The Golden Age of ‘computer-generated effects’ in Television

That the new Golden Age of Television coincided with huge advancements in computer-generated effects can’t be a coincidence, right? Sure, celebrated shows like The Wire and Deadwood were maaaybe better known for their writing than they were for CGI, but these days it’s hard to find a classic show that doesn’t somehow include seamless special effects.

Most of the big genre hits have effects that rival or surpass those found in summer movies, but even dramas like Breaking Bad and Mad Men use computer imagery in such crucial ways that these shows may have been prohibitively expensive to produce in earlier eras.

So let’s give all those unheralded tech whizzes their props: Special effects have never been better or more crucial to the shows we love.

Below are some off-the-top-of-our-heads picks for TV shows with the best effects work. Which show’s visuals are YOU constantly amazed by?

 

 

Game of Thrones – is another show that uses effects in both ostentatious AND subtle ways. There’s no debate about how straight-up incredible the wildfire incident was, but Season 2 also gave us Dany’s haunting hallucination scene, plus the now-CGI direwolves looked just as organic and normal as their real dog predecessors. And those baby dragons looked so real that I’m pretty sure everyone in the world wants one now.

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What is Machinima and why do I need to know about it?

If not for Machinima, you might be unaware that gamers are terrified of zombies and Return of the Jedi, when you really think about it, has a lot of plot holes.

At this point, most of you are probably wondering: What is Machinima?

An online programming company boasting a fanatical following among young males and a staggering 149 million unique users, last month Machinima’s videos were viewed 1.3 billion times (that’s billion, with a “b”). Across YouTube and other online destinations, Machinima claims a total of 101 million subscribers. To put those numbers in perspective, the CBS TV network has about 350,000 subscribers on YouTube and in six years has earned about 1.2 billion views for its online content (compared to 1.3 billion last month for Machinima).

Machinima (pronounced mah-SHIN-eh-mah) is one of a handful of players building massive media companies off Web programming.

**The upper case use of the word refers to the media company. The lower case refers to the genre, defined as the use of real-time 3D computer graphics rendering engines to create a cinematic production. Most often, video games are used to generate the computer animation.**

How big is machinima, and Machinima? “As a genre, I’d say that 90 percent of gamers know what it is,” says Tom Akel, executive producer of MTV Geek.“As a company, maybe every college kid playing Madden and Tiger Woods golf doesn’t know them, but most millennial male gamers do.”

 

ViaMachinima! Adventures of a Digital Content Company

 

 

An example of machinima:

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America regains the title of ‘fastest supercomputer on the planet’

Every six months, Earth’s biggest supercomputers have a giant race to see which can lay claim to being the world’s fastest high-performance computing cluster.

In the latest Top 500 Supercomputer Sites list unveiled Monday morning, a newly assembled cluster built with IBM hardware at the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) takes the top prize. Its speed? A whopping 16.32 petaflops, or 16 thousand trillion calculations per second. With 96 racks, 98,304 compute nodes, 1.6 million cores, and 1.6 petabytes of memory across 4,500 square feet, the IBM Blue Gene/Q system installed at LLNL overtakes the 10-petaflop, 705,000-core “K computer” in Japan’s RIKEN Advanced Institute for Computational Science.

The Japanese computer had been world’s fastest twice in a row. Before that, the top spot was held by a Chinese system. The DOE computer, named “Sequoia,” was delivered to LLNL between January and April. It’s the first US system to be ranked #1 since November 2009.

To get to 16 petaflops, Sequoia ran the Linpack benchmark for 23 hours without a single core failing, LLNL division leader Kim Cupps told Ars Friday in advance of the list’s release. The system is capable of hitting more than 20 petaflops—during the tests it ran at 81 percent efficiency.
Learn moreWith 16 petaflops and 1.6M cores, DOE supercomputer is world’s fastest

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A rare opportunity – NASA opens Launch Control Center to visitors

For the first time in more than 30 years, NASA is allowing Kennedy Space Center visitors inside the Launch Control Center – where NASA directors and engineers supervised all of the 152 launches including the space shuttle and Apollo programs.

