Yearly Archives: 2004

The Incredibles DVD

The Incredibles script Last week I received The Incredibles DVD screener in the mail through my membership in ASIFA-Hollywood, and Saturday a bound copy of the screenplay arrived. I’ll keep the screenplay on my shelf next to the rest of the Pixar books, but I ended up giving the DVD away as a present. I just thought of how excited I would be if someone gave one to me, even opened, and I’ve probably watched it enough already this week.

Okay, I haven’t watched it enough. In fact I’ve only begun to study the film in detail. There’s some great acting in there and it helps to watch in slow-motion. As an animator, how cool would it be to hit pause in a movie theater, then rewind and flip through frames of a great scene? Having the DVD for something that just came out in the theater sort of feels like that.

Google and the great apps to come

Google Desktop Search is a neat app. The integration of local and global results is brilliant. But it’s not the future of desktop search.

David Galbraith said something interesting in a post titled “Google lock in”:

“Whatever Microsoft do, Google have shown the way forward, their desktop search makes your desktop just one more search tab. It brings your desktop to the web rather than the web to the desktop and this seems like a much more logical UI experience.”

Maybe. I’m not sure I totally disagree with that point, given Google’s dominance of web search. But one thing I do believe is that a native application user interface always has the potential to be better than a web-based one. If you buy into that opinion, it means that we aren’t done. In fact, it means Google’s monopoly as it currently exists is vulnerable.

Let’s take a step back. In general, there were three things that allowed web-based apps to win out in the late 90s:

  • Ease of development. Building interfaces in HTML is fast and very flexible.
  • Speed and storage. Fast databases, lots of memory, and load-balanced web servers.
  • Cross-platform. New companies put their resources on web-based apps instead of traditional ones. (Also see Joel Spolsky’s “How Microsoft Lost the API War”.)

Native apps can’t compete on those points. Instead, they can win with thoughtful interfaces constructed to fit on the platform alongside other native apps. As an example, lately I’ve been using Ranchero Software’s MarsEdit for weblog writing, and it’s a huge step forward from the Movable Type web interface. And that’s not because the Movable Type interface is particularly bad (it’s actually slightly above average). It’s just that a web-based app, even running locally, is a black box that cannot play nice with the rest of the system.

Tim O’Reilly likes to talk about how little apps such as Apple’s Address Book and iChat provide base features that other apps can build upon (a Friendster-like social app should hook into your buddy list). That kind of integration is difficult with web-based apps because user data tends to be stored locally, and if published to the web, it could be to one of any number of services. Instead of two platforms (Mac OS X and Windows), you may have dozens of individual web-based platforms (Yahoo!, MSN, AOL, Friendster, Mapquest, Fandango, and more). Those services are designed to take your data and keep it; there is not likely to be a standard API to share information between them anytime soon.

The potential of a native app is even stronger in this era of web services. Web developers are going back to their roots, building REST design into their applications from the ground app instead of exposing complex SOAP calls on the top as an afterthought. A recent example of this is Del.icio.us, it’s API, and the still-evolving Cocoalicious client, which already has hooks from PulpFiction and NetNewsWire. Another example is 1001, a Flickr client.

To bring this back to search, Google rose to the top because they were fast, accurate, and valued the user enough to know when to get out of his or her way. Google is still all of those things, because they had unique leadership that recognized those strengths from the very beginning.

So why, especially given Google’s strong brand, are there still new competitors investing in search? Because there is room for improvement. Users will move to new applications for the same reason they moved to the iPod: it was that much better. Snap adds sorting, for example. Teoma added a refine feature.

But unfortunately for the competition, they are trying to do things that are simply best left for outside the browser. Gmail was widely acknowledged as a breakthrough app that could hold it’s own against native email apps, but that’s only because native email apps are so notoriously bad. With the limited number of emails most people have, the “speed and storage” advantage of most web applications was not a critical factor.

