Hixie's Natural Log

2006-04-11 22:22 UTC Content-Type is dead

Browsers and other user agents largely ignore the HTTP Content-Type header, relying on undefined sniffing heuristics to determine what the content of a page really is.

Unfortunately, we're now at a stage where browsers are continuously having to reverse-engineer each other to determine why they are handling content differently. A browser can't afford to render any less content than a browser with more market share, because otherwise users won't switch, and the new browser will not be adopted.

I think it may be time to retire the Content-Type header, putting to sleep the myth that it is in any way authoritative, and instead have well-defined content-sniffing rules for Web content.

I have some tests that look at the state of MIME type sniffing, if you need convincing that the state of Content-Type on the Web is a lost cause.

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2006-03-21 04:06 UTC Problems with Battlestar Galactica

Chris recently renewed my interest in Battlestar Galactica. I'd given up watching it because I don't have a TV at home, I no longer share a home network connection with people who 'torrent their TV, and I don't want to own the DVDs. I don't want to own the DVDs because, relative to the Stargate franchise, I don't actually like Battlestar Galactica. Or so I thought. But I'd forgotten why.

Independent of this, I started using iTunes to handle my music a few months ago. I'd avoided (indeed, I'd disabled) the iTunes Music Store interface, though.

In the Scientific Interest, I decided to buy Battlestar Galactica episodes and see whether the show was actually better than I remembered, and see how iTunes worked.

iTunes rocks. The actual choice is minimal (they have nothing that I would pay $2 for in the TV Shows section other than Battlestar Galactica), but the user interface is beautiful.

But I still don't like Battlestar Galactica. Stop reading now if you don't want to have the first two seasons spoilt for you.

There are two main areas that I dislike. First, the writing:

  1. Not enough wham episodes (episodes where the overall arc changes direction unexpectedly). (Spoiler warning for episodes up to the end of season two!) In the second season there were just seven wham points: the major ones were Pegasus joining the fleet (little change to the fleet's tactics), a Cylon getting impregnated (major recurring plot point), and the discovery of New Caprica (major knock-on effects); the minor ones were Billy dying (no effect other than his death), President Roslin getting miraculously cured (it just removed a pending threat, simplifying the storyline), the Vice President's girlfriend reappearing in human form (had potential but wasn't really used), and the Cylon tactics changing slightly due to the destruction of their Resurrection Ship (no real change). However, even these five made very little real impact on the storyline — the basic threat was still the same (attacks from the unexplained Cylons), the basic goal was still the same (survive until Earth is found, at least until the last episode), and the changes mostly had only small impacts on later stories (see point 4). In addition, all of those wham points happened in just four episodes, the other episodes were largely effect-free.
  2. Too many episodes start with a teaser and then jump back to "48 hours ago" or similar. This is a tool to make an otherwise boring episode interesting by putting the only part of the episode that is interesting at the start of the hour. A good episode wouldn't need this because its plot would be interesting all the way through.
  3. Not enough humour. The show is very dark, with very little light-heartedness other than the frequent drunken stupours of certain characters, which is only funny for the characters, not the viewers.
  4. Not enough references to previous episodes. Plot lines from episodes should have knock-on effects on future episodes on a regular basis. When there are strong references, they tend to be in the form of repeated post-processed flashbacks, not new material.

Second, the filmography:

