Culture Shock

Posted in books, culture, movies by johnsnavely on February 18, 2010

Last night I watched half of District 9. I probably should have watched it sooner.

It’s the story of a white man, sent to investigate (infiltrate) an alien culture, with the ultimate aim of relocating (or eradicating) that culture. Eventually the man finds himself a member of that culture and must battle against his former friends and colleagues who wish to oppress his new found community.

If this doesn’t sound remarkably familiar, then you haven’t watched Avatar.

Now Avatar is a steamy pile, but it has been dipped in golden technology and buffed with Cameron’s millions. It’s pixel perfect. But I couldn’t help to compare the two movies.

In my mind, they use the same plot but for very different ends. Avatar is about fantasy and escape– which is why people are getting depressed with reality after watching it:

In District 9, however, crossing a fictional cultural divide is about shedding some light on our own cultural problems and proclivities. That’s not to say Avatar hasn’t inspired some District 9 like repercussions/reinterpretations: Witness a Palistinian protest in full Naavi costume.

I’ve been leaving my Lamour obsession behind and getting back into science fiction. I’ve just read Snow Crash, started Steal Across the Sky, and am rereading a collection of Phillip K. Dick’s short stories (including Minority Report). I enjoy science fiction because like Avatar it offers fantasy and escape; but I come back to it because like District 9 it tells me something about the world I live in, or in the best case will live in.

Ursula K. LeGuin’s Left Hand of Darkness presents a similar dilemma of a man struggling to integrate with an alien race. Only this race has no concept of “he” or “she” for the majority of their lives. The main character’s difficulty in understanding the world he’s faced with is written in such a way that we (the reader) have the same trouble picturing what these aliens look like or how to understand what their interactions mean. Only partway through the novel, do we realize that the main character is black. There are all these shorthand ways of “understanding” that can be rooted in our pre-configured notions of gender or race.

I think I might need to re-read the book just to more fully understand the fashion world’s current obsession with androgyny, which by and large, I think has produced some pretty creative designs.

Anyway, now that I’m reading again. Do you (gentle & few) readers have some suggestions?


I was bored under unusual circumstances.

Posted in movies, technology by johnsnavely on December 29, 2008

Watched Benjamin Button on opening night the day after my birthday, the birthday of that other guy.

Thanks to some auspicious timing (I’m thinking about getting old too!), a cool trailer, and my respect for David Fincher, my hopes were high. It was good movie: beautifully shot, surprisingly dark in places– but, goddamnit, it wasn’t awesome. Fincher/Gump has been a criticism that’s been about right, but Benjamin (the character) isn’t a simpleton and isn’t exactly nice, conflicts that weren’t explored. I wish the movie were meaner, more Seven.

From SFF Portal

From SFF Portal

Although it’s sort of refreshing to see movies tackling death head on, I’d say Kaufman does it better than Fincher. These movies will always be a little unsatisfying because no one is going to solve anything. But Synecdoche, similar to its lesser cousins (like the Matrix or Dark City), play uncertainty into surrealism and the ending, imho, works about as well as it can.

Anyway, the holidays were awesome! I spent most my time playing Settlers with my borther and sister who were visiting. At one point, my brother joked that he had finally made it onto youtube. I went looking for the video in question by searching for “Snavely” in youtube. I found something curious.

In search results are videos that aren’t tagged with “snavely”, don’t have “snavely” in the descriptions, and aren’t stored in any Snavely family collections. Why are they there? They’re all the youtube videos I’ve saved to delicious.

Yet another thorn-in-the-side reminder that everyone can mine my data, but me.


Posted in movies, music, technology by johnsnavely on November 14, 2008

Saw this vid that I thought was kinda cool:

Reminds me of an old Gondry vid:

Salad Days

Posted in architecture, movies by johnsnavely on June 28, 2008

Watched Battle Royale again last night.

It held up to a second viewing. Mostly because of some pretty amazing scenes and dialog. Some of the images from that movie are incredibly surreal. My favorites are when there’s a slow pan across an overgrown landscape with two school kids dying like a campy version of the Hudson River School. Oh and the scene where this artwork is unveiled is actually one of the great film moments in history. (This isn’t the scene, just the music and some stills.)

I am reminded how extraordinarily difficult it is to make something purposefully bad that is also entertaining. Battle Royale 2 is an example of something that is purposefully bad that is, in fact, just bad. I can’t unwatch that one.

I’ve also been watching all of the original Aeon Flux episodes which are out on dvd. Those things are great. There’s so much interesting architecture in there. Which oddly reminded me of this architects work (stolen from Bryan). Pretty awesome.

The Bends

Posted in movies by johnsnavely on June 6, 2008

Watched The Diving Bell and Butterfly yesterday.

The movie, directly beautifully by Julian Schnabel, is based on a book of the same name. The book, a memoir, was written by Jean -Dominique Bauby. Jean suffered a stroke in his 40’s which left him completely paralyzed except for his left eyelid; his brain function and hearing remained, a condition known as “locked-in” syndrome. He painstakingly learned to communicate by blinking, and, one single letter at a time, wrote his memoirs.

To say the film is touching, might be an understatement. It is an incredibly moving story told in a simple and powerful way. And when the end of the movie comes, and the credits show huge hunks of glaciers melting and falling into the ocean– but in reverse, and you are piecing yourself whole as well– it is very difficult to keep a dry eye.

You should see this movie.

