April 19, 2011

Creating TRON:LEGACY's computer displays

Image from TRON: Legacy

If you're making a move that takes place entirely inside of a computer, the computer displays better kick all kinds of ass. For TRON: Legacy digital designer Joshua Nimoy got the call to come up with everything from hacker computer screens to world maps to 3-D virtual hearts.

Nimoy's written a great blog post detailing some of the techniques he used. Among other things he recorded himself using emacs, and built software tools that would let the movie's visual artists generate custom shaped fireworks.

DISCLOSURE: I work at the Walt Disney Company, the company that made TRON:Legacy (but I work in the division that does internet stuff and games, not the part that does movies or videos).

Comments welcome via email to comments-at-spurgeonworld.com

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March 13, 2010

How good a doctor is House, anyway?

image from House

One of my all-time best ego feeds happened a few years ago, when I successfully identified the mystery disease on House before Dr. House and his team did(*).

Much of each episode of House deals with the art and science of medical diagnosis. But how realistic is the medical detective work on the show?

Enter Scott Morrison, M.D. Morrison has a family practice in Illinois and a blog called Polite Dissent, where among other things he picks apart each episode of House, explaining what's realistic and what's nonsense. Some typical observations:

I'm suspicious of Thirteen's "bubble test." While there is a bubble test that can be used to find heart defects, it is only used on a relatively small single organ. Thirteen's idea of trying to track microscopic bubbles wherever they may go over the entire body seems fruitless, especially when the overlying gastrointestinal tract is likely to have gas bubbles of its own. Plus this would only work if the cysts were connected.

It's fractures of the long bones (femur, most commonly) that lead to fat emboli. I don't think there's enough fat in a toe bone to cause a fat embolism.

Sequencing the cardiac sodium channel, in a hospital lab, in a day. Right. See me about that property in Arizona. Even with modern equipment, gene sequencing is tricky, time consuming, and a specialized skill.

(*)Leprosy FTW! But then just a few weeks later I missed the diagnosis of xeroderma pigmentosum, even though I had just worked on a documentary about it.


Comments welcome via email to comments-at-spurgeonworld.com

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June 28, 2007

The weather with David Lynch

photo of David Lynch

The best part of my morning commute happens at about 10 minutes before nine, when radio station Indie 103.1 does the the weather. That's because their weatherman is none other than idiosyncratic film director David Lynch.

Lynch's weather reports are, to say the least, unique. He gives a terse description of current conditions at his location.... which may or may not be Los Angeles... followed by a thought for the day... which may or may not make sense. Then he abruptly hangs up. Brilliant!

If you're in the L.A. area, tune in and catch it. If you're anywhere, you can catch the daily forecast on Lynch's website, davidlynch.com

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June 15, 2007

Processing: The Book

cover of Processing book

Time and time again in the past few years, when I've seen a jaw-droppingly beautiful work of interactive video art and then asked the artist how they did it, I've received a one word answer... "Processing".

Processing is a programming language...a little like Java, but easier to learn and use...that is uniquely suited to manipulating audio and video. It was developed by interactive media artists at MIT and UCLA and has been championed by digital media heavyweights like Ben Fry, John Maeda, and Casey Reas. Word has spread about Processing, and its use is starting to reach a critical mass, just the way Photoshop did for graphic designers 20 years ago. Right now, in art school dorm rooms and computer labs, an army of inspired, sleep-deprived students...the next generation of video artists... are hacking together all sorts of stunning digital assaults on our senses, all because of the Processing language.

And all of this has happened despite the fact that there's no book on Processing. At least, there wasn't until now. Just last week I got my copy of Processing: Creative Coding and Computational Art by Ira Greenberg, and it's a great work. The book lays out the basics and intricacies of the language, but it does it with an artist's sensibility (which makes sense, given that Greenberg is both an artist and a professor... who happens to hold joint appointments in both the art and computer science departments at his college).

