Thursday, July 29, 2010

High Tension and the Importance of Good Sound

Watched High Tension this weekend and was very impressed. High quality Horror film! What I liked so much about it (and the other “realistic” horror movies I’ve seen recently, like Open Water and The Descent) is that the people in the movies mainly act like normal people. They don’t go wandering off by themselves into the darkness, and there’s a distinct lack of "red shirts" . This (relative: we are talking horror films here) realism draws you into the story and makes you more emotionally involved in the story, whereas bad horror films (like Cabin Fever, to name a recent example) that don’t have this attachment, are the ones that lead in unintentional comedy. I wasn’t personally sold by the plot twist, but it was fun, and I sure has hell didn’t see it coming. The whole movie is helped out by the easy-on-the-eyes protagonist C├ęcile de France.

The other thing I realized as I watched the movie is how important sound design is to horror films, or any films that hope to build up the tension. In horror movies in particular, there often isn’t a lot of action as one of the victims is hiding from a killer, or is staring in shock at something horrible that has occurred, or is witnessing a horrible death, and if the sounds are not just right, the whole thing loses its power. For instance, in High Tension, there are several brutal murders that take place in almost absolute silence, and so the sounds that the director chose for the eviscerations are the ones that really drive home the event to you.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

An App, Improved

After my AllSportGPS rant the other day, I learned that a new version was forthcoming. It's out now, optimized for the OS4, and I have to say that it's a big improvement. My runs and walks are no longer being marred with long periods of "resting" when I was in fact moving. The GPS lock even seems to be quicker, which is extremely nice. In addition, the save to the database appears to be faster as well.

The one thing I have noticed is that you still can't hit play before the GPS lock and expect the app to start recording as soon as the GPS lock is achieved. If you do this, you need to hit "lap" to refresh the app and then it will start recording your movement; otherwise, it's another resting period. Also, one new feature that I won't be using is the ability to upload activities to Twitter or Facebook. It's a nice feature if you're into that, but personally I think it's oversharing along the lines of people who clutter up your News Feed with MafiaWars or Farmville moves.

Having said that, the bottom line is that an app that wasn't working for me at all has been resurrected, so I can now capture my running distances and times, which is why I bought it in the first place. Nice work.

Deep Thought

Why are the owners and cashiers of liquor stores always so sullen? Do they think that all of us that buy booze and beer are too sordid for smiles and conversation, or is something else going on?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Title Sez It All...

Actual title of article: Department of Defense can’t account for 96 percent of money administered in Iraq reconstruction fund
Money quote:
Out of just over $9bn, $8.7bn is unaccounted for, the inspector says.

Almost eight billion dollars! And people are worried about Social Security. End these farcical wars that everyone knows we can't "win" (whatever that means) now!

Two Quotes Put Together

I found the juxtaposition of these two quotes from the latest issue of Harper’s (August 2010) very telling.
Quote one:
Modern society does not help us to put forward our more dignified sides. The public spaces in which we typically encounter others – commuter trains, jostling pavements, shopping malls, escalators, restaurants – conspire to throw up a demeaning picture of our collective identity. It can be hard to keep faith with humanity after a walk down Oxford Street or a transfer at O’Hare. Our capacity to hold on to the concept that every person is necessarily the center of a complex, precious individuality is placed under potentially unbearable stress in the degraded settings where our meetings with our fellow citizens unfold. …
- Alain de Botton, Inprovable Feasts, page 7
And quote two:
Beyond mere politices, gun carriers are evangelizing a social philosophy. Belief in rising crime, when statistics show the opposite, amounts to faith in a natural order of predators and prey. … Shooters see their guns as emblems of a whole spectrum of virtuous lifestyle choices—rural over urban, self-reliance over dependence on the collective, vigorous outdoorsiness over pallid intellectualism, patriotism over internationalism, action over inaction—and they hear attacks on guns as attacks on them, personally.
- Dan Baum, Happiness is a Worn Gun, pages 31-2
The article on carrying guns in particular is worth reading as a whole, but putting these two observations next to each other really emphasizes the controlled reality that most of us live in. As more and more people are able to choose where they get their news from, they are able to generate a cocoon around themselves where only news and interpretations of the news that already agrees with their mindset prevail. Combine that with the idea behind the first quote – the apt observation that our interactions with “the people” in public settings is dehumanizing – and you can see why many gun owners are so adminent about protecting themselves from “others”. As a gun instructor tells Mr. Baum in his article: “I’m an optimist, but we live in a world of assholes.”

Friday, July 23, 2010

Tab Dump

Some things that were clogging up my browser recently:

This fascinating article about how Pixar's creative process differs from the rest of Hollywood emphasizes how they create the best movies being shown today. Essentially, what they're saying is that Pixar has "...the flexibility to go through multiple iterations of writing and performance" which enables them to get the most out of their material, rather then being stuck with just what can be produced during the regular movie shoot.

David Mitchell has a novel out that I can't wait to read - The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet. Here's a short bio of his life, and gives a good, if brief, history of his excellent books.

