Marvel Title Sequence

I did not grow up a comic book geek, so the rise of comic book films and Marvel in general took me by surprise. The Marvel Movie Universe is one of those obvious ideas that anyone should have thought of and yet no one did. Characters crossover in comics all the time, we should do the same thing with comic book movies. Duh? Winning! The rewards of watching these movies as part of a larger series is pretty much the only reason I went to see Thor.

Final Press Run

Oddly enough our first multimedia experiment comes as my tenure at the Collegian ended. It’s a fairly short video, but its already gotten a few good reviews :)

Best Movies of 2006

So last year I missed my top 10 movies list, so I thought this would be a good way to start my finals week procrastination. I have a list of every new movie I saw this year and already have a pretty solid top 10 list. I’m going to wait till 2006 is over though and I have had a chance to see the movies that are yet to come or I have missed. In the meantime, here are some of the good films that didn’t make my initial films and some of the worst.

  1. The Departed
    Picking this year’s best movie was easy. When I started jumping in my seat with anger and emotion over a character’s death, I knew that The Departed stirred me in a way few other films have. I loved how while the story is full of parallels, there is a certain unevenness in the cinematography and editing that energized the film. To see something like this from a director in the twilight of his career is all the more exciting. The Departed has all the elements of a good movies (director, cast, visuals, soundtrack, etc.) yet still works as a whole, which seems to be where most award-hopeful films fall short. I can’t wait to see this movie again and again.
  2. Little Miss Sunshine
    The dysfunctional family comedy seems to be overdone these days, yet somehow Little Miss Sunshine made it seem fresh and original. I think a lot of credit goes to the writer/directors for not sticking to their convictions and letting the humor play out, rather than go for instant laughs. This is also a fantastic ensemble cast. Sunshine is a lot of fun and has a lot of heart, which are hard to come by in movies these days.
  3. Science of Sleep
    Michel Gondry makes art films that literally look like art. This film takes the visual imagination displayed in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and his music videos to a new level. The effects also aid a touching story about a young man who confuses his imagination for reality. I connected with this story, especially since the main character is almost named after me (Stefane). Some had trouble with the ending, but I think it was a fair ending to a fun journey.
  4. Borat
    Borat earns points for shocking and surprising me even after I had watched some of its funniest scenes in trailers and commercials. I left the movie feeling a little shaken, but in retrospect this really a great movie. Many have noted that Borat is holding a mirror up to America more than the other way around. Sacha Baron Cohen is deadly funny in this movie and has arrived as a movie superstar.
  5. The Fountain
    This is another visually beautiful movies that I really enjoyed. Of Darren Aronofsky’s movies, I “got” this one better than the any of the others – though I understand not everyone will. The movie has a lot to say about life and mortality and I it tells it through images, rather through lengthy dialogue. Also like Science of Sleep, it uses organic visual effects rather than a glut of CG. The result is breathtaking.
  6. The Descent
    Every weekend another horror film premieres, so its hard to separate the good from the bad. What separates The Descent is a truly horrifying premise that doesn’t rely on serial killers. The scariness of The Descent is that it has you jumping at the everyday things like cave-ins and broken bones before a creature even comes on screen. It also has strong character development, with an all female cast that breaks most horror film norms. This is a preciousfilm.
  7. Inside Man
    I initially saw Inside Man as Spike Lee “selling out” or at least making a more accessible film. And while the latter is true, this movie still has all the powerful elements of his other movies. It has a stellar cast, a fun plot, and the visual style of a Spike Lee film. It also is filled with more subtle explorations of race and American society that stays true to his style.
  8. Dave Chappelle’s Block Party
    Dave Chappelle’s not crazy, he’s just got better things to do. Block Party is amazing because a free concert generally doesn’t translate into an interesting movie. The unsung hero of this project is Michel Gondry, doing a turn as a documentary filmmaker, who finds the interesting stories that surround Chappelle and the event. Technically this all happened before the comedian “went nuts”, but watching the film you get the sense that perhaps Chappelle was just too normal to keep up with his onscreen personae. Anyway, this is a lot of fun.
  9. Thank You For Smoking
    Probably the sharpest satire of the year, Smoking does a great job of demonstrating the power of free speech in our society. The movie doesn’t make a case for tobacco, but rather our freedom to defend what we want and do what we want. In a time when civil liberties are taken lightly, this is an appropriate film. It’s also very funny and makes Aaaron Eckhart a star.
  10. Casino Royale
    I don’t generally like Bond films and I went to Casino Royale on a whim. Boy am I glad I did. This is easily the best action film of the year and many would agree its one of the best Bonds to hit the screen. Ian Craig does a great job of reinventing the character, or bringing it back to its roots from the caricature the later films created. It also is the first that seems firmly rooted in the post-Cold War world, which is ironic since it is also a throwback to early Bond. I hope the producers continue on this storyline, sticking to the novels and perhaps remaking other Bonds.

