"Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do
the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no
safer in the long run than outright exposure."
HELEN KELLER 1880 - 1968
Mortality has bugged us humans ever since we've had time to think about
it. Woody Allen (86), said he didn't mind dying, he just doesn't want
to be there. Well, who does. Read about a silicon valley scientist who said he'd found the formula to live to 1000. He, and the head of
Alphabet, are aiming for a long life*. They take about 125
Advice from an old horse's mouth: waste no money on magic pills. Get a
good night's sleep - a study found going to bed between ten and eleven
is best for the heart. Cut stress. Get outdoors: bike, walk, run – at
least 30' a day. Eat less meat. Pile up on fruit, vegetables, whole
grains, nuts, legumes, garlic, olive oil. Go easy on the booze and pot.
Nix on drugs, except prescribed meds.
Dump sugar – a couple of pieces of chocolate is okay, soda pop is
poison. Get a job – Eki's mother Liisa, posts a diary blog, takes
photographs, and publishes two books a year for the Halkka family. Have a
network of pals, young, old, in-between. DON'T SMOKE! (a
no-brainer). Keep a cash-stash. Be a little bad every day. Have fun.
Don't panic. We're all in the same damn*** boat.
PS: Take care of your teeth. Gum disease increases the risk of heart
disease. Before I had a knee replacement at Orton hospital, I had to
have my teeth X-rayed.
* Places in the world where people live the longest: Okinawa, Japan,
Nicoya, Costa Rica, Loma Linda, Ca., Icaria, Greece, Sardinia, Italy.
** LongLife nutritional supplements. Users must fall for the name.
*** Swearing is good for you (Health and Science section of the NYT).
Sources: Financial Times, New York Times, Washington Post, Roberta Nelson, personal
experience, Mayo Clinic,, Net
Next week: 2022 OOOPS. What's up next?
Note: In addition to the above, though she's been a retiree for over two decades, my mom still continues her scientific work, a few weeks' worth each year. We still go out in the archipelago on a small boat, land rocky islets, and catch thousands of spittlebugs every summer. The population genetics field study has been going on for over 50 years. That's quite a time series.
She is also a dedicated geocacher, with almost a thousand finds under her belt. A hobby she started after retiring. I tag along about once a week - it's quite fun, we find interesting places near our hometown I never knew existed, get to chat about, well, everything, and get some healthy exercise on the side. We clock a few thousand steps on uneven terrain on each trip, without even noticing it much. Not in winter though - there are limits to this insanity after all ;-)
Just when we began to think, what the hell happened to Frank Gehry, he pops up in the Financial Times with a boffo review* for LUMA Arles. Love it, hate it (some locals say it looks like a crushed tin can, the Shark thinks it wrecks the landscape), you can't ignore it. The front, covered in polished stainless steel siding, changes color as the day goes by.
The tower sits on a giant glass drum, where most of the art is. Smaller
exhibit rooms are in the tower, seen from miles away. Frank does not do subtle.
LUMA Arles, Google Maps Street View. Click and drag to look around.
From the start of his career, Frank has caused a stir. When he couldn't get work he did a crazy makeover of his own house. It got him a lot of press, but no big commissions. His career took off when the
movers and shakers in Bilbao, Spain commissioned him to design the
Guggenheim museum. It saved the town - a huge draw for tourists and
new business. LUMA Arles had a different mission – to make a 21st-century statement in an ancient Romanesque city.
Van Gogh lived in Arles. His work, at the time, was panned. He painted
the knock-out Starry Night in a mental hospital nearby. Vincent is
yelling from his grave, 'Fuck the naysayers FRANK!”
* Review by Edwin Heathcote
PS: Frank's favorite architect is Alvar Aalto. Little Margie
produced "Frank & Alvar" in 2006 (Eki has updated the video -
it looks brand new. He'll tell how he did it.)
Sources: Financial Times, personal experience
Next week: Gettin' OLD Ain't Easy
Note: As Maggy said, the above Youtube link is to a new version of our 15-year old documentary, Frank & Alvar. A lot has happened in digital imaging since then. In 2005 when we shot this documentary (released in 2006), the television cameras were big, extremely expensive, and looked rather impressive too. The image quality was great considering the period but in 2021, it looks like crap.
The Standard Definition (SD) of digital widescreen television in Europe, and most countries outside the USA, was anamorphic D1 PAL 50i, 720*576 pixels.
This standard squeezed the 16:9 widescreen image down horizontally by roughly a third to fit the old 4:3 television signal (that's the anamorphic part). The standard also called for 50 fields per second crammed in 25 interlaced (i) frames. This gave a smooth motion, the distinct "TV look" (as opposed to "film look").
For each frame, the image was divided into odd and even rows of "pixels", or TV lines. The odd row was captured and shown first, then the even one. This way the distinct motion steps could be doubled, at the expense of halving the vertical resolution of moving objects.
The "film look" was and still is something a lot of filmmakers wanted - we'd usually rather have our content look like a movie than like a soap opera. So, we would deliberately toss out one of these two TV fields, to get a more movie-like cadence: 25 frames per second instead of 50 fields per second (films are shot 24 frames per second).
This could be done somewhat intelligently, using the full image for static objects, but interpolating the image from just one field for moving objects. It looked pretty good but had the unfortunate side effect of further reducing the resolution of the image anywhere where there was motion.
So, in the end, the file that was broadcast was at a resolution that was 720*576 pixels for static portions of the image, but only 720*288 pixels for any areas that had motion. The motion detecting algorithm was not perfect, so some errors where both fields show in moving areas remained, but that was unnoticeable on a TV set. On a computer screen, which shows the whole image at once, those errors can be visible.
To sum it up, the resolution was abysmally bad compared to what we are used to nowadays: 1920*1080 full HD, or better*. Simply scaling the SD image up just enlarges all the errors, mushiness and softness of the image. That's also why old TV shows look so horrible on Youtube.
