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Animation historians blast SF Chron movie critic

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A Boing Boing reader says: "Mick LaSalle is a film critic for the SF Chronicle. His review of Monster House revealed his supreme lack of understanding when it comes to animation and CGI."

I agree. LaSalle doesn't know what he's talking about. His assessment of this crummy movie is profoundly wrong. The most egregious statement in the review had to be this one: "There was never any point to a close-up in an animated film -- there was never really anything to see." -- Woah! I mean, Winsor MacKay was blowing away audiences with the adorable and expressive Gertie the Dinosaur in 1914.

I know there's no accounting for taste, and if someone likes the animation in Monster House or A Scanner Darkly , I'm envious that they're so easily amused. But LaSalle's review reveals such a supreme lack of understanding about animation that true aficionados of the artform and talented industry pros are dumbfounded by LaSalle's astoundingly clueless review.

Pixar story artist Jeff Pidgeon sent a polite letter to the SF Chron in an attempt to educate LaSalle on the fact that animated cartoons weren't half bad before motion capture arrived to rescue the artform. (Excerpts from LaSalle's review in italics, followed by Pidgeon's response.):

Animated films always had the advantage of being able to go anywhere and show anything, to defy the laws of physics and follow the imagination as far as it could go. But they never had the ability to show the human face. There was never any point to a close-up in an animated film -- there was never really anything to see.

Nothing? No tenderness as Lady and the Tramp eat spaghetti together? No grief when Dopey stands at Snow White's coffin? No longing as Dumbo and his mother embrace at night, straining to reach one another through the wall of a circus wagon? No terror in Lampwick's face as he transforms into a donkey? You saw nothing in those faces?

Imagine what Disney might have done with this in the creation of the Seven Dwarfs. Imagine all the things that will be done with this in the future. "Monster House" looks like the ground floor of something important.

The emotional power and vibrant entertainment "Snow White" created almost seventy years ago will live on long after current techniques have come and gone. It hardly seems lacking.

The letter LaSalle wrote back to Pidgeon indicates that he doesn't want to learn anything from the talented animation industry pro:
Thank you for a thoughtful message. I appreciate it. (Don't agree with it, any of it, but I appreciate being accurately quoted and not being cursed at.)

As animation historian Amid Amidi says:

It's one thing to have a subjective view of a film —- it's another to be so glaringly ignorant of the art form you're discussing to completely dismiss one hundred years of accomplishments and proclaim something so obviously inferior as a technological advance.

Storyboard artist Jenny Lerew says:

[LaSalle] makes a mockery of 100 years of often beautiful, heartbreaking, breathtaking, real acting achievement in animated films. It's one thing to write about a "new" technique in film as the flavor of the month served up in a holy grail -- it's another to backtrack and demean the plain fact of past successes as somehow terribly lacking, which is what this reviewer thinks of, well, basically all Disney animation output from 1937 until "Monster House" with its supposedly improved presentation of animated facial performances.

The message boards for the society of digital artists are also full of head-shaking bewilderment over LaSalle's proudly ignorant review. Link

Man lifts car to save teen

Tucson, Arizona resident Tom Boyle lifted a car with his bare hands to save a young fellow trapped underneath it. Kyle Holtrust, 18, was riding his bike in Tucson when the Camaro hit him and he was dragged for 20 or 30 feet. Boyle and his wife happened to be driving by when the accident occurred. No word on the gamma radiation levels at the scene. From an Arizona Daily Star article:
"I didn't believe what I saw," Boyle said Thursday. "I didn't believe it until my wife said something, and I was just like, 'Oh my God.' You think things like that only happen in movies...."

Holtrust was pinned underneath his bike, which was pinned underneath the car, said Boyle, who is 6 feet 4 inches tall and weighs 300 pounds.

"As soon as I get to the car, the boy is just screaming his head off, and I could tell he was in a lot of pain," Boyle said. "As I was lifting the front end of the car off of him, he was just saying, 'Mister, mister, higher, higher.' Then when it was high enough, he said, 'OK. I can't move. Get me out.' "
Link

Tibetan poet's blogs shut down in China censorship wave

Two blogs authored by the popular Tibetan poet Woeser (aka "Oser" or in Chinese, "Wei Se") have been censored, according to Reporters Without Borders:
They were shut down by the websites that hosted them - Tibetcult.net, a Tibetan cultural portal, and Daqi.com, a local blog platform - presumably on government orders amid a continuing wave of online censorship in China.

