Lady Goosepelt

Fuzz Junket

Ramblings of an Ornamental Hermit

The Web is a Shot Bird

Mozilla caused a kerfuffle on the weekend by deliberately pushing an add-on to a lot of people’s Firefox installations. This add-on, called Looking Glass and accompanied by the ominous text “MY REALITY IS JUST DIFFERENT THAN YOURS”, turned out to be a promotional tie-in with the TV show Mr. Robot. Like a lot of Firefox users tired of Mozilla’s fuckery, I’ve been nosing around for alternative browsers — but the state of the browser ecosystem is shockingly poor. A large number of alternate browsers out there are forked or patched versions of Chromium and Firefox, and the ones that aren’t are painfully underpowered.

What’s the reason for such low genetic diversity in the browser world? It’s because creating a Web browser is hard. The Web isn’t the Web it used to be — you can’t just slap together something that renders basic HTML and CSS and call it a Web browser. You now need something that can handle CSS animations, form validation, HTML5 canvas elements, secure encryption, digital rights management, FIDO U2F, and enough audio and video support to replace your default media player. On top of all that let’s not forget a JavaScript engine that doesn’t chug along like Steamboat Willie. Google and Mozilla spend a lot of time and money making JavaScript fly in their browsers, so good luck with that. So when aspiring young Jane or Jimmy says that someday they want to build their own browser, they’ve set themselves a practically impossible task. Just fork Chromium or Firefox instead and have 90% of the work done for you out of the box.

Why don’t I just shut up and make do with a truly independent browser, one that’s not based on Chromium or Firefox? Aside from being chronically underpowered and lacking features (just you try watching Netflix using qutebrowser or Midori; go on, I’ll wait), those independent browsers won’t support Chrome or Firefox extensions. I would never browse the Web now without at least an ad-blocker. My minimum suite of add-ons consists of uBlock Origin (ad blocker), HTTPS Everywhere (security), and Privacy Badger (privacy). I would no longer consider browsing the Web without these or equivalent add-ons because the Web has become an ad-infested, unsecure, privacy-invading stew. It’s like acid rain in all those old sci-fi stories where kids have to go to school wearing armor-plated raincoats. We’re all wearing the armor-plated raincoats now, and anyone browsing the Web without one is asking for trouble.

So this is the state of affairs: we have a Web that no-one can browse and no-one can build a browser for. It’s a shot bird, in my opinion, and probably beyond saving. Which hurts to say — I grew up online and spent a lot of very happy days making friends there and discoving the enormous quantity of stuff that was available to me for the first time (obscure music, digitized books, census records). But when was the last time you visited someone’s website? You don’t any more — you visit their Tumblr or their Twitter or their Facebook. When was the last time you downloaded an MP3 and discovered a new band you liked? You don’t — you let Spotify or Pandora make recommendations and stream them to you. The Web has been turned into an app delivery service and your browser has been turned into an app execution platform, all for the sake of companies that are harvesting users as their product. The Web has strangled itself out of all diversity and innovation. I’m not saying there aren’t still great things on the Web or that we should go back to 1997, but things can’t and won’t continue like this indefinitely. Something has to change. Until then, I dunno… browse Gopherspace or read a book. Ned Beauman’s got a new one out called Madness Is Better Than Defeat. Seems apt.


Stone Wildlife of San Francisco

I SEE YOU THERE.
I SEE YOU THERE. An owl at Poindexter Apartments.
Leica M3, Kodak Ultramax 400.

While San Francisco does get visits from the odd mountain lion (the very odd mountain lion), most of the animals you’ll see outside in our beautiful city are made of stone. They’re frequently located on the sides of buildings just above the ground floor where they can perch, quite happily, and glare at people as they walk past. Judging. Criticizing. SCREW YOU, OWL, YOU DON’T KNOW ME.

I took a little expedition around the Tender Nob area with my new-ish 135mm lens and went hunting for some local fauna. The results are sometimes not as perfectly focused as I’d like, but apparently focus is a hit-and-miss thing when you stop down a 135mm lens on a rangefinder camera. Still, others came out perfectly, so there.

A horse-shaped hitching post.
A horse-shaped hitching post.
Leica M3, Lomography Early Grey 100.
An owl perched outside the Owl Tree.
An owl perched outside the Owl Tree.
Leica M3, Kodak Ultramax 400.
A lion. Rawr.
A lion. Rawr.
Leica M3, Lomography Early Grey 100.
More lions. You can't move in this bloody city for lions.
More lions. You can’t move in this bloody city for lions.
Leica M3, Kodak Ultramax 400.
STRENGTH OF AN EAGLE.
STRENGTH OF AN EAGLE.
Leica M3, Kodak Ultramax 400.
More eagles on the Bank of America clock.
More eagles on the Bank of America clock.
Leica M3, Kodak Ultramax 400.
A seal.
A seal.
Leica M3, Lomography Early Grey 100.
Another angle of the Poindexter owl.
Another angle of the Poindexter owl.
Leica M3, Kodak Ultramax 400.
I'm gonna chuck the statue of Victory from Union Square in there too, because sea-horses. I'm guessing it was a naval victory.
I’m gonna chuck the statue of Victory from Union Square in there too, because sea-horses. I’m guessing it was a naval victory.
Leica M3, Kodak Ultramax 400.
Not strictly an animal, but DERP.
Not strictly an animal, but DERP.
Leica M3, Lomography Early Grey 100.