The "zoom in and enhance" trope in movies has always been the laughing stock of anyone who works in the industry. You simply cannot do that - you cannot magically introduce new detail to where there is none.
Well, that used to be the case. But it's not anymore. There's a lot of talk about Artificial Intelligence (AI) currently, and this is one of the best practical use cases of AI in action**.
Zoom in and enhance actually works now. And that's pretty wild.
The way the AI is trained is rather ingenious. You take millions of high-resolution images and make low-resolution copies of them. Then the AI tries to figure out what kind of patterns (often just a few pixels) in the small image correspond to the actual details in the big image. The cool part is, that there's another AI that keeps a score of how well the scaling AI works, how successful it is in reproducing the original large image. Bad guesses get weeded out, good guesses are kept.
Right-click to open image in a new tab. Compare the AI-enhanced image on the top to the old-style upscaling on the bottom. Also notice how small the original image was.
No human knows what exactly the AI does, it is way too complex for that. After enough training, you just have a "black box" that knows what needs to be done in order to make a decent big image out of a small image. And it works. Not perfectly, but surprisingly well, even in this first generation of AI image enhancers.
In the case of Frank & Alvar, i used Topaz Video Enhance AI, which is the first commercial software package to use this technology, as far as i know. I actually got better results after scaling the 720*576 image further down a little, to 720*408 16:9 aspect ratio before feeding it to the AI. This reduced the interlacing artifacts i mentioned earlier.
The resulting image quality is surprisingly good. There are places where the AI did some pretty weird choices, making for some surreal imagery when closely examined, but these usually go unnoticed in the moving video. And there also are some shots that could be easily mistaken for a modern HD camera.
Color me impressed.
* Even most new phones have cameras that do 4K (Ultra HD, UHD) video, which is an even higher resolution. SD is about 0.5 megapixels, HD is about 2 megapixels, and UHD is about 8 megapixels. That's 16 times more resolution than SD television had.
** AI image processing can do some rather cool other stuff too - from imagining new frames between the actual ones for a pretty convincing slow motion to creating believable digital humans, landscapes, and other images to making your photos look like Van Gogh paintings. And we're still just starting, scratching the surface of what is possible. And then there are all the other use cases - AI has replaced journalists for some simple reporting, and it can even excel on comedy: https://arr.am/2020/07/17/jerry-seinfeld-and-eddie-murphy-talk-shit-about-san-francisco-by-gpt-3/
The global temperature anomaly 1900-present, 12-month running average in degrees Celcius, HADCRUT4 / Woodfortrees.org
When I booked a ticket for the last day of the COP26 climate summit I was excited. The conference was divided into two zones: the Blue Zone, which hosted the negotiations, and the Green Zone, which was open to the general public. We got tickets to the Green Zone. Leading up to my visit, news coverage was not optimistic. People had a lot of criticism and protesters gathered to demand action. By the time I was on the train to Glasgow, my expectations for the day were low.
We took an electric bus from the train station to the Glasgow Science Centre where the Green Zone was. The public transport was free for everyone registered to attend COP26. Once there, my friends and I walked around, looked at the exhibitions and watched a planetarium show about the Earth and the rising temperature. I was positively surprised by how many companies had stalls and showed how committed they were to tackling climate change through various ways, such as using renewable energy and reducing waste. When we left the centre I felt optimistic and protective of the environment and the planet.
As we took the train back from Glasgow in the evening, the negotiations continued in overtime. Although my general impression of the Green Zone was positive, I do worry that the measures that this summit produced are not nearly sufficient to properly address the climate crisis. This issue was highlighted by the protesters throughout COP26. It is not enough that we listen anymore, it is time to join the crowds and demand change. Actions, not words, will show the true results of COP26.
*ANNA R. is 21, a student at Edinburg University.
Nest week: "Gettin' Old Ain't Easy"
Note: I have followed the climate change discussion and politics for a long time, trying to defend the science and debunk the denialist claims whenever I come across them. I have also followed the bewildering double standard of a lot of pretty talk but virtually no action by the powers to be. You know, the same stuff Greta Thunberg talks about.
But unlike her, I'm guilty of doing essentially nothing, actually. At least apart from arguing on the internet, and some life choices that reduce my carbon footprint. I have no children, no car, and I work from home. I do not travel much by air. I have even reduced the use of red meat considerably. The thing is, I didn't really do these choices because of the climate (at least not mainly), so I can't really take much climate-change-activist-credit for them either. So my main real contribution is just the debates, I guess. Which is not a lot.
This isn't really surprising, as the things an individual citizen can do are very limited. The corporations will only change if forced, or if it is profitable. Not because they are inherently evil, but because that's what is needed for success.
We thus cannot rely on the people or the businesses, the big change really must come from the governments, from international agreements.
I'm used to getting disappointed with the results of climate negotiations. And the same goes for COP26. It's always too little, too late. But there's perhaps a slither of hope. Big ships turn slowly, but i feel the heading is really changing. Finally. Perhaps thanks to activists like Greta and Extinction Rebellion, the issue is finally starting to be taken with the gravitas it deserves. Or maybe it's just that the always too small steps forward seen in the political negotiations and corporate behavior do indeed accumulate to a bigger whole over time and make a difference.
In any case, I'm more optimistic than I have been in a long while. There seems to be actual progress being made.
Squids, just hangin' there. Image by Altmark / Pixabay
A stone-broke guy, drowning in debt gets a message to play SQUID GAMES.
Win, you take home millions. Lose you die.” One of the (kid's) games is
to take a dalgona* out of its mole without breaking the brittle toffee.
Win, you pass. Fail, you get shot in the head. Squid Game is the hottest Netflix series ever – 142 million worldwide viewers and counting. And
the media has jumped on the squid bandwagon.South Korea is on a culture export roll. K-Pop boy bands have been
around for a while and are still on top. The So. Korean president took
a group to the UNN meeting in New York - they were part of his
entourage. Another K-Popper had a smash-hit gig in No. Korea – Kim
Jung Un was not happy. So. Korean cosmetics have gone mainstream. Young
hucksters with perfect skin** tell us we can look like them. We believe.
