Sunday, 15 October 2017

The Soul of an Old Machine


Earlier in the month I had a look at a vintage Apple G4 PowerBook, one of the very last PowerPC-powered models. A 17", late-2005, high-resolution 1.67ghz model now fit for very little, although it was hot stuff in its day. I didn't interrogate its soul; Apple's clever interface design does not alter the fact that we cannot communicate with the inanimate world because we have nothing in common.





Apple's design team were aiming for something monolithic with the aluminium PowerBooks, something they didn't achieve until the unibody MacBook Pro of 2008. I decided to present this unnatural object in an unusual setting, with music that hopefully illustrates the mutual incomprehensibility of people and machines.



The PowerBook is in almost every shot, sometimes barely visible. Here it's nestled amongst the trees on the left.

Shot entirely with a Canon 5D Mk II and a 50mm f/1.4 and some stout boots and Adobe Premiere. The shot of the PowerBook sitting in the forest with the standby light glowing in the gloom was inspired by a shot near the beginning of Robert Altman's McCabe and Mrs Miller, discussed here.





Saturday, 7 October 2017

Blade Runner 2049


Off to the cinema to see Blade Runner 2049, a new science fiction adventure starring Harrison Ford as an old man and Ryan Gosling as Jesus. Ford prepared for the role by growing old - he is 75 years old - and Ryan Gosling prepared for the role by not crying even though the cattle woke him up. Blade Runner 2049 is a sequel that nobody wanted but it's actually very good, so that's okay.

The original film came out long before you were born, and although very few people liked it at the time it's generally regarded as a minor classic nowadays. A minor classic if you are a film school student, a major classic if you love the way things look. The extraordinary production design was very influential. I have always felt that it had a core of fascinating ideas buried underneath a mediocre detective thriller, but more of that further down the page.


Blade Runner was released in June 1982, the exact very same month as ET, Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan, and John Carpenter's The Thing. Time has been kind to all of those films, but contemporary critics had a very different opinion. ET and Trek were well-received and went on to make big piles of money, ET in particular. The Thing and Blade Runner were however dismissed as hollow exercises in revolving gore effects and futuristic set design respectively. They eventually became popular on the home video market, then in its infancy, but in 1982 they seemed like self-indulgent wastes of money.

The two films have a surprising amount in common. They were released on the same day, June 25, the height of the summer blockbuster season. The villains are perfect duplicates of human beings, so perfect that they don't know they're fakes. Our hero has a devil of a time catching them, and at the end you're left wondering if he is a duplicate as well, or indeed whether it matters at all. Both films were intended to catapult their directors firmly into the A-list of Hollywood directing talent, but it didn't work out. John Carpenter's career never really recovered from The Thing and he spent the rest of his life directing intermittently brilliant B-movies.

In 1982 Ridley Scott was a brash limey wunderkind, the wave of the future, natural heir of Stanley Kubrick, hard-working advertising director made good, but this reputation took a hammering from the back-to-back failures of Blade Runner and Legend (1985), which lost even more money. Unlike John Carpenter he recovered, but although he subsequently masterminded a string of huge popular hits his output has been incredibly erratic. It's as if he picks scripts at random and then does the most incredible ultra-professional job of turning them into a film, but even Ridley Scott's special sauce isn't enough to compensate for the weak material. I wonder if it's a legacy of his days as a commercial director, when he had to take whatever work was available.


For every Gladiator or Black Hawk Down he has directed at least one huge flop (Kingdom of Heaven, Robin Hood) and half-a-dozen forgettable fillers such as White Squall or American Gangster or GI Jane that no-one remembers. On a visual level he seemed to hang up his laurels after Legend; his post-Legend films were good-looking but never class-leading. As a director of muscular sci-fi action horror films he was quickly overshadowed by James Cameron, and on an artistic level he never really had a distinctive voice. In the great ranking scheme of Hollywood directors people will always respect him more than the likes of Joel Schumacher or Tony Scott, who also filmed the 1980s with smoked-glass-filters and backlit steam, but imagine his career without Alien or Blade Runner; no-one would care very much about him. He would be David Puttnam or Howard Hughes.

~

I've always been ambivalent about Blade Runner. It's an interesting set of ideas buried underneath a boring film. On the surface it's a futuristic detective drama about a secret policeman, played by Harrison Ford, who has to track down organic robots who are almost indistinguishable from human beings. They are born with adult bodies and are given false memories of a past that they didn't have, and then shipped off into space to do jobs that human beings refuse to do. They are allowed to work alongside human beings but they aren't allowed to visit Earth, on pain of death. As the film opens, a team of these replicants has landed in Los Angeles. It seems that they want to have a word with the head of the corporation that created them and it's up to detective Deckard to find them and kill them.

Which he does, with some perfunctory detective work that mostly involves looking at a computer. As a thriller Blade Runner just doesn't work. Deckard does less sleuthing than the villains, and he's always a few steps behind them. Ultimately he fails to stop the chief baddie from achieving his goal and only escapes with his life because the villain has a crisis of conscience. This isn't necessarily the recipe for a bad film - Chinatown had a similarly hapless main character - but Blade Runner's detective plot is simplistic and uninteresting.

There's also a creepy romantic subplot in which Deckard romances a robot prostitute, played by Sean Young. The romance aspect was presumably mandated by the studio; it hasn't aged well. It's bad enough that Deckard forces himself on Rachel, but what makes it worse is that Deckard is aware she's essentially a brain-damaged child bred to be a rich man's plaything. Early in the film he humiliates her during an interrogation and reveals that he knows every detail of her fake past. If we accept that Deckard is a robot duplicate himself then the romance makes a bit more sense - he is emotionally simple and hasn't had his end off - but if that's the case the film becomes a big so-what, because the film doesn't follow through and, on a fundamental level, neither Deckard or Rachel come across as interesting people. All the other characters are essentially distinctive faces rather than people, and none of them do very much...

...with the exception of Rutger Hauer as lead villain Roy Batty. Hauer has limited screen time but is the most interesting actor in the film, playing the only interesting character. Although he is the bad guy Roy Batty is more sinned against than sinning. He was an unwanted child shipped off to fight in somebody else's war, and he now faces a lonely death because the robot duplicates are given a four-year lifespan. Whether this is a technical consequence of their construction or a deliberate attempt at planned obsolescence is left ambiguous, but either way it's horrible because the replicants are shown to be conscious and self-aware. They are aware of their own mortality, but unaware that death will strike them down in just a few years rather than in old age. They are presumably expected to die in battle, fed propaganda that they are fighting a desperate struggle against an implacable enemy, and the few that reach the end of the tours of duty are, I imagine, shipped back to Earth where they are euthanised, or perhaps they are simply dumped into space.

