Cinequest 2015: Clew

FoCCinequest is San Jose’s preeminent film festival, celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. In this daily film journal, I’ll be trying to spotlight films you might otherwise miss and let you know when you’ll be able to catch them again.

 Clew

Directed by Eric Badros, written by Eric Badros, Heather Weeks and Taylor Graham
Sat, Feb 28 11:45 AM, Wed, Mar 4 4:15 PM 
Buy tickets here

c5I’ve previously mentioned the unexpected beauty of films where constraints of time and budget have required the creative team to be clever and thoughtful. Small films tend to benefit from this while larger budget films are just “dialing it in” on story and relying on special effects and revisiting popular themes.

c3The science fiction tale Clew is a good example of this phenomenon.

Jack Hadrian is a painter living in the mid-21st century who has tragically lost his wife. After adopting a secluded lifestyle, he pathologically never leaves his apartment relying on home delivery of groceries and basically shutting off the outside world, he finally decides to contract the persistent Muse corporation for a new perfect partner.  Muse creates Muses, a genetically engineered “humans” who are designed to be the perfect fit for the customer. A new companion, with a zero percent return rate.

c1Of course there seems to be something shady about the Muse corporation. Not obviously evil, but maybe…

There are a couple of rules that go along with the contract. Jack is responsible for the well-being and support of his muse, and he must never, ever get her wet or feed her after midnight… oh wait.  No. Wrong movie. <shuffles notes> Ah, yes. He must never, ever tell her that she is a Muse.

And then there’s the warning that occasionally Muses will… maybe… break things.

c4What follows is a slow descent from heaven into hell for Jack. Or is it? Could it be that this Muse is exactly like the mythological Muses who inspired artists? Could it be it’s actually all for the best? Or is something entirely different going on here?

c2If you like puzzles, especially those that expose a new  puzzle when you’ve gotten past the first answer, Clew is for you. While appearing quite spartan in its staging and photography, it’s absolutely packed with metaphors, references, and of course clues.  Pay attention to the word that flashes when Jack is getting a brain scan, and look up the mythological reference to the word clew. What were those muttered words? Now check out the poster design. Yes, you may need to see it twice to catch everything.

But I’ve said too much. I wasn’t supposed to tell you that you’re a…

This week and next we’ll take daily looks at Cinequest movie offerings that still offer opportunities for you to catch at the festival.  Subscribe now so you won’t miss any!

Ric Bretschneider
February 28th, 2015

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Cinequest 2015: Astraea

CFoCinequest is San Jose’s preeminent film festival, celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. In this daily film journal, I’ll be trying to spotlight films you might otherwise miss and let you know when you’ll be able to catch them again.

 Astraea

Directed by Kristjan Thor, Written by Ashlin Halfnight
Sun, Mar 1 11:30 AM, Tue, Mar 3 2:00 PM 
Buy tickets here

Astraea1

The independent science fiction film is a wonderful place to play. Because your funding is smaller, there are fewer expectations from backers that you’ll “follow the trends.” The lower funding also tends to force filmmakers to be more creative in their filming, rely on fewer special effects and focus on the story and the character’s development.

And that’s a great place to grow an inventive movie.

In a market where every post-apocalyptic movie has it’s heart in an alien invasion or zombie uprising, we’re faced in Astraea with an all-too-possible scenario where a disease quickly and efficiently wiped out most of the population. The few survivors are crafty and cautious, knowing that men are far worse danger than any rotting corpse, and that making connections with the few remaining good folks is probably the most precious thing to pursue.

Astraea3

Nerea Duhart plays Astraea, a driven young woman. Haunted by visions, she finds herself unexpectedly developing a form of telepathy or clairvoyance.  In what is probably one of the best explanations for such a turn, Astraea’s gifts are potentially manifesting now because the population has dwindled, or electricity is rare, or both or something else. She and her brother, played by Scotty Crow, are literally trekking across the country in search of family that Astraea is absolutely sure are still alive.

Astraea2Hard decisions surface when they encounter another couple, cousins played by Jessica Cummings and Dan O’Brien. Of course, there’s a lot of trust and faith to be built, and the eventual decision whether to move forward on Astraea’s quest or stay in the relative comfort of this new family. Can they actually trust Astrea’s visions? And if they stay, are they truly welcome?

Astraea4Beautifully shot, and nicely paced, this is easily the most reserved and realistic post-apocalyptic story since the BBC’s legendary Survivors series. The cast is wonderful and the resolution as complete as you could wish for in such a situation.

We recommend this apocalypse.

This week and next we’ll take daily looks at Cinequest movie offerings that still offer opportunities for you to catch at the festival.  Subscribe now so you won’t miss any!

Ric Bretschneider
February 25th, 2015

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Cinequest 2015: Aspie Seeks Love

CFoCinequest is San Jose’s preeminent film festival, celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. In this daily film journal, I’ll be trying to spotlight films you might otherwise miss and let you know when you’ll be able to catch them again.

 Aspie Seeks Love

Directed, Written by Julie Sokolow
Fri, Feb 27 7:45 PM, Sun, Mar 1 4:45 PM, Wed, Mar 4 2:45 PM 
Buy tickets here

asl1

The documentary is not a form I’m drawn to, except perhaps during Cinequest. So far we’re two for two, with the splendid Batkid Begins which opened the festival, and now with the surprisingly pleasant, humorous, and inspiring Aspie Seeks Love.

asl4Aspie is not a person, at least not directly. Aspie is short for Asperger’s Syndrome, or Disorder, which notably manifests in difficulties in social interaction. The person here is David Mathews, who reminds us in the film that he is not related to the “caterwauling alt-rock singer.” And that’s pretty much David, he’s clever, funny, and a bit out of touch with how he’s going to be perceived by people he meets.

