The Revenant – my reactions

DiCaprio in The Revenant

[Revised version.]

I finally got to see The Revenant this weekend on a DVD disk from Netflix. There is much to admire about this movie. Great performances by Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy. Breathtaking imagery. And the scene in which DiCaprio’s character, Hugh Glass, is mauled by a grizzly bear is stunning filmmaking.

SPOILERS AHEAD

All and all I found The Revenant compelling. But in the end I was disappointed. The problem is my familiarity with the true story of Hugh Glass, epic without the embellishments layered on by the film.  (For a reasonable recounting of the differences between the historical record and the film version of Hugh Glass’s story, see here.)

The film adds elements that I found distracting and even annoying. The emotional center of the film, the murder of Glass’s Pawnee wife by American soldiers and the subsequent murder of his son by one of his companions, is totally fabricated (there is no evidence he had a wife or that, if he did, she was killed in a raid; there is no record of his having a son, and even if he did have one, there is no way he would have been old enough to join in a trapping excursion). Knowing this as I watched the movie made me feel manipulated by the filmmakers. The real Hugh Glass crawled 200 miles, not to mete out noble justice for the death of his son, but simply to survive. Perhaps wanting vengeance for being abandoned by his companions fueled his desire to live, but in the end he never did kill anyone over his abandonment. He just returned to trapping until he was killed by Indians ten years later, in 1833.

There are two story threads involving a party of villainous French-Canadian trappers, and a noble band of Arikara Indians trying to rescue the kidnapped daughter of one of its own. These two strands are improbably woven into Glass’s story — making the vast wilderness of the American west seem a very crowded place.

I also found it gratuitous that the leader of the Arikaras makes a short speech about how the white man has stolen everything from them. Remember, this story takes place in 1823, before there has been much incursion by whites into far west. I doubt very much that the Arikaras or any other western tribes felt that everything had been stolen from them by the white man, yet. They surely did justifiably come to feel that way but that would not be for another 40 years or more.

Had this story been set later in the 19th century and not involved real-life, historical people, I would have appreciated it more. It is a good movie, but falls far short of the best mountain man film of all time, Jeremiah Johnson. That’s another movie based on a book, which is inspired by a true story. But both the novelist (Vardis Fisher) and the filmmaker (the great Sydney Pollack) use fictional characters, only taking the true story of Liver-Eating Johnson as a starting point.

Embellishments are necessary in telling Glass’s story, I suppose. Watching a man crawl 200 miles, no matter how heroic, would be a bore. But this film does not honor Hugh Glass, because it does not trust that his real story is worth telling. Instead it wraps Glass in a bearskin of supernaturalism, as visions of his fictional wife keep appearing to him until the ultimate villain in the story is dead. Then Hugh Glass stops fighting death and embraces it. The film ends in blackness as we hear Hugh Glass take his final breath.

The real Hugh Glass would have fought to the bitter end.

And a final thought: The wild west of the mountain man was violent and dangerous. But it was also a time and place of fabulous adventures. Mountain men, even those who made some money from their efforts, kept returning to the trade, drawn by the freedom of living among the fabulous beauty of the Rocky Mountains. The Revenant fails to acknowledge this, painting instead a bleak and miserable portrait of these men.

The sun never shines throughout the entire film.

 

 

Version 6.6 of Tinderbox now available

I just got an e-mail notification that the latest update to Tinderbox is now officially released. The update includes a number of tweaks and improvements, though nothing that will convince you to buy the app if you haven’t already been wowed by its power and possibilities.

You can read more about the updates here, and find out about how to save $10 on upgrades for the next week.

Outlinely 2.0 – a quick review

Outlinely 2.0 sports a new user interface, which includes a pretty typical library panel.

Outlinely 2.0 sports a new user interface, which includes a pretty typical library panel.

Updated April 28:

Outlinely is a simple, but elegant outlining application for Mac OS. I have written about the app before, here. Version 2.0 was just released. The big feature addition is the library, which looks like a fairly standard organization panel where you can tuck your outlines into folders. This isn’t the most sophisticated “library” panel you will find, but it looks as if it will be handy.

It is not immediately apparent how to add folders to the library, but if you hover the cursor over the location (iCloud or On My Mac), a plus sign appears. Clicking this creates a new folder. You can’t nest folders, however.

One thing I found a little disconcerting is that the current document remains open in the editor window when you select another folder — it won’t change until you select another document. Consequently, you can be at a loss for which folder the document is actually in. See the screenshot below for an example:

In which folder is this document categorized? Can't tell from the user interface because I navigated off the Website folder.

In which folder is this document categorized? Can’t tell from the user interface because I navigated off the Website folder.

