Monthly Archives: October 2004

iPod: It’s the little details

Last Tuesday, Apple announced the new iPod Photo, which adds a color screen and the ability to view photos on the iPod directly or on a connected television.

As with the very first iPod and the iPod Mini, I ordered the iPod Photo on the day it was announced. (Alright, so I have a soft spot for iPods.) And I’m now the proud owner.

It meets my expectations, but I just discovered a “new to me” feature that is one of those little elegant touches that makes the iPod so popular. When I unplugg the headphones, the iPod Photo automatically pauses.

This may very well have been a new feature in the click wheel iPods, the last major update to the iPod line, but it isn’t present on the iPod Mini or any model prior to that. Apple has done some creative engineering to make the headphone jack double as the video out jack; the iPod Photo includes a cable that connects to the composite input of a television, and this cable plugs right into the headphone jack.

John Gruber, a friend and colleague from college, provides his analysis of the new iPods and iPod Mania in his recent blog entry.

Behind the Scenes: Cirque du Soleil “O”

Cirque du Soleil’s “O” is a permanent fixture at the Bellagio Resort in Las Vegas. At the time of its launch in the late 90’s, O was the most expensive production ever produced. Unlike other Cirque du Soleil productions, O takes place above, on, and under water. It’s my favorite theatrical show (I have now seen it four times), combining art, music, talent, and technology into a beautiful production. It was my first exposure to Cirque du Soleil, and prompted me to see Mystere, La Nouba, Dralion, and Varekai. Next spring, I’ll be traveling to Montreal to be one of the first to see Cirque’s latest traveling production, tentatively titled Cirque 2005. Every show I’ve seen has been excellent, but as a technology geek, I find O to be the most impressive, holding the most mystery and allure for me.

Entertainment Design published an article in 1999 describing The Wizardry of O: Cirque du Soleil Takes the Plunge Into an Underwater World. The article has been around awhile, but I only recently came across it, and I devoured all the details about how O was put together, and the challenges faced during the production.

Two of the coolest scenes in O are right at the beginning and right at the end of the show. I won’t give away the magic, but it involves how the main curtain disappears and reappears. Until I read the above article, I didn’t realize the starting curtain wasn’t the ending curtain. (I also had no idea how the effect was performed.)

With a 1.5 million gallon pool of water that regularly appears and disappears throughout the production, you can imagine the technical problems Cirque had to solve: how to move large amounts of water and staging without making noise; how to keep the smell of chlorine from filling the theater; how to have so many electronic systems and lighting so close to water; and, generally, how to avoid killing the performers as they interact with lots of moving, high-force elements.

Cirque’s latest fixed production, titled Ka and located at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, pushes the envelope even further. Ka will be “soft opening” later this fall, and replaces O as the most expensive stage production ever produced in the world. Apparently Ka doesn’t include a stage in the traditional sense; platforms will magically appear out of fog and move towards the audience. Ka is behind schedule, originally slated to open about a year ago, so like O, I’m sure Cirque has had to figure out how to do even more things that have never been attempted before in a live production. Can’t wait to see the new show.

Pop Culture of the Day: Ashlee Simpson’s SNL Performance

Last night’s Saturday Night Live featured musical guest Ashlee Simpson, sister of the slightly-more-famous Jessica Simpson. They can be distinguished by their polar opposite artificial hair colors (Jessica blond, Ashlee black), and, as witnessed by millions of viewers on Saturday Night Live, by their apparent difference in talent.

MTV’s Newlyweds program, chronicling the lives of Jessica Simpson and her husband, Nick Lachey, has poked fun at Jessica’s less-than-stellar intellectual capabilities, although much could probably be credited to creative editing. Among other things, Jessica is famous for her befuddlement over “Chicken of the Seas” (is it chicken? Or tuna?), but she clearly has an excellent singing voice.

What about her little sister? Ashlee recently moved into the limelight with her own hits, including Pieces of Me, and.. Well, really, just Pieces of Me. It’s currently at #51 on the iTunes Daily Top Songs List, right after Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy) by Big & Rich, which I’m sure is also a lovely song.

So, Ashlee was the musical guest on Saturday Night Live, and musical guests normally perform two live songs during the 90-minute show.

The first song she performed was — wait for it — Pieces of Me. For the second song, she was once again introduced, and oddly enough, her vocals from Pieces of Me started playing once again. Only this time, Ashlee’s lips weren’t moving.

She kind of fumbled around stage for a few seconds, awkwardly bouncing around, as the band members looked at each other in confusion and then decided, what the hey? And started playing the instrumentals for Pieces of Me, sharing embarassed, timid smiles with each other. Ashlee wandered off the stage and out of view. After a dozen seconds or so, Saturday Night Live cut to a commercial.

Oops.

Could Ashlee have been lip synching? On Saturday Night Live? This was almost as awkward to watch as Sinead O’Connor unexpectedly ripping up a picture of the pontiff at the end of her song on Saturday Night Live in 1992, an event that magically disappeared in re-runs of that episode of Saturday Night Live.

I reviewed Ashlee’s first song (TiVo is great for that sort of thing), and sure enough, she appears to be lip synching, and not very well. Someone obviously queued up the wrong vocal track for the second song.

Here’s what annoys me about this. There are too many singers today that lip synch in public performances. (This is a minor annoyance. There are much bigger things that annoy me, such as the destruction of the environment and Daylight Savings Time.) At the top of this lip synching list is Britney Spears. Some of these performers have argued that, like, the sophisticated dance moves they must perform during a concert, like, makes it impossible to sing at the same time. You know?

That argument carries some water, but it didn’t carry any water for Ashlee; during her first performance, she wasn’t dancing. She was mostly just standing there, concentrating on her lip synching. Occasionally she would walk forward and then back, in a manner similar to Alanis Morissette, only Alanis is a tremendous vocalist and probably wouldn’t think of lip synching, except in a music video.

So why was Ashlee lip synching? Is that even her voice on the actual song? Or does it take significant post-production to make her voice sound good?

At the end of the show, when all of the performers go on stage to say “goodnight,” Ashlee apologized, saying “my band started to play the wrong song.” Er, no. They were just as surprised as she was when her vocal track started playing. And for her to blame the problem on her band was a cheap shot. They at least adapted and started playing; they didn’t storm off the stage. And they are actually playing their instruments, live.

This definitely classifies as one of Saturday Night Live’s five most awkard moments of all time. And it probably won’t show up in re-runs of last night’s performance; they’ll splice in her second song from the show’s dress rehearsal.

Snapshots of the Day: Even More Photos from Shenandoah

&tA final third batch of photos from my recent trip to Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park.

Note the deer in the bottom of this photo.

The dust problem I described in an early Blog entry is really apparent in the following photo. (I didn’t attempt to stamp out the dust in Photoshop.)

Another campfire shot. The dust really isn’t an issue in this shot. :)

Since my trip to Shenandoah, I have attempted to clean the dust off the CCD in my Nikon D100 camera by using Sensor Swabs and Eclipse Fluid. I think I was successful; we’ll find out on my next photo trip.