Monthly Archives: February 2008

THE Coolest name tag on a T shirt

ThinkGeek has lots of great merchandise, including this T shirt:

If anyone wants to buy me something for my birthday at the end of April, I will take a medium! Ordering details here:
ThinkGeek :: Hello My Name Is Inigo Montoya

Sorel – serious winter boots – and stylish too!

The good people of Sorel make SERIOUS winter clothing. Especially boots. For example, the Intrepid Expedition™ are…

 “…Inspired by the mushers who compete in the Yukon Quest, arguably the toughest dog sled race in the world, the Sorel Intrepid Expedition™ offers a new level of versatile peformance for winter’s most demanding conditions. Rated to -100°F (-73.3°C).”

Rated to -100°F (-73.3°C)!
May you never have to be out in anything close to that. (I have been in temperatures as low as -40°C and it is frightening how cold that is.)

I would highly recommend Sorels, not only because you will never have to fear cold feat again, but they make some pretty stylish boots. I would take these over Uggs anyday. Men, don’t wear Uggs. Wear Sorels instead. (The Bota Bad or Roas Soda if you must! Though I think Expeditions would selling like hotcakes if Nike bought out Sorel. ) Here’s a photo of the Expeditions

And they no longer seem to make them, but I saw a woman with a plaid pair of Sorels that would have gone great with some Burberry.

Who is twitter for ? Everyone. Even plants!

This is a very cool — in a geeky kinda way — of using twitter to keep tabs on your plants. (But really, you could use it for all kinds of things. This Botanicalls Twitter DIY:

“answers the question: What’s up with your plant? It offers a connection to your leafy pal via online Twitter status updates that reach you anywhere in the world. When your plant needs water, it will post to let you know, and send its thanks when you show it love.

Twitter is social software that asks a simple question: What are you doing?

Botanicalls is a system that was developed to allow plants to place phone calls for human help. When a plant on the Botanicalls network needs water, it can call a person and ask for exactly what it needs. When people phone the plants, the plants orient callers to their habits and characteristics. Call 212.202.8348 to hear more about each of the plants.”

Zoho Writer gets better AND bigger

According to TechCrunch:

“Web-based word processors keep closing the gap with Microsoft Office. Since its launch, Zoho now has 650,000 users, a 30 percent increase from just last November, the company tells us. It is doing 2 million user sessions per month. And its users have created more than one million documents on Zoho Writer (1.6 million, if you include its online presentation and spreadsheet products, Zoho Show and Zoho Sheets).”

Pretty impressive numbers. I really like Zoho. see: Zoho Writer Gets An Update—More Than One Million Documents Served

Google and the Internet

It is interesting to see that Google is joining a consortium to essentially pump up the Internet. This is not surprising: Google has the money, and it is in their interest. What I find interesting is thinking that the torch is passing from the telcos to the software companies. It will also be interesting to see how this affects the whole net neutrality discussion.

Whatever happens, it will be interesting to see Google’s foray into the world of infrastructure. See the post on the  New York Times Blog –  Bits: Google and the Undersea Cable.

On Brad Bird: writer, director (of The Iron Giant, The Incredibles, and Ratatouille), and…auteur

Brad Bird won an Oscar this year for BEST ANIMATED FILM with Ratatouille. As someone with kids, I’ve watched a number of his animated films. I have watched them more than any other films I like. Because they are animated kids films, it might seem ridiculous to consider Bird an auteur. But if you agree with the auteur theory which “champions the idea that a film (or a body of work) by a director reflects the personal vision and preoccupations of that director” (from Wikipedia), then Bird is an auteur.

In the three Bird’s film I have mentioned, there is a common preoccupation with the ideas of being misunderstood and being great. The Iron Giant, the Incredibles, and Remy (the rat) are all misunderstood. And all are great. All three of them struggle with others who don’t appreciate their greatness. Worse, they are seen as a danger to others, so they have to hide their greatness, and only manage to exercise it after a struggle. (Remy is a danger to any restaurant that has him in it.)

