Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Susan and Arin

I’ve followed these two for the past couple of years... it’s been amazing to watch them fulfill what the ongoing development of digital media has promised.

Susan Buice and Arin Crumley, and their project Four Eyed Monsters.


They are two filmmakers who, like many others, set out to make their first feature.

They were perhaps unwitting pioneers in a way, building an online presence around their project which ultimately absorbed their film and became bigger than it. it’s been great to follow it, each step of the way, not just uploading video, but building a community around their project, exploring everything from a premiere on Second Life to Google mashups for screenings.

They give me heart in that it’s not the future, it’s now. It’s the first time I’ve seen filmmakers act like musicians, making their stuff and marketing and distributing it themselves and operating at a certain level. The entire project is open and brave and full of humour and life, genuinely engaging...

The podcasts track the development of the film, its trials and tribulations through production and festival runs and now distribution. They’re funny and touching and really one of the best things on iTunes. I’d recommend watching the podcasts in sequence, including all the little bits promotional stuff... and then catching the film. They have the DVD on sale on their site.

It might tell you something of the impact of this project when you watch the purchasers of the DVD upload videos to YouTube of them opening the packages and popping them in their players. I love the fact that an audience felt that kind of connection, especially for an indie low budget feature.

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Monday, April 23, 2007


I love apps that break through your model of what you can do in a particular area. Calculation on the Mac seems to generally revolve around calculators like TopCalculette or spreadsheets, like Excel or Tables.

Soulver is one such app. It’s neither a straightforward calculator, though you can certainly use it as one, nor is it a full spreadsheet program.

There’s a phrase in mathematics or more likely, book-keeping or carpentry, called a ready reckoner. This implies a handy tool, a sense of some practical application which will enable your work to proceed. I keep being reminded of this every time I load Soulver.

The developer touts it’s abilities to evaluate English language statements and to calculate results from them, to wit:
Ten euro a day for ten days = 100 euro.
Two apples and three apples = 5 apples

Which is all fine and good and possibly useful for some but has no real place in my life. I use it as a calculator and math scratchpad. For stuff that’s not that involved but would require you to jot down intermediate results if you used the average calculator.

For example, It can understand defined constants.
Book = 10 euro
Fifteen books = 150 euro.

Or you can make reference to particular lines in your calculation
1. 130/2        = 65
2. Line1*10 = 650

These two simple things open up a lot. You can set up scratchpads which you can use for ready reckoning... For the kind of thing that Excel would just be overkill. And, best of all, you can save them.

I set up one, which calculates cost implications of different film ratios for me. You could just as easily do a simple pad up for a mortgage calculation, or to calculate costs of different floor coverings for various rooms, simple things that we juggle every day, that don’t require major setup.


Here, it’s a simple matter to adjust all the key variables
- the duration of the movie
- the shooting ratios evaluated
- the set costs per metre

Loading up Excel for a simple ten line spreadsheet always seems silly, but in Soulver, it feels smart. It’s cheap, only 18$, and we’ve seen steady development over the past year. There’s tons of flexibility and real stuff that mathematicians care about but for me...this is enough.

It’s from France, hence the name, Soulver, highly recommended.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2007


Ted Robinson on Creativity in Schools.

Al Gore on Averting a Climate Crisis

Great examples of the good things in TED.

I think this might just be the best thing to happen this week... and I've a feeling more to come...

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First came across TED a few years ago and thought how great it would be to attend that... a conference by leading thinkers in technology, entertainment and design. My cup of tea altogether.

The great news is they have put over 100 of the presentations from previous years online. Terrific. All posted under Creative Commons licenses so freely repostable and linkable to. I wish only that there was one RSS stream so I could download whole chunks of the conference for viewing in iTunes. But even one by one, it’s worth the trouble.

Free Good Stuff, what’s not to love?

Go to it....

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Thursday, April 12, 2007

Leopard to ship in October

Ah feck. I was looking forward to Leopard this coming June... Apparently the current builds are pretty unstable... which means the team must have been seriously depleted. Apple usually get one thing wrong... for years it was hardware... I’d hate to see software being an area of stagnation.

Half the issue is Tiger is so good...they must have dropped OS development down the priority chain and chosen to rest on those laurels. Jobs has been seriously over-committed for years, but the last few are pretty spectacular, the store rollout, Disney, the transition to Intel, the iPhone and a cancer scare. Given all that, I wonder how much face time they got with Jobs, especially with his evident excitement over the iPhone.