I'm thoroughly enjoying hacking together stuff with this book's help, and I those of you are there who are fellow computer artists will too. You may wind up bleary-eyed, but your computer screen will look amazing.

(Speaking of amazing, the stunningly beautiful iTunes music visualizer
Magnetosphere was developed in Processing.)

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screenshot of Magnetosphere in action

Here's a little bit o'beauty for your weekend. The folks at barbarian software have just released a iTunes visualizer called Magnetosphere, and it's already getting rave reviews for its haunting, hypnotic display.

Magnetosphere pulses and flows in perfect synch to your music. Grab the free download, install it, watch a few songs and you may find yourself never needing to watch another music video.

By the way, Magnetosphere was developed in the Processing programming language, which is rapidly becoming the tool for artists who use video display as their canvas. See the adjoining post for info on the first comprehensive book on Processing.

(Thanks O'Reilly Radar)

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June 03, 2007

The coming explosion of Second Life books

cover of Designing Your Second Life

If you were looking for a book to help you make sense of Second Life, you've only had one choice (though it's a good one), Second Life, The Official Guide.

But now it looks like we're going to be ass-deep in SL books within the next few months. I've particularly intrigued by Designing Your Second Life a forthcoming book that will help you make sure your avatar is particularly beautiful, and that your virtual home is particularly stunning.

Tara Anna, who actually runs a bookstore within Second Life, put up this page on Amazon running down the forthcoming Second Life book releases.

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March 20, 2007

Chris Ware animation on This American Life

still image from Chris Ware's cartoon for This American Life

Like many people, I've been looking forward to the premiere of the television version of This American Life. I'm even more excited now that I've learned that cartoonist Chris Ware has animated one of the segments.

As I'm sure just about all of you know, Ware is a brilliant graphic artist and story teller, though I have to admit that I find it very difficult to actually read his material(*).

But his animation of a This American Life segment is spot-on perfect! It's the tale of how some elementary school kids started making fake TV cameras, and how that changed life in the schoolyard. Watch it here, and watch the entire show beginning March 22 on Showtime.

(*)Many of Ware's stories have to do with children suffering through lives of bleakness and despair. My childhood was pretty bleak too, so I find his stuff a bit too close to home).

(Thanks BoingBoing!)

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February 21, 2007

Recording the Beatles

Recording the Beatles book

If you are a hard core...and I mean HARD CORE...Beatles fan, then start saving up your dimes. There's a new, $100, book about how the Beatles went about recording and mixing all off their tunes. It's called...cleverly..."Recording the Beatles" and it looks drop-dead gorgeous. It's also chocked full with audio geeky goodness, things like which microphone Paul McCartney used to record &Blackbird" and how they got that cool jangley piano sound in "Rocky Raccoon".

It's not available in stores, but it is for sale online from Curvebender Publishing.

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February 12, 2007

Make your pantry look like Lost

Lost food labels

For fanatical fans of the TV show "Lost", there's a new way to take your obsession to the next level. The Insanely Great News website offers free PDF replicas of the food labels seen inside Lost's Dharma Initiative bunkers. A bit of printing and pasting, and you can turn all of the food in your pantry into generic-looking Hanso Foundation goodies. Download the PDFs here.


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January 11, 2007

The great TV highjack of 1987

Max Headroom hijack still image

The Damn Interesting blog reminded me of one of the all-time great hacks. On November 22, 1987 person or persons unknown briefly took control of the Chicago public TV station, jamming the regular transmission of an episode of Doctor Who and replacing it with a surreal transmission by someone in a Max Headroom mask. The Max person spoke for a couple of minutes (but not all of it is intelligible). He also dropped trou and submitted himself to a brief bare-assed spanking with a fly swatter.

As quickly as it appeared, the pirate TV show vanished and the regularly scheduled program reappeared.

The FBI and FCC did an exhaustive investigation, but they never figured out who was responsible. It remains one of the great mysteries in the history of pranks.

