Monday, May 28, 2007

Micro Fame

This weekend had a number of interesting encounters with people who would fall into the Microfame bucket. Microfame is when you are very famous within a small circle of people, but outside of that you are largely unknown. These people would be easily recognized for their accomplishments in one environment, perhaps mobbed by fans if the location was right, yet be able to walk down the street in most places and be completely left alone.

On Saturday, we went to Star Wars Celebration in Los Angeles. It was a great way to spend the day between the two nights of JRock Revolution shows. At SWC, there were the usual attendees dressed like Star Wars characters (lots of Storm Troopers and too many people dressed as love-slave Leia) and the trade show with every Star Wars action figure you could possibly imagine on display or for sale. Near the back of the trade show was the autograph area where you could pay to get signed pictures of many of the cast members from the 6 films. A few of the "big names" were there, including Carrie Fisher, Anthony Daniels and Kenny Baker though none of the superstars showed up (Harrison Ford, James Earl Jones, and either of the Obi Wan Kenobis - though Alec Guiness has the best excuse). The most interesting ones, to me at least, were the small but memorable parts. The lines or moments in the movie that define it, if only to the geeks who've watched it dozens of times.

To that end, I got three autographs for my wall by some of the lesser known, yet still significant characters in the first Star Wars movie (aka Episode 4).
Richard LeParmentier as Admiral Motti - the first man to be "Force Choked" in the series and whose line "This station is now the ultimate power in the universe. I suggest we use it." leads in to Darth Vader's classic line "Don't be too proud of this technological terror you've constructed; the ability to destroy a planet is insignificant next to the power of the Force." Ah memories...

Garrick Hagon as Biggs Darklighter - Luke's friend from Tatooine and Red three in the final assault on the Death Star who's best line is when, as Luke's wingman on the final run, Luke says "we're going in full throttle, that oughta keep those fighters off our back" and Biggs says "Luke, at that speed will we be able to pull out in time?". Luke responds cooly, "It'll be just like Beggar's Canyon back home." I love lines that can be used just as effectively out of context...

The ultimate useful out of context line, though, is "These aren't the droids we're looking for". Uttered in our first hint that the Force really does have some power and the actor who uttered that famous line was Anthony Forrest. According to Forrest, lawyers are particularly fond of that line.

Getting back to Micro Fame, though, each of these people are very well known to the attendees of Star Wars Celebration IV and their role in Star Wars history is undeniable but outside of that world, they are not well known at all.

The best example from the weekend, though, relates to JRock Revolution. Each of those bands at the show are very popular in Japan, some of them selling out huge arenas back home and having millions of adoring fans. Yet nearly every one of them could walk down the streets of LA a block from the show and be completely anonymous. Not one person who wasn't attending the show would know who they were.

On Saturday night, we were sitting near the back of the main floor of the theater in a little section behind the sound board with bar stool seats and tables. Behind us was a little section with some additional seats, kind of like a boxed seats section within the theater. Part way through the first band on Saturday, Kate and Sandra tell me that Yoshiki from the band X Japan, and the organizer of the event was sitting right behind me. Sure enough, three feed behind me was a Japanese guy in a bright white outfit and sunglasses watching the show. Shortly before the end of each set, he would disappear backstage and then return during the first song of the following band. During the second band, I introduced myself and thanked him for putting on the show. During the next set, Kate and Sandra both got autographs but it wasn't until he stepped out on stage to thank the audience that people walking by started to recognize him and ask for pictures and even then, only a dozen or so people stopped by. At their peak, X Japan was filling huge stadiums in Japan and he is part of the upcoming "supergroup" Skin which includes Gackt and Miyavi. Yet, here he sits in a mid sized theater in LA, able to sit with the rest of the crowd to enjoy the show.

Somehow I think Sting or Bono would not be able to do the same thing.

JRock Revolution Recap

Well, it was certainly an interesting weekend. Kate, Sandra and I made it down to Los Angeles in time for the first night of JRock Revolution. As we arrived, the line stretched around the block, largely filled with late-teen, early 20s folks dressed for the show in styles vaguely reminiscent of Sakuracon, though without the key blades. Our mezzanine seats gave us a fine view of the stage and as we sat down the video screen in front of the stage was showing footage from the last concert of X Japan, a band that the show's organizer Yoshiki (who live's in LA, thus the venue).

At 7:00, the video screen went away, the lights went down, the curtain went up and the screams from the crowd went even higher. It was like a Beatles show in the early 60s high pitched and loud! The bands were good, generally ranging between pop rock and speed metal and pretty much uniformly avoiding ballads. I thought it was interesting that with only one exception, the bands were very similar in instrumentation - Bass, drums, vocalist and either one or two guitarists and the guitarists generally shunned guitar solos.