SQUID's stylish pop-art visuals are part of its pull... The enforcers are
dressed head to toe in Shocking pink with a black mask. Contestants wear
dull gray jumpsuits and are treated like robots. But the game is hooked
to reality: lots of people, especially the young, are stone broke and
drowning in debt. At the finale, SQUID's rich investors are invited to
watch the on a big screen in cushy comfort - the bet on the losers.
Spoiler alert: the winner goes home rich. But he's invited to play in
the next Squid Game – he accepts. Cripes. Gimme a shot of tequila.
Leave the bottle.
*Dalgona went viral. It was the Economist 'word of the week'. Recipe:
half cup of baking soda, three tablespoons sugar. Mix and melt slowly in
a pan. Carefully pour drops on waxed paper. Leave till toffee hardens.
Sources: The Economist, Washington Post, Net, Roberta Nelson
Next week: COP26: report from Glasgow by Anna R.
Correction: last week, “pack your pistol, no permit need” should have
been, “pack your piston, no permit needed to carry.” sorry.
Well... this is not by any means an original idea: "survivor games to death" movies have been out there for quite a while. Japanese film Battle Royale (Batoru Rowaiaru) comes to mind, as well as the later Hunger Games movies. There probably are predecessors to these, but i'm honestly not interested enough to google for them.
The thing is, I find this whole genre rather repulsive.
The story, if any, is there only to justify an endless onslaught of ultra-violent and graphic killings. It really is just a film version of the morbid rubbernecking of a lethal car crash when passing by. Or more accurately, it's an endless stream of lethal car crashes. The violence and death and gore are not there to underline a story point, they ARE the story.
So, sure, I do have Netflix, but nope, I don't think I will ever join the 143 million+ onlookers on this car crash highway.
Pack your pistols – no permit needed - and hunt down those varmints who
break the new Texas law: abortion is “illegal” after six weeks. In a
trick to avert a conflict with the federal law, Roe v Wade*, any US
citizen has the right to sue the perpetrators.
A doctor in Texas performed an abortion past the time limit. He wrote
an article about it in the Washington Post. An out-of-state
jail-bird-lawyer sued him. The suer didn't give a damn about the
rights and wrongs, he wants to collect the reward - $10,000.
A friend got pregnant pre-Roe v Wade. She called her shrink in LA. He
made appointments with two psychiatrists, who agreed with her decision.
A recommended, reputable doctor induced a miscarriage. He did a D & C
at St. Johns - a Catholic hospital in Santa Monica. She had resources
and connections, but most women who need an abortion can't afford to
fly to another state. Two lawsuits against the Texas law failed in the
Supreme Court**. The trend is catching on in red states: Mississippi
has come up with an anti-abortion law. It will take more than a protest march to check this bogus attack on WOMEN'S RIGHT TO CHOOSE.
* Roe v Wade is almost 50 years old
** Supreme Court Justices: six Catholics, one Anglo-Catholic, two Jews
Sources: the Economist, New York Times. Washington Post, CNN, Morning
Joe, personal experience
Next week: WORLDWIDE SQUIDEMIC
Note: Well, I thought I'd have a lot to say about the issue. But to be honest, to someone from a civilized and egalitarian Nordic country, the whole issue sounds so outlandishly bonkers that there's not much to say. The GOP is so far down the insanity rabbit hole that they're really beyond reach.
I just hope we are witnessing the last dying breaths of the gnarly beast that is the extreme right, and sanity will overcome. Not just in the US but everywhere.
In reality, they are a shrinking minority, they are cornered. I hope it's just that their endangered species is getting extra aggressive because even *they* know extinction is near.
“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail” - Benjamin Franklin, 1706-1790
Red Hot Chili Peppers (sorry, misread the title) Image: Tookapic/pixabay
A double whammy – the global pandemic and Climate Change – has stoked a
movement to prepare for TEOTWAWKI*. Rich techies make super-preppers.
They buy big plots of land in remote places (for ex. New Zealand), build
blast-proof bunkers, and stock up for long-term survival. They hide
their billions in secret off-shore accounts. At Silicon Valley cocktail
parties the mot du jour is DOOMSDAY.
Ordinary Nervous Nellies prepare for months, instead of years.
Practicing Mormons are master Preppers – they believe it teaches self-reliance. Mormon cellars are stocked and they are advised to have money
in reserve. The French aren't big Preppers, but towns and villages along
major auto routes keep emergency blankets, water, and food to aid
Prepper list: dried and canned food, bottled water, booze, and/or pot,
if you want to relax, toilet paper, paper towels, first-aid kit,
batteries, flashlight, candles, matches, multitool, knife sharpener,
scissors, nitrile gloves, wipes, hand sanitizer, duct tape, a
vegetable garden, a shovel, masks, an upbeat attitude, and cash.
Stocking up for the worst ain't cheap; it takes resources, planning, and
work to prepare for a world WROL**.
* TEOTWAWKI: The End of the World As We Know It
** WROL: Without Rule of r Law***
*** Prepper dig acronyms
Sources: The Economist, Washington Post, Pandora Papers*, internet,
*A worldwide investigation: how, and where, billionaires hide their
billions. 14 world leaders and a king are implicated. (source:
Washington Post 4/10/2021)
Next week: ROOTIN' TOOTIN' TEXAS VIGILANTE ABORTION LAW Note: I guess the rich have always feared the day when the peasants have finally had enough and go get their pitchforks.
Me, well, I'm not rich and definitely not a prepper. The closest I get is a whole day without going to the grocery store. Those are pretty rare. Even if I haul two metric ton bags home in the evening, feeling certain that I forgot nothing and that tomorrow there's definitely no need to shop... in the morning it turns out we're out of coffee.
