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Open Source Movies

Free, open source tools are the future of software.

I’m not the only one who thinks so, either!
One of the coolest tools out there that’s both free and open source is Blender.  Blender is a full-featured 3D program that lets you do everything from sculpt the models to rigging and animating them, complete with shading and realistic physics, for everything from static images to movies.  It even has camera and motion tracking as well as compositing to let you integrate special effects into regular footage, not to mention a real-time 3D game engine.  All open source and all free.  But, it’s Friday and you didn’t come here to be educated, especially considering that you probably have the day off.

So, what’s cool about all that is the Blender Open Movie initiative.  Basically, the Blender Foundation encourages people to use Blender to make “open source movies”, where the completed footage and the Blender-based tools to make the movie are freely available.  There have been several, but the last two, Sintel and Tears of Steel, are by far the most impressive to me.  And, they’re both available to watch on YouTube!
They’re less than 30 minutes of combined run-time, but they’re both pretty cool and totally worth checking out on your day off.  Sintel is about a young girl and a dragon in a fantasy world and is completely animated.  Tears of Steel is about love in the far future when robots threaten the Earth and is part animation and part live-action, but pretty seamlessly integrated.
You can find Sintel here: Sintel on YouTube.  And you can find Tears of Steel here: Tears of Steel on YouTube.

Hey, if you’re reading this on Good Friday, then you have the time to check it out!

Super Planet Crash

Another game this week.

This one takes a bit more time than the last one.  500 years, actually.
Okay, not five-hundred actual years, but five-hundred game years.  The game is called Super Planet Crash, but the goal is to not crash planets.  The idea is simple, design a solar system that will last at least 500 laps around the Sun.  You add in planets of various sizes and densities and let them go.  The more planets and more complicated your solar system, the more points you get for each trip around the Sun.
Of course, things happen and sometimes, your solar system just implodes.  Or you send a planet spinning off into deep space.  Either one of those events ends your game.

Go check it out.  It’s not complicated to start playing, and it’s free, so you don’t really have anything to lose but time.
Enjoy your weekend!


No, not the year the world will end. I’m not that kind of crackpot.

No, in this case, I’m referring to the incredibly simple, but addictive game; 2048.
The premise is simple; just double the value of tiles until you reach 2048.  The tiles start out with either a two or a four on them and you just slide the tiles until they collide with another tile of the same value, then they add themselves together, doubling their value.  So two tiles marked two double to a single tile marked four.  Two tiles marked four double into a single tile marked eight.  And so on until you get up to the total amount or run out of spaces to file with tiles or tiles that can be combined into larger denomination tiles.
That’s it.  So simple, but so addictive to play.  It’s amazing!
It’s also new, having literally been coded just last month by Gabriele Cirulli, a 19-year-old Italian developer.  Even he’s stunned by the popularity of this little game.

Oh, I should note that it’s free.  You can play on the web at 2048, or download the free app on iPhone or Google Play.  They’re all free, but there is advertising.
Play at your own risk!
(Seriously, if you get fired for playing this today, it’s totally not my fault!)
Enjoy your weekend!

Psychadelic GIFs

That’s pronounced like the peanut butter brand, by the way.

At least, that’s how the original creators pronounced it, back when Compuserve was a thing.  They created the GIF as a compressed graphic format to minimize data usage back in the “Days of Dial-up” for Compuserve when modems ruled the Earth.  But, I bet they never thought that their “little” contribution to computer culture would go so far.  For instance, when the GIF came out, it didn’t have animation as a part of its specification.  It was just a compressed graphics display format.  It was only after its adoption by Compuserve, in fact, that animations became possible for GIF files.

Since then, though, it’s become an art form.  Truly.
Don’t believe me?  Go take a look at this article at This Is Colossal about the animated GIFs of David Szakaly.  They’re incredible!  You may need to give that page just a moment to load, because some of the GIFs pack a lot of visual power and it may take a minute before your browser can completely load the full looping graphic.  It’s worth the wait though.  The article also tells you a little bit about Mr. Szakaly’s artistic path and how his art evolved to the point of making such amazing animated GIFs.

