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A series of unfortunate events
With the site seriously stuttering for the second time in two months, a post-operative Slarek recalls how he was tripped up, first by corporate software issues, and then by a large incision made into his lower abdomen, and how both have impacted on his productivity.
5 September 2022

I’m not very good a writing blogs these days. Sound intentions always seem to be undermined by circumstance and the sobering fact is that as I’ve got older, I’ve become a lot less communicative than I once used to be. Seriously, on an average week I spend a maximum of 15 hours conversing with others, and a sizable portion of that is done remotely via the PlayStation Network. I live alone, I work alone, and the year-long pandemic-enforced isolation – coupled with the knowledge that the virus is still out there and still highly active – really has left its mark.

This reluctance to communicate is perhaps reflected in the fact that I fully intended to write the second half of this blog almost a month ago. In the end I suspect that I willed things to get in the way to avoid sitting down and getting it done. It’s not that I have anything particularly grim to impart, I’ve just been worn down a bit by personal circumstance and the increasing depression at the woeful mismanagement of my country by sociopathic and self-interested bastards who seem to have made it their mission to run it into the ground. Don’t even get me started on how the hell those of us on below average incomes are going to cope with the looming energy price cap rises, or my genuine fury at the devastation these overprivileged arseholes are planning to unleash on the rights of the ordinary workers who keep the fucking country moving.

I should probably calm down. It’s not easy these days, but I need to for the weeks that lie ahead. At this very moment I’m sitting in hospital, dressed in one of those comical gowns that are held in place only by three small rows of minuscule and malfunctioning poppers. I’m patiently waiting for the porter to arrive and whip me off to a sterile room in which masked men will slice my groin open and repair a sizeable hernia. I’ve waited 15 months for this, and now it’s almost upon me the only thing I really feel is boredom. The perfect chance to start work on this overdue blog, then. Expect it to be interrupted anytime now.

Oh boy, talk about timing…

No sooner had I written the above than the jovial porter who greeted me earlier rolled up at my bedside and whipped me off to the operating theatre. This and all that follows is thus being written almost exactly a week later, and a lot has happened to me since then. You really don’t need the full gory details, but complications following what should have been a day surgery visit kept me in for what may be the most unpleasant night I’ve ever spent in a hospital bed, but which eased enough to see me let home the following day. In the days that followed, I was hit with another quite common but extremely unpleasant side-effect of general anaesthetic that required urgent medication and gave me another couple of absolutely nightmarish days and nights. Things have settled down a little since then, but just before the weekend I removed the dressing as advised to reveal a 14cm long incision wound that has not completely closed between the stitches yet. It’s good to get the air to it, sure, but not the dust and dirt of daily living, clothing and sleeping. The wound now has a nice new sterile dressing on it for a few days to see if things improve.

The whole experience has left me weak and opting to just cope with the intermittent pain, as it seems that the prescribed pain killers were contributing to my main post-op problem. Forced to choose between the two, pain proved to be more tolerable option. I’ve been given a projected recovery period of six to eight weeks, during which time I’ve been forbidden from lifting or doing anything that could be remotely categorised as exercise. Of course, this means no cycling or swimming, and just one week in I’m missing both activities severely. Cycling is not just a form of exercise for me, it’s my only available mode of transport, so after a week of sternly prescribed sick leave, I’m also having to work from home for the rest of the recovery period, which is already giving me unwelcome flashbacks to the lockdown. I spent that first week of sick leave either resting in front of a film or a game or slowly pottering around the house like the wizened old man that I may, with good fortune, one day become. I was too bleary-eyed or unwell to focus on writing, and regularly cursed the day I was dumb enough to lift a heavy old plasma TV upstairs and onto a bedroom cupboard without some assistance. Turns out there’s a reason for that cartoon on the side of the box it arrived in depicting it being lifted by two people.

All of this has effectively put Cine Outsider on hold for a week, as it’s taken me several days to clear the worst of the side-effects, re-adjust my sleep patterns, and get my head clear enough to write a coherent sentence or two before phasing out or falling asleep at the keyboard. Which might not have been quite as disruptive to the site had it not followed so closely on the heels of…

The site coding issues

If I was launching Cine Outsider today, I’d do things very differently, and may not even start it as a website at all. That said, if I did, then I’d probably end up mistakenly choosing one of those web builder sites with all their off-the-peg presets, then start tearing the few small head hairs I have left out when I hit its quietly unannounced page limit and had to start the whole thing again using different software. If I was savvier about the sheer number of reviews that we would eventually be hosting, then I’d probably have learned how to use WordPress, which appears to be a popular choice for website construction and can be customised using a wide variety of available of plugins. At least that’s what I’ve read. But when I first launched what was then DVD Outsider, I built what was initially a simplistic site on some cheap Mac-based software or other whose name I can’t even remember now and that has long since disappeared into the ether.

