Archive for the 'Movies' Category

Tracing the origins of joulupukki

Sunday, July 27th, 2008

I had an “Aha!” moment the other day when I was reading the Word of the day where brilliant folks at Merriam-Webster daily deliver an explanation of one delicious English word after another. Reading that one particular explanation literally made me stare into the distance for the next fifteen minutes. Everything around me came to a standstill. It was exceptional in that it helped me uncover part of a riddle that had me puzzled for a long time.

For quite some time now I have been scratching my head about the origin of the word joulupukki, the Finnish word for Father Christmas. The literal meaning of the word is rather straightforward, albeit rather peculiar. Joulupukki is a compound word consisting words joulu (Christmas) and pukki (goat). Christmas goat? But why Christmas goat?

As Wikipedia these days provides an answer to almost any question, they had that covered too. The article explains the origin of goat (pukki) in the word joulupukki by referring to a “tradition of men dressed in goat’s clothes called nuuttipukki [who] used to go around from house to house after Christmas eating leftover food.” I have also checked the Finnish etymological dictionary which traces the origin of word pukki to bock, Swedish for billy goat.

Although Father Christmas is incomparably more popular, the nuuttipukki tradition is supposedly still alive in the Finnish regions of Satakunta and Pohjanmaa, according to another Wikipedia entry. Never mind that nuuttipukki does the opposite of what joulupukki does: kids today dress up and go singing from house to house hoping to receive candy and pocket money in exchange. A Halloween of sorts, only two months later.

Back to Merriam-Webster and their Word of the day that started it all. Folks at Merriam-Webster reveal that an English adjective puckish originates in medieval England from word puke (also pouke) meaning a nasty hobgoblin, an evil spirit, a demon. However, both puke and pouke are related to the Old Norse word puki, meaning devil. Since Finnish did loan words from Old Norse, I wouldn’t be surprised if Old Norse puki was Finnishized into pukki and  Christmas goat afterall isn’t really a Christmas goat, but rather a Christmas goblin, elf, sprite, fairy, puck, demon, or imp. Something that the makers of Rare Exports Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 understood very well.

Mladen

Posted in Art, Books, Culture, Finland, Movies | 1 Comment »

Twenty years of Pixar

Thursday, April 17th, 2008

Pixar’s 20 Years of Animation exhibition is currently on display at the Tennispalatsi art museum in Helsinki. I went to see it and all I can say is, if you’re anywhere close to Helsinki, you can’t afford to miss it (and hurry up, because exhibition’s next stopover is in Seoul).

Although most of us might not have been as radically inspired by Pixar’s animated movies as those kids who flushed their fish down the toilets after seeing Fining Nemo (to save them, of course), characters and stories created at Pixar are quite impressive when it comes to suspending our disbelief. Sure, cars and fish usually don’t talk humanese, but great characters and their believable expressions make us forget we’re watching cars and fish.

Anyway, I can imagine that most see a movie, either like it or not, but don’t give much thought to how it was made. This exhibition, however, provides such introspective opportunity; you get to see how Pixar’s characters and stories are conceived, developed, re-developed many times before they are polished, even sculpted and only then modeled and rendered. I was stupefied when I found out that three quarters of production time is spent just developing the characters and story, and only a quarter turning those ideas into a movie.

From what Pixar shows us in the exhibition, it definitely must be a dream job to work on their projects. They travel all over the place, some even had to learn how to scuba dive to be able to envision more realistic imaginary worlds. It must be a dream job most can only aspire to.

Besides abundance of quick sketches, conceptual drawings, detailed character sculptures and even some high art-like framed paintings, exhibition offers two brilliant gems: a superb four-projector wide journey through two decades of Pixar’s work and a large mesmerizing zoetrope full of Toy Story characters. The zoetrope itself is an unbelievably dazzling display of magic of bringing static figures into motion. I’d never get tired of it even if I had one at home.

For those who can’t make it to the exhibition, get a glimpse of the spinning marvel here.

Mladen

Posted in Art, Culture, Finland, Movies | No Comments »

The Economy Behind the Long Tail

Monday, April 9th, 2007

Selling things is nothing short of a science. It’s not only being at the right place at the right time with the right thing priced just right. It’s also how many of right things you have on offer and how well you find your way around all that inventory of yours. That’s where algorithms, Web and throng of people step in. And the result is? Well, Chris Anderson calls it the long tail.

