Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

Public Transportation 2.0

The Bay Area is is known as the hub for bleeding edge technology, and now public transportation is taking advantage of it. Bart, Muni and Caltrain have easy to use online services to find your way around the city and keep up-to-date on the latest travel alerts.

Bart is now on Twitter – http://www.twitter.com/sfbart providing the latest train delays and other interesting Bart news from and for commuters. You can get the updates directly to your phone through text messages. In addition, the account also responds to your questions. Recently I was having some problems with my Bart cards de-magnetizing and complained about the process to get a refund. The SFBart Twitter account promptly responded with some advice.

Here’s an example of a useful and timely update from SFBart: “There is a 15-20 minute delay at Embarcadero in the Daly City / SFO /Millbrae direction due to an equipment problem on a train.”

SF Bart is also getting into the community spirit and has a funny and somewhat unofficial blog where you can see what commuters are up to.

Caltrain is taking an even more progressive community approach by allowing its passengers to provide updates to the Caltrain Twitter accounts: http://www.twitter.com/caltrain
and the bicycle car http://twitter.com/bikecar. More information on how you can participate and provide Caltrain updates to the Twitter account is here: http://cow.org/c/about

If you don’t have a Twitter account, maybe now is the time to sign up or you can subscribe to the RSS feed off those pages.

Muni takes advantage of NextBus, a site that tells you when your bus will arrive via the website, Mobile Internet or SMS alerts.

If you want an easy way to plan your trips using public transportation, try out 511.org. Type in your start and ending address and the time you want to depart or arrive, and it will give you options using Bart, Muni and Caltrain.

511.org has a list of other useful services such as Dadnab which is text messaging service that plans your trips on city transit.

With all of these new fangled ways to plan out your trip using public transportation that make getting around the Bay Area that much easier, who needs a car?

Disposable Film Festival a Showcase for Experimentation

Not long ago, you could only make a film if you had access to money for expensive equipment and other resources. But today, high-quality digital video cameras are inexpensive enough for almost anybody to purchase, and beyond that, video-capture technology is getting better on devices many people already own, like cell phones and point-and-shoot camera.

In other words, you can be a filmmaker, starting today, with nothing more than your cell phone.

That’s the message that Eric Slatkin and Carlton Evans want to get out with their Disposable Film Festival, which opens tonight at the Roxie with a competitive program of shorts, and continues with a single program each day through the weekend. Each program showcases film made with “disposable media,” which, according to Slatkin, is “video footage captured on these new alternative devices — the cell phone, the web cam, the point-and-shoot camera,” as well as a whole new generation of inexpensive video cameras, such as the Creative Vado, the Flip Video Ultra, and the Kodak Zi6.

All these devices were originally made for personal documentary purposes, but together they have “opened up the floodgates” by enabling anyone to make a film. In a joint phone interview conducted last week, Evans pointed out that now, “everybody has access to these devices. Five years ago, if you had a casual impulse to make a film, you really wouldn’t have been able to do it” for lack of equipment and finances. “It’s getting so cheap,” Evans said. “For example, the Kodak Zi6 [which can record 10 hours of high-definition video] is in the $180 range.” 

However, Slatkin and Evans see more than just a change in the technology of filmmaking; they believe that these technological changes are driving an aesthetic shift. “It’s not just that people are making films with these devices,” Evans said. “They’re actually transforming the way that films are being made. A new aesthetic is emerging.”

Because the media is “disposable” — footage costs nothing more than a little battery power, and can be thrown out instantly — Slatkin and Evans see a strong shift towards experimentation. Filmmakers are doing things one could never do with expensive equipment, such as on-the-fly shooting and kinetic filming. They believe that all this experimentation will inevitably influence mainstream filmmaking. In fact, it already has. Evans cited Cloverfield, which was presented as found footage from a camcorder, as an example of this influence. “This is an aesthetic that everybody understands right away,” he said.

Some people are already masterful in the form, such as Fritz Donnelly, who will have an evening devoted to his work Saturday night at ATA. “He was a disposable filmmaker before it was even a ‘thing,’ ” Evans said. “I first saw his work in the Hi/Lo Festival,” which is a festival devoted to high-concept-low-budget films. Later on, Evans met him at SXSW, and in November Donnelly showed Evans and Slatkin the films he’d recently been making with his cell phone. A lot of Donnelly’s films are quick sketches created on the spot whenever he has an idea. “He had been carrying around this DV cam, but now he just uses his phone,” Evans said.

On Friday night, also at ATA, the festival features Buttons, by Red Bucket Films, which is a feature-length collection of tiny vignettes from real life, a kind of impressionistic sketchbook portrait of New York City. “These guys are true filmmakers,” Slatkin said, “and sometimes there’s a magic poignancy they reach” in these moments.

Tonight’s program, at the Roxie, consists of twenty-five short films shown over an hour and twenty minutes. (The first screening has already sold out, but they have added a screening at 10:00.) These films were selected from about 300 submissions. “The thing that was most amazing about it,” Evans said, “is that about 30 different countries were represented in that.” In the final program, there are films from Poland, Ukraine, Brazil, Portugal, and other countries in addition to the US and Canada.

In case you can’t make it, all the shorts will eventually be featured on the DFF website, but Slatkin says they have continued to put on shows at traditional venues because “there are real limitations in viewing a creative work online.” According to Slatkin, films shown in a theater tend to have more of an emotional impact on the viewer, because of the large screen, the darkened room, and the communal nature of the experience.

Finally, on Sunday at noon, the festival will present a panel hosted at Oddball Films at 275 Capp Street. The panel will discuss how you can get into disposable filmmaking yourself, addressing all the basic details of equipment and editing software.