The KSC Up-Close: Launch Control Center (LCC) Tour, the second in Kennedy Space Center’s special 50th anniversary series of rare-access tours, takes visitors inside Firing Room 4, one of the LCC’s four firing rooms and the one from which all 21 shuttle launches since 2006 were controlled.

Inside Firing Room 4, visitors will pass by the computer consoles at which engineers monitored the computerized launch control system’s thousands of system checks every minute leading up to launch. They’ll see the main launch countdown clock and many large video monitors on the walls, and enter the “bubble room,” with its wall of interior windows through which the Kennedy Space Center management team viewed all of the proceedings below.

A Rare Opportunity

As with the Vehicle Assembly Building, visitors have not had access to the LCC since the late 1970s, during the period after the Apollo and Skylab programs ended and before the first space shuttle launch in 1981.

The LCC will continue to operate in guiding the next generation of rocket launches from Kennedy Space Center for NASA and potentially for commercial space programs. Future launches of SpaceX, whose recent launch from nearby Cape Canaveral Air Force Station resulted in the first mission by a commercial company to travel to and dock with the International Space Station, could take place from Kennedy Space Center beginning in 2013.

The LCC Tour is led by a trained space expert, giving visitors an insider’s view of the space program from launch preparation to liftoff. The tour also includes drive-by views of Launch Pad 39 and culminates at the Apollo/Saturn V Center, where visitors can resume the regular tour.

 

Learn more and buy ticketsKSC Up-Close: The Launch Control Center Tour

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Yellowstone – new government petascale supercomputer – to attack chaos theory in climate change

This month, on a barren Wyoming landscape dotted with gopher holes and hay bales, the federal government is assembling a supercomputer 10 years in the making, one of the fastest computers ever built and the largest ever devoted to the study of atmospheric science.

The National Center for Atmospheric Research’s supercomputer has been dubbed Yellowstone, after the nearby national park, but it could have been named Nerdvana. The machine will have 100 racks of servers and 72,000 core processors, so many parts that they must be delivered in the back of a 747. Yellowstone will be capable of performing 1.5 quadrillion calculations — a quadrillion is a 1 followed by 15 zeros — every second.

The sheer speed of Yellowstone is designed to burst through the limits of chaos theory — the difference, allegorically, between predicting the odds of blackjack after playing five hands versus playing a million. The machine is expected to give scientists a clearer image of the state of the planet, and its future, revolutionizing the study of climate change, extreme weather events, wildfires, air pollution and more.

 

learn moreL.A. Times – New Wyoming supercomputer expected to boost atmospheric science

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Unemployment rate at 8.1% – job growth seen in manufacturing, architecture, engineering, and computers

Hiring continued its slow pace in April as employers added a modest 115,000 jobs to their payrolls.

The jobless rate inched down to 8.1% last month, the Labor Department said Friday, but that wasn’t because more people were employed. Rather, the rate fell as more workers dropped out of the labor force (about 342,000 workers).

The April jobs report was highly anticipated because job growth slowed sharply in March after three strong winter months of payroll gains averaging 252,000.

Job growth last month was bolstered by continued strength in manufacturing, which added 16,000 jobs to payrolls, and professional services such as architecture, engineering and computer systems design also increased staffing.

Wages overall were subdued; average earnings for all private-sector employees went up by a mere penny from March, to $23.38 an hour.

via LA Times

Apple, Amazon, & Microsoft build data centers around dirty energy

The current explosion in cloud computing offered by major IT companies is driving significant new demand for dirty energy like coal and nuclear power, according to a new report from Greenpeace International.

The report, “How Clean is Your Cloud?” shows a growing split within the tech industry between companies that are taking steps to power their clouds with clean energy, like Google, Yahoo and Facebook, and companies like Apple, Amazon and Microsoft who lag behind by choosing to build their growing fleets of data centres to be powered by coal and nuclear energy.

