Monthly Archives: December 2005

Rare Holmes Movies for Free

My big Christmas gift to myself came as a result of wandering through the Mystery section of PublicDomainTorrents.com.

While my collection of Sherlock Holmes DVDs are well rounded-out with Brett, Rathbone and others, some of the earliest films have always eluded me, and in particular those of Wontner and Owen as the Master Detective. I did find Wontner’s The Triumph of Sherlock Holmes for $1 in the discount bin at a Wal*Mart, but all three copies they had there were defective, crashing Windows and refusing to be read by either Mac OS X or Linux. So it was a pleasant surprise to trip across four Wontner and Owen films in this torrent archive (the films fell into the public domain years ago), free for download.

The quality is not the greatest, of course –these are films made in the 30′s and these copies are not taken from the masters– but they’re still a great find for me nevertheless. If you’re interested, point your BitTorrent client (I use Azureus) to PDT and catch Reginald Owen in A Study in Scarlet (1933, and bearing no resemblance whatsoever to the novel), and Wontner in The Sign of Four (1932), The Triumph of Sherlock Holmes (1935), and Murder at the Baskervilles (1937, a.k.a., Silver Blaze). There are also a few of the Rathbone/Bruce films in the Mystery section as well, although those are somewhat easier to find elsewhere.

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Photograph: The Derelict S. S. Kyle

The Derelict S. S. Kyle

Running errands today, and I couldn’t resist going down the road to Harbour Grace to take a photograph through all the rain and mist of the S. S. Kyle, an ancient Newfoundland coastal steamer that was stranded upon a sand bar during a storm nearly four decades ago, and there remains. The coal-burning vessel, launched in 1913 and once the glory of the island’s most perilous ferry runs, is one of the first things a person sees upon entering this tiny community on the bay. Despite corroding into a rusting hulk in the harsh salt air of so many years, she has become somewhat of a tourist attraction in the area, and back in 1997 was even given a fresh coat of paint.

When I was a child, our family’s summer home was nearby, and I still remember quite vividly how I stood upon the shoreline a couple hundred feet away with my father, staring out at the strange old ghost ship, thinking I heard voices and wondering what it would be like to visit her.

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Tinderbox Sparks and Flames

Perhaps I’m just hopelessly naive, but I normally try to assume the best intentions from people (at least, most days… sometimes an ill wind has been known to blow from my direction, however briefly, and I try to make amends when that happens). I tend to believe that everybody is intrinsically good, but that folks often make mistakes, take a wrong turn, or lose touch with their nature. As such, I’ll try to take someone at their word.

Which is why I’m a little confused by a post from Lee Phillips, who suspects a hidden agenda behind my recent review of Tinderbox as a brainstorming and writing tool. I can’t imagine I’ve personally slighted him, so I can only assume a sort of paranoia at work. (He runs a mailing list about the product which he calls “uncensored,” which is a little unusual in itself.) Now, I’m not going to get all kumbayah here, calling for peace on Earth and all that (it’s been done), but I would like to set the record straight on the back-story.

One of the little D*I*Y Planner side projects I’ve been playing around with lately has been a way of using OpenOffice.org templates to import (via macros) some external data, essentially populating the forms and prepping them for print-out. I’m only at the early stages of it right now, but I wanted a nice self-contained tool for experimentation that would let me structure information in various ways and export ready-to-use data for OOo. After trying a few dozen alternatives, I decided that Tinderbox –with its outline stucture, agents and high-powered export template language– would be a good choice to start with.

I contacted Tinderbox creator Mark Bernstein about the project, asking for his opinion about how his software might fit the needs of my crazy scheme. He said that it could probably work, and offered to donate a copy of the program for our little non-profit project. Now, where I live –eastern Canada– one good turn still deserves another, even in this day and age, and so I offered to run an ad for Eastgate on my sites for the month of December, free of charge. Eastgate not only carries Moleskines, which would appeal to many of my readers, but also index card briefcases and Florentine journals (that, alas, I can only drool over right now). I thought the fit was apt, and I could return his kind consideration.

Now, my review came, as they all do, as a result of the dedicated usage of the product for a few weeks. The fact that it was favourable is simply because… well, it’s a damn good product. That’s it, really. No money exchanging hands, no Eastgate conspiracy, no grassy knoll, and no little red guy sitting atop my shoulder with a pitchfork. It shouldn’t be that boring, but it is. If I hadn’t liked the product, I probably wouldn’t have bothered reviewing it at all.

As for the “smell,” I do try to wear a strong deodorant and take a shower daily, but I am a really big, hard-working man who spends a lot of time in the woods with a dog. Sorry, Lee, but I’d advise standing up-wind….

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Tinderbox as a Writer’s Tool

Tinderbox IconFor a year or so now, I’ve been evaluating quite a number of digital brainstorming tools in order to find one that best serves the way I think, the way I make associations, and the way in which I like to fiddle with vague and ethereal ideas before they become solid. I’ve tried plain text editors, wikis, various mind-mapping tools like NovaMind, FreeMind and Inspiration, outliners like OmniOutliner, and “notebooks” like Mori, AquaMinds NoteTaker and Circus Ponies Notebook, but none of these seemed to possess the right mix of power, visual layout, rapid entry, and emphasis on text.

And, oddly enough, the answer has been right under my nose for a while. I had been trying to force Eastgate Systems’ Tinderbox into becoming my digital Commonplace Book, but it was a poor fit for me. I required so much multimedia and OS X services support that I felt like I was trying to force a square peg into a round hole, and eventually I decided upon using DEVONthink Pro. While I have not regretted that decision for a moment, my inner geek still lusted after Tinderbox, having had fleeting glimpses of the power that lay untapped beneath its surface.

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