Capn Design

February 2011

This month I posted 13 entries, crafted 78 tweets, listened to 368 songs, watched 17 videos, bookmarked 15 sites, took 20 photos and favorited 97 things.

Kanye West is Great, But...

A long and fantastic piece about Kanye West, the music industry and one of the prejudices that no artist seems to want to fix. It’s the best thing I’ve read in a month. I’d quote it here, but I don’t want to spoil anything.

Wisconsin Power Play

Paul Krugman elegantly articulates what’s happening in Wisconsin. The government is trying to exert its control without much, if any, mind for its constituants. Governor Scott Walker claims this about a budget crisis, but his actions prove otherwise. This is about the powerful getting more powerful.

In principle, every American citizen has an equal say in our political process. In practice, of course, some of us are more equal than others. Billionaires can field armies of lobbyists; they can finance think tanks that put the desired spin on policy issues; they can funnel cash to politicians with sympathetic views (as the Koch brothers did in the case of Mr. Walker). On paper, we’re a one-person-one-vote nation; in reality, we’re more than a bit of an oligarchy, in which a handful of wealthy people dominate.

Women and the NFL

Posted February 21, 2011

Late last month, it was revealed that NBC’s Sunday Night Football was the third most popular television show amongst women aged 18-49. Katie Baker wrote an article for the Times to explain why women were so enamored with football and it started out strong.

Like many other “real” fans, I got into sports in large part for the characters, stories, rivalries and heartbreak. We saw interpersonal drama where casual fans saw only supersize freaks of nature battering one another. True enjoyment was the province of the devoted.

Yes! I totally agree. When I was young, I cared much more about loving Walter Payton and Michael Jordan than I did about their stats. I was young and played catch in the backyard and wanted to be like them when I grew up — famous and talented. I also wanted to be able to relate to my dad and my friends. Sports was a great gateway.

But now that I’ve been a sports fan for 25 years, I watch sports primarily because I admire their skill and enjoy unlocking the puzzle of success by learning formations and tracking trends. And since I still love connecting to a community, I’ve remained a fan of Chicago sports teams. It also helps that it’s a lot easier to follow a couple teams instead of 30.

This is a roundabout way of saying that Ms. Baker is not giving women enough credit. Over at the Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi Coates does a good job of setting up the issue.

I don’t want to discount the narrative element, but I’d actually submit that football’s appeal to women, is pretty much the same as its appeal to men. I can think of few other athletic endeavors that combine balletic grace, keen intellect and brute strength in the same way. Frankly, I never understood why more women didn’t watch football. I strongly suspect that it’s because they are told that it’s “a guy thing.” That could never fly in my house.

Now that’s what I’m talking about. My only beef is the “never fly in my house” business. For better or worse (mostly worse), there is a whole lot of male aggression in sports, which makes the players more competitive, but is also frightening. For a long time I convinced myself that players contain their violence to the game, but folks like Kobe Bryant and Ben Roethlisberger have shown otherwise. I certainly don’t condone it or root for these players, but it hasn’t yet stopped me from enjoying sports.

That being said, Coates is right to push his wife into giving it a shot. Yes, there is unchecked, concentrated male aggression, but that’s not unique to sports (check out Wall Street) and shouldn’t keep women from enjoying the positives. But we all should be quick to call out the NFL when they think a 4-game suspension is enough to offset rape.

Using Eye Tracking for Films

Posted February 19, 2011

eye tracking screen capture

David Bordwell invited Tim Smith to his blog to discuss how people watch movies. This is not an anthropological study, but one of empirical psychology. They used an eye tracking device as people watched There Will Be Blood.

In a previous post (which I suggest you read first), Bordwell discussed how director Paul Thomas Anderson is able to influence eye movement in a long shot using only staging. In one scene from TWBB, Bordwell discusses how Anderson focuses attention away from a map.

Many directors would have cut in to a close-up of the map, showing us the details of the layout, but that isn’t important for what Anderson is interested in. The actual geography of Plainview’s territorial imperative isn’t explored much in the movie, which is more centrally about physical effort and commercial stratagems.

This is backed up nicely by the eye tracking data provided by Smith.

The map receives a few brief fixations at the beginning of the scene but the viewers quickly realise that it is devoid of information and spend the remainder of the scene looking at faces. The only time the map is fixated is when one of the characters gestures towards it.

There’s a lot more of this and it’s terribly fascinating. I also learned a lot about how our eyes work. I had assumed some of these concepts based on my extremely limited knowledge of the brain, but it’s useful to hear them explained.

The most striking feature of the gaze behaviour when it is animated in this way is the very fast pace at which we shift our eyes around the screen. On average, each fixation is about 300 milliseconds in duration. (A millisecond is a thousandth of a second.) Amazingly, that means that each fixation of the fovea lasts only about 1/3 of a second. These fixations are separated by even briefer saccadic eye movements, taking between 15 and 30 milliseconds!

Looking at these patterns, our gaze may appear unusually busy and erratic, but we’re moving our eyes like this every moment of our waking lives. We are not aware of the frenetic pace of our attention because we are effectively blind every time we saccade between locations. This process is known as saccadic suppression. Our visual system automatically stitches together the information encoded during each fixation to effortlessly create the perception of a constant, stable scene.

It’s pretty amazing that we intentionally go blind to avoid overloading our brains with information. Finally, I found the way in which the experiment was run to be interesting.

