Denver Film Festival

Before I arrived in Denver, one of my Mother-in-law’s church friends suggested that I get involved in the Denver film festival during my stay in the States. When I got out here this friend put me in touch with the volunteer manager for the festival Charles Powell and between the two of us we narrowed down my options.

I was excited to be a part of a film festival, even if its scope was not that major, it has now been around for thirty five years. It gave me a rare chance to put my degree to some vague use and also to get out of my basement for an extended period of time.

Due to my lack of guaranteed vehicle access I eventually got placed on the volunteer check-in desk, which was fine by me. I got six six-hour shifts to work on during the ten day film festival which would allow me to balance the festival with other commitments. The day before the festival started I met with the Charles at the Denver film theatre, on what is billed as Colorado’s longest street, next to a Tattered Cover book store. Tattered Cover is a book store with character and is one of my favourite shops in the world.

Anyway, I met with Charles and he explained my role, I would be signing in and out volunteers and answering their questions. The signing in and out would be done on an iPad and it was a nice simple job. Sounded fine to me, plus I would get four movie tickets for each shift I did that would be redeemable for a year.

I began my shift on the second day of the festival, I drove to the lightrail station and took it all the way downtown to 16th Street which is a great pedestrianized high street in the center of Denver. I made my way to the cinema and found my spot. While there were long periods of inactivity (sometimes three consecutive hours) and the desk was situated a floor down from the main festival, it was good fun. I got to meet a lot of lovely people, including those on the customer services desk (such as artist Susan Goldstein who has been involved in the festival for all but one of its 35 years) next to me. I also got to sample the filmmakers lounge next door and was able to get free food and drinks from there each night. I also thought I was putting my tickets to good use. I got tickets to four films: The Revisionaries, a documentary about the Texas State board of education pushing their agenda of creationism and other nonsense; Polski Film, a comedy from Poland; Virgin Tales, a documentary about girls brought up with chastity promises; and John Dies at the End, an Indie film starring Paul Giamatti.

Unfortunately I was not to go and see any of those four films. I missed out on The Revisionaries on the Tuesday night of the festival because I was going to take Beth and we would have gotten home late, with Beth having an 8am class the next day. I missed the other three because on the Wednesday morning, with half my shifts complete I got food poisoning.

I am now fine, I put it down to some slightly undercooked chicken on Tuesday night. The illness wiped out the remaining three shifts I had at the film festival though and meant I wasn’t able to see the remaining movies either. Even so, I greatly enjoyed my three shifts at the festival, it felt like I was able to use the knowledge from my degree talking to the other volunteers and I met some lovely people. The illness meanwhile meant I wasn’t able to do anything for four days. I felt better in time for a trip to Skyfall on Saturday evening. By Sunday night I was completely back to normal, I lost five pounds but I’m back in action.

I also got featured in their volunteer spotlight: http://denverfilmsocietyvolunteers.tumblr.com/

Microsoft Surface Impressions

I had the chance to play with Microsoft’s new Surface RT yesterday so I thought I would give a few impressions. I will preface them by saying that I don’t currently have a horse in the tablet race. The iPad has done a fantastic job in popularizing the concept (as apple products tend to do) but I am not a huge fan of the iOS interface with its grid system. On mobile I prefer android and have a fondness for Asus’s Eeepad Transformer range of tablets. I was eager to see what Microsoft would bring to the table.

The tablet itself is a nice piece of kit. The hardware seems sturdy and the stand does not feel like it will snap off easily, I also love how easy it is to connect and disconnect the keyboard from the device. Surface is well featured with usb, microsd and a port that will allow you to connect it to monitors and televisions. There are two downers though, the first for me is that the device is too heavy. I disconnected it from its keyboard and played with it off the desk for a while and it was giving me a bit of an arm ache. It was noticeable that the device was heavier than an iPad and less comfortable to hold. The other downside comes from the keyboards. The first major issue is that to use the keyboard functionally you need the device on a table. If you place it on your lap the stand will not be stable and it will be a poor experience. The second issue is that the colourful surface touch covers are horrible to use. They are pretty much flat and there is no movement or feedback when you press a key. It makes it very difficult to discover if the keys you are pressing are actually registering and it was not enjoyable. Fortunately Microsoft also offer a black keyboard cover that has a much nicer keyboard and although the level of travel is still small you have a much better idea of what you are doing. I could get on with the black keyboard, I couldn’t with the coloured ones. Spend the extra money… The final thing I will say on hardware is that Apple have gotten me used to the dimensions of the iPad which made the RT feel very wide and thin, this made it feel strange in the hand. The advantage of this is that it means that video tends to fill the screen.

The tablet I played with did have some videos preloaded and they predictably worked well, the store on the device also seemed to be offering movie rentals at very decent prices as well. The music player didn’t seem overly well laid out and it was hard to hear the sound quality in the store, even with sound all the way up I could hear nothing. The supplied apps were generally pleasing, calendar, contacts and mail all have a nice clean feel and I would be happy using those. The image features were pretty standard and the inbuilt cameras seemed ok for what they are. The sample pictures and general colour display on the device did not seem as vibrant or enticing as on the iPad though. In terms of the general Windows 8 interface, it is starting to win me over as a tablet and phone layout. It has the ability to display information easily and once you get used to where things are I would rate it as better than the iOS grid. It took me a while but I also worked out some of the gesture controls that are not standard on other devices, for example swiping from off screen to bring up the open/recent apps on the left or the search/settings on the right. It took me a while to work out how to control IE but swiping from the top/bottom does the trick. These gestures work well once you know them and it made the experience easy to control. What was less impressive was the responsiveness of the tablet. Sure it runs apps and all of that fine, my problem was a more base issue of the device not picking up what I was tapping on. It occasionally took me two or three attempts to open an app, the worst was trying to play music which took me a while to get working. A delay and a lack of feedback to tell me if something was in the process of opening did not help.

So overall I enjoyed playing with the surface. Would I buy one? No, but the interface is up there with android as my favourite. I am sure that Microsoft will fix (or already has fixed) the responsiveness problems I faced but there is a more general issue of the device being too heavy and being impractical for lap usage. I guess that means that I am giving the interface and OS a plus mark for use on tablets, especially given the bonus of the integrated windows desktop experience and office suite, but I am not sold on the surface hardware. Time will tell on how the competition stacks up in the RT marketplace but if I had to buy a tablet today I would be going android.

Image from the Microsoft Surface website