Archive | December 2012

Can a screensaver cure cancer?

A long time ago I found the SETI@home project. It was a screensaver that used your idle computer processor to number crunch data and help find answers in the search for extra terrestrials. Your computing power, along with hundreds of thousands of others, became a way to help in research.

Since then the @home projects have moved on substantially. These days using the BOINC platform, anyone with a computer can help research towards discovering spinning neutron stars by crunching data from the LIGO and GEO satellites, fight malaria by detecting targets in protein to create new drugs, help improve designs of the Large Hadron Collider by running simulations or help generate a highly accurate 3D model of the Milky Way using data gathered from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. There are dozens of projects.

The project I’ve added for my BOINC screensaver is rosetta@home which is determining the shape of proteins which may ultimately lead to finding cures for some major human diseases such as HIV, Cancer and Alzheimer’s.

In my opinion, it should be compulsory for all businesses around the world to use the BOINC platform as their screensaver.

But is it really possible for crowd-computing to cure cancer?

If you’d like to help out, go to the BOINC website and download the software, choose a project and leave your computer on when not using it. Oh, and if you’re from the UK, please join the UK BOINC team and help move us up the worldwide league table of researchers.

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When Cinema Succeeds

I’m a fan of photography, of DSLR in cinematography, of time-lapse and slow motion. Having seen a trailer for a documentary which used all these techniques I ended up booking tickets and heading into the heart of Central London to the Institute Of Contemporary Arts, one of only two places in London showing the feature. The Chasing Ice documentary follows the progression of the Extreme Ice Surveyors over a period of years. And what it shows is spectacular:

Their pioneering work of constructing a way to photograph icebergs and landscapes over a period of years is something the world hasn’t seen before. What they achieve is a way of showing that our world doesn’t follow the pattern we expect throughout our four seasons. The icebergs and poles don’t “grow, shrink, grow, shrink” as you’d expect. It’s more “shrink, shrink, shrink, shrink“. This documentary clearly shows it. And just for reference, that rock of ice that breaks and churns in the opening of the trailer is about half the size of Manhattan.

However, this blog isn’t a piece for or against the argument of “climate change”. What I actually wanted to write about is something far more basic, and less of a political storm. A few days ago I wrote on the failures of the local Odeon Cinema to reach the basic standard I expected from such a chain, citing poor upkeep and baffling design to their screening rooms. In order to accommodate more screens (and in turn take more money) it appears they’re sacrificing the real cinema experience for profit. I still await their reply. Less “Fanatical About Film“, more “Fanatical About Profit, Less So On The Customer“. But that’d probably be too long for their billboards.

But the Institute Of Contemporary Arts succeeded where Odeon Cinema clearly failed. The ICA has only two screens, they have old fashioned movie theatre chairs (in sensible solid rows), their prices were good, their employees were great, the screen was clear and bright, the sound was perfect and it was packed to the rafters (literally).

So take note, Odeon! Some people like the idea of running their own pub or hotel. I might just run my own cinema just to be your competition…

Crowd Funding The Future

I’m a fan of “Crowd Funding”. If someone is passionate enough about an idea, it’s possible to bypass corporate red tape and make that idea come to life with the help of others. Websites such as Kickstarter and IndieGoGo allow people to show off their ideas and have people contribute money towards their project. And if the crowd-sourced contributions hit an amount set for the project within an allotted time, they get the money and the project goes ahead. As a way of getting people involved, some projects give something back to their contributors such as a finalised item, a limited edition version of their project, a signed copy of a DVD, etc. It’s a great idea.

“Why would you want to do this?”, some may ask. My answer is simple; we are an incredibly creative bunch, and not everyone gets their chance to shine. I’m a firm believer in giving people a helping hand if I feel it’s likely to give them a positive outcome.

I’ve backed a few projects in the last year, all of which I thought were worthwhile as standalone ideas. Furthermore I looked at the potential these folks had and the impact their projects might have on their future. I’ve backed a photographer looking to showcase his stunning images, a software team creating a fantastical futuristic arcade racing game, and a technology company who want to get people active with their stylish button-sized activity monitor (who were looking for $100k and ended up with over half a million!).

One project I missed out on was a feature film called Least Among Saints by Marty Papazian, a feature length portrayal on the life of an injured soldier who moves next door to a single mother. It went on to become an award winning feature shown around the world. As an independent filmmaker Papazian wrote, directed and starred in it. He now has a solid future ahead of him, something I wish I had been part of.