On a deeper level Blade Runner is essentially a soldiers-coming-home film along the likes of The Best Years of Our Lives or The Deer Hunter, in which soldiers are unable to reintegrate with a society that doesn't care what they have been through. The replicants are thrown on the trash heap by an ungrateful population that's not prepared to cut them some slack when the fighting is over.

As a soldiers-returning-home allegory and an early warning of the perils of genetic engineering Blade Runner could have been a stone-cold classic. If the film had concentrated on that, I would love it, but instead we have Deckard examining photographs and chasing leads like a futuristic Joe Friday. The film only really attempts to deal with its philosophical underpinnings right at the end, with a poignant final monologue apparently written by Rutger Hauer on the day of shooting. Batty accepts that despite living an extraordinary life he is doomed to die alone and unmourned, as are we all; he spares Deckard from certain death so that there is at least one person left to remember him. Batty raged against the dying of the light, but like Dylan Thomas' dad he died nonetheless.

Blade Runner raises far more questions than it answers. What does the common man in Blade Runner's universe think about the replicants? Is their existence widely-known? Can they reproduce by themselves? If they have superhuman strength, how come they don't realise that they're not human beings? Are they made to think that they are genuine human beings who have been genetically augmented? Why bother spending a fortune on replica human beings when the real thing is so cheap? Why make the replicants look like human beings at all? Why not make them ten feet tall and full of muscles? And so forth.

Sadly the film doesn't have time to answer any of those questions, and I imagine that Ridley Scott probably wasn't interested. He was a technically rigorous director whose goal was to get the script onto the screen as efficiently as possible without necessarily making a work of great art. Blade Runner suffers in comparison with idea-led sci-fi films such as Children of Men or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind or even Total Recall because it doesn't work on the surface and the ideas aren't explored. It feels like sacrilege to compare Total Recall with Blade Runner, but in my opinion Recall was more successful at combining sci-fi ideas with a genre film.


Despite critical indifference two elements of Blade Runner attracted almost universal praise. Firstly there was its extraordinary look, which combined Scott's commercial-honed knack for arresting compositions with hyperdetailed street sets and state-of-the-art modelwork. The film took place in the rain-drenched darkness of Los Angeles circa 2019, in a future where the population is continually bombarded with animated billboards and advertising signs. It implies that Japan or perhaps China has achieved economic dominance over the United States - a scenario widely anticipated in the 1980s - and that although the human race has no shortage of bodies, the cramped and polluted conditions have made Los Angeles and by extension the entire world an oppressive hellhole. The film treads a fine line between accumulating subtle details in order to build an impressionistic portrait of a future world, and just introducing things arbitrarily so that we can marvel at them, but its world feels more coherent than that of the clones that followed.

Blade Runner's look and feel - and its dark, grim atmosphere, and occasional bouts of bloody violence - were lifted wholesale by films and computer games over the next thirty years. Eventually backlit steam and rain-flecked darkness became a cliché - the likes of 28 Days Later and Children of Men suggested a new visual language for science fiction - but Blade Runner is still an exceptionally handsome film.

The other thing that everybody except the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences liked was the score, which was composed by old-school synthesiser wizard Vangelis. Vangelis had a knack for catchy tunes, but beyond the beginning and end titles his music for Blade Runner was mostly atmosphere, performed with a mixture of acoustic piano, a big reverb unit, and a massive Yamaha CS-80 strings patch. He refused to release a proper soundtrack album until 1994, by happy coincidence in the middle of a boom in ambient electronic music ("Rachel's Song" was widely sampled, notably by Future Sound of London for "My Kingdom"). It overshadows the rest of his discography and has aged incredibly well.

~

On to Blade Runner 2049. This time the music is by Hans Zimmer and some other guy. It briefly quotes Vangelis' theme but is otherwise standard Hans Zimmer, heavy on effects and texture rather than melodies. Zimmer shares with Vangelis a workflow whereby he sculpts the entire soundtrack in his home studio rather than writing music on paper for an orchestra, with the result that many of the musical cues in 2049 are sound effects rather than tunes. Alas his work on Blade Runner 2049 doesn't stand out, not because it's an insult to Vangelis' music but simply because Zimmer doesn't appear to have been particularly inspired. He was apparently given the job at short notice. It works in the context of the film but I can't imagine listening to it independently, unlike the original.

Visually the film goes for the gritty magical realism of something like The Revenant rather than the maximal gloss of the original. It's frequently gorgeous, but every film is gorgeous nowadays. Hollywood has for the most part finally got the hang of CGI. From the posters I was expecting a neon mass of teal and orange, but it has a subtle, almost monochromatic colour palette that would probably have lost nothing in black and white. The set design makes use of CRT monitors and old-fashioned computer terminals which are obsolete today and would be long-gone in 2049. As with the original there are prominent corporate logos, this time for Sony and Peugeot. Our hero's police car is made by Peugeot. I find it hard to believe that Peugeot will be around in 2049.

But is the film any good? In my opinion it's a well-made, tense thriller that largely fails as a sequel. The best sequels either present the further exciting adventures of a bunch of familiar characters, or they expand upon the original or take it in a new direction. Blade Runner 2049 simply repeats the first film with a single new twist, which feels less significant than the characters in the film imply. Harrison Ford, Sean Young '82, and Edward James Olmos make cameo appearances, but they exist largely outside the plot.

I say Sean Young '82 because they've used CGI to recreate Sean Young as she was in 1982. It's reminiscent of Rogue One's recreation of Peter Cushing, but Sean Young is still alive. I wonder why they didn't recreate Harrison Ford '82 and set the film in 2024? Sadly Rutger Hauer does not make an appearance, which is a shame because the film could do with a good central villain.

The plot this time is that the world went to pot after 2019 but recovered to a point where it is still shitty but people don't have to eat other people so that's nice. Ryan Gosling is a Blade Runner who must hunt down replicants and take them out of circulation, with the twist that he is a replicant himself. This becomes apparent in an early fight scene where he takes inhuman punishment from a much larger opponent but keeps fighting back. Everybody knows he's a replicant. It's not a secret. People hate him because he's not human, and also because he's good at his job. It transpires that the surviving replicants may be evolving, which may or may not be a problem, and it's possible that Ryan Gosling - his character doesn't have a name, only a serial number - might be the replicants' messiah, or perhaps he isn't even a replicant after all, who knows?