Enter Apple’s spotlight technology. It integrates with the Finder or any application that wants to play. It’s extensible by third-party developers to accommodate file types that Apple does not support out of the box (this was a quick complaint from Dave Winer about Google Desktop Search). It has a fast, polished user interface that is built around finding local files and dealing with their metadata in an appropriate way. It’s just better.

This won’t be the first time Apple has stepped into search and metadata (remember R.V. Guha’s MCF and the HotSauce fly-through browser? Remember Sherlock?). But it will be the first time it’s really clicked in the UI.

As Wes Felter said: “If I just had the Web browser UI I would feel totally crippled.”

And at some level, Google gets this fully. Take for example their Picasa photo application. Or the Google Deskbar.

Don park sees the problem in terms of metadata and less about user interface:

“The core problem here is that search engines like Google throws everything into one pot.  For web search, all the web pages on the Net gets thrown into that pot.  Thankfully, hyperlink-based pageranking pulls the good stuff to surface with minimal hassle.  With desktop search, all of your documents gets thrown into the pot without an equivalent of page ranking to measure relevance.  IMHO, there aren’t enough metadata on the desktop to achieve the same level of utility Google web search offers.”

More to the point, Dan Wood commented on the accidental integration between Watson and Delicious Library:

“In fact, I recently read that Watson’s Amazon.com tool integrates quite nicely with Delicious Library via drag and drop. A lot of this has to do with the support we had put into Watson for integrating with other applications, including your browser and Spring. If Delicious Library hooks up with PriceGrabber, we may find similar compatibility between the two applications as well, either through luck or through design.”

Two simple things made this possible: Apple providing a recommendation for how drag-and-drop of URLs should work, and the REST-style URLs of a traditional web app like Amazon.

A final conclusion, to a post that’s already too long. Newsfire is a lightweight news reader with a clean interface that is a hybrid of native controls and HTML, backed by useful metadata (RSS). And Delicious Library is more than a book catalog app, it’s an Amazon UI stripped to just the essentials. Both these applications are at the peak of a shift that has been a couple years in the making — the convergence of web services, post-iTunes UI design, and system services such as Address Book, drag-and-drop, and metadata. Future apps will be judged by these standards.

Tiger Tech Talk

I didn’t know exactly what to expect when I signed up for Apple’s Tiger Tech Talk. It looked like a sort of mini WWDC event, and since the first stop on their tour was here in Austin, it was a no-brainer to sign up. But would it be just a marketing-filled event with little real substance? Or maybe just rehashing of WWDC slides but given by less prominent developers?

I’m happy to report that it was a high-quality event. Apple was represented by such familiar faces as Xavier Legros, John Geleynse, Travis Brown, and George Warner. Extra perks included free continental breakfast (I should have shown up earlier), lunch, dinner appetizers, and drinks. The Tiger compatibility lab had about 10 G5s.

Most of the sessions were essentially repeats from WWDC, but the informal nature of the setting allowed for good questions. Apple said about 120 people registered, and there were four concurrent sessions after the overview talks.

Speaking of Mac developers, Panic describes the history of their Audion product.

The Incredibles

The Incredibles I saw The Incredibles last night. I’m sure I had a big smile across my face from beginning to end. What a great film. If anything could get me to stop thinking about politics, this was it.

There have been some interviews with Brad Bird and the other Pixar folks recently. The Luxo blog does a good job of linking to them.

After almost winning

red state See that little blue county in the expanse of red in the image on the right? That’s where I live.

Back in January, I said: “It’s about bringing more people into the process. But to do that right, we need a candidate who can speak passionately to the issues and inspire voters.” Kerry ran a good campaign, but I can’t help thinking that something was missing in both the man and the message.

Kos is calling on Dean to replace McAuliffe as head of the DNC. It’s time for the Democratic party to get back on the offensive. The last two years have been about building the groundwork for future wins — the internet infrastructure, the radio, the organization. It’s not there yet but it will be in 2006. All that’s left is to pick quality opposition candidates and to absolutely stop letting Republican’s frame every issue on their own terms.

