Sunday, March 28, 2010

HDR Sunsets

Tonight I decided I would try some High Definition Range photography (HDR) which essentially takes multiple exposure of the same shot and mixes the lights and dark to create a photo that shows all the entire range of colors in the lights and shadows of a picture. What better place to try this than on Treasure Island where I get a beautiful (and really cold) view of the city? Plus, this week is one of the two times in the year where the sunset aligns perfectly with the Golden Gate Bridge! My experiments with HDR (and long exposure timing) can be found below:

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Hair: How to mess it up

One year ago, I essentially shaved my head for an easy get-up-and-go styling that allowed me the luxury of not having to spend time on my hair each morning.

Then I read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and decided I was going to be Mr. Darcy for Halloween which required me to grow out my hair. Afterwords, I decided I won't have many more opportunities to grow out my hair long again (all the males in my family are bald) so I kept growing it and growing. Now my hair is long enough to go below my ears, easily the longest length ever, and I have no idea how to style it. But like everything else on this blog, I am learning and need to show a progression! I'm trying to go for the "messy hair surfer" look which is all the rage now. And to do that I enlisted the help of some actual surfers (and possible hairdressers).

The friz:

They spent about 20 minutes trying to figure out the best look, and in the end my hair was indeed "messed up".

I like the look from the side but am still not sold on the front. But I've been told I just need to give it time to grow out so I can more with the front. Until then, I'm wearing all hats!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Jay's Playlist: How to Train Your Dragon

Welcome to my playlist, where I discuss the music which is currently entertaining me. Below you will find a video, press play to begin the song and then read my feelings on the album.

Today's album is the soundtrack to How to Train Your Dragon:

I don't promote soundtracks soon after hearing them for the first time in a movie because too often a good movie clouds my long term judgment on a soundtrack. I may love the soundtrack due to the high of seeing the movie but after a few weeks stop listening to it entirely because, in the end, it really wasn't that memorable. This is not the case for How to Train Your Dragon (at least I hope not). I've been a fan of John Powell since hearing his Face/Off score in 1997 (and which is still used for background music in trailers) but his newest work surpasses everything he has written before. From his "flying (and falling) through the sky" music linked above to the friendship theme, below, which brought a tear to my eye, to his romantic flight theme, last one, John demonstrates his ability to accent the emotions in a scene without overtaking the visuals with bombastic hits (as in Face/Off). The friend theme below slowly builds until the pivotal moment where the two character finally connect and at that moment, when many composers would insert large hit to emphasize the scene, Powell completely drops the music to a whisper and lets the visuals tell the story on their own.

One odd design choice for the film was the use of Scottish actors for the role of the vikings. It never really makes since, but the soundtrack does keep to the Scottish theme throughout, even the the romantic theme below:

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Bad-Ass Alphabet

We all grew up with different Alphabet guides to teach us the letters (A is for Apple... Z is for Zebra, etc), my childhood favorites were The Z was Zapped and Animalia, but today I found one that best represents the last 15 years of my hobbies: The Bad-Ass Alphabet.

With alliterate phrases like "F is for the Fantastic Four saving the Finnish Ambassador from Fred Flintstone, who's flinging flaming fajitas at his Ford Fiesta" and "W is for Wolverine wishing Wonder Woman wasn't wasted" the artist takes fan favorite (and somewhat obscure) characters and puts them in situations both humorous and educational (well, sorta). The fact the Optimus Prime gleefully laughs while obliterating Oompa Loompas makes this alphabet a win until the end.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

How to Train Your Dragon premiere

So today I found out I'm invited to a preview screening of How to Train Your Dragon. Today is an awesome day!

I went to the screening, got to skip the huge line of people hoping to get in the movie (I was on the VIP list, woohoo!) and got the best seat in the house (dead center). I can't think of a better situation to see this movie, and the fact that it rocked made the evening perfect. Congrats to Dreamworks for making a story-driven movie with heart; one that is funny when it needs to be and not reliant on pop culture jokes for gags or relies on big names to draw in audiences (yay for Jay Baruchel). There were numerous times in the film that hit me emotionally, the montage which ends with the nose touch being the biggest, and that is an event only a select few Pixar films have accomplished with me. I hope this film succeeds far beyond any of DW's other films (although with Shrek 2's cume, not likely) to encourage them to create more films in this fashion.

