First, a disclaimer: none of these videos are, at face value, funny or really all that entertaining. You could file these under “because we have nothing better to do”… which is exactly where it starts to get funny and/or entertaining. In any case, I’m setting the bar low here.
I thought I’d try my hand at two video genres that I’ve never attempted before this weekend. The first is known as an unboxing, a raging trend that occupies some position in the zeitgeist between planking and twittering. The concept is pretty simple: you get something exciting in the mail, and then you film yourself spending as much time as possible opening it up and glorifying the contents, with the goal of arousing intolerable jealousy for whomever is watching. It helps if you have a very new or sought-after commodity to do this with. In my case I’m using the Vinyl soundtrack album for the previously reviewed iPad game “Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP”. You might say I’m delving into a sub-genre of unboxing because the item in question is something relatively obscure and nerdy. There will be a very specific subset of people who will think this is ultra-badass, and the vast majority of people will just not care, possibly at all. While this limits the potential audience, it also increases the chances of success for your ultimate goal in an unboxing video; illiciting an unbridled, disgraceful “That should SO be ME!” from the viewer. Without further adeiu:
The second video descends even deeper into the obscure sub-genres of youtube loser-ism, which is partly what makes it so fascinating. I’m not sure what you’d call it, but let’s go with “vintage fan collection show-off videos”. Believe it or not, there are some established protocols for videos like this. Observe the example video:
The formal rules are as follows:
1. Have a rare, old fan that you scored from either eBay or a junk heap somewhere. Show nothing in the video except this fan, with the exception of other fans.
2. Since this video is intended for fan collectors, and no other members of society, you must specify the fan maker, your estimate of when it was built (I failed!), and show the sticker on the bottom with the serial number, as if anyone, anywhere could possibly decipher some meaning from that.
3. About halfway through the video you need to do something clumsy like accidentally drop your prized fan, and then drop some choice expletives so that the video is not suitable for work, children, or the sensitive of constitution.
4. You should sound like you turned on the video camera with zero remote idea of what you were about to say, and also make some reference to living at your parents house. Try to sound bored, like you’ve been doing nothing of interest for the previous 6 hours before you started this recording.
5. When it comes time to end the video, you need to say that it’s because you’re about to run out of videotape.
So there we were, chillin on the SS Advanced Manoeuvres, drinking High Lifes and getting down with some funky jams, when off on the horizon this weird plane appears. I say to my buddies, Q: “is that a seaplane?” A: “why yes, it appears that it is.” The mystery plane comes in for a closer approach and yep, it’s a bright red seaplane with yella pontoons. Awesome! Then he comes in for yet another pass, this time REALLY close. After buzzing the boat, we watch this guy circle around the lake and ask “is he about to land that thing?” Spoiler alert: yes.
We’re anchored in a shallow part of the lake where most pleasurecraft tend to congregate due to the nice sandy lakebottom, along with maybe 5 or 6 other boats. The red seaplane touches down not too far away and pulls up alongside another vessel not far from ours. After debating it for a little while, we decide to go over and talk to the guy.
His name is Donny and we chat it up for maybe a good 10-20 minutes or so. He says the plane runs off of normal gasoline just like you’d get in any gas station, and tells a story about how he flew it all the way home from Florida once. That’s sort of extreme, considering that it probably qualifies as an ultralight aircraft, and I doubt the top speed is really all that fast. After a while, I can’t resist asking any longer; “so uhh… what would it take to get you to take me for a little spin on this baby? I can toss some gas money your way and I’ve got a sweet camera that can capture a video for youtube.”
Answer: yeah sure, go grab your camera. I could always use some extra gas money.
My buddy Cody rolls his eyes in some combination of astonishment and admonishment; “John… I can’t believe you.” All I can say is “aww man!”
So I hustle back to home base and retrieve the gear, hop on this seaplane and shoot this video (be sure to hit the 1080p HD!:)
Aww man is RIGHT.
