Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Nov 20 2008

Dream #39

39A book was just published here called “1-100 Dreams” including small articles about 100 people, one for each age from 1 year old to 100 years old. I was selected for 39. I’d been under the impression that they had simply chosen 100 random people, but when I found the book at the big Eslite by city hall last night (the copy they mailed to me went to the wrong address), I was surprised to find quite a few actual celebrities inside. I suppose they had to sell it somehow.

In other news, Blues Bash V went pretty well. As the Dream Community (the manager is Dream #46 in the above list, btw) has a nice new building with two performance spaces, we did two shows, one outside and unplugged, and another inside a boomy bar space. There were several bands from Japan and Korea, though the Korean rock band had no actual blues to display. Former DPP Legislator Lin Chuo-shui showed up, stony faced in a crowd of happy faces, or at least until we started playing. Then he smiled: a real accomplishment, that.

Good music, good food, no police calls, no violence or complaints, and good weather. I’d still rather have BBVI in Bitan.

Now that real Winter has arrived, and my work on the film is wrapping up, my thoughts are turning to travel. I’ve taken so little time off this year that, even after subtracting the vacation I can exchange for money as well as the vacation I can transfer to next year’s total, I still have seven days I have to use before the end of the year, else I lose it. I’m thinking of a trip to southern Spain over the Chinese New Year break to see where Sergio Leone filmed his spaghetti westerns, but anything before that will have to be closer to home, Japan most likely, though preferably a part of that country I’ve never seen. I’ll post details once I’ve figured out what I’m doing exactly.

posted by Poagao at 3:35 am  
May 08 2008

Topics article, Speed Racer

AmCham’s TOPICS magazine has published an article by Steven Crook about English-language bloggers in Taiwan, including interviews with Michael Turton, Greg Talovich, Michael Turton, me, Jason Cox, Scott Sommers, Joanna Rees and Michael Turton. It’s an interesting article in that it seems bloggers sound different when they’re speaking to a reporter about their blogs than they do when they’re blogging. Perhaps this has something to do with being asked specific questions instead of just writing whatever comes to mind.

No deep revelations here, though. This account continues to be about trivial minutiae (and I’m sure there’s a blog out there with exactly that name; if there’s not, there should be), and I will prove it by telling you that I saw Speed Racer last night. I was a bit apprehensive, not only about the idea of making a feature-length movie about a 70’s cartoon that I remember enjoying as a child (my model Mach V was a favorite toy), but the potentially headache-inducing colors, especially in the LUX theater’s digital projection format. I needn’t have worried, however; Speed Racer is a fun, well-paced romp. ZenithSure, it’s a long cartoon, but I’d rather the Wachowskis stick with this level of storytelling than venture back into the pseudo-deep-thought morass of the Matrix trilogy. This is a much simpler thing, a return to a long Saturday morning, stretched out on the big rope rug in the family room gazing up at the huge, dusty Zenith, reveling in the power of its three clunky channels.

posted by Poagao at 10:17 pm  
Apr 22 2008

Construction

coincidenceI was watching Futurama on the subway last night when I felt someone tug at my shirt. I looked up to see a couple of woman staring at me; one of them held up a magazine, which turned out to be this month’s Taipei Pictorial, turned to the article about me. “Is this you?” they asked.

We chatted a bit, but it was clear that they had just picked up the magazine for light reading material and were just amazed by the coincidence of seeing someone from inside standing next to them. I’m still waiting for my copy in the mail, but I will look for some extra copies later today. The .pdf file can be downloaded here, if you can read Chinese. It’s kind of a puff piece, but nice.

Construction in my building has begun again; it’s forcing me to go to bed early, because there will be no sleep to be had after 8am. I’ve been working from home recently due to even more construction at the office. Between construction at work, construction at home, construction around the MRT, construction on the Bitan riverside, it feels like the whole world is being rebuilt. ‘Tis the season, I suppose.

I went down to Camera Street last night after work to check out the new Sigma DP1 I’ve been hearing so much about. The images I’ve seen online from the camera have been quite impressive, but many users were pointing out usability problems. After handling it and snapping a few shots, I have to say it does feel like an older camera, mostly in a good way, but not so much in step with the modern digital era. Some of the things people want in point-and-shoot cameras these days I would rather do without, things like face detection and color schemes. The DP1 is more like an old manual camera than a modern point-and-shoot. The worst thing about it, I thought, was the low-quality screen on the back. Focusing must be a bitch on that thing. Sigma has been updating the firmware, but I wonder how much they can do that way.

crane jobI’ve also been hoping for an announcement from Canon on the next generation of the 5D, but nothing so far but rumors. The 5D itself has dropped below NT$60,000 here now, dirt-cheap for such an amazing piece of equipment. Lenses, however, tend to keep their value. No doubt they are working on new ones to accompany newer models these days. Both should be announced no later than Photokina in the Fall. It just reinforces the feeling that everything is under construction, including cameras and even phones, with the 3G iPhone supposedly coming out soon as well as a new Panny HD video camera. Although I bet they don’t use jackhammers.