I don't want to give away the plot, but it doesn't make sense, at least at first glance. The chief villain - played by Jared Leto in a two-scene cameo - has a plan to fill the universe with people, but the replicants aren't good enough because they can't breed and he can't manufacture them in sufficient quantities, so he needs to create new replicants that can reproduce. But why not use people instead? Judging by what we see of Los Angeles in 2049 there is no shortage of them.

But here the film bamboozles me, because for every question I raise it has a potential answer. The script is either very lucky or very smart, and that intrigues me. Leto's character is childless; there's an implication that he doesn't care whether the replicants are economically viable or not, he just wants to fill the universe with creations of his own making. On the other hand he has no respect whatsoever for the lives of his supposed children, but on the other, other hand perhaps he is simply a very bad father. The film pulls this trick a few times. A lengthy plot point in which one character plants a tracking device on another - followed by a sequence in which a wounded character is apparently just left behind to be discovered by others - is less baffling than it seems once you re-evaluate the motives of one of the chief baddies.

Ditto the ending, which in theory doesn't work. The messiah that the replicants are prepared to rally behind is a faulty model that can only survive in an artificial environment. In fact I was amazed that the character wasn't brutally interrogated and killed. It would be so easy to do it without raising suspicion. The chief villain is still alive at the end of the film and there's no indication he has had a change of heart, and he seems the vengeful sort.


But again, the film suggests that perhaps the seemingly upbeat ending is just a brief pause before our heroes are scooped up and retired, and that the only escape from the nightmare future of 2049 is a peaceful death. They are visiting someone who is known to the baddies and the sky is full of surveillance drones; perhaps they have all gone there to die together.

Or perhaps it is a happy ending after all. On reflection it seems to me that the hero and villain actually wanted the same thing, in which case it's odd that the villain is such a bastard. In my opinion the characterisation of Jared Leto's villain doesn't fit the film. He's one of those quiet psychopaths who likes to spring into bursts of unexpected violence, which is a huge cliché. His analogue in the first film was more effective. Genetic expert Eldon Tyrell wasn't so much a violent psychopath as an uncaring bureaucrat; he hid behind a cloak of deniability in a world where there was no good or bad, just competing strategies, and that's more scary than yet another copy of Robert De Niro in The Untouchables.

Blade Runner 2049 is on surer footing as a thriller. It's prone to digressions and has a slow pace but it's hypnotic rather than tedious. Gosling's detective work isn't much better than Deckard's, but it looks more difficult and there's more of it and it's never boring. There are some brief action sequences of the Christopher Nolan variety, with wham noises and bloodless headshots, but they're surprisingly perfunctory. A sequence in which Harrison Ford gets to deploy the famous SMACK! punch sound effect from Raiders of the Lost Ark is silly, but Harrison Ford isn't going to be in many more action films, so why not? Some actors will be remembered for their most famous lines, or their hairstyle; Harrison Ford will be remembered for the sound of a baseball bat thwacking against a pile of leather jackets.

But why is Deckard nostalgic for the 1950s? Harrison Ford was alive in the 1950s but Deckard hadn't even been born then. Even if his memories are false - the film leaves that ambiguous - they wouldn't be of the 1950s. This will haunt me.

Earlier on I pointed out that the original Blade Runner had some interesting ideas buried under a boring detective plot. The sequel mostly fixes that. The detective plot is interesting and the philosophical ideas underpinning it are given sufficient coverage to make the detective plot feel meaningful, although Leto's speeches owe too much to the cod-philosophy of The Matrix. There is however one large idea that is glossed over; we learn that the replicants have amassed a secret army poised to attack the city and take over. That would have been an interesting film. Blade Runner 2049's big flaw is that it's essentially a remake of the original, but expanded, and with a greater emphasis on the main character's ambiguous humanity. It's a shame it didn't push in a new direction. It's still a very good film though.

I haven't talked about the performances. Ryan Gosling has a dumb grin on his face for most of the film, but his characterisation makes sense because he's an emotionally retarded robot. A sequence in which his mask of reserve slips is effective, but if the film wanted to show him progressing from numbness to human passion it doesn't work, because he reverts back to the dumb grin for the rest of the film. Jared Leto's performance is hammy. Harrison Ford growls a lot. The female characters are stereotypes. No-one else stands out. It's not going to win acting awards.


This being 2017 I have to cover diversity issues. Sadly the film gets poor marks. The only female characters are a live-in prostitute - introduced to us while cooking a meal, no less - and another prostitute, and a stereotypical high-kicking ice lady who is probably also a prostitute. The one female character who isn't a prostitute is a police chief, who at least has an air of competence although in the end she doesn't achieve very much. Her sloppy grasp of computer security helps the baddies track down Ryan Gosling. In a lazy piece of writing the villain simply asks the police chief's computer to locate him, which it does immediately. That's not detective work. It's Google.

The two main black speaking characters are a low-rent criminal fence and a Fagin-eque slave driver who abuses children but is a snivelling coward when confronted with the wrath of the white man. As with Minority Report the purest, most innocent character is a thin white Scandinavian woman, a kind of stoner pixie dream girl. The replicants are presumably supposed to represent the trans community, but although they're physically strong they are portrayed as mentally stunted. Sadly therefore I can only give Blade Runner 2049 zero marks out of five. And I thought it was pretty good.

A note about the screening. I saw it at the BFI IMAX in London. If you're going to see a film, see the hell out of it. It wasn't shot in the IMAX format or on 70mm film, but it still looked wonderful on the big screen, although the deep dark blacks were a kind of muddy brown. Blade Runner 2049 was shot on good old-fashioned digital at a resolution just less than 4K. It's a 2D film that has been computer-converted into 3D. I wanted to see the 2D screening; I clicked the wrong button; I saw it in 3D. There is one really good 3D shot (of rain trickling down a window in the foreground while the characters interact in the background) but beyond that the 3D effect quickly wore off, at which point it felt like watching a film in 2D but with glasses on my face.

The screening was introduced by a peppy lady called Sebda or Sedna. We entered the cinema separately and left separately. We did not connect in any meaningful way, and yet barely a moment has gone by in which this woman has not haunted my dreams. How can something so pure, so beautiful, survive in a world like this? She is too good for me, and that makes me sad. I have not yet begun to drink.

Monday, 2 October 2017

Apple PowerBook G4: Tickle my Liburu


Let's have a look at the 17" Apple PowerBook G4, notable for being both the first and last of the mid-2000s aluminium PowerBooks and also one of the last PowerBooks of any kind.

This particular model is a 1.67ghz 17" High-Resolution Apple PowerBook G4, launched in October 2005 as a kind of last hurrah before the MacBook era. In 2005 the 1.67ghz PowerPC chip felt a bit behind the curve, but the large 1680x1050 screen was a thing of wonder.