Honerable Mention: Accepted, Apocolypto, Clerks II, Gridiron Gang, V for Vendetta, Slither, Tristam Shandy, Pirates of the Carribean 2, Snakes on a Plane, Superman Returns, Prairie Home Companion, Stranger Than Fiction, Monster House, Rocky Balboa

Still Need to See: Hard Candy, The Illusionist, The Prestige, The Last Kiss, Art School Confidential, The Good Shepherd, Letters from Iwa Jima, Pan’s Labrynth, Children of Men, Little Children, A Scanner Darkly, Half Nelson, An Inconvinient Truth

DRM is Destiny

So I am writing again for the first time in a long time. I thought I would chime in on the news that sales at iTunes are dropping. This may all be my fault. My iTunes account says that I have made 100 or so transactions with the service since I started using it in fall 2003. My last purchase, however, was September 13th. Why did I stop downloading from iTunes? First, I decided I wanted to buy CDs, since they are roughly the same price as iTunes albums and more tangible. I also stopped buying singles – I want to enjoy whole albums if I am going to buy them. Finally, I started using the eMusic download service and have been very happy with their service.

You may not know eMusic, but it has quietly climbed up to the No. 2 spot in the music download market. How? They allow subscribers to download a number of MP3 files, without copy protection, every month. How? Well, their catalog is limited to mostly odds and ends that major labels don’t own. There’s no Jay-Z or U2, but they do have Sufjan Stevens and the White Stripes. I thought I would try out the service, get a few albums I liked, and quit. I haven’t yet though because my list keeps growing as I discover new music on the service.

So what does this have to do with iTunes? Clearly eMusic isn’t stealing customers away from iTunes because of its selection. I’m not sure eMusic is stealing customers away at all. But DRM does make a huge difference in getting customers to buy into a music service. Napster and Raphsody seem stunted by the fact that there are tremendous limitations on what you can download, transfer to an MP3 player, burn, etc. iTunes has a simple pitch: you can play your music on your computer, burn it, share with up to 5 friends, and play it on the most popular MP3 player in the world. That is why iTunes is the most successful music download service – it has one of the most lenient DRM policies.

Still any DRM is bad DRM. It doesn’t seem fair that iTunes tracks can only play on my iPod and iTunes – what if I want to transfer them to my Media Center PC or my XBox 360? Or my Linux machine? DRM even drains battery life on your iPod! This is why I started buying CDs (which are largely DRM-less since the Sony rootkit scandal) and using eMusic.

Now since I have all this unprotected music, the labels would speculate that I am probably illegally distributing it to all my friends – customers only stay customers if you have a leash tied around them. I don’t share my music on file-sharing services, however, because my bandwith is precious. And when I do share music its with the same 5 “friends” on my iTunes account – all members of my immediate family (I know, I know, Mom should be buying her own copy of The Black Album). So RIAA, if you want to continue to grow your industry why don’t you trust your customers and offer more content for DRM-less download?

Statistics, Blogs, and the Long Tail

As seen earlier on the Collegian: Web Wire blog…

Earlier this month our wonderful systems manager, Rick Simpson, began providing us with daily statistics information about our site. In the past, statistics were tabulated at the end of the month and didn’t give us a good idea about what are visitors were looking at on a day-to-day basis. Our statistics reports are publicly available, so if you’re curious you can see what I’m talking about. I try to avoid getting too worked up over some details, because statistics can be lies with numbers. But I did want to focus on a couple areas of interest – blogs and the long tail.