Earlier this year I flew in a single engine Cessna and it was definitely way cooler than a commercial jet. Being able to see forward really changes the experience. Single engine planes are really a whole different world compared to airline travel. Flying in this ultralight seaplane was like the next level of coolness beyond that–you can easily look down on either side of you. For someone afraid of heights, this thing would probably be terrifying. Me, I do have somewhat of a fear of heights, but when I’m strapped in tight, as on an amusement ride, it doesn’t bother me. The whole thing was over before I knew it, finishing with an exceedingly smooth landing. I thought that touching down on the lake would feel rough, but no, it was actually softer than a large jet landing.
So yeah. That was really something else. I wasn’t paying too much attention to where the camera was pointed; pretty much just gawking at the world below and trying to take it all in. Donny and I both had headsets on, so we could chat while we were up there. Right after we took off, he’s like, “hey, do you mind if I put on some reggae while we fly?” And I was all, “oh man, this is the life.”
As mentioned before, a goal of mine is to start getting into timelapse photography. In the words of Carl, “Recently, we’ve waded a little way out, maybe ankle-deep, and the water seems inviting.”
I’ve done four different night-sky timelapses, each getting progressively better. I may yet post one of them, but I haven’t so far. I’ll lead off the timelapse posts with this short clip I compiled from around 300 photos of the clouds a couple weeks back. For those so interested, the exposure was 1/500th at f/8 with ISO100. This was actually done with the T2i that was briefly in my possession.
More imporantly, the exposures were about 15-20 seconds apart (I don’t recall precisely, but it was inside that range). You can see how fast the clouds move! I had no idea they shifted so quickly. For my next attempt, I did the exposures 6 seconds apart, and that showed the cloud movement much more fluidly. I’ll post that one later when I figure out why the rendering always seems to come out choppy. I’ve had some rendering issues with these…
Anyhow, here is my first, tentative step into the world of timelapse! It’s The Moment Of Genesis baby!… the instant when a once far-off dream makes its first step into being REAL. Gotta love the energy that comes off of a thing like that. Bodacious!
Oh yeah! OhyeahohyeahohYEAH! Canon T3i is here! More technical thoughts and details to come, but for now let’s just gawk at some really pretty images with thin focal planes thanks to the almighty Canon 50mm f/1.8, now in the glorious format of motion-photography. Here’s a bunch of loose test shots cobbled together quick in under an hour.
For anyone so interested, the track playing is a snippet of “Green Bird” by Magic Places. Apparently it’s a remix of something from Cowboy Bebop, although I don’t recognize where.
I’ll keep things rolling on the space tip with this incredible compilation of slow-motion footage of the space shuttle. Some of you may have seen this already; it made the rounds sometime around christmas last year. And it’s LONG! If you want to skip right to the money shot, go to 34 minutes, on the dot. Don’t forget to hit the 720p! Simply breathtaking.
You can listen with the commentary on if you really want. I recommend putting on your own tunes while watching this gorgeous explosion of rocketry. This is what I liked the best. It’s good for reflecting on the ends of things. The conclusion of something glorious. On one hand, it makes me feel like I just got handed a copy of this:
On the other hand, I suppose all things, both good and bad, must come to an end; phases of life, our favorite restaurants, our favorite thursday night routines… and our lives, our planet, our sun, and the space shuttle program. A clichéd expression that does give me some optimism is “don’t be sad that it’s over; be glad that it happened.” That is true. It’s been an excellent 30 year run.
You may want to skip around to watch all the cool parts, like separation and splashdown, but damn, this video knocks me out. These are some impressive views of the space shuttle Discovery in action, on its last mission.
One of the most endlessly fascinating human concepts is the idea of infinity. It’s a concept that is referenced often, but seldom do we get the occasion to sit and deeply contemplate the idea. There are so many ways in which infinity is a breathtaking thought. Let’s delve into it!
The marvel which immediately comes to mind is the size of it. I think of a hundred as a big number. If I have 100 blueberry muffins, I’ve got more breakfast food than I could possibly eat. The refrigerator is going to be full, and even then, some of these things are probably winding up in the garbage. As much as I hate to see anything go to waste, and as much as I love eating a fluffy blueberry muffin, I simply cannot eat 100 of them. So 100 is a lot.