I finished posting the Matsu photos, 165 out of 609 that I took during the three-day trip. I’ve inserted some of them into the blog posts on the subject if you want to scroll down a bit to take a look. A friend of mine who works at a magazine said they might be interested in using some of them for a related travel article.

posted by Poagao at 10:23 pm  
Apr 12 2008

The Great Flickr Video Debate

Flickr has either generously introduced a wonderful new useful feature or shoved an unwelcome, distracting irritant down the throats of its paying users, depending on your point of view. Like it or not, however, videos are slowly making their way into the photo-sharing site so beloved by a huge number of people.

My first reaction to this development was one of dismay. I knew that Yahoo! was out to compete with Google’s Youtube by introducing the videos into the photo community that it bought a while back, and it didn’t seem like a good idea to throw another medium into the mix. And the whole “long photo” thing is just inane. I considered immediately deleting any contacts who put video into their streams, but then I wondered if I was overreacting. I am a filmmaker as well as a photographer, after all. Is video such a bad thing to include into the flickr experience?

I think it could be, but for reasons that are difficult to explain. Most of the negative reactions on flickr itself have been basic, simple and repetitive entreaties against the move, without much explanation involved. What really surprised me was the vitriol, ridicule and animosity with which these objections were met. “Quit yer whining,” “Just deal with it,” “snobs!” “crybabies,” “Knee-jerk reactionaries,” etc. Flickr staff were, of course, siding with the pro-video groups and removed and remonstrated the more radical anti-video elements, while allowing the pro-video insults and YouTube-level confrontations to continue for the most part. It was a far cry from the civilized, friendly debate that used to characterize flickr’s forums, as if the entire site had gone into “DeleteMe Group” mode.

No yo videos on FlickrAnother thing that bothers me is how Flickr has implemented video, simply dumping it in among the pictures. It’s like a library had DVDs interspersed randomly among the books on the shelves. The videos are represented by small squares the same size as the photo icons, but with a tiny “play” triangle” in the bottom corner. They show up in Contacts’ Photos, Explore and Searches. Only by going into the settings can you make it so that they don’t all play automatically when you go to the page. Instead of photos, we now all have “content,” “things” and “items,” and the top of my page reads “Photos & video from Poagao” despite the absence of video. Also, the videos all have sound, which changes the Flickr experience quite a bit by itself. Long pictures with sound, perhaps the blurb on the intro page should read.

“Stop whining; All you have to do is not play the videos,” is a comment repeated often in the related threads. I suppose it may still be possible to maintain a semblance of the original flickr experience if you weed out all of your contacts who have video, but they’ll still pop up elsewhere. But what’s the real difference? Ah, this is where it becomes very difficult to put into words. When I browse a page of photos, I am in a certain mindset. My eyes see the small photo and instantly take it in, and I know immediately whether I want to click on the larger version. It’s a frame of mind that allows me to instantly process what I’m seeing and lets me browse through many photographs to find that one that gives me shivers down my spine, that emotional “oomph” that some photos kick you with you first lay eyes on them.

If video clips are interspersed throughout the page, however, I have to work harder just to differentiate and weed out the videos. Why? It’s not that I don’t want to watch the videos. They may be very good. But the little thumbnail simply can’t represent it; I have no idea what they are. It’s just one small frame, and I will have to click on it, wait for it to load, and watch it most of the way through before I even know what it is. It’s a whole different media and requires a different frame of mind. An equivalent would be mixing up Chinese and English words. I know both languages, but going back and forth from one to another all the time is difficult for me because I tend to have a Chinese-language mindset and an English-language mindset. Video pulls me out of my photography mindset.

This mindset is important to me; it’s the mode I use when I’m out taking pictures, seeing pictures and potential shots out in the ordinary world. It’s different from my film mindset, which I use when I’m directing a movie. In directing mode, I see motions, changes, progressive angles and many other things that are different from my photography mindset, which just sees composition and lighting, shadow and space. Before, Flickr was a place where I could envelope myself in this world, where I could safely stay in this mindset and appreciate the little surprises I came across within it. All of those wonderful photographs are still there, of course. I just can’t appreciate them from the point of view that I could before.