An aluminium PowerBook sitting atop its titanium predecessor, now looking very battered. They were all one inch thick, which was impressive at the time. The aluminium PowerBook's cooling vents were inside the hinge rather than being dotted around the side and rear.

I have an early-2000s titanium PowerBook G4, but I've never used one of the aluminium models, so when one popped up on eBay in good condition I decided to try it out. Apple replaced the titanium models during the course of 2003, initially with 17" and 12" models, later in the year with a 15" model. The 17" PowerBook G4 was apparently the first ever 17" laptop, and the 12" model was one of the fastest ultraportables on the market, but by 2005 the range was starting to lag uncomfortably behind contemporary Pentium M powered PC laptops.

At some point during the aluminium PowerBook's lifespan Steve Jobs caught wind of Intel's plans to make a dual-core Pentium M, and that was the end for the PowerPC, at least in Apple laptops. IBM continues to make POWER chips today, but only for what remains of its server range.

Apple had an irritating habit of giving things non-standard names, such as "Airport" for "wi-fi adapter" and "SuperDrive" for "DVD-writer". This particular model writes 8.5gb dual-layer DVDs. My recollection is that writeable DVDs were never very popular - pound for pound it was cheaper to use an external hard drive.

The high-res 17" model was launched in October 2005 at a price of £1749, which was inconsequential if you had half a dozen credit cards. At the time I was a PC person, but I've always had a soft spot for Apple products. I don't actually recall the aluminium PowerBook range at all. Despite the success of the iPod, Apple in 2005 was still just a computer company rather than a massive consumer electronics giant. Its revenue in the fourth quarter of that year was $3.68bn, versus $46.9bn in the same period of 2016. It was, in 2005, possible to live a full and rewarding life without ever thinking about Apple or seeing an Apple product in the flesh, which is not the case any more.

Apple's desktop machines had transitioned to the 64-bit, occasionally-multi-core PowerPC G5 back in 2003, but the G5 was too hot and power-hungry for a laptop. Given that Apple's laptops were the company's main earner - they didn't quite outsell the desktop machines, but each unit had a higher profit margin - this was a major issue. I imagine that Steve Jobs must have had several unproductive shouting matches with IBM, who designed and manufactured Apple's PowerPC chips.

The PowerBook name actually predated the PowerPC. The very first PowerBooks were launched in 1991, with Motorola 68000 processors running System 7. During the 1990s and early 2000s Apple moved first from the Motorola 68000 to the Apple-IBM-Motorola PowerPC chip, and then from the classic Macintosh operating system to the UNIX-based OSX, to a point where Macintoshes of the mid-2000s had almost nothing in common with their ancestors beyond a few interface elements. The transition from PowerPC to Intel at the time was a major deal, but not one that was met with particular concern from Apple fans, perhaps because Apple had already demonstrated that it could make radical changes to the Macintosh without fouling things up, and also because the G5's continual heat issues were disappointing.

The aluminium G4's keyboard and trackpad. The silver-on-silver colour scheme was unique to the aluminium models. The trackpad nowadays seems very small. Inevitably the button gets pushed in - OSX supports tap and drag, but everybody used the button instead.

Technically the last ever PowerBook was the 1.5ghz 12" model, which was discontinued in May 2006. However the high-resolution 1.67ghz 15" and 17" PowerBooks were introduced a few months after the 12" model - they were discontinued a few weeks earlier - so it's debatable which was truly the last PowerBook. Have you ever read about the Basque language? As with Korean it's unrelated to any other living language, but whereas the Korean people exist on an isolated peninsula, the Basques are surrounded by the French and Spanish, so the survival of their language is even more impressive. The Basque word for "book" is "liburu", which is a beautiful word. It's a sexy word as well. Imagine Scarlett Johansson slowly saying the word "liburu".

The aluminium PowerBook's keyboard has a fade-in-fade-out backlight. It only turns on when the lights are low. As you can see Apple also switched fonts, from Univers to VAG Rounded.

The PowerBooks were replaced like-for-like by the MacBook Pro, which initially used the same aluminium case. In 2008 Apple introduced a new monocoque "unibody" design that survives to the present day, although modern Macintoshes are considerably thinner. As a rule of thumb all of the aluminium models are obsolete nowadays, either because they have PowerPCs, or because they're 32-bit, or because Apple doesn't think they make the cut any more. I understand a few of the very last Core 2 Duo models can be fooled into running MacOS High Sierra. Such is the way of the world that modern Macintoshes are also more expensive than the aluminium models - the original 2003 17" PowerBook sold for £2,500 worth of Gordon Brown-era gold, vs £2,500 in modern plastic money for the most expensive 15" MacBook Pro. Modern MacBooks are technically superior to the PowerBook in every way, and have a clever new touch bar, but even so the price seems very steep.

The only way to buy a PowerBook now is on the used market, which essentially means eBay. Buying used Macintoshes on eBay is easy. You just have to be patient. eBay is flooded with broken old Macintoshes that are in theory useful for spare parts, but why not just buy the parts themselves, hmm? My hunch is that eBay sellers throw away broken PC laptops but list broken PowerBooks because they assume that Apple fans are suckers who will buy any old tat. As a result eBay here in the UK has 45 PowerBook G4s for sale, of which only eight are intact and in working condition, and one of those listings appears to be spurious. There's just no point buying a broken PowerBook. You won't fix it economically, and even if you do, you won't be able to sell it again.

For comparison's sake, the titanium PowerBook G4. The titanium model was designed by Jory Bell, Nick Merz, and Danny Delulis, although lazy writers tend to credit Jony Ive, because he's the guy at Apple who designs everything. I have no idea how much work Ive did on the aluminium model.

The G4 PowerBook
Confusingly Apple sold two generations of G4 PowerBook, which both had the same name. Apple's first G4 PowerBook was launched in January 2001. It had a striking, one-inch-thick case made largely out of painted titanium. It ushered out the age of translucent plastics and set the basic pattern for all of Apple's subsequent metal-bodied products, but at the same time it was something of a dead end. Titanium was expensive to work with and the TiBook's thin panels weren't particularly strong. They dented easily. As with the bodywork of a car, once one of the TiBook's panels was dented it was impossible to un-dent because the metal had stretched. Furthermore the TiBook's physical design was fussy, with notoriously weak hinges and an awkward port arrangement that meant having to lean around the machine to plug in peripherals. I've opened mine up; it doesn't have much internal bracing, so the case feels creaky and flexes easily.