Fortunately, that fateful broadcast survives, via YouTube.

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January 02, 2007

Help pick public TV's next science show

image from Wired Science

PBS wants a new prime-time science show, and they're asking the public to help pick it. Over the next three weeks public TV stations across America will air demo episodes of three contenders. Based on audience reaction (both the TV audience and visitors to the shows' websites), PBS will green-light one of the series for regular production.

The trial kicks off this Wednesday night with Wired Science, a fast-paced eclectic show based on Wired Magazine (Full Disclosure: I did a bit of writing for the Wired Science website).

The following Wednesday it's Science Investigators... a team of researchers look into mysteries such as the global drop in frog populations and the physics of the knuckle-ball. The trial finishes up with 22nd Century, a series devoted to speculation about the future of technology.

Don't want to wait for TV? All three shows are available right now for online viewing, and are available as video podcasts. Full details on the PBS website.


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November 12, 2006

Every channel on TV

Russell Davies shot of a TV screen

Trapped in the nether-world of a strange hotel in a strange city? It's a perfect opportunity to do a little post-modern chronicling of your condition by photographing every channel on your hotel room TV.

Post them on flickr with the tags TV and hotel and in no time you'll have an alternative diary of your life on the road.

[Thanks to Russell Davies for the idea.]


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October 24, 2006

Norman McLaren: The Master's Edition

image from Norman McLaren's Pax de Deux

Norman McLaren was a genius. That's not just my opinion, Picasso thought so too, as did Francois Truffaut. McLaren was an animator and experimental film maker who created works that destroyed the limits of what was thought possible through the medium of film. He would create animations by scratching shapes directly into the film emulsion, or use live models as stop-motion animation props, or create multiple exposures that used dozens of interlocking images.

McLaren was the founding director of the National Film Board of Canada's animation division (a post he held for more than 40 years) and under his tutelage the NFB became the place for cutting-edge animation. Along the way hewon an Oscar, a Palm d'Or, and a zillion film festival awards.

The National Film Board has just released a stunning, seven-DVD set of McLaren's work, titled Norman McLaren: The Master's Edition. It's my vote for the best DVD release of the year, well worth the $90 price tag (buy it on Amazon).

The NFB has also created a mini-site about the life and work of McLaren, and put some of his films online.

(P.S. The public radio program Off-Ramp recently aired a nice appreciation of McLaren).

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October 10, 2006

Happy Powers of Ten Day!

still image from The Powers of Ten film

Today, the tenth day of the tenth month, holds special importance for both fans of science and of the brilliant 20th century designers Charles and Ray Eames (I fall into both categories). It's Powers of Ten Day, a holiday inspired by The Eames' mind-blowing 1977 short film of the same name.

The film starts with a couple enjoying a picnic in a Chicago park. The camera, looking down from above, begins pulling out and up until it reaches the edge of the visible universe. Then is zooms back in until the view ends up inside the nucleus of a single atom in the hand of one of the picnickers.

In addition to being the single greatest tracking shot in the history of cinema, the film gives you a wonderfully clear insight into the vast size of the cosmos. I don't know a single scientist or artist who hasn't been inspired and/or stunned by this film.

Today and for the rest of the month, the powersof10.com website has the film available for free on-line viewing(*). By all means take nine minutes out of your day to watch!

If you want more info on the impact of "The Powers of Ten", check out the appreciation of it I did for the public radio arts program Studio360.

(*) Email registration requested.

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September 27, 2006

How to draw one second of The Incredibles

sequences of images from The Incredibles

There's a brief moment in The Incredibles where Dash, the little kid brother, does a double-take, his face going from an expression of happiness to one of surprise and fear. That sequence was created by Pixar animator Victor Navone, and on his blog Navone has de-constructed that take frame by frame. Even though it's just a tiny moment in one shot of one scene of the movie (the sequence lasts less than one second) Navone and Incredibles director Brad Bird put an amazing amount of thought into it...