Now, to the vast majority of flickr users, the above is simply absurd, unintelligible at best and likely offensive to many, in that they feel that some lofty “mindspace” of mine shouldn’t get in between them and their ability to have videos of their children playing soccer next to their photos of their children playing soccer. This is probably the reason for the strange nature of the ongoing debate. Those of us who feel videos are taking something away are not only unable to express what it is we’re losing, even if we could, it’s an utterly alien concept to most of the people who use the site, one they’re not in the least interested in preserving, as they weren’t even aware of its existence in the first place.

As an experiment, I went to the streams of those who were pro-video and those who were anti-video, and while there were varying degrees of quality on both sides, it seemed that those most interested in video took pictures that could have been video stills, while the anti-video crowd seemed to take more all-encompassing works, photos that seemed better able to tell a story on their own.

When you come down to it, video is here to stay; Flickr is aiming to please most of its customers by adding it. For Yahoo! it’s actually a mildly encouraging sign after they raped and left for dead promising sites like Geocities and eGroups. What people say they want and what they really want, however, are often two different things. I wonder if anyone who clamored for video capabilities on Flickr will pause one day and think to themselves that, somehow, there’s something missing, something they just can’t put their finger on. Then again, probably not. It’s here to stay, and we might as well see what we can do with it.

posted by Poagao at 9:35 am  
Dec 31 2007

Losing our place

Reading this story on one user’s discovery of what she felt was a critical flaw in a new e-book reader -mainly that she felt vaguely troubled by the fact that she didn’t know where she was in the book, how close to the end, etc.- reminded me how bound most of us are to the traditional construction and ensuing emotional needs involved in storytelling. When stories come in standard formats like a 250-page paperback novel, a half-hour TV show or a 90-minute movie, we base our expectations of what’s happening and what’s going to happen on where we are within the story. When I was watching American Gangster last Wednesday, there’s a scene involving a raid on a warehouse. I found myself looking at my watch to ascertain whether it would be successful; if we were at one point in the movie it would work, whereas if it were earlier than I thought, it probably wouldn’t. It turned out I was right. When I was watching Ratatouille, the winning of the restaurant felt like it came too soon, but it turned out that it was not the major obstacle in the plot, which differed from most Hollywood story-telling conventions in interesting ways. If this doesn’t make sense to you, surely you’ve encountered watching a TV show you know for a fact to last only a half-hour, minus commercials, and at some point it becomes plain that the plot cannot be resolved in time. Sure enough, it’s a two-parter. Tune in next week for the exciting conclusion!

It seems that a measure of our enjoyment of a story in any form is the reassurance of knowing where we are in the dramatic arc. This knowledge may remain on the subconscious level for the most part, but it’s definitely a part of the experience, perhaps a part we’ve come to take for granted. But as the e-book phenomenon shows, things are changing. With the advent of such technologies as well as more downloadable, variable-construct media being made available, it may seem like we’re in danger of losing our place in the story.

My guess, however, is that although the next generation will see things differently as a result of different constructs, the power of good storytelling will prove more resilient than the medium that conveys it. My hope is that, with the breakdown of set formats for our stories, as well as the inevitable fierce competition resulting from the ability of just about anyone to produce content, will result in even stronger, more dramatically engaging stories that pull us in and give us a sense of where we are without the need to for surreptitious glances at watches or the folded corners of tattered paperbacks.

posted by Poagao at 4:11 am  
Jun 06 2007

My creepy fandom

After our show at the Peacefest, I got a message on my phone from a friend who said he had just seen me on TV. Cool, I thought at the time, there must be a tv crew around here somewhere filming the bands. I’d seen a lot of cameras and assumed some reporters were there.

Then, on Monday night after badminton practice I was walking along Beixin Road when an older fellow, one of a group sitting out in front of a teashop, offered his hand. I shook it and continued walking, thinking: ok, that’s a bit odd. But it happens; every so often I’ll encounter someone on the street, usually some crazy person, who does things like that. Since then, however, I’ve spotted more people smiling and pointing than usual. One guy waved enthusiastically from across a banks of escalators. I thought for sure he was greeting an old friend standing just behind me, but nobody was around me.

Later I found out, after another friend texted me, that PTS is re-airing the TV spot they did on me a while back. I wonder if this is going to become a regular thing they do every so often. If so, they should at least give me a bit of warning so that I can stop wondering if some random slightly famous person is following me around.

Still can’t get anyone to sit next to me on the subway, though. Guess I’m not famous enough for that.

posted by Poagao at 5:15 am