Check out Re-Imagineering

I must admit: I haven’t a clue as to how the whole Disney-acquires-Pixar thing is going to work out, but I do know one thing: it’s probably good that John Lasseter will be helping out on the whole theme park thing for Disney. The one thing that the Disney parks seem to have suffered from over the last couple of decades is story and imagination, and I can’t help but think that JL will bring a fresh (and desparately needed) perspective on the Disney theme parks.

Along that line, try checking out the Re-Imagineering blog. Their charter?

A forum for Pixar and Disney professionals passionate about the Disney Theme Parks to catalog past Imagineering missteps and offer up tenable practical solutions in hopes that a new wave of creative management at Imagineering can once again bring back the wonder and magic that’s been missing from the parks for decades. ‘

Amen brothers. I actually really like Disneyland and even like California Adventure, but they fall well short of the promise of Walt’s original vision, and the commentators on this blog have practical, thoughtful discussions of how the parks could retain their original charm and glory. I’m adding it to my daily read list.

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Save a Snowflake for Decades – Popular Science

We don’t get much snow here, but I thought I might archive this for future reference, just because it’s cool.

Save a Snowflake for Decades – Popular Science

1. Set microscope slides, coverslips and superglue outside when it’s 20°F or colder to chill them. Catch flakes on the slides or pick them up with cold tweezers.
2. Place a drop of superglue on the snowflake. Note: Gel glue doesn’t work. Find a brand that’s thin and runny.
3. Drop a coverslip over the glue. Don’t press down hard or the flake could tear or melt from the heat of your finger.
4. Leave the slide in a freezer for one or two weeks and don’t touch it with warm hands. The glue must completely harden before the snowflake warms up.

Tick destroying rover

Courtesy of hack-a-day comes this awesome story of a student project to make a robotic rover whose purpose is to eradicate ticks.   It basically follows a buried underground wire along the perimeter of the property, all the while releasing carbon dioxide gas.   Ticks are apparently attracted to the CO2, anc collect along the course, and then the ticks are sprayed with Permethrin.  Since the hill behind my house is literally teaming with ticks, I think it’s a darned cool idea, although I suspect their rover would find climing my hill to be rather challenging.

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The Evil Dead (1981)

Well, Carmen and I haven’t gotten out to see many first run movies lately, but tonight Pixar’s Monday Film series stumbed on an old favorite: Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead (1981). Back when this film was made, Raimi was a mere 21 years old. In some ways, this shows: the movie has a fairly slim plot involving five young people heading off to the woods to relax on a brief vacation, only to find that the house they are staying at was once the retreat of a professor delving into the occult. When they play back some recordings of his they find in the basement, demons are summoned, and mayhem commences.

The movie stars a very young Bruce Campbell in one of his first roles, and begins a long association with Sam Raimi. As I said, it’s a pretty thin plot, but what sets it apart is Raimi’s visual style. It features buckets of blood and gore, demon possession, dismemberment, shredding flesh, a girl is molested by trees and vines, and general strange crap like you’ve never seen. I remember seeing this as a teenager, and have seen it at least once since on DVD, but it was great to see it in a real theater on 35mm film stock once again. The print was great, and despite showing a bunch of badly composited full moons over footage of a dilapidated mountain cabin, it holds up pretty well. It shows remarkable creativity in its use of lighting, cameras, fog, and camera position to give a strange, creepy feel to what could have been a merely pedestrian movie experience.

Raimi has made better films (such as one of my personal favorites) but it’s great to see this early work from a popular director. If IMDB is correct, Raimi has begun production on a revisit to this story, and it will be interesting to see what a budget and twenty five years of directorial experience will bring to the show.

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M4 Message Breaking Project

You might have noticed if you are a long time reader of this blog that I’m fascinated by codes and ciphers, particularly the kind that were developed before computers really came on the scene.   That’s why I’m finding the M4 Message Breaking Project interesting: they are attempting to break three two as yet unbroken code intercepts that presumably use the Nazi 4-Rotor Naval Enigma machine.

Years ago when Simon Singh’s The Code Book came out, he ran a cipher challenge that invited readers to compete for a $10,000 prize by being the first to break 10 codes.   I broke 7 out of the 10 (all the ones I thought I had a shot) including a 3 rotor Enigma encrypt.   Breaking the 4 rotor variant with a much shorter message is a significant challenge, and they’ve managed to break one of the three already.

