The Ranting Wren The Wren Forum Banner
The Glorious Wren The Movie Wren The Photo Wren Old Man Wren

Exit ArchiveArchive for July, 2007

Yes, that is the best headline I could come up with. That’s Friday for you!

So have you seen the trailer for this Beowulf movie? Without knowing what I was about to see, something looked very, very wrong from the get-go. I was watching live action that had been… faked? Overly processed? What was it? Then I realized that Beowulf is another of Robert Zemeckis’ horrifying amalgam movies, combining live-action motion-capture with CG. The effect still gives me a deep-seated shiver any time I see clips or trailers of scenes from The Polar Express.

The Lifeless Eyes of Beowulf

Now the technology has advanced to a more shiverific state. Beowulf stars some great actors. But just watch them in the trailer. They have been digitized, removing any subtlety from their performances. Anthony Hopkins looks like Anthony Hopkins, and Angelina Jolie looks like Angelina Jolie… but those looks have been waxinated. Faked. Changed. Deadened. Look at Beowulf’s CG-perfect body. Creepy. Look at the unnatural CG physical movements of the characters. Creepy! Look at the Polarized deadness in everyone’s eyes. CREEPY! That last one is the worst of all.

I suppose I can go read about the technology involved in the making of this movie, but that’s okay. I will say, having not read such, that while you can motion-capture every movement of an actor’s performance, and while you can make a 3D scan of every tiny crevice of an actor’s face, you can not capture the subtlety of acting. The dead eyes are a huge indication of what’s wrong with this kind of filmmaking. CG turns good actors into bad CG characters.

Of course, CG in the right hands can create brilliant “acting.” Ratatouille is the latest and, maybe, the best example of that from a company that knows what the hell they’re doing with CG. Pixar does not use motion capture, a fact they happily call out in Ratatouille‘s credits.

Motion capture has its place. But why take very talented and expensive actors, shoot them via motion capture, digitize their faces, then scrub out any nuance though CG? It makes no sense. You’re throwing away the subtlety for which you hired those actors in the first place. Oh, unless you hired them just for their names. But no one would do that, now, would they?

Some day someone will get this technique right. But then the question can still be asked, why do it this way? Why not shoot your actors as you normally would, then use their actual faces and reactions and emotions and paint the world around them? 300 did that, and though it was a mediocre movie, at least the actors looked like people.

Pushing the envelope in this direction is a wonderful evolution of science and technology, but not of storytelling. When technology impedes or erases part of the moviemaking magic, it should not to be used.

Permalink Comments Off on Mae Dalton?Comments Off on Mae Dalton? By

I’m feverishly trying to finish Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows before someone in the lunch line lets loose with the ending. I want to avoid the embarrassment that the trial for manslaughter would bring. I also, of course, must avoid any mention of the book in the media. This requires distraction.

YouTube is synonymous with distraction. For instance:

Now, I love Timothy Dalton. I guess I love Mae West, if just for her legend status, as I have not seen much of her on the screen. I do not love… this. This preposterous “duet.” Timothy can’t sing, and Mae just says her words in her Mae way. Good heavens.

Next, take this fellow:

No, really, take him. Please.

Ba-dump BUMP!

I must concur that “manualism” is an actual talent. See, for instance, the amazing Handini.

The fun part of YouTube is simply following links from one video to the next. Handini has the following subscriber to his videos: Black Hercules DC. Since embedding of his videos is disabled, may I suggest you check out A Tribute to America, Part 3. A tribute to America, indeed! If by “tribute” you mean “swaying sack of manhood.”

Maybe a better distraction to all this video watching would be to start my own Faceball league.

Or maybe I just need to finish the damn book.

(Thanks to Sven and Fuz for sending those first two links.)

Permalink Comments Off on If It Were My Kid…Comments Off on If It Were My Kid… By

Just read this. I would have cried tears of joy.

Mike Davidson (one letter away from Sven’s dad’s name) has decided e-mail takes too long to answer, and that he finds that the more time it will take to answer the e-mail, the less likely he is to do so.

So I’m not alone in this. Hallelujah. My e-mail boxes are filled with unanswered—even unopened—e-mails for this very reason.

