Monday, November 30, 2009

Playing a DVD movie on a Blu-Ray Player = Weird

We watched Four Christmases on DVD played via a Blu=Ray player on an HD flatscreen TV.  The result was very strange -- it was like being there on the set as the actors were making the movie.  All cinematic distance was squashed and flattened into something too close to regular every day eye-sight for there to be any magic.  (The fact that it wasn't a particularly funny or interesting movie did not help matters)

Not entirely sure how this happened.  Had we watched the Blu-Ray version would we have seen this, or was this an artifact of the playback enhancement? 

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Thursday, March 12, 2009

Video: Saturday Night Live's prophetic sketch about the Credit Crisis

Only problem is... our entire world economy is now built on buying bets on people buying things they cannot afford. No wonder so many religions were against usury.

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Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Making Fiends Debuts on Nicktoons Channel Oct 4th!

Very exciting! Amy Winfrey's web cartoon-turned-TV-animated-series Making Fiends finally debuts this weekend, 11:30 AM Eastern (8:30 Pacific).

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Monday, September 08, 2008

Republican Media Bias In Action: MSNBC Demotes Its Highest-Rated Anchors

Media analyst Glenn Greenwald wrote on his blog today about the recent demotion of MSNBC's highest rated anchor-people and how the only rationale for it is political pressures from the White House, McCain, and Republicans.
The single dumbest claim in our political culture is that the huge corporations which own our establishment media outlets promote a "liberal" ideology. Why would General Electric ever use NBC and its other media assets to promote political liberalism? They lavishly benefit from the whole panoply of right-wing policies -- from endlessly expanding defense spending to deregulation. Their multiple businesses depend upon maintaining good relations with the right-wing ideologues who run our Government. Even ignoring all of the above-documented empirical facts, the very idea that a corporation like GE -- or Viacom (CBS), Disney (ABC) and Time Warner (CNN) -- would actively promote a left-wing agenda in its news divisions and undermine the very Government power centers on which they rely has been the most self-evidently moronic premise one can imagine. As Viacom CEO Sumner Redstone confessed in 2004:
Senator Kerry is a good man. I've known him for many years. But it happens that I vote for Viacom. Viacom is my life, and I do believe that a Republican Administration is better for media companies than a Democratic one.
And yet the myth of the large-corporation-owned "Liberal Media" persists, and even intensifies.

This decision by MSNBC is as alarming as it is illustrative. They just implicitly chided and overtly demoted their most popular and valuable news personality because the White House, the McCain campaign and the Right demanded that they do so. It's fine for Brit Hume to host a "news program" and for hard-core right-wing ideologues to dominate cable news. The fact that Dick Cheney (understandably) viewed Tim Russert's Meet the Press as the ideal forum to allow the White House to "control the message" bothered nobody outside of a few online critics, and didn't remotely impede the perception of Russert as the Beacon of Tough and Objective Journalism. But MSNBC's ratings-based decision to feature Keith Olbermann is a grave threat to modern journalism and must be stopped. So decrees the White House and the McCain campaign, and so the GE-owned MSNBC complies.
Basically, the Right is cheating. Rather than let we the people decide who to vote for, what better way to win than to cry foul: "The Liberals have too much coverage!" Grab the media corporations by the balls, tell them "Remove your Liberal content or there will be consequences." Corruption at its finest and most blatant. Bye bye Journalism, informed Electorate. Hello government-controlled media.

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Friday, September 05, 2008

Stand Up 2 Cancer

I'm sitting waiting at the Burbank Airport and on TV, all three American Networks are showing a live fundraiser right now called "Stand Up 2 Cancer." Celebrities of all sorts are answering phones. It's really great that these corporations are focused on a cause, if just for a few hours. Their website will be up for a while, so please donate.

(And the cause I'm focused on this weekend is the Totoro Forest Project, an art auction / fundraiser over at PIXAR to help protect Japan's endangered forests, the ones that inspired the legendary animation master Miyazaki, creator of My Neighbor Totoro and Spirited Away.)