Every TiBook had a 15" 3:2 widescreen display, initially with a resolution of 1152x768 pixels with a VGA-out port, latterly a 1280x854 panel with DVI-I, although this transmitted analogue signals and could use an analogue VGA monitor with an adapter plug. The first two models ran at 400mhz and 500mhz, the last ran at 1ghz, and all models took a maximum of 1gb of memory. My understanding is that they all came with Mac OS 9 and early versions of OS X pre-installed, with the first models booting into OS 9 by default and the later models booting into OS X, but I could be wrong. I have always assumed that OS X was an optional separate installation. The 800mhz+ models can in theory be upgraded to use OS X 10.5, but most users prefer OS X 1.4.11 Tiger because it's fast and stable.

The titanium models were gradually replaced in 2003 with a new aluminium model, which was available with 12", 15", and 17" displays. Physically the three machines had the same basic look, with as far as I can tell the exact same keyboard. The keyboard extended to the edges of the 12" machine and was lost in a sea of aluminium on the 17" model. The aluminium bodies introduced a keyboard backlight and a gesture-enabled trackpad, although 10.4 Tiger only supports a two-fingered scrolling swipe. By coincidence this works just fine with the kind of "infinite vertical scroll" websites that emerged in the Web 2.0 era. That now includes The AV Club, which feels wrong in its new Kinja format, but that's another essay for another time.


I'm not fond of the aluminium PowerBook's keyboard. The silver-on-silver colour scheme looks a bit naff, the keyboard letters are hard to see in daylight, the backlighting isn't very visible at night, the keys feel spongy, and overall it makes my liburu sore. The smooth metal wrist rest is surprisingly comfortable, but I'm worried I'll eventually cause the thin plastic border at the front edge of the case to pop off when I rest my wrists on it.

Screen-wise all of the 12" models from beginning to end had a 1024x768 panel. The 15" models began with the same 1280x854 resolution as the last TiBook, and the original 17" models had a 1440x900 screen. Over time Apple increased the aluminium G4's clock speed - the last models were faster than the desktop G4 Power Macintoshes, although slightly less powerful than the last dual-processor G4s - topping off at 1.67ghz in 2005.

There were actually two generations of 1.67ghz PowerBook. A few months after the first 15" and 17" 1.67ghz models were released they were upgraded again and given 1440x960 and 1680x1050 screens, respectively, which must have irritated people who bought the originals. They also had slightly faster memory and a better graphics card.

These models were only on sale for six months or so, and I've always assumed that Apple wanted to put Intel chips in them, but for whatever reason this was delayed, so they released the high-resolution models as a stopgap. Perhaps somewhere in Apple's R&D lab there's a high-res aluminium G4 with a socket 479 motherboard running a Pentium M.

The first MacBook Pros had the same basic specification, although the 15" model slightly lowered the screen resolution to 1440x900 (the screen itself was a little bit shorter) and had a larger trackpad.

A comparison of resolutions. From top to bottom 1280x854 (late TiBook), 1440x900 (unibody MacBook Pro), 1680x1050 (17" high-resolution PowerBook), 1920x1080 (1080 HD). The aspect ratio goes from 3:2 to 16:10 to 16:10 to 16:9.

What's the 17" model like today? The matte display is dimmer and yellowy-er than modern laptop screens, but I can't tell if that's because it's old or if it was like that in 2005. 1680x1050 isn't quite full HD and is nowhere near retina quality, but even in 2017 it's more than sufficient. The very last 17" MacBook Pros only had 1920x1200, and that was in 2011. When paired with an external monitor I imagine that Apple fans circa 2005 editing HD video - or something with lots of layers in Photoshop, or a website - were pleased as punch that they could show a 1:1 preview on the external monitor whilst still having enough space to do useful work on the laptop's built-in screen. I have surfed the internet, written some things, and tinkered around with a PhotoShop CS2 on my 17" PowerBook, and in terms of screen real estate it felt a bit like using a desktop PC from the mid-2000s rather than a laptop.

I'm not fond of the keyboard, but the screen hinge mechanism is greatly improved from the titanium model. The lid pops open and is balanced so that you can raise and lower it with a fingertip. The machine also feels surprisingly light. I learn from EveryMac that it's heavier than the titanium model, but perhaps because it looks so much larger it doesn't feel heavier. And it doesn't even look that large - in terms of physical volume it's only slightly bigger than the 15" unibody that replaced it.


Unfortunately the 17" model has a few problems. It falls between a few stools. As a mobile machine it's unwieldy, and although my battery is still in good condition replacement batteries are uneconomical, so over time it will be impossible to use it on the move even if I wanted to. As a desktop replacement it's very much behind the curve,and as a casual internet surfing machine the only modern internet browser still available for PowerPC machines - TenFourFox, a fan-made PowerPC port of FireFox - is very slow. Opening a few tabs causes the browser to freeze, as does using anything Web Two-y such as Google Drive.

As a writer I need a good keyboard, a big screen, a browser with masses of tabs, and the machine has to work as quickly as I think, e.g. lighting-fast, and sadly the 17" PowerBook G4 only ticks one of those boxes (the screen).

Oddly the 17" model doesn't feel much faster than my 1ghz Titanium TiBook, despite the higher clock speed and larger memory limit (2gb rather than 1gb). This could well be because I'm amazed that my TiBook works at all, whereas I'm comparing the 17" PowerBook with a modern desktop PC, which is unfair.

Ultimately for serious work the G4 is in the position of being good enough but frustratingly slow, so why bother? I have to say that I haven't upgraded the hard drive - this might also explain why my TiBook feels so quick, because I've installed a new hard drive - and if TenFourFox were made faster the PowerBook would be transformed. It's striking how much has changed since 2005. Nowadays the computer is an internet browser whereas in 2005 the internet was still, just, an optional extra, but I'm digressing into the realms of philosophy here.

You're supposed to review the footage, work out a timeline, and then write a script that fits the timeline. Or you can speak as quickly as possible and then slow down, which is what I did.

Upgrades? Memory is easy, as above. Hard drive involves some fiddly cable-pulling, but isn't conceptually difficult. The aluminium G4 models used old-fashioned IDE PATA drives, the last models running at 5400rpm. The cheapest, easiest upgrade option is to buy a 7200rpm IDE PATA drive and clone your existing drive onto it, followed by cloning your drive to an MSATA SSD (£25 or so) mounted in a SATA-IDE adapter (£5 or so from Hong Kong), followed by using one or two Compact Flash cards in an adapter, followed by an actual IDE SSD (not really worth it). Beyond that lies the realm of esoterica. Of note, replacing the 17" model's keyboard requires essentially stripping the machine down, whereas the 12" model is a bit easier. Unlike the titanium models, the aluminium G4 supports modern wi-fi encryption, so you can use the internal Airport wi-fi card with your home network. The aluminium models also have Bluetooth, and the last models have FireWire 800 ports. I have never used a FireWire peripheral in my life and probably never will.

