Entries for July 2008

July 30, 2008

Canada’s 1,968 foot wide movie

Forget IMAX with its puny 857 inch wide screen. I saw a move this weekend on a 23,622 inch screen. That’s 600 meters wide. More than a third of a mile. That’s also about how far back I stood to watch it.

Above is a photo of the Bunge Grain complex in Quebec City. The complex is made up of 81 individual silos 30 meters tall. In celebration of Quebec’s 400th Anniversary, artist Robert Lepage used the complex as a screen for an incredible site-specific motion picture called The Image Mill. The film tells the story of Quebec’s 400 years through video, pictures, and sound. I expected a cheesy patriotic movie. But what I saw was subtle and elegant.

The below video, which shows 10 minutes of the 40 minute film, gives a good idea of what the movie was like. It shows how Lepage made innovative use of the contours of the silos, turning them into bullets, candles, a printing press, cigarettes, etc, and how he turned the entire complex into other kinds of buildings completely, such as a factory and an airport.

You can also watch a behind-the-scenes video at Lepage’s website where he explains some of the technical issues that went into making the movie.

I would recommend that you fly to Quebec to see it, but unfortunately the movie’s 66-night run has just ended.

According to Lepage’s website, the movie is playing every night until August 24.

July 28, 2008

I see AT-AT walkers

I’d heard the rumor that the AT-AT walkers in Empire Strikes Back were inspired by Oakland’s container cranes, and while the resemblance is there I wasn’t surprised to read that George Lucas has debunked the rumor.

However, I recently saw these container cranes in Quebec that look even more like AT-ATs than those do. Maybe I can get a new rumor started.

Previously: I see the Death Star

July 21, 2008

Idea: Performance Enhanced Video Games

I don’t advocate taking performance enhancing drugs, but if I were a company making a sports video game, I would be tempted to include a hidden “Steroid Mode” where the players can enhance themselves by taking drugs which make them stronger players. It could add an interesting layer of complexity to the gameplay, reflect a real life issue, and create a buzz of controversy that could help sell the video game.

There could even be a down side to taking drugs. Maybe your player gets great strength for a while but eventually gets liver damage and becomes weaker than when he started.

Of course, the video game company would need some sort of plausible deniability once the parental outrage begins. Maybe the game doesn’t feature “drugs” at all, but thinly metaphoric “Power Potions.” Then you can say, “Power Potions are not supposed to represent performance enhancing drugs, and any similarity is completely coincidental.” If all else fails, you can claim “This baseball game is marketed for adults and is not intended for children.”

Meanwhile kids can argue over whether or not “Steroid Mode” scores should be counted on the same High Scores list as Standard Mode scores. Maybe they can compromise by being on the same list, but with an asterisk.

July 15, 2008

Ironic Sans in the New York Sun

Thank You to the New York Sun for the very nice article about my 60 Second Films in yesterday’s edition.

Idea: Palindrome road trip

It’s not unheard of for small American towns to change their name in order to get publicity. So here’s an idea for a large scale coordinated multi-state name changing scheme that’s sure to draw tourists: In every state where it’s phonetically possible, there should be a town that creates a palindrome when combined with the state name. Then the ultimate road trip would be to drive from Aksala, Alaska to Adirolf, Florida visiting every palindromic town in between… and then driving back in reverse.* So far, it looks like Saxet, Texas and Adaven, Nevada are the only ones that already exist (sorry, Zion, Illinois — close but no cigar). Visiting Apollo, PA gets you bonus points.

*I mean visiting every city in reverse order, not driving with the car in reverse.

July 12, 2008

60 Seconds in the Life of a Tree

Part 33 in an ongoing series of (approximately) 60 second films.

July 8, 2008

Idea: Thsrs, The Shorter Thesaurus

Popular new social networking services like Twitter, where users write extremely short messages about whatever’s on their minds, present a challenge: How can you intelligently get across a complex thought in just 140 characters without needing to use ugly abbreviations (e.g. “w/o needing 2 use ugly abbrev’s”)?

If only there were a service that helps with the struggle of rewriting a 146-letter message to fit in a 140 character limit. Well now there is: Thsrs, the thesaurus that only gives you synonyms shorter than the word you’re looking up. Just enter one of the longer words in your message, and Thsrs will suggest shorter words to use instead.

Try out the embedded version below, and bookmark www.thsrs.com so it’s always handy when you need it.*


1. Enter a long word.

2. Receive shorter synonyms.

* I considered calling it Sesquipedalian but I can never remember how to spell that. Thsrs was developed using the Big Huge Thesaurus API, and coding help from my friend Jay. This is a beta version, of course, so let me know if things go wrong.

Update: Thsrs is now available as a plug-in for your browser! Check out the Thsrs page for details.

Update: I thought I’d make a note about the word source, as some people have commented that Thsrs sometimes returns surprising results. Thsrs currently uses the Big Huge Thesaurus, which is based on the Princeton University WordNet Database, and has the distinction of being the only thesaurus I found with an API. If you know of a better easily-accessible Thesaurus word source, let me know and I’ll see about switching over. In the meantime, additions to the database can be suggested by visiting the BHT, looking up a word, and using the “Suggest” form at the bottom of the results page.