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Sunday, August 31, 2008

Continuing Quest for PBS (and decent reception)

Cable & Satellite TV is something I refuse to pay more than say, $20 a month for. Less now that the number of actual, distinct channels offering different programming is shrinking. That's what has happened ever since the FCC cowered and allowed the old networks to buy up cable channels. Did this mean better programming? More channels? No. What happened is that now cable channels have homogenized. Bravo no longer shows arts. It shows more reality TV shows. Discovery Channel shows designing make-over shows. The Cartoon Network is showing live action shows. MTV doesn't play music anymore. Whatever was a hit on one station is replicated on all the others (since they're owned by the same companies). Yet the price keeps going up and up and the remaining good programming is always on the higher pricing tiers. No way... If I could just get the Daily Show and Food Network, I'd be fine. But it's not worth it. Netflix is.

However, the problem is, the over-the-air reception for my apartment is horrible. I can barely watch NBC, CBS and FOX, but no PBS. Since in 2009, we all must use over-the-air digital TV (analog goes bye-bye), I figured that perhaps a converter box would give me better reception and access to PBS (finally!)

The government is offering $40 coupon cards to folks needing to by converter boxes (which are about $60) Unfortunately, it's all a bit shady. You have only 3 months to use the card, and you can't return the box and get your card back if you want to return it and try another box. There are virtually no reviews or information available for which one to get, but the Insignia one available at Best Buy looked okay. I bought it and what I hoped would be a stronger antenna.

Hooked everything up. It scanned and found quite a few channels! Yay! Even PBS. Yay! But unfortunately, the signal was still not strong enough and for digital this means very choppy pixelated output and dropouts in sound -- much like a DVD that has been scratched. In some ways this is WORSE than analog, because at least there you can watch with some snow. I managed to get through most of a PBS show but it was a little painful. The picture was quite nice though, almost as clear as DVD.

Not sure if one can get a better indoor antenna or not... This apartment does not have a rooftop antenna as far as I know. Since I plan to move I guess I'm stuck with no PBS for now. Lovely.


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posted by Brian at 2:46 AM 0 comments links to this post

Monday, August 11, 2008

Watching the Olympics in London

One of the unexpected perks of being in London as the Beijing Olympics started was that I was able to see the entire (as far as I know) opening ceremony and watch some of the more obscure Olympics events (archery, women's weightlifting, sailing, etc) on a satellite TV, LIVE. If you're a U.S. citizen, you're getting a very processed, filtered experience with added sentimentality, sportscasting chatter, music, athlete story vignettes, and numerous commercial interruptions, delayed deliberately to maximize advertising revenue across time zones. NBC says "We don't care, we paid millions to have exclusive control over what you see."

Now that I'm back, I am finding I can't even replicate the UK experience because of the various entities involved (China, NBC, BBC) restricting access and enforcing geopolitical barriers. Seems to me with the Internet we ought to be able to shift viewpoints, but the old distorting lenses are being enforced even online. What a missed opportunity.

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Sunday, April 13, 2008

1980s HBO Title Sequence

This is a charming little behind-the-scenes clip showing how a small New York studio made an elaborate intro sequence for the then=fledgling cable channel, Home Box Office (HBO). I just love the craftsmanship and time it took, the ingenious streaking effects done optically. The 65-piece orchestral theme. Plus, they even wrote a song* (reminds me of the "Coke Is It" jingle of that era) just for the documentary!

via Cartoonbrew
*Performed by this guy.

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Sunday, March 30, 2008

My 1970s Childhood TV Experience: The Krofft Supershow

Oooh, boy. They don't make shows like this anymore, do they? Kids minding their own business in a park are given balloons by some stoned adults in crazy spandex costumes who lead them them to downtown Atlanta.
Don't get left behind!
Take a trip with us today...
We will lead you to a land of dreams.
Krofft has some super shows;
They will blow your mind away
When you join us, you'll know why we say

It's just a crazy world
where anything goes down
and most of what appears isn't true
And in this crazy world
We like to be downtown
And laugh at life along with you...

The Krofft Super Show (x2)

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Friday, March 28, 2008

My 1970s Childhood TV Experience: Jabberwocky

I was a young boy near Boston during the early 70s. My portal to imagination was all the crazy children's TV programming on TV at the time. You're probably familiar with famous shows like Sesame Street, The Electric Company, Schoolhouse Rock, and Mr. Rogers. But there were also now largely forgotten, local programs produced, and some have stuck with me. I can't remember the episodes really, just the theme music and a bit of visual imagery.