My latest discovery is a UK based team looking to fund an independent film. Writer and director Andrew Harmer, producer James Heath and Liam Garvo of Dresden Pictures have put together a winning press package which deserves attention. Their Kickstarter project, The Fitzroy, is a feature length 1950’s style post-apocalyptic comedy based on a beached submarine being used as a hotel; The Fitzroy Hotel. That idea alone was enough to get me wanting more! Having seen the artwork on their Kickstarter video and the detail of their website and blog it’s a no-brainer for me to have pledged something to their project. At the time of writing this blog they had 246 backers and 65% of their goal funding (£39’403) with 10 days to go.

I truly hope they make it.

I mentioned before about their “press package”, and it’s something worth mentioning separately. Gaining exposure is essential in such a venture, and what these guys have done is create a team of people skilled in what they do and a detailed and enticing way of getting people involved. They have a regularly updated blog of the project, they keep in touch with their backers, they have a well designed website, and the perks they offer in return for targeted pledges is something I haven’t seen before. Fancy a download of the movie, or maybe a physical blu-ray version? How about your name in the credits and an invite to the premiere screening? Maybe a gas mask prop from the feature? What about a post-apocalypse survival kit? Or, how about becoming an animated character as part of the opening titles? These are all brilliant ideas to which other projects should take note.

As a side-line to their feature idea, and the reason I initially found the project, they created and uploaded a short film called “Choke Mate”. Although based on the world of The Fitzroy, where earth is engulfed in a poisonous gas, they state that the result is somewhat of a darker world. What got me interested is that they took ideas and suggestions from their supporters and in just over 48 hours turned around and uploaded their creation.

Stellar work, worth applauding. And funding…

If you feel like you’d like to donate something towards their goal, you can contribute to the project by clicking here. In the meantime, here’s the team’s over-the-weekend short entitled “Choke Mate”:

As an update to this blog, I’ve since discovered some other work from Andrew Harmer. This comedy short is also worth a watch:

When Cinema Fails

We are in an age where downloading pirate versions of the latest blockbusters is as easy as making a cup of tea. Let me be clear, however, that I do not condone piracy. But why on earth would anyone want to pay their hard-earned cash for a below-par cinema experience? Here’s a little blog about an experience at my local cinema watching Skyfall.

My main passion in life is cinema. The thrill of a movie experience comes down to being taken away to another world, connecting with the characters and being part of a crazy ride. At home, I’ve attempted to recreate the cinema experience with the big screen TV, surround sound system, comfy beanbags and popcorn. But it truly pales in comparison to a proper cinema visit.

Last night I had high hopes for watching Sam Mendes’ Skyfall in the best possible way and so headed to the local cinema. But my experience at Cineworld Feltham was truly shocking. I don’t know who designed the space for these screens, but it appears they have little to no experience in acoustics or aesthetics. It was appalling.

The floor had bags of popcorn strewn around the place. The projector screen was dirty with smear marks all over it. But the worst thing for me was the sound. During the commercials and trailers I noticed that something wasn’t quite right. The voices, which in a 5.1 surround sound system are meant to come from the central speaker below the screen, were coming mainly from the left of the cinema screen. The more I’ve thought about it, the more I think they likely have a row of “central” speakers along the bottom of the screen. But only the very left-hand side one was working.

This sound problem causes a visual problem; if someone is talking on the right of screen you don’t expect to have their voice come from the left. It’s confusing and distracting. Imagine wearing headphones to listen to music and having all the lyrics in the left ear and the drums only in the right. You’d spot right away that something was wrong.

What was also worse was the volume of the sound. It was clearly too loud as the speakers were rasping and distorting during certain scenes. The volume should not distort the quality of the sound. There’s a good chance that the volume levels are what’s blown some of their speakers. Does anyone check these things?

The other aspect of this cinema was its shape. The best place to sit would ideally be somewhere near the back and central to the screen. Not only do you therefore get the best viewing angle, you are also positioned in the perfect place for the sound. But there are no seats in the centre area, because they chose to put the aisle right down the middle instead. So any position you watched the screen from was going to be at an angle to the screen. And in essence there are no back row of seats, as the cinema is in an L-shape! With the double-doors to the back-left of the cinema , the back three rows are only on the right hand side of the aisle! So anyone sitting there neither gets the best view of the screen nor decent sound as the left hand side speakers are blocked by the doors!

I’ve written a letter to the cinema asking the reasons behind the design of the screens and pointing out the problem with their sound. Here’s hoping someone takes notice.

To advertise in their own cinema that “piracy is a crime” is one thing, but to let someone sit through that sort of experience is another.

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UPDATE: As of 8th February, more than 7 weeks after the letter was sent, there was still no response from Odeon regarding the above.