Archive for January, 2010
Now that Avatar is officially the highest grossing movie of all time, it’s inevitable that studios will continue to push 3D as the new frontier of cinema. But actually filming in 3D is prohibitively expensive. Here’s how they fake it.
Not many directors share James Cameron’s obsession with three dimensional authenticity, and not many films have the budgets to support the directors who do. Filming in 3D involves requires the use of two cameras, barely offset, capturing all the action in tandem. The technology involved, and the people who know how to use it, come with a high price tag (to the tune of seven figures). So most of the 3D movies that will be coming out of Hollywood in coming months, including the two new Harry Potter films as well as Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, create the effect in post-production.
Here’s the gist of it: graphic artists separate shots out into layers of depth, which can number anywhere from two layers for shots with simple shots to eight for shots with more complex compositions. Then, the objects in each layer are carefully traced, creating a topographical map of the scene. Here, the computer steps in, simulating the second camera’s perspective by generating another, slightly offset image. The images in the layers closest to the viewer are offset the most, creating the illusion of things popping off the screen, while the background is only offset slightly.
The more complicated the shot, the more work must be done by hand. With Tim Burton’s detailed worlds, you can bet that a whole team of artists were doing a whole lot of tracing. To read about the process in more detail, head over to Slate. [Slate's Explainer]
Two events dominated discussion last week: the unveiling of Apple’s iPad and President Obama’s State of the Union address. Leading up to last Wednesday, many wondered if Apple’s event would overshadow Obama’s. On social media, that was certainly the case.
Monitoring Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, blogs and the rest, social media analysts at Viralheat found over half a million mentions of the two happenings. Those mentions were overwhelmingly related to Apple’s new tablet computer.
As the infographic explains, however, even if Apple had the buzz, Obama brought the honey. Generally, 42% of Apple’s mentions were positive and 46% were indifferent, whereas 65% of his mentions approved of Obama’s address and only 19% were indifferent.
On one hand it’s surprising that the iPad generated so much more discussion than the State of the Union address, but in a sense it wasn’t a fair fight. Whereas Obama’s address is a routine, annual affair, the hype leading up to Apple’s event suggested it was going to be one of a kind. Perhaps that’s why the internet reacted so overwhelmingly with “:|” when the familiar-looking device was unveiled. [Mashable]
Books published by Macmillan mysteriously poofed from Amazon yesterday. The reason, according to the NYT, is that Amazon is punishing the publisher for arguing that the price of Kindle books should go up to $15. This won’t end well.
It feels like a repeat of the same shit Universal Music, and later, NBC Universal pulled with iTunes, trying to counter the leverage Apple had because of iTunes’ insane marketshare. Same situation here, really: Content provider wants more money/control over their content, fights with the overwhelmingly dominant, embedded service that’s selling the content. Last time, everybody compromised and walked away most happy: Universal and NBC got more flexible pricing, iTunes got DRM-free music and more TV shows for its catalog to sell.
The problem publishers have with Amazon is two-fold: Amazon’s overwhelming marketshare in ebooks (because that leads to more control for Amazon, and less for them) and the establishment of $9.99 as the price of a book, which publishers feel cheapens the value of books. (Hardcover bestsellers go for up to $30, after all.)
The difference in this fight is that Macmillan is one of the publishers signed to deliver books for Apple’s iBooks store. They have somewhere to run. And credibly. That wasn’t really the case with record labels, who tried to fuel alternatives to dilute iTunes power, and failed. (Interestingly, this little episode seems to prove Brad Stone’s earlier account in the Times that publishers were looking to Apple to save them from the tyranny of Amazon, since Apple allows publishers to set their own book prices.)
The $15 pricepoint Macmillan’s pushing to Amazon is a little curious, though, given two things: Steve Jobs told Walt Mossberg books in the iBooks store would cost the same as they do for Kindle, and the WSJ reported last week $15 was one of Apple’s recommended pricepoints for books. Removing Kindle’s price advantage would be a smooth way to launch iBooks, no? The publishers get more money, and iBooks in full, eye-straining color cost the same as Kindle books—everybody wins, except Amazon. (Update: It’s known Amazon loses money offering some bestsellers at $9.99, so I wonder if selling at $15 would change that equation. Still, if its books cost the same as iBooks, and publishers start bailing, that’s bad for them in a way making a few extra bucks per book doesn’t make up for.)
This is just the beginning. [Bits]
Maybe I’ve been watching too many Stargate reruns or maybe the AirMouse hand-mounted input device was really inspired by Goa’uld technology. Either way, I’m skeptical about its ability to prevent repetitive stress injuries.
The wireless device is made of a “lightweight durable fabric that seamlessly aligns itself with the ligaments of your hand and wrist” and will supposedly go for a full week without charging. If you want one though—be it for computing or for some evil deeds—you’ll have to wait six to twelve months and spend about $130. [AirMouse via Gizmag via Make]
Look at these bullets. They’re rubbery, less lethal,”almost incapable of penetrating the body,” and happen to resemble Koosh balls—a popular toy. Getting shot with these must be fun.
I’m kidding. I don’t really think getting shot by anything would be fun, but it’s really difficult to believe that “[t]his may be the most intelligent way to defend your family against home intruders.” Especially when the “WARNING: Keep out of reach of children” is distracting me.
