Some messed up stuff happens in Pixar films

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I had an amazing time at Pixar in Concert played by the Seattle Symphony, in which Pixar music medleys were performed over classic scenes from every single Pixar film. My only disappointment: because I know so many of these themes by heart, I wish I could've heard the full tracks played out, vs. just snippets of them in medley form.

Nonetheless, it was a moving, jubilant experience. I felt like my childlike dreams were being fully realized, hearing the works of Randy/Thomas Newman, Patrick Doyle, and Michael Giacchino in their full symphonic glory. If you have even a passing enjoyment of movie music (and an abiding love of all things Pixar, like me), do check this out if/when you have a chance.

I also realized that some heavy stuff happens in the openings of many Pixar movies. Here are events that occur in the first 10 minutes of Pixar films:

  • Ellie from Up finds out she's infertile
  • Ellie from Up dies
  • Nemo's mother and family is killed
  • Nemo is disfigured
  • Mr. Incredible heartlessly spurns a young admirer, who ends up becoming his murderous enemy
  • Remy almost gets killed by a woman with a shotgun in Ratatouille
  • Fergus loses his leg to a bear in Brave

Pixar: Mixing childhood joy with incredibly horrible tragedy since 1986.

Dave Ryan from Manticore Stencil

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This is one of those situations where a chance meeting/video shoot turns into a profound experience.

Orange is the New Black: Season 2 Review

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I've written up some thoughts on Orange is the New Black: Season 2 over at /Film. Check'em out.

Love this show!

An interview with Bong Joon-ho

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I had an awesome time chatting with Bong Joon-Ho about his bold new film, Snowpiercer. Check out the interview at /Film, and check out the movie in theaters if you can.

Five Lessons on Virality from Felix Salmon's Epic Jonah Peretti Interview

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It took me awhile but I finally got through Felix Salmon's epic(ally long) interview with Jonah Peretti. Peretti made millions working on The Huffington Post and now manages Buzzfeed.

Salmon's interview is long and meandering, but it's a an insightful discussion on the nature of virality. There's lots to learn, but here are five points that I found to be particularly salient:

Nowadays, it's harder and harder to break through, and when you do, you're popular for a shorter period of time - Back in the day, Peretti created Black People Love Us, which skewered liberal PC sensibilities. But in the early oughts, making something viral had a higher potential to change the course of your life. According to Peretti:

Now you see people do a really cool project or a cool Tumblr and they don’t end up on the Today Show. We were on Good Morning America for Black People Love Us. We had the front page of Sunday Styles for Black People Love Us. The Rejection Line, we were on CNN and in People and in Elle. I think that some project like that today, would not have had the novelty to get the mainstream attention and would have a lot more competition on the web of cool things, and the rate at which they spread has been compressed a lot so things pop for a day or two.

As people/companies try to shoot for the next great viral hit, it's important to keep in mind the ROI on projects. Building something that will have long-term equity is important, vs. a flash in the pan video that is seen today and forgotten in 48 hours.

The platform is just as important as the content - Peretti realized really early on that building a robust platform at Huffington Post was just as important as getting popular people to write on it:

There were these two models that we just kind of bolted together. One was to make the site itself viral, which was celebrities blogging. I was very focused on making sure that they used the default blogging tools of the Internet. I think that everyone expected us to have some Flash site that wasn’t a real blog...It had all the things that blogs were supposed to have so that people who knew about blogging would see it and say, “Oh, Larry David is blogging.” Not, “Larry David’s doing some weird new thing that Arianna Huffington invented.” We knew that was the piece that was going to make it take off and be contagious. Then Andrew posting links and headlines that were constantly updated would be the thing that made it sticky. You’d come to see the celebrities blogging, you’d say, “Wow, what does this mean? That blogging has evolved in this different way.” And then you would say, “Oh, there’s a good link here. There’s a good link here.” And you would just keep coming back every day. Even if Larry David didn’t blog again for three months, you’d be checking the site because you’d have great links to content around the web. That was sort of the idea.

Master search engines and you master the world - One of the things that Buzzfeed and HuffPo nailed perfectly was optimizing for Google. But it went beyond just standard SEO practices. As Google shifted to enable the surfacing of links in real-time, Buzzfeed shifted its strategy to do the same. Peretti explains:

[A]t BuzzFeed we had figured out that you could rapidly swarm a breaking news topic, particularly about a person, place, or thing that was new, like a beauty queen who loses her crown and no one’s heard of this beauty queen. If you make a great page about that thing, you often could get to the top of Google results just as searches were surging. It was partly because Google got faster indexing at that point. Google was slow indexing and then all of a sudden became quick, and BuzzFeed figured that out in the lab, but then HuffPost editors got really good at it and we’d swarm stories very quickly and often be the first news source to create a comprehensive page for what was happening, linking out to other multiple other sources. Those pages became huge growth generators for the site.

