All posts in Media

Standing in line for The Grid – position 23,704.


You may have noticed that I’m not the most prolific blogger around. But hey, this website is not to going to build itself. Or is it?

The Grid is a new web platform that promises “AI websites that build themselves.” Just throw a mess of media at it; text, photos, videos, URLs, whatever, and it will “automatically shape them into a custom website.” It’s a bold but theoretically achievable goal. So far over 50,000 people have felt confident or curious enough to plunk down $96 to be among the first The Grid users. A few weeks ago the site open the system to 100 beta users. They expect to roll it out to the remaining founding members in phases over the next 6 months.

I signed up in March as founding member #23,704. I plan to experiment with it by converting this WordPress blog to the The Grid platform. If that goes well, I will likely rework my business site with it next.

Interest in signing up? Use this link, THEGRID.IO/#23704, and they will kindly kick back a founders finder fee ($25) to me! Then you tell three friends, and so on, and so on. Thanks in advance.

Never loan a book. Give it away.


Books can transport one to places and experiences like no other medium, but transporting the books themselves that accumulate over decades of reading is, to me, becoming less and less appealing.

I have always cherished my humble book collection from the common paperback reprints (mostly science fiction, art, theater, humor, popular science, and a bit of philosophy) to the rarer niche treatises (plays, pop ups and technical manuals for stage and closeup magicians.) While I will always admire a clever binding technique or a beautifully illustrated coffee table tome, my desire to own them as objects d’art is waning. I believe this is attributable to their increasing ease of acquisition.

Tracking down a desired volume was once a mini-treasure hunt. Whether it was a quick drive to the nearest Waldenbooks or a months of searching through the dusty shelves of used book stores, the search and discovery of the physical object was often as satisfying as the book’s content. Today a few seconds of Googling leads to an overnight delivery of almost any paper-bound compendium, if not the text and illustrations themselves digitally served up for instant perusal (in varying shades of legality.)

bookOne of the many upsides of this accessibility is that I find my previous desire to collect, if not horde, books has turned 180 degrees. Douglas Coupland is credited with saying “Never loan a book to someone if you expect to get it back.” My glass-half-full-of-karma paraphrasing of this quote becomes my new motto. “Always give your books away and don’t accept them back.”

Today I completed a delightful vacation-read, an autobiography of comedian Fred Allen, while on a Mediterranean cruise. Deck chairs are much more compatible with paperbacks than iPad e-books. Upon finishing the book, I inscribed it (or perhaps defiled it) with the following thoughts that may be of mild interest to the book’s next reader.

Dear Reader,

Fred Allen was one of the top American radio stars of the 1930’s – 40’s and was considered one of the sharpest comedy minds of his day. In “Much Ado about Me” he chronicles his earlier career, from his start on the professional “amateur circuit” in 1920’s Boston through his rise to national success in the Vaudeville “big-time.”

The book is also a fascinating glimpse into the unique lifestyle of Vaudevillian performers during the dying days of that short-lived (50 years) entertainment medium. Chapter 14 in particular, titled “The Life and Death of Vaudeville,” describes for the modern reader a vivid picture of the work-a-day life of “the acrobats, the animal acts, the dancers, the singers, and the old-time comedians who have taken their final bows and disappeared into the wings of obscurity.”

I finished reading this book while aboard the Norwegian Epic off the coast of Cannes, France and am subsequently donating it to the ship’s library. If you enjoy this oeuvre as much as I did please send me a note with your impressions.

June 5, 2015

I included my email address and dropped the book off in the return slot of the ship’s library. My hand-scrawled message may see fewer actual readers than any message in a bottle ever cast to sea, but I do hope someday to hear from a reader on those same waters who found and enjoyed the stories in that book.

Pencil Drawing Digital Workflow


My Papermate Sharpwriter and Moleskine Notebook are irreplaceable, go-to tools. I’ve tried alternatives in tablets, apps, and various Wacom products many times, but I keep coming back to this graphite-on-paper solution. Here is my typical sketching workflow. It uses a couple of quick PhotoShop tricks that make simple sketches look like they require actual skill to create.