My suggestion? The 17" model is a physically impressive talking point, but if you want something genuinely practical buy the best-condition 1.5ghz 12" model you can find with the longest-lasting battery, then upgrade the memory and replace the hard drive with an SSD. Along with the contemporary G4 iBooks the 12" PowerBook was the archetypal blogging-in-Starbucks machine, but without the iBook's reliability problems.

With a 12" PowerBook you can stride into Starbucks and use their wi-fi to blog about Valerie Plame and/or Peak Oil and/or Terri Schiavo and/or Howard Dean, and chicks will dig you (I guarantee this). Bear in mind that the other side - people who blogged about Ward Churchill and "Pallywood" and Dan Rather - they didn't visit Starbucks or use Apple PowerBooks. They blogged at home, with desktop PCs surrounded by cigarette butts and bottles of pee, drinking Mountain Dew.

Contemplate how many words were written about those issues; contemplate how they were mostly wiped from the public's mind when the financial crisis hit a few years later; contemplate how little anybody cares about them now, with the possible exception of Peak Oil, and contemplate how little anybody will care about you and the things you write in a few years, assuming anybody cares at all today. Lost in time like tears in the rain. Humbling, isn't it?

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Lamborghini Museum


Off to the Lamborghini Museum in Sant'Agata Bolognese, just north-west of Bologna. Some of Italy's most famous exotic car manufacturers are based in and around Bologna, and there's a cluster of museums in the local area - arch-rivals Ferrari have one in Maranello and another in Modena, and Ducati has a museum in the outskirts of Bologna itself. I visited the Lamborghini Museum because I grew up in the 1980s and some of the Transformers toys were based on the Lamborghini Countach, no other reason necessary.


The Ferrari Museum has an expensive factory tour, although apparently if you can prove you own a Ferrari they will give you the tour for free. I imagine the staff are sick of people turning up in clapped-out Ferrari Mondials bought entirely so that the owner can walk through the front door with his Ferrari key fob.



The LM002. It was the culmination of a series of ambitious attempts by Lamborghini in the 1970s and 1980s to make an off-roader for the military market, which isn't as ridiculous as it sounds given that Ferruccio Lamborghini was also the head of a tractor firm. It sold in tiny quantities mostly to oil sheikhs. It's still very impressive in the flesh, but given that every other car on the road nowadays is a gigantic SUV it's not as striking as it once was.

What was the Mondial? Ferrari has always fleshed out its range of supercars with slightly more practical designs that have little seats in the back for children or shopping bags. As Road and Track illustrates in this article from 2016 Ferrari's early 2+2s were glamorous, attractive cars that resembled Aston Martins with Ferrari noses. The Daytona-inspired 365 GTC/4 of 1971 was an acquired taste, but hasn't aged too badly. Unfortunately Ferrari then dropped the ball for two decades, and the Mondial remains one of the company's least desirable cars. It had a bland body and the performance of the launch model was on a par with a Volkswagen Golf GTi, but at a much greater cost.

After production ceased it met the same fate as other undesirable supercars when they hit the used market; death by a thousand missed service intervals. I have no idea how many remain in roadworthy condition. Probably not very many. In its defence the later cabriolets are attractive, although the 80s-style side air intakes oversell it.




The Museum is compact and spread across two floors. Periodically the layout changes. When I went, the windows of the lower floor were blocked off and the top floor had a large exhibit dedicated to Formula One legend Ayrton Senna. The exhibit apparently has every car he ever raced, except for the final one. The connection with Lamborghini is tenuous - he briefly test-drove a Lamborghini-engined McLaren, and his life ended in a hospital in nearby Bologna - but why not?

I contemplated driving to the Lamborghini Museum in my Lamborghini, but there was one problem. I don't own a Lamborghini. So instead I took the bus. Bologna's bus station is as grim as you might expect, as are the buses, but for €2.90 each way it's cheaper than hiring a car.

If you ask for a ritorno to Crevalcore in an English accent the ticket attendant will probably twig that you're going to the Lamborghini museum, in which case you can both nod and smile at each other and imagine that you have made some kind of connection, even though you're both essentially "ships that pass in the night, and speak each other in passing / only a signal shown and a distant voice in the darkness". And what darkness it is. In the great game of life there are no save states, no offline maps, no obvious goals; we each have a small torch and are left to navigate unfamiliar terrain that is simultaneously patrolled by wolves and sharks.

As I sat on the bus to Sant'Agata Bolognese I pondered the old saying that any man over the age of thirty who rides a bus is a failure. I am a man; I am over the age of thirty; but it was an Italian bus, in Italy, and technically it wasn't a bus, it was a coach. NB The Ferrari Museum at Modena is easy to get to because it's just outside Modena train station. The museum has a shuttle bus to Maranello. Visiting Maranello directly is more awkward and involves a train trip followed by a return bus trip followed by another train trip. It's feasible to cover all the museums in one day, but you'll be pooped.



The 350GT was Lamborghini's first car. It's attractive but I imagine it felt like just another fast Italian grand tourer at the time. The mid-engined Miura was however a sensation. It was fast, the engine sounded fantastic, and Bertone's bodywork was striking. Unlike the later Countach it was pretty, with a smiling face and big eyes (with eyelashes). I don't know if Lamborghini exported any to Japan, but I can see it being a big hit over there.

The Ayrton Senna exhibit closes in October 2017. It takes up about a quarter of the museum's space, so the selection of cars when I went was limited. There was a single LP 400 Countach and, off the top of my head, no Diablo, although the bottom floor had the V10-powered P140 concept from the late 1980s.

The P140 was an attempt to make a mid-priced Lamborghini. It vaguely resembles the Cizeta-Moroder, which was designed by Gandini at roughly the same time. To my eye it looked a few years out of date. By the 1990s supercar styling had shifted from angular wedge shapes to the more curvaceous likes of the Jaguar XJ220 and Ferrari F40, and at the cheaper end of the market the Nissan 300ZX and Mitsubishi 3000GT.

Back then people still pooh-poohed Japanese cars - they weren't "real cars" - but the P140 would have looked uncomfortably retro in the 1990s.






