Archive for July, 2011

Images of Years Past

Found some old pictures of mine at my mom’s collection, and I snapped them away with my digicam (some artifacts on the pics, sorry).

This was shot between 1975 and 1976 in Skiadas, when I was 2-3 years old. I do remember that day. We had recently returned from Athens, and a freelance photographer came to our mountainous village. My dad had recently also bought this motorcycle (Honda CB50, he had it running until the mid ’90s), so he took me with him in our village center (where our main church, school, and village office used to be — now it’s all deserted). I remember my mom objecting taking the picture, citing lack of family funds. My dad did so anyway.

The second picture was shot around 1990 or 1991, in our current town, Louros, celebrating (I think) my cousin getting engaged. Here, I line-dance with my uncle. Funny I used to dye my hair back then.

Seeing that picture I realized that I wasn’t too bad looking when I was young. I still have that out-of-an-alignment tooth, but other than that I wasn’t too bad. In my teenage and young years while in Greece, only one guy ever showed interest in me (that I happened to not be interested in him myself). I always felt a fish out of the water (and still am here), I had different interests than every other girl around me (thank Star Trek for that). This gave me a reputation of a low key, out-there person and classmates would only occasionally befriend me for advice, but not for deep friendship. They respected my opinion and seek it when in doubt, but that’s about it. I only felt in my element when I left for UK, and later for the US.

Impact craters near my home?

I was flying from Athens to Ioannina the other day, and the route was near the city of Arta too. Just north of Arta, on one the mountain tops near the city, I saw what they resemble asteroid/meteorite impact craters. There’s a big crater, and a few smaller ones around it (obviously thousands or millions of years old). Since Ioannina is a relatively small city, I was lucky to be flown by a small propeller plane, at low altitude (9-10 minutes before touch-down), so I could have a good look.

Of course I’m not a geologist, and what I saw could it be the outcome of an earthquake, but to my eyes they really looked like impact craters: a big crater that carried the bigger piece of the asteroid body, and some smaller ones that were cut-off from the main body as they entered the atmosphere. Overall, these seems to be scattered in an area of about 2-3 kilometers.

I got excited about it, and I thought I should not take any pictures, since I could be able to take a look later on Google Maps. Boy, did I make one of my biggest mistakes in my life? The Google Maps picture quality of the area is dreadful and the craters just don’t look like craters at all. And Google’s images look skewed too. Impossible to figure out what’s what from these images.

On the other hand, what I’m reporting here might be common knowledge to the geologists of Greece, but I certainly never heard anything about it about the area, which is close to my home.

Update: Good news everyone! I found the craters on Google Earth, and in it they look as they did from the plane. Image below (click for larger view), equivalent Google maps link, but prefer to check it out on Earth instead. The location is near the villages Gorgomylos and Gkoura.

In the picture you can see the main crater (if it’s a crater after all), and 7-8 more smaller ones (the all-grey ones). The other mountains in the region don’t look like that btw, which is what makes me believe that this is worth investigating further…

Update 2: If you have any geologist friend, please send him/her to this page. I don’t know of any, and I would like to know their opinion on the matter.

The answer to Netflix’s streaming troubles

As you might have heard, Netflix raised its prices yesterday, quite significantly. In all honesty, their prices are still very competitive ($15 for DVD + unlimited-streaming), given that an HD basic subscription to cable TV is still in the range of $80-$90 a month. Techcrunch, Gizmodo, Engadget all wrote editorials on the situation.

A lot of people were unhappy about the sudden price hike, but I think most people do know that the reason for this increase was not greed, but rather the realities of content licensing. Licensing content for unlimited streaming is simply extremely expensive. Some TV shows Netflix bought for streaming were sold at $100,000 per episode (with “Mad Men” sold higher than that), while some newer big movies are in the millions of dollars range.

This is an unsustainable model.

Currently, Netflix’s streaming library is rather small (and it already has cost them a fortune), and content expires within 2 years, and in some cases as early as in a few weeks. Some content is not in HD either, as part of the negotiations.

The root of the problem is that the content providers want to make their content “scarcely available“. Anything that’s more difficult to find, has a higher price in the market place — just like gold. This way they can sell the same content to different TV networks, online streamers, different countries, airliners etc, for a higher price. In fact, it’s widely known that titles that Netflix is streaming, the TV networks won’t touch, not even with a 10ft pole. This is a problem for the content providers, and that’s why they universally hate, and fight Netflix.

