Things 40: Big Dog Robot, Movie Marketing, Facebook Principles

(Originally sent February 2009)

For those that are new or may have forgotten, ‘Things’ is intended to be weekly, I’ve just been abnormally busy recently. I’m getting this one done by adding bits in stages throughout the week, but since it has somehow become much longer than usual it has actually taken more than a week for these incremental efforts to add up…

The movie Push was much better than I had expected, being unusually well thought-out and executed for the genre.

My review:

I’m currently undecided on which I want to see of these two films:

The Unborn – implementing all ‘best practice’ horror cliches
(IMDb 4.8/10! Rotten Tomatoes 13%!)

Franklyn – Possibly ‘Bridge to Terabithia’ for adults, but less mature
(IMDb 7.8/10 Rotten Tomatoes N/A)

(Don’t forget you can switch off YouTube annotations via the icon in the bottom right)
[Much later I did eventually see Franklyn. Unfortunately I don’t recommend it. – T.M. 20/2/11]

‘Big Dog’: Once again, technology jumps forward a bit faster than I was expecting, this time in robotic quadrapedal locomotion:

I found this New Yorker article on the marketing of movies absolutely fascinating.

Warning – long article! Recommend consumption in chunks!


“Publicity is selling what you have: the film’s stars and sometimes its director. Marketing, very often, is selling what you don’t have; it’s the art of the tease.”

“Even as movie attendance has dropped nineteen per cent from its peak of 1.6 billion theatregoers, in 2002, the number of films released each year since then has increased by thirty per cent. A dozen new films—three of them big studio releases—now vie for attention on any given weekend. To cut through the ambient noise, major studios spend an average of thirty-six million dollars to market one of their films.”

(Note that the average is probably the wrong figure to consider – a handful of gargantuan budgets will massively distort it. I would guess the median figure might be around 10 million dollars based on similar power-law distributions)

“the industry-standard multiplier for ultimate box-office—two and a half times the opening weekend’s gross”

Nat Torkington of O’Reilly Radar, on the trend for applications and data to be run and stored in the ‘cloud’ (the external network, e.g. Google Docs or webmail) rather than your own computer:

“Data in the cloud can be a privacy problem, because you’ve outsourced your privacy, so you’re vulnerable to attack not just from hackers but also from governments, competitors, and incompetence.”

Taken from a very important but annoyingly presented talk you can click through (yes, talk you can click through, that’s why it’s annoying) here:

Puzzle – previous
Last time I asked what people thought digital cinema projection combined with mobile phone interaction might cause to happen. Here’s some of what came out…

Storytelling used to be interactive with the storyteller flexing the way the story is told depending on audience reaction – this sort of thing becomes possible again. The mood could be flexed (perhaps with the soundtrack – dynamically generating suitable music is something already being used in video games), lines changed, or even the ending. But where does the input come from?

Live ‘what happens next’ competitions with prizes for audience members (!) and for scriptwriters…

Crowd-source optimisation of the presentation – up/down volume, focus, alignment. (I heard some cinemas in the US already do this – a few chairs in the auditorium are equipped for the audience member to give instant feedback on these issues, or it may have just been a single button that means ‘something is wrong’)

Product placement: can be localised (different product appears in same film when shown in different countries, or different locations in those countries), or placed on the screen in real time using some kind of eye-tracking, and optimised using mood-measurement, and cinema temperature control!!

Personally I suspect it will go through a process of hype (a few gimmicky movies where you can choose the ending, a rush of adverts with some kind of audience interaction tacked on), it will rely on sponsorship from a mobile operator (probably Orange), and it may ultimately fail because Cinema is a ‘sit back’ medium, rather than a ‘sit forward’ inherently interactive one like the web. (TV is a ‘sit back’ medium, which is why nobody presses ‘the red button’).

Or maybe I’m wrong – apparently the statistics actually show that 11 million people press that button every week, and a ‘killer app’ that we haven’t thought of could always emerge in interactive cinema and transform the entire medium.

