Introducing Ronald Chevalier


While we’re waiting for HBO to premiere a second season of Flight of the Conchords, at least we have Ronald Chevalier to help pass the time.


Chevalier is a character played by FOTC‘s Jemaine Clement in the upcoming film Gentlemen Broncos. A hilarious viral website includes video, photos, messages and more from the sci-fi author.


Gentlemen is directed by Jared Hess, so we’ll see if it becomes as much of a cult hit as Napoleon Dynamite. Sam Rockwell and Jennifer Coolidge also star, and no release date has been set. (Reprinted from Pop Candy)


It Ain’t That Hard, Folks. Make Better Cars by Jay Leno

The type of vehicles America makes best are, unfortunately, not the type of vehicles that people really want anymore. Nobody builds better trucks than the Americans do. Not even the Japanese build as good a truck as the Ford F-150 or the Chevy Silverado. It’s the same with performance cars. The Corvette Z06 has 505 horsepower, comes with a big warranty, and can hit 200 miles per hour. It weighs almost exactly the same as a half-million-dollar Porsche Carrera GT and gets higher mileage—26 miles per gallon.

Where we seem to lose it is in the low-bucks econocar. I used to be able to identify any American car from 25 yards. Now they all have this jellybean look. It’s a mystery to me, because the one thing we used to do better than anybody else was build cheap, extremely high-quality cars. We did it for decades, all the way back to the beginning of the industry. There was no better car for the money than the Model T. It was a basic car, but it used the finest materials available. There are still almost a million of them out there.

When you get into a high-priced, well-made American car today and the key is in the ignition, you hear a melodic bong, bong. But when you get in a cheap American car, like a rental, and the key is left in, it goes plink, plink, plink. It’s just horrible. Every time you use the turn signal, it’s like breaking a chicken leg. In order to make the more expensive car more appealing, U.S. companies feel as though they have to dumb down the cheaper car.

I believe that, all things being equal, Americans will buy American. It just has to be as good as the competition; it doesn’t have to be better. The classic example is Harley-Davidson. Throughout the ’70s, the motorcycle maker had huge quality-control problems. Then Harley-Davidson said, “Look, let’s take our time. Let’s build fewer bikes. Let’s build them properly, so they don’t leak oil and they’ll run forever.” Harley-Davidson won back the market share it had lost, and it continues to dominate today. Even though the bikes might not be technically superior, they’re bulletproof and they’re American. People will buy American if given the chance.

The automakers are starting to think like Harley and understand that when you get into an automobile, everything should be appealing to you. If you see stitching that’s out of line on the dashboard, you’re going to get madder and madder every time you see it. That’s one place where the American car companies dropped the ball. Thankfully, in the past couple of years, they have gotten better. If you look at the new line of GM cars, they are almost as good as what the Europeans are doing, especially when you compare interiors. Cadillac has a line of small four-door sedans that are, if not quite the rival of Audi or Mercedes, pretty darn close for quite a bit less money.

The problem with what’s happened over the past few decades is that you have a whole generation of kids who have no brand loyalty. They’ve grown up on Honda, Hyundai, Kia, and Toyota. To lure them to the American brand, you’ve got to give them something exciting, something bold, something different. America does technology well, and I think this is how the companies will bring those buyers back. I think cars like the Chevy Volt, which is entirely battery-powered, or hydrogen cars from Chrysler, Ford, and G.M. will take off.

Looking into my crystal ball, I predict that Toyota will probably become the dominant force, and the other companies will have to become leaner to survive. They’ll start reining in some of the more unprofitable models. The overhead at most of the U.S. firms is crazy, and they’ll have to figure out a way to fix that. They’ll ultimately survive, but I think that they’ll need to change how they do business. And in the future, you’ll see smaller companies doing more boutique manufacturing, as BMW has with the Mini.

One last thing: No matter what happens, do not expect all American cars to go Eurosize. American buttocks are not getting any smaller. (Reprinted from Portfolio)


Meet Emily, She’s Not Real

Extraordinarily lifelike characters are to begin appearing in films and computer games thanks to a new type of animation technology.

Emily – the woman in the above animation – was produced using a new modelling technology that enables the most minute details of a facial expression to be captured and recreated.

She is considered to be one of the first animations to have overleapt a long-standing barrier known as ‘uncanny valley’ – which refers to the perception that animation looks less realistic as it approaches human likeness.

Researchers at a Californian company which makes computer-generated imagery for Hollywood films started with a video of an employee talking. They then broke down down the facial movements down into dozens of smaller movements, each of which was given a ‘control system’.

The team at Image Metrics – which produced the animation for the Grand Theft Auto computer game – then recreated the gestures, movement by movement, in a model. The aim was to overcome the traditional difficulties of animating a human face, for instance that the skin looks too shiny, or that the movements are too symmetrical.

“Ninety per cent of the work is convincing people that the eyes are real,” Mike Starkenburg, chief operating officer of Image Metrics, said.

“The subtlety of the timing of eye movements is a big one. People also have a natural asymmetry – for instance, in the muscles in the side of their face. Those types of imperfections aren’t that significant but they are what makes people look real.”