So what does David want? Pretty much what everyone wants; someone to talk to, to listen, a companion, hopefully eventually a sexual partner. When watching another older couple, he expresses hopes that someday when he’ll similarly have grown old with his own companion. And that’s pretty much what the documentary promises.

asl3Except it’s not.

While we’re entertained by the oddly composed and posted flyers,  the quirky locations David chooses for them, and the short interviews with prospective dates, that’s really the shallow end of this pool.

David, we find, is a persistent writer of fiction, performs public readings, is an artist, a devout vegan, and an extremely honest fellow when it comes to discussing his good and bad points. He has clearly formed and tightly held social and political views that he shares freely and with no small amount of sarcasm. He’s a fully rendered human being, and that’s really not what we expected. With the main narrative charmingly delivered in his self-admitted robotically hesitant voice, which is totally clear in pronunciation, he grows on us. Even though for the first few minutes you may wonder why an older Macintosh is narrating the film.

asl2Bringing this picture of a different form of coping and creation, admittedly still full of personal frustration and failures, is the real gift of this movie. David is shown to be working to overcome the problems he has in interactions with others, and does manage to make connections with more people than so many unafflicted might hope for.

And that’s hopeful in itself.

This week and next we’ll take daily looks at Cinequest movie offerings that still offer opportunities for you to catch at the festival.  Subscribe now so you won’t miss any!

Ric Bretschneider
February 27th, 2015

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They Called Me Spock

Spock-Leonard-Nimoy When I was in middle school, I had the undeserved reputation of being a “smug and superior brainiac,” and was punished for it repeatedly by those who were neither. Of course, my grades were only slightly above average, and my standoffishness was just the result of being terribly shy.

This preceding paragraph is no doubt the beginning of so many geeky monologues, as is the rest of this confession. In truth, and cutting to the big finish, we and those like us, have hopefully all found our clans and bonded. But at least in my youth this was not going to happen until many years later.leonard-nimoy-as-mr-spock-in-star-trek-the

The oddest thing about this time was the label, not a name but a word meant to discourage and dismay, my tormentors used to embarrass me was the name of my hero. They called me Spock. And, of course, the confusion and dismay of being ridiculed for just being me was still hurtful, and made me feel rejected, socially a failure, and even more shy. The label itself didn’t matter, it was what the label meant to them, not me.

2013-03-25-leonard_nimoy_as_spockThis never stopped me from talking to anyone who felt similarly about how awesome (I think at the time the translation of awesome was boss) the Star Trek show had been. The three seasons were over, the show long cancelled, and was now available only in reruns. If I discovered a like-minded person we would bond. Friends forever. People like Jeff Smith, Tom Rose, and Gordon Storga were Vulcan brothers to me, and still are to this day.

Of course, Star Trek became The Star Trek Franchise, and with movies and many more television shows the geeky series became as close to mainstream as you can expect. But you know all that. What you don’t know is that Leonard Nimoy stuck with me as being the most important part of my fandom. I really can think of nothing more influential than the portrayal of the ever logical Mr. Spock, who even with all that rational thought at his disposal, could never quite get the hang of his human half.  I admired Nimoy for this and followed his career unflinchingly through everything from Mission Impossible to Fringe.  And of course I enjoyed all his characters, as well as whatever speaking engagements I was able to attend, and his writing. But it they never spoke to me like Spock.

star-trek-2-nimoy-as-spockAnd that is why his death today, even though he had a wonderful and productive life and died at home among family and friends, hits me hard. It’s not rational and, of course, the Spock side of me will try to reason that I should simply shelve the event and honor the man’s life. But the human is inconsolable at the moment. And frankly I’m fine with that.

Because I’m not Spock, I just wanted to be.

Posted in Entertainment, Film, Geeking around, History, Home and Family, Media, Movies, Personal, Random thoughts, SciFi Fantasy, Thoughts | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Cinequest 2015: Beast Of Cardo (Bestia de Cardo)

CFoCinequest is San Jose’s preeminent film festival, celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. In this daily film journal, I’ll be trying to spotlight films you might otherwise miss and let you know when you’ll be able to catch them again.

 Beast Of Cardo (Bestia de Cardo)

Directed, Written by, and Starring Virginia Sanchez Navarro
Tue, Mar 3 6:00 PM, Sat, Mar 7 4:30 PM
Buy tickets here

boc1
Let me confess. I’m not drawn to movies that are wildly open to interpretation. I have enough vagueries in my regular life to figure out, and the therapeutic or instructional exercise in films that seem to make a virtue of being ungrounded, while not exactly lost on me, are not as welcome as simpler escapism.  Beast of Cardo mostly escapes this criticism, but does fall solidly into the drawer in scenes and themes that bookend an otherwise fairly interesting slice of life tale. How much is metaphor, how much is imagined, or is it all actually  meant to be rationalized in a semi-magical and mythological sense of world?
boc3The film opens with two somewhat unbalancing aspects. First a narrative tale of the city of Cardo, a seemingly unfinished story of a city plunged into darkness and the ruling families that continue to rule based on their recollections of the city when it had light. And second, a brief vision of players, perhaps fleshy marionettes or victims of some loose bondage, suspended on ropes. With little but asides that later might be interpreted as connected, these are not commented on again by the filmmaker until the end of the film, bookending it, and then only one actually makes mute comment.

boc2So almost at once the story begins and shifts to a fairly straightforward tale of a daughter,Moira, previously shamed by rumors of promiscuity, returning to a well-to-do family desperately trying to regain their prestige after another shameful event. Much of the film is discussions of the difficulty, necessity, or even desirability of mending relationships or simply escaping the situation altogether.  Moira and the local dressmaker Hermes (again, the mythological reference is a bit blunt) form a loose friendship, and even execute a blood ritual spell to cause Cardo to be eliminated so they both can be free.