Puzzle – this week
This just in – Facebook are taking what I consider to be an incredibly significant step in that they are now approaching their terms of service in a way similar to the US Constitution:

Their proposals for a ‘statement of rights and responsibilities‘ and ‘Facebook Principles‘ are currently up for debate.

There are three parts which I think work very interestingly together:

Principle 1. Freedom to Share and Connect
People should have the freedom to share whatever information they want, in any medium and any format, and have the right to connect online with anyone – any person, organization or service – as long as they both consent to the connection.

Digital technology has blurred the line between ‘information’ and ‘content’. As such, the very first principle sounds as if it endorses p2p file sharing…

R&R 2.3 For content that is covered by intellectual property rights (like photos and videos), you specifically give us the following permission, subject to your privacy and application settings: you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use, copy, publicly perform or display, distribute, modify, translate, and create derivative works of (“use”) any content you post on or in connection with Facebook. This license ends when you delete your content or your account.

Facebook need your permission to share your content with those you want to share it with, certainly, but imagining them modifying and then publicly performing it sounds a bit strange (I’m imagining a personal photo being photoshopped in some bizarre way and then paraded around Tokyo on a sandwich board with a strange slogan in order to promote Facebook) – and the idea that they will then stop such a thing as soon as you ‘delete your content’ is also hard to imagine…

R&R 5.1 You will not post content or take any action on Facebook that infringes someone else’s rights or otherwise violates the law.

Does this contradict Principle 1? Does that matter?

A picture
After an unusually intense edition of Things, here’s a nice little story and picture from the surprisingly entertaining Cake Wrecks blog.


Things 37: Ideas of 2008, Centripetal Hamster, Pictures of 2008

(Originally sent January 2009)

It’s 2009. Time for some Things.

A quote
Richard Feynman:

“There are 10^11 stars in the galaxy. That used to be a huge number. But it’s only a hundred billion. It’s less than the national deficit! We used to call them astronomical numbers. Now we should call them economical numbers.”

A link
NY Times ideas of 2008, presented in a fascinatingly browseable format:

A video
Hamster demonstrates centripetal force:

A puzzle
Last time I asked if there were more households with dogs or with cats.

According to the data available to me (which covers the UK excluding Northern Ireland), 23.1% of UK households have 1 or more dogs, and 23.2% have one or more cats. So the answer is cats, but by an almost unbelievably small margin.

(6.1% of households have 1 or more cats and 1 or more dogs; there are about 14.7 million dogs and 17.7 million cats).

This week’s puzzle is a classic: the paradox of value.

Water is generally much more useful than diamonds, yet diamonds are more expensive by a gargantuan factor. Why is this?

The Boston Globe ‘Big Picture’ section always does the best round-up of a year’s photos. Three pages of amazing images start here:


Things 33: Fast Zombies, Eyeballing, Hallowe’en Pets

(Originally sent November 2008)

I’ve cancelled my Cineworld card because there’s a lot of stuff I need to do in the next couple of months.

I did see Quantum of Solace, which I found to be surprisingly poorly scripted, directed and edited. Mark Kermode expressed my thoughts precisely, and also has some insight as to why it ended up this way:

Puzzle Answers
I forgot to answer the car light mystery from Things 31. It turned out that the back lights were not actually on, and only came on when braking (which is why they were on when I parked to check) – I proved this by nudging the brakes and looking at the cats-eyes on the motorway light up in my rear view mirror. After fixing this by finding out that the light-controlling dial also had to be ‘popped out’ to engage the rear lights (crazy design idea), cars continued to flash at me, which I eventually discovered was in fact due to me using fog-lights, which was because instead of being controlled by the dial that did everything else to do with lights, these were controlled from another, unlabelled part of the dashboard.

As for the Busaba Toilets, I went into the other room marked with the curving lines, only to be confronted by some unimpressed women. I went back to the room with the kinked line and it was only on closer inspection that I realised there were cubicles, but they were designed so their doors blended completely into the wall. So watch out for that.

