Tag Archives: storytelling

Things 99: Rules for Stories, Sci-Fi Map, Movie Bar Codes

When an important character first appears in a movie, it’s generally good practice to have the first few things they do give a strong indication of what kind of person they are. I think this is why people get so upset about the “Han shot first” debacle, since it was such a character-defining moment.

Occasionally, real life can give us the same speedy insight into a person, such as these 14 seconds:


In screenwriter Todd Alcott‘s series of insightful and fascinating posts analysing The Shining and how it fits the standard three-act structure set against a driving need of the protagonist, provided that you consider the hotel itself to be the protagonist (which is actually quite a compelling argument; read it in full in parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7), he has the following aside:

[I]n order for a protagonist/antagonist dyad to work dramatically, the protagonist must be aware that the antagonist exists, and is acting upon things, and vice versa. This is why […] fantasy stories always have magical characters who can see the future and know what’s going on in distant lands – because otherwise, the protagonist and antagonist would never know that the other exists.  If Gandalf is just some guy who tells Frodo to throw the ring into a volcano and Frodo says “okay” and sets out, there is no drama to Lord of the Rings.  It must be that Gandalf is a wizard and that Frodo can have visions when he puts on the ring and that Sarumon has a magic ball that sees things, or else everybody is just kind of doing things.

I wasn’t so sure about that when I first read it, but ever since then I’ve seen it more and more. I think it’s actually more the case that when a writer has a story in mind it’s very difficult for them to separate their omniscient knowledge of events from the far more limited knowledge held by the individual characters. If you have some kind of fantasy setting, it’s almost irresistably tempting to get around this by including some kind of magical information transfer. Harry Potter leans on this story crutch particularly heavily (although to be fair Rowling does fold the implications back into the narrative).

Ward Shelley’s History of Science Fiction, originally posted at scimaps.org:
(click for big)

Imagine taking a frame from a movie, and squashing it horizontally to produce a thin vertical line. Now imagine doing that to every frame of the movie, and putting those lines next to one another in sequence. While I’m not sure of the precise transformation used, this is what Movie Barcodes essentially does.

For many movies, this will tend to produce a set of incomprehensible stripes that show little more than the general color grading of the film. The Matrix is a perfect example (click for big on this or any of the others in this post):

Films using distinctive palettes at different times reveal their underlying pattern, for example the distinct striations of Hero:

This begs the question: are there any movies which you could recognise from their “bar code” alone? I suspect this is only reasonable if you’re given a subset of movies to guess from, or if the movie is particularly distinctive. So for this week’s Things, see if you can guess the following movies (the answers are in the filenames of the images):

A famous Disney movie:

Another famous Disney movie:

A film I like:

New movies are regularly added to the Movie Barcode Tumblr, and most excellently they sell a variety of prints of some of the most popular!

Things 91: Dresden Codak, i.e., Paths of Flight

In Things 48 (not yet blogged) I linked to an Aaron Diaz’s Dresden Codak update featuring 42 sharply observed 3rd-act plot twists, but recently realised that this may have misrepresented his work, which instead usually consists of astonishingly deft single-page stories revolving around simple but brilliant ideas.

Here’s 3 of my favourites to give you a much better idea of Diaz’s oeuvre:

Lantern Season:

Fabulous Prizes:

Girl vs Bear:

His blog on comic art theory is also well worth checking out if you are remotely interested in the art form.

During a characteristically interesting and varied conversation with Adam a few days ago, he suddenly revealed the following:

That reminds me of a really interesting thing I read in the Metro today – something like: 30,000 people… something. I can’t remember what it was, but it was really amazing.

Sometimes I want to ask things in Things that are even more obviously not what people might call Puzzles than usual, so in these cases I’m going to be more direct and call a question a Question. So here is a Question.

When it comes to arguments about the English Language I tend to side with the people saying “most people say it this way so that’s now correct” against those saying “this is the way some Victorian guy wrote in a book that it should be said so everyone doing otherwise is wrong”, but I do admit that some distinctions are worth holding against a tide of misuse, one example being that I would correct instances of “i.e.” and “e.g.” being used in one another’s stead where polite and possible.

Fortunately, this didn’t come up very often.

Then in 2010 something terrible happened. About 95% of all instances of “i.e.” that I read were incorrect and should have been “e.g.”, which is particularly silly as it reads as if the author believes a set of many elements (e.g. social networks) consists of only one (e.g. “i.e. Facebook”).

So my question is this: have you also noticed such a sudden rise in “i.e.” misuse, or have I just been unlucky and/or suffered from confirmation bias?

A while ago I realised you could collage time lapse photography of a flight path to obtain an image of a string of planes; I then realised you could do the same thing with video, but recognised that this was beyond my means to produce. Conveniently, GE have now done this:


Things Special: Twitter week

Last week I was in the “Tweet Seat” for my workplace, @RAPP_UK

So in this week’s Things I’m compiling my tweets, and will give them some kind of review and additional context. This is mainly because 140 characters feels a bit like pointing at something and making a kind of grunting noise, when what I really want to do is sum up what’s interesting about the link and what my view is. Since this adds up to quite an intensive read, I’ve arbitrarily broken it up with some pictures I recently found online that I liked.