Take for example, Jabberwocky, a show with a Gilliamesque animated opening sequence and a tune that is difficult to remove from your head once you hear it:
I've been looking for any sign of this show for years. (The Museum of Radio in NY did not have it.) Never expected to actually see it again. Thank you, youTube and Internet video!

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Saturday, March 22, 2008

Mystery Science Theatre 3K for Films You Have or Rent!

It was certainly bound to happen. Remember Mystery Science 3000? An early 90s cable TV show with the combination of bad movies with comedic commentary, featuring silhouettes of the commentators sitting in front.

Now, a website called Rifftrax by some of the original cast of this show offers downloadable synchronized files to play along with popular movies you might already own, or have rented from sites like Netflix. Some even feature special commentator guests like Weird Al Yankovic.

Seems like this concept could increase rentals of less popular, even god-awful movies out there on DVD. I wonder if other meta-content sites like this will emerge and catch on.

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Thursday, March 20, 2008

Strange Coincidence

I decided to watch Ricky Gervais's HBO series "Extras," now that I've been one. The first episode with Kate Winslet has two elements that parallel my experience: nuns, and someone with cerebral palsy. How bizarre! I wonder if Chris watched this...

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Saturday, March 08, 2008

The Truth is Up Here

I'm in Vancouver rather suddenly, pretending to be a nurse on an upcoming movie. Not allowed to take photos, sadly.

Why? Well it has to do with who I met in DJ class back in April of '07, the creator of the 90's sci-fi paranormal activity TV show, The X-Files.

UPDATE: Saw Mr. Carter at an X-Files panel at the Arclight. He told me "You're in the movieee..." as he signed my autograph book. Whohoo!

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Monday, March 03, 2008

TED Talk: Purple Cows, and Being Remarkable To Those Who Care

Marketing expert and Author Seth Godin talks about the changing landscape of creative success. The old model was to spend millions on interrupting people with the message about your product, a product that is "safe" and appealing to the masses. The new model is to recognize that "the idea that spreads, wins" and that this idea must be remarkable ("easy to remark about"), different, not boring, and appealing to people who care ("otaku"). If you let these people work for you, you win.

(The R.I.A.A raises its hand.)

"But can't we sue them? I mean, come on. They're ruining our old business model, and this new one where we can bully them into paying up is pretty neat. And we save so much $$$ not paying artists--"

Seth Godin stands up, answering "Well you can, but you'll lose. People will either get their intangibles for free or they'll care enough to buy them, preferably from the source. And anyway, you're boring now."

"Aww man."

(R.I.A.A stands up, sulks, walks out as Lawrence Lessig, Cory Doctorow, and I escort him out, consolingly)

"There there, cartel. It'll be all right. Have you ever considered a new career? Prison management maybe? Or smoking ban enforcement? I hear that's big in Europe now."

(R.I.A.A smiles hopefully) Ohhh!

To be continued...

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Saturday, January 12, 2008

Making Fiends: Web Cartoon Becoming a Nicktoon Soon

As I've blogged about before, UCLA MFA student Amy Winfrey created an Adobe™ Flash-based Web cartoon back in 2004 called "Making Fiends". The premise? Vendetta, a school girl with hobbies that include making evil creatures, eating clams, and taunting her neighborhood meets new kid on the block, Charlotte, whose optimistic attitude seems completely resistant to Vendetta's evil habits. Visually, the show has a playful mix of Edward Gorey, early Jim Henson monster drawings with a touch of the 1980s cut-out animated film "Twice Upon a Time."

Two seasons of webisodes and a community of fiendy fans later, Nickelodeon began hosting a few of them on iTunes, and has almost finished developing a TV version to be aired later this year. Hooray!

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Saturday, November 03, 2007

Bump In the Night on YouTube

During the mid-1990s when there were still quality Saturday Morning Cartoons on the major networks, ABC had an excellent stop-motion animated show called "Bump In the Night" involving a monster under the bed (Mr. Bumpy), his neurotic side-kick toilet-bowl cleaner monster Squishington, their pal Molly Coddle, and various other toys and creatures living within the household of a boy and his sister.

Great talent worked on this show, including its creators Ken Pontac & David Bleiman. Many animators and fabricators had come off of Nightmare Before Christmas and some moved on to Pixar (which released its groundbreaking Toy Story a year later). Most of original songs during the Karaoke Café segments (shown separately) were written by none other than Jeff Moss, legendary Sesame Street composer of "Rubber Duckie," "One of these things is not like the other," and "I Love Trash." The animation was all done in the States. Voices were provided by Jim Cummings, Rob Paulsen (Animaniacs, Pinky & The Brain), and Gail Matthius.

