Entries for December 2006

December 28, 2006

Pointless Vandalism

I saw this the other day in a restroom in Bethesda, Maryland.

Pointless Vandalism


December 26, 2006

Idea: A virtual slide projector

Virtual Slide Show
Some of my photos, as they might look with the Virtual Slide Projector. For now, you’ll just have to imagine the sound effects.
As a professional photographer, I’ve occasionally been asked to speak with photography students about commercial photography, and invited to show some of my work. While putting together a digital slide presentation for a talk I gave not long ago, I realized that I missed the sounds of an old slide projector. The laptop and digital projector have completely replaced the carousel and trays of yore, and we no longer have that satisfying click-and-whir of the mechanical projector.

Surely, I thought, someone out there must make slide show software that mimics the look-and-noise of a real slide projector. I would love to have those noises coming from my laptop, leaving people in the back of the room wondering, “He’s not really using an old fashioned slide projector, is he?” But despite my searching I found nothing. I wanted to write such a program before my lecture, but it’s beyond my programming abilities. Heree are the features I imagined it might have, all of which could be disabled or varied from an “Options” menu:

  • A constant low-volume whir, recorded from an actual slide projector.
  • The mechanical noise a projector makes when advancing to the next slide, with a brief blackout in between the images, as though there really were a slide tray progressing to the next slide.
  • Random upside-down, backwards, or blank slides. I don’t think I ever sat through a slide show that didn’t have occasional screw-ups. The “Options” menu should allow you to control the frequency of these screw-ups, or turn them off completely. And after every screwed up slide, there should be a blank slide and then the same slide displayed correctly, as though someone manually fixed it.

It could have a very simple interface. Just let me browse to the directory with my images, and start the show.

December 19, 2006

Receipts of Unusual Size

K Mart ReceiptHow many customers do you think it takes before K-Mart goes through a mile of paper in cash register receipts? It may not be as many as you think.

On Sunday, I found myself needing to purchase a cheap lamp. So I went down to my local K-Mart and picked one out. I also bought a light bulb. Upon checkout, along with the merchandise, I was given this ridiculously long receipt. I measured it. It’s 21 inches long. I bought two items and got a receipt that’s 21 inches long. Is wasting that much paper really necessary?

I couldn’t even get the whole thing to fit on my scanner. I had to scan it in pieces and then stitch it together in Photoshop.

I did a little math. If every customer purchases exactly two items (an underestimation, I’m sure), then K-Mart goes through approximately one mile of paper every 3,017 customers. Only the top 6 inches of the receipt contains information relevant to the purchase: the date, items purchased, price, store number, etc. The remaining 15 inches contains ads for things I could have purchased if I’d known about them before I went to the register, and also a list of store hours. I don’t know about you, but when I want to know a store’s hours or what they sell, I never dig out old receipts to find the answer. I never even glance at that information. Are there people who read their old receipts? It seems like a big waste of paper to me. 15 wasted inches of paper per customer. That comes to one mile of paper wasted every 4,224 customers.

How many miles of paper must K-Mart waste every day?

I wasn’t going to attempt to answer that question, but then I realized that once I had my receipt scanned in and resized and placed alongside the text on this page, the image was longer than the text. And that was messing up the layout of this page, causing my browser to do some weird things. So I decided to do some more digging and see what I could learn. K-Mart’s corporate website has all sorts of information about the number of stores they have, but not the number of customers. The most recent data I could find was in a BusinessWeek article from 2000, where K-Mart’s CEO referenced K-Mart’s “30 million store customers a week.” By now, many of those store customers are probably shopping on-line in greater numbers than before, and the number of K-Mart stores has surely changed since they filed for bankruptcy in 2002, but even if only half as many people still shop in the stores, that comes to 507 miles of paper wasted by K-Mart every single day in useless cash register receipt ads.

I think I see an easy way for K-Mart to become a bit more eco-friendly.

December 18, 2006

Idea: A “Flying Wiimotes” Screen Saver

Flying WiimotesThe news lately has been full of reports of people’s Wii Remotes (aka “Wiimotes”) flying out of their hands and smashing into their television sets during heated gameplay with the new Nintendo Wii. Every time I hear reference to Flying Wiimotes, I keep thinking of that old Flying Toasters screen saver from the “After Dark” series that was so popular on people’s computers in the early 1990s.

So it got me thinking. Someone should combine the nostalgia of that old screen saver with this modern bit of technology history and make a Flying Wiimotes screen saver to commemorate this gaming snafu. It strikes me as a simple thing to do, but it’s just slightly beyond my programming expertise (or lack thereof). Anybody want to try their hand at it? There’s even an open source clone of the flying toasters screen saver as a starting point.

A subway ad paradox

I saw these two advertisements side-by-side on the subway this weekend. They’re both part of the same “Take Care of Your Baby” public service campaign by the New York City Administration for Children’s Services, and the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. I couldn’t take a good photo that showed both ads side-by-side, so I took this short video instead:

The one on the left says, “Don’t leave him alone anywhere.” Then, right next to it, there is another ad that says, “It’s safest for him to sleep alone.” Hmm.

December 11, 2006

Animated Manhattan: Late Night With Conan O’Brien (Opening Credits)

Part 14 in an ongoing series looking at New York City in animation.

ConanIt’s hard to depict New York City in all its glory in just 30 seconds, but for the opening sequence of Late Night with Conan O’Brien, a company called Ultrabland has done a pretty good job.

