|Sunday, October 16, 2005
21:20 - You say "shvayne", I say "schweine"
Remember when "Russian animation" meant stuff like Nu Pogodi? Probably nobody except animation geeks do; but as might be imagined, the oeuvre has never been very widely acclaimed.
That might all be changing in the New World Order:
It's probably pretty safe to say that Russia is one country that won't ever experience much nostalgic fondness for the Nazis.
Translated lyrics are available here. Also the music is available at the iTMS. Looks like a dollar well spent.
UPDATE: Some thoughtful analysis on the site's message board.
When people say that art "makes you think", they rarely mean it in any useful sense. This is one of the exceptions.
|Friday, October 14, 2005
13:19 - What's next?
Perhaps more significant than any of the actual announcements that happened on Wednesday, regarding the video iPod and video downloads in iTunes, is what was not announced.
The new iMac G5, with the FrontRow media-center software, is neat... but what's it for? You know there's more to Jobs' vision than a single Mac in the lineup with a remote and these kinds of features:
In fact, Front Row is home media done right. (Or at least as right as it’s been done yet.) If you’ve ever used a computer running Windows XP Media Center Edition, you know that although it definitely makes a PC more appropriate for use in your home entertainment system and has a number of useful features—especially its DVR functionality—it’s still klunky and, well, not that fun to use. Front Row, on the other hand, is the iPodification of the concept: It may not have every feature you might dream up, but it has most of the ones you need and it provides them via an elegant and easy-to-use interface.
To use Front Row, you simply press the Menu button on the Remote; your computer screen switches smoothly to the Front Row screen, which displays iTunes, iPhoto, iMovie, and DVD icons. You use the left or right key to choose a mode and then press the Play key to enter that mode. Every mode works similarly, with an iPod-like menu system that lets you browse playlists of music, albums of photos, folders of movies, or a DVD’s menus, respectively. When you’re done, you exit Front Row and you’re back to Mac OS X. This is the best “home media” interface I’ve seen. Period. (And by “best,” I mean one that anyone in my family could sit down and use without reading a manual and without feeling overwhelmed by menus, buttons, and obscure settings and dialogs.)
What’s Front Row missing? TiVo-like features for watching and recording live TV. However, these would require additional hardware (a TV tuner) so I’m willing to overlook them for now. As popular as TiVo and similar DVR devices are, they’re still a long way from being as pervasive as DVD players and VCRs—far more people use their TVs for watching DVDs and have digital photos photos and music. I’ll feel differently in a few years, I’m sure, but for now, a device running Front Row would be a welcome addition to many homes.
So, yes, it's a cool piece of software... but it's only available on one model of Mac (not the cheapest one by a long shot), and it doesn't do DVR, and it doesn't output to TV easily. What's the deal here?
Apple doesn't do things half-assed, these days. There's no way this video-downloading business is just an afterthought made possible by bigger iPod hard disks. With iTunes the powerhouse that it is, especially, Steve Jobs has no reason to compromise or negotiate in order to get his foot in the door of any adjacent market. But FrontRow is just that—a foot in the door. So where's it leading?
There's plenty of evidence that there's more to come, after all. The /movies URL remains a tantalizing 403, hinting at some kind of movie-downloading store that's in the final stages of live-URL testing. Nobody (I hope) expects people to buy iMacs for the sole purpose of setting them up next to their TVs so they can use them as media centers, or forcing the family to crowd around a 20-inch computer screen to watch Lost. And five TV shows from ABC/Disney? There's no way that that's the extent of this feature's potential, hits though they might be. As Bill B. says, who forwarded me the article linked above:
A true killer ap would be a mac-mini with Frontrow capability and video outs. Put a faster hard disk in it and you literally would be printing money.
This HAS to be coming next from Apple. They can't expect consumers to watch dvds, home movies, and videos, and photos exclusively on their 17 inch iMac screen. The iTunes movie store would BOOM if you could buy back episodes of tv shows and play them on your big screen at home.
DVR functionality is a no-brainer for the next iteration of FrontRow, if Apple is (as it seems) committed finally to the media-center concept. But what if that's only a means to an end, as far as Jobs is concerned?