Well done, Dreamworks, well done.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Chili Flank Steak Tacos with Lime Salsa

My newest culinary experiment involves flank steak, veggies, lime, cilantro, and various chili powders:

During this meal's creation I learned how to properly "score" a flank steak (make diamonds), how important a strong grater is for zesting a lime (very), what happens to a bag of cilantro after you get it wet (it ruins), how much juice a grilling flank steak can release (at least two full runoff containers worth), how cutting a fresh avocado is not easy as cutting a tomato (stupid core), and how blending a few lime slices with peels is not the equivalent of lime juice + lime zest (way too strong).

Overall, the tacos were great. So was the mess but it was worth it. My salsa turned out to be a little too strong with the lime, but that's what happens when you resort to using a blender when using a dull cheese grater to zest limes takes too long. Lesson learned there! Sadly the price involved to make this meal (roughly $20) makes it a little too expensive for only 2 meals, especially when my beef penne rigata dish can last for 5 meals for about $11.

Politics mini-rant: This has all happened before...

I try to abstain from political rants as much as possible. Like everyone, I have my opinions, but I'm not in politics and my skills do not lie in convincing people to vote one way or another. Regardless, I've been around politics to know that this has all happened before and it will all happen again.

This week the new Health Care reform passed. Many people I know loathe this reform, and many also praise it as groundbreaking (thus the conflict of my growing up in the conservative South and later working in "hippy-town" Berkeley). My opinions on this reform do not matter, but I do wish to briefly stand on my soapbox to remind everyone how politics works: over time, if a controversial legislation ends up working then it remains in service and people accept it and adapt to it (and the opposition may even take credit for it years later), if it does not work then it is removed or modified by the opposition when they regain power (and they always do).

No one party stays in power too long in our government. If life goes well the voting populace tends to be satisfied with the party, but once something somewhat negative inevitably happens (whether it is real or manufactured) people get tired and vote the other party in. This has happened for over 200 years and it will not change any time soon no matter what doomsayers say. In fact, the doomsayers have been saying the same thing for decades about everyone (the political party of the doomsayers usually matches to whoever isn't currently in power) yet we are all still here. Not all legislature works, and when it fails spectacularly (see: prohibition) a power change is usually not far behind. But if a bill really does work then people tend to forget all the "end-of-the-world" rhetoric and move on to whatever mundane gripe they have. Or, in some cases, when a power change eventually occurs the majority party updates the legislature with (minor) changes and claim the entire piece as their own.

Basically, many of the services people take for granted now (Post Office, Social Security, most regulation agencies, Medicare, etc) were at one point volatile political bills that people bitterly fought over. The ones that worked survived (or were modified), the ones that didn't were removed and eventually forgotten.

So if you truly believe that Health Care is bad, or you think it is the best thing since sliced bread, then give it time and you will be proven correct and vindicated either through its success, modification, or removal. Because regardless of how you feel now, the populace will make the "right" choice over time. But currently no one knows what that choice will be no matter how convincing they may sound.

Musical Humor

Time for another edition of random funny, but this time with a musical theme!

The first two videos show an interesting way to use the website "Chat Roulette". CR randomly connects your webcam to a stranger for about 30 seconds before switching you to another stranger. Basically you get to talk to a random person you will never see again for 30 seconds. Sadly, the promise of anonymity allows people to act pretty immature on camera (seeing unmentionable body parts is not uncommon), but this guy decided to use the anonymity for good! Each time he was assigned a person he wrote a song about them to cheer them up (if he didn't break out laughing first):

This trend was so popular that the musican Ben Folds did the same thing at one of his concerts. There's nothing like expecting to chat with a lone person in their bedroom only to find out you are being broadcast to an entire stadium of music fans...

Not exactly funny, but cool: this person filmed himself twice so he could play a duet with himself playing famous TV themes. This is something right up my alley, gotta try it some day.

Similarly, the guy filmed himself 4 times lip syncing to a John Williams a capella tribute (not sure who actually performed the song):

In other news, this cat and break dancing do not mix:

The 80's were known for their catchy advertisement tunes. This is what happens when a company today buys the rights to an defunct tune (Big Red gum) and recreates it for their own product.