Wired’s editor-in-chief Chris Anderson first published an article back in October 2004 where he writes about practically infinite niche markets that drive a very big chunk of today’s on-line retail business. Then last year after gathering a long tail of comments and contributors from all winds on his Web site, Anderson published a book with an expanded title: The Long Tail: How Endless Choice Is Creating Unlimited Demand.

I picked up Anderson’s book a few weeks ago. The verdict? Read at least something about this phenomenon as it will help you understand what you might have not known even existed. If you have a reason for being too busy to read the book, then read the article. But if you’re getting into on-line business, then you should devour the Web site.

Here’s a few tidbits from the book.

Did you know that entertainment industry blatantly and unashamedly uses information about the content exchanged on peer-to-peer networks to develop marketing and release strategies for their products? Yes, those very same companies that sue their customers, at the same time benefit and even profit from the actions they sue those very same customers for. Strange, but not too surprising.

The name of the game is BigChampagne, a company that for monetary exchange tracks and analyzes information about media consumption of all kinds, with emphasis on following what’s hot and what’s not on P2P. The content producers thus know what people want and how bad they want it.

Did you know that you might order a book (book as in book the object) from Amazon that will materialize only after you have placed your order? Amazon doesn’t store just eBooks in digital form, but also many other titles that they plan to sell as atoms.

Their print-on-demand industrial printer machinery was first placed into their warehouses to top off small print runs inventory. In 2005 Amazon went a step further and acquired a leading print-on-demand company BookSurge to make their inventory more efficient and flexible. Although I’m still waiting for the day when I can get any book I have ever wanted, on eInk, instantly. Print-on-demand is cool, but dead trees and waiting for postman are so late-19th century.

Try to wrap your mind around this one:

TV produces more content than any other media and entertainment industry. There are an estimated 31 million hours of original television content produced each year. … In addition, 115 million digital videotapes are sold each year for personal camcorders.

31 million hours! That’s more than three and a half millennia, in a single year. Most of it is garbage, but it’s still 3.500 years. What about 115 million tapes (each probably an hour long on average) that amounts to more than 13.000 years? Who wants to watch all those home videos? Someone better discover how to consume video in a compressed format.

And if you think you or your obscure interests are unique, think again. The existance of parallel mass cultures might surprise you, but you and your freakiness are no longer alone:

The same Long Tail forces and technologies that are leading to an explosion of variety and abundant choice in the content we consume are also tending to lead us into tribal eddies. When mass culture breaks apart, it doesn’t re-form into a different mass. Instead, it turns into millions of microcultures, which coexist and interact in a baffling array of ways.

Or, as sociologist Raymond Williams wrote in Culture and Society: “There are in fact no masses; there are only ways of seeing people as masses.” And he said decades ago.

Mladen

Posted in Books, Movies, Music | 3 Comments »

Critical Mass Göteborg

Saturday, March 31st, 2007

20070331-criticalmassgoteborg02.jpgEver since I have heard about the Critical Mass I wanted to take part in one of these semi-emergent rallies. The only problem was that I have never lived in a city (or was at least not aware of the event during shorter trips) where Critical Mass bike rides would happen. Until now.

In Göteborg, as they usually do in other cities too, people gather with their bikes on the evening of the last Friday each month to ride through the city streets. It’s both a happening and a movement without an organized structure. The main goal of thousands of people around the world who gather in their cities is the promotion of car free cities. By flooding the streets en masse they make up an emergent movement with both a strong political and a social message.

I don’t own a bike here in Göteborg, but this did not discourage me from at least wanting to participate in the event. So, yesterday I set out to the very heart of Göteborg’s shopping district. It was Friday evening and the city streets were bustling with people. It looked promising. But at 6 o’clock I am standing on the square where critical massers should gather. Looking around I see only one girl with a bicycle looking a bit confused. So was I. Where are all the people who want to ride their bikes instead of cars; environmentalists and citizens who want cleaner air and environment; forward looking people; supporters of sustainable development? Where are they?

After five minutes of standing around bemused I approach the girl with a bike and ask her if she is here to participate in the Critical Mass. She is and it is her first time, just like it is for me. The only difference being that a friend invited her to come, thus she soon finds out where the meeting place is. It’s right across the street and we immediately notice three other cyclists there. I mean, they could just as well be random three friends meeting up for a pint of beer.