Mike’s solution is intruguing. He calls it His idea is that he will answer every e-mail in no more than five sentences.

I wonder, can I do this myself? Can I keep my answers short without seeming overly curt or rude? Would my mom understand? It certainly would make things easier when using the iPhone.

I shall be pondering this solution, and if some of you start receiving shorter e-mail replies, know that this is why.

Permalink Comments Off on Please, Flash, Just Go Away!Comments Off on Please, Flash, Just Go Away! By

There has been much talk that the iPhone does not have Flash on its browser. Hooray.

There are some very good, nearly-noble reasons for why Apple wants to leave Flash off the iPhone… and, for that matter, get it off the Web entirely. Before reading about this, I was simply wanting Flash off the Web for reasons having to do with usability, speed, and aesthetics.

Smashing Magazine has an interesting post today about start pages, the first page someone sees when they go to a site. The examples they use are heavy with Flash and cumbersome, difficult-to-use navigation. Admittedly, some of these sites are very cool and have a very fun aspect to them, but forget ever really finding anything useful. Forget, too, sending someone to a particular part of the site via URL… they will have to follow your instructions to find a particular item.

Some Flash sites also love to re-size browser windows, which just happened as I was writing this. Go here, the first site mentioned by Smashing, then use the back arrow to return to this post. See what happened? Now you have to go a re-size your browser window to where you want it. Annoying.

Flash has also been notoriously slow on Mac browsers. This is not a function of the Mac, but a function of Flash. Some of these Smashing sites seem to be working quite well, however. There was a time when Flash in Safari would be so painfully slow that the site was unusable.

What should trump what on a site dedicated to showcasing design? The answer would seem to be, duh, design! Design does not only encompass the visual, however. The layout and function of a website is also design. A designer who wants to show off their goods on the interactive Web, then they need to be sure the site they present is also very well designed, easy to navigate, quick to load, and tolerant of the user’s own browser settings. A snazzy, animated site may seem cool and wow us with visuals and graphic shenanigans, but if it ends up frustrating me as well, forget it. I’ll move on.

Oh, and might I point out that Smashing itself is using another excruciating website junker-upper, the sponsored inline link. Horrifying. To watch the text on Smashing become diseased by ugly green double underlines that themselves then bring up invasive Live Search or ad pop-up windows is infuriating. Flash + commerce = butt ugly.

Back yonder ’round about 1998, when I finally dove into the world of the PDA (Personal Digital Assistant, otherwise known as a PIM (Personal Information Manager)), I bought a new but discontinued Newton, the MessagePad 100. It was fairly inexpensive, as Newtons went, and I could not afford any of the newer models.

Newton Box

I loved the thing. The handwriting recognition wasn’t nearly as bad as people had made it out to be… though, granted, my 100 had an upgraded engine for that. The Newton was a study in delightful, fun, easy-to-use design and UI. It was an utter pleasure to use. It synced with my Mac, so I could keep all my data together. That data, free of photos, music, and video, could fit in the tiniest of storage spaces.

Newton 2MB Storage Card Box

Yes, that’s a 2 MEGABYTE card. You would not even be able to store one song on that today.

Some time after I got my Newton, I got my first cell phone, a Qualcomm thing where you could slide the earpiece to answer and end calls. It was an amusing phone, looking back on it. But it had a mean streak. One day, I put my Qualcomm on the top of my cubicle storage shelf. I forgot it was there, and when I closed the door to the shelf, the phone came sliding off, and it smashed my Newton’s screen. It was a sad day.

My Newton, Shattered

The Newton being a “dead” platform by then (more on that later), I decided I should buy a Palm Pilot instead of another MessagePad. The “Pilot” part of the Palm name had already been sued out of existence by the Pilot pen company, so the device I bought was simply called a Palm III.

The Palm was nice. It was small, incredibly simple, sipped on battery power, and was perfectly suited for my needs. But it was not a Newton by any means. It had frustrating limitations based on OS design choices, and, worse, synced very poorly with my Mac. Thanks to that, my Palm became my one repository of all phone numbers and calendars. I could access the info via the Palm Desktop app for the Mac, but it was such a terrible program, I simply never bothered. My Mac was cut off from my information.