As search engines continue to shift into the real-time/social world, optimizing your site based on new functionality can help you gain traction in ways that were previously impossible.

Optimizing for any single metric can negatively impact other valuable metrics - This one was pretty interesting to me. People normally think that clickthroughs are the sacrosanct metric that drives much of the online publishing business. But Peretti realized that the clickthrough, in and of itself, was not a metric to be valued.

You could show a picture of like an older guy at the beach and be like, “Guess whose body this is?” Then you click and it’s like, “Oh it’s Giorgio Armani” or whatever, and you could get a tremendous clickthrough rate on headlines that didn’t tell you what the story is about. The problem with that is that if you’re just getting clicks that would have gone to another headline on your front page, it’s sending people the content that might not be as good, because they’re clicking because they want to know what’s there. They’re not clicking because they’re interested in what’s there. If they knew that it was Giorgio Armani — if you just did a post saying, “Here’s a picture of Giorgio Armani on the beach” — people who care about that sort of thing would click and people who didn’t wouldn’t. You end up with lots of people who don’t actually want to see Giorgio Armani in a Speedo on the beach clicking that and then feeling like, “Oh god, why did I do that?” Like, “That was a waste of time.”

In other words, you can optimize for JUST clickthrough but you'd potentially be alienating readers and not investing in the long term health of your site.

Furthermore, the rise of the social web, in the form of Twitter and Facebook, have made it more important for headlines to accurately represent the content they are labeling. People often share headlines and then describe what they think of them, thus personalizing articles in ways that aren't possible with headlines that are devoid of info.

Instead, the focus should be on the quality of the content. Says Peretti, "If you’re making entertainment content, which is a big part of what we do, you look at that hit and you say, 'Why was that successful? Can I do it again? Can I make something else that people really love and want to share?' And you try to vary it, even though you know doing something derivative would work. Long term, you want to have a deeper understanding of how to make great things. That’s really the focus."

"Life is tricky because it happens once and there's no opportunity for A/B testing" - For someone who works rigorously on optimizing his content, Peretti admits that there's no way you can really optimize for your life. I just loved the way the piece ends:

[It's possible] that this life you’re living is the best or among the top 5 percent of lives that you would have lived, and in lots of other ones you’d end up in an alley or in an unhappy relationship or with a job where you’re not intellectually fulfilled, and that you have found this amazing path. It’s also possible that you’re not even in the top 50 percent of lives and that your life is really tragic and that despite all the wonderful and impressive and amazing things you’ve done, that you had the potential to do all these incredible other things that would have been either bigger in scale or more fulfilling or more modest and simple, but more pleasurable or whatever. That there were all these other paths that would be better. It’s, I think, hard to say whether there is something I missed that would have made things much better. In general, I’m pretty happy, and all these imagined alternate lives, I wouldn’t know how to even begin to speculate on how they’d compare.

Space Needle Time Lapse

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I was bored yesterday morning before work so I set up a time lapse video. This video compresses about 9 hours of time into 40 seconds. If it doesn't look like the sun actually moves that much in 9 hours, that's because it doesn't. We are on the verge of Seattle summer, after all.

OK Go's 'The Writing's on the Wall'

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I've spent much of the day watching and re-watching OK Go's newest music video. I actually really enjoy the song, but beyond that, I'm just trying to wrap my head around the mad genius it takes to CONCEIVE AND ATTEMPT such a thing. Like, these guys must have just sat around, thinking of how they could dazzle viewers with some camera reveals of these spectacular optical illusions? And do it all in one long continuous shot? MADNESS.

These guys have come a long, long way from dancing on treadmills filmed with a household camcorder (just 8 years ago!).



Equally brilliant: the way they chose to roll this out. They shot several exclusive behind-the-scenes videos and gave one each to outlets like Time and Mashable. This ensures coverage from those places while providing them each with unique, interesting content.

I took Buzzfeed's Clean Eating Challenge. Here's what happened.

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Recently on Twitter, I happened upon Buzzfeed's Clean Eating challenge, a two-week "detox" diet that required you to consume almost no carbs, no alcohol/caffeine (easy for me, since I avoid those already), and absolutely no processed foods whatsoever. Since I'm always a fan of crazy ideas, I thought I'd take my dietary recommendations from a site that got popular by posting cat GIFs.