Frame 7 - Pop! The eyelids spring open. They do a fast-out as if they were forcibly yanked up by the brows. The brows continue up slightly, overshooting the "B" pose. The mouth is reversed into a frown but is still closed. It starts to narrow as the jaw stretches, giving it a sense of volume preservation. Note the shrinkage of the pupils AND irises. Real human irises don't shrink, of course, but this is animation and it makes for a clearer, more extreme attitude. Normally this and the following frame would be considered "off-model" for Dash, since it doesn't really look like him any more. I can get away with this because it's happening in a fast action. I would never hold a pose this extreme.

One of the big differences between animation and live action film is that in animation there is nothing accidental on the screen...every background building, every cloud, every leaf, every twitch of every eyebrow...is explicity created, the result of deliberate thought. I think this mini-tutorial is a wonderful view into that thought process. Check out Navone's tutorial here. You may also enjoy Navone's blog.

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September 22, 2006

Amazing composite photo of the Thames

Alisdair MacDonald composite photo of the River Thames

The River Thames in London is a real working river, filled with commercial shipping traffic, commuter ferries, tour boats, naval vessels, you name it. And in recent years the amount of river traffic has exploded, leading to all sorts of congestion problems.

The Daily Mail newspaper in London has a story about all of this, but what caught my eye was the brilliant photograph accompanying the story. Photographer Alisdair MacDonald snapped a shot of every boat that passed by London Bridge in one hour, and then composited them into one image to give a powerful visual sense of the overcrowding of the Thames. I think this is a great example of how a manipulated news image can illustrate a story better than a straight photograph. You can see an somewhat enlarged version of the photo (and read the story) here.

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September 07, 2006

Coming soon: The Science of Sleep

Science of Sleep still image

The website for Michael Gondry's forthcoming movie The Science of Sleep is now up. As you would expect from the director of The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and some of the greatest videos ever, the website is wonderfully quirky. Take a few minutes and go play.

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August 27, 2006

238 miles, one song

still images from 238 miles

The folks at the advertising/design firm Coudal Partners have creativity to burn, so they've made a series of very funny short films. Check out Copy Goes Here, one man's strange journey through ad agency; Ten, which proves that you really can break every commandment in just a few minutes; and the hilarious 238 Miles, one man's cruel five-hour car journey trapped with Abba. Great stuff!

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August 26, 2006

Pocoyo: A little piracy can be a good thing

Pocoyo characters

Pocoyo is a completely charming cartoon series for little kids that airs (or is about to start airing) in about 40 countries around the world. David Cantolla, one of Pocoyo's creators, has been blogging about the show, discussing all sorts of behind the scenes stuff (designing new characters, finding the right marketing deal, discussing whether or not the characters should eat junk food).

In his latest post, Cantolla looks at the issue of piracy (specifically the appearance of Pocoyo cartoons on video sites like YouTube) and how it might effect his creation. He thinks about the issue from several points of view (the creators, the staff, the distributors, the TV networks, the toy marketers) and comes to the conclusion that a bit of illegal distribution... not a huge amount, just a little.. is actually good for the show.

It's refreshing to come across someone in the TV industry who isn't in complete lock-step with the extremist TV industry stance on unauthorized copying. His post is well worth reading. And of course, the show itself is well worth watching, even if you're not three years old. Here's one of the episodes on YouTube. (I'm particularly an fan of Elly, the elephant who's fond of ballet).


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August 11, 2006

TO DO in L. A. Saturday night: Make Magazine party!!!

cover of Make magazine

It's only been around for six issues, but Make Magazine is already causing a revolution. Everywhere people are once again taking things apart, tinkering, hacking things together and generally having a great time while voiding their warranties. Well, issue number 7 is about to hit news stands and mailboxes, and the always cool Machine Project art gallery in Los Angeles is throwing a party to celebrate!