So, here’s the first tweet:

Tommy Pollata’s Collapsus.com looks cool, but as with other transmedia it’s hard to assess cost/benefit (i.e. time/quality) before diving in

I think this tweet falls between all stools – “looks cool” isn’t enough of an endorsement to go check something out, and there still weren’t really enough characters left to make my point properly. The point was, for something I’m familiar with like movies, I know exactly where to look to assess how good a movie will be (imdb, rotten tomatoes, lovefilm or youtube or filmcrave for trailer), I can easily find out the running time, and I know exactly what kind of commitment I need to make to watch it. For transmedia projects, ARGs and the like, none of this stuff is in place, meaning I have no idea if it will be good or not, and no idea what kind of commitment it will require.

@wireduk Cover story Kinect’s tech is smart, but if Amplification of Input (http://bit.ly/9nDhRc) = Fun, surely Bigger Input = Less Fun?

Thanks to Google Books I was able to link to the idea of “Amplification of Input”, and just about compressed my argument down to the character limit, but as a tweet it somewhat relies on the reader already knowing exactly what Kinect is. While there’s technically enough information in the tweet to help you find the online version of the article I’m talking about, it’s not convenient enough, besides which this is the internet, so mentioning something and not being able to make that mention a link seems ridiculous. I’d also add some caveats to my point, in that while Amplification of Input is one thing that makes games fun, there’s certainly plenty of others, many of which the Kinect could be good at, and I’m also keenly aware that DDR being more fun with a Dance Mat than a controller is a perfect counterargument.

‘People that read more books more likely to buy eReaders’, and other predictable but nice-to-know eReader stats, here: http://bit.ly/9SSgL7

My suitably pithy summary is actually a response to the article’s own bizarre misreading of the stats: “Digital reading has caused a shift in book reading and buying habits, too: While two in five Americans (40%) read 11 or more books a year, with one in five reading 21 or more books in a year (19%), 36% of those who own e-readers read 11 to 20 books a year (36%), and 26% read 21 or more books in an average year.” Sorry, no. The fact I was responding to this probably wouldn’t be clear if you read my tweet then read the article, which itself uses the much more reasonable header “Digital Readers Read More Books” before launching into that quote.

There Are 100 Million Female Cyborgs, one of many interesting musings on humans and technology mutually augmenting: http://bit.ly/b5oCbG

This was the first tweet I was pretty much happy with, encapsulating what I liked about the article with enough intrigue to provoke someone interested in that kind of thing into taking a look.

Digital technology continues to encroach on the supposed benefits of analogue versions: http://bit.ly/cslZUe

I experimentally tried removing all context for the link to make room for my view on it. The Bit.ly results showed this reduced the number of clicks (although whether 2 down from 6/7 is significant is up for debate). There could easily be people that read this but didn’t click who would have if I had made it clear that this was about a web-interface for viewing old paintings in incredible detail.

Here is a contextless link providing tacit endorsement of a news article about Science: http://bit.ly/cZLHVP

This link drew more clicks (8), although perhaps people were reading between the, er, words and understood what kind of a thing they were about to read. Fortunately I didn’t feel like providing much more than tacit endorsement, so this tweet just about worked.

Dorothy Gambrell’s Cat and Girl webcomic has a lot of great insights on trends (and many other areas of life): http://bit.ly/bvceXy

Not based on any moment-by-moment discovery, I just wanted to get a reference to Cat and Girl out there, using a reasonably recent addition. I guess it’s an okay tweet.

Randall Munroe updates his Online Communities map over on XKCD – this time using social activity for scale: http://bit.ly/cAqYO6

Tacit endorsement seemed like enough here, and I was happy to give a full citation – I’ve always found it strange when people post “someone has done this great thing” when it’s easy to find out who “someone” is. A weird personal case was someone commenting on one of my own YouTube videos saying “Whoever edited this should keep up the good work” – I’m right here! On the internet.

Doogie Horner categorises Facebook profile pictures on Fast Company, good thing I’m hidden behind a logo… http://bit.ly/dfHFZU

Sitting in a ‘tweet seat’ behind a brand is actually quite a strange experience. I avoided using the first person because that felt actively strange, but I suspect the real problem was I didn’t have any social cues for what the correct manner was, or even any real-time feedback on whether I was doing it right or wrong. But in any case, I knew I was at least somewhat hidden behind the logo, which I found interesting in itself.

@judell (O’Reilly) wants everyone to learn to pass by reference: http://oreil.ly/bCZkoE – I suspect DropBox will help.