Previous methods for animating faces have involved putting dots on a face and observing the way the dots move, but Image Metrics analyses facial movements at the level of individual pixels in a video, meaning that the subtlest variations – such as the way the skin creases around the eyes, can be tracked.

“There’s always been control systems for different facial movements, but say in the past you had a dial for controlling whether an eye was open or closed, and in one frame you set the eye at 3/4 open, the next 1/2 open etc. This is like achieving that degree of control with much finer movements.

“For instance, you could be controlling the movement in the top 3-4mm of the right side of the smile,” Mr Starkenburg said.

For many years now, animators have come up against a barrier known as “uncanny valley”, which refers to how, as a computer-generated face approaches human likeness, it begins take on a corpse-like appearance similar to that in some horror films.

As a result, computer game animators have purposely simplified their creations so that the players realise immediately that the figures are not real.

“There came a point where animators were trying to create a face and there was a theory of diminishing returns,” said Raja Koduri, chief technlology officer in graphics at AMD, the chip-maker.

AMD last week released a new chip with a billion transistors that will be able to show off creations such as Emily by allowing a much greater number of computations per second. “If you’re trying to process the graphics in a photo-realistic animation, in real-time, there’s a lot of computation involved,” said Mr Koduri.

He said that AMD’s new chip – the Radeon HD 4870 X2 – was able to process 2.4 teraflops of information per second, meaning it had a capability similar to a computer that – only 12 years ago – would have filled a room. AMD’s chip fits inside a standard PC.

But he said that the line between what was real and what was rendered would not be blurred completely until 2020.

There have been several advances in computer-generated imagery (CGI) in recent years. One project at the University of Southern California involves placing an actor inside a giant metallic orb which fires more than 3,000 lights from a range of different angles – and with different degrees of intensity – at the actor while he or she is are being filmed performing an action.

The image captured by the camera can then be transported into another piece of film and the lighting effect (on the actor) chosen according to the ambient lighting in the scene. (Reprinted from the Times Online)

The Battle Over Watchmen Rights

Who watches Watchmen? It won’t be you, if 20th Century Fox has its way (at least not until Fox gets a taste of Warner Bros.’ action).


In February, 20th Century Fox sued Warner Bros. over the rights to the DC Comics Watchmen franchise — insisting that Fox still had a claim on Watchmen after failing to develop the graphic novel into a film.


Fox sought an injunction to stop production until the rights dispute was cleared. But, these big court cases can drag, and director Zack Snyder hustled Watchmen along — getting a three-hour first cut of the film in the can before any legal action could be taken.


A federal court in Los Angeles on Monday refused to dismiss the Fox lawsuit — meaning Fox can proceed with an attempt to shut down Snyder’s movie in court. The ruling offered no comment on the quality of Fox’s case or its potential for success, but clearly the judge found enough merit in the rights claim to let Fox’s lawyers take it up a notch.


Does Fox really want to kill Watchmen? Or, is there another endgame here?


Such legal wrangling seems inevitable when you consider Watchmen has been in development at Fox, Warner Bros. or elsewhere since 1986. That means a lot of producers, development executives and writers pinned a bloody smiley-face button to their chests at one time or another.


Since Fox would seem to gain nothing from killing Snyder’s movie besides vengeful glee, what is the studio really after? Or, the better question might be, “What are they always after?”


Dinah Perez, a Hollywood-based entertainment attorney, said Watchmen fans have no reason to panic: “Fox has no financial risk here in a movie that could produce revenues for it. As such, I doubt that Fox is going to force Warner Bros. to shelve the movie.


“In all likelihood, a settlement will be reached whereby Warner Bros. gets to distribute the movie, and Fox gets a piece of the action.”


Peter Woodke, a contract attorney working out of the San Francisco Bay Area, agreed: “I assume Fox is playing hardball to extract as much money as they can from the project, but I can’t imagine the movie itself would be blocked. I don’t know what the evidence is, but it sounds like the individual producers are at the crux of the matter.”


While both counselors see a possible Rorschach-rescuing resolution, it won’t come quickly or easily.


“The bad news is that it’s going to be an arduous process,” Perez said. “The good news is that Fox and Warner Bros. have until March 2009 (Watchmen’s current release date) to figure it out and come to a settlement.” (From Wired)


Palm Treo Pro Announced Today

Palm officially announced their new smart phone, the Treo Pro today. The new Windows Mobile device is being sold unlocked and features an HSDPA cell radio (tri-band UMTS, quad-band GSM), GPS, 802.11b/g, a 320 x 320 touchscreen display, 256MB ROM, 128MB RAM, a 2-megapixel camera, support for microSDHC cards up to 32GB… and a standard 3.5mm headphone jack! The Pro will run you $549 contract-free here in the States, while you’ll be able to purchase it through Vodafone and O2 for prices ranging from €399 to nothing at all.




Tallest Skyscraper in the World Almost Completed

The Burj Dubai tower, the tallest skyscraper in the world, is about to be completed. To celebrate it, David Hobcote shot this high resolution picture from the air which gives an exact impression of the breathtaking, massive scale of this building.


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