in a hole in the ground

Update, week of 2020-07-20

Rebooting Seefilms by way of DCGSFT, and on the use of Syncplay

This is the eleventh summer some friends and I have run the DCGSFT drama group. Due to COVID-19 inhibiting its usual format, the group isn’t doing a performance this year; instead, we’re taking the opportunity (and advantage of everyone’s newly-developed familiarity with video conference calls) to do group readings of plays. It’s not very formal; whoever shows up on the call gets a part, and parts are assigned randomly (and can rotate from scene to scene). So far, we’ve read through Dear Brutus by J. M. Barrie, and Saint Joan by George Bernard Shaw.

This week, we took a break from reading plays, and watched a film adaptation of one instead: the 2002 adaptation of The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde. We performed this play last summer, so it was pretty familiar to most; beyond that, I’d already re-read the script and watched this cinematic adaptation a month or two ago with KJJ’s Windstone book club. It was neat to rewatch it again with a different crew, and see different things pulled out of it.

Outside of the actual watching, there was a little technical effort involved on my part to get things set up for synchronous watching. I wanted to do something a little more structured than someone in the call doing a countdown and having everyone try to hit “play” at the same time. And because some people watching (self included, but also our fearless director) are doing so from fairly crappy Internet connections, I wanted a system where some people could stream the movie directly, while other people could download a copy ahead of time. The obvious solution is Syncplay: it’s free (in both of the usual senses), it’s cross-platform, and it supports a number of media players.

Syncplay, however, is only one piece of the puzzle (the other being a media player). Setup requires a little more attention than I (pessimistically, and perhaps uncharitably) expected all participants to be able to muddle through by themselves. I spent several hours trying to package up a turnkey distribution of Syncplay, mpv, and a configuration file for Syncplay which would automatically log into the right server and room with a preconfigured username. The intent was to throw together a web interface which would ask for a username, then patch the configuration file, and deliver a customized archive to the user. Unfortunately, the Syncplay configuration dialog doesn’t appear to be skippable. When loading the configuration file, Syncplay substitutes default values for unspecified configuration options, so I could generate a file specifying only the things I care about (username, server, room, etc.) – but the configuration dialog would always pop up anyway when launching Syncplay. Rightly or wrongly, I felt that if I couldn’t totally achieve my objective of a one-click launch then it wasn’t worth trying to build my own package at all. In the end, I wrote some instructions for installing the individual bits and pieces, and it worked out okay. We had a few issues with the stream pausing and spuriously rewinding/skipping, and I’m not sure it was really worth the effort to get everyone to use it; but it did function in the end.

Cottage cleanup

Most of the big effort of the week went into cleaning up around the cottage in anticipation of the arrival of the first Airbnb guests of the season. This involved the usual mundane deep-clean things we hadn’t done earlier in the year, like windows and the fridge, along with extra, pandemic-related disinfecting.

Earlier in the year, M and I cut down a whole bunch of Scotch broom near the cottage:

We had piled it all the in cottage driveway, because we thought that would be the easiest place from which to load it all into the trailer and take it to the dump. Unfortunately, the dump has stopped taking trailer-loads for now, so there the pile sat. We ended up hand-carrying it down the hill and re-piling it in the main parking lot next to the drive shed.

The trouble with cleaning things is that you keep finding more things to clean. I took a brush to the garden bench thinking I could quickly knock some of the moss off it; a couple hours (and one serious application of wire brush and elbow grease) later, the bench is much cleaner, but really ought to be properly sanded and stained. To be done some time when there’s no one in the cottage to miss the bench – maybe in the fall.

M spent a lot of her time trying to beat the overgrown cottage garden into submission. In particular, one large rosebush had pulled itself off the wall and needed reanchoring. And a barrel planter needed replanting; and the interior of the cottage is much improved for the addition of several little plants. It’s not a great time to be cutting things back, horticulturally, but you’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do. My thumbs are pretty brown, so I keep getting pretty surprised by what a few green things can accomplish.

It does feel really good to get this stuff off of the list. Some of it has been on there since we got here.

Next week

I’d still like to do the things which I said last week that I wanted to do this week. This week has been pretty physically demanding, so it was hard to muster the interest in expending much mental effort even when I did get the time. Hopefully, with the cottage pressure off, I’ll feel a bit more like tackling some deeper technical challenges in the coming week.

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