Monday, June 30, 2014

Elon Musk Delivers Through Adversity

I don't know if it's a YouTube block or a PC glitch, but I cannot copy
and paste these descriptions, as I've done countless times before.
But where there's a will, there's a way.

Elon Musk was afraid of the dark, as a kid, but smart as he was, he reasoned that dark was just the absence of photons.  It's silly, he reasoned convincingly, to be afraid of an absence of photons.  He read a lot of books, and just stayed out of harm's way, that is, socially speaking.  Then it was off to college, and he never attended classes.  He just read the books, and showed up for exams.  He was there, he said, to date girls his age.  Nice.
His various asset is his ability to take this big big dream, and make other people believe that it's true.
Musk sold his simple company Zip2 to Compaq for $220 million in 1999, and at age 28 he came away with $21 million from the deal. Which was exciting for him and his family, and it was an extraordinary sum indeed.  Three years later, he sold PayPal to eBay, this time for $1.5 billion, and his winnings were $180 million.  He had the technical skills, for example, to write code, and the entrepreneurial skills to sell what he made.  But he was clearly after something bigger, something that was tectonic in impact.  He was not inclined to luxuriate in his wealth.  
I'd really love to go to Mars, and that's the overarching goal of SpaceX.
Space Exploration Technologies aimed to do much better than NASA.  The challenge was not getting to outer space, but doing so affordably.  He is our Henry Ford for space; Ford didn't invent the automobile but rather came up with a way produce it so that regular Americans could purchase one.  If this weren't enormous enough of an undertaking for any technician and entrepreneur, he was also conceiving and creating Tesla Motors.  As with his previous businesses, he poured quite a bit of his net worth into the risky venture.  The idea for Tesla, in the first stage, was to produce high-end, low-volume electric cars, and market them to a select clientele.  Who happened to be celebrities like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Leonardo DiCaprio, and George Clooney.
Billionaire entrepreneur puts his money where his mouth is. 
This little saying means that Musk walks the talk: He delivers on what he promises.  But more than that, it means that he, as the game maker, is also willing to put his skin in the game.  He put his Zip2 and PayPal earnings on the line to save Tesla Motors, which encountered serious problems.  The problems?  Apparently engineering, at least in part, so Musk made himself available 24/7 to his frontline engineers.  Apparently financial estimation, which skyrocketed the costs of building their car more than 100%.  And apparently, too, management and personnel, which led to his pushing out co-founder and CEO Martin Eberhard.

It late 2008, and the global economy was collapsing, as if it had just rolled off the edge of the earth.  Along with it, Musk's three companies - SpaceX, Tesla, and SolarCity - were in free fall as well.  Established car companies like GM and Chrysler filed for bankruptcy, as the downturn was disproportionately hard on this industry, never mind a small specialty car company that had eyes as big as the sky but had such difficulty simply getting off the ground.

Besides the economic disaster, Musk also came to face-to-face negative sentiments from key figures in the automobile industry - from New York Times writer Randall Stross, to Car Lab president Eric Noble.  Sure, they had reason to criticize an unproven concept.  But the irony, and the idiocy of it, as Musk bluntly admitted in an interview, is that it's much easier to dismiss a remarkable idea that hadn't worked yet, than a remarkable idea that was coming to fruition.  The thing is, history is loaded with skeptics and haters who fought to kill something off, because that something threatened the very heart of their own industry, economy or psyche.
He really wants to change the world. In Elon Musk's vision of the future, you'll have clean and renewable sources of energy, feeding the grid and all of our vehicles will run off of that. This is really the future. It's something you want to tell stories about.
In recent years, Musk attracted long awaited capital - from Chrysler and NASA, to the US government and investors to an unlikely IPO.  Those three companies were finally taking off, and with that, he is fulfilling that promise of a more energy-friendly planet.  My goodness, his confidence, brilliance and fortune were all certainly breathtaking indeed.  His story is definitely just half high technology.  It is also half human perseverance and drama.

Thank you for reading, and let me know what you think!