Things get underway at 8 this Saturday night. Mark Allen, the indefatigable director of Machine Project, has a great evening planned, including Jed Berk talking about autonomous flocking behavior in robotic blimps, and Make editor Mark Frauenfelder (who's also one fourth of boing boing) will be there to chat about the new issue and all things Make related. Stop by and say Hi! (Extra style points if you bring some throwies!)

Machine Project is located at:
1200 D North Alvarado Street
Los Angeles, CA 90026

Here's a map.

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August 07, 2006

Pictographs for Beijing Olympics unveiled

olympic archery pictograph

The summer Olympics are still a couple of years away, but when it comes to the graphic design of the Games, today marks one of the big milestones. The Beijing Organizing Committee for the Games of the XXIX Olympiad (that's quite a mouthful!), the folks in charge of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, just released the pictographs they'll use to indicate the various sports.

The creation of these pictographs (you can see them all here) is one of the dream gigs in all of graphic design. This time the pictographs are influenced by inscriptions on bones and bronze objects in ancient China.

It's interesting to see how the pictographs of the various Olympics mirror the changes in graphic design in general. You can compare samples from the last 40 years of Olympics here.

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July 27, 2006

Happy birthday Bugs!

image from A Wild Hare

A big "Happy Birthday" today to Bugs Bunny! It was on this date in 1940 that Warner Brothers released A Wild Hare, the first cartoon starring Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd. The first lines of each character have become timeless...

Elmer Fudd: Be vewy, vewy quiet, I'm hunting wabbits.
Bugs Bunny: Eh, what's up Doc?

The great Tex Avery directed A Wild Hare, with music by Carl Stalling and the voice of Bugs provided by Mel Blanc. It was an immediate hit, earning an Academy Award nomination.

I wouldn't want to live in a world without Bugs Bunny.

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Slate's mideast chart explains it all to you

excerpt of Slate's Middle East Buddy List

OK, I admit it, I yearn for intractable geo-political issues to be reduced down to manageable info-graphics. When it comes to the current Israel v. Hezbollah conflict, Slate magazine has heard my plea. They've knocked out this clever little Flash application that shows just who's friends with whom. Check it out here.

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July 22, 2006

Meet Second Life's top reporter

photo of W. James Au, and image of his SL avatar, Hamlet Au

The We Make Money Not Art website has an interview with someone who works one of the oddest beats in all of journalism... W. James Au (in the guise of his online persona Hamlet Au) covers the mean streets of the virtual world Second Life. First hired by Second Life creators Linden Labs to chronicle what they rightly predicted would be a groundbreaking online phenomenon, Au now files his reports for his blog, New World Notes. Here's a quick snippet from the interview:

How much can people cheat, pretend and lie to others in virtual life? is there any limit? When does it get back to you?

There's quite a bit of that, especially for those looking for love or at least a night of sexual gameplay, and much of it is not necessarily unethical, part of the roleplaying experience. (Is it lying if your avatar is a gorgeous babe in her 20s, when you're really a heavy-set dude in his 40s? What's the standard for truthfulness when the world is *defined* as a second life?) What's interesting is that people in Second Life, unlike traditional MMOs, are generally attached to their avatars as an extension of their real life selves, so there's a tendency to self-regulate. Of course, you could always burn people and create an alternate persona afterward, but then, you lose any reputation value that comes with having a long-term presence in the world. "Griefing", for this reason, is usually a one-shot phenomenon.

The full interview is here.

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July 20, 2006

The new project from the star of Mystery Science Theater

still image from rifftrax website

Mike Nelson, the star(*) of late, brilliant, Mystery Science Theater 3000, is once again ripping bad movies a new one. His new venture, rifftrax.com, features Nelson cracking wise on the plots (or lack of plots) of Hollywood films. You purchase his audio commentary from rifftrax ($1.99 download), rent the DVD of the movie at your local video store, start them both playing at the same moment, and enjoy. Right now they're only offering one film, Patrick Swayze's masterpiece "Roadhouse", but others are in the works.