I do not believe that things will get easier for Netflix. The numbers just don’t add up. They’re stuck between a rock and a hard place. From one side its customers want more content selection (without more price hikes), while on the other side content providers hike their asking prices to the extreme, and in some cases they won’t even negotiate with Netflix regarding streaming. And at the same time the number of titles is increasing, making licensing even more of an expensive proposition.

I think that there’s only one answer to this chicken-and-egg problem: an open marketplace within Netflix streaming. A type of pay-per-view, but with Netflix paying part of the bill, and with studios setting their own prices. So for example, instead of DVD + Unlimited-Streaming costing $15, it should cost $10 ($8 for the DVD, and $2 for streaming). That $2 dollars will go towards hosting, bandwidth, and license-sharing costs. So instead of paying $4 to stream a movie (as it costs on Amazon or iTunes), the Netflix user could pay as high as $4, but he could also pay as low as $0.10 too. Instead of having fixed prices, let the market decide. Let the studios set the price they think their content deserves. Eventually, the big studios will realize that making $150 mil movies is not so sustainable anymore, when smaller indie studios can do the same for $15 mil. We’re getting there filmmaking-wise. That’s why the market place should be open, and without set prices per title.

Yes, it would be nice to pay a moderately-cheap flat fee and watch everything under the sun, but as I wrote above, this is an unsustainable business model when content providers are that greedy. In a perfect world unlimited streaming for a flat fee is the best solution for the consumer, and a piracy deterrent. I believe this for both movies and music. But studios/majors are a–holes. That’s why I believe that my solution is the next-best thing, at least for movies.

In the past, indie studios could not compete with the big studios because the cinema prices are fixed. They’re between $8 and $13, depending where you live. But no matter what movie you were going to see, the price was almost the same. So who in their right mind would go watch an indie or foreign movie, when for the same amount of money he could go see Harry Potter?

This is the situation Netflix should try to change. Eventually people will discover more cerebral movies, for cheaper than a brainless blockbuster. Cheap thrills won’t be cheap anymore. And the big studios won’t have any recourse, but to bring their prices down. The same way it happened with music in the last 3-4 years: Major studio albums were sold as high as $13 on iTunes, and then the indies started selling at $8. Now, the price of the major albums has come down to $10 (sometimes cheaper), while a lot of indie albums are selling for $5 or $6 on Amazon MP3. As tools become cheaper, and there is competition, prices will come down. For blockbuster movies, it’s a matter of outsourcing CGI and most locations to poor (but politically stable) countries to bring costs down.

I think all this will start to happen by the end of the decade. But until then, we will have to endure studios chocking Netflix, which in turn has to choke us. And in the mean time, piracy thrives, just because people can’t get their entertainment for cheap-enough and available-enough.

A synesthete’s review of KID A

According to many music magazines, Radiohead’s “KID A” is the best album of the last decade. There are countless reviews and articles about it, but I don’t think there’s one from a synesthete‘s point of view. So I decided to write one myself, to describe how KID A looks and feels to me. KID-A is a very visual album, possibly one of the most visual albums ever. In fact, I consider “bad music” anything that doesn’t make me see colors, images, stories, or draw forgotten memories.

Of course, each synesthete is experiencing the same pieces of art differently, but if you’d like to experience the same feelings and visuals as I do in my (drug-free) soft-trip, first read the paragraph for a track below, and then listen to that track on good headphones, without any other distraction. Close your eyes, and let the music tell the story. Do not pay attention to the lyrics either.

1. Everything in its right place

I’m on a natural, dark tunnel, and I’m floating. I’m trying to move, but it’s not easy, it’s as difficult as when trying to swim, requires effort. There is a bit of light at the end, and I’m trying to reach it. The closer I get, and the more effort I put, the more the tunnel is flexing in and out, like it’s breathing. I never reach the light.

2. Kid A

I’m in a forest, and it’s raining. Drops for now, rain later. Everything is so big: the leaves, the flowers are all huge… I’m a beetle. In the middle of the small meadow there’s an anomaly. Looks like a time/space continuum disruption. It’s like a portal of a sort, and it’s vibrating. It draws me nearer, flying from leaf to leaf. I notice that ants, and ladybugs around me are equally attracted to it. A baby deer draws close too. A bit too close. Suddenly the disturbance is pulling the deer into it, but in a weird fashion: it’s like it’s pulling its flesh, with the bones stay in place. Eventually, the deer is gone. I’m now too close to it too. I have to go in, can’t resist. I’m in. It’s a white space with floating red marbles, moving around… I think it’s weird, but it’s fun. Is there more to this amazing place? Suddenly I’m pulled down, and it’s quickly getting darker and uglier. I’m in a stomach.

