Archive for July, 2007

Movie Review: The Simpsons

July 31st, 2007

As you may (possibly) have heard by now, there’s now a movie version of the The Simpsons TV series.

The plot is pretty simple: Homer does something stupid, it was horrible consequences for the town, and as a result Marge and the family get very annoyed by him.

But The Simpsons has never really been about the brilliance of the plot. It’s about the writing and the jokes. And the strength of the writing is unlike anything seen on TV for some years – I suspect there’s been a lot of writers saving the good jokes for the movie. There isn’t a lot of the movie taking advantage of the things that can’t be done on television, but a few jokes do make good use of the big screen in one way or another.

The animation is fantastic, with some amazing visuals at various points. It’s not up to the quality of Pixar, but it’s still pretty good. The best thing is that it takes the larger-than-life quality of the designs in the TV series and scales them up, rather than trying to make them more realistic.

This movie is exactly what you should expect: a really good episode of The Simpsons. Nothing more, nothing less. If you’ve ever enjoyed The Simpsons, go and see it.

Where does the money go?

July 31st, 2007

A guide to exactly why political campaigns cost so much.

Impratical clocks

July 31st, 2007

A Japanese designed table clock that works by tilting

It’s not just Hollywood

July 31st, 2007

Ten ripoffs of American culture by overseas studios. My favourite: the Bollywood jaws with musical shark attack scene.

More watches

July 31st, 2007

The most accurate watch ever made.

Weird sculpture

July 31st, 2007

A kinetic giant squid sculpture.

The strange appeal of Facebook

July 30th, 2007

In recent weeks (since mid-July, really) the social networking website Facebook has become the centre of a pretty substantial hype storm. Whenever you see discussions of new websites in the mainstream press, something different is happening.

So, why?

On its surface, Facebook is not much different than the previous champion of social networking, Myspace. But it does have a couple of advantages. First, it’s quite hard to make Facebook look ugly, while it seems to be the default look for pages on Myspace. And second, it emphasises the sharing of information about your friends, to the point where the main page of Facebook is the one that gives you the information on what your friends have been doing o the site lately. This is quite different to Myspace, which is much more selfish in design.

So Facebook is a very creditable replacement for Myspace, and one that is going to appeal much more strongly to older users. And that’s worth a little bit of hype, given the hype around Myspace.

But what really makes Facebook so clever?

Part of the reason that Myspace targets teens is that they stay engaged on the site – posting pictures, blog entries and so on. Older users tended to peter out after a little while as the thrill started to fade. The same basic problem exists on Facebook, but with one clever addition: Applications. These little boxes you can put on your profile page provide games (many of them social in nature) to play, activities to participate in, art for your page and so on. They greatly expand the appeal of Facebook by providing a continual stream of new things to do on the site and your profile.

It won’t last forever, but by keeping users more engaged Facebook has been able to keep the usual turnover down and its growth has been phenomenal.

And that’s why the hype.

But stay still the rest of the time

July 30th, 2007

Researchers at MIT have come up with a TV remote based on hand signals.

DIY pens

July 30th, 2007

How to turn a $2 pen into a Mont Blanc.

Computing with toys

July 30th, 2007

A 1934 computer made from Meccano.