This blog entry about Against the Day makes a good point about the people that complain about the size of Pynchon's books:
I recall that my daughters were not dismayed as the later volumes in the Harry Potter series grew longer and longer -- if you're reading the book just for the sheer pleasure of reading it, more is better, perhaps, as three scoops of ice cream are better than two. Likewise, Stephen King's readers seem not at all put off by the length of The Stand, say.
But -- when a book is reputed to be complex, ambitious, intellectual, important, and so on, and it clocks in at, say, 1,087 pages, even serious lit folks (e.g., my faculty colleagues) will probably give it a pass.


Andrew points us to a great Mary Oliver poem called Mockingbirds.

Poem for the Weekend

"Nature" is what we see—
The Hill—the Afternoon—
Squirrel—Eclipse—the Bumble bee—
Nay—Nature is Heaven—
Nature is what we hear—
The Bobolink—the Sea—
Thunder—the Cricket—
Nay—Nature is Harmony—
Nature is what we know—
Yet have no art to say—
So impotent Our Wisdom is
To her Simplicity.

- Emily Dickinson, Poem 668

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Van Gogh's The Sower

Since i've had kids and don't have the opportunity to get into Boston very often anymore, i've given up my MFA membership. It's a shame on many levels, but even more so now that I learn that they've been displaying Vincent Van Gogh's The Sower for the last few months. Late period Van Gogh's are stunning in person, and retain all of their original power despite the artist's overfamiliarity. Someday we'll be able to hit up museums again!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Open Letter to the Makers of AllSportGPS

I bought your iPhone application about a year ago, and was very happy with it for three quarters of a year. Then something happened and the program stopped working correctly. It tells me that I was resting when I was running. It takes forever to lock onto the GPS. All in all, it no longer does anything that I want it to do, so i'm removing it from my phone in favor of a better exercise tracking application. Next time, try paying some attention to the performance of your application.

The Humanity of Dick Cheney

James Fallows' thoughts about Dick Cheney, given that his heart condition is apparently becoming worse and worse, is open hearted and admirable. You should read the whole thing, because while it acknowledges his evil deeds, it also recognizes his humanity and holds out hope for his redemption. It also contains this interesting thought:
We all know the cliche about people who switch from youthful idealism to mid-life flinty-mindedness. One version goes, If you're not a socialist in your twenties, you have no heart; if you're not a capitalist in your forties, you have no mind. I think there's an important addition: If you're not a humanist in your seventies, you have no soul.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Facebooking one another for real in the fading summer light

Gary Shteyngart has an intelligent and fun - if somewhat overblown - essay about being over connected and what it does to your mindset. My favorite part:
With each post, each tap of the screen, each drag and click, I am becoming a different person — solitary where I was once gregarious; a content provider where I at least once imagined myself an artist; nervous and constantly updated where I once knew the world through sleepy, half-shut eyes; detail-oriented and productive where I once saw life float by like a gorgeously made documentary film. And, increasingly, irrevocably, I am a stranger to books, to the long-form text, to the pleasures of leaving myself and inhabiting the free-floating consciousness of another. With each passing year, scientists estimate that I lose between 6 and 8 percent of my humanity, so that by the close of this decade you will be able to quantify my personality. By the first quarter of 2020 you will be able to understand who I am through a set of metrics as simple as those used to measure the torque of the latest-model Audi or the spring of some brave new toaster.
I enjoyed his 2003 novel The Russian Debutante's Handbook, although it didn't blow me away, but haven't read anything else by him yet.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Quote of the Day

The evil that men do lives on after them. The good is oft interred with their bones.

Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, Act III, scene ii

Friday, July 9, 2010

Quote of the Day

Love is the only thing that matters.
Love is the only thing that's real.
I know we hear this every day.
It's still the hardest thing to feel.
- Suzanne Vega, "Ludlow Street" off of Beauty & Crime.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Space Dust

Now this is cool:
The European Space Agency released a spectacular picture of the microwave sky Monday, an artful mosaic of interstellar dust and the relic light from the birth of the universe.

Arresting Protesters

Along the lines of the non-lethal crowd control I wrote about the other day, here's some news about how the protesters were treated during the G20 event in Toronto the other week. It probably won't shock you to learn that they were severely mistreated:
Reading story after story after story after story after story about experiences during the G20 protests, one common thread strikes me -- they all include cruel, contemptuous, crude, or incompetent behaviour by the police.

I'm just not sure why people would continue to go to these protests, knowing how brutally they'll be treated.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Let's Tell the Future / Let's See How It's Been Done

An interesting post from David McRaney, who writes about the allure of (among other things) astrology, numerology and tarot cards.
The tendency to believe vague statements designed to appeal to just about anyone is called the Forer Effect. ... The Forer Effect is part of larger phenomenon psychologists refer to as subjective validation, which is a fancy way of saying you are far more vulnerable to suggestion when the subject of the conversation is you.