Either way, rubber projectiles like these have been used by law enforcement agencies for ages, but now they’re available to consumers. I’m not entirely sure that’s a good thing. [Wired]
An email sent to Consumerist by a Best Buy employee lays out the changes Best Buy has made in pushing their optimization service. Basically, you can’t be forced to pay for optimization—but the salesman won’t tell you that.
What starts out promising soon turns shitty. Before, Best Buy would often advertise computers at a certain price, but only offer them “optimized,” which adds $40 for a totally unnecessary process that nobody wants. Now, Best Buy changed their policy, saying that forcing someone to pay for optimization is now an offense warranting termination. Great!
But wait, don’t get too excited—the idea is that the salesman will argue, forcefully pushing optimization on you even if you say you don’t want it, because Best Buy judges the performance of its sales staff by how many of these ridiculous unnecessary add-ons they sell. So the salesman is going to do everything he can to get you to buy that optimization software. You have to know enough to keep arguing until the salesman gives up, at which point they’ll erase the $40 charge and uninstall the software. Of course, that means your brand-new laptop isn’t exactly brand-new anymore, since Best Buy has dicked around with the settings and software before you get your hands on it. The letter:
I work for Best Buy and thought you might want to know the Best Buy internal response to the recent article criticizing optimization. The items stated here were discussed on the employee Best Buy news.
To start of with, the policy [of] how many computers should undergo optimization was restated: 40% is the guideline. This should be altered as per demand. So stores offering customers only optimized models are not being properly managed. The article continued to say if demand for optimization is only 15%, then only 15% should be optimized. This is not in the store’s interest, I should note. Best Buy does not make a significant profit on computer sales (less than $50 per unit, typically), instead relying on ‘services’ such as the optimization for a major source of profits. The more optimized computers sold, the more profits.
The article stated plainly, in large, bold letters, that a customer cannot be forced to pay for optimization if they do not want it and that is all that is available. Anyone who forces a customer to pay for it is subject to, and I quote, termination. I should say they did not state to make it easy to get out of paying for optimization, the article encourages salespersons to explain why it is worth the money before not charging it. Management can waive the fee if the customer declines. Optimization software, if any was installed, should then be removed before giving the computer to the customer. Anyone forced to pay should contact the store’s management or someone higher up the ladder.
Best Buy considers optimization an important service, and believes it has great value to many customers. I, personally, believe most people can take care of such things on their own with minimal time and would never pay for it. Judging by comments posted below the article, many other employees believe so too, but just as many fervently believe that optimization is the best thing to ever happen since the wheel.
I feel I should stress that it is not a salespersons fault to push optimization and other services strongly on customers. Hours (and this pay, we are not commission) are often determined by the amount of sales made. Someone who isn’t selling any optimization will see reduced hours as compared to someone who is. Especially given this economy, many just need a job and this is all they could find, myself included. So just be polite and remember you’re giving people a job.
Optimization does just consist of booting up the computer and and putting in a disc that does some random stuff. Some GeekSquad agents may do more manually, some may not. I personally would suggest downloading free software to cleans up registry errors, broken and unused shortcuts, and defrags.
As one final note, the article initially refused to link to the Consumerists for fear of giving more hits. It was later added after complaints in the comments section stated they couldn’t respond to customers citing the Consumerist without having read the article.
Way to keep on fighting the lousy fight, Best Buy. [Consumerist]
Based on an SDK which doesn’t differentiate between the iPhone and iPad, folks at Engadget say they’ve confirmed that the iPhone OS 3.2 has “rudimentary” support for video calling and file downloading. Too soon for any excitement at all?
File downloading and local storage in the browser could be great. Just imagine finally being able to grab a song off the Internet and actually save it on your iPhone. The daydreamer in me wants to believe that files downloaded in such a manner would be accessible by all applications. I’d download a cheesy tune from an artist’s website, attach it to an email to my lover, upload it for posting on Twitter, and force my musical preferences onto the whole world without ever needing to set down my iPhone.
The suggestion of multitasking comes from the fact that there appears to be a function to run video calls in “either full screen mode or in just a portion of the screen.” Engadget is interpreting this as meaning that you’ll be able to “chat and do other things at the same time.” We suspect that it’s more likely that this function is related to the manner in which a new call comes in. Just as a contact’s picture can pop up with a call, a video chat could begin in partial-screen mode. Debate about the actual potential features aside, what’s the point of video chat capabilities in devices without front-facing cameras anyway?
With all this way-too-early excitement, an important thing to keep in mind is that the SDK this information is being pulled from is the same for the iPhone as it is for the iPad. It’s tough to tell which features would apply to which device. That and the fact we’re talking about an SDK and potential options. There’s no guarantee that we’ll see any of this in the iPhone OS 4.0. Or ever. [Engadget]
As if there weren’t enough iPad jokes already, it turns out that there’s a Japanese product—a high-tech adult diaper—called the Aipad. You can guess the pronunciation by the fact that I’m even writing about this.
The Aipad has apparently been around for a while and has “2 lines of aluminium [which] can be connected by clip with a small sensor unit. When the diaper soaked, the sensor notifies it via radio waves.” Basically it lets people or their caretakers know when it’s time for a diaper change.