I will say that many of the images crafted in the film are intriguing to watch, and the narrative although repetitive didn’t actually drag. Moira takes very little action to either counter or affect people’s opinion of her, and the idea that she and Hermes need to turn to the supernatural to escape Cardo never really held much weight for me.

Did the spell take, was it successful, are the lighting shifts intended to be representative of supernatural events or just bad wiring in the Dominican Republic? Is this a literal viewing of what happened, or somehow a glimpse into Moira’s eventual disposing of her connections to Cardo and physical escape.

boc4I really don’t know. The answer is either ethereal or blunt, depending on your interpretation of metaphor or perhaps a truly disturbing potential ramification of their actions. You can have it both ways I suppose, but like Moira and Hermes I just want to escape Cardo.

This week and next we’ll take daily looks at Cinequest movie offerings that still offer opportunities for you to catch at the festival.  Subscribe now so you won’t miss any!

Ric Bretschneider
February 25th, 2015

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Cinequest 2015: Afterlife (Utoelet)

CFoCinequest is San Jose’s preeminent film festival, celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. In this daily film journal, I’ll be trying to spotlight films you might otherwise miss and let you know when you’ll be able to catch them again.

 Afterlife (Utoelet)

Directed and Written by Virág Zomborácz, Starring Márton Kristóf, László Gálffi
Tue, Mar 3 9:45 PM, Fri, Mar 6 7:30 PM
Buy tickets here

afterlife3There’s a subtle difference between a ghost story and a haunting story, but we’re not going to go deep there, this is a haunting story. It’s also loveable, funny, and as close to a realistic slice of life as you can get while still entertaining conversations with your dead father.

Mozes, Márton Kristóf, is recently discharged from a therapeutic stay in a facility which may or may not have helped his general confidence issues. His father, László Gálffi,  is overbearing, demanding, and has just decided that Mozes will head out to help leppers when he drops dead. While freeing Mozes from his impending undesired service fate, he soon realizes that the now somewhat mopey ghost of his father is following him about, providing bad and useless advice, and generally disturbing all aspects of Mozes’ life.

afterlifeThe rest of the family is cut from similarly flawed stock. The adopted sister is unable to fend for herself or explain why she returns home with smeared mud and crows feathers decorating her head and clothes. His Aunt is trying to have an affair with a local religious leader, when she isn’t otherwise trying to rule over her sister’s family. And the mother walks from scene to scene as if she were a ghost herself.

afterlife2Mozes’ struggle to figure out why his father won’t pass along is similarly “helped” by the local auto repairman who is a psychic on the side, and a somewhat undependable sometimes girlfriend who just can’t seem to quit any number of addictions.Of course, neither is much help in the end, it’s up to Mozes to actually figure things out, or just stumble into a solution.

So, not exactly Ghostbusters in its scope or plot, but this film does deliver a lot of fun and charm as we watch the dour Mozes struggle through afterlife with father.

This week and next we’ll take daily looks at Cinequest movie offerings that still offer opportunities for you to catch at the festival.  Subscribe now so you won’t miss any!

Ric Bretschneider
February 25th, 2015

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Cinequest 2015: Songs She Wrote About People She Knows

CFoCinequest is San Jose’s preeminent film festival, celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. In this daily film journal, I’ll be trying to spotlight films you might otherwise miss and let you know when you’ll be able to catch them again.

 Songs She Wrote About People She Knows

Directed and Written by Kris Elgstrand, Starring Arabella Bushnell
Sat, Feb 28, 3:15 PM, Mon, Mar 2, 7:00 PM Thu, Mar 5, 5:00 PM
Buy tickets here

sswportraitThere’s a familiar sinking feeling, a dread when a film starts with someone undergoing anger therapy who decides to quit the group and deal with it on their own. Rarely does this end well. And even rarer still, does the film turn out to be a musical.

And that’s why Songs She Wrote About People She Knows is just a doubly rare experience.

Carol (Arabella Bushnell) has anger issues. Few of the people she knows bring her anything but disappointment and aggravation. An exercise from the therapy group she has abandoned, she sets about writing songs that express her negative opinions of them, and then delivers the songs in performances left on telephone answering machines. Relatives, acquaintances, and even her boss. This last triggers a series of events that finds her “on the road” with her now ex-boss both looking for a more polished and perhaps popular way to express themselves.

Pictures___Photos_from_Songs_She_Wrote_About_People_She_Knows__2014__-_IMDbWithout giving too much away, the journey is unique, and the relationship… well, it’s fairly unique for a musical comedy.