(*) Yes, I know that Joel Hodgson was the original host of MST3K, and than many consider him the only MST3K host. Those folks should really just relax.


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July 14, 2006

TV has lowest rated week ever

lonely TV. Photo by briancweed/flickr.com

An interesting statistic last week... according to Nielsen Media Research, last week marked an all-time low for viewership of the big four TV networks [article on CNN]. An average of 20.8 million viewers watched NBC, CBS, ABC, and Fox, worse than the previous low of 21.5 million viewers during the last week of July, 2005.

This time the long Fourth of July weekend cut into viewership and contributed to the low numbers, but it's the growing number of alternatives (cable TV, DVDs, the Net) that's the big influencer. (Photo of the lonely TV by briancweed/flickr.com).

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July 12, 2006

The Most Creative Program on Television

image from season two of Project Runway

...returns tonight. Project Runway, on Bravo TV, begins its 3rd season this evening with a new group of 15 designers. The show is kind of a shoot out for people who work in the fashion industry... each week the designers are given a specific task (redesign the post office uniforms, create a dress using only materials you can find in a grocery store, design an outfit for an Olympic figure skater) and a limited time in which to execute it.

I'm not particularly interested in fashion per se (my couture consists almost entirely of T-shirts from tech conferences, old chinos and blue-jeans, and ratty shoes with no socks) but what I *am* interested in is watching talented people being creative under extreme deadline and budget pressure. You can watch this show with no knowledge or interest in fashion whatsoever, and still be totally impressed with the skill and ingenuity of the participants. Watch an episode or two and see if you don't agree.

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July 10, 2006

The Real Life People and Places of "Cars"

cars before imagecars after image

The success of the latest Pixar film, "Cars", has triggered a wave of renewed interest in Route 66, and a whole new audience for the tremendous Route 66 News blog. This blog a real labor of love...dozens of posts each week covering everything from the latest renovation of some store or theater along the route to reviews of books about the highway and its history.

One of the recent gems is an amazing post about the real-life people and places portrayed in "Cars". For instance, did you know Sally the Porsche, portrayed in the film by Bonnie Hunt, is based on Dawn Welch, owner of the historic Rock Cafe in Stroud, Oklahoma? Or that Fillmore, the VW microbus voiced by George Carlin in the film, was inspired by Route 66 artist Bob Waldmire, who drives up and down Route 66 in his own VW microbus selling his wares? Or that the bridge that Sally and Lightning McQueen drive over is actually the Colorado Boulevard Bridge in Pasadena? Or that Ramone's body-art shop in the film (see images above) is directly inspired by the U-Drop Inn, a recently restored Art Deco gasoline station and restaurant complex in Shamrock, Texas? Check out the blog post for the real-life stories behind the people and places in the film.

Tags: cars  Route 66.

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July 08, 2006

Chance picks Hollywood's blockbusters

A few days ago there was an article in the Los Angeles Times that is every Hollywood producer's worst fear laid bare. The article, by physicist and mathematician Leonard Mlodinow, shows how much the success or failure of movies depends on chance and chance alone. As Mlodinow points out, this is bad news indeed for Hollywood execs:

That no one can know whether a film will hit or miss has been an uncomfortable suspicion in Hollywood at least since novelist and screenwriter William Goldman enunciated it in his classic 1983 book "Adventures in the Screen Trade." If Goldman is right and a future film's performance is unpredictable, then there is no way studio executives or producers, despite all their swagger, can have a better track record at choosing projects than an ape throwing darts at a dartboard.

That's a bold statement, but these days it is hardly conjecture: With each passing year the unpredictability of film revenue is supported by more and more academic research.

Mlodinow's article is a great, layman-friendly explaination of how random chance works, how some producers can be hot while others have flop after flop without talent having anything to do with it, and why after a studio head gets canned the studio will usually do better no matter who takes over. This is one of the best general readership pieces I've seen on probability in everyday life in a long time. Here's a link to the article.

