Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Read this: Wired ruins The Hobbit by explaining why no arrow could kill Smaug



Hot on the heels of a dense exploration of the science behind Thor's magical hammer, Wired has published an article applying real-world physics to a climatic scene from The Hobbit. If this story about elves and dwarves and goblins played out in real life, the article explains, the dragon would have killed everybody.

In both J.R.R. Tolkien's novel and, presumably, Peter Jackson's upcoming film adaptation, the dragon Smaug is shot out of the sky with a black arrow. In his article, physics professor Rhett Allain focuses on the movie version of the arrow, which viewers got a glimpse of in The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug. After estimating its length, volume, and mass, Allain performs some calculations based on a flashback from the movie in which a drawf fires a different black arrow at Smaug. Allain concludes that this arrow, at least, moved at a speed roughly equivalent to that of a nerf dart. That's probably not fast enough to help the people of Lake-town defeat Smaug. That's probably not fast enough to help anybody.

After dooming the citizens of Lake-town to death by dragon fire, Allain rubs salt in the wound by explaining why the recoil on the ballista-like contraptions used to fire the black arrows would endanger the lives of anyone who operated them. Slow arrows or not, Smaug is probably still going down in The Hobbit: The Battle Of Five Armies, but the knowledge that the victory isn't rooted in hard science is sure to dampen the triumph. After all, no one watches The Hobbit movies expecting a break from reality.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Read this: A deep look at some of the mathematical in-jokes on The Simpsons



It's no secret that many of the writers on The Simpsons are great big nerds. A lot of them went to Harvard, a school noted for the high collective IQ of its student body, and got degrees in subjects like Applied Mathematics, Computer Science, and Physics. All that brainpower resulted in one of the funniest, sharpest sitcoms in television history, at least in the early going. It also bled into the show in less obvious ways, as Simon Singn makes clear in an excerpt from his book The Simpsons And Their Mathematical Secrets, published by Bloomsbury and now available in paperback.

The excerpt takes an extremely detailed look at a throwaway joke tucked into the background of "The Wizard Of Evergreen Terrace," an episode from the show's tenth season that finds Homer following in the footsteps of Thomas Edison  and trying to become a great inventor. While trying to come up with ideas, Homer scribbles down the following on a blackboard:


The blackboard isn't prominently featured in the episode, and most viewers could be forgiven for ignoring it in favor of giggling over the ingenuity of Homer's makeup gun. According to Singn, however, it contains a college semester's worth of mathematical in-jokes. The third equation, for example, predicts that the universe will eventually implode under its own weight, a setup paid off when there's a minor implosion in Homer's basement. The fourth line involves topology, an area of geometry in which researchers study shapes by bending and stretching them into different forms. Here, Homer has transformed a doughnut into a sphere, an impossible feat in topology, by taking progressively bigger bites out of it, as is his wont.

The second line suggests that Homer has solved Fermat's last theorem, a subject Singn spends over half the excerpt discussing. It's too involved to summarize here, but it suffices to say that it's not the kind of intellectual puzzle viewers have been led to believe Homer capable of solving. The full except is up on BoingBoing, alongside another one identifying which writers on The Simpsons and Futurama were incredibly, dumbfoundingly nerdy, instead of just the ordinary kind of nerdy required to write for an animated comedy show. They're both absorbing reads, and go a long way toward proving that your sixth grade teacher may have been right about math being fun after all.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Here's an intro to an imaginary Buffy animated series



Having previously given the world a terrific look into what Doctor Who would be like as a Saturday morning cartoon, artist Stephen Bryne has moved on to Buffy The Vampire Slayer, carving out a niche as the guy who makes intros to imaginary cartoons the world deserves but never got. Bryne, clearly full to bursting with affection for the show, has packed his intro with nods to Buffy's history, from Willow's changing hair color to visits from ghostly versions of Tara and Anya to a glimpse of a world full of nothing but shrimp. As with the animator's previous work, the character designs are incredibly charming, and the wild adventures the Scooby gang never got to go on make us wistful for the actual animated Buffy series that was developed years ago but never happened.

With stuff like this under his belt, we'll be on the lookout for anything else Bryne does in the future—perhaps an animated version of Game Of Thrones, or he could go the other way and make live-action intros for Futurama or The Venture Brothers.