Stepping up one order of magnitude, if I had 1000 muffins, now I would have to start giving them away. There would be boxes everywhere. Definitely not enough space in the fridge and freezer combined, and now I think I never want to eat another muffin again. Even the ones with the sweet crunchy tops. Iew. If I had 10,000, now we’re dealing with a disaster. The landlord is incensed with the gargantuan piles spilling out all the doors, and there’s probably not much room to walk through the house. At 100,000 muffins, I would probably get killed. Squeezed to death by the immense force needed to cram so many into one house. Even when you compress all the air out of that fluffy goodness, we’re looking at some dangerous volumes.
But to a lot of people 100,000 is still not that big of a number. What about a million? That number gets tossed around like nothing. A million bucks for a mansion. A million oranges in a large plantation. 310 million people living in the United States. It’s a big country. But there’s almost 7 BILLION people living on planet Earth. 310 million US residents is not a lot of people compared to the 7 billion world population. We’re only 1/22nd of the total amount.
A billion, now that’s a really big number. The sun and the earth both formed about 4.5 billion years ago. The universe itself is estimated to be 13.75 billion years old, with a visible size of 46 billion light years. So big, you can no longer grasp how large that is. There’s easily over 100 billion galaxies in the observable universe. That’s more galaxies than even the widest, boldest mind can imagine. But there are bigger numbers still. And yet, the sizes of all these things are insignificant next to the size of infinity. A hundred billion is exactly the same distance from infinity as the number one. That’s the wonder of infinity!
Just for fun, let’s keep going. The number of bits available for storage on my 1.5TB hard drive, 12 trillion. The US national debt is currently 13.75 trillion. A hundred dollars for every year in the age of the universe! The number of neural connections in the human brain is over 10^14. There’s over 70 sextillion stars in the observable universe. That’s 70×10^21. 10^80 elemental particles present in the observable universe. Google, now a household word, is an alternate spelling of googol, which is the number 10^100. Written out, that’s:
Ten followed by a hundred zeros. But there’s even bigger numbers still! A googolplex is 10^10^100. In a scene from Cosmos, Carl Sagan humorously shows how it’s not possible to write out a googolplex because it’s simply too big–it wouldn’t fit inside our universe! Those 10^80 particles are simply insufficient for the task, even if one particle was used to represent one zero. And still, there are even larger numbers than the googolplex. Even dramatically larger numbers. But still, the idea persists that even the largest number conceivable is precisely the same distance from infinity as the number one.
Pt.2: Park it wherever you like
I’d like to talk a little bit about another fascinating property of infinity that gives me a lot of optimism and joy. When we think about infinity, my mind at least goes straight to the large: the vastness of the cosmos and the unending progression of time. But for all the giant spaces infinity implies, there are implicit minuscule ones as well. When we count from 1 to 2, we think of that as a finite interval. It’s easy to see, if I have one apple and you give me a second one, now I have two, a finite number of apples. I definitely don’t have infinite apples. (Although I wish I did.)
But for every number you can name between one and two, I can give you a number that’s halfway between your number and one. You say 1.5, I say 1.25. You say 1.1, I say 1.05. You say okay wiseguy, how about 1.000001? I reply 1.0000005. We can start using scientific notation and continue this volley–until forever. And just like that, we’ve slid down the chasm into infinity, INSIDE the space between one and two. Infinity can exist inside of finite boundaries, because of the idea that in addition to being endlessly large, infinity is also endlessly small.
This idea has tremendous philosophical ramifications. When we lay outside under the stars at night and gaze out upon the universe, the sheer scale of ourselves, compared to it, can really seem bewildering. Stupefying. Daunting. Maybe even a bit disheartening. We realize how utterly tiny we are. And how the vast spaces beyond our planet will never know our names, our histories, or the fruits of our lives work. The collective plight of our entire species will likely be a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a blink in the scale of our own galaxy alone, nevermind the cosmos. We glimpse the scope of the large infinity and all the treasure we hold special suddenly seems not just petty, but outright laughable. When our train of thought goes so far down that track, infinity seems to be a source of despair, pointlessness.
