Finishing My Coffee

The Burj: Medieval Folly In Dubai

Photos of the the opening of the Burj Khalifa by Curzon from Coming Anarchy.

The thing about criminal lunatics who live like God’s just keeping their chairs warm is that, well, they do know how to put on a show.

via Warren Ellis » Coming Anarchy.


Lebowski’s Calmer Than Glendale

Amidst a roaring fight over whether or not cell phone wireless towers (or antennas -- T-Mobile's plan hasn't even been finalized) are a safety hazard, interested readers in Glendale turned to Lebowski quotes to tone down the rhetoric. Good times in the comments.

Pete McFerrin: because helping residential property values should be the only goal of public policy, right? If I were a T-Mobile subscriber and I lived near that guy I would urinate on his front door every day, at the very least.

SecretAgent: @Pete McFerrin: And he would take photos of you exposing yourself and you would then be another perma-loser on a state wide data base.

Pete McFerrin: @SecretAgent: "8-year-olds, Dude. 8-year-olds."

SecretAgent: @Pete McFerrin: 8 year olds? That would place you yet again on another data base.

Pete McFerrin: I am considering a boycott of this blog on the grounds that not enough people get Lebowski references. This aggression will not stand!

SecretAgent: @Pete McFerrin: I'm calmer than you, Dude. Calmer than you.
And if you're going to piss on someones property then at least do it on his area rug. You know the one, the kind that really ties the room together.

If only every wish to urinate on an idealogical enemy's property turned out so well.

(via Laura, who first introduced me to the greatness that is The Big Lebowski)


Let Reason Guide Financial Reform

A centrist Democrat after extensive poll research and discussion with lobbyists.

A centrist Democrat after extensive poll research and discussion with lobbyists.

Paul Krugman vents via today's op-ed in The New York Times:

When I first began writing for The Times, I was naïve about many things. But my biggest misconception was this: I actually believed that influential people could be moved by evidence, that they would change their views if events completely refuted their beliefs.

And to be fair, it does happen now and then. I’ve been highly critical of Alan Greenspan over the years (since long before it was fashionable), but give the former Fed chairman credit: he has admitted that he was wrong about the ability of financial markets to police themselves.

But he’s a rare case. Just how rare was demonstrated by what happened last Friday in the House of Representatives, when — with the meltdown caused by a runaway financial system still fresh in our minds, and the mass unemployment that meltdown caused still very much in evidence — every single Republican and 27 Democrats voted against a quite modest effort to rein in Wall Street excesses.

Krugman then goes on to tell a short, rational, fact-based story of U.S. financial history and the events leading up to last year's market crash. Well worth the full read.

Bottom line? In all arenas -- health care and financial reform, national security, education, whatever -- Republican's continue to spout their trademark brand of crazy rhetoric. It's the so-called centrist Democrats that I can't stand. The Republicans will say anything to tear down the Dems and get their party back into power. Simple power play. I get it. They believe in themselves and, collectively, in their party. The centrist Dems, on the other hand, claim to stand by values in line with the Democrats yet believe in nothing but getting themselves reelected, by any means necessary. At best they're mercenaries, at worst nihilists. And while that must be exhausting for them, they're ruining the future for the rest of us.


Avatar: Revolutionary Cinema?

Navi, the CGI-stars of Avatar.

Navi, the CGI-stars of Avatar.

It's rare that we're treated to a big-budget, big talent film that provides a new way of sharing information, telling a story, or looking at the world.

Citizen Kane took us through windows, cut back-and-forth through time, used impossible angles, and shared the comic-book panel-gestalt with high-brow film critics and the wider, movie-going general public (or, as Michael Chabon suggests, vice versa). Star Wars removed sci-fi films from B-movie status and lit the imaginations of kids the world over. Pulp Fiction and Memento (among others) played with time as Picasso played with visual angles, and The Matrix brought anime's influence to U.S. live-action, melding time-worn effects with new technological advances and a cutting-edge story to give voice to the Internet generation's worldview, dreams and fears.

While Eric Cartman would argue that Cameron stole his story, according to the early reviews James Cameron's Avatar should be, at the very least, a visual spectacle. Through a mix of CGI and live action, most of the movie's setting is computer-generated, as are the main characters for large chunks of the film. Some segments take advantage of new 3-D technology and are so well done that Ridley Scott is rumored to have scrapped some work he'd already completed on Forever War to switch to 3-D as well.

Most telling of all is Roger Ebert's review, edited here so as to remove spoilers:

Watching "Avatar," I felt sort of the same as when I saw "Star Wars" in 1977. That was another movie I walked into with uncertain expectations. James Cameron's film has been the subject of relentlessly dubious advance buzz, just as his "Titanic" was. Once again, he has silenced the doubters by simply delivering an extraordinary film. There is still at least one man in Hollywood who knows how to spend $250 million, or was it $300 million, wisely.

"Avatar" is not simply a sensational entertainment, although it is that. It's a technical breakthrough. . . It is predestined to launch a cult. It contains such visual detailing that it would reward repeating viewings. It invents a new language, Na'vi, as "Lord of the Rings" did, although mercifully I doubt this one can be spoken by humans, even teenage humans. It creates new movie stars. It is an Event, one of those films you feel you must see to keep up with the conversation. . . .