In 2003 I had the pleasure of having a drink with Ken Pontac in Sausalito. He had been trying to teach an extension class called "Creating an Animated Series" about developing and pitching. Naturally I jumped at the chance, but only I and one of my friends signed up -- twice! Both times it was canceled due to lack of enrollment. Damn! Had it been in L.A. would it have worked? I don't know. But I knew who he was from Bump In the Night and was very happy to hang out with him for an afternoon. Recently he's been working on "Happy Tree Friends" cartoon series.

I managed to tape every episode (each contained 2 segments and a "Karaoke Café" song) aired onto high quality VHS tape back in 1994, but unfortunately I overwrote one by mistake, "Adventures in Microbia" & "Not a Peep." Ugh. So during my archiving project I intend to make the best of these available online, as I've only seen small, badly-recorded clips on YouTube so far. Unfortunately, the YouTube compression really mangles the opening sequence (full of camera moves and pans), but the episode itself looks okay. Ken mentioned back then he would like to get everything out on DVD, but I'm sure it'll take a while... It took 13 years to get another great animated series of that time, The Tick, onto DVD.

UPDATE: I found a better way to compress the videos such that youtube will accept them and they look better. Basically, I'm using H.264 with a bitrate of 1000.

Also, you can now purchase a few episodes on DVD!

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posted by Brian at 12:31 AM 1 comments links to this post

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Adventures in Saturday Morning Kids Programming

Saturday Morning TV ain't what it used to be. Obviously, there was still commercialism aimed at kids back then. Boy, did I want Tobor: Robot Spelled Backwards, Big Trak, and an Atari ("Have you played Atari today?"). But if you're a girl today, here's what commercials you'll see during the "Kewlopolis" set of programs:

Barbie Fashion Fever Shopping Boutique Playset
(Shows a disembodied hand swiping credit cards over and over. "You never run out of money!" "Buy it!" "You can buy cool stuff!" "Buy It!")

Race To the Mall Set (Polly Pocket)
(An attempt to make Hot Wheels™ race tracks "cool" for girls)

Meanwhile, there's a show called Trolls. No, it's not a fantasy themed, Dungeon & Dragons show. There are these girl Trolls who complain about anything they don't perceive as cool (science, having to wear unfashionable clothes, etc) There are parent characters inflicting those things on them. Lots of "Whatever", "You're a loser", and other quotes you'll be glad to have your daughter imitating. The theme song is a generic processed pop female vocal singing "It's a cool thing. It's a hair thing. It's a big thing. Music, Fashion, Make-up." Huh. Very troll-like.

I kind of like Dance Dance Revolution, based on the exercising videogame. It's basically a dance contest show with a bias towards hip-hop. There's a "nerdy" host that self-effacing but likeable and can dance pretty well. The focus is on perfecting a skill, not on "being cool."

God, if I hear the word "cool" more than 5 times a minute again, I'm going to dress like a punk rocker.

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posted by Brian at 9:30 AM 1 comments links to this post

Friday, April 06, 2007

Random Daytime TV Discovery: Underwear!

I'm at home now, listening to the endless cacaphony of next door condo construction, plotting my vacation to China and vocational plans after that, but in between I decided to turn on my 1994 analog Sony 20-inch Trinitron to see what content was riding on the free airwaves.

The Tyra Banks Show. Subject of the day -- underwear. She, and the entire (99% female, attractive) audience, stripped down to panties and bras. A female gynecologist informed us that women with large breasts should sleep with bras (to prevent sagging) but should not wear panties to bed (to prevent yeast infections). Various ladies with underwear issues begged for Tyra's advice:

"Help! My sisters and mom all have big boobs but I don't. What can I do?"

"The guys keep looking at my big boobs. What can I wear to make them focus on my eyes?"

"Tyra, I need some panties that won't stick out when I bend over wearing tight jeans. Can you help?"

Overall, a revealing show. Better than poorly-educated folks yelling at each other. Of course, there were lots of commercials for bail-bonds and getting degrees.

