The Big Think

June 30, 2007

Test Post

Filed under: Uncategorized — jasony @ 12:18 pm

Testing, testing, does this think work? I’m posting this from within Firefox. Cool!

June 29, 2007

Rat-a-tat-a-touille

Filed under: Movies — jasony @ 3:11 pm

Erin and I just got back from watching Ratatouille. There aren’t many films I’ll pay to go see in the theaters, and fewer I’ll see on opening day, but anything by Pixar is a lock for me.

In short, the movie stands with the best Pixar has to offer, and in terms of animation and sound design, I think it’s the very best one they’ve put out. There were moments that left me with a lump in my throat simply because the images on the screen were so incredibly beautiful and well done. Picture the very best, most amazing visual still frame you can imagine and then follow it with 23 more frames per second for 110 minutes.

There were a few shots that really stood out in the same way as the first shot of Sidney Harbor stands out in Finding Nemo. Just amazing, amazing work.

And the sound! I could tell that the sound folks put their all into this one (not that I’d expect anything else). The very beginning of the film features a look-through-the-tv shot ala The Incredibles. What gave me such a kick was hearing that super high pitched sound modulated with that old-tv tube wobble that was just perfect for the ancient TV set. It’s such a subtle effect most people probably won’t notice it, but if you see the film after reading this, pay attention to that little detail. I squealed like a little kid when I heard it and Erin just leaned over and whispered “audio geek”. Yes, yes I am.

Go see it and support this kind of wonderful filmmaking. I’m going to end up giving Pixar more money when the DVD comes out.

June 28, 2007

Lunch

Filed under: Audio — jasony @ 2:39 pm

Had lunch today with Storme and Lee from eleven72 productions. They came over to eat some homemade bagel sandwiches and check out the new studio. Thanks guys!

Pictures to come soon.

Lucy Jane Bateman

Filed under: Uncategorized — jasony @ 12:47 am

Congrats to Giles and Jennifer on the birth of Lucy Jane Batemen!She was born at 8:33 clocked in at 8lbs, 5oz and 19inches long. (h/t Mike for the info).

June 27, 2007

Quoth

Filed under: Quoth — jasony @ 2:18 pm

“You want magic?” I typed in 22 divided by 7.

Whoa that?��Ǩ�Ѣs a long number.

“And it never ends. It goes on forever. If you laid all the numbers out in a line the numbers would go beyond the end of space. That?��Ǩ�Ѣs why the universe is expanding: to give us more room for the numbers of pi.”

lileks

Empire

Filed under: Games — jasony @ 12:23 am

I picked up Age of Empires: The Age of Kings for the Nintendo DS last week. It was in the bargain bin for only $14.99 and at first I thought nah, can’t be any good for that price. I passed on it but when I got home I called it up online to read the reviews. I was surprised to see that the reviewers gave it high marks (8.5-9.0 generally), so asked Erin to pick it up on her way home from work.

That was last week and I’ve been playing it obsessively on and off every day. It’s a totally addictive turn based adaptation of the original real-time genre. It’s similar to Advance Wars but much deeper, with a massive unit tree, lots of buildings to construct, and a huge age-based research tree to plod through. Each of the five civilizations and four “Ages” have a ton of researchable technologies that have far reaching effects on gameplay. The tutorial lessons alone took me almost 10 hours! There’s wireless play (though, unfortunately, no internet play ala Mario Kart) and hot-seat play. The graphics are SNES quality level (what do you expect from the DS?), but the game makes good use of the dual screen and the touch ability. It’s isometric in view, though, so sometimes you have to poke a bit to select your characters. Unfortunately, you can’t spin the map to make things easier to see.

I’m pretty good at multitasking seven or eight things, but my ability to see the big picture breaks down as the demands get higher, so these kinds of games are a great way to hone my ability to juggle demands on my attention. Yeah, that’s it, it’s educational. Speaking of educational, the game comes with a built in library that discusses in quite a bit of detail each of the units, ages, research topics, etc, etc, etc. There are about 50 pages alone on medieval Feudalism. It was really interesting and only adds to the depth of an already great game.

So if you’re looking for a way to pass some serious time for about the cost of a single lunch, I can heartily recommend Age of Empires: The Age of Kings.

June 26, 2007

Rube Goldberg

Filed under: Humor and Fun — jasony @ 4:25 pm

The ultimate Rube Goldberg machine. You have to see it to believe it.

Goodness, Gracious…

Filed under: Humor and Fun,Movies — jasony @ 3:56 pm

Great Balls of Fire. 30,000 matchstick heads ignited all at once. This would be a great low-cost way of making miniature explosions for low-budget filmmaking.