And this is a comedy, a desert-dry, quirky, and tightly plotted set of crazy encounters. And it is a musical, but due to the unique conceit of having the performer sing as a form of therapeutic communication it’s not the same kind of fantastic fantasy that most musicals expect us to accept, where occasionally the players drift into a parallel universe where their inner thoughts and feelings are given life.  No, everything in Songs She Wrote About People She Knows could have happened in the world where Carol is acting on the singing therapy.

It’s not a musical reality the likes of John Carney’s Once, or even Jersey Boys. These are reasonably talented non-professionals (at least the characters are) who just end up singing their feelings.  And it works.

Pictures___Photos_of_Arabella_Bushnell_-_IMDb 2What’s not to love about someone singing about how much they dislike dislikable characters? Bushnell brings the otherwise visually reserved Carol from someone we’re not sure we like at all, into someone we’re really pulling for by the end. Keeping her reserve straight through to the end, we’re still looking at the same Carol, but perhaps with a little more understanding of what she’s all about.

And the hinted-at sequel?  Well, that’s intriguing as well.

This week and next we’ll take daily looks at Cinequest movie offerings that still offer opportunities for you to catch at the festival.  Subscribe now so you won’t miss any!

Ric Bretschneider
February 25th, 2015

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Cinequest 2015: Booze Boys and Brownies

CFoCinequest is San Jose’s preeminent film festival, celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. In this daily film journal, I’ll be trying to spotlight films you might otherwise miss and let you know when you’ll be able to catch them again.

 Booze Boys and Brownies

Directed, Produced, Written and Starring Veronica Mannion
Wed, Feb 25 7:00 PM, Thu, Mar 5 1:45 PM, Fri, Mar 6 9:30 PM
Buy tickets here

booze_boys__browniesWhen you think about it, the movie musical is a very strange animal. Like any other film, the story is likely humming along with dialog, action, exposition, and the occasional kiss or explosion. Then, exactly as it doesn’t happen in real life, someone bursts into song.

Well, maybe not your real life, happens all the time for me. But I’ll be the first to admit I’m not the average bear.

Movie musical songs typically express a pivotal point in the plot; the awakening of feelings, dealing with stressful or happy situations, a convergence of character plotlines, any of these and more being the things that capture us and get us involved in the story.

Whether meant to be actual songs or fantastic insights into characters’ otherwise unspoken truths, the musical uniquely involves us in the character’s motivations and reactions unlike any common voice over or narration.

bbbVeronica Mannion has provided us with a very modern look at the musical form in Booze Boys and Brownies. Her semi-autobiographical tale of a young woman trying to “find it all” in today’s Los Angeles is frank, charming, rough, and quirky. Fans of independent film will be lulled into what is a fairly compelling set of circumstances and clever dialog and visuals, and the odd lifestyle in which Vivian finds herself at the beginning of the film. She will discuss, text, argue and ponder what it is she wants from life, career, and men at length. It’s a very indy feeling movie.

And then someone will burst into song.bbbfb

To be fair, after one viewing, I can’t recall any of the tunes or specific lyrics. Perhaps that will change when I watch it again, but it’s not as damning as it sounds. They’re charming at the time, but simple and workable. It’s the spontaneity in which a brief performance punctuates the current situation that make this unorthodox aspect really work. The heart of the film never really feels like a musical, but all of a sudden there is it again, jumping out at you.

It really should be noted that Bay Area native Veronica Mannion is doing all the heavy lifting here. Producer, director, writer and co-composer of the music, plus she turns in a terrific performance as her alter-ego Vivian Lynn. Vivian is a recently established Angelino trying to garner fame and fortune, or at least a toe-hold for same, by preparing and performing in a one-woman show. Along the way, she has encounters with past and present romances, a grounding gal-pal in Amber (Ariel Hart), and the occasional song about it all. It’s core musical comedy and it works, freshly and completely.

Thanks for inviting us along Vivian.

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Tomorrow we’ll take a look at another Cinequest movie musical offering, and then you can break into discussion groups and compare and contrast.  Don’t worry, this won’t be on the final exam.

Ric Bretschneider
February 24th, 2015

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Cinequest 2015: My Daily Film Journal

Fanboy Planet started our third year of San Jose film festival Cinequest’s 25th year with our traditional podcast. It’s still available here for your listening pleasure. Cinequest is a wonderful two weeks of films that you otherwise might not be exposed to, smaller production houses, new ideas that aren’t “saleable in Hollywood.”  You know, the stuff we all claim to want to see more of, claim to love, brag about discovering before it made it big.

Last year I went nearly every day, seeing a couple of films each trip downtown, and basically had a blast.

Typically the Fanboy Planet staff coverage of Cinequest is a few articles and recorded interviews with the Cinequest guests and filmmakers.  We do a lot of that, and it’s great stuff. I made a lot of friends, got into some really interesting conversations, and we produced a lot of coverage of the festival.

But this year I decided I wanted to do a bit more, to challenge myself to journal every film I see this year.

cinequestposterNormally this would be something that would go right to the main Fanboy Planet website. But unfortunately it’s still a bit of work to get something written, uploaded, fit in images, proof, and generally make it worthy of being up and live on the site. And I needed to be able to do the writing and production quickly to stay true to my goal. I want to try to cover films that, if you live in the Bay Area, you’ll have a chance to see as well at the festival. Click on the poster for more information and how to buy tickets.

So I decided that this would be a two-phase production.  Quick postings to my WordPress blog, where I can get things written and readable. Then later pushing the same text and images, perhaps after Editor in Chief Derek McCaw has had time to proof, to the Fanboy Planet site.