(...) Woeser used her two blogs - oser.tibetcul.net and blog.daqi.com/weise - to post her poems and essays about Tibetan culture, as well as articles written by her husband, Wang Lixiong, an independent Chinese writer. Most of the visitors to the blogs were Tibetan students who, like Woeser, had received their education in Chinese and who wanted to renew contact with their original Tibetan culture.

Woeser is one of the few Tibetan authors and poets to write in Chinese. She is committed to the defence of Tibetan culture and her book "Notes on Tibet" was banned in 2004 because of its favourable references to the Dalai Lama. She was fired from her job, evicted from her home and lost her social welfare entitlement. She was also forced to write articles recognising her "political errors." But she has continued to work and several of her books have been published in Taiwan in recent years. The disappearance of her two blogs comes a few days after the closure of the forum of her husband's website Dijin-democracy.net, and that of a site that was very influential among Chinese intellectuals, Century China.

Link

Decorative marijuana plants

New Image Plants deals in silk marijuana plants and faux buds. Seen here is a beautiful 6' plant, on sale for just $190.57. From the product description:
 Images 4Ft Many people like the look of a towering, fully mature marijuana plant. Our 6 foot plant will not disappoint you. Whether you want to decorate your living room or large office or your hotel lobby or outdoor garden, our 6’ marijuana plant is a great choice! The large and leafy 6 footer is big enough to provide shade and classy enough to add a hip dimension to your living space.

These 6’ plants are so life-like that a dozen in an open field is sure to get noticed by all the right people. If you plan it right, you can have the last laugh!
Link to New Image Plants, Link to AP story about the fake weed biz (Thanks, Steve Lindholm!)

Bird flu hits badminton

The quality of premium badminton shuttlecocks have suffered from a feather shortage resulting from bird flu. Apparently, the best of these birdies are imported from China where a single goose might provide only two feathers. From the Los Angeles Times:
"I believe the problem is potentially considerable," said Torsten Berg, the official bird flu spokesman for the International Badminton Federation.

The shortage has been particularly felt in Southern California, home to some of the country's best players, coaches and clubs.

Prices on premium shuttlecocks, which cost up to $25 for a tube of a dozen, have risen 25% in the last few months.

Manufacturers are competing for the limited feathers, and players are scrambling to buy the best birdies in bulk, further restricting supply.
Link (Thanks, Paul Saffo!)

Robotic roach-stud charms roaches into the light

European researchers have created a robotic roach that can convince other roaches that it's a sexy super-stud, crawling into their nests and then luring them out into the light with pheromones:
The machines are programmed to act like the insects and are even doused in pheromones that mimic eau de roach – the primary way cockroaches recognize each other. “It’s not vision, it’s not sound, it’s pure chemistry,” says scientific coordinator José Halloy from the Université Libre de Bruxelles. The droid enters a roach nest, charms the locals with movements and scent, and then slowly lures its minions into a better-lit area (these quintessential pests usually avoid light).
Link

How thieves steal RFID-enabled cars

Brad Stone's feature on RFID-enabled car-keys for Wired is astounding. In the article, entitled "Pinch My Ride," Stone documents the many ways in which these security systems fail. Most profound among the failures is that insurance companies believe RFID-keys to be infallible and refuse to pay out when your car gets stolen. How do RFID cars get stolen? Well, thieves can disable the RFID reader by removing a fuse, find the spare RFID key in the manual in the glove-box, steal RFID-enabled blanks from a dealer, or, most astoundingly, use a semi-secret sequence of pulls on the emergency brake.

This is a textbook example of how security systems can fail: if you strengthen only the door of your safe, thieves will go in through the sides. Like the biometric fingerprint-reading car locks in Malaysia that thieves defeat by amputating your fingers, an RFID car lock merely pushes the security problem to a different place:

[...]Montes fed the guy a barely credible story about a cousin who had dropped his keys down a sewer. The dealership employee was at home but evidently could access the Honda database online. I gave Honky’s VIN to Montes, who passed it along to his friend. We soon had the prescribed sequence of pulls, which I scribbled down in my notebook.