Ron Villejo, PhD

Friday, June 27, 2014

H+ Hangout (3) Casey McKinnon Hosts Cast

Now that you've watched the entire first season, join us for another Google Hangout with the actors of H+: The Digital Series, hosted by +Casey McKinnon!  Attendees include Hannah Herzsprung (Manta), Alexis Denisof (Conall), David Rogers (Kenneth), Caitriona Balfe (Breanna) and Samuel Vauramo (Topi).
David Rogers considers a benefits-risks weighting, before he agrees to having something like a computer chip implanted.  He wouldn't do it, for example, just to have Google Maps pop up in augmented reality.  In fact, he doesn't even like the idea of hotel staff coming in to clean his room.  So it's hard for him to imagine having anything come into the privacy of his body.

Alexis Denisof echoes what other actors mentioned in H+ Hangout (2), that is, they did their scenes, then left, and hardly met any other actors.  Samuel Vauramo, for example, recalled meeting Denisof in the elevator, and asking, Are you here for H+?  Then, when they reached their floor, they went off in different directions.  Some met each other on a social basis and at Comic-Con.

Another thing I love about H+ was the travels to different cities and the conversations in the native tongue.  Just as I figured, for example, Hannah Herzsprung (in Berlin) spoke in Finnish in a recording that Vauramo listened to.  She's German, and needed to learn Finnish and Vauramo's help.  While she demures on her delivery, apparently she did quite well.  Denisof also had to study an Irish accent for his character, and needed Caitriona Balfe's help.  Rogers jokes that he thought he had a good British accent, until he traveled to Great Britain.

It was a lot of fun for Casey McKinnon to do an H+ trivial game, and it was interesting to see which of the actors knew the answers.  Even with questions having to do with their characters didn't mean that the actors remembered, or maybe knew, the answers.  There are so many details, fragments, and story lines in H+ that, I imagine, you'd have to be a geek to remember it all.

There are threads of romance throughout H+, that I was keen to hear more about.  Yet, up to now, the creators, cast and moderators haven't touched on.  McKinnon shifted to the topic, and Denisof and Balfe were mainly the ones speaking to it, that is, in the Breena-Conall-Leena triangle.  They agree that emotional infidelity was more hurtful than physical infidelity: the latter being measurable and therefore finite, while the latter immeasurable and more limitless.  There were also Breena-Kenneth and Topi-Manta, plus previous indiscretions on Breena's part.

Season 1 has ended at this point, so McKinnon inquires about what the actors what to see happen.  Balfe would like coverage on the past between Breena and Conall, when things were good between them, so as to put context and shed light on how the marriage went so terribly wrong.  Vauramo would like to see how society rebuilds itself, after a third of his population just dropped dead.  There are some loose threads, meant as mini-cliffhangers for us as audience, and it would be intriguing to see what happens next, for example, with Leena and with Kenneth.

Thank you for reading, and let me know what you think!

Ron Villejo, PhD

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

H+ Hangout (2) John Cabrera Hosts Cast

Live Google Hangout with some of the cast of H+ The Digital Series, hosted by co-writer/co-creator John Cabrera.
The story and characters of H+ really stood out for Caitriona Balfe (in London), and these helped her decide on a web series.  The stigma was that it would be a low-budget, hence low-quality effort.  Sean Gunn added that other than the money issue, a web series has a "higher ceiling."  Perhaps much of Hollywood, and its viewing audience, haven't quite understood or appreciated the online platform.  But, oh, higher ceiling is such an understatement.

The story was fragmented: multiple story lines, several locales, shifts in time. The challenging, non-linear nature of it was certainly what drew me.  That fragmentation nature mirrors the nature of YouTube, where full-length films are far and few between.  But that fragmentation has another meaning: short and episodic.  It's perfect for the short-attention span of an online viewing audience; it's also perfect for producers, as it's ready-made for advertising.  On TV, for example, a show has to have commercial breaks.  So while we may bemoan the fragmenting of a show on that medium, we see a fragmented show online as simply fitting.

