beowulf’s cold digital eyes

There are some totally spectacular action scenes in Beowulf (2007). When Grendel first attacks and tosses around the bodies of the defending warriors like rag dolls, that’s insane. And the climax with Beowulf battling his son the dragon, that’s totally amazing. It’s like XBox 360 without the thumb strain.

But the rest of the movie looks and feels like a tween’s digital D&D fantasy. The dialogue is delivered like raw meat to ravenous wolves and the characters stroll through the painfully artificial scenery like crackhead mannequins. Meanwhile, the pivotal scene in which Beowulf fathers a demon son plays out like an informercial for the new Angelina Jolie sex doll. (Just three easy payments of $9.99 and you can feel like Brad Pitt. Adopted foreign orphans not included.)

Visually spectacular, but soulless. That’s Beowulf, the movie. And I realize why: the eyes. The eyes of digital characters convey nothing. With us real people, that’s what it’s all about, we convey meaning and context through the expressions of our eyes. That’s the bread and butter of actors in a live-action film. Digital can’t touch that.

Beowulf’s filmmakers tried hard. The eyes of the characters wiggle and wobble in an effort to convey something in a “real” fashion; but in the end, it’s all hyper-artifice, and therefore confusing.

Now compare that to the Teen Titans cartoons (or any contemporary anime, for that matter) where facial expression is everything and is therefore taken to extreme, unusual levels. Obviously, it’s caricature, and a very different genre, but it’s comprehensible. Beowulf, and other hyper-real digital films like The Polar Express, try so hard for reality and authenticity, that they fail miserably and leave the audience wondering. I still don’t know if Beowulf actually even liked the queen.

In the end, Beowulf is a crude plastic fantasy about drunk old men screwing sexy female demons and young Nordic women after fierce battles with gruesome monsters. The soul of the great epic poem cannot be digitized and therefore is left off-screen. Perhaps that’s the only mercy demonstrated by this cruel grandiose video game.

Consumerism Can Change the World

This is one of the best applications of mass consumerism I’ve ever seen: to affect social and environmental change. What a concept. It’s like a reverse-Costco.

Somebody needs to design a web site to track this type of retailer commitment around the world. Then, wherever you go, you could do a quick check and find out where your consumer buck will have the biggest bang. It might also be a key element in the small retailer defeating the box store.

Carrotmob rocks!

Carrotmob Makes It Rain from carrotmob on Vimeo.

Basecamp is the new Bauhaus

It was my flippant comment on my colleague Geof Harries’ blog post this morning (Putting content before chrome) that fired up this line of research and thought.

The German Bauhaus school was based on a firmly modernist set of principles that eschewed ornamentation in preference for form that followed function. In many ways, Bauhaus was a reaction to pre-modernist traditional forms of art that emphasized  a relationship to the ruling elite. Bauhaus saw the ideals of art and the value of craftsmanship as being equal. As a result, the output of Bauhaus was functionally-inclined and targeted at the consumer masses. This resulted in a highly simplistic style that carried on in many other schools of design after the Nazis killed Bauhaus in 1933.

In many ways, 37 Signals’ Basecamp is the web progeny of Bauhaus: the site’s aesthetic is very simple and highly stylized, and clearly intended for mass consumption. That they eschew such ornamental visuals of questionable functional merit as Gantt charts in a project management product is testament to the frugality of the comany’s design intents. The Basecamp school has influenced many designers, and has become the de rigeur UI pattern of Web 2.0.

And just as Bauhaus reacted to the overwrought ages that came before it, Basecamp in many ways is a reaction to the over-designed web that plagued users through the 90s.

Interestingly, German designer Dieter Rams’ work with Braun in the 60s was heavily influenced by Bauhaus, and Apple designer Jonathan Ives has carried on Rams’ ideas. So it didn’t surprise me to find a blog post on the 37 Signals web site that celebrated Rams’ contributions to contemporary design.

CRTC Internet Regulation: Is the North the Key?

Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission has long regulated most communications technologies in Canada. Somehow, however, the internet has been selectively left outside its domain. I would argue that must now change.

The North has benefited immensely from CRTC regulations, primarily in the form of affordable telecommunications. For example, the price of a standard fixed landline is comparable to what southern Canadians pay. 