P.S. Book publisher Tim O'Reilly has also been talking about this article on his O'Reilly Radar blog. He doesn't buy into all of Mlodinow's arguments, feeling that positive word of mouth plays a very important role in a film's success or failure. (But of course, since you can't predict word of mouth it becomes just another random element).

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July 01, 2006

Mystery Science Theater 3000 in Second Life

second life photo from New Life Notes

This is so post-modern it makes my head spin. Folks in the online world Second Life have been staging their own version of Mystery Science Theater 3000.

(For those of you who are clueless on this, Mystery Science Theater 3000 (MST3K for short) was a brilliant cable TV show with an odd premise... a slacker guy and his robot friends are imprisoned on an orbiting spaceship by a mad scientist who forces them to watch terrible movies. The gimmick of the show is that the guy and his robots make a running commentary on the film, wisecracking their way through the film with a rapid-fire steam of jokes, insults, double-entendres and puns).

From the screen shots on New World Notes, the SL folks are watching some of the very same terrible sci-fi movies that the original MST3K folks used. (In the photo above they're making fun of one of the great all time cinematic turkeys, "The Brain That Wouldn't Die").

So, let's think this through...you start with a '50s sci-fi movie, which 30 years later becomes the subject of a TV show where people (well, one person and two robots actually) watch the movie while you watch them watching the movie. Then, ten years later people sitting at their computers watch the computer representations of other people watching that same movie from the 50s in a recreation of the TV show from the 90s. Got all that?

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June 26, 2006

Al Gore takes on Bender

image of Al Gore and Bender

Hopefully by now you've all seen An Inconvenient Truth, the film version of Al Gore's presentation about the terrible consequences of global warming. (If not, get to it).

If the film has left you in need of a little levity, check out this great trailer made by Rough Draft Studios, the folks who draw Futurama.

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June 23, 2006

This time I mean it! Futurama returns!

Prof. Farnsworth from Futurama

First it was on again. Then it was off again. But now it looks like things really are set, and Futurama is coming back, with at least 13 new episodes scheduled to air on Comedy Central starting by 2008. Woo Hoo!!!

The New York Post has an news story on the announcement.


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June 21, 2006

Excellent interview on the global youth market

Guy Kawasaki has posted an absolutely excellent interview on his blog with Kathleen Gasperini of Label Networks. Label Networks specializes are the quintesential "cool hunters", investigating what interests young people all around the world. They do first-hand observation and interviews in coffee shops, at music festivals, at the mall, any place that has a critical mass of 13 to 25 year olds. All of this research has given them great insight into what appeals to...and what offends...young people. Here's Gasperini on clueless marketing by big companies:

Young people don’t care about sweating and being hot, say, at an outdoor festival. Older people do. Success can truly smell! And young people can smell anything that smacks of insincerity a mile away. To them, some companies just stink. They are so removed from their reality. The reason so many companies try to do top-down trending is because they don’t know how to do bottom-up marketing or are afraid of change. Or of getting sweaty.

...and on some of the differences among young people in different countries...

The London kid right now isn’t as hopeful but thinks he’s trendsetting in his own head. The Munich kid is more philosophical, but socially “younger” than the 15-year-old in LA or Palo Alto, mainly because he’s not online as much and this isn’t encouraged by parents. For the Addis Ababa kid it depends on their socioeconomic level, but like the others, this kid is heavily influenced by music. Music is the common thread because it’s emotional and personal and taps into that mammalian cortex.

Completely fascinating stuff from someone who actually does first-hand research, instead of just spouting a bunch of marketing consultant-speak.

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June 16, 2006

List of problems solved by MacGyver

MacGyver opening credits image

So, how does your resume stack up? Wikipedia has a list of all of the problems MacGyver solved. Now that's a resume!