[via Nerdist]

Monday, September 8, 2014

Give in to paranoia with this clothing line based on Nineteen Eighty-Four



If you enjoy wearing clothes, but don't think they sufficiently protect you from the gnarled, grasping fingers of omnipotent government forces threatening to steal your secrets and charge you with thoughtcrimes, this may be for you. The Affair, a British fashion outfit that specializes in tee-shirts inspired by literature, is trying to get a clothing line inspired by George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four off the ground. Naturally, they have taken to Kickstarter, rather than accepting investment capital from within a system that works only to sublimate the human will.

The clothing itself is fairly standard. It features things like shirts, pants, and jackets that have been cunningly renamed as Party Workshirts, Party Chinos, and Outer Party Jackets. The selling point is the presence of the UnPocket, a detachable pocket made from the latest in "stealth fabrics" that securely blocks all Cell, WiFi, GPS, and RFID signals. This will allow wearers to tweet or text about how their new garments free them from the prying eyes of Big Brother, or big pharma, or big dairy, or whoever, before they tuck the cell phone into the UnPocket, where it will never be touched again.


[via boingboing]

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Here's a video about the history of showing text messages on film




Sometimes, it takes Hollywood a while to find an engaging way to depict emerging technologies. For example, the '90s are littered with strained attempts to make the act of surfing the Internet—an act that involves a lot of sitting and staring and not moving—look interesting enough to compete with action blockbusters of the day. Over the last several years, many filmmakers have tried to do the same for text messages, with mixed results. For the latest video in his Every Frame A Painting series, Tony Zhou takes a look at those attempts.

Zhou—who also dedicated videos to the comedic prowess of Edgar Wright and the chaotic visual style of Michael Bay—traces the history of filmed text messages from early experiments with shoving phones into the foreground of shots, to the current trend of having text float in the air next to phones, as seen on shows like Sherlock and House Of Cards. Like his other videos, A Brief Look At Texting And The Internet In Film is well-researched and crisply edited, although it may be useless in a few years after text messaging is replaced with some kind direct brain-to-brain networking system, presenting Hollywood with a whole new problem.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Here's a learned analysis of why Michael Bay movies are bad, but pretty



No matter how many buildings, spacecrafts, and sentient robots Michael Bay explodes before our eyes, the director can't seem to get any respect. His movies are widely panned by critics, and his bombastic filmmaking style is routinely mocked by respectable, erudite writers on the internet. Nevertheless, his films continue to clean up at the box office, so someone must be enjoying them. With the latest installment in his Every Frame A Painting series, Tony Zhou looks into why.

Michael Bay - What Is Bayham? thoroughly breaks down the director's visual style, with close looks at Bay's use of off-screen space, his signature twirling camera movements, and how some of his style can be traced back to West Side Story. Featuring comparisons to the likes of Hot Fuzz, Jurassic Park, and The Lego Movie along the way, it's a detailed, well-edited examination of what makes a Michael Bay movie tick.
Bay's movies will probably continue to make gobs of money, but this video may at least help his detractors articulate their distaste with a greater degree of specificity.


Michael Bay - What is Bayhem? from Tony Zhou on Vimeo.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

NBC's attempt to find new voices in comedy immediately faces legal trouble



Earlier this month, NBC announced that it would be accepting submissions for new comedy series through a website called The NBC Comedy Playground, giving thousands of aspiring filmmakers with a camera in one hand and a fistful of dreams in the other the chance to see their visions come to life on the small screen. Now they are being sued for it. Comedy Playground, a comedy workshop in Los Angeles, has filed a complaint with the U.S. Central District Court of California accusing NBCUniversal of unfair competition as well as federal and state trademark infringement. The group's complaint—which is available to read on The Wrap—alleges that the similarity between the names will leave their potential customers hopelessly confused. They claim that they've already received multiple communications from people under the mistaken impression that their comedy workshop is involved with NBC, clogging their inbox to the point where only lots of money in damages can set things right.

NBCUniversal has yet to comment on the lawsuit, presumably because they're hard at work coming up with a new name for their website that doesn't fly in the face of trademark law—something like Laughs Across America, The NBC Comedy Playground (In No Way Affiliated With Comedy Playground), or The Second City.