Archive for August, 2006

snakes on the internet

Monday, August 21st, 2006

Who doesn’t like Samuel L. Jackson? That’s something of a rhetorical question. After all, with unforgettable and overly-quotable scenes such as this:

the recently opened film, “Snakes on a Plane” was touted by all as a sure-fire hit. Only, few people went to see it.

From the NY Times:

“The tepid opening dashed the hopes of Hollywood and especially of New Line Cinema, which released the movie, that vigorous marketing on the Internet would be a powerful new way to propel fans into the theater at a time when movies are working hard to hold their own against other forms of entertainment.”

In short, the movie made half of what was expected in opening days, $15.2 instead of $20-30 million.

“We see that Internet interest in a movie doesn’t necessarily translate to good box office,” said Paul Dergarabedian, president of Exhibitor Relations, a company that tracks the box office. “To some, the marketing was more exciting than the movie. Everyone was talking about the movie. But you have to convert that talk into moviegoing, otherwise it’s just talk.”


the wildly hyped high-concept movie, turned out to be a Web-only phenomenon this weekend

when video ain’t good enough

Monday, August 21st, 2006

NASA is beginning to use animation techniques from Hollywood to communicate its data, for example, on storms, climate change, and algae blooms.

“Visualization is that link between the flood of data coming down from space and the ability of the human mind to interpret it,” Feldman said. “That’s the crux of the story. Better than most other groups in the world, they are able to take this fire hose of data coming down and turn it into images — visual animation — that then allows the general public to see this data in ways their brains can interpret and study.”

But even computer-aided data visualization is no longer good enough. Got to juice it with some animation.

The Hollywoodization of NASA data is in part the result of Pixar’s success in creating real-life worlds from fantasy stories. People have come to expect that even the most fantastical of ideas — a talking, curmudgeonly Mr. Potato Head — can look and feel exceedingly real. “They don’t expect to see crudity,” Mitchell said. “They expect to see sophistication because they see it everywhere. In order for us to tell the story, we have to be sophisticated about telling stories and we have to use sophisticated technology to tell them.”

On the one hand, you want the public to have a good sense of how storms work or appreciate the urgency of climate change. On the other hand, wouldn’t it be better to get people used to the lack of sophistication of some of the imagery? When does animation stop being a valuable tool and start becoming fakery? Perversely, the use of animation may convince people that everything they see is potentially fake (moon landing anyone?) OR good animation, in the hands of non-scientists, may be so convincing that the public believes the planet is doing fine.

shrinking-vacation syndrome

Saturday, August 19th, 2006

Yet another reason why Americans are decreasing their visit to national parks: shrinking-vacation syndrome.

Even before toothpaste could clog an airport security line and a full tank of gas was considered an indulgence, Americans had begun to sour on the traditional summer vacation. But this summer, a number of surveys show that American workers, who already take fewer vacations than people in nearly all industrial nations, have pruned back their leisure days even more.

The heightened pace of American life, aided by ever-chattering electronic pocket companions, gets much of the blame for the inability of many people to take extended periods of forced sloth.

The use of the word–the sin–sloth suggests to me that the article’s author isn’t a big fan of vacations himself. I’d be curious to see how much vacation time he uses per year.

innovations in “place-based” mapping

Saturday, August 19th, 2006

Place-based mapping sounds like an oxymoron but it’s the only name I can come up with to describe the latest craze in annotating points on a map with stories.

The latest innovation in online mapping is wikimapia. Wikimapia combines wikis and Google Maps by allowing site visitors to annotate and describe places using the Google map user interface.

I’m kind of dubious. It looks like one of these high concept convergence things that venture capitalists jump on (“it combines wikis and Google maps! Oh and let’s throw in flicr too!”). What I’m more interested in is theme specific maps like fluwiki. By narrowing the subject matter, the site developers are more likely to garner content. Wiki sites live or die on the basis of content. I see little impetus to add content to wikimapia to ensure lots of geographic coverage.

Another mashup is The People’s Atlas. The interface is much nicer, combing the feel of flicr and myspace (e.g., one can link to other tags and users). A site visitor can easily add multimedia (I like the incorporation of youtube. Its main usage at the moment seems to be advertising. “The best place to visit while you’re in Garberville is the Tiki Lounge.” So like above, if the site wants to live up to its moniker, the “People’s Atlas,” it requires huge numbers of people to add interesting content.

(On a conspiratorial note, has anyone noticed the subliminal instances of “Google” embossed on Google Maps and Earth layers?)

Some cool images

Monday, August 14th, 2006

Greetings! Have just been arm twisted by Renee Sieber to join the modern era and start blogging. So to start, here is a link to some cool images from NASA’s ASTER instrument.