The characters
  • Gunn is not an IT guy, which makes him a fitting actor for a Luddite character.  
  • Cabrera dances around an intriguing fact about Balfe's character, but yes I know what he's talking about.  I came across the key fragment while scoping through all the videos.  In any case, I agree that Breena is not necessarily a cold, calculating bitch; there is passion within her, and there is a troublesome, lonesome nature, too.  
  • Francesco Martino's (in Rome) Matteo is fated to do what he can for others, but at the same time doesn't necessarily have someone who can comfort him, as a priest.  
  • Samuel Vauramo's (in Rio) Topi falls in love with Manta (Hannah Herzsprung), despite the fact that she's killed men before.  He understands the context of the bad she's done, and hopes that he can help her stop doing it.  Topi does not have an implant.  
  • Francesca Fanti found a way to connect with Simona's spirituality, and in so doing found herself personally with a more open mind to things and experiences.  She had to stay in that state, even after a day's filming, so it wasn't just a matter of turning off and going out afterwards.  
  • Amir Arison had to ask a lot of questions to get how to play Y. Gurveer, and likened the H+ manual to a bible.  
For budget reasons, the actors didn't have much opportunity to mingle with, and get to know, each other.  They came in to set, and filmed whatever were their scenes, then left.  Balfe was an exception, in that she came back for more filming later on.  Cabrera at the end said he hoped to see everyone IRL (in real life). 

Cabrera dances on another question: Why was it that some people died and others survived?  Besides the fact that some have the H+ implant, and some don't, I need to investigate this point further.  The biotechnological apocalypse does in a third of humanity, but what about the other two thirds?  He said there were clues in the episodes.

Thank you for reading, and let me know what you think!

Ron Villejo, PhD

Monday, June 23, 2014

H+ Hangout (1) Fraser Cain Hosts Creators

Fraser Cain of talks with writer/creator Cosimo De Tommaso, writer/creator John Cabrera, producers Bryan Singer and Jason Taylor, and director Stewart Hendler.
The idea for H+ began in 2006, and it took many months to craft the story and its characters.  Six months into brainstorming, De Tommaso and Cabrera took the idea to Singer and his team.  They weren't thinking so much about the medium for showing it, at that point.

The creators wondered whether to hand over the information to the audience or maybe hide it and let them find out.  They often opted for the latter, thus trusting that the audience would figure it out or investigate it.  The latter being quite possible, given the web format of the series, where we can go back and look for more information.  In other words, as Cain points out, the creators decided not to dumb down the technology.

Speaking of which, the H+ world had to be relatable to our current world, yet also had to comprise a future that was as very plausible.  Given the pace of technology advancement, the creators wanted to impress the audience on a world that was fast becoming a reality.  So from devices, to gestures and language, they sought to strike that balance.  I even noted in a Google+ comment, that we're moving from mobile to wearable devices, and onto embedded devices.  So transhumanism, that is, the merging of human and technology, is an emerging reality already.  Biotechnology, as it is now, can make H+ a reality in our lifetime.

I thought the overall theme and slant of H+, certainly as I was humming along with each episode, was to warn again rampant science and technology and to seek a more religious or spiritual anchor in a dire, worldwide event.  But according to Cabrera, they wanted to have a diversity of characters, some of which were keen on one than the other.  The diversity sought to mirror what we in the audience may gravitate to.

Everything was shot in 29 days, across 13 geographies.  That's quite an intense production schedule.  The creators demure, that is, they didn't know enough about what they were doing to question whether they could even do it at all.  They just did it.  The actors tolerated less than favorable sets, such as no trailers, and felt really engaged in the vision, the concept, and the script of H+.

Even in post-production and post-launch, Cabrera said they want to keep learning from others' reactions, comments and experiences about working in this format.  That is, by the way, the essence of Theory of Algorithms and The Core Algorithm.  I dispense with the need for a pilot, or a test case, because I can optimize effort from the get-go, monitor and assess how things go, then learn and adjust on-the-go.

Interestingly, YouTube as a medium didn't quite crystallize for the creators until recently.  My impression is that De Tommaso and Cabrera concentrated first on getting a really good story down, then the medium came in to put shape, and rhythm, and direction to it.  I'm sure, too, that YouTube tools, such as playlist creation, influenced, perhaps even revised, the story line.

Taylor points out that they loved to create an H+ video game, but that it's a supply-and-demand thing.  It already has a gaming quality to it, that is, with its futuristic theme and high technology tools.  Plus, there are elements of interactivity between the show and the audience, at least in re-doing the chronology of the story and in a social media conversation.