And, since it’s Friday, and, frankly, we’re both slacking at this point, if you want to see more of these incredible animations from David Szakaly, check out his Tumblog that’s just filled with the most amazing, mezmerizing GIFs you’ve ever seen; dvdp.  It’s truly incredible!  I’ll sit and watch those all afternoon, or at least until it’s time to go home or I get yelled at by someone important for slacking on Friday.
(One final note, don’t get thrown off by the navigation on his Tumblog.  To get to the next page of animated GIFs, click the double-minus sign next to the word “time:” at the bottom of the page.)
Y’all have a great weekend!


Fast Fiction

In this case, really fast.

I’ll be honest, I’m not normally a huge fan of gimmicky flash fiction, but I do make exceptions.
The basic idea is to write a story with the fewest number of words possible.  According to literary legend, Ernest Hemingway did it with just six words; “For Sale: Baby shoes, never worn”.  That was allegedly to win a bet with Ezra Pound, as I recall.  In any case, it’s still a gimmick and one that’s gotten a little popular over the years.  Back in November, IO9, the science-fiction website, had a contest, of sorts, to write some similarly very short stories with a sci-fi bent.  (You can see that first post, with the stories in the comments at Write Some Very, Very Short SciFi for IO9! on their site.)
Well, they’ve done it again, recently and collected what they thought were the best at These flash science fiction stories will keep you up all night!  But, I have to say, with each iteration, I’m a little less impressed.  (You can find all the IO9 posts of these six word science fiction stories by clicking the link.)

Hey, it’s Friday, so why not go check some out.  Or, even write a few of your own!
You know you weren’t doing anything more interesting if you were reading my blog today, anyway.  And, if you do write one, share it here in the comments!


People who know me, know that I love my goofy t-shirts.

You know, it’s been a long couple of months and I’m pretty drained creatively, in part due to being super busy at my day job, so I’ve kind of given up sharing anything but purely fun links on Fridays for the next couple of weeks. Deal with it.

This week, it’s t-shirt sites.
Yes, I wear a lot of strange and interesting t-shirts from a lot of places.  I don’t remember why I started doing it anymore, but a number of years ago I started buying t-shirts with funny sayings and art on them.  It probably started with an Order of the Triad t-shirt based on the Venture Brothers cartoon that I got from TeeFury.  I loved the stuff that TeeFury came out with but the problem was that they only had a particular design available for 24 hours and I often forgot to check the site, so I missed out on some great ones.  That led me to seek out other places for cool shirts.  The next place I found was Threadless, based out of my old stomping grounds, Chicago.  They had more cool designs that were still limited in production, which made them a little more high-end than just any mass-produced t-shirt from Target or wherever, and many of them had a science-fiction or fantastical theme to them.  The two sites started me looking for other shirts that were quirky and geeky and fun, just like me.  So, I kept an eye out for t-shirts that were made as if they came out of science fiction movies and books, as if they were brands from within the movie, for example.  Searching for that led me to get a couple shirts from Last Exit To Nowhere, where I got shirts with imagery drawn from both the Aliens franchise and an obscure science-fiction movie called Silent Running, that I loved as a kid.
I added geekier t-shirts to that mess from DEF*CON and The Open Organization Of Lockpickers, just because I fly my geek colors pretty high these days.

Of course, I can’t stop buying t-shirts now, no matter how strongly my blushing bride suggests that I have enough, even if I know she’s so right that it makes me a little uncomfortable sometimes.  So, I do curtail my t-shirt avarice and admire, but have not yet bought anything from The History League, which are important historical events or personages transformed into something that resemble sports teams.  (I especially covet The Copernican Revolution, The Indulgences of Pope Leo XI, and the Legions of Rome.  Check them out to see why!)  And, I still would love to get a couple t-shirts from Memetic Tees that were inspired by William Gibson’s Neuromancer books, because he’s one of my favorite authors.
But, really, I should listen to my very smart wife, who’s a professional organizer and decorator, and not buy any more t-shirts, no matter how cool they are, until I get rid of some of the old ones.  Of course, that won’t keep me from encouraging my readers to go buy some fun t-shirts!  And don’t let anyone tell you that you’re too old for a fun t-shirt or two ( or three or…)!  Just have fun and enjoy yourself!