  1. Far too much of an introduction sequence (in fact there are two per episode, one before the teaser and one after the teaser, the end of which spoils the episode by including shots from upcoming scenes).
  2. Way the "frack" too much handheld — usually used to give a sense of tension, handheld is used in BSG so much that it has lost all effect except for inducing nausea. Its overuse means that when it is actually needed to convey real motion or tension it has to be used so much that it becomes impossible to actually see anything on the video. To make matters worse, frequent handheld abuse is often combined with unprofessional-looking fast handheld streaking pans, sudden push-ins, bad framing, over-exposure and other disorientating effects. (Even CG shots have the handheld feel — five points for consistency, I guess.)
  3. Character development episodes have long mood-setting scenes where nothing happens and where the storyline doesn't move forward, instead of combing strong emotional content with forwarding the plot. Typically these scenes include a lot of slow-motion close-ups with no dialogue, a lot of over-exposed video, a lot of extreme close-up on heads or bottles of alcohol with half the frame so far out of focus all you see is flashes of washed-out colour.
  4. Too many brightly back-lit scenes resulting in high-contrast washed-out video reminiscent of underground nightclub scenes from Star Wars. In the worst of these cases the camera movement seems to intentionally move strong fluorescent back-lights in and out of view by moving a character or other foreground element back and forth in front of it, accentuating the contrast even further and causing a light bleed effect on the foreground element.
  5. Not designed to be DVD-friendly — the iTunes no-advert versions still fade-to-black at act changes, instead of being seamless, and it would require significant changes to hide this (the adverts are probably assumed to be always present).

There are a few things I would say are really good about Battlestar Galactica. The acting, for instance, is very well done and very believable. The three minute steady-cam uncut sequence at the very start of the miniseries is impressive. The CG of space scenes is believable (despite the camera animation). Continuity seems to be consistently correct. The style is consistent across episodes. With a few exceptions, and notwithstanding the numerous as yet unexplained coincidences, the stories are largely believable. I'm still watching.

2006-03-13 19:09 UTC Ramblings from the West

I went to see a movie at random. I literally walked up to the ticket counter, and bought a ticket for the next scheduled showing, without having any idea what it was. That pretty much sums up my mood these days: happy go lucky.

As it turns out this movie was Failure to Launch, a formulaic romantic comedy that is really much funnier than one might expect. Quite recommended.

I've noticed that I've started seeing where jokes are going quicker than I used to, which is making me laugh noticeably earlier than the majority of my fellow movie-goers (hopefully it's not disturbing). For example, in Failure to Launch there is a scene in a café where somebody is watching a video on their laptop, and someone else asks them "can you turn the volume up?". He replies "these are laptop speakers", at which point is is immediately obvious that the logical and funny thing to do is hook the laptop up to the café's AV system, which fits in with the film's style, and which is indeed what happens a few seconds later. Cue the laughs. But to me the scene is funny as soon as the character has finished uttering the word "speakers".

That probably sounds really arrogant. Oh well.

Kerz and I have made huge progress on our train layout (so much for having a kitchen area, that's now officially Belmont Station and Belmont High Coal Mine — there are two bridges across my sink, and even one across my oven). I have a spiffy SVG/XBL-based Web app UI to run the trains, which is especially nice with my Tablet PC. A few more weeks and I'll have to have some sort of ridiculously geeky house warming party (I just need to get some stools first).

Doing the UI in SVG and XBL has taught me a lot about how SVG and XBL suck. I've tried to address most of the XBL suckage in XBL2. I'm too busy to fix the SVG suckage at the moment (and the SVG working group certainly aren't fixing it, based on SVG 1.2). Maybe once I've finished HTML5, I can work on a new SVG to go with it.

On Friday and Saturday I'll be helping with the regional FIRST championships, part of a high school robotics competition. I'm looking forward to that. Speaking of volunteering, the next opera I'll be helping in is in May. The last one was a blast (hi Ellis, Jaimi, "Fuzzy", Will, "Ed", Hannah, Meredith, Pat, Lazlo, Mark, Curt, Rudy, and everyone!). (You wouldn't believe how hard it was for me to remember all those names. I have serious problems with remembering names. Sheesh.)

Actually because of the opera and other things, this weekend has been the first weekend that I've been able to relax in for at least a month and a half. I was whining on Friday that three separate groups of my bay area friends had separately gone skiing in Tahoe this weekend yet none of them had invited me, but as it turns out I think I needed the rest!

Right, enough ranting for one night. Stop reading this nonsense and go do something productive!

2006-03-02 11:08 UTC Spring 2006 Travelog: Part 2 (Thursday)

Doing well so far. I've been at the W3C Technical Plenary since Monday night (it's Thursday noon now) and so far I've only joined one task force!

2006-03-01 18:20 UTC Spring 2006 Travelog: Part 1 (Just for the record)

IE7 rocks. That is all.