A long time ago … when special effects were really hard

Computer Graphics From a Long, Long Time Ago in a Galaxy Far, Far Away from Topless Robot:

Oh man. /Film started my day with this 10-minute documentary from Larry Cuba about how he made the computer graphics for Star Wars, specifically, the Death Star assault video Dodonna plays for the Rebel pilots, and it is so, so awesome. Cuba is obviously so proud when he says he’s moving his Death Star model in real time, and he should be, since back in 1976 that probably needed 400 computers glued together and the blood sacrifice of a white calf. Anyways, it’s fun for Star Wars fans and a neat look back for computer nerds alike.

Imagine the movie industry doing what they do now without the plastic reality offered by oceans of computing power and unbelievable software.

Topless Robot is a kickin’ site that features geek chum like Teenage Mutant Reservoir Turtles and The 10 Best ’60s Batman TV Villains Who Should Make the Leap to Comic Books (10 villains, 10 videos including Vincent Price as the Egghead).


Bridging the gaps

ETHAN ZUCKERMAN: I spent 20 minutes this morning researching Kenyan wedding rituals.

BROOKE GLADSTONE: But you’re weird!

Mike sent me this interview from On the Media with with Ethan Zuckerman, founder of Global Voices, and Clive Thompson, technology writer for the New York Times Magazine and Wired. They were discussing homophily: the tendency for individuals to seek out others who share their preferences, ideas, age, gender, class, organizational role, etc. and whether the internet was increasing it or helping build bridges of understanding. They also discuss people who are getting beyond what’s known as the Dunbar number and having deep (or not totally shallow) connections with well more than the 150 or so people we’re thought to be able to “know” through social media. Clive relates that as a result of his network, he’s shocked at how much more he knows about things.

For example, I mean, some people’s homophily problem might mean they don’t know anything about international relations. My homophily problem is I don’t know anything about pop culture. I don’t watch any TV. I don’t watch any movies. I don’t listen to much music. And this becomes a real social deficit. I’ll go a party and people like will mention a major A-list star and I have no idea who the hell they’re talking about.

And so, what happens is that in the periphery of my large number of weak links, something will sort of begin to move. Like I’ll see a bunch of people say, wow, Christian Bale is a total badass, and someone else will go, go Christian Bale, go. And I’ll be like I sense a disturbance in the Force.

Mike thought I’d like it, and I did. It’s 20 minutes of very interesting discussion – have a listen if you can.

The photo is Bridging the East River by Randy Wick and you should definitely check it out bigger or in his Most Interesting slideshow.

Cutting through the Babel with Google Fusion Tables

Circle of Blue has an article about last week’s launch of Fusion Tables by Google. The new system allows users to upload and manage huge databases of information and access aggregated data through a common format

“The biggest potential is to build an ecosystem of data on the Web,” said Alon Halevy, the senior Google engineer who led the Fusion Tables development team. “This means making it easy for the people to upload, to merge data sets, to discuss the data, to create visualizations and then to take these visualizations and put them elsewhere on the Web so that there’s better data on the Web.”

…Fusion Tables, a breakthrough application of online research and communications capacities, goes beyond traditional database systems because it allows users to share and merge data in real time with other contributors wherever they work. It also allows users to apply visualizations, and discuss discrepancies of specific data points. Multiple users can cross-check and discuss individual rows, columns or even cells as easily as right-clicking on the spot.

Users can also display their data through a variety of visualizations: as a timeline, a graph or a map. The “fusion” of the data sets can link dissimilar information from the far corners of the Web to reveal patterns and trends that might be impossible to spot otherwise. This makes Fusion Tables a central hub for data collaboration, as anyone can publish and access files, which were formerly locked away in Excel spreadsheets, PDF reports, and hard-cover textbooks.

I know from scientist friends who I’ve talked with that one of the biggest barriers to collaboration is the fact that Lab A can’t communicate with Lab B … fortunately there’s Google to allow them to speak the same language. Check out the article for more and some created images and watch this interview with Halevy.

The photo is The Last Drop by lepiaf.geo and it’s part of her Water set (slideshow).

Google punches earth sized hole in the browser

the Earth in the palm of your hand?

Earlier this week I thought I should write something about Google adding underwater environments to its Google Earth program on Monday.

While that will no doubt be cooler than a bucket of cucumbers, I was pretty surprised when I typed “embed Google Earth” instead of “embed Google Maps” and found out that you could in fact embed Google Earth* into web pages.

When I loaded Hello, Earth, I realized how deftly Google has moved.

Web browsers are our portal to the information we want: news, travel, shopping, video and other media are all just a quick search. It is a limited environment however. Sure, you can click, pull and drag windows around, but the lack of a 3rd dimension removes immediacy and I suspect renders the online experience kind of boring to people who aren’t accustomed to getting entertainment from non-moving 2D environments like books. Add that 3rd dimension, however, and I suspect that the content that many of us find so enriching will explode into the lives of many more.

Snapshot: You click the map portal on a site – let’s say Absolute Michigan. You’re going to spend a weekend in wine country, touring the Leelanau Peninsula and you spin the globe to check it out. You can tap the winery icons to read about their tasting rooms and wines, scroll through photos and video and even make reservations for dinner or lodging, all while cruising through a 3D map that makes it easy to see beaches and trails and all kinds of fun stuff that you would miss if reading it.

Can you see it? OK, now add social networking in…

To install the Google Earth plugin, just click the Hello, Earth link above

*OK, so you’ve been able to access Google Earth in Windows for a while. #1 I didn’t know and #2 I don’t consider things real until they’re cross system.