MacGyver distracts some goons by creating a smoke cloud out of carbon black (commonly known as soot), a helium tank, a latex lab glove, duct tape, and his pocket knife. The powder is stuffed in the glove, the glove has a slit and is inflated with the helium gas. MacGyver duct tapes the glove to the top and bottom of a food serving tray so that when it is opened, the glove will burst and the powder will be released.


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May 31, 2006

State of the Union visualizer

screenshot from the state of the world visualizer

Brad Borevitz's State of the Union visualizer lets you browse through every US presidential State of the Union addresses from 1790 all the way up to the present. For each address common words are displayed with the size showing how many times they were used in the speech and the height on the graph showing the word's significance as compared to other speeches. The visualizer also tracks speech length (Jimmy Carter had a lot on his mind in 1981) and grade-level of each address.

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May 08, 2006

Skip the show, watch the commercials

screenshot of TiVO

TiVo has begun rolling out a new "feature" called Product Watch that automatically downloads paid advertisements to your TiVo box. According to engadget, more than 70 companies have cut deals with TiVo to send their ads to TiVo boxes...everything from 60 second spots to hour-long infomercials. TiVo owners will be able to filter ads based on brand, interest, and ad length. There's a press release with details on the TiVo website.


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April 29, 2006

The funniest podcast you'll be ashamed of yourself for enjoying

Ouch logo

I have just discovered, and am now addicted to, Ouch!, a podcast from the BBC dealing with disability. The thing is hilarious, with some of the darkest humor to be found anywhere on the net. A few examples...

The regular episodes of "Vegetable, Vegetable, or Vegetable", where the hosts have 90 seconds to figure out the mystery caller's disability ("Do you have flippers for hands? Can you control your bladder?")

The saccharine sweet theme song, designed to make disabled people "just feel good about being themselves"

The way the program IDs are all voiced by people with speech impediments.

The program is hosted by actor Mat Fraser and comedian Liz Carr (who, yes, are both disabled, as are virtually the entire Ouch! staff) and the overall style of the show (and the accompanying website) is described by one listener as 'post rant'... by, for, and about people that have passed through the "Oh God, why me?" phase of their disability and are now just living their lives.

"But", I hear you ask "is it alright for me to listen to this, and laugh?" I think the folks at Ouch! would be delighted if that question didn't even occur to you.


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April 22, 2006

Never say "There's nothing on TV" ever again

photo of groovetube

Groovetube turns your TV into a pulsating disco light. Besides being a riveting visual display, and an interesting conversation piece the blurring of the image can be just the thing to take the edge off of the latest TV news horror show.


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April 01, 2006

Seth Godin on how The Beatles became The Beatles


Marketing guru Seth Godin has a fascinating essay on how The Beatles achieved their explosion of popularity in the early 60s. According to Godin, it didn't "just happen", it was the result of talent, a bit of luck, and relentless marketing:

The next stage was brief but essential. That's when people started noticing them, started showing up, started screaming. At this moment, the Beatles didn't stop marketing. They didn't stop doing radio shows at the BBC or flying all night to play a concert in Denver (empty seats) or Kansas. During the transition stage, in fact, the Beatles and their management really poured it on.

Read the full essay on Seth Godin's blog.

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March 20, 2006

Yikes! Billy spoke too soon!

Oh no!

Billy West, the voice of Fry on Futurama, now says he mis-spoke. Futurama *is* going to go back into production, but *not* for 26 new episodes. It's gonna be a smaller number, and perhaps directly to DVD.

Drawing of Dr. Zoidberg fom Futurama

Still, it's better than nothing.

Here's a link to Billy West's correction.

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March 19, 2006

Futurama returns!

Good News Everyone!

The world's greatest cartoon series, Futurama, is back from the dead! Voice-over actor Billy West (the voice of Fry and a zillion other creatures) says that he's been hired to work on at least 26 new episodes. Woo Hoo!

Drawing of Professor Farnsworth fom Futurama

Here's a link to Billy West's messageboard

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