Commonly Known As Dirk

You are speaking with Svlad, commonly known as “Dirk” Cjelli, currently trading under the name of Gently for reasons which it would be otiose, at this moment, to rehearse. I bid you good evening. If you wish to know more I will be at the Pizza Express in Upper Street in ten minutes. Bring some money.

I keep this fairly low under the radar, so it’s fine if it’s not something you’ve spotted, and I understand if it’s going to be a shock, but: Douglas Adams is my favourite author. I love the bubbling undercurrent of anger in every Terry Pratchett book, and the depth of the built worlds of Neil Gaiman. I have a lot of respect for the attempted revival of stock theatre traditions that make up the other side of David Eddings’ work, and the flow and construction of P. G. Wodehouse tends to make me want to read it out loud. But Douglas Adams is my favourite, and I don’t feel the need to explain why.

This gives me an advantage, in a way. There is no chance in this flawed multiverse that any attempt to adapt one of his worlds is going to match my expectations. That bar is set so high in my mind that clearing it would happily provide us with a handy pair of space elevators. No, so long as an adaptation has something of itself to be true to, I can usually accept it as someone elses’ attempt to play in the same sandbox. I’ve enjoyed most adaptations, save the ones that seemed either soul-less or an attempt to *be* Douglas Adams’ long lost work, instead of its own thing with the books as a starting point. I could enjoy the Hitchhiker’s movie as a movie that started from the radio series. The TV series was a good TV series that started from the books. I wasn’t a massive fan of the Salmon of Doubt, because a lot of it felt invasive and remastered sketches, and the only thing I actively disliked was Eoin Colfer’s “…And Another Thing” which failed the “true to itself” thing, and fell down a pit of trying too hard to be a Douglas Adams book, instead of an Eoin Colfer Hitchhiker’s book.

All of which brings me to the two adaptations of Dirk Gently to the TV.

The BBC Dirk Gently was a case-per-episode show that kind of got the main character mostly right, and the style of story right, but attempting to fit a plot per episode didn’t really give it the chance to get the universe right. I liked it a lot, the music was absolutely spot on, Stephen Mangan gives good Dirk, filling in the scatty, messy, cat-like “I meant to do that” attitude very well, but it didn’t really have space to breathe.

The new Netflix version (Which is co-produced by BBC America, so is technically BBC as well, I suppose) I’ve watched all eight 45 minute episodes of over the last couple of days. It is as to the books as the movie of HHGG was to its books. It’s a full reimagining of the concept of the world as a miniseries. The universe works better than the BBC version, in that it embraces the whole crack-pot universe of the books where everything really is connected, there aren’t any coincidences, and the universe goes out of its way to put Gently in the middle of all of those. A friend on Facebook called it the Anti-Lost, in that it carefully wraps up almost all of its knots before the end of the series. It can’t quite resist putting mysticism over the top of Gently’s inability to be part of a coincidence, leaving it only slightly vague as to whether it’s actually a minor super power; but it then does use that overarching idea to Yang Dirk’s Yin with the concept of a Holistic Assassin, which is a very Adams thing to do. Samuel Barnett’s Dirk is a ball of directionless energy with occasional cracks in the facade, which is a switch from the books’ more slovenly and shady detective, but enough to be the same character.

There is no connection between the events of the books and the Netflix show, the latter of which mentions some past association with Thor, but without attempting to spoil anything it’s a confusing mess of coincidences that tangle up messily and get solved partly by the holistic thing being right, partly by intuition, and partly by accident. It also doesn’t do the Westworld annoyance of only knocking down dominoes in the last two episodes, there are sufficient large reveals on the way to keep you not only invested, but satisfied, I think.

It’s not perfect, it’s a little manic and the first few episodes are overstuffed. A lot of the episodes get weighed down by the – realistic – refusal of the POV character to want to interact with the plot when it gets dangerous, and needing some kind of inspiring speech to get him through the next gateway; but late in the series there are some glorious scenes calling people on their bullshit, so it at least has payoff.