I like what Cabrera says near the end, that H+ is more about the humanism, and perhaps less about trans, that is, the technology.  The latter is intended to better the former.  He reminds us that it's people who created the technology, so the story of H+ is very much about the human condition.  In my episode-to-episode comments, that elemental humanity of it was evident.  Whether it's romance and jealousy, manipulation and deception, aspiration and preference, this was human drama at its finest.

Thank you for reading, and let me know what you think!

Ron Villejo, PhD

Friday, June 13, 2014

H+ Vlog, by John Cabrera

I've spent the last few weeks, watching all 48 episodes, blogging and posting them, and wading through interviews, behind-the-scenes and much more.  So, of the explore, dissect, discuss that John Cabrera suggests, I'm just on the first.  In this phase, I've kept things orderly and linear.  Specifically I like the fact that the episodes are clustered neatly in chapters and I've watched them in numerical sequence.  I'm going to watch the Hangouts next, then I will get into dissecting.

I love the complexity of this story, and I relish figuring things out on my own first.  For example, I saw the annotated versions of each episode, and after watching one or two of them I decided to set them aside.  But as I mentioned earlier, I'm still exploring, I'm still trying to put my arms around stuff at our disposal, I'm still enthralled at the concept of it.  You know, what I love about watching a movie on DVD are all the extra features.  Some movies have much better fare than others.  But because it's a web series, H+ has a greater wealth of extras that Cabrera points us to.  

Thank you for reading, and let me know what you think!

Ron Villejo, PhD

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

H+ Interviews (3) Creators, Too

Bryan Singer, Producer.

The concept and the story of H+ are enthralling. But Bryan Singer is right, "addictive" is a better word!

I love the X-Men series, and I didn't know that Singer wrote, directed and-or produced four of the films.  But unlike H+, though, X-Men isn't so easily or freely available online and it isn't as enthralling as this web series.

Stewart Hendler, Director.

Too bad that those behind this video were lax with the setting and sound.  

Like his cast, Hendler knew he had a superb story in his hands.  He didn't care what medium it was to be filmed and shown - online or otherwise - he wanted to do it.  Moreover, he may be right, that is, H+ is at the cusp of something pivotal in how we all view films.

John Cabrera, Creator and Writer.

Six years before this interview, Cabrera was driving into a parking garage, and his radio started going out and he couldn't listen to a really cool song.  Typically so, signals weaken and waver in such a locale.  So began the story of H+, where he wondered, at that time, what if something happened that he couldn't see.

I really like his notion of us, as viewers and fans, taking the 48 episodes of H+ and swapping them around, however we liked.  A web series allows us to do just that.  It allows us to view a film in part or in whole, as often as we like, and to study up and reflect on it, as I love to do.  It is clear that Cabrera means for this film to be philosophical in nature, something that we do reflect on vis-a-vis technology in particular and our lives in general.  It is superb all around, story telling, film making, acting and editing.  

The creative thrust, behind H+ The Digital Series, at the 2nd Annual IAWTV Awards (2013) - International Academy of Web Television.

Six years in the making, wow.  It took me six-and-a-half years to complete my PhD program, and that was gruelingly long.  

Thank you for reading, and let me know what you think!

Ron Villejo, PhD

Monday, June 9, 2014

H+ Interviews (2) Then, Gents

David Clayton Rogers, as Kenneth Lubahn.

I don't know about `Lost, but H+ reminds me of Cloud Atlas.  I love the complexity of multiple story lines across several countries and the non-metronomic shifts in time.  Rogers speaks to it well: H+ is no ordinary or typical web series.  It brings the financing power of Warner Bros. and the superb talent of the creators, crew and cast to bear on a film that is worthy of traditional media (e.g., theaters) recognition (e.g., Academy Awards).

Sean Gunn, as Jason O'Brien.

The so-called Internet of Things will also be the Internet of People, and the so-called Digital Self is more of a reality, and an evolving reality at that, than we may think.  H+ is a dour, dystopic view of a highly digitized future that backfires terribly on humankind.  But, to me, it's more human drama than geek fare, and as Gunn suggests, the appeal of this film is that as much as it unfolds and explains, we know there is much more to that drama and the characters and story lines.  