Laser Man

Filed under: Humor and Fun — jasony @ 3:56 pm

Green Laser Magic. Wow.

Ziiiiiiiiip

Filed under: Humor and Fun — jasony @ 3:56 pm

I was a camp counselor back in the late 90’s at a camp with a big surrounded by tall cliffs. We had what we believed to be the longest zipline in Colorado (or maybe even the US). It was 1/4 mile long and started about 200 feet above the lake- and went over the lake! The line had been driven across the frozen water during the winter. It was quite a ride. On weekends the guides would go up to the launching point and do all kinds of crazy things, such as harnessing ourselves in backwards and diving off the cliff superman-style. It was quite and incredible face-first ride out far over the water.

This one has it beat, though. The 100mph, 900 foot high zipline.

June 25, 2007

Some Assembly Required

Filed under: Technology — jasony @ 10:33 am

A Wired photo essay inside Chinese manufacturing plants.

Commandments

Filed under: Audio,Movies — jasony @ 12:54 am

The Ten Commandments of shooting sound for picture. Yes! Yes, yes, and YES!

I especially liked #3:

2) Thou shalt budget or make arrangements for a dedicated boom operator (aka: No, the boom op is not just another “carbon-based stand”).

I’ve been on several low/no budget shoots where, as production sound mixer, I was promised a boom operator, since I don’t personally know of any that would do the job for free (for which I don’t blame them in the slightest).

Inevitably, production assigns me either a Craigslist volunteer who’s never operated before, or someone who “totally went through the audio program at the Art Institute”, and thinks that learning game audio for post qualifies them for the position. I’ve worked with both, and while they’ve all been perfectly nice people who really gave it their all, the simple fact is that it’s too critical a job to just drop on whoever is within arm’s reach.

The audio department’s job is to shoot your sound, just as the camera department’s job is to shoot your picture.

Good boom ops know acoustics, microphones, and lighting techniques. They have to be able to direct the boom to the right actor on cue, silently, while making sure not to cast a visible shadow. They have to be physically agile, able to walk backwards while not running into camera rigging or tripping over dolly track. They have to be able to hold a boom fully extended over their head for hours a day.

Would you really expect to shoot your movie if the camera operator was someone who had never touched a camera before in their life? If you wouldn’t ask this of the camera department, don’t expect the audio department to do it.

The best sets I’ve worked on involve the director and DP understanding this and giving sound not priority, but consideration. And they invariably end up with happy directors, producers, investors, and audiences. An extreme example of the opposite I’ve seen is crummy audio that was the result of poor planning and a lack of understanding about how audio works (not to mention the dreaded “just fix it in post” attitude). What happened? Well, for one thing, the movie never made it to the audience, partly because of bad sound. A very expensive mistake.

June 24, 2007

Current Reading

Filed under: Current Reading — jasony @ 1:40 pm

Frederik Pohl, “Chasing Science: Science as a Spectator Sport

Great book so far! I picked it up at Half-Price Books a few years ago (if you ever wonder what to get me for a birthday or Christmas, a gift cert to HPB is a slam-dunk winner). Pohl has been a science fiction writer his whole career, but never a bona fide scientist. In his book he tours around the country and visits a bunch of labs and describes his love of science from a spectator’s viewpoint. He also talks about which labs a person can visit and tour (Leon Lederman’s wonderfully open Fermilab is at the top of my list). Like many people, I share Pohl’s outsider view of science. My relationship to the science world is a lot like a good amateur’s relationship with music. They may play an instrument with some proficiency, read biographies of Monk and Mozart, and even gig occasionally, but they make their bread in their “real jobs”. I dabble in science (and Mad Science!) but make my living as a, er, musician.

I have a friend who loves to go to music festivals and listens to all kinds of music (something that feels like work to me), but my idea of a perfect vacation would be to travel the country taking tours of various labs and talking/interviewing scientists about what they’re doing. Maybe my physicist friend Matt could show me around once he’s a rich and famous particle physicist/quantum theorist/prosthetic designer. That is, if he doesn’t forget me from all the fame and groupies.

Around the World

Filed under: Science,Technology — jasony @ 11:08 am

Barrington Irving becomes the youngest person to fly solo around the earth. And he did it in a plane he built himself! (Update- okay, he didn’t build it himself- the original article explains that he had it built from parts he had donated. Still!)

Irving was born in Jamaica and grew up in Miami. He said he saw little chance for success until he met a Jamaican-American pilot at his parents’ bookstore who took him to see a Boeing 777. The 15-year-old was mesmerized and turned down college football scholarships to become a pilot.