Basically, I think it’s worth a punt. The first series is eight episodes, takes a couple to strip the protective coating off the concept, and ends well. It’s six hours of your life you could instead use learning another language, but that wouldn’t be as much fun.

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Ripping TV Yarns

I’m in the process of ripping some boxsets of DVDs to Plex, and I thought I should probably document the process. The most obvious thing I’m not using here is Handbrake, which works really well for some people, but I am not one of them.

Physical to Digital

MakeMKV turns any DVD or Bluray I’ve thrown at it into an MKV file. The one thing it could do to make my life better would be custom tags on filenames, but the default {Directory}\{DVD Identifier}\title{nn}.mkv  is good enough. {DVD Identifier} is annoyingly unspecific most of the time, and sometimes within disks of the same box set (The thing I’m currently ripping has both WW_S4_T5_D3 and WESTWING_S4_D6 in it, as discs 1 and 6 respectively), so the next stage is to make those directory names consistent. It doesn’t matter what they are, so long as when I “ls” the directory, they are in the right order. Then, I run this:

export COUNT=1; # Start at 1
find . -name \*mkv \ # Find all files ending MKV
	| while read fle;\ # For each of those (as variable $fle)
		do mv $fle $(printf "The_West_Wing-S04E%0.2d.mkv" $COUNT);\ # Increment the filename
		COUNT=$(($COUNT + 1));\ # Add one to the filename count

Note: You’ll need to collapse that back into a single line without the comments for it to work:

export COUNT=1; find . -name \*mkv \| while read fle; do echo mv $fle $(printf "The_West_Wing-S04E%0.2d.mkv" $COUNT);COUNT=$(($COUNT + 1)); done

This gives me a directory of well-named MKV files.

Digital to MP4

Plex is happier with mp4 encoded videos than with MKV files, though, plus they’re smaller without a noticable (to me) drop in quality, so when I’ve got a few series of these built up, I’ll run this overnight:

for fle in mkv/*.mkv; do $fle; done

Where looks like this:

ffmpeg -i $file -codec:v libx264 -profile:v high -preset ultrafast -crf 16 -minrate 30M -maxrate 30M -bufsize 15M -metadata:s:a:0 language=eng -c:a ac3 -b:a 384k -threads 2 ${file%.*}.mp4

Which is a standard ffmpeg encode line, the only real weirdness being the ${file%.*}.mp4 bashism, which basically turns the $file variable from “Foobar.mkv” into “Foobar.mp4” (It will also turn “” into “Foo.mp4” though, so be careful)

MP4 to Mediacentre

Once that’s finished, I’ll get rid of the mkv files, and send them into Plex. To ensure consistency of my filenames and also get any subtitle files I need, this is done using filebot, like this:

filebot -script fn:amc --output "/media/mediashare" --log-file amc.log --action move --conflict skip -non-strict --def music=y subtitles=en artwork=y --def "seriesFormat=TV Boxsets/{n}/{'S'+s}/{s00e00} - {t}" "animeFormat=Anime/{n}/{fn}" "movieFormat=Movies/{n} {y}/{fn}" "musicFormat=Music/{n}/{fn}" --def plex=localhost .

(Filebot, rename using the (included) automediacentre script. Output to directories below my media drive mount, log to amc.log, move (don’t copy) the files, if it already exists skip it. Don’t do strict checking, download music, search for subtitles, get series artwork, send TV shows to the “TV Boxsets” directory in {Series Name}/S{Series Number}/s{Series number}e{Episode Number} – {Episode Title} format. Anime should go somewhere else, Movies somewhere else, Music somewhere else, then notify plex on the local machine. Do this on the current directory)

Operating System Notes

None of this is OS specific. Filebot, FFMPEG Plex & MakeMKV are available – and work identically – on Windows, Mac & Linux. The various bash scripts could be adapted to powershell, but I’d instead recommend Babun, which is a repackaging of cygwin with a far nicer interface and package management system that’ll give you the basic *nix commandline tools on your windows machine (all of the above up to MP4 to Mediacentre runs on my beast-sized windows gaming rig, to avoid making the puny media centre CPU cry too much)

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Week Nine – it’s better than bad, it’s good

Quiet work week, so we’ll skip that. Decided that I’d had enough of print statements, and moved both Lifestream and Lampstand over to use Python logging instead for everything outputty. Lampstand also needs a pass to separate output into levels, right now everything’s at INFO.