What if he intends the Mac not to just be a player in a crowded home-media market, but to dominate it with a whole new media-consumption paradigm, the way it has with iTunes?
Sure, recording shows and navigating them at will with TiVo is great—but it's old news, and it's not without its limitations. You can't skip ahead in a show that's still being broadcast. You can't organize and archive your shows in a way that you can wholly control or that everyday users can grok. And—crucially—you can't request specific shows or episodes to just pop up on demand. This last shortcoming is the reason why cable companies offer "On-Demand" services in addition to DVR functionality—you really need them both, once you've decided to take the plunge into fully interactive TV viewing.
Maybe what Apple wants is not to integrate into the new TiVo world... but to replace it.
With the ubiquity of iTunes and an all-encompassing TV programming library in the iTunes Music Store, with a downloadable movie store at apple.com, with FrontRow available for specialized video-archiving Mac minis (and/or with an AirPort broadcaster allowing you to turn any computer—PC or Mac—into an iTunes-based media center streaming shows to your big-screen TV)... you know, TiVo would become obsolete. For that matter, so would the cable company.
If the iTMS started selling everything from Howdy Doody to Adult Swim in neat little per-episode packages for $1.99 each, which you could buy and download on demand and play forever from your Mac (or PC) using only that cute little remote, it would really be the ultimate in active-viewer TV: it would be the end of the passive viewing experience. It would also mean the end of advertising as a revenue stream, which leads me to wonder what factors have gone into that $1.99/episode calculation. The cable companies would probably not be thrilled either. But the studios would probably love it.
It's a long shot, and a lot would have to change before it became feasible. For one thing, the shows currently available are hardly what I'd call "high-definition"—they're sized about right for the Video iPod, but too small even for broadcast-quality TV. Apple would have to get all the studios on board, not just Disney, and newly broadcast shows would have to be released simultaneously on the iTMS. FrontRow would have to be made available for Windows, unless Apple doesn't want to keep feature parity across platforms in iTunes anymore. None of it looks like a slam-dunk.
But if they pulled it off, Apple wouldn't have to march to anyone else's beat—and they'd pull so far ahead of their competitors in the entrenchment game that they'd have to worry less about people like Microsoft and Napster, and more about antitrust lawyers.
What a position for Apple to be in, huh?
UPDATE: Don't miss the demo of FrontRow, and turn up your speakers—it's very, very slick. Also it shows that Apple doesn't consider the lack of an iPod scroll-wheel to be an impediment to navigating long listings of artists or titles with acceleration; that makes my in-dash iPod dock idea all the more tantalizingly realistic...
UPDATE: Bitweever has related thoughts.
UPDATE: Looks like some companies are beginning to produce AAC-playing in-dash CD players after all. Not as cool as a dedicated iPod-docking unit, but it's a good stop-gap...
(Via Tilman B.)
|Thursday, October 13, 2005
19:04 - We're through the looking glass here, people
Following on to my reactions to Liberality For All, I suppose it should have stood to reason that there would already be plenty of alt-history angles on the War on Terror, many of them far better executed. One of them, Spiders by Patrick Farley (brought to my attention by Christopher J.), is just such a beast.
It's an immaculately drawn, expertly laid-out web comic that takes advantage of the online medium in ways that put most CSS geeks to abject shame. It's an exploration of the Afghanistan war under circumstances where Gore had won and a number of technological advances, far more sci-fi than what we actually did have, were available to the US military. It's a psychological thriller in a lot of ways, bringing up issues that have only a tenuous bearing on the real world; yet exploring them in intricate detail, to a level where they might have unexpected relevance once such technology actually does become available (even if circumstances are never such that it would be deployed the way depicted). But above all, it's character-driven and very realistic. That's the key.
It has everything that LFA is decidedly lacking, notably subtlety. Yes, it does seem sympathetic at times to the left-wing position, but you could also see it as being sympathetic to the jihadis, or to the hawks here in the real world who understand how impossible the situation the story describes really is. All those positions have rational representatives in the story, and all the positions have critiques in the story too. This is the kind of thing that—like contemporary adult-oriented graphic-novels like Preacher—a reader can make be about anything he wants it to be about.