Irving is now studying at Florida Memorial University and has private and commercial pilot licenses. He also founded Experience Aviation, a Miami-based organization that encourages minority youths to pursue aviation careers.

Way to go, Irv!

more info about him.

June 23, 2007

Movie Time

Filed under: Movies — jasony @ 11:55 pm

Got a chance to see a movie tonight I’ve been wondering about for a while. It came out several years ago and I saw some writeups in industry rags about the effects and cinematography that gave it high marks. I was really surprised at how much I liked the craftsmanship of the movie, even though I considered the script to be heavy-handed and clunky at times. I wanted to like the movie, I really did. I actually managed to enjoy the acting (6/10) and the cinematography (8/10), and the FX (7/10), and the lighting (9/10). What I didn’t like was the over the top script (ick).

What really bugged me was the overt and distracting “we’re-the-filmmakers-and-you’re-lucky-to-have-our-voices-still-in-this-cesspool-culture -we-live-in” attitude. It seemed that at every turn the writers and directors were assuring us that our country was in really, really, seriously dire straits, man, and you’re just blind if you don’t see it, or willfully stupid. Or you’re part of Them. I’m super serious (and no, it wasn’t that film!). I half expected one of the characters to actually launch into the old saw about “first they came for the [fill in the blank of the downtrodden societal group of your choice], and I said nothing”. Looking up the reviews online, I saw the expected 10/10 ratings with glowing reviews for the Incredible Importance of this Film, with it’s Timely and Relevant Message For Our Current Times, followed by the 1/10 ratings that just ranted about how off-target the political message was. It may just be social cynicism, but that kind of argument grew tiresome several years ago. I really don’t listen much to it anymore.

Obligatory semi-relevant anecdotal sidenote: about a decade ago I wrote a Sing act that ended up being controversial (not that it was ever intended as such). One of the judges got all huffy and gave the backdrop a 0 out of 10 points. And the choreography. And the theme development. Etc. This person was so offended by the perceived slight that she gave the group a grand total score of zero out of 100 points. Huh?

Anyway, back to it. Can we please, please, please have a movie that doesn’t stop every thousand frames to beat the Grand Theme into our heads with over the top imagery or schlocky storytelling? You may feel all sanctimonious in your Correct View Of The World and all, but some of us just want to watch a good flick without feeling like we’re going to brainwashing camp. Heck, I like subtle movies that I don’t agree with. I can appreciate the subtlety of a good storyteller even when they’re coming from a viewpoint I don’t share. What I don’t like is someone telling me, in the very movie itself, that if I don’t agree I’m just like the bad guy who is going to get his come-uppance in the third act. When did it start to be good storytelling to insult and alienate your audience?

This also pertains tangentially to a conversation about Art I had last night with a friend, but that’s another post altogether.

That is all.

June 21, 2007

Current Reading

Filed under: Current Reading — jasony @ 11:39 pm

SF classic Neuromancer, the book that started the whole cyberpunk trend. Read it in one sitting. A weird, wild, hallucinogenic story that reminded me a lot of “A Signal Shattered” that I read last year. Very weird.

Sols Long Stay

Filed under: Science — jasony @ 10:03 am

Today is the Summer Solstice. Little known fact: “solstice” comes from the word “sol”, meaning sun, and “stice”, meaning “burns your face off for six more months”. We’re now officially in Texas’ summer, folks. Time to hunker down…

Slow

Filed under: Computing — jasony @ 12:04 am

Great Jumping Judas on a Vespa, folks. I’m sorry the blog has been so slooooow loading the past few days. I don’t know what it is and I’m powerless to fix it. Sorry!

(note: “Great Jumping Judas on a Vespa” remains my favorite non-naughty “curse”. It’s just so satisfyingly alliterative and goofily silly at the same time. I can’t remember where I heard it, but it really stuck with me. Sounded positively Lileksian, but I’ve know it for years and years. I Googled it to see if anyone else uses it. Go figure.)

June 20, 2007

Quoth

Filed under: Quoth — jasony @ 3:34 pm

Matt: “I’m just leaving campus from teaching and going home. I hate it!”

Jason: “You hate what, leaving campus? Teaching? Going home? You’re a scientist, be specific!”

Matt: “Well, you’re an artist… be intuitive!”

Just because I told him I’d post it here.

Double, Double

Filed under: Macintosh — jasony @ 2:42 pm

USA Today reports that Apple’s market share has more than doubled since 2004. Up from 3.2% to 7.6% Hooray!

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