CASH is king. But that's so "yesterday". Today Finland is digitalized. ATM machines are almost impossible to find. If you lose your phone you're up shit creek. My accountant said she couldn't work without it. The Shark was in her hometown and wanted to stash some stuff in a train station locker – she wondered where the hell she could find a
two-euro coin. Eki says he never has more than 20 euros in his pocket. I
took the risk of getting caught by the tram police because I couldn't pay with my phone and forgot to buy tickets at a kiosk. If you don't have an online bank account you're cooked - long queues for cash at the few banks that have it, look like wartime ration lines.
I asked a taxi driver what would happen if there was a ransomware*
attack on the banks, or even one bank, he said, "Oh, we're too small for
the bad guys to pay attention." Yeah. Put that in your pipe and smoke
it. I thought my new iPhone was secure – they installed a bunch of private info and my fingerprint. I was wrong.
If you CALL for a taxi instead of texting, you pay – Helsinki taxi charges 2.90 per call plus .60 per minute, while a recorded voice tells you this in Finnish, Swedish, and English and you wait for a real person to answer. Finland's over-sixties population is approx, 200,00
and growing. As eyesights dim will they be able to cope with texting for just about everything? And then there are those bad guys, who lurk in the shadows ready to pounce. It might be smart to stash some CASH under the mattress just in case.
* Ransonosmware attacks on US cities have cost millions. (Washington
Post, Sept. 8, 2021)
Sources: personal experience, friends, the net, Washington Post, the
Next week: That DAMN WATER: what if the mighty COLORADO RIVER dries up?
Yep, we've become kinda sorta cyborgs.
The phone is an integral part of our being. Running out of battery feels almost as if you suddenly lost hearing or eyesight - or your memory. You're missing a sense, your world just shrunk from a global presence to your immediate surroundings and your pool of knowledge got reduced to whatever you currently happened to hold in your meaty think box...
Sure we're hooked, but I'm not sure it's a bad thing. The lure of technology is based on the actual real-life benefits it gives.
Eki knows I hate cell phones. But when he told me if I bought an 11 or
12 iPhone I could take better videos than with my camera. And it had a
stabilizer. I was hooked and bought an 11. Told the Apple staff to install WhatsApp and forgot about videos - I wanted to talk. Called
Eki. He didn't recognize my voice and said he hated WA – he only used it for texting – easier and quicker than talking. But after a couple of
days, I was talking to Texas, Missouri, Colorado, New York, Great
Britain. I was on a WhatsApp high.
Then a pal, who had lived, and worked in the Middle East, told me she
heard on CNN that Jamel Khashoggi, the Saudi Washington Post reporter,
who was brutally murdered by the Saudis, had bought a bunch of cheap
cell phones and gave them to contacts in Saudi Arabia with WA installed.
They were hacked by Saudi agents.
India, with 400m users - many of them living in remote villages - was terrorized by WhatsApp videos of children being eviscerated for their organs. The videos turned out to be faked. WhatsApp (owned by Facebook),
unlike Apple, doesn't screen content. These APPs are like penny candy -
cheap and tasty - they get us hooked and can do a lot of damage. But they sure are fun.
Sources: Sharon Heller, the Economist, Apple staff
Next week: Is FINLAND on digital HEROIN?
Where should I start? Perhaps not all the way from the dial-in BBS days, but IRC might be it. Because that was the first time I fully realized that online discussions can be the ultimate time sink. They can devour all your free time, and creep into the not-so-free time too.
Lightwave 3D version 4.0, 1995 NewTek inc.
At the time, in the mid-1990s, I participated in IRC chats about 3D animation. At first, it was a really meaningful discussion between peers on the IRC channels, a small and tight group of mostly professionals who were at the emerging frontier of desktop 3D animation, which had just become somewhat affordable enough for even small to medium-sized post-production companies.
The discussions then transformed, almost unnoticeable over a few years, into a helpdesk for newcomers. I'm not saying it was a bad thing per sé, but it took all the time I used to have to learn that stuff myself. What's more, people started demanding instant answers and were pissed off if I didn't reply with a solution to their problems immediately.
So I cut the IRC cord.
So did a few dozen other 3D animators that used the same software I did, Lightwave 3D. They had formed an e-mail list for professional users, and I was lucky enough to be invited at some point. It became a different kind of time sink, discussions were not all necessarily work-related anymore, but it was much more enjoyable this time. Amazingly, the mailing list still exists after over two decades.
This brings me to WhatsApp and other modern forms of online discussion. There are many, and they all are time sinks. So one needs to pick the battles.
So, I indeed told Maggy I hate WhatsApp. Why? Simply because I cannot completely opt-out from it.
There are WhatsApp groups I must follow. And that is a distraction. One more thing I need to remember to check. I've had some issues with people that have been - again - angry with me for not instantly replying to them on WhatsApp. Even after telling them that I *DO NOT* follow it daily.
If it was only that, the problem would be manageable. But there's also the Slack groups for some jobs, the Telegram groups for others, the Discord server for yet another issue, and so on.
Not to mention the usual suspects, SMS messages, e-mail, Facebook Messenger, and online forums (which I have more or less phased off recently). Luckily I never got into Twitter in the first place.
So, as far as communication goes, what do I prefer? It depends.
If it's something that does not require instant action, e-mail is still my favorite. I can reply when it's convenient - when I actually have time - and often with a solution to the problem at hand, be it posting Maggy's blog or making corrections from a client to a TV commercial. Want something done? E-mail me, and I will e-mail back to you with the finished product when it's done.
If you want to notify me of something, send an SMS. Even if it's just a text reminding me to check my e-mails ;-)
If it's urgent, or if we need to have a more detailed discussion, call me. The phone still works, and it's more efficient than writing for a fast discussion.