To me, that's the mark of a really successful piece of storytelling. And it's so complex and so lavish, so character-driven, that I'd put this up with some of the best stuff I've ever seen under big-name labels.
Given some of the author's other stuff hosted at the same site (such as The Jain's Death), I'm sure he does have leftish leanings; but he's skillful enough that I don't mind or care. What's especially interesting is watching his artistic progression, particularly from this early, infantile piece; as the art gets better and more complex, so does the maturity of the thinking behind it—or at least, it becomes better hidden behind a real, live story.
Another example of this kind of progression, which I've pointed out once before, is Kid Radd. It looks like simple fluff at first, but it just grows and grows until it's every bit as impressive as Spiders or any other such project. And it's a complete storyline, too, so it really pays to follow it all the way through.
That's one thing that's going to be really fun about everyone's whole life being documented on the Internet: we can all watch artists develop in the process of creating each piece of work; and like the "dark star" personality-cult described in Spiders, we all get to be both passive and active players in the ongoing narrative of an artist's career.
(Oh, and I suppose it should go without saying that all these people seem to be Mac geeks: the LFA team, Farley... just look how many Macs show up in the art.)
|Wednesday, October 12, 2005
12:51 - Video stuff
Well, here's the rundown on the Apple announcements today. Apparently the keynote is being held in some sort of Wi-Fi/cellphone-proof bunker so nobody is able to blog it live.
- There are three 'acts' to his speech. The best will no doubt come last. Anyway, Act 1 is the iMac - which sold over 1m in last year. The all-new iMac has three new features: it's thinner, it's got an iSight videocamera built in and new app called Photobooth. Finally, there's a new app called Front Row.
- Act Two:the iPod. Apple has shipped over a million Nanos in less than five weeks. Now, it's the NEW white iPod - and yes it does video! The format is similar to the old pod but with a bigger screen - a 2.5in TFT display with 320x240 pixels with realtime decoding of MPEG 4 and H.264 video. It's only got 260,000 colours but it does have video output to connect to TV.
- The video iPod is available in 30 and 60 GB capacities - and both are thinner than the current 20GB Pod. 30GB will be $299, 60GB will be $399. UK prices will be confirmed later. And did we mention it was available in black? Oh yes, and it comes with a case, so don't worry about scratches!
Also there's iTunes 6. Yes, iTunes 6.
Nothing on apple.com yet, and the /movies URL is still closed; later today we'll see.
AND ONE MORE THING...
You'll be able to buy TV shows from the iTunes Music Store - Desperate Housewives, Lost and more shows from ABC and Disney. Five shows will be available to watch on iPod or computer: Lost, Desperate Housewives, Nightstalker, The Suite Life and some other Disney thang. $1.99 an episode.
UPDATE: Okay, it's all online now.
New iPod is thinner but bigger—2.5-inch screen, which I guess is a necessity, but makes the whole package bigger. So much the better for product differentiation versus the iPod nano, which by all accounts has been beating the hell out of the full-size iPod in sales. This upgrade should turn the full-size one into something intended to address a very different set of needs. And the price is attractive.
Oh yes, and the new iMac is going to require some fancy punditry. It appears that it's filling the shoes of the "set-top box" that everyone thought the Mac mini would be, with custom software (FrontRow) and a video tuning remote that looks like an iPod (apparently Steve showed it off next to the Windows Media Center remote—6 buttons versus 40-something). Plus it has a built-in iSight, so now all they have to do is make video chat actually work, and it might be useful.
UPDATE: John Gruber runs down the list of observations. I guess the iPod isn't bigger after all—it's just that the screen/scrollwheel size ratio is much higher now.
11:19 - An overlooked market
I swear, you can't make some stuff up. I just got this e-mail, a typical form-letter link-exchange request from some spammer. I get these all the time, but this one's something special:
Subject: Link exchange request
Date: October 12, 2005 2:58:22 AM PDT
I have found your website grotto11.com by searching Yahoo for "8 legged freaks money shot". I think
our websites has a similar theme, so I have already added your link to my website.