Personally, i've always liked the Tarot, but it's not because I believe that it foretells my future, it's because:
1. I find great beauty and meaning in the general symbolism of the cards, and simply observing the symbols and how they can interact is fun.
2. Using these general symbols can make you think about yourself in interesting new ways, helping you discover what you're thinking about yourself and/or your situation. It also helps you build up fun new mythologies for yourself, which is never a bad thing as we work our way through this difficult world.

Note: The title of this post references the excellent Suzanne Vega song "Predictions" off of Days of Open Hand.

Business Cards

Business Cards to me have always seemed somewhat useless, and they're even more so in this electronic age where most business correspondents have their email addresses and phone numbers embedded into their electronic signatures. I laugh thinking about all of the companies that bought me large boxes of business cards only to have them collect dust under my desk, the only recipients being my friends and family.

Having said that, these two examples are probably the best of the bunch.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Editing Full Motion Recordings

At my job, I recently had to edit some Full Motion Recordings (FMRs) in Captivate, which proved very problematic. In the hopes of saving those of you who might ever need to touch these touchy files, here's what I did.

Essentially, I continually split the FMR into two separate slides and then added any manipulations that I needed into the new slides. To do this:
NOTE: All actions take place in Captivate's Edit mode.
1. Locate the animation you want to edit in the Captivate library.
All FMRs are located in the Media folder of the library, but you can also jump to it by right-clicking the animation from the Timeline and selecting Find in Library from the pop-up menu.
2. Right-click the animation and select Edit with FMREditor.
3. In the FMREditor, click Toggle Mode to switch to Insert/Split mode.
4. Place the triangle indicator at the moment where the next dialog box/page opens.
5. Select Edit > Split SWF. This splits the FMR into two separate files.
6. You’re prompted to select the file you want to keep. Select the first one.
Note: The file names Captivate uses are not intuitive (e.g., Cop71C_1.swf and Cop71C_1.swf), so you may want to make a note of the file names for future reference.
Bonus Note: For me, renaming the .swf files in Captivate rendered them unusable for me, so I was forced to retain these confusing names. Due to this, I made sure I was always editing the correct file by right-clicking the animation from the Timeline and selecting Find in Library from the pop-up menu.
7. Back in Captivate, insert a new blank slide.
8. Insert the second animation created in step 5 from the library by clicking and dragging it from the Library into the main pane.
9. Duplicate the audio for the original slide (right-click the audio in the library and select Duplicate).
Note: I was able to rename audio tracks with no problems.
10. Add the duplicated audio from the Audio tab of the Slide Properties dialog box by clicking Library and navigating to the audio file.
11. Edit the audio files of both slides to match the new (split) animations.
12. Create drawing objects or add screenshot images to cover up the mouse in the animation.
13. Select Insert > Mouse to add a mouse object.
14. Manipulate the mouse object so that it navigates and clicks how you’d like it to.
Note that you can repeat these steps as many times as needed. In my case, I split the original FMR file into four separate files with no problem.
The end result was adequate, but not the prettiest thing I’ve ever seen. If possible, I recommend having the SME re-record the presentation in lieu of devote the time to edit the FMR.
For more information, you can find a series of excellent Captivate training videos – including manipulating FMRs – here:

Monday, July 5, 2010

Does your life approach anything like a linear narrative?

Wyatt Mason has a great article about DFW in the latest NY Review of Books (Smarter than You Think, in the July 15th issue). Starting off by discussing David Lipsky's Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace, Mason brilliantly dissects what it is that makes DFW so fascinating:
Wallace dedicated his fiction to the asking of that question [in DFW's words, "...a piece of morally passionate, passionately moral fiction was also ingenious and radiantly human fiction. But how to make it that?] and to answering it at the aesthetic distance that modernism had imposed. ...
All Wallace’s formal ingenuity would have been for naught if he hadn’t been intent on using these forms to probe at the most injured parts of being. If his work does impose an aesthetic distance, it never sought to do less than bring particular persons as close as possible.
The whole thing is worth a read. At the very least, the piece is full of insightful DFW quotes in that astute voice of his:
Serious Novels after Joyce tend to be valued and studied mainly for their formal ingenuity. Such is the modernist legacy that we now presume as a matter of course that “serious” literature will be aesthetically distanced from real lived life.

Poem for a Long Weekend Outdoors

Nature, the gentlest mother,
Impatient of no child,
The feeblest or the waywardest,—
Her admonition mild

In forest and the hill
By traveler is heard,
Restraining rampant squirrel
Or too impetuous bird.

How fair her conversation,
A summer afternoon,—
Her household, her assembly;
And when the sun goes down

Her voice among the aisles
Incites the timid prayer
Of the minutest cricket,
The most unworthy flower.

When all the children sleep
She turns as long away
As will suffice to light her lamps;
Then, bending from the sky,

With infinite affection
And infiniter care,
Her golden finger on her lip,
Wills silence everywhere.
- Emily Dickinson

Thursday, July 1, 2010

I Ain't Hiding...

...but i'm not writing either. I'm grouchy and having an annoying week. The long holiday weekend will help, but expect light posting for a while until I have the time and inclination to say something interesting rather then simply being snarky.