If it's related to a team project, I prefer making a group in Messenger. Facebook is something I and most others check pretty regularly (yes, one more time sink), and Messenger comes with it. It does pretty much everything important that WhatsApp or Slack or Telegram or Discord do - without the need to remember to check a separate app.
So, I guess I do not hate WhatsApp itself. I hate constant distraction and unnecessary time thieves, and spreading the attention across multiple discussion platforms is the pinnacle of that.
Now please excuse me, I need to e-mail Maggy that this text has been posted on the blog.
When my knee began to bend to the left in early 2020, I knew I knew I
was in big trouble. The only place I wanted it checked was ORTON
orthopedic hospital in Helsinki – they repaired a botched knee operation my husband had at his local hospital. Then the Covid 19 bomb dropped and
I was stuck. Four appointments, three canceled, finally got to Helsinki
May 2021.The meeting with Dr. Mikko Maninnen was short and decisive – I needed a
knee replacement. He made the appointment and the Orton org. went into action. They called me in for pre-opp tests and a meeting with the physical therapist and anesthesiologist. I got a booklet in English with all the info. The hardest part was getting to Orton at 7:00 am. I went to the 4th floor and a crew took over. It was so quick and organized before I could be scared or nervous the operation was over.
I was back in my room. The staff* took over. Physical therapy began the next day – mornings and afternoons. I walked with crutches on my own
– my left leg was straight as a stick and hurt like hell. They gave me painkillers. When I got tired of beef and potatoes for lunch one of the nurses went online and found a Chinese takeout. After two weeks, my new knee worked and there was almost no pain. I left Orton grateful and in awe at how efficient, upbeat and cheerful it was. Humpty Dumpty had a
great fall but was back together again. Thank you ORTON.
*STAFF: Anu, Tuuli, Taina, Helena, Susanna, Nea, Toni, Mikael. Eric,
Mikko. Mikko, Leene, Riikka, Maire, Sanni, Olga, Sirppa, Elina, Henna,
Markku, Mikkel, Anton. Hope I got everyone, because you were all great.
Source: personal experience
Next week: A WhatsApp SAP! Note: Well, nothing to add this time ;-)
Monday. Called Eki to catch up. NA. When I got him, he said he'd been on a shoot. That always gets my attention. Asked him what was the project.
He said they were doing Virtual Reality tests. And began to tell me how it works. Whoa. I was totally lost.
He sent a STAR WARS video of a crew working on VR. I could see a
circular screen. Still didn't have a clue. Called him back. He tried to explain. But it was only after I compared it to 1930s pre-on-location
movies, where the action might take place in Monte Carlo. The French cafe' is on a set, and the MC background is stock film. But VR surrounds the actors and they can see the action. I think.
He said he'd been working on the technique on and on for three years.
And sent a video of the set-up in his home office. Three years sounded like a long time for Eki to nail something. So it must be tough to cracK
VR. I want a Dummy: VIRTUAL REALITY 101. Over to you EKI.
Source: personal experience
Next week: FLYING through COVID
Note: Okay, this is a big one to bite at one go but let's try ;-)
First of all, it's not Virtual Reality, but rather Virtual Production. The two are related but not the same. Virtual Reality is when one puts on VR glasses and is immersed in a video game. Virtual Production is when similar techniques are used to produce movies or other video content.
There are a few different disciplines of Virtual Production, but I'll just concentrate on the two that best apply here. The common characteristic is that they both share the use of real footage from a camera combined with elements (usually a background) that is computer-created with a game engine, in real-time.
Virtual Production Demo Day, Helsinki 2020
The first is what was used with The Mandalorian, a Star Wars spinoff series. As Maggy writes, it's somewhat similar to the rear projection techniques famously used on the original 1930s King Kong and other films from that era and well to the 1960s. On those, a background scenery film was projected on the rear side of a translucent movie screen, and the live-action set was built in front of it. The camera captured the actors and the background at the same time. The effect was sometimes quite convincing, and no post-processing was required. These days, the film screen is replaced with a led wall - essentially a huge television set. This technique is in wide use also in television programs, where the led walls often replace practically built sets.
King Kong, RKO Radio Pictures 1933
The challenge with this method is that the angle of view is fixed. There is no depth to the background image, which is fine if the screen is used just as an abstract set piece like in television shows, but becomes a problem if the backing is supposed to be a real environment like in movies. The illusion breaks the moment the camera starts moving as the backing is just a flat 2D image - the perspective works correctly just from one single angle.
The solution is to use a computer-generated 3D background that takes the changes in perspective into account. The location and rotation of the real-world camera are tracked in real-time and the background seen on the screen is always rendered from that point of view. When the camera moves, the backdrop changes accordingly, and everything lines up. One can think of it as if the camera was a character in a 3D game - which is actually quite close to how the effect is really done: the backgrounds are usually made with the same game engines that are used when making computer games.
On the high end of the production scale, the video screens are not just flat panels, but rather surround the set and the actors almost 360 degrees, often called a "volume". Even the ceiling can be a screen. This has the benefit of immersing the actors in the scene. The set looks and feels real to those in it - if there's a distant city on the horizon, it's not only seen by the camera but also by the actors and crew on the set. Another important benefit is that the screens act as a light source, giving a realistic ambient light to the set. They also show in reflections, which can be very important if the subject that's being shot is e.g. a car, most of the look of car paint actually comes from the reflected environment.
My Virtual Studio setup at an early prototype stage.
The second Virtual Production technique is similar, but using a green screen instead of a led screen. The actors are in front of a green wall, and the computer-generated backdrop is keyed behind them on a computer, in real-time. The same game engine as in led screen productions is used, the real camera is tracked in the same way. The main difference is that the camera does not capture the final image, but rather just the foreground element, and the actors need to imagine their surroundings.
This technique also has a long history, and even moving cameras have been used for a long time - but not in real-time. Tracking and matching the camera moves was usually done in post and could be a very slow and tedious process. Because of this, most productions opt for a stationary, locked camera. This is also what we did for the acted "old black & white" segments of littlemargieproduction's Lucia - a Christmas Story.