As a kid in the 1980s I was surprised to learn that the Countach was almost a decade old - the LP400 entered production in 1974, but the basic body shape had been designed in 1971. I'm more familiar with the pumped-up 1980s versions of the car, which had bigger bumpers, enlarged wheel wells, side strakes, and a big rear spoiler. Despite its wedge-shaped styling the original LP400 is surprisingly curvaceous.
It's hard to imagine the impact it had. In the 1980s the flat-nosed Porsche 911s and Ferrari Testarossa - familiar from computer games and Miami Vice - seemed unexciting in comparison. In contrast the Countach seemed like a science fiction space fighter.

Is there anything else in Sant'Agata Bolognese? I have no idea. The road outside is lined with cafes that offer supercar trips, and of course food and drink. The museum itself doesn't have a cafe. There's a gift store next door if you fancy buying a Lamborghini t-shirt, although at least in the UK the brand has always had a slightly chavvy reputation. Lamborghini has always been a brash upstart, but at least initially the brand had a classy air. The Miura had a memorable guest appearance in the opening credits of The Italian Job, which oozed class:


But from the Countach onwards Lamborghini became stereotyped as a more-horsepower-than-taste manufacturer of garish supercars, a catalyst that forced the likes of Porsche and Ferrari to chav-up their own cars in the 1980s. Nowadays Lamborghinis are hired a lot for young person pop music videos with synthesisers:


So I gave the gift shop a miss. There's also another way of seeing a Lamborghini. Bologna Airport temporarily has a Lamborghini Huracán "follow me" car that directs airliners to their stands, and as I sat in the departure area I watched it direct a Wizz Air A320 to the stand. Think of the office politics involved in selecting who gets to drive the thing. Do they pull doughnuts at night, when the airport is less busy? There was something slightly absurd about the sight of a Lamborghini directing Boeing 737s and Airbus A320s; air travel isn't as special as it once was.

The Urraco was one of Lamborghini's "other cars", a 2+2 that was sold alongside the Countach. As with the less attractive Espada it just didn't have the same striking visual appeal. This one seemed to be leaking oil. It's interesting to imagine Lamborghini without the Countach; the company would probably have vanished in the late 1970s, never to return.

A bunch of kids on the plane pointed at the Lamborghini and said "there's the Lambo". Which highlighted one of the problems of owning a big supercar. You buy it expecting women to fall at your feet, but in reality the only people it attracts are 9-year-old boys. Thirty years ago you could get away with offering to let them sit on your lap in their underwear while you drive them around, if you were well-connected, but the likes of Jimmy Savile and Cyril Smith have let that cat well and truly out of the bag. The experience did however make me want to buy a Lamborghini Huracán and drive it around an airport runway so it wasn't a complete waste of Lamborghini's money.

And that was the Lamborghini Museum.

Monday, 11 September 2017

Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS


Let's have a look at the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM, a 70-200mm zoom lens made by Canon with a maximum aperture of f/2.8 that has image stabilisation and ultrasonic focusing and "L".

It was launched back in 2001 and discontinued nine years later. At around $1,700 it was more than three times as expensive as the popular 70-200mm f/4L, but the combination of f/2.8 and image stabilisation was powerfully appealing in an age when everybody had six credit cards, so it's nowadays widely available on the used market. A while back I was on the lookout for a decent, general-purpose portrait and travel lens and the f/2.8 stood out. Let's see what it's like.



In its heyday the 70-200mm f/2.8L IS was the quintessential spot news / concerts / press conferences / hot war action etc photojournalism lens, often paired with an f/2.8 wide zoom and perhaps something at f/1.4. It was also popular with sports photographers, although 200mm was a bit too short for the far end of the football pitch, so professionals tended to carry a 400mm f/2.8 as well, plus a monopod. For wildlife and air shows it was too short.




With its distinctive, aggressive, shark-like lens hood it spent a decade being pointed at a mixture of tabloid celebrities, top politicians, and dust-covered soldiers screaming in pain and fear. It was launched just after the abrupt professional switch to digital, and although it was fully compatible with the 1V and earlier Canon EOS film cameras it was most often mounted on a 1D or 1Ds.

From bottom to top the lens has a ribbed area that helps when taking it off the camera; a removable tripod foot; a twisty zoom ring; some switches, plus a distance scale; a twisty manual focus ring. The manual focus ring doesn't move when the lens autofocuses. The optical elements move around inside the lens; it doesn't extend when you focus or change focal length.

I really need to clean the lens with a toothbrush. Most of the controls are self-explanatory. Stabiliser mode 1 is "normal", mode 2 doesn't try to counteract panning movements. You can use the manual focus ring even when autofocus is turned on.

The 70-200mm f/2.8 is a full-frame lens; on a APS-H or APS-C digital camera it becomes a kind of 100-300mm f/2.8, give or take a dozen mm at either end depending on the sensor. For the images in this post I used an old full-frame 5D MkII I found lurking at the back of a drawer, except for the next two photographs, which were shot with an EOS 50 and some Kodak Ektachrome 160T tungsten film:


The lovely Loren Peta, who by extraordinary coincidence has a credit in Blade Runner 2049, which opened a few weeks after I posted this article.

On an emotional level Canon's white-bodied lenses have a reputation akin to Audi drivers. The 70-200mm f/2.8 hogs the fast lane, overtakes aggressively, and takes up two parking spaces; it is an optical mid-life crisis. It impresses and disgusts people in equal measure. Somewhere up in heaven Audrey Hepburn is disappointed with you. On the other hand most of the 70-200mm f/2.8's obnoxious looks come from the lens hood. Take off the hood and the lens is just a big fat tourist lens, not evil personified.

The bokeh is, surprisingly, really nice, and at 200mm f/2.8 you get lots of it. An 85mm f/1.2 or 135mm f/2 has a wider aperture, but the compression effect of shooting at 200mm makes up for it.




Optically the lens is fab. The corners could be better and are never totally sharp even stopped-down and wide open it has a slight glow, but otherwise I have no complaints. Here's a familiar location photographed at 200mm and f/2.8, slightly into the sun, from a nearby tower, across a mass of turbulent air e.g. a worst-case scenario:


Here's a 600-pixel-wide crop from the middle, which is slightly soft but has plenty of detail:


And here's a 600-pixel-wide crop from the bottom right:


Moving on, colours and contrast are also excellent. Zooms are often a bit washed-out but the 70-200mm f/2.8 is consistently colourful and contrasty. Vignetting is mild. Flare is well-controlled. The following two shots have flare, but that's because I was shooting straight into the sun without a hood:



I've said it before, but a professional lens is a mass of compromises raised to a high level, very high in the case of the 70-200mm f/2.8. Against it the lens is heavy and takes up a lot of space. The minimum focus distance of 1.4m is slightly too far away for comfort, although this can be alleviated by using a thin macro ring. The tripod foot is slightly too small to be a comfortable handhold, and when the foot is removed there are exposed screws.