The Ugly Duchess

The Duchess by Sir John Tenniel, 1865.
The Duchess in John Tenniel’s original illustration, 1865.

The illustration of the Duchess from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland should be familiar to anyone who’s read the book. The original illustrations for Alice are rightly beloved and have withstood the passage of 150 years a hell of a lot better than I expect I will. This is partly down to the talents of Sir John Tenniel, who illustrated both Alice books, and partly because Tenniel worked closely with Lewis Carroll and the illustrations are therefore part of the text. Over the years dozens of artists have done their own illustrations for Alice, but very few of them compare to the originals. They are part of the novels and it’s folly to try and replace them. (Although the illustrations by Salvador Dalí and Mervyn Peake are worth checking out, but it’s bloody Dalí so he can do what he likes. As the Duchess would say, the moral of the story is don’t do your own illustrations for Alice unless you’re a genius.)

It’s been said that “Jabberwocky”, the poem from Through the Looking-Glass, makes a great study in translation because of the unique problems in translating reasonable-sounding nonsense. (“’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves…” Course it was, mate.) The same is true of the Alice books themselves because they must be the most adapted novels in the history of cinema. Wikipedia lists no fewer than 36 screen adaptations, and that’s not even counting new works set in that universe like Tim Burton’s two films or the miniseries on the Syfy channel. Three of those adaptations alone are silent films — a particular fetish of mine. But how the hell do you adapt something as visually bizarre as Alice for the screen? It’s not too hard to draw a cool-looking Cheshire Cat or Queen of Hearts, but how do you actually film talking cats and playing cards without making it look unbelievable?

For my money the character of the Duchess makes a really good yardstick for the style of an Alice adaptation. But before we go forward in time, let’s go back — to c. 1513 when Quinten Massys painted “An Old Woman” (aka “The Ugly Duchess”):

"The Ugly Duchess", Quinten Massys, c. 1513.
The Ugly Duchess, Quinten Massys, c. 1513.

I don’t think I need to argue too hard that Tenniel’s illustration of the Duchess was nicked from this painting. For a while there art historians tried to argue that Massys himself took his inspiration from a sketch by Leonardo da Vinci, but it turns out this human centipede ends with Massys, not da Vinci. The consensus now seems to be that Massys got in first and da Vinci (or someone in his circle) copied him later.

If you’re animating your Alice adaptation then you’re laughing — you get the same Get Out Of Jail Free card that illustrators have and you can draw pretty much whatever you like (though it’s worth noting that the best-known adaptation, Disney’s 1951 animation, omits the Duchess entirely). But if you’re going for a live-action adaptation, you can go two routes: not even trying, or shooting the moon. The adaptations that don’t even try simply have humans depicting the animals without costumes. These appeal to our understanding that we’re watching Alice in Wonderland and we should know that that guy wearing a three-piece suit is actually supposed to be a frog. The adaptations that shoot the moon go all-out to stylize the characters with theatrical costumes on the understanding that it’s impossible to film a realistic live-action Alice so you may as well go for broke.

The Duchess is sort of hard to make out in the 1903 and 1910 films, so let’s skip ahead to 1915:

The Duchess, "Alice in Wonderland", 1915.
Alice in Wonderland, 1915.

Now this is some prime-time wackadoodle moon-shooting. They’ve gone for some very theatrical-style masks that appear to be based off the Tenniel illustrations. And I’ll be honest, you could do a lot worse than simply wearing giant carnival-mask versions of Tenniel’s work. If the original is that brilliant, then you can’t go too far wrong if you just copy it.

We have a slightly more subtle take on the Duchess in 1931:

The Duchess, "Alice in Wonderland", 1931.
Alice in Wonderland, 1931.

She looks a lot more like a real person here, although still stylized and very clearly based off the Tenniel illustration with that giant headgear and a putty nose to emphasize her ugliness. I only wish the 1931 White Rabbit came off half as well:

The White Rabbit, "Alice in Wonderland", 1931.
This thing gives me bloody nightmares.

Where we really enter nightmare territory is the 1933 film, which takes us plunging back into maskland with some frankly terrifying costumes:

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH
AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH

Can this costume get any more horrifying? I’m glad you ask:

KILL ME NOW I BEG OF YOU
KILL ME NOW I BEG OF YOU

Mercifully Alice adaptations after this time start to allow the Duchess to look like a goddamn human being and not a blob-woman from Mars:

The Duchess, "Alice in Wonderland", 1966.
Alice in Wonderland, 1966.

Except, of course, when your Alice adaptation is pretty much just filming a stage production, as in this 1983 version that features lots of flappy-mouthed masks, sets that look like line-drawings, a Cheshire Cat with a mechanical tail and light-up lamp eyes, an inflatable baby, and this Duchess who looks suspiciously like a dead drag queen:

The Duchess, "Alice in Wonderland", 1983.
Alice in Wonderland, 1983.

The original illustrations will always hold a special place in my heart, and although Alice might be ill-advised to follow the letter of the originals, I have a soft spot for human-based adaptations that take their cue from Tenniel rather than attempting to do their own stupid thing that usually doesn’t come off. I’ll leave you, then, with one of the great Duchesses — Elizabeth Spriggs in the 1999 film, rubber baby and all:

The Duchess, "Alice in Wonderland", 1999.
Alice in Wonderland, 1999.

Certainly never send me any email here: gerald@fuzzjunket.com.