The Null Device
With the recent Tom Hanks vehicle Cast Away, Hollywood have taken product placement into a new era. The film is so much a propagandistic showcase for FedEx's corporate values that the company's internal memoes have promoted it in glowing terms.
The film begins with a rather gratuitous tour of the company's Russian operation... The subplot, which has nothing to do with ensuing events and is dropped once Hanks returns to the company's Memphis hub, seems to be that, though Federal Express would rather employ workaholics than drunks, Russia remains open for business, and FedEx is leading the way... Along the way, we're treated to a loving, if incidental, telling of the company's first night in operation in 1973.
However, product placement has been big business in Hollywood for some time:
In 1982, the Rogers and Cowan Agency successfully placed an ad for Reese' Pieces in E.T., and Coca-Cola, which had just bought Columbia Pictures, began a frantic plugging of its products in the studio's films... Black & Decker paid twenty-thousand dollars to have Bruce Willis use their drill in a Die Hard movie, then sued for a hundred-and-fifty grand when the scene was cut. Similarly, Reebok won a ten-million dollar settlement from Trimark pictures when an entire Reebok ad, which was meant to run over the closing credits of Jerry MacGuire, was deleted.
But it's also true that it's becoming increasingly harder to make mid-and-big-budget films that advertisers might shy away from, or treat subjects marketing men consider outside the pale. On one level, film characters are deprived of the free-will audiences need to believe in if they are to believe they're watching a character and not a cartoon. On another, knowledge on the viewer's part that deception is part and parcel of the movie-going experience makes it hard to maintain the suspension of disbelief movies rely on: Hence, movies rely less on believable situations than eye-popping explosions, which cost money to make and market, which encourages more product placement, ad infinitum.
Perhaps in a few years there will be an Oscar for "Best Product Placement"...
Video games as navigational metaphors: A German Internet company named COM has a impressive Flash-based web interface modelled on Marble Madness (or perhaps the similar Commodore/Spectrum game Bobby Bearing). Now there's a worthwhile use of Flash, along with a regular interface for the non-Flash people. (Hint hint, tDR)
Linux desktop project Helix Code has changed its name... to "Ximian"; one of those generic, meaningless yet high-tech-sounding names that can be easily trademarked. Though it could be worse; they could have been "Ximient" or something. Now all they need is one of those high-tech orbital swooshy bits in their logo.
I have recently been compiling a mix CD of various songs I have been listening to over the past few months. In the process of trying to fit all the tracks on a 74-or-so minute disc (allowing for the 2-second gaps my old track-at-once CD recorder puts between tracks), I have written a small utility for trimming the leading and trailing silence from chunks of ripped CD audio. (It's just a quick, fairly utilitarian hack; no GUI, it's not themeable, not even a fancy autoconf script. Oh yes, it's a UNIX command-line utility, though it should compile on non-Linux unices.) If this looks useful, you can download the source from the link above. There are no RPMs or binaries or what have you (and probably never will be, unless someone else makes them). Finally, this is unsupported software; if you have an idea for some improvements, don't mail me with them.
This evening, I visited a friend with a DVD player and watched a DVD of A Clockwork Orange (on a tiny, old Amiga monitor; his TV has no video in sockets and Macrovision puts paid to the idea of piggy-backing through a video recorder). Two things I noticed about said film: (a) how much of the acting has a theatrical quality about it (in particular, the actor playing Georgie looks as if he's saying his lines on stage), and (b) how much the characterisation of the prison warden is reminiscent of John Cleese. Wonder whether that was deliberate.
I also had a look at disc 2 of the collectors' edition of Fight Club. Well worth looking at; the short pieces about how they did the special effects were particularly interesting (at least to someone who has played around with computer graphics).