FoCSo you’ll be seeing this logo around because that’s the branding I’ve made for the Fanboy Planet series of articles. And it couldn’t hurt the site for you to go and check out the other great stuff we do there. I expect there’s something for everyone.

In the meantime, I hope you enjoy reading It’s an experiment, but it’s a hopeful one and doubly so in that I hope you enjoy the ride.

batkid-begins-drew-struzanFair Warning: Tomorrow, Tuesday February 24th at 7pm, the festival opens with the feel-good documentary of the year: Batkid Begins.  We’ve been covering this on Fanboy Planet since early last year, and it gets our highest recommendation.  Click here to read Derek McCaw’s review from July of last year.

 

 

Ric Bretschneider
February 23rd, 2015

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Secrets the PowerPoint Developers Don’t Even Know…

One of my favorite things to do is to show the developer of a function or piece of software something it does that they just weren’t expecting. I know, you’re thinking bugs, and bugs are fun too. But what I’m really talking about is broken down into two areas:

Things you can do with it that they weren’t expecting

loblur1

The Blur Trick

This is typically a surprise bonus to the feature.  In PowerPoint 2010 there were two features that were moderately cool on their own: Remove Background and Artistic Effects. Both were useful on their own.  Though Remove Background didn’t actually do as good a job at Photoshop when it came to edge definitions and recognizing what was and wasn’t background.  Artistic Effects was a set filters, like Photoshop filters, that worked on the whole graphic image.  I found a cool way to combine them, but that’s another blog entry: The PowerPoint Blur Trick. Anyway, I’m not talking about that.

Things they never said it could do, but you find a way anyhow

SmartArt is this cool feature that helps users show their ideas graphically.  It may be the single biggest in-product feature for fighting bullet-hell in PowerPoint. Aside from being able to insert various SmartArt graphics onto your slide, you can also select an existing set of bullet points and directly convert that into a SmartArt graphic.

One click conversion to SmartArt

One click conversion to SmartArt

I’d go on with more, but it’s a pretty easy to understand feature, and I encourage you to explore it yourself.

Smarter than SmartArt

Two interesting things about SmartArt. First, you can easily convert it back to text via a command in the SmartArt ribbon Convert menu.  The graphic goes away and you’re back to bullet points.

The second is that SmartArt is created from the same shapes that you draw from the Shapes menu; rectangles, circles, triangles, etc. And you can Ungroup a SmartArt and modify or delete or add to the shapes. Without ungrouping, the SmartArt has to stay in the same level, part of it can’t be brought forward or sent behind. Freely recoloring and resizing parts of the ungrouped SmartArt is a great technique for getting just the right graphic.

However, once ungrouped, a SmartArt no longer retains it’s “Smartness.”  You can no longer apply a different SmartArt design to it, and you can’t get back to the original bulleted text.

Not available after you ungroup a SmartArt

Not available after you ungroup a SmartArt

Or so I thought.

Last week at The Presentation Summit, I watched Nuts and Bolts Speed Training’s Taylor Croonquist show off a quick tip that I simply would never have thought of myself.  I doubt anyone on the PowerPoint team has ever considered this possibility.  It’s  crazy, but you’ll want to add it to your “Things I Might Eventually Need In PowerPoint” toolkit.

I’m not going to spoil Taylor’s tip here, you need to head over to his page to read how it’s done.  Say Hi for me while you’re there.

The trick to reversing the conversion...

The trick to reversing the conversion…

And while you’re there check out some of their other tips too. I particularly liked their very easy to understand explanation of how to use PowerPoint’s Animation Triggers.  Enjoy.

Ric Bretschneider
October 25, 2014, 7:45 PM
Giants and Kansas City are tied 4-4.

Posted in Graphics, PowerPoint, Presentations, Tricks, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Design vs. Fashion vs. User

I found myself rereading parts of Richard Saul Wurman’s Information Anxiety this afternoon.

Last week at Presentation Summit I gave a talk on the Pecha Kucha format. Pecha Kucha is a form of presentation using exactly 20 slides, with each slide advancing automatically after 20 seconds. It’s a kind of Iron Chef for accomplished presenters, but in running the local Pecha Kucha event I coach a lot of very successful novices as well. Building a Pecha Kucha is an exercise in information design, painstakingly removing unnecessary bits of info until you get to the heart of your message, the sharpest argument for moving your audience.  In my summation I referenced Wurman’s book as a good reference to learning how to do exactly that.

If you don’t know Wurman, he’s an architect, graphic designer, and cartographer. He reinvented guide books with his ACCESS line, co founded and chaired the TED conference, coined the phrase information architect, and he’s a really readable author.

11158772

Guide to Florence & Venice

access

Guide to New York City

Information Anxiety is 15 years old. That means it was written when Apple was floundering in it’s own design (a 16 lb Mac portable premiered that year), and that it predates the generic popularization of the Internet and World Wide Web.

But ancient as it may be, it is just as viable today as when I first bought it on a whim. It remains one of my favorite books. I can land on practically any random page and be enthralled, entertained and educated. The design is clear and orienting, an example of what the text preaches; making information accessible, removing the unnecessary, and most importantly fitting it to the perspective of the consumer.