Sketch-Book-at-Jupiter-big1. Draw something.
A line sketch with no shading works well with this technique. I like to keep this kind of explanatory drawing simple and quick. I usually do a rough line sketch, erase most of it, then use what’s left to trace over the final darker lines. We will create the cool shading in step 6, but feel free to experiment with your own levels of detail and amount of shading.

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Learn 3D in One (Intense) Weekend


Got 20 hours? That’s all it takes to start adding 3D graphics and animation to your skill set. Even if you’ve never ventured into the third dimension of graphic design, you can dive in and start creating impressive imagery right away with this very friendly course from the generous pseudo-simians at Grey Scale Gorilla … for free.

Screen Shot 2014-01-02 at 1.18.51 AMIntroduction to Cinema 4D is a comprehensive learn-by-doing video tutorial series that walks you through the basics of working in 3D and the most important functions of Cinema 4D. The Gorilla guys keep the course interesting and moving by presenting usable, practical examples that relate to graphic production.

This is not some long-winded tour of every program button, trudging through software menus section by section. The pace is brisk and the enthusiasm of the instructors (Chris Schmidt and Nick Campbell) contagious.

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Google’s $35 Chromecast makes Apple TV an expensive “hobby”

chromecast_deviceChromecast will certainly be compared to Apple TV, and many pundits will jump to the old standby “insert-product-name-here killer” but isn’t the first product on Cc’s kill list Google TV? Not according to this diplomatically correct Google statement, “Chromecast offers an alternative solution to existing non-connected HDTVs with a simple and affordable device. We believe there is ample room for both products to exist and succeed.”

Janko Roettgers at GigaOm offers a thoughtful analysis of the new product and where it may sit in the coming online media ecosphere.

The real issue however isn’t how the Chromecast product introduced this week stacks up against Apple’s current-generation Apple TV. These products are just the first step towards a future in which both companies could be offering their own pay TV services over the internet to compete with traditional cable and satellite TV offerings.

Sony-Voice-Control-RemoteSkepticism about the future of Google TV is not unique. I own two of the much maligned products; a Logitech Revue, and the less elegantly named Sony NSZ-GS8. I really enjoy using them, and they work quite well as a front end to my satellite service.

The Sony voice-control remote (right) is one of the best control devices I’ve ever used. But all Google TV’s are rough around the edges. They are difficult to setup if anything goes awry and this makes them far from ready for non-geeky users. If Chromecast is super-easy to install and use; and brings over just a few choice features from Google TV, then GTV becomes redundant.

Apple TV is a huge hit despite it’s hobby status, but Apple claims the success is not from Over The Top content.

395773441912Apple accounts for the majority of sales by far, despite offering relatively narrow content access – this is not (yet) a market being driven by the value proposition of a streaming TV experience. AppleTV’s AirPlay feature was strategically crafted to simplify the process of transferring laptop and tablet displays to a TV screen, and it is AirPlaying – not OTT streaming – that is the primary reason for purchase of AppleTV devices.

That quote is from last week’s Apple earnings call, where they also mentioned that Google was ” conspicuous by its absence in this segment.” What a difference a week makes.

What’s up right now? Visit the new Social page at


Check out my new Social page to see what’s happening right now.

Powered by RebelMouse, this page aggregates twitter feeds, Facebook posts, and several other social media streams into an attractiveness browsable collection. I am currently testing it using the free service. If it proves popular, I will likely spring for the ten bucks a month to remove ads and RebelMouse branding, as well as further customize the look (which isn’t too bad to start with.)

NASA uses 3D game engine to let you explore the Solar System.


Ready to control space and time? Check out Eyes on the Solar System, a downloadable 3D experience created in part with the Unity 3D game engine that allows viewers to explore the solar system, and the many spacecraft whirling through it. Fly out to the Heliosheath with Voyager, or follow Curiosity all the way to the surface of Gale crater. Doug Elision, Visualization Producer, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, explains that that Eyes is “just like Google Earth, but inside out.”