One of the things that really bugs me is when Republican candidates run unopposed. This year, thanks to redistricting, our congressional district went from being all of Austin to a tiny strip of rural counties stretching from my neighborhood to Houston. The district was designed for a Republican win, and the Democratic party didn’t bother to challenge it until Lorenzo Sadun signed up as a write-in candidate.

There was no chance to win as a write-in, but he received 12% of the vote! 11000 people took the time to spell his name correctly because they wanted to send a message. And in the Houston suburbs, Richard Morrison came within 10 points of beating Tom DeLay, the closest contest DeLay has ever faced.

The truth is, we almost won. We almost unseated a war-time president who had 90% approval ratings after 9/11. We almost beat a party that used fear (terrorism and gay marriage) to get people into the voting booth.

We almost won, and all the hard work of the last 18 months will pay off big in two short years.

What just happened?

Based on the exit poll numbers and the supposedly record turnout, I fully expected that we’d know within a couple hours after polls closed that Kerry was the decisive winner. I was bewildered when Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin still weren’t called, so I went to bed.

I woke up off and on in the middle of the night, dreaming that I was browsing news web sites. At 5am I couldn’t stand it any longer and got out of bed for good, and now I’ve been deciphering what happened since last night.

The turnout was up, but even the current numbers seem low considering all the people who waited several hours in line to vote. And where was the young vote? I wasn’t the only one to predict they’d make the difference. Is the Republican get-out-the-vote effort just that much better?

Once again, the networks (specifically NBC and Fox) called states too soon. By giving Ohio to Bush, they were left in the sticky 269 situation, not daring to give any more states (like Nevada) to him lest they completely undermine the vote counting process. The networks promised more transparency in how they project a winner, but I didn’t see it.

Election day

ivoted.gif The daylight savings time switch has helped me get up earlier, so I easily made it to my voting location by 7am this morning. There was already a line of people (perhaps 50) stretching outside. It was cold, from the front that came in yesterday, but it didn’t seem to bother anyone too much. No one gave up and left during the 45 minutes I was there.

I’m optimistic.

Ghost in the Shell, Shark Tale, and a pumpkin

Pumpkin Today is International Animation Day. My membership in ASIFA-Hollywood provides few perks since I live a couple states away from the Los Angeles area. They still send me announcements for LA screenings and lectures, though, as if to taunt me.

A few weeks ago I saw Ghost in the Shell 2 and Shark Tale. I was expecting to be really impressed with Ghost in the Shell, but instead was somehow numbed by the visuals and confused by the story. I think it was a good film, but I’m not entirely sure. Certainly some of the scenes were excellent, but overall the story didn’t hold together for me. I had to work too hard to take it all in.

I hadn’t planned on seeing Shark Tale until DVD, if then. Everything about this film looked bad, and I fully expected it to bomb. It ended up doing very well at the box office a few weeks in a row, and I found myself laughing at all the right points. I put it in the same category as Shrek; a fun film but not a great or lasting one.

Have a happy halloween weekend.

Polls, Dean, and how Kerry will win

In the 2000 presidential election, Gore was behind in all the national polls before election day. I remember that night, listening to the radio in a fast food drive-in lane when NPR called Pennsylvania for Gore. I cheered to no one in particular, because it was the first confirmation that Gore could win.

If you believe the polls today, Bush has a few point lead, and the election will be decided in a handful of battleground states. I no longer believe the polls, except as an indicator for overall trends. Kerry will win by a solid margin. Here’s how:

Youth

Last Monday morning I was in the Austin airport waiting to catch a flight, watching the local news. They were covering University of Texas students who had stayed up all night outside the early voting location on campus to vote. They were all Kerry supporters.

Now, a week later, the local news is reporting some numbers from UT. There are three times the number of early voters on campus compared to 2000. For the most part these voters are not even included in polls because they all use cell phones as their primary number.

