Gallery 2.0 Rocks

I’m continually involved in PHP development for various products. I enjoy programming, particularly using PHP and a very fast database, such as MySQL or Oracle, and part of the enjoyment I get from web application development is the very real sense of building an immediately useful tool, something that someone with a problem to solve could immediately pick up and use. Imagine being at a home construction site full of folks using rocks to bang in nails and you can whip together a hammer. That’s the kind of feeling I crave, and this feeling drives me toward the best tools for any particular job.

Over time, this attitude has made me appreciate projects that have built other solutions, especially using a similar toolset, that far-and-away exceed my expectations and have the ability to change how I accomplish a task. The most recent amazing tool I’ve “discovered” is Gallery 2.0. Or, rather, I guess that I should say that I “rediscovered” it, as I’ve been using the original version of Gallery for years. Gallery version 1 offered a database-free way of uploading, organizing, and displaying collections of digital images. While simplistic in what it offered in comparison to many of the commercial ventures offering the same services, such as Flickr and Shutterfly, and free services, like Yafro, Gallery v1 offered complete control to the webmaster hosting the site and easy integration with free bulletin board software, such as phpNuke and PostNuke.

Amazingly, the project that started as a coding project to allow an individual to post pictures of their kids did not stop there. The Gallery v1 project was such a success that the number of developers contributing code ballooned, and the decision rarely seen with successful commercial software was made: let’s rip it up and start over with a new design. And, amazingly, the result in Gallery 2.0 more than demonstrates the wisdom of this decision.

After being in development for well over a year, Gallery 2.0 was officially moved out of beta earlier this month. A complete rewrite of the code that now requires a MySQL database and includes modular features, Gallery 2.0 is built to scale to hundreds of thousands of images. However, like any fantastic open source project, the magic really shines when you look under the hood. In a world of bloated software and security exploits being released daily, the developers of Gallery 2 have provided an elegant API that can be easily expanded with 3rd-party software that can be enabled or disabled at will. By running as little core code as possible and allowing modules to be turn on or off to provide functionality, the developers simultaneously achieve a smaller, faster application with fewer places for bugs to hide and the support of the best-of-breed external applications and libraries (GD, ImageMagick, NetPBM) to accomplish the very difficult tasks of dealing with image file formats. And. take it from someone who has written a simplistic photo upload/viewing web app, dealing with image files is very hard to get right.

Webmasters, if you are looking for a great image, movie, and audio file cataloging and display web application, look no further than Gallery 2.0. My hat is off to the Gallery 2.0 developers for taking every part of their software to the next level and pushing the envelope without creating an over-powering monster in place of a hard-working mouse. Bravo!

Elephant (2003)

Elephant (2003)Have you ever been looking at a street corner when an accident occurs, when you can see what is going to happen but there just isn’t time to call out and act to stop the collision? Or, worse, have you found yourself unable to move, transfixed by what is seemingly destined to happen, and incapable of even muttering an explicitive before everything goes down?

Well, I had a good sense before watching the 2003 Gus Van Sant movie Elephant that I would be watching the Columbine-esque events surrounding a particular day at a fictional high school, being privy to the various things that lead up to and cause such tragedies. The official movie site makes this clear, and just about any discussion of this movie on the web gives you a good idea of what to expect. Disaffected youth, ignored by the adults in their lives, picked on and humiliated by their peers, taught to be disaffected by violence, living in a community full of individuals with their own stunning hang-ups, and able to acquire weapons of localized mass destruction, deliberately shoot up their high school and murder many of their classmates, teachers, and administrators.

While the subject matter of such a film is not particularly interesting, getting the story from the perspective of Gus Van Sant, director of such classic films as Drugstore Cowboy (1989) and My Own Private Idaho (1991), among others, should be. For one thing, Van Sant makes beautiful movies. Many of his shots last a long time, drawing the viewer in and causing you to suspend your disbelief for the exact opposite reason many other movies accomplish the same effect today (i.e. explosions, rapid movement). For one, each shot is purposeful, deliberate, and lasting, perfectly framed, moving you from scene to scene without cuts, not allowing you to blink or look away, demanding your attention. Elephant continues this cinemagraphic excellence, almost too well, becoming a distraction from the story that at the same time attempts to help tell the story.

The other aspect is that Van Sant often has a very important message underlying the movies he chooses to make, and Elephant continues this trend. Unfortunately, it might not be the message that Van Sant is hoping for. While the viewer can tell that a tremendous amount of effort went into setting the mood for the disaster with excellent camera and sound work, much of the effect is wasted on the lame dialog, which, while trying to appear mostly pointless and obtuse in order to properly explain character motivation, fails to live up to the artistic direction of the film. Rather than create character interactions that reinforce the artificiality of high school and bolster the title concept of the movie, that the murderers were the proverbial elephant in the corner of the room that no one wants to talk about, Van Sant clearly stumbles into a pattern of moralistic messaging that seeks to present an answer to the question we want answered so badly: “Why?”

Elephant Video Game ScreenCase in point: Consider the simplistic, silly video game played by the shooters-to-be, Eric and Alex, which was modeled after Van Sant’s 2002 film Gerry. In a movie where everything is just a little too real and everyone is just a little too self-absorbed, any scene featuring violent video games should be equally as immersive, especially since violent (and wonderful) games like Doom, especially since the alternate, very real reality of the game and what you can virtually do in it serve to make it so attractive. But, Van Sant clearly knows that this would clash with his messages of “Guns are Bad” and “High School Kids are Mean to One Another” and “Grown Ups Should Grow Up,” and he seeks to minimize it, cover it up. Even if he couldn’t get a game maker to participate, he could have come up with a better game than that in only a few days that would help to explain why the real shooters spent so much time playing them. However, Van Sant doesn’t get it: The games the shooters-to-be do tells us a lot about what they are missing in their lives, and what they do after they play them tell us a lot about their skills in being able to deal with what is missing in their lives.

