Category Archives: Thoughts

Changing the Film Heroes we Love

Two new trailers hit the internet yesterday, one for Superman Returns, and the other for the new James Bond, Casino Royale. One of these looks, um… super, and the other looks like crap.

I was a little skeptical when the first Superman trailer showed up. The footage looked great, but I really wanted to hear John Williams’ goosebump-inducing main theme that I remembered as a kid. The second trailer gives us exactly that. We also get to see some of the acting and characterization this time around. It seems like each actor is doing a nearly spot-on impression of the original Superman cast. Spacey as Gene Hackman… that new Superman guy mimicking Christopher Reeves… The shots and the action and the interactions all feel like a Superman story should. Bryan Singer may have nailed a whole new comic universe (knock on wood).

And then there’s this young, James Bond, prequel/origin, crap thing. Aside from throwing Judi Dench in there, and the classic James Bond bullet-hole/blood graphic, the rest of it looks nothing like a Bond film. Granted they’ve been veering away from the classic Bond feeling in the past few movies, but at least Pierce Brosnan could pull it off, and there were enough playful throwbacks to the original campiness. I understand they’re trying to beef it up and turn it into a fresh new vision, or something, but honestly I think Mission Impossible III looks like the better Bond movie than Casino Royale. (I know, we all hate Tom Cruise now, but it’s written and directed by J.J. Abrams, and it has Philip Seymour Hoffman.  Not even Mr. Scientology can mess those guys up… too much… I hope.)

Lastly, and unrelated, I highly recommend Lucky Number Slevin. It’s smart and fun and dark, and has a really fun cast to watch. It isn’t nearly as goofy/silly as the trailers make it look.

How many monkeys does it take to write the web?

Continuing the discussion on social networks and user-contributed content, I started writing this as a comment on Alex’s post but it got long enough I decided to bring it over here as it’s own post…

In response to this article about the contributors to Wikipedia, Alex makes the point that Carr’s split of numbskulls vs. a few active contributors is too simplified, and that Wikipedia’s nature also favors a specialist/janitor split. This is not to suggest that Wikipedia is entirely specialists and janitors (the stories of jerks, spammers, and censors abound) but I see how a Wiki’s nature might attract more of that type of division.

Every community-organized/moderated site, or gasp “web 2.0″ app with a social network is going to have different types of folk in that 80-20 division. I ran into this mentioned in a couple other articles recently, and discovered it actually has a name; Pareto’s principle. If I’d taken more economics classes in college, I might have known. A site like Flickr may have more of the social-connectors in the 20% of their population, powering the majority of the groups, friends and favorites. And or digg might favor the dedicated blogger/web-surfers contributing the majority of popular links and stories. In economics it’s 20% of the population controlling 80% of the wealth. The same division was found (not surprisingly) with weblogs, where the top 10-20% of all weblogs (the notorious a-listers) were responsible for the majority of links (often back to themselves)1.

Every system is going to favor different types of splits, with a different subset of people. I really like that idea. Most of the time we think of these community-powered sites as massive networks of people working together, when they really aren’t. Flickr is just a couple thousand photo-enthusiasts culling through all the junk… Wikipedia is a combination of a few specialists, janitors and information hounds doing what they love… and the web is just a few obsessive web-surfers linking to everything. These sites and social networks aren’t powered by the masses, they’re powered by the dedicated niche users. And there-in lies Econ. 101, or something: Find a demand; fill the niche; and supply the masses2.

How’s that for super-generalized social and economic theory?

1 I need to find that article again.

2 And clean up their messes.

Massively Multiplayer Metaverse Multiplied?

The most recent issue of Wired magazine has a large feature on gaming. Wil Wright begins with a great article on the psychology of games and play, and there’s a sneak preview of his upcoming game Spore (fun animation on the official site). There are also some excellent illustrations from Feric Studio throughout the features.

The one article that really caught my attention was, When Virtual Worlds Collide. It discusses the idea of building a common “metaverse” that individual games could share and tap into. It mentions the Open Source Metaverse Project which is trying to do exactly that, using open source technologies. Much like we have standard web protocols that let us share information between sites and services, players in different games could visit others in different worlds. This definitely makes sense for games like Second Life, where the focus is on player-created content and open-ended worlds.