Alexis Denisof, as Conall Sheehan.

It is a superb script.  Technology is very much human phenomena, I say, and H+ speaks to the complex ways it affects our lives.  Denisof is along for that breathtaking ride, and as much as his character is old school, he relies on technology to enable a romance with an unlikely partner.  Though tentative at first, that partner is herself drawn to a simple romance with him, amid a complex, foreboding drama.

Samuli (Samuel) Vauramo, as Topi Kuusela.

People may be prone to slip outside the lines, as Vauramo's character does, as he investigates a hacker, meets her at a bar, and in time falls in love with her.  The more I think about it, there more I see H+ as emblematic of our age old, very human struggle with authority, security and romance.  The first season accomplished its aim of our loving H+ and wanting more of it. 

Thank you for reading, and let me know what you think!

Ron Villejo, PhD

Friday, June 6, 2014

H+ Interviews (1) Ladies, First

I love Caitriona Balfe's looks and accent.  Tall, coolly elegant, demure and smoldering on the runway.  I wanted to see more of her and Kenneth, and find out how their complicated relationship developed.  Perhaps in the second season of H+, then.

I didn't know who Hannah Simone was, when I saw this Gillette campaign on body hair.  Genesis Rodriguez is an upcoming hot number, and Kate Upton is a sweet but overexposed lady.  But who was the brunette?  It was hard to imagine Simone playing a meek Indian girl, because she is so witty and outgoing (rf. The Queen of Accent Faking).  But clearly she is a talented lady.  Anyway I wanted to see how her budding romance with Conall came along.  

Hannah Herzsprung

You see, there was a romance for each of these ladies, and for Hannah Herzsprung, it was with Topi which I wanted more attention to.  But her Manta had such a layered, winding character, that she was in a wider range of segments than either Balfe or Simone.  So it was hard to keep up with her.  I couldn't find any interviews on H+, and virtually all other interviews were in German.  There, you go.  

Thank you for reading, and let me know what you think!

Ron Villejo, PhD

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

H+ Fragments and BTS (3)

"So Dunbara has accepted?  That's correct.  The procedure is safe?  Of course."

It sounds like a video letter from Conall to Breanna, like a diary and full of regret.  

I'd like to get my hands on technology that allows me to move freely in space, in order to explore and examine places.  

Breanna Peters Sheehan.

In Italian: "1, 1002, 1003, 1004, 1005, 1006, 1007, 1008, 1009, 1010. Rebooting internal system. Restoring database. 1001, 1002, 1003, 1004, 1005, 1006."

Manta is scrawling: "Peters you know I'll follow you. Just worried. Why can't we..." Then, she is talking with Topi.

Thank you for reading, and let me know what you think!

Ron Villejo, PhD

Monday, June 2, 2014

H+ Fragments and BTS (2)

The cast and crew of H+ The Digital Series discuss the making of the SFO garage and airport scenes.
"Everyone is so safe with their technology... [So] I would probably assume it was something outside of myself." Except when it's actually inside.

The cast and crew of H+ discuss the nature of human connections in the series.
"No one could have predicted that Conall and Leena would fall in love in the way that they did." It was actually evident from the start.

Interactive timeline of events leading up to and following the disaster, presented in chronological order. Use the navigation buttons to move along the timeline, or sit back and enjoy.
Some may not like a film that jumps back and forth in time.  But I do.  It keeps me on my toes and challenges me like a puzzle.

The cast and crew of H+ The Digital Series discuss the balance between technology and faith in the world of H+.
"Welcome to the apocalypse. The event is the mass extinction of nearly a third of the human population."

The cast and crew of H+ The Digital Series discuss shooting on location in Chile and the diverse and global nature of the series.
Oria, Helsinki, Dunbara, Mumbai.  This film must've required quite a budget, but it made for a superb, authentic sci-fi thriller.  

Mortle Systems, eh.  Too funny.  It reminds me of Puck, in `A Midsummer Night's Dream: "Lord, what fools these mortals be!"

Thank you for reading, and let me know what you think!

Ron Villejo, PhD