This is an extremely dense tweet that needs several stages of unpacking. If ‘pass by reference’ doesn’t make any sense then you need to read the article, but if it doesn’t make any sense then perhaps you will be put off clicking on the link. To see how DropBox might help you need to be familiar with both that concept and the features of DropBox (which I won’t expand this huge post even further by elaborating on). Finally, the tweet originally started with ‘Jon Udell’, which I then realised looked a bit silly in a tweet about pass-by-reference – although making it “@judell” then turns it into a directed comment, which wasn’t what I really wanted to do. It’s ultimately an interesting feature of Twitter that there isn’t really a distinction between referencing someone and (effectively) saying their name while raising your voice and making meaningful eye-contact with them across the room.

The Nooski Mouse Trap – a better mouse trap, but also a smarter business model: http://bit.ly/d20sru

This tweet hits a lot of the buttons, I would just prefer to be able to link to the specific reference to  ‘a better mouse trap‘ as I’m saying it for those that haven’t heard the phrase before.

Facebook fix Groups, show app data, allow data export: http://on.fb.me/bHH3mL As usual, EFF has insightful commentary: http://bit.ly/9igUl4

It was fun to try to compress this into a single tweet, and linking to commentary from EFF means I don’t feel I need to add my own view, which was also useful because I didn’t have time to do more than scan through both articles at the time. Having subsequently read them both, I think the most interesting point is that the new groups functionality is a more accessible way of communicating with sub-sets of your friends, which seemed like something Zukerberg was ideologically opposed to doing.

Skype is on Android: http://bit.ly/aw5fXG Androids are on Skype (sort of): http://bit.ly/ds6J3A

It’s probably obvious that I was very pleased with this tweet. I found it interesting that it could not have occurred if I had insta-tweeted the Skype-on-Android news, as Twitter effectively incentivises people to do, since I only read the ‘Androids on Skype’ article later.

Find out if Libya is happy for you to click on this very link, by clicking on it: http://bit.ly/aqn6Ui

This was the most clicked-on link (at 11), perhaps because of the hint of interactivity. Perhaps it reads as something of a bait-and-switch, but I think it still has some validity. If you want to judge for yourself you’ll just have to click and see.

Most ideas are obvious in retrospect, but few more so than McDonalds getting a Farm on Farmville http://bit.ly/cQq9k3

This is a superficially well-formed tweet, but I would much rather have had the time to engage with the deeper questions raised by this kind of sponsorship – is it measurably beneficial for McDonalds? For Farmville? For Farmville players? What are the long-term implications of this? For now it will just have to sit as an example of some kind, waiting for others to join it, until I finally feel I have enough ammunition to look into the issue properly.

Audio zoom presumably means sports broadcasters will now be looking for real-time bleep censoring technology: http://bit.ly/ckuX25

Another tweet that takes a few leaps to process, but is hopefully clear… the technology presented allows one to ‘zoom in’ on the audio in a crowd, most obviously useful in the public sphere in big sports events, typically broadcast live, which would therefore need swear-words to be automatically bleeped. The public surveillance angle is actually more interesting to consider, but is too deep to get into in a tweet, or even here. So just… think about it.

Chrome pushes IE below 50% share in “promote it and they will come” shocker http://bit.ly/9uZJxT

More ‘reading between the words’ needed here to decode the reference and how it applies to this story. Since most are probably familiar with the quote (which is almost always misquoted, a fact I think is very interesting in itself), the remaining thing to add (that may be less obvious to people not watching these things) is that Google would build a lot of things and just see what happened, whereas they have recently begun to actively promote their products, the result apparently being that people are actually trying them. There’s a full blog post of material to unpack here, so I may one day revisit this point.

Tried the Playstation Move; could be Sony’s stalking horse for interactive AR – see blog post for my reasoning: http://bit.ly/c4Bj3z

This is a qualitatively different kind of tweet. I scraped together enough time to write a post on something, which means no ‘viewpoint’ is needed on the tweet, just some useful explanation along with the pointing finger. But what I found particularly interesting was that in the process of distilling down to 140 characters I actually came up with a better turn of phrase than two drafts of the original post had yielded – “stalking horse” is I think exactly right.

My tweet seat time is up, so I figured I’d take the opportunity to review and expand on my tweets: http://bit.ly/coWQkG

Well, here we are. And that was that.

igital reading has caused a shift in book reading and buying habits, too: While two in five Americans (40%) read 11 or more books a year, with one in five reading 21 or more books in a year (19%), 36% of those who own e-readers read 11 to 20 books a year (36%), and 26% read 21 or more books in an average year.

See full article from DailyFinance: http://srph.it/b1uO5D

Things 82: Mad Science, Storytelling Verve, Solar Lighting

Time for a Things Picture Special: 10 Pictures Lacking Context.

Here’s some proper Mad Science: setting up a feedback loop such that a fly sees what a robot sees, and its attempts to fly around the obstacles it sees through the robot’s eyes are translated into movements by the robot. Yikes.

More details on the experiment can be found over at IEEE.

Do not be put off by the artistic style here – this is some serious storytelling verve.

I recently read about some new solar powered floodlights, which is a pretty incredible thing since it means you can have off-grid public lighting. This begs the question: even when we couldn’t tap enough sunlight in a day to power a streetlight for a night, why weren’t all street lights at least partially solar powered?