You can find your link here:
Your link: http://www.grotto11.com/blog?+1056221946
Your link title: Peeve Farm
I would like you to add our link to your website too.
Our link: http://www.profitinside.com/news/8-legged-freaks-money-shot.html
Our link title: Make Money - 8 Legged Freaks Money Shot
Description: Make money online, earn quick cash
I suppose that'll be the subject of an upcoming CSI episode.
|Monday, October 10, 2005
16:25 - Uh.
They didn't have Jim Crow laws in Canada, did they?
Do they want them?
15:28 - That'll show 'em
Boy, I'm really not even sure what to think of this:
The people of Belgium have been left reeling by the first adult-only episode of the Smurfs, in which the blue-skinned cartoon characters' village is annihilated by warplanes.
The short but chilling film is the work of Unicef, the United Nations Children's Fund, and is to be broadcast on national television next week as a campaign advertisement.
The Unicef advert, which shows the Smurfs' village being bombed The animation was approved by the family of the Smurfs' late creator, "Peyo".
Belgian television viewers were given a preview of the 25-second film earlier this week, when it was shown on the main evening news. The reactions ranged from approval to shock and, in the case of small children who saw the episode by accident, wailing terror.
They approved this? You know, I once thought there was something about preserving the integrity of a given artistic canon, especially if the artist is dead and can't say yea or nay; this really feels like a first. I'm speechless.
The short film pulls no punches. It opens with the Smurfs dancing, hand-in-hand, around a campfire and singing the Smurf song. Bluebirds flutter past and rabbits gambol around their familiar village of mushroom- shaped houses until, without warning, bombs begin to rain from the sky.
Tiny Smurfs scatter and run in vain from the whistling bombs, before being felled by blast waves and fiery explosions. The final scene shows a scorched and tattered Baby Smurf sobbing inconsolably, surrounded by prone Smurfs.
The final frame bears the message: "Don't let war affect the lives of children."
It is intended as the keystone of a fund-raising drive by Unicef's Belgian arm, to raise Ł70,000 for the rehabilitation of former child soldiers in Burundi.
Philippe Henon, a spokesman for Unicef Belgium, said his agency had set out to shock, after concluding that traditional images of suffering in Third World war zones had lost their power to move television viewers. "It's controversial," he said. "We have never done something like this before but we've learned over the years that the reaction to the more normal type of campaign is very limited."
Yeah, well, lots of "art" is praised for it's being controversial these days. Often because it's awful, and there's no other way it would get any attention. Hey, art world? Remember when your goal was to create images that were, you know, pleasing to the eye? Is that even allowed anymore?
Though I guess if there's any lesson to be taken from this, it's an observation on how (if the UNICEF guys are to be believed) people in Western Civilization, particularly in Europe, are really that jaded about war and genocide and human suffering that these are the depths to which the shock-peddlers have to stoop. I don't think we're that far gone in this country, are we? I seem to recall some amazing numbers coming out of the fundraising efforts for the tsunami and Katrina.
But even if so, is it worth compromising cherished cultural icons like the Smurfs to make a political point? I doubt it. Especially since these things never work they way people think they will.
The advertising agency behind the campaign, Publicis, decided the best way to convey the impact of war on children was to tap into the earliest, happiest memories of Belgian television viewers.
Yeah, and in so doing destroyed those memories, just like everyone's halcyon sanctuaries will all eventually be sacrificed on the altar of Making You Think™.
Anyway, at least Tim Blair has a roundup of some people's appropriately incisive reactions. I guess at least that much good has come out of it.
Via Tom Gordon.
15:10 - Worst opening weekend ever
I saw the new Wallace & Gromit movie last night; it was everything I hoped it would be, and definitely up to Nick Park's standards. Someday that guy is going to be looked back on as one of animation's true greats, and all the memorabilia from his early work will become the central exhibits in a ... museum of ... of ... er:
BRISTOL, England -- The company behind the new "Wallace and Gromit" film said Monday its "entire history" has been destroyed in a fire at a warehouse containing props and sets.
The roof and three interior walls of the Aardman Animations building in Bristol, west England collapsed after the blaze tore through the Victorian building, fire officials said
The fire broke out at about 5:30 a.m. (0430 GMT), with flames reaching 100 feet into the air. The cause of the blaze was being investigated.