So I took the Buzzfeed Clean Eating Challenge, and I kept a mini-diary of each day of my journey. Here are my thoughts from each day, plus my pros and cons of going on the Challenge.

The Diary

Day 1 - Hooray! We're having fun! Doing a detox and making our bodies better! Woohoo! Look at all this new and interesting food we're eating. Wow, a shake for breakfast! Exciting! Damn, I'm hungry...

Day 2 - This day is agonizing. Hunger pains throughout, which can lead into mild mood swings and low energy. The hardest part is curbing the impulse snacking. If you need a hit of sugar normally, you can't just pick up a soda or even an apple juice. Must stay away.

One of the things this cleanse has made me realize is how much I rely on food for emotional satisfaction. Often times we don't need to eat. But maybe that cookie or that muffin at the lunchroom will make us feel better, and it's only $1.50, so why not?

Day 3 - One of the most amazing things about the detox is you can eat a whole plate of food (usually greens), or a whole bowl of yogurt, and at the end of it, when you feel like your stomach should theoretically be full, it doesn't feel that way at all and you are still incredibly hungry. But I actually feel a lot less hungry on today. My stomach is acclimating to the fact that it's going to be getting less food. In fact, a remarkable realization I've had is that I've really been eating way more food than is necessary for me to stay alive. And I guess I just got use to that excess over time...

Day 4 - My weight is already declining. I'm down 2 pounds already. But will it stay off?

The thing that surprises me about this detox: the random cravings. For instance, today is Free Bagel Day at the office. Every Wednesday, our lovely admins put together this amazing spread of bagels with cream cheese, PLUS a toaster! And smelling those bagels all day - it was terrible. I desperately wanted to eat one. Which is weird because I don't usually need to have the bagels, but with this low-carb cleanse, anything that smells like bread is heavenly to me.

Day 5 - Today, I seriously had thoughts about quitting this cleanse early. I'm not losing that much weight (not that I thought I was going to) but most importantly, I don't feel like my life is that much better or different than pre-cleanse. But I choose to soldier on.

Day 6 - It's interesting how SPECIFIC the cravings I get are. I'm hungry a lot of the time, but eating a pound of carrots isn't going to help. I crave carbs specifically, in any form. The body needs carbs. Bread would be amazing. Just need a little bit of bread. Can't I have some bread? No.

Day 7 - By this date, the desire for carbs has finally started to subside. In general, I feel like my stomach has shrunk and my body needs less food now. Plus the random cravings for processed foods and sugar are now much less frequent.

Day 8 - I had a cheat meal today to celebrate my birthday. Tried not to go out of control at Din Tai Fung, but the birthday comes but once a year...

Day 9 - If this detox was a flight, I'd say that on Day 9, I've finally reached cruising altitude. I'm still hungry much of the time, but I can now control that hunger and get used to it. It no longer controls me.

Day 10 - The stupidity of this cleanse has come into full focus for me. All that stuff I said in Day 9? Forget it. I'm in a bad mood, I'm irritable, I'm low-energy, and I don't feel like working out. This detox is the worst and I hate it.

Day 11 - I hate my life.

Day 12 - Not a bad day. My body chemistry seems to be re-orienting to the new diet, but the hunger - it never goes away.

Day 13 - The end is in sight...

Day 14 - IT IS OVER. IT IS FINALLY OVER!


Now that all is said and done, what are my thoughts on the detox as a whole?

Pros

The recipes - A lot of the recipes are really tasty, and pretty much all of them are healthy. I'd say at least 70-80% of the recipes are dishes I would enthusiastically try again. We will definitely be adding some of these to our rotation, and already have started making "salad dinner" a regular staple of our meals together. By far, this is the greatest net positive on my life.

Weaning you off processed foods and carbs - Carbs are such a huge part of our daily lives. And there's a reason for that: carbs are awesome! But they also make me feel super bloated and full. Living life with very few carbs for a couple weeks definitely made me understand what an impact this food type has on my body -- and made me desire it less.

You will need less food afterwards - If you do this thing correctly, you should be much more conscious of your daily caloric intake, and are likely to want to eat fewer calories each day.

Cons

Time - If my lovely girlfriend Eva did not agree to do this cleanse with me and help prepare the overwhelmingly vast majority of the food, there's no way I would have been able to successfully complete it. The food for this detox took, at minimum, over 20 hours to prepare over the course of two weeks. That is a staggering amount of work and probably renders this detox impossible for normal, busy people.

Expensive - We spent roughly $400 on groceries for two weeks. That is a lot of cheddar (or rather, not a lot of cheddar since there is pretty much no dairy in the cleanse). You can probably find ways to cut this price down through some creative shopping, but it's an expensive proposition either way.

