Monthly Archives: May 2004

Shrek 2 is stunning

Go see Shrek 2 when it is released on May 19 – it is stunning.

I love movies and i often see them opening night. When given the opportunity, i love going to movie premiers. Of course, the only movie premiers that i’m ever invited to are the ones with computer graphics in them. This doesn’t bother me because i love an audience full of geeks and/or animators. I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the geek premier of Shrek 2. I admit, i was a little worried because a sequel is often horrifying. But, omg, i was totally impressed.

Not only is the storyline better than the last round (deeper connections to fairie tales, more nuanced relationships, greater opportunity for multiple textual readings), but the graphics just took another leap forward. I’ve never seen hair look so good, the lighting in particular; it’s starting to look actually porous. Speaking of porous, the skin, oh the skin. It’s been nine years since the baby in Toy Story scared us all into thinking that CG and humans were not meant to go together. PDI really took that baton and the increased improvement in skin makes all the difference. The subtle details really come through. Take pupil dilation – there’s so much information in pupil dilation.

This is not to say that it’s perfect – there are definitely flaws and room for improvement. But i’m definitely impressed. Of course, i will never forget what Ed Catmull told me when i was starting to work in computer graphics, roughly: “The CG may be great, but without a good storyline, the CG doesn’t matter.” In Shrek 2, the graphics just fade into the background.

Anyhow, definitely go see it opening weekend. (Remember: opening weekend box office receipts are often what determines the duration of the movie and they’re a really important indicator of support to the creators.)

Shrek 2 Trailer

Friendster’s plethora of high school students

Recently, i’ve been getting lots of SMS-style emails from people about Friendster. Usually, this means that they’re teens. So, i went in and did a search in Friendster for ages 61-71 in California with pictures within 3 degrees. Almost 1000 hits. Doing the same search in Singapore, i found over 600 hits. All teens.

They’re all underage (and it seems as though the most popular age to choose these days is 69). What surprises me is the emergence of Fakester High Schools (in order to collect all of those from the same HS). I’m stunned that Friendster was so vigilant in going after Fakesters because it was ruining search and they weren’t viable customers, but they ignore the Fakesters that could open them up to hefty legal suits.

I also got a great report from Singapore that students are creating images of their HS teachers to write testimonials about how horrible they are. Looking at a few of them, interests include things like “Shouting at ppl, Confiscating balls especially soccer balls, Catch students who are late for school.” Testimonials include things like “_|_ u sux! may ur dick not be wif u!”

A quick perusal of Friendster produced more Fakesters than i saw in the Fakester hayday. I find it utterly ironic – fakesters and teens everywhere and the early adopters are no longer participating. It seems as though their efforts to configure the users didn’t work so well. (Of course, today’s apathy is easy to explain… the Fakesters and teens aren’t nearly as visible to the friends and FoF of those in the Valley as they were 9 months ago.)

Erowid(s) bio/history

The Vaults of Erowid is the quintessential site for understanding everything about psychoactive substances, from their chemical structure to their effects on humans. Run by Earth and Fire Erowid, this site is dedicated to operate as a library of information on psychoactives. I have so much respect for the Erowids, who are constantly fighting trouble to get out information to the masses, to educate. Thus, i was ecstatic to find a bio on the Erowids in in the LA Weekly today. (Simultaneously, i was disheartened to hear that they are running out of money.)

Genevieve has a profile in the NYTimes

Today, in the NYTimes Circuit section, there is a profile of Genevieve Bell (a dear friend and mentor). As a anthropologist at Intel, Genevieve has been traveling the world to understand how different cultures consume technology. In turn, she has been challenging Western assumptions, most notably in areas concerning ubiquitous computing.

“We thought, there’s a group of people just like us all over the world who will buy the technology and have it fill the same values in their lives,” Dr. Bell said. “I was fairly certain that wasn’t going to be the case. I’m an anthropologist. Culture matters.”

Blogging out of context

Reflecting on Matt Webb’s post on designing social software, Ryan Shaw realized the significance of one of his lines: “Outside the context of [their creation], most of the weblog posts just don’t make any sense.” He argues that this is a pretty damning criticism of blogging as a serious alternative to journalism.