A spokesman for Aardman said the building housed props and sets from the company's history, including its first three "Wallace and Gromit" films.
No one was in the building when the fire broke out. Aardman said the sets and props from its latest film, "Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit," were not caught in the blaze.
Aardman has used stop-motion clay animation to create a series of acclaimed films, including three shorts featuring cheese-loving inventor Wallace and his resourceful dog Gromit.
The sets from those shorts -- "A Grand Day Out," "The Wrong Trousers" and "A Close Shave" -- are all thought to have been destroyed, along with those from "Chicken Run" -- Aardman's first feature-length release.
"Curse of the Were-Rabbit," Wallace and Gromit's first full-length feature, was released in the United States on Friday and topped the U.S. box office over the weekend. (Full story)
"Today was supposed to be a day of celebration, with the news that 'Wallace and Gromit' had gone in at No. 1 at the U.S. box office, but instead our whole history has been wiped out," Aardman spokesman Arthur Sheriff said. "It's turned out to be a terrible day."
I'll say. Geez.
13:03 - I'm help-ping!
Something Awful linked to this a little while ago, and after reading the quoted blurb I didn't even follow the link because I dreaded what I might find. Of course, that's usually the case with their "Awful Link of the Day", but this one was something special: a comic book called Liberality for All. It looked like it might be something I wouldn't mind seeing more of, but the part they quoted lent itself without much effort to plenty of their patented ridicule, so I shied away at the time.
A friend drew my attention to it again last night, though, and I went ahead and gave it a more than cursory glance. Apparently there's one full issue nearly ready for release, and it looks (nearly) of professional comic-book quality; it's supposedly "getting major publicity in the talk-radio world", which I guess you could consider a good thing... but that's sort of the problem. As you'll see.
It is the year 2021, tomorrow is the 20th anniversary of 9/11. It is up to an underground group of bio-mechanically enhanced conservatives led by Sean Hannity, G. Gordon Liddy and Oliver North to thwart Ambassador Usama Bin Laden's plans to nuke New York City ...And wake the world from an Orwellian nightmare of United Nations-dominated ultra-liberalism.
Series concept: What if today's anti-war Liberals were in charge of the American government and had been since 9/11? What would that society look like in the year 2021? What would be the results of fighting “a more sensitive war on terror” and looking to the corrupt United Nations to solve all of America 's problems? In Liberality For All , the reader sees a vision of that future where there is only one justified type of war…the war against Conservatives and their ideals.
Huh. Laughing yet? I'm not. Read the synopsis; it's even better:
America’s future has become an Orwellian nightmare of ultra-liberalism. Beginning with the Gore Presidency, the government has become increasingly dominated by liberal extremists.
In 2004, Muslim terrorists stopped viewing the weakened American government as a threat; instead they set their sights on their true enemies, vocal American conservatives. On one dark day, in 2006, many conservative voices were forever silenced by terrorist assassins. Those which survived joined forces and formed a powerful covert conservative organization called “The Freedom of Information League”, aka F.O.I.L.
The efforts of F.O.I.L. threaten both the liberal extremist power structure and the U.N.’s grip on America, the U.N. calls F.O.I.L. the most dangerous group in the world. It seems the once theorized Vast Right Wing Conspiracy has now become a reality.
The F.O.I.L. Organization is forced underground by the “Coulter Laws” of 2007; these hate speech legislations have made right-wing talk shows, and conservative-slanted media, illegal. Our weakened government has willingly handed the reins of our once great country to the corrupt United Nations...
Now, don't get me wrong: I would love to see an accessible fictionalized account of this alternate history, a visualization of the world should certain different events have come to pass, a nicely drawn comic set in a New York dominated by the Freedom Tower and an ascendant UN. I'd love to see a comic that tackles these issues and presents them in a way people can relate to.
But not this comic.
Why not? Well, just look at it. There's a five-page preview available online; give it a read.