We presented the film on a 21 inch CRT monitor at a distance of 90cm and a resolution of 720×328, 25fps. Eye movements were recorded using an Eyelink 1000 eyetracker and a chinrest to keep the viewer’s head still.

I wonder if the results would have been significantly different, even if it’s likely to be technically impossible, had the subjects been in a crowded movie theater, at home with their family, or on a first date. I’d also love to see this data split out by demographics or geographics. I’m sure I and a teenage girl in Germany watched There Will Be Blood in much different ways.

20110217noteslate.jpg NoteSlate

I need another device like I need a hole in the head, but I keep coming back to this. It’s a monochrome tablet device that uses eInk technology and a stylus. It looks great and it’s only $99.

I’m making an effort to attend meetings without my laptop, but I take notes much faster on my laptop than on a phone. With a uni-tasking device like the NoteSlate, I could capture my notes without the computer (and they have a plan to add OCR soon). It’s true, I might not use it, but it’s only ninety-nine bucks. I think it’s worth the risk to have something that looks so awesome.

Yet Another Beautiful NYC Timelapse

I know you’ve seen a ton of these, but it doesn’t stop them from being awesome. Enjoy. [via buzzfeed]

Today is Generosity Day

On Friday, Sasha Dichter of the Acumen Fund, proposed rebooting Valentine’s Day.

This Monday, Valentine’s Day, is going to be rebooted as Generosity Day: one day of sharing love with everyone, of being generous to everyone, to see how it feels and to practice saying “Yes.” Let’s make the day about love, action and human connection - because we can do better than smarmy greeting cards, overpriced roses, and stressed-out couples trying to create romantic meals on the fly.

I couldn’t be more behind this idea. There is plenty of love for both my wife and the rest of the world. If you want some generosity thrown your way, I’ll be around all day.

20110211greenland.jpg National Gallery of Greenland

I don’t have a lot to say about this. It is fucking beautiful. Please click through to see the rest of the shots.

Word of Goo for iPad is $1 Today

If you don’t own it, buy it now. Seriously. Your hourly rate is $100/hr, which means the minute you spent reading this is worth more than the game itself. BUY. IT. So good.

Analysis: World of Goo's iPad Launch

2DBoy, the creator of the fantastic game World of Goo, discuss their learnings after releasing the game for the iPad. It was first released, to much critical acclaim, two years ago, which makes this an interesting case. Impressively, they sold 125k copies in the first month, more than any 31 day period on Steam or WiiWare.

While the story is interesting, especially for game developers, this last snippet is a real keeper.

What makes this even more amazing is that this is a two year old game released on a platform that is less than a year old. The iPad doesn’t have the benefit of an install base built up over several years.

It’s crazy to think that despite the number of consoles out there for Wii and Xbox that the iPad is able to drive results like this. I’m not yet sure if Apple has made a fantastic gaming platform or if they realized that convenience is more important than a big screen for most gamers.

Work Out or Else

I am going to burst your bubble here: I am human. I KNOW, I KNOW, I seem like a robot, but I am not. Thus, like most humans, I don’t exercise enough. I’ve tried things like Health Month, which is awesome, but just publicizing and systemizing my goals hasn’t done it. At a previous job, I would get $500 back from my health insurance if I worked out 50 times over 6 months and that seemed to work. Unfortunately, I left the job before getting to the full six months.

Gym-Pact is taking the opposite approach and making people pay for their transgressions.

As a member, if you successfully fulfill your commitment, you enjoy great discounts on a fitness membership that you actually use. If you fall short of your commitment, a motivational fee is charged for each day missed that week to motivate you to get back on the fitness track. Members can choose both the number of days and the motivational fee, with a minimum of one day per week and $10 paid each missed day.

The economics may be tough though, because I imagine big gyms are optimizing for the people most likely to pay and least likely to show up. Heh, I’d love to be a fly on the wall during a brainstorming session at their ad agencies. Anywho, if they could get the money worked out, I know this could work for me. [via Good]

Rob Neyer on Community and SB Nation

Mr. Neyer is a well-respected baseball writer and has brought his talents to the people. There are some great quotes in his first post and I think David found the best two. Thus, I am going to steal one of them.

At my last job, some years ago, I once added something to the comments section below a colleague’s story. This colleague, like nearly all of my colleagues, was a real sweetheart of a guy. But even though my comment was innocuous, suggesting that perhaps one posited explanation for a particular phenomenon might have been better than another, I heard through the grapevine that my colleague was unhappy about it.

Without meaning to, over the years I’d annoyed most of my other colleagues … and nearly all of them with reputations as incredibly nice guys. So I figured it must be me. I hastily e-mailed this particular colleague to apologize.

His response: “Rob, no problem at all. I just thought the comments section was for them, not for us.”

Ah, and now I want to write a post about the death of comments. I’ll save that for another day.

Games About Games

Andy Baio rounds up tons of meta-videogames. It seems like most of these poke fun at either game lovers or haters. For the politicians, there’s Smoke & Mirrors. For those that are obsessive about RPGs, there’s Progress Quest. For lovers of all video games, there’s Don’t Shoot the Puppy. For the XBox Live junkie, there’s Achievement Unlocked. For lovers of violence, there’s Close Range.

It just goes on and on. It’s really a fantastic list with lots of videos.

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