Compare that to what we pay for internet access. As I pointed out when I briefly reviewed my new cable internet connection, Northerners pay at least 225% more than southern Canadians for what are inferior internet services. If we applied that calculation to our phone services, a basic landline would cost in excess of $78 per month, without any additional services. The extra cost of northern internet services puts a significant constraint on the growth of our economy.

That alone should bring some attention to a need for internet regulation in Canada. However, when you couple it with the fact that Bell and Rogers engage in extreme internet traffic sniffing and shaping activities, it’s clearly time for the CRTC to act in the interests of Canadians.

Put Your iPhoto Library on a Diet with Duplicate Annihilator

My mom’s hard drive was crammed to capacity and the Mac OS was starting to whine to her about it. It didn’t take long to figure out that the major disk space hog was her iPhoto library, which had somehow blossomed to over 12 GB (on a 60 GB hard drive, that a significant portion).

And she noticed that, for some reason, she had a lot of duplicate photos in there. So she started the painstaking process of finding and eliminating them. Hours later, she was barely through half of her library.

That’s when I discovered Duplicate Annihilator from Swedish developer Brattoo Propaganda. This little application is designed just for finding duplicate files in iPhoto and then, well, annihilating them (though in its default state it just tags them with a keyword).

But the world annihilate can make a seasoned computer user a tad antsy, so I volunteered to be the guinea pig. My iPhoto library was fully backed up and I thought that, despite the fact I managed it very carefully, there might be some duplicates I’d missed.

Running quietly in the background with only minimal impact on the performance of my iMac, Duplicate Annihilator took a little over 13 hours to work its way through my 77 GB iPhoto library that contained more than 39,000 photos.

Much to my surprise, it identified over 1100 duplicate files that were hogging almost 2 GB of disk space. I spent some time verifying the application’s results. There were no false positives. Indeed, it had identified every duplicate file in my library.

To manually cull through 39,000 photos manually would have taken me days. In fact, I probably would never have bothered, the labour and time toll would be just too high. However, it’s an act I value, as my iPhoto library is now slim and trim. And I no longer have to worry about duplicate files.

The total cost to me? 8 bucks and change. That’s the licensing fee for Duplicate Annihilator. Do they eat a lot of borscht in Sweden? Because that’s cheap for such a valuable service.

So, mom, go for it. Run Duplicate Annihilator on your iPhoto library. Because I can say with confidence that it’ll work. Even better, it’ll save you tons of time.

A Beautiful Love Triangle: iTunes, Starbucks, and AT&T

Sometimes you can’t help but admire the grace of a simple but effective  solution, especially when it involves a massive implementation of technology, extensive corporate partnerships, and the three modern survival essentials:  internet, music, and coffee.

 Apple, AT&T, and Starbucks have teamed up to deliver the ultimate in consumer contextualization. Using the available wireless internet connection in a Starbucks, you can purchase the song you’re hearing in the store at that moment within a few clicks in iTunes. Geared mainly for iPhone and iPod, the service also works in iTunes on a Mac or PC.

I heard about this back when it was first announced last year, but now the rollout has begun. Continue reading

My New Mobile: Blackberry Curve 8330

Looks like my frustration with the HTC 5800 peaked at just the right time: Bell Mobility announced the release of the Blackberry Curve 8330 one week ago. That’s the CDMA version of the landmark smartphone that GSM folks in more privileged parts of the world have had access to for over a year.

I consider the Curve the poorman’s iPhone, despite the fact that it actually costs more. It’s definitely not as pretty or user-friendly as the iPhone, and it’s severely lacking in the memory department (96MB vs 8GB — WTF?!), but it’s the best you can get when you live in the boonies.

Two nice bonuses the 8330 has over both the iPhone and the GSM Curve are GPS and video recording. 

When I spoke to the sales rep at Bell, he asked if I wanted a black or silver unit. I said black, of course. This is a picture of the Sprint version in black and, damn, I must say that’s a sweet looking unit. I hope that’s what he was referring to. Of course, the sale rep also asked if I wanted it in purple, so who really knows what I’ll get.

I just received notice from Bell that my unit shipped last night. I’ve already purchased a license for Mark/Space’s the Missing Sync for Blackberry in acticipation.