But what about something like World of Warcraft, or a sci-fi setting, where mixing of worlds and characters might not fit? Maybe a certain amount of information or characteristics can be shared or linked. Xbox Live is kind of doing it with reputations, scores, gamer points, etc. I would love to see the lines blurred between different games even more. A metaverse similar to that imagined by William Gibson or Neal Stephenson could be the next killer-app. Maybe your orc from Warcraft can’t just walk into a modern-day Grand Theft Auto setting, but maybe there are some loose interactions possible. At the very least, there could be currency conversion, trading or sharing between worlds. Or maybe we arrive at games within games. Your “real” metaverse character wanders the open worlds, but enters virtual arcades to play other games. However it all morphs and changes, I think there are some exciting possibilities. It may be an existing game that continues to change and lead the way, or it might be an open source project. Whatever happens, cyberpunk isn’t all fiction anymore.

The Wilderness and the City

Over the weekend I watched Grizzly Man and I was amazed. It covers the life and death of Timothy Treadwell who spent 13 summers in the Alaskan wilderness living with the Alaskan brown bears. He filmed his last 5 summers there, and the film is made up mostly of his footage, along with interviews of people who knew him (not as compelling as the rest). At times the wilderness is just jaw-dropping. He is close enough to these bears that he can touch them, and he has arctic foxes following him as if they are his pets. He formed a bond with the wild that’s hard not to admire. On the other hand, he has a screw or two loose, and he is more than a bit fanatical and delusioned about his purpose. Even with his environmentalist, anti-establishment ramblings and all-around kookiness, I couldn’t help but watch in amazement at his energy and passion for what he was doing. Maybe his closeness to the bears was misdirected and may have hurt more than helped (getting them too used to human presence), but it was still raw and powerful. And again, the footage he captured was just amazing.

On a different, but somewhat simlar vein, today I followed a link to this site of an autistic guy who has created an entire city through drawings and writings. There is a short video on him online here. He has written history, economics and demographics for the city and the detail in the drawings is remarkable. The cohesive vision and depth of content is what really makes it come to life.

Two passions for very different subjects, from not-quite-normal minds, both impressive and inspiring in their own right.

ColdK is Lame

ColdK is Lame I was rather disappointed when I saw this faded ColdK ghost last weekend. It was on a brick wall of a beautiful old building on Capitol Hill, around 10th and Roy. I’m sure any more aggressive cleaning of the tag would begin to damage the brick. Some street art can be beautiful, but ColdK’s prolific ghost tags have long since become an eyesore around Seattle. I think there’s some distinction between tagging and street art, and it’s mostly subjective. Who’s to say what the intent is, except maybe the artist himself. Unfortunately, the defense and explanation of his work doesn’t exactly inspire. My advice? Exercise a bit more restraint and tact in your urban doodling. Some of the most memorable street art I’ve seen, I’ve only noticed once or twice in obscure locations, not necessarily dozens of times on everything including shop signage, garage doors, air conditioners, and windows. It sure is a lot of practice you’ve been doing, and so far I haven’t seen any improvement. Take it back to the sketchbook, please.

The Uber Google Bombs

Google bombing has been a fun pasttime for troublemakers and pranksters trying to get certain search words or phrases to return humorous and ironic results on Google. I’ve been involved with one wildly successful campaign, and have gotten some good laughs at others. I started wondering what some of the most highly-linked phrases on the web must be.

Celebrity names, news items or events are all too obvious…  How about, “click here“?  5 billion results on Google.  Top results include a Currency Calculator for some reason, and then the expected ones: Adobe Acrobat Reader download, Netscape, Quicktime, and Macromedia Flash.  Think about all of those links around the web, where somebody points to one of those utility downloads with with phrase “click here”.  There are a few perfect 10 Google pageranks in there.  (It’s rather odd that eBay is the only sponsored link and it takes you straight to an eBay search for “click here”.)

What others might be up there?  Plain ‘ol “here” returns 8 billion results, and Realplayer tops this list.  Other big ones are “get it” and “get it now”.  And with 14 billion results, “home” is a clear winner in this non-comprehensive roundup.  A huge percentage of sites on the internet have tons of internal “home” links.  The site that beats them all out:  Incredibly deep content, good internal linking, good external linking to boost your rank even more and a perfect 10.  Easy lessons to learn.  I’m sure that .gov domain doesn’t hurt much either

Content Streams

I’ve decided to ditch the photos from the main blog posts for a number of reasons. 1) I found it was affecting my photo posting habits. I felt less inclined to upload a large batch of photos (which I often like to do), because I knew it’d make for an odd flurry of photo-only blog posts all at once. 2) Flickr‘s blog posting is anything but automatic. For every photo I posted to Flickr, I then had to click the “blog this” button, confirm a couple times, and then log into WordPress and correct the category and style quirks that Flickr wouldn’t allow me to customize. 3) Reader complaint. Williamsburger mentioned that he’s already my Flickr contact, so he was seeing all of my photos twice.