Positive feedback on some creative writing I did recently – on tumblr, and in scraps elsewhere – has led me to want to carve out time to get the novel moving forward again. I need to suppress the urge to kill it with fire and start from scratch, but right now it’s plodding a bit.

Somewhere between Rest and Play lies Odyssey work this week. A good Story Team meeting at the weekend has set some flags out for the year, and indeed next, and then I spent a few hours putting together the Odyssey T-Shirt shop, to supplement our costume & props budget with mercenary goodness.

Somewhere over the last week I’ve also carved out 13 hours to watch the full first series of Daredevil on Netflix, which I enjoyed a lot, and should turn into another entry shortly…


Fit to Print – The Newsroom Season 1

The first television series I actually cared about was The West Wing. I enjoyed it enough to watch all of Sports Night, and one day I will wade though the dirty-laundry of Studio 60 for long enough to watch the season finale.

The new Sorkin series, The Newsroom, ended its first season recently.

It’s not real.

Attacking a TV show, novel, or any other kind of non-documentary for characters whose dialogue is far from real life has never seemed to me like a fair thing to judge it on. In real life workplaces, people very rarely monologue on the theme of Don Quixote and now it relates to their life (News Room), have arguments in iambic pentameter (West Wing). In fact, while I take a great delight in very occasionally acting like a character written by Aaron Sorkin, a month in which I get to do it twice is a big deal. It’s not real, it’s not supposed to be real, it’s high contrast, and it’s televison. I’m not going to hit Batman over the head with how very quickly he recovers from losing a fight *really badly* in the Dark Knight, either.

There’s stuff I’d like to change. He’s not great at giving the women the articulatory high-ground (When he does it in the last News Room, it’s notably on the subject of living up to Sex in the City), his non-white characters could do with a bit more limelight (Dev Patel, in particular, deserves a little less comic relief), and the stuffing is poking out of a number of his favourite strawmen. His “Honourable Enemy” republican spends more time bashing his own side (Who may deserve it, and I don’t expect balance, but still). I still like it a lot, though.

The season finale feels very much like a series finale, which is a good act of anti-hubris, wrapping up – or at least drawing a “for now” line under – most of the story arcs of the season, but the weaker areas of the storylines aren’t magically fixed – the four-way interpersonal complexigon becomes five-way for no apparent reason – the series is at its strongest when it’s dealing with the fallout and the decisions of the making of an actual News program, and the biggest “this is awesome” moments of the series have all revolved around those, but with any luck the 10 months until the next season will give the writing team (Who am I kidding, I mean Sorkin) a chance to react to the biggest criticisms of the last ten weeks, shore up on the strengths, and come out swinging with the new series in the spring. Until then, I can always rewatch The West Wing and Sports Night, again.

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10 O'Clock Live

The Daily Show is a program I like a lot. 10 O’Clock Live is trying, somewhat self consciously, to be a British Daily Show, and both passes and fails.

The Daily Show format, for those who haven’t seen it, is a 20 minute show (not including ad breaks) monday though thursday. It starts with analysis of the day’s news, underlining hypocracy and general asshattery. The middle section is then either an expansion of a single news story or a staff contribution piece, either in the studio or pre-taped. It then closes with an interview of someone who is currently on the movie/book pimping train or politically interesting. Close show, go home.

10 O’Clock Live, a show difficult to abreviate, attempts to pour a whole week of this format into an hour. So you have three interviews (Two politically interesting, one generically so) some satirical analysis of the news, and four or so feature pieces. It’s not quite tight enough – though a lot of that’s first night stuff – but more importantly, the balance of very worthy real news bits to comedy isn’t there yet.

The Daily Show works best when it’s satire satire satire ha ha look at the democrats being useless satire satire satire republicans love guns satire satire so what’s your new movie about satire satire satire why the fuck are the senate blocking a bill to pay for healthcare for 9/11 first respondents?