If i think of my own posts, very few are ever written to be used elsewhere. They are set of rambling commentaries based on what’s in my head and the only relevant context is me. The information that is useful to others is often the information that is part of an ongoing dialogue. Of course, it’s frustrating when you try to collect those thoughts. They require a massive rewrite to be truly valuable long-standing. What is it about this format that doesn’t permit us to collect our efforts into a coherent package? I mean, for centuries, professors turned lectures into books. Of course, they required editing too.

I don’t think of what i’m doing as journalism, but i do recognize the problems with persistence of information. As far as whether or not this is a damning critique…. i wonder if journalism is better off in a dialogue? I wonder if that means it’s a different kind of journalism? I mean, as much as i go back and read old newspapers, the information has a social/political context that’s really hard to get when you read back. So, even if the text makes sense, that doesn’t mean a lot isn’t lost. (Ah, Benjamin on translation….)

Vizster: beautiful YASNS visualizations

For his visualization class final project, Jeff Heer created Vizster, a visualization tool for online social networks. The tool allows you to explore the network and color-code the data to make easy comparisons. It’s built on top of Jeff’s toolkit called Prefuse.

(PS: Vizster is not currently available for download and Jeff is on a well-deserved vacation so don’t bug him until June. But definitely check out his other projects)

communication moodiness

I was IMing with a friend this morning when he sent me the following message:

you make these announcements every once in a while–“I deleted all my email!” “I threw away your contact information!” “I stopped reading your blog!”–in such a way as to prove that you are an incredibly wired person who really enjoys messing with the wired world.

At first, i was like hrmfpt! And then i pouted. All because i knew that there was a grain of truth to that. It made me think through a bit of my own behavior. I’ve always loved inserting uncertainty into my wired life. When i first got a pager, i made it very clear both through my behavior and my statements that i was not on beck and call. I leave my mobile on vibrate purposely to ignore any calls that might come through when my purse is across the room. I have email auto-check turned off so that i have to manually ask for more email. I like the fact that my spam filter keeps messing up. I love the fact that if you IM me, it might go to my phone or it might go to my computer and i might or might not get it.

I have information control issues. Worse, i have information overload guilt issues. After opening up my RSS reader to 1600 unread blogs, i just deleted them. I couldn’t deal with the overhead of knowing that i’d never get through all of them. I refuse to check my voice mail because it tells me that there are 14 messages; that’s just far too many. I stopped reading messages that went via YASNS 6 months ago because Orkut overloaded me.

People often ask me what the best way to contact me is. Inside, i laugh. I don’t really want to be easily reachable always. I have communication mood swings. One of my favorite bad habits that most of my friends despise is that i become unwilling to deal with the phone. Thus, when people call me, i answer and hand the phone over to whoever is with me to talk.

It’s weird. I’m obsessively accountable to certain people. But when i don’t feel the internal requirement/responsibility to be accountable to someone, i swing to the opposite end of the spectrum. It’s not really flakiness because if i promise that i will respond, i will. It’s a peculiar lack of willingness to have my energy controlled externally when it doesn’t have to be that way.

I used to beg forgiveness and vow that i’d get better about communications. I stopped three years ago when a friend pointed out that i promised the improvement every six months and continued to get worse. He was right. So i stopped thinking that i’d improve and accepted the fact that i wouldn’t.

Reflecting on my communication quirks makes me realize how much i identify with my cat. [Self-reflective moment brought on by Day 3 of extreme jetlag combined with terrible cold.]

society problems caused by Wal-Mart

Wal-Mart is one of the few common features of every small town in the States. There are hundreds of them on I-80 alone (having used their immense parking lots to turn around a 17ft Uhaul towing a car last year). Over and over again, i heard locals defend the Wal-Marts as a cheap option for getting access to needed goods. There was often slippage in their arguments, as they would tell me that it’s now the only option since the introduction of the Wal-Mart meant the closing of every possible competitor.

Wal-Mart makes billions of dollars every year. But at such an aweful expense. Check out these statistics (thanks Chloe!!).

Here’s a sample (but read the full list):

$420,750: Annual cost to U.S. taxpayers of a single 200-employee Wal-Mart store, because of support required for underpaid workers — including subsidized school lunches, food stamps, housing credits, tax credits, energy assistance, and health care

45%: Proportion of her entire annual wage that a single Wal-Mart employee might have to pay out-of-pocket before collecting any benefits from the company-sponsored health plan