I walked outside and approached Honky. The door lock would have been easy – a thief would have used a jiggle key, and a stranded motorist would have had a locksmith cut a fresh one. I just wrapped the grip of my key in tinfoil to jam the transponder. The key still fit, but it no longer started the car.

Then I grabbed the emergency brake handle between the front seats and performed the specific series of pumps, interspersed with rotations of the ignition between the On and Start positions. After my second attempt, Honky’s hybrid engine awoke with its customary whisper.

Link

Julian Dibbell on virtual economics transcript

Wagner James Au sez, "The event mentioned last week in Boing Boing with Julian Dibbell creating an avatar and selling a virtual edition of his latest is up now on my blog, a fascinating 5,000+ words on the future of online worlds, and of work online."

... If you had gone to Babylonia or whenever 10,000 years ago, and said 'Hey, 10,000 years from now, the economy you think of as the economy, the growing of grain and baking it and distributing it and all that stuff, and the system you think of as sort of spiritual and ephemeral, the priestly stuff of knowledge work, those roles are going to be completely flipped around, with esoteric, highly mediated financial transactions constituting BY FAR the majority of economic activity on the globe...' they would have laughed at you. Or made you their rain god.

And the evolution of a play economy would work very similarly, with the economy itself creating its own needs, which feed on themselves with especial voracity and velocity because there's less and less physical stuff involved to slow it down. Until voila, yeah, we still need agricultural workers and accountants and systems analysts and so forth, but of course all the REAL wealth of the world is being made here in these little worlds that used to be dismissed as mere games.

Link (Thanks, James!)

Darth Vera, the Sith yenta

In reference to yesterday's post about Hello Kitty Darth Vader (sadly, a photoshopping job), Nic sends us word of his friend Jen, who went to ComicCon this year dressed as Darth Vera, a middle-aged, chubby, female Sith Lord.

Link 1, Link 2, Link 3, Link 4, Link 5 (Thanks, Nic!)

(Image thumbnail from a larger picture in Mystphoto's Flickr stream)

In memoriam: Bill Goggins, formerly of Wired Magazine

Paul Boutin writes,
Bill Goggins, who died unexpectedly while running the San Francisco Marathon Sunday, was Wired's man-behind-the-curtain for years until he recently moved on. Bill's meticulous yet hilarious verbal skills, coupled with a work ethic rarely seen outside New England milltowns, quietly improved most of Wired's feature stories and countless others in the late 90's and early 00's. Bill had an exceptional ability to take a good story and make it better–clearer, catchier, more consistent–usually by changing only a few words, sometimes by making both editor and writer go back and re-examine their basic premises. Whenever people comment on my ability to write clearly, I know Bill had a lot to do with it.

Case in point: I once spent weeks crafting a short piece on Ray Kurzweil that concluded with this paragraph.

Skeptics may say he's flown off the charts himself, but Kurzweil is sure they'll live to regret it. "The really surprising thing to me is how many Nobel Prize winners haven't internalized the implications of the exponential rate of increase in the rate of knowledge itself," he says. "It's easy to explain these things in the language of mathematics. But to really understand them, you almost need to resort to religious terms."
Bill read it and tacked on one more word:
Amen.
But I'll remember Bill most for his dry yet pointed wit around the office. When Chris Anderson's first Wired cover, "Is Japan Still the Future?" was punched up by Condé Nast's editorial director to "Japan Rocks!" Bill protested by posting a note above his desk in the same font: "If Japan's a-rockin', don't come a-knockin'."
Link to Paul's post. Image: Bill Goggins, with Paul's wife Christina Noren, at a party in 2004. Here is an article with details on the circumstances surrounding Goggins' death at 43 years old, the first fatality in the SF Marathon's history. He was a kind man and a masterly editor.

Update: Snip from an item at Wired News by Mark Robinson:

Goggins was a legendary figure at Wired magazine, where he started as a freelance copy editor in 1995. He went on to become the managing editor and an articles editor, and eventually rose to become deputy editor. His colleagues admired him tremendously.