Free Movies

Some are better than others, but at least they’re free.

So, yeah, I’m pretty tapped out when it comes to creativity or creative content this week.  It’s kind of been a busy, challenging week in a lot of ways and I just am drained of whatever little bit of creativity I may have this week.  I mean, I’m just out.  But, I post something every Friday, so I’m trying to maintain that little bit of consistency at least.
At least my frustration can be my readers’ gain, as I dip into my old list of saved links and see what fun thing I can dredge up for you.

So, this week, it’s free movies thanks to Zero Dollar Movies.  According to the site, it’s “… a collection of 15,000 movies that are available on YouTube for free. The site indexes only full-length films and no trailers, rentals or partial uploads.”  But, I have to admit, it also looks like there is some pirated stuff in there, too, so if that’s a problem, you should know that may come up in searches if you go to the site.
They’re organized by release date, mostly, but there’s a pretty decent search function, too, so you should be able to find something that interests you.  I suggest just browsing what’s available and checking out the strangest movie that catches your eye.  Hey, it’s free, so why not give something really out of your normal comfort zone a try

It is, after all, a Friday, and you probably don’t have anything to do anyway if you’re reading my site, so check out Zero Dollar Movies and have some fun!

Finding New Things To Photograph

I write a lot about photography here, which is a little like dancing about architecture.

I’ve kind of lost my way with photography subjects.
I’m too busy to do some of the things I used to do, like wander the streets aimlessly during festivals and just go hang out in Galveston on a cloudy day.  I still go to the Houston Zoo, but not as often as I used to.  Besides, let’s face it, after three years of going every month, even that diverse, active, ever-changing subject can get a little boring to shoot.  I mean, it starts to feel like you’ve made every possible shot of every possible animal.  And, frankly, if I don’t feel passion for a subject, it’s hard to make myself sit and edit photos.  Because, if I’m being honest, my photos need a LOT of editing!
In fact, the most passion I’ve felt for taking photos has been taking photos for my wife’s business, The Organizing Decorator.  I mean, it’s something I believe in, because I believe in her.  It’s a kind of shoot that I wouldn’t normally seek out for myself, but since it’s serving her needs, it makes me feel good to do it.
But, I need to branch out a bit more.
So, what to do?
Well, since I have an enormous backlog of photography blog reading, I just pulled up one of my old favorites and checked to see what he had to say.  The post was aptly titled, Trying To Find Something To Photograph, and by Scott Bourne.  I’ll let you read that for yourself, but, the essence of it is to find something that I’m passionate about.  Or that I associate with a strong feeling of some kind.
That’s good advice.  Art, according to my artist friend, Mark Flood, art is about making an emotional connection.  Now, I struggle with the idea that I’m an artist of any kind, since I feel like most of my photography is pretty work-a-day and, at best, craftsman-like, but, in my best work I strive for an emotional connection with the viewer.  My intent, when I’m conscious of it, is to stir the emotions of the people who view my art.  I think I mostly achieve that, but, I get rusty.
So, as Scott suggests, I need to ask myself, what do I believe in?  What photographic subjects move me?  What am I an expert at doing or showing?  How can I help someone with my photography?  And, most importantly, how can I push myself out of my own comfort zone with my photography and find some new ground to conquer?

I know how I’ve helped my wife, and being of service even in that small way feels good, but I don’t know yet how to answer those other questions.
How would you?


The Portable Strobist

Now, you can take David Hobby with you on the road!