I've complained that many recent films abandon story telling in their third acts and go for wall-to-wall action. Cameron essentially does that here, but has invested well in establishing his characters so that it matters what they do in battle and how they do it. There are issues at stake greater than simply which side wins.

Cameron promised he'd unveil the next generation of 3-D in "Avatar." I'm a notorious skeptic about this process, a needless distraction from the perfect realism of movies in 2-D. Cameron's iteration is the best I've seen -- and more importantly, one of the most carefully-employed. The film never uses 3-D simply because it has it, and doesn't promiscuously violate the fourth wall. He also seems quite aware of 3-D's weakness for dimming the picture, and even with a film set largely in interiors and a rain forest, there's sufficient light. I saw the film in 3-D on a good screen at the AMC River East and was impressed. I might be awesome in True IMAX. Good luck in getting a ticket before February.

It takes a hell of a lot of nerve for a man to stand up at the Oscarcast and proclaim himself King of the World. James Cameron just got re-elected.

At the very least, it'll be better than Titanic. Happy holidays, indeed.


Helen Mirren With A Sniper Rifle

ellis_redWarren Ellis' graphic novel Red is being made into a film, and Warren has been kind enough, as is his wont, to answer questions about what's being changed in the adaptation from 66 page comic to hour and a half blockbuster movie.

The tone: no, the film isn’t as grim as the book. The book is pretty grim. But it’s also pretty small. When I sell the rights to a book, they buy the right to adapt it in whatever way they see fit. I can accept that they wanted a lighter film, and, as I’ve said before, the script is very enjoyable and tight as a drum. They haven’t adapted it badly, by any means. People who’ve enjoyed the graphic novel will have to accept that it’s an adaptation and that by definition means that it’s going to be a different beast from the book. The film has the same DNA. It retains bits that are very clearly from the book, as well as, of course, the overall plotline. But it is, yes, lighter, and funnier. And if anyone has a real problem with that, I say to you once again:

Helen Mirren with a sniper rifle.

I mean, if you don’t want to see a film with Helen Mirren with a sniper rifle, I’m not sure I want to know you.

via Warren Ellis.


Warren Ellis Predicts The Future

Bruce Sterling’s comment about "Nazi layers" in his recent address to augmented reality (AR) company Layar comes true very fast, as the BNP releases a "British layer" that superimposes on your camera view of any British town a hyperlocal guide to population pressure, of "indigenous" British supposedly being "forced out" by what the rest of us call simply "other people". AR is self-selected mediation of the world. It lets us choose the glasses we want to see through. A nicked iPhone and credit card lets you buy criminal layers that establish where CCTV is densest in relation to regions with the wealthiest demographic, establishing the easiest predation. Soon enough, citizens of the digital cities are peering at everything through their AR phones, seeing not the city that’s in front of them, but the city they want to see.

via ‘Look out for Hollywood films about spelunking on the Moon’.


Feature v. Perceived Value-addition

My television has a feature I hadn’t seen before on a television before I bought it: Bluetooth. The television has a Bluetooth receiver, and you can send it photos and display them on the screen. That’s it. Anybody who has used Bluetooth for anything more than hands-free will understand why this is ridiculous. Not only is it absurd to view photos by sending them one-by-one to a television over a medium that has throughput that barely rivals 1990’s ISDN lines, but it’s even more ridiculous once you realize the TV has no storage. The picture is gone when you don’t want to look at it anymore.

This is a feature? No: this is perceived value-addition. For people who don’t know any better, this seems like a wonderful solution. But a solution to what? I know I didn’t have the problem that I wanted to look at crappy-quality photos from my phone’s camera on my television’s non-persistent screen.



PhotoSketch Finds An Image For You

Wow. With PhotoSketch, you just draw a sketch, label each item, and then the system goes out, finds photos that match the sketched items and their labels, and automatically pastes it all together into one composite image.

From sketch to photo instantly (this is insanely awesome)


Where Bobbleheads Are Born

It’s been 10 years since the first major league baseball bobblehead doll giveaway (SF Giants: Willie Mays) and the gimmick still packs fans into the stadium. The design process for most bobbleheads begins at Bensussen Deutsch & Associates in Woodinville, WA. A detailed sketch is sent to the Chinese manufacturer who ships back a hand-carved and painted proof. A few revisions later a little baseball player with an oversized nodding head is ready for manufacturing and then bobblehead day at a stadium near you.


Swap Machine’s NBA Stats

Brett Hainline’s swap machine uses a player’s offensive and defensive efficiency ratings to determine how swapping one player out for another would improve your team’s overall performance.

Once Hainline went live with it, I immediately did what any Los Angeles Clippers fan would do — nixed the uniquely inefficient Al Thornton from the starting lineup. To fill Thornton’s place at small forward, I opted for efficiency poster boy Shane Battier. I was interested in approximating how much better would the Clippers be with a player of Battier’s mold on the wing.

The results were fascinating. Queen City Hoops estimates that the Clippers would be 10 games better with Battier in Thornton’s place. Here’s QCH’s breakdown…

The Great NBA Swap Meet