“Bill was that rarest of things: a true original,” says Chris Anderson, the magazine’s editor in chief. “He was brilliant, witty and culturally omnivorous, all of which combined in his signature headlines. They usually worked on at least three levels of meaning, from some remixed cultural reference to at least one pun. In many ways his winking style and clever turns of phrase became Wired house style for nearly a decade, and to look at our covers and headlines over those years is to hear Bill's voice again.”

Link (Thanks, Mark Robinson) Tim Cavanaugh at Reason magazine writes,
One of my countless career regrets was that I turned down a great offer from Wired back in the late nineties in order to keep chasing the white lady of a big dotcom ripoff. Bill was very cool before, during, and after that fiasco, and was a reliable good-time guy and great conversationalist. I always enjoyed hanging out with him. His writings for Wired are pretty sparsely represented on a quick Google search, but here's his complete Suck archive, my favorite of which is this Jack-Kemp-is-gay chestnut. I'll miss Bill.
With the apparent exception of the first title listed ("Free at Last"), this is an archive of Goggins' contributions to Suck.com (Thanks, Paul Boutin).

Nina Alter of Survival Research Laboratories (SRL) tells BoingBoing,

I used to work at WiReD, and fucking adored him. Deeply regret loosing contact with him- but I'm a hermit, and tend to do that with a lot of people.

He was just a brilliant mind, and an incredibly kind and wonderful human being. Many in SF and around the world will miss him a great deal. A very, very rare breed of wit, authenticity, passion, compassion, and intellect.

link to SF Chron article.

Game biz trade show E3 to wither and/or die?

Rumors abound that the annual gaming industry convention E3 may be severely cut back next year -- or canceled entirely -- due to decisions by some top sponsors to focus funds on smaller, brand-focused events. Link, and previous BB posts about E3.

Hello Kitty Darth Vader costume

I don't know anything for sure about this image of a Hello Kitty-themed Darth Vader outfit (it's been suggested that it came from the San Diego Comic Con), though, honestly, what is there to say that the photo doesn't say for itself? JPEG Link (Thanks, Patrick!)

Update: Count Dookie sez, "That Sanrio Darth Vader is a quick Photoshop I did for a thread on The Dented Helmet, a Boba Fett prop-making site."

Linux Thinkpads can be controlled by knocking on them

There's a utility for Thinkpads running GNU/Linux that lets you execute commands by physically knocking on the machine. This registers as activity on the accelerometer built into the laptop (used to park the hard-drive heads in the even of a fall) and is translated into commands within the OS.
For the first time, you can hit your computer and get a meaningful response! Using Linux and the Hard Drive Active Protection System (HDAPS) kernel drivers, you can access the embedded accelerometers on Lenovo (formerly IBM) ThinkPads, then process the accelerometer data to read specific sequences of "knocking" events -- literally rapping on the laptop case with your knuckles -- and run commands based on those knocks. Double tap to lock the screen, and knock in your secret code to unlock. Tap the display lid once to move your mp3 player to the next track. The possibilities are endless.
Link (via Make Blog)

Astronauts reveal BoingBoing 150% larger than reported by WSJ

The Wall Street Journal kindly mentioned BoingBoing in a roundup of new media "who's who" today, and ran this photo of Cory and me (alternate reg-free image link). Here's the accompanying article by John Jurgensen, "Moguls of New Media" (reg-free link)

But using cellular, modular, interactivogular surveillance cameras with supersonic laserphonic wingding plugins, astronauts on the International Space Station shot an aerial photo which looks shockingly identical... and reveals a whopping 60% 150% more humans in BoingBoing. Image Link.

From left to right, BoingBoing is Mark, Pesco, "band manager" Battelle, Cory, and me. And truth be told, Bart Nagel took the photo right here on earth.


Correction: BoingBoing reader Weeble says,

Your recent Boing Boing post, "Astronauts reveal BoingBoing 60% larger than reported by WSJ" uses "% larger" in a slightly confusing way. While 2 is 60% *smaller* than 5, 5 is not 60% larger than 2. It is in fact 150% larger than 2. This is a common mistake, and discussed in the Wikipedia article on Percentages [Link]. In general, when describing a percentage change in something, the percentage should be as a proportion of the initial figure, not the final one. Correct headlines might be "Astronauts reveal BoingBoing 150% larger than reported by WSJ" or "Astronauts reveal 60% of BoingBoing missing from WSJ report."
Reader comment: A number of you observed that 80% of us wear nerdy retro specs. Jaye Sunsurn says, "Xeni has to get a set of dark rimmed glasses because she looks out of place in the picture. Everyone else has 'em, why not her?"