ACCESS guide to Twin Peaks

ACCESS guide to Twin Peaks (I have a copy of this around here somewhere…)

 

Which lead me to visit and reflect on two things:

1) I’m struck by how design and fashion are so unnecessarily blurred by modern usage, typically by followers of fashion who can’t be bothered to understand how to design for their audience. They refer to fashion as design, and amazingly aren’t challenged for this ludicrous assertion.

It really seems simple though: Design is easy to recognize by its timeless nature, its attempt to make things better, easier, smarter, more accessible. It is the data architecture, the positioning, spacing, and ordering. It is the practice of winnowing down to essentials and focusing that information arrow on the forehead of the consumer.

Fashion doesn’t intrinsically contribute to clarity, accessibility, or base usefulness, and it has the annoying habit of becoming tired and needing to change to reinvigorate interest (and promote otherwise unnecessary spending). It vascilates between appearances, each iteration assuring that this is a breakthrough, when in fact it’s just a cycle of introduction, exhaustion, and reinvention. In dark times I tend to look at fashion and design as mortal enemies.

The design of this book is timeless because of its thoughtful planning and consistent execution. The fashion of this book is sedate, does not overshadow the design, in fact it is rather hard to isolate. In short, this balance results in a timeless book.

But this is starting to sound preachy. Let’s move on to…

2) I think I just invented the bookie. A book-focused selfie.

Information Anxiety by Richard Saul Wurman

One of my favorite books.

Yes that ended silly, but I didn’t want you to think I was burning on this issue so much as to lose my perspective or sense of humor. Keep your own perspective and design well.  And, if you must flavor your design with fashion, make sure it deftly avoids becoming information camouflage.

I hope to see more bookies in the future. Send me a link to your own bookie!

4:30pm October 23, 2014 San Jose CA

Posted in Audience, Books, Business, Design, Entertainment, Geeking around, History, Media, Personal, Presentations, Presenting, Random thoughts, Technology, Writing | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The Beauty of Books

In all its alien loveliness!

In all its alien loveliness!

I recently launched Book Judgement, a companion site all about the beauty of books.

We do judge books by the covers, as well as their typography, binding, paper, and other material arts and we want to recognize the artists that craft them.

Just published is a new article about an amazing book, the Codex Seraphinianus, that is worth finding out about.

Enjoy, and subscribe!

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Did I say there was confusion…?

…About wireless charging a few articles back?

NOTE: The following image is a prank, that was constructed to make you destroy your own iPhone.  Do NOT put your iPhone in the Microwave.

nVUsmjP

So, this is showing up today. People who bought the new iPhones with inductive chargers are being, I kid you not, convinced to put their new iPhone 6’s and 6+’s in their microwaves and turn the oven on to charge their phones.

Does this charge the iPhone?  

No.

What does it do?  

This…

download (1)

Read more on Cheeseburger.

 

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Considering the Blue Pill…

As you may already know from prior posts, that as well as producing the weekly podcast, I often write for a website called Fanboy Planet. Fanboy Planet reports on all the silly and serious aspects of being a fan in this modern day. Being involved in fannish media is a joy which keeps my sense of wonder alive, and gets me into a lot of cool places.

This week I concluded the first trilogy of episodes in my new column,  Digital Fanboy.  This is where I examine the digital realm of media with an eye to how it affects the fannish folks and the movies, books, comics and other stuff they love.

This third episode will be up soon, maybe already!  Here’s a tease and a link…

Digital Fanboy: Episode 3
Dystopian Utopia
or
Dude, Where’s My Stuff?

Digital Fanboy is our exploration into digital media. How we use it, how it uses us, and how to get a better handle on everything. I hope that by breaking this down into small tastes I can help you understand what the present and future hold for us, just as I exorcise my own demons in this area. Come, take the red pill…

 

Smith

In Episode 1 we talked about the benefits and additional features we get from electronic media. The terms we hear and what they mean. In Episode 2 I reviewed how media made it’s way into the digital world, and what happened to it along the way. This concluding episode we’ll be looking at a couple of real-world examples of what you can come to expect from the future of digital media, and how to best prepare for it.

Of course like all modern trilogies, there’s the potential for sequels. If you have questions or if there are new developments in this area, Digital Fanboy is the friend who will either explain it or tell you you’re better off not knowing.

You Live in the Future

Digital media changed everything.

I don’t need CD cases, they’re cheaper
and “just as good” on iTunes!

Why clutter up your house with DVD cases when
you can stream those movies on Netflix?

Book cases? Just read those books from the cloud!

Sure, and there’s stuff you can do with digital that you could never do with physical media. I travel with hundreds of books in my backpack. I can choose what movie I want to watch on the plane. Mix tape from 100’s of albums when and where I want? Sure, I’m future boy!

It’s all upside, right? What could be wrong? But about this time in any SyFy movie, you know the foreboding music is about to rise and everything you’ve been enjoying is about to turn on you.

The Current Future Is Broken

Only it’s not happening in the future. It’s already here. Digital media is busted, it isn’t the warm, fuzzy friend you thought you knew. It’s been fed after midnight and then pushed into the pool.

What happens if we feed them after midnight?  Read more here!

Posted in Audience, Books, Entertainment, Geeking around, Media, Movies, Personal, Random thoughts, SciFi Fantasy, Software, Technology, Travel, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wireless… Not Really.

Moto_360_by_MotorolaLooking at the otherwise seductive Moto 360, I’m struck by the beauty of the watch and the confusion it represents.