This document is in my Website folder, but there is no way to tell that from the data on screen. This could be a big deal if you have a lot of folders and a lot of outline documents. A breadcrumb trail at the top of the document editor would solve this.

But all in all, Outlinely is a nice application. It feels like a standard text editor, but with a fairly powerful outline engine under the hood. At $14.95 (U.S.) some folks might find it a little pricey. But I was weaned on applications that cost hundreds of dollars, so it seems like a good deal to me. Update: The developer is offering a version without the library feature for free. Check it out at the App Store. It’s called Outlinely Express.

Of bat flips and trump

For the past 24 hours, the baseball media has been in a whirl about Goose Gossage’s comments about demonstrative celebrations in baseball. The Hall-of-Fame closer for the Yankees called Jose Bautista a “fucking disgrace” for flipping his bat after hitting a decisive home run in last year’s playoffs. Gossage also took exception to the celebratory antics of Bryce Harper, who himself has railed against the stodginess of baseball.

While my sympathies lie with Gossage (maybe the only time this Red Sox fan will ever say that), he might as well save his breath. Celebrations are in baseball to stay. We can only be thankful that at least the players are still only celebrating great plays, unlike in the NFL where there is a celebration by someone at the end of almost every play, even though the celebrants have only just done what they are paid to do. But don’t worry, it is only a matter of time until that kind of pedestrian chest thumping will work its way onto the diamond.

I played interscholastic football for five years. One game I intercepted a pass and returned it 60 yards for a touchdown — the only time I ever scored in any way on the gridiron. When I crossed the goal line I just dropped the ball. Suddenly I was swarmed by teammates who wanted me to spike the ball or otherwise celebrate. Even though I was young at the time, I thought to myself, “I just scored a touchdown on a 60-yard interception return. Doesn’t that accomplishment stand by itself without me having to add a little dance?”

As I see it, this is precisely the problem with celebration. It attracts attention AWAY from your achievement. Ask ten baseball fans if they remember Bautista’s bat flip and I’d bet at least nine will say yes. But ask them the situation when the bat flip occurred and I’d be surprised if half of them could tell you. A year from now, while the flip will be remembered, 90% of those asked won’t know exactly why.

It would be easy to blame young people for this change, but I think it is part of a larger societal shift away from content and meaning to attitude and gesture.

It’s why so many divas strain the lyrics and melody of the National Anthem before games. They are not concerned with the words or music, but only with demonstrating their powerful vocal gymnastics.

That’s why Donald Trump can run a successful campaign without making one substantive policy statement. Instead, he’s risen to the top of the GOP candidate list by saying one outrageous thing after another. This is an extension of the sound bite media culture, but taken to another (lower) level. Formerly, sound bites at least had some actual, if abbreviated, meaning. Now Trump can build his lead in the polls simply by promising to “Make America great again” without defining what “great” means or how he will actually achieve this goal. The Trump campaign is so reliant on empty gestures, it’s like playing a football game without the plays and only the celebrations.

So, if you’re a baseball fan, brace yourself for more whoops and hollers and flips of bats. The game is America’s past time after all.

Outlines and inline notes

Nearly a year ago, I wrote an article about using Tinderbox as an outliner. My conclusion was that the outline view in Tinderbox is a terrific outline application. Just about the only feature it lacked is inline notes. The conversation that cropped up today about this feature prompted me to think about how I might implement a workaround in Tinderbox that would at least approximate inline notes. Before I get to that, I first want to talk a little bit about my opinions regarding inline notes.

This feature mostly only matters in single-pane outliners. That is, those outliners where all the relevant information is presented in one pane. Why it matters is that you want to see the notes relating to a topic displayed “inline” with the topic and not in a separate pane. This allows you to view the notes for all the nearby topics at one time. A little more about why this is important a little further down.

I feel like inline notes are an under appreciated feature of a sophisticated outlining application. That’s probably because most people have never actually been able to use an outline that handled inline notes. Either the app doesn’t have inline notes as a feature, or the feature is rudimentally implemented.

Two definitions before continuing:

  • Heading or topic – Each individual item in an outline is a heading (or call it a topic). That is, if it has a bullet or an alphanumeric label, it is a heading.
  • Note – In some outliners, the note is merely additional meta data. In a small number of other outliners, it can be the main text that describes the heading under which it is associated. Every note is associated with a heading.

OmniOutliner is one of the more fully featured outliners on the market, including the ability to add notes and view them inline. Its approach is pretty standard, so it will serve as a good example of the current state of inline notes.

These screen shots demonstrate how inline notes work in OmniOutliner:

Sample OmniOutliner Document.

Sample OmniOutliner Document. Don’t confuse those long paragraphs as inline notes. They are each a separate heading.

 

To add a note to an OmniOutliner topic, click the note icon.