Barack Obama Inaugural Extreme Photographic Awesomeness

Obama Inaugural by David Bergman

Photographer David Bergman explains How I Made a 1,474-Megapixel Photo During President Obama’s Inaugural Address. He says that this was his first inauguration and that he felt that as the biggest, it deserved a big photo. So…

I made a panoramic image showing the nearly two million people who watched President Obama’s inaugural address. To do so, I clamped a Gigapan Imager to the railing on the north media platform about six feet from my photo position. The Gigapan is a robotic camera mount that allows me to take multiple images and stitch them together, creating a massive image file.

My final photo is made up of 220 Canon G10 images and the file is 59,783 X 24,658 pixels or 1,474 megapixels. It took more than six and a half hours for the Gigapan software to put together all of the images on my Macbook Pro and the completed TIF file is almost 2 gigabytes.

Bush has his “sour face” on but he does have one of the plush chairs! You absolutely have to check this out!

High-def surfing Freak Show

Shawn Malone of LakeSuperiorPhoto.com passed an incredible video along to me (be sure and check out her and Brian’s Lake Superior & Great Lakes surfing shots while you’re there).

The video is called Backdoor Switchfoot. It’s part of Making Waves: The 14 Days of Vincent Laforet and it is a full HD video of amazing quality that was produced by photographer Vincent Laforet with a Canon 500mm f4 – on a RED One at 100 frames per second at 2K using the Wicked Circuits EF Lens Adapter (the equivalent of a 1600mm on a 35mm camera). On his blog, he writes:

Creativity in surfing is the opportunity to express oneself on a wave. Surfing is nothing but the physical extension of one’s ability to explore that realm between land and sea. Being free to do it without the constraints of commercial endeavor or competitive goals creates true freedom of expression. Somewhere between the land and the sea Jamie tries the other side, switching his feet around on take off, choosing the opposite stance, then midway, switches back… as if to say I can do “whatever I like.” Jamie embodies the term “free surfer.”

We had a long behind the scenes clip queued up for you today (including the ND filter piece that I promised) but the newsman in me forces me to put this clip out now – for the non-surfing crowd out there: this footswitch by Jamie is something unique to his skill set, and something seldom captured.

The best thing about watching, let alone filming, Jamie – is the privilege of seeing someone do something so beautiful, so difficult, so effortlessly. The last time I saw something like this on such a regular basis was when I photographed Michael Jordan at the United Center in Chicago for his last 3 years on the court.

I cannot stress how amazing this video is. Go watch it. For somebody who has been on the internet since online photos are a big deal, a video of this quality over the web is like a big sign that says “Welcome to the Future.”

The photo is Jamie “Freak Show” O’Brien by HalonaCoast and it’s in his great Surfing set.

Enter the Lorax

In Machine-Animal Destructo-Mat, Roger Peet writes that he’s impressed by the time and energy put into the development of new methods of destroying all life, even to emulating the semblances of life through biomimicry in the pursuit of destroying it.

There’s a certain insight available into the tangled economic logic underpinning industrial world-destruction available through images and video of these machines. Notice that the precision of the Timberjack’s stepping mechanism is so lovingly described…if it were to sense a rare orchid below its ten-ton tread, lo! It would pull the offending limb away and whisper a prayer of thanks to Gaia for her wisdom. And then the process of ripping the forest down and shredding it would continue. I imagine a little cartoon bluebird perched on the Timberjack, trilling a happy song!

I imagine facing an army of the damn things after rogue Eastern European hackers crack their command codes. Hopefully Spiderman will be able to take care of them…


In Time to Reboot America, Thomas L Friedman remarks that (according to Fortune) General Motors “lost more than $72 billion in the past four years, and yet you can count on one hand the number of executives who have been reassigned or lost their job.” He says we can’t continue to be “dumb as we wanna be” and that:

…our present crisis is not just a financial meltdown crying out for a cash injection. We are in much deeper trouble. In fact, we as a country have become General Motors — as a result of our national drift. Look in the mirror: G.M. is us.

That’s why we don’t just need a bailout. We need a reboot. We need a build out. We need a buildup. We need a national makeover. That is why the next few months are among the most important in U.S. history. Because of the financial crisis, Barack Obama has the bipartisan support to spend $1 trillion in stimulus. But we must make certain that every bailout dollar, which we’re borrowing from our kids’ future, is spent wisely.

It has to go into training teachers, educating scientists and engineers, paying for research and building the most productivity-enhancing infrastructure — without building white elephants. Generally, I’d like to see fewer government dollars shoveled out and more creative tax incentives to stimulate the private sector to catalyze new industries and new markets. If we allow this money to be spent on pork, it will be the end of us.

The photo is Oval Office reproduction – Harry S. Truman Presidential Museum and Library – Independence, Missouri by Marshall Astor – Food Pornographer. You can see some of that food pornography in his Flickriver, and over on his blog he has a cool video of Earth Kitt, who passed away yesterday.

I picked it because while Friedman sometimes upsets me, I agree wholeheartedly with his assessment that the next few months are critical to the future of our nation. We’ve been stumbling down a golden road for the last decade or so. I think as we start to slip and fall on it we are all beginning to see that the gold is just faded and peeling paint and we haven’t amassed any real riches.

I for one am willing to invest in America, to make financial and lifestyle sacrifices and to really work on the behalf of building a better nation and world.

I sure as hell am not going to give any money to people to develop new instruments of financial deception though.

I hope that the man who sits at that desk in just a few weeks and the team he has assembled feel the same and will make the same effort and inspire others to do so as well. I also hope that they will try and drag our governmental apparati into this century and out of the Truman era.