There’s the funny, or the jokes at least even when the funny’s not quite there. There’s the pre-recorded interviews with patently crazy people, the analysis of which people have used cross-hairs in political imagery over the last ten years, and then every so often they will do a gut-punch and do something absolutely seriously. The Daily Show is known for being a hard show for political guests, because Stewart *will* ask the question about why you, personally, allowed the banking system to collapse. He will drag it back to jokes if it loses them, or tries to, but still ask the question. It’s a steel football with a soft rubber coating, bouncy and fun until it hits you.

10 O’Clock Live hit the ground with a scattershot of satirical headlines and one-liners from Carr, a decent monologue feature piece on Sarah Palin, and then fell apart with a poorly managed round-table on bankers bonuses with a lot of interesting points all spoken over each other. Feature piece on Tunisa framed as a holiday destination, another on Sudan framed as a celebrity break-up story, and some all-too-brief actual discussion on the stories of the day in a round table with all the presenters.

It goes on like that, too. Four decent comedy minds who seem to care about current affairs (I assume Lauren Laverne does, but currently she is entirely wasted, performing almost nothing at all save “Hello”, “Goodbye” and “Here is the next thing”), but the satire bits are short and variable, and the current affairs bits unwieldy and long.

David Mitchell’s interview with the Minister of State for Universities, David Willitt, was very interesting, in that he asked a lot of the straight questions people want answers to, and pretty much got them (They are not, IMO, good answers, but that’s politics) and would have made a good ending for a show that had brought the funny, but the funny was drowned in the interviews and the unfunny.

They have four main presenters, who interact with each other well on other shows, but in this all have entirely separate pieces and never the twain shall meet, save in brief round-table discussions which barely get interesting before they move onto the next thing.

It’s too slow in some places, too quick in others, and doesn’t go above the funny line enough to balance out the less entertaining bits. Nevertheless, if it’s given the space to evolve and grow (possibly getting rid of the Live bit to allow for some editing) and learns how to use the talent more effectively, it could be really good.

It’ll hit 40D in a couple of hours, apparently, you can watch it there.

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West Wing Season 8

I missed this the first time around.

Did you know that when the West Wing writers were looking for a candidate to base Matt Santos on, they went for a young politician – not even a senator yet?

For what those West Wing fans stunned by the similarity between the fictitious Matthew Santos and the real-life Barack Obama have not known is that the resemblance is no coincidence. When the West Wing scriptwriters first devised their fictitious presidential candidate in the late summer of 2004, they modelled him in part on a young Illinois politician – not yet even a US senator – by the name of Barack Obama.

(From The Guardian, Feb 2008)

This includes some of the speeches:

But it doesn’t end there. The model for Josh Lyman was, apparently, a man I’d never heard of called Rahm Emanuel. Who is apparently the model for Lyman. And he’s been tipped to be Obama’s chief of staff, which is what Lyman ended up as.

Life imitating art.

(Sorry Murky, another false alarm)

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The Next Wing

SAN DIEGO—On day two of the 2008 San Diego SorCon, the biggest Aaron Sorkin convention in the world, screenwriter and producer Aaron Sorkin revealed plans for his next project, an animated continuation of his most popular franchise, The West Wing.

More details

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Things that have amused me today:

Follow the profile. It appears that Disney/Muppet Studios are publishing a series of new muppet sketches via YouTube. Trials for a new Muppets series?

I’d hope that Disney are able to let them make it fun.

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This Skittles advert is downright creepy (Via Helljack)

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Dr Who Fans Phrasebook

“Jon Pertwee”
An actor who – at the time he was cast in Doctor Who – was chiefly known for his comic characterisations with wide popular appeal. A masterstroke of casting which reinvigorated the show.

“Catherine Tate”
An actress who – at the time she was cast in Doctor Who – was chiefly known for her comic characterisations with wide popular appeal. A mistake of quite apocalyptic proportions that will, I predict, kill off the show for good.

And the rest