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The LEGO Movie

I have to admit, even with 25+ years experience with computer graphics, on first viewing I thought The Lego Movie was mostly done with stop action photography.

I figured maybe 80% physical and 20% virtual. Turns out it was closer to 99% CGI with some real legos thrown in for good measure. Other than the live action scenes, I couldn’t tell you where the real legos sat.

There were some things, like the water, explosions and more, that looked way too procedural to be done by hand. But still the rendering, shading and animation were so close to perfect, so physically correct down to sub-surface scattering and extreme depth of field, that it was almost impossible to tell.

Amazing job. And especially impressive given how well they could tell the story without relying on the usual tricks of animation and CG, staying true to only what real legos can do.

The real tip-off about the CGI was in the lighting, which allowed for certain legos to emit light or light to come from no actual source. That would be pretty hard to do in reality without a really complex effects pipeline on top.

Here’s a longer video that explains how it was done:

via: fxguidetv #186: The LEGO Movie | fxguide.

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World Under Water

This is a brilliant idea and  striking demonstration of the effects of rising sea levels.

World Under Water.

It has only one small problem. It doesn’t take altitude into account. It shows the same nicely rendered water level no matter where you go.

I don’t think it would be hard to do a lookup of the altitude of any address and move the water level up or down. But given the very rough depth map from Street View and the apparent lack of an “up” vector, it might be hard to properly intersect the water with the scene.


Here’s a more accurate example, without the nice immersive visuals:

Still better than trying to depict a 1000ft water level near the top of the Oakland Hills. If that happens, we’d be long gone.

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See-through Tank

For at least 20 years, I’ve been telling this to anyone who might conceivably take this idea and run with it as a business. Form a real-time sphere (or cubemap) of video around an airplane using an array of cameras. Give anyone who wants one a VR HMD and index their chosen POV into said sphere of video. Viola. Invisible airplane, at least to those wearing the HMDs. It would be a much better way to pass several hours in flight than watching movies IMO.

Anyway, alas, if I want to do this today, I’d need to drive a tank. Tak, Norway.

Norway’s VR test helps soldiers see through armored vehicles.



Scoble Tempers Glass

Scoble’s love affair for Google Glass could apparently only last so long. This underscores some of the problems with developing a product out in public, or at least half-way out. Long-lead technical challenges (battery, size, cost) are still hidden below the core design and marketing issues (utility, fashion, desire).

Google at least did a good job of starting the conversation, even if they haven’t yet figured out how to finish it.

Robert Scoble – Last night before Skrillex at Coachella….

Down in the comments, he elaborates on why he doesn’t like them any more and what he thinks Google did wrong:

1. They launched it with WAY too much fanfare that the product simply can’t live up to. Jumping out of a blimp and doing live video on the way down (along with a ton of really well produced videos that promised it would be a great assistant as you walked around) set expectations VERY high and the product hasn’t gotten to that fit and finish yet, even two years later. The product, for instance, still doesn’t do live video (at least not by itself).

2. The team started out very public, with very nice collaborative team members. Then they turned secretive and can’t tell us what’s coming. It’s almost like someone told the team “turn Apple.” That secrecy made developers and influencers feel like they were no longer part of the process of developing this into a real product, which it still is not.

3. Because it was launched at a developer conference (Google IO) expectations were set that this would be mostly for developers, and that a great API would come soon. The API did come, but 18 months later. There still is no real store. The UI is way too simplistic to handle dozens or hundreds of apps. Google refused to answer questions about sensors at the next Google IO.

4. Two years ago the price was announced as $1,500. Today the price is still $1,500. How many tech products stay the same price for two years? Not many. The pricing is now at the point where it seems just wrong. The team even admits it’s artificially high to ensure “only people who really want one get one.” That creates weird distortions in belief about the product too.

5. When people got theirs a year ago we expected a ton of REAL updates to both UI and functionality. The updates we’ve gotten just haven’t met expectations. Compare my drone, which lets me take a photo, see it on my iPhone, AND post it to Facebook and Instagram WHILE IT IS FLYING to Glass. I still can’t post photos to Facebook or Instagram without plugging the Glass in and putting them elsewhere (er, Google+) first. 

6. We expected new designs by now and updated electronics. I’m holding out hope that we’ll see a much better design (battery life sucks, it cuts my ears, it is starting to look quite dated, video is poorly compressed, etc etc) by now.

When I say this was launched poorly Google set way too many expectations on this product and it has failed to meet them. It should have launched much quieter and set expectations that it was only for vertical markets. Then as those showed up, they could have expanded expectations. If Google had done that then the early adopters could have said “hey, these are designed for use in very specific places, like surgery rooms.” That would have kept people from freaking out.

The other thing that sucks is that many of the explorer program members I’ve talked with are tired of being asked to demonstrate them. Google is getting US to pay to test, provide PR, AND demonstrate them to the public. THAT is NOT empathetic at all and is actually quite arrogant on Google’s behalf (a company that makes billions of dollars every year).

It’s not shocking to me that most Google employees I know that have them aren’t wearing them around anymore and that many in the community are grumbling behind the scenes (most won’t write about their concerns because they need to have good relationships with Google).

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WebGL + Legos + maps = interesting!

Give it a try. Build with Chrome.

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Visualize All Flights

Europe 24 on Vimeo.

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WebGL Water

Really nice water demo.