Alright, but only if the other 80% agree to wear high heels.

Tech politics roundup: blog license, laptop search, goatse ban?

* Image: Is Pastrami Goatse now a felony? See last item in this post. Image shot by BoingBoing reader Vidiot, who says: "This was taken in New York's Katz's Deli (of "When Harry Met Sally" fame) on the Lower East Side, home of the best pastrami on earth." Yeah, you never forget that taste, do you...

* Does the law allow border agents in the US and Canada to search your laptop? Yes. Link, Another Link, and court decision PDF Link. (Thanks, JahWarrior and John Sawers)

* She's a convicted fraudster, she's running from the law, and she's liveblogging on the lam: Link (thanks, Cyrus)

* RIAA attacks guitar tab sites: vengeance sought against dastardly amateur guitar-strumming scofflaws who learn to play music from internet tablature ("tab") websites (and eat babies). Link (thanks, AngryHerb)

* "Secret" terror watchlists have nabbed more congressmen than terrorists: Link.

* Members of the American Psychological Association are preparing a "revolt" at the group's next convention to protest what they believe to be psychologists' unconscionable assistance in torture at Guantanamo and other terror-war detainment facilities. Link

* Government officials in Malaysia are considering extending the country's "Printing and Presses Act" to cover blogs and other electronic media. The 1984 law requires all print media in Malaysia to obtain a license and abide by strict regulations, including restrictions on political speech. If the PPA is extended to internet media as well, would bloggers and webmasters need a license, too? Link to news article, here are more links: one, two.

* Websites that use kid-friendly words like "Mickey Mouse" or "Snoopy" to lure traffic but instead feature sexually-explicit content are now subject to felony charges, thanks to a bill approved in the U.S. Senate this week: Link. Free speech proponents say the bill is overly broad, impossible to enforce accurately, could villify law-abiding adult sites, and generally a bad thing for online democracy.

Some bloggers say a provision of the bill means that pulling a goatse (worksafe explanation) could land you in prison for twenty years: Link:

‘‘§ 2252C. Misleading words or digital images on the Internet

‘‘(a) IN GENERAL.–Whoever knowingly embeds words or digital images into the source code of a website with the intent to deceive a person into viewing material constituting obscenity shall be fined under this title and imprisoned for not more than 10 years.

‘‘(b) MINORS.–Whoever knowingly embeds words or digital images into the source code of a website with the intent to deceive a minor into viewing material harmful to minors on the Internet shall be fined under this title and imprisoned for not more than 20 years.

‘‘(c) CONSTRUCTION.–For the purposes of this section, a word or digital image that clearly indicates the sexual content of the site, such as ‘sex’ or ‘porn’, is not misleading.

‘‘(d) DEFINITIONS.–As used in this section–HR 4472 EAS

‘‘(1) the terms ‘material that is harmful to minors’ and ‘sex’ have the meaning given such terms in section 2252B; and ‘‘(2) the term ‘source code’ means the combination of text and other characters comprising the content, both viewable and nonviewable, of a web page, including any website publishing language, programming language, protocol or functional content, as well as any successor languages or protocols.’’.

(b) TABLE OF SECTIONS.–The table of sections for chapter 110 of title 18, United States Code, is amended by inserting after the item relating to section 2252B the following:

‘‘2252C. Misleading words or digital images on the Internet.’’.

(Thanks, Maxx and many others)

Reader comment: Regarding the legal code cited above, Craig Hughes says,

Now as I read it, that part about "successor languages" means that if you publish content today, and in the future some language or protocol renders that content in a way covered by the law, even if that wasn't your intention when you published -- then you're infringing. In other words, if someone were to write a codemonkey extension which displayed a link to goatse.cx whenever it encountered the word "Iraq" on the homepage of the New York Times, then the NYT would be breaking the law. Nifty.