First, let’s talk about blogs. I’ve been checking Technorati, a blog search engine, a lot to see who is linking to the Daily Collegian Online. According to Technorati the answer is a handful of real blogs and a lot of spam blogs (blogs that just steal content and links to attract more hits). After checking out the referring URLs in our statistics I realized that we get linked a lot more often than I realized. College Humor currently has Friday’s Bundy story linked on its home page, as did FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education). Bundy, by the way, gathered more page views than our home page yeterday. Yesterday Fark tagged our story about a creationism/evolution lecture from Sept. 29 as “sad”. Those are just some examples of the bigger sites linking to us.

This all leads into my second point – the long tail. Those two “hot” stories from yesterday’s statistics are ones that did not appear in yesterday’s paper. In fact, a look at our statistics reports will show that only about a third of our traffic is for that day’s news. The long tail is a concept introduced in a Wired magazine article that has later been expanded into a book. It suggests that the Internet has started a shift in business from selling a small number of popular items to using technology to sell small quantities of many smaller items. Think of sites like Amazon.com and Netflix, whose selection is a big selling point. Julia Turner demonstrated last month how the long tail works for Slate magazine.

Seeing information like this shows the significance of maintaining archives and not putting them behind a pay wall. Some people may think it bad that a significant amount of our traffic goes to our archives, but from an advertisers’ perspective we’re still delivering them eyeballs. There may be some issues revolving around what sort of audience comes from outside our site. One way we don’t capitalize on this currently is that our archives don’t bring people back into the site well. Our navigation isn’t consistent across the site and we don’t have any “fresh” content on our archive pages. So most people who come to our site from a direct link to a story don’t necessarily to see what else we have going on.

The long tail is a valuable lesson for a lot of businesses including newspapers. Its unfortunate that more news sites do not embrace this philosophy and leverage their archives better.

Don’t Be Alarmed

Somewhere in my dream I felt a brief warning, a premonition that something was happening. Five seconds later the jarring ringing of a fire alarm threw me out of my bed at 5 a.m.

In addition to having alarms in every hallway, the University has recently installed alarms in every room. The noise is so loud you cannot think, let alone sleep.

A flood of horrible images rush through your mind as you try to get yourself out of your room. I grab my wallet and keys of the desk. Two planes hit the twin towers. I throw my shoes on my feet. Millions infected with AIDS in Africa. I grab sweatpants and a sweatshirt. Justin Timberlake brings sexy back.

I can only imagine what other uses this alarm system could provide. Perhaps guards could use it for prison escapes or even a new form of torture in Guantanamo. Every time I hear that alarm, I really wonder why they couldn’t just let me die in my sleep.

I feel like a real veteran to have the wherewithal to grab my sweats before running out to the cold morning air. Many were not so lucky, coming out tired and underdressed. One girl wrapped her comforter around herself and a shirtless guy. I saw two guys do the same, which may be an even more extraordinary gesture.

One RA told me he tried to write up a fire alarm as a community program, since you get nearly everyone to participate. It is funny how neighbors go day in and day out ignoring each other, but will begin to converse with each other while shivering outside at 5 a.m.

A girl who appeared to be an authority figure, an RA perhaps, comes around and yells for people to back away from the building. “This is not a fire drill!” she said. Duh. If she announced it was just a drill, I think someone may have hit her.

For a second I grasp the potential seriousness of the situation as I imagine all of my belongings exploding out my window like in Fight Club. I think I left my CD collection in the car, but I doubt any insurance company would reimburse me for my giant DVD collection.

Fortunately while this wasn’t a drill, this wasn’t a real fire either. Most likely it was the act of a drunken student or a technical issue with the fire alarm. I remember a year ago a similar event was set off by a wiring error in the attic.

Atherton Hall is listed on some maps as “Centre Halls”, but it seems it is miles away from civilization whenever an alarm goes off. In the course of 45 minutes I never saw a fire truck or even a maintenance van pull up.

The alarm eventually stopped and people started to move towards the doors, but I waited. I’ve been burned by fire alarms before. Sure enough the alarm starts up again for a few more minutes, an aftershock I guess. We finally get the go ahead and return to our rooms.

Appropriately enough, fire prevention week will start next week. So if you don’t have the misfortune of a major university being liable for your fire safety, perhaps you can take the opportunity to get some smoke detectors and test their batteries. And don’t worry, smoke detectors have a much nicer ring to them.