And if you happen to take that information and make a film you’d like to enter in the festival for next year, submissions will open in March or April. Watch their website for details.

Breaking: Apple stock halted as Jobs announces medical leave

Reversing the message he gave two weeks ago before MacWorld that his dramatic weight loss was a matter of a “hormonal problem,” Steve Jobs today announced he was taking medical leave from his job as Apple CEO, saying “my health-related issues are more complex than I originally thought.”

Trading in Apple shares was temporarily halted, with the shares losing 8% when after-hours trading resumed.

Lawrence Lessig Appearance Tonight

Tonight Lawrence Lessig — copyright warrior and one of the brilliant minds behind Creative Commons, in case you haven’t heard — will appear at The Booksmith on Haight to talk about his new book, Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy. (He’ll even sign copies, if you’re into that kind of thing.) The argument will be familiar to readers of Free Culture: our system of copyright places extraordinary power to control culture and entertainment in the hands of a small handful of powerful entities (can anyone say Disney?), because those entities can use the law to bring crushing lawsuits against individuals who would build on their work.

The well-supported thesis of this book is that all art is remixed art. Where would Shakespeare be without all those plot lines he cribbed from older sources? And imagine if independent artists in Renaissance Italy were barred from using Christian imagery in their work for private patrons because it would have been the “intellectual property” of the Catholic Church?

Well, you get the point: the subject of this book is relevant to you even if you didn’t read Free Culture on a laptop you refurbished yourself, running Ubuntu. (Yes, that was a geek brag.)

Lessig will be at the store at 7:30 PM tonight.

iPhone-carrying MacWorld geeks overload AT&T’s network

According to a post on ZDNet’s Apple Core blog, so many people attending the MacWorld conference in San Francisco this week are using the highly touted cloud data-driven features of Apple’s iPhone that it’s almost impossible to access AT&T’s 3G network.

Phone calls are hit or miss… About half of my calls don’t connect, fail in the middle or otherwise have weird silent dropouts throughout the call… Data connections on AT&T are brutally slow… I thought SF was supposed to be wired?

Maybe it’s just as well Apple is dropping out of the show next year. With attendance this year already down, it should really fall off when the main vendor doesn’t show up — if the conference happens at all. So maybe next January there’ll be no problem at all making pizza orders on your iPhone.

Apple to (Finally) Allow Music Without Copy Protection & With Variable Pricing

In a not-entirely-unexpected move, Apple announced at Macworld yesterday that, starting this week, it would remove DRM restrictions from all of the songs in the iTunes store and allow the record companies to set variable prices for them.

It’s a change that Apple has long sought, but three of the major music labels (Sony, Universal and Warner) have blocked contract negotiations up to this point.

To get this concession from those labels, Apple agreed to allow variable pricing for tracks. This was a change that Apple has never wanted to implement: their position was that a uniform price was better for consumers. But now there appear to be three price points: obscure back-catalogue tracks will cost 69 cents, moderately popular back-catalogue tracks will cost 99 cents, and new hit songs will cost $1.29.

Reportedly, the massive slowing of both CD and digital music sales over the past year was the impetus for these negotiations.

What about all those songs you bought off the iTunes store in the past? Apple announced a much less consumer-friendly option: pay a whopping 30 cents per track or 30% of the album price to strip the copy protection from it — in other words, you will now have to pay a premium in order to have the unfettered use of your music that should have been included in the original price. Is this another concession to the labels?

A story with more detail appeared here on the New York Times yesterday.

TheStreet.com shuts SF office

TheStreet.com, a financial news website, is shutting its San Francisco office, reported Portfolio.com. The announcement doesn’t say how many jobs that would mean, but surely not that many compared with the 5000 worldwide job cuts announced last week by Sun, which has its HQ in Silicon Valley. The announcement follows that of Six Apart last week, where 18 lost their jobs.

Meanwhile CNet links to who’s firing, who’s hiring.

I wonder if the folks at TheStreet.com followed the advice they printed last month about layoff do’s and don’ts.

Adopt a blogger: Valleywag boots West, Grant, Carlson

Think the economic meltdown can’t touch your high tech job? Valleywag announced today they are laying off three staffers, cutting writers’ “page view bonus,” and taking other steps in anticipation of lost advertising.

The layoffs affected two of my favorite bloggers, Jackson West and Melissa Gira Grant, as well as associate editor Nicholas Carlson (no offense to Carlson, but I’ve followed West’s and Grant’s posts for a long time). Here’s hoping they all find good homes.

Imperial Fleet Week in San Francisco

Death Star - Coit Tower
[Image by this guy.]

Not long ago I blogged about Festival of Sail. If you haven’t seen this yet, check out the impact a different fleet had on San Francisco: the Imperial Fleet.

[Via Kevin Kelly's article, The End of Video as Evidence of Anything.]

Pic of the Day – Shasta Dam Construction – 1942

From the Library of Congress Archives on Flickr, Shasta Dam under construction in 1942. Lee, Russell,, 1903-, photographer.

2178390257_283bf409ec.jpg

Dimensions

Crest Elevation ………………………… 1077.5 ft
Structural Height ………………………….. 602 ft
Hydraulic Height ……………………….. 522.5 ft
Crest Length ……………………………… 3,460 ft
Crest Width …………………………………… 30 ft
Base Width ………………………………….. 543 ft
Volume of Concrete ………. 6,270,000 cu yd

Hydrology

Current Reservoir Storage
Drainage area ………………………. 6,665 sq mi
Hydrometeorological Report ……. HMR 36
PMF …………………………………… 1984 Winter
Volume ……. 4,266,000 acre-ft over 15 days
Peak inflow ………………………….. 623,000 cfs
Maximum water surface ……………. 1076.2 ft

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