When the Palm III began to show its age, I upgraded to a Palm Tugsten T. The Tungsten had a color screen, a fast processor, Bluetooth, but was still limited by Palm’s unchanged app designs and inability to sync properly with my Mac.

By this time, the Mac had made a huge comeback. OS X kicked ass, and Mac hardware itself was becoming utterly sick, as the kids these days might say. The new OS improved and began to offer wonderful features combining integrated use of calendar and contact data. Because I wanted to use these features, I had to double up on locations for data. In the world of information, you should never do this. You should only ever have one place for personal information, otherwise confusion and mismatched data will ensue. However, technology was not allowing me to work this way, so I made a valiant and very successful effort at managing two contact lists.

In the meantime, I seemed to go through cell phones like water. I was definitely a Nokia fan, as you can see, because their interface was the most well thought-out, in my opinion. (Below are all my cell phones, minus the Qualcomm and my first 6230. From left to right are the 3360, 3560, 8290 (the greatest!), 3120, an unlocked 6230, and the Microsoft mPhone Vista Personal Ultimate Edition.)

All My Cell Phones

The following is not one of my old phones, but I had to include the picture anyway. It’s a circa 1994 Motorola sitting next to the new Motorola WSHR. Thanks to Fuz for letting me have this brick.

Motorola Circa 1994

A year or two ago, I was tired of keeping two sets of records, so I stopped using my Palm for contacts and moved everything to my Mac. My Palm was then only being used for my calendar and a list of all my passwords. The Mac stored my contact information so I could use it seamlessly for iChat and Mail. With .Mac syncing, I had my contact info on my home Mac and all of my work Macs, and if for some reason I needed the info on the road, I could look it up on my Nokia or iPod. iSync did an okay job of syncing a selection of my contacts to my Nokia cell phone, though again, there were limitations.

This was all a mess, but it worked somehow.

When rumors of an Apple phone started to surface years ago, you can understand why I was so intrigued. Many was the time I had been tempted to buy a used Newton 2100 and spend the time to hack it to work with OS X. Believe it or not, people out there still hack the Newton, and you can find solutions to make a now-ancient MessagePad sync with any modern Mac.

The temptation to buy another Newton never took solid form. I had become accustomed to a smaller device. Newtons were huge by modern standards. No, what I really, really, really wanted was a new Apple device. No one else was going to have the smarts or the business drive to make a really good phone/PIM gadget that worked seamlessly with the Mac.

This January, for the first time in maybe 14 years, I got to attend Macworld. I went on Disney’s dime, and so I bought the package that got me good seats for Steve Jobs’ keynote. I have never been to a Steve keynote before. His October appearance at a Studio work event was fantastic, but that was not a keynote. The January 2007 Macworld keynote will, of course, be the one that goes down in history, because it’s when Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone. (Download the “Macworld San Francisco 2007 Keynote Address” video if you follow that iTunes link.)

I wish I had a video of myself and Ben at that keynote, because the iPhone, as Steve was revealing its many wonders, turned out to be far more exciting and fantastic and brilliant than I had ever imagined it would be; Ben and I were excited beyond reason. My facial expressions alone would, I’m sure, be priceless YouTube fodder.

Here it is, over six months later, and I’ve had my iPhone for two weeks. I love the thing. The keyboard is much better than people—most of whom had never even used it— have made it out to be. The iPhone is a study in delightful, fun, easy-to-use design and UI. It is an utter pleasure to use. It syncs with my Mac, so I now, once again, keep all my data together.

Between the Newton and the iPhone, I had probably 8 years of simply passable PDA experiences. I am finally at the day I’ve thought about for so long.

Of course, there is another similarity between my old Newton and my new iPhone: both are early version products. Had I been able to own a newer Newton back in 1998, I’d have had a more refined product, with less quirks and a very mature feel. My iPhone, being on version 1.0, has plenty of things it could do better. However, the iPhone feels like it’s already been around for years. As someone else said, verison 1.0 of an Apple product is like version 7.0 of another company’s. What’s so fantastic about both the iPhone and the Newton is that Apple got the basics right from the very beginning. The concepts were sound, the designs were top-notch, and intelligence just oozes out of both products. As the iPhone gets updated over the next few years, I know Apple will fix some things, add others, and the iPhone will only get better.

