Archive for September, 2009

24
Sep
09

Roads Not Traveled…

I was poking through some old data CDs and DVDs tonight and ran across these two:

StarTrek_TNG_Warp_Cruise

These animations run at different speeds on different computers, so I apologize if they look too fast or too slow!

They were created on an Atari ST at 320×200 pixels in a whopping 16 colors each!

StarTrek_Kling-gone

The animated GIFs seen here are tests I created in 1990 and 1992 when I was—as I did several times—dabbling in doing computer animation. This was a test at replicating a visual effect I’d seen on TV.

Around this time I toyed with trying to find work doing animated mockups for visual effects shots for TV and film. I was using relatively crude tools, but I’d seen what some other companies were passing off as such “animatics” (known as pre-vis these days) and knew that some of the work I’d done already was of higher quality than some of the professional work.

At the time I was going through a lot of personal crises and wasn’t focused or driven enough to have pursued this as I should have.

I don’t know if I’d have found any success in that business, but looking back it’s an interesting what-if.

I’ll try to dig up some more of this stuff and relate what I was thinking when I was doing it.

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22
Sep
09

1969 & The Shat: It Was A Very Good Year…or was it?

Stumbled across an appearance of William Shatner on The Mike Douglas Show from a few weeks after the last episode of Star Trek had been filmed.

In the first, His Kirk-ness talks about his acting choices on Star Trek

In the second part, he does a little Hamlet…

Done making mental “ham” jokes, yet? No? Let me help. Little + Ham = Ham-let.

Got that out of your system?…OK, so he does Hamlet’s soliloquy to the tune of the song “When I was Seventeen”, then switches to the song proper, which he acts rather than sings. The audio gets out of sync, though. I’ve seen the latter part before (“It Was A Very Good Year”), but not the Hamlet bit.

More than anything, this reminds me of afternoon television after school in the bygone era of my childhood. Yes, it was bland and maybe a little banal, but twas the eras of daytime talk shows with no chairs being thrown, no confessions of polygamy, or other shocking and tawdry revelations. Hokey as it is, I’m a little nostalgic for it.

Maybe it was a very good year in some ways…

21
Sep
09

A Spectral Class “Oh” Star

Out having a drink with an acquaintance this evening. A muscular guy strolls into the bar wearing a tank top: his arms covered with tattoos. One of the acquaintances of my acquaintace offers, “See that guy? He’s a porn star.” Wel gol-ly. Is all it takes to be a “star” in the gay community? Schuck your clothes for $$$ and play hide-the-heat-seeking missile on camera?

If so, fame ain’t what it used to be.

16
Sep
09

The Least I Could Do…

An actress who appeared in a short film I made this year recently suffered a great personal loss when her father died.  When I heard the news I offered my condolences and all that, but, as ever, what can you really do for someone who’s suffered such a profound tragedy? Most gestures are merely that, after all, and if you try too hard to be supportive it can come across as being more about you than the person who’s actually affected.

And then I read the news items on this man’s passing.

You see, the man in question was, amongst other things, a pilot, who had once set a gliding record and had also undertaken a number of adventures at an age where most people have not only retired from work, but from life. For instance, in his 70s he purchased and then flew a Soviet-era helicopter from Russia to the Bering Strait to Alaska, and then to Oakland. Stuff that made it into newspapers.

News. That was it.

The man had been newsworthy. Newsworthy enough that I realized I could write a wikipedia entry on him. Since I could cite news articles as references the piece would likely not be flagged for deletion. It seems a cruel thing that not everyone’s life would be considered noteworthy enough to even merit a biographical blurb on an online encyclopedia, but his was.  I wrote it so that even when all the obituaries are gone and forgotten from the newspapers, there’d still be something about the man and his accomplishments floating around out there on the web.

And, best of all, anyone finding that article on wikipedia will have no idea who wrote it or why. That’s how it should be. It’s not about me, it’s about him and his family.

Here’s the entry:

Wikipedia Article on Thierry Thys.

But don’t tell anyone who wrote it.

14
Sep
09

Dooooooooomed

Professor Farnsworth: Dear Lord, they’re back!
Amy: We’re doomed!
Hermes: Doomed!
Bender: (deep breath) DOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO—

—Futurama: When Aliens Attack

You expect this kind of thing from a comedy show like Futurama.

You don’t expect this kind of thing from a supposed science show.

For a while now I’ve been DVRing and watching episodes of The History Channel show The Universe. I’m a space science buff and have been since the Apollo age, so my interest is not surprising.

What is surprising, at least to me, anyway, is that this show, and shows like it, repeatedly illustrate the effects of their subjects by showing how the Earth would be wrecked, ravaged or rendered debris.