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posted by Brian at 3:12 PM 0 comments links to this post

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

This American Life + Chris Ware + Animation = Fantastic

This American Life is a poignant, long-running radio program on NPR hosted by Ira Glass. It's content is fairly simple: short audio essays (with music) describing the diverse lives of Americans here and abroad. The intimacy of radio is a great antidote to being stuck in traffic for an hour enduring the 8 mile commute from Santa Monica to Hollywood. But when I heard about how they were taking the program to television, I was a bit skeptical. Would the poignancy and intimacy be lost?

This example suggests not. One of my favorite comics artists, Chris Ware, who has collaborated with Ira many times for live performances, has created an animated sequence for the TV version out of one of the stories. It's a story about how a child at school made a fake TV camera as a craft project, soon imitated by the other kids and how during recess, every kid began acting as news reporter, camera person, or some role within a play-newsroom.

This story definitely resonates with me. When I was at the Happy Hollow elementary school up in Wayland, Massachusetts, we had arts & craft supplies ready to go whenever it was raining. I had watched way too many Saturday Morning cartoons and decided one rainy indoor recess that I would make my own wrist communicator out of paper. On mine, I drew a speaker and lots of knobs and "lights." Soon, everyone else had made their own imaginary communicative contraptions.

Fortunately, unlike the story above, we did not reveal any disturbing observations about human behavior.

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posted by Brian at 11:32 AM 0 comments links to this post

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Dr. Who Theme Making-Of Video

Permanently etched into my inner ear is the tune from the Dr. Who theme. Dr. Who is a very long-running (20+ years?) British sci-fi television show meant for kids, though it's tone is deadly serious and at least until recently, its special FX laughably (charmingly?) awful.

The show's original theme by Ron Grainer was arranged using elaborate electronic equipment not meant for making music, manually adjusted and spliced together using magnetic tape by the late Delia Derbyshire. I grew up with this version, hearing it on the episodes with the fourth incarnation of the Doctor, played by Tom Baker.

The version demonstrated in the video is for the fifth season with Peter Davison as the Doctor. It's still quite good and I love seeing the old Yamaha CS-80 and ARP Odyssey (1970s era) synthesizers, which are pre-MIDI (hence the need to record them directly to magnetic tape). But it's not quite as mysterious and other-wordly as the original.

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posted by Brian at 2:42 PM 0 comments links to this post

Monday, January 31, 2005

Bush Wants New FCC Chairperson to Draw Line of Decency for All Society

From the IMDB News:

President George W. Bush, while calling himself a "free speech advocate," nevertheless said that the FCC must "call to account" any television program that "gets over the line" of decency. In an interview with Brian Lamb on C-SPAN Sunday, the president also said that he would ask candidates to succeed Michael Powell as head of the FCC: "Please tell me where the line is." Later, he commented, "Look, we are a great society because we're a free society. On the other hand, it is very important for there to be limits, limits to what parents have to explain to their children." Referring to bills that were introduced in the House and Senate last week that would significantly raise the fines for broadcasting indecent programs, Bush said, "Well, they're going to collect a lot of money when some of these TV shows are still on." Meanwhile, today's Los Angeles Times quoted lawmakers of both parties as predicting that fines will be raised this year. "This bill is noncontroversial, bipartisan," Massachusetts Congressman Edward J. Markey, a Democrat, told the newspaper.

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posted by Brian at 3:48 PM 0 comments links to this post

Monday, October 25, 2004

HBO vs. Consumers

HBO has decided to take copyright law into its own hands by locking its content and allowing only one copy to be made of its programs.

Problem is, let's say you have a Tivo. That counts as one copy. Now you want to archive it. Nope. If your DVD recorder or computer complies (as it will soon be required to), you won't be able to.

Now they justify this on their website by saying "You have no need to time shift (i.e. use Tivo) because we provide our OWN tivo-like functionality with our premium (i.e. more expensive) on-demand satellite content, and therefore we comply with the law."

Oh come on, HBO. We, the consumers, can choose to buy Tivo. Why are you entitled by Law to force on us your own proprietary system of Tivo-like functionality? This is akin to Microsoft preventing people from using different browsers.

Actually, the answer is that the Law makes an exception for non-broadcast content (it lets them do whatever rights management they want). That means, Tivo-ing your cable/satellite content may be severely restricted in the near Future.

Lovely. Who wrote this part of the Law, I wonder?

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posted by Brian at 6:55 PM 0 comments links to this post