Old Newton, New iPhone

For a great set of beautiful pics that inspired me to dig out my own Newton, go visit philcarrizzi at Flicker.

From philcarrizzi on Flicker

Permalink Comments Off on Harry Potter and the Phone of the i (Updated!)Comments Off on Harry Potter and the Phone of the i (Updated!) By

It is almost 11 at night, and I am currently in Grauman’s Chinese waiting for the 12:01am showing of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Steve’s SO, Michael, has been waiting in line for many hours, and was kind enough to save me a place. The theater is already packed, and I can’t wait to see the movie with this crowd. I deabted whether seeing such a late movie on a school night was super stupid or just stupid. I settled on just stupid. It’ll be worth it. Sven and Carol are here, too, so we’ll have a great time.

Oh, and what better time to try my first post from my iPhone? I can’t do pictures yet, and the category selection doesn’t work, but this is still pretty friggin’ cool.

UPDATE: The movie was great. Thoroughly enjoyable, and maybe the fastest-moving of all the Harry Potter flicks. Though, admitedly, I could have used 20 more minutes to cover some of the stuff from the book.

I am not posting this part from my iPhone. I know. You’re shattered.

I put some pics from the evening up in Steve’s Snapshots. Take a peek! Here’s a sample for your sampling pleasure.

But can they conjure a patronus?

iPhone Pre-Opened
Click the photos to see more pics of my new toy(s).

Here was me on Friday, June 29th:

  • Calling AT&T business services to find out how much exactly my bills for my company-paid phone service have been costing, and comparing that to how much I’d save with an iPhone plan;
  • Calling AT&T business services to see what I’d have to do about making sure I could get an iPhone with my same phone number and discovering I can only do that if it’s changed to a personal account;
  • Calling AT&T business services again to see about changing my business account to a personal account and if that was something I could do right then and there;
  • Not being able to do so because it is a business account and I am not in control of said account;
  • Calling the lady at work who does control my account;
  • Calling her again and finding out she had, between my calls, left a greeting saying she was out of the office;
  • E-mailing some guy at the lot to ask, hey, since we now have personal responsibility for our accounts and have to pay them ourselves, either by expensing the charges or eating the charges, is it not okay for me to just get an iPhone as a personal device and do the very same thing?;
  • Reading same some guy’s reply that, oh my goodness, no, because a corporate liable device is not the same as a personal liable device bleedy bleedy blee; Becoming resigned that, in fact, I would need to wait six months or more to get an iPhone through work.

Here was me once June 29th entered the five-o’clock hour:

  • Deciding that I was more than so over my busted Palm Tungsten and my wonky, failing, second Nokia 6230;
  • Making up my mind that it was worth it to pay for my own mobile phone service for six to nine months until AT&T allowed business accounts to activate iPhone-specific plans;
  • Wondering if I were to, say, head out for an iPhone that night if it’d be better to go to an AT&T store since they might be less crowded;
  • Realizing, with no hint of surprise, that the Apple Store in the so-called Fashion Square Mall was on my way home and would offer, without question, a better shopping experience than any AT&T store could ever hope to offer;
  • Half-assedly assuring the tiny, frugal part of my brain that it should relax because, hey, by the time I got there, I’d be so far back in line that they’d mose definitely run out of the 8GB iPhones before I got into the store;
  • Half-assedly priming the much larger, less-frugal part of my brain by asking, hey, how big exactly would the line even be at Fashion Square?;
  • Realizing, with some small sense of thrill and a bucket-load of tempered excitement, that I was going to go iPhone shopping.

And that, friends was me just setting the stage. To quell your desire for a cessation of the drama, yes, I got an iPhone on its first day of availability. I got two. But I’ll get to that in a minute.