Apple Statement:
iPhone has already passed several of its required certification tests and is on schedule to ship in late June as planned. We can’t wait until customers get their hands (and fingers) on it and experience what a revolutionary and magical product it is. However, iPhone contains the most sophisticated software ever shipped on a mobile device, and finishing it on time has not come without a price — we had to borrow some key software engineering and QA resources from our Mac OS X team, and as a result we will not be able to release Leopard at our Worldwide Developers Conference in early June as planned. While Leopard's features will be complete by then, we cannot deliver the quality release that we and our customers expect from us. We now plan to show our developers a near final version of Leopard at the conference, give them a beta copy to take home so they can do their final testing, and ship Leopard in October. We think it will be well worth the wait. Life often presents tradeoffs, and in this case we're sure we've made the right ones.


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Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Standing Desks

Every now and then you stumble upon something and then it pops up everywhere. A particular car model, Laksa, scripts involving yoga, all recent culprits...

I do the occasional Standing Desk Day. I have an L-shaped desk. One half low and the other half high. The high side is the perfect height for working while I am standing up.

And then you discover all sorts of people do this, there’s Walter Murch, the film editor who cuts standing up. Back in the day, editors had to get up and shift bins around, lift down cans and spool film, and more often than not, cut on their feet. Now he’s the most prominent editor using Final Cut and he’s still upright. I can see how it returns a free-flowing physicality to the experience of editing digitally.

Our Sound Designer, Lars Ginzel, also works standing up. Somehow it came as no surprise that Donald Rumsfeld, too, has a standing desk...

For me, standing up aids focussed work. It’s an attitude thing.

First and foremost, the Internet isn’t half as appealing when you’re upright. You might check something or download a file, but there’s no way in heck you’ll surf. Man, I’m standing up, I’ve got work to do.

Being already upright, moving around and getting files out of drawers and so on is not so difficult. It’s a great approach when you’re in a crunch and you have to get a package out the door, compiling a document from here and there.

It also works with how I think best, pounding the floor back and forth, scribbling notes on walls and talking to myself.

And I never sit down while on the phone, I walk endlessly.

I have to say, I like what it does to me and how I work, my attitude shifts, I’m much more productive.

The other half of any desk is the chair. Somewhere there must be the ideal high stool, so if I needed to sit occasionally because say, my feet hurt, I could.

My current chair is the antithesis of what I need. It excels in getting me horizontal. If I tilt it back, it’s a perfect for Pzizz, with a set of good headphones and my feet up...

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Monday, April 9, 2007

1Passwd encore...

I posted about this earlier in the heat of passion and I have to say it’s blossomed in to a full commitment.

1Password from Agile Web Solutions is something that has become a seamless part of my workflow. It’s an excellent piece of software that generates strong passwords and fills in forms for you as you visit the many sites online. Things I really like about it:

1. Cmd+\ immediately fills in your default ID and password for each different site you visit.
2. Multiple identities, I use this for home and office and school, three different credit cards for each....
3. Cross browser support. Works on Firefox, Omniweb, Safari... Fill in a form in one and it’s available in all the others.
4. I had developed a habit of using just one password for all these different web2.0 sites I frequent. 1Passwd generates strong passwords for me for each one. Far more secure and it works like a dream.
5. Regular development. I like this in a developer... indicates commitment and these guys keep improving it.

I recommend it highly. Worth every penny. I got it as part of the Macheist adventure, the next upgrade will be a paid one but I’ll be happily doing it.

FWIW They’ve come up with a neat approach to license keys with pictures, they look cool....


They’ve a lot of screencasts on their site covering the installation and usage, a quick look at one should convince anybody...

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Thursday, April 5, 2007

The Morphing of Interactivity...

While shooting the breeze with Brian Mulligan, who heads up e-learning at our College, we went through our histories, it’s always nice to talk to someone who knows what an Amiga is and who had worked with them.

What I also like is chatting to someone else who knows the sweep of things, who remembers the issues which emerged of the Seventies and Eighties as personal computing spread when interactive multimedia was the vanguard of creative applications.

We were discussing what approaches would be achievable as the College moves forward. Brian is very active in Moodle and other enterprise level solutions and is leading the IT’s rollout of e-learning generally. I was keen on discussing blogging, podcasting and using RSS to disseminate media from the lecturers to their students and beyond.