I’ve got their distributed client running on my machine.   We shall see how it goes. 🙂

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Darren McGavin stalks into the night…

Darren McGaven as The Night Stalker

Phil Plait’s blog is the first mention I’ve read that actor Darren McGavin had passed away. Phil and I must have been watching the same TV shows as kids, because I loved Kolchak: The Night Stalker, and have recently found through the miracle of TIVO that the episodes still hold up fairly well, which can hardly be said of most of the television produced in the 1970s.

The thing that I found most remarkable about the show is just how unheroic Kolchak really was. He wasn’t Clark Kent, secretly fighting crime with superpowers at night. He was just an average, middle age reporter, whose only talent seemed the ability to irritate everyone he came into contact with. It was a great character, and a great set of performances by McGavin. Lots of fun, and well worth watching on DVD.

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Aztec + Lego

It’s a strange fact that any two words (or interests) that you might have will eventually find a webpage that illustrates them both.  Of course, every geek in the universe likes Legos, and a couple of years back I made an aborted stab at learning something about Mayan hieroglyphics.   I didn’t think I’d find a webpage that harmonizes the two, but check out Dunechaser’s Blocklog for his Aztec Minifigs.

Addendum:  Wikipedia on Mayan hieroglyphics, PDF of Introduction to Maya Hieroglyphs by Kuttunet and Helmke, or How to Read Maya Hieroglyphs by John Montgomery.

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National Archive movies available on Google Video

Via Ars Technica is the announcement that many films from the National Archives will be made available via Google Video.  Their pilot program had 104 videos, consisting of many newreel clips from WWII, documentaries about the formation of the national parks service, and documentaries from Nasa including the 1969 documentary The Eagle Has Landed, documenting the landing of Apollo 11 on the moon.   Good stuff.

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I’ll be at the San Mateo Maker’s Faire in April

It looks like I’ll be attending the Maker’s Faire in San Mateo coming up on April 22nd and 23rd. My proposal to show my Atari 2600 Enigma Machine was accepted, so I guess I get to setup a little table display and yack at people about writing programs for the old Atari 2600. If I get all my prep done, I’ll be demonstrating how you can assemble code using P65, the perl assembler, run it with the Stella emulator, and then burn it onto an EEPROM for execution in the real machine.

More details as it gets closer, but if you read my blog and are in the neighborhood, I’d be thrilled if you stopped in to say hi.

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Addendum:   Bonus link to an Atari 2600 inspired music video.  Found it with Technorati.   Rockin’!

Science Word of the Day: “Shrimpoluminscence”

Apparently the peakcock mantis shrimp packs a mighty wallop, which can even shatter the glass of aquariums. They also are responsible for the introduction of a new word to my vocabulary: “shrimpoluminescence”. Catch the linked video below.

USATODAY.com – Shrimp spring into shattering action

The speed of the strike (up to 50 mph, or 23 m/s) creates cavitation bubbles between the shrimp’s hammer-like heel and the struck snail. The bubbles collapse, and generate heat, light, and sound. The shell shatters with a flash too-fast-to-see, and a bang. Watch the flash (called shrimpoluminescence for another species) in the video, slowed by a factor of 900. (Courtesy of Sheila Patek, Wyatt Korff and Roy Caldwell/UC Berkeley) Though the mantis shrimp’s tough heel is impregnated with hard minerals, still she must shed the pitted, damaged surface every few months, and grow new heel armor.

I have heard of the word triboluminescence before, which might provide a few minutes of goofy fun crushing Wintergreen lifesavers.

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Addendum: Link to a bonus cartoon that only makes sense if you are as geeky as me, or read the above links.

Maps for ipod, the Juan Buhler way…

San Francisco Courtesy of Google MapsJuan Buhler (former SIGGRAPH sketch chair, current Pixarian, and cool street photographer) sent me a link to his cool idea for using the video ipod to store maps. He realized that the thumbnail viewer in his iPod video displays six thumbnails in each row of his video iPod, so he stitched together a map of San Francisco from Google Maps that was 6 times the native screen resolution of the video iPod, (6×320=1920).   He then used the Python imaging toolkit to break the big map up into columns of six pictures using the Python Imaging Library, and loaded them onto his video iPod.  Now, he can quickly scroll through the map of San Francisco, and bring up individual maps at the native resolution.

What a cool idea!

Addendum: I did something kind of similar a couple of years ago with Python and the Terraserver.  You could basically convert latitude and longitude into a collection of urls, and then download the tiles from the Microsoft Terraserver and stitch them together, allowing you to create pictures like this one of San Francisco.

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