Eyes combines actual NASA mission data with detailed 3D spacecraft and beautifully textured planet models to create a compelling real-time representation of the current state of the solar system. You can fast-fast forward or rewind time, as well as zoom in for extreme close-ups. Watch, from any angle, a realistic simulation of the Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft and its Rube Goldberg-esque decent and landing on the red planet.

Explore your solar system in real time at BTW, my company uses the same software for corporate communications and interactive exhibitory.

Skyrim – Hour 1 of ?


As the glowing yellow sign recedes in my rearview mirror, I hurry through other yellow lights traveling from the world of best buys to the world of the Elder Scrolls – Skyrim.

I only have an hour or so tonight to explore this realms, so as I remove the plastic wrapper I say a silent thank you to Sony for not covering three sides of the box with crumbly “security” celluloid. Of course if I were really in a hurry, would have purchased at GameStop since their games are seldom sold sealed.

Popping this prized possession into my PS3, I’m greeted by the the all too typical PlayStation experience; a buzz-killing need for a software update. Downloading System 4.0. Point Oh! Uh oh.

The update chugs along and completes without a hitch. Next comes a 95-MEG game update, followed by a final delay for installation. So far, half of my budgeted hour of gameplay has consistent of crawling progress bars.

As I resist the urge to warble in a grandpa voice about how “in my day” software had to ship finished, As I ponder the reasons (sloppy coding, tighter deadlines, vaster complexity) I decide to be thankful rather than complain, that authors and artists have the opportunity to fix problems as they are discovered. And I thank all the players before me who found issues that now I don’t have to deal with.

It has been said many times that no work of art is ever complete, merely abandoned. Software in the internet age is similar – never finished, merely end-of-lifed.

I hope hour 2 involves some actual game play.

Quick Jaunt to Dallas


Just a quick biz trip to Big D for a couple of meetings with L and some video shooting for H. The photo above shows the TSA line at Hobby Airport. Glad it moved quickly.

Steve Jobs – Lost and Found


I saw the Robert Kringley documentary tonight at the River Oaks Theater in Houston. It was made from a recently found VHS copy of his 1996 interview with Steve Jobs.

The Meaning of Like

As the web becomes more Facebookified, does it change the meaning and function of the seemingly simple Like button? How could it not?

An emerging Facebook fad is to require a Like in exchange for viewing content or filling out a form to receive a “free” item. A few lines of code added to your app is all it takes to create a Like Wall. As this trend becomes more widespread, it transforms what was previously a friendly recommendation into something more akin to a financial transaction. Is Like the new currency of the web?

The Facebook developers page explains that a Like button “lets a user share your content with friends on Facebook.” The network effect has quickly taken over, increasing the value of Like. It is becoming the Google Juice of the 2010’s.

Placing content behind a Like Wall creates a content provider/viewer transaction. Recommend this content to your friends and I will let you experience it. The odd part is that in many cases the user must recommend the content before they see it. It is like writing a restaurant review from the parking lot. This diminishes the original intent of a Like, as it transforms it into cold, hard web cash.

Or does it? The viewer does have recourse. Just like the old street corner gag of tying string to a dropped dollar bill, then yanking it away as an unwitting passerby reaches for it, the viewer also holds a string. The Unlike button.

“Sure I will pay for your content. I have an unlimited wallet of Zuck-bucks, so I’ll throw you a Like. Now give me the content. Nope, sorry, I did not really like it, so I am reaching into your virtual cash register and unpaying.” Does this create a mini-moral dilemma for the viewer, or is it just analogous to sending back the food at that previously mentioned restaurant – after eating it?

As usual, emerging web trends raise more questions than they answer. Time will tell us the answers, but in the mean time, tell me what you think in the comments below.

Interactive Exhibit on Alternative Energy

This is a quick demonstration of a recently completed Interactive Exhibit for a Visitors Center in Washington DC. Sorry about the shaky video. I shot it with my iPhone 3G.