3. The National Anthem

I’m in a club, and it’s filled with both people and weird creatures. We are all dancing in slow motion. The band is made of alien-like creatures, but the singer is human. From the singer’s mouth and movements, some rainbow-like streaks are unleashed and everyone on the dance-floor is trying to catch them. During the last part of the song with the trumpet solos, everyone gets into frenzied trance.

4. How to Disappear Completely

I’m in a white spaceship, and I’m all alone. I move through the white corridors, and empty white rooms with a view, but there’s nothing for me there, inside or out of it. There’s emptiness both inside the spaceship and outside of it. It feels like I’m alone in the whole universe. I try to flex, and the spaceship flexes back. It’s my prison, and my life line. I travel from nebulae, to planets, to dark void, but nothing moves me. I’m sad and lonely. It’s time. I drive the spaceship into a sun, and I welcome it with open arms.

5. Treefingers

It’s a starry night, and I’m in a place surrounded by trees. There is no opening to escape. My only light is some golden dust moving around and playing with me. My only way out of it is to look up, at the stars. I decide to give up, and take a rest, by lying on the grass. Suddenly the grass moves, and moves my body forward. It releases my body to some flowers that continue to move me around, then the trees themselves use their branches and move me from tree to tree. Eventually I’m high enough. I still can’t break free from the tree prison, but I’m closer to the stars.

6. Optimistic

I’m in a huge gray factory, with a stale atmosphere and smoke that’s hard to breath. I’m floating towards gray machinery, all sorts of machinery that move with the beat. Sometimes the machinery re-shapes itself and changes to look like a singing mouth. As I further float to more machinery, there’s a place made with fire that it creates even more machinery. The machinery is endless, like the world is made of it. I go back out, and get a larger view of the factory, but there’s no ending in sight. Zooming in and out of the machines only reveals smaller or bigger machines, made from other machines.

7. In Limbo

It’s a beautiful sunny day, near the beach. I’m a turtle, currently hiding behind some vegetation. I need to move, reach the sea, that’s my goal. But I seem to have to go through sunbathers. I start my voyage, and I go pass a beautiful woman who keeps adding sun protection. By the time I get passed her, in my turtle speed, she already bathed herself 3 times in that oil. An old man is enjoying the sun by sleeping, while his old wife next to him is looking and criticizing the rest of the people on the beach. A bit further a fat woman is eating a peach. I’m closer to the sea, but there’s trouble ahead. Two kids approach me and turn me upside down with a stick. I panic and hide myself in my shell. When I decide to stick my head out again, they’ve already gone. I’m closer to the sea now. Before I enter the water I stop to admire windsurfing, but the image is soon polluted by people spitting out sea water while swimming. There’s no time to waste, I get into the water. Oh, look, so many legs!

8. Idioteque

I fly over a city of the future. It’s night, but there are so many lights, so colorful. But upon zooming down to the streets there seems to be a constant parade of soldiers. The soldiers are endless. When watching the city from above it feels like an ordinary city, with normal traffic. But when you go closer to it, it’s filled with soldiers parading, there are no people on the sidewalks, or cars. There is only one spectator: a little girl, no more than 5 or 6 years old. She has a dirty face, her clothes are dirty and full of holes. She’s sitting by the sidewalk, hugging her knees, watching the parade. Her eyes show nothing but fear. Every time she tries to look away, a soldier closer to her immediately turns his head and gives her a wild stare. She can’t escape. She’s forever bound.

9. Morning Bell

I’m in a white-gray place, that’s full of nothingness. It’s just white-gray. I’m floating horizontally, and I’m looking up, the endless white. But there’s a portal-like opening above me now, with a dream-like view of what seems to be the real world. I try to get to it, but my movement is very slow, like the gravity on this place is optimized for stillness. As I get closer to the portal though, two more appear on my left and right, and all three are now pulling me slowly, in different directions. It starts to become painful. But then, the three depictions of the real world change to dark, scary views. They’re still pulling me in.

10. Motion Picture Soundtrack

In a 1940s-like room. Everything is in black and white. A beautiful woman, wearing clothes and hair of the era, lies in bed, dead. She committed suicide. I look around in the room, I touch her things, but eventually I go back to her, and I touch her hair. I loved this woman. Suddenly, golden light surrounds her body, the only colorful element in the scene, and soon enough it flies out of the window, and up to the sky. Something does stay behind though, and that’s a dark shadow. It soon comes towards me. I can’t run away from it, it devours me. Before I fall down I get a glimpse of myself in the mirror. I am that woman.

11. Untitled

I’m the golden light: I leave the Earth, the solar system, the galaxy, the known universe. I fade away. Into a dark tunnel.