here goes, time to get flamed or praised: Any document format that is dependent on a particular client to correctly display the information cannot meet my requirements. By this I mean that if your format has a bug in it so that the answer to a calculation is only correctly displayed if you use, oooh say Microsoft Excel, you are not fit to be considered an international standard certainly should not be blessed by ISO. Anyone who knows me has come across a situation where I have held an opinionated and probably unfathomable view on something or other; but at the same time I tend not to simply dismiss technology, companies or solutions out of hand simply as an act of faith. I use Microsoft Office including Visio because it does do a good job. But requiring that I use Excel or Word to view a document, even though it has been created using an ‘open standard’ fails on so many levels.

As an information or data architect I don’t understand the need to have open source software (the components and code) but I definitely see the need to have open, defined information standards. And why do I need this? Because I have not decided how I am going to access your data- and depending on the profile I am using to view it, I may or may not wish to use the same tool or see all the details of what you sent. This is the same as a web page ‘degrading gracefully’ when viewed over a phone, but if we take the premise I made back at the start- all the information that makes up my world needs to be available to me, whatever hardware profile I choose. This means that an office document, a photograph or a web page need to be treated the same. Well, for me to be happy anyway.