On television, real-time virtual sets have been used since the late 1990s but they required state-of-the-art supercomputers of the day and were rather cost prohibitive. In Finland, only the large television broadcasters could afford setups like this. They were also horribly non-user-friendly. I worked with one of these systems back in the day, created the virtual sets for a digital sports channel in 1999 or so, and it was quite frustrating, to say the least.
The largest benefit of modern green screen based Virtual Production is cost. Large led volumes cost millions to own, and tens of thousands a day to rent. Greenscreens are relatively cheap. A working basic setup can be built for a few thousand, including the green screen, cameras, computers and so on. This is what I've done at our SW5 studio. It's still a work in progress, but getting there.
The green screen stage at SW5 Studio, freshly painted.
The basis of all operations at our studio is of course the green screen stage. We built it from basic construction materials and some flexible vinyl floor for the curved areas, painted with Rosco green screen paint. It's not the prettiest in the world, but it was affordable, can be torn down if we ever have to move again, and it does the job.
The cameras are tracked using a consumer-grade Vive system. Essentially, we take the data of a Vive VR headset's trackers and apply that to our virtual cameras. This gives us an area of a few meters across, where the computer knows exactly where the real camera is positioned and how it is oriented.
The video camera's signal is connected via an HDMI interface to the computer. I use an affordable Sony a6300 hybrid mirrorless as the main camera. This is one place where the low budget shows - while the image quality is actually great, the cabling and connections are not as robust as with dedicated professional systems. Our streaming computer is a decent, but not by any means high-end graphics workstation.
UE5 demo shows the rendering capabilities of the next generation
of the Unreal Engine. All this film-quality animation is real-time - no more waiting.
The virtual background is created using Unreal Engine. Unreal is a popular and very powerful piece of software, it can be used to create first-class video games - and the photorealistic virtual sets we need. Best of all, it's free. The data from the Vive tracker drives a virtual camera inside a "video game". The position, orientation, and lens properties are matched as closely as possible to the real camera.
If done right, the two align perfectly and the live actor can be placed within the virtual world.
The video and background could be combined within Unreal Engine (or a 3rd party addon like Aximmetry), but for now, i am using Open Broadcasting Software, OBS, for compositing the two. This may change in the future. Obs is also used for switching between different angles, mixing audio, and adding on-screen graphics, etc., as well as streaming the live video to Youtube or other platforms. OBS is another great piece of free software.
I coded a simple greenscreen keyer for OBS, as i was not happy with the results i got with the built-in tools. Once i have perfected that, i'll probably share the code so that others can benefit from it too - hopefully i can contribute a little to this amazing free tool.
Having these free tools at anyone's disposal is nothing short of a miracle. What once cost millions is now at the fingertips of anyone with an internet connection and the will to learn.
I believe in getting immunity the old-fashioned way: By letting a bat virus take control of my lungs and turn my face into a disgusting plague fountain while my immune system desperately Googles 'how to make spike protein antibodies'.
Comic by XKCD.com
Germany ain't pulling their punches – AVs are kept under surveillance.
Deniers come from different tribes: loyal Trumpers, skeptics, lazy layabouts who can't be bothered. Read about a far-left Catholic nun who thinks the vaccines are a capitalist plot. And I know a kid. 23, she
thinks the planet is dying and we are too, so what's the use.
Every AV, unless they're hermits, is a walking talking time-bomb for the rest of us. The vax jab protects us, but we can still get ill. And we'll all be stuck a lot longer in virus-limbo. Unless AVs wear T-shirts with
ANTI VAXER printed in 3-inch letters in bright red on the front, we
won't know who is safe and who is not.
About 25 % of the word's pop. are AVs. Even if some far-off country is the worse-hit, the virus and its variants are speedy spreaders. Just about anywhere, except the great outdoors, is not safe. Sweden (pop.
10.5 m.) with its 'let it all hang out' policy, has had 15,000+ Covid 19
deaths. Finland (pop. 5.5 m.), with hot spot restrictions and obligatory face masks in public places has had 910 deaths – the best record in the
EU. Hip, Hip, hurray for SUOMI!
Sources: The Economist, Washington Post New York Times, Cyril Marret
Next week: EKI's "VIRTUAL REALITY" course for DUMMIES
I know a few anti-vaxxers too. What's scary is that some of them are people that I actually like in normal circumstances. Smart colleagues, dear old schoolmates, and so on. Intelligence - or being an overall good person - does not seem to be a foolproof guard against conspiracy theories.
I've had too many debates on Facebook and other social media with these. It's rather infuriating at times: how do you reason with a person whose position is not based on reason?
Well, the same as with any other form of science denial. Try to be calm, state the facts, point out the lies and logical fallacies. Go high when they go low. Not for the one you are debating (they are likely beyond salvation already), but for the others reading the discussion (they maybe are not).
But as said, this can be rather irritating: you are restricted to sticking to the actual verifiable facts and need to take into account all uncertainties, while the opponent can just spew new lies every time the previous one has been debunked.
And in the end, they do not even need to win. It's enough if they can sow something that looks like "reasonable doubt" to the layperson, and suddenly the scientific consensus is just another "opinion".
I'm worried that this might be a losing battle. And THAT is scarier than anything.
"Makkaratalo": not art-deco. Image: Wikipedia (The Central Railway Station is in the background)
The city planners have published their five choices for a building next to Eliel Saarinen's famous Railway Station. And its neighbours: the
1938 art-deco Central Post Office, Lasipalatsi. One of the contenders looks like a giant pagoda plucked out of Peking. Helsinki, a gem of great architecture has fans all over the world. The city planners seem clueless.
"Klyyga", one of the entries for the new building. Image from the competition site. (Also starring, from top left: Kiasma, Sanomatalo, Oodi, Sokos building, Central Railway Station, and a tiny bit of "Makkaratalo" in the bottom.)