I do think I like the auto-posting from though, and I think I’ll keep it. For one, it’s actually automatic, and lets me specify a particular category. I like the bulleted list it spits out (mmmm… lists), and the added pressure it puts on me for more regular actual content.

I have to say, the idea of a single continuous stream of all the disparate info we collect and post on the web is really appealing, but it isn’t perfect yet. The new holy grail of a single-column, single feed, single stream of content from a person, rather than jumping from site to site (or column to column) to pick up each of their mini-streams. Then again, I still don’t even use an RSS or feed reader myself to track my regular websites. I guess there’s something to be said for that scattered but still organized separation of information.

The archeological and biological term in situ just popped in my head and seemed somewhat relevant. On the internet, is there still value in seeing information in it’s original setting? Or is the type of information and content, and not to mention medium, different enough to adapt to repackaging, feeding, and other metamorphoses? (metamorphosi? metamorphosises?)

If we’re all just feed-reading, why do we still have web pages at all? What do you think of single vs. disparate content streams?

I killed these flowers to show how much I care

What a bizarre holiday Valentine’s Day is. Yes, pink and red hearts all over the place are gag-inducing, but the flower thing is what I find so odd. Sure, flowers are beautiful and it’s a nice gesture to give a gift, but why so few potted flowers? Not as easy to carry? Roses aren’t practical that way? Every year there are plenty of jokes about giving a gift that’s just going to wither and die, so I guess I’m repeating the obvious. When a coworker started bragging about the deal he found on $5 bouquets, all I could say in response was, “$5? I think you got ripped off. They’re all dead.” Here’s to living plants. Give a gift without the (immediate) decay.

Craigslist: Web Lists vs. News Pages

Craigslist was recently the target of this bitter little editorial in the San Francisco Bay Guardian. It received some smart(er) responses, including this one analyzing the UI of Craigslist and in particular, this rant by Anil Dash. Dash sheds some light on the decision-making of alternative weekly newspapers and in my experience working for one, I saw much of the same.

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No lost time accidents here

The other night, Steven Colbert opened his show with a joke, “47 episodes with no lost time accident” and it reminded me of a job I worked where they kept track of those things.  One summer I had a temp job at Howmet Castings doing miscellaneous things and fairly often I had to walk out through the manufacturing floor to get to another set of offices.  There was a prominent sign near the entrance to the floor which said: “___ Days With No Lost Time Accident” and there was a number written into the blank spot.  When I started working there, I noticed the number was up around 150.  I was fairly impressed.  That’s a pretty long safe streak.  As I continued working through the summer, the number went up by 1 every day, reaching 200 or so.  But then a few days in a row I noticed the number wasn’t changing any more.  I wondered if someone had just forgotten to update the sign.  Another week went by and then I noticed the sign had finally been updated.  It now read: “12 Days With No Lost Time Accident”.  Oh.  What happened?  What was the accident?  For many people, I’m sure this sign was the only information they ever received.  I also found it rather interesting that instead of resetting to zero on the day it happened, they just let it slide for a few days before starting again.  I hope the guy’s OK.

Optimal Banana Ripeness?

A quick question: What is the optimal ripeness to eat a banana?

Let’s break banana ripeness down to 5 stages, only 3 of which I expect anyone to choose.
1. Green
2. Yellow-green
3. All yellow
4. Yellow, with few brown spots
5. Brown

Anecdotally, I’ve heard most people strongly defend either #2 or #4, with actually fewer people choosing #3, which is kinda backed up by this small survey. Also, this summary describes the taste differences of ripe vs. less-ripe bananas, but doesn’t mention any nutritional difference. I heard someone argue that the slightly brown bananas are actually more nutritious because the nutrients from the skin have gone into ripening the banana fruit itself. I haven’t found anything to back this up, but it sounds rather logical, and I know other skinned fruits and vegetables contain many of their nutrients in the skins/peels.

My personal preference? I like bananas a lot and will eat them at any of the three middle stages. After hearing the nutritional theory above, I figured there wasn’t much harm in trying it, especially if it turned out to be true. So I’ve gotten in the habit of letting bananas ripen a little longer until they’re yellow with a few brown spots.