In The Incredibles, there is an elitism to that greatness. Bird’s shows you are either great or you are not, and no amount of smarts or gizmos can make up for it. The line “If everyone is super, no one is.” is used a number of times. This elitism softens somewhat in Ratatouille. There is still that separation of the great from the not great, but it is not always obvious who is great and who is not. This is very different from The Incredibles, where it is obvious that the Supers are obviously better than you and I.

Elitism comes up in a number of ways in Ratatouille. The notion that “anyone can cook” is scoffed at by the wonderfully named critic, Anton Ego. As well, the chefs themselves are superior. And of course, it is set in France, the home of elitism (at least as seen by many Americans). But this elitism is pushed back in a number of ways. For example, the best cook is a rat, and the best dish prepared is ratatouille.

But these films are more than just about misunderstood geniuses. Love is highlighted in different ways in the different films. In The Iron Giant, there is a father-son bond between the boy and the giant. In The Incredibles, there is the love of family. And in Ratatouille, there is romantic love. Love is one of the driving forces.

In The Incredibles, my favourite of the three, there is also something I think that is quite incredible: a signifigantly long portion at the beginning exploring midlife crisis in a “kid’s movie”. The best animated films have always sprinkled adult subtext in them — especially humour — to help adults enjoy the films at a level that kids can’t appreciate. (It’s almost like a dog whistle). But Bird deftly explores the problems that Bob Parr (Mr. Incredible) has as he struggles with his job as an claims adjuster. Bob struggles with this throughout the film, but it is strongest and sustained at the beginning.

This works really well, but it took my four year old son to show me why. When we saw the film for the first time in movie theatres, we all enjoyed the entire film. However, when we bought the DVD, my son quickly learned to scene select past all that midlife crises part (which takes up a good third of the film, it appears) and get right to the action. The film is so well made that it is easy for a four year old to deconstruct it in a way that he can still enjoy it, yet an adult can appreciate the entire film. It may sound easy to do (to structure a film like that), but I think it is rarely done, which is odd, since I suspect that MOST kids will skip to the good parts over time.

The characters are so well named in all the films, but I love the names in The Incredibles. When they are not the Incredibles, they are an average family, the Parrs. The weird kid Buddy goes on to be a bad guy called Syndrome. The French bad guy who blows things up called Bomb Voyage. The shrinking daughter is called Violet, and the very attractive young woman who is seemingly attracted to the middle aged guy is called Mirage.

Which brings me to Edna Mode, who seems to be a cross between Edith Head and Anna Wintour (and who is performed by Brad Bird himself). She is my favourite film character in a long time. My kids and I would rerun just the parts she was in. She is devastatingly funny and a great creation.

It almost goes without saying that the film technique of each of the films from Bird (and Pixar) get better each time. However, the attention to detail is not just in making more realistic animation. It is spread throughout the film. When making ratatouille in the last film, there is a wonderfully animated part where the person making the dish naturally cuts out parchment and places it over the food before placing it in the oven. This is as it should be, but it is one of many examples in Ratatouille where they make the effort to include details even if most people couldn’t care less. Ridley Scott gets high marks for such things: Brad Bird should too.

Bird considers animation to be an art form. It is when he makes it.

If you were to ask people about auteurs at this years Oscars, they might point out the Coen brothers or Paul Thomas Anderson. But there was another auteur there as well, and if you want to see good filmmaking, I suggest you check out his films.

Bird has a new film coming out in 2009. I am looking forward to it. (And lord knows, I will likely see it forty times, whether I want to or not! 🙂 )

China 2.0 and beer has a good article that shows the challenges China has in transforming itself from being a producer of cheap goods and other people’s goods to being a producer of goods that are highly valued and Chinese. It’s a road Japan has travelled many years ago. See Budweiser, Miller…and Tsingtao?