When Eki and I made the series, TEN FINNISH ARCHITECTS, we were lucky to see, and learn, close-up why Finland is so famous for its architecture and design*. Poor, mostly agricultural, until after the second world war, I was knocked out by how Finland's bold and unpretentious architecture developed and flourished. At least one reason was Open
Without Open Competitions, the city planners have given permits for duds.
Hotel Clarion is a perfect example. It wrecked the entrance to the center. When the taxi from the airport takes the route by the sea, or a
ship comes into port, there it is – a high-rise exclamation point with one of the best views of the Baltic. In June the citizens of Helsinki will have a chance to voice their opinion about the project by the RR
station. Let's hope the majority put a big, Black X on NO.
* Long before I moved to Finland, I was a big fan of Marimekko. It was my first introduction to the country. Eki and I made a documentary about the company.
Source: the Shark
Next Week: A POX on ANTI-VAXERS
Note: Well, where should I start. There are two main issues I rather strongly disagree with.
1) The first is that you're sort of lying by omission. Sure, there's the Central Railway Station and Post Office and Lasipalatsi, which are early 1900's art-deco.
"Oodi": not art-deco. Image: The City of Helsinki
But there's also the "Makkaratalo" which is a rather ugly shopping center from the late 1960s that got its nickname from the sausage-like concrete bulge that surrounded its 2nd-floor parking lot (now renovated to hold more shops), the 1990 Kiasma modern art museum which is almost Gehryesque, Sanomatalo from 1999 which is an all-glass office building, the Helsinki Music House concert hall from 2011 which is a tilted glass and marble box, and the 2018 Oodi library, which is a beautiful piece of abstract modern wood-glass architecture.
All these are within about the same distance from the new building as the art-deco buildings you list.
2) Second: I think what makes cities appealing is the layering of different styles and bold architecture that looks the period. I'm actually pretty sure that the art-deco buildings that are now praised were seen as "too modern" and "not fitting" in their own time.
And that appeal, to me, includes even the ugly 1960's shopping centers, "a little too high" hotels and whatever buildings there are - they are children of their time, and they all have a place in a city that wants to have a history and character that is there for the future generations to discover. Today's abomination can be a future jewel.
PS: I'm actually not sure whether the other buildings mentioned here were a result of an open or a closed competition. Likely both.
PS2: I actually like some of the new competition entries.
It was a long, meandering message. The gist: a company that Finnair is associated with was breached. Some Finnair Plus members' info might be involved. Nothing serious, but they advised US to change our passwords.
There was tel. no. to call. I called. A recoding said they would get back to me. Decided to call Finnair Plus and talk to someone.
Talked to an agent, in English. I asked him about the breach. He knew nothing about it, said he would check and come back to me. I waited.
Several minutes later he came back and confirmed there was a breach. I
was surprised that he hadn't been informed. And called customer service in Helsinki. He said that all I had to do was change my Password.
I went back to the original message and put in my email address and a
new password. It didn't work. Thought I had made a mistake and tried three more times. Called Customer Service in Helsinki again. Another agent. When I told her the problem, she explained that Finnair was still investigating the problem and I wouldn't be able to change the password until it was resolved. She wasn't sure when that would be –
maybe tomorrow. I haven't received any updates from Finnair. So am out to sea about what to do.
Finnair is three years short of its 100th anniversary. State-owned, it has iconic status in Finland. The blue and white carrier gives us confidence. We feel safe when we fly on one of its planes But the way the company handled this small glitch in the system was a red flag. Do they take US loyal passengers as a given? Especially now when airlines are reeling from the pandemic losses. After the virus is subdued and we get on the move again, the competition will be ferocious. Finnair WAKE
cc: Topi Manner CEO Finnair
PS: After a week I received a message from Finnair Plus: there will be a
five-day break in the Finnair Plus service while they fix the system.
Source: personal experience
Next week: TRUE FINNs 2.0 Note: I have only had good experiences with Finnair. Despite this hiccup, I like their track record. Also from a safety standpoint - they are the 6th oldest still working airline company, with no significant accidents since 1963. That's longer than I have lived.
Also, when we shot Chasing Esa-Pekka, they let us shoot an interview on a plane, on the ground. Gotta give kudos to the company for doing that.
Blue Marble (The Earth as seen from Apollo 17), flattened.
2015: Donal Trump rolled down the escalator at Trump Tower to announce
he was running for president - like GOD descending to earth in a Sat.
Night Live skit. He paid a small crowd to cheer. His cartoony looks and rage-rant were comedic. The media zoomed in, so did we. Love him or hate him, he was not boring. By a fluke, he won.
Oath Keepers ad Proud Boys were waiting for a leader like Trump... Ok,
ex-military and retired cops, are trained, armed and organized. PBs,
white males with a mission to take back America, designated a terrorist org. in Canada. The two groups ignited the mob that stormed the capitol.
Five people were killed. By comparison, Qanon is a quirky-jerky cult that touts Democrats are pedophiles, with headquarters in the basement of a pizzeria in Wash. D.C. A Qcon member was arrested after he shot up
Trump also has built a rock-solid, adoring Base. Terrified of being primaried by a T chosen candidate, most Republican senators and reps have bowed down and kissed his ring. After four years of a crack-pot
president, in exile now plotting revenge, there are red alerts. The
Economist picked How Democracies DIE* as the most important book of the
Trump era. A noted historian** urged the US to read The Rise and Fall of the
Third Reich.*** Corrupt politicians and conspiracies have been around since God. But Trump's Black-Magic is tapping Social Media on speed –
that evil Genie can't be put back in the bottle.
PS: The Twitter ban has muted Trump, it's also victimized him.
PS2: A gold, six-foot statue of Trump dressed in shorts and clogs, is front and center at the Conservative Political Action Conference. Made
PS3: Authorities warn that extreme right-wing groups have hatched a plan to bomb the Capitol when President Biden gives his first speech to a joint session of congress. The date has not been announced.