I got to Fashion Square at 5:30, half-an-hour before the Apple Store would re-open to sell the iPhone. The line was longer than I thought at first. It wrapped around one end of the second floor and then back the other way toward the food court. Once I got in line, I discovered that several people arriving at the same time as me had been waiting at the AT&T store to which I had considered going. After waiting there all day, the staff finally let the fans know that the store had not received its shipment of phones. They offered to overnight phones to those who’d been waiting in line, but what was the point of that? What would be the point of waiting in line all day to not get a phone at all? So the refugees had made their way to Fashion Square, and now were in the same place in line as me. We discussed the possibility of there not being enough iPhones for us all, which made me realize how frustrating that would be for anyone who’d waited for so many hours in the hot sun at the AT&T store.

This is only my second time waiting in line at an Apple Store. The first time was for the opening of the storer at Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica. I wanted to go to that partly to see what all the excitement was about—for every Apple Store opening up to that point had been a big local event—but mostly to get one of the free T-shirts they hand out at every opening.

So on Friday, as at every Apple Store opening, the staff, in black iPhone T-shirts, were pacing the line and getting everyone excited. Shoppers from other realms of consumerland walked by, looking askance at the strange people in line for what they did not know. The few people who did stop to ask, though, when told we were waiting for the iPhone, knew exactly what we were talking about. Even the people who didn’t want an iPhone know what the iPhone was. That did not make them think we weren’t crazy, just a tiny bit less crazy.

Soon, the black paper that had been put up to cover the Apple Store windows was taken down. The “Coming June 29” that had been part of the large iPhone window displays had been removed. They think of every detail. At exactly 6:00pm, cheers went up from down the mall, rippling through the line. We could just see the glass doors open, and the first wave of people entered to clapping Apple employees and what even at this distance were unmistakably huge smiles. They let chunks of 20 people into the store at a time, so we had a wait ahead of us.

I keep saying “we” instead of “me” because a certain camaraderie tends to crop up at any Apple event. Every one of us in line was there, and just as geeky and excited to get one of these fancy devices as the next. Well, there was the guy in the orange shirt behind me who didn’t seem to know exactly what the iPhone was, even though he was about to wait hours for one. “Do you know much about it?” he asked me. Inside, I could not help but laugh. I knew too much about the damn thing. I had been keeping daily vigil by my NetNewsWire since January to catch every scrap of iPhone news. “Yes,” I said simply. A bit later, orange man asked, “What does it do?” I must have looked stunned. I did not know what to say, not because I thought it was a stupid question, but because the iPhone does so much. How do you describe it in simple terms… I mean, beyond the Apple marketing blather triumvirate—not untrue—of “revolutionary mobile phone, widescreen iPod with touch controls, and breakthrough Internet communication device.” Orange man tried to narrow his question down, seeing how I couldn’t answer. I told him what I could.

So we had a wait ahead of us.

Not long after the doors opened, the line had moved up and we were queued next to a cart selling those “amazing” windows you see on TV, the kind that are double-paned, energy-efficient, and swing open to be washed with ease from inside your abode. An older woman manned the cart. She was lively, if worn. We apologized for blocking any view of her cart from the “normal” shoppers, but she didn’t mind. We all had a good laugh at hundreds of people lining up to drop $600 on a cell phone. Window lady suggested that, had she known today would be special, she would have made it a party. Brought margaritas. Fireworks. When she had a chance, she would try to get us to at least give her our names and numbers for a free window installation estimate. The only guy (we were all guys in my recent vicinity) that seemed to actually live in a house was some tall, young, incredibly hot guy with long hair pulled back in a pony tail, wearing flip-flops and a wife-beater. He humored the lady a bit, but he had no more interest in buying windows than he did in visiting Nigeria. Not that I knew whether he wanted to visit Nigeria or not. He just seemed too cocky to want to visit such a place.

After quite a long stay at the window cart, and after much joking about how very few of us “did Windows,” the line moved on. Each of us took breaks to go get Wetzel’s or pizza or cookies or hit the poorly-maintained restrooms. Places were saved with a smile. I brought back a small bag of Mrs. Fields to share, but not a single person wanted any cookies. That’s L.A. for you. Carbs? CARBS!!! A young guy directly in front of me, though, said he used to work in this mall, at the Abercrombie, and so mall friends had often come to give him loads of end-of-day cookie leftovers. He never wanted to eat a Mrs. Fields again.