Its charger is labeled “wireless” which is mismanaged marketing of what is more correctly known as inductive charging.  Inductive charging means that the device doesn’t actually plug-in to the charger, it sits on a surface and the proximity of the device to that surface causes the device to charge.

These new “wireless” chargers sound like electricity will be broadcast to the device, through the air, which is technology that isn’t practical given today’s research and prototyping.  I recently bought a Lumo Lift (which I’m very unhappy with, but  that’s a column for another day) which also has a proprietary and ridiculous wireless charger.

In fact, these inductive chargers are wired, and worse they’re not consistently created.  With few exceptions devices require a proprietary and unique-to-the-device dock or other housing for the inductive charging to be made.

fajb_universal_charger_02_march2014So what’s the problem with that?  Well, there’s starting to be a very crowded amount of space on my physical desktop for these devices to sit and glow as they recharge, and most of these inductive devices require daily charging so hello docklands.  It’s really kind of absurd looking when the docks are sitting there empty. The idea of setting them up when you need them puts the whole “wireless” thing to an absurd test of practicality.

This is to say nothing about packing these docks up and finding plugs for them in hotel rooms when you travel.  Forget about it.  And want to keep a charger at your work?  These are never bargains to buy a 2nd one, even when they offer spares for purchase.

A few years back all phones and most devices in the US had different plugs, requiring you to have multiple chargers with different, typically company-specific, tips on them. There are laws in Europe that require standardization. Of late there’s been progress towards standardization on mini-USB as a charging type and USB power levels eliminating the need for even a standard-plug charger.  You can travel with a few USB cords and many hotels are even providing USB power plugs on desks or lamps for the traveler.

But if this horribly misnamed “wireless” fad catches on it will be a big step backwards for us all.  Not wanting to sound too “you kids get off my lawn” on this, but setting standards for and requiring manufacturers stick with them is always in the best interest of consumers. When it gets abused, the customer suffers.

And that’s why, while I love the looks and function of the Moto 36o, I won’t be getting one for my birthday or Christmas.

Ric Bretschneider
September 6, 2014

Posted in Business, Design, Geeking around, Hardware, Random thoughts, Technology, Travel | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Just checking in…

image

Why wear two watches? And why don’t they tell the same time?

A bit of a puzzle of course.

Posted in Personal, Random thoughts, Thoughts, Travel, Uncategorized, Writing | Leave a comment

Warning Wunderlist Users!

8-9-2014 10-40-49 AM

 

 

 

 

 

UPDATE:

Apparently @WunderlistHelp just tweeted the following.

If you’re missing lists, they are safe. Please sign out and back in again. So sorry for the trouble!

I have not tried this, will check and report back.  In the meantime, I believe Step One below is still a safe first tactic.

UPDATE ENDS

UPDATE 2

It apparently works.  My lists are restored.  My morning is wasted, and I’m still incredibly angry with Wunderlist.

I’m leaving the article up because I’d already sent out notices so this stands as both a data recovery tactic, as well as a reminder that some developers are sloppy and lazy when it comes to scaring the sh*t out of their customers.

UPDATE 2 ENDS

UPDATE 3

OK, finally something on the Wunderlist site:

http://support.wunderlist.com/customer/portal/articles/1163871-sync-issues—lists-not-updating-across-devices

UPDATE 3 ENDS

UPDATE 4

All may not be well with Wunderlist even given the support note.  Read the comments thread below, particularly the one just added by Nino.

Regardless, it does seem reasonable that if you use Wunderlist a lot, creating a local archive as described in Step 2 on a regular basis is just a sane thing to do given the history here.

UPDATE 4 ENDS

OK, the version of Wunderlist pushed out this week is deleting list items. It’s all over Twitter.  Additionally, if you have multiple devices sync’d to Wunderlist, when you will open Wunderlist you get a glimpse of your list data, and then watch in horror as Wunderlist deletes it forever.

Or almost.

Here are some things you should do now.

First and foremost: DISCONNECT

Do NOT run Wunderlist! If you don’t run it, your local data is safe.

Disconnect your devices from the internet before running Wunderlist. Different on wireless Macs and PCs, but for desktops this typically means just yanking the Ethernet cable out of the back of your computer. There, now Wunderlist won’t try to sync your data into nothingness. Once you’ve disconnected, you can run the app.

Second: Preserve your data.

For each list in Wunderlist, you can right click (at least on the Mac) the list title and choose “Email List.” This will compose an email with that lists contents, all the task names, their status (even completed tasks) and all the contents including notes you’ve added in the details view. You don’t actually need to send the list, copy it from e-mail to a Word or Text document and save that new document and you won’t lose your notes.

Third: Try to Restore

If you’ve already lost your data, the’res a chance you can restore it.
On the Mac, this is easy if you’re using Time Machine. Use the Finder “Go” menu command “Go to folder…” and enter

/Users/[username]/Library/Containers/com.wunderkinder.wunderlistdesktop/Data/Library/Application\ Support/Wunderlist

Search for a file named: WKmodel.sqlite

Frankly, I just restored the whole folder at

/Users/[username]/Library/Containers/com.wunderkinder.wunderlistdeskop

Run Time machine and restore that folder. If you’ve never used your Time Machine restore, now is a great time to go to Apple.Com for instructions.

You may have Time Machine save the old folder if you want, but it’s likely pretty useless.

Windows users will need to see if their backups include this path:c:\Users\[Username]\AppData\Roaming\6Wunderkinder\Wunderlist\Wunderlist.dat
Sorry, but I’ve only done this on a Mac, so you’re on your on on restore specifics.