I have to wonder if Van Sant ever actually researched Columbine before making this film. Take a gander over at Wikipedia and see if you can figure out where Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold began down the path leading to the real tragedy. The arrests, acknowledged mental issues, web pages posted with instructions about making explosives, and much more make the real tragedy must more compelling than Van Sant’s vision, and he has 81 minutes of our attention to use as his canvas. Instead of building to a event that is so compelling and inevitable that you can’t turn away, Van Sant only succeeds in captivating his audience with the question of just how Elephant will collapse, like an ill-planned house of cards.

Tunica Fish Fry

Thanks go out to Harold and Lola Hanson, as well as their neighbors Rick & Prudie, for having us out on Sunday for the annual fish fry. This event is held on the 3rd Saturday of October and then, again, eight days later. The bass, chicken, and BBQ shrimp were quite good, with the dipping batter for the fried bass among the best I’ve ever tasted, a complete redefining of lemon and black pepper as a breaded seasoning. The bacon-wrapped venison was excellent, the bacon grease softening the normally tough, gamey deer meat.

This is an event that Harold and Rick fish all year for, with a requirement of over 1000 fish to provide enough fillets for the four fish frys Rick puts on throughout the year. Their fishing community is in the Nel-Win camp, on the edge of Tunica Lake [Google satellite view]. The lake is actually a old part of the Mississippi River, and it still rises and falls, to some degree, as the height of the Old Man River rises and falls.

I’m hoping we are lucky enough to be invited back next year, when we will definitely remember to bring a desert!

Neighborhood Texture Jam at The HiTone, Oct. 21, 2005

If you had informed me in the fall of 1989 that I would be moshing to Bikers, a cut off of Neighborhood Texture Jam‘s album Funeral Mountain in the fall of 2005, I probably would have blown smoke in your face. Because at the time I smoked. Marlboro Reds, occasionally with the filter torn off. Yeah, I know. Not good for you. But, as it turns out, I did see NTJ last night at undeniably best club venue in Memphis, The HiTone, and the show was definitely one of the best I’ve been to in the past decade.

To the unintiated, and, let’s face it, if you are reading this, you probably are unintiated in the ways of Memphis hard rock/punk scene in general, NTJ plays old-school, intellectual, unapologetic, pseudo-punk in a way that will make you have a hard time deciding between contemplating the meaning of the lyrics and throwing the guy in front of you back into pit from which he was ejected. The band is fronted by Joe Lapsley and features many of the most talented rock musicians to come from Memphis. Originally famous (and named) for the fact that they use stuff they would find around their neighborhood as instruments (oil barrels, corrugated tin sheets, sticks, and steel window burglar bars as just a few examples), the group combines a synthesized political commentary laced with irony and some of the catchyist hooks you’ve ever heard.

I mean, who can forget tracks like Don’t Get Loud With Me, Bitch, which is about the Khmer Rouge take-over of Cambodia in the late-1970’s and the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, or Running from Miami, at look the business of drug dealing from the prospective of a successful kingpin. One of my particular faves is Borax Factory, which takes the metaphors we all have experienced when a relationship sours and shares them with the world:

I fell into the Borax factory of your love;
Dragged by a mule train
Out across the alkaline plains
To the Borax factory of your love.

Almost brings a tear to the eye.

Anyway, I actually attended the launch party for Funeral Mountain, probably on accident but I can’t be sure. Many of the members of NTJ attended Rhodes College, where I was enrolled as a freshman, and there were flyers up everywhere. The album never got the level of critical acclaim it was due, which is really a shame, and the other two albums by NTJ, Total Social Negation and Don’t Bury Me in Haiti, lacked some of the intensity and depth of the debut record, but NTJ has remained a Memphis favorite, for good reason. If you get a chance to catch a show, do not miss it. Wait, you actually have a chance coming up:

Neighborhood Texture Jam
Ernestine and Hazel’s – Map
October 29th, 2005

Why Blog?

Why blog? Why indeed.

It is a valid question. I tend to abhor trends, Internet and otherwise, until I actually see utility in an activity. And blogging, as trendy as it continues to be, has tended to show little utility to me, mostly due to the fact that he majority of the blogs available have little novel to say. In addition, a blog is most closely associated in my mind with a journal, a personal journal. But there is little personal about the web, and that is a good thing.

However, recently, I’ve come to realize that I’ve started to treat the Internet like television. In short, I’ve become the online version of a couch potato, reading what others write, viewing what other make available, and, more and more, I’m not giving back. I’m not giving my own views in light of what I learn, particularly when those views actually are original and enlightened. (Hey, it is rare but it happens.) I’ve been using the Internet since the late-1980s. I’ve been building webpages for over 10 years now. My natural inclination is toward two-way communication. Blogging would provide the ability to put my thoughts out into the public sphere for feedback and, hopefully, refinement.

I would also like a easy to way to post information about what Kath (my wife) and I are up to, so that I don’t need to rely so much on email. Blogging fits that requirement nicely.

Does this sound like self-justification? Probably. But who is going to read this thing anyway.

Wait. I guess you just did…