The Unbearable Whiteness of Being

Posted in art, movies, technology by johnsnavely on May 31, 2008

Sorry I’ve been away from the blog for so long, folks. I’ve been driving cross country from Cambridge to Seattle. It was a wonderful, amazing trip which I will write more about in subsequent posts. In the meantime I wanted to share three videos, stolen from three friends. I’ll show the videos first, and then talk about relevance. (Many thanks to the friends I’ve looted.)

1. Ratatat has a new album coming out. T, has been feeding me links to leaked songs (and this video) and the album promises to be awesome. Much less dance-able (to the dismay of the young-uns) but clever and infectious as usual. Here’s a video to their song, Mirando, made from snippets of the movie Predator:

2. Allen showed me this amazing video for REM’s song Imitation of Life. The video is built out of single 30 second clip that’s played forwards and backwards, but zoomed into to provide a continuous song crafted from moments and reversals:

3. Last but not least, Eva, a former co-worker, recently posted this video about manipulating video via objects in that video. The video is quite beautiful and the source (which I had delicious’ed earlier) is a little more academic, but continues bringing home the bacon.

So the connection between these three videos is that one of my current assignments is to think about time-based interfaces. Specifically timelines and calendars. But, we’d like those interfaces to feel more like the “infinite canvas” (the pan and zoom demo in my last post). Something elegant and intuitive. So I’ve been looking at interfaces with some notion of time represented in them; time represent linearly, time represented circularly, time as discreet moments, and time as a continuum. Success would be to make something that’s easier to use than a calendar, and more powerful, a task that many many applications have taken on.

I remember the first time many years ago when I was working for AMNH that I had to write some php scripts to parse through old ANWR temperature data and build a website with a calendar. It sucked. Months have different lengths. Years can have different number of days. And when you get beyond that, weekends and holidays (although they’re just days, too) are qualitatively different than other days. What I mean to say is that from our Roman calendar to Christian holidays to “American” work week our experience of time is very dependent on soft culture. It would be great to have something malleable to help me manage my experience of time.

So here are the nice-to-haves of a new calendar app:

1.See multiple timelines simultaneously. This includes one’s own paths, as well as timelines of friends, family, and co-workers (your entire– and I hate this phrase– social network).

2. Attach tags, data, descriptions or any sort of media to a piece of time. And be able to reorganize and share those blocks.

3. Shift between views based on task. If I’m in a “to do” sort of mood (i.e. at work), then show my calendar prioritized accordingly.

Right now, I’ve got this vision of colored ribbons in space, like the Ace Combat dogfight replay.

Corpus Hypercubus

Posted in art, movies by johnsnavely on May 13, 2008

Saw this video today:

Animation has come a long way thanks to computers. Ever since Final Fantasy (which I had to see in theaters), they’ve been pushing pretty far into the uncanny valley. (Computer have also caused the reverse to be true as well. The future is in the valley, apparently.) Even the kid’s stuff is unbelievably polished.

So it’s only natural that an opposite sort of animation gain in popularity, raw and process-oriented, like this in-situ animated graffiti or whiteboard animations or even (gasp!) sand paintings. Please to enjoy this amination! (ty, Dan)

Campy, yes. (You should see the sand painting set to Vivaldi…) But there’s something so anti-art about it, that it must, in fact, be brilliant– albeit naively so.

Ferrous Boy

Posted in movies by johnsnavely on May 11, 2008

Go see Iron Man. It’s good clean fun.

Wall Street

Posted in movies, music, technology by johnsnavely on April 29, 2008

So I wasn’t even supposed to mention what my group (at my new job at microsoft) was doing until they went public. (whoops!) Those of you who I’ve given details to, please don’t go running to microsoft’s legal department.

Well, now they have. now has a public site. It’s a little bare and boring… we’re treading quietly for a bit, but when I’ve worked on something cool that can be published there, I’ll let you know!

In the meantime, check out these two “remixes”.

The first is an except from Martin Arnold‘s new film Alone.

The second is High Noon redone.

The Uncanny Valley

Posted in movies, projects, thesis by johnsnavely on April 22, 2008

In the comments to the last post, virtualnexus pointed out an artwork that I hadn’t seen before, but (from images I saw…) I think I would really like. The piece reminds me of few things. First, Gerhard Richter’s Mirror Painting (Blood Red), a monochromatic painting in red on the back of a large, figure-sized piece of glass. I saw it at SFMoMA many years ago and, for something so minimal, it was creepy as hell….

Speaking of blood, I just watched Takashi Miike’s Dead or Alive. It’s not as good as Ichi the Killer, but it’s got the best ending in a movie since Tarantino’s Death Proof. The movie is pretty extreme so if you gross out easily, you might want to pass on this one. (I also checked out Day Watch, but I’ll save that for another post.)

Anyway, the other image that popped into my head when I looked at Richard Wilson’s piece was the opening scene of Ghost in the Shell 2. These opening credits are unbelievable! Traditional Japanese a capella frames these fetish-ized robotic Bellmer dolls. The result is a jaw dropping tour de force that I have difficulty intellectualizing because the emotional output is so raw. (Wait for the use of reflection/water in the video)

This doesn’t do it justice (you need the high res version… watch it full screen on YouTube), but you get the idea:

Anyway, the whole point of Miike and Richter and GitS2 is the mixture of sublime and grotesque that makes me think that they aren’t diametric opposites but instead separate points on a continuum that loops back on itself. (I wonder what would happen if tried to make something as gross as I could.)

Trend note, I’ve seen this resurgent interest in John Waters (and Water’s pop/gross/white trash obsession). You don’t know whether to cry, laugh, or barf. I wanted to show you this site as an example, but the photos have been taken down…