The exception was the most interesting act of the whole show. Miyavi played third on the first night and it was pretty clear that it was going to be different when the band consisted of drums, bass, a DJ, a beatboxer, a tap dancer, a visual artist and Miyavi on acoustic guitar and vocals. Miyavi's guitar style is much closer to funk bass playing, a combination of thumping and slapping the guitar to get a very percussive sound that meshed well with the rest of the band's funk/percussive bent. Check out the first part of this video to get a sense of his playing style. While the rest of the bands were like watching bands play through their top hits, the Miyavi segment was a SHOW. Kind of like watching Prince in the early days, lots of energy and the band was tight and kickin'!

Kate and Sandra were even more impressed with the Alice Nine show which finished the first night though I suspect that you would really need to know the band's songs and backgrounds to differentiate. To me, they were all very similar with the exception of Miyavi. It was fun watching which instruments they were playing and letting Kate know which guitars and basses I have that they were using. Les Paul's are still very popular as are Fender Jazz Basses and Paul Reed Smith guitars. Interestingly, the only Stratocaster that showed up was for the last song of the last band on the second night. If you know the difference between a Strat and a Les Paul then that probably gives you an idea of the type of music that was played.

The second night was a little different from the first. The bands were darker and leaned more towards metal than pop rock and the crowd was also more punk looking than the pop Lolitas of the night before. The bands were still good and our location behind the sound board (always the best place to listen) limited the screaming so it was much easier to hear the bands. I ended up liking both shows much more than I thought I would though I think the peak was 1/2 way through the first night.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

What a weekend it will be!

This weekend, Kate and I are going to JRock Revolution in LA. Not necessarily my idea of a good time but she is very excited about it and if I had had a chance to go see 8 of my favorite bands all at once when I was 15, well, that would have rocked so off we go!

It wasn't until a cryptic email from my mother, though, that I started to realize that something else big is going on in Los Angeles this weekend... Star Wars Celebration IV will be at the LA Convention Center, celebrating the 30th anniversary of the release of the original Star Wars movie. Since I was at that original showing of Star Wars (albeit in Dayton, Ohio) and I'm a bit of a Star Wars geek (did you ever hear about the time we played "Sing Along With Star Wars" on the way to Whistler?) this weekend is looking up!

Of course, it helps that Kate is also a big Star Wars nerd too, so it looks like Saturday is now booked.

May the force be with you.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Flying Man!

Check this guy out!

This is the kind of thing that when you hear about it, there is no way it would end well... yet it does!

Amazing stuff.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

MIX07 - Silverlight Shines

This week was the MIX07 conference for web developers and designers. This is the second time Microsoft has sponsored this event in Las Vegas but my first time attending. Like most developer conferences, there was one main technology or topic that dominated the event and this time around it was Microsoft's introduction of Silverlight.

Silverlight is a cross-platform, cross-browser plug-in that lets developers and designers create much more compelling web experiences than are possible with straight HTML or even AJAX. It includes a smaller version of the .net framework and some of the nice layout, animation and rendering capabilities of the Windows Presentation Framework that shipped with Windows Vista. The fact that Silverlight fits into a download of about 4 megs means that it will be at least as easy for users to install it as it is to install Flash, which is on more than 90% of all client machines these days.

The versions of Silverlight released at MIX07 included a beta of version 1 that is limited to using Javascript to control the runtime and an alpha of the much more interesting 1.1 release that lets developers use any of the .net languages to build and control their Silverlight controls. These languages currently include C#, Visual Basic, Javascript and Iron Python. Microsoft also announced and frequently demoed an upcoming implementation of Ruby running on the .net CLR called Iron Ruby. Very slick!

The thing that struck me most about the event was the message of inclusivity. Silverlight is supported on Firefox, Safari and Internet Explorer on MacOS X as well as Windows and it really does work well on each of those platforms. Microsoft also made it clear that Silverlight works just fine when served from Apache or other web servers. I am psyched to see Microsoft not only getting, but actively delivering products that target all users, not just ones on the latest version of Windows!

I spend some time playing around with Silverlight and while there is a bit of a learning curve, particularly for how XAML works and how the classes are layed out, once you start to get the hang of it, there is a lot of great stuff there. I took one of the samples and tweaked it a bunch to turn into a photo viewer that is similar to a desktop photo viewer I created a while ago. You can take a look at it by clicking the button below. If you don't have Silverlight 1.1 alpha yet, the page will come up and show you an image that you can click on to go get it. The install has a few more steps right now than it will have once this version is complete. Apparently that is so people realize that are running an alpha version of the software. Just accept the alpha agreement and it will download and start installing on your Mac or PC. Once that finishes, you can just refresh the window and you'll start seeing some pictures from my recent trip to New York. Click on any of the pictures to show the next one.

Cool stuff!

If the button doesn't work, click this link.