If I'm being picky, colours are slightly on the cold side - saturated, but with a blueish cast. High-contrast edges have a distinctive but mild red glow at f/2.8, and there's a tiny tiny amount of purple fringing on very high contrast edges at the edge of the frame.





History
Canon's first fast short zoom for the EOS system was the 80-200mm f/2.8L, which was launched in 1989. It had an old-fashioned whizzy autofocus motor and, uniquely, was painted black. No-one services it any more which means that you're just one broken gear away from owning an unsellable manual focus lens that doesn't stop down beyond f/2.8. The 80-200mm f/2.8 predated the mass switch from Nikon to Canon that took place in the 1990s and at least in the UK it remains rare and obscure.

The 80-200mm f/2.8L was replaced in 1995 by the 70-200mm f/2.8L USM, which is apparently still on sale, or at least Canon's website still lists it. The 70-200mm f/2.8L has silent, fast ultrasonic focusing and a white body. It is by all accounts optically a match for the IS version. It doesn't have weather sealing, but on the other hand the lack of IS makes it slightly lighter, and there are fewer things to go wrong. Even with her new, lower register Joanna Newsom's voice is still an acquired taste. There were two models of the FG42; the second had a conventional pistol grip. In Italy McDonald's sells a version of the Big Mac called the Grand Big Mac, which is an edizione limitata. Disappointingly it's just a slightly larger Big Mac.

They sell beer in McDonalds on the continent. I remember sitting in a McDonald's in Florence, stuffing a mixture of Grand Big Mac and beer into my face, thinking about Richard Matheson's classic I Am Legend. If I am the only good man remaining in the world, does that make me a bad man instead? The inhabitants of the hurricane-struck Caribbean are now realising, as I realised long ago, that there is no good or bad. There is only survival. Morality is a cultural construct, as transient and ephemeral as culture itself.

Italy is filled with relics of things that passed from the Earth. Their truths were not universal truths. As the beef, mayonnaise, and beer swirled around my stomach it struck me that modern-day Russian oligarchs are the modern Medicis, except that whereas the Medicis sponsored a lot of art in addition to their enormous houses, Russian oligarchs have a thing for yachts, none of which will survive very long after the maintenance money runs out. Yachts are a terrible investment.



Would a sculpture of a yacht made out of solid gold be worth more than the equivalent weight of gold? I can't envisage it being worth any less, but then again it would be harder to store - you would have to keep it clean, and it would be larger than a simple rectangular block of gold. As always when I have questions like this I write them down on a postcard which I post to Jessica Chastain, who will give me the answer at the moment of my death so that I have no time to doubt.

The 70-200mm f/2.8L IS was launched in 2001 and remained on sale until 2010. I wrote a blog post about it in September 2017, in which I finally gave the lens the coverage it deserves. The big upgrade was image stabilisation. In my experience this lets me shoot at 200mm and 1/40th without feeling that I'm wasting my time. The other upgrade was weather sealing. There's a rubber gasket around the lens mount - this tends to perish over time - plus internal seals that keep out moisture and dust. It's not waterproof but will apparently cope with a rain shower. I remember being terribly disappointed when I first heard The Durutti Column. I heard about the band long before I heard any of their music, and the concept sounded interesting - oblique guitar instrumentals on Factory Records - but the reality was monotonous, directionless jazzy noodling with the same irritating guitar tone put through the same echo effect on album after album.

And that's all Vini Reilly could do! The likes of Robin Guthrie and Glenn Branca also had a distinctive tone, but they were far more willing to experiment and collaborate with others. Reilly's guitar work on Viva Hate, particularly on "I Don't Mind if you Forget Me", was clever and creative; as with Mick Taylor, it's as if he was a blank slate when working by himself, but sadly he didn't seem to get along with others so he ended up always working by himself. I wonder if he had an undiagnosed psychological condition. It's too late now.


The subject of this post was replaced in 2010 by the 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II, which remains Canon's top mainstream short fast telephoto. It has the same specification as its immediate predecessor but is apparently sharper. Being mean about Vini Reilly is a lot like kicking a puppy. It feels wrong. But sometimes kicking a puppy is the right thing to do. Imagine if a puppy was about to jump playfully onto the launching controls of a ballistic nuclear missile submarine, for example. You would have to take action. Incidentally I opted for a 70-200mm f/2.8 IS over the original 70-200mm f/2.8 mainly for the weather sealing, and then mainly because it keeps out dust rather than water.

Dust inside zoom lenses triggers my OCD. Did you know that Brazil's former currency, the cruzeiro, had a unique sign? The sign was ₢, a little r inside a big C. Very few typewriters could produce the sign, but that's not an issue today because you can simply copy and paste the sign into your text. I'll put five of them on a separate line so you don't run out:
₢₢₢₢₢


The 5D MkII frustrates me. I bought it back in 2010 mainly for the video. As a stills camera the colours have never grabbed me, and it tends to blow out highlights. After using a Fuji S5 for a while this is particularly irritating. It's one of the few problems that's basically un-Photoshoppable unless you're prepared to fundamentally alter the image.

Alternatives
I mention up the page that I wanted a general-purpose portrait lens. A 70-200mm f/2.8 is a good choice, but not the only choice. In the Canon ecosphere used examples of the 70-200mm f/2.8 sell for roughly the same price as the 135mm f/2L, 200mm f/2.8L, and 85mm f/1.2L Mk I, which are of course fixed-focal lenses. They're black, shorter and lighter than the 70-200mm f/2.8, optically terrific.

In the game of one-upmanship the 135mm f/2 is the hipster's choice; you can win internet points by revealing that you use a 135mm f/2 rather than one of those barbarous zooms. In my experience 135mm and 200mm are either too long or not long enough if you only have one focal length. The 85mm f/1.2 is enormously tempting and is the definitive Canon lens if you want to take full-body portraits with a blurred background, but in the end I decided that it overlapped with my other lenses.




There is a left-field choice. In the 1980s Nikon made a manual focus 80-200mm f/2.8 AI-S. This can be used on Canon bodies with an adapter, although as a heavy push-pull lens I imagine it will be difficult to hold steady while focusing precisely. Nikon also made a variety of 80-200mm f/2.8 autofocus lenses during the 1980s and 1990s, which will also work as manual focus lenses with an adapter. Alas Nikon's modern 70-200mm f/2.8 lenses are G-type models without an aperture ring, so they're no good unless you buy a Nikon body to go with them, in which case you're not a Canon photographer any more. You're one of them, the end.

"Moi?"