Republicans

It takes a lot to abandon years of straight-party voting, but it’s happening this year. Sometimes it takes enormous respect for the candidate (such as Democrats who could easily vote for John McCain). This year it’s the opposite: Republicans are baffled by Bush’s misjudgments in war and his abandonment of fiscal conservatism.

Also see: Republican switcher ads

The undecided

Apparently there is a large percentage of voters who are just confused about how politics work in this country. Personality means more to them than terms like liberal and conservative. Instead, there are usually a few key issues that turn these voters to any one candidate. Two of those issues this year are the economy (lean to Kerry) and fear (lean to Bush).

The debates help people choose, and Kerry outperformed Bush in all three. Kerry wasn’t totally immune to criticism, though. The flip-flop nonsense tends to stick because there is a little bit of truth to it (ignoring for the moment that Bush has more than his fair share of major policy reversals). Mathew Gross pointed to a <a href=”http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1101041004-702123,00.html

“>Time Magazine article second-guessing the outcome in the Democratic primaries:

“Democratic voters should stick to their day jobs. With just five weeks until Election Day, there’s reason to believe they guessed wrong — that Dean would be doing better against Bush than Kerry is.”

Despite the scream, I still believe that Dean would have been a strong candidate. He distinguished himself from the other candidates by a real desire to effect change: even today, he is a powerful force for local and state-level candidates. He showed the Democrats how to win when they had lost their voice.

So there you have it. My prediction: Kerry by 3 percent nationally, with important wins in Florida, Colorado, and Pennsylvania giving him the electoral college. Record numbers of young voters.

Voice recording

I bought a Griffin iTalk earlier this week. Not entirely an impulse buy, but I did drive over to the local Apple Store instead of ordering online. I’ve been wanting the ability to record on my iPod since I received my first generation one. I find myself walking and driving a lot lately, so it’s a great way to record random thoughts while away from the computer. For personal use, not for broadcasting.

The quality is acceptable, but not what I’d like it to be. I tried to record a lecture in a large auditorium, with poor results. Might try again with a better position, or even an external microphone.

The software interface is the expected Apple high standards. Plug the thing in and it works, nothing to install. Yes, that’s right — Apple built recording software into all iPods (except the minis), knowing that only a very small fraction would have the hardware necessary to record. And that philosophy comes from the top. Here’s what Steve had to say in an interview with BusinessWeek:

“It’s because when you buy our products, and three months later you get stuck on something, you quickly figure out [how to get past it]. And you think, ‘Wow, someone over there at Apple actually thought of this!’ And then three months later you try to do something you hadn’t tried before, and it works, and you think ‘Hey, they thought of that, too.’ And then six months later it happens again. There’s almost no product in the world that you have that experience with, but you have it with a Mac. And you have it with an iPod.”

Jon Udell frequently talks about audio techniques. I liked this section from today’s blog post on personal productivity:

“How many times have you heard this? ‘Your call may be recorded in order to assure quality customer service.’ Lately I’m starting to repeat the line back to them and then start recording on my end too. If you can pinpoint what an agent said on a previous call, you can alter the balance of power.”

It’s been a while since I bought a new gadget for myself. We’ll have to see whether it ends up being useful or not.

Superman

The death of Christopher Reeve will hit a lot of people pretty hard. He worked with so much determination to regain movement and he stayed optimistic. It’s an inspirational story, and it’s a shock that the story is now over. As my wife said, “He wasn’t supposed to die.” He vowed to walk again, and we believed it.

In the second presidential debate last week, Kerry brought up Reeve as an example of who we can help and why stem cell research could be so important. Here’s the quote, from the official debate transcript:

“You know, I was at a forum with Michael J. Fox the other day in New Hampshire, who’s suffering from Parkinson’s, and he wants us to do stem cell, embryonic stem cell. And this fellow stood up, and he was quivering. His whole body was shaking from the nerve disease, the muscular disease that he had.

“And he said to me and to the whole hall, he said, ‘You know, don’t take away my hope, because my hope is what keeps me going.’

“Chris Reeve is a friend of mine. Chris Reeve exercises every single day to keep those muscles alive for the day when he believes he can walk again, and I want him to walk again.”

