Thursday, November 27, 2008

A Precious Moments Thanksgiving Post

On vacation? Check. Sitting around watching cartoons with Hank in my bathrobe? Check. Ready to feast at my Mom's house? Check. Anticipating a huge Seahawk victory over the Cowboys later today? Uhhh... check? Besides this potential grid iron catastrophe, I can't really complain. Life is pretty good. I'm sure the web is filled with these kinds of posts today, so I'm happy to offer yet another list of things I'm thankful for...
  • My Family - what did you expect? I have a beautiful wife, and two hilarious kids. I've got 3 sets of loving grandparents living within 30 minutes of our house. My brother and sister are awesome and have great families. Genealogical life is good.

OK, now that I've stated what's really important I can move on to other more frivolous thanks in no particular order...

  • Photo Shop - This product has changed my life. Although I've been using it for over a decade, I'm still constantly finding new features. Non-stop goodness..
  • My Casio G-Shock - I used to be a watch fetishist. I would wear several models throughout the year. I've been stuck on my G-Shock MTG Solar Atomic watch for the last five years. It's made of cool black metal! It's powered by the sun! It receives signals from the Atomic clock in Ft. Collins, Colorado! of the most dependable pieces of technology I've ever owned.
  • The Office - This show has provided a cornucopia of yuks throughout the year. Yes, I'm nervous about the new season but it's still damn funny. Combined with 30 Rock, it makes Thursday evening something to savor.
  • My 1991 Specialized Stump Jumper FS - I've put over 600 miles on this rig during my fall commute and it's hanging in there. Not bad for a 17 year-old bike. I keep waiting for the spokes to pulverize at high speed. I should probably install a plastic Jesus on my handle bars.
  • The NFL - Although I'm disappointed in the Seahawks, the NFL never disappoints. So many great story lines - Favre and the Jets, the evil unstoppable force known as the Patriots, the resurgence of the Titans with Kerry Collins at the helm, Kurt Warner and the buzzsaw Cardinals. Parity rules, and so does the NFL season. It's always interesting and fun to watch.
  • My Students - Kids indeed say (and do) the darnedest things! I'm constantly amazed at the talent that the Millennial Generation shows. These guys give me a lot of hope for the future. They're socially conscious, technically nimble, and hopelessly ADD (in the best way possible). I feel lucky to teach these guys.
  • The Internet - Thank God for our no-limits, endless, information super-highway. Let's try to keep it that way by denying idiotic concepts like tiered fees for bandwidth usage and endangering privacy and free speech. The Internet is the last wild west on the planet.
  • Kinder Eggs - Christy and I discovered these in Europe in the late 90's. This time of year we can buy them at our local Whole Foods-like (a.k.a. Whole Paycheck) grocery store. It's like the holiday season in a little foil-wrapped egg. Chocolate on the outside, ingeniously complicated German toy on the inside.
I hope this weak post finds you healthy, happy, and warm for Thanksgiving. Enjoy the weekend!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Appeal of Unbeatable Banzuke

I'm a little burnt on technology today so I'm going to blog about one of my favorite TV shows, Unbeatable Banzuke. It airs on the I'm way too old to be watching this channel G4 TV. Most of you probably skip over this cable channel because it's usually filled with video game lore/reviews, and bad reruns/recaps of Cops and Lost. Banzuke is worth a look. The show originally aired in Japan on the Tokyo Broadcasting System (TBS) under the name Kinniku Banzuke - which means "Muscle Ranking". G4 re-cast the show with an English voice over and called it "Unbeatable Ranking"!?!

Banzuke features contestants who attempt to navigate unbelievably difficult obstacle courses, or odd events like hitting the tower of blocks called, "Daruma 7". The genius of the program is what you use to compete. I've seen episodes with pogo sticks, hand-walkers, wheel barrows, skateboards, R/C helicopters, and much more. Most of the contestants fail early, but that sets up the finishers to be adequately adored and lauded (in typical Japanese fashion). Here are some clips from youtube...

I love the concept of common people competing to be the best in these bizarre events. Why don't we have a version of this in the U.S.? Instead of worshipping the NFL, NBA, MLB, we could be celebrating the unique and under appreciated skills of common 'mericans. Last summer, ABC floated "Wipeout" last summer on primetime but I think this is closer to "American Gladiators". I've read that Banzuke was cancelled due to some horrible neck injuries. Our loss.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

The Comfort of Information Graphics

I stumbled upon this Royskopp video for the song "Remind Me". This is yet another great example of isometric art, but it's also an excellent montage on the use of infographics. I find this video oddly comforting. I've had other people tell me that it makes them depressed.

Information graphics or infographics are visual representations of information, data, or knowledge. If you haven't noticed, our society is obsessed with maps, charts, diagrams, schematics, and the like. This is not a new thing, we just have better technology now - remember when we sent Carl Sagan's infographic into space in 1972? Our recent financial crisis has everyone looking at line charts depicting the drop of their portfolio or retirement account. This week's presidential election was a fantastic case study in our need for infographics. Every state, every county, painted blue or red to signify victory or defeat. Thousands of bar and pie charts chronicled the specific tastes of voters.

CNN's John King touched the "Magic Wall" repeatedly over the past year to make complex data easier for viewers to understand. I have to admit, the first time I saw this magic wall I laughed out loud and thought, "Why does John King need to be in this picture? Does a human dragging things around on the screen make this more interesting to viewers than just an infographic taking over the set?" I kept wanting them to zoom in on the screen. Don't get me wrong, I love the technology, but it's interesting to see CNN's need to put one of its anchors in the picture when this could easily be done as a screen shot with voice-over.

Any talk about information graphics would not be complete without mentioning Yale's professor emeritus Edward Tufte and his excellent books on displaying information visually. Like many innovators Tufte has some delusions of grandeur about his work, but it's still really interesting stuff. There's no denying the fact that our society prefers to see data in visual form. I wonder what Tufte thinks about the magic wall.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

8-Bit Halloween Special

I have to say I'm glad that Halloween is over. I'm usually a huge fan, but this year brought a strange convergence - the end of our first quarter at school with grades due, a spirit rally, a playoff-implicated football game, several kid events, not to mention a time change and a somewhat important election on Tuesday. I feel like Mega Man - forever running, zombie-like, through all the obstacles, enough already!

Many of my readers (crickets, crickets) ask me what the "8-bit" in "8bitghost" stands for in my blog name. I'm referring to my favorite neolithic video games that featured 8-bit graphics from the early eighties (click here for my geeky hardware bio post). Specifically, the 8 bit ghosts in Pac-Man. Get it!?! ...with the snarky retro-reference and the tech thing, and the... oh well.

There's something about the limits of the 8-bit, 256 color, low detail format of these graphics that is really appealing to me. I like the simplicity of the images and the consistent look and feel. I'm not alone, there's always been a creative schism of artists who create "pixel art". These images usually feature low resolution, and either flat or isometric perspectives. One of the most famous groups of pixel artists is eBoy, founded in 1997 by Steffen Sauerteig, Svend Smital, and Kai Vermehr. These guys are famous for their incredibly detailed cityscapes drawn pixel by pixel, but in the past few years they've done art for major brands, and are now selling their vinyl "Peecol" toys through Their art is whimsical but also full of wry commentary. It's like a dark version of where's waldo. I encourage you to check out their posters at Their art includes references to sex and violence, so this is nsfw in education - don't put this on your lcd projector in the classroom! Here's their famous New York City image - click on the pic for more detail... and happy halloween...