It is in this moment we need to remind ourselves that the grandiose richness of detail, subtlety, and surprise that large infinities encompass is also fully present within the infinities of the small. And these infinities of the small reside within our familiar finite spaces. Holding two apples, one in each hand, you can hold the entire cosmos between your fingertips. That same infinity up in the sky at night is right here, literally in our hands, available to be reshaped, to be studied, played with, laughed about, and to reshape us with its own, bottomless insight. This idea of infinity, so breathtaking in immensity, is right here with us, a trove of eternal possibilities for inquisition.
It’s a mathematical proof for the idea of interconnectedness. Thich Nhat Hanh, the famous Buddhist, eloquently muses upon the idea of oneness using a single tree within the larger world:
A tree is very beautiful. A tree to me is as beautiful as a cathedral. Even more beautiful.
I look into the tree and I saw the whole cosmos in it.
I saw the sunshine in the tree. Can you see the sunshine in the tree?
Yeah, because without the sunshine, no tree can grow.
I see a cloud in the tree. Can you see? Without a cloud there can be no rain, no tree.
I see the Earth in the tree–I see everything in the tree.
So the tree is where everything in the cosmos… come into.
And the cosmos reveals itself to me through a tree.
Therefore a tree, to me, is a cathedral.
It inspires me so very deeply to think that infinity can be bounded within a finite space. It inspires me to think that the potential for limitlessness is anywhere you look. The comprehensive vast ‘everything’ is right here. All around us, within our hands, and inside of us. Exactly like Thich Nhat’s tree, we can look into ourselves, we can look between our hands, we can look…wherever we want, and see the whole cosmos.
This quote from the beginning of Cosmos; I’ve been thinking about it often. I completed watching the series some months ago now, and boy how I wish there were more. Now all that remains is to go back and rewatch the episodes, a ritual that certainly gleans satisfaction, if lacking a bit in that smack across the face of resounding freshness that accompanies the first viewing. Seeing it again, there are little hidden facets which reveal themselves, a secret kept from the new inductees.
And there’s the pleasure of watching Mr. Sagan in action. Through this series, I have arrived at a state of unmitigated admiration for this man. Carl’s magnetically eloquent language, masterful comprehension of science, and retainment of such rapturous wonder at the beauty which surrounds us are a model to aspire toward. There is something about his persona, the emphasis in his oratory, which imbues him with the overwhelming zest of a virtuoso at the peak of their form. I would say that Carl is to the scientific world what the Beatles were to the music world. Both were tastemakers who popularized complex ideas, making them accessible to people who might not otherwise enjoy 7/8 time, traditional Indian music, abstract lyricism, unconventional chord changes and recording methods. Or in Carl’s case, the concept that heavy elements (and the ones that we are made of!) come from the insides of stars, the sheer vastness of the universe we exist within, and the towering influence of our understanding of the cosmos upon our ultimate fate. And in both cases, these people were admired not just by outsiders who had only rudimentary grasps of their work, but rather they were both looked up to by generation after generation of experts and even geniuses within their respective fields. In the recent NASA press conference concerning the arsenic-based bacteria, they invoked Carl three times (along with Stephen Hawking once, and Neil deGrasse Tyson once, to put it in perspective).
At the same time that Carl is an archetype, he is very much a man, somewhat laughable in his dryness, but adorable in his sincerity. Clad in his favorite orange coat, sitting in this overly-ornamental fake time machine, he looks a bit ridiculous, and I can’t help but giggle a bit. But I love him for ‘going for it’ so unabashedly.
I sort of wonder when I watch Cosmos, if they recorded the very beginning of it last, after the whole of the series was done. When Carl gives that opening oratory, it feels to me as if it is the conclusion, the glorious end-result of his wanderings, disguised as the beginning.