Finally, this video is the original music video to OK Go's This Too Shall Pass. It is performed by the Notre Dame marching band and when the video released the record label decided not to allow embedding of the video (meaning I can't show it hear on my website). OK Go, known for their viral videos, were so furious about this that they dropped the record label and created the new video I wrote about earlier this month. Click the link below for the band version, which is quite catchy:

And as a bonus, two non-music video that make me laugh (although I can cheat and say one has a guitar in it and the other is a bunch of videos set to [annoying] music).

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The ineffective mission

Time for some actual journal time, nothing to do with progress just a little life note. I'm a little bummed today, drove over 100 miles to go to a store that had the perfect gift for a friend (which I had reserved online) only to find the item wasn't in stock and online store hadn't updated its inventory. But there's a little silver lining in everything, as I did listen to a great book during the drive and discovered a new section of the Bay Area I had never been. Still, the item I am looking for now is literally nowhere in a 500 mile radius, looks like I will have to wait until they restock it two months after my friend's birthday. Oh well, at least the book was good!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Sketch 2

A few more gesture sketches from this week. Previously, I went to a coffee bar/restaurant a little too often so most of my sketches involved people sitting and drinking/eating. This time I took the sketchbook to a convention where people stood in line so I got a lot of good "shifting weight" poses. Now that it is officially spring, I will be spending more time outdoors where people congregate so more sketches are forthcoming!


Thursday, March 18, 2010

Jay's Playlist: Retro Remix Revue

Welcome to my playlist, where I discuss the music which is currently entertaining me. Below you will find a video, press play to begin the song and then read my feelings on the album.

Today's album is Retro Remix Revue:

Retro Remix Revue consists of two audio engineers who remix classic video game music while keeping the original sounds as much as possible. I love new arrangements of video game music, especially if they are orchestral/piano/guitars, but typically I stay away from "remix" version as most of the time "remixing" is another way of saying "let's add heavy beats and random techno noises and occasionally throw the in original theme". I've heard remixes of songs where the artists literally played the original theme for 15 seconds and spent the other 4 minutes doing their own thing with no relation to the source material. Retro Remix Revue is not one of those remix albums.

Retro Remix Revue keeps the original tone of the piece as much as possible and uses better (yet similar) instruments in each of the remixes. Once the theme is played the main instrument will usually begin an extended solo which gives the remixes more of a "live band" feel to them. Essentially these remixes are the original songs being performed on higher class instruments at a jazz club.

Hearing these tunes played again after almost 2 decades reminds me of how much game music has progressed technologically, yet how effective and simple game music was in the early 90's. Even with the updated instruments, the themes still resonate as simply as they did when they were created by computers that were "dumber" than the computers found in today's watches or coffee makers.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

La Maison en Petits Cubes

One of the best animated short films of the last 5 years is, for once, also an Oscar winner (here's hoping Out of a Forest and The Cat Piano see their day soon).

La Maison en Petits Cubes is a beautiful and haunting film about love, time, and nature. Use of rooms as an allegory to the stages of life (and water as the unrelenting progression of time) is brilliant. I don't want to give too much more away, so watch it here:

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Kevin Butler is a genius

I love the new Playstation commercials with (fictional)executive Kevin Butler. Kevin, complete with odd job title, answers questions from random people curious about a new game. While his game descriptions are to be expected, his witty remarks to the questions are what make these commercials work best. Here are a few of my favorites:

He even attacks the Wii (with its rudimetary controller movement) and Microsoft's Project Natal (which has you point your fingers to simulate controllers to catch balls and shoot people) in this one:

You can watch the others here:

Monday, March 15, 2010


This year I had the opportunity to attend the Game Developers Conference for work. One of my purposes included gathering material to write an article on why more animators should attend GDC (the article goes live in April, I will post it then) but I also went to meet many cool people and, of course, check out the newest games! From being slaughtered in StarCraft 2, to testing the Playstation Move, to playing Super Stardust in actual 3D, to hanging out with awesome Animation Mentor people, to learning the new Maya 2011 tools, to meeting Steve Wiebe at dinner, to meeting with people from Valve/Naughty Dog/Insomniac/Blizzard, to having Tim Schafer sit across from me at a party, I had an absolute blast at the the conference and have memories to last a lifetime! Here are the photos, my full detailed report will be published at the beginning of April!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Gonna Fly Now - 5k