I eventually moved over to Macromedia Dreamweaver, a stand-alone program that we had sitting around at work and that is primarily aimed at web designers who write code, but which had enough GUI functions for a non-coder like me to be able to construct a few basic pages. When Macromedia was swallowed up by Adobe, the software suite that I used in my day job still included Dreamweaver, so I stuck with it, long enough to become a bit too reliant on it. Then Adobe switched from selling its software to forcing its users to rent it, and at a price that was way beyond my limited budget. Had my workplace decided to abandon Adobe at this point, I have a feeling this site would have folded there and then. For some years I continued to use Dreamweaver, all the time hoping to find a viable alternative, but it did have one feature that I only picked up on a couple of years ago but that I really liked. This involved what Adobe called Edge Fonts, a collection of official Adobe fonts that you could use on your web site that were not downloaded to your machine, but accessed directly from Adobe’s servers. Sharper readers may well be able to predict where this is all heading.

The problem with the earlier font stack method – as I believe it was called – is that it relied on the end user having the same fonts on their system as the ones you use to create your web pages, which effectively restricts you to the small number of fonts that you can expect to find on almost every platform. The stacks system works (I think – don’t hold me to this) by looking for the chosen font on the user’s device, and if it doesn’t have it, the software hops to the next in a short list of similar-looking fonts and substitutes that instead. The problem with this method is that a web page will often display differently on not just different platforms, but even individual computers using the same system software, depending on what fonts the user has installed. Edge Fonts worked differently. Here (again, I think) when the end user loaded a web page that used one or more of these fonts, a small piece of code would pull the required fonts from Adobe servers in a fraction of a section and display the page exactly how it was laid out, and it thus looked exactly the same on every device and every platform. I loved that, as it gave me so much more control over how the pages on the site would look. I thus over the course of several weeks rebuilt every page on the site using carefully selected Edge Fonts, and we’re talking at this point about several thousand pages. I’ve never been more grateful for the invention of templates.

Then Adobe choose to discontinue the Edge Fonts. Say, what? Yes, we did get a warning that they were going to do so, but as so often with me, personal and work issues saw the task of addressing this problem repeatedly put off until a later date. A couple of months flew by in the blink of an eye, and one morning I woke up to find that the layout of every page on the site was effectively fucked. I tried all sorts of experiments to duplicate the level of control that I had with the Edge Fonts, but uploading fonts from my system and pointing the software towards them instead produced some rather peculiar results, and just didn’t work well with bold or italicised text, both of which are used extensively throughout the site. I was thus, over the course of the weeks leading up to my hernia op, forced to backtrack to the original system of stacked fonts using bloody Arial as the base, primarily because it seemed the most consistent on the widest variety of machines. And I really don’t like Arial at all.

Now I will admit that I’m still tempted to give WordPress a try, in part to completely break free of my dependence on Adobe software, which I only have continued access to because my workplace has a subscription. If I lost my job, I would no longer be able to edit the site, and my workplace is also facing a terrifying leap in its energy bills this winter, and who knows what compensatory savings the top brass may decide to make. I’ve found alternatives for all of the other Adobe software that I use, most of which is every bit as good as the Adobe equivalent, but each is a far more reasonably priced one-time purchase. But building the whole site again from scratch on a platform I know next to nothing about is a big bloody undertaking, and having never even played with WordPress, I still don’t even know if it would be suitable for my needs. Oh, if I had more time, more energy, and the drive I had in my younger days… You’ll likely be hearing that one a lot as I evolve into a political angry grumpy old man.

The upshot of all this is that things are slowly getting back up to speed. I’m currently working on a lengthy review of a very recent and feature-laden two-disc Blu-ray release from Indicator featuring two Hammer takes on the Robin Hood legend, and also have The Swimmer from Inicator to cover, and as Jackie Chan’s Police Story III: Supercop lined up for later this month. I may even find time to squeeze out a review of David Cronenberg’s body-horror latest, Crimes of the Future, which lands a UK cinema release at the end of this week but is already out on Blu-ray in the US. I also need to decide in the next couple of days whether to apply for press accreditation for this year’s London Film Festival, where I will again be sharing review duties with Jerry Whyte, though due to my health issues I will once again be restricted to the titles made available for streaming.

But my key focus now is recovery from my op, so I can get back on a bike, get back in the swimming pool, and even return to my workplace and save a bit on bills that are set to take a criminally large leap at the start of October. It’s a staggering price hike that we already know will plunge millions more into poverty. And what does our new prime minster have to say about this? She thinks that the poor and middle income earners of the country have had to too easy for too long and that the government is not doing enough to help those with more money than they’ll ever be able to spend. Jeez, we really are staring into the abyss at this point.

As a final note – and I’m quite serious about this – if anyone has any experience with WordPress and has any advice or tips in my direction regarding its use or suitability for this site, feel free to throw a few helpful comments my way.