For instance, take the episode that covers what effects the Moon has on the Earth and how different the Earth’s tides and weather and axial tilt would be if there were no Moon. A big chunk of the episode is spent on the repercussions of if the Moon suddenly vanished. The tides rebound, tsunami wreck the coasts, and civilization is doo—

—Waaaait sec. Vanished? Disappeared? Like I Dream of Jeannie? “G-dink!” and it’s gone?

In another episode about “death stars”, lots and lots of airtime and CGI is spent to show how a gamma ray burst from a nearby star could zap the Earth…repeatedly stressing how we’re right in the sights of this star when it goes boom. “…if the star is aligned…one powerful burst of energy…could turn the Earth’s ozone layer…into a radioactive inferno.”

Doooomed!

Oh yeah, mind you, the scientists bracketing the doom and gloom visual effects admit that these apololyptic scenarios are just a slight possibility but not very likely. But it’s clearly more exciting for the show to trumpet the  we might be d . . . okay, okay, I won’t say it again.

Episode after episode of this show stresses how The Universe could kick the Earth’s wet blue ass, no matter how improbable or unlikely it is to actually happen. And it’s not just this show, it’s a lot of other “science” programs on TV. Do audiences really need to feel like the Earth is in the crosshairs to be interested in these things? Is this what the program makers think they have to do? Is this the popularization of science?

If so, we’re dooooooooooooooooooooo—

14
Sep
09

Oh-Kay…

Seen on Facebook today:

“HEY if anyone sees the jacket I’m wearing in the photo on a bum it’s been stolen!”

(beat)

1. What are the odds that more than a few people have the same jacket…in a city of 800,000? Or is the poster advocating confronting any bum wearing this style jacket? And…

…wait for it…

2. The poster isn’t wearing a jacket in his profile photo.

13
Sep
09

Yakkity Yak

The interwebs has developed in ways both interesting and odd, especially around social networking and the “communities” that companies encourage to form around their websites. Everything from news sites to blogs bear a “Comment” field, encouraging visitors to offer their opinion on the latest piece. It sounds cool. even democratic, but it’s not altruism, and I don’t think it’s overly cynical to declare that this isn’t because the sites are actually interested in your opinion. They’re doing it to get you to invest some time into their site so you’ll feel some ownership, or at the very least come back to see how others respond to your response, and, ergo, with each hit, more traffic, and more ad revenue.

Still, I won’t go so far as to posit that such forums—baldly commercial as they are—have no legitimate function. Communities of a sort do form around some of them. In fact, you often see the same posters writing again and again. Like a small-town paper, where there same dozen people fill the letters to the editor each week, you quickly figure out their pet peeves and pet causes and after a short while you don’t have to read them any more because it’s always the same old story.

Amongst the strangest of the talkbacks I’ve stumbled across recently are the comments on daily comic strips. Some of the comments critique the strip. That’s what you expect. Doonesbury gets a fair share of comment jabs at Garry Trudeau’s politics, for instance. Some of them are the inevitable messages where one reader insults another and the foul language ensues, but a surprising number of them are…well, as an example, here are some select comments on the Sept. 12, 2009 Doonesbury strip, in which the character known as Toggle is chatting with series staple J.D.:

  • Move to Boston, Toggle.
  • Forget showing up just send money.
  • You should have known, BD.
  • Move to Boston indeed, Toggle! In fact there’s a great music college there: Berklee, barely a mile away from MIT and a certain young lady…
  • Toggle, you need to attend school as close to Alex and as far from Zipper as possible.

. . .Okay . . .

Am I the only one who thinks it’s weird that people are offering advice to a fictional character? Not just a fictional character, but a static drawing? And not writing it as a comment on the strip, as in, “Toggle should move to Boston.” No, they’re writing it like advice to the character. This isn’t just Doonesbury. I’ve seen it on other strips. And I find it…weird.

Look, I know I’m not Joe-average-American, but before the age of 10 I had figured out that the characters on TV and in movies weren’t real. I knew they were actors. On some level, I erected that 4th wall and knew that you couldn’t yell through it.

I’m not proposing that the people who post such comments don’t know the difference. They must. Yet they do this. My brain just doesn’t grasp why. At some level are they play acting that the strip is real and they’re saying what they think about these events as if they’re really happening? Is this like a local audience at a Oakland, CA movie theater where the patrons yell back at the screen? “Don’t you go in there, girl!” Are there some unspoken social conventions for talking back to a fictional piece? Are commenters observing some kind of unconscious buy-in with the work where the suspension of disbelief is not to be broken?

I don’t have a single answer…but I find it fascinating.