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Giving iPhone5S the Finger

Turns out, all of you who were scared about your fingers being stolen along with your new iPhone can rest assured. Severed fingers won’t work.

No, A Severed Finger Will Not Be Able to Access a Stolen iPhone 5S.

I never quite understood that concern anyway. Thieves probably don’t want your phone for their own use, and they probably don’t want your contact list either. Your credit cards are hopefully not cached, though your account on Newegg could be set to remember your login. But if they really wanted that, then a background trojan passively watching your text entries would be a better bet IMO, meaning they’d want you to keep the phone.

What phone thieves most likely want to do is sell your phone for money, as replacement parts if necessary. And what kind of goofy black market would sell a brand “new” iPhone with some bloody ‘access dongle’ and a nine fingered discount? More likely, thieves would already have a way to reset your phone to factory new so they could wipe it clean and get top dollar.

What about the concern with the government getting your fingerprints? Apple says it doesn’t send or store the actual fingerprint image, but rather just a one-way hash of that data. Good. That only means the government could use your phone like they can today: to record where you go, what you buy, and even potentially what you say in its presence. In this case, they’d at best only have added confidence that it was really you dragging your phone to every strip club in Vegas vs. some other schmuck who “borrowed” it.

The only real concern I have is that of digitally forged fingerprint keys, though I’m sure someone will quickly find a way to spoof you physically, given a latex mold of your finger and some other electronics (that’s probably too much work to be practical).

The key is that the more we rely on a single point of access to validate ourselves, the more someone will try to spoof, copy, or bypass that method. Nothing in cryptography is foolproof, except maybe the old ‘one-time pad’ or its modern quantum equivalents (and even those have circumstantial flaws). If your bank accepts an Apple certificate saying you are who you say you are, at least according to its sensors, it’s that much more tempting for someone to try to forge that certificate. Two or more factor authentication is still the right answer here, but yet a consistently more painful one.

On the other hand, the value prop for the fingerprint sensor will likely win out with Apple’s customers. “You mean I never need to remember my password again? I just need to touch my phone for access to twitbooklinkpin+? Sold!”  [this is probably Apple's main motivation -- becoming the trusted gateway to your data...]

The core question ultimately is not whether the fingerprint method is truly safe or not. It’s kind of like worrying about driving on the new Bay Bridge span, given its too-fragile steel rods. The right question is whether this fingerprint method is safer than the the present method for the vast majority of its users.

Since your mom is using the name of her beloved cat as the password on her main banking site, and since she has probably already clicked that phishing link on Facebook to give said fluffy56 to some Eastern European scammer, I’d say it probably is.

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Please Enjoy this Lyrical Interlude

…while I think of what technical posts I can make without revealing my current project prematurely.

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Breaking Bad = Founding Fail

With the popularity of the fictional show “Breaking Bad”, I’ve seen one too many posts about how Walter White would make a great founder or CEO. Anyone who thinks that belongs in a TV show. I don’t mean starring in — I mean living in…

Spoilers ahead

Here’s the theory, if you can call it that. WW went from mild high school teacher with terminal cancer to a successful criminal mastermind. He dealt with every obstacle, built a lucrative business, engineered a very popular product, built a brand, took out his competition and can now “retire.”


Ok. Let’s leave aside the morality and legality of making and selling methamphetamine, which would otherwise end our fantasy right there. Let’s start though with intentionally engineering a product that literally kills your customers.

Smokes, guns, and oil are the most notable examples of products in this category (oil is certainly less direct), and they all require massive lobbying of and cooperation from authorities, as opposed to secrecy and evasion. Otherwise, though, meth dealing might be roughly on par. WW may even be ahead in terms of innovation…

However, the meth cooking business, no matter how pure your product, doesn’t scale. Gus had done a much better job engineering distribution and dealing with authorities, and even he had to invoke a near miracle to survive his “coopetition” in the form of a brutal Cartel (if only temporarily). To succeed, WW would have needed to become a politician, legalize drugs, and then sell meth at every 7/11 (which might not be that much of a stretch, except for the legalization part). And there’s still the end result of killing your customers in short order.

Some say WW did a great job learning from his mistakes. Again, bullshit. He had his wealthy co-founders offering to pay for his medical bills or pay him to simply hang around. His pride took over. He saw the pain he was causing to his wife, to Jesse and others, and he continued to bully, lie and manipulate and always make it worse. He actually caused most of the horrible situations he had to get himself out of. And the only lesson he really learned from all that is to kill everyone sooner — “no more half measures,” as Mike taught him. Poor Mike.

At the bottom of it all, WW is a psychopath. Psychopaths do not make great CEOs. They are not more rational and therefore better at making hard decisions. They simply have less empathy. They see other people as objects to be used. They will tend to make decisions that are good for them, not the company, because the company exists for them. They will take out all perceived threats, cause mistrust in everyone else, and drive people away.

High functioning psychopaths, like Francis Underwood (and wife) in “House of Cards” can do much better in life than Walt, but still often have many behaviors that undermine themselves in the long run. Watch the British version (with the magnificent Sir Ian Richardson) if you want to skip ahead.

Of course, the beauty of Breaking Bad is exactly in how WW causes his own misery and overcomes each obstacle. Great fiction requires conflict, obstacles, and suffering (just ask George R.R. Martin). But let’s not take these lessons into our workplace.

Real life is dramatic enough.

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