About 9 months ago I came across a website that detailed how anyone can train for a 5k (3 mile) run (humorously called "Couch to 5k"). At the time, my biggest running accomplishment was running about 2 miles on the beach and that was 10 years earlier (and I was motivated by trying to impress a girl who literally ran circles around me). But this training plan made the 5k not only sound doable, but easy. Sure enough, within 7 weeks of the 12 week goal I ran my first non-stop 5k with time of 34:30 minutes (or roughly at 11:10 per mile pace). I continued to train through the weeks and eventually got my time down to 28:50. Then the winter rains rolled around (and I had a baby which is a little distracting) and I didn't run as often. Last month I began again and ran my first sub 8 minute mile, but I still hadn't tried a full 5k. Today that changed.

And I ran it in 26:47 after not running one in 4 months.

Although, my iPod was set to the Rocky theme for most of the run so that may have had something to do with it.

When I first started running a 27 minute 5k seemed like a distant dream. Now, I am wondering if 24 minutes is really that hard. We shall see...

(Gonna Fly Nooooooooow)

Monday, March 8, 2010

Jay's Playlist: Children of Sanchez (Mangione)

Welcome to my playlist, where I discuss the music which is currently entertaining me. Below you will find a video, press play to begin the song and then read my feelings on the album.

Today's playlist is Children of Sanchez by Chuck Mangione

I played the trumpet in my high school jazz band when I was 15 (and again at 18 but at a different high school). Like many people who played instruments in their youth, playing/practicing/performing the same music numerous times a day for months at a time tends leave an impression of piece long after you have stopped playing it. If the music is "good" (or catchy) then even better! One piece that stays with me to this day is "Children of Sanchez" by Chuck Mangione, which featured my first solo on lead flugel horn. Unfortunately (or, after removing the rose-colored glasses, fortunately) no recordings of my performance exist.

I still play this song when I need to liven up the day, and can still finger along (aka "air trumpet") with the notes even though I haven't played the piece in 13 years. I can remember the notes to a solo I haven't played since before I could drive, but I still don't know where I put my damn keys this morning. Such is life.

I would play more Mangione tunes later in college, including another favorite: "The Land of Make Believe"

Fortunately (or unfortunately?) a recording of me playing this does exist...
(watch from 1:50 to 4:50)

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Animated Oscar rant!

The Oscars happened tonight and overall I am pleased with the results. Save for one (and probably the one category closest to my heart)...

Logorama for best animated short? Seriously!?
Over Wallace and Gromit (or even French Roast)?

Here is Logorama...
and here is Wallace and Gromit (or French Roast, or The Lady and the Reaper)

Logorama is a short film based around a gimmick that gets old 3 minutes into the 16 minute film. The gimmick is cute but does not lend well to creating an entire story around it. Plot point weave in and out and are used solely to set up another random logo for (brief) use. The story leads nowhere and the driving natural destruction is never explained. The short film isn't bad, it serves its purpose and can be fun at times, but it is not the best animated short of the year. (My personal favorite wasn't even submitted for consideration, nor was my second favorite)

And even if it was the best short film of the year (what a sad year that would be), it is nowhere near the same level of caliber as previous winners. Watch "La Maison en Petits Cubes" or "The Danish Poet" and after you are finished sobbing and can compose yourself watch Logorama again and see if it touches you emotionally (well, positively at least). Then ask yourself if the animation quality stood out, or helped or hurt the film (or was even relevant)...

Oh well, you can't win them all.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Oscar funny

The Oscars are tomorrow. My winner choices have been submitted [update: I was second place in the office pool! Woohoo! Damn you Logorama, I was a shoe-in for 1st with Wallace and Gromit] and now it is the waiting game.

At least we can make it a fun one. This trailer is guaranteed Oscar winner for next year...

And if you like this, check out the similarly themed song "Title of the Song" which breaks down tragic love songs.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Touring SF with Jay as your guide

My mother is a high school Spanish teacher and one of many the reasons she began teaching was so she could travel the world for free as the faculty host of senior trips. During my college years I would "volunteer" as a chaperon for her school trips and traveled across most of Europe in this fashion. I experienced many amazing vistas, historical sites, and artistic legends during these years and loved every minute of it. But none of these experiences would have been possible without the tour guide.