Okay, not really.  I mean, I suppose you can if you’re Joe McNally or somebody like that, but guys like me, and my faithful readers (both of you!), probably can’t afford to actually take the famous Strobist with us on a shoot.  (If you’re not familiar with David Hobby or his blog, The Strobist, you really should check it out, by the way.  He used to post a lot more frequently than he currently does, but what he still posts is pretty golden.)  If you’re a hard-core amateur photographer, you’ve at least heard of him, and maybe read a blog post or two, but you may not be familiar with his Lighting 101 course.  It’s a free, web-based course on flash photography.  But, to just say that is, well, like saying that Godzilla is just a big lizard from Tokyo.  This course takes you from knowing next to nothing about your flash and teaches you to not only move that flash gun off your camera, but to use it intuitively to create better, more interesting, more creative photos.  Thousands of people have started their exploration of flash and photographic lighting with this free course.

Well, there’s a way to take that genius with you, even to places where you might not be able to get a decent wifi signal to save your life.  I’ve known about this course for a while, but I recently found out that it’s also available in an easy to use, easy to transport, PDF file!  That’s pretty cool!  Now, you can take that file anywhere you go, on any computer that you use, regardless of whether it’s a Mac or a Windows machine, and teach yourself flash photography at your own pace!  And, you can even print out sections for when you want to have the reference while you’re away from any kind of computer.

I missed seeing David Hobby when he was on the road with Joe McNally on their “Flash Bus” Tour, and I can’t afford their full set of training DVDs, but I can take the time to download this for free and brush up my flash work.  Seems like the price is right to me!  And it is for you, too!  So, go ahead and grab this to start developing your flash photography this weekend!

Creative Lists

This is not a new idea.

But, then, I remember hearing when I was in high school that there are no new ideas under the Sun, only new ways to implement them.  And, remember, every story you tell, is uniquely your own.  So, the age-old question about creative ideas, right?  Where do they come from?  The answer I got was that they come in a plain, brown wrapper from Schenectady.  (That was from Frank Herbert, author of Dune, via a phone call into a radio show.)  The more serious answer was that they sort of well up from the subconscious.  We feed our subconscious heaps and heaps of information and it rattles around in there until some creative alchemy works on it and spits out a new idea.  William Gibson calls the process of collecting that raw material, those nuggets of info that cook and combine into ideas, as adding raw material into “the hopper”.  It’s as good an analogy as any. The problem is, when those transmogrified ideas come back to you, they don’t always do it when it’s convenient to work with them.  And no one wants to lose any of those brilliant ideas, do we?  So, what to do?

Well, over at The Writer’s Room, they have an article talking about collecting some of that info into a “spark file”.  The idea is simple; just throw those random, creative thoughts that we all get and discard over and over again all day long into a file.  I, personally, just use a text file on Dropbox or my Pogoplug NAS.  I throw all kinds of random things into those files.  In one, I have links that I collect to work into the regular Friday posts I do here and regular posts at other sites.  In another, I have random ideas about titles and story plots and characters.  I’ve also heard it called an “idea net”.  In fact, I used to have a little Moleskine that I had labeled my “idea net”.  Sadly, that got lost, so I started with the text files.  And, when I’m away from my computer, I can just send myself a text message or an email with the idea to add in to the file later.  I know some people use Evernote for all that, which has convenient clients for most smart phones, to make inputting easier.

Of course, there’s no need to limit the use of spark files to writing.  You could easily have a spark file of places you want to shoot photographs, or crazy things to put into a portrait, or some new way of using a flash modifier or what have you.   In fact, the infamous David Hobby of Strobist fame talks about doing just that; keeping a photographic idea list.  Pretty much all the things you’ve ever read about keeping lists, even the venerable and much maligned “to do” list, can be applied to any kind of creative endeavor, whether ultimately expressed via the written word or via a visual medium.  Creativity is creativity.

So, why not start your very own “spark file”, or “idea net” or whatever you want to call it, today?
(Oh, also, happy Valentine’s Day!  Enjoy the crowded restaurants!  Or stay home and enjoy your love!)