Things 64: Videoshop, Censorship, Shirky on Newspapers

(Originally sent February 2010, maybe)

The use of Photoshop to ‘enhance’ imagery of models is now well-known. I suspect the more sophisticated use of similar tools in videos is much less well-known.

Bonus video
This seems to be everyone’s favourite ad right now:

While walking somewhere on a route that takes you past a lot of cars, you have a great opportunity to memorise something that involves numbers/letters by using each numberplate as a quick test.

1) Numerical position of letter in the alphabet (A=1, Z=26, etc)

Come up with ways to remember each number/letter pair (e.g. 15 = O, think tennis), then try to come up with the numbers corresponding to each letter on the number plates you pass. This can come in handy when you need to come up with a PIN, or when you want to read a secret message in a movie (the majority of which seem to use this basic code).

2) Phonetic Alphabet / Morse Code / Semaphore / any other alphabet mapping

This one requires preparation. Print or write down the key, then try to learn it as you walk while testing yourself on each numberplate you pass.

This is a fun way to pass time walking (for people that find the same things fun as I do).

The puzzle is this: What other things could you teach yourself while walking somewhere?


Much has been written about the Newspapers vs Internet battle, but this (now year-old) article by Clay Shirky is the best I have read. Pretty much every paragraph contains a powerful, succinct insight into a complex aspect of the situation.

Some choice quotes:

“When a 14 year old kid can blow up your business in his spare time, not because he hates you but because he loves you, then you got a problem.”

“It makes increasingly less sense even to talk about a publishing industry, because the core problem publishing solves – the incredible difficulty, complexity, and expense of making something available to the public – has stopped being a problem.”

[On the print revolution of 1500] “That is what real revolutions are like. The old stuff gets broken faster than the new stuff is put in its place. The importance of any given experiment isn’t apparent at the moment it appears; big changes stall, small changes spread.”

Incidentally, my favourite experiment / small change right now is Flattr.


Things 58: Video Special

(Originally sent September 2009)

I’ve built up a backlog of interesting videos I think are worth sharing, so it’s time for a Video Special. Whenever someone links me to a video I always have two questions I want to know before committing to a click – how long is it, and do I need sound – so I include this information after each link. [In the blog version videos are embedded so you can see the run time; I’ll just note if you need sound – T.M. 7th August 2011]

Everything is amazing, nobody is happy
Standup Louis C. K. gets some great mileage out of how the incredible speed of technological change is still exceeded by the human capacity to adapt to and take for granted new concepts (sound is all you need):

Mad Skills
“A man who taught himself rock climbing and acrobatics to escape poverty in India” – most amazing climbing move features at 30s (no sound needed):


The idea mill
Assuming I saw the same trigger video, this is the fastest turnaround from an individual’s creative work going viral to the same idea being used in an ad I’ve ever seen (sound optional for all of these):

9th April 2009: “Wolf vs Pig”, using a kind of meta-Stop Motion:

2nd July 2009, 84 days later: same concept used in an ad for the Olympus PEN:

A bit later (as it doesn’t seem to have been officially uploaded), the same thing again, this time for Land Rover:


I find this kind of video reassuring – a simple concept and attention to detail in the execution, rather than incredible extravagance, can still produce a really nice result (sound essential):

Teaser trailer
Christopher Nolan (Memento, Dark Knight) has a new film coming out next year. I think this is my favourite teaser trailer ever, for conveying just an atmosphere and a single fun idea (sound not essential but awesome):


Things Special: When Signs Go Wrong

Advertising. Product design. Signage. All of these things have a certain weight behind them. They set out to communicate something, and someone has spent money on making sure that they do it properly.

Which makes it all the more interesting when, for whatever reason, they don’t succeed at doing that. Here’s 10 examples I’ve documented over the years. As always, you can click for a bigger version.

1. ING loves you. And your home.

It's difficult to maintain your brand "voice" when you've got legislatively large small print undermining you.

2. New opportunities in rodent co-branding

Paradise Wildlife Park has sponsorship deals for a wide range of rodents, but I presume they tried it out with the guinea-pigs first.

3. See What They Did There

What I like about the promotional signs outside of churches is the way you can feel how much thought and pride has gone into them. And then there's this one.

4. Destiny hedges its bets

This looks to me like a classic case of a creative slogan being horribly compromised by subsequent committee decisions.