In it you see that the intro material and synopsis aren't aberrations from the storytelling style—they are the storytelling style. This story really does center around bioengineered talk-radio host superheroes fighting an underground war against French occupation forces. Everything is peppered with cartoonish labels—"ultra-liberal" and "Orwellian" and so on. "Ambassador Osama bin Laden" and "Vice President Michael Moore" and Fox News bought out and renamed to "Liberty International Broadcasting" (LIB). It might be funny if it were intended to be, but it seems to be totally straight-faced.
In other words, it's a parody of itself right from the starting blocks, and so ham-handed that it may as well be a massive prank by people trying to paint conservatives as just the kind of knuckle-dragging buffoons who would appreciate this kind of slogan-ridden fiction. If its goal is to present a case or win over any readers to its platform, it's going to fail utterly—instead, any readers who aren't already thoroughly in its corner will just point and horselaugh, like Something Awful already has. And who can blame them? I don't have the stomach for this stuff, and I'm sympathetic to what it's trying to say. I'm downright embarrassed for it.
What's really sad is that there are some interesting ideas in here. Much of the storyline would probably be salvageable, if only they took a different, much more subtle tack about it. Lose the explicit "conservative"/"liberal" labeling of everything. Ditch the talk-radio-host crap, which makes it all sound like a big ad for Hannity and Liddy and North and so on. (Honestly. What did these guys do, pay for it?) Don't tell us what's going on, show it—it's as valid a rule in world-building as it is in basic writing courses where you have to train budding authors not to just narrate (for example) how much one character "loves" another, but to demonstrate those emotions through the details of the plot. The same goes for all the atmospherics of this story. A bit less caricature, and a bit more character, would do wonders. I can see something genuinely interesting being made from a world where the transnational progressivists have gained the upper hand and have brought European-style appeasement politics to the US; where bin Laden is treated as an "ambassador" and where street youth vandalism takes the form of nationalistic protest against blue-helmeted UN police on New York streets and what amounts to foreign occupation. But for God's sake, do it with the subtlety and the detailed trickle of back-story establishment that we saw in The Watchmen and Astro City, not with a cyborg superhero named "Reagan" born on 9/11/01.
I remember writing something about this sophisticated when I was a junior in high school; it was from the opposite side of the spectrum, but it was just as Jerry-Lewis-clumsy, the way only something can be that's written by someone who's never experienced life in the real world or a contrary thought.
I honestly can't imagine whose worldview this comic strokes, aside from the truly dim. I was told last night of someone's friend who was pro-war because she had the vague idea that Iraq was directly responsible for 9/11—and that it was located right next to France. Now, I will grant that it does not exactly make me comfortable that the pro-war position just happens to be the default sort of place that society's most ignorant stratum falls into, lacking the interest or capacity for independent analysis that would lead them to make an informed decision, and relying on the fundaments of blind patriotism to assume that whatever we're doing is right. Naturally I don't hold to the idea that the more intelligent and/or educated a person becomes, the more he inevitably shifts to the Left; there are obviously plenty of really sharp cookies at the top echelons of both political traditions, and behind both pro- and anti-war platforms. But does this comic pander to anybody but the lowest rung of the analytical ladder? Does it make a case to anyone who doesn't operate on slogans and epithets or who doesn't get all their political insights fed to them by syndicated radio personalities? It's a shame that it was written by someone who apparently has a pretty good grasp on the issues and how to construct an alternate universe based on all the relevant factors, and who actually had the gumption to get a project like this off the ground; it's just very painful to see the result be something this shallow.
In the end it does nothing but reinforce everyone's stereotypes of the kind of people who would vote Republican: hamfisted, simple-minded, pugnacious nitwits who worship name-branded cults of personality rather than analyze the issues, and whose appreciation of art has its high-water mark at Wheel of Fortune. And in the end, that doesn't help anybody.
UPDATE: If the goal was to create a comic-format defense of the War on Terror, this is more like the angle I would have taken. It's something I threw together in early 2003 when I was pissed off one day, which explains why it's so rough and poorly planned out and why I only got about 3.mumble pages into it. Also I realized it was too Scott McCloud-derivative. I'm not saying it would have been any good, but at least it would have been about the issues.
Also, I just kinda like how Uncle Sam turned out. Hee hee.