To add a note to an OmniOutliner topic, click the note icon.

 

By default, the inline note is made to have a lower-level of importance by appearance.

By default, the inline note is made to have a lower-level of importance by appearance.

 

The note now appearing in the note pane. You can toggle this action.

The note now appearing in the note pane. You can toggle this action.

Notes in OmniOutliner are clearly intended to be meta-data and not the substance of the heading the notes are associated with. This is a fine approach for a lot of purposes, but it is not ideal for writers. I suspect anyone using OmniOutliner for writing will take the approach demonstrated here; which is to just write paragraphs in the headings instead of using the notes for the content.

Grandview’s take on notes

The best application of inline notes that I have ever seen or used was that of Grandview, the DOS outliner I wrote about here. With Grandview you created your outline headings and could associate a full-text document with each heading, as demonstrated below:

Document text viewed "inline" in the GrandView outline

Document text viewed “inline” in the GrandView outline

Grandview treated notes as full-fledged documents in their own right, but allowed you to view them in the outliner or not, as you chose. If you wished, you could isolate the text of the document to focus solely on composing. Like this:

Dedicated document window in GrandView

Dedicated document window in GrandView

Here is what I had to say about why I feel this is important for writers:

An important point here is that this text is not a separate headline or node. It is directly associated with a headline and can be viewed inline, in its own window, or collapsed and not visible in the outline. This visual flexibility is a powerful feature for writers, because it allows you to switch from a focused view of your writing to the big picture. You can work on getting each section of the text right, then make sure the entire work flows smoothly with appropriate transitions. Two-pane outliners… force you to keep your writing in separate, discrete blocks. To this day, no other application has matched GrandView for providing this combination of powerful outlining tools AND single-pane, inline text. I have yet to find any outliner that matches Grandview for handling these this inline content.

I wrote that over six years ago, and it is still true. (I hope someone out there can show me I’m wrong.)

An inline notes workaround for Tinderbox

So my Tinderbox inline notes workaround. You can add columns to an outline view in Tinderbox. The columns can display any of the attributes for the headings in your Tinderbox outline. One of those attributes is “text”, which is the notes content.

Tinderbox with outline view selected. I have only populated it with a few notes.

Tinderbox with outline view selected. I have only populated it with a few notes.

If you’ve read my article about Tinderbox as an outliner, you know that you can add columns to the outline view, and fill those columns with data from any of the notes’ attributes. The text within the note is the “text” attribute, so you can add that as a column. So you can minimize the notes pane and view the text in the outline view as demonstrated in the screenshot below:

Outline view in Tinderbox with the "Text" attribute displayed in the outline as a separate column.

Outline view in Tinderbox with the “Text” attribute displayed in the outline as a separate column.

As you can see, the result isn’t exactly “inline” notes. And, sadly, the text doesn’t wrap to multiple lines so you can only read the contents as far as you can stretch the column. But this does provide an overview of content in a single pane, so it might prove useful to some.

My conclusion, however, is the search goes on for a single-pane outliner that can handle inline notes effectively for writers.

Day One 2 – The best journal (for Mac) just got better (I think)

Day One 2's main screen.

Day One 2’s main screen.

For the past few years I’ve been keeping a sporadic diary in an application called Day One. I have liked several aspects of the software:

  • It has an elegant, uncluttered interface.
  • It has versions for OSx and iOS, and these have sync’d flawlessly
  • It allows me to write my journals using markdown if I wish
  • It has an effective, but not intrusive tagging system to organize entries beyond dates

There are many, many other features, but those are the ones that matter to me most.

One of the reasons I had not used Day One for more than a casual diary is because it only allowed for one journal, which had to store everything.

Today the developer of Day One has issued a new and improved version called Day One 2. There are several improvements in this version, but the one that matters most to me is I can now create multiple journals.

Day One 2 has multiple journal capability. To edit an entry, you need to be in edit mode. You can use markdown for formatting.

Day One 2 has multiple journal capability. To edit an entry, you need to be in edit mode. You can use markdown for formatting.

I’m not doing a full review here. If you’d like more information about the new version, you can get the details here.

The screenshot above shows the five journals I’ve created (three of them are empty, one has one entry, and the other has imported all my entries from the previous version of Day One). In that screenshot, my entry is in edit mode so I can do my writing. Note that I’m using markdown to add some formatting.

Day One 2 with my entry in view mode. It converts the markdown nicely.

Day One 2 with my entry in view mode. It converts the markdown nicely.

Having to switch back and forth from edit mode is a very mild annoyance, one I can live with. It was that way in the previous version of Day One, too.