Same basic situation, restore that file if you can.

BUT WAIT!

Now, you’re not really safe after restoring.  If you reconnect to the internet, Wunderlist is looking for time stamps on records, will see that records have been previously deleted, and then delete the task you just restored.  This is just a step that you might do and then follow-up with that Second: Preserve Your Data  step.  You might also preserve a copy of this folder to your desktop or another folder just in cast Wunderlist comes up with a fix.

OK, Now What?

Yes, now you have your lists preserved at least.  Getting them back into Wunderlist is another thing.  Likely you’ll need to copy/paste.  But first, know that they have a bug and haven’t commented on it, so you may want to use something else, like a paper list for a while.  Me, I pasted these lists into Evernote, which is a world-class application that has never lost my data.

Maybe Wunderlist will fix this soon, and maybe they’ll never have a bug like this again.

But I’m not betting on it.

Good luck!

Posted in Geeking around, Personal, Technology, Thoughts, Uncategorized, Writing | 3 Comments

Swallow the red pill…

As you may already know from prior posts, as well as producing the weekly podcast, I often write for a website called Fanboy Planet. Fanboy Planet reports on all the silly and serious aspects of being a fan in this modern day. Being involved in fannish media is a joy which keeps my sense of wonder alive, and gets me into a lot of cool places.

This week I continued new column, Digital Fanboy, where I examine the digital realm of media with an eye to how it affects the fannish folks and the movies, books, comics and other stuff they love.

The Second episode will be up soon, maybe already!  Here’s a tease and a link…

DigitalStipe

Digital Fanboy: Episode 2
Locking the Barn Door
or
Everything is Software, Coppertop

coppertop

When we last met, I closed with the following ominous paragraph:

Your relationship with your cloud library is your personal login to the various digital comics stores. This should give you access to your purchases on an on-demand basis. But the comics downloaded to your device are basically locked-in there, you’re dependent on that specific device to read them. And the ugly truth is that without a connection to the cloud, at least every few days, your digital comics can turn into something dead. Not really yours to read no matter how much you’ve paid for them.

It wouldn’t be fair to ignore that, so let’s get to explaining how easily the rights to what you’ve paid for can evaporate.

Eating Digital Media

The most obvious commercial media you consume is music. Back in the 90’s when everyone was waking up to the power of the Internet, file sharing proved just how much we loved to carry around music. Typically this meant that individuals would use programs rip music from CDs into computer files that could be played, and of course duplicated an infinite number of times. Of course giving commercial music away to your friends was 99.9% illegal, but music companies really had no way to prevent it. Very frustrating for them, watching all those uncollected profits scamper about the Internet. So they tried to make examples of the few the caught to scare everyone out of pirating music. But that just made people hate music companies more than they did before. What to do?

What to do indeed!  Read more here.

Posted in Business, Entertainment, Games, Geeking around, History, Media, Movies, Personal, Random thoughts, SciFi Fantasy, Software, Technology, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Take the Red Pill…

As well as producing the weekly podcast, I often write for a web site called Fanboy Planet. Fanboy Planet reports on all the silly and serious aspects of being a fan in this modern day. Being involved in fannish media is a joy which keeps my sense of wonder alive, and gets me into a lot of cool places.

This week I decided to start a new column, Digital Fanboy, where I’ll examine the digital realm of media with an eye to how it affects the fannish folks and the movies, books, comics and other stuff they love.

The first episode is up now, here’s a tease and a link…

DigitalStipe

 

Digital Fanboy: Episode 1
Your Digital Destiny
or
Where the Heck Are We?

Digital Fanboy is our exploration into digital media. How we use it, how it uses us, and how to get a better handle on everything. I hope that by breaking this down into small tastes I can help you understand what the present and future hold for us, just as I exorcise my own demons in this area. Come, take the red pill…

redblue

This is a subject that I love and fear in equal parts. I expect you have some excitement about digital media in your life, and you may have a bit of confusion as well. In these introductory episodes, I’m going to try to break down the basics of digital media, more bite sized than an overwhelming feast. Currently, this is a trilogy:

Episode 1 – Your Digital Destiny – Benefits and additional features we get from electronic media. The terms we hear and what they mean. That’s this episode!

Episode 2 – Locking the Barn Door – How digital media works, and how it fails. What DRM means and how it creates opportunity and complicates “ownership” of digital works. There’s a little Rebels V. Empire here that you can try at home.

Episode 3 – Dystopian Utopia – How digital media “ownership” breaks, the fragility of your digital library, and what still needs to be done to fix that. We’ll talk about the problems happening today, what’s likely to happen tomorrow, and what you and media providers can do to protect your new digital library.

And yes, we’ll be talking about digital comics.

READ MORE ON FANBOY PLANET…

 

Posted in Books, Design, Entertainment, Geeking around, Media, Movies, Personal, Random thoughts, Software, Writing | Leave a comment

Book Judgement is on Fire!

Well, it’s at least warming up…

Just a quick note that I’m so pleased to welcome Christopher J. Garcia back for his second submission to Book Judgement: A Book That Must Be Called Luscious

It is a love letter to the binding and typography of yet another well designed book.  And that’s what Book Judgement is all about.

Hope you enjoy!
Ric Bretschneider
July 16, 2014

Posted in Books, Business, Design, Entertainment, Personal | Leave a comment