From time-to-time, the subject of iPhone supply came up. Would they run out of 8GB phones? Would we be willing to buy a 4GB phone if that’s all they had? Who was buying two, and who just one? The limit was two. I hadn’t intended to buy two, but as I waited there, I thought, geez, if they do sell out of these things, I’d get a pretty penny for one online, and then the pain of paying for my own would be lessened significantly. Would I buy one or two? Well, like The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, you already know the outcome, so there’s no need to reveal once again that I did, nearly at the last moment, decide to buy a second phone.

Two iPhones! Two!

We rounded the last corner. Then we inched up toward the 20-person holding point. Everyone was pretty damn excited. I even said to the people around me, “You know, I feel pretty stupid, but I’m incredibly excited about this! Look how close we are!” Just like the approach of Christmas, the closer you get, the longer it seems to take. Finally, at the front of the line, waiting to be let in, our group of 20 stalled. Or did we? It sure felt like it. We were there for a long time. Or were we? We were all very excited that we were going to actually get a phone, that they hadn’t run out. When would we get our turn?

A subtle signal from one security guard to another, and off we went! It was after 8:00pm, but the Apple people were still clapping and smiling and greeting every person who came in. The store was not packed, but was brilliantly arranged just for this night. The line went to the left side of the store, where we could finally touch an iPhone for the first time. “I don’t know if I’ve ever come to buy something I’ve never even tried before,” I said. Which was the same for every person in that line that night.

Waiting in that last stretch, in the store, I picked up an iPhone. I gave it a few pokes. It was fantastic. Already. The weight, the build, the feel, the screen, the animation, the UI… It worked exactly like the commercials and the vids on Apple’s site demonstrated. I held it for no more that 45 seconds, then gave it to the next person. I was so glad I was there. This was going to be great.

A very happy, smiling, joking fellow was at the head of the line, waiting to send us to a cashier to purchase our phones. As each person left the store with phones in hand, the employees at the door clapped them out. Then we got to take a turn at the register. When I got to my slot, I told the girl there I wanted two 8GB phones. Guess that was when I made the final decision. “One bag or two?” “Oh, two.” Everyone who bought an iPhone got it in a very nice, fancy bag. I’m sure they were made just for this occasion, and once they run out, there will be no more. So I imagined. If I was going to sell the second iPhone, having the bag would be a must.

While the runner was getting my phones, the girl was talking to me about something. I can’t for the life of me remember now what it was. This is due to a mix of my early-onset Alzheimer’s, and the excitement of the moment. She was very friendly, though, and we had a good chuckle or two. She swiped my Amex, handed me my bags, and that was that.

The brilliance of the store set-up was this: They were only letting people into the store who had been waiting in line to buy iPhones. The line went straight to the back of the store, and you bought the iPhone without any delay. After that iPhone purchase, then you could browse the rest of the store for cases, headphones, Macs, iPods, whatever else you wanted, and pay at a second register (the Genuis Bar, annexed tonight for this purpose only). I chose not to buy a case, but did get some protective film for the screen.

Once out of our line, my temporary iPhone friends dispersed amongst banter such as, “Have fun!” and “Enjoy that thing!” As I walked out of the store, my two fancy bags and precious boxes of phone in-hand, I was clapped out by the employees, and thanked. I thanked them back, with a huge smile.

I rushed back to my car. It was all I could do not to run. A big, black guy commented on my stash, and I smiled. Some ladies in a car asked me how much I wanted for them. I mumbled an answer. Why had I parked so far away? What if someone stole these before I even got to my car? Where was all the security to protect we iPhone buyers?

Oh course, there had been nothing to worry about, and I got to my car, got on the 101, and headed home.

This is not the end of my iPhone postings. Oh, no. The phone is a marvel, and I will be sure to post my thoughts here eventually. I’m already on my second phone, and the other one I bought has found a good home… There’s a lot more to say.

Holding My New iPhone