5. The Internationally Recognised Symbols for the Sins of the Fish

These pictograms actually demonstrate some impressive feats of design. Stop and consider how you would illustrate something as fundamental - yet subtle - as "Do Not Steal The Fish".

6. Follow These Simple Step By Step Instructions.

You want a theme for your PS3. You find one on the PSN service. At this point, you might imagine there would be a button you press to apply that theme. That would be too easy. Instead you must memorise a sequence of instructions, which doesn't actually appear to be given in order. And that also might be out of date.

7. You’ll Like This – Not A Lot

When attempting to purchase this toothpaste in Finland, the pharmacists actively warned us against it. I think the fact that the product has to clearly explain that you won't like it but you should keep using it anyway demonstrates all that is great about the human race. And more.

8. The Mysteries of Good Menu Design

You are an all-you-can-eat chinese buffet. You can get a great deal on red guava juice wholesale. What subtle alterations can you make to your menu to encourage people to pick it over their usual favourites? (Anecdotally, I note that this strategy is actually extremely effective).

9. Visitors Voted This Review Most Helpful

I always find it slightly strange that the DVD packaging of terrible movies seems wildly unaware of the world's collective judgement, so this is a breath of fresh air. Of course, this is a pirate DVD. Now you know why they say piracy is killing movies. Killing them with honesty.

10. Just Needs A Clearer Call To Action

I spotted this many years ago in Waterloo station. The scrolling poster board had actually got stuck in this position, and my first thought was "that estimate sounds way too low."

Note for pedants: Not all of these things are signs, nor do they all match the description I gave at the start. Sorry about that. As some form of compensation, I offer you this closing bracket that you can mentally pair off against an unclosed one you were irritated by elsewhere on the internet).


Things 88: Out of Sight Animation, The Past of Advertising, Ultimate Blackboard

A great concept, brilliantly executed, well worth carving 5 minutes out of your day for. For the impatient among you, you need to stick with it at least until 1’26” when the magic really starts.

Fast Company published an article on The Future of Advertising, which combined with AdLab’s curation of 15 similarly-positioned Fast Company articles from 1995-2005 raises the question of when a revolution actually starts. Given that you can spin a plausible-sounding article just by gathering together a few examples of something (and disingenuously cite economically driven contraction of traditional players as evidence of change), this kind of historical perspective is very useful for reminding us that in reality you can rarely pin down a single revolutionary moment.

I got an even greater sense of perspective taking a look at Hide and Seek’s highlights of a large collection of ‘cinema advertising tricks from the 1920s’, which include such techniques as interactive cinema, conversation-seeding, and ARGs.

Why do bedsprings occasionally make a ‘poing’ noise, seemingly without provocation?

A great screenshot from The film A Serious Man. I’m proud to say I attended lectures that looked a bit like this by the end, although never with so many diagrams so well executed. (Click for full, use-in-a-presentation size)

Last Week’s Puzzle
Last week I asked why people playing Tomb Raider felt compelled to direct Lara to jump from a great height after they had saved their game. Doug suggested the following (numbering mine):

1) Because the game has just spent the whole playing time frustrating you as you fly off the ledge. Flinging yourself of the ledge then turning off is reassertion that it’s you in control, not the game.
2) It’s nice to do something easy with gusto as relief to hours of trying to do something difficult and complex through careful control and concentration.
Either way it’s got something to do with liberation.

I think both of these no doubt play a part, but similar factors are at work in many other games, so the results only manifest thanks to at least two other additional factors that are at work here:

3) Jumping from a great height itself has a mysterious, mesmerising appeal.
Standing on a precipice, I’ve had to resist the nagging thought that jumping off is an action available to me, and it might be quite interesting, at least for a short time; others I’ve spoken to have had similar thoughts in similar situations. As videogames let us try things out in a risk-free way, it makes sense that we play out this urge in that environment.

Supporting this idea is a personal observation that once I’ve completed a game and am no longer concerned about death, if on a replay I find my character in a precipitous situation that I didn’t fall victim to before, I will often have them jump off just to see what it is like.

4) The architecture of the game and the save mechanism.
Games that have save points typically ensure they can only be used far from danger, presumably to avoid a player saving while in an unsurvivable situation. Tomb Raider had very few such scenarios and so permitted saving at any point. At the same time, death-by-falling was a near ever-present threat. As such, any given moment in which you saved the game was likely to be very close to just such an opportunity.

The icing on the cake was that through an undocumented combination of controls, you could execute an elegant swallow dive.