20070331-criticalmassgoteborg01.jpgTwo more participants come with their bikes, now numbering six in total. An absolute minimum I hear. And not exactly critical mass, if you ask me. When I’ve seen Still We Ride (make sure you check the trailer), a documentary about Critical Mass in New York that ended up in a clash with nervous and overly aggressive police, there were thousands of people there. They literally flooded the city with their bikes. It really was critical mass. Likewise in San Francisco, where the movement started back in 1992.

20070331-criticalmassgoteborg03.jpgQuite naturally, if you want to make a statement by riding your bicycle in a car centered society, you have to multiply yourself by at least several tens or hundreds to get the message across. What happened on a beautiful sunny day in Göteborg yesterday would never bring up attention of passers-by, not to mention authorities who are usually interested in assemblies of all sizes, as one can find on the Critical Mass site:

When local police learn of your ride, they may insist that you get a permit, perhaps a parade permit. Don’t do it. The point of Critical Mass is that biking is a right, not a privilege. Cars don’t need permits to ride on the streets, and neither should cyclists.

Rebellious and rightfully so. But obviously the residents of Göteborg are very content. But I was dissillusioned. Especially when I got so pumped up for this event amongst other things reading the following:

Remember that CM is supposed to be a celebration of cycling, not your opportunity to see how much inconvenience you can cause to others. It’s about asserting our right to the road, not denying others their right to the road.

Check the Critical Mass Web site for a ride in your town. Join the ride and spread the word. If there are no Critical Mass rides in your town yet, be the innitiator. Here’s a few how-to tips. And don’t forget about the bicycle safety.

Ride on.

Mladen

Posted in Culture, Cycling, Environment, Movies, Politics, Sweden | 6 Comments »

Movie Cameras and Lockpicking

Tuesday, March 27th, 2007

Two cool things happened yesterday. I’ve finally seen Dziga Vertov’s Man With A Movie Camera, a movie I’ve wanted to see for a long time now. Actually it was Lev Manovich’s great book The Language of New Media that brought my attention to it a few years ago. Manovich writes extensively about Vertov’s movie drawing parallels between the common characteristics of the movie and the today’s new media. Now that I have actually seen it, I can finally understand what is so hip about it.

If I didn’t know when it was made, I’m pretty sure I would have guessed wrong. Sure, it’s done in black-and-white and it’s without sound (the music accompanying it in contemporary version was done just recently according to Vetrov’s vision), both of which give it vintage look and feel. However, everything else about it is contemporary. Everything from (then) experimental editing, to length of cuts, dynamics, even topics it covers (technology).

This just a bit over an hour long film praises technology of it’s day. In 1929 that mostly meant machines and Vertov shows many in a truly poetic way. The film immediately reminded me of Godfrey Reggio’s quatsi trilogy, especially the first two films Koyaanisqatsi and Powaqqatsi. While the other story it tells is the story about a cameraman. Camera following camera, an issue which resurfaced in the last decade when there has been a lot of talk about remediation (Remediation: Understanding New Media by Bolter and Grusin is just one such example). So again, the movie is right on the spot.

While Vertov was fun, the other cool thing of the day was more educational. It was a lecture about lockpicking titled nothing else but “Locks, Lockpicking, Security” held by Mateusz Pozar at Valand School of Fine Arts. There’s really a lot about this topic out there on the Net, but it is so much more fun to hear someone talk about it in person.

Pozar covered pretty much everything from the historical development of locks to the very basic mechanical underpinnings of different kinds of locks. It was interesting to hear that locks have not changed much over the last two centuries, which I found to be rather surprising given all the other technological advances and how much we rely on locking up our stuff on every step. However, Pozar actually spared his audience from actually showing how to manipulate and pick locks, which I had expected to see with anticipation.

But what was really cool about the lecture were the tidbits. For instance, that already Egyptians were using wooden locks, which were opened with really large keys. That the guards at the Tower of London have been for the last 700 hundred years locking its doors every single day at exactly 7 minutes before ten o’clock in the evening encapsuled in just as old ceremony that looks more like a sketch today. And among other things also that the city of Detroit gave the keys to the city to no other than Saddam Hussein himself. I don’t know if I am really surprised by that.

Anyways, the lecture was more about the social aspects than the actual act as our speaker was still perfecting the skill. But for all you budding enthusiasts out there, here’s where you can start:
- The Open Organisation of Lockpickers
- Sportenthusiasts of Lockpicking Germany
- Lock Picking 101

Knowledge is power. Have fun.

Mladen

Posted in Books, Education, Movies, Sweden | No Comments »