The tour guide on a trip always fascinated me. Here was a young twentysomething whose skill was to know the hidden paths and historical facts in every city we visited. He always was prepared for the unknown and even when you thought you had question to stump and pulled a random fact out and blew you away. And, depending on the countries you were visiting, he did it in multiple languages. If you were ever in deep trouble and needed someone to turn to, the tour guide was your man (or woman).

This week I had the opportunity to accept that role and become the tour guide for a group of Arkansas High School students. Among her numerous other roles, my mother is the advisor to the Model UN group at her high school. One of the benefits (which I am sure played into her decision to take on the role) of being in the Model UN group is traveling to various locations around the country to participate in mock sessions. This year that session was in Berkeley. Due to unforeseen medical conditions, my mother had to cancel her flight at the last minute but the students still needed to come to Berkeley (that UN session needed to be mocked!). A substitute stepped in, and suddenly the Arkansas seniors were off to California but without knowledgeable California guide (my mother grew up in the Bay Area). So I stepped up and gave the students a "local's perspective" of the City.

We began by stopping by Pixar for a photo op, then took the bus to the Bart station and rode downtown to Union Square. The afternoon was young and we had time to walk through city, with side stops in China town and down Lombard, before catching a sunset with the Golden Gate from atop Ft Mason. We then walked to Ghirardelli Square and rode the cable car back to Union Square where the students wished to shop (nothing says senior trip like spending a lot of money at overpriced shops!). Finally, we ate at the fabulous Cheesecake Factory from the top of Macy's overlooking the lights of Union Square. And the entire time we did this I was spouting fact after fact about the city and giving them a little history of the area:

Overall, playing the guide role was fun and quite successful. So successful, in fact, they asked me back for the following days adventures (they also visited Pier 39 and Alactraz on their own). I introduced them to the local favorite Chevy's with a view of the bay, then walked them down to the marina to touch the bay (most had never been in the Pacific).

I have now been the guide. Time to check it off of my list...

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Space in review

So a few weeks ago I wrote about how big a billion is. I asked for advice on the topic from the great Phil Plait of Bad Astronomy and he gave some wonderful feedback (while slyly encouraging me to change the football photo to one of his Alma mater). Then today (well technically tomorrow, I wrote a draft on a different topic for the 3rd but changed it on the 4th to this) I go to his blog and find this! Thanks for the shout out Phil!

Suddenly I had many people reading my posting a giving great feedback and ideas that I want to include in future posts on the topic. But there are a couple interesting items that were posted in the comments and e-mailed to me that I wanted to include here:

"Catch22" posted this awesome link visualizing your 1:176 million chance of winning the lottery. Each pixel represents one lottery ticket and each time you roll over one it adds the total spent. Only one pixel is the winner and once you see how large the grid is you may decide it is better to save your money. I spent $15,000+ on this before I found the magic pixel (and wasted 10 minutes of my life). And to put it in perspective, you are roughly 10x more likely to be killed by lightning than to win the lottery. That's why anyone who is "feeling lucky" when they buy lottery tickets should stay indoors during thunderstorms.

Monty Python said the same thing I did but said it when I was just a baby, and far more musically might I add:
Although my intentions in writing the post did not include "convincing an old lady to give up her liver".

Thanks for the great feedback everyone! I'll work up another Science post soon!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Ok Go - Rube Goldberg

A few years ago a band named OK Go released a music video with synchronized treadmill routines. Needless to say it mesmerized many. Now, 4 years later they have released a new video to top the last:

While the song is not as catchy, the production values have definitely improved. From what I can tell the video is only 2 separate takes (changing in the tunnel) but if there are more they are well hidden. I always enjoy a good Rube Goldberg video and this one, along with the Honda one, is one of the best.

Kudos to the team behind it!

Monday, March 1, 2010

February visit

Finally catching up on my photos! I posted my January photos yesterday just in time to post my February trip photos (which I just got off the plane from). Elliot is 3 months old now and growing like a weed! The girls found my Marble Works sets from the 80's and loved playing with those (a video will appear later this month). And we took them for a walk with Bonnie the Lab which went off without any incidents (whew!). Good times!