They created Late Night’s opening sequence in 2003, and then retooled it when the show went to High Definition, adding extra details for those who have nice big HDTVs. The segment begins with a pan across several recognizable Manhattan buildings, which overlap with various opacities. The buildings include landmarks like the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building, as well as less famous buildings such as architect Philip Johnson’s Lipstick Building and AT&T Building. If you blink while watching the show, you may miss them. Here they are:

Conan Conan

Given the simple palette and style, it’s amazing how much detail the animators keep in the buildings while they manage to create a definite style for the sequence. The pan continues, with more buildings popping up to the beat of Late Night band leader Max Weinberg’s music, before zooming out to show the sun setting behind Manhattan.

Conan Conan

With the sun down and the city lights up, we quickly find ourselves in the heart of the city, looking around at the tall buildings like tourists would, driving along the streets of New York like tourists wouldn’t. Among the towering skyscrapers, we see the names of tonight’s guests. Jessica Alba and Mike Binder have never looked better than when their names were superimposed on this animated city. Well, okay, maybe Jessica Alba has.

Conan Conan

ConanFinally, our ride comes to an end at Rockefeller Center. Presumably, because we’re staring at the statue of Prometheus, we must be standing in the Rockefeller Plaza skating rink. But before we have a chance to catch our breath, we pan up to the highest floors of 30 Rockefeller Center, where Late Night is taped. The sequence fades out as we fade in to Conan’s entrance and opening monologue.

Short and sweet, with more style in 30 seconds than most of the animated depictions I’ve examined for this series have in an entire feature length film. You can watch the entire sequence on Ultrabland’s website, where you can read their description of what went into retooling the sequence for HDTV.

IMDb Rating: N/A
BCDb Rating: N/A
My Rating: 8/10

(My rating is for the depiction of NYC only)

December 8, 2006

The Burt Reynolds Museum

People come to the Burt Reynolds Museum by car, or even by motorcycle two at a time.
No, it’s not another one of my crazy ideas. This place actually exists. And I went there yesterday.

I find myself in Jupiter, Florida this week on business. When I visit a new town, I always try to get a taste of the local culture. Lo and behold, it turns out Jupiter is home to the Burt Reynolds & Friends Museum. I had to go.

It’s every bit as narcissistic and wonderful as it sounds. When I opened the front door, I entered a world full of so much Burt Reynolds memorabilia I could hardly believe my eyes. It was like I’d won the Burt Reynolds Golden Ticket and I didn’t even have to purchase multiple copies of Striptease to get it. All I had to do was make a three dollar donation to get in.

BurtThis place is crammed with everything anyone has ever given Burt Reynolds. Every award. Every photo. Every key to every city. Every honorary Sheriff’s badge. Every poster. Every movie script. A horse-drawn carriage (minus the horses) given as a gift by Dolly Parton. The canoe from Deliverance. And creepily detailed paintings made by Burt Reynolds fans. One shows Burt riding shirtless on a horse, with a big furry dog in his arms. I can’t imagine why Burt wouldn’t want that one hanging up in his home.

Pat and Kate, the nice volunteers at the museum
A screening area shows non-stop footage of Burt’s late night TV talk show (from the 80s? 70s?). According to Pat and Kate, the nice volunteers who work at the museum, they would be showing a montage from Deliverance instead, but they can’t get into the back room where they keep that tape. They were very nice, and they shared this little bit of trivia which they encouraged me to share with my friends: When the Coors logo appeared on the poster for Smokey and the Bandit, it boosted Coors’ sales enormously, especially on the East Coast. When Smokey II was coming out, the producers offered Coors a product placement deal on that poster, but Coors turned it town, feeling that they got enough of a boost the first time around. But Budweiser stepped in when Coors didn’t, and that’s why Burt is holding a can of Budweiser on the poster for Smokey and the Bandit II.

BurtSadly, the museum is in danger of being closed down. The Jupiter City Council, which owns the building, is considering kicking them out in favor of turning the building into a scientific research institute. So plan your trips now, while you still can. And consider purchasing one of the Burt Reynolds coffee mugs or t-shirts in the gift shop, to support the museum. One more thing to know before going: It’s kind of hard to find the museum, but if you can manage to get to Burt Reynolds Park, it’s practically right across the street.

Bonus: If you can’t make it in person, do yourself a favor and head over to the museum’s website and click on “video clip” for a montage of Burt’s greatest scenes set to Don Williams’ classic song “If Hollywood Don’t Need You (Honey, I Still Do).” It’s the next best thing.

December 4, 2006

Idea: A building shaped like Godzilla

Godzilla Building
The Godzilla Building - Artist’s Rendition
The people of Tokyo should construct a giant building shaped like Godzilla. Imagine what it would do to the city’s skyline, and to the tourism industry. People would come from all over to take pictures. His eyes could flash red so airplanes don’t hit him. There could be an observatory in his mouth so people could look out over Tokyo. One of his arms could house a bar, and the other arm a restaurant. They could serve drinks called Mothra Martinis and dishes like Grilled Gamera Steaks, with a side of Mashed Potatoes.

Godzilla Building
The Godzilla Building - Artist’s Rendition
Conversations could take place like this one (translated from Japanese):

“Hey, I just got a new job!”

“Oh, really? Where do you work?”

“You know the Godzilla Building? I’m just a couple blocks South of there.”

Or maybe it could be partially residential. And then people could talk about that famous artist who used to live in the Godzilla Building in the apartment right above Godzilla’s left nipple. And then they could argue over whether or not Godzilla even has nipples.

Godzilla Building
The Godzilla Building - Artist’s Rendition
Monster Movie conventions could be held in the building’s grand ballroom. A concert hall could be built between his legs. The Tokyo Philharmonic could call it their home. Season Ticket holders could get discounts at the Godzilla Gift Shop. There could even be a park at the bottom of the building, with Godzilla’s tail circling around it. They would call it Godzilla Park, naturally. And it could have a fountain in the shape of his footprint.