Nancy Reagan, Ron Reagan, Michael J. Fox, and Christopher Reeve have done a lot of good as activists, because they are respected and admired by the public. But there are thousands more who are not well-known, and those people are equally worth fighting for.

It’s appropriate that Christopher Reeve, the man forever known as Superman, would fight so hard to overcome the limitations of his crippled, human body. Superman is an icon, not just an old comic. The idea speaks to a generation of kids who dream to be something more, and it’s the reason that that memorable scene in Iron Giant can bring an adult to tears.

Frank Thomas passes

Frank Thomas has passed away. His life-long friend Ollie Johnston is now the sole remaining master animator from the classic days of the Walt Disney studio.

For more on this duo, watch “Frank & Ollie”, or read Canemaker’s book, “Nine Old Men”, or their book on Disney animation, “The Illusion of Life”.

Perhaps a post on the Animation Nation discussion board (also from an old-timer) said it best:

“I really get the feeling that we’ve come to the end of a wonderful era. You can wait around and hope, but you’ll never see the likes of this again.”

Olympics, genetics, and giving everything you have

More Olympics this weekend. First the U.S. basketball team, ahead most of the game and playing well, then losing in the last few minutes. Next, the women’s marathon, the heartbreak for England’s Paula Radcliffe as she couldn’t finish the race after leading the runners for the first dozen miles, then the come-from-behind bronze metal finish for the U.S.’s Deena Kastor.

Last week, Matt Haughey wrote about the genetic lottery:

“Every sport favors genetics to some extent, but I’ve always discounted them and held that anyone of any shape could rise towards the top if they trained hard enough. But at the absolute upper reaches of a sport, falling outside the norm becomes a liability and when the margin of error grows thin, you’re going to fall behind the best.”

I always think of Gattaca. Sure it’s fiction, but I think there’s some real truth to it — the power of the human spirit. The two brothers are far out in the water, and Anton asks Jerome how is he doing it, how can he swim further and do these great things when he is genetically inferior and all stats point to a heart that is long overdue for beating its last. The answer: “You wanted to know how I did it? That’s how I did it, Anton. I never saved anything for the swim back.”

Give it your all this week.

Lowercase web

Wired News will no longer capitalize internet, web, or net:

“But in the case of internet, web and net, a change in our house style was necessary to put into perspective what the internet is: another medium for delivering and receiving information. That it transformed human communication is beyond dispute. But no more so than moveable type did in its day. Or the radio. Or television.”

This is a good thing. Years ago, I remember arguing quite passionately with People Who Had Some Kind of Related College Degree that “web” should not be capitalized. I lost that battle, and have since occasionally capitalized it myself, for conformity’s sake.

Television feature request

I rarely watch TV anymore. When I do, like for the ongoing Olympics coverage, I quickly become frustrated with commercials (especially those not appropriate for 4 year olds, even if the main show is). I want a “visual mute” feature for my television. One click on the remote kills the sound and dims the picture, down to 15% or so. Forget high-definition, how about something I can use? (Patent pending.)

Timing notes

timing post-it I sometimes work on my animated film late at night, when the family is long asleep and I’ve worked enough in the day that I can’t stand the sight of a keyboard or mouse. Unfortunately in those times, I also can’t seem to draw anything worth saving, or muster the effort to start a new scene. Rather than stare at a stack of blank punched paper, I look at thumbnail drawings, think a little bit, and then come away with something like this image.

It has been said many times before, that animation is all about timing. Look no further than Flash web cartoons. More than half are crudely drawn and so limited as to make the Flintstones look like full animation. But when they work, it’s because the creator had some knack for timing, and pulled some small acting miracle out of the spacing, replaying and tweaking it again and again on the Flash timeline.

Traditional animators, by comparison, have it a little tougher. Some investment must be placed in the hand drawings before taking the stack of 50 or more sheets to pencil test under a video camera. So we scribble in the margins, plan it out, and hope for the best.