“When people around the world share their music or photos on the cloud, they want to know that the cloud is powered by clean, safe energy,” said Gary Cook, Greenpeace International Senior Policy Analyst. “Yet highly innovative and profitable companies like Apple, Amazon, and Microsoft are building data centres powered by coal and acting like their customers won’t know or won’t care.”

The report research found that if the cloud were a country its electricity demand would currently rank 5th in the world, and is expected to triple by 2020.

“While many IT companies have made great strides in efficiency, that’s only half the picture – they need to make sure their energy comes from clean sources,” said Gary Cook, Greenpeace International Senior Policy Analyst.

Companies like Google, Yahoo and Facebook are beginning to lead the sector down a clean energy pathway through innovations in energy efficiency, prioritising renewable energy access when siting their data centres, and demanding better energy options from utilities and government decision-makers.

 

keep readingApple, Amazon, & Microsoft choose dirty energy

Scientists build first working quantum network – mind-bogglingly powerful

Scientists at the Quantum Dynamics division of the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics (MPQ) in Garching, Germany announced Wednesday that they have built the very first, elementary quantum network comprised of a pair of entangled atoms that transmit information to each other via single photons.

That and a couple of bucks will get you a cup of coffee, plus anything from a perfectly secure data exchange system to the massive scaling via distributed processing of the already mind-bogglingly powerful, if theoretical, potential of a standalone quantum computer.

These are indeed heady days for the pioneers of quantum computing, with each news cycle seemingly bringing forth a major breakthrough in a subatomic frontier that appears poised to revolutionize how our calculating machines deliver us everything from satellite mapping to LOLcats.

 

Building it was the hardest part:

…had to figure out a means of exercising “perfect control” over all the components in their quantum network, which first meant getting the two atoms that make up the network’s receptor nodes to somehow stay stationary, because a couple of free-floating atoms wouldn’t be able to communicate with the photons relaying information between the two very efficiently.

The team was able to fix their atoms in optical cavities, basically a couple of highly reflective mirrors a short distance from each other, by means of fine-tuned laser beams.

keep readingPC Mag

More women in Computer Science – a simple solution from Harvey Mudd

An interesting story from the New York Times shows how current president of Harvey Mudd College, Maria Klawe, turned her school into a computer science powerhouse for women.

She started her work in 2006, amidst a big downturn in female computer science graduates. “As recently as 1985, 37 percent of graduates in the field were women; by 2005 it was down to 22 percent, and sinking.”

Harvey Mudd was even worse with graduates in the single digits. This year that rate is nearly 40% and here’s how it happened:

In 2005, the year before Dr. Klawe arrived, a group of faculty members embarked on a full makeover of the introductory computer science course, a requirement at Mudd.

Known as CS 5, the course focused on hard-core programming, appealing to a particular kind of student — young men, already seasoned programmers, who dominated the class. This only reinforced the women’s sense that computer science was for geeky know-it-alls.

To reduce the intimidation factor, the course was divided into two sections — “gold,” for those with no prior experience, and “black” for everyone else. Java, a notoriously opaque programming language, was replaced by a more accessible language called Python. And the focus of the course changed to computational approaches to solving problems across science.

“We realized that we needed to show students computer science is not all about programming,” said Ran Libeskind-Hadas, chairman of the department. “It has intellectual depth and connections to other disciplines.”

Dr. Klawe supported the cause wholeheartedly, and provided money from the college for every female freshman to travel to the annual Grace Hopper conference, named after a pioneering programmer. The conference, where freshmen are surrounded by female role models, has inspired many a first-year “Mudder” to explore computer science more seriously.

via NY Times

The Apple Store at Grand Central Station, NYC, an open store with no walls (photos)

The store covers two connected balconies on the second floor.
Stairs to the second floor serve as the entrance.

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