This week’s puzzle
Simon Pegg has written an insightful article about why the modern trend for fast rather than shambling zombies completely misses the point.

I think he’s missed something himself though, as the question that naturally arises is this:

If shambling zombies represent our fear of the inevitable slow approach of death, what do fast screaming attacking zombies represent?

A quote
I used to do parkour/free-running with a small gang of similarly mad individuals on my university’s campus. Being the most cautious of the group, I never sustained an injury, whereas at one time or another everyone else did. The least cautious was a crazy second-year called Andy. One particular February night had left our playground icy and treacherous, but Andy was still ready to go ahead.

He reassured us by explaining:

“There’s more grip, because of the ice.”

A video
If you’re familiar with Pinky and the Brain, then you’ll be happy to know that it was dubbed into several different languages, including the excellent intro music, in German:

A link
Last week, Bex reported an unbeatable score of 0 for the colour-matching game. Here is your next challenge: eyeballing.

A picture
An amazing collection of pet Hallowe’en costume photos.


Things 27: Shoe Friends, Dog Frisbee, Dying

(Originally sent September 2008)

As I had suspected, Things is not by nature interactive – one person requested to be on the CC list (and this also happened to be the one person to reply to last week’s puzzle). Since the functionality with one person is identical to keeping everyone on the BCC list that is what I will do, until someone else wants to be CC’d!

Nothing wrong with this, it just reaffirms my decision to switch to BCC by default.

Films continue to be rubbish, ‘Rocknrolla’, ‘Step Brothers’ and ‘The Duchess’ all having zero appeal to me.

Last week’s puzzle
Shoes are like friends…

“You only need a few and even then there’s only one or two you really spend much time with”
“You’ll always know which the best ones are because you like wearing them constantly and you never feel like they’re worn out.”
“They come in pairs”
“You only know their true value when it rains”

Additional answers from 2010:
Richard: “Shoes are like friends … everyone needs two good quality ones that they’ve worn-in over many years”
Phil: “A good thing to put on before going out, but there were far too many episodes which are all basically the same?”

This week’s puzzle
Sometimes it seems as if a shampoo becomes less effective the more you use it, and by the end you have to switch to a different one entirely. Why is this? (Note, I don’t have a good answer on this one, please do send in any theories you may have).

A video
I taught our dog to catch a frisbee and thought I would upload some video of this to YouTube. Then I reasoned that someone had probably already done this to a much higher standard, and upon searching discovered the amazing world of competitive dog frisbee catching:

For anyone interested, I did end up including some of my dog’s frisbee-catching skills in the background of my review of the Bourne trilogy:

A link
A lovely game (in the very loosest sense of the word) involving a cat and some dots.
(Possible challenges to set yourself: enclose the cat in the largest area possible, let the cat escape with the most dots filled in possible)

A quote, or rather a poem
I went to the funeral of my great aunt this week. During the service my mum read this poem:

Gone From My Sight
I am standing upon the seashore.
A ship at my side spreads her white
sails to the morning breeze and starts
for the blue ocean.

She is an object of beauty and strength.
I stand and watch her until at length
she hangs like a speck of white cloud
just where the sea and sky come
to mingle with each other.

Then, someone at my side says;
“There, she is gone!”

Gone where?

Gone from my sight. That is all.
She is just as large in mast and hull
and spar as she was when she left my side
and she is just as able to bear her
load of living freight to her destined port.
Her diminished size is in me, not in her.

And just at the moment when someone
at my side says, “There, she is gone!”
There are other eyes watching her coming,
and other voices ready to take up the glad
“Here she comes!”

And that is dying.

by Henry Van Dyke, a 19th Century clergyman, educator, poet, and religious writer

Personally I’m a bit of a nihilist when it comes to death, but I can see how this would be comforting to others.

A picture
Something went horribly wrong when I searched for video of the Edinburgh Fringe festival – it seems they have some kind of automatic title generator. Result number 2 is the most problematic (click for full size):