It ruins your social life - So much of our social interactions are wrapped up in food (see this beautiful Roger Ebert essay for more on this topic). When your daily meals are heavily regulated, you can't really go out to restaurants with friends -- or if you do, it's super awkward as they order from the menu and you pull out some tupperware with roasted cauliflower. Make sure if you try to attempt a cleanse that you are willing to take a hit on your social life.

Caloric intake not properly calibrated - I'm somewhat of a large dude, so I probably consume around 2500-3500 calories per day. This detox reduces the caloric intake for males down to about 1500-1800. While my girlfriend had no problems managing this cut, I was constantly irritable and angry for the majority of the detox period. The detox drained me of my energy; I didn't feel good working out because I could barely drag myself to work and back without collapsing in a heap. What good is a detox if you can't exercise?

I'm not sure, but I know that for me, the caloric cutback was far too drastic and was not workable for a person of my size. Maybe it's because I'm gluttonous, but I highly doubt that wanting a few more almonds to fill out the stomach qualifies as being out of control.

So in the end, was it worth it?

I'd say it was definitely worthwhile in some ways: it showed me how little food I could survive on, and it's always character-building to see whether you can achieve a specific goal. [I should point out I lost several pounds, but put it back on quite quickly after the detox was over].

But there are a few major issues with this detox.

Firstly, it only lasts for two weeks. From conversations I've had with friends who have tried similar diets, that is not nearly enough time to have any kind of meaningful or lasting impact. Instead, it just gives you a taste of what it's like to eat well. That may be enough for you to make good decisions going forward, but the Buzzfeed plan certainly doesn't lay out a long term strategy.

And secondly, I think that rather than doing this detox, your time/money is better spent making sustainable eating choices that will make you better off in the long run. That means meeting with a nutritionist and/or incorporating some of these recipes (calorically adapted) into your daily life for your needs.

This detox really did a teach me a lot about my body and about how much food I eat on a daily basis. But overall, it's not something I can wholeheartedly recommend because of its considerable time/money commitment, with no clear payoff. Solid recipes, though.

Another Year in the Life of David Chen

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Last year, I wrote a whole series of essays about my attempts to chronicle my life one second at a time. You can watch last year's video here.

I have finally completed this year's video, which starts the day after my birthday in 2013. Round 2 of the 1SecondEveryday challenge was considerably more difficult this time around. Here are some thoughts on doing this project again this year:

Time is a flat circle - It's true: the more things change, the more they stay the same. When you compare the two videos, there are a lot of similarities. A lot of riding the Microsoft Connector bus. A lot of sunsets and scenes from my apartment. A lot of shows at the Seattle Theatre Group (plus Sasquatch!). I've started to get into a routine here in Seattle, which is simultaneously comforting and terrifying - it means this place now fully feels like home, but I now fear becoming complacent.

Food - Again, I depended on food for a lot of the seconds. It's very difficult not to. It's also hard not to depend upon all the things one sees every day in one's routine.

I lost the will to go on - About 2/3rds of the way into the year, I definitely lost the will to keep doing the project. It became exhausting to pull out the camera(s) and take some video whenever something interesting was happening. As a result, I didn't think strategically about stories I could tell using this format. For instance, I could've done a whole sequence on the Kickstarter film I'm doing with Stephen Tobolowsky. Huge missed opportunity! Towards the end, as that Kickstarter project started to gain steam, I definitely got a little bit of my mojo back.

Nonetheless...

In the end, it was still incredibly rewarding - Not only do I now have a visual chronicle of my year, but the seconds help me remember a bunch of stuff that I would've otherwise forgotten. Plus, the process of revisiting all the seconds, choosing which one was my favorite etc. was as emotional as it was last year.

Moving to a one Month Release Cycle? - I'm thinking of releasing these 30-seconds at a time every month from now on, then perhaps doing a 1-year video every calendar year. The amount of work required for one of these videos just feels like it'd bear more returns spread out over time.

Northwest Folklife Festival 2014

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I've been having lots of fun playing around with my Panasonic GH4's slow motion function. This weekend, after driving home from the incredible Sasquatch Music Festival (blog post/album coming soon on that one), I had a chance to check out the Northwest Folklife Festival at the Seattle Center on Memorial Day. Pretty awesome music and dancing abounded, but I was particularly intrigued by the "rhythm tent," which apparently has a non-stop beat going on and a bunch of random people just getting down to it.

The above was shot handheld using a Panasonic 12-35mm Lumix lens with OIS activated. Graded using FilmConvert.