It shows different patterns of cultivation around the world. Contrast the neat squares in Minnesota with the slivers in Bangkok. Also, the new large-scale patterns of cultivation in southern Brazil is striking. How on Earth can one represent such contrasting patterns on one global map as some are trying to do?

[Renee–the slivers are reminiscent of the Seigneurial system that can be found in Quebec. Compare Bangkok to this satellite image of the St. Lawrence river.]

tap it and buy it

Tuesday, August 8th, 2006

Don’t know about the implication for the environment but it is intriguing technology:

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Polo Ralph Lauren Corp. is taking impulse shopping one step farther with technology that allows passersby to purchase clothing they see in the windows of one of its New York stores by tapping on the glass.

Customers attracted to the sporty tennis clothes they see can purchase them using a credit card swiper mounted to the outside of the window.

A projector beams the images onto the window pane from the inside of the shop, while a thin touch foil mounted on the glass powers the touch screen. The store plans to keep the display up through September 10, though if it succeeds in boosting sales or buzz significantly, Polo Ralph Lauren will roll out the window displays to other stores, a spokesman said.

new video on nyu’s gui

Monday, August 7th, 2006

Think of the implications for science on a sphere. I don’t know if a curved touch sensitive screen has been developed but if it has then it could be wrapped around the sphere. What would it be like if people could manipulate images of the globe ON the globe? That would add enormously to greater understanding of global effects. Also of local/global connections. For example, I build a coal mine here. What are the effects for climate change across the globe? The effects might be small but you could change the data on the fly to examine only the incremental changes. That’s only climate change. You could also visualize international money flows or migation patterns. (I’ve got to get me some engineering students to work out the hardware details).

One problem, I see, is in the zooming in/out. Given the physical sphere cannot be expanded, is it the best platform for scaled views? Perhaps we need a combination 3D/ 2D platform. 3D for the global and 2D for the local.

your planet’s warming, but it sure is purty

Sunday, August 6th, 2006

Climate change modelling, if nothing else, is poetic:

The gigantic super-computer in the basement of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., is so big you can walk down the aisles inside it, the walls of the sleek black servers at either elbow, wrapped in the constant hum of air coolers and countless trillions of silicon chip operations working day and night to calculate the climate future over the next several decades of the only home we’ve got: Earth.

Sounds like the scientists are visualizing the results on NASA’s science on a sphere:

With green and blue for cooler temperatures, scientists and regular folks can watch the digitized projectors paint the globe, starting in 1870. Along about 1990, the globe grows yellower — warmer — and is entirely yellow by 2001.

Then comes the sobering part. Red, for much warmer, starts to appear in North America — and other continents — and by 2051 the United States is almost entirely red.

Update: like this addition from ABC News: “Witnessing the impact of global warming in your life? ABC News wants to hear from you.” Wonder what responses they’re receiving.

youtube astroturf

Saturday, August 5th, 2006

Youtube and other sites have allowed activists to reach the world with amateur videos promoting their causes. Guess it wasn’t long before the videos were astroturfed.

One of the current top-rated videos on youtube is An Inconvenient Spoof, a play on Al Gore’s movie, An Inconvenient Truth. In it, a caricatured Al Gore is boring little (Linux!) penguins with his slide show, which attributes all sorts of silly things to climate change (e.g., David Spade dating Heather Locklear). It has a Flash animation home-made quality, like many of the videos on the site. Done by an amateur, Toutsmith, who’s disgruntled by the idea of global warming, right? In a great bit of investigative reporting, Wall Street Journal reporters asked a simple question: Just where did that video come from?

In an email exchange with The Wall Street Journal, Toutsmith didn’t answer when asked who he was or why he made the video, which has just over 59,000 views on YouTube. However, computer routing information contained in an email sent from Toutsmith’s Yahoo account indicate it didn’t come from an amateur working out of his basement.

Instead, the email originated from a computer registered to DCI Group, a Washington, D.C., public relations and lobbying firm whose clients include oil company Exxon Mobil Corp.

A DCI Group spokesman declines to say whether or not DCI made the anti-Gore penguin video, or to explain why Toutsmith appeared to be sending email from DCI’s computers.

Chalk it up to the continuing battle among activists on the Internet. Then add the market.

Politicians and marketers already make wide use of email lists and blogs, and it has long been possible to distribute information over the Internet while disguising its origins. But Web video operates on a different level, stimulating viewers’ emotions powerfully and directly. And because amusing animations with a homespun feel can be created just as easily by highly paid professionals to promote agendas as by talented amateurs, caveat emptor is more relevant than ever.

Update: Almost as quickly as the spoof appeared, so did the anti-anti global warming videos.

interactive map of languages

Saturday, August 5th, 2006

Nothing to do with environment, but the Modern Language Association has a new version of their US map of languages. It’s built on ESRI’s ArcIMS platform and actually has a nice graphical user interface.