*Steven Levitsky & Daniel Ziblatt
Sources: The Economist, New York Times, Washington Post, The Guardian,
MSNBC, CNN, FOX News, the Shark
Next Week: FINNAIR Falls Flat On Its FACE
Note: I dunno.
I'm kindasorta bored of the Trumpist insanity. There are more relevant conspiracy theories out there - anti-vaxxers come to mind (though sure, there's overlap). I hope the Oath Keepers, Proud Boys and the rest of MAGA conspiracists will soon flush down to their proper place in history: to the sewer of irrelevance along with the flat earthers, Area 51 nuts, evolution denialists, 911 was a hoax crowd, climate change denialists, chemtrail wackos and the already mentioned anti-vaxxers.
I don't think they deserve the attention anymore, really. Or, more accurately, hope.
ODDBALL EVENTSSWAMP FOOTBALL (Suopotkupallo): if you like mucking around in
knee-deep in mud, getting down and dirty, this is the game for you.
Soldiers and athletes – mostly cross-country skiers – dreamed up this muscle-building sport to train in the summer. It caught on and went global. Around 300 teams compete around the world. The next championship is in Turkey.
AIR GUITAR FESTIVAL (Ilmakitarafestivaali) Oulu, August 2021: Dead-serious contenders play guitar with no instrument. To the non-woke, it looks wacky. In the
mid-1800s it was considered a form of mental illness. But contestants,
and fans, are dedicated. Some copy styles of famous guitarists. A
contender played the AG behind his back and won the championship. The festival is so popular it pulls in around 300000 fans.
TANGO FESTIVAL (Tangomarkkinat) Seinäjoki, July 2021: A friend and I
went to the festival. What it wasn't, was anything like the sexy
Latin-American tango. What it is, is hugely popular with around 100,000
dancers and on-lookers. 1.50 m follow it on TV and radio. People dance,
eat, drink and play all over the town center. Music air all day into the long, light Finnish summer night. A tango-song-wring contest provides new tunes every year. Lively and fun but don't expect the sex-charged traditional tango.
WIFE-CARRYING CONTEST (Eukokanto) Sonkajarvi. July 2021: The idea goes back to the 1800 village tales – thieves carrying off the women. Today couples come from all over to compete in this crazy contest. The world champions – for two years - are a man and wife from Lithuania. The wife clings to her husband's back as he runs through the hurdles. To the fans in the stands, it looks dangerous for both. And you wonder if
WC wannabes should choose skinny partners...
TRUMP got run out of Wash DC by 81,293,098 voters. He's back up in his
Florida digs plotting revenge. The law is on his tail. Criminal evidence piles up. Big-business cash, banks, Twitter and Facebook have dumped him. Old-Money, Palm Beach neighbors want to kick him out of
Mar-a-Lago. But his MAGA gang is hanging in.
Showdown 2020 by Little Margie Productions
What a movie – horrible and hilarious. A second impeachment will try to nail him for stoking up up the rally crowd to storm the capital. And for two months he tried to annul the election. We wait for the scene when the sheriff opens his toxic tax returns. The reveal? Money laundering for the Russians? Over-evaluating properties to get loans?
Under-valuing them to taxes? Secret payoffs to women he sexually harassed? A shocking surprise? All of the above, or worse?
Trump has 70 million in campaign-cash to make trouble. We've gotta hope that the cray chaos of the last four years is a wake-up call for US. We thought he was a joke. Ha. Ha. TRUMP turned out to be THE JOKER.
“What fools these mortals be” -- Shakespeare
Sources: Washington Post, New York Times, Economist, MSNBC, CNN, FOX
News, the Shark
Next week: FINLAND for FOREIGNERS: an outsider's view - ODDBALL EVENTS
Note: On this blog, Maggy writes, and I find and/or make the images (and fix the typos, ha!). This week, we discussed a cartoon with Trump writing "AIR FORSE 1 TOO" (sic.) to the side of his private jet with a sharpie. It was a funny idea, but A) i do not think it would have worked too well in practice B) it would have been quite a lot of work to make well and C) I like to surprise Maggy with my choices of imagery. So Trump the joker it is ;-)
Chess is hot. And why not. A game that's been played, more or less for
1500 years has legs. Blame the latest surge on the the 'Quern's
Gambit' - a Must Watch during Social Isolation. Or credit Magnus
Carlsen, the hunky, young, Hollywood-handsome Norwegian, who is the highest-rated player since ratings began.
Google must have picked up that I was checking chess sites. Magnus showed up. I could follow his moves and learn how to WIN. Gave up after the second move – lost. Checked out Bobby Fischer, who got wiped out by comedian, Bob Hope, who played checkers with the pieces. Chess clubs are all over the place. Finland is into it. A perfect game for Finns – it takes strategy and there's not a lot of blah-blah. Oodi, Helsinki's central library, where you can do almost anything, has a club. Beginners welcomed. The oldest chess club in the world – Part I (1800 - 1914) –
has the longest name: Schachgesllschaft.
I've learned the rules for beginners: for ex., how to set up the board,
the best openings, to castle early - preferably on the king's side, en passant, move knights before bishops, control the center, the points for each piece, the queen is the most powerful, but the king is the most important. According to the Washington Post, chess is sexy. Maybe that's why the majority of players are young. And you don't have to be a
genius to be a good player - it takes hard work. Mangus Carlsen said the first line in his memoir will be: "I am not genius". Whew. Whatta relief. CHECKMATE!
*Irving Berlin 1911
Sources: Washington Post, Google, Fred Haeger
Next week: SHOWDOWN 2021 Note:
I've played chess a bit but was never very good at it. And to add insult to the injury, some of my friends are. So, while playing chess at a bar was all fun and games when we were hanging out when young, it was also a somewhat constant stream of losses for me - also financial ones due to the many, many beers I had to buy for the winners ;-)