The other significant change, at least for me, is that I now need to use the propriety Day One cloud service to keep my two MacBooks and my iPad in sync. In very limited testing, this has worked fine so far. This is what the iPad version looks like (notice it is sync’d):

Day One 2 for iPad. Keep all your (Apple-based) devices in sync.

Day One 2 for iPad. Keep all your (Apple-based) devices in sync.

The developer claims moving to the proprietary service is necessary for additional features they are planning. I hope one of those features isn’t a subscription fee for using the sync service — right now it is free, but I’m not sure if there is a guarantee this will always be the case.

Switching journals in the iPad version of Day One 2. (Note: I could not stand that hideous pink color any longer and changed it to gray... that was my doing, not a flaw in the sync.)

Switching journals in the iPad version of Day One 2. (Note: I could not stand that hideous pink color any longer and changed it to gray… that was my doing, not a flaw in the sync.)

The developer is charging even current users a fee for the new versions on both OSx and iOS. For the first week, the price is half the normal price, so you can get the OSx version for $20 and the iOS version for $5. Some people might gripe at that, but to me $25 is a bargain for a useful application like Day One. I am happy to support the continued development of this fine software.

Anyway, so far, so good. If I run into blips, I will update this article. But I wanted to get it posted as soon as possible since the special pricing is for a limited time.

Circus Ponies closes shop, gives its customers the finger

[see update at the end]

Circus Ponies gives its customers the finger on the way out the door.

Circus Ponies gives its customers the finger on the way out the door.

Notebook by Circus Ponies was one of the applications, along with Scrivener, that lured me back to the Mac platform after 15 years. Its outline-centric approach and notebook metaphor appealed to me, but once I began using it, I found it a bit too restrictive. While I updated to each new version, paying the upgrade fee a couple of times, I really never relied upon the app. I might have more if the iPad version worked well-enough. But it didn’t and the long-promised upgrade never appeared.

Now word comes (via outlinersoftware.com) that Circus Ponies has, without warning, shut its doors, leaving its users in the lurch, with no support but this vague statement:

If you need a copy of NoteBook 4.0 (3.x and earlier don’t run on OS X El Capitan) or need technical support, you can try sending an e-mail to support@circusponies.com. There’s a chance someone will respond but no guarantees.

I know that software companies can’t be expected to stay in business if they’re not profitable. But when they decide they are going to shut down they owe it to the people who’ve purchased their product to exit a lot more gracefully than this. There should be some warning. An e-mail sent, well in advance of the day to their customers. If they are an information warehouse, like Notebook, a FAQ on the best ways to port information to other apps should be posted. A sincere thank you would be nice too.

Instead of any of that, Circus Ponies chose to make this their final remark to their long-standing customers:

Best of luck with all the turd note-taking apps that are left.

I say, if you’d spent more time making a better product, you might have stayed in business. Good riddance to you and don’t let the door hit you in the ass on they way out.

January 6, 2015 Update: I checked the Circus Ponies site this afternoon and found that they had removed the reference to “turd note-taking apps.” It just says “Best of luck” now. I’m glad they re-thought that send off.

A simple solution to the PED/HOF quagmire

Every year at this time — Baseball Hall of Fame balloting time — we get a plague of hand-wringing from baseball pundits about whether or not players suspected of using performance enhancing drugs should receive support for enshrinement.

For the record, I’m on the side that believes if there is a lot of evidence  that the player did cheat (as in the case of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens), they do not deserve to be in the Hall.

But I feel sorry for guys like Mike Piazza and Jeff Bagwell for whom there is no evidence, only suspicion. There will be other players on the fringe like this in the years to come. And that isn’t fair. I don’t blame the voters for this. I blame the players who did cheat, because we KNOW players cheated. With a few exceptions (Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez, Jason Giambi, Andy Pettit), we just don’t know who.

Here is my simple solution: The players who did cheat should just fess up. Then the game can move forward. Man up, fellows. Anyone who didn’t confess, we’d take at his word. There will be some who still don’t admit it, but they’ll just have to live with themselves.

Imagine Roger Clemens calling a press conference on the day Hall of Fame voting results are announced:

The issue of PED use has plagued baseball long enough. This is not fair to the fans, and it is not fair to the players — my teammates — who played clean. That’s why I am admitting today that I did take PEDs for a significant part of the final decade of my career.

I know this may permanently exclude me from being elected into the Hall of Fame, but we need to set the record straight. I am calling for all players who took PEDs to join me in admitting what they did. It is the only way the game can move on.

Other players would come forward, first slowly, but soon there would be dozens and even more. This act by Clemens would in itself earn my respect and support for induction to the Hall. All it would take is a little courage.

But that’s why it will never happen. And that’s why players like Clemens and Bonds do NOT deserve to be elected to sports’ most honored shrine.