High School Reunion

Saturday night was my 10-year high school reunion (more specifically the Anderson High School reunion class of 1994 from Austin, which I say only for Google’s reference, even if it dates me). As recent as two months ago I had considered not attending, but I ended up having a really good time, more than I ever thought I would. It was great to see everyone.

I took some pictures. Only a handful came out, so my apologies to everyone who will only remain a blurry image in my copy of iPhoto. Perhaps that’s for the best. But I’ve posted the better ones here with brief annotations for anyone who was at the event. Most of the time I forgot I had the camera with me. (Whoops.)

Luckily I didn’t show up alone, so the nervousness and “I don’t belong here” feeling that I was bracing for was diminished. Afterwards, though, came a sort of melancholy that I did not expect, a vague emotional conflict between the few folks I’ll see again and the larger number that I probably won’t. Five minutes of conversation over drinks is not an adequate way to catch up on 10 years. Truthfully, I share more in common with some of them now than I do the people I see on a more regular basis. All Sunday I found myself thinking about it, and just sort of marveling at how our lives diverge and then criss-cross again, and how that same web is played out on a larger scale for everyone we meet.

Backyard Fireworks

The private park behind our house is owned by a local church, and they aren’t afraid to spend money on fireworks every year. Last week was probably the best show yet. We brought some chairs out to the sidewalk to get a good view over our trees. Our neighbors were doing hotdogs and marshmallows in their front yard and also provided sparklers. Fun times.

I took some cheap video with my digital camera. Some frames from it are below. It was so close overhead that the paper remnants from the fireworks were falling in the street and in the yard.

 

 

 

California Adventure

Yesterday I finally arrived back in Austin after 8 days in California. Last weekend started off with a trip to Los Angeles, where I met up with my old friend Justin and attended “2D Expo”, a conference sponsored by ASIFA-Hollywood for traditional animators. The conference was great, and I left feeling pretty energized. There is an opportunity right now for traditional animation to leave its Disney roots and break new ground. I met some great people and had fun talking about the industry and what comes next. Hope to be back to the LA area one of these days.

On Sunday morning, Justin picked me up from Burbank and we drove north on highway 1, which hugs the coastline all the way to San Francisco. We stopped at a few random scenic points, a nice restaurant overlooking the water, and at Big Sur. A healthy couple mile walk through Chinatown and dinner at Fisherman’s Wharf rounded out the evening.

Highway 1

Monday through Friday was Apple’s World Wide Developer Conference. At work we sent 5 people, so we had pretty good coverage of all the interesting sessions. As usual the keynote was not to be missed. I’ve yet to see a Steve Jobs’ demo that wasn’t effective. The first time I saw him was the Macworld Expo after he came back to Apple (but before he took over), and he even managed to make a NeXTSTEP demo look impressive. Contrary to what many people believed at the introduction to Mac OS X, Apple’s new OS is not just NeXT-based; it’s about a third NeXT, a third classic Mac OS, and a third something entirely new. That last third really shines in Tiger.

Work, non-work, and A Scanner Darkly

I’ve routinely been working past midnight the last couple of weeks as we make a final push to get our software finished. Although it’s just coincidence that we usually ship right before WWDC, it reminds me of the old days of trying to get betas ready to demo before Macworld Expo or one of the other yearly conferences.

I took a break from that on Sunday, my third Father’s Day. Big breakfast with the family, mowing the lawn with some iPod tunes, putting together a baby crib, lunch, then headed down to the Austin Sketch Group meeting and talked animated films and art while sipping a chocolate coffee drink which had entirely too much caffeine in it. Bob Sabiston came by to recruit folks for Richard Linklater’s upcoming film, A Scanner Darkly (based on the Philip K. Dick book). It will employ the same rotoscope technique used for Waking Life, but perhaps favoring a more consistent style rather than the individual inventiveness of that previous film. Should be fun to see the result, and in the wake of Shrek 2 box office numbers it’s good to see some investment in creative, lower-budget animated films.