Discussion wandered onto CBT, computer based training, and the problems inherent in developing interactive education. We shot the breeze and then slowly came to the consensus that... the whole idea of a non-linear document, a multithreaded experience was probably not worth developing.

It felt very odd to actually say it...

Kind of like something had been lost.

The rise of search

There’s many ways of interacting with material on screen.
        - Choosing, I know I want this
        - Browsing, I’ll check this out
        - Searching, Find this for me

It’s as if we move through levels of certainty as you progess through this list. A steady abdication of authority from the user to the net, whatever that is.

Has interactive multimedia in the main come down to this; gather a big enough pile and make it searchable? Search is probably all the interaction most people want now. I want to find something out... just give it to me, as Google says, I’m feeling lucky.

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Wednesday, April 4, 2007


There’s some apps you just don’t bother replacing.

Preview for one.

Acrobat has tons more features but it’s slow and over-complex and takes an age to load. It’s not really for just looking at stuff, it’s about doing some work. I always feel that the real app is the Pro version and the cut down version has to carry the baggage of an app with a lot to do. I only really use it for particular documents which have tons of layers in them, the IKEA catalogue comes to mind. Preview sometimes drops the ball on documents which are difficult to render and leaves a layer or two out...

But other than that, Preview is nimble and accurate and does the job for 99% of PDFs and also images of all formats. Why change it? I never thought I would until Skim came out the other day.

I used Skim for two minutes, then quit, selected a PDF in Path Finder, chose Get Info and set the default app for all PDFs to Skim.

It can match Preview in terms of speed and it’s attractive and uncluttered. When you use it, it becomes clear that whoever designed it had a focus on what people need when they want to look at stuff and you know, read...

So, in no particular order...

it’s got a quick magnify tool, a cool floating window which can zoom in on different parts of a page.

You can use the snapshot feature to open up multiple windows on a document.

It’s got lots of annotation options, more than Preview, and you can add anchored notes while you’re at it. It has bookmarking so you can set placeholders for the key points that interested you.

It’s got nifty Fullscreen and Presentation modes which I can see being used as a basic Powerpoint or Keynote replacement. So once they fix the slightly goofy document icon, it’s near perfect.

And being open source... it’s Free.

Skim Recommended.

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Sunday, April 1, 2007

The future of film financing?

Cinematech recently did some interesting coverage of current projects out there seeking finance online, Howard Dean style.


It’s too easy to view these projects a little harshly, and no doubt some of them may be finding finance difficult for a reason. But generally I think that would be too simple. Film financing is such a complex problem, this approach has many benefits.

This could suit some documentaries really well. A lot of documentary makers have unique problems, their projects typically develop over years and they progress through actually shooting stuff, as opposed to pitching and refining scripts and creative packages. They go and gather material, often tons of it, offering them good opportunities for disseminating it in new ways.

I can see documentary makers building rich and illuminating web presences which track their projects, offering their individual backers an ongoing relationship and insight into it’s progress.

That would certainly work well with political or advocacy style projects which highlight issues and can attract an audience who care about the issue.

Drama Features
Even excellent drama projects face many hurdles. I remember during financing our first feature the Coen brother’s finance disintegrated. It happens all the time in film no matter where you are on the Hollywood food chain.

It’s because the chunks involved are just so big. The pressure is always on, you are exposed to the vagaries of that particular source of finance. If something goes awry, a whole side of your film’s finance falls away and the entire structure can collapse.

And as a result people enter it cautiously. The financiers are exposed to a high level and are cautious as a result, the film makers are exposed to their nervousness.

Even getting the initial finance is unpredictable. In the US, it’s usually the ‘guy’, whoever it is at the top of the food chain, and whether he ‘gets it’. ‘yeah, I get it’ can be a green light in the US of A. Over in the EU, it’s about panels and committees, equally unpredictable, their version of ‘I get it’ is usually an avalanche of required documentation, combined with panel members who aren’t exposed but nonetheless whose opinion is taken on board. Go figure that one out. Gimme the ‘I get it’ guy any day.

We had eight sources of finance in our film, the legal documentation totalled over 2000 pages. A part of me is wondering if I’d prefer 2000 sources of finance each with the same 1 page contract.

And if one or two go wobbly, would it all fall apart?

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