Requisite Comment on the Rain

Rainy Forecast 27 consecutive days of rain in Seattle as of today. The 10-day forecast is pictured to the right. We only need 6 more days to beat the record of 33, and it’s looking like we can do it. I wonder if I jinxed the city with all those times over the holidays I said, “It doesn’t rain all that much” to my relatives commenting on “rainy Seattle.” It really is a strange rain though. In New England we’d probably call all of this light rain, sprinkling or drizzle. But here in Seattle it’s just rain. Never much of a downpour, it just slowly and steadily keeps falling. The sun broke out briefly the other day, but the clouds quickly came back.

It takes a toll on the mood. The post-holiday blues are plenty, and then there’s this weather thing. I’m sure bars and coffee shops are enjoying the extra business, and I suspect movie rentals and pizza deliveries are seeing impressive numbers. Umbrella sales must be through the roof.

Strategies for coping…
1. Increased hibernation, such as going to bed earlier, and sleeping in a little longer.
2. Catch up on old TV shows and movies. I recommend Lost, Season 1 and then jumping into Season 2, which has finally resumed.
3. Root for the Seahawks. (Playoff game is on at this very moment. We just pulled ahead 7-3!)
4. Carry an extra pair of dry socks with you.
5. Stay warm. You’re probably going to get wet, and cold doesn’t go well with wet.

Sometimes I wonder if this really beats having to shovel snow and scrape ice in the freezing cold. I’m really not sure.

Edward Rondthaler: One Old but Cool Relative

UPDATE – To see the Centenarian ad from Genworth Financial featuring Ed Rondthaler, follow the directions here.

It seems every year during the family gatherings around the holidays I learn something new, or rediscover some interesting tidbit about my family. This year my father mentioned our eldest relative, a cousin of my grandmother’s (I think), and also my father’s godfather, Edward Rondthaler. I remembered him most from family gatherings on the Connecticut shore almost every summer while growing up. As a little kid I thought he was a fascinating old man who told really great stories and jokes. When I was a bit older I visited him again with my family, at his home, and was amazed at how many books filled his old house, and was impressed that at his age he knew his way around a computer (in the days before Windows). I always thought he was an interesting man, but at the time I never learned much about his history.
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Planes, A few trains, and certain automobiles

After last year’s travel excitement, I decided this year to not mess around with all that connecting flight garbage and just fly direct in and out of NY JFK airport, and visit my sister in the city. Aside from a minor delay (during which I got to enjoy drinks with Skyler as we crossed paths), my flight went great. JetBlue is so quick, friendly and spot-on with its service, it makes you wonder what the hell all of these other airlines are doing. But of course with a simple plane flight, it must leave room for something else to go wrong. Lo and behold, the NYC Transit strike! I arrived at the airport early Wednesday morning and walked toward the taxi stand not knowing what to expect. What the… ? A short line?! The officer coordinating the taxis asked me where I was going and I said 30th and 1st Ave. “OK, step up here to the front, you’re riding with these two ladies. $30 flat fee each.” Not too bad. That’s about what I’d normally pay to take a cab from the airport. The car was full and the traffic was only a little slow. Police barricades were set up at the key entrance points to the tunnels and bridges onto Manhattan, making sure carpools with 4+ people were the only ones entering. Rush hour was over, so it was smooth sailing. I was the first stop in the city. Pretty painless.

Inside the city it isn’t nearly as bad as a lot of the news coverage makes it sound. People having to walk around does not = apocalypse. Yes it’s cold here, but Northeasterners have dealt with that for centuries. It does suck for a number of commuters, but for every angry testimonial I’ve heard, I’ve seen another person saying their commute wasn’t any different (NJ Transit, Metro North, and a few other lines are still running). It’s mostly a pain for those in Brooklyn, Queens, or people who have jobs/homes way uptown/crosstown/downtown. Overall, the streets are much more crowded with vehicles than they normally are, and you see many more bicycles, scooters, rollerblades and of course foot-traffic than you might otherwise. There are also a ton of NYPD at major intersections, where they help coordinate the masses of pedestrians, traffic jams and car-pool taxi fares. The downside is that most of the traffic around is NY natives. The few touristy areas I’ve been so far were eerily empty, especially for 3 days before Christmas. It really is costing the city a LOT. Aside from limiting some of the distance I can travel in the city (I miss the subway), there isn’t much other effect on my experience yet (knock on wood, we tackle Grand Central and Metro North tomorrow). I took a long chilly walk down to Greenwich Village and SoHo yesterday, and today we’re probably headed up to see the holiday glitz of Rockefeller center. My sister’s location is working out nicely, and it’s finally starting to feel like Christmas.