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Twitter Opera -- The Next Crowdsourced Work Of Art?

You might remember my article on "Live Music," the first-ever crowdsourced animated film. It only ran for five minutes, and the Romeo-and-Juliet-esque plot wasn't something to write home about, but it was good enough to merit a screening by Sony. The simple fact that hundreds of thousands of Facebook users lent their talents to bring the short to life was by itself "Live Music's" main draw.

Of course, "Live Music" wasn't the first crowdsourced work of art to be created -- what makes it so special is the fact that it made mainstream fame. Crowdsourced success stories are hard to come by -- for instance, there were attempts to create crowdsourced novels, which all ended up dead on the water. (Sometimes the road less traveled doesn't make all the difference, after all -- the greatest stories are almost always told from a single mind.)

But apparently that's not going to stop London's Royal Opera House to announce the first-ever crowdsourced opera. The writers are creating an opera based on ideas by contributors on Twitter. That means you could contribute to the storyline one line, one scene, one action at a time -- in 140 characters or less.

So far, so good -- Act 1, Scene 1 has already been completed, with the protagonist being kidnapped by a flock of birds and is now held captive in a tower, awaiting rescue. Oh, and there's also a talking ginger cat in the cast, too. Hmmm.

Okay, so I've never really been a fan of opera. But I AM a fan of crowdsourcing and other advances the Internet has gifted civilization, and this is enough to make me keep an eye on this story. If this proves so popular that it gets young people interested in opera all over again, then I might need to tweak my preferences in the performing arts.

Now I'm wondering if John Mayer, Miley Cyrus, and Lil Wayne are going to contribute too.

Men Vs Wild -- Awesome Times Two

"Man Vs Wild" is probably one of the most awesome shows ever created. There's something about watching how an ordinary human being can survive the most unfriendly environments in the world, and Bear Grylls shows us how it's done in the most straightforward way possible. Simply watching the show can make men question their own masculinity.

I'm sure a lot of men, me included, wouldn't pass up a chance to go with Bear on one of his up-close-and-personal encounters with Mother Nature. This is the reason why Discovery Channel came up with the brilliant idea of "upgrading" the series for this season into "Men Vs Wild," where Bear teams up with another celebrity to face the world and all its cruelty.

Will Ferrell, American funny guy, was the first to sign up.

I was able to watch the debut of "Men Vs Wild" yesterday. Not to spoil anything if you missed it, but Will was such a great choice for Bear's companion. According to Bear, he only asked Will to do two things for the show: One, to show up alone and without an entourage, and two, to trust him. Will did both, and they had a swell time.

Of course, "swell" is relative -- the two underwent 48 punishing hours in the Arctic, with the ever-resourceful Bear finding means and ends to ensure they both survive the trek. Will, on the other hand, provided a lot of banter throughout the show -- I swear, it was awesome times two.

If you missed it, and you live in Southeast Asia, then you can still catch "Men Vs Wild" encore showing on Saturday, August 8 at 6 PM, and Sunday, August 9, at 10 AM. Miss it, and you'll be half a man.

Ponyo Swimming To English-Speaking Theaters Soon

"Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea," the wonderful hand-drawn animated masterpiece by Hayao Miyazaki, made waves at the recently-concluded Comic Con. I have a feeling it drew a more sizeable crowd than the other American offerings in the event -- when Miyazaki took the stage to talk about "Ponyo," adoring fans greeted him in the same way they'd greet a rock star -- on their feet.

As I've written in an article several months ago, "Ponyo" is Miyazaki's latest creation. He's also responsible for the wildly popular offerings "Mononoke" and "Spirited Away," and fans are no doubt waiting for the next work of genius to come from his hands.

"Ponyo" is the story of a young boy who finds a special goldfish near their seaside home. He then names the goldfish "Ponyo," who grows such a liking to him that she wills herself to turn into a young girl. What follows is a charming, magical, and heartwarming story about friendship and adventure.

Okay, you know me. I know I'm out to save what remains of the world's masochism, but there's no denying the power of warm-and-fuzzy movies. "Wall-E" was a good example (like I said, you know me...). "Ponyo" delivers that kind of effect -- only this time, everything is hand-drawn (with crayon, no less!) and vibrantly-colorful.

There's something about "Ponyo" that made the American offerings like "Toy Story 3" and "The Princess and the Frog" seem to pale. One look at the new trailer (released just yesterday) gives you the feeling that this really isn't your usual animated movie.

Okay, of course it isn't -- it was made in Japan. There was a lot of worry about how the dubbing would be like if "Ponyo" ever merited an English translation (American dubbers have been known to be some of the world's worst*). Thankfully, names like Noah Cyrus, Cate Blanchett, Liam Neeson, and Tina Fey lent their talents to bringing this masterpiece to the rest of the world.

Ponyo is set to screen in North America this month, and elsewhere around the world afterwards.

*OK, not really. That award will have to go to Malaysia. If I have to sit and listen to the dubbing made for Doraemon reruns again, I will have to shoot a few voice-over actors.

Will Banning Texting While Driving Really Solve The Problem?

After a recent study that showed drivers are 23 times more likely to figure in a car crash when texting, US lawmakers are scrambling to ban the activity altogether. But will legislation really solve the problem? As early as now, there are already several questions about the move:

#1 - Just how easily can law enforcers catch drivers in the act?

It's fairly easy for motorists to hide the fact that they're texting, and law enforcers might not spot violators at a glance. They'll probably need more sophisticated technology to enforce the law, such as high-speed cameras -- or simply hope the driver is dumb enough to do the act in an untinted car, or with the windows down.

#2 - Will legislation really kill the habit in the long run?

While reading up about the recent study, I've come across several blogger comments that went this way:

"Really? They spent millions of dollars to prove the obvious?"

"I can't believe they spent all that money to prove what everybody has known for several years."

"Where do I sign up to get money to conduct studies? A few million will do just fine."

It's easy to think that anyone with enough common sense will know that texting while behind the wheel can put themselves in danger, but obviously this isn't the case. Banning the act may discourage some errant drivers, but will it discourage enough?

#3 - Will driver education be a more cost-effective solution?

There are other ways to make people kick the habit, such as through better driver education. Insurance companies can give bonuses to drivers who take special "don't-text-while-driving" courses, and gear such benefits towards teenagers, who don't get many breaks with insurance companies to begin with.

Seriously, I love texting technology -- while we're waiting for some real city-wide Wi-Fi technology to roll around, it'll have to serve our needs to stay in touch. But at some point, we'll have to realize that the most important thing to do is to keep our eyes on the road.

ORPHAN Makes Parents Worry

Warner Brothers' latest horror movie, "Orphan," has caused quite a stir among adoption advocates around the world. Apparently they're worried that the film's negative portrayal of its protagonist, an adopted little girl named Esther, might scare away prospective parents looking for children to adopt.

It's not surprising -- this obviously isn't the first time a Hollywood film ran into some friction with the real world. Hollywood can tell people that most films are "works of fiction," but there's no questioning the power of film to move people and societies to action. If you want to get your ideas into people's minds, make them take time out a few weekends a year to watch your movies.

Just for fun, here are some movies that caused a worldwide stir in recent years:

#1 - "300." Iran's leaders denounced Zack Snyder's bloodbath as presenting the Persians (the ancestors of Iranians) as tyrannical conquerors and monsters, even going so far as demanding an apology from the film's makers. Sure, Iran's leaders can be touchy on most things, but it still caused quite an impact.

#2 - "The Passion Of The Christ." The film about the trial, crucifixion, and death of Jesus Christ was so moving that, for a few months in time, Catholics and Evangelicals set aside their differences and reveled in the one single event that made theirs the largest religion in the world. Some of the film's crew were so impacted by the movie that they converted to Catholicism after filming.

On the other hand, other circles denounced the film as anti-Semitic, and was subsequently banned in locations where Jewish populations were the most sensitive.

#3 - "The Da Vinci Code." Sure, it's a work of fiction -- but the fictional "Facts Page" in the book, and the faithful transition to the big screen, was enough to create a furor among conservative Christian circles. Fans of the movie might insist that there's nothing wrong with the story, but there's no ignoring the droves that started believing Jesus really did have a wife and child.

Back to "Orphan." I'm actually torn between two extremes on the matter. On one hand, I think the furor is a little too over-the-top -- after all, I don't think parents would really take the film into consideration when thinking about adopting a child. If they did, I doubt they'd be fit to be parents to begin with.

On the other hand, I think it'd be foolish to dismiss these worries altogether. Films really do have the power to influence public perception. I'm sure nobody felt safe in their showers in the months that followed "Psycho's" screening several decades ago.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again... the people in charge should really think about what they're putting into people's minds.  Yes, that includes those of you who're in the field of advertising (don't think I'm letting you guys off easy :) ).

Is Palm Being Smart Or Unprofessional?

The Palm Pre had the unusual advantage over its competitors when it first came out, when users found that the new smartphone could actually sync itself using Apple's popular iTunes software. Naturally, it didn't evade Apple's radar for long, and the next iTunes update stamped out the possibility of syncing with the Pre.

Palm's next move was enough to make me raise an eyebrow. The latest software update to the Pre once again lets users sync their media with Apple's iTunes platform. When pressed for comment, the guys at Palm said what they did was completely legal -- when the Pre connects to a PC, it sends out a USB signature that's similar to the one assigned by the USB Implementers Forum to Apple devices.

What's more, they claimed that Apple was misusing the iTunes USB foundation by making it respond only to devices with Apple's assigned USB codes.

Hmm, okay. I think that's called "the way we do things around here."

Seriously, Palm may need to up their legal position a bit -- the USB Implementers Forum states that a device's USB code must match the USB ID given to its manufacturing company. Palm has already approached the USB industry standards group with their plans to make the Pre work with iTunes. So far, the group hasn't commented on the matter.

As usual, the blogosphere is divided on the issue. There are some who say Palm is doing the smart thing, since it's working around legal loopholes to its advantage, the same way Apple has done in the past. On the other hand, there are some who say that what Palm is doing is very unprofessional, and that they seriously should reconsider their position if they want to stay in the competition.

There's no doubt that the Pre has won some loyal followers, and Palm is hanging in there for a while yet. But this latest move seems to me like Palm's in a worse position than many think, and the company is resorting to even the dirtier tricks to get a leg up on the industry.

I doubt this move will make a dent in Apple's user base, which is why I'm confident that it'll get stamped out by Apple yet again, very soon. If you ask me where I stand, I'm naturally with Apple on this one. I don't intend to come across as a "hard-a**" for intellectual property rights, but that's the way it should be.

Sam Raimi To Direct World Of Warcraft Movie

Sam Raimi, famous for directing all three of the most recent Spider-Man movies, has been picked to direct the movie adaptation of the online multiplayer game, World Of Warcraft. If you've been living under a rock for the past five years, World of Warcraft is only the most popular MMORPG in the world -- more than 11 million people take part in an endless war between alliances of humans, dwarves, elves, orcs, trolls, and goblins.

Raimi's latest brainchild was the recent horror film "Drag Me To Hell," which was a trip back to his cult horror film beginnings. Apparently it was enough to convince Warner Brothers and Blizzard Entertainment (The developers of World Of Warcraft) that he was the best director to bring a work of fiction to life.

There hasn't been any news on a release date, or what the story is going to be, but this much is certain -- Charles Roven, who produced "The Dark Knight," is also going to produce this one. So things are pretty much looking up for the Warcraft movie.

Personally I'm not really into video gaming, but I'm always glad to see these kinds of jumps in the film industry. Recently we've been seeing a lot of comic book jumps (Batman, Iron Man, etc.) and cartoon jumps (Transformers and the upcoming G.I. Joe film).

It'll be interesting to see how Raimi pulls this one off -- the last "big" video game movie adaption, "Street Fighter: Chun-Li," was a huge disappointment. I also wrote about plans to make the arcade game "Asteroids" into a movie -- that was pretty weird. In other words, the video game industry has a lot of catching up to do in Hollywood.

In any case, it's likely that any "Warcraft" movie will be released later than 2011, after Raimi wraps up "Spider-Man 4."

Yahoo Revamps Homepage To Match Google's

Yahoo's in the middle of revamping in hopes of catching up with Google (actually, I think everyone is), and just recently released a brand-spanking-new homepage for their users. Taking the cue from Google, the new homepage now lets its users customize it to their liking -- even letting them browse other websites like Facebook and Twitter on the homepage itself.

The new homepage doesn't have movable Apps like iGoogle, but it does have a sidebar of options that expand when you hover your pointer over them. There were buttons for cars, business, horoscopes, games, jobs, and Facebook, as well as Yahoo Messenger and Mail. You could also customize this part of the page by adding your own preferred homepages, as well.

I tried adding Engine Alpha to the sidebar, and it immediately showed on top of the list. When I hovered over it, though, there wasn't much to see in the expanded field -- just a link to the site, and no preview. Hopefully the preview options improve down the line.

But one thing I do like about the new homepage is the lack of ads. Yahoo scrubbed its "marketplace" section entirely, so the whole thing looks very clean and minimalistic. Not quite as flashy as Apple and not quite as functionalist as Google, but a comfy middle ground. (The ads were relegated to the sidebar, and only showed when a button expanded to the preview.)

Yahoo has been pretty aggressive with their revamping efforts lately -- they closed once-popular online applications like Yahoo 360 (their social media platform) and Yahoo Briefcase, and integrated everything into a new, singular interface that represents Facebook. Yahoo Mail users see this new interface the moment they log on, and some would swear it's looking more like Facebook and Twitter with every new update.

It's obviously a step in the right direction -- moving to what works always is -- but there's only one thing that worries me. Yahoo is trying to make their new homepage a sort of kick-off point for their users, with all their favorite pages a click away. But guess what? Browser bookmarks do the same thing, and you can browse to your favorite pages straight from a blank page.

Still, I'm sure there are a lot of people out there with faith in Yahoo -- a 20% market share isn't something to laugh at, and the merger talks with Microsoft are definitely something to keep an eye on. Yahoo plans to release their new homepage in a few days, and a mobile version of it over the weekend.

Online Community Comes Up With First Crowdsourced Animated Film

Some people in Hollywood aren't going to like this. The rest of the us, however, probably will.

Last week saw the debut of "Live Music," a short five-minute animated film about an electric guitar named Riff who falls in love with a violin named Vanessa. It's kind of a rock version of Romeo and Juliet, complete with mocking cymbals, keyboards, and other musical instruments.

What's interesting about this film is that it wasn't made by Pixar, even if the radical plot and setting seems so like them. Nope, "Live Music" was made entirely by animators around the world, collaborating on the project over the Internet.

The upstart animation group Mass Animation, led by Yair Landau, spearheaded the effort. They released the plot, the soundtrack, and some computer animation software on Facebook, for interested animators who wanted to help out in the project.

According to Landau, more than 500,000 Facebook users signed up to help out. In the end, shots from 51 animators were chosen for the final product, which Mass Animation took only $1 million and six months to produce. The animators came from all over the world -- 40 men and 11 men, and between the ages of 14 and 48.

Sony Entertainment Pictures has seen the short and, very impressed, offered to screen it as an opener for their November 12 animated film, Planet 51.

No one really expects "Live Music" to win or get nominated for any award, but you'll have to admit -- all the major animating studios started somewhere. Open-source filmmaking sounds so attractive that I'm pretty sure more crowdsourcing animating "studios" will pop up on Facebook and other social media platforms soon enough.

There's also little doubt that Sony and the other big names in animation will try to leverage this new way of generating good content to their advantage.

But apparently, not everyone likes the idea. Soon after Mass Animation came into the public eye, a group called Anti Mass Animation also opened up on Facebook. They degraded Mass Animation's efforts, calling them "manipulative" and "insulting," among other things.

Meh. Probably Republicans.

Shades Of WALL-E And The Matrix In The US Army's New Robot

I recently stumbled upon a news story about the US Army building a new robot prototype that fuels itself with biomass. Its military purposes are of course classified, but I can guess it's going to be a reconnaissance robot that the army can leave for months or years without refueling or servicing. I see this as a rare good way for the US Army to use their citizens' tax dollars.

The prototype reminds me quite a bit of WALL-E. After all, the robot's name is Energetically Autonomous Tactical Robot, or -- get this -- EATR. When it gets low on fuel, it forages the landscape to find biomass, such as wood chips and paper scraps, to heat water into steam, which in turn powers it to keep going.

The online reaction to this development was both positive and negative. Some said this was a great way to power military drones by living off the fat of the land, and should drive down defense and energy costs. Some even hoped that other things, like cars, could be powered by this technology in the near future.

The funniest comment I've seen all day: "I for one welcome our new robot overlords."

But nothing's probably funnier than rumors that EATR will also likely consume human and animal bodies. has the dubious honor of posting one of the first of these stories, saying that dead bodies on the battlefield was "biomass" and that they were apparently "full of energy."

The laughable stories went on to say that EATR was a war crime in the making, since the families of slain soldiers would want to see their relatives buried back home, and that even terrorists were people, etc.

The joke was on when the US military later issued a statement that EATR was a vegetarian -- it will only forage for fuel "no scarier than twigs, grass clippings, and wood chips," and will be programmed not to consume animal or human remains.

Why does EATR remind me of The Matrix? Because maybe the guys at FOXNews watched too much of it.