Friday, June 18, 2010

Ipod Shuffle

Someone was kind enough to give me one of these as a gift. I'd never looked closely at one before -- I was blown away by it. It's no bigger than a stick of gum, and holds 4G of music. The interface is insanely simple -- one switch that set to either "off", "play" or "shuffle." Why you'd want anything but shuffle on this is hard to imagine, since the only navigating you can do is with the button on the special headphones. One click = pause, Two clicks = go to next song, Three clicks = last song. So, basically, it's great if you want a random selection of music, with no thinking. And it sounds great. Now, amazon reviews indicate that the special headphones don't stand up to sweat very well -- but, that hasn't been a problem for me.

I mean, I remember when the Sony Walkman was a huge innovation in the music experience. What will music players look like in ten years?

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Howl's Moving Castle

Hm! Two Howls in a row. I'd been meaning to see this for a while, and I'm glad I did. It's so charming and magical. It's the sort of film that could never get made in the US -- it doesn't make enough sense. But somehow, Japanese fantasy doesn't need to make sense the way American fantasy does -- there's something so much more right-brained about Japanese fantasy -- the world can be dreamlike, and that's okay. It's the characters that make this film -- Sophie, the scarecrow, even the talking fire. Despite the chaos and danger of the story, the film succeeds in creating a place that one would want to visit again and again -- a place that feels safe and comfortable, even when the whole world has gone crazy. And maybe that's what all of us are looking for.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Howl and Other Poems

I've heard recordings of Ginsberg reading these poems out loud, and it is very clear to me that most of them want to be read out loud. I don't know how I get that feeling, exactly, but "America" definitely wants to be read aloud, whereas "An Asphodel" would probably prefer not to.

Howl is the strongest of the lot, of course. Reading it makes me long for the sixties, long for a time when there was an establishment to rage against, that manufactured enough rage in everyone that when you screamed, others screamed with you, or were horrified by your screaming. Here in the future, when you scream, people just laugh, if they notice you at all.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Fantasy: The Golden Age of Fantastic Illustration

This is a book of images of fantasy illustrations from the late 1800's to the early 1900's. It was very inspiring to look through and to study, and it led to me to discover some things I can't believe were new to me! I had never heard of "Bill the Minder", for example, or of "Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens", which is clearly an important part of the Peter Pan / Tinkerbell canon! But mostly, it is a wonderful reference for finding emotional keynotes if you are creating any kind of fantasy worlds -- I get rid of most books I read, but this will stay on the "art reference" shelf.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Man Whose Teeth Were All Exactly Alike

I saw this book in a shop window when I was strolling around San Francisco a few months ago, and couldn't resist. No one but Phillip K. Dick could have written this book. While some of his books are very sci-fi, he has others that are more rooted in a depressing kind of suburban angst. This book is definitely the latter category. Whenever I read his books that feature that kind of feeling, I can't help but think that the events and situations are taken from his own life. But then, the direction that this book goes is so very strange -- not in any kind of science fiction way -- but rather a kind of surreal world that somehow seems more surreal because it all is explainable.

It took me a long time to get through it because it is kind of depressing -- it didn't exactly draw me through. One thing I find with every PKD novel, though, is that there is one character in each book that, to my mind, clearly is PKD. So, it's like PKD is a character that recurs in all his novels, and that was true here, too.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Edward Tufte Lecture

I went to this because for years I've meant to read the Tufte books, but whenever I try, I find them a bit dry, and just kind of pick around. I thought maybe if I attended his day-long lecture, it might give me more of a handle to the books. And in fact, all attendees get all four copies of his book, in a box with a handle, which seems a good omen!

The lecture was a full house, with maybe 200-300 attendees. I worried at the beginning -- he did not warm up to us, but initially seemed kind of cold and distant. But, as time went on, he started addressing us a bit more warmly. I had been warned that he was a man of stong opinions, and that was certainly true -- but strong opinions make for good lectures, because they make the audience think.

I'm a book nerd, so the coolest parts for me were when he would bring out these ancient tomes (first edition of Euclid's elements, etc.) and bring them around to show us how text and imagery were much more wisely combined in the past. 

The key points I took away:
  • Giving people more data, as opposed to less data, is much more useful to them if it is presented in a way that they can explore it easily and draw their own conclusions. 
  • Find a way to create a "supergraphic" of your important data. That is something with as much information as possible, shown in ways that are easily explorable.
  • Powerpoint is for giving pitches, not for presenting data. Tufte takes a very hard view here, saying "pitching out corrupts within." The idea is that powerpoint is such a narrow channel of information that it can only allow for leading people down a single train of thought, and this can make both the presenter and audience unable to see the bigger picture. Tufte recommends abandoning powerpoint, and handing out a small number of printed sheets of paper that show your supergraphic. I had to think hard about this -- since I make frequent use of powerpoint. However, I'm seldom using it to explore data, but rather to show a chain of thought. That said, it is clear to me that there are several places in my life that creating some supergraphics would be of value. But, wow -- creating good ones is a lot of work. 
Anyway, I definitely recommend attending the Tufte lecture, if you get a chance. I still haven't read all the books, but I feel like I have a much better handle into them -- hopefully I'll find time to read them soon!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

How to Train Your Dragon

Dreamworks sure has gotten the hang of how to tell a story! This was kind of formulaic, but fun. It certainly made great use of the stereoscopy. The whole thing got me thinking about the future of 3D stereo -- and I think my main conclusion is that it's great for movies with a lot of flying, and not so good for everything else. It's interesting to compare this with Avatar.

I went to this with people who'd read the book, and they were a little frustrated with how different (pointlessly different, they said) it was from the book. My main gripe with the movie was that the ending was kind of anti-climactic -- the giant